Tag Archives: Socialists

21st Century Socialism – by LOUIS PROYECT.

2 Feb

Fifty years ago, Peter Camejo ran for Senator from Massachusetts against Ted Kennedy. He didn’t win but did manage to recruit many young people to socialism through a stump speech filled with jokes. One of them had to do with life under socialism. There would be such an abundance of goods that money would no longer be necessary. He’d say something like this: “You go to a grocery store and there is filet mignon. Nothing would prevent you from sticking a dozen under your jacket and sneaking out. But instead of being arrested for shoplifting, you’d be referred to a psychotherapist for doing something so crazy. All you can eat is one, right?”

Today, it would be difficult to make such a speech since we are far too aware of the costs to the planet from cattle ranching. Most socialists are speaking about the need to prevent the Amazon rainforest from being leveled to the ground. Do we accelerate global warming to supply beef to fast-food restaurants? If Peter were alive today, he’d be among the loudest voices against Bolsonaro.

In his 1970 campaign, Peter was trying to popularize the ideas found in Leon Trotsky’s 1934 article “If American Goes Communist.”  Trotsky’s words sound somewhat crass as if he were making a sales pitch to men in the admittedly backward but wealthy country: “The average man doesn’t like systems or generalities either. It is the task of your communist statesmen to make the system deliver the concrete goods that the average man desires: his food, cigars, amusements, his freedom to choose his own neckties, his own house and his own automobile. It will be easy to give him these comforts in Soviet America.”

 

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Since Trotskyists were not in power anywhere, they were under no obligation to cope with the brutal realities of economic development like the Sandinistas put up during the 1980s. They were content to criticize them from afar, their stock in trade.

They explained the Soviet failure to match American productivity in the 1950s and 60s as a function of bureaucratic rule. If the USSR returned to its democratic roots, the workers would forge ahead and produce all the food, cigars and amusements that Stalinism could not. But history played a trick on the Trotskyists. Instead of a socialist utopia, the Russians ended up with a capitalist dystopia under Yeltsin. While Russia recovered from Jeffrey Sachs’s shock therapy, it still staggers along economically because of oil market vicissitudes and imperialist sanctions. Discontent, however, hardly produces anything resembling a Trotskyist new wave. Instead, opposition to Putin remains within time-dishonored liberal economic parameters.

In debates over whether socialism was feasible or not, Trotskyism had little to offer except formulaic assurances that workers democracy would set things right. The big debates happened elsewhere and were over whether a planned economy, democratic or undemocratic, could work as efficiently as the capitalist marketplace. Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises wrote numerous books and articles arguing that planning in and of itself necessarily leads to an irrational and inefficient allocation of resources. Following in their path, Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan reinforced libertarian orthodoxy. It was only the 2008 financial crisis that shook the confidence of the Republican Party establishment with Greenspan confessing: “Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

 

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Jeffrey Sachs had a similar epiphany after seeing how his version of market-driven economics failed to produce miracles in Bolivia, Poland or Russia. Now writing articles defending Bernie Sanders against charges that he is a “radical,” Sachs sounds like he has imbibed Trotskyist literature: “The ruling class—dominated by billionaires like Donald Trump and the vested interests that prop him up—have played the same name-calling game for decades.”

Despite the fiery rhetoric targeting billionaires, neither Sanders nor Sachs has given up on the capitalist system. Like Hayek, they regard markets as a sine qua non for rational economic behavior. When Elizabeth Warren described the difference between her and Sanders as “He’s a socialist, and I believe in markets,” she was inaccurate. They are both marketeers. You’ll never hear Sanders making a pitch for public ownership of the means of production and a planned economy. Briefly put, he is for Norway, not Cuba. He is too smart to sound like Peter Camejo’s 1970 stump speech since that will shut the doors to MSNBC and lucrative book contracts.

Almost everybody has a good word for markets today. NYU sociology professor Vivek Chibber, who Bhaskar Sunkara regards as a major influence, sounds positively Hayekian in an article he wrote for Jacobin’s special issue on the Russian Revolution.

“What is more challenging is the issue of economic planning. We have to start with the observation that the expectation of a centrally planned economy simply replacing the market has no empirical foundation. We can want planning to work, but we have no evidence that it can. Every attempt to put it in place for more than short duration’s has met with failure.”

 

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Sam Gindin, who is far more revolutionary-minded than Chibber, also conceded the need for markets to Jacobin readers:

The power of capitalism, Hayek claimed, is that it brings such otherwise internalized, hidden knowledge to the surface while socialism, no matter how much it hopes to plan, cannot effectively access or develop the knowledge on which successful planning would rest.

For all its inherent ideological and class biases, this critique can’t be ignored. Hayek cannot be countered by arguing that capitalists themselves plan. Aside from the fact that the scale of organizing a total society in a nonmarket way is of a different order of magnitude than addressing a single, even vast, corporation, internal corporate calculations under capitalism have an advantage that centralized socialist planning would not have: they have external market prices and market-driven standards by which to measure themselves.

Much of this is reminiscent of the arguments I heard for Market Socialism 30 years ago when I discovered Internet mailing lists (this was prior to the Web, blogs and social media.) Throughout the 1980s, economists in the Soviet bloc blamed the lack of market mechanisms for all their problems. Alec Nove, a Scottish economist, identified with their grievances and called for a mixture of planning and markets. In his 1983 “The Economics of Feasible Socialism Revisited,” Nove hoped to debunk Lenin’s claim in “Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?” that “Capitalism has simplified the work of accounting and control, has reduced it to a comparatively simple system of bookkeeping, that any literate person can do.”

 

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Striking the same note as Sam Gindin, Nove maintains that Lenin was naïve:

A large factory, for instance, making cars or chemical machinery, is an assembly plant of parts and components which can be made in literally thousands of different factories, each of which, in turn, may depend on supplies of materials, fuel and machines, made by hundreds or more other production units. Introduce the further dimension of time (things need to be provided punctually and in sequence), add the importance of provision for repair, maintenance, replacement, investment in future productive capacity, the training and deployment of the labor force, its needs for housing, amenities, hairdressers, dry-cleaners, fuel, furniture…’Simple’, indeed!

Markets, however, are not just about figuring out which drill-press to buy when you are investing a new factory that makes furniture. Nor, it is about figuring out how much to charge for a rocking chair that comes off the assembly line. It is about the price of labor. When a market can’t bear the price of a unionized worker in an American plant, capital will take wings and fly to places where labor is more affordable.

We are now well into the 21st century. Should we continue to see economic efficiency as a litmus test for a healthy socialist system? Why should we see like a state, as anarchist scholar James C. Scott put it? For Scott, men with few apparent similarities all adhered to a “high modernist” vision. High modernism’s goal was to expand production in agriculture and industry as the best way to meet human needs. For him, this included both Robert McNamara and Leon Trotsky. Such men believed that scientific knowledge was key to governing and producing according to a plan. That, at least, was Scott’s conclusion even though it is hard to see any kind of science or planning at work when McNamara was Secretary of Defense and bombing the hell out of Vietnam. A Hells Angel on methamphetamine would have likely made the same decisions based on the Cold War psychoses that made such a war possible.

 

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The underlying but unstated assumption for the “high modernists” is that the nation-state must achieve economic growth on its own, like pulling itself up by its bootstraps. As long as capitalism has existed, politicians and political theorists shared this understanding. The 17th-century treaties of Westphalia established the bootstrap basis for nation-state economic development in Europe. Afterward, gunboats went forth and imposed this model on the rest of the world at the point of a bayonet. The model was well-suited to dividing and conquering Africa and the Middle East.

In the pre-modern world made up primarily of city-states funded by tributes extracted from peasants, there was little market-driven competition as we know it today. The Ottoman Empire was typical. It became “the sick man of Europe” because it failed to adopt the labor-saving machinery that capitalism was producing in the West. Like the USSR in the 20th century, it collapsed because it failed to compete in global markets. As long as the nation-state exists and as long as money is the basis for commodity exchange, a country like Cuba or the former Soviet Union has to play by the rules of global capitalism. Unless you can export commodities at a cheaper price than a competing nation-state, your economy will suffer, and the citizenry will grow restive.

A recent N.Y. Times article reminded me how restive Americans can become when the economy loses its competitive edge in the global marketplace. Titled “In Crucial Pennsylvania, Democrats Worry a Fracking Ban Could Sink Them,” it cited the state’s lieutenant-general John Fetterman, who proudly called his state “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.” Fracking was not only critical to the state’s economy, but to the “union way of life.” He worried that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren’s call for an immediate end to fracking would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs. If given a choice between Donald Trump and environmental health, Pennsylvania’s workers would choose Trump even if it meant a higher cancer rate. The article quotes Jeff Nobers, executive director of the Builders Guild of Western Pennsylvania: “At the end of the day, if I don’t have a job, if I don’t have health care, if I can’t take care of my family, it doesn’t matter if we have global peace and gun control and everything else.”

In Australia, climate change has already led to disastrous consequences. Will the death of billions of animals convince voters to follow a different path than Pennsylvanians? Perhaps not. Keep in mind that coal is Australia’s second-largest export behind iron ore. In 2016-17, it exported 202 million tons of thermal coal and 177 million tons of metallurgical coal with a combined value of $54 billion. The coal industry provided around 47,000 direct jobs and a further 120,000 indirect jobs across Australia.

In countries not endowed by plentiful reserves of oil, gas and coal, manufacturing provides the most reliable path to economic progress. Indeed, fossil fuels are subject to the chaotic speculation of global markets and that economists identify as the “resource curse” that keeps Venezuela dependent. (Of course, imperialist sanctions on both Venezuela and Iran are just as much to blame.) With China looming as a major competitor to the USA as the 21st century lurches forward, competitive pressures will likely force both countries to forsake environmental regulations and impose labor discipline to compete on the world market. Other nations will follow suit, as long as the profit motive remains sacrosanct.

 

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In 1961, a musical titled “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off” opened first in England and then on Broadway. There are few revivals nowadays, but the title lives on as an apt description of how some people feel about late capitalism, especially when I read through the N.Y. Times in the morning. Unlike Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, I have neither the means nor the motivation to go live on Mars.

The 20th century was all about the competition between capitalism and socialism. Which system could best help prepare a nation-state for success in the next century? It was like trying to figure out whether a Harvard or a Yale degree would land you a better job. It turns out that both systems appear to be incapable of resolving the global contradictions that neither Hayek nor Trotsky anticipated. We know that capitalism doesn’t work except for the capitalist class. Why would I say the same thing about socialism? The answer: as long as we understand socialism to be co-equal with the nation-state, it will never succeed.

The Bolivarian revolution in Latin America faced insurmountable odds. While some on the left find it easy to fault Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales for not carrying out a genuine socialist revolution, they forget that classical Marxism ruled out building socialism in a single country. In 1847, Frederick Engels wrote a short work titled “The Principles of Communism” that took the form of a catechism. He posed questions that would be of interest to socialist-minded workers and then provided the answers. One of them was, “Will it be possible for this revolution to take place in one country alone?” He replied:

No. By creating the world market, big industry has already brought all the peoples of the Earth, and especially the civilized peoples, into such close relation with one another that none is independent of what happens to the others.

Further, it has co-ordinated the social development of the civilized countries to such an extent that, in all of them, bourgeoisie and proletariat have become the decisive classes, and the struggle between them the great struggle of the day. It follows that the communist revolution will not merely be a national phenomenon but must take place simultaneously in all civilized countries – that is to say, at least in England, America, France, and Germany.

 

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If that was true in 1847, it is a hundred times truer today. Electronic communications, the spread of capitalist property relations to every corner of the world, jet travel, multinational corporations, interlocking financial institutions, television and radio, and global trade agreements such as the WTO compel the socialist movement to adjust to new realities. The ruling classes have dozens of institutions that help sharpen their struggles against the working class. The World Economic Forum is just one of them. Meanwhile, workers try to solve their most pressing problems within national borders. We are not even where we were in the early 2000s when the World Social Forum met regularly in places like Porto Alegre in Brazil.

Engels counted on England, America, France, and Germany as the liberated territory that could help transform the rest of the world. The 20th century left pinned its hopes on Russia for most of the 20th century. More recently, clusters of nations in the global south have stepped into the breach. In my over half-century of Marxist advocacy and activism, I have seen the terrain shift. First, it was in Indochina, where Eisenhower warned about a “domino effect.” It turned out that he had little to worry about since the surrounding nations had little support from China, despite Mao’s phony revolutionism. Next, it shifted to Central America, where this time Soviet Russia pulled the plug. Nicaragua might have been the shining example that would have inspired other revolutions, but perestroika meant that it became a pawn the Kremlin was ready to sacrifice. The last and most promising development was the Bolivarian revolution that had the potential of transforming Latin America from top to bottom. Once again, this regional bloc of radical governments failed to meet expectations. Perhaps, the best explanation for their failure was to remain within the nation-state context. They might have taken their namesake Simon Bolivar’s advice to heart: “In the unity of our nations rests the glorious future of our peoples.”

If and when a new revolutionary bloc of nations emerges, its most urgent task will be to begin implementing a planned economy across borderlines. Whether planning is second-best to Hayekian markets is immaterial. The most pressing need is to share resources, technical expertise, and environmental preservation within the liberated territory as a demonstration that socialism can work. In a small way, Cuba’s ability to withstand the human costs of hurricanes, to feed and educate its people, and provide medical care on the island as well as around the world is more important than its ability to compete with other sugar-producing nations.

 

Revolution-fists

NO WAR BUT CLASS WAR!

 

One understands why there is so little interest in thinking globally or regionally in advanced capitalist countries. In the USA, you get the most virulent form of nationalism because it is an empire. Does this have a disorienting effect on the left? While the Green New Deal contains many positive features, it is a program for the USA and not the planet.

Even if Bernie Sanders was elected President and joined by a majority of “democratic socialists” in Congress, the Green New Deal remains woefully national in scope. Poorer countries are now supplying fossil fuels that provide energy to wealthier ones. They will also be the source of the minerals that batteries require to store the energy windmills, solar panels, etc., generate. Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles will require up to 43% of the cobalt and 50% of the lithium produced globally. Those minerals are plentiful in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where militias fight over mines as spoils of a brutal civil war. The Africans endure child labor, human rights violations, land grabs, and environmental pollution while Western corporations are busy making profits off of “Green” technology. If the marketplace governs the relations between nations rather than an overarching planned economy, can we expect the people living in the Congo to ever enjoy the living standards of Americans or even the right to live in peace?

In 1965, Che Guevara went to the Congo to fight for its liberation. He went where a fighter/doctor was needed. He joined Fidel Castro on the Granma in 1958 and then went to Bolivia in 1967. Argentine by nationality, he always saw himself as an internationalist. In a 1964 speech to the UN, Che denounced the imperialist exploitation of the Congo:

I would like to refer specifically to the painful case of the Congo, unique in the history of the modern world, which shows how, with absolute impunity, with the most insolent cynicism, the rights of peoples can be flouted. The direct reason for all this is the enormous wealth of the Congo, which the imperialist countries want to keep under their control. In the speech he made during his first visit to the United Nations, compañero Fidel Castro observed that the whole problem of coexistence among peoples boils down to the wrongful appropriation of other peoples’ wealth. He made the following statement: “End the philosophy of plunder and the philosophy of war will be ended as well.”

Not content with words, he took action a year later to confront the imperialists on the battlefield. As we understand today, Che’s guerrilla warfare in both the Congo and Bolivia lacked the preparation carried out by the July 26th Movement in Cuba. His motivations were exemplary even if he failed to understand the importance of a mass movement to back up the armed struggle. With millions of people waking up to the dead-end of capitalism across the planet, we need to begin building a worldwide movement that can finally fulfill Che Guevara’s dream.

 

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One understands why there is so little interest in thinking globally or regionally in advanced capitalist countries. In the USA, you get the most virulent form of nationalism because it is an empire. Does this have a disorienting effect on the left? While the Green New Deal contains many positive features, it is a program for the USA and not the planet.

Even if Bernie Sanders was elected President and joined by a majority of “democratic socialists” in Congress, the Green New Deal remains woefully national in scope. Poorer countries are now supplying fossil fuels that provide energy to wealthier ones. They will also be the source of the minerals that batteries require to store the energy windmills, solar panels, etc., generate. Lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles will require up to 43% of the cobalt and 50% of the lithium produced globally. Those minerals are plentiful in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where militias fight over mines as spoils of a brutal civil war. The Africans endure child labor, human rights violations, land grabs, and environmental pollution while Western corporations are busy making profits off of “Green” technology. If the marketplace governs the relations between nations rather than an overarching planned economy, can we expect the people living in the Congo to ever enjoy the living standards of Americans or even the right to live in peace?

In 1965, Che Guevara went to the Congo to fight for its liberation. He went where a fighter/doctor was needed. He joined Fidel Castro on the Granma in 1958 and then went to Bolivia in 1967. Argentine by nationality, he always saw himself as an internationalist. In a 1964 speech to the UN, Che denounced the imperialist exploitation of the Congo:

I would like to refer specifically to the painful case of the Congo, unique in the history of the modern world, which shows how, with absolute impunity, with the most insolent cynicism, the rights of peoples can be flouted. The direct reason for all this is the enormous wealth of the Congo, which the imperialist countries want to keep under their control. In the speech he made during his first visit to the United Nations, compañero Fidel Castro observed that the whole problem of coexistence among peoples boils down to the wrongful appropriation of other peoples’ wealth. He made the following statement: “End the philosophy of plunder and the philosophy of war will be ended as well.”

Not content with words, he took action a year later to confront the imperialists on the battlefield. As we understand today, Che’s guerrilla warfare in both the Congo and Bolivia lacked the preparation carried out by the July 26th Movement in Cuba. His motivations were exemplary even if he failed to understand the importance of a mass movement to back up the armed struggle. With millions of people waking up to the dead-end of capitalism across the planet, we need to begin building a worldwide movement that can finally fulfill Che Guevara’s dream.

Louis Proyect blogs at http://louisproyect.org and is the moderator of the Marxism mailing list. In his spare time, he reviews films for CounterPunch.

 

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No War but Class War! None are more helplessly enslaved than those that believe they are free. New – Used Left Wing & Progressive Books & Memorabilia https://www.facebook.com/Fahrenheit451bookstore/

 

 

 

From Moral outrage to Radical Vision! SDS Re-Dux Voices from our Radical Heritage lead the way! When Injustice becomes law, Résistance becomes your duty!

24 May

“The New Left has not been noted for the completeness or coherence of its analysis or strategy for change. Within the ranks of Occupy exists a variety of political positions; Socialists, Old Radicals, Anarchists, Communists, Humanists, Liberals and Environmentalists. Nonetheless, the interplay of these ideas with a common commitment to action has produced a rich and powerful shared political experience from an on-going struggle. We have looked primarily to that experience as the source and test of our political truth, rather than to this or that Dogmatic catechism. While not shunning analytical work, we have always seen this focus as a basis of our strength and authenticity”.

 

 

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Books for Progressive readers and  Revolutionary Minds

 

“Whatever the degree of the New Left’s diversity, however, we have always asserted a common clarity in our values. Within our vision, all authentically revolutionary movements are seen as first, last, and always movements for human freedom, whatever form their demands may take in a given historic period. The New Left Radical consciousness began with a gap between the actual reality of our daily lives and the accessible potentiality for human fulfillment already in existence (economic disparity). This tension-the contradiction between what is and what can be first futilely sought its resolution in a quest for personal salvation”.

 

NO WAR BUT CLASS WAR!

NO WAR BUT CLASS WAR!

 

“When the interests of the Dominate Social Order denied the realization of that potential, we discovered our powerlessness, our Un-Freedom. Moreover, the social character of our oppression revealed the need of a collective struggle for liberation. We discovered our deepest personal hopes and desires were the widely-held aspirations of many! That discovery has led to our affirmation of a common humanity with all of the oppressed”

“At present, the contradiction between the brutal and dehumanized reality of our advanced Corporate Capitalism and the liberating potential of its technology and productive organization has never been greater. Planned Obsolescence and waste production increases in the midst of growing scarcity, fragmented job specialization and meaningless toil; while cybernation and automation contain the possibility of total job integration, the abolition of alienated labor, and the vast expansion of a free and creative activity. From this viewpoint, all history’s people have never been more oppressed! At this moment of history, on the other hand, the potential of the struggle for human fulfillment has never been greater. The New Left will be at the center of that struggle. Our Humanity and Our Planet is at stake. Join Us”; Resist, Rebel, Revolt, Revolution, Rebuild a Better World!

 

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Written by SDS Washington DC as an introduction; “Let the People Decide” It is as true today as it was 42 years ago. Maybe even more so; History has born us out the truth as it often will; That Capitalism, the Capitalists, the Oligarchy’s, The Plutocrats we spoke of than now run amok, the abuse, corruption, crime, wars, unemployment, the worldwide financial crisis and the pending environmental devastation and climate change are all elements we spoke off those many years ago. We failed than to believe in ourselves and we failed to raise the force of resistance to a level that could not be governed!

 

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It is your task now; as the New Left generation of the 21st century to fulfill the tasks that history has placed at your feet; Build a better world; a civil society, an environmentally balanced society, a socially and morally conscientious society; a world without War as all war is “Civil War” for all men and women are brother and sister: a world without greed the engine of Capitalism, corporate domination and exploitation. A profit remains a lost or stolen wage! No human should be denied the dignity and right to work, a living wage, to raise a family, to better their future and opportunity; without fear of discrimination by race, creed, gender, sexuality or disaster from illness or injury. Greed, Gluttony, Crime, Corruption and Power have long been the fuels of Capitalism. Now they are extending their reach into your person-hood and civil liberties with the new corporate person. When will enough be enough? We have seen the results of their management, economic crisis, social dysfunction, and environmental turmoil.

 

 

The original article you read was written by a SDS cadre and comrade in the late 60’s maybe early 70’s, how could we know it would be so relevant today? It was a call to activism than and I re-submit it today as a call to duty now! There is no Left or Right here; there is only Tyranny or Freedom! As the students for a Democratic society and The Black Panther Party were amongst the Vanguard of the New Left Than; Now Occupy must set its course as the new Vanguard of the 21st century. Steered by one primary broad principal; “Is it that Radical an idea, that as human beings we can take care of each other and our planet? Fuck the System, it was always been a scam! Occupy the public needs to wake up but you need to grow up; it’s your turn now “Down the Rabbit hole”  Emilio

 

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Earth First News / We Resist!

 

 

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The Constitution Impaired; the Bill of Rights Annulled; Rights guaranteed by constitutional amendments are becoming irrelevant. Over Ridden by The Rise of the American Corporate Security State.

12 Jun

 WORLD REVOLUTION

Resist! Organize, Leadership, Solidarity, Struggle, Serve the People

 

Reason to be afraid #3:

The separation of powers established by the Constitution is eroding.

Rights guaranteed by constitutional amendments are becoming irrelevant. Reporting a crime may be a crime, and informing the public of the truth is treason.

Here in post-Snowden America, the language and the principles of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution sound almost quaint:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.41

The amendment, however, has an abiding intention and a context that are not-so-quaint. In the American colonies, it was an unpopular yet common practice of the British government to issue general search warrants for tax collection purposes. Law enforcement authorities and customs officials searched whole towns, house by house, in an effort to identify every taxable possession or activity. This practice was—and is—easily recognizable as the conduct of a tyrannical government, which gives law enforcement the sweeping authority to search anyone at any time for any reason. Or for no reason at all.

The new democratic government of the United States therefore explicitly prohibited this practice. And now, in June 2013, we find that the NSA is relying on general warrants from a secret court that take in the American population for purposes of bulk data collection. The lawyers can argue for as long as they care to about the legal meaning of the words search and seizure, but the intention of the Fourth Amendment is clear to anyone who speaks English. The government—law enforcement, IRS agents, intelligence agencies—cannot seize information about you or things that are yours without expressing first a suspicion of a crime and producing at least some evidence that you’re the responsible party. The evidence must be presented to authorities in the judicial branch of government, who decide whether it is convincing enough to justify the issuing of a warrant. A warrant, under US law, must be based on the individualized suspicion of a crime. Dragnet data collection, like that conducted by the NSA, is equivalent to a house-to-house, door-to-door search, and as such, it is prohibited.

 

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Despite this standard of American government, we have been told repeatedly since 9/11 that we must sacrifice privacy for security because we are engaged in the Global War on Terror. This is now a never-ending war. There is no final goal. There is no tangible victory, and after more than a decade of war, we remain right at the center of it—nowhere near either the beginning or the end.

America has been at war since 2001 in Afghanistan, where large numbers of US troops remain. The Afghanistan war is the longest in US history. At the same time, we fought an eight-year war of choice in Iraq, from 2003 through 2011. Polls show that the majority of Americans do not see either US intervention as victorious. This is because they weren’t. Behind us, after years of incalculable loss, we leave corrupt governments of cronies nominally in charge of states that will not cohere.

We are war-weary, and we don’t want another losing battle. Despite our politicians fear-mongering and saber-rattling when the Syrian government apparently used chemical weapons in the fall of 2013, 75 percent of Americans surveyed rejected the idea of a military strike on Damascus.42

The prospect of yet another Middle Eastern war does not appeal to Americans. On the contrary, we Americans tell anyone who asks that we think the economy is the most important issue, and we want to go back to work.43 The general feeling seems to be that should peace come, for the first time since September 11, 2001, the attention of the US government could turn inward to infrastructure, education, health care that actually is affordable, work and environmental conservation. This is what Americans are hoping for.44 They say so every chance they get.

In reality, though, it doesn’t matter what Americans want. The wars are not ending. Only the ground war is winding down. The War on Terror is with us still, and it may well last forever. After all, we cannot ever defeat terror, and we cannot negotiate with it. Terror is a tactic, not a government or a group. No one speaks for terror. Expressing the conflict this way allows our government to slip a new enemy into the picture whenever it needs one. So, when talking about our new threat—cyber-terror—our enemy can be Russia, China, hacktivists, Al-Qaeda, or “those who would do us harm,” whoever they are.

Even if we’re tired of war, the War on Terror is ramping up. National security officers talk now of target lists and a new strategy for pursuing terrorists, known by the bureaucratic and denatured phrase “disposition matrix.” The matrix is a database that includes the names of suspected terrorists, cross-tabulated by the tactics to be used against them. These may be indictments or secret operations, such as capture or killing. Those who have seen the matrix and helped compose it say it supersedes the president’s kill list, setting out plans for the termination of suspects.

 

 

That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism. Targeting lists that were regarded as finite emergency measures after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are now fixtures of the national security apparatus.45

More to the point, clandestine electronic warfare is here to stay. This is the truly chilling prospect because this will become the war within. This war can be silent and invisible. We won’t know where or when it is waged. We don’t know who the victims or who the aggressors really are. We don’t know the cost. We won’t know the objectives because these are secret. More and more of our national wealth will be used to fight this war. This will be the war without end, the forever war.

There are good reasons to resist it because the past decade has shown us that even here, on the aggressive end, a war footing weakens our already tenuous civil rights. The president himself says, “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.”46 He speaks as if we are about to be hassled by a flight delay or a traffic jam, but the difficulty is much more serious than that. Obama was speaking shortly after June 5, 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which Americans are subjected to massive surveillance. The inconvenience to which the president referred is the massive, ongoing violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In practice, the withdrawal of rights in the United States—and perhaps anywhere—is not difficult to accomplish when people are frightened and they’re not told what they’re losing. It’s especially simple to annul the civil rights of people who aren’t using them and don’t realize that they’re gone until they need them. “There is no subjugation so perfect as that which keeps the appearance of freedom, for in that way one captures volition itself.”47

In the United States, white middle-class people are not ordinarily mindful of their civil rights because, in the twenty-first century, we’ve long had them and are not often obliged to invoke them. We are not stopped and frisked. We are not detained for being in the wrong neighborhood after dark or in the proximity of a crime. We’re not arbitrarily asked for our identity documents. We learned in school that our country was the greatest, free-est, richest, fairest nation in history, that our judiciary is independent, and that we have three branches of government checking and balancing one another—a structure that is extraordinarily stable and clever.

 

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Most of us, though, learned these ideas before we were able to think critically. We learned them before we knew about the dramatic percentage of African American men imprisoned, before we saw unusual levels of economic inequality, shoddy health care for people who can’t pay, and crazed homeless people sleeping in downtown doorways.

Most of us never had to put our liberty-and-justice-for-all convictions to the test. If, however, in these post-9/11 decades you should say or do something that drops you into the hands of the federal justice system, you will find that your rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association—as set out in the Bill of Rights—are no longer operative. Without these rights, you will be ruined before it’s over, whether you are guilty of a crime or not.  I can explain.

In the winter of 2011, John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent, approached us at GAP for representation. He told us he would soon be indicted by the Justice Department for confirming to an investigator, who relayed to an attorney for a Guantanamo detainee, the name of a CIA interrogator who quite possibly extracted a confession from the detainee under torture. The defense attorney entered the CIA interrogator’s name into his client’s case file, and the Guantanamo tribunal put the document under seal. In other words, although Kiriakou did confirm the name, it was never publicly revealed. He believed, and we soon agreed with him, that although this information would imminently occasion his indictment, his legal problems actually stemmed from an interview he gave to Brian Ross of ABC News five years before. In that interview, Kiriakou became the first US official to reveal that US forces tortured their prisoners as a matter of policy. There was a torture program, a manual, a staff, training, and a budget. Kiriakou’s real crime, then, was reporting a crime—torture—just as Edward Snowden’s crime was reporting a crime—illegal surveillance. The Justice Department charged Kiriakou under the Espionage Act and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act for revealing classified information. The multiple charges could have resulted in his imprisonment for more than thirty years.

No one associated with the torture program—not those who designed it or approved it, not those who carried it out, not those who destroyed the video evidence of it despite an order not to—went to jail. Only John Kiriakou, who told the public about it, did. In the United States, reporting a crime has become a crime, and official secrecy can be used to conceal torture.

 

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It is the Espionage Act of 1917 that the Obama administration reaches for when a national security whistle blower must be silenced. The Obama Justice Department prosecuted Bradley Manning, Tom Drake, John Kiriakou, and Edward Snowden, using this archaic statute, branding them all enemies of the state. Adopted during World War I to address the political hysteria directed at German Americans, an early version of the Espionage Act included a punitive program of press censorship, which, fortunately, died in the Senate during debate, even then. At the time, Senator Charles Thomas (D-CO) made prescient remarks about the measure:

It strikes directly at the freedom of the press, at the constitutional exemption from unreasonable search and seizure. . . . I very much fear that we may place upon the statute books something that may rise to plague us.48

Truth is now treason in the United States. At this point in our history, if a crime is an official secret, anyone who speaks about it is a criminal.

Our lack of rights is not apparent, though, because our form of government is unchanged. Civilians control the military, the president runs the executive branch, Congress approves the nation’s budget and taxes the people, and the judicial system operates without visible influence from outside forces. The Constitution of the United States is intact, only impaired, but the Bill of Rights has been shredded.

In dissecting the loss of freedom, it is important to distinguish between the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—its first ten amendments. The Constitution per se, consists of seven articles that specify the rights of property, the responsibilities of the state, and the conduct of elections. Looking at the original, it is clear that the thinking behind it was ingenious for its time and established a government structure that would be difficult for any one faction to control completely, given at least some diversity of interests.

The actual Constitution—the original without its amendments—is ingenious because it ensures stability, but it’s not all that democratic. Slavery was an accepted practice. Women could not vote. The Senate was elected by the state legislatures, and the president was elected by a college of electors. Only the House of Representatives was directly elected by male citizens. In most states, only white male property owners could vote. For well over two hundred years, in practice, only white male property owners held the office of president of the United States.

 

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The rights of citizens came, first, through the Bill of Rights, which the Framers added as a concession to secure the support of yeoman farmers in the thirteen colonies who were not enthusiastic about granting a central/federal government the power to tax them. The Bill of Rights is what most of us think of when we express our reverence for the US Constitution: freedom of speech, the right to personal security, freedom of association and freedom from self-incrimination, guarantees of due process and habeas corpus.

Over the course of our history, we have democratized the state through constitutional amendments. Article XIII ended slavery, and Article XIV, passed in 1868, extended most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights to the states. Article XIX bestows upon women the right to vote.

Rights of people, then, as opposed to rights of property and privileges of the state, were added to the US Constitution, and therefore can be drained away without altering at all the form in which we’re governed. We do not live in Lenin’s Soviet Union, which had to depose the czar, or even in Pinochet’s Chile, which assassinated the civilian president and installed a military head of state. The constitutional forms are still in place. Only our rights as individual citizens are weakened.

Joseph Nacchio was the CEO of Qwest Communications in February 2001, when the NSA approached him about cooperation with the agency’s surveillance activities, seven months before the attacks of 9/11. Nacchio entertained the NSA’s request for Qwest’s customers’ call records and asked the Qwest general counsel for advice. After reviewing the NSA request, the general counsel advised Nacchio that the NSA’s proposal was illegal, and Qwest could not comply without a FISA warrant. Years later, of course, we found that the NSA had made similar requests of all the major telecoms—Verizon, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, and so forth—and Qwest was the only corporation to object. Nacchio claims that the NSA then retaliated by excluding Qwest from lucrative contract work.

Subsequently, the Department of Justice charged Joseph Nacchio with forty-two counts of insider trading. When he tried to defend himself against the charges by introducing the background conflict between himself as Qwest CEO and the NSA, the court ruled the information inadmissible.49

When ultimately released, court documents showed that during the crucial period, February 2001, Nacchio served as the chairman of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. The NSA approached him about a program called Groundbreaker, which would outsource much of the agency’s nonclassified work. During a meeting, NSA officials also proposed another kind of cooperation, but redactions in the court documents obscure the exact nature of that proposal.50

 

 

Nacchio’s defense attorney claimed that the NSA pressured him for months after the February 2001 meeting to grant the agency broad access to phone call information and Internet traffic on the Qwest network, but Qwest’s attorneys warned him that if he complied with the NSA’s request, the corporation could be guilty of a felony. So he responded to the agency that he could only submit customer data to the government if presented with a FISA warrant.

Subsequently, Qwest acquired telecom US West, and in 2005, the Justice Department charged Nacchio with accounting fraud for misrepresenting his corporation’s bottom line in negotiations. In his defense, Nacchio wanted to claim that at the time of the purchase, he believed Qwest would soon prosper as the result of its participation in a series of lucrative government communications contracts. After he refused to cooperate with the NSA, however, the expected contracts did not materialize, and Qwest’s financial position deteriorated.

During Nacchio’s trial, none of this information was introduced because it was classified. Ultimately, he was convicted on nineteen of forty-two counts and served four and a half years of a six-year sentence.

Two things. First, whether Nacchio is guilty of a crime or not, his defense—once documents were unsealed—asserts that the pressure to provide the raw material for large-scale domestic spying involving telecoms began just after George W. Bush became president, well before September 11, 2001. If Nacchio were the only one who claimed this, it might be a fragile argument, but telecom customers of several corporations filed lawsuits accusing the providers of violating their subscribers’ privacy beginning around February 2001. The suit filed against AT&T asserts that seven months before September 11, 2001, the company:

[B]egan development of a center for monitoring long distance calls and Internet transmissions and other digital information for the exclusive use of the NSA.51

There is powerful evidence to substantiate the claim that September 11, 2001, was not, in fact, the incident that precipitated the broad sweep surveillance of Americans. Nacchio and the lawsuits against AT&T and other telecoms assert that the request for access to private data began virtually as soon as George W. Bush took office, months before 9/11.

 

 

Secondly, Nacchio’s case shows what Kiriakou’s does: the US intelligence apparatus retaliates through the Justice Department for noncompliance with its demands. As others have pointed out, if Nacchio’s defense were untrue, why didn’t the prosecutor allow it to be admitted and then expose it as bogus? Why did the defense have to be excluded?52

Five years later, we are no closer to knowing the truth. Part of the problem is that Congress is not pressing hard for answers. In the fall after the initial Snowden disclosures, at hearings called by the Senate Judiciary Committee, only a few senators, including Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, regularly asked specific confrontational questions of NSA Director Keith Alexander designed to elicit meaningful answers. Congressional oversight simply isn’t there.

Although electronic surveillance of Americans receives much of the public’s attention, other rights are quietly weakening, too. Most significant perhaps is the pending loss of the right to due process and habeas corpus. Under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012, the president apparently acquired the power to order the military to detain

[a] person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.53

Anyone detained under the statute, may be held indefinitely without trial under the law of war “until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [Authorized Use of Military Force].”54 Moreover, people detained would have no right to be notified of the specific charges against them and would thus be unable to defend themselves.

There is considerable controversy surrounding the interpretation and application of the law, and civil liberties organizations protest it strenuously. Chris Hedges, a journalist, and six political dissidents filed suit in federal court asserting a fear of prosecution under new military powers. Most realistically and immediately, they fear the law could be used to detain American citizens on American soil, accuse them of association with Al-Qaeda, and deport them for detention at Guantanamo Bay until the end of hostilities, whenever that is. The concern and confusion surround the phrases “substantially support” and “associated forces,” and a number of journalists believe that the law could be used against them if they interview members of Al-Qaeda or publish information about them. If this could occur, or even be attempted, the NDAA (section 1021) violates the First Amendment (the right to free speech) and the Fifth Amendment (freedom from self-incrimination), at the very least.

In the most recent ruling on the lawsuit, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the implementation of NDAA:

 

 

Since the U.S. government has promised that citizens, journalists, and activists were not in danger of being detained as a result of NDAA, it was unnecessary to block the enforcement of 102 (b)(2) of the NDAA.55

 

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The judges apparently believe that if government lawyers assert something, then it’s true. The ruling, issued on July 17, 2013, came one month after the first disclosure made by Edward Snowden that exposed the NSA’s repeated assurances to Congress that the agency would not spy on Americans in an unwarranted wholesale fashion as a lie.

So here we are. The NDAA poses a real threat to journalists, whistleblowers, and whistleblower advocates, who may be detained without trial indefinitely for writing about someone who challenges government actions. The law is far from clear, and while the courts decide which interpretation of its nebulous phrases might be constitutional, its chilling effect is already obvious.

This is America in 2013, a country so far from its founding ideals that it’s difficult to recognize. Those running the electronic espionage system designed to track foreign terror suspects ultimately turned their surveillance equipment on us.

Congress does not object. Even when lied to in open session while the television cameras roll, as Senator Wyden was, the Senate does not investigate. There is no special prosecutor and no effort to determine what lies beneath the lies. Why is that?

Because, in acquiring all electronic information there is to have about each of us, the NSA also acquires unlimited information about senators and congressmen. Who among them wants to find him- or herself in a pissing match with Keith Alexander or James Clapper? How can any one of them be sure there is no record of a dubious campaign contribution, a fund-raising call from a Senate office instead of campaign headquarters, a childhood friend who turned out badly, a quick trip to rehab, a struggle with online poker playing or pornography? As Willie Stark told Jake in All the King’s Men: “There’s always something.” Any sensible politician would be afraid that the NSA knows what that something is.

This is the problem when the government—or part of it—knows more about us than we know about the government. In this context, information really is power. When a single secretive executive agency has it all, the responsiveness of democratic processes is compromised. Neither elected nor appointed officials can confront such an agency and survive the retaliation. Legislators in particular seem slavish when confronted with the potential crimes of the NSA. Moreover, the government seems to conduct itself in ways that do not accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

When we lose our right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, we lose the presumption of innocence. There’s a reason we need that departure point in a conflict with the state and a reason we have those rights. They establish the sovereignty of the people as opposed to that of a dictator. They protect us from the tyranny of the state.

 

17771_10200931364151094_12254622_n[1]This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source. 

Beatrice Edwards is both the executive director and international program director at the Governmental Accountability Project. Edwards has 30 years of experience working on labor issues, anti-corruption measures and public-service reforms. She holds a PhD in sociology from American University.

 

The Corporate Security State is increasingly stealing our rights to safety, liberty and fairness, and granting ever-growing power to the corporate elite. Beatrice Edwards discusses this very frightening, very real phenomenon in her new book.

Daniel Ellsberg writes of The Rise of the American Corporate Security State: “Edwards is an extraordinary writer who brilliantly captures the essence of what whistleblowers such as Snowden have sacrificed their careers and jeopardized their personal liberties to convey.” Truthout is serializing the The Rise of the American Corporate State in cooperation with Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

The Constitution Impaired; the Bill of Rights Annulled
Thursday, 12 June 2014
By Beatrice Edwards, Berrett-Koehler Publishers | Book Excerpt

Tuesday, 20 May 2014
By Beatrice Edwards, Berrett-Koehler | Book Excerpt
Friday, 16 May 2014
By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Author Interview 

Surveillance Posing as Counter-Terrorism: Foreward to “The Rise of the American Corporate Security State”
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
By Jesselyn Radack, Berrett-Koehler | Book Excerpt

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