Four Possible Futures
Four Possible Futures, or: Another World is Possible
This time of ongoing weakness and volatility in the whole capitalist system opens the mind to other possibilities. Majorities are disillusioned with both the economic and political elites. In theory, this is a, possibly fleeting, window of opportunity for radicals to shift the habitual parameters of public discourse and raise systemic alternatives.
However, this does not seem to be happening widely, possibly because many feel there are no real systemic alternatives.
Such has been the success of individualising consumerism destroying any meaningful collective consciousness and public discourse.
Such has been the success of the great brain washing project of the capitalist culture machine (corporate media, advertising, PR, corporate think tanks etc.) which began
in the early the twentieth century as a stabilising response both to the perceived threat of the militant working class (‘Red Scare’) and the problem of overproduction/declining profit rates inherent in capitalism’s growth dynamics.
Such has been the success of Stalinism’s destruction of the anti-capitalist project by identifying ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ in most people’s minds with a terroristic state capitalism geared to achieving primary capital accumulation/industrialisation in agrarian countries.
In sum, Thatcher’s authoritarian dictum has been successful for a great many people: within mainstream discourse ‘there is (indeed) no alternative’. This essay attempts to counter that dogma.
Of course, the idea of an alternative will be closely linked to the idea one has of what it is supposed to be an alternative to: our present global system, ‘capitalism’.
Our understanding of capitalism is based on that of one of its first and most radical (and now distinctly unfashionable) critics, Karl Marx. According to this view, capitalism is a social formation based on the total domination of the economy, society, culture and politics (and now: nature) by Capital. Capital, in turn, is a developed form of money, both an apparent thing and a structural relationship of class domination by the owners of financial and productive capital over the rest of society, most of which is obliged to sell its labour power to those owners of the means of production or risk starvation. Capital itself is driven by nothing but the compulsion to accumulate money/capital without limit. This is its only amoral ‘value’ and ‘meaning’.
Capitalism is thus a social system in which, for the first time in human history, no social or cultural values determine social production and exchange but only this abstract compulsion of a form of money to grow, make profits and, by doing so, effectively dominate every other aspect of society and nature. As a result, ‘Things are in the saddle and ride mankind’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson) and a generalised human alienation from productive, socially useful creativity and a pervasive sense of meaninglessness masquerade as ‘society’ and ‘culture.’
What has been forgotten or successfully repressed in mainstream discourse is the fact that the common thrust of all the original socialist alternatives, in contrast, sought to put humanity in the saddle: society as a whole was to democratically and consciously determine its social production and exchange according to need, not power, profit and accumulation. The two broad streams of socialism radically differed as to what ‘democratically determine’ meant in this context: social democracy and official Marxism opting for the centralised state (whether bourgeois-parliamentary or dictatorial ‘workers’ state’), anarchism and libertarian socialists opting for decentralised, grassroots citizen assemblies and/or workers’ councils.
Today, two broad leftist alternatives to capitalism in its present form are theoretically feasible: a more ‘realistic’, reform-oriented model in the old social democratic tradition that reforms neo-liberal capitalism without changing its essence (‘Green New Deal’) and a more radical model that is another system altogether (Eco-Socialism, Eco-Anarchism, ‘Parecon’, ‘Inclusive Democracy’, or perhaps some other name yet to grow from social change movements).
Right-wing pseudo-alternatives to, or developments of, current neo-liberal capitalism are also feasible, indeed probable under certain historical conditions if current trends and trajectories continue into the future. Let us start with the latter.
1. Friendly Fascism
‘Friendly fascism’ (Bertram Gross) of course poses no real ‘alternative’ to capitalism at all. I would argue that neo-liberal capitalism is in fact already rapidly developing in this direction. Here the democratic constitution and most external trappings of the neo-liberal state are kept while its executive branch and its internal powerful ‘secret state’ continue extending their present inordinate power, usually through the ongoing incremental process of eroding civil liberties and human rights rather than via an outright military coup. Using fear politics, an artificially created siege mentality and external threat pretexts, the rule of law, domestic and international, is severely compromised, with essential liberties like habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence, freedom of speech, movement and assembly, the right to fair trial, the right to privacy, the right to asylum suspended, eroded or diluted beyond recognition. Overseas wars of aggression are waged on the flimsiest of pretexts and war crimes committed. Hundreds of thousands of innocents are killed. The ‘neo-con’ governments of Bush, Blair, Berlusconi and John Howard already constituted, or come very close to constituting, this kind of post-liberal, authoritarian system.
So far their social democratic versions (Obama, Rudd-Gillard) have not markedly differed from this course. While toning down the neo-con rhetoric a little (‘war against terror’ etc) and making some easy symbolic gestures (joining Kyoto, apologising to the indigenous stolen generations), the post-liberal, authoritarian state is alive, well and progressing. No effort has been made to re-introduce the basic civil liberties and human rights demolished by their neo-con predecessors. The surveillance state, the kidnapping and imprisoning of people without charge or trial (‘rendition’), the torture of ‘enemy combatants’ in secret ‘dark prisons’ and wars of aggression (Afghanistan, now extended to Pakistan) – all this continues.
Nothing new here of course: social democrats are notorious for, initially at least, changing the PR styles while continuing with capitalist business-as-usual and imperialism. Capitalism itself, as an economic system, of course, remains completely untouched. The revolving doors between the political and economic elites continue to merrily turn, assuring the continuing near-identity of these two main fractions of the ruling class. Mussolini’s definition of fascism as a form of corporatism here finds its ‘softer’ expression, ‘friendly fascism lite’ as it were.
2. Classical Fascism
The more ‘classic’ or ‘unfriendly’ form of fascism also poses no real alternative to capitalist economics although it may seem to do in some respects, usually for purely demagogic purposes.
Like other bourgeois politicians, fascist demagogues are notorious for initially attempting to appeal to everyone and no one when they are seeking power. Policies are kept ‘populist’, i.e. general and vague, often with a slight ‘left’ drift in some social matters (e.g. ‘banks’, ‘fat cats’, ‘Islamo-fascism’) and with staunch nationalism, militarism and xenophobia otherwise. The appeal is often to the ‘ordinary person’s common sense’, an entity understood as a murky conglomerate of fearful and simplistic perspectives, projections, paranoias, stereotypes and ingrained prejudices. Current talk-back radio is rife with it.
Without a credible progressive alternative, renewed forms of this kind of more primitive fascism are quite feasible or probable under siege conditions of economic collapse, resource depletion, overwhelming waves of migration, wide-scale environmental collapse, food shortages, rationing, imperial rivalries etc. Fearful masses may find fascist demagogues again successfully appealing to their weaker, infantile and paranoid-xenophobic selves looking for ‘strong’ father-figures and convenient scapegoats. Internal and external scapegoats can always be found to deflect attention from ruling elites: ‘queue jumping’ asylum seekers, ethnic minorities, the intellectual ‘chattering classes’, terrorists, communists, anarchists etc. The ultimate logic of this is of course war. Both ‘conservatives’ and right-wing social democrats often pander to this right-wing populism or seek to integrate it into their own electoral power bases.
If leftists and liberals want to avoid the right-wing pseudo-alternatives, they had better start massively struggling for the progressive alternatives. Another world is possible only if people want it. For them to want it they have to first know about it.
3. Green New Deal
This is an ecologically updated version of the old social democratic Neo-Keynesian reform program, now, after the social democrats became neo-liberals, pursued mainly by the left wing of Green parties. It is what they consider feasible or ‘realistic’ when the parameters of capitalism and imperialism are simply taken as given, as they do.
Here power still lies with the state and Capital. There is, however, massive state intervention in the economy to create new ‘green’ forms of infrastructure, technology and thus capital accumulation. Remaining fossil fuel subsidies are initially used to build high-tech centralised renewable energies as the energy core of production with smatterings of gas, biofuels, ‘carbon capture’, nuclear. There are Green taxes and/or speculative carbon trading/offsetting. There are some public works projects and massive reafforestation, perhaps mainly as cloned plantations. Mass transit is emphasized over private transport, with the latter restricted to the wealthy still able to buy more expensive ‘green’ vehicles. Capital-intensive, centralised high-tech is emphasised: nanotech, gene tech food systems, synthetic biology, AT, robotics, virtualisation via an online economy etc. The mass media remain corporate-dominated.
There is a maintained minimum of social welfare to head off social unrest. The bureaucratic parliamentary system continues with its usual anti-democratic fusion with lobbies and economic elites. Wage labour is left untouched but there could be some weakened form of a Guaranteed Minimum Income. Even this statist alternative seems unlikely at this point in time.
Here power is radically democratised and decentralised and lies with local communities, not big business and national parliaments. Because of this basic democratic principle, no precise blueprint can be given as to what these empowered local communities might decide to implement. However, certain possibilities based on historical precedents and experience can be suggested for democratic negotiation and debate.
Ecologically resilient and highly conscious communities will organise their own economic and political relations via mutual aid and self-federation from below. Local and revocable delegates may perhaps be sent to an annual national forum/parliament to implement the remaining national co-ordinations. Locally there will probably be a diverse range of political and economic forms like town meetings, workers’ councils, workers’ and consumers’ cooperatives, small entrepreneurial businesses.
Communities will be both globally networked and consciously embedded in their local ecosystems and bioregions and operate within their ecological carrying capacities. All communities’ ecological footprints will now be sustainable. Mass consumerism will be a thing of the past. For a plethora of ecological benefits (climate, carbon capture, biodiversity, soil fertility, water supply) massive reafforestation and ecological forestry will be integrated into productive edible landscapes in both urban and rural areas. Food production will now be ecologically sustainable and localised, with many more people (and animals) involved in both cities and countryside. There will be a renaissance of cooperating small eco-farmers. A more equitable land distribution will be needed to enable this.
Renewable energies will be produced mainly locally/regionally as will be all other main inputs like materials, tools, food and water. Small worker-run factories and workshops will be spread out over the country. Some sophisticated, complex tools and machines will still need to be produced centrally in worker-run, semi-automated factories. Mass transit systems will still run centrally but with considerable worker and local participation.
A work-independent guaranteed minimum income for all and local subsistence and exchange economies will allow greater freedom from wage slavery and more time for democratic participation in the running of local economies. In solidarity, land and wealth will have been re-distributed more equally, particularly vis-à-vis the poor regions and countries to help them to emerge from drudgery and poverty.
As always, it is for us to choose.
~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on May 11, 2011.