Tag Archives: Democracy

Sabotaging Democracy

Bill Moyers

And now to the people who refuse to let democracy work. The people who hate government so much they’ve shut it down. Unable to abide by the results of democracy when they don’t win, they turned on it.

Republicans have now lost three successive elections to control the Senate and they’ve lost the last two presidential elections. Nonetheless, they fought tooth and nail to kill President Obama’s health care initiative. They lost that fight, but with the corporate wing of Democrats, they managed to bend it toward private interests.

So we should be clear on this, Obamacare, as it’s known, is deeply flawed. Big subsidies to the health insurance industry. A bonanza for lobbyists. No public option. And as The New York Times reported this week, “Millions of Poor Are Left Uncovered by Health Law.” Largely because states controlled by Republicans refuse to expand Medicaid.

As far as our bought and paid for legislative process goes, Obama’s initiative made it through the sausage factory. Yet even after both the House and Senate approved it, the president signed it, and the Supreme Court upheld it, the Republicans keep insisting on calling the law a “bill,” thumbing their noses and refusing to accept that it is enacted legislation.

Now they’re fighting to prevent it from being implemented. Here was their order of the day on Thursday from the popular right wing blog RedState.com:

“Congressmen, this is about shutting down Obamacare. Democrats keep talking about our refusal to compromise. They don’t realize our compromise is defunding Obamacare. We actually want to repeal it. This is it. Our endgame is to leave the whole thing shut down until the President defunds Obamacare. And if he does not defund Obamacare, we leave the whole thing shut down.”

Once upon a time when I was a young man working on Capitol Hill, it was commonplace that when a bill became law, everybody was unhappy with it. But you didn’t bring down the government just because it wasn’t perfect. You argue and fight and vote and then, due process having been at least raggedly served, on to the next fight.

That was a long time ago. Long before the Tea Party minority, armed with huge sums of secret money from rich donors, sucked the last bit of soul from the Grand Old Party of Abraham Lincoln. They became delusional. Then rabid.

SOURCE: Excerpted from an article on billmoyers.com and republished at http://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/10/07-11 (October 7, 2013)

Democracy as a Way of Life

“Democracy is unstable as a political system as long as it remains a political system and nothing more, instead of being, as it should be, not only a form of government but a type of society, and a manner of life which is in harmony with that type. To make it a type of society requires an advance along two lines. It involves, in the first place, the resolute elimination of all forms of special privilege which favour some groups and depress other, whether their source be differences of environment, of education, or of pecuniary income. It involves, in the second place, the conversion of economic power, now often an irresponsible tyrant, into a servant of society, working within clearly defined limits and accountable for its actions to a public authority.”

Richard Henry Tawney

Tawney was one of the three most influential thinkers of the British Labour Party and the Fabian Society in the early 20th Century, the others being G D H Cole and Graham Wallas. Tawney was the author of THE ACQUISITIVE SOCIETY and EQUALITY, two classics in Socialist thought. Generally considered as the intellectual forefather of ‘Ethical Socialism’.

“Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage ___ H L Mencken

Latin America Taking their Countries Back

Venezuela’s HUGO CHAVEZ is a symbol of hope for all of Latin America

Mark Weisbrodt

From http://www.cepr.net

Hugo Chavez was re-elected president of Venezuela on Sunday,
by a margin of 11 percentage points. For most people who have
heard or read about Chavez in the international media, this
might be puzzling. Almost all of the news we hear about
Venezuela is bad: Chavez is cantankerous and picks fights
with the United States and sides with “enemies” such as Iran;
he is a “dictator” or “strongman” who has squandered the
nation’s oil wealth; the economy is plagued by shortages and
is usually on the brink of collapse.

Then there is the other side of the story: since the Chavez
government got control over the national oil industry,
poverty has been cut by half and extreme poverty by 70
percent.  College enrollment has more than doubled, millions
of people have access to health care for the first time, and
the number of people eligible for public pensions has
quadrupled.

So it is not surprising that most Venezuelans would re-elect
a president who has improved their living standards. That’s
what has happened with all of the left governments that now
govern most of South America: they have been re-elected. This
is despite the fact that they, like Chavez, have most of
their countries’ media against them, and their opposition
also has most of the wealth and income of their respective
countries.

The list includes Rafael Correa, re-elected President of
Ecuador by a wide margin in 2009;  the enormously popular
Lula da Silva of Brazil, re- elected in 2006, and
successfully campaigned for his former Chief of Staff, now
President Dilma Rousseff, in 2010;  Evo Morales, Bolvia’s
first indigenous president in a majority indigenous country,
re-elected in 2009;  José Mujica succeeded his predecessor
from the same political alliance in Uruguay – the Frente
Amplio — in 2009;  Cristina Fernández succeeded her husband,
the late Néstor Kirchner, winning the 2011 Argentine
presidential election by a solid margin – also with the
largest media against her.

All of these left presidents and their political parties won
re-election because, like Chavez, they brought significant,
and in some cases huge, improvements in living standards.
They all originally campaigned against “neoliberalism,” a
word used to describe the policies of the prior 20 years,
when Latin America experienced its worst long term economic
growth failure in more than a century.

Not surprisingly, the other left governments have seen
Venezuela as part of a team that has brought more democracy,
national sovereignty, and economic and social progress to the
region.  Yes, democracy, too: even the much-maligned
Venezuela is recognized by most scholarly research as more
democratic than it was in the pre-Chavez era.

And democracy was at issue when South America stood together
against Washington on such issues as the 2009 military coup
in Honduras. The differences were so pronounced that they led
to the formation of a new hemispheric-wide organization
including everyone but the U.S. and Canada, as an alternative
to the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States.

Here is Lula last month: “A victory for Chavez (in the
upcoming election) is not just a victory for the people of
Venezuela but also a victory for all the people of Latin
America . . . this victory will strike another blow against
imperialism.” The other left presidents have the same views
of Chavez.

The Bush administration pursued a strategy of trying to
isolate Venezuela from its neighbors, and ended up isolating
itself. President Obama promised in the 2009 Summit of the
Americas to pursue a different course; but he didn’t, and at
the 2012 Summit he was as isolated as his predecessor.

Although the media has been dominated by stories of
Venezuela’s impending economic collapse for more than a
decade, it hasn’t happened and is not likely to happen. After
recovering from a recession that began in 2009, during the
world economic crisis, the Venezuelan economy has been
growing for two-and-a-half years now and inflation has fallen
sharply while growth has accelerated. The country has a
sizeable trade surplus. Its public debt is relatively low and
so is its debt service burden. It has plenty of room to
borrow foreign currency (it has borrowed $36 billion from
China, mostly at very low interest rates), and can borrow
domestically as well at low or negative real interest rates.
So even if oil prices were to crash temporarily (as in
2008-2009), there would be no need for austerity or
recession. And hardly anyone is predicting a long-term
collapse of oil prices.

The U.S. economic embargo against Cuba has persisted for more
than half a century, despite its obvious stupidity and
failure. U.S. hostility toward Venezuela is only about 12
years old, but shows no sign of being reconsidered, despite
that it is also alienating the rest of the hemisphere.

Venezuela has about 500 billion barrels of oil and is burning
them currently at a rate of one billion barrels a year.
Chavez or a successor from the same party will likely be
governing the country for many years to come. The only
question is when – if ever – Washington will accept the
results of democratic change in the region.

The Government Is Just Denying Rights to Muslim Terrorists, Right?

No, the Shredding of the Constitution Is Affecting ALL of us. The Rights Being Lost, Are Our Rights. The Democracy Under Assault Is Our Democracy

CHRIS HEDGES

The decision by the European Court of Human Rights last week to refuse to block the extradition of the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri and four others to the United States on terrorism charges removes one of the last external checks on our emerging gulag state.

Masri and the four others, all held in British jails, will soon join hundreds of other Muslims tried in Article III federal courts in the United States over the last decade. Fair trials are unlikely. A disturbing pattern of gross infringements on basic civil liberties, put in place in the name of national security, has poisoned our legal system. These infringements include intrusive surveillance, vague material support charges, the use of prolonged pretrial solitary confinement, classified evidence that the accused cannot review, and the use of political activities, normally protected under the First Amendment, to demonstrate mind-set and intent. Muslims caught up in the Article III courts are denied the opportunity to confront their accusers and to have their religious and political associations protected, and they rarely find a judge courageous enough to protect their rights. These violations of fundamental civil liberties will not, in the end, be reserved exclusively for Muslims once the corporate state feels under siege. What is happening to them will happen to the rest of us.

“One of the misapprehensions of the last decade is that the government had to go outside the law to places like Guantanamo or Bagram to abridge the rights of suspects in the name of national security,” said Jeanne Theoharis, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College who has been an outspoken critic of the rights abridgement occurring in Article III courts. “But this is not the case. A similar degradation of rights that has characterized the prison at Guantanamo has also affected the judicial system within the United States. The right to dissent, the right to see the evidence against you, the right to due process, the right to fair and speedy trial, the right to have a judge who will be impartial, the right to fair and not disproportionate punishment, and the right not to be punished before you are convicted have been taken from us in the name of national security. It is not just in special secret prisons that this occurs, but also—dismayingly—within the U.S. federal courts.”

This is not about the guilt or innocence of Masri, an Egyptian who lost an eye and a hand as a mujahedeen fighting in Central Asia and who has repeatedly called for violence against the United States and allegedly helped orchestrate violence. This is about the right of all accused to a fair defense and humane detention conditions. Once Masri arrives on U.S. soil he will receive neither. He will, even before he is tried or convicted, endure prison conditions that replicate the brutality suffered by those in our offshore penal colonies, including the one at Guantanamo Bay. He will enter a world of prolonged and psychologically crippling isolation, made worse by the likely application of so-called special administrative measures. He will spend his days in a tiny cell under constant electronic surveillance. At New York’s Metropolitan Correction Center, where Masri and the other men will most likely first be incarcerated, he will never be allowed outdoors. He will be permitted to spend only one hour a day outside his cell, alone in a cage. Masri and the four other suspects could spend years in these conditions before trial. Because of security restrictions, it will take as long as six months for letters from his family to reach him. His lawyers can be prosecuted if they repeat in public what he tells them, especially about the conditions of his incarceration.

And, once he goes on trial, he will be in an Article III court, where national security provisions will almost certainly guarantee his conviction. Once convicted, he and the others are likely to be sent to the federal Administrative Maximum facility (known as ADX), in Florence, Colo., to spend, potentially, a lifetime in solitary confinement. There he will be permitted, at most, an hour a day out of his cell, in a cramped cage nicknamed “the dog run” because it looks like a dog kennel. His meals will be delivered to his cell through a slot. He will not be permitted to work in prison industries or have congregational prayer, an essential tenet of the Muslim faith.

“Torture is legal in the United States in the form of years of solitary confinement and the use of special administrative measures,” Theoharis said when we spoke by phone. “The Obama administration has not only refused to hold Bush officials accountable for torture, but maintains torturous conditions in federal prisons. And the Obama administration willfully misled the European Court about the conditions these prisoners face.”

Nearly every state now has a “supermax” prison similar to the federal prison at Florence, which former ADX Warden Robert Hood once called “a clean version of hell.” These prisons presage a dystopian world where disobedient citizens are seized, stripped of rights and broken psychologically. Law professor Laura Rovner and Theoharis—who is an outspoken advocate for her former student Fahad Hashmi, being held in the Florence supermax—detailed the corrosion of justice within federal courts in an article in the American University Law Review. They noted that the distortion within the federal legal system “represents a particular way of seeing the Constitution, of constructing the landscape as a murky terrain of lurking enemies where rights must have substantial limits and the courts must be steadfast against such dangers.” The two professors went on to argue that while legal scholars and human rights advocates have examined the dangers of these paradigms in Guantanamo, they have generally failed to acknowledge that “the federal system is similarly infected by such paradigms.”

SOURCE: truthdig.com

 

Democracy Is Coming to the USA

It’s coming through a hole in the air
from those nights in tiananmen square
It’s coming from the feel
That it ain’t exactly real
Or it’s real, but it ain’t exactly there
]from the wars against disorder
]from the sirens night and day
]from the fires of the homeless
]from the ashes of the gay
Democracy is coming to the u.s.a.

It’s coming through a crack in the wall
On a visionary flood of alcohol
]from the staggering account
Of the sermon on the mount
Which I don’t pretend to understand at all
It’s coming from the silence
On the dock of the bay
]from the brave, the bold, the battered
Heart of chevrolet
Democracy is coming to the u.s.a.

It’s coming from the sorrow on the street
The holy places where the races meet
]from the homicidal bitchin’
That goes down in every kitchen
To determine who will serve and who will eat
]from the wells of disappointment
Where the women kneel to pray
For the grace of God in the desert here
And the desert far away
Democracy is coming to the u.s.a.

Chorus
Sail on, sail on
O mighty ship of state!
To the shores of need
Past the reefs of greed
Through the squalls of hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on…

It’s coming to america first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It’s here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it’s here they got the spiritual thirst
It’s here the family’s broken
And it’s here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
Democracy is coming to the u.s.a.

It’s coming from the women and the men
O baby, we’ll be making love again
We’ll be going down so deep
That the river’s going to weep
And the mountain’s going to shout amen!
It’s coming like the tidal flood
Beneath the lunar sway
Imperial, mysterious
In amorous array
Democracy is coming to the u.s.a.

Chorus

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
That time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
This little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the u.s.a

[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/l/leonard+cohen/democracy_20082879.html ]

______________________

Every now and then I need a lift and Leonard Cohen’s Democracy provides it. I hope it works for you too.

Let’s bring Democracy to the USA!

Interview with David Harvey

David Harvey is a leading thinker in the field of geography and a critic of global capitalism, most recently the proponent of the idea of “the right to the city” and a founder of the International Organization for a Participatory Society. His most current book is titled REBEL CITIES. Harvey is interviewed below by Chris Carlsson a community organizer and writer active in San Francisco.

One of the legacies of socialist “Red Vienna” in the 1920s is a huge stock of quality housing owned by the city available at below-market rates. This not only makes affordable housing widely available, it keeps a lid on overall housing prices. This undoubtedly adds to the appeal of prosperous Vienna, voted as the world’s most livable city in 2011.

Even though this historical anecdote is relevant today, considering the damage done by a speculative housing market run amok, we never hear about it. Mainstream discourse about cities is dominated by free-market, pro-growth ideas that has continued unabated even after the flaws of capitalism were made glaringly obvious by the 2008 financial meltdown. The Floridas and Glaesers of the world carry on with their growth-talk as if the crisis never happened (and global warming doesn’t exist). If you believe the future will be made in cities, then this trading in failed ideas doesn’t bode well for the future.

What’s missing in this dialogue is a profound but ignored truth: THE COMMONS is the goose that lays the golden eggs. Without the commons, there is no market or future. If every resource is commodified, if every square inch of real estate is subjected to speculative forces, if every calorie of every urbanite is used to simply meet bread and board, then we seal off the future. Without commons, there’s no room for people to maneuver, there’s no space for change, and no space for life. The future is literally born out of commons.

Another pollutant in the popular discourse about cities is the idea is that they are the solution to our great crises. This is wildly naïve. Rapid urbanization is a symptom of systemic problems, not a solution. Our global trade regime is driving the enclosure and destruction of our remaining commons and ruining local agricultural markets, making it impossible for rural populations to survive. As Mike Davis observes in PLANET OF SLUMS , rural poverty is driving much of the migration to cities, not mythical opportunities. The poor are being pushed more than pulled.

Cities hold great promise, but they are not yet the engines of transformations we need them to be. We need new ideas.

Harvey’s new book REBEL CITIES tempted me and I was richly rewarded. His analysis of the market’s role in creating social inequalities offered a more convincing view of urban processes than I’ve gotten anywhere. It was as if gum were cleared from my eyes.

And while Harvey is a Marxist, he’s no demagogue. Rebel Cities offers enlightening critiques of liberals, anarchists, and even commons advocates. When it comes down to it, Harvey stands for something as American as apple pie—cities by the people, for the people. I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anyone who shares that idea, whatever you call them.

I asked my friend Chris Carlsson, a co-founder of Critical Mass, to interview Harvey as he explored similar themes in his book, Nowtopia. Below is a recent e-mail discussion between Carlsson and Harvey which I think you’ll find fascinating no matter your political persuasion. Alone, Harvey is not the complete tonic, but I hope the interview broadens your view of cities like Rebel Cities did for me.

Chris Carlsson: Who did you write Rebel Cities for?

My aim was to write a book for everyone who has serious questions about the qualities of the urban life to which they are exposed and the limited choices that arise, given the way in which political and economic power asserts a hegemonic right to build cities according to its own desires and needs (for profit and capital accumulation) rather than to satisfy the needs of people.

In so doing, I wanted to provide indications of the kind of theoretical framework to which I appeal and I, therefore, use seemingly abstract (often, but not exclusively, Marxist) concepts. But my aim is to use these concepts in such a way that anybody can grasp them. (I don’t always succeed, of course.) I then hope that people might become interested to seek a deeper knowledge of the sort of framework that I use. For example, in “The Art of Rent,” I use a seemingly arcane concept of monopoly rent, but I hope by the end of the chapter people can understand very well what it might mean and wonder how it is that a society that lauds competition as foundational to its functioning is populated by capitalists who will go to great lengths to secure monopoly power by any means and how they capture unearned rents by resorting to that power.

If people want a broader understanding of my framework, they can use many resources including my own Enigma of Capital, and A Brief History of Neoliberalism, and my website lectures (including those on Marx’s Capital and the Companion to Marx’s Capital). I hope, however, that Rebel Cities is understandable enough without going through all of those materials first. In my view, one of the biggest problems for anti-capitalist social movements in our times is the lack of an agreed-upon framework to understand the dynamics of what is going on; if I can somehow incite activists to think more broadly about what they are doing and the general situation in which they are doing it (and how particular struggles relate to each other), then I would be very happy.
You write: “The chaotic processes of capitalist creative destruction have evidently reduced the collective left to a state of energetic but fragmented incoherence, even as periodic eruptions of mass movements of protest … suggest that the objective conditions for a more radical break with the capitalist law of value are more than ripe for the taking.”

For many people, targeting the “capitalist law of value” is terribly abstract. Can you rephrase that in terms that people can see and feel in their everyday lives?

I could substitute the phrase “capitalist law of value” with the phrase “the maximization of profit in a context of global competition” and then point to the devastating history of deindustrialization (more destruction than creation) from the 1980s across city after city, not only in North America, but also Europe and elsewhere (e.g. Mumbai and Northern China).

But I wanted to use the term “value” very explicitly to raise the question of what it is that capital values and how radically that contrasts with other ways of thinking about the values that might prevail in another kind of society. The capitalist law of value is what animates the activities of Bain Capital, etc. and we have to see that value system as profoundly opposed to human emancipation and well-being, that there is a distinctive “law of value” that capital internalizes and imposes that overrides all other values that stand in its path.

The values that capital internalizes do not contribute to the well-being of people and indeed may threaten our survival. The more people come to recognize the value system of capital the more we can mobilize “our” alternative values against it. To see the fight against capitalism as a fight over values is very important. It has, at various times, animated a theology of liberation that is profoundly anti-capitalist. It is for this reason that the capitalist class does not want to talk of or admit to the distinctive “law of value” that animates its actions. Apologists for capital claim they are for family values, for example, while capitalism promotes policies that destroy families. They claim they are in favor of freedom, but omit to say the freedom they favor is that of a few to exploit and live off the labor of the many, of the Wall Streeters to be free of regulation to gain their inordinate bonuses through predatory practices.

Most of the people reading this website are involved in various types of co-ops, collectives, and projects that are proudly based on values beyond mere monetary profit. But you don’t think this is enough. You argue: “… attempts to change the world by worker control and analogous movements — such as community-owned projects, so-called “moral” or “solidarity” economies, local economic trading systems and barter, the creation of autonomous spaces (the most famous of which today would be that of the Zapatistas) — have not, so far, proved viable as templates for more global anti-capitalist solutions, in spite of the noble efforts and sacrifices that have often kept these efforts going in the face of fierce hostilities and active repressions … Indeed, it can all too easily happen that workers end up in a condition of collective self-exploitation that is every bit as repressive as that which capital imposes …”

You properly point out that efforts to create socialism in one country, let alone one city, or one small enterprise, have always failed. Why do you think people ignore this overwhelming history and keep trying to make it work anyway?

This is one of the most difficult paradoxes embedded in the history of the left (its thinking, its project, and its activities). We can all understand the urge to control our own lives, to achieve some degree of autonomy at work, as well as in the neighborhoods we inhabit; and that basic urge which is, I believe, both widespread and broadly acceptable to many elements in society, can be the basis for a broader politics. When capital collapses as it periodically does, then workers frequently mobilize (as in Argentina in 2001-02) to save their jobs, and there are some long-lasting examples of cooperative systems and of worker control that are encouraging (e.g. Mondragon).

The problem is that these operations operate in a context where the capitalist law of value (Yes, that is why this is so important.) remains hegemonic such that producers are subject to the “coercive laws of competition” that eventually force such independent efforts towards autonomous forms of organization to behave like capitalist enterprises. This is why it is so important to eventually think and act in such a way as to challenge the hegemony of the “capitalist law of value”.

Lefebvre thus notes that heterotopic practices (spaces where something radically different happens) can only survive for a while before they are eventually re-absorbed into the dominant practices. This says that, at some point, we have to mount a challenge to the dominant practices and that means challenging the power of a deeply entrenched and thoroughly dominant capitalist class and the law of value to which it adheres (as represented by, for example, Bain Capital). You are right that this is a somewhat abstract idea; but if we cannot embrace it, then we will simply be ruled by other abstractions (such as those of “the market” or “globalization”).

You dismiss Garrett Hardin’s Tragedy of the Commons with the point that he is studying cattle herders with privately owned herds, undercutting the very presumption of a commons in land and resources. But you also look critically at Elinor Ostrom’s ideas about the commons, mostly because of her relatively small samples of communities self-managing common resources.  Though she short-circuits the banal opposition of state and market, she ducks (as do most anarchists and autonomists, as you argue) the problem of organizing complex, territorially dispersed economic relationships. “How can radical decentralization — surely a worthwhile objective — work without constituting some higher-order hierarchical authority? It is simply naïve to believe that polycentrism or any other form of decentralization can work without strong hierarchical constraints and active enforcement.”

Do you think the state, currently a wholly-owned project of “the existing democracy of money power,” can be made to serve other interests than capital accumulation and economic growth?

The state is not a monolith, but a complicated ecosystem of administrative structures. At the core of the capitalist state lies what I call a “state-finance nexus” which, in our times, is best represented by the Treasury and the Federal Reserve; and I think it was deeply illustrative that these two institutions, in effect, took over the U.S. government entirely in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse. It is notoriously the case within the state that the Treasury has the final say over many projects in other departments.

In parallel with the state-finance nexus is the military industrial complex which is a bit of a misnomer because it is really about the concentration of military and police powers backed by a justice system that is shaped in support of capitalist class power. These make for a distinctively capitalist class state apparatus. Obviously, that form of state power has to be confronted and defeated if we are to liberate ourselves from submission to the capitalist law of value.

But, beyond that, there are many aspects of public administration providing essential public services — public health, housing, education, and the governance of common property resources. In our own society, these branches of government often become corrupted by capital, to be sure, but it is not beyond the power of political movements of the left at the local, national, even international levels to discipline these aspects of the state apparatus to emancipatory public purposes.

Ironically, neoliberalism, by turning the provision of much of this terrain of state action over to NGOs, has opened a potential path to socialize these aspects of the state to the will of the people if the limitations of the NGO form could be overcome. The frontal attack from the left against state power has to target the state-finance nexus and the military/police complex and not the sewage department or the organization of the Internet and air traffic control, even as it has to be alert to how all departments of the current state are likely to be used as vehicles for furthering capital accumulation. The current situation is that the capitalist class is heightening its powers of control through militarization and the state-finance nexus while not bothering with much else.

At the end of your book you write, “Alternative democratic vehicles such as popular assemblies need to be constructed if urban life is to be revitalized and reconstructed outside of dominant class relations.” How do you see the Occupy Wall Street movement evolving in the absence of public space?

It is clear that the vicious police response to Occupy Wall Street is an indication of the paranoid fear of Wall Street that a popular movement might arise to threaten the power of the state-finance nexus and, as has happened in Iceland and now in Ireland to indict and eventually jail the bankers.

Militarization is, for them, the necessary answer, and part of that militarization is the control over public space to deny that the Occupy movement has a public space for its operations. In that case, the liberation of public space for public political purposes becomes a preliminary battle that will have to be fought. The assemblies provided a brief whiff of what an alternative democracy might look like, but the small scales and limited arenas make it crucial to experiment with other democratic forms of popular governance capable of looking at the metropolitan region as a whole … how to organize a whole city like New York or Sao Paulo.

Going beyond physical space, you helpfully point out that, “There is, in effect, a social practice of commoning. […] At the heart of the practice of commoning lies the principle that the relation between the social group and that aspect of the environment being treated as a common shall be both collective and non-commodified—off-limits to the logic of market exchange and market valuations.”

How do you see this logic of “commoning” emerging from the actual social movements of our time, which seem preoccupied with ethical shopping on one hand, or addressing racism, patriarchy, homophobia, and other identitarian questions on the other?

The essence of a great urban and civic life, for me, is the free intermingling of all manner of people opening up the possibilities of all manner of encounters. If, for often good reasons, women, LGBT youth, or other so-called “identitarian” groups cannot freely use the public and supposedly “common” spaces of the city, then it is critical that movements emerge to liberate those common spaces for their participation. Such movements can provide a vital opening for a broader common politics. The problem comes when that is the only preoccupation for that group and what begins as a demand for inclusion becomes a movement for exclusions. Alliances are needed and the more it becomes acceptable to liberate public spaces for all public purposes, the more open become the democratic possibilities to go a-commoning, to build a commons and achieve a politics of the commons throughout the city or metropolitan region as a whole. But there are counter-movements that have to be combated. Right now, exclusionary fascist movements (like Golden Dawn in Greece) are precisely occupying space by space urban neighborhoods (e.g. in Athens); they are occupying spaces in the name of an exclusionary politics. This is an extreme case, of course, but I think it critical that the relation between the commons and the balance between enclosures and exclusions, on the one hand, and openings and free uses, on the other, be perpetually open for discussion and political struggle. These are the sorts of battles in which we all have to be involved. There is no automatic harmony to be had and I actually think a certain level of perpetual conflict around urban life is a very positive feature.

Artists and “culture workers” have historically been leading voices of dissent, but we see a lot less of that now. Most people are beholden to one or another institution of the “nonprofit industrial complex” as the Incite! Collective put it in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. The types of dissent remain safely within boundaries that do not challenge the logic of markets and money.

You write, “It is one thing to be transgressive about sexuality, religion, social mores, and artistic and architectural conventions, but quite another to be transgressive in relation to the institutions and practices of capitalist domination that actually penetrate deeply into cultural institutions. […] The problem for capital is to find ways to co-opt, subsume, commodify, and monetize such cultural differences and cultural commons just enough to be able to appropriate monopoly rents from them.”

How do highly individualized and competitive artists and culture producers find common ground to fight for a world beyond remuneration?

I don’t quite agree with the view that the cultural workers are passive. The context has changed (which is what I am pointing to as culture becomes an industry and a vehicle for capital accumulation and building asset values) which means that dissidence has to take a different form of expression. Subversion, rather than confrontation, has to become the main tactic and I see quite a lot of evidence of a willingness to do that. We have, incidentally, very much the same problem in academia. My colleagues have quite a lot to learn about how to go about that and, in the cultural world, that sentiment for subversion is far more widespread.

You write, “The struggle for the right to the city is against the powers of capital that ruthlessly feed upon and extract rents from the common life that others have produced. […] Capitalist urbanization perpetually tends to destroy the city as a social, political, and livable commons.” Americans are fairly religious about the idea of private property. Even progressives don’t like to challenge the prerogatives of property ownership.

Do you think there can be any meaningful way to halt gentrification and the debasement of thriving urban neighborhoods that it brings, short of creating collective ownership of neighborhood properties?

The thing that often amazes me is the wide array of instruments already available for left experimentation in all manner of arenas of social life. This is very true of housing with all sorts of possible property arrangements that offer ways to secure housing for low-income populations. Yet these instruments are neglected and underutilized, in part, I suspect, because of ideological barriers but also due to lack of political and other forms of support for them.

Much can be done within existing structures, but, again, the problem is how, for example, limited equity co-ops might be reabsorbed into the dominant practices unless there is an active social movement to keep them in place and expand them. Otherwise, we are in the situation of winning a skirmish here or there (e.g. against gentrification) but losing most of the battles and having no impact on the anti-capitalist war. So when and how are we going to learn to fight the war against the dominant practices?

You point to the need to integrate an understanding of the process of urbanization and built-environment formation into the general theory of the laws of motion of capital. Other writers have analyzed the breakdown of Fordist mass production and the evolution of capitalism into a system based on a “social factory.”

I think we should get away from the imagery of the factory entirely. The issue of the urban is quite different because it is not only about production, but about realization of values through consumption, consumerism, spectacle (e.g. Olympic Games which have sent many cities into economic difficulties and played a key role in the Greek collapse of public finances). One of the things I get from Marx’s theories is the relation between production of values and the realization of values through exchange in the market and both are equally important and the urban is “where it all comes together”.

You note, “Public spaces and public goods in the city have always been a matter of state power and public administration, and such spaces and goods do not necessarily a commons make.” How can public spaces become a commons?

Language is a commons and part of what political life is about is changing the languages we use to relate to each other and to understand the world around us (which is why I want to talk about the capitalist law of value). But the commons has to be materialized and objectified (e.g. in print) and discussed (e.g. in an assembly or a chat room). Commoning embraces all of these features. It is not only a physical space, but bodies on the street still have a political priority (as we saw in Tahrir Square) and this is particularly important to the degree that the capitalist class has almost total power over all other forms of political power (money, the repressive apparatus, key elements in the state apparatus, political elections, the law, etc.).

Finally, you argue that “Decentralization and autonomy are primary vehicles for producing greater inequality through neoliberalization.” How do social movements fight this trajectory while holding on to their own autonomist and egalitarian practices?

What is so odd in these times is that much of the left agrees with much of the right that decentralization and opposition to all forms of centralized power is the answer. This is why I talk of the “fetishism of organizational forms” that prevails on the contemporary left. The market is, of course, when individualized, the most decentralized decision-making system you can imagine and it is exactly the organization of such a competitive decentralized market that produces, as Marx so clearly proved, highly concentrated capitalist class power. It does so because “there is nothing more unequal than the equal treatment of unequals.”

If all the world were organized into a series of independent and totally autonomous anarchist communes, then how would the global commons (e.g. biodiversity) be preserved, and what would prevent some communes from becoming much more prosperous than others, and how would the free flow of people and goods and products from one place to another work (most communes have some principles for exclusion)? Interestingly, most corporations are into networked models of administration and there are all sorts of parallels between left and right which pass unrecognized, as well as overlaps between corporate practices and anarchist visions.

There is a lot to be said for a decentralized basis for political action. But, at some point, it has also to jump scales and organize at least at the metropolitan bioregional level to take on those wretched dominant class practices that seem to survive unscathed in the midst of the current plethora of oppositional social movements

SOURCE:

 http://www.shareable.net/blog/interviewed-david-harvey-on-rebel-citie