volume 1, issue 2
DE-COLONIZING THE REVOLUTIONARY IMAGINATION
EDITOR'S NOTE: The first section of this essay was printed in the 2nd Issue of The Journal.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: These ideas are works in
progress. Feedback of all sorts (including scathing criticism) is
welcome. Likewise those interested in expanding upon or collaborating
to implement some of these strategies are encouraged to contact the
author at email@example.com.
- I.F. Stone
Our planet is heading into an unprecedented global crisis. The blatancy
of the corporate power grab and the accelerating ecological meltdown
is evidence that we do not live in an era where we can afford the
luxury of fighting the symptoms. As is often noted, crisis provides
both danger and opportunity. The extent that these two opposing qualities
define our era will be largely based on the appeal and breadth of
the social movements which arise to address the crisis.
I often recall the Buddhist saying “The task before us is very urgent so we must slow down.” This essay is my effort as an organizer who has been deeply involved in a number of recent global justice mass actions, to “slow down” a bit and explore some new analytical tools.
My hope is that this essay will incite deeper conversations about
strategies for building movements with the inclusiveness, creativity
and depth of vision necessary to move towards a more just and sane
world. To do so, let’s begin by asking why aren’t more
global north movements coming forward with systemic critiques? Why
despite the increasingly obvious nature of the crisis, isn’t
there more visible resistance to the corporate take over of the global
political system, economy and culture?
To do so, our movements for justice, ecology and democracy must deepen
their message by more effectively articulating the values crisis underlying
the corporate system. We must lay claim to life-affirming, common
sense values and expose one of the most blatant revolutionary truths
of the modern era: the corporate rule system rooted in sacrificing
human dignity and planetary health for elite profit is out of alignment
with an increasing number of people’s basic values.
To explore de-colonizing the revolutionary imagination, we must reference
the history of colonization. The word colonialism comes from “colonia”
a Latin word for rural farmstead. When the armies of the Roman empire
conquered the peoples of Europe they seized the land and created colonias
to control the territory. A thousand years later Europe came to be
controlled by leaders who went on to mimic this cruelty, and force
Western civilization ("a disease historically spread by sharp
) upon the rest of the world.
In facing the global crisis, the most powerful weapon that we have is our imaginations. But first we must liberate ourselves from the conceptual limitations we place on social change. As we expand the realm of the possible we shape the direction of the probable. This means directly confronting the myths and assumptions that make a better world seem unattainable. To that end this essay endeavors to explore some tools to help us unshackle our imaginations and deepen the momentum of the global justice movements into a political space to fundamentally re-design the global system.
On a final note of introduction I wish to clarify that most of the ideas presented in this essay are neither new nor truly my own. Ideas by their nature quickly cross-pollinate and grow beyond any individual's role in their articulation. All activists owe a great debt to shared experience. I personally owe a great debt to many seasoned activists and theorists from across numerous movements who have shared their thoughts and helped me deepen my analysis. Likewise all of these ideas are a work in progress. They are intended to be tools to spark discussion, encourage debate and it is my sincerest hope that they will generate more questions than they answer. Questions are always more radical than answers.
We live in a dangerous time, an urgent time, a time of profound crisis. Ecologically speaking it is an apocalyptic time defined by the sixth mass extinction 2, the destruction of the planet’s last wilderness areas and the forced assimilation of the planet’s few remaining earth centered cultures. Every ecosystem, every traditional culture and every subsistence economy is on the chopping block as the global corporatizers force their consumer monoculture "development" model (read anti-development) upon the entire world. Corporate capitalism’s inherent drive towards global domination has literally pushed the life support systems of the planet to the point of collapse.
Increasingly more and more people are recognizing that we are at a global turning point. The corporate take over— the latest offensive in the 500 plus year conquest of the planet by Western Culture — is being met with massive resistance around the planet. However, the elite planners and architects of the global economy seem incapable of hearing their multitude of critics and are continuing to push towards total commodification, assimilation, and a global corporate state.
Over the last few years as corporate power has begun to undermine the economic self-determination and political sovereignty of even the global north over-consumption class, resistance has grown more visible in the heart of it all— the United States. Unprecedented coalitions have formed, and different movements have been united in creative mass protest to slow the pace of corporate globalization. But slowing things down is one thing, replacing the doomsday economy with a democratic, just and ecological sane world is another. The global system is mutating. Although its roots remain sunk deeply in its history of colonial genocide, corporate power grabs, and ecological devastation the structure has changed dramatically over the past generation. The biggest element of this is the rise of the speculative economy. As the world financial sector has been deregulated and many countries have been forced to drop limits on investment there has been a widely noted transition in global economic priorities from the production of real goods to a global casino economy based on high risk short term speculation.
In 1986 the world’s foreign exchange markets were handling nearly $200 billion a day. By 1998 this figure had grown 8 fold to $1.5 trillion dollars EVERY DAY! 3 Since the entirety of world trade is estimated to be worth about US $6.5 trillion a year 4 that means that 5 days of currency transactions surpasses the value of an entire year of world trade. But the most important aspect of this so-called "financial revolution" is that the massive numbers represent growth in the speculative sector of the economy. Financial speculation has accelerated to the point that by the year 2000, for every one dollar of international investment facilitating trade in real goods, nine dollars were being spent on short term speculation. 5
Understanding the rise of the speculative economy is central to debunking the neoliberal myth of growing prosperity. The reality is that all the money circulating in the speculative economy doesn’t feed anyone, clothe anyone, or provide anyone with meaningful jobs. Rather the speculative economy is largely just rich people, through their corporate institutional proxies, using the money they already have to make more. This massive speculative economy is a powerful de-stabilizing force which threatens local economies and ecosystems. Speculation is the opposite of sustainability and encourages a deeper disconnect between ecological realities (limits, natural cycles of production etc.) and the arbitrary mechanics of financial manipulation.
Since 1980 the total value of the planet’s financial assets (money in stocks, bonds, bank deposits, and cash) has increased seven fold from $12 trillion to $80 trillion in 2000. 6 These statistics are the "rising tide that lifts all the boats" and the "miracle of economic growth" that is the basis for the politician's promise of prosperity. But anyone (especially those unbrainwashed by the arcane logic of their economics) can see that surely seven more Earths haven't been created over the last 2 decades --- so where did all this new “wealth” come from?
Once we cut through the numerology and semantics we recognize that what economists call economic growth is really the liquidation of the natural wealth of the planet. Almost literally, they are destroying the natural economy of living forests to make an economy of disposable paper on which they print money to tell themselves how rich they are. It is a true doomsday economy which is incapable of seeing the natural systems which sustain life as anything other than resources to be extracted. The flawed accounting of the speculative economy hides the horrible truth that what the corporate globalizers call “progress” is really the Earth’s going out of business sale.
Our strategies must be informed by the fact that we’re not fighting that colloquialism once called in activist parlance “The Man”— these days we’re fighting the Machine. This machine is the culmination of the pathological world view that has hard-wired patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalist domination and ecological ignorance into the global operating system. The rich white (self-congratulatory) men who have always benefited from global domination continue to do so but ultimately they have created a runaway machine that is beyond even their own control.