I have argued time after time on twitter that capitalism has failed humanity and the world. I haven’t brought this into public because I haven’t clearly articulated my position on this topic partly by refuting arguments made by those who defend capitalism.
The first argument comes from Johan Norberg in his book, In Defense of Global Capitalism. He wrote that “the diffusion of capitalism in the last decades has lowered poverty rates and created opportunities for individuals all over the world. Living standards and life expectancy has risen fast in most places. World hunger, infant mortality and inequality have diminished. This is because of an economic and technological development that is the result of free market policies. The poor countries that have liberalized their economies have shown impressive results, while those that have not are stuck in deep misery. Therefore, we need more capitalism and globalisation if we want a better world, not less.” Hmm. If this is true then why did Karl Marx at the end of Howard Zinn’s play, Marx in Soho say the following?:
“Lets not speak anymore about capitalism, socialism. Let’s just speak of using the incredible wealth of the earth for human beings. Give people what they need: food, medicine, clean air, pure water, trees and grass, pleasant homes to live in, some hours of work and leisure. Don’t ask who deserves it. Every human being deserves it.”
This part of the play puts Norberg’s ideas into question deeply. He claims that capitalism has lowered poverty rates. As Washington’s Blog has said, “All capitalist systems have some inequality.” This is what Norberg refuses to recognize. Some poverty could have been eliminated. But does that means capitalism worked? Of course not. Such reductions were due to government intervention, which props up the economic system as it stays. One site that seems highly credible writes that absolutepoverty or “poverty at its worst…involv[ing]…hunger amounting to starvation, often combined with inadequate shelter or housing and clothing…has been common in more primitive societies, and is still common in many Third World countries in Africa, Asia and South America” while in “many of today’s richer societies…[the] poor…are a minority [who]…suffer [from] relative poverty…the inability to obtain social necessities available to the majority and is often intensified by social exclusion…Hence the answer to what is poverty is not simple, as poverty does come in different forms and extents, allowing different definitions of poverty, but it is always harmful to those concerned…Poverty can also be very harmful to society as a whole, insofar as it can maintain a divided conflict society where the poorer conflict with the richer and acceptance of poverty generally encourages social badness rather than goodness…Recently food prices have been rising worldwide, partly from new Biofuel policies, mostly helping to worsen global poverty…In many poorer countries, the current world recession is also causing family remittances from overseas workers or migrant workers to fall…The current recession has also badly affected the relative poor in richer countries.” Taking this into mind, one must look at the other claims. Norberg claims that capitalism has created “opportunities for individuals” worldwide. While this is true, he never specifies what he means by “individuals.” These people he speaks of are of the upper class of society, the wealthy elite. Yes some entrepreneur may get a business up and running, but they have NO freedom of choice, they cannot control their destiny because they live in system where there is production for profit, not based on what people need. The other claims made by Norberg include the ideas that living standards and life expectancy has risen along with the ending of inequality. Even if this partially true, people are not free from the iron grip of the capitalists (wealthy elite) and these standards are being chipped away as different forces push for global austerity against the remaining social safety net for those hurting across the world. The free market fundamentalists like Norberg think that such measures will diminish inequality and create more “development.” This is utterly ridiculous. If this is true, then why does the US have one of the highest rates of income inequality in world history according to Washington’s Blog! I am not sure what type of inequality he thinks is being “diminished” or how. There are numerous types of social inequality in the areas of race, income, gender, class, age, health, and caste. I do not believe that ALL of these inequalities are being diminished and if they are being diminished it is either the result of government intervention or the change of consciousness brought on by social movements. As a result, Norberg’s point that those countries that “liberalized their economies” have “shown impressive results” while others “are stuck in deep misery” is utterly ludicrous. Liberalization is code word for corporate domination, exploitation of an area, the neoliberal doctrine espoused by loved economic theorist (in some circles) and dictator-lover Milton Friedman. As Naomi Klein wrote in The Shock Doctrine, this doctrine was tied to the reactionary capitalist regime led by Pinochet in Chile and to create model “free market” economies leading some to falsely claim that “the goals of building free markets, and the need for such brutality [to implement them] are…entirely unrelated.” From this, I can conclude that world does NOT “need more capitalism” but instead we do need “globalisation if we want a better world, not less” but not that of the corporate kind, but that which promotes internationalism and a system which works for need, not for profit or alter-globalization.
The next article is by George Reisman who is a professor of Economics at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Sounds grandiose, does it not? Anyway, here’s part of what he said (when he wasn’t criticizing George Soros). Here’s the full quote:
“In a…capitalist society, privately owned wealth in the form of capital, works to the benefit of all—the nonowners as well as the owners…The fundamental reason that the advocates of laissez-faire capitalism oppose government intervention in money and banking, and everywhere else, is their basic conviction that the individual’s pursuit of his material self-interest under freedom is the one and only way that people can actually achieve their self-interests. Each individual is motivated to achieve his self-interest, and, if he thinks about the means, can actually succeed in doing so, provided that he is free to do so, that is, is free of the initiation of physical force by others, including, above all, by the government. At the same time, precisely because freedom means the absence of the initiation of physical force, the pursuit of self-interest by any individual means that insofar as he is to obtain the cooperation of others, whether as workers or suppliers, or as customers, he must simultaneously serve their self-interests… the advocates of laissez-faire capitalism argue that depressions are not the result of anything inherent in the economic system…Advocates of laissez-faire capitalism hold that credit expansion would long ago have been reduced to insignificance if not protected and fostered by a centuries-old policy of government intervention in money and banking… the opponents of laissez-faire capitalism have nothing of substance to say in support of their opposition.”
The first point is an important one. It is that under capitalism, private wealth helps everyone “owners” and “nonowners.” This is flagrantly false. Yes, everyone needs some amount of money, but the existence of private wealth or capital does not automatically equal equality. If one is saying capitalism makes everyone equal, that is also grossly incorrect as people grow up in their surroundings meaning if you usually stay the same socioeconomic class for your whole life. I don’t know how else to respond to this statement. The next part just explains why advocates of “laissez-faire capitalism oppose government intervention in money and banking” and he whole thing about self-interest and not being coerced to do anything by physical force. However, this misses a key component. To implement “free market” or “laissez-faire capitalism” you need authoritarianism usually in the form of dictatorships. This is definitely a use of physical force. The reason is people will no doubt resist and to stop people from speaking out, there will be arrests, torture, intimidation and so on. An advocate of free-market fundamentalism would likely criticize me for this claim, saying that it doesn’t apply to the application of the practice (even though it does) and that people have a basic “conviction…[to follow their] material self-interest” which creates freedom and results in cooperation. I do not know how such policies would be implemented WITHOUT using physical force. If you don’t want any government, but want cooperation among people than just say it and come out as an anarchist. I am not against anarchism completely, I just haven’t completely come around to eliminating ALL government in favor of just ruling things cooperatively. However, there may be some future time I change my mind. Next, it is argued in the piece quoted earlier, that depressions are not inherent to capitalism which I think just shows that those defending it do not understand the economic system itself. Please, if you want to defend capitalism, understand how it works before you do (at which point you probably won’t like it much anymore). Another point made is that government intervention in money and banking has caused many problems, and I agree to some extent as big government was created by big business to help them stay powerful. However, having no rules and government with little power over the market will result in MORE economic downturns as people at the top will think greed is good and cause economic problems for the whole population. The last statement is one that made me very mad: “the opponents of laissez-faire capitalism have nothing of substance to say in support of their opposition.” I’m sorry, but this person does not understand that there is something of substance to say to support my claims and those of many others who agree with me.
Then there is a blogpost by libertarian girl that must be looked as well. Writing last January in a blogpost, she noted that “capitalism” has passed, and that the GOP “used to” believe in it, but not anymore. She says that money is not evil and that greed is good because it “drives capitalist to make products that the public wants to buy…creates job for people to make those products.” From this, she says that we need “capitalism…desperately right now. Not crony capitalism…But real free market capitalism…to get this country back on track.” I am not sure she knows what capitalism is. Edwin L. Laing explains it quite simply, noting that under capitalism, when one wants to “maximize profits, unemployment is necessary in order to weaken the bargaining power of working people seeking higher pay or better benefits and working conditions…At the same time, capitalism’s race for profits requires enormous expenditures for advertising (paid for by the consumer) with its manipulation of our wants and fears and the downplaying of our critical capability (which ability is crucial in a democracy), since all we need to do is respond at our primitive level to this commodification of life. Maximizing profits results in exploitation of workers, the environment and the consumer. Capitalists can make more money for themselves if they pay their workers as little as they can get by with.” This American libertarian must not realize these realities. Both political parties in America are capitalist. Come on. Free-markets will not free America, they will destroy the social safety net and help the rich. If you really want this, be ready to accept the consequences.
Other posts I found aren’t any better. One incorrectly calls consumers “capitalists,” not realizing the word capitalist applies to the rich NOT the common person. This destroys the whole argument made and while it makes capitalism seem all nice, saying it should continue, it ignores the injustices under the system at hand. Another says that “investment made for profit enhances real wage rates and raises output” and that “entrepreneurs are guided by prices and expectations” while “socialists” (or what the writer terms as this), never refuted these “facts” because “it is not capitalism that has failed but interventionism and outright socialism” based on the failing of “seventy years of Soviet planning.” First off, even if the first part of what is said is true, it negates the fact of wage slavery as it should be rightly called or when one is dependent on their wage (which in the US is hard to live on). Secondly, I am not sure how investment enhances wage rates when the minimum wage is set by the GOVERNMENT, not a business, and such for-profit enterprises can raise their wage above the minimum wage. Thirdly, if entrepreneurs are “guided by prices and expectations” I am not sure how this affirms that capitalism is supreme but rather than such entrepreneurs have not considered worker democracy in the workplace. Fourthly, these statement are not facts at all. As the Socialist Party USA says, in order for a country to be considered “socialist,” it must not “enforce equality” but must instead have economic democracy or an economic controlled by the workers (the USSR doesn’t meet this criteria at all). I then come to a criticism of the Soviet Union and the “triumph of capitalism.” It is once again time to define what socialism is. As I wrote on Interesting Blogger, socialism is simply a theory of human liberation that seeks societal reconstruction, and a vision of the future that is rooted in liberty, equality, and solidarity. This vision of the future can want a direct democracy (not a “representative democracy”) but more importantly it REJECTS government ownership, an expanded welfare state, or repressive bureaucracy and instead pushes for democratic control of the means of production and all aspects of society by workers and consumers for their own benefit and the interest of the overall society.
The next article on an investor’s blog titled Whiskey and Gunpowder makes even worse claims. It says that capitalism is the “greatest engine of material prosperity in human history, the fount of civilization, peace, and modernity” and that opponents of this system “oppose free enterprise…object to employers’ liberty to hire and fire whom they want, at whatever wage is mutually arranged. They protest the right of entrepreneurs to enter the market without restriction. They disapprove businesses designing infrastructure; providing energy, food, water and other necessary commodities; and running transportation without government meddling. They lament the rich getting richer, even through purely peaceful means. They oppose the freedom to engage in short selling, insider trading, hostile takeovers, and corporate mergers without the central state’s blessing.” They also argue that “everything we do in our lives – materialistic or of a nobler nature – we do in the comfort provided by the market” and that capitalism is the “greatest economic system in the history of the human race.” Some strong words. For one, let us just for a minute imagine that capitalism is the “greatest engine of material prosperity in human history, the fount of civilization, peace, and modernity” and the “greatest economic system in the history of the human race.” Even if you accept these conditions, one must realize that capitalism’s time is up. It has given us good things as humans but is definitely not the greatest (how is this even defined?) but if it stays around, it will self-destruct and collapse. Luckily, the system itself can be saved by using the working class as the element of revolution, to bring a more just system. On the other hand, “free enterprise” is a fake word that means nothing but it should instead just be called for-profit enterprise because under capitalism, NO ONE is free. Additionally, I object to “employers’ liberty” but instead think the workers should have the power to run their businesses, there should be regulation in the marketplace no doubt and that business can design “infrastructure; providing energy, food, water and other necessary commodities; and running transportation” if such businesses are collectively-owned and not for-profit. The problem with rich getting richer is the poor get poorer (gap between the rich and poor). I am against a more powerful state while also being against corporate tyranny. In the end, I also doubt highly that the free market gives us comfort in all of our lives because: (1) the government helped create the internet which was originally called DARPAnet; (2) the government money was used to make the first road system in the country (1810s, & 1820s); (3) money was funneled to railroad companies which created the rail system, a precursor to the highway system; (4) the interstate highway system which was originally made in the event of a military emergency was created by government money; (5) the continuing corporate subsidies to the big banks keeps them profitable; (6) for the meat industry there is a system that allows one to sell meat at the same price across the board regardless of what type of meat it is; (7) the military-industrial-complex that Eisenhower warned of runs America’s “industrial strategy”; and (8) there are state subsidies to bring corporate investment to an area.
Now, I move onto some other support for capitalism. This includes one in the Western Press, taking Horatio Algers tale to be completely true. They write that “many people who start in the bottom quintile actually end up in the top quintile. Many more move into the middle ranks. Only a minority of the bottom stays in the bottom for life…most of the time…low-paying jobs are starter-jobs…[some] demand…that these jobs be made higher-paying…it distorts the market, and it prices out younger and low-skilled workers, leaving them unemployed.” These statements are completely false. For one, wages allow people to live their lives and survive, rather than become wage slaves. For kids it is different because if they live with a family they would be dependents, so they would have different needs, but this group is still part of the working class, what Marx called the proletariat. Secondly, people stay in the same economic class as you start out in the present. You won’t rise up to be rich, and don’t think you will. Just accept that as the American Dream of becoming rich is a false one. There is no social mobility anymore in the United States. As the OECD said, “social mobility is relatively low in the United States.” What Malcolm X said in March 1964 at a housing boycott rally in Harlem is very relevant to this point.
I next turn to an interview of the CEO of Whole Foods, John Mackey. In it, Mackey says that saying everything is based on self-interest is ridiculous as we are motivate by what we care about, that the “libertarian movement…has gotten to a kind of ideological dead end,” that “capitalism and business should fully reflect the complexity of human nature” while saying that “capitalism and business are the greatest forces for good in the world…for at least the last two hundred years.” The type of capitalism he wants is “conscious capitalism” which in still having profit-making enterprises but having some flexibility, taking into account the different “stakeholders — customers, employees, suppliers, investors, and communities,” having ethical business leaders, and the creation of a culture that supports your business’s purpose (He continues on with other concepts, but I’m not going to address them here). Unlike those I mentioned earlier, Mackey seems to be a Keynesian or one that likes regulated capitalism, a bit like economist Joseph Stiglitz. However, this model has a problem. While the stakeholder model sounds good, unless it incorporates community control and allows workers to have control of the business, this model still allows exploitation. A business leader can act “ethical,” work furiously to make profits and create a “business-friendly” environment that benefits such a business but not those that live in such an area. Capitalism is not a force for good and while it may have given us good things, it is time to get rid of it before it gets rid of us.
The next commentary is a quote from a Time Magazine article from May 2012. The article says that a “flourishing private sector is [a] core…American value as any constitutional principle…[and that] since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, in all but the most extreme circumstances (like the Great Depression of the 1930s), wealth creation in the U.S. and other capitalist democracies has depended on government’s willingness to allow free markets to flourish.” The article also says that “worst downturns have served as commas, not periods, in a longer-term success story…[because] capitalism…a system that has made America the most prosperous nation on earth.” I am not sure how a flourishing “private sector” which is better called Corporate America helps the commoner, the worker or the poor person. It seems that making this “flourishing” is by bailing out such firms, and giving them subsidies that at times become their only profit (as in the case of the big banks). Secondly, I do agree that the government must assent to not regulate the economy (called be some “meddling”) in order for a “free market” to even be possible. For the most part, capitalism cannot survive without government intervention otherwise it causes widespread chaos under rule that is always authoritarian dictatorships. The third point that the worst downturns are minimal in the history of capitalism since the end of mercantilism (or during it, depending on one’s interpretation), just look at the history of the US where there have been 45 recessions and at least two depressions since 1789! The same is with economic crises, bank runs and banking crises since that point in time as shown here, here and here.
I turn next to, one target those of my political views and other don’t like very much: politicians. The first person I address is Herbert Hoover. In 1930, he said this about capitalism, he said that “under its ideals capital is but an instrument, not a master” while admitting capitalism was NOT democracy (something politicians now say all the time). I would like to say that he is wrong because capital is a master via the capitalists, who exploit others to gain it for themselves because they think greed is good. I move to one of free market fundamentalist president and war criminal Ronald Reagan (which I will henceforth call Raygun). In 1988, Raygun said that “free-market economies have worked miracles in several nations of East Asia” while “democratic and free-market revolutions are really the same revolution.” I do not know what miracles he is talking about. The Monthly Review wrote in 1999 that “the period, up to 1996, saw three consequences of capital account liberalization in the East and Southeast Asian economies: first, there was a significant increase in the magnitude of net external financial flows; second, there was a dramatic shift in the mix between short- and long-run funds in favor of the former; and third, most of the increase in foreign borrowing was on account of the private sector.” Project Syndicate even notes that in East Asia “governments intervened – systematically and through multiple channels – to foster development, including in specific industries in specific locations via subsidies, tax incentives, and financial repression” meaning it was NOT a free market revolution. These claims undermine Raygun’s later claim that “the free market [is]…an engine of economic progress” which it can’t be because the only place a true free market has existed is in the poorer countries of the world when we shove it down their throat.
Even with the easy disapproval of the claim that the free market works, it was repeated again and again. President George W. Bush, another of America’s war criminals, said in 2008 that there must be “economic growth” to solve “people’s problems” that that “the surest path to that growth is free market capitalism.” Another war criminal, current President Barack Obama said this January (and has said similar things in the past) that “the free market is the greatest force for economic progress the world has ever known” but that there must be “smart, commonsense rules in place to prevent irresponsible behavior” basically saying he doesn’t even want a free market, he wants regulated capitalism or what some call crony capitalism. There are three supposed positives of capitalism that must be addressed: (1) economic growth; (2) freedom of choice; and (3) freedom of employment. For the first supposed positive, it must be noted that economic growth does not help the commoner but rather helps the wealthy elite, the capitalists. For the second supposed positive, I can say that there is not freedom of choice under capitalism. With monopolies and oligopolies, you have limited choice, so you don’t really have such freedom at all. You may think you can do whatever you want, but you may be violating laws and not even know it while any deviation from what is considered the norm could be noted as a threat by the overarching surveillance state. As Noam Chomsky said, “under capitalism we can’t have democracy by definition [because] capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control…a system where everything is for sale” but that “no country, no business class, has ever been willing to subject itself to the free market [except the] Third World [which has had]…free markets rammed down their throat.” Some say that the end of the USSR showed “the superiority of market capitalism over planned economy” to which I believe is wrong because I think both systems failed, because in my mind the organized violence of Western powers is what won the Cold War and ended the USSR, not some economic system. As James Madison, wrote in Federalist #10 as Publius, “the most powerful faction, must be expected to prevail,” in this case going beyond divisions in government and could be even applied to the superiority of the US and West. Social activist Eugene Debs once said that “Wherever capitalism appears [it is] in pursuit of its mission of exploitation” and Martin Luther King followed this in 1967 when he said that “capitalism forgets that life is social.”
As Bhikkhu Buddhadasa believed, Socialism is a natural state of all animal life including humans. He wrote in part: “A system in which people cannot encroach on each others rights or plunder their possessions is in accordance with nature and occurs naturally, and that is how it has become a society continued to be one, until trees became abundant, animals became abundant, and eventually human beings became abundant in the world.” I end with the line of Eugene Debs, “I am for Socialism because I am for humanity.”
In a debate over a “Resolution concerning Meatless Mondays” as it was called, one student from the Young Americans for Liberty club said that not putting in place Meatless Mondays at the college would violate the wishes of the founders. Colin Beavan or No Impact Man, who ran as the Green Party’s candidate for the 8th Congressional District in New York State praised the principles of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in a speech to the Green Party Convention. Civil liberties activist and radical feminist Naomi Wolf in the movie, End to America (and the book) says that the Founders were wise and that we need to get back to our principles. Editor of Time Magazine, Richard Stengel wrote in the controversial cover story in July 2011 that: “The framers were not gods and were not infallible. Yes, they gave us, and the world, a blueprint for the protection of democratic freedoms…The Constitution was born in crisis. It was written in secret and in violation of the existing one, the Articles of Confederation, at a time when no one knew whether America would survive. The Constitution has never not been under threat…The truth is, the Constitution massively strengthened the central government of the U.S. for the simple reason that it established one where none had existed before…If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it sure doesn’t say so…It is true that the framers…feared concentrated central power more than disorder. They were, after all, revolutionaries. To them, an all-powerful state was a greater threat to liberty than discord and turbulence…the framers created a weak Executive because they feared kings. They created checks and balances to neutralize any concentration of power…The Constitution does not protect our spirit of liberty; our spirit of liberty protects the Constitution. The Constitution serves the nation; the nation does not serve the Constitution. That’s what the framers would say.” While I respect all of their viewpoints (I believe Beaven and Wolf fight for justice unlike Stengel who is utterly wrong on so many levels) but I feel something is missing. The corrupted nature of the founders is missing from all of these arguments as it seems they assume the founders were nice and friendly people, writing off the people all together, supporting Joseph Ellis’s view that founders were the ones who won the “revolution” while discounting efforts of ordinary people.
As my professor noted, once one realizes the fact that the majority view of professional historians about the Founders is wrong then all arguments that use it will be undermined. So, before one looks at the efforts of ordinary people, it is important to look at the deceptive nature of the country’s “Founders.” First off one must consider: there isn’t much difference between those in power before the revolution and after the revolution, because the elite co-opted the revolution, creating their own groups to channel discontent against the British, making the American revolution a “mild revolutionary moment” when it could have overturned the whole oppressive structure if not controlled. In fact, the Founders had been directing the resistance movement through the 1760s and 1770s to pursue their goal, which leads to national independence. Still organizations like Gallup seem to forget this history, asking the question: would the Founders would be disappointed with America now, and in two different polls in 1999 and in 2003 the respondents agreed that was the case. Even so, it seems that the secretive view of the Constitution was not told to these respondents or often talked about public discourse. As I wrote in my article, The Constitutional Government of the 1%, that a majority of the fifty five white male delegates who wrote the Constitution, most were lawyers, extremely wealthy, had money “loaned out at interest, forty of the those fifty-five “held government bonds” and overall represented the interests of merchants, slaveholders, and manufacturers in a secretive session where none of the voices of the common man could be heard. This is the reason that “women, Indians, slaves, and property-less men” were excluded from the words of the Constitution, resulting in a “strong connection between wealth and support of the Constitution.” Allen Benson, Howard Zinn, Charles Beard, Michael Parenti, Alfred de Grazia and even Noam Chomsky all agree with this interpretation while many “professional” historians would disagree. The fact is that walls were erected in the Constitution itself to resist popular pressure: Senators were chosen indirectly by states rather than directly by the people (until 1913), the President was chosen by a small group of elite called the “Electoral College,” and the President could choose the Supreme Court Justices who would serve for life. In addition, there weren’t popular elections at the time of the Constitution’s passing, because “a major qualification to vote was the owning of property [and] most people in America at the signing of the Constitution did not have property” (the Constitution was ratified by people with property) and there was (and still isn’t) any way to recall Senators, Representatives or other government officials. The reason this whole power grab for the wealthy elite is because as Howard Zinn notes, it was “the work of certain groups trying to maintain their privileges, while giving just enough rights and liberties to enough of the people to ensure their popular support.” Simply put, “those that drafted the Constitution did not create the document to benefit ordinary people” and as a result one should “question all politicos and others that point to the wisdom of the Constitutional drafters…[since] the one percent created the US Constitution, and were motivated to create its strong federal government for their own benefit and the benefit of the wealthy class.”
These words may shock you, as much as they would shock anyone reading them. The reason it may surprise you is because it’s never a part of the history one is taught in school, from what comes out of politicians bought and paid for by the greedy corporations, or from many activists who advocate for a better world. What must be discussed is how this country even became independent because during the American Revolution a large percentage of people in the American colonies didn’t want to go to war (1/3 is in favor of the revolution [cuts across class lines] a 1/5 of the population opposed the revolution, 45% were neutral), meaning the elites had to offer carrots to get people to go to war. But, as Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker wrote in the Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic: the lower class sparked the revolution by reacting to different concerns. For instance, sailors stood against impressment as they used language of liberty and slaves going against their masters as the talk of liberty inspires uprisings in 1760s. Ray Raphael expands upon this in his book, A People’s History of the American Revolution. Raphael writes that in the 1740s, when “impressment gangs swept through the wharves and taverns of Boston…they met resistance” including the beating of sheriff, stoning of a justice of the peace, the destroying of Royal Navy barge, the beating of the commander of the HMS Shirley and riots against impressment. In 1747, when British Navy commander Charles Knowles looked for deserters from the HMS Lark with a sweep before dawn on the waterfront, resulting in “several thousand rioters [standing] against…Knowles [measures to cause] impressment…[by] plac[ing]…a deputy sheriff in the stocks, seiz[ing]…officers of the Lark as hostages, broke the windows of the Council chamber, and confronted the royal governor.” Even when Knowles threatened to bombard Boston, it was an empty threat because such an action would damage the property of the rich, and with no resistance, “the laboring classes of Boston remained firmly in control of their city for three days until [the] Governor…negotiated the released of most of the impressed seamen.” This action was not the only one like this, as throughout the 1700s, commoners couldn’t vote put they “engaged in collective public actions concerning issues that directly affected their lives” like creating a police force when one didn’t exist, stealing a few bread loaves, liberating seamen who were impressed, and even literally becoming the law in some parts of the country. With this tradition of resistance, it is the reason Americans opposed the Stamp Act in 1765 some who didn’t even oppose the British Parliament but used it as a time to “demonstrate pent-up antagonisms toward rich merchants and officials who flaunted their wealth or abused their power.” In some parts of the country this went to the extreme: Newport rioters destroyed homes in anger, New York mariners broke the windows of those sympathizing with British and Bostonian laborers and seamen “attacked three luxurious mansions” including one of the rich lieutenant governor and chief justice of the state, Thomas Hutchinson. On every November 5th, to honor the catholic conspiracy to blow up Parliament, “lower-class Bostonians owned the town while genteel society huddled indoors.” In the midst of this, “many merchants, lawyers and other[s]” who were well off “objected only to the abuse of power by the British Parliament” but went no further, the ones who would later guide the revolutionary movement in their direction. This was successful first in the November 5th, 1765 march of working-class Bostonians led by leaders who had bought out. Even so, resistance continued across the country, with rioters disrupting and demolishing a theater in New York City with people shouting “Liberty!” because the poor were barely surviving while the rich could pay to go to theaters. Such actions continued as “lower and middle classes confiscated tea” in Massachusetts when they heard that certain Issac Jones had been selling tea at his tavern. This is the reason that opposition to tea prices was a good way to paint “the British and their loyalist allies” as the enemy, in order to “unite around a common enemy” which played out in the famous Boston Tea Party which was a controlled occasion. Even with these controlled occasions, “repeated resistance to civil authority tilled the soil for the revolution which followed” with actions like: a march on Philadelphia in 1764 of people demanding protecting from American Indians, settlers in the South Carolina backcountry (the “Regulators”) complaining about “the lack of government protection from…white men…who looted and burned houses, stole stock, raped women” who regulated a society by themselves, small New Jersey farmers who in 1746 took back land proprietors had evicted them from, tenants on huge New York estates refusing to pay rent which developed into an armed rebellion, Norfolk rioters who protested against inoculations of smallpox in 1768 and 1769 and Ethan Allen’s resistance to New York speculators on the frontier which became what would be called the “Green Mountain Boys”, among hundreds of other riots between 1765 and 1769. This was continued by the tarring-and-feathering of imperial tax collectors during the 1760s and 1770s.
When the revolution began in 1774, while more commoners didn’t mind fighting the British resistance continued. One probably remembers from school that the revolution began in 1775, but in actuality, it began in the year before when “farmers throughout Massachusetts flocked to their county seats to prevent the Crown-appointed judges from holding court…to prevent the new Massachusetts Government Act from taking effect.” In Worchester, a “County Convention” with amazing speed “filled the power vacuum left by the termination of British rule [by] assuming…legislative and executive authority…order[ing]…the sheriff to adjourn the Superior Court, freed all prisoners charged only with debt, and fired public officers who had refused to resign.” If this wasn’t enough, it told towns to keep money from taxes and not give it to the British crown, while creating seven regiments of militia “to defend its actions.” But this wasn’t the only town that did this: “wherever a court was scheduled to meet, men assembled in great thongs to make sure it did not [and] in town after town, judges…humbled themselves before farmers with mud on their boots.” This expanded to a spontaneous uprising in the tens of thousands with no leaders, and “all decisions were made by the participants,” which sounds eerily like the Occupy Movement, resulting in the forced resignations of judges and councilors appointed by the Crown. This eventually blossomed into a “Provincial Congress” where the people staged their own elections (after General Gage canceled the fall elections in the state) where the people elected their own representatives which took public funds and called for the creation of an army for the seemingly upcoming or war in Massachusetts. Basically this new Congress was part of the “local resistance movements…[that shattered] British authority in rural Massachusetts…at the local, county and provincial levels, [and] replaced [them with]…an assortment of crowds, committees, conventions, and congresses.” Sadly, this event is neglected by many historians, but this specific aspect of the revolution (possibly its own revolution as Raphael calls it) showed that the “body of the people” posed a type of serious resistance and bloodlessly forced the “the mightiest empire in the world…to withdraw from the Massachusetts countryside.” What came next was the bloody aspect because King George III wanted to regain control of the state while colonists took control of forts with powder and cannons, stopping the British army in their tracks. However, on April 17, 1775, it all changed as Sylanus Wood and his fellow patriots had been asked to go on a parade, then the British told the colonists to put their arms down, then somehow a shot was fired (by who we’ll never know) and the bloodshed began. Despite this, as Howard Zinn writes in A People’s History of the United States, “The Revolutionary leadership distrusted the mobs of poor” but they had to “woo the armed white population…[because] general enthusiasm for the war was not strong.” Eventually, “less respectable whites” were allowed to serve in militias, in order to “get poor people to fight for a cause they may not see clearly as their own.” This, along with other factors allowed the bloody aspect of the revolution make people “choose sides in the one contest that was publicly important…[and] forc[ing]…people onto the side of the Revolution.” A trend that also seemed to run throughout the war, especially the beginning part was that the minutemen deserted, returning home to do personal business and other matters, including tending farms, because those fighting didn’t want to deal with enduring disease and death. On the other hand, “suppressed conflicts between rich and poor…kept reappearing” including farmers in 1775 declaring that they should be able to elect their own officers and come and leave as they pleased, saying that “the rich wanted the poor to fight for them, to defend there property, whilst they refused to fight for themselves,” the next year soldiers refused to die for the cause of freedom even when the Continental Congress gave paltry amounts of money out as rewards, three years later the “the First Company of Philadelphia Artillery petitioned…the Assembly about the troubles of “the midling and poor” and threatened violence,” throughout the conflict there was dissatisfaction with the Continental Congress which was “dominated by rich men, linked together in factions and compacts by business and family connections,” in the midst of the war there was a mutiny in New Jersey against paying officers half-pay but not paying poor soldiers which involved “two hundred men who defied their officers and started out for the state capital at Trenton,” rioting in Maryland after 1776 against leading rich families which supported the “the Revolution [and] who were suspected of hoarding needed commodities” which was squashed by concession from authorities in the state, tenants across the colonies to stop paying rent due to fact that farmers as army privates got many times less than colonels, among other actions. However, with American independence in 1783, class inequality was able to be “put on paper, solidified, regularized, made legitimate, by the Constitution of the United States, drafted at a convention of Revolutionary leaders in Philadelphia.”
Still, by the time of the Constitutional Convention, the revolutionary spirit of Americans has not faded away. Michael Parenti wrote in Democracy for the Few that “the United States of 1787…[had] landed estates and colonial mansions…[while] property qualifications for holding office…prevent[ed] most voters from qualifying as candidates…[and] oral voting, rather than use of a secret ballot…led to “widespread apathy.”” At the same time, the Constitution was made to prevent “popular takeover of state governments…[since] a national government [would be used] as a means of protecting their interests” while at the same time farm tenants suffered from harsh rent, small farmers had a hard time making living with low prices merchants offered for goods, many people in rural areas were stuck in a cycle of debt and those imprisoned for going into debt filled the jails in the newly-created America. As a result, people began to feel that the American Revolution was worthless, so “angry armed crowds in several states began blocking foreclosures and forcibly freeing debtors from jail” by appearing at courts to stop sentencing of debtors. One of the well-known examples is that of Shay’s Rebellion in western Massachusetts, but “disorders of a violent…organized kind occurred in a number of states.” This continued throughout the 18th century, with “land seizures by the poor, food riots and other violent disturbances.” For all these reasons just explained, it is no surprise when Parenti writes: “the Constitution never was submitted to popular vote.”
You may be surprised by this popular uproar before, during and after the American Revolution, as it is barely mentioned if at all in popular histories which are top-down, talking about the generals and leaders, rather than the common folk. That is what I have tried to do here in a short version, to follow what Howard Zinn wrote in the first chapter of A People’s History of the United States: “If history is to be creative, to anticipate a possible future without denying the past, it should, I believe, emphasize new possibilities by disclosing those hidden episodes of the past when, even if in brief flashes, people showed their ability to resist, to join together, occasionally to win. I am supposing, or perhaps only hoping, that our future may be found in the past’s fugitive moments of compassion rather than in its solid centuries of warfare.” Already, the people of the United States are rejecting the vestiges of the past; not wanting an electoral college to choose the President and demanding Congress follow the views of the public. However, I believe that if Americans knew this history, knew that the people were the driving force of the revolution was the common man, and spirit of resistance began on the wharves and shipyards and spread to nonviolent revolution in Massachusetts, they would have a different view of the Founders. No one should look up to the Founders to justify their ideas, or anything along those lines again. If one wants to use certain ideas, then use the language of the people of the time, take the tactics used by “the mass of people” in this revolutionary time, and use them as you see fit. In order to do this, one should read all or parts of Ray Raphael’s A People’s History of the American Revolution, Michael Parenti’s Democracy for the Few, and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, among others, including any of Gary Nash’s books. As for those involved in the Occupy Movement, the Massachusetts Revolution of 1774 could be a great model for what the movement should do to gain power and become revolutionary because they could have won independence from Britain without firing a shot. As the Dixie Chicks sang in 2007 “lets learn from our history and do it differently.” In the end, one should remember that change doesn’t come from the top, but it comes from the bottom-up, so be the change you want to see in the world.
By Burkely Hermann
Inequality is rampant, it must be stopped so that there’s a mkre equitable distribution of wealth, what the wealthy elitist “Founders” of America called “levelling.”
Inequality is rampant, it must be stopped so that there’s a mkre equitable distribution of wealth, what the wealthy elitist “Founders” of America called “levelling.”
Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on Interesting Blogger.
In the aftermath of the shootings by a white supremacist at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin where six people were killed, I thought a greater understanding was needed. America has the fourth largest concentration of Sikhs in the world, behind Canada, U.K. and India, which has the largest population of this religious group. President Obama and his wife were “deeply saddened” by the shooting, saying then that “the American people have them in our thoughts and prayers,” that the Obama Administration will support an investigation of this incident and that “our country has been enriched by Sikhs, who are a part of our broader American family.” All of those statements are great and are completely valid (even the last one) but what do they stop discrimination against this religious group? It seems Obama is not taking concrete action to stop other hate crimes against Sikhs even with the FBI calling this “domestic terrorism.” As Rajdeep Singh, the Director of Law and Policy at the Sikh Coalition in Washington, D.C. noted on Democracy Now!, “the prevailing stereotype, which has been perpetuated by the media, is that if somebody wears a turban, they are associated with…extremism…the turban…signifies a commitment to upholding the traditions and principles of the Sikh religion.” Singh notes that Sikhs are doing well in their professions, yet they face “existential challenges in the form of hate crimes and other forms of discrimination.” Singh’s last comment is something that should and must be heeded by the President and his administration: “…we hope that we can have a much needed dialogue in this country about religious pluralism, diversity, appreciation of diversity, and the need to not just accept each other but also appreciate each other.”
President Obama could use multiple pieces of legislation in the wake of this horrible massacre. The Civil Rights Act of 1968 allows government prosecution of someone who commits racial, religious or ethnic discrimination through intimidation, injury or force. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act increased penalties for hate crimes and pushed states to use such statutes more forcefully. It is even possible that the assault weapons ban could be reinstated by the President. Connected to this is calls by some, such as Colin Goddard, a student who lived through the shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 says that there should be stronger gun laws and that the American people are better than these acts of violence. The Justice Department might even use these two statutes to prosecute the suspected gunman who committed this act if religious hatred.
Even, so such proposals do not change the mindset of the people at large. As American humorist Will Rodgers noted, “You can’t legislate intelligence and common sense into people.” An approach that will change people’s approaches and push away stereotypes of Sikhs will be helpful.
Instead of people just focusing on the killer himself, the national conversation should begin to discuss diversity, religious pluralism, and accepting each other in America. According to Sikh-Wiki, most of Sikhism’s holy texts promote nonviolence and love. Use of weapons is only allowed as a last resort and for self-defense or to defend someone weaker from an aggressor. Nowhere in the Sikh holy texts is violence and aggression promoted. In order to respect these Sikh values, one should know a bit about the history of this religion’s believers in America.
During the 19th century, Sikhism was the only religion from subcontinental India to settle in the United States. The economic, political and life contributions that this religious group has made to American society is deep. There are those of a Sikh belief in the U.S. military and in the House of Representatives among other places. American people as a whole have been affected. Since WWII the number of Sikhs coming increased but it wasn’t until after 9/11 that discrimination against them began to increase dramatically. People accused them of being terrorists because they war turbans, causing them to be afraid because of this ugly stereotype. At the same time, some are assimilating into American culture and there was a positive approach to the shooting at a temple in Wisconsin.
This brief overview of Sikh beliefs and culture is meant to help readers gain a better understanding of this religion from the Indian subcontinent. Hopefully all Americans can use this article as a starting point to follow through on Rajdeep Singh’s words and start “…a much needed dialogue in this country about religious pluralism, diversity, appreciation of diversity, and the need to not just accept each other but also appreciate each other.”
By Burkely Hermann
U.S. Leaders commit war crimes as a matter of institutional necessity, as their imperial role calls for keeping subordinate peoples in their proper place and assuring a “favorable climate of investment” everywhere. They do this by using their economic power, but also … by supporting Diem, Mobutu, Pinochet, Suharto, Savimbi, Marcos, Fujimori, Salinas, and scores of similar leaders. War crimes also come easily because U.S. Leaders consider themselves to be the vehicles of a higher morality and truth and can operate in violation of law without cost. It is also immensely helpful that their mainstream media agree that their country is above the law and will support and rationalize each and every venture and the commission of war crimes.– Edward Herman, political economist and author
Cartoon of the day — Eclipsed
DANA SUMMERS © 2012 Tribune Media Services
Bill Clinton, a warmonger shadowing another warmonger. They used similar slogans in their campaign slogans around “Change.”:
-“It’s Time to Change America — a theme of Bill Clinton (1992)
- Yes, America Can! - U.S. presidential campaign slogan of George W. Bush (2004)
Yes We Can — U.S. presidential campaign slogan of Obama. (2008)
Change We Can Believe In — 2008 U.S. presidential campaign slogan of Barack Obama…
The Strength and Experience to Bring Real Change - 2008 U.S. presidential campaign slogan of