|SB313 Global Conflict
Study Guide 3
Robbins, chapter 3, pgs, 65-68, 74-80,93-96
Harman, Imperialism (attached)
Zinn, Revolt of the Guards (attached)
Film: Life and Debt
“The Rise of the Merchant, Industrialist and Capital Controller”
Origins of the modern world system
How did capital come to be concentrated in so few hands and how did the world come to be divided into rich and poor?
Who controls the money?
The origins of “globalization”
Broad historical overview --- the world (especially since 1400 C.E.)
Pre-history (before class)
Rise of civilization
Imperialism in the ancient world
Europe in 1400
Capitalism and merchant trade
Conquest of the Americas
The “golden triangle” (globalization)
The trans-Atlantic slave trade
Age of Revolution
The Industrial Revolution
European imperialism 19th century
British in India
French in Indochina
Africa and the Berlin Conference
Dutch in Congo
U.S. in the Philippines
Everyone in China
The Rise of the Corporation & the Assumptions of Capitalism
Origins of the corporation
Assumptions of capitalism
Sustained economic growth
Role of government
The Balance Sheet
On the positive side
The rule of law
On the negative side
Hunger and poverty
Gap between rich and poor
Disease and access to health care
Racial and religious bigotries
Genocide and ethnocide
Endless resource wars
The Power of Capital Controllers
International institutions favoring capital
Institutions favoring labor
UN and Human Rights
International institutions favoring the environment
Implications for Democracy?
Battle in Seattle
What is to be done?
Excerpt from Chris Harman’s
A People’s History of the World
In 1876 no more than 10 percent of Africa was under European rule.
By 1900 more than 90 percent was colonised. Britain, France and
Belgium had divided the continent between them, leaving small
slices for Germany and Italy. In the same period Britain, France,
Russia and Germany established wide spheres of influence extending
from their colonial enclaves in China; Japan took over Korea and
Taiwan; France conquered all of Indochina; the US seized Puerto
Rico and the Philippines from Spain; and Britain and Russia agreed
to an informal partitioning of Iran. Even the smaller islands of the Pa-
cific and Indian oceans were subject to the dictates of London or
The number of genuinely independent states outside Europe and
the Americas could be counted on the fingers of one hand—the remains
of the Ottoman Empire, Thailand, Ethiopia and Afghanistan.
The mythology conveyed by children’s stories and the novels for
their parents was of intrepid white explorers subduing ignorant but
subsequently grateful ‘natives’—people who were ‘half-devil and halfchild’,
according to Kipling in a poem urging the Americans to emulate
the glories of British colonialism. This mythology depicted the
peoples of Africa and the islands of the Indian and Pacific oceans as
uniformly ‘primitive’, characterised by cannibalism and witchcraft.
In fact, European ‘explorers’ such as Mungo Park in the 1790s and
1800s, and Livingtone and Stanley in the 1850s and 1860s, were
only able to make their famous journeys through Africa because structured
societies and established states existed.
These states had been easily able to deal with the first European attempts at
conquest. In 1880, it is worth remembering, western Europeans had been in regular
maritime contact with the African coast for 400 years—and Indians,
Arabs and Turks had been in contact with whole swathes of the
African interior for considerably longer. Yet Europeans directly controlled
only a few isolated, mainly coastal, regions. As Bruce Vandervort
has written, ‘In the early modern period at least, Europe’s
technological edge was seldom very great, or important, except perhaps
at sea. Indigenous peoples were quick to catch up with European
The first European attempts to carve out colonies in Africa involved
them in bloody battles which they often lost. The French had
to fight long and bitter wars to conquer Algeria and Senegal. The
British lost to an Ashanti army in the early 1870s, to the Mahdi’s
Sudanese army at Khartoum in 1884 (when the same Charles George
Gordon who had helped crush the T’ai p’ing rebellion in China met
a justly deserved death), and to the Zulus at Isandlwana in 1879. The
Italians suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of an Ethiopian
army at Adowa in 1896, when ‘a whole swaggering ethos of white conquest
But by the 1880s the accelerated industrialisation of Western Europe
was shifting the balance decisively towards the would-be colonisers.
New weapons—breech-loading rifles, steel-plated steamships capable
of navigating far up-river and, most notoriously, the Gatling machine gun—
gave European armies the decisive edge in most battles for the
first time. What is more, the endless flow of commodities spawned by
industry made it relatively easy for Europeans to bribe African allies
to fight for them. Half the ‘Italian’ troops at Adowa were Eritreans or
Tigrayans, and many of the ‘British’ troops in Sudan were Egyptian or
Sudanese. The ‘divide and rule’ strategy which had worked so well
for Britain’s rulers in India now began to be applied on a large scale
The Europeans claimed to be fighting against ‘savagery’, but their
methods were barbaric. When the British army of Lord Kitchener finally
conquered Sudan at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898, his
machine-gunners killed 10,000 Sudanese troops with the loss of only
48 men. ‘The many thousands of Mahdists dying and wounded on the
battlefield received no aid from the British, who simply turned their
backs and marched away’. ‘They called for water and they called
for our aid, but our officers spurned them,’ a British soldier wrote in
his diary. Kitchener had the skull of their leader, the Mahdi, turned
into an inkstand.26 Just as brutal was Lord Lugard’s expedition against
the rebellious village of Satiru in Nigeria. He estimated that his men
killed 2,000 rebels without loss. Prisoners were executed and their
heads put on spikes.
The Belgian king, Leopold, was in the forefront
of pushing for a Western crusade in Africa, claiming it would
bring ‘civilisation’ and stamp out slavery. He carved out the huge
territory of Congo as a personal empire, and used methods notorious
even among other colonial powers. In an official report to the British
foreign office, Roger Casement told of a visit to a rubber-producing
region where ‘whole villages and districts I knew well and visited as
flourishing communities…are today without human beings.’ He
learned that Belgian soldiers who looted and burned villages then
collected basketloads of severed hands hacked from victims to prove
they had not wasted ammunition.
The capitalist powers certainly did not expend money and effort
conquering the rest of the world out of philanthropy. But they were
not led to do so simply by racism either, however much they saw this
as justifying their mission. The motive was profit.
There has been much argument among historians as to whether the
colonial powers were right to believe that empires would make them
richer. But, like the similar argument about the economics of the
slave trade in the 18th century, it is misplaced. The great powers
thought empires would make them richer. Those in the forefront of imperial
expansion were hard-faced men who understood only too well
that it was money which made the world go round. People like King
Leopold or the British adventurer Cecil Rhodes might have considered
themselves idealists, but they were out to enrich themselves. As
Leopold wrote to the Belgian ambassador in London, ‘I do not want
to miss a chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African
The carve-up of the world cannot be understood without looking
at what was happening to the capitalism of the West in this period. The
1870s and 1880s were a period—often called ‘the Great Depression’—
of depressed markets, falling prices, and low profits and dividends, especially
in Britain. To British investors there seemed one way to
maintain their incomes—investment abroad. Total investment in foreign
stocks rose from £95 million in 1883 to £393 million in 1889. It
soon equalled 8 percent of Britain’s gross national product and absorbed
50 percent of savings. The money went mainly in ‘stocks’—
fixed interest investments for the construction of railways, bridges,
harbours, docks and waterways, or for the financing of government
bodies. Whatever the investments were for, they promised a level of
profitability higher than that to be obtained at home. They also provided
a market for domestic industrial output (such as steel rails, locomotives
and bridge girders) and led to an increased flow of cheap raw
materials. In this way they helped pull British capitalism into a new
period of expansion. Such investments required a means to stop foreign
borrowers defaulting on their payments. Colonialism provided this
through the armed force of the state.
So Britain and France jointly took charge of Egypt’s finances when
its rulers could no longer pay their debts in 1876, and in the early 1880s
the British government used armed force to establish a ‘protectorate’—
in effect absorbing Egypt into the British Empire, guaranteeing the
dividends of the Suez Canal Company and safeguarding the route to
Britain’s even bigger investments in India.
In a similar way, British forces attempted to seize control of the
Transvaal area of southern Africa, ruled by Dutch speaking Boers,
after the discovery of gold and diamond deposits. A bitter war established
South Africa as a stable protector of British business interests.
Not all investment went to the colonies. Much of British investment
went to the US, and quite a lot went to Latin American countries like Argentina.
This has led some to claim that there was no connection
between overseas investment and imperialism. However, the point is
that colonies offered the capitalists of the colonial power protected
outlets for investment. They also provided military bases to protect
routes to investment elsewhere. For Britain possessions such as Malta,
Cyprus, Egypt, South Yemen and the Cape were important not just as
sources of profit in their own right, but as stopping-off places to India—
and India, ‘the jewel in the crown’, was also a stopping-off place to
Singapore, the tin and rubber of Malaya, the recently opened markets
of China, and the rich dominions of Australia and New Zealand. The
empire was like a woven garment which stopped British capitalism
catching a cold: a single thread might seem of little importance, but if
it snapped the rest would start unravelling. At least that was how those
who ran the empire, their colleagues in the City of London and their
friends in British industry saw things.
Britain was not the only imperial power. France controlled almost
as much of the world, Holland had the giant archipelago we now call
Indonesia, Belgium held an important chunk of central Africa, and the
tsar had a huge area of territory to the east, west and south of Russia
proper, all the way to the Indian border and across to the Pacific port
But Germany, the European power with the fastest industrial
growth, was left virtually without an empire. Its heavy industry was
increasingly organised through ‘trusts’—associations of companies
which controlled production all the way from the extraction of raw
materials to the disposal of finished products. They had grown up
alongside the state and had none of the old small-capitalist distrust
of state power which still characterised many British capitalists. They
looked to the state to protect their domestic market through tariffs
(taxes on imports) and to aid them in carving out foreign markets.
They looked in four directions: to China, where Germany grabbed
its own treaty port; to Africa, where it was able to seize Tanganyika,
Rwanda-Burundi and South West Africa; to the Maghreb, where Germany
challenged France and Spain for control of Morocco; and to establishing
a corridor, centred on a projected Berlin-Baghdad railway,
through south east Europe and Turkey to Mesopotamia and the Persian
Gulf. But in whatever direction Germany’s capitalists and empirebuilders
moved, they bumped up against the networks of colonies,
bases and client states run by the established empire—against the
Russians in the Balkans, the French in north Africa, the British in the
Middle East and east Africa, and everyone in China.
To put it crudely, the growth in profitability which had produced
a recovery from the ‘Great Depression’ and enabled capitalism to
concede some improvements in living standards to its workers depended
upon the spread of empires. But as the empires spread they
tended to collide with each other.
Those who ran the empires knew that the outcome of such collisions
depended upon the strength of their armed forces. Therefore,
Germany set about building battleships to challenge Britain’s domination
of the seas, and Britain retaliated by building ‘Dreadnought’
battleships of its own. France increased military service in its conscript
army from two years to three, so as to be able to match the German
military. Tsarist Russia set up state-run arms factories, and designed
its railway system with potential wars against Germany, the Austro-
Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire in mind. The drive towards
war was the flipside of the illusion of stability which imperialism
brought to capitalism—and which so impressed reformist socialists like
The Coming Revolt of the Guards
by Howard Zinn
Note: This is Chapter 24 of Zinn's A People's History of the United States.
The title of this chapter is not a prediction, but a hope, which I will soon explain.
As for the subtitle of this book, it is not quite accurate; a "people's history" promises more than any one person can fulfill, and it is the most difficult kind of history to recapture. I call it that anyway because, with all its limitations, it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance.
That makes it a biased account, one that leans in a certain direction. I am not troubled by that, because the mountain of history books under which we all stand leans so heavily in the other direction-so tremblingly respectful of states and statesmen and so disrespectful, by inattention, to people's movements-that we need some counterforce to avoid being crushed into submission.
All those histories of this country centered on the Founding Fathers and the Presidents weigh oppressively on the capacity of the ordinary citizen to act. They suggest that in times of crisis we must look to someone to save us: in the Revolutionary crisis, the Founding Fathers; in the slavery crisis, Lincoln; in the Depression, Roosevelt; in the Vietnam-Watergate crisis, Carter. And that between occasional crises everything is all right, and it is sufficient for us to be restored to that normal state. They teach us that the supreme act of citizenship is to choose among saviors, by going into a voting booth every four years to choose between two white and well-off Anglo-Saxon males of inoffensive personality and orthodox opinions.
The idea of saviors has been built into the entire culture, beyond politics. We have learned to look to stars, leaders, experts in every field, thus surrendering our own strength, demeaning our own ability, obliterating our own selves. But from time to time, Americans reject that idea and rebel.
These rebellions, so far, have been contained. The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history. With a country so rich in natural resources, talent, and labor power the system can afford to distribute just enough wealth to just enough people to limit discontent to a troublesome minority. It is a country so powerful, so big, so pleasing to so many of its citizens that it can afford to give freedom of dissent to the small number who are not pleased.
There is no system of control with more openings, apertures, lee-ways, flexibilities, rewards for the chosen, winning tickets in lotteries. There is none that disperses its controls more complexly through the voting system, the work situation, the church, the family, the school, the mass media- none more successful in mollifying opposition with reforms, isolating people from one another, creating patriotic loyalty.
One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another: small property owners against the propertyless, black against white, native-born against foreign-born, intellectuals and professionals against the uneducated and unskilled. These groups have resented one another and warred against one another with such vehemence and violence as to obscure their common position as sharers of leftovers in a very wealthy country.
Against the reality of that desperate, bitter battle for resources made scarce by elite control, I am taking the liberty of uniting those 99 percent as "the people." I have been writing a history that attempts to represent their submerged, deflected, common interest. To emphasize the commonality of the 99 percent, to declare deep enmity of interest with the 1 percent, is to do exactly what the governments of the United States, and the wealthy elite allied to them-from the Founding Fathers to now-have tried their best to prevent. Madison feared a "majority faction" and hoped the new Constitution would control it. He and his colleagues began the Preamble to the Constitution with the words "We the people ...," pretending that the new government stood for everyone, and hoping that this myth, accepted as fact, would ensure "domestic tranquility."
The pretense continued over the generations, helped by all-embracing symbols, physical or verbal: the flag, patriotism, democracy, national interest, national defense, national security. The slogans were dug into the earth of American culture like a circle of covered wagons on the western plain, from inside of which the white, slightly privileged American could shoot to kill the enemy outside- Indians or blacks or foreigners or other whites too wretched to be allowed inside the circle. The managers of the caravan watched at a safe distance, and when the battle was over and the field strewn with dead on both sides, they would take over the land, and prepare another expedition, for another territory.
The scheme never worked perfectly. The Revolution and the Constitution, trying to bring stability by containing the class angers of the colonial period-while enslaving blacks, annihilating or displacing Indians-did not quite succeed, judging by the tenant uprisings, the slave revolts, the abolitionist agitation, the feminist upsurge, the Indian guerrilla warfare of the pre-Civil War years. After the Civil War, a new coalition of southern and northern elites developed, with southern whites and blacks of the lower classes occupied in racial conflict, native workers and immigrant workers clashing in the North, and the farmers dispersed over a big country, while the system of capitalism consolidated itself in industry and government. But there came rebellion among industrial workers and a great opposition movement among farmers.
At the turn of the century, the violent pacification of blacks and Indians and the use of elections and war to absorb and divert white rebels were not enough, in the conditions of modem industry, to prevent the great upsurge of socialism, the massive labor struggles, before the First World War. Neither that war nor the partial prosperity of the twenties, nor the apparent destruction of the socialist movement, could prevent, in the situation of economic crisis, another radical awakening, another labor upsurge in the thirties.
World War II created a new unity, followed by an apparently successful attempt, in the atmosphere of the cold war, to extinguish the strong radical temper of the war years. But then, surprisingly, came the surge of the sixties, from people thought long subdued or put out of sight-blacks, women, Native Americans, prisoners, soldiers-and a new radicalism, which threatened to spread widely in a population disillusioned by the Vietnam war and the politics of Watergate.
The exile of Nixon, the celebration of the Bicentennial, the presidency of Carter, all aimed at restoration. But restoration to the old order was no solution to the uncertainty, the alienation, which was intensified in the Reagan-Bush years. The election of Clinton in 1992, carrying with it a vague promise of change, did not fulfill the expectations of the hopeful.
With such continuing malaise, it is very important for the Establishment-that uneasy club of business executives, generals, and politicos-to maintain the historic pretension of national unity, in which the government represents all the people, and the common enemy is overseas, not at home, where disasters of economics or war are unfortunate errors or tragic accidents, to be corrected by the members of the same club that brought the disasters. It is important for them also to make sure this artificial unity of highly privileged and slightly privileged is the only unity-that the 99 percent remain split in countless ways, and turn against one another to vent their angers.
How skillful to tax the middle class to pay for the relief of the poor, building resentment on top of humiliation! How adroit to bus poor black youngsters into poor white neighborhoods, in a violent exchange of impoverished schools, while the schools of the rich remain untouched and the wealth of the nation, doled out carefully where children need free milk, is drained for billion-dollar aircraft carriers. How ingenious to meet the demands of blacks and women for equality by giving them small special benefits, and setting them in competition with everyone else for jobs made scarce by an irrational, wasteful system. How wise to turn the fear and anger of the majority toward a class of criminals bred-by economic inequity-faster than they can be put away, deflecting attention from the huge thefts of national resources carried out within the law by men in executive offices.
But with all the controls of power and punishment, enticements and concessions, diversions and decoys, operating throughout the history of the country, the Establishment has been unable to keep itself secure from revolt. Every time it looked as if it had succeeded, the very people it thought seduced or subdued, stirred and rose. Blacks, cajoled by Supreme Court decisions and congressional statutes, rebelled. Women, wooed and ignored, romanticized and mistreated, rebelled. Indians, thought dead, reappeared, defiant. Young people, despite lures of career and comfort, defected. Working people, thought soothed by reforms, regulated by law, kept within bounds by their own unions, went on strike. Government intellectuals, pledged to secrecy, began giving away secrets. Priests turned from piety to protest.
To recall this is to remind people of what the Establishment would like them to forget-the enormous capacity of apparently helpless people to resist, of apparently contented people to demand change. To uncover such history is to find a powerful human impulse to assert one's humanity. It is to hold out, even in times of deep pessimism, the possibility of surprise.
True, to overestimate class consciousness, to exaggerate rebellion and its successes, would be misleading. It would not account for the fact that the world-not just the United States, but everywhere else-is still in the hands of the elites, that people's movements, although they show an infinite capacity for recurrence, have so far been either defeated or absorbed or perverted, that "socialist" revolutionists have betrayed socialism, that nationalist revolutions have led to new dictatorships.
But most histories understate revolt, overemphasize statesmanship, and thus encourage impotency among citizens. When we look closely at resistance movements, or even at isolated forms of rebellion, we discover that class consciousness, or any other awareness of injustice, has multiple levels. It has many ways of expression, many ways of revealing itself-open, subtle, direct, distorted. In a system of intimidation and control, people do not show how much they know, how deeply they feel, until their practical sense informs them they can do so without being destroyed.
History which keeps alive the memory of people's resistance suggests new definitions of power. By traditional definitions, whoever possesses military strength, wealth, command of official ideology, cultural control, has power. Measured by these standards, popular rebellion never looks strong enough to survive.
However, the unexpected victories-even temporary ones-of insurgents show the vulnerability of the supposedly powerful. In a highly developed society, the Establishment cannot survive without the obedience and loyalty of millions of people who are given small rewards to keep the system going: the soldiers and police, teachers and ministers, administrators and social workers, technicians and production workers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, transport and communications workers, garbage men and firemen. These people-the employed, the somewhat privileged-are drawn into alliance with the elite. They become the guards of the system, buffers between the upper and lower classes. If they stop obeying, the system falls.
That will happen, I think, only when all of us who are slightly privileged and slightly uneasy begin to see that we are like the guards in the prison uprising at Attica—expendable; that the Establishment, whatever rewards it gives us, will also, if necessary to maintain its control, kill us.
Certain new facts may, in our time, emerge so clearly as to lead to general withdrawal of loyalty from the system. The new conditions of technology, economics, and war, in the atomic age, make it less and less possible for the guards of the system-the intellectuals, the home owners, the taxpayers, the skilled workers, the professionals, the servants of government-to remain immune from the violence (physical and psychic) inflicted on the black, the poor, the criminal, the enemy overseas. The internationalization of the economy, the movement of refugees and illegal immigrants across borders, both make it more difficult for the people of the industrial countries to be oblivious to hunger and disease in the poor countries of the world.
All of us have become hostages in the new conditions of doomsday technology, runaway economics, global poisoning, uncontainable war. The atomic weapons, the invisible radiations, the economic anarchy, do not distinguish prisoners from guards, and those in charge will not be scrupulous in making distinctions. There is the unforgettable response of the U.S. high command to the news that American prisoners of war might be near Nagasaki: "Targets previously assigned for Centerboard remain unchanged."
There is evidence of growing dissatisfaction among the guards. We have known for some time that the poor and ignored were the nonvoters, alienated from a political system they felt didn't care about them, and about which they could do little. Now alienation has spread upward into families above the poverty line. These are white workers, neither rich nor poor, but angry over economic insecurity, unhappy with their work, worried about their neighborhoods, hostile to government- combining elements of racism with elements of class consciousness, contempt for the lower classes along with distrust for the elite, and thus open to solutions from any direction, right or left.
In the twenties there was a similar estrangement in the middle classes, which could have gone in various directions-the Ku Klux Klan had millions of members at that time-but in the thirties the work of an organized left wing mobilized much of this feeling into trade unions, farmers' unions, socialist movements. We may, in the coming years, be in a race for the mobilization of middle- class discontent.
The fact of that discontent is clear. The surveys since the early seventies show 70 to 80 percent of Americans distrustful of government, business, the military. This means the distrust goes beyond blacks, the poor, the radicals. It has spread among skilled workers, white-collar workers, professionals; for the first time in the nation's history, perhaps, both the lower classes and the middle classes, the prisoners and the guards, were disillusioned with the system.
There are other signs: the high rate of alcoholism, the high rate of divorce (from one of three marriages ending in divorce, the figure was climbing to one of two), of drug use and abuse, of nervous breakdowns and mental illness. Millions of people have been looking desperately for solutions to their sense of impotency, their loneliness, their frustration, their estrangement from other people, from the world, from their work, from themselves. They have been adopting new religions, joining self-help groups of all kinds. It is as if a whole nation were going through a critical point in its middle age, a life crisis of self-doubt, self-examination.
All this, at a time when the middle class is increasingly insecure economically. The system, in its irrationality, has been driven by profit to build steel skyscrapers for insurance companies while the cities decay, to spend billions for weapons of destruction and virtually nothing for children's playgrounds, to give huge incomes to men who make dangerous or useless things, and very little to artists, musicians, writers, actors. Capitalism has always been a failure for the lower classes. It is now beginning to fail for the middle classes.
The threat of unemployment, always inside the homes of the poor, has spread to white-collar workers, professionals. A college education is no longer a guarantee against joblessness', and a system that cannot offer a future to the young coming out of school is in deep trouble. If it happens only to the children of the poor, the problem is manageable; there are the jails. If it happens to the children of the middle class, things may get out of hand. The poor are accustomed to being squeezed and always short of money, but in recent years the middle classes, too, have begun to feel the press of high prices, high taxes.
In the seventies, eighties, and early nineties there was a dramatic, frightening increase in the number of crimes. It was not hard to understand, when one walked through any big city. There were the contrasts of wealth and poverty, the culture of possession, the frantic advertising. There was the fierce economic competition, in which the legal violence of the state and the legal robbery by the corporations were accompanied by the illegal crimes of the poor. Most crimes by far involved theft. A disproportionate number of prisoners in American jails were poor and non-white, with little education. Half were unemployed in the month prior to their arrest.
The most common and most publicized crimes have been the violent crimes of the young, the poor- a virtual terrorization in the big cities- in which the desperate or drug-addicted attack and rob the middle class, or even their fellow poor. A society so stratified by wealth and education lends itself naturally to envy and class anger.
The critical question in our time is whether the middle classes, so long led to believe that the solution for such crimes is more jails and more jail terms, may begin to see, by the sheer uncontrollability of crime, that the only prospect is an endless cycle of crime and punishment. They might then conclude that physical security for a working person in the city can come only when everyone in the city is working. And that would require a transformation of national priorities, a change in the system.
In recent decades, the fear of criminal assault has been joined by an even greater fear. Deaths from cancer began to multiply, and medical researchers seemed helpless to find the cause. It began to be evident that more and more of these deaths were coming from an environment poisoned by military experimentation and industrial greed. The water people drank, the air they breathed, the particles of dust from the buildings in which they worked, had been quietly contaminated over the years by a system so frantic for growth and profit that the safety and health of human beings had been ignored. A new and deadly scourge appeared, the AIDS virus, which spread with special rapidity among homosexuals and drug addicts.
In the early nineties, the false socialism of the Soviet system had failed. And the American system seemed out of control-a runaway capitalism, a runaway technology, a runaway militarism, a running away of government from the people it claimed to represent. Crime was out of control, cancer and AIDS were out of control. Prices and taxes and unemployment were out of control. The decay of cities and the breakdown of families were out of control. And people seemed to sense all this.
Perhaps much of the general distrust of government reported in recent years comes from a growing recognition of the truth of what the U.S. Air Force bombardier Yossarian said in the novel Catch-22 to a friend who had just accused him of giving aid and comfort to the enemy: "The enemy is anybody who's going to get you killed, no matter which side he's on. And don't you forget that, because the longer you remember it the longer you might live." The next line in the novel is: "But Clevinger did forget, and now he was dead."
Let us imagine the prospect-for the first time in the nation's history-of a population united for fundamental change. Would the elite turn as so often before, to its ultimate weapon-foreign intervention- to unite the people with the Establishment, in war? It tried to do that in 1991, with the war against Iraq. But, as June Jordan said, it was "a hit the same way that crack is, and it doesn't last long."
With the Establishment's inability either to solve severe economic problems at home or to manufacture abroad a safety valve for domestic discontent, Americans might be ready to demand not just more tinkering, more reform laws, another reshuffling of the same deck, another New Deal, but radical change. Let us be Utopian for a moment so that when we get realistic again it is not that "realism" so useful to the Establishment in its discouragement of action, that "realism" anchored to a certain kind of history empty of surprise. Let us imagine what radical change would require of us all.
The society's levers of powers would have to be taken away from those whose drives have led to the present state-the giant corporations, the military, and their politician collaborators. We would need-by a coordinated effort of local groups all over the country-to reconstruct the economy for both efficiency and justice, producing in a cooperative way what people need most. We would start on our neighborhoods, our cities, our workplaces. Work of some kind would be needed by everyone, including people now kept out of the work force-children, old people, "handicapped" people. Society could use the enormous energy now idle, the skills and talents now unused. Everyone could share the routine but necessary jobs for a few hours a day, and leave most of the time free for enjoyment, creativity, labors of love, and yet produce enough for an equal and ample distribution of goods. Certain basic things would be abundant enough to be taken out of the money system and be available-free-to everyone: food, housing, health care, education, transportation.
The great problem would be to work out a way of accomplishing this without a centralized bureaucracy, using not the incentives of prison and punishment, but those incentives of cooperation which spring from natural human desires, which in the past have been used by the state in times of war, but also by social movements that gave hints of how people might behave in different conditions. Decisions would be made by small groups of people in their workplaces, their neighborhoods-a network of cooperatives, in communication with one another, a neighborly socialism avoiding the class hierarchies of capitalism and the harsh dictatorships that have taken the name "socialist."
People in time, in friendly communities, might create a new, diversified, nonviolent culture, in which all forms of personal and group expression would be possible. Men and women, black and white, old and young, could then cherish their differences as positive attributes, not as reasons for domination. New values of cooperation and freedom might then show up in the relations of people, the upbringing of children.
To do all that, in the complex conditions of control in the United States, would require combining the energy of all previous movements in American history-of labor insurgents, black rebels, Native Americans, women, young people-along with the new energy of an angry middle class. People would need to begin to transform their immediate environments-the workplace, the family, the school, the community-by a series of struggles against absentee authority, to give control of these places to the people who live and work there.
These struggles would involve all the tactics used at various times in the past by people's movements: demonstrations, marches, civil disobedience; strikes and boycotts and general strikes; direct action to redistribute wealth, to reconstruct institutions, to revamp relationships; creating-in music, literature, drama, all the arts, and all the areas of work and play in everyday life-a new culture of sharing, of respect, a new joy in the collaboration of people to help themselves and one another.
There would be many defeats. But when such a movement took hold in hundreds of thousands of places all over the country it would be impossible to suppress, because the very guards the system depends on to crush such a movement would be among the rebels. It would be a new kind of revolution, the only kind that could happen, I believe, in a country like the United States. It would take enormous energy, sacrifice, commitment, patience. But because it would be a process over time, starting without delay, there would be the immediate satisfactions that people have always found in the affectionate ties of groups striving together for a common goal.
All this takes us far from American history, into the realm of imagination. But not totally removed from history. There are at least glimpses in the past of such a possibility. In the sixties and seventies, for the first time, the Establishment failed to produce national unity and patriotic fervor in a war. There was a flood of cultural changes such as the country had never seen-in sex, family, personal relations-exactly those situations most difficult to control from the ordinary centers of power. And never before was there such a general withdrawal of confidence from so many elements of the political and economic system. In every period of history, people have found ways to help one another-even in the midst of a culture of competition and violence-if only for brief periods, to find joy in work, struggle, companionship, nature.
The prospect is for times of turmoil, struggle, but also inspiration. There is a chance that such a movement could succeed in doing what the system itself has never done-bring about great change with little violence. This is possible because the more of the 99 percent that begin to see themselves as sharing needs, the more the guards and the prisoners see their common interest, the more the Establishment becomes isolated, ineffectual. The elite's weapons, money, control of information would be useless in the face of a determined population. The servants of the system would refuse to work to continue the old, deadly order, and would begin using their time, their space-the very things given them by the system to keep them quiet-to dismantle that system while creating a new one.
The prisoners of the system will continue to rebel, as before, in ways that cannot be foreseen, at times that cannot be predicted. The new fact of our era is the chance that they may be joined by the guards. We readers and writers of books have been, for the most part, among the guards. If we understand that, and act on it, not only will life be more satisfying, right off, but our grandchildren, or our great grandchildren, might possibly see a different and marvelous world.
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