CHOMSKY: It is, it’s completely missing the point. It’s simply not factually accurate, for one thing — because like I say, the real work is being done by people who are not known, that’s always been true in every popular movement in history. The people who are known are riding the crest of some wave. Now, you can ride the crest of the wave and try to use it to get power, which is the standard thing, or you can ride the crest of the wave because you’re helping people that way, which is another thing. But the point is, it’s the wave that matters — and that’s what people ought to understand. I don’t know how you get that across in a film.
Actually, come to think of it, there are some films that have done it. I mean, I don’t see a lot of visual stuff, so I’m not the best commentator, but I thought Salt of the Earth really did it. It was a long time ago, but at the time I thought that it was one of the really great movies — and of course it was killed, I think it was almost never shown. WOMAN: Which one was that? CHOMSKY: Salt of the Earth. It came out at the same time as On the Waterfront, which is a rotten movie. And On the Waterfront became a huge hit — because it was anti-union. See, On the Waterfront was part of a big campaign to destroy unions while pretending to be for, you know, Joe Sixpack. So On the Waterfront is about this Marlon Brando or somebody who stands up for the poor working man against the corrupt union boss. Okay, things like that exist, but that’s not unions — I mean, sure, there are plenty of union bosses who are crooked, but nowhere near as many as C.E.O.s who are crooked, or what have you. But since On the Waterfront combined that anti-union message with “standing up for the poor working man,” it became a huge hit. On the other hand, Salt of the Earth, which was an authentic and I thought very well-done story about a strike and the people involved in it, that was just flat killed, I don’t even think it was shown anywhere. I mean, you could see it at an art theater, I guess, but that was about it. I don’t know what those of you who know something about film would think of it, but I thought it was a really outstanding film.
Below is the film: Salt of the Earth (1954)
Commentaries on Salt of the Earth, see: Herbert J. Biberman, Salt of the Earth; The Story of a Film (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965) [includes the screenplay by Michael Wilson]; James J. Lorence, The Suppression of Salt of the Earth: How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999).
“People view soldiers like wives and mercenaries as prostitutes, who turn love into a transaction. But every soldier has a little mercenary in him, and vice versa. Troops often reenlist for big bonuses, a transactional practice common in most militaries. For example, the U.S. Army sometimes offers up to $90,000 for Soldiers to reenlist, enough to make modern mercenaries salivate. The author has also seen mercenaries refuse jobs on political grounds. Some American-hired guns will never take money from Russia, China, Iran, or a terrorist group; America’s enemies are their enemies. The line between soldier and mercenary is fuzzy.” Sean McFate, Mercenaries and War: Understanding Private Armies Today, National Defense University Press, 2019.
Interview with Sean McFate about mercenaries
Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, 2007.
Jerry Cohen is the Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory and Fellow of All Souls Oxford. In tonight’s opinions, he argues that capitalism deprives people of their rightful share in the world’s resources, and it frustrates the satisfaction of fundamental human needs.
I’m going to start with a story which was told by the American cartoonist Al Capp. The story’s about a creature called the Shmoo. The Shmoo
was 10 inches high, something like a pair in shape, and a beautiful creamy white in color. It had no arms, tiny feet, and big whiskers under its nose. The Shmoo had only one desire: to serve the needs of human beings. And it was well equipped to do so. It’s skin could be made into any kind of fabric. Its flesh was edible. Its dead body could go brick hard, and be used for building, and its whiskers — well its whiskers — had more uses than you can imagine. If you looked at a Shmoo with real hunger in your eye, it dropped dead in rapture because you wanted it, after first cooking itself into your favorite flavor. Well, since they multiplied rapidly, there were plenty of schmoos for everybody, and they even looked good in the environment. Almost everyone approved of the schmoos. But some people weren’t keen on them. The rich capitalists hated the Shmoos. Since Shmoos provided everything people needed, nobody had to work for capitalists anymore because nobody had to make the wages to buy the things capitalists sold. And so as the Shmoos spread across the face of America, the capitalists began to lose their position and their power. And this made them take drastic action. They got the government to tell the people that the Shmoo was un-American. The Shmoo was causing chaos, undermining the social order, people weren’t turning up for work, and they weren’t going to the department stores to buy anything. Well, the government propaganda, convinced the people, and the President ordered the FBI to gather the Shmoos and gunned them down. Then things went back to normal. But a country lad called Li’l Abner managed to save one female and one male Shmoo. He carried them off to a distant valley where he hoped they’d be safe. “Folks ain’t yet ready for the Shmoo,” Li’l Abner said. But Li’l Abner was wrong. Folks were ready for the Shmoo. It was only the capitalists that weren’t. The capitalists didn’t like the Shmoo because it gave people independence. And when people don’t depend on them for work and for goods, capitalists lose their privileged place.
People haven’t always depended on capitalists. They never, of course, had Shmoos. But they did have land. And the things they get from Shmoos in Al Capp story, they got by working the land in pre-capitalist history. It’s true that they didn’t keep everything they produced on the land. Monarchs and their hangers-on, and various lords and ladies were usually able to take quite a bit of their product. But the people didn’t depend for their survival on any superiors until after a long history of forced expropriation, and plain and crooked dealing, they found themselves without any resources for producing things except their own labor. And in order to survive, they had to hire themselves out to capitalists who now had all the other resources. So they got a new set up. And in this new set up, workers sold their labor and capitalists bought it. And the buyers treated the sellers as nothing but sources of profit. So when the buyers didn’t need all the labor that was offered, some workers were denied employment. And since they had no land or Shmoos to live off, they became beggars, and vagabonds, and inmates of work houses. Or, they simply wasted away.
Well, of course things aren’t quite that bad now. Capitalism isn’t as pure and ruthless as it used to be. The dispossessed workers defended themselves by uniting and trade unions and the coming of the welfare state with its public provision of necessities means that workers don’t depend for everything they need on finding someone who wants to buy their labor. The trade unions and the welfare state were savagely resisted by the capitalists, but they’ve come to stay now.
Now, advocates of pure capitalism describe it as a system in which people freely exchange their own private property. Socialists denied the freedom and fairness of that exchange. They complain that some are able to bring vast assets to market, while most people have nothing to sell except their own capacity to work. That’s the socialist complaint.
But against that socialist complain, lots of capitalists will say, “Hang on a minute, wait a second. It’s true that I have vast assets now, but I started with practically nothing except my own talent and courage. And it was by using them that I made my pile. You can’t talk about lack of fairness. I had no unfair advantage in the race for wealth.”
Well, the socialists might reply that it’s pretty rare these days for a capitalist to begin with brains and grit alone. But I want to focus here on just such self-made capitalists, since their wealth does look pretty legitimate. Well, if you think about that. Wealth, what’s it made of, in its immediate form? It’s just bits of paper, records and Leisure’s share certificates, and so on. But the reason why those things are valuable is that they entitle their possessor to material resources — to raw and transformed parts of nature, to iron ore that’s been turned into steel, to factories, and energy, and power lines, and tracts of land, and minerals under the sea. The capitalist is happy to tell us how he got all that stuff. He says, “Look, I got it through my own hard work and enterprise. I didn’t get it from my parents. I didn’t get it by stealing or cheating.”
But we can ask a deeper question — a question which is much more difficult for him to answer, a question which is prompted by the realization that everything he owns — everything either is or was made of something which once was nobody’s private property. The deep question is: how did it come to be anybody’s private property in the first place? You see, the capitalist says that he got his wealth through free market exchange, and that means that he’s defending his title to it by invoking the title of those who transferred it to him. But I’m asking: what was the source of their right to it? The fact that they got it from still earlier owners. Well, that kind of justification can’t go on forever. Eventually we’re going to be pushed back to the very first private owners of land and the raw materials of nature. And they didn’t get them from earlier legitimate owners. They simply took nature’s resources. And I’m asking: what gave them the right not merely to use the world, because that’s okay, but to establish permanent bequeathable private property in it so that others could no longer use it freely. What gave that right?
The self-made capitalist explains how: through honest industry and straight dealing, he accumulated an enormous amount of private property. But why was there that private property to accumulate in the first place? No story about the exchange and accumulation of private property can justify the transformation of things into private property in the first place. The fact that the world’s resources were once privately owned by nobody, and then grabbed, supports the socialist idea that they should be restored to the people as a whole.
But now, I want to look at a different line of defense of capitalism which says: “Come on, forget about past history. Let bygones be bygones. Don’t be obsessed with the misty origins of capitalism. It doesn’t matter how capitalist property came into being. Whatever the origin of capitalism was, it’s an excellent system since even the poorest people do better under capitalism than they would in any other form of economy.”
Well, the argument for the idea that capitalism promotes human benefit is pretty familiar. It goes something like this. Capitalist firms survive only if they make money. And they make money only if they prevail in competition against other capitalist firms. Since that competition is severe, the firm to survive has to be efficient. If firms producing incompetently, they go under. so they have to seize every opportunity to improve their productive facilities and techniques so that they can produce cheaply enough to make enough money to go on. Its admitted in this justification of capitalism that the capitalist firm doesn’t aim to satisfy people, but the firms can’t get what they are aiming at — which is money — unless they do satisfy people, and satisfy them better than rival firms do.
Well, I agree with part of this argument. Capitalist competition that has to be acknowledged has induced a remarkable growth in our power to produce things. But the argument also says that capitalism satisfies people. And I’m going to claim that the way the system uses technical progress generates widespread frustration; not satisfaction.
My anti-capitalist argument starts with the very same proposition with which the argument praising capitalism begins, namely this proposition: the aim of the capitalist firm is to make as much money as it can. It isn’t basically interested in serving anybody’s needs. It measures its a performance by how much profit it makes. Now, that doesn’t prove straight off that it isn’t good at serving need. In fact, the case for capitalism that I expressed a moment ago, might be put as follows: Competing firms trying not to satisfy needs but to make money, will in fact serve our needs extremely well since they can’t make money unless they do so. Okay, that’s the argument.
But I’m now going to show that the fact that capitalist firms aren’t interested in serving human needs, does have harmful consequences. Recall that improvement in productivity is required if the firm is going to survive in competition. Now, what does improve productivity mean? It means more output for every unit of labor. And that means that you can do two different things when productivity goes up. One way of using enhanced productivity is to reduce work and extend leisure, while producing the same output as before. Alternatively, output may be increased while labor stays the same. Now, let’s grant that more output is a good thing. But it’s also true that for most people, what they have to do to earn a living, isn’t a source of joy. Most people’s jobs, after all, are such that they benefit not only from more goods and services, but also from a shorter working day and longer holidays. Just consider, if God gave all of us the pay we now get, and granted us freedom to choose whether or not to work at our present jobs for as long as we pleased, but for no extra pay, then there’d be a big increase in leisure time pursuits. So, improved productivity makes two things possible. It makes possible either more output or less toil. Or, of course, some mixture of both.
But capitalism is biased in favor of the first option only: increased output, since the other reduction of toil threatens a sacrifice of the profit associated with greater output and sales. What does the firm do when the efficiency of its production improves?
Well, it doesn’t just reduce the working day of its employees and produce the same amount as before, instead it makes more stuff. It makes more of the goods it was already making. Or, if that isn’t possible, because the demand for what it’s selling won’t expand, then it lays off part of its workforce and seeks a new line of production in which to invest the money it thereby saves. Eventually new jobs are created, and output continues to expand although there’s a lot of unemployment and suffering along the way.
Now the consequence of the increasing output which capitalism favors is increasing consumption. And so, we get an endless chase after consumer goods just because capitalist firms are geared to making money, and not to serving the interests of consumers. Alfred P. Sloan, who once ran General Motors in the United States, said that it was the business of the automobile industry to make money; not cars. I agree. And that I’m saying is why it makes so many cars. It would make far fewer if its goal weren’t money but, say, providing people with an efficient and an inoffensive form of transport. If the aim of production were the satisfaction of need, then rather less would be produced and consumed than is in fact produced and consumed. And most of us would lead less anxious lives and have more time and energy for the cultivation and enjoyment of our own powers.
Now, I am not some kind of fanatical Puritan who’s against consumer goods. I’m not knocking consumer goods. Consumer goods are fine. But the trouble with the chase after goods in a capitalist society is that we’ll always — most of us — want more goods than we can get, since the capitalist system operates to ensure that people’s desire for goods is never satisfied. Business, of course, wants contented customers but they mustn’t become too contented, since when customers are satisfied with what they’ve got, they buy less and work less. And business dwindles. That’s why in a capitalist society, an enormous amount of effort and talent goes into trying to get people to want what they don’t have. That’s why there’s feverish product innovation, huge investments in sales and advertising, and planned obsolescence. In order to keep going as a system, capitalism has to keep people on the go, and it creates a great deal of strain and nervous tension. The Rockefellers make sure that the Smiths need to keep up with the Joneses. And in a forlorn attempt to keep up because not everybody can manage to keep up. People work their lives away, and sometimes take extra jobs in order to buy things they don’t have the time to enjoy because of the time they spend working to buy them. Well, in earlier periods of capitalist history, its preference for output conferred on the system a progressive historical role. Capitalism raised us above the scarcity imposed by nature under which pre-capitalist peasants labored. But as that natural scarcity recedes, the output preference renders capitalism reactionary. It can’t realize the possibilities of liberation it creates. Having lifted the burden of natural scarcity, it contrives an artificial scarcity which means that people never feel they have enough. Capitalism brings humanity to the very threshold of liberation and then locks the door. We get near it, but we remain on a treadmill just outside it. Sometimes people fall off that treadmill. And recently in this country, that’s happened on a large scale. I’m referring again to the problem of unemployment which is now enormous in Britain. The same system that overworks people in the interest of profit also deprives them entirely of when it’s not profitable to employ them. And what we get as a result is not something that we could imagine: a reasonable amount of work, and a balanced existence for everyone, but grotesque over employment for some, together with rending unemployment for others. How can they say that this system satisfies human need when homeless people in Britain need housing and unemployed bricklayers need work? How can anybody think that it’s a system that promotes human benefit when it projects the message that the only way to self esteem is to be the owner of a BMW, or at least a Ford Sierra? And then it throws millions of families into a destitution where they can barely afford sausages to feed their children. So, I’m very skeptical about the claim that capitalism is so good at satisfying our needs as consumers. And anyway, people have needs which go beyond the need to consume.
One of those needs will — because it’s so important — occupy most of the rest of this talk: it’s a person’s need to develop and exercise his or her talents. When people’s capacities lie unused they don’t enjoy the zest for life which comes when their faculties flourish. Now, people are able to develop themselves only when they get good education. But in a capitalist society, the education of children is threatened by those who seek to fit education to the narrow demands of the labour market. And some of them think that what’s now needed to restore profitability to an ailing British capitalism is a lot of cheap unskilled labour. And they conclude that education should be restricted to ensure that it’ll supply that labour.
The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, said in a speech a couple of years ago that we should now think about training people for jobs which are — as he put it — not so much low-tech as no tech. Now, what sort of education is contemplated in that snappy statement, “Not so much low-tech as no tech”? Not an education that nourishes the creative powers of young people, and brings forth their full capacity. Nigel Lawson is saying that it’s dangerous to educate the young too much because then we produce cultivated people who aren’t suited to the low-grade jobs the market will offer them. An official at the Department of Education and Science recently said something similar.
He said — and I’m here quoting his words — “that we are beginning to create aspirations which society cannot match. When young people can’t find work which meets their abilities and expectations, then we’re only creating frustration with disturbing social consequences. We have to ration educational opportunities so that society can cope with the output of education. People must be educated once more to know their place.” That’s the end of the quote.
But what if we got here? Something very frightened. We’ve got a policy of deliberately restricting educational provision so that state schools can produce willing sellers of low-grade labor power. It’s hard to imagine a more undemocratic approach to education. And notice that to prefer a democratic distribution of educational opportunity, you don’t have to believe that everyone is just as clever as everyone else. Nigel Lawson isn’t saying that most people are too dimmed to benefit from a high level of education. It’s precisely because people respond well to education that the problem which worries him arises. You see, there’s a lot of talent in almost every human being. You can see it in kids. But in most people that talent remains undeveloped since they haven’t had the time and the freedom and the facilities to develop it. Throughout history, only a leisured minority have enjoyed such freedom on the backs of the toiling majority. And that’s been unavoidable up to now. But now it’s no longer unavoidable. We have a superb technology which could be used to restrict unwanted labour to a modest place in life. But capitalism doesn’t use that technology in a liberating way. It continues to imprison people in largely unfulfilling work. And it shrinks from providing the enriching education which the technology it has created makes possible.
Some supporters of British capitalism disagree with Lawson’s idea that there’s a danger that people will get too much education. They say that what the market now needs is a better trained labor force. Well, whoever’s right about that, I’m confident that we shouldn’t stake our children’s future on the hope that the capitalist market will need what’s good for them. The educational system shouldn’t be subject to the capricious demands of capitalism. And it shouldn’t cater to the tendency of capitalism to treat enormous numbers of people as nothing but sources of profit. And when they can’t be profitably exploited, as redundant and expendable, because that’s what the capitalist firm does.
Is it possible to create a society which goes beyond the unequal treatment that capitalism imposes? Many would say that the idea of such a society is an idle dream. Many would agree with the negative things I’ve said about capitalism.
But they’d say, “Look, there’s no point getting upset about it. There’s always been inequality of one kind or another, and there always will be.”
But I think that reading of history is too pessimistic. There’s actually much less inequality now than there was, for instance, a hundred years ago.
A hundred years ago, only a few radicals proposed that everybody should have the vote. Others thought that was a dangerous idea. And most would have considered it to be an unrealistic one. But today we have the vote. We are a political democracy. But we’re not an economic democracy. We don’t share our material resources. And most people in this country would regard that as an unrealistic idea. Yet, I’m sure it’s an idea whose time will come. Society won’t always be divided into those who control its resources and those who have only their own labour to sell. But it’ll take a lot of thought to work out the design of a democratic economic order. And it’ll take a lot of struggle against privilege and power to bring it about. We can’t go back to being independent peasant communities, and even if we could, we’d be sacrificing the tremendous gains we owe to capitalism if we did so nor is anybody going to provide us with Shmoos. The obstacles to economic democracy are considerable. But just as no one now would defend slavery or serfdom, I believe that a day will come when no one will be able to defend a form of society in which a minority profit from the dispossession of the majority
I am reading Oscar Jaszi’s book, The
Dissolution of the Habsburg Monarchy, 1929. It is interesting for me from several perspectives. Jaszi’s thesis is that Austria should have been divided along its ethnic or national units into a federated State like that of Switzerland. He enumerates and discusses the various tensions between the various nationalities and “irredentist” aspirations. [An “irredentist” aspiration is one of wanting to unite with one’s ethnic group in an adjoining State (Country).)
Below is a map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with its various ethnic groups in 1910:
As a result of the First World War, Austria was defeated, and by the Treaty of Versailles its territory was divided more equitably (but not enough) along ethnic groupings as illustrated by the map below:
I am in agreement with Jaszi about federalism — i.e., that a State should be organized on the basis of autonomous smaller units. I take it that he would be satisfied with the example of the United States, and more so with that of Switzerland. Let us call the former, Large Federalism; the latter, Moderate Federalism. However, I advocate a more radical federalism — call it Small or Radical Federalism. Radical Federalism requires the local unit of government to represent about 150 families. Radical Federalism is equivalent to Anarchism. This is why Proudhon’s tract “The Principle of Federation” (1863) is synonymous with anarchism (contrary to those who think otherwise).
The federalism of the United States consists of 50 States. The whole country of over 300 million people elects a President. Each State elects two Senators to Congress — by thousands and millions of people. The number of Representatives to Congress is relative to the population of the State. But this too is by thousands and millions of people voting. As far as the government of a State is concerned, the Governor and the Representative to the State Legislature are also elected by thousands and millions of people.
This huge number of voters is also present on the municipal level. I live in Chicago which has a Mayor elected by the nearly 3 million citizens. There is also a City Council of 50 Alderman, each elected at 50 Wards by some 40,000 voters each.
I describe the federalism of Switzerland as Moderate as contrasted with that of the United States. Its territory is much smaller than that of the United States, and its population of nearly 9 million approximates the population of Greater Chicago (i.e., including the surrounding suburbs of Chicago). It consists of 26 Cantons, grouped by languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh).
Here is a video explaining the Swiss political system: Video
My objection to both the government of the United States as well as to the government of Switzerland is that they base themselves on, what I call, Mass or Macro-Democracy in which thousands and millions of people vote either for politicians or laws. Instead I favor Micro-Democracy as a unit of government of roughly 150 voters. This is my ideal of anarchism. Lately it has been called Participatory Democracy, Municipal Confederalism, Strong Democracy, and a system of Nested Councils. I found the following article clearly explaining this point of view [it also has relevant links!]: Sveinung Legard, Scaling Up: Ideas about Participatory Democracy
I am interested primarily in understanding how our social world operates. By “social” I mean how humans interact with one another. And to do this I will rely on the vocabulary and explanations used by Franz Oppenheimer in his book The State (which is part of the second volume of his four volume Systems of Sociology [never completely translated into English]).
In the past (19th century) there was a constant concern with “the Social Problem.” Although this problem was seen from a symptomatic perspective as poverty, I think this problem can be expresses fundamentally and succinctly in the following way: some people by force prevent other people from taking up and occupying subsistence land. Put thus, all this means pre-historically is that groups of people delimited a territory as their property. This results in a scattering of tribes. Anthropologists study such “stateless people” especially indigenous people which were referred to as “savages” and “barbarians”, as contrasted with “civilized people.” The vocabulary comes from Lewis Morgan’s, Ancient Society (1877), which distinguished people by their tools, and “civilized people” by having a written script.
Now, because, as Oppenheimer calculated, there is and was enough land to go around. The prevention of someone taking up subsistence land can occur only by force. Presently this force is exercised by governments in States.
Oppenheimer believed that such governments and States can occur only by conquest of one external group by another. Some anthropologists quibble about this, contending that States can be formed through internal class divisions. Without entering into this quibble, let me offer the following two claims:
1. a sufficient condition for the formation of States is conquest by an external group.
2. the empirical data in recorded history is of warfare, strife, protest, rebellion, and conquest.
Moreover, these violences are almost invariably associated with particular individuals who are called emperors, kings, princes, rulers, conquerors, presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, and such. It is the deeds of these individuals which constitutes the history of States.
The Social Problem of forceful barring people from a free use of subsistence land is called by Oppenheimer the “political means” as contrasted with a free exchange of goods and services called by him the “economic means.”
Oppenheimer contrasted two ways of getting “honey.” (Honey is his metaphor for economic subsistence.) One is the method of the bear: attack the hive regardless of what happens to the bees and take the honey. The other method is that of the bee-keeper: take some honey, but leave enough so that the bees thrive and produce more honey for further taking.
Oppenheimer distinguished six stages (or ways) of how conquerors deal with the conquered people. The first stage in like that of the bear: kill the people and take the loot. This is illustrated in the Bible as the extermination of the Canaanites by Israelites, early Viking raids and pillages, and generally historic and modern ethnic cleansings and genocides. The second and subsequent stages or ways is that of the bee-keeper: make the conquered people slaves, or demand tribute, or settle among them as in feudalism and require goods and services, and later also payments (taxes), or just fees, licenses, and taxes. The so-called constitutional states attempt to give this class division legitimacy through such myths as the will of the people or a social contract, and finally as mass democracy (where thousands and millions vote for so-called “representatives”).
The essence of capitalism — which predated industrialization — is the continued barring of people from a free access to subsistence land. And since all the earth is now divided into States, the only places to go in order to escape a State are: a war zone, border lands, a frontier, mountains, swamps and jungles — where pursuit is difficult or unprofitable.
What is the difference? To use the analogy with diseases, there are causes of a disease and there are symptoms. A reformist is, in my view, someone who treats the symptoms; a revolutionist is someone who treats the causes.
As concerns addressing the public, let’s face it, for such people to live fairly well in the modern world requires an income. This includes teachers, writers, journalists, media hosts and internet personalities, and politicians. One way of doing this is to have some kind of public forum, and attract donations, subscriptions, and advertisers. A book, a piece of writing, a performance, or a movie is — more or less — a one time attraction which will generate an immediate income. But a steadier source of income comes from a newspaper, a journal, a “show” — or movie-wise, a “serial.” [I myself after hoping for donations to this site, have turned to monetizing through advertising.]
To make my point about Reformists as contrasted with Revolutionists, let me concentrate on my favorite news hour: “Democracy Now,” which the host, Amy Goodman, calls a “show.” It starts off with a news summary concerned with war and peace, and then proceeds to concentrate on some specific topic or to conduct an interview. It intersperses a piece of music during transitions.
I have no quarrel with the topics covered. They are all concerned with the major symptoms of the social diseases — so many deaths here and there because of a war, a revolution, a disease; so much poverty, unemployment, homelessness here and there; bad leaders elected and corruption here and there; protests and brutal repressions here and there. The litany of evils continues show after show.
The show proposes anodynes: change this politician and change this law. What is missing from consideration are the causes of these social symptoms. And to deal with the causes there is need to transition to a Revolutionary stance. But dwelling on a revolutionary stance is counter-productive to a political “show” — which aims to entertain while delivering some remedial message. Actually the best form of this approach was practiced by George Carlin, the comedian, who couched his social and political commentary in the guise of comedy.
In my view — as was the view of many revolutionaries — the disease is Capitalism, and its sustainer, the State.
Although I think that Noam Chomsky has the best insights into the Social Problems — it takes will power to listen to his monotone voice. I find Chris Hedges’ preacher-like delivery more focused and succinct.
The main immediate global problem, as Chomsky keeps repeating, is that humans are destroying the ecosystem, and thus themselves. And, in my view, the direct cause of this is human overpopulation.
And the power of doing anything about this and other social problems such as capitalism is the central (federal) government — the State. The clearest understanding of how the State arises and its nature is to be found in the small book by Franz Oppenheimer, The State, 1914. And there are two revolutionary attitudes toward the State: one is to take control of the State (this was done by Napoleon, Lenin, Mussolini, Hitler, among others). This is also the Macro-Democratic parliamentary method of electing a President, Prime-Minister, or other single “deciders.” The other method is to dispense with the State in favor of bottom-up micro-democratic communities (anarchism).
But where in a progressive news show like “Democracy Now,” is there a suggestion that the Swiss government is better than that of the United States? Where is the criticism of the U.S. Constitution as was undertaken by Lysander Spooner? And where among the pundits is there an understanding of Capitalism as a denying people free access to subsistence land?
I am sure you have heard this proverb many times. The proverb uses fish to stand for all food. It could be rephrased as: “Give a man some food and you will feed him for a day. Teach him to get his own food, and he will be fed for a lifetime.” The idea is to make a person self-sufficient.
However, the proverb presupposes two things. First, that you are allowed to fish in a particular place for free. But this is not true in places such as Illinois (where I live). I am allowed to fish only if I purchase a fishing license. Second, this assumes that there are fish in the water where I wish to fish. But given our ecological policies, there may not be any fish to fish for; or, they may be diseased and inedible.
Generalizing, in order to get food on your own, you must have free access to subsistence land. For the time being, there are indigenous stateless people who do have some limited free access; the rest of us who live in States, have to purchase or rent such subsistence land.
Capitalism is best understood as a method to create a pool of people who must work to survive (proletarians). This method — carried out by the State in the form of laws — is twofold: (1) forbid free access to subsistence land, (2) introduce a property tax. [The British in Africa called it a “hut tax.”]
The consequence is that even after buying a property and getting rid of a mortgage on the property, no one can live on such a property for free because there is a rent to be paid to the government — a property tax.
I came across an interesting article explaining the origin of property taxes: