Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.
Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead, and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Mr Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention.”
At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by overexploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300m-worth of tuna, shrimp, and lobster are being stolen every year by illegal trawlers. The local fishermen are now starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”
This is the context in which the “pirates” have emerged. Somalian fishermen took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least levy a “tax” on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia – and ordinary Somalis agree. The independent Somalian news site WardheerNews found 70 per cent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence”.
No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Programme supplies. But in a telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali: “We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas.” William Scott would understand.
Did we expect starving Somalis to stand passively on their beaches, paddling in our toxic waste, and watch us snatch their fish to eat in restaurants in London and Paris and Rome? We won’t act on those crimes – the only sane solution to this problem – but when some of the fishermen responded by disrupting the transit-corridor for 20 per cent of the world’s oil supply, we swiftly send in the gunboats.
The story of the 2009 war on piracy was best summarised by another pirate, who lived and died in the fourth century BC. He was captured and brought to Alexander the Great, who demanded to know “what he meant by keeping possession of the sea.” The pirate smiled, and responded: “What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you, who do it with a great fleet, are called emperor.” Once again, our great imperial fleets sail – but who is the robber?
“You are being lied to about pirates” by Johann Hari
this is from 2009, i think, but the issues brought up are still relevant even though it’s 2013. instead of attacking imperialism & neocolonialism it is easier to attack somali ~pirates~. no one talks about resistance vis-a-vis piracy, or millitancy as survival. let’s talk about the exploitation and plundering of our resources in pursuit of and in defense of empire. (via nomadmanifesto)
I agree this is still very relevant and it puts piracy into a different light than stated by Western governments. Here is what Wikipedia says about the subject [my emphasis]
“Insurance companies, in particular, have profited from the pirate attacks, as insurance premiums have increased significantly…A United Nations report and several news sources have suggested that piracy off the coast of Somalia is caused in part by illegal fishing.According to the DIW and the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, the dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters by foreign vessels has also severely constrained the ability of local fishermen to earn a living and forced many to turn to piracy instead. 70 percent of the local coastal communities “strongly support the piracy as a form of national defense of the country’s territorial waters”, and the pirates believe they are protecting their fishing grounds and exacting justice and compensation for the marine resources stolen. Some reports have suggested that, in the absence of an effective national coast guard following the outbreak of the civil war and the subsequent disintegration of the Armed Forces, local fishermen formed organized groups in order to protect their waters…as piracy has become substantially more lucrative in recent years, other reports have speculated that financial gain is now the primary motive…However, according to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, both the former and current administrations of the autonomous Puntland region in northeastern Somalia appear to be more actively involved in combating piracy. The latter measures include on-land raids on pirate hideouts, and the construction of a new naval base in conjunction with Saracen International, a UK-based security company…[In the 1980s] after the collapse of the central government in the ensuing civil war, the Somali Navy disbanded. With Somali territorial waters undefended, foreign fishing trawlers began illegally fishing on the Somali seaboard and ships from big companies started dumping waste off the coast of Somalia. This led to the erosion of the fish stock. Local fishermen subsequently started to band together to protect their resources…Somali pirates have attacked hundreds of vessels in the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean region, though most attacks do not result in a successful hijacking. In 2008, there were 111 attacks which included 42 successful hijackings. However, this is only a fraction of the up to 30,000 merchant vessels which pass through that area…Most of the pirates are young. An official list issued in 2010 by the Somali government of 40 apprehended pirate suspects noted that 80% (32/40) were born in Somalia’s southern conflict zones, while only 20% (8/40) came from the more stable northern regions…According to a 2008 BBC report, the pirates can be divided into three main categories: Local fishermen, considered the brains of the pirates’ operations due to their skill and knowledge of the sea [;] Ex-militiamen, who previously fought for the local clan warlords, or ex-military from the former Barre government used as the muscle.[; and]Technical experts, who operate equipment such as GPS devices…the pirates themselves prefer to be called badaadinta badah or “saviours of the sea” (often translated as “coastguard”)…Pirates say ransom money is paid in large denomination US dollar bills. It is delivered to them in burlap sacks which are either dropped from helicopters or cased in waterproof suitcases loaded onto tiny skiffs…During the height of the piracy phenomenon in 2008, local residents complained that the presence of so many armed men made them feel insecure and that their free spending ways caused wild fluctuations in the local exchange rate..Another report from 2011 published by the consultancy firm Geopolicity Inc. investigated the causes and consequences of international piracy, with a particular focus on such activity off the coast of Somalia. The paper asserted that what began as an attempt in the mid-1990s by Somali fishermen to protect their territorial waters has extended far beyond their seaboard and grown into an emerging market in its own right. Due to potentially substantial financial rewards, the report hypothesized that the number of new pirates could swell by 400 persons annually…Some benefits from the piracy have also been noted. In the earlier years of the phenomenon in 2008, it was reported that many local residents in pirate hubs such as Harardhere appreciated the rejuvenating effect that the pirates’ on-shore spending and restocking had on their small towns, a presence which often provided jobs and opportunity when there were comparatively fewer. Entire hamlets were in the process reportedly transformed into boomtowns, with local shop owners and other residents using their gains to purchase items such as generators for uninterrupted electricity…Additionally, impoverished fishermen in Kenya’s Malindi area in the southeastern African Great Lakes region have reported their largest catches in forty years, catching hundreds of kilos of fish and earning fifty times the average daily wage as a result… Insurance companies, in particular, have profited from the pirate attacks, as insurance premiums have increased significantly. DIW reports that, in order to keep premiums high, insurance firms have not demanded that ship owners take security precautions that would make hijackings more difficult. For their part, shipping companies often do not comply with naval guidelines on how best to prevent pirate attacks in order to cut down on costs. Ship crews have also been reluctant to repel the pirates on account of their low wages and inequitable work contracts. In addition, security contractors and the German arms industry have profited from the phenomenon…The former UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has stated that “because there is no (effective) government, there is … much irregular fishing from European and Asian countries,” and that the UN has what he described as “reliable information” that European and Asian companies are dumping toxic and nuclear waste off the Somali coastline. However, he stresses that “no government has endorsed this act, and that private companies and individuals acting alone are responsible.” In addition, Ould-Abdallah told the press that he approached several international NGOs, such as Global Witness, to trace the illicit fishing and waste-dumping. He added that he believes the toxic waste dumping is “a disaster off the Somali coast, a disaster (for) the Somali environment, the Somali population”, and that what he terms “this illegal fishing, illegal dumping of waste” helps fuel the civil war in Somalia since the illegal foreign fishermen pay off corrupt local officials or warlords for protection or to secure counterfeit licenses…Somali pirates which captured MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and military hardware, accused European firms of dumping toxic waste off the Somali coast and declared that the $8m ransom for the return of the ship will go towards cleaning up the waste. The ransom demand is a means of “reacting to the toxic waste that has been continually dumped on the shores of our country for nearly 20 years”, Januna Ali Jama, a spokesman for the pirates said. “The Somali coastline has been destroyed, and we believe this money is nothing compared to the devastation that we have seen on the seas.”…Pirate leader Sugule Ali said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters … We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.”…Under Article 9(1)(d) of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, it is illegal for “any transboundary movement of hazardous wastes or other wastes: that results in deliberate disposal (e.g. dumping) of hazardous wastes or other wastes in contravention of this Convention and of general principles of international law”…According to Nick Nuttall of the United Nations Environmental Programme, “Somalia has been used as a dumping ground for hazardous waste starting in the early 1990s, and continuing through the civil war there”, and “European companies found it to be very cheap to get rid of the waste, costing as little as $2.50 a tonne, where waste disposal costs in Europe are closer to $1000 per tonne.”…At the same time, foreign trawlers began illegally fishing Somalia’s seas, with an estimated $300 million of tuna, shrimp, and lobster being taken each year, depleting stocks previously available to local fishermen. Through interception with speedboats, Somali fishermen tried to either dissuade the dumpers and trawlers or levy a “tax” on them as compensation…According to Roger Middleton of Chatham House, “The problem of overfishing and illegal fishing in Somali waters is a very serious one, and does affect the livelihoods of people inside Somalia […] the dumping of toxic waste on Somalia’s shores is a very serious issue, which will continue to affect people in Somalia long after the war has ended, and piracy is resolved.”…Governments would have to employ socioeconomic measures such as poverty alleviation and good governance in order to deal with piracy (and even terrorism) effectively. In particular, a sustainable solution requires the establishment not only of effective governance but also the rule of law, reliable security agencies, and alternative employment opportunities for the Somali people.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somali_pirates)
Ha-Joon Chang: Despite the fall of communism, we are in fact living in planned economies
Economic recovery is in rather limited supply, it seems. Research by economist Emmanuel Saez shows that the top 1 percent has enjoyed income growth of over 11 percent since the official end of the recession. The other 99 percent hasn’t fared so well, seeing a 0.4 percent decline in income.
The top 10 percent of earners hauled in 46.5 percent of all income in 2011, the highest proportion since 1917 – and that doesn’t even include money earned from investments. The wealthy have benefitted from favorable tax status and the rise in stock prices, while the rest have been hit with a continuing unemployment crisis that has kept wages down. Saez believes this trend will continue in 2013.
— Alternet For more: http://www.alternet.org/economy/9-economic-facts-will-make-your-head-spin
As we know from the running of capitalism, those at the top echelon of society are the ones who make out like bandits. The banksters, the bourgoeise, the wealthy elite, whatever you want to call them. Even Brian Jones in Howard Zinn’s play Marx in Soho makes this point:
None of the major news outlets in the “Western” world have anything about this massive general strike in India. Of the ones that have stories about India, most of them are about a supposed terrorist strike in the country. Maybe its the concentration over control of the media in the United States (and worldwide for that matter). Regardless of the reason, this revolutionary event is not being covered. But I plan to break down that veil of ignorance and tell you about this historic strike.
Steven Argue in the Santa Cruz edition of Independent Media Center wrote about this strike two days ago. He said that
“with all 11 central trade unions participating, the working class of India will strike for 48 hours at the end of this week. One hundred million workers are expected to strike…This is expected to be the largest strike in India’s history. Tens of millions of workers participated in a similar one day general strike last February 2012. This strike has been called against the anti-worker policies of the governing coalition called the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Congress Party. Workers’ demands…include:
* Raise the National Minimum Wage to 10,000 Rupees! (The current minimum wage is between 5500 and 6500 rupees, depending on the state and the industry.) [currently this translates to in US Dollars between $101.76 to $120.76 dollars and the demand is to raise it to $183.55. But note that there are high food and petroleum prices in the country which caused a strike two years ago and to be more specific, look on numbeo and at a Centad report from 2008]
* Secure Pensions For All!
* National Social Security For Unorganized Workers!
* End Delays in Registering Trade Unions!
* End Outsourcing and Subcontracting of Permanent Work! [which sounds a lot like demands in the U.S.]”
He further urged to “revolutionaries and unionists around the world [to]…support this strike and its demands,” noting that there will need to be more than just this two-day strike to bring about major changes, and that in order to “force the Indian capitalist government to give in to working class demands, workers must attempt to strike until the government gives in to their demands.” Argue even attacks the
“various reformist Stalinist (USSR line) and Maoist currents,” saying they “lack a revolutionary program” and have “become defenders of the capitalist state.” His final point is that the workers must take control with a revolutionary workers party, and put in place a “revolutionary socialist program” (“a planned socialist economy and workers’ democracy”) by way of a proletarian revolution to smash the capitalist state.
All of these ideas seem to echo what Karl Marx and Frederich Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto. They wrote that “The real fruit of their battles lie not in the immediate result, but in the ever expanding union of the workers…It was just this contact that was needed to centralize the numerous local struggles, all of the same character, into one national struggle between classes…he proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property…Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word…The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all instruments of production in the hands of the state, i.e., of the proletariat organized as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.”
I still come back to the strike itself. What else about this strike should you know, other than what Argue wrote? Well, an article in the Hindustan Times may give some background as well. They write that:
“Central trade unions on Wednesday said the success should serve as a wake up call to the government for settling their demands, even as they deplored reports of violence on the first day. Union leaders regretted that they were being blamed for causing Rs 20,000 crore loss to the economy and wondered if the government was aware of the loss accrued due to 2G license row, concession extended to corporates in the last budget and farmers’ suicides…the government was never ready for talks with the unions when they announced the strike in September last year and even when the matter was raised in Parliament and at the standing labour committee’s meeting where the Prime Minister was present…the AITUC general secretary said…Right to strike is guaranteed by the Constitution and nobody can declare illegal…The two-day strike has been called up 11 central trade unions to press for their 10-point charter of demands which include pensions for everyone along with removal of ceiling on bonus and provident fund…Dasgupta deplored the violence in Noida and Ambala, and tendered his “apology” for the inconvenience caused to the people because of the strike. He said the trade unions had no option but to call the strike…barring the states of Delhi and Maharashtra, transport sector came to a standstill in the rest of the states while strike was complete in the banking sector…While industrial workers shut down production…the post offices and the income tax offices were largely affected.”
As such a report tells some specifics it wasn’t enough for me, so I went further. I found an article in Al-Jaazera about the strike. They wrote that: “a strike by millions of low-skilled workers in India has seen banks close and public transport disrupted…an estimated 100 million Indians, angry about rising prices, low pay and poor working condition, walked off their jobs on Wednesday, on the first day of a two-day strike organised by eleven major trade unions…Earlier this week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh…had asked for the strike to be called off…In many areas public transport was not running, banks were closed and most shops and offices kept their shutters down…Several trains were stranded at stations as protesters blocked railway tracks…The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry estimated losses from the strike at more than $3.7bn.” Even though the cost from the strike is supposedly high, most of that loss will be suffered from those at the top of the capitalist structure. In a better note, the shutting down of much of the economy due to this strike is powerful because it shows the workers can take control away from the greedy capitalists, the international financiers and other bourgeoisie.
Libcom.org gives some background on this strike in a post in January. One of their bloggers wrote that:
“The strike has been called because workers have said ‘enough is enough’, after two years of the government refusing to negotiate with unions on any issue…Recent months have seen a mounting wave of militant worker struggles in India, strikes for union recognition in India’s expanding auto sector, including a two-day occupation of a Hyundai plant, a wildcat strike by Air India personnel, and walkouts by telecom workers and coal miners against the central government’s privatization plans…Despite seeing growth of around 9% each year, more than four hundred million Indians live in absolute poverty. Only a handful of countries enjoy similar growth, yet Indian workers have not even been flicked so much as a crumb from the bosses table…Indian workers are starting to switch on to the fact that they ‘system’ only serves the wealthy and the bosses. The last few year has seen a dramatic rise in the number off millionaires and billionaires, yet jobs are lost, wages cut, and unions rights pushed back. India’s richest fifty five people have 1/6th of all the country’s wealth.”
What the International Socialist Group, based in the UK is very relevant here. They wrote that the crucial element of this struggle is that India’s working class, its proletariat, is united together in pushing “a long-term strategy…[to make] the government…make good on previous assurances to basic standards of living, and [put in place] a fundamental right to work in a country where poverty is higher than in all the countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined.”
This strike, which I fully support, can hopefully inspire others to do the same in their respective countries.This struggle also shows how people can stand up to a rotten capitalist system, something that could be done in the belly of the world capitalist system in the United States and the advanced industrialized countries. Dead Prez put it wonderfully in their song, Globalization:
The new name in the twenty-first century of Imperialism/Is really globalization/And when you think about that/When you read about that
When you study about that/Globalization really means the Globalization of Capital/You don’t hear people talking about the Globalization of Labor /But you know working people all around the world/have more in common with each other/Than they have with their own so-called leaders or the rulers/The ruling class that is of the Society/So people should…Globalize resistance…Who cares if you get stepped on, get stepped on/In the name of progress/They business has no conscious/All they want is profits…Oppressive domination, Resiiiiiiist”
From this, I repeat what activist Steven Argue wrote:
“Workers of the World Unite!!!
International Solidarity to the Indian General Strike!!!”
Portmanteau of “banker” and “gangster”, popularized by (among others) the economist Murray N. Rothbard, used by him to attack what he held to be the inherently fraudulent nature of Fractional-Reserve banking…In more recent popular usage, often refers in a vague way to the forces of “Wall Street”, or to those persons in the financial services industry who grow rich despite the continued impoverishment of those who depend on their services, and despite their apparent inability to succeed in business without constant government assistance.– The definition of Bankster according to an urban dictionary definition.
There are numerous parties on the left that one would look to in their fight for social justice. However, one of these just makes me mad. This is the one called the Socialist Workers Party which has little influence in the left. The reason I am writing is to show that they are damn hypocrites.
Remember when Karl Marx rallied against the concentration of wealth in a few hands? Guess what. Those leading the party are capitalists. The tabloid, the New York Observer owned by investment banker Arthur L. Carter wrote that “in 2003, the party sold its major headquarters building in New York City for $20 million and moved to another location in Manhattan [and] Party leaders Jack Barnes and Mary-Alice Waters subsequently sold their West Village condominium for $1.87 million.” Ok, this is from a tabloid, you’ll say so it’s inaccurate. But even if it’s a bit of an exaggeration, it still seems excessive. While some of the party supported Trotsky after 1928 instead of Stalin, most seemed to back Stalin which is stain on them. But this isn’t the main problem with the party. The problem comes that part of their political ideology is Castroism. Such a view is created by Fidel Castro which focuses on the “practice and theory behind revolution and revolutionary government in Cuba and promotes Cuban nationalism, Latin American solidarity, social justice and people’s democracy.” The promoting of Cuban nationalism is problematic because Marx called for the elimination of national borders and pushing such a view doesn’t advance this thought. Also, one must consider the head of the party, Jack Barnes, allows the party to view “the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban Communist Party more sympathetically…stressing the alleged vanguard role of Cuba’s foreign policy and the alleged ability of socialists to learn from Cuba about building a socialist society.”
This isn’t the only problem with the organization. Their publishing group, Pathfinder tendency, while having “solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban Communist Party,” has some interesting policies. While they promote the downloading of a free copy of Adobe Reader, their returns policy notes that “books in salable condition are returnable after 90 days and up to one year from date of invoice… Returns must be accompanied by an invoice number, or no credit can be issued [that there is] no refunds — credits can be applied to new purchases for up to one year [and that] returns with stickered barcodes are not accepted.” This policy is restrictive and makes it seem that books that one marks up or accidently puts water on, cannot be in a “saleable condition.” Such a policy is not a positive one for Americans. Also, one should look at their permission requests, saying that one has to email or mail to get permission “to copy or reprint portions of Pathfinder Press books.” This policy is basically completely against the disseminating of free information. Even worse is the fact that they don’t even use the U.S. Postal Service! Instead the party uses the multi-billion dollar privately-owned “UPS Ground unless otherwise specified” and they don’t even pay for shipping. If this isn’t enough they only “accept orders placed online at our web site. We cannot process faxed or mailed orders,” which assumes that everyone has internet access which is not true.
However, not everything they do is bad. Parts of their Presidential campaign in 2012 had pro-worker messages. Still, the fact they unabashedly support Castro without trying to criticize him at least to some extent is troubling. They may think they are offering an alternative, but I believe it is a false one. For the record, if any of their candidates runs for President, I will not be voting for them. Instead, I’d vote for a party more consistent like the Green Party USA or the Socialist Party USA.
techspotlight recently reblogged an article from BBC talking about how Jose Mujica: is the world’s ‘poorest’ president.The article noted that Uruguay’s President “lives on a ramshackle farm and gives away most of his pay…President Mujica has shunned the luxurious house that the Uruguayan state provides for its leaders and opted to stay at his wife’s farmhouse, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevideo…Mujica donates about 90% of his monthly salary…to charity - has led him to be labelled the poorest president in the world.” BBC continues noting that “Elected in 2009, [Jose] Mujica spent the 1960s and 1970s as part of the Uruguayan guerrilla Tupamaros, a leftist armed group inspired by the Cuban revolution…[Mujica:] “I’m called ‘the poorest president’, but I don’t feel poor…The Uruguayan leader made a similar point when he addressed the Rio+20 summit in June this year: “We’ve been talking all afternoon about sustainable development. To get the masses out of poverty. But what are we thinking? Do we want the model of development and consumption of the rich countries? I ask you now: what would happen to this planet if Indians would have the same proportion of cars per household than Germans? How much oxygen would we have left? Does this planet have enough resources so seven or eight billion can have the same level of consumption and waste that today is seen in rich societies? It is this level of hyper-consumption that is harming our planet.” Mujica accuses most world leaders of having a “blind obsession to achieve growth with consumption, as if the contrary would mean the end of the world“…The Uruguayan opposition says the country’s recent economic prosperity has not resulted in better public services in health and education, and for the first time since Mujica’s election in 2009 his popularity has fallen below 50%. This year he has also been under fire because of two controversial moves. Uruguay’s Congress recently passed a bill which legalised abortions for pregnancies up to 12 weeks. Unlike his predecessor, Mujica did not veto it. He is also supporting a debate on the legalisation of the consumption of cannabis, in a bill that would also give the state the monopoly over its trade.”
That seems all good and happy doesn’t it? I looked into this more to see if what he said was true. Wikipedia noted that “Mujica’s political ideology has evolved over the years from orthodox to pragmatist…[who wants] a more flexible political left…[and that] during the campaign, Mujica distanced himself from the governing style of presidents like Hugo Chávez…or Evo Morales…claiming the center-left governments of Brazilian Luis Inácio Lula da Silva or Chilean…Michelle Bachelet as regional examples.” Wikipedia further noted that “Mujica formed a cabinet made up of politicians from the different sectors of the Broad Front, conceding the economics area to aides of his vice president Danilo Astori…[and] In general terms, his government is a continuation of the previous one; [and]…many political figures accuse Mujica of not being resolute enough.” However, there was one aspect that was ignored by the article, the thoughts written in the Wikileaks cables. One from February 2010 in which Ambassador David Nelson, who was part of the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs agency of the State Department which promotes American “economic security and prosperity at home and abroad,” talked with Majica’s vice president noted that:
“[The new] Uruguayan vice president…Astori has been tapped…to manage Uruguay’s economic policy…[including] Uruguay’s economic development. At the top of Astori’s list…was the goal of building upon the existing solid bilateral relationship [with the United States]…[and] stressed Uruguay’s need for foreign investment, telling the ambassador he would do what it takes…to attract it…Astori’s other priorities for the year fell into the legislative realm: he wants to approve funding for the construction of dwellings for underprivileged Uruguayans, win approval of key government reform measures…Describing our Bilateral Investment Treaty and our bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) as excellent mechanisms, Astori [and]…the ambassador…agreed to establish a joint Embassy-Ministry of Economy team…to review progress with the TIFA and set common goals moving forward…it has been encouraging to see that…high-level members of the incoming Mujica administration with whom the ambassador has spoken have…indicate[d] their desire for good relations with the U.S”
The fact that he would do anything to attract foreign investment is troubling. Secondly, the fact that the country wants good relations with the U.S. is also a problem. Thirdly, saying that TIFA [Trade and Investment Framework Agreement] is an “excellent mechanism” is not good at all! Wikipedia notes:
“TIFAs are often seen as an important step towards establishing Free Trade Agreements…the United States - Uruguay Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), which entered into force on November 1, 2006…[This] TIFA contains an annex that established a work program calling for the two governments to address such matters as liberalization of bilateral trade and investment, intellectual property rights, regulatory issues, information and communications technology and electronic commerce, trade facilitation, trade and technical capacity building, trade in services, government procurement, and cooperation on sanitary and phytosanitary measures…In implementing the TIFA, both parties reconfirmed their commitment to expand economic opportunities between Uruguay and the United States while simultaneously coordinating their efforts to promote greater trade liberalization through the World Trade Organization (WTO).
This is troubling nonetheless because these free trade agreements result in the destruction of social services and the continuation of riches going to those at the top. Wikipedia further notes what a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) is:
“A bilateral investment treaty (BIT) is an agreement establishing the terms and conditions for private investment by nationals and companies of one state in another state…Most BITs grant fair and equitable treatment, protection from expropriation, free transfer of means and full protection and security…Political movements and NGOs have spoken against the use of BITs, stating that they are mostly designed to protect the foreign investors and do not take into account obligations and standards to protect the environment, labour rights, social provisions or natural resources. Moreover when such clauses are agreed upon the formulation is legally very imprecise, enabling investors to take great liberties and making it difficult for host states to predict the limits of their rights and obligations.”
There you have it. The Vice-President of Uruguay wants to keep in place those horrid “free trade” agreements which are not really free trade but are business trade agreements. What does the Mujica say about this? The perfect cable to answer this question is one worryingly titled “President-Elect Mujica Courts Business Community.” I have a bad feeling about this. The wikileaks cable noted:
“Mujica emphasized that his administration would work hard to ensure the continuation of Uruguay’s open and positive investment climate…issuing a rallying call for increased investment and production. Addressing over 1,500 international businesspeople during a charity lunch…Mujica, flanked by…his entire cabinet…emphasized that Uruguay is keen to support new investment, and he welcomed investors to come and live in Uruguay…Mujica’s message…drew an enthusiastic response, tamping concerns among many…that Mujica may prove vulnerable to the ideological currents of the more radical elements of his leftist…coalition. Mujica…reassur[ed]…the attendees that he wanted the country to prosper from…gains in employment and state revenue resulting from greater investment…Specifically promising no expropriations, he said, “we’re not going to take you over or double your taxes.”…He also said that…his administration would do everything it could to minimize risks while maximizing stability. In explaining his vision of the relationship between state and the private sector, Mujica cited his own proposal to revive the country’s railroads, remarking that “the government has to build the rails, but then the private sector takes over.”…Astori preceded Mujica’s presentation by reiterating the investment-friendly aim of making Uruguay “more open to the world.”…The event was…widely reported…[and] has also proved potentially productive. In less than 24 hours, the future administration has received [over]…150 requests for meetings on possible investment projects…Mujica hit a home run, in reassuring the business community and reaffirming the message that Uruguay welcomes investors…while Mujica seemed sincere in his pro-investor concepts, implementation may require compromise with less business friendly coalition partners.”
In another cable from February, Ambassador Nelson notes that “Mujica has taken the most pains to emphasize his desire to continue Vazquez’s policies with respect to managing Uruguay’s economy.” Another by the Ambassador even details all of the people that Muijica would pick in his upcoming cabinet! A cable from 2009 written by a different ambassador notes that
“The December 8-9 38th summit meeting of MERCOSUR, provided an appropriate platform for Jose Mujica’s regional debut as president elect…Mujica has publically supported increased integration…and signaled his intention to deepen Uruguay’s links with its neighbors throughout his campaign…Mujica drew attention even before the summit began by meeting privately with Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner the night she and her delegation arrived…recent relations between Uruguay and Argentina have been strained…Bilateral tensions have worsened gradually under Vazquez, but some commentators have been hopeful that Mujica’s close relationship to the Kirchners…could facilitate a rapid thawing…Mujica and Chavez have met on several occasions over the years and are widely perceived to have clicked, a perception that Mujica, striving to present himself as a moderate, tried hard to downplay during the electoral campaign…We expect Mujica will focus his early foreign policy energies close to home, and his first such effort seems to have been well received…With Chavez and Lula, he is in his element talking about issues, such as regional integration and social justice, which are close to his heart.
This cable seems to not talk about the trade proposals but puts Mujica in a more positive light. I looked up Mujica a bit more and found out even more about his presidency and what it means for Uruguay.An article by UPI from 2010 confirms that they cables were right on:
“Uruguay’s newly elected President Jose Mujica faces serious economic challenges of job creation and poverty reduction as he begins an international campaign for enticing investors to the country…The former guerrilla leader received applause when he addressed Argentine business leaders as part of the campaign for economic reforms, one of his key pre-election pledges…Mujica said Uruguay needed more investment to create a greater number of better jobs and his government would ensure the right conditions are created for investors to be drawn to the Uruguayan economy. Mujica said he realized the economy could not be improved only with legislation and that investors needed to have faith in Uruguay’s economic future.”
“Uruguayan President-elect Jose Mujica signaled his desire for closer ties with the United States in a heart-warming reversal for U.S. officials of the recent spate of Latin American events hostile or unsympathetic to Washington. Mujica has been making public pronouncements in favor of an open cementing of ties with the Obama administration…Analysts said Clinton’s visit would be a timely acknowledgment that the Obama administration plans to be more proactive in an area contiguous to the United States.”
I didn’t need to look into U..S. military interventions in the country which are less than five by my count, but instead I turned to a search on Zapmeta.I found that in 2011 according to Reuters, “Uruguay…recognized a Palestinian state, becoming the latest in a string of Latin American countries to make an endorsement in recent months.” Also that year, UPI reported that “Uruguay is set to become a major exporter of natural gas after assessments indicated it has potentially large and commercially viable gas deposits on its territory…Uruguay is going ahead with further offshore exploration that is seen likely to result in more oil and gas finds. Another offshore oil and gas licensing round is due this year and has drawn interest from foreign prospecting and investment companies. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has outlined plans to make Uruguay self-sufficient in energy and increase its export potential.” Last year, UPI wrote that “Uruguayan President Jose Mujica is facing a sharp drop in approval ratings as the country’s development targets slip through a combination of external factors and the president’s alleged lackluster performance…critics of Mujica complain that most of the country’s economic and social problems remain unresolved and a runaway inflation is taking a toll on Uruguay’s living standards. Latest data indicate Uruguay’s economy is slowing but remains on track for further growth…The president is also faulted for not standing up to alleged bullying by Argentine President Fernandez de Kirchner. Mujica won international respect after he persuaded Fernandez to drop her confrontation with Uruguay over eucalyptus pulp processing…Approval ratings for Mujica dropped to 36 percent, the lowest since he took office in March 2010, and the lowest of the ruling coalition Broad Front, latest data showed…Although Uruguay’s exports are booming, new import curbs in Argentina and Brazil are set to change the outlook and the country’s international trade performance.” The New York Times, a business paper, writes in its description of the Uruguayan President that “Under Mr. Mujica, Uruguay has drawn attention for seeking to legalize marijuana and same-sex marriage, while also enacting one of the region’s most sweeping abortion rights laws and sharply increasing the use of renewable energy sources like wind and biomass.” Complimenting this is the fact that since Mujica has continued the previous administration’s overall policy, he has continued to, according to wikipedia, “taken positions on a number of issues which are very markedly different from those of the United States.”
After all of this, when one looks up “Jose Mujica” most of the results are still about how he is the poorest and the most generous, how he doesn’t live in a personal palace. Even one article says that he wants to “live in peace” and notes that corruption has fallen in his term of office. Another says that he doesn’t have a bank account and drives a Volkswagen beetle. An article by historian Conrad Black who has the completely wrong view of Marxism, notes that “While he has a net worth of under $2,000…his wife is a comparative plutocrat, as she apparently has assets of about $430,000…he still has only about a third of the declared wealth of his predecessor and two thirds the declared personal net worth of his vice president…He is not exactly a Marxist…Mujica regards his comparative poverty as freedom, and emphasizes that it is a free choice, and speaks nothing but the truth…the public is grumpy that he has not translated the rising prosperity of the country into improved social services and education…President Mujica leaves the fiscal direction of his country to the finance minister he retained from his more capitalistic predecessor… Here, at last, long after the collapse of international Communism, may be Communism’s human face, an amiable, unthreatening old flower farmer.” However, some have criticized the marijuana legalization effort pushed by Mujica, calling it “fascist”:
“Castilla is opposed to a database and monthly limit for users proposed by government ministers. She also branded a proposal to obligate users to go to rehab as “fascist.” The measure, put forward in a complimentary bill, would see those found high in public forced into “assistance centers.”…“Individual rights have to be respected,” Castilla says. “It’s not the role of the state to determine how much we consume.” “The bill is headed in the wrong direction,” agrees Sebastian Maurell, 19, a marijuana smoker. Juan Vaz, a leading legalization campaigner who was also jailed for keeping cannabis plants, echoes their worries. He is lobbying lawmakers to ensure they don’t discard the idea of legalizing domestic production. Vaz, 45, heads about 1,000 organized activists who want Uruguay to institutionalize the model of “cannabis clubs” used in the semi-autonomous Basque region in northern Spain. There, some 300 nonprofit associations grow cannabis and share it among members. The clubs occupy a gray area in Spanish law since marijuana consumption, as in Uruguay, is decriminalized. “It’s far more practical to let users regulate themselves rather than impose a top-down state model,” Vaz says as he rolls a cigarette…He says domestic production now stands at 6 percent of an estimated 50,000 pounds consumed annually in Uruguay. The rest is trafficked from Paraguay by small cartels. “The government should play an overseeing role,” Vaz tells a meeting of the National Committee for Cannabis Legalization before slurping on a mate, Uruguay’s ubiquitous hot herbal drink. He wants licenses for growers and regular inspections by authorities to ensure clubs don’t sell to non-members or under-18s…Sebastian Sabini is president of the parliamentary commission that is debating the bill and a young lawmaker who admits to having smoked marijuana. He says home cultivation could be incorporated into the new law. [Sabini]…said the plans do not flout the UN narcotics convention since they are designed to improve the health of Uruguay’s 18,000 marijuana users by regulating quality. And he insists a consumption limit is not Orwellian, but a necessary measure to prevent Uruguay from becoming an exporter of cannabis. The president has also said a private company would be contracted to sell the cannabis. Castilla, though, is far from convinced by the strategy. “This is in no way a progressive bill,” she says. She has been a staunch advocate of marijuana law reform since she lived in Brazil in the 1970s, writing two books on the drug and surviving an 11-day hunger strike last year in protest of her arrest…Despite accusations of being totalitarian, the bill represents a kick in the teeth for Washington’s “war on drugs” in Latin America, first given impetus by President Nixon in the 1970s.”Still, Human Rights Watch didn’t have any negative articles on the country and Amnesty International lauded them. At one point they even wrote:“The Uruguayan Congress adopted a law early today that marks an important step toward justice for the many victims of gross human rights violations during the country’s military rule, Amnesty International said today. The new law eliminates the effects of the 1986 Amnesty Law (also known as Expiry Law), which protected police and military personnel from being prosecuted for human rights violations, and repeals a statute of limitations that would have prevented victims from filing criminal complaints as of 1 November…Treating grave human rights violations committed in Uruguay during the civil and military governments of the 70’s and 80’s as ordinary criminal offences rather than crimes against humanity meant that the cases were subject to a statute of limitations, which would have expired on 1 November. The new law removes this limitation.”Still, Amnesty did call for Uruguayan authorities to look into possible sexual abuse by Uruguayan soldiers who were in Haiti. Also, the report about Uruguay last year noted that:“In June, President Mujica issued a decree revoking the decisions of former presidents about which cases of alleged human rights violations could be investigated. These decisions had been made using powers granted under the Expiry Law which protected police and military personnel from prosecution for human rights violations. The June decree raised hopes that some 80 cases could be reopened…In July the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern about serious shortcomings in the prison system including overcrowding, inadequate infrastructure and the widespread use of pre-trial detention. By the end of the year the National Human Rights Institute and Ombudsman’s Office, one of whose roles is to implement the national preventive mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture, had yet to be established.”That was all Amnesty International said. The 2011 report noted that: “In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture presented his report on his visit to Uruguay in 2009. He called on the government, among other things, to undertake fundamental reforms of the criminal justice…According to women’s rights organizations, 26 women were killed in the first 10 months of the year. The state’s response to cases of violence against women remained inadequate and the UN Special Rapporteur on torture drew attention to the failure to implement the national Action Plan on Fighting Domestic Violence…the President approved a decree on implementation of a 2008 law on sexual and reproductive rights. The decree sets out the obligation of health service providers to give advice on sexual and reproductive health to women and teenagers and confirms that contraception must be provided free of cost.” The final report I looked at in 2010 noted that “The Special Rapporteur on torture visited Uruguay in March and concluded that conditions of detention were critical…There were reports of overcrowding, ill-treatment, inadequate health care, insufficient food supplies as well as of poor conditions for juveniles in detention and excessive use of force by security agents…Women who experienced gender-based violence continued to face obstacles in obtaining protection, justice and reparation. Lack of resources and inadequate training of the judiciary hindered the implementation of legislation on domestic violence.” Once again, when I looked at HRW, I found no results at all.In conclusion, I’d say that Uruguay’s President doesn’t seem the worst, but seems to be partly coddling businesses. As a result, his rhetoric gets my support and a good amount of his initiatives more than someone like the war criminal Obomba who rules over the United States with allegiance to the corporate state.
Months ago, my mom handed me a magazine article that described why more mechanization is great for industry. I questioned this but had nothing to back up my claim. In recent days, I read the first chapter of the Communist Manifesto and finally realized the reasons why robotization, the replacement of workers with robots, is bad for the working class in America.
Why is this the case you might ask? Since 64% of Americans in a deceptively written question believe Big Business profits help America
(http://www.gallup.com/poll/159203/americans-say-big-business-profits-helps.aspx), then why is robotization bad? What Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels write in the Communist Manifesto gives some answer: “as the use of machinery and division of labor increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil increases…[with longer] working hours, by the increase of work…or by increased speed of machinery.” As for the lowest group of the middle class, “their specialized skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production.” Finally, “machinery obliterates all distinctions of labor and nearly everywhere reduces wages to the same low level.” There is more to it, but what Communist Manifesto says can be verified just by simple observation of society and workplaces with robotization in full effect.
There is another main problem with this new form of mechanization. An article in The Atlantic by Erik Byrnjolfsson and Andrew McAfee
(http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/10/why-workers-are-losing-the-war-against-machines/247278/?single_page=true) explains that for years, automation replacing workers, it has not deminished job growth but most people do not benefit from technological progress making the “the threat of technological unemployment [a] real [one].” Productivity is increased along with overall wealth, but much of this goes to the upper tier of society, the class of bourgeois which can make some “people worse off than they were before the innovation.” Even low wage factory workers workers in China will be negatively affected
“by new machinery and the complementary organizational and institutional changes,” just like workers in Foxconn factories which are the main producers of iPhones.
Along with the dropping of workers in favor of machines there is an additional cost. Without workers and their demands, it is more likely bourgeoise owners of the companies and manufacturers can make even bigger profits. Possibly from this, prices could be jacked up and corporations that engaged in more robotization could have more free rein. Unemployment could rise as workers with specialized skills would be replaced by robots that do their work, negatively affecting the economy. Most of all, Martin Luther King’s haunting words from his 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech offer the final problem with this, warning of its consequences if it isn’t stopped: “When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”
In the end, it seems evident that robotization does hurt the working class. The solution is what Richard Wolff wrote in Truthout (http://rdwolff.com/content/republican-and-democratic-remedies-ensure-more-crises-alternatives-work-are-taboo), structural change including economic democracy where “employees decide democratically what, how and where to produce and how to use the enterprise’s profits.”
Today, I was looking through a mailbox for one of my blogs and there was a message from a user asking me: “I have a question for you, if…the people’s struggles are being ignored by the wealthy elite who are in control, then how should the country be run, whom should it be run by, and based on what principles should we be running it?” This question alone was not the reason I decided to write this article. After watching the full Howard Zinn’s masterful play that is funny and explains political theory called Marx in Soho, I was inspired to begin writing because the actor playing Karl Marx commented about the Paris Commune, saying it was a dictatorship of the proletariat, a government ruled by the workers that that worked on behalf of the people. I had already read about this before, but I wanted to learn more. In order to answer this question, I looked into the totality of human history to see if there were similar governments or societies that benefited the working-class and the people at-large.
I start the story with the idea of “primitive communism.” One learns time and time again that greed and brutality are inherent to human nature. Chris Harman challenges this in his book, A People’s History of the World, when he writes that for 90 percent of human history: “people shared with and helped each other, with no rulers and no ruled, no rich and no poor…The premium was on cooperation with each other, not competition…Those who could not…adopt…cooperative labour, and the new patterns of mental behavior that went with them, died out…The reality was very different [than]…the traditional Western image of such people as uncultured ‘savages.’ …People lived in loose-knit groups of 30 or 40 which might periodically get together with other groups in bigger gatherings of up to 200…There were no rulers, bosses, or class divisions in these societies…People cooperated with each other…without either bowing before a great leader or engaging in endless strife with each other…There was no private land ownership…Consensus was reached within whatever group would be carrying out a collective activity…Behavior was characterized by generosity rather than selfishness, and individuals helped each other…[while there was] the absence of male supremacy over women.” You may ask why this important. The reason is it shows that humans are inherently egalitarian and part of what Friedrich Engels called “primitive communism.” The second time in history, in the early agricultural societies, “egalitarianism and sharing remained all-pervasive” with communal property, having tribute chiefs receive redistributed among their subjects, and having the powers of chiefs checked and balanced by popular opinion and institutions. The idea of Greek democracy is often noted as a time when the people could have power (literally the word democracy means ‘rule of the people’), Harman writes that “in reality, it never referred to the whole people, since it excluded slaves, women, and resident non-citizens…It did not challenged the concentration of the rich, either…This was hardly surprising, since the leadership of the ‘democratic’ forces usually lay in the hands of dissident wealthy landowners.”
It wouldn’t be until 1492, when the vicious conqueror named Christopher Columbus goes onto an island in the Bahamas with Arawak Natives. Harman writes that the islands Columbus encountered “were inhabited by people who had neither states nor private property.” Spanish Priest Las Casas continues this in his account: “Marriage laws are non-existent men and women alike choose their mates and leave them as they please, without offense, jealousy or anger. They multiply in great abundance; pregnant women work to the last minute and give birth almost painlessly; up the next day, they bathe in the river and are as clean and healthy as before giving birth…they give themselves abortions with herbs that force stillbirths, covering their shameful parts with leaves or cotton cloth…Indian men and women look upon total nakedness with as much casualness as we look upon a man’s head or at his hands…[These natives live in] large communal bell-shaped buildings, housing up to 600 people at one time…They prize bird feathers of various colors, beads made of fishbones, and green and white stones with which they adorn their ears and lips, but they put no value on gold and other precious things. They lack all manner of commerce, neither buying nor selling, and rely exclusively on their natural environment for maintenance. They are extremely generous with their possessions and by the same token covet the possessions of their friends and expect the same degree of liberality.” Despite this communal spirit, the capitalistic, greedy Spaniards committed total genocide in which less than a million to eight million Arawaks were killed. In a novel that makes Columbus out to be the best person ever, a Harvard historian, Samuel Eliot Morison wrote almost as a footnote: “the cruel policy initiated by Columbus and pursued by his successors resulted in complete genocide.”
Despite this brutal suppression of human’s natural state, the Iroquois nation had a similar communal spirit to the Arawaks. Howard Zinn writes in A People’s History of the United States that “in the villages of the Iroquois, land was owned in common and worked in common. Hunting was done together, and the catch was divided among the members of the village. Houses were considered common property and were shared by several families. The concept of private ownership of land and homes was foreign to the Iroquois…Women were important and respected in Iroquois society. Families were matrilineal…Each extended family lived in a “long house.” When a woman wanted a divorce, she set her husband’s things outside the door. Families were grouped in clans, and a dozen or more clans might make up a village. The senior women in the village named the men who represented the clans at village and tribal councils. They also named the forty-nine chiefs who were the ruling council for the Five Nation confederacy of the Iroquois. The women attended clan meetings, stood behind the circle of men who spoke and voted, and removed the men from office if they strayed too far from the wishes of the women…Children in Iroquois society, while taught the cultural heritage of their people and solidarity with the tribe, were also taught to be independent, not to submit to overbearing authority. They were taught equality in status and the sharing of possessions. The Iroquois did not use harsh punishment on children; they did not insist on early weaning or early toilet training, but gradually allowed the child to learn self-care…He who stole another’s food or acted invalourously in war was “shamed” by his people and ostracized from their company until he had atoned for his actions and demonstrated to their satisfaction that he had morally purified himself.” After this, the Iroquois society went into decline. But, the spirit of sharing continued on, in Africa, where before European main contact, there was a strong amount of tribal life, and despite the amount of slavery, there was a communal spirit, a kinder approach to law and punishment, meaning that authorities couldn’t make as many people fall into line. As a result, when blacks were taken into the transatlantic slave trade, Howard Zinn wrote that since they “came from a settled culture, of tribal customs and family ties, of communal life and traditional ritual…[they] found themselves especially helpless when removed from this.”
As communal societies began to fade away, governments controlled by the common man and/or the workers came together. In 1747, Boston rioters who had already resisted impressment gangs in the wharves and taverns of the city in 1741, 1742 and 1745, challenged those that were trying to impress them. Officers of the ship that was trying to impress them were taken as hostages, the windows of the chamber of the Council were broken while on land, according to Ray Raphael’s A People’s History of American Revolution, “the people reigned supreme. They literally shored the British Navy (or so they thought).” The Governor of Massachusetts at the time “called out the militia, but only the officers showed up—the rest of the militiamen, it seems, were part of the crowd. Commodore Knowles…announced he would bombard Boston with warships…[but] the greatest damage would…accrue to the property of the rich, not the rioters. The laboring classes of Boston remained…in control of their city for three days until [the] Governor…negotiated the release of most of the impressed seamen.” One could consider this the first worker’s government. Twenty years later, as Raphael notes, “the settlers of the South Carolina backcountry…complained about the lack of government protection from…villains…who [raided the surrounding land]…[eventually] lacking county sheriffs and courts to administer law and order, respectable citizens felt they had no choice but to regulate society on their own. For the following three years, the interior of South Carolina came under the control of vigilante “Regulators” who tracked down the bandits, captured and tried them, and administered punishment: flogging, forced labor, exile, and…hanging.” What the Regulators did is not a model for any sort of governing, but still these citizens took control for themselves, challenging the rule of those currently in place. The next attempt at rule in the thirteen colonies for the “body of the people” came during the little known Massachusetts Revolution of 1774, when Yankee farmers showed up in the thousands to stop a court in Worchester that would have sentenced them for unpaid debts, which morphed into a ‘county convention’ that took over executive and legislative authority, ordering “the sheriff to adjourn the Superior Court, freed all prisoners charged only with debt, and fired public officers who refused to resign. It [also] recommended that the towns keep the money they collected in taxes rather than turn it over to British-appointed authorities…[and] urged the towns to “provide themselves immediately with one or more field-pieces.” This resistance spread to other towns (Plymouth, Taunton, Springfield, Concord, Great Barrington), where “judges with powdered wigs and long robes…humbled themselves before farmers with mud on their boots” which was a genuine show of the people, which was also decentralized with no specific leaders, rather all decisions were made by those who participated in the actions, while “communications were conducted through ad hoc communities.” This governing force, in a sense, forced resignations of councilors appointed by the British crown and judges with mass crowds to intimidate them, leading to the creation to a Provincial Congress (General Gage abolished elections in the state) which elected representatives of the people, “commandeered public funds but declaring all taxes must…be paid to its receiver general, [not the old government]…it assumed…legislative and executive powers of government…call[ing]…for acquisition of [enough]…cannon…muskets, shot and powder…to equip an army of 5,000 soldiers.” Raphael puts it eloquently: “without the loss of a single human life, the mightiest empire in the world was forced to withdraw from the Massachusetts countryside.” This was the first farmers’ government in history, and if the British hadn’t fired the first shot in April 1775, then it is possible that the rebellious spirit would have spread to other states resulting in a possible peaceful independence from Britain without resulting in 25,000 deaths (how many American soldiers died by the end of the American Revolutionary war).
There were some wisps at other governments that served the people. In 1776, as Harman notes, “4,000 called for a convention of delegates to decide on the…future [of the Pennsylvania colony], and the call received support of the Committee of Privates, made up of representatives of the colony’s militia. The old assembly was suddenly powerless…on 18 June the popular convention to draw up the most radical constitution…seen anywhere. This gave the vote to 90 percent of the male population, but denied it to anyone who would not foreswear allegiance to the king.” Raphael adds onto this, saying that “the Pennsylvania constitution of 1776…placed more power in the hands of the common people than any constitution for any state at any time in the history [of the United States]…All governmental power was vested in a unicameral legislative body directly responsible to the electorate. Assemblymen, elected each year could serve only four years in any seven year period; members of the executive council who served three consecutive years….congressional delegates could not serve more than two terms in a row; County positions…became elected, while all resident adult males who paid any taxes…became eligible to hold office…[In addition] the state was required to print weekly reports on roll-call votes, while chambers were to…remain open…all bills of public nature…had to be…printed for the consideration of the people before coming to a vote, and no bill could be passed until the meeting after it was introduced.” While the militia never controlled the government directly, they pushed their egalitarian fervor into the government which was very influential overall. It took until after the revolution for this fervor to return in terms of people-controlled governments.
Farmers were mad for good reason: the revolution had kept the same wealthy class intact while removing the British. Massachusetts farmers led by Daniel Gray, then by Daniel Shay rebelled against this and stopped courts that would charge them with debts they could not pay in 1786. While they were crushed by military forces, they were not the only ones. Howard Zinn writes that “in Rhode Island, the debtors had taken over the legislature and were issuing paper money [while] in New Hampshire, several hundred men, in September of 1786, surrounded the legislature in Exeter, asking that taxes be returned and paper money issued; they dispersed only when military action was threatened.” These actions showed the power of the people especially debtors taking over the legislature of Rhode Island. Specifically, this revolutionary spirit was part of the reason James Madison (under the pseudonym of Publius) wrote in Federalist No. 10, his fear of popular governance: “A rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union than a particular member of it; in the same proportion as such a malady is more likely to taint a particular county or district, than an entire State.” In the end, it was actually one of the reasons the Constitution of the United States was created, that the delegates at the Convention were afraid of popular rule, and as a result, they created a central government that less influenced by the people and unlike state governments of the time the House of Representatives became the only institution completely elected by the people while the President and Senate aren’t directly elected by the people, and specifically this document was created to create authority to structure way to repay war debt to France, Holland and Spain and in order to get money from private citizens to spread debt out as Congress becomes the ultimate arbiter of debt. Article VI of the Constitution says that all debts are enforced by the federal government, which invalidates debt relief laws and makes it so some go to debtors’ prison. As a result, it is no surprise that farmers like Daniel Shay, those in Rhode Island, and New Hampshire among other states rebelled against these policies. With the coming of this new government, the amount of people’s governments comes to zero until the French Revolution.
In what some have called the ‘second revolution’ in France, there was tumultuous change. Red Pepper, a leftist British magazine, writes that on August 10th, 1792, the French king was overthrown and direct action, “the Parisian masses…invad[ed]…the Tuileries palace and arrest[ed] the king…[resulting] in…the assembly call[ing]…a general election – the first election in Europe conducted under universal adult male suffrage.” These elections were very democratic, including “wide-ranging debates, and the results were a resounding confirmation of the action of the Paris masses. The 750 deputies elected to the ‘convention’ were overwhelmingly committed to the formation of a new republic.” This action confirmed the power of the masses of Paris, which eventually organized in “neighborhood committees…and commune of Paris” which would allow them in the year to follow to “force their ‘popular programme’ on an often reluctant convention…that…included not only stiff measures against ‘counter-revolutionaries’ but also price controls and action against hoarders and speculators.” This would be the first time that France would be ruled by the people at-large, the next time in 1848. Eventually, this programme would disintegrate with the violent terrors of the later parts of the French Revolution and control taken away from the people once again, but this is just another example of people’s rule.
Back on the other side of the ocean, the Cherokee society, just like other American Indian societies I’ve described (Arawaks and Iroquois) was very egalitarian. Before 1828 when a government was created which voted for money for a printing press, there was no formal government at all. Van Every described their society as follows: “the foundation…of Indian government had always been the rejection of government. The freedom of the individual was regarded…as…more precious than the individual’s duty to his community or nation. This anarchistic attitude ruled all behavior, beginning with the smallest social unit, the family. The Indian parent was constitutionally reluctant to discipline his children.’ Their every exhibition of self-will was accepted as a favorable indication of the development of maturing character…[at certain times] there was an…assembling of a council, with a very loose and changing membership, whose decisions were not enforced except by the influence of public opinion.” A Minister who lived among them gave this account: “for ages, without convulsions and without civil discords, this traditional government…[has] no positive laws, but only long established habits and customs, no code of jurisprudence, but the experience of former times, no magistrates, but advisers, to whom the people nevertheless, pay a willing and implicit obedience, in which age confers rank, wisdom gives power, and moral goodness secures title to universal respect.” Like all other societies, it was crushed by the power of the capitalists, this time led by the ‘populist’ Andrew Jackson and enforced in the evictions done by the US Army.
During the revolution of 1848, another egalitarian society was not created, rather a government of the workers was created again in Paris. Like the Occupy Movement, when they called for a universal living wage in May 2012, in the city of Paris, according to Chris Harman, “workers and artisans…demanded work at a living wage” along with other demands, and the government “formed amid the armed crowds…was in no condition to ignore the demands they raised…[so it] decreed a one and half hour reduction in the working day and promised employment for all citizens. It set up ‘national workshops’ to provide work for the unemployed, and…[the] minister of labour, established a ‘labour commission’…where…600 [to]…800 members [including]…employers’ representatives, workmen’s representatives, economists of every school…became a ‘virtual parliament.’” This didn’t last long as the bourgeois republicans in power worked to “placate the financers by recognising the debts of the old regime…they imposed a tax on the peasantry” and by June of 1848, “every gain the workers and artisans had made in February was taken from them” which led to the workers arming themselves with a civil war raging through the city resulting the defeat of the workers and artisans. Even with this defeat, this was in a sense the second ‘workers’ government of Paris, with the real deal happening in 1871.
After a failed war with Prussia when French forces were defeated, the king abdicated while the capitalistic republican opposition took over the city. Soon, the “Prussian army was soon besieging Paris” while the citizens of the city “held out through five months in conditions of incredible hardship,” during which ordinary Parisians had worked together to defend the city, raising money to buy weapons to defend it, with some even trying to overthrow the capitalistic government which failed twice. It wasn’t until the Vice-President of the French government of the time surrendered to the Prussians that the Parisian poor began to feel betrayed as they felt they had suffered for nothing while the French army was disbanded and there was a middle class flight out of city, “leaving the National Guard…as a working class body.” In acts of bravery, the people of Paris that comprised the National Guard surrounded the soldiers resulting in Thiers and his government to flee the capital, so as Harman declares, “one of the world’s great cities was in the hands of armed workers.” Anti-Capitalist Meetup writes on Firedoglake that “the workers, artisans and general population , the 99 Percenters of those days, had taken control of its government by forming self-organized communes (councils) in each of 20…administrative districts…of Paris and held off the French Provisional government.” More specifically, “ordinary citizens under the flag of the Paris Commune, declared on March 29, 1871…[participated in]…councils [that] were established in each of the 20 [districts]…meeting daily to debate, decree and take actions, issuing their directives by pamphlets and “word of mouth” communications.
Harman expands on this, writing that “the armed masses exercised power at first through the elected leaders of the National Guard…But these were determined to…[create a] dictatorship. They organized elections for a new elected body, the Commune, based on universal male suffrage in each locality…these elected were to be subject to immediate recall by their electors and to receive no more than the average wage of a skilled worker. What’s more, the elected representatives would not simply pass laws which a hierarchy of highly paid bureaucratic officials would be expected to implement, they were to make sure their own measures were put into effect. This Commune which represented “the city’s working people, the Commune set about implementing measures in their interests—banning night work in bakeries and the employers’ imposition of fines on employees, handing over to associations of workers any workshops or factories shut down by their owners, providing pensions for widows…free education for every child, and stopping the collection of debts incurred during the siege and eviction for non-payment of rent. The Commune also showed its internationalism by tearing down monuments to militarism and appointing a German worker as its minister of labour.” In their vision for the future, the “communards hoped…that their model of self-government would be taken up throughout France, if not all of Europe [but] this was effectively undermined by seizure and burning of all information from Paris to the outlying districts and towns by the Thiers government.” Just like the Occupy Movement, “the Communards faced their own “Black Bloc” problems, and likely had to deal with the egoists and those who otherwise obstructed or held the movement back…[which included] some [who]…feared taking the offensive against the bourgeoisie and its Provisional Government supporters.” As a result, Karl Marx “hailed the fact that this was the first French government to not only legislate but act themselves to carry out the new laws, and their actions were carried out by ordinary French citizens who were democratically elected and subject to immediate recall.” Even so, Marx criticized these forces “for being too cautious in running their city, and not making use of the money that was sitting in the national bank in Paris, although they did issue a decree nationalizing all church property.” With this money, they could “have fed all of the [citizens in]…starving Paris.” As they did not take these measures, “the Commune faced overwhelming odds” as Thiers, the head of the capitalistic republican government suppressed the other communes in the country while putting an “information cordon” around the city, which prohibited any information about the commune from getting out and he laid siege to the city, and while “the workers of Paris fought street by street, block by block, building by building” the violent defeat of this Commune resulted in deaths ranging between 20,000 and 30,000 civilians! In the end, “Karl Marx…saw that [the Commune]…represented the greatest challenge the new world of capital had yet faced—and the greatest inspiration to the new class created by capital but in opposition to it.”
In New Orleans, many years later, in 1892, a general strike shut down the city. Unions demanded to be recognized and basically all of the unionized workers went on strike, 25,000 workers in all. By November 8th, the electrical grid, the natural gas supply, food and beverage delivery, the running of streetcars, street cleaning, manufacturing, printing and construction came to a halt. Despite the press’s appeal to racial hatred, there were no violent incidents and few strikebreakers were able to come to break up the strike. Eventually, militia units were sent in and once they came into the city, found it orderly and calm, so the governor withdrew troops on November 11th. After over two days of negotiations, those employing the workers agreed to overtime pay and a 10-hour day but not the union shop, while other unions won some reduced pay and hours. Despite the fact that a union shop was not granted, many have declared this strike a success, saying since it brought together white and black workers, that in and of itself was a victory. While this wasn’t necessarily a government, it was still workers taking over the city for a few days for their benefit.
Twenty years later, there was another general strike which would go even farther than the one in New Orleans. Trade union members in Brisbane, Australia began a general strike for the right to join a union and right to wear a badge. Only a few days into the strike, the strike committee became a government in its own right so that all work done in the city had to be approved by a special permit issued by the committee. Later, 500 vigilance officers were put in place to make the strikers orderly, an Ambulance Brigade was created, government departments and private employers needed permission of the committee to do any work, strike coupons were issued and public rallies and daily processions were held to keep strikers occupied. In order to counter anti-union bias in the newspapers, the strike committee issued a Strike Bulletin. Interestingly enough, only when the strike spread to railways did the government become concerned and banned processions altogether, which led to ‘Black Friday’ on February 2nd, 1912 when 15,000 people peacefully showed up in the main square of the town and police batoned them since the police commissioner had refused they could demonstrate. However, this strike once over did not change the political climate much (those supporting strikers were absorbed into the political system) and in some ways it got worse. Still, the control of the city is to be applauded because the workers stood up for what’s right.
After the Tsar abdicated in 1917, there were two options for who would rule: the bourgeois politicians of the old legislature, the Duma, or “workers delegates, drawn together in a workers’ council, or soviet.” Up to the moment the Tsar abdicated, the bourgeoisie was negotiating to reform the monarchy, yet the government that replaced him was dominated by industrialists and large landowners. The workers’ delegates did not like this new government but they didn’t have the confidence to stand up to those in power. Once the provisional government failed, the workers began to ally more behind the Bolsheviks. By October 1917 this association was important because in the words of Chris Harman: “a congress of workers, soldiers and peasants had taken state power in a country of 160 million, stretching from the Pacific coast to the Baltic.” But, however only a small amount of the population had participated in this revolution “because they were not socialists, because it offered the same gains as a classic bourgeois revolution—the division of land.” Eventually, as similar revolutions did not occur in other advanced industrial nations, and with the intervention by Western powers ending in 1921, the government turned to the use of state terror against those against the revolution. Even so, the regime remained intact and the inspiration for this revolution resulted in workers taking over numerous towns in Germany, resulting in the declaration of a ‘socialist republic’ led by workers councils or soviets. However, this was co-opted by those in power who wanted gradual change rather than immediate change. In other places in Europe, the revolutionary spirit didn’t result in workers governments, but in Italy in 1920 huge strikes across the country paralyzed the government and peasants began dividing up the land which was ended when the union of the metal workers worked to a peaceful outcome to solve the dispute making the metal workers themselves feeling defeated, that they had been engaged in a revolution but there were only few minor changes.
Back in America, a general strike in Seattle would be another show of worker power. Even when the IWW leadership was in jail in February 1919 a general strike “became [a] reality for five days in Seattle, Washington, when a walkout of 100,000 working people brought the city to a halt” as Howard Zinn writes in A People’s History of the United States. When the strike had gone into full effect: “the city now stopped functioning, except for activities organized by the strikers to provide essential needs. Firemen agreed to stay on the job. Laundry workers handled only hospital laundry. Vehicles authorized to move carried signs “Exempted by the General Strike Committee.” Thirty-five neighborhood milk stations were set up. Every day thirty thousand meals were prepared in large kitchens, then transported to halls all over the city and served cafeteria style, with strikers paying twenty-five cents a meal, the general public thirty-five cents. People were allowed to eat as much as they wanted of the beef stew, spaghetti, bread, and coffee. A Labor War Veteran’s Guard was organized to keep the peace” which didn’t carry weapons but rather used persuasion to stop crime which seemed to work because while the strike was going on “crime in the city decreased [and] the commander of the U.S. army detachment sent into the area told the strikers’ committee that in forty years of military experience he hadn’t seen so quiet and orderly a city. Still, the strike didn’t last forever because “almost a thousand sailors and marines were brought into the city by the U.S. government” and “pressure from the international officers of the various unions, as well as the difficulties of living in a shut-down city” caused he peaceful strike to end. Once it ended there were “raids and arrests: on the Socialist party headquarters, on a printing plant [and] thirty-nine members of the IWW were jailed as “ring- leaders of anarchy.” In some ways, despite the repressive measures taken after the strike, it was a success because the workers owned the city.
Around the same time (1918-1919), in Ukraine the “Free Territory” was flourishing. Since the territory was created in an anarchist fashion, thinking that there were was a “government” is not really correct. All political parties were banned, all dictatorships were rejected, the concept of the state was negated, any type of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ was rejected and self-management of ever worker through soviets (workers’ councils) was also encouraged. This society as one could call it was run by Ukrainian workers and peasants which was founded on “equality and solidarity of its members” where “everyone, men and women, worked together with a perfect conscience” where an economy existed that was based on free exchange between all communities. In addition, the central government was opposed and Makhno, the military officer called for “[f]reedom of speech, press, assembly, unions and the like;” but anyone that tried to oppose him, their organization was dissolved (as with the revolutionary committees of the Bolsheviks). However, they became to fall apart when the Bolshevik government began to put out propaganda attacking the society, eventually leading to its demise. Despite its anarchical setup, certain ideas of this society could be emulated in current societies.
Revolutionary Catalonia was a wonderful place in terms of people power. George Orwell wrote about Barcelona in 1936: “Practically any building….had been seized by workers. Every shop and cafe had…an inscription saying it was collectivised…Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as equals….ceremonial forms of speech has temporarily disappeared. There were no private cars; they had all been commandeered…In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Above all there was belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in a capitalist machine.” Basically there factories and businesses were controlled by the workers, the countryside farmland was collectivized, while nationalists and catholic clergy were killed. What Orwell described is correct because much of the economy came under control of forces where there was worker’s self-management, which included much of the public transportation, utilities, mines, newspapers, dwellings owned by capitalist class and much more. As for small businesses, they were unionized. But, conflicts developed when some refused to join collectives as they wanted higher wages, a large amount of small farmers and peasants opposed collectivization in general unless they were intimidated to change, socialists wanted nationalization rather than collectivization of industry and many of the firms that were collectivized were also bankrupt, meaning that they needed government aid. As a result of these problems, smaller plants were closed down and larger shops were prioritized. Around the same time, the anarcho-feminist women’s movement in the state began to argue that ending the patriarchal society was needed as much as having a classless society. Still, opposition began to brew when certain newspapers that were communist began a propaganda campaign against those who were governing Revolutionary Catalonia while troops under the command of certain army officials dissolved numerous revolutionary committees in the region, the Communists arrested, assassinated and tortured officials that were in the ruling CNT and rural collectives were also destroyed in a campaign by the communists which caused a good amount of discontent resulting in some being restored. In the end, the Spanish republican forces were defeated in a place described by Bryan Caplan as one with rising unemployment and falling industrial production in anarchist Catalonia. Still, parts of the original society offer a good example for what a future society should be like.
Ten years later, a general strike took place in Oakland, California. It started as women in two different department stores going on strike, but when the police broke it up and beat the strikers, the reaction was a general strike across the city. This involved about 130,000 people, who stopped work, which basically shut down the city. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote in 2002 that the city was shut down for “days, and about a quarter of the city’s population…supported the strike.” Street car drivers, other transit operators, bus drivers, and city at large had people joining together in what was they called a “work holiday” asking for “rights of the workers at Khan’s and Hastings be honored…[so] they’d be able to have a stable work life which meant a union contract, better wages, and a work situation where they had the rights that had been fought for really in the ’30s.” Eventually, since “the ruling elite that really ran Oakland…shut down their tribune…the Post Enquirer…the Times Star…[and] the Daily Gazette,” the strikers decided that “no media except the ones created by the strikers would be allowed on the streets,” which allowed them to separate themselves from the mainstream media demonizing their strike. This strike didn’t last forever, but it showed the power of people to shut down a city.
In 1956, a wonderful thing happened where a workers government just like the one of the Paris Commune was formed, but not in France, but in Hungary. It was the Hungarian Revolution which was created when shockwaves sent from a strike in Poland where workers elected their own committees the same year reached the country. Chris Harman writes in A People’s History of the World that eventually “workers grabbed guns from sports clubs inside factories, won over soldiers from one of the barracks, and soon took control of much of the city [of Budapest] In every town in the country similar movements left local power in the hands of factory councils and revolutionary committees.” With this success, a part of the old regime tried to regain power by putting “a…disgraced Communist, Imre Nagy, at head of a coalition government,” but before that would come into full effect, on the fateful day of November 4th, “Russian tanks swept into Budapest and seized key buildings…[and] fac[ing]…bitter armed resistance… they eventually… kill[ed] thousands.” Even with this defeat, Harman writes that this revolution “challenged the ruling ideologies of both sides in the Cold War…prov[ing]…that the USSR had long ceased to stand in the tradition of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Rosa Luxemburg. It also showed how wrong the liberals and social democrats…who held…it was necessary to support Western imperialism against [the USSR].” The reason this is so important is that the Soviet and United States “hastened to bury the memory of the revolution” so it must be remembered so that all that mention the Soviet Union are discredited in this regard.
Twelve years later during the ‘revolution of 1968,’ murmurs of something more came in France once again. In May 1968 there was the first ‘wildcat’ general strike ever which is the only one to bring the economy of an advanced country to a stop. Starting with occupations by students (as with the Hungarian Revolution in 1956), over twenty-two percent of the country’s population which consisted of 11 million workers went on strike for two weeks continuously. This almost caused the collapse of the government of the French President at the time, Charles De Gaulle which also turned it against the Communist Party of France and trade unions. When police tried to stop the strikes, it only led to more inflammation and greater strikes throughout the country. Eventually, the protests engulfed the country so much, that leaders feared that a revolution or civil war would occur, so the French president fled the country and when he returned, he dissolved the National Assembly and called for parliamentary elections in June of that year. However, this spirit was lose when the elections came around, when workers went back to work and the party behind De Gaulle was even stronger than before. Even so, this strike shows the power of people and their persistence of action.
No workers governments or egalitarian societies blossomed in the period between 1968 and the early 1990s. At that point, the “communist utopia” in Spain was formed with Juan Manuel Sanchez Gordillo as its mayor. As the business press outlet, the New York Times, writes while “Spain’s real estate bust is fueling rampant unemployment, this Communist enclave, surrounded by sloping olive groves, is thumbing its nose at its countrymen’s capitalist folly. Attracted by its municipal housing program and bustling farming cooperative, people from neighboring villages and beyond have come here seeking jobs or homes…While the rest of Spain gorged on cheap credit to buy overpriced houses, the people of Marinaleda were building their own, mortgage-free, under a municipal program…If a resident loses his job, the cooperative hires him…so nobody wants for work…Over the years, the residents have occupied farms, picketed government offices and held hunger strikes to demand work and land…Political murals and revolutionary slogans adorn the town’s whitewashed walls and streets are named after Latin American leftists. Every few weeks, the town hall declares a Red Sunday over a bullhorn and volunteers clean the streets or do odd jobs. For one hour on television each Saturday, the mayor holds forth on politics or recites his own poetry, his trademark Palestinian scarf draped round his neck. He has rallied the residents around a plethora of causes, from resisting genetically modified crops to supporting the Sahrawi people’s struggle for self-determination in Western Sahara…Back in town is the other jewel in Marinaleda’s Communist crown: a colony of neat, three-bedroom houses, built on municipal land with materials from the regional government. Prospective owners donate about 450 days of their work to the construction. The rub: to prevent people from profiting, residents cannot sell their houses…Salvador Becera, an expert in anthropology at the Center for Andalusian Studies in Seville, said Mr. Sánchez had brought social equity to an uneducated, economically oppressed community.” Still, as the New York Times always does, they give the opposition equal weight even if its arguments are complete and utter crap, with the “opposition” saying Gordillo gives “handouts” to keep workers or that he is the biggest landowner in the town and so on. Only Wikipedia brings up a valid point, that “G5% to 75% of the income that Marinaleda has throughout the year…comes from the European Union…creating a contradiction of the “communist utopia” surviving thanks to capitalism.” Still, this town can be a model for other cities on a worldwide scale which could adopt similar measures.
Since you’ve spent your precious time reading this article, it is only fair to make a timeline of governments and societies that were controlled by the “body of people”:
· 1 million-10,000 years ago: Primitive Communism
· Pre-1500s: Arawak Indians, society that is very egalitarian.
· Pre-1450s: Iroquois Indians, very egalitarian society with no real government
· Pre-1490s: Africans live in tribal, communal societies (very few of this is left)
· 1747: Boston laborers rule the city for three days, first workers government
· 1774: Massachusetts Revolution of 1774, first farmers government
· 1776: PA Constitution places more power in the hands of the common people than any constitution for any state at any time in the history
· 1786: Farmers revolt across the United States against the Constitution, debtors take over legislature in New Hampshire
· 1792: The ‘second revolution’ in France, workers influence the government
· Pre-1828: Cherokee society, very egalitarian
· 1848: People of Paris influence the government but do not take it over
· 1871: Paris Commune, the first example of a “dictatorship of the proletariat” in the eyes of Karl Marx
· 1892: New Orleans General Strike, blacks and whites unite but are ultimately not successful in every regard, but still an achievement
· 1912: Brisbane General Strike, strike committee is alternative government over the city
· 1919: Seattle General Strike shuts down the city for five days, which is very peaceful and an example for other areas
· 1918-1919: Free Territory in Ukraine, based on anarchist principles
· 1936-1937: Revolutionary Catalonia, some anarchism, praised by George Orwell, but includes collectivization and causes resentment
· 1946: Oakland strike, whole city shut down for some time
· 1956: The Hungarian National Government, second ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ in eyes of some
· 1968: Protests in France, first big wildcat strike to shut down an economy
· 1990s-Present: Marinaleda, called a “communist utopia” stays intact with the “Spanish Robin Hood” (Juan Gordillo) as its mayor
As you may have noticed from this article I have excluded a number of “socialist states.” The reason I have done this is that all of these states are not really socialist, run by the people or workers at-large. The Soviet Union was basically a totalitarian dictatorship, nowhere close to a state working in the interest of the people, the People’s Republic of China still is a dictatorship over the proletariat with it being more state capitalist in its imperialistic race with the United States in an attempt to become a world power, North Korea is just a brutal dictatorship that doesn’t tolerate dissent, Cuba has despite the fact that it is not as bloody as China’s government has become very repressive in other ways so that it doesn’t really serve the people, Venezuela is ruled by an authoritarian named Hugo Chavez who has despite his popularity (and certain policies which have benefited the people) been very repressive against those who oppose him, and Vietnam which is still ‘socialist’ is not so as it is also a repressive dictatorship interestingly supported by the United States government. That last sentence is for those people that associate Socialism or Marxism with any of those regimes. None of the regimes I just listed were socialist or Marxist at all, rather they use(d) the rhetoric from these ideologies to justify their actions. Also in this article I did not talk about communes like the one in Oneida in the 1840s, the reason for that is most of these experiments were in local living and just talking about one commune would not being doing all of them justice, rather one would have to write a whole article examining the communes overall and their effectiveness.
To get back to the main question this piece tries to address, in the totality of human history, it is hard to choose one society over another. It seems that people would not be keen to go back to ‘primitive communism,’ though I feel that ideas could be taken from people living in the natural state of humanity. This put forward in a very relevant Bhikku Buddhadasa quote: “a system in which people cannot encroach on each other’s 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. The freedom to hoard was tightly controlled by nature in the form of natural socialism.” I do believe that ideas could also be taken from the “communist utopia” in Spain, Marinaleda. What would be a good government in my view would be one that combines the ideas put out in the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 and the Paris Commune of 1871. On a rural level, I believe the model of governance put forth in the Massachusetts Revolution of 1774 would be a good one (not the regulator movement in South Carolina in the 1760s-1770s). In the end, I believe that using this rich history of societies and governments on the side of the common people and the workers, that it can be a lesson for now on what worked and what did not work in the industrial age.
By Burkely Hermann