Saturday, December 29, 2018

3133. Yellow Vests Protesters: “We are not tired”

By Richard Greeman, December 29, 2018

Is the Yellow Vest rebellion, now in its seventh week, “petering out?” Such was the near-unanimous pronouncement of the mainstream media, when I returned home to Montpellier, France, eager to participate and to observe first-hand this popular insurrection which I had been afraid of missing.

I needn’t have worried. By nine o’clock last Saturday morning (Dec. 22), hundreds of Yellow Vest demonstrators were gathering for a peaceful march to the Préfecture (local seat of government) chanting “We’re not tired” and carrying placards reading “We are not casseurs (vandals) or pyromaniacs. Peaceful” (see video[2]) The mood was bon enfant (“jolly”) with demonstrators en famille including the children and old folks in wheelchairs. Marching ten abreast, they filled the rue de la Loge, but when they arrived at the Préfecture, the police, apparently taunted by some radicals in the crowd, let loose with teargas, injuring children (see video[3]). Then all hell broke loose and continued all day, with marches, countermarches and gas in the air. 

This indiscriminate use of gas was typical of the government’s tactic of preventing mass peaceful demonstrations by provoking violence and spreading fear. For example, “black block” casseurs and rock throwers have been identified as under-cover policemen by eyewitness and on videos. This was apparently the case last Saturday at the Montpellier Préfecture. (See video[4])

Meanwhile, my wife and I were out with the Yellow Vests at the main roundabout into Montpellier, where two thirds of the passing drivers were displaying yellow vests, giving the high-sign, or honking their approval. So much for the Yellow Vests decline in popularity. The sign we were handed shows the word “Republic” crossed out and replaced by “Direct Democracy. The Divorce is Consummated.”  Then: “Inform yourselves by Internet. 99% media owned by billionaires.” (see attached photo). At the same time, we were getting regular cellphone reports from downtown of tear-gassing continuing all day, capped by the triumphal arrival of more than 80 Yellow Vest motorcyclists who took over the main square as evening fell[R1] .

Similar actions, on a larger scale, were taking place in Paris, where, in a successful ruse, the Yellow Vest Facebook page convinced the police that they were going to attack the royal chateau out at Versailles, where hundreds CRS riot police were moved. In fact, the Yellow Vests organized a last-minuet, fast-moving wildcat march that began in Montmartre, snaked through the capital ahead of the police, and was only stopped at Macron’s Elysée Palace, heavily invested by the “forces of order.” At the very same time, the National Assembly in Paris was hastily approving a “Yellow Vest Law” designed to recognize their protesters’ grievances and embarrass President Macron, a number of whose party members voted with the majority. A measure of the President’s popularity.

Smaller Numbers                

To be sure, the Yellow Vest demonstrations in Paris and the provinces yesterday and last Saturday (Dec. 15) were smaller than the previous four Saturdays. The reasons for this decline are obvious: 1. Massive police violence  2. The concessions already won from President Macron (who had vowed never to make any), 3.The shocking Dec. 11 terrorist killings in Strasbourg,  4. The pro-government bias of the media, and 5. Winter vacation (sacred in France). So I’m not sure this decline in numbers means the movement is “petering out” – as the talking heads in mainstream media keep proclaiming with undisguised relief.

In any case, one thing is certain. The French establishment, non-plussed by an incomprehensible leaderless movement which refuses to be coopted back into the system, has reacted crudely with an onslaught of violence and lies. Although partly successful, these repressive tactics have also backfired in a serious way, depriving the French political class, already weak and divided, of its legitimacy and threatening its hegemony. Let’s take a closer look at this campaign of state repression and establishment propaganda.


The unprecedented violence unleashed by the “forces of order” over the previous five Saturday gatherings, invisible in the mainstream media, has been taking its toll on activists, as videos of police brutality and hideous injuries circulate on YouTube, on alternative new sites like Médiapart,and through the Yellow Vest Facebook pages.

These new tactics, officially named PROJECT FEAR, were explicitly designed to intimidate. So are the harsh sentences imposed on Yellow Vest demonstrators arrested as casseurs (vandals) for as little as possessing bike helmets, gas masks, and ski goggles considered “evidence” of “conspiracy” and “intention to attack the forces of order.” These items are now so common, that the local Bricorama (“Home Depot”) strategically displays ski goggles right next to yellow emergency vests, yet such demonstrators are routinely herded straight from the street into Room 24, a 24-hour emergency courtroom where they are sent to jail after summary trials.

From the very beginning of the movement on Nov. 27, Yellow Vests have been systematically repressed by the government through massive use of tear gas, flash bombs, pepper spray, water canons and police truncheons. In a report published on Friday, Human Rights Watch said that France’s “crowd-control methods maim people,” pointing to cases where protesters were wounded by rubber projectiles and tear gas grenades. At the same time, the mainstream media systematically played up vandalism against property (windows broken, cars burned) during demonstrations – while failing to expose indiscriminate police brutality and the many serious injuries including the murder of an 80 year old Arab woman hit in the head with a flashball while attempting to shutter her balcony windows. Here are some gruesome videos which you may not want to look at showing what happens when police are licensed to deliberately aim their flashball and gas grenades at people’s faces.[5]

Given the demographics of the more than 3,000 people arrested thus far, few fit the stereotype of young, black-clad casseurs (vandals) and fascists, whom the government and media blame for the violence. Many of them, provincials, had in fact come out to protest (and gone to Paris) for the first time in their lives. The Yellow Vests I have seen here in Montpellier appeared mostly middle-aged. They, and their Parisian counterparts, don’t look a bit like the typical black block “anarchists” who are visible on countless videos and who somehow never seem to get arrested – although some have been filmed climbing aboard police vehicles.

This contradiction might be one explanation for why, despite all attempts to castigate them as “perpetrators of unacceptable violence,” the government’s and media’s ongoing rhetoric about security has been quite ineffective.[6] Indeed, it has mainly succeeded in de-legitimizing their authors.[7] The contrast between official reports and those of eyewitnesses and videos on Facebook is too glaring. The narrative is always about demonstrators violently “attacking police,” however not a single injured policeman has been seen on T.V.

Having seen French CRS riot squad Robocops from close up, it seems to me demonstrators fighting with them (like we did with their ill-equipped predecessor in ’68) would be like ragged peasants with clubs going up against knights in full armor.
Macron’s militarized state over-reaction to a mass political demonstration breaks with a long tradition of tolerance for muscled demonstrations by rowdy angry farmers and militant labor unions. A tolerance Macron, in speeches, has blamed for the failure of previous governments to pass needed pro-business counter-reforms.

Lies: the Monarch Addresses his People

On Monday evening Dec. 10, after a month of silence in the face of massive rejection of his neo-liberal policies and arrogant, condescending personality, Macron finally went on TV with a lame pre-recorded speech combining threats and concessions. The “Jupiterian” President began by blaming all the violence on the protesters (“we have all seen them attacking the police”) and threatening them with severe punishment (“no indulgence”) if they persist. For the Yellow Vests, this was throwing gasoline on the fire, as everyone who had participated in the protests or had seen the horrendous videos of the systematic police mayhem deliberately unleashed by Macron knew he was lying.

“The President of the rich” then went on to admit that the protesters may have had a legitimate point. “We” (the royal “we”?) “may have forgotten the single mother struggling to make ends meet” and the other little people. Macron then condescended to propose “a national conversation, which I will coordinate,” including even local mayors, about the social/economic crisis. He also made few economic concessions.

These included rescinding his new taxes on social security retirement for some retirees with very low incomes, elimination of taxes on paid overtime, a call on businesses to voluntarily give a year-end bonus to their employees, and a year-end 100€ ( $115) raise in the minimum wage.

On closer examination by the Yellow Vests, this “raise” turned out to be “smoke and mirrors.” First, it applied to only some low-wage workers. Second, it was not really a raise in the hourly wage, but in fact a government bonus to encourage “active” workers, which did not include benefits and was to be paid for out of the workers’ taxes, essential moving money from one pocket to another. “Don’t give us words, give us figures” one Yellow Vest told me, infuriated at being taken for a fool (con).

In his address, the monarchical President pointedly refused to pronounce the words “Yellow Vests” and “ecology” or to re-establish the Tax on Great Fortunes to pay for these concessions. Macron’s offer of crumbs from the table of the rich was immediately rejected as “too little, too late’ by the Yellow Vests, who continued calling for Macron’s resignation and a bottom-up reorganization of French democracy.

The Strasbourg Killings

Concerning Macron’s speech to the nation, Susan Ram suggests that “two elements merit particular concern. Firstly, his inclusion of the phrase “laïcité bousculée” (‘secularism buffeted or overturned’) in his analysis of the ills of current French society. Secondly, his reference to the ‘profound identity’ of the nation and the need, in this context, to ‘tackle’ the question of immigration. Both comments seem suggestive of an effort to inject racist and xenophobic themes into the Yellow Vest movement, the better to divide it while simultaneously making it appear that the state is listening to right-wing grievances. Indeed, from the beginning the Yellow Vests,  given their origins in la France Profonde  (middle France) have been smeared by the media (and rejected by much of the Left) as right-wing and racist, despite videos showing them forcefully ejecting members of LePen’s National Front from their march.

Events in Strasbourg just a day after Macron’s opened up further opportunities for divisive propaganda. As Ram continues: “The killing of four people, and injuring of a dozen or so others, by a lone radicalized Islamist gunman at the city’s popular Christmas market predictably became grist to state efforts to undermine and divide the Yellow Vest uprising. A sequence of senior government ministers and regional officials called on protestors to call a halt, optimistically invoking the ‘exhaustion’ of the security forces as an argument likely to melt the hearts of Yellow Vestssubjected to baton charges, tear gas, rubber bullets and more. The education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, expressed his horror at “vile” social media posts suggesting the government had exaggerated (or worse) the Strasbourg attack in order to deflect attention away from the protest movement. On cue, the mainstream media plunged into a smear-the-protestors feeding frenzy.”[8]

The Winter Holidays

Workaholic U.S. readers may have difficulty taking in the seriousness of holidays in this country, which mandates five full weeks of vacation per year, where family ties remain strong enough so that children are routinely sent to their grandparents for the Winter holiday, where train reservations are all booked up months in advance and where no place is farther than four hours from Paris.

The first paid vacations were won by the French workers at the end of the 1936 national wave of sit-in strikes, and newsreels of the departures that August of Parisian worker families who had never seen the sea are part of the national narrative.[9] Impending summer vacations were also partly responsible for the eventual collapse of the inspiring May-June 1968 student-worker rebellion. The French police have taken advantage of this factor forcibly remove the makeshift shelters and barbeques that had been a convivial feature of the Yellow Vest presence at roundabouts and toll-booths. Yet there were still a few Yellow Vests at the main roundabout here in Montpellier on Christmas eve, and a downtown rally announced for this Saturday, Dec. 29, came off peacefully, although there was gas elsewhere.[10] Meanwhile, Yellow Vests descended onto the tracks at the Montpellier railroad station and blocked trains. (See video.[11])

Why France’s ‘Silent Majority’ Is Mad as Hell

Like all the spontaneous mass uprisings that dot French history going back to Feudal times, the Yellow Vest revolt was initially provoked by unfair taxes. Spurning all established political parties, and unions, the Yellow Vests got organized on social media and acted locally. The broadcast media, although highly critical, spread the news nationally, and the movement spread across France, blocking intersections, filtering motorists, allowing free passage at highway tollbooths, and gathering to demonstrate, more and more numerous and militant, on successive Saturdays.

Why Saturdays? “I can’t go on strike,” explains one woman.  “I’m raising three kids alone. My job, that’s all I have left. Coming on Saturdays is the only way for me to show my anger.” Women – receptionists, hostesses, nurses-aids, teachers – are present in unusually large numbers in these crowds, and they are angry about a lot more than the tax on Diesel. Like Trump, Macron has showered corporations and millionaires with huge tax cuts, creating a hole in the budget which he has compensated by cuts in public services (hospitals, schools, transit, police) and by tax increases for ordinary people (up to 40% of their income), large numbers of whom are struggling hard to make ends meet and going into debt. 

This anger has been building since last Spring, the 50thanniversary of the 1968 worker-student uprising, but was frustrated when Macron won the stand-off with labor over his neo-liberal, pro-business counter-reforms. This labor defeat was facilitated by the leadership of the CGT and other unions, who played the same negative role in the 1968 sell-out to de Gaulle.[12] Although workers have been active in the Although workers have been active in the Yellow Vest movement, which fights for traditional labor goals like higher minimum wage, public services, etc. the French labor leaders have shunned them as petty-bourgeois potential fascists. These union bureaucrats see the Yellow Vests, accurately, as competitors and a threat to their own hegemonic status as official representatives of the workers, especially after Macron’s “concessions.”

On Dec. 6, in direct response to an appeal for calm from Macron, the leaders of the CGT and all the other labor federations except for Solidaritésigned a Déclaration of solidarity – not with the injured and arrested demonstrators, but with the Macron government as the representative of the peaceful republican order![13] In return for what many have described as a “betrayal,” these professional negotiators accepted Macron’s invitation to “resume the social dialogue” – that is to sit at the table with him and negotiate more “give backs” of workers’ rights.  The next day, contradicting themselves, the CGT’s Martinez and the other union leaders called for a national labor demonstration on Fri. Dec 14 covering the same basic economic demands as the Yellow Vests but not on the same day, Saturday Dec 15.

Needless to say, only a few stalwarts came out for Martinez’ much touted demonstration. Yet clearly, only with the active participation of France’s organized workers can this broad popular movement succeed – for example through a general strike – in bringing the capitalist class to its knees and founding a new social order.

What Next?

So apparently the Yellow Vest movement is not exactly “petering out.” After six weeks of daily roadblocks and disruptions in every corner of France, and after six (now seven) successive mass demonstrations of hundreds of thousands in Paris and the provinces, violently repressed, this spontaneous, self-organized rebellion, coordinated via social media, is still seriously challenging the political and economic order in France.

Not only has this rebellion persisted despite unprecedented police brutality, media misrepresentation, and rejection by labor union officials, it has retained its grass-roots popularity  and deepened its goals – from an initial rejection of a tax increase on Diesel fuel to explicit rejection of the established political/economic system and to near-unanimous call for the resignation of Macron and the creation of a new kind of democracy via referendum or constitutional convention.

Moreover, the French students have joined the uprising, protesting Macron’s introduction of anti-democratic selection in college admissions,
with 170 high schools disrupted in answer to the “Black Tuesday” appeal by their union. There has also been a revival of strikes and protests among civil servants, nurses and educators, all inspired by the Yellow Vests’ success in wringing concessions from Macron, whose onslaught of pro-business, neo-liberal counter-reforms organized labor, hamstrung by its collaborationist leaders, failed to stop last Spring. The apparent rift with the ecological movement has been breached as demonstrations from the two movements combined in action under the slogan “End of the Month/End of the World: Same Cause/Same Enemy.” Likewise, marchers from the feminist “End Violence Against Women” have been honored and welcome by the Yellow Vests.

Meanwhile, the epidemic of Yellow Vest inspired revolts has spread to Belgium, Great Britain, Portugal, Holland, Hungary, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and beyond,[14] recalling the Internet-propagated contagion  of the 2011 Arab Spring and “Occupy” movements and even provoking the Egyptian military government to ban the sale of yellow emergency vests. But the numbers are smaller. See video of German Amazon workers wearing yellow vests during their annual Christmas attempt to strike and disrupt the company’s profits during the busiest time of the year in an international effort that includes Polish Amazon workers.[15]  

Clearly, to achieve ultimate success this spontaneous, self-organized, uprising of the 99% against the 1%  will have to unite internationally as well as to  continue to deepen itself, to grow and to mutate – like similar popular movements in the history of France from the Jacqueries of the Middle Age through the Sans-culottes of 1789, the social-republicans of 1848, the Communards of 1871. Armed with social media on which to coordinate mass actions and to debate goals and methods from the local to the national and international levels, there is no technical reason why this self-organized insurrection cannot surpass the uncoordinated movements of 2011 and take root everywhere. So far, as far as France is concerned, the missing political elements are the full participation of the industrial working class and of the North African and African immigrant population, which have not yet showed up en masse.

Only the future will tell how far this movement will go, but already its achievements are impressive and permanent. 1. The Yellow Vests have succeeded in unmasking and discrediting Macron, the neo-liberal wunderkind who was supposed to Thatcherize France and is now so hated that the remaining years of his mandate are in question.
2. The Yellow Vests have also unmasked and discredited the mass media, particularly television networks, which had supposedly hypnotized the ignorant masses who now see them as corrupt, overpaid propagandists for the billionaire class. 3. The Yellow Vests have also succeeded – wonder of wonders! – in unmasking and discrediting the hegemonic myth of representative “democracy” with its unrepresentative “political class” of professional politicians of right left and center. These genies can never again be put back in the bottle.

Amazing achievements for a movement that is only seven weeks old and still growing. The hegemony of the French ruling classes is hanging by slender threads of increasingly counter-productive violence and lies. The French popular masses, already famous for their anger and cynicism, are furious at being taken for fools by their betters and joyful at feeling their own strength and solidarity. No one knows where all this will end.

[1] Richard Greeman was an activist in Paris in the late ‘fifties and a member of the legendary revolutionary group Socialisme ou Barbarie, with Castoriadis and Lyotard. He is based in Montpellier and is best known for his translations of the Franco-Russian novelist and revolutionary, Victor Serge.
[7] This unacknowledged “invisible” violence reminds me of the Nixon’s “secret bombing” of Cambodia, which was of course no secret to the Cambodians, and when finally revealed, provoked the nation-wide student strike of 1971 After U.S. troops killed protesters on the campuses of Kent State and Jackson State universities..
[9] Unfortunately, while the workers were at the beach that memorable Summer, the Popular Front government took away many of the advantages they had won, acquiesed in Franco’s right-wing coup in Spain and Stalin’s blood-purge of Lenin’s closest comrades. As Victor Serge, disparing at any possibility of policial action, lamented at the time: “Vacation is sacred.”
[10] There was no teargas. On the other hand, two Saturdays ago in Toulouse, where the Yellow Vest movement is small, the CRS riot police invaded the main square, where the annual Christmas Market was being held and most Yellow Vests were sitting outside at cafés when a few hundred peaceful marches with signs. The cops, under orders, innundated the whole square with tear gas, thus spoiling the businesses of the restaurants and the Christmas Markets on one of the must lucrative days of the year – all so as to blame it on the Yellow Vests.That kind of bullshit doesn’t fly in France, where people resent being taken for fools (cons). What will happen in Montpellier on the last Saturday of the Christmas Market?
[12] Please see my « French Labor’s Historical Defeat »

Friday, December 21, 2018

3132. Is This the Moment for the Working Class?

By Louis Proyect, Counterpunch, January 21, 2018
The Great Strike (IWW Textile Strike, 1912) by Ralph Fasanella.
The cover for Michael Yates’s “Can the Working Class Change the World?” was a stroke of genius. Ralph Fasanella’s “The Great Strike (IWW Textile Strike, 1912)” sets the tone for a book that has deep roots in working-class struggles in the USA and that shares the artist’s solidarity with the people who take part in them. Fasanella’s father delivered ice to people in his Bronx neighborhood and his mother worked in a neighborhood dress shop drilling holes into buttons. In her spare time, she was an anti-fascist activist. The family’s experience informed his art just as Michael Yates’s working-class roots and long career as a labor activist and educator shapes his latest book.
Many years ago when I was a Trotskyist activist, the party was consumed with how to reach working people. To be frank, we would have learned more from Michael’s books than reading Leon Trotsky especially given the life experience outlined in the opening paragraph of the preface:
BY ANY IMAGINABLE DEFINITION of the working class, I was born into it. Almost every member of my extended family—parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins—were wage laborers. They mined coal, hauled steel, made plate glass, labored on construction sites and as office secretaries, served the wealthy as domestic workers, clerked in company stores, cleaned offices and homes, took in laundry, cooked on tugboats, even unloaded trucks laden with dynamite. I joined the labor force at twelve and have been in it ever since, delivering newspapers, serving as a night watchman at a state park, doing clerical work in a factory, grading papers for a professor, selling life insurance, teaching in colleges and universities, arbitrating labor disputes, consulting for attorneys, desk clerking at a hotel, editing a magazine and books.
As a college professor, Michael never cared much for the arcane debates that are fodder to academic Marxists just as Jane Austen novels are to Modern Language Association conference attendees. Both are just ways to further your academic career. Indeed, one of the more important points in this important new book is the need to get away from “I” and begin thinking in terms of “Us”. For tens of thousands of years, starting when hunters and gatherers began to build communities based on sharing, the idea of competition never entered the picture. Once agriculture superseded such “backward” modes of production, it paved the way for class formation. Later on, as capitalism became the most individualistic form of class society, workers and peasants or wage workers were conditioned into thinking that survival rested on their ability to fend for themselves. As Margaret Thatcher once put it, “They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first.”
Thatcher and her ideological soul-mate Ronald Reagan set the course for neoliberalism in the early 80s that was kept alive by politicians such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair at the expense of the working-class people who voted for them in the hope that the “lesser evil” would be more tolerable. Not much has changed since then. Even after the brutal toll liberal governments have taken on working-class families, much of the left holds out hope that a new social democratic partnership between rulers and ruled can emerge within a capitalist framework.
The chief value of “Can the Working Class Change the World?” is to make absolutely clear to readers that there is no alternative to socialism. If Thatcherism rested on the assumption that there is no alternative to capitalism, it has become abundantly clear over the past four decades that unless we abolish that system and create one based on human need rather than private profit, the planet is doomed.
As is the case with other books by Michael Yates that I have been reading and reviewing since 2004, the latest is graced by stylistic clarity that is in keeping with Monthly Review traditions. As the head of Monthly Review books, Michael has a finely developed sense of how to get across ideas about the class struggle without using jargon. Whether or not he has read George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”, he has obviously sought the same results as the great English author who disdained pretention and pedantry. Orwell wrote: “In our time it is broadly true that political writing is bad writing. Where it is not true, it will generally be found that the writer is some kind of rebel, expressing his private opinions and not a ‘party line.’” As someone who has never undergone the training in bad writing that you get in a Marxist sect, Michael’s writing is a joy to read.
For example, in the section subtitled “The Working Class Has Changed the World” in chapter four, he writes:
The depredations of capital are legion, relentless and pervasive, forced upon us with fierce intensity and violence. No assault on humanity, no annihilation of nature will be forgone if money can be made. Theft is capital’s watchword. And yet, from capitalism’s birth centuries ago, those harmed most by its imperatives have resisted. Their defeats have been many, their victories too few.
This leads us to the significance of such a book being published now. With socialism becoming a household word due to the massive publicity surrounding the growth of the DSA and the success of the candidates they support like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, there is a crying need to reaffirm the foundations of Marxian socialism.
This is done by Michael in the most clear-cut and uncompromising terms. In a chapter on “theoretical considerations”, he reviews the Marxist theory of the exploitation of labor as presented in Volume One of Capital but in terms easily accessible to the layperson. In the same chapter, he discusses the capitalist state. In the same way, he makes Marxist economic theory comprehensible, his analysis of the capitalist state flows from Lenin’s “State and Revolution” and other such works geared to a reader trying to cope with American realities. In dispensing with arcane references to Russia in 1917, he gets to the core ideas and makes them relevant to a contemporary reader.
Without mentioning the hopes placed in the Democratic Party by much of the left, Michael makes a point that should not be lost on it:
One of the characteristics of capitalism is the separation of the political and economic spheres. In the feudal mode of production, state and economy were controlled directly by the nobility. They sat atop the manors, where food, cloth, and artisanal goods were produced; and they controlled politics as well. With capitalism, however, at least in those organized as liberal democracies, political leaders are elected by those eligible to vote. For capital’s ideologues, this is the definition of democracy and the reason why they claim that capitalism and democracy are congruent. The notion has been spread far and wide, and, to the extent that most people believe it, obscures the autocracy that reigns supreme in the workplace.
In the final chapter titled “Can the Working Class Radically Change the World?”, Michael gets down to brass tacks on the question of how a socialist society can be built. This begins with democracy both in the workplace and beyond over policies that affect the entire population, even on a global level. Given the urgency of climate change and other environmental crises, it is clear that only a socialist world is capable of resolving them.
Notwithstanding the buzz about a Green New Deal that allows even a scoundrel like Andrew Cuomo to claim support for it, he defines certain criteria as a kind of “red line” that must be satisfied in order for genuine socialism to exist. This includes first and foremost ending the private ownership of the means of production and beginning to produce on the basis of a plan—a dirty word for many leftists who fail to understand why it is so necessary. Given the interconnectedness of labor and resources on a global scale, scientific expertise accountable to democratic decision-making is more urgent than ever.
If these policies smack of the USSR, especially in its early pre-Stalinist period, as well as Cuba, that’s just what is needed to ground the discussion in earlier attempts at producing for human need rather than private profit. To simply say that socialist revolution leads to disaster is a failure of the intellect and avoidance of the moral obligation we have to save the planet. Nothing serves the status quo better than writing off the possibility of creating a new society based on “Us” rather than “I”.
For much of the left, the idea of worker cooperatives has become seductive. While nobody can deny the benefit of workers taking over a company, as long as it functions within a market economy, it becomes susceptible to the “same old shit”.
For its advocates, such half-way measures are a substitute for seizing power through revolutionary action. As one DSA member argued in Jacobin, those 20thcentury revolutions are not relevant:
It’s one thing to know what democratic socialists fight for, and another to lay out a convincing path to realizing it. This is where democratic socialists truly differ with some of our friends on the socialist left. We reject strategies that transplant paths from Russia in 1917 or Cuba in 1959 to the United States today, as if we could win socialism by storming the White House and tossing Donald Trump out on the front lawn.
The last thing you will find in “Can the Working Class Change the World?” is calls for storming the White House and tossing Donald Trump out on the front lawn, although I for one would certainly take the Amtrak down to participate. In the final chapter, you will instead find demands for much shorter working hours, early and secure retirement, and free universal health care. Like peace, bread and land in 1917, these are goals that most Americans can identify with. In moving forward to achieve them, they will face considerable resistance including fascist-like measures of the kind that developed in the last major collapse of the capitalist economy in the 1930s. Given the inevitable polarization, workers will need to defend themselves against right-wing violence. If this sounds like a prospect worth avoiding, it is understandable why the alternative of a slow, molecular process based on the growth of institutions such as Mondragon is attractive even if it is utopian.
Given the terrible state of the world and the growing threat of fascism, it is necessary to put working-class struggles, including the need for general strikes, on the front burner. Working people need to push back the ruling class and the state it controls on its heels, and eventually to replace it with direct working-class democracy. As the words crafted for the character Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman” by socialist playwright Arthur Miller, we are in a situation both literally and figuratively in which “The woods are burning”. The time for revolutionary struggle is now and “Can the Working Class Change the World” is a call to action.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

3131. Changing Our Worldview of Human Dominance

By Eileen Crist, Science Magazine, December 14, 2018

Rising human consumption is driving widespread destruction of natural systems, such as this forest in British Columbia. CREDIT: IVAN OYARZUN/GETTY IMAGES

Earth is in the throes of a mass extinction event and climate change upheaval, risking a planetary shift into conditions that will be extremely challenging, if not catastrophic, for complex life (1). Although responsibility for the present trajectory is unevenly distributed, the overarching drivers are rapid increases in (i) human population, (ii) consumption of food, water, energy, and materials, and (iii) infrastructural incursions into the natural world. As the “trends of more” on all these fronts continue to swell, the ecological crisis is intensifying (24). Given that human expansionism is causing mass extinction of nonhuman life and threatening both ecological and societal stability, why is humanity not steering toward limiting and reversing its expansionism?
The rational response to the present-day ecological emergency would be to pursue actions that will downscale the human factor and contract our presence in the realm of nature. Yet in mainstream institutional arenas, economic, demographic, and infrastructural growth are framed as inevitable, while technological and management solutions to adverse impacts are pursued single-mindedly. Although pursuing such solutions is important, it is also clear that reducing humanity's scale and scope in the ecosphere is the surest approach to arresting the extinction crisis, moderating climate change, decreasing pollution, and providing sorely needed leeway to tackle problems of poverty, food insecurity, and forced migration (5). The question that arises is why the approach of contracting the human enterprise tends to be ignored.
The answer lies in the deeper cause of the ecological crisis: a pervasive worldview that imbues the trends of more with a cachet of inevitability and legitimacy. This worldview esteems the human as a distinguished entity that is superior to all other life forms and is entitled to use them and the places they live. The belief system of superiority and entitlement—or human supremacy—manifests in a range of anthropocentric commonplace assumptions, linguistic constructs, institutional regimes, and everyday actions of individual, group, nation-state, and corporate actors (6). For example, the human is invested with powers of life and death over all other beings and with the prerogative to control and manage all geographical space. The all-encompassing manifestation of the belief system of human supremacy is precisely what constitutes it as a worldview.
This worldview is not necessarily an explicitly articulated narrative. Rather, it forms the tacit postulate from which people source meaning and justification to disregard virtually any limitation of action or way of life in the ecosphere and toward nonhumans. Human supremacy is the underlying big story that normalizes the trends of more, and the consequent displacements and exterminations of nonhumans—as well as of humans who oppose that worldview (78). In this context, it is crucial to recognize that human supremacy is neither culturally nor individually universal, nor is it derived in any straightforward way from human nature. However, western civilization has elaborated its most forceful, long-standing expression, and through the West's ascendancy the influence of this worldview has spread across the globe (9).

Blind to the Wisdom of Limitations

The planetwide sense of entitlement bequeathed by a supremacist worldview blinds the human collective to the wisdom of limitations in several ways, thereby hindering efforts to address the ecological crisis by downscaling the human enterprise and withdrawing it from large portions of land and sea.
First, because the worldview demotes the nonhuman in favor of the human, it blocks the human mind from recognizing the intrinsic existence and value of nonhumans and their habitats. Nonhumans are rendered as resources and considered dispensable or killable; it is assumed that natural areas can be taken over and converted at will.

Second, a worldview founded on the elevation of the human impairs the experience of awe for this living planet, inducing instead the perception that viewing the ecosphere as a container of natural resources, raw materials, and goods and services makes sense. If humanity inhabited Earth with a profound sense of awe, news of an impending mass extinction would galvanize the world into action. Instead, what we find is that the response to anthropogenic mass extinction is muted in mainstream media and other social arenas.

Third, based on the conviction of the special distinction of the human, the worldview fosters the belief that humans are resourceful, intelligent, and resilient enough to face any challenges that may come. This tacit missive bolsters societal torpor and political inaction, because it is widely assumed that technological innovations and interventions will overcome problems.

Fourth, the worldview impedes humans from recoiling from, or even seeing, the violence of an expansionism that fuels extinctions, population plunges, mass mortality events, and starvations of nonhumans. Because these experiences are happening to “the merely living,” they are nonissues for mainstream media and the political sphere, which are focused almost exclusively on human affairs. For example, humanity's impact has become so pervasive that migratory animal species are in decline and the very phenomenon of migration is disappearing around the world. Yet neither the loss of animal migrations nor the suffering of the animals involved seem to be matters of concern in public arenas.

Lastly, the supremacist worldview insinuates that embracing limitations is unbefitting of human distinction. Whether openly or implicitly, limitations are resisted as oppressive and unworthy of humanity's stature.

By operating on all these levels, the worldview of human distinction-and-prerogative obstructs the capacity to question human hegemony for the sake of Earth's inherent splendor and in the service of a high-quality human life within a downsized, equitable global civilization nested in an all-species commonwealth. Instead, the trends of more—on the population, consumption, and infrastructure fronts—are left to persist their course seemingly unassailable.

Toward Scaling Down and Pulling Back

The reigning human-nature hierarchical worldview thus hinders the recognition that scaling down and pulling back is the most farsighted path forward. Scaling down involves reducing the overall amount of food, water, energy, and materials that humanity consumes and making certain shifts in what food, energy, and materials are used. This quantitative and qualitative change can be achieved by actions that can lower the global population within a human-rights framework, shrink animal agriculture, phase out fossil fuels, and transform an extractionist, overproducing, throwaway, and polluting economy into a recycling, less busy, thrifty, more ecologically benign economy (1012). These shifts must align with a new ethos in civil society toward shared norms of mindfulness around dietary choices, avoidance of waste, conservation of energy, and reuse and recycling of materials.

Scaling down can be complemented with substantially pulling back our presence from the natural world. Achieving continental-scale protection of terrestrial and marine habitats will enable sharing Earth generously with all its life forms (13). Recent research reveals that large-scale nature conservation is also a powerful counter to climate change by absorbing a sizable portion of the carbon dioxide of the industrial age and preventing additional carbon (stored in the ecosphere) from being released (1415). Vastly expanding marine protected areas will support the resurgence of marine life. Ambitious forest, grasslands, freshwater ecologies, and wetlands protection and restoration will prevent extinctions and preempt an anthropogenic mass extinction event. A robust global network of green and blue protected areas will save wildlife populations and animal migrations from their current downward spirals. Preserving the night sky in extensive swathes of wild nature will keep an open portal into the cosmos we inhabit.

Many of the global approaches called for in this pivotal moment may lack the glamor of technological and engineering breakthroughs, but they promise far-reaching strides in resolving the ecological crisis and preventing human and nonhuman suffering. Paramount examples include state-of-the-art family planning services for all (including modern contraceptive technologies), universal education from the age of 4 to 17 or 18, substantial reduction of animal-product consumption, adoption of the reduce-reuse-recycle paradigm as an everyday norm, massive protection of wild nature, and adoption of sustainable and ethical food production practices on land and sea.

Beyond Human Dominance

The dominant framework of technofixes, technological schemes, and fine-tuning efficiencies is by itself no match for the tidal wave of human expansionism expected in this century. Looming before us is the imminent escalation of food, energy, materials, and commodities production, and resulting increases in wildlands destruction, species extinctions, wildlife extirpations, freshwater appropriation, ocean degradation, extractionist operations, and the production of industrial, pesticide, nitrogen, manure, plastic, and other waste—all unfolding amid climate-change ordeals.

In the face of this juggernaut, a singular focus on a techno-managerial portfolio seems fueled by a source other than pragmatism alone. That portfolio—which would include such initiatives as climate geoengineering, desalination, de-extinction, and off-planet colonization—is in keeping with the social rubric of human distinction. The prevalent corpus resonates with a Promethean impulse to sustain human hegemony while avoiding the most expeditious approach to the ecological predicament—contracting humanity's scale and scope by means that will simultaneously strengthen human rights, facilitate the abolition of poverty, elevate our quality of life, counter the dangers of climate change, and preserve Earth's magnificent biodiversity.

To pursue scaling down and pulling back the human factor requires us to reimagine the human in a register that no longer identifies human greatness with dominance within the ecosphere and domination over nonhumans. The present historical time invites opening our imagination toward a new vision of humanity no longer obstructed by the worldview of human supremacy. Learning to inhabit Earth with care, grace, and proper measure promises material and spiritual abundance for all.