Subject: ON SOCIAL CLASS STRUGGLE IN EVERYDAY LIFE AND THE 'SYSTEM OF SUBSTITUTES'.
11 July 2009
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
It was in 1969 when I first read Marc Bloch's (1886-1944) book, Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940 (1968). I was studying social history at The University of Wisconsin-Madison and living in the midst of a social movement, both on and off campus; a cultural revolution was underway. It was a period of international solidarity, and young intellectuals were looking at experiences from the past to guide their actions for a new future. This was the period of America's military defeat in Vietnam and the beginning of the Information Revolution. There was great optimism in the air, and on the ground a revolution was brewing. Hope had not been extinguished, and the logic that guided the feelings of millions of Americans ran something like this:
No equality = No justice
No justice = No peace
No equality = No peace
The 1960s counterculture in the United States was convivial, but coast-to-coast it was committed to dialogue about questions dealing with justice, equality and peace, and it was capitalist unfriendly. You could go nowhere without hearing people critiquing the American political economy, from a variety of perspectives and with a wide range of emotional commitment and philosophical depth. By the time Jimmy Carter was elected president, American society was moving toward democratic socialism. Carter would play a major role in subverting this movement and opening the way to counter-revolution, which began with the Reagan years, when our syllogism was reversed for the benefit of a very few.
No peace = No justice
No justice = No equality
No peace = No equality
It seemed to us at the time that it was important to understand the impact failed revolutions had on society, and there seemed to be no better place to search this history than in the annals of French society. Marc Bloch, a professor of history at the Sorbonne and at Cambridge University in the 1920s, was a world-renown expert on the role of religion in medieval political history. He came from a French military family: his great-grand father had fought in the revolutionary army of 1793, and his grand-father had served in Alsace in 1870. He himself was a veteran of the First World War and fought in the French army at the outbreak of the Second World War, before joining the resistance in 1942, at the age of 56.
Strange Defeat was his last testimony, written at the time he joined the French resistance movement, less than two years before he was captured, tortured and murdered by the Gestapo near Lyons, in 1944. The book is full of insights into the making of a fascist society. "On one occasion," writes Bloch toward the end of this book,
The trouble was that among the wage-earners these instincts, which were still strong, and which a less pusillanimous government would have known how to encourage, were at variance with certain other, more recent, tendencies which were at work within the collective mind. I, with most of the men of my generation, had built enormous hopes, when we were young, on the trade-union movement. But we made no allowance for the narrowness of outlook which, little by little, choked the enthusiasm of the early, epic struggles. What was the cause of this failure? Partly, no doubt, an inevitable preoccupation with wage-claims, and a consequent scaling-down of interest and policy; partly, too, the fact that Labor's leaders allowed themselves to get tangled up in the old political game of electoral propaganda and lobbying. However that may be, it is true to say that the trade-union movement has shown a growing tendency everywhere to diverge from the road on which its feet were originally set, as though dogged by some ineluctable Fate.Everyone knows that word kleinbürgerlich with which Marx stigmatized all politico-social movements which confined themselves to the narrow field of partial interests. Could anything have been more kleinbürgerlich, more petit bourgeois, than the attitude adopted in the last few years, and even during the war, by most of the big unions, and especially by those which included civil servants in their ranks? I have attended not a few meetings of my own professional organization. Its members were drawn from the intellectual class, but it is true to say that scarcely ever did they show real concern for anything except --not money on a large scale, but what I may call the small change of remuneration. They seemed to be blissfully unaware of such problems as the rôle which our corporation might play in the life of the country; nor were they ever prepared to discuss the bigger questions of France's material future. Their vision was limited to immediate issues of petty profit, and I am afraid that this blindness marked the conduct of most of the big unions.(pp.138-139)
The highwayman does not say to his victim, 'It's your blood I'm after'; he offers him a choice --'Your money or your life'. Similarly, when an aggressor nation sets out to oppress its neighbours it says: 'Either abdicate your liberty or take the consequence of massacre.' They maintained that war is the concern of the rich and powerful, that the poor should have nothing to do with it. . . . These enthusiasts, many of whom were not, as individuals, lacking in courage, worked unconsciously to produce a race of cowards. For it is an undoubted truth that unless virtue is accompanied with severe self-criticism, it always runs the risk of turning against its own most dearly held convictions. Dear fellow teachers --when it came to the point, you did, for the most part, put up a magnificent fight. It was our goodwill which managed to create in many a sleepy secondary school, in many a tradition-ridden university, the only form of education of which, perhaps, we can feel genuinely proud. I only hope that a day will come, and come soon, a day of glory and of happiness for France, when, liberated from the enemy, and freer than ever in our intellectual life, we may meet again for the mutual discussion of ideas. And when that happens, do you not think that, having learned from an experience so dearly purchased, you will find much to alter in the things you were teaching only a few years back?
But what is really remarkable is that these extremist-lovers of the human race showed no surprise at all when, on the road that led to capitulation, they found themselves walking arm in arm with the born enemies of their class, the sworn foes of their ideals. As a matter of fact, odd though such an alliance may seem, its intellectual basis is to be found in conditions long antecedent to a supervening political hostility.(p.142)
Remarkable changes have taken place in the semantic field considered as a whole (that is, the whole of society as the theatre where meaning is enacted in various specific contexts). Symbols had been prominent in this field for many centuries, symbols derived from nature but containing definite social implications. However, in the early stages of our civilization there was a perceptible shift from symbols to signs as the authority of the written word increased, an especially after the invention of the printing press. Today a further shift, from signs to signals, is taking place, if it has not already happened. Though the signal figures in the semantic field together with the symbol and the sign, it differs from these in that its only significance is conventional, assigned to it by mutual agreement; in this respect it can be compared to certain signs such as letters that compose articulated units (words and monomials) but that are otherwi9se meaningless. The signal commands, controls behaviour and consists of contrasts chosen precisely for their contradiction (such as, for instance, red and green); furthermore, signals can be grouped in codes (the highway code is a simple and familiar example), thus forming systems of compulsion.
This shift to signals in the semantic field involves the subjection of the senses to compulsions and a general conditioning of everyday life, reduced now to a single dimension (re-assembled fragments) by the elimination of all other dimensions of language and meaning such as symbols and significant contrasts. Signals and codes provide practical systems for the manipulation of people and things, though they do not exclude other moire subtle means. If we try to figure out how the 'new man' uses his memory, we shall see that he must register one and for all each action, gesture and word of 'another' as though these were signals. What a terrifying vision of the future humanity this image conjures up !(pp.62-63)
Elsewhere in his book he describes the effects the Bureaucratic Society of Controlled Consumption has on ordinary people in everyday life and the "system of substitutes" that degrades social relations and serves to maintain the interests of the status quo.
According to Marx, objects reflect abstract forms that seem to belong to them, to be part of their nature as trade value is reflected in wares: social and moral forms appear as given in a society, and so do forms of art, aestheticism, and the ritualized forms of social relations. The rational is considered normal according to the norms of a society sufficiently self-conscious and organized for the misunderstanding (or metonyme) to take root; and the normal becomes customary and the customary is taken for natural, which in turn is identified with the rational, thus establishing a circuit or blocking. The consequence of such apparent (and contrived) logic --naturalism understudying as rationalism-- is that all contradictions are abolished, reality is rational, reality is ideality, knowledge is ideology. (pp.44-45)
It has substituted for the image of active man that of consumer as the possessor of happiness and of perfect rationality, as the ideal becoming reality ('me', the individual, living, active subject become 'objective'). Not the consumer nor even that which is consumed is important in this image, but the vision of consumer and consuming as art of consumption. In this process of ideological substitutions and displacements man's awareness of his own alienation is repressed, or even suppressed, by the addition of a new alienation to the old. Will this age witness the triumph of Heglianism and of the totalitarian state rather than achieve the philosophy of a human totality.(p.56)
Time-tables, when comparatively analyzed, reveal new phenomena: if the hours of days, weeks, months and years are classed in three categories, pledged time (professional work), free time (leisure) and compulsive time (the various demands other than work such as transport, official formalities, etc.), it will become apparent that compulsive time increases at a greater rate than leisure time. Compulsive time is part of everyday life and tends to define it by the sum of its compulsions.(p.53)
Thus distracted by the modern magic of advertising, the ordinary citizen finds him/herself caught in a sub-system of daily terror and intimidation, as an object continually manipulated, threatened and cajoled rather than a subject free to participate in the formation of public policy and self-management.
Let us try to put ourselves in the place of a person living his everyday life without any historical, sociological or economic knowledge and without a particularly curious or critical mind; from this viewpoint we cannot help noticing a phenomenon that requires a further analysis; this inmate of everyday life, whether male or female, a member of one social class or another, has no (or hardly any) intimation of all that we have disclosed and discussed; he takes for granted all that he observes, he accepts as the here and now everything he sees and perceives, all his experiences; he may find them neither just, justified or justifiable, but that is how it is, things are what they are; unless he happens to be a pathological case or a case of anomie he will almost entirely ignore the depth of desire and the stars that rule over him, for he rarely raises or lowers his gaze, looking only around him at the surface that he takes for 'reality'. This everyday being lives a double illusion, that of limpidity and evidence ('that's how it is') and that of substantial reality ('it can't be any different'); thus the illusion of immediacy in everyday life is defined.(p.187)
In the final chapter of this book, entitled "Towards a Permanent Cultural Revolution," Lefebvre concludes with a call for radical social change toward new modes of adaptation (in contrast to the passive acceptance of repression) in the modern world; for "to be aware of being unhappy," he writes, "presupposes that something else is possible, a different condition from the unhappy one."(p.206)
The theoretical revolution which constitutes the first step towards a cultural revolution is based on philosophical experience.The revival of art and of meaning of art has a practical not a 'cultural' aim; indeed, our cultural revolution has no purely 'cultural' aims, but directs culture towards experience, towards the transfiguration of everyday life. The revolution will transform existence, not merely the state and the distribution of property, for we do not take means for ends. This can also be stated as follows: 'Let everyday life become a work of art! Let every technical means be employed for the transformation of everyday life!' From an intellectual point of view the word 'creation' will no longer be restricted to works of art but will signify a self-conscious activity, self-conceiving, reproducing its own terms, adapting these terms and its own reality (body, desire, time, space), being its own creation; socially the term will stand for the activity of a collectivity assuming the responsibility of its own social function and destiny --in other words for self-administration.(p.204)
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université Stendhal Grenoble 3
from Information Clearing House :
Date: 25 February 2003
Subject: Old news, new developments.
The People versus the Powerful is the oldest story in human history. At no point in history have the Powerful wielded so much control. At no point in history has the active and informed involvement of the People, all of them, been more absolutely required.
The Project for the New American Century
by William Rivers Pitt
from The Real News :
Date: 7 July 2009
Subject: "Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order".
Was the recent uprising in Iran a "colored revolution", a genuine movement for democracy - or both? July 7, 2009.
from Noam Chomsky :
Date: 10 July 2009
Subject: "Freedom" and "Democracy".
by Chomsky, Noam
June 2009 was marked by a number of significant events, including two elections in the Middle East: in Lebanon, then Iran. The events are significant, and the reactions to them, highly instructive.
The election in Lebanon was greeted with euphoria. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman gushed that he is "a sucker for free and fair elections," so "it warms my heart to watch" what happened in Lebanon in an election that "was indeed free and fair not like the pretend election you are about to see in Iran, where only candidates approved by the Supreme Leader can run. No, in Lebanon it was the real deal, and the results were fascinating: President Barack Obama defeated President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran." Crucially, "a solid majority of all Lebanese -- Muslims, Christians and Druse -- voted for the March 14 coalition led by Saad Hariri," the US-backed candidate and son of the murdered ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, so that "to the extent that anyone came out of this election with the moral authority to lead the next government, it was the coalition that wants Lebanon to be run by and for the Lebanese -- not for Iran, not for Syria and not for fighting Israel." We must give credit where it is due for this triumph of free elections (and of Washington): "Without George Bush standing up to the Syrians in 2005 -- and forcing them to get out of Lebanon after the Hariri killing -- this free election would not have happened. Mr. Bush helped create the space. Power matters. Mr. Obama helped stir the hope. Words also matter."
Two days later Friedman's views were echoed by Eliott Abrams, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign relations, formerly a high official of the Reagan and Bush I administrations. Under the heading "Lebanon's Triumph, Iran's Travesty," Abrams compared these "twin tests of [US] efforts to spread democracy to the Muslim world." The lesson is clear: "What the United States should be promoting is not elections, but free elections, and the voting in Lebanon passed any realistic test....the majority of Lebanese have rejected Hezbollah's claim that it is not a terrorist group but a `national resistance'...The Lebanese had a chance to vote against Hezbollah, and took the opportunity."
Reactions were similar throughout the mainstream. There are, however, a few flies in the ointment.
The most prominent of them, apparently unreported in the US, is the actual vote. The Hezbollah-based March 8 coalition won handily, by approximately the same figure as Obama vs. McCain in November 2008, about 54% of the popular vote, according to Ministry of Interior figures. Hence by the Friedman-Abrams argument, we should be lamenting Ahmadinejad's defeat of President Obama, and the "moral authority" won by Hezbollah, as "the majority of Lebanese...took the opportunity" to reject the charges Abrams repeats from Washington propaganda.
Like others, Friedman and Abrams are referring to representatives in Parliament. These numbers are skewed by the confessional voting system, which sharply reduces the seats granted to the largest of the sects, the Shi'ites, who overwhelmingly back Hezbollah and its Amal ally. But as serious analysts have pointed out, the confessional ground rules undermine "free and fair elections" in even more significant ways than this. Assaf Kfoury observes that they leave no space for non-sectarian parties and erect a barrier to introducing socioeconomic policies and other real issues into the electoral system. They also open the door to "massive external interference," low voter turnout, and "vote-rigging and vote-buying," all features of the June election, even more so than before. Thus in Beirut, home of more than half the population, less than a fourth of eligible voters could vote without returning to their usually remote districts of origin. The effect is that migrant workers and the poorer classes are effectively disenfranchised in "a form of extreme gerrymandering, Lebanese style," favoring the privileged and pro-Western classes.
In Iran, the electoral results issued by the Interior Ministry lacked credibility both by the manner in which they were released and by the figures themselves. An enormous popular protest followed, brutally suppressed by the armed forces of the ruling clerics. Perhaps Ahmadinejad might have won a majority if votes had been fairly counted, but it appears that the rulers were unwilling to take that chance. From the streets, correspondent Reese Erlich, who has had considerable experience with popular uprisings and bitter repression in US domains, writes that "It's a genuine Iranian mass movement made up of students, workers, women, and middle class folks" - and possibly much of the rural population. Eric Hooglund, a respected scholar who has studied rural Iran intensively, dismisses standard speculations about rural support for Ahmadinejad, describing "overwhelming" support for Mousavi in regions he has studied, and outrage over what the large majority there regard as a stolen election.
It is highly unlikely that the protest will damage the clerical-military regime in the short term, but as Erlich observes, it "is sowing the seeds for future struggles."
As in Lebanon, the electoral system itself violates basic rights. Candidates have to be approved by the ruling clerics, who can and do bar policies of which they disapprove. And though repression overall may not be as harsh as in the US-backed dictatorships of the region, it is ugly enough, and in June 2009, very visibly so.
One can argue that Iranian "guided democracy" has structural analogues in the US, where elections are largely bought, and candidates and programs are effectively "vetted" by concentrations of capital. A striking illustration is being played out right now. It is hardly controversial that the disastrous US health system is a high priority for the public, which, for a long time, has favored national health care, an option that has been kept off the agenda by private power. In a limited shift towards the public will, Congress is now debating whether to allow a public option to compete with insurers, a proposal with overwhelming popular support. The opposition, who regard themselves as free market advocates, charge that the proposal would be unfair to the private sector, which will be unable to compete with a more efficient public system. Though a bit odd, the argument is plausible. As economist Dean Baker points out, "We know that private insurers can't compete because we already had this experiment with the Medicare program. When private insurers had to compete on a level playing field with the traditional government-run plan they were almost driven from the market." Savings from a government program would be even greater if, as in other countries, the government were permitted to negotiate prices with pharmaceutical corporations, an option supported by 85% of the population but also not on the agenda. "Unless Congress creates a serious public plan," Baker writes, Americans "can expect to be hit with the largest tax increase in the history of the world -- all of it going into the pockets of the health care industry." That is a likely outcome, once again, in the American form of "guided democracy." And it is hardly the only example.
While our thoughts are turned to elections, we should not forget one recent authentically "free and fair" election in the Middle East region, in Palestine in January 2006, to which the US and its allies at once responded with harsh punishment for the population that voted "the wrong way." The pretexts offered were laughable, and the response caused scarcely a ripple on the flood of commentary on Washington's noble "efforts to spread democracy to the Muslim world," a feat that reveals impressive subordination to authority.
No less impressive is the readiness to agree that Israel is justified in imposing a harsh and destructive siege on Gaza, and attacking it with merciless violence using US equipment and diplomatic support, as it did last winter. There of course is a pretext: "the right to self-defense." The pretext has been almost universally accepted in the West, though Israeli actions are sometimes condemned as "disproportionate." The reaction is remarkable, because the pretext collapses on the most cursory inspection. The issue is the right TO USE FORCE in self-defense, and a state has that right only if it has exhausted peaceful means. In this case, Israel has simply refused to use the peaceful means that have been readily available. All of this has been amply discussed elsewhere, and it should be unnecessary to review the simple facts once again.
Once again relying on the impunity it receives as a US client, Israel brought the month of June 2009 to a close by enforcing the siege with a brazen act of hijacking. On June 30, the Israeli navy hijacked the Free Gaza movement boat "Spirit of Humanity" -- in international waters, according to those aboard -- and forced it to the Israeli port of Ashdod. The boat had left from Cyprus, where the cargo was inspected: it consisted of medicines, reconstruction supplies, and toys. The human rights workers aboard included Nobel Laureate Mairead Maguire and former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who was sent to Ramleh prison in Israel - apparently without a word from the Obama administration. The crime scarcely elicited a yawn - with some justice, one might argue, since Israel has been hijacking boats travelling between Cyprus and Lebanon for decades, kidnapping and sometimes killing passengers or sending them in Israeli prisons without charge where they join thousands of others, in some cases held for many years as hostages. So why even bother to report this latest outrage by a rogue state and its patron, for whom law is a theme for 4th of July speeches and a weapon against enemies?
Israel's hijacking is a far more extreme crime than anything carried out by Somalis driven to piracy by poverty and despair, and destruction of their fishing grounds by robbery and dumping of toxic wastes - not to speak of the destruction of their economy by a Bush counter-terror operation conceded to have been fraudulent, and a US-backed Ethiopian invasion. The Israeli hijacking is also in violation of a March 1988 international Convention on safety of maritime navigation to which the US is a party, hence required by the Convention to assist in enforcing it. Israel, however, is not a party - which, of course, in no way mitigates the crime or the obligation to enforce the Convention against violators. Israel's failure to join is particularly interesting, since the Convention was partially inspired by the hijacking of the Achille Lauro in 1985. That crime ranks high in Israel and the West among terrorist atrocities -- unlike Israel's US-backed bombing of Tunis a week earlier, killing 75 people, as usual with no credible pretext, but again tolerated under the grant of impunity for the US and its clients.
Possibly Israel chose not to join the Convention because of its regular practice of hijacking boats in international waters at that time. Also worth investigating in connection with the June 2009 hijacking is that since 2000, after the discovery of apparently substantial reserves of natural gas in Gaza's territorial waters by British Gas, Israel has been steadily forcing Gazan fishing boats towards shore, often violently, ruining an industry vital to Gaza's survival. At the same time, Israel has been entering into negotiations with BG to obtain gas from these sources, thus stealing the meager resources of the population it is mercilessly crushing.
The Western hemisphere also witnessed an election-related crime at the month's end. A military coup in Honduras ousted President Manuel Zelaya and expelled him to Costa Rica. As observed by economist Mark Weisbrot, an experienced analyst of Latin American affairs, the social structure of the coup is "a recurrent story in Latin America," pitting "a reform president who is supported by labor unions and social organizations against a mafia-like, drug-ridden, corrupt political elite who is accustomed to choosing not only the Supreme Court and the Congress, but also the president."
Mainstream commentary described the coup as an unfortunate return to the bad days of decades ago. But that is mistaken. This is the third military coup in the past decade, all conforming to the "recurrent story." The first, in Venezuela in 2002, was supported by the Bush administration, which, however, backed down after sharp Latin American condemnation and restoration of the elected government by a popular uprising. The second, in Haiti in 2004, was carried out by Haiti's traditional torturers, France and the US. The elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was spirited to Central Africa and kept at a safe distance from Haiti by the master of the hemisphere.
What is novel in the Honduras coup is that the US has not lent it support. Rather, the US joined with the Organization of American States in opposing the coup, though with a more reserved condemnation than others, and without any action, unlike the neighboring states and much of the rest of Latin America. Alone in the region, the US has not withdrawn its ambassador, as did France, Spain and Italy along with Latin American states.
It was reported that Washington had advance information about a possible coup, and tried to prevent it. It surpasses imagination that Washington did not have close knowledge of what was underway in Honduras, which is highly dependent on US aid, and whose military is armed, trained, and advised by Washington. Military relations have been particularly close since the 1980s, when Honduras was the base for Reagan's terrorist war against Nicaragua.
Whether this will play out as another chapter of the "recurrent story" remains to be seen, and will depend in no small measure on reactions within the United States.
from Democracy Now! :
Date: 8 July 2009
Subject: Israeli military high jacking of former U. S. Congresswoman in December 2008.
Former Congressmember Cynthia McKinney arrived back in the United States Tuesday following her deportation from Israel. McKinney was one of 21 activists seized by the Israeli military in international waters last week as they tried to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza. We speak with McKiney and with filmmaker Adam Shapiro who was detained and deported as well.
from Information Clearing House :
Date: 19 April 2006
Subject: Media rhetoric against Iran.
An analysis of media rhetoric on its way to war against Iran - Commenting on the alleged statements of Iran's President Ahmadinejad.
from The Money Blog :
Date : 19 April 2006
Subject: The true U.S. unemployment rate today.
Not to scare you, but the situation is actually worse than it seems.
by Howard Zinn
There are things that happen in the world that are bad, and you want to do something about them. You have a just cause. But our culture is so war prone that we immediately jump from, "This is a good cause" to "This deserves a war."
You need to be very, very comfortable in making that jump.
The American Revolution-independence from England-was a just cause. Why should the colonists here be occupied by and oppressed by England? But therefore, did we have to go to the Revolutionary War?
How many people died in the Revolutionary War?
Nobody ever knows exactly how many people die in wars, but it's likely that 25,000 to 50,000 people died in this one. So let's take the lower figure-25,000 people died out of a population of three million. That would be equivalent today to two and a half million people dying to get England off our backs.
You might consider that worth it, or you might not.
Canada is independent of England, isn't it? I think so. Not a bad society. Canadians have good health care. They have a lot of things we don't have. They didn't fight a bloody revolutionary war. Why do we assume that we had to fight a bloody revolutionary war to get rid of England?
In the year before those famous shots were fired, farmers in Western Massachusetts had driven the British government out without firing a single shot. They had assembled by the thousands and thousands around courthouses and colonial offices and they had just taken over and they said goodbye to the British officials. It was a nonviolent revolution that took place. But then came Lexington and Concord, and the revolution became violent, and it was run not by the farmers but by the Founding Fathers. The farmers were rather poor; the Founding Fathers were rather rich.
Who actually gained from that victory over England? It's very important to ask about any policy, and especially about war: Who gained what? And it's very important to notice differences among the various parts of the population. That's one thing were not accustomed to in this country because we don't think in class terms. We think, "Oh, we all have the same interests." For instance, we think that we all had the same interests in independence from England. We did not have all the same interests.
Do you think the Indians cared about independence from England? No, in fact, the Indians were unhappy that we won independence from England, because England had set a line-in the Proclamation of 1763-that said you couldn't go westward into Indian territory. They didn't do it because they loved the Indians. They didn't want trouble. When Britain was defeated in the Revolutionary War, that line was eliminated, and now the way was open for the colonists to move westward across the continent, which they did for the next 100 years, committing massacres and making sure that they destroyed Indian civilization.
So when you look at the American Revolution, there's a fact that you have to take into consideration. Indians-no, they didn't benefit.
Did blacks benefit from the American Revolution?
Slavery was there before. Slavery was there after. Not only that, we wrote slavery into the Constitution. We legitimized it.
What about class divisions?
Did ordinary white farmers have the same interest in the revolution as a John Hancock or Morris or Madison or Jefferson or the slaveholders or the bondholders? Not really.
It was not all the common people getting together to fight against England. They had a very hard time assembling an army. They took poor guys and promised them land. They browbeat people and, oh yes, they inspired people with the Declaration of Independence. It's always good, if you want people to go to war, to give them a good document and have good words: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, when they wrote the Constitution, they were more concerned with property than life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. You should take notice of these little things.
There were class divisions. When you assess and evaluate a war, when you assess and evaluate any policy, you have to ask: Who gets what?
We were a class society from the beginning. America started off as a society of rich and poor, people with enormous grants of land and people with no land. And there were riots, there were bread riots in Boston, and riots and rebellions all over the colonies, of poor against rich, of tenants breaking into jails to release people who were in prison for nonpayment of debt. There was class conflict. We try to pretend in this country that we're all one happy family. We're not.
And so when you look at the American Revolution, you have to look at it in terms of class.
Do you know that there were mutinies in the American Revolutionary Army by the privates against the officers? The officers were getting fine clothes and good food and high pay and the privates had no shoes and bad clothes and they weren't getting paid. They mutinied. Thousands of them. So many in the Pennsylvania line that George Washington got worried, so he made compromises with them. But later when there was a smaller mutiny in the New Jersey line, not with thousands but with hundreds, Washington said execute the leaders, and they were executed by fellow mutineers on the order of their officers.
The American Revolution was not a simple affair of all of us against all of them. And not everyone thought they would benefit from the Revolution.
We've got to rethink this question of war and come to the conclusion that war cannot be accepted, no matter what the reasons given, or the excuse: liberty, democracy; this, that. War is by definition the indiscriminate killing of huge numbers of people for ends that are uncertain. Think about means and ends, and apply it to war. The means are horrible, certainly. The ends, uncertain. That alone should make you hesitate.
Once a historical event has taken place, it becomes very hard to imagine that you could have achieved a result some other way. When something is happening in history it takes on a certain air of inevitability: This is the only way it could have happened. No.
We are smart in so many ways. Surely, we should be able to understand that in between war and passivity, there are a thousand possibilities.
from Arundhati Roy :
Date: 9 March 2008
Subject: Democracy's failing light.
by Vandana Shiva
The proposed introduction of a Food Security Act by the UPA Government is a welcome step. The Right to Food is the basis of the Right to life, and Art.21 of the Constitution guarantees the right to life of all Indian citizens.
Given that India has emerged as the capital of hunger, given that per capita consumption has 178 kg in 1991, the beginning of the period of economic reforms, to 155 kg in 200-2003, and daily calorie consumption of the bottom 25 percent of the population has decreased from 1683 k.cal in 1987-88 to 1624 k.cal in 2004-05, against a national norm of 2400 and 2011 k cal/day for rural and urban areas respectively, a response on the food in security front is a response to a national emergency.
However, the approach to food security has a number of blind spots and biases.
Where does one food come from? How is it produced?
The biggest blind spot is neglecting food production and food producers as a core element of food security, from the household to the national level. You cannot provide food to people if you do not first ensure that food is produced in adequate quantities. And to ensure food production, the livelihood of food producers must be ensured. The right of food producers to produce food is the foundation of food security. This right has internationally evolved through the concept of "food sovereignty". In Navdanya we refer to it as Anna Swaraj.
Food Sovereignty is derived from socio-economic human rights, which include the right to food and the right to produce food for rural communities. As Peter Rosset has recently written in Monthly Rview July - August, 2007 (Fixing Our Global Food System) "Food Sovereignty argues that feeding a nations people is an issue of national security - of sovereignty, if you will. If the population of a country must depend for their next meal on the vagaries and price swings of the global economy, on the good will of a superpower not to use food as a weapon, or on the unpredictability and high cost of long-distance shipping, then the country is not secure, neither in the sense of national security, nor in the sense of food security. Food sovereignty thus goes beyond the concept of food security, which says nothing about where food comes from, or how it is produced. To achieve genuine sovereignty, people in rural areas must have access to productive land and receive prices for their crops that allow them to make a decent living while feeding the nations people.
Two aspects of food security have disappeared in the current approach - firstly, the right to produce food, and secondly national food security. Both are aspects of food sovereignty, one at the level of food producers and the other at the level of the country as a whole.
Any country risks genuine food security if it ignores food is higher because two thirds of our population is involved in agriculture and food production, our small farmers produce food for the country and have provided a nation of 1.2 billion with food security, and today they themselves are in distress.
The most tragic face of the agrarian crisis the country is facing are the suicides of over 200,000 farmers over the past decade. If our food producers do not survive, where is the nation's food security?
The second reason why India cannot afford to ignore the crisis of our food producers is because our rural communities face a deep crisis of hunger. Globally too, half of the hungry people of the world today are food producers. This is directly related to the capital intensive, chemical intensive, high external input systems of food production introduced as the Green Revolution, and the second Green Revolution. Farmers must get into debt to buy costly inputs, and indebted farmers must sell what they produce to pay back the debt. Hence the paradox and irony of food producers being the highest number of hungry people in India and in the world. Farmers suicides too are linked to the same process of indebtedness due to high costs of inputs.
The solution to the hunger of producer communities is to shift to low cost sustainable agriculture production based on principles of agro ecology. And contrary to the false perception that small farmers and sustainable systems do not produce enough, data from India and other parts of the world establishes that small farmers have higher output than large farms, that biodiverse organic farms have high food output than chemical monocultures. This is also confirmed by the IAASTD report.
This food sovereignty of rural producers addresses hunger of rural communities as well as the hunger of those they feed. And for the same reasons, corporate farming and contract farming are false solutions in the context of the hunger and malnutrition crisis facing the country. As is the corporate take over of food processing and attempted hijack of our food security programmes such as ICDS and Mid Day Meal Schemes.
The Governments policies are biased in favour of the corporate sector. The proposal to shift from the PDS system to the food stamp or food voucher systems arises from this corporate bias. The assumption is that corporations will control the food supply, and the government will enable the poor to buy from corporations on the basis of food stamps and vouchers. However, the poor will then be condemned to the least nutritious unhealthy food as has happened in countries like the U.S
As Tolstoy put it when he was involved in setting up soup kitchens during the Russian famine of 1891-1892, he despaired that they were "distributing the vomit, regurgitated by the rich"
A food security system that does not include food sovereignty and that does not build public food systems must condemn the poor to food unfit for humans. This is what happened when India imported pest weed, pesticide infested wheat two years ago. The Chennai Port Authority, and the Maharashtra Government both said that wheat was unfit for human consumption.
The present paradigm has the bias that the poor can eat bad food. Good food is only for the rich.
However food security includes the right to safe, healthy, culturally appropriate and economically affordable food. Food stamps cannot guarantee this. Further, the PDS ystem is not a one sided system. It is both a food procurement and food distribution system. Its dismantling and substitution by food vouchers will erode the food sovereignty of producers, abandon them to the vagaries of the market and finally destroy their livelihoods.
Adding 650 million rural people to the displaced and hungry will create a hunger problem no government and no market can solve.
That is why we must strengthen food sovereignty and the PDS system to strengthen food security.
The proposals of the Government that the centre will identify the poor goes against the federal structure of India's Constitution. As Chief Minister of Punjab Prakash Singh Badal has recently said (Indian Express 5.7.06) "States have to go like beggars to the centre for everything. We have been reduced to glorified municipalities".
A national food security systems needs to be based on the Constitution. Decentralisation is key to ensuring good and abundant food is produced on every farm and reaches every kitchen. Centralisation and corporate hijack of food go hand in hand. Decentralisation and food sovereignty go hand in hand.
from Edward Herman :
Date: 10 July 2009
Subject: West's Afghan War And Drive Into Caspian Sea Basin.
Long, important, and painful.