Peter McLaren is the inaugural recipient of The Social and Economic Justice in Public Education Award by the Marxian Analysis of Society, Schools and Education, The American Educational Research Association, 2012; The Central New York Peace Studies Consortium Lifetime Achievement Award in Peace Studies; the 2013 Award of Achievement in Critical Studies by the Critical Studies Association (Athens, Greece); and the First Annual Social Justice and Upstander Ethics in Education Award presented by the Department of Education, Antioch University, Los Angeles. He is also the recent recipient of the Ana Kristine Pearson Award in Equity in Education and Economy presented by The Center of Education and Work, the University of Toronto, 2012. The government of Venezuela recently honored Professor McLaren with the International Award in Critical Pedagogy.
Professor McLaren’s work has been translated into 20 languages. One of his books, Life in Schools, was chosen in 2004 as one of the 12 most significant education books worldwide by an international panel commissioned by The Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation. As a political activist, he lectures worldwide and works with revolutionary, community and educational groups around the globe. Peter McLaren is Professor of Urban Schooling, the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. He is also currently Distinguished Fellow in Critical Studies at Chapman University, California.
McLaren’s also a friend of mine, and this is the transcript of a short online interview we conducted on May 24th. The interview took place several days after Peter was tear-gassed and flattened by Turkish riot police in Ankara.
SDF: Peter, give the readers of this interview a brief precis of what your most important past projects were, and what your most important project is now.
Peter: My work is in the area of revolutionary critical pedagogy. In a nutshell it involves teaching for the purpose of creating a democratic socialist alternative to a society ruled by the value form of labor, or the selling of one’s labor power for a wage. When corporate appetite betrays such a ruthless insatiability, delighting in its own unchecked authority like a medieval king whose power knows no excess outside of a failure of the imagination, we know we are in for trouble.
The marketplace has no bearing whatsoever on how we need to structure our humanity. Human beings have no reason to endure debt peonage as some sort of character builder. We have no need to live in conditions that Chris Hedges calls “replicate slavery” or “unpaid bondage”–gifts to the poor not simply by corporate oligarchs but by capital itself. When human misery becomes nothing more than a business venture made over a toast with a Davidoff cigar and with the matching obscenity of a diamond martini at the Ritz-Carlton Tokyo, then we know where we are headed and it’s going to be bleak, at best, for those who survive.
To all those good Christians out there who believe the Bible has given humankind the authority to use nature as it pleased, I would argue that Jesus did not mean for his followers to be baptized in the toxic waste of drilling retention ponds. The coal ash in surface impoundment ponds was not meant to be worn on the foreheads of believers on Ash Wednesday. As an educator, I believe it is my duty to promote a socialist agenda, and I make no apologies for that.
SDF: So what brought you to this particular conference you attended, in Turkey?
Peter: I was one of the keynotes at the 3rd annual conference on critical education titled Education Under Siege by Neoliberalism and Neoconservatism and held in Ankara Turkey.
SDF: Who were you with in Turkey, and what did you do with them there?
Peter: During a break in the conference at the University of Ankara, I heard that some students were protesting media censorship surrounding twin bomb attacks on the border town of Reyhanli that killed 51 people on Saturday (May 11). I heard they were tear gassed and wanted to show them my support so I followed them a few blocks but since I am recovering from knee surgery, and still mostly walk on crutches, I had to return back to campus before the protesters arrived at their final destination. Then, several days later, Dave Hill, an education professor from London, and I were at the city center and heard about a similar protest and joined in to support the protesters. Police fired tear gas into the crowd and I was knocked over and thanks to the help of a waiter at a nearby restaurant, was taken into his restaurant and hidden in a back room.
SDF: What sense of accomplishment did you take away from the conference in Turkey?
Peter: It was heartening to be with educators from Turkey and Greece who were working together in an atmosphere of solidarity and respect for each other. There was a bond that was present between the two groups that grew stronger as the conference progressed. The presenters and audience were from around the world, and to see so many critical educators agree on so many political platforms was encouraging. the analyses of neoliberalism were sophisticated and there was a general agreement that a socialist alternative to capitalism was urgently necessary. The comradeship was strong, and the conference was absent of demagoguery or prima donnas. There was a strong emphasis on class struggle for the most part shorn of qualifications from identity politics. When race and gender and disability and patriarchy and sexuality were discussed, it was within the larger optic of neoliberal capitalism and a search for alternatives.
Over the course of twenty years, I have had the opportunity to meet and work with educators from a variety of social movements, including the shack-dwellers’ movement, Abahlali baseMjondol, the landless workers’ movement, Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – MST, in Brasil, the Zapatistas in Mexico, and members of the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela. But most of my work has been with schools of education and teachers’ unions throughout Latin America. The conference in Turkey introduced me to a new set of comrades working in very difficult contexts, and against a very repressive social order.
SDF: Now I’d like to change the topic of this interview, a bit, and focus upon the search for alternatives to capitalism, now, in the neoliberal age. My friend Jason W. Moore, recently moved into a professor position at the University of Binghamton in New York State, discusses how the capitalist world-system appears to be approaching a state of “peak accumulation.” We can, then, expect to see a multiplication of crises, economically, socially, and in terms of resources. How do you see this affecting activism in the future, and how does the class struggle continue in light of “peak accumulation”?
Peter: As you know, my work has been to bring a Marxist analysis to the system of global capitalism, and to examine education reform efforts from this perspective. Most critical educators in the United States are arguably left-liberals and while they have sophisticated analyses of neoliberal capitalism, do not seriously consider socialist alternatives to capitalism.
Those that do come to their conclusions not necessarily through Marx but through ecopedagogical analyses such as those offered by you, Sam, or people like Richard Kahn, David Greenwood and Tina Evans, to name a few of the major exponents addressing education in particular. I begin with an economic analysis. Consider comments by the liberal economist, Robert Reich, who argues (2013) that “as global capital becomes ever more powerful, giant corporations are holding governments and citizens up for ransom – eliciting subsidies and tax breaks from countries concerned about their nation’s “competitiveness” – while sheltering their profits in the lowest-tax jurisdictions they can find.” He points out, correctly, that “Google, Amazon, Starbucks, every other major corporation, and every big Wall Street bank, are sheltering as much of their U.S. profits abroad as they can, while telling Washington that lower corporate taxes are necessary in order to keep the U.S. ‘competitive.’” This is true, of course, as is the incalculable human suffering which results from the pauperizing effects and downward mobilization as a result of global capitalism.
It is also true, according to Reich, that “global corporations have no allegiance to any country; their only objective is to make as much money as possible – and play off one country against another to keep their taxes down and subsidies up, thereby shifting more of the tax burden to ordinary people whose wages are already shrinking because companies are playing workers off against each other.” This is what Marxist sociologist, William I. Robinson (2012) would describe an economy driven by “militarised accumulation”, “wild financial speculation”, and “the raiding of sacking of public finance to sustain profit-making in the face of over-accumulation.” He writes chillingly that the transnational capitalist class “has unloaded billions of dollars into speculation in the housing market, the food, energy and other global commodities markets, in bond markets worldwide (that is, public budgets and state finances), and into every imaginable “derivative”, ranging from hedge funds to swaps, futures markets, collateralized debt obligations, asset pyramiding, and Ponzi schemes” (2011a). This led directly, as we know, to the 2008 collapse of the global financial system.
Now the problem with this liberal perspective is that it doesn’t deal with global capitalism as a systemic crisis. Marxist humanist philosopher Peter Hudis makes this point forcefully in his discussion of the U.S. economy, the crisis in the Eurozone, and the declining growth rates in such countries as China, India and Brazil. Hudis argues that the expenditure of trillions of dollars in bank bailouts and economic stimulus programs didn’t do much to reverse the structural/systemic crisis. It was thought by many so-called experts that the mortgage crisis and the collapse of the global financial system in 2008 was the result of a cyclical downturn that could be resolved through state-sponsored bailouts and stimulus packages. Thus, we are faced with the prospect of austerity measures as a supposed antidote to the crisis (which some experts speculate may last four or five decades). Hudis argues that the political ineptitude and corporate greed of a small cabal of wealthy oligarchs is not the cause of the current economic crisis but the result of it—the egregious actions of bankers and hedge fund slime masters are rooted in the crisis of capital itself and cannot be restricted to human traits such as greed and avarice (although those human characteristics cannot be discounted entirely). Keynesian stimulus measures no longer suffice to resolve the deeper, structural crisis underlying the 2008 near-collapse of the economy—which Hudis describes as “the decline in profit rates that have plagued global capital for decades.”
William I. Robinson explains the bigger picture better than most. He describes cyclical economic crises as “on-going episodes in the capitalist system, occurring and about once a decade and usually last 18 months to two years” (2011). And he contrasts this with structural crises that “are deeper; their resolution requires a fundamental restructuring of the system”. He describes earlier world structural crises of capitalism to the 1890s, the 1930s and the 1970s, crises that were resolved “through a reorganisation of the system that produced new models of capitalism” that was able to overcome the constraints of capitalism, leading to a resumption of capital accumulation on a world scale. Robinson argues that the crisis of the 1890s “was resolved in the cores of world capitalism through the export of capital and a new round of imperialist expansion.” He points out that the Great Depression of the 1930s “was resolved through the turn to variants of social democracy in both the North and the South – welfare, populist, or developmentalist capitalism that involved redistribution, the creation of public sectors, and state regulation of the market.” In order to understand the crisis of capital at the current conjuncture which we could call “the globalisation stage of world capitalism” is to examine it in relation to previous episodes of crisis, in particular, the 1970s crisis of social democracy, or what Robinson refers to as the stage of “Fordism-Keynesianism,” or “redistributive capitalism.”
We need to understand the emergence of “a qualitatively new transnational or global phase of world capitalism that can be traced back to the 1970s, and is characterized by the rise of truly transnational capital and a transnational capitalist class” (2011a) that came about when capitalist expansion went global through the machinations of neoliberalism and, as a result, the transnational capitalist class was able to capture state power in most countries during the 1980s and 1990s. Here, according to Robinson, globally-oriented elites or the “transnational capitalist class” broke free of nation-state constraints to accumulation and have reconstituted their class power. Advances in computer and information technology helped the transnational capitalist class “to achieve major gains in productivity and to restructure, ‘flexibilize,’ and shed labor worldwide” (2011). The result was “a major extensive and intensive expansion of the system and unleashed a frenzied new round of accumulation worldwide that offset the 1970s crisis of declining profits and investment opportunities.”
I noticed the effect on education of what Robinson (2011a) refers to as “hyper-accumulation through new technologies such as computers and informatics, through neo-liberal policies, and through new modalities of mobilizing and exploiting the global labor force – including a massive new round of primitive accumulation, uprooting, and displacing hundreds of millions of people – especially in the third world countryside, who have become internal and transnational migrants.” I encountered this militarized style of global capital accumulation on education when I first came to the U.S. from Canada, working with Henry Giroux. We were struggling to create what we called a critical pedagogy whose goal it was to create a critically informed citizenry—critical citizens who were able to develop critical consciousness capable of challenging the dominant hegemony relationships in the economy, the state, in cultural production, the law, civil rights, etc. But this was at the time when corporations were gaining more power than nation states in many areas—so that education was being sold to hedge fund managers and speculators, bankers and entrepreneurs and was transformed into a sub-sector of the economy and the emphasis was on creating consumer citizens, not critical citizens.
Here’s how it is spelled out in theory. Capital wants to reduce its reliance upon living labor and to squeeze more value out of labor—but it fears a social revolution from those who are most devastated by the capitalist system. Capitalism, as Hudis reminds us, is continuously driven to reduce the proportion of living labor to dead labor (or capital), over time even the relative over-employment of non-productive workers comes under attack by capital and we see this today “in the concerted effort by numerous factions of global capitalism to reduce the number as well as the wages and benefits of public-service workers especially through austerity-measures.” The social and class struggles worldwide that were able in the 20th century to impose a measure of social control over capital are not necessarily going to work in the same way; unlike in the past, they are unable to, as Robinson notes, “force the system to link what we call social reproduction to capital accumulation” (2011). It is the “severing of the logic of accumulation from that of social reproduction” that today results “in an unprecedented growth of social inequality and intensified crises of survival for billions of people around the world.”
Robinson identifies “the chronic problem of over-accumulation” or the inability of transnational capitalists “to unload their bloated and expanding mass of surplus – they can’t find outlets to invest their money in order to generate new profits; hence the system enters into recession or worse”. The transnational capitalist class is using the current crisis in global capitalism is to brutally dismantle what is left of the welfare state. Robinson notes that the system is sinking deeper into chaos and the transnational capitalist class in no longer able to manage the contradictions in the system, but nevertheless has acquired tremendous transnational power and control over global resources and institutions.
We may defeat neoliberal capitalism but the result might be a new restructuring that leads to some different model of world capitalism – what Robinson rhetorically notes might be new reformed capitalist order, “a global Keynesianism involving transnational redistribution and transnational regulation of finance capital.” Or, Robinson notes, we could be headed towards a systemic crisis that demands a complete destruction of the system itself and the creation of an entirely new system. Whether or not a structural crisis becomes systemic depends, Robinson warns, “on how distinct social and class forces respond – to the political projects they put forward and as well as to factors of contingency that cannot be predicted in advance, and to objective conditions.” So we cannot tell at this current historical conjuncture what those responses will be. We don’t know the outcome. What we do know, according to Robinson, is that the system today has certain very unique features that the crises of the 1930s and 1970s did not—the system “is fast reaching the ecological limits of its reproduction.” Second, “the magnitude of the means of violence and social control is unprecedented” and here Robinson refers to “computerised wars, drones, bunker-buster bombs, star wars, and so forth.” And third, there is now an unprecedented “concentration of control over the mass media, the production of symbols, images and messages in the hands of transnational capital.” And fourth, we know unequivocally that we “are reaching the limits to the extensive expansion of capitalism, in the sense that there are no longer any new territories of significance that can be integrated into world capitalism.” He writes: “De-ruralisation is now well-advanced, and the commodification of the countryside and of pre- and non-capitalist spaces has intensified, that is, converted in hot-house fashion into spaces of capital, so that intensive expansion is reaching depths never before seen.” And fifth, there is “the rise of a vast surplus population inhabiting a planet of slums, alienated from the productive economy, thrown into the margins, and subject to sophisticated systems of social control and to crises of survival – to a mortal cycle of dispossession-exploitation-exclusion.” Here, Robinson raises the specter of “a 21st-century fascism and new episodes of genocide to contain the mass of surplus humanity and their real or potential rebellion.” Now others have said what Robinson has said, but what I think is distinctive about Robinson’s analysis is that he emphasizes the important fact that transnational state apparatuses are no longer able to play a hegemonizing role that they once did, that is, they can no longer control or stabilize the capitalist system like they did during the Fordist/Keynesian stage of global capitalism and thus nation states tend today to lose their political legitimacy, and we witness, for instance, what is happening now in Greece, for instance, or Spain, or countries now coming apart as a result of brutal austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund.
Robinson identifies three sectors of transnational capital that “stand out as the most aggressive and prone to seek neo-fascist political arrangements to force forward accumulation as this crisis continues: speculative financial capital, the military-industrial-security complex, and the extractive and energy sector.” What about capital accumulation in the military-industrial-security complex? Well, that “depends on endless conflicts and war, including the so-called wars on terrorism and on drugs, as well as on the militarisation of social control.” Robinson disturbingly reveals that in the United States, “the private immigrant prison-industrial complex is a boom industry. Undocumented immigrants constitute the fastest growing sector of the US prison population and are detained in private detention centers and deported by private companies contracted out by the US state” (2011a). What about transnational finance capital? Well, that “depends on taking control of state finances and imposing debt and austerity on the masses, which in turn can only be achieved through escalating repression” (2011). And what about extractive industries? Well that can best be understood in terms of “new rounds of violent dispossession and environmental degradation around the world.” We are now witnessing a global revolt.
I have been at Occupy Los Angeles, I have visited the town of Cheran in Mexico that is breaking away from the Mexican state and forming its own militia, I have spent time working for the Chavistas in Venezuela, and I have just returned from protests in Turkey. Yes, there is revolt everywhere, it is truly global. We need, clearly, a transnational coordination of resistance against transnationally coordinated mass repression, and we see all around us efforts by the transnational capitalist class to destroy unions, to weaken labor, to target intellectuals, and to destroy whatever is left of what could be called a public sphere. This is the reason why Chavez tried to build up a region bloc against the United States attempt to bring Latin America back into line after the election of leftist leaders. I agree with Robinson that we need a “massive redistribution of wealth and power downward towards the poor majority of humanity along the lines of a 21st-century democratic socialism in which humanity is no longer at war with itself and with nature.” That is what my work in revolutionary critical pedagogy has been all about—helping to create democratic socialism through education, through the project of critical pedagogy as I developed it from my mentor, Paulo Freire.
Now Robinson is right on target about Obama, and I like very much his Gramscian analysis of how Obama is seeking to restore the hegemony that was lost during the resistance to the Bush Jr. administration by instituting a soft revolution designed to undercut massive challenges by the more militant left. It challenges the state at the cultural and ideological level, by pushing for immigrant rights, and gay rights, etc. (which of course are good policies in themselves) and other ‘moral issues’ to a certain extent but at the same time it makes sure that the socio-economic order is never fundamentally questioned or challenged and in case it is challenged it has created a massive security state to enforce any real challenges to the marriage between corporate rule and state power. It covers up the systemic barbarism of capitalism under the smokescreen of corporate greed as a human frailty. This soft revolution is what Gramsci terms a “passive revolution” against popular resistance—and it is successful through its ability to co-opt leadership from below. Robinson notes that dominant forces in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North America are moving in the direction of a passive revolution. The Obama administration has been brilliant in channeling popular resistance into a passive revolt, depotentiating and enfeebling more militant forms of insurgency by militant trade unions, socialists, and environmentalists. What worries Robinson is what worries me—and that is the consolidation of a social base of consisting of a broad swath of the disenfranchised white working class who historically enjoyed what Robinson describes as “racial caste privilege” during the previous Fordist-Keynesian epoch of national capitalism. Those who are caught in “a deadly circuit of accumulation-exploitation-exclusion” are simply abandoned, isolated, criminalized and repressed into the hinterlands of surplus – or super-exploited – labor.
Clearly, today, whether we choose to call techno-scientific labor ‘immaterial’ or ‘immiserated’, it is clear that the struggle is no longer men in boiler suits or railhead pants versus factory owners in top hats, continental cross ties and double-breasted vests. Or the sans-culottes versus the breech-garbed ruling class. Or workers in full-grain leather steel-tipped boots and clanging tool belts dangling from sturdy hips. Or financiers with capes and silver-tipped canes exploiting the labor power of frutiers, cobblers and copper miners lugging luchpails of lost dreams. We have ‘knowledge workers’ and ‘service workers’ and ‘sweatshop workers’ all of whom can play a role in the coming struggle. The struggle is the transnational capitalist class against all those who depend upon wages for their labor.
SDF: Jason W. Moore discusses how the capitalist world-system appears to be approaching a state of “peak accumulation.” We can, then, expect to see a multiplication of crises, economically, socially, and in terms of resources. How do you see this affecting activism in the future?
Peter: One dimension of my work that is relatively new deals with the current ecological crisis. Here I have been influenced by the work of Joel Kovel, John Bellamy Foster, and Jason W. Moore, in particular.
My position is that consequences of the simultaneous emergence of a transnational forms of capitalism based on the exploitation of human labor and the endemic crisis of capitalism — based on the political, class conflicts taking place given exploitative relations of productions — is also the origins of the current ecological crisis. In the same ways that the exploitation of human labor sustains the conditions of possibility of all other antagonisms, including profound, globalized racial hatreds, which is not to reduce them all to class, transnational forms of capitalism today and their historical precedents are preconditions for ecocide.
Jason Moore has been useful in this regard, who argues not only that “capital externalizes nature through the appropriation of extra-human nature as ‘free gift’ (Marx 1967 III:745), but also asserts that nature’s free gifts are not “limited to minerals, soil, and so forth: they also include human labor power (re)produced outside the circuit of capital (Marx 1967:377).” Thus capital exploits both society and nature in the way ascribed to its exploitation of nature as such.
In discussing William I. Robinson’s work (in Capitalists and Conquerors), I identified “the chronic problem of over-accumulation” or the inability of transnational capitalists “to unload their bloated and expanding mass of surplus – they can’t find outlets to invest their money in order to generate new profits; hence the system enters into recession or worse”. In other words, there are more commodities being produced than customers to purchase them.
But I also want to discuss what Jason W. Moore describes as crisis of underproduction, which he takes directly from Marx. In underproduction, what Marx referred to as a general law of accumulation that works alongside overproduction, capital is forced to substitute increasing amounts of capital and labor for the disappearing aspects of nature that Marx referred to as “free gifts,” which refers to both outer nature (the environment) and inner nature (human tendencies). Both inner and outer nature have, by the time of late capitalism, been configured to contribute to processes of capital accumulation. Capitalism appropriates nature’s free gifts outside of the system of commodity production in order to maximize labor productivity.
There are a lot of non-commodified relationships that have been exhausted in order to make capital accumulation possible. After all, nature had to be reconfigured in particular in order to enable the rise of capitalism itself–and Moore notes that this was premised on the peculiar reconfiguration of nature that prioritized labor productivity over land productivity. This led to the dialectic of plunder and productivity that is at the heart of contemporary capitalist accumulation. This is important in understanding capitalism as a world-ecology, and capitalism is a way of organizing nature.
The re-ordering of human-and extra-human natures into specific ecological regimes occurs today via financialization, the creation of new racial orders, the emergence and reproduction of the colonial regimes as well as the reproduction of the coloniality of power. There are indeed popular resistances to all of the above. All economic crises are ecological crises, all revolutions are ecological revolutions, all critical pedagogies are ecopedagogical. Now Robinson notes that popular struggles might lead to a new reformed capitalist order, “a global Keynesianism involving transnational redistribution and transnational regulation of finance capital.” Or, perhaps towards a systemic crisis that demands a complete destruction of the system itself and the creation of an entirely new system–what we could call a socialism for the twenty-first century to echo a common phrase used in Venezuela to describe the Bolivarian revolution instituted by Chavez.
In Jason W. Moore’s terms, we would be faced with a “developmental crisis,” in which capitalism transforms itself to overcome the crisis, by technological innovation and by expanding capital accumulation, or else an “epochal crisis,” which refers to the end of one form of economic life and the beginning of another — such as the move from feudalism to capitalism or from the post-Fordism/Keynesianism of the 1970s to finance capitalism that marks the era of neoliberalism. All of this depends upon how distinct social and class forces respond to these crises. That is, it depends upon us. And to what extent we are willing to become active and protagonistic agents of historical transformation–makers of history as opposed to passive products of history. Of course, we are always already both, dialectically speaking.
But we need to tip the scales and reclaim our protagonistic agency because while we will always be both producers and products, we need to reclaim our right to have a choice as to what we produce, and how, and in whose interest, and to what purpose. Otherwise we might as well choose not to exist at all, which is what many of us, tired, beaten, despised and forgotten, have already done, under the guise of accommodating ourselves within a system we know to be unrelentingly barbaric, morally schizophrenic, savagely abusive, ruthlessly repressive, selfishly unfeeling, and mordantly destructive.
SDF: Could you say something about the ongoing protests in Turkey?
One of my friends, a professor at the University of Ankara, sent me a note just prior to participating in a demonstration, and told me that the protests were against “police terror and the pro-American and pro-European Union ruling power of the country (AKP)”. The protesters “want theAKP/Erdogan government to resign”. In a broader sense, the protesters are against “the neo-liberal and neo-conservative policies of the ruling power of Turkey” which have resulted in “a dramatic rise in poverty, unemployment, hunger, injustice in distribution of income, migration etc.” The second problem is the “one-man show of Erdogan, actually a religious-fascist leader who was shown by the West as a good model to all Islamic countries.” People from all walks of life are participating in the protests “except for religious people who voted for the AKP. The rate of their votes in the last selections was 51 %. Erdogan relies on this percentage and threatens all protesters with this gun. The leaders of all demonstrations are socialists (leaders of all resistance), anarchists, and some anti-capitalist groups including ecologists. There are 19 socialist political parties in Turkey but their votes are under 2 %. It is very interesting fact that some Turkish nationalist groups/individuals are also participating into the resistance. One of their political party’s (MHP-National Movamenet Party) vote is 15 % but this party’s leader declared that they would not take a part in this resistance. Kurdish side (BDP-Peace and Democracy Party) also decided not to participate into the resistance because of the resistance’s some national characteristics and an agreement with the government for solving the Kurdish Question in peaceful way.
Our umbrella organization of public workers KESK has decided to a half-day solidarity strike, today and tomorrow.”
SDF: How do the protests–particularly among youth– which you witnessed in Turkey compare with other movements you have witnessed and written about around the world?
Peter: For one thing, all of the movements that I have witnessed of late–the Occupy Movement, the uprising in Greece, protests of university students in Mexico, the Indignados, etc.–are making more than minor demands, they are struggling for an entirely different kind of future and the originality and creativity of their protests speak to that future. They are not just about negating the present but about reclaiming space–parks, public squares, university buildings, and other spaces where they can enact a new, more horizontal form of governance and decision-making. They are moving beyond narrow sectarian interests and seeking to put participatory democracy into practice as an alternative to vertical forms of organization favored by liberal, representative democracy. And, of course, they are fighting state authoritarianism. They are seeking to challenge consumer citizens to become critical citizens again, as many citizens strove to become before the era of asset capitalism, or neoliberal capitalism. But the movement goes beyond nostalgia for the past–since most of the youth have only known neoliberal capitalism all of their lives. The youth have also have figured out that parliamentary forms of representation can no longer suffice in creating democracy in a social universe of asset or finance capitalism which requires a neo-fascist reorganization of the state in order to preserve massive profits for the transnational capitalist class. Youth protesters today are struggling for participatory forms of association using new social media and new convergent media production as digital tools, as technological literacies to educate themselves and their comrades to link their experiences of struggle to goal-directed actions. They are struggling for different forms of social life. Here the digital media do not become ends in themselves but augment or supplement real-world experiences of struggle for popular sovereignty–and in the case of the Zapatistas in Chiapas or the Purepecha nation in Cheran, Mexico, an autonomous community within the state. As a result of these struggles, these tools become more integrated as part of an effort to creative a collective intelligence with multiple visions of a socially just a fairer world. As Greek scholar and activist, Panagiotis Sotiris, wrote recently,
“Contrary to the supposedly post-modern tendency towards virtual communities digitally connecting fragmented individuals, as expressed in various cybespace trends, but also in the whole concept of a potential ‘on-line ‘democracy’ and ‘consultation’, nothing can beat the appeal and the power of people meeting in the street, joining forces, creating communities of struggle and resistance.”
According to the semiofficial Anadolu Agency news service, during a recent protest in Izmir, police have arrested 25 people on accusations of using social media networks such as Twitter to spread false details about the anti-government protests and police reaction to them, Many youth can see that the survival of neoliberal capitalism requires the state to reorganize itself in more fascist formations–and this is no less true of the youth in Turkey where many secular young people are fearful of the intolerance of criticism and diverse lifestyles by the
Again, as Panagiotis Sotiris lucidly proclaims:
“The importance of youth in all these movements should not lead us to treat them as student or youth movements. Rather, youth who are at the epicentre of the current capitalist attempt to change the balance of forces in favor of capital, and are being treated in some cases as a ‘lost generation’, and almost always as the generation that will receive the full blow of capitalist restructuring, act like the vanguard of more generalized and deeper forms of discontent. This has to do with the particular quality of youth as potential labor power. Contemporary youth are more educated, more skilled and at the same time face precarization and the consequences of the economic crisis. However, they have the communication skills to make their discontent more evident than ever and are in a position to create networks of struggle and solidarity, thus making themselves more than instrumental for the creation of new public spaces, both real and virtual.”
I strongly agree with this observation of Sotiris and with his conviction that these movements are also productive sites of knowledge and potentially counterhegemonic projects. He makes profound sense when he argues, additionally, that the left needs to be more proactive in helping to transform such movements from spontaneous uprisings to historical blocs in the Gramscian sense that involve “combinations between social forces, new forms of political organization and new social configurations as alternative narratives that do not simply repeat historical left-wing projects, but actually attempt to think how to move beyond neoliberal capitalism…from the current ‘age of insurrections’ to a new ‘age of revolutions’”.
That said, I do believe there is an ongoing danger of communitarian popular fronts. Think of Poland and Iran in 1979-81. Mass movements in these countries were taken over by Catholic reactionaries in the former, and Islamic fundamentalists in the latter, and both movements had progressive elements such as women’s movements and workers councils. Political parties have a history of taking over various forms of spontaneous movements. I think popular-frontism could become reified as the “lost generation” versus the bankers and hedge fund profiteers. We have to fight to be wary of the struggle becoming the “good capitalists” who are against monopolies, etc, versus the unproductive parasites in the finance sector who accumulate their fortunes on the shoulders of others who are forced to sell their labor power for a wage. We must begin to wage a struggle for an alternative to capitalism based on the creation of real wealth rather than the value form of labor.
Peter also insisted that these references be given:
Hudis, Peter. (2012). From the Economic Crisis to the Transcendence of Capital. The International Marxist Humanist. Retrieved from: http://www.internationalmarxisthumanist.org/wp-content/uploads/imho-article-hudis-20120827.pdf
Reich, Robert. (2013). Global Capitalism and the State. Retrieved from http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/17512-focus-global-capital-and-the-nation-state.
Robinson, William, I. (2011). Global rebellion: The coming chaos? Al Jazeera. December 4. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/11/20111130121556567265.html
Robinson, William, I. (2011a). Global capitalism and 21st century fascism. AlJazeera. May 8. Retrieved from: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2011/04/201142612714539672.html
Sotiris, Panagiotis. (2013). The New ‘Age of Insurrections’ is Far From Over! Wednsesday, June 5. Radiobubble.gr Retrieved from:
Samuel Day Fassbinder, Ph.D. (The Ohio State University, 1998) is a political blogger (http://www.dailykos.com/blog/cassiodorus) and a “Visiting Professor of English” with DeVry University Online. His most important work, however, is in the volunteer time he puts in with the Pomona College Natural Farm. He can be reached at Cassiodorus.firstname.lastname@example.org .