I agree, but how are we to get there?
The governments and economy are in the hands of capitalistic corporate oligarchs who are not interested in moving towards this or any other utopia.
The other consideration is that a great portion of the world is presently living off subsistence farming, and the incessant wars and impending ecological collapse may force us to devolve to a primitive subsistence mode of survival, and the best advice is to prepare for an eventual collapse (as, for example, in the Middle East, parts of Africa, etc.), and to learn basic survival skills:
Philip Zimbardo, The Psychology of Evil, 2008
The rhetoric of liberal democracy as promoting individualism, inalienable rights, tolerance, community, and peace is a rationalization (a smoke screen) for promoting capitalist interests.
John Mearsheimer assumes that countries like the United States operate on the basis of ideologies. On the contrary, countries like the United States reflect the interests of a President and his friends. Ideology is a propaganda rationalization or smoke screen for economic reasons.
Bush’s invasion of Iraq was for control of oil and for a depletion of United States’ surplus of armaments; not for liberal democracy. And Trump’s saber rattling over Venezuela and Iran has nothing to do with promoting liberal democracy. It may be just a strategy for securing his reelection. I find it odd that Mearsheimer ignores the deeds of single leaders with their private interests.
G. Edward Griffin, The Creature from Jekyll Island: A Second Look at the Federal Reserve, 3rd edition, 1998.
Yanis Varoufakis explains what could be done if his trans-national party, DiEM25, wins control of the EU Parliament. I am skeptical of the likelihood of this happening. But hypothetically, if it were to happen, his post-victory announcements sound like the promises of the Bolsheviks in Russia to act as a vanguard for transforming Russia, except that the Bolsheviks started with a democratic system of people’s councils (soviets), which they subverted into the dictatorship of the Bolshevik party. In contrast, I am under the impression that Varoufakis is promising the reverse of this. He seems to be saying something like: “Give our party power and we will transform countries into a system of bottom-up democratic councils.”
In his post-victory press announcements, he assumes that his party has appointed three new presidents: the president of the European Central Bank, the president of the European Investment Bank, and the president of the European Commission. And how did his party get this power? By gaining a majority in the European Parliament? No, the European Parliament has no such power. To do this, you have to gain power over the governments in the individual countries — not just by getting a majority in the European Parliament.
Contrary to what Varoufakis claims, I believe that countries have to bring about their own individual changes. And what changes do I propose? First, they have to become more like Switzerland, by getting rid of autocrats (i.e., a single president or prime minister); then such countries can reconfigurate power in the EU.
I don’t think of Switzerland, with a Federal Council of seven individuals, as the ideal; but it is the realistically best.
Reasons why I am skeptical
Below is a schematic of the several departments of the 28-member EU. Note that the governments of the several countries decide on everything except for the European Parliament, and the European Commission initiates legislative bills. And for a bill to become law requires the approval of both the Parliament and the Council of the EU; so, even if DiEM25 controls the Parliament, it can at most have a veto power — that is all. So, I don’t see how the EU can be transformed from within. It can be transformed only through the member governments; not through the European Parliament. Major Error in Varoufakis’s speech
In the talk he said that Stalin tried to build socialism in one country. What Stalin had was not socialism, which minimally would have required worker-owned and worker-run enterprises; no, everything was owned and run by the state, which is better called “state capitalism.”
So, let me be up front. I believe — regardless of what others have written about this — that placing political power in the hands of one person (autocrat) is a bad idea. The only exception is that of past warfare, where quick reactions to quickly changing conditions in battles are required. And history of full of such military leaders.
But because a “leader” is needed in conducting battles, it does not follow that a leader is needed for “ruling” a country. As a point of illustration, Switzerland has a 7-member Federal Council, which is the executive office. And the history of Switzerland, by comparison with other nations, has been remarkably peaceful. [I found Gregory A. Fossedal, Direct Democracy in Switzerland (2002), very enlightening.]
My speech at the Haymarket Monument, May 1, 2019, recommending a Swiss style democracy.
Getting back to my main topic. Because of the many labels for one-person political rule, such as monarch, king, emperor, prince, dictator, tyrant, despot, president, chancellor, prime-minister; which carry different connotations and circumscriptions of power, I use the term “autocrat” as a generic term to include all such rulers.
Using “autocrat” as a genus, we can dichotomize the species into absolute and limited. Presidents, chancellors, and prime-ministers are forms of limited autocracy; though, as we know from case histories, that from these and even from councils or juntas, absolute autocrats arise.
Gore Vidal discerned such a transformation of the American office of a president to something approaching an absolute autocrat, by talking about an “imperial Presidency.” Below is an interview with Gore Vidal on Democracy Now in 2004. He talks — among other things — about President George W. Bush, and the US attack on Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003).
My scholarship on autocrats is limited. But recently I came across “Juggernaut: The Path to Dictatorship” (1939) by Albert Carr, who studied 17 dictators. Here is his table of contents:
Part I: Dynasts
1. Richelieu: The Technique of Dictatorship
2. Louis XIV: The Perversion of Power
3. Frederick the Great: The Nation Militant
4. Bismarck: The Diplomacy of Empire
5. Primo de Rivera: The Forlorn Hope
6. Alexander, Metaxas, Carol: Ferment in Balkans
Part II: Revolutionaries
7. Cromwell: The Revolutionary Process
8. Robespierre: Terrorism and Conscience
9. Bolivar: Liberator into Dictator
10. Lenin: The Science of Revolution
11. Stalin: Toward a Classless Society?
Part III: Crisis-Men
12. Napoleon: The Empire of the Middle Class
13. Napoleon III: The “Idea”
14. Gomez: Crisis in Latin America
15. Mussolini: The “Idea” Up to Date
16. Ataturk, Salazar: Variations on a Theme
17. Hitler: Toward the Servile State?
Carr was interested in asking “why, how, and when does dictatorship come about?” That is a very interesting set of questions. But my question is of a different sort: Do we need autocrats at all?
2. A right to roam (as in the Scandinavian countries).
3. A right to free speech (propaganda).
4. A right to make economic and political agreements (assembly).
A “right” is something that is granted by a government or by agreement within a social group (such agreements are implicit, as with customs or traditions, and explicit, as with promises and contracts).
Let me now say something about these desired “rights.”
1. It seems obvious to me that a human animal needs access to some territory in order to survive. This is true of hunter/gatherers (in past sociological works, the technical term for such people was “savages” (without derogatory connotations). It is also true of farmers and herders (again, called by past sociologists “barbarians” or “peasants”). Savages and barbarians were contrasted with city-dwellers or people living in a “civilization.”
As a result of conquests, people were either enslaved or enserfed. Both are forms of depriving people access to free subsistence land. Now people have been “proletarianized” i.e. deprived of access to free subsistence land, without being made either slaves or serfs.
As an example of how a savage or a barbarian can be made into a proletarian, the best example is of the British policy in Africa to impose a “hut tax.” This is equivalent to imposing a camping fee or a property tax. All such laws force people to enter the market economy either directly or indirectly. The system which creates proletarians is called Capitalism.
2. Closely connected with the deprivation to free subsistence land, is the rule which does not allow free camping. In Dade County, Florida (as well as in many other places), it is forbidden by law to camp in public places or to sleep in a parked vehicle, something I personally experienced. Such a law does not allow a homeless person even to sleep in a public space! By contrast to such laws, in the Scandinavian countries everyone is given the right to “roam,” meaning they have the right to travel and camp for free (with some restrictions, such as not to camp next to some home, not to leave behind trash, and only to camp for a limited time).
3. When Karl Popper talked about a “closed” society, he meant primarily a society which does not tolerate free speech. “Free speech” is really “critical speech.” I am under the impression that there is some kind of rule of etiquette not to talk about religion or politics. And it is precisely the criticism of religion and politics that has been censored, often with a death penalty. Consider all the people that have been killed for heresies in Christian countries, and the current Muslim Sharia law which calls for death to an apostate.
When I read about the lives of revolutionaries, what was striking is that they had to have secret societies, and had to smuggle forbidden literature, and when publishing a pamphlet, had to make sure not to catch the eye of some official censor.
4. Closely aligned with the right of free speech, is the right to assemble as in some protest, or to form a workers’ union for the purpose of a strike. Think of the Haymarket affair in Chicago (1886), Bloody Sunday in Russia (1905), Police Brutality during the Democratic Convention in Chicago (1968), , the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine (2014), and countless others. The Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution in 1917, forbade the existence of any other Party; as did the Fascists and Nazis after gaining power.