As we pass 1000 deaths in Afghanistan and reach a trillion dollars as the cost of the current wars, we observe memorial day. For the culture of protest it's a time to renew opposition to war and to hear the testimony of those who have died or suffered in war not as appeal to glory but as demand to end it. That testimony in song from past and present wars will be featured on this week's show.
culture of protest thurs 5/27/10 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Karl Marx: "The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie."
Marx's pithy formula is not a bad starting point for understanding the limits of the capitalist state as a vehicle for genuine democracy. It's usually read of course as a powerful critique of capitalist democracy; he was saying that even if the majority-the vast majority-are not capitalists, the state in a capitalist society must be principally concerned with the ‘common affairs' of the capitalist class as a whole. The most important such concern is an economic framework that enables profitable investment. And contrary to infantile rightwing thought, there can't, in fact, be capitalism (a ‘free market' society) without government to provide the infrastructure, make the rules, regulate conflicts, protect property rights and pacify the masses whose demands might infringe on profitability.
Notice subtle implications in Marx's famous statement.
First-the words "common affairs", and ‘whole bourgeoisie". Subtext: a government that favors particular interests at the expense of the whole is dysfunctional.
Second-there are common affairs that the capitalists need to acknowledge and be disciplined by. Pursuit of private greed at the expense of the shared class interest is bad for capitalism as a whole. Capitalists may find regulations, reforms, taxes of many kinds to be onerous, and will typically resist anything that restricts their freedom of action. But the Marxian hypothesis suggests, and actual history indicates, that at least some ruling elite members must propose or back measures deemed crucial for preserving the system-even if some of the wealthy and some firms lose something in the process. So, in the New Deal era, when many such reforms were advanced (including legal protection for labor unions, a minimum wage and federal job programs) FDR was able to get support from some key members of the power elite. This was even more true when LBJ was pushing the Great Society program, proposing major reforms in education, healthcare, urban development, poverty. We new leftists called that kind of reform "corporate liberalism". Work by analysts of power in America like C. Wright Mills, Bill Domhoff, and James Weinstein helped demonstrate in detail the degree to which liberal reforms were designed by and for the maintenance and enhancement of corporate capitalism.
But one trouble with corporate liberalism as a model for maintaining capitalism is its cost. It's a model that assumes for instance that workers in advanced capitalism should be able to be eager consumers-and that means good wages and benefits, and societal support for those unable to work. It assumes that the government should be an active partner with the private sector, providing investments that private capital can't or won't make but are necessary for economic growth. In the US, the biggest partnership is through the military budget, which underwrites many large corporations, and provides a great deal of research (including for example the internet) that can serve as a source of profitability. It also includes public investment in higher education and scientific research, government subsidies of many kinds for energy, and so forth. The corporate liberal model accordingly requires fairly high levels of taxation to help finance itself.
By the 1970s, as the profitability and competitiveness of US manufacturing corporations was threatened by the emerging global economy, both the wage bill and the tax bill for that model was being resisted. Reagan and Thatcher were the political agents for demolishing corporate liberalism, seeking to replace it with the so-called' neo-liberal model.
IN the neo liberal model, government regulation that restricts corporate aggreandizement is removed; rules promoting corporate expansion are encouraged. Taxes on the rich investment class are cut and every means are used to depress the wages and the hopes of working people. A problem with fully implementing the neo-liberal model is the unfortunate voting power available to the working population. A lot of the neo-liberal agenda was enacted nevertheless. It was helpful to that agenda that it was largely endorsed by Clinton and Blair, although their regimes provided some continuing support for what is now called the ‘middle class' (somehow the working class vanished in the midst of all this).
So now we are living in the steadily expanding wreckage inherent in a society dominated by the greed of investors and corporate managers. That kind of domination breeds government fiscal crisis, chronic joblessness, environmental disaster, and a world defined by increasing and profound inequality.
The main hope is to forge a progressive political agenda and strategy that can transform the corporation.
A current definition of such an agenda is suggested in a recent message from MoveOn:
The first step is to bring together millions of people who share our frustration with business as usual in Washington. Change this big will require an honest-to-God people's movement, and this is the right moment for it. There is overwhelming voter anger right now, and the number of people who believe that lobbyists and special interests hold sway is literally without precedent.
The next step is to start kicking out the politicians in both parties who are carrying water for the big banks, the insurance companies, and other lobbies. This election will be a key moment for that, and we've already begun with the Senate primary in Arkansas. But politics is too warped by big money for this strategy to work on its own.
So we're also going draw up a bold blueprint for renewing our democracy: a sweeping set of new rules to limit the influence of big money, corporations and lobbyists. We'll use the approaching election as a lever, to get candidates committed to these reforms-or publicly shame them for siding with Wall Street and other special interests (something few can afford, in this political climate).
We'll make the influence of corporations and lobbyists a key issue in the election and emerge with a mandate to rewrite the rules of our democracy to put regular people back in charge.
As if the biggest problem is corporate lobbying; as if campaign finance rules are the key to change. Such assumptions are very debatable, but we'll need much more far-reaching vision if democracy is to be renewed. I'd like to provoke us to think about a new social model that we might call economic democracy. At the center of that model would be a revisioning of the corporation as a democratic institution. The BP disaster alone hits us with an unrecognized social reality: this company is not a private institution; its investors are hardly its main stake holders; its decisions and actions affect the very lives and future of so many-and these many have no voice in those decisions and little control over those actions.
It is possible to re-imagine the governance of corporations so that workers, communities, consumers would have voice in it. A recent article in the Nation-‘Europe's Answer to Wall Street' by Steven Hill-provides a stimulating introduction to such a re-imagining. We learn that workers elect large numbers of representatives to the board of major European corporations, and that worker ‘co-determination' at the plant level and in the corporation as a whole is now a routine part of corporate decision making. He asks us to imagine the consequences if Wal-Mart were legally required to have a third to a half of its corporate board elected by its employees. In Germany, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, co-determination has made a real difference in terms of workers interests and their productivity.
Below the radar in the US there is in fact a growing movement to redefine the corporation to enable social responsibility. To find out a lot about this please go as soon as you can to the website called ‘community wealth". I don't know how you'll see it, but I was intrigued and inspired by learning about some significant new corporate reforms recently adopted in placed like Maryland and Philadelphia, not to mention the surprising range new economic institutions that are described.
today is the 45th anniversary of the Berkeley teach-in--an event that culminated weeks of similar campus actions that marked the start of the mass movement against the Vietnam war. And it was 35 years ago that the war finally ended. Meanwhile, who did what and how they remember it is still a major cultural and political issue. On tonight's broadcast we'll listen to excerpts from speeches at the Berkeley teach in by movement leaders--Bob Parris Moses, Mario Savio, Paul Potter, Staughton Lynd--interwoven with songs by the protest troubadours of that time, especially Phil Ochs, who sang then and there.
culture of protest 5/20/10 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Those of us who've been calling for determined grassroots mobilization as a key to progressive reform are beginning to see some validation. Most dramatic has been the Senate passage of a series of amendments to the Dodd financial reform bill-amendments authored by the most progressive Senators. Bernie Sanders (the one avowed socialist in national politics) proposed an audikt of the Federal Reserve Board and this got unanimous support. Al Franken proposed significant regulation of credit rating companies (like Moody's). And a series of other proposals providing consumer protections also passed. Bob Kuttner, writing in Huffington Post , suggests that a major reason for this shift has been the brilliant work of the Americans for Financial Reform:
"With a tiny core staff headed by veteran organizer Heather Booth, AFR is out-spent at least a hundred to one by the banking lobby, but its foot soldiers, donated by participating groups, have daily strategy calls, head counts, regular discussions with the administration, and target wavering senators of both parties. AFR, many of whose member organizations in turn connect to millions of people at the grass roots, has emerged as a model of how citizen power can move public opinion and match the power of high finance."
Yesterday a series of street actions, fostered by this coalition, targeted bank headquarters and homes of top bank executives. Headline in the Washington Post: Hundreds of Protesters Shut Down Bank of America Branch. These are the latest in a series of actions mobilized by labor and citizens action groups that have rallied large crowds at banks and other financial centers. These actions haven't had the national publicity that smaller Tea Party theatricals have received. But as Kuttner tells us, they're manifestations of a highly effective and multi-pronged grassroots effort.
Meanwhile, California Gov. Arnold just released a revised budget for the state. One of the revision's features is that it restores funding for higher education and student financial aid that had been cut in the first version of the budget. There can't be much doubt that this change is a response to the months of student led protest that we've applauded in this space. Truly nauseating is that Arnold proposes to balance the budget by eliminating or drastically cutting the major state programs that provide subsistence aid for poor, disabled and elderly folk. His new budget pretends to maintain k-12 education funding (also a response to widespread grassroots protest) but fails to provide for increased costs. He also now wants to keep state parks open-another issue that had prompted considerable mobilization to protest parks closing.
As we've pointed out here, the grassroots opposition to cuts has not been accompanied by a focused agenda for reform. Now some Democrats in the legislature have begun to talk about plugging corporate tax loopholes, oil severance tax and the like (although good old Jerry Brown redux, campaigning here in Santa Barbara yesterday pointedly failed to mention any tax reform and spoke only of the need to cut spending!) Schwarzenegger claimed that there was ‘no more low hanging fruit' to justify his draconian assault on the poor. But Lenny Goldberg of the California Tax Reform Association six months ago provided a list of "Low Hanging Fruit in the Tax System: 10 Policies for $20 Billion". Read it here. Somehow, we need here in California a coalition patterned after Americans for Financial Reform and we need it now.
Tags: financial reform, California budget, grassroots protest, tax reform
Tonight's Culture of Protest program pays tribute to Lena Horne who died earlier this week. She was one of the most beautiful women in show business history whose sexy sophistication was unparalleled. She had a wonderful voice and honed a remarkable flexibility and range. We'll feature her performance in her tony award winning Broadway show from the early 80s --when she was in her 60s.
Lena Horne would undoubtedly have been a more fully employed superstar if not for her race (so she could never play a full fledged movie role alongside white actors), and her politics (so she suffered in the blacklist era). Obituaries have alluded to her political convictions but have understated her conscious activism. They have also failed to mention her years of residence here in Santa Barbara. She lived in Montecito starting in the early 70s. (When did she leave--please let me know if you have any knowledge about this).
We seem to be living in a nightmare. Disaster after disaster, threatening the natural ecology and the social fabric. Right now-a massive oil spill is killing wildlife and their habitats in the Gulf and threatening truly dire damage. Greece's financial disaster offers a stark choice: an austerity that kills the standard of living and life chances of working and middle class Greeks-or a vast withdrawal of investment from Greece, Portugal, Spain and? Fear of immigrants and terrorists creates fertile ground for police state policy and politics. Volcanic ash clouds reveal the fragility of global connection. Here in California-and all around the world-governments seem paralyzed, as vital services they are supposed to provide are starved and often failing. Obvious needs for reform are blocked or diluted by amazingly selfish interests. Self-evident truths are countered with shameless but widely distributed lies.
It's a nightmare but maybe the confluence of all this opens the possibility of awakening.
It's now 30 years since the start of the ‘Reagan revolution.' For 30 years before that, American political life was structured by what might be called a truce in the class war. In the 30s and 40s, a large scale upsurge in labor movement power, sometimes supported by government leadership, led to what was at the time thought to be a new era in history. The big corporations would finally accept the legitimacy of labor unions that were themselves willing to negotiate contracts that would give their members decent wages and benefits in return for cooperation to improve worker productivity (by accepting automation and long term contracts). A well-paid work force with good healthcare, pensions, vacations would be good for business (as reliable workers and available consumers). Moreover, much of big business would accept the main provisions of the welfare state-social security, unemployment comp, investment in public education, urban renewal.`When I went to college in the fifties, we learned that this postwar deal promised to prevent future depressions and proved Karl Marx wrong about capitalism's potential to raise workers' living standards. Instead of class conflict, we were taught, the new America would be shaped by a partnership among government, business and labor leaderships.
That model (which was carried out even more fully in Western Europe) expanded its scope during the years of LBJ's Great Society. In the 60s, the black rebellion was the fuel for the war on poverty, head start, federal aid to education, Medicare, Medicaid and a host of other programs-all supported significantly by corporate interests as well as the liberal-labor coalition. In Nixon's years, although a fiscal crisis was brewing, new programs that set limits on corporate behavior (clean air, clean water and other environmental laws, for example) passed-again with corporate backing.
In the 70s, as Japanese and German manufacturing began to overtake US products, corporate elites broke with the postwar model. Six years ago, Bill Moyers summed it up: "the class war was declared a generation ago, in a powerful paperback polemic by William Simon, who was soon to be Secretary of the Treasury. He called on the financial and business class, in effect, to take back the power and privileges they had lost in the depression and new deal. They got the message, and soon they began a stealthy class war against the rest of society and the principles of our democracy. They set out to trash the social contract, to cut their workforces and wages, to scour the globe in search of cheap labor, and to shred the social safety net that was supposed to protect people from hardships beyond their control. Business Week put it bluntly at the time: "Some people will obviously have to do with less....it will be a bitter pill for many Americans to swallow the idea of doing with less so that big business can have more."
That sums up the purposes of the Reagan Revolution.
Just as it took a vast economic disaster to create conditions for the New Deal era, so, it appears, have we needed to experience the catastrophic effects of deregulation and corporate domination of policy and politics to see the need for a new social contract. Of course, that's a very optimistic sentence I just wrote. Whose this ‘we' who is ready for change? Unlike the 30s, we haven't yet seen a vast upsurge of people power challenging corporate power.
In this blog over the past few months, I've been trying to point to such possibilities for new movement. And in the past few nightmare weeks, signs of this have been visible. Thousands of people, mobilized by the AFL-CIO and others, descended on Wall Street last week and rallied at a lot of other bank headquarters. Hundreds of thousands marched on May Day in Washington and around the country for immigrant rights and against the Arizona pass law. Meanwhile the entire Greek working class has been in the streets for days protesting the austerity, while in Thailand, a people power uprising is winning its fight with its government.
In the same few days, GOP resistance to the financial reform bill has begun to crumble. Cities in California and many other institutions are taking action to protest the Arizona law. President Obama spoke to 100, 000 at the University of Michigan commencement Here's the theme of his speech:
"When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it conveniently ignores the fact in our democracy, government is us. We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders, change our laws, and shape our own destiny... Here's the point. When we don't pay close attention to the decisions made by our leaders, when we fail to educate ourselves about the major issues of the day, when we choose not to make our voices and opinions heard, that's when democracy breaks down. That's when power is abused. That's when the most extreme voices in our society fill the void that we leave. That's when powerful interests and their lobbyists are most able to buy access and influence in the corridors of power -- because none of us are there to speak up and stop them. Participation in public life doesn't mean that you all have to run for public office -- though we could certainly use some fresh faces in Washington. But it does mean that you should pay attention and contribute in any way that you can. Stay informed. Write letters, or make phone calls on behalf of an issue you care about. If electoral politics isn't your thing, continue the tradition so many of you started here at Michigan and find a way to serve your community and your country -- an act that will help you stay connected to your fellow citizens and improve the lives of those around you."
Soon after, Obama backed away from his earlier endorsement of new offshore drilling in the wake of the Gulf catastrophe-and the whole ‘drill baby drill' campaign may now be derailed.
There's a better chance now that congress will pass a semblance of financial reform, a climate/energy bill, some further job creating measures, and maybe even immigration reform. Every one of these continue to be targets of incredible corporate lobbying to undermine the potential value of these measures, to create loopholes and special deals, to turn reform into boondoggle. In these efforts the lobbies will be aided by the entire GOP and any number of corporate Democrats. Some of the most egregious features of some of these measures maybe can be checked. And what we have reason to hope for when the congress adjourns is that a foundation for more far reaching democratic and progressive advance will have been laid.
More marches and demonstrations will be needed (I still want to see a national demo this fall!) Organizing the Democratic ‘base' will be crucial-and that I think can be done by showing how a Republican resurgence will mean more nightmares.
Santa Barbara and Oil
In Santa Barbara, we're highly conscious of oil spill catastrophe. The Santa Barbara channel blowout of January 1969 was a massive threat to one of the world's most beautiful coastal communities, and we claim to be the first region to create a real grassroots environmental movement in response. That local movement has much influence in local politics and a host of local activists who're as sensitive as anybody about the whole gamut of environmental matters. One of the relative successes of Santa Barbara environmentalism has been a kind of treaty with oil corporations that keeps oil development off shore, and regulates how it's done. But the drilling continues, even at the platform which blew 40 years ago.
A couple of years ago, the leading environmental groups in our region, led by the Environmental Defense center (our amazing full time environmental law firm) achieved an agreement with PXP that, for the first time in history, would compel the END of drilling by an oil company on a date certain, with considerable additional local powers and benefits. The agreement provides that PXP will be allowed to extend its current drilling operations into the so-called Tranquillon Ridge area but would end all its drilling nine years later. The agreement has the support of the entire environmental coalition in our region and all of the leading public officials, most of whom have long records of anti-oil activity. Failure to implement the agreement will allow for continuation of offshore oil drilling indefinitely. It's this agreement that Governor Arnold has just decided to stop supporting, claiming that the Gulf disaster indicates that off shore oil drilling ‘s dangers are greater than its benefits.
The issue is a fraught one in our local political scene. Pedro Nava, our retiring assembly representative (and a long time environmental advocate) has used opposition to the agreement as the center piece of his current campaign for state attorney general. His wife, Susan Jordan, is running for his assembly seat with the same stance as central to her effort. She's opposed by well-known progressive activist Das Williams, who is representing the pro-Tranquillon Ridge agreement forces. To all outsiders, it would seem that opposition to drilling equates to opposition to the agreement. But in reality, if the deal goes down (as it probably will now that the Governor has opposed it) that will guarantee that offshore drilling in Santa Barbara will go on for decades. If you want to learn about EDC's position go here. And to get a flavor of the debate and issues read this report and comments as well.
Tags: corporate power, new deal, great society, off shore oil in Santa barbara
we're beset with a rising tempo of direness: oil spills, police states, financial meltdowns to name a few. Can songs help us cope? This week's program features some such offerings: an array of songs relating to the experience of those migrating across the border, songs drawn from the wreck of the Exxon Valdez, songs to remind us of the Kent state massacre.
culture of protest thurs 5/6/10 6-7pm pdt kcsb 91.9fm www.kcsb.org
Tags: kent state, arizona police state, oil spill songs
Dick Flacks here...sociology professor emeritus at UCSB. Budget cuts mean that I can't continue my annual course on political sociology. Maybe a blog will be a space for me to continue to ruminate and pontificate. And maybe (as a veteran teacher on these matters) I can offer some ways of thinking about what's happening nationally and locally that will be useful, as we struggle to make sense of the tortured complexities of these times.
I've been a leftwing activist for more than 50 years. What we've been struggling for all these years is full democracy--to increase the opportunities for people to have real voice in the decisions that affect them. Step by step over these years we've made some gain...but it is a long march, and one that never ends. The big barrier to democracy in our society is the concentrated power of corporations. At the same time, democracy is undermined by the felt powerlessness of people in their daily lives--the persistent belief that our problems are only our own personal concern. It's a strong cultural theme--such individualism--constantlly reinforced by mass media and everyday circumstance. But the current big crisis of the economy maybe makes it more possible for more people to understand that we've got to have social reform and economic reform. So my writing here is aimed at helping us figure out what to think and act on that so that we can hope for new democratic possibilities. WE'll be talking about the local and the national.
The blog name comes from an old labor union hymn:
Step by step the longest march can be won. Many stones can form an arch...singly none. And by union what we will can be accomplished still. Drops of water turn a mill, singly none, singly none.
For 27 years I've had a weekly radio show on KCSB (91.9 fm. www.kcsb.org) It's called the Culture of Protest. It's comes from my fascination with music and social movements. I collect 'political' and 'protest' music and that's what we play each week (Thursdays 6-7 pm). So sometimes here we'll share and talk about that.
I'm worried about one thing about the blogosphere. And that's the way that some people use the blog comment space for anonymous nastiness. I'm sick of the kind of political blather that assaults the motives of others, and sees dark conspiracy behind every thing one doesn't like. This kind of stuff is helping to poison the political atmosphere. So I'm going to strive for a civil tone to whatever interaction may happen on this blogsite.