In Praise of Red October
The political leaders of the largest economies (the G8) rule principally to preserve and extend the growth of capitalist ‘market civilization’: an energy intensive, consumerist, individualist form of corporate-dominated development that is found in the USA, and to a lesser or greater extent, emulated throughout the world. This form of development has produced deepening inequality and an unsustainable assault on the ecology of the planet. Such dominant practices of global politics have served to maintain the prerogatives of a global plutocracy, whilst inequality deepens to levels last seen during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
In this situation, G8 leaders claim they have ‘expertise’ to stabilize and promote economic growth and to master crises – a claim now widely challenged. Indeed, while they have been preoccupied with saving capitalism, their policies simply worsen the fundamental crises of welfare, livelihood and social reproduction that afflict a majority of the world’s population, e.g. global health, food, energy and ecological crises.
Also, we might note that in responding to crises, G8 political leaders have (a) frequently drawn on their unholy alliances with authoritarian and dictatorial forces, particularly in much of the Third World; (b) sought to maintain a condition of de-politicization and political apathy, and, where necessary (c) to channel and incorporate forms of resistance.
In sum, the strategy of dominant forces has been to contain fundamental political contestation on the nature and purposes of rule, allowing them to continue to promote the market civilization model or ‘really existing capitalism’. This strategy has worsened what I call a global organic crisis, indeed, we may be at a turning point in the destiny of humankind and the planet.
However, in several parts of the world, this neoliberal governing formula of authoritarianism and/or controlled electoral democracy/de-politicization is increasingly coming under popular, grassroots pressure.
What is emerging in response is complex and uneven. Many communities in both north and south experience dispossession and intensified exploitation, others are still relatively protected from such oppression. On the one hand there is a rise in right-wing populism and right-wing reaction, e.g. the Tea Party movement in the US; on the other hand, many have noted that there has been little from the left in the largest capitalist economies – at least until recently.
If we think more globally, however, I think we can discern the outlines of what I have called a ‘post modern Prince’ – a set of progressive conceptions of the world, organized resistance and differentiated political potentials that are developing in the plural, albeit unevenly and, in a variety of contexts. These self actualising potentials are reflected in a variety of radically democratic practices, interpret dominant power as supremacy or as ‘dominance without hegemony’ and they challenge the mantra that there is no alternative to neo-liberal capitalism. We can identify the post-modern Prince as a set of potentials and forces in movement and in formation, with no fixed organizational structure as such. What it is important to emphasize is how this process is producing innovations in thought and action which are directly linked to the actual practices of local, regional and global politics.
A good example is grassroots organisations such as the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil, which forms part of the small farmer’s world political organization Via Campesina, whose motto is ‘small famers can feed the world and cool the planet’. The champion a localized, agro-organic and small scale conception of farming and the distribution of food, and it opposes the corporate dominance of agriculture and the world market for food, or ‘food from nowhere’, in a world where over a billion people are starving and where global food prices have massively increased over the past decade, making the world market the new arbiter of starvation for billions of people.
There are also new configurations of interstate power emerging such as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA). Such configurations reject North American and Western imperialism and interventionism, as well as neoliberal capitalism in favour of new forms of ‘21st century socialism’ based on regional solidarity and new concepts of military defence that are linked to egalitarian concepts of development. ALBA reflects an effort to promote social justice, the recognition of the ‘rights of the rightless’ (e.g. indigenous communities), a politics of human dignity and redistribution, and not least, the agro-ecological notions of food sovereignty associated with Via Campesina.
In short, new forms of political and civil society are emerging in Latin America; and indeed, such developments are increasingly institutionalized in government. Can this be emulated elsewhere? The ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011 involved the relatively spontaneous emergence of democratic communities of resistance to authoritarianism, dictatorship and the intensification of capitalist disciplines and inequalities. Relatively spontaneous but nonetheless organized resistance to such forces is also growing quickly across Europe and, for the first time since the 1960s, across the United States, with the recent and apparently spontaneous occupations of key urban spaces of capital that began with Occupy Wall Street (OWS). The occupations and demonstrations are now spreading throughout the US and Canada, and indeed to many other parts of the world. OWS protagonists take inspiration from the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings and claim that they reflect the 99% of the American population which is being oppressed by the 1% that constitutes the ruling class and plutocracy. Similar claims have been expounded in many other locations as the groundswell of protest and occupation intensified during October 2011, in ways that have captured the attention of the world.
Can these movements lead to a restructuring of global power structures? This is still an open question. Nonetheless, what seems to be reflected in the Red October occupations is a collective rather than an individual effort to foster new forms of knowledge, modes of communication and culture that visually and conceptually contest the prevailing neo-liberal common sense that there is no alternative to the growth-oriented and ecologically myopic mentality of market civilization. This ‘common sense’ is endlessly repeated and reinforced by the dominant organs of communication. But is this common sense also ‘good sense’? This is the question that is posed by the Occupy (99%) movements (comprising people of all ages, backgrounds, various religious persuasions, occupations and political aspirations) and their answer is a resounding ‘no!’
Indeed, in so far as such critiques of neo-liberal common sense are part of a collective and democratic process involving broad social forces on a mass basis, it constitutes an event of great philosophical and political significance:
For a mass of people to … think coherently and in the same coherent fashion about the real present world is a ‘philosophical’ event far more important and ‘original’ than the discovery is by some philosophical ‘genius’ of a truth which means that remains the property of a small group (Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks, my emphasis).
This may be a clue to the significance of Red October.
For images of the Occupy encampments and protests throughout the world see:
So what are the achievements of Occupy and the movements of Red October? First, Occupy is breaking the shackles of a political common sense restricted by ‘horizons of necessity’: the minimalist notion that the future must necessarily be more or less like the past, that there is no alternative to rule of the 99% by the 1%. Second, Occupy reflects the formation of new ‘horizons of desire’, in the plural, its forces are collectively imagining desirable and possible futures; rendering necessary what had previously thought to be politically impossible.*
* On these horizons see Richard Falk, ‘Horizons of Desire.’ Opening address to conference: The Future of Global Governance? York University, Toronto, 25 May 2011. The lecture can be viewed on: http://www.yorku.ca/lefutur/.