The Corrosion of Medicine: Can the Profession Reclaim Its Moral Legacy?

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Rising healthcare costs are often erroneously blamed on the escalating costs of nursing care, new technologies, development of new drugs and an aging population. In his newest book, The Corrosion of Medicine: Can the Profession Reclaim Its Moral Legacy?, Dr. John Geyman presents well documented proof that the real cause of escalating healthcare costs is free market capitalism.

Over the past 40 years, healthcare has evolved from a morals and service-based, social contract into a marketplace controlled by corporations to create profit for shareholders. Like pork bellies and wheat, healthcare has been reduced to a commodity for sale on the open market. Geyman quotes Richard Scott, co-founder, chairman, CEO and president of Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corporation,

“Do we have an obligation to provide healthcare for everybody? Where do we draw the line? Is any fast-food restaurant obligated to feed everyone who shows up?”

Kickbacks, referral income, profits from investing in their own facilities, financial incentives for cutting costs and gifts from drug, medical device and medical supply companies have lulled the majority of physicians into complacency. The Hippocratic oath has been rewritten to read, “First, do make profits.” Geyman cites seven HMO CEOs who, in 2003 alone, earned up to a healthy $50.9 million.

Private insurance industry lobbyists have managed to limit the government’s healthcare debate to an argument over which insurance corporations will receive the biggest windfall.

Meanwhile, lower-income people needing care are increasingly marginalized and left behind, as hospitals and specialty medical centers make their escape to affluent suburbs and insurance carriers find ways to cherry-pick people without high-dollar health risks.

“The costs of care have become increasingly unaffordable for at least one-half of the US population. The Institute of Medicine has found that 8 million uninsured people with chronic disease have increased morbidity and worse outcomes, that 18,000 Americans die prematurely every year, and that the costs of diminished health and shorter life spans amounts to between $65 and $130 billion each year,” Geyman writes.

This profiteering has also gutted public health programs throughout the nation. Geyman writes, “… more affluent insured Americans will find themselves as vulnerable as their lower-income and uninsured counterparts when trauma and burn centers have closed due to lack of funding or when a newly drug-resistant infectious disease spreads throughout the entire population without regard to socioeconomic groups.”

Geyman concludes that the only solution to America’s healthcare woes is a single-payer system of health insurance, i.e. national health insurance or Medicare for all.

Geyman organizes and substantiates his arguments within four sections:

I. How medicine arose as a moral enterprise.

II. The invasion of the business ethic.

III. How conflicts of interest sell patients short.

IV. Reclaiming medicine’s moral credibility.

Geyman ends the lengthy, well-documented work on a note of hope. However, the writer of this review has little expectation that the industrial healthcare complex will revert to an equitable, morals-based enterprise as long as free market capitalism reigns as the underlying economic force within these United States.

John Geyman, The Corrosion of Medicine: Can the Profession Reclaim Its Moral Legacy?, (Common Courage Press, 2008).

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The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism

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In some ways the information in Naomi Klein’s newest book is not all that new, but she presents the information in a fresh way that helps readers see the link between militarism and capitalism. One of the things about capitalism that even Marx did not foresee was its ability to evolve and adapt. In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein dissects the most recent manifestation of capitalism and why it is so important for those who care about justice to make the connections between US military activity and globalization.

Klein begins her book by discussing a visit to Gail Kastner, a woman who was a “patient” of Dr. Ewen Cameron, a CIA asset who was working on a project in Canada. Cameron believed that if you were able to erase the mind of previous thoughts and beliefs that you could build it back up with a “proper mindset,” to create citizens who would be more obedient. This mind control project that Cameron was involved in was similar to the MKUltra program, another mind control project that the CIA orchestrated, which was discovered during the Church Committee Hearings in 1975. Most of the MKUltra documents have since been declassified.

The author then makes the connection to the work of Dr. Cameron and Milton Friedman. Friedman, who is now credited with being the father of what has become known as the Chicago Boys, believed a perfect economic system could be created from scratch. In order to do this government would have to eliminate any and all rules and regulations that interfere with the market, the government should sell off any assets, and they should drastically reduce funding for social programs. In many ways, Friedman and his colleagues were responding to the social contract that came about after the Great Depression, where working people pushed the US government to adopt policies that supported workers and the social programs. Friedman felt that if the free market was to be truly liberated from these constraints that it would be best to start from scratch, or at a minimum eliminated government protections. However, there was a problem. How can you create conditions for this experiment to work?

According to Klein, the first real opportunity was with the country of Chile. In 1956, hundreds of Chilean students came to Chicago to be educated. Years of training and placing these new foot soldiers in Chile did not have the result that Friedman had hoped for. In fact, the country went in the opposite direction by electing a socialist candidate, Salvador Allende, to lead the country. Not only was the election of Allende unacceptable to the Nixon administration, it provided the perfect opportunity for the economic shock doctrine that Friedman had so desperately been trying to apply in Chile. A CIA coup overthrew the Allende government on September 11, 1973 and put in power the brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet. Friedman himself came to Chile in order to oversea the shock doctrine. Friedman in many ways became an economic advisor to Pinochet, but the outcome is not what they expected. Despite the application of the shock doctrine, unemployment and inflation rose in Chile and the only way to impose this model was through a terror campaign that used torture, murder, and disappearance as tactics to keep the population in check. Some sectors did benefit from this model, primarily foreign investors and corporations. In fact, the shock doctrine worked so well for the capitalist class that the Chilean model was exported to other countries like Brazil and Uruguay. The rest of the book recounts the places that this shock doctrine has been imposed, places like Poland, Russia, South Africa, Indonesia and Iraq.

What makes this book important, especially now, is that it provides us with an analysis of what is really behind the US occupation of Iraq. Since Iraq possesses such tremendous oil wealth, the US and the capitalist class have been trying to figure out ways to control such wealth. The 1991 Gulf War was the first wave of this campaign and was quickly followed by economic sanctions. The slow strangulation of Iraq was not adequate for the Bush administration so an outright invasion was necessary in order to implement an economic model that would transfer Iraq’s wealth to foreign and US investors. This transformation has taken place in two main areas: first, under the control of Paul Bremer Iraq’s constitution was rewritten to the benefit of foreign investors and secondly, much of the US occupation has been privatized through the US of mercenary soldiers and contracts to private companies for services formerly preformed by the US military. Klein has been writing about the economic aspect of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq since the beginning, but for the most part, the US anti-war sectors have not paid much attention.

The other part of the book that breaks new ground is how Klein exposes the implementation of the shock doctrine after “natural disasters.” The kind of clean slate that Friedman and other shock doctrine proponents dream of have been facilitated in places like Katrina and Sri Lanka. The Tsunami and hurricane Katrina were able to create conditions that allowed the shock doctrine practitioners to go to work in New Orleans, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Klein documents that one of the responses after both disasters was to privatize numerous public services, such as education in New Orleans. The leveling of fishing villages in Sri Lanka has allowed the capitalist class, with the help of the government, to construct new tourist facilities on land that once provided a livelihood for hundreds of small fishing communities. These practices have caught the attention of lots of folks in the global corporate community so much that disaster capitalism has become the topic of numerous conferences, some of which Klein has attended.

There are also chapters on how the US and Israeli economies are becoming increasingly tied to disaster capitalism. The chapter on Israel is interesting in that it exposes how much of the Israeli economy is driven by militarism and “security.” In fact, Israel has gotten so good at developing security/surveillance technology that it is now exporting this technology abroad. In the US, the post-9/11 homeland security craze has fostered a tremendous growth in security/surveillance technology and consulting. One statistic that reflects this boom in security profits in the US has to do with the amount of new security-oriented lobby firms now in the US. According to Klein, prior to 2001 there were 2 security-oriented lobby firms, but by 2006 there were 543.

The book ends with a chapter on how some communities and countries have been resisting this shock doctrine. There is heavy emphasis on Latin America, a topic, which has been explored in other book recently, particularly Dispatches from Latin America, but popular resistance to the shock doctrine could be explored in greater detail. The Shock Doctrine is an important book for those who want to fight disaster capitalism and the timing of its release couldn’t be at a better time for those who want to understand what drives the current wars and policies of this country.

Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, (Metropolitan Books, 2007).

The Meaning of Marxism

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Paul D’Amato’s The Meaning of Marxism is an important contribution to Marxism and the left in general. While many dismiss Marxism as a dead theory, D’Amato uses insight gained as the managing editor of International Socialist Review to argue for the revolutionary transformation of society from below.

The Meaning of Marxism is an easy to read introduction to the complexities of Marxist thought, a feat that is an accomplishment in and of itself. D’Amato skillfully presents the intricacies of Marxist theory and analysis in a manner that is easy to understand. He explores the origins of Marxism, Marx’s materialist method, and Marx’s view of history, while explaining Marx’s insights into how capitalism functions. Throughout the text, D’Amato incorporates Marxists who have expanded on Marx’s original analysis and weaves in contemporary examples of the relevance of Marxism. In an appendix, D’Amato offers an extensive list of additional readings for those wishing to further investigate Marxism.

The book’s major strength is its argument that a revolutionary transformation is a necessity in contemporary society. Whereas many writing on Marxism focus on narrow ideological or historical debates, D’Amato draws upon Marxism to offer a compelling argument for radical social change. In addressing a variety of topics ranging from poverty to racism, D’Amato explains the relevance of Marxism to contemporary social movements seeking to eradicate systems of oppression. The book convincingly argues that capitalism is at the base of many of these systems of oppression and that it benefits from the continued functioning of racism and sexism. These arguments are coupled with extensive citations of statistics on wealth and poverty both at the national and international effort, that support the D’Amato’s assertions that society produces enough for everyone and that inequalities are due to capitalism.

Of course, the major weakness of the book is its raison d’etre–its advocacy of Marxism. Marxism has been repeatedly attacked and criticized from both the right and the left for the past hundred years and has largely failed as a means of transforming society. D’Amato’s defense of Lenin–despite his repudiation of Stalinism, Maoism, and the ultimate outcomes of the Russian Revolution of 1917–will likely not sit well with many readers coming to the text from an anarchist or anti-Marxist perspective. Moreover, while there is some defense of Bolshevism, there is little discussion of how Marxist parties operate within contemporary social movements. Nevertheless, the book promotes a less sectarian and authoritarian form of Marxism and indeed such a theory is a legitimate framework to consider.

In a similar vein, the chapter “But What about…? Arguments against Socialism” is useful for Marxists and other leftists who face the inevitable questions about the feasibility of the revolutionary transformation of society. D’Amato presents well-constructed counter-arguments to frequent arguments against socialism or anti-capitalism, taking on the idea that capitalism is more efficient than socialism, that people are naturally competitive, that the United States is predominately middle class, and that the working class no longer exists.

D’Amato’s The Meaning of Marxism is a helpful introduction to both those seeking more information about Marxism as well as those seeking to enhance their understanding of the various “left” theories of social transformation. It is easily readable and understandable, making it an essential introduction to Marxism.

Paul D’Amato, The Meaning of Marxism, (Haymarket Books, 2006).

Protests in Germany in Advance of G8 Summit

In Germany, protests have begun against the against the G8 (Group of 8) meeting that will take place later this week. Protestors, calling the G8 “a self-appointed informal world government,” mobilized 80,000 people before the start of the meeting under the themes “Make Capitalism History” and “Another World is Possible.”

g8 protest photo - make capitalism history

In advance of the G8 (Group of 8) Summit beginning on Wednesday in Heiligendamm, Germany, thousands of protestors took to the streets in Rostock, Germany on Saturday. While the corporate media in the United States and around the world has focused on the “violent” clashes between police and several thousand “black bloc” anarchists, the marches featured protestors from a variety of different backgrounds highlighting the problems of empire and capitalism. Two separate marches under the themes “Make Capitalism History” and “Another World is Possible” united for a demonstration and rally that organizers estimated at 80,000. Police violence was widespread and focused on the entire protest, not just the militant element.

Although not mentioned in the corporate media’s focus on violence, organizers of the June 2nd demonstration issued a statement explaining why they were protesting the G8:

At the beginning of June 2007, the governments of the seven most important industrialised countries and Russia will meet for the ‘G8 Summit’ at the Baltic seaside resort of Heiligendamm. The ‘Group of 8’ (G8) is an institution without legitimacy. Nevertheless, as a self-appointed informal world government, they make decisions which affect the whole of humanity. The policies of the G8 stand for a neoliberal globalisation and deregulation, economic policies oriented towards the capital returns of international financial investors and companies.

  • Every five seconds, a child dies somewhere in the world from hunger. More than 800 million people are chronically malnourished. Primarily responsible are unjust world trade policies, forwarded by the rich industrialised countries within the G8 and other international institutions.
  • Despite the whole-hearted promises of the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005, until now only a small proportion of the debt of Southern countries has been cancelled.
  • Through their promotion of liberalisation and privatisation, the G8 have not only increased poverty in the global South, but also in the industrialised countries. The worldwide plundering of raw materials and other natural resources is being accelerated.
  • At the same time as the rich industrialised countries seal themselves off from refugees and migrants, those who nevertheless arrive are illegalised and exploited as cheap labourers without rights.
  • The G8 states are the biggest destroyers of the climate. They are alone responsible for 43% of worldwide CO2 emissions as well as being in favour of a renaissance of nuclear energy, which we decidedly reject.
  • The G8 states are responsible for 90% of worldwide weapons exports and a new era of war for raw materials. They are the leaders of a world order based on war, which leads to migration, displacement, new hate and violence in many countries.

The world shaped by the dominance of the G8 is a world of war, hunger, social divisions, environmental destruction and barriers against migrants and refugees. At our mass demonstration on 2 June 2007 in Rostock, we want to protest against this and show the alternatives. Together with millions of people around the world we say: Another World Is Possible!

  • For the immediate cancellation of illegitimate debt and comprehensive debt relief for the countries of the global South!
  • Against the sale of public goods and services – for equal social rights and standards worldwide!
  • For a speedy and radical transfer to renewable energies! Dangerous climate change and further wars for oil and gas reserves can only be prevented through a significant rise in energy efficiency and the transfer to a sustainable economy.
  • For the immediate and permanent abandonment of nuclear energy and for complete worldwide nuclear disarmament!
  • For the showing of solidarity with, and the living together with equal rights, of all people – against every form of racism and fascism!
  • For the overcoming of walls and borders! Against detention camps and deportation!
  • For a peaceful world! End the military imposition of economic and power-political interests through the G8 states!

Globalisation in the interests of the majority of people requires a fair relationship between industrialised and developing countries, and means freedom, justice, social security, democracy and the conservation of the planet’s natural resources for the next generation.

Such an alternative globalisation will not result from exclusive and insular summit meetings, but rather from below out of the global movement of people and initiatives who stand up for another, better world. This global movement will make itself heard through numerous actions and events during the G8 Summit. At the International Demonstration on 2 June 2007 in Rostock, we will make the size, strength and diversity of our colourful and broad protests visible.

Protests will continue throughout the week, with plans to blockade the summit to prevent delegates from arriving for the G8 meeting. At past G8 summits in France in 2003 and Scotland in 2005, protestors made extensive efforts to shutdown the summit.

Reports: [en] 1 | 2 | 3

Pics: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14
Video: 1 | 2 | 3

For more information, see g8-tv.org, the G8 protests ticker, and Indymedia Germany.

Commentary: Obituaries you won’t see

Media Mouse has posted Jeff Smith’s column from this month’s issue of West Michigan entertainment magazine, Recoil. In his column Smith examines the recent deaths of Milton Friedman and Augusto Pinochet and looks at how they were “remembered” in the corporate media. Smith writes:

How is it that in a country that claims to have a free press that the media system continues to present only the “official” government version of history or current events? This is an important question, because the government doesn’t own the media in this country, nor do they threaten the press with consequences if they don’t print the “official” position. Here the Press has itself internalized the values of the system and this is a direct result of newsrooms being driven by stock market instead of democracy.

Read “Obituaries you won’t see”

An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire

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An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire is Arundhati Roy’s latest collection of essays, most of which are the text of speeches given at various speaking engagements around the world. Roy continues to be one of the more eloquent voices on the “left” continually exposing injustice and encouraging resistance in a manner that moves far beyond the typically dry nature of most political commentary. In An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, Roy is able to weave together a variety of struggles and demonstrate how they are a consequence of the same “neo-liberal project,” that is being led by the United States. For Roy, there are signs of resistance around the world, and recognizing that the United States is the center of the Empire, argues that it is essential for the resistance to empire to begin in the United States. Throughout the book Roy comes back to the fact that civil society in the United States is more powerful than the government and highlights the, albeit symbolic, opposition to the invasion of Iraq; retaining a sense of optimism that few opponents of empire in the United States can maintain amidst the ongoing difficulties in organizing effective opposition to the war and providing inspiration to continue in the struggle against empire.

Much of the book focuses on unmasking the way in which empire is maintained and “sold” to the public, as Roy skillfully deconstructs and demythologizes the rhetoric of empire that pervades the political discussion in the United States. The corporate media, which as most people in the United States should know, exists primarily as a vehicle to sell products and the official policies of the United States government, is skillfully singled out by Roy as being complicit in the development of empire. According to Roy, “it is a mistake to think that the corporate media supports the neo-liberal project, it is the neo-liberal project…the chosen medium of those who have power and money,” identifying the fact that the corporate media is a direct beneficiary of the current system and will always function in a way that maintains the status quo. In empire, just like in the corporate media, facts really do not matter, and the distortions about the Iraq war—that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, that Iraq was linked to 9/11, and that the United States must fight “the terrorists” in Iraq or in the streets of the United States, all of which are adopted by those in power and sold to the public by the corporate media. Empire is maintained by describing all opposition as “terrorist” and maintaining that resistance to the United States project of “democracy,” which Roy effectively describes as simply a euphemism for neo-liberal capitalism, is an “act of terrorism,” the United States has been able to maintain its empire.

An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire is what its name implies–a well-written book that both captures the essence of the new United States empire and highlights the hope of resistance that may eventually be able to defeat the empire. At only a 118 pages, it is a quick and enjoyable read and is highly recommended for anyone living in the United States and seeking a major change in both the United States and in its role in the world.

Arundhati Roy, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, (South End Press, 2004).

Whose Trade Organization?

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For many people, the protests at the Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) was the first time they heard of the WTO and its agenda. However, activist and public interest groups such as Public Citizen had been monitoring the General Agreement on (GATT) for years and, consequently, have since followed the actions of the WTO. Following the Seattle WTO protests there has been a wealth of information published about the WTO, although much of it has been published in a variety of different sources and mediums, sometimes making it difficult to easily find information on all the different aspects of the WTO and the implications of its policies and rulings. Whose Trade Organization?: A Comprehensive Guide to the World Trade Organization, Second Edition remedies this problem, putting together a wealth of information on all the various components of the WTO–environmental policy, intellectual property provisions, agricultural rules, the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS), and numerous other WTO sections–in an easy-to-read and well indexed volume.

Whose Trade Organization systematically goes through the major and minor provisions of the WTO, grouping them into chapters focusing on the environment, food safety, labor, human rights, agriculture, and other such topics. Throughout these broadly focused chapters, the authors present detailed analyses of the various components of the WTO. The authors examine the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property rules, the WTO Committee on Trade and Environment (CTE), the General Agreement on Trades and Services (GATS), the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA), the Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement, and other components of the WTO, conclusively demonstrating that the WTO is both an oppositional and unaccountable agent in the lives of people around the world, both in the “developed” and “underdeveloped” world.

In addition to the breadth of its content, Whose Trade Organization’s other major strength is the quality of its information and research. Whereas much of the information circulating in activist circles regarding the WTO is presented in very vague ways, Whose Trade Organization discusses the specific sections of the WTO and how they will negatively affect people and the environment, often citing the text of relevant WTO documents. For example, when discussing the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary Agreement (SPS), the authors explain how the agreement’s function is to set criteria that WTO member nations must follow regarding their domestic policies affecting trade and protection of life and health in food and sets parameters on domestic policies regarding livestock and fisheries. The authors then go on to explain how the primary goal of the SPS is to increase and facilitate trade by eliminating differences in food, animal, and plant regulations among WTO member counties–a goal that undermines countries capacity to craft protective policies by making domestic regulations and their enforcement the subject of WTO review. Additionally, each chapter contains case studies that show the WTO policies in action and describe how they work to undermine democratic government.

Whose Trade Organization is an indispensable resource for anyone involved in the anti-corporate globalization movement, as well as a great introduction to anyone curious about why there has been so much attention focused on the WTO in recent years.

Lori Wallach and Patrick Woodall, Whose Trade Organization?: A Comprehensive Guide to the World Trade Organization, Second Edition, (The New Press, 2004).

From Classroom Radicals to Transforming Society: An Imperative Shift

Reprinted from Freedom Toast (April 2003)

“Our dreams are their nightmares” (1)

As we contemplate our futures after the university, it is important that those of us who have an interest in changing society do not completely ignore what it was learned during our time at the university. The lessons learned in our classes—the systemic problems that need to be changed, the techniques for changing these problems learned in our activism, and our idealism all must be retained if we are to have any effect on the world around us (2). For the majority of students, graduate school or a “nine-to-five” career are the two choices offered by society, both of which integrate the student into the very system that they spent much of their college years fighting against. For many “radicals,” graduate school is the more attractive alternative, and for good reason. It gives the student the chance to study what they want and provides them with the university environment in which radical ideas are traditionally encouraged and supported. While some good may come out of graduate school, to a large extent graduate school is a way of pacifying “radicals”–isolating them in the university environment during the years in which they are most energetic and preparing them for university teaching jobs in which they will be further removed from the everyday experience of the majority in society, jobs in which they will play the role of the “token radical professor”–a professor talking about the changes that need to be made but unable to put forth the time needed to bring these changes. Anyone making a serious attempt at being “radical” will no doubt reject the notion of a career as a means of instigating revolutionary change, but some “radicals” are seduced by the prospect of “working within the system.” We must not fall into the common trap of “radical student,” radical only until we can get a high paying job in order to afford a luxury car, or even worse, until we can become integrated into the system under the inane notion of “working within the system” a phrase that is nothing more than a euphemism for selling out everything that we have worked towards (3). The system is setup to handle challenges from within and thrives off the labor of those who have been convinced that they can change things by working from within–there is no way one can change anything by having a career, no matter how much one tries to justify their decision (4). Our post-university experience cannot simply be integration into the capitalist system, a system responsible for the conditions we fought against during our university activism, post-university action must involve a concerted effort to break from and abolish the system of ruthless competition and dehumanization brought forth by capitalism (5).

The most radical thing we can undertake is to change the world–a change that will entail the complete destruction of existing forms of power and oppression. As Bakunin said, “the passion for destruction is also a creative passion,” and we must destroy the existing forms of power and oppression, existing both within ourselves and within society, in order to unleash the creativity necessary to build the world of our dreams (6). How do we go from the nightmarish reality of contemporary society into a world that will allow for the shift from existence into the realm of life? It is impossible to say, and indeed anyone that tries to “sell” you the proper way to bring about change, whether in a book or a pompous newspaper articles, should be ignore. Any movement to bring about changes of this magnitude must be instigated by the people seeking a better life. However, one thing is certain—such changes will never come about by working within the system. It is essential that we oppose the system by refusing to participate in the activities that reproduce its power–consumerism, careers, and politics. It would of course doom “radicals” to complete irrelevancy if they abandoned the current system entirely, as nothing is more marginal than a small number of “radicals” engaged in a futile project to destroy capitalism, but at the same time, one must never be seduced by the prospect of “working within the system.” Instead, the system should be approached only in terms of how its products and its existence can be used to undermine its control. To this end, the idea of “dual power” or “building a new society within the shell of the old” is essential–the system must be milked for whatever can be obtained from it, but we must never forget that our ultimate goal is its destruction. In practical terms, this means accepting the fact that we cannot be “anti-capitalist” if we reinforce the system daily by purchasing worthless products, we cannot be “against sexism” if we continue to operate under sexist assumptions, or worse, advocate a sexist “division of labor” in our activities, just as we cannot not be “revolutionaries” if we simply read books about past revolutions without doing anything about the current society.

So, where do we go from here? Wherever we want! We must live in pursuit of dreams—and actually pursue them–not holding on to this idea of “pursuing our dreams” in the same sense that it is conveyed on Hallmark cards or promised by Nike if you buy their new shoes. We all know that a new sports car cannot truly bring about freedom and to this end we must look at the values used to sell you their products, in this case freedom, and work towards true freedom. After all it is true freedom that we want, the freedom to control our own lives and act in pursuit of our dreams–not the false freedom offered by a new car. To achieve this, we need to shift from the idea of “what is possible” or “what is realistic” (two great phrases used by activists to render themselves useless) to the question of “what we want.” The “possible” and the “realistic” assumes that there are only certain things which can be achieved within this system—and indeed there are–but it is no way to effectively attack the systems to which we desire to change as the “possible” and “realistic” leaves out all possibility of change that comes from outside the system. If we begin our activism from the position of what is “possible” or “realistic” we have already set ourselves up for a certain level of defeat, as the system only allows the change that it wants. Imagine the best possible world that could be created within the confines of the system compared with the world that could be created by people committed to making it so that everyone was free to pursue their dreams and desires–the later is infinitely more beautiful and more than worth the work it will take to create.

But this is not possible “the liberals” argue–one must work within the system, it is our only way of “changing” society. Oh how mistaken they are–by working within the system, we support the system, the system will never allow anything else. In the aforementioned paragraphs, it was explained that one should not ignore the system entirely, but to put all of our hopes for change into the system will only guarantee our failure. The only way things can be challenged is by working towards the world we want to see. While this may sound like irrelevant and idealistic rambling, it really is true. When we make our dreams our goals, we unleash the only force capable of improving society. The “liberals” will argue that this is nonsense and that the only way to achieve our goals is through “reform,” but after all, they have been too integrated into the system to realize that there are chances for actually changing the society and we have seen what they have done–social programs that are decimated by budget cuts a few years after they are passed. But how does this, or can it, actually work for activist groups? Surprisingly, it is possible to pursue activist goals on the premise of “what we want” without becoming bogged down in self-important rhetoric without actually changing things. In Canada, a country similar to the United States in terms of its capitalist development, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has been operating since 1990 with the goal of “eliminating poverty,” a goal that bypasses liberal “reforms” and attacks the system that creates poverty. OCAP seeks to mobilize poor and homeless people to fight back, through militant and direct action, against the system responsible for the creation of poverty. Through a variety of tactics, OCAP has pursued its mission to “fight to win” against those that hold economic and political power, and as a result, they have won numerous victories—victories that have not been achieved by asking what the system allows (7). OCAP is just one example of the successes that can be won when activists actually get serious. The numerous squatted social centres in Europe provide another example–rather than waiting for low-cost housing, people have taken over abandoned buildings and made them community spaces. Furthermore, the 1999 shutdown of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle was certainly not considered “realistic” or “possible,” but that did not stop people from using direct action to achieve what they wanted. We can win (and indeed we may only be able to win) if we start from the position of what we want, not from what is possible.

For this to work, we are going to need to start by reevaluating the basic assumptions that structure our lives. For starters, we do not need to choose a career after college; we can chose not to work in a traditional job. We can achieve, and indeed deserve, much more than integration into a work force designed to support ritualistic consumption. Getting a long without a “career” may seem difficult at first, but in the end, it is the only option that will allow us to take control of our lives. Imagine the revolutionary potential of a whole generation of people learning to love and live without the constraints of the 9 to 5 job. We will have the capability to change the world, not only through collective action and mutual aid, but also by being able to relate to people as people. Freed from the cycle of work and consumption, which pits neighbors against neighbors and forces relationships to be evaluated in terms of “cost benefit analysis,” we will actually be able to appreciate and cultivate what is truly beautiful about humanity. The critics will no doubt argue that if everyone withdrew from the system of work and consumption that the entire capitalist system would break down–but such a break is exactly what we should be seeking, as this destruction will be the final step that allows for the creation of a new world.

So how are we going to do it? We need to start by actually being serious and not just talking all the time about what we want to do–we need to actually do something. Moreover, it is naïve to think that this will not require a large amount of work, indeed it will, but at least it will not be the “work” that we are forced to do to get by under capitalism. We need to reorganize our lives on the principles of mutual aid–helping others in anyway we can. We can trade labor, trading or donating our skills in bike repair, while the people that know plumbing help us, volunteering to do childcare, or whatever else. We can live lives without careers if we shift our emphasis in life from competition to cooperation, no longer will we be stuck in a stage of existence, separated from authentic life. We can plant gardens and share the fruits of our labor with those around us. We can get along without needing to fear those around us. We can truly love our friends and neighbors without constantly measuring our status against theirs. We can create new institutions that will provide alternatives to capitalism, while also working to improve the existing institutions, as long as we remain aware of the fact that the old institutions are merely temporary improvements and that our ultimate goal is to create a new world with new institutions. So let’s work towards what we want, not what is possible–we have a new society to create.

Notes

(1) Graffiti from the walls of occupied Nanterre University, May 1968.

(2) However, I do think a good argument could be made that we should forget much of what we learned in school, especially as it relates to writing in a manner that alienates the majority of the population. Moreover, the opposition to the current system on a theoretical basis, which is fostered in a variety of departments, must be abolished. We can only change the system by action, never by theoretical babbling. Even this paper is a pointless exercise unless it motivates its readers and authors to put it down and actually do something about the conditions we hate.

(3) If you see your post-university “activism” involving a job “working within the system” you might as well drop out of radical politics now, because you will not do shit.

(4) We should pursue a strategy of “dual power” to destroy the system–working within it to gain temporary improvements while also creating institutions which will replace it and eventually render it useless.

(5) This is not to say that I am naïve enough to think that my post-college activities will bring about the end of capitalism–that would be absurd. But at least I am willing to try.

(6) Bakunin, http://www.kat.gr/kat/history/Mod/Leaders/Bakunin.htm

(7) For more information on the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, visit their website at http://www.ocap.ca

Global Exploiter DeVos tells his Prostitutes about “Working Hard for what you Wish to Achieve.”

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (July 1995)

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am sick and tired of seeing the DeVos, Van Andel, or Amway name plastered all over Grand Rapids: on its buildings, cultural events, and billboards. Certainly the appear in the local monopoly press often enough, especially to talk about their expanding business, but the recent coverage in the Grand Rapids Press was enough to evoke some personal rage and disgust.

From June 9 through the 11th, there appeared four articles on different aspects of the Amway monopoly. The lead story of June 9 promoted all the others. The Grand Rapids press felt it necessary to give front page coverage to the awful dilemma that faced Amway co-founder Rich DeVos. Should he be in Grand Rapids for the Amway convention on Friday, where ex-president and international terrorist George Bush would be speaking, or at game #2 of the NBA finals in Houston, where his team the Orlando Magic was playing? I’m sure that all of you can relate to this dilemma. It really creates stress in our lives when we have to decide between going to our annual convention with the hopes of continuing to amass wealth at the expense of others or going to a basketball game where we also will amass wealth at the expense of others. What to do! Loyal to his political chum Bush, he stayed in town.

To make matters worse, The Grand Rapids press gave DeVos another platform to promote his version of compassionate capitalism, AKA GREED! On the front page of the sports section of Friday the 10th, DeVos is said to have spoken with his basketball players in the same manner that he speaks to his Amway employees. “I always say a few words, sometimes tell a story, sometimes just say a few things about life and being responsible, and working hard for what you wish to achieve.” One of the great myths that exists in this world is that if you work hard enough you can make it big. Well Rich, what about the millions of African Americans who labored their whole lives, some with minimal pay, most as slaves, and died poor? What about the millions of European immigrants who labored in the factories in this country, fighting to gain minimal rights, only to die poor? What about the millions of Asian and Latin Americans who have labored in the fields to pick our food and died poor? What about the countless women who have raised children, taken care of all the home work, without pay, who died poor? Pulling oneself up by the bootstraps just doesn’t apply in this world. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said “pulling yourself up by the bootstrap doesn’t work if you are barefoot.” Remember, DeVos is also telling these pearls of wisdom to a group of men who get paid hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to play games.

The children I work with, both at my job and in my neighborhood, admire one of the basketball players that DeVos owns, Shaquille O’Neil. They admire him because he is good, but they don’t understand that he is just a commodity to people like DeVos who buy and sell people all the time with their top down economic philosophy. They also have these prostitutes sell for them; the Amway distributors door to door and O’Neil, who recently signed a contract to endorse and promotes Nutrilite products, a subsidiary of Amway. The sad thing is that none of the youth in my neighborhood will be like O’Neal and most probably none of them will sell enough Amway products to make it as big exploiters. What is worse is that Rich DeVos doesn’t give a shit if these children and their families, many of whom will work hard all their lives, die poor.

A small post convention article also appeared in the Grand Rapids Press on June 11. That article ends with more wisdom from the DeVos family. “I do know I see nothing to stop the Amway growth trend. I’m convinced we will see the Amway story mentioned in history as one of the greatest business successes of all time. It is true that the global trend is to Amwayzie the planet, with fewer that “make it” because of the hard work that others do for them, but my perception of history, as well as that of many of the world’s poor, will see Amway as one of the greatest exploiters of all time.