“I am truly free only when all human beings, men and women, are equally free. The freedom of other men, far from negating or limiting my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary premise and confirmation.”
– Mikhail Bakunin
I remember being 8 or 9 years old, coming back from school to watch my then-favorite cartoon show ‘Timon and Pumbaa.” In this one particular episode, Pumbaa the Warthog was indulging for hours on end in a mud bath. The whole episode revolved around Timon the Meerkat trying to convince Pumbaa to get out of the bath and spend some time with him. Timon eventually gives up and dives into the swamp. The show ends with Timon saying “Hey if you can’t beat them join them!”
I went to have lunch with my family shortly after that. At some point during the meal, I repeat the phrase I heard earlier: “If you can’t beat them, join them!”. To which my father placed his hand on the table turned to me and said: “No..no, you always fight for what you believe in, even if you were the only one.”
It might have been a small passing moment but his words stuck by me.
Let’s take a hard look at where we are in the world today.
Let’s look at the wars, famine, refugee crisis, fascism, police brutality, inequality; gender, race, and class. Let’s look at consumerism and the devastating cost on both humans and our environment. Let’s look at how unhappy people have become being constrained by late capitalism as our lives have come to revolve around the accumulation of goods and economic growth. Let’s look at climate change, the animals and the possible future of our planet.
Granted when compared to our gory past, things look better. Still, things can be much better simply because we deserve better. Our children deserve better.
Half of a million people have been killed in Syria. 22 million Yemenis are now without access to food or medical supply. EU sanctions on refugees enabled a slave market in Libya where people were auctioned off for as low as $400 per human.
There are over 68 million people in the world who, due to the ongoing conflict or instability, have been forced out of their homes only to be met with closed borders. Several rescue boats have been rejected from docking to safe harbor in Malta, Italy.
The rise in anti-immigration sentiment has accessorized 21st-century populist rhetoric opening ways for new dehumanizing discourses and consequently legitimize inhumane action. New reports suggest that babies as young as 18 months old were being sent to “tender age” shelters under the White House’s zero-tolerance policy towards immigrants.
Wars and imperialism as described by Lenin are seen as the highest stage of capitalism as military competition becomes inevitable. From the macro to the micro, capitalism affects every aspect of our lives. It has generated a classist system of hierarchy and a welcoming climate for anxiety and depression. A study conducted by Gallup (2012) concluded that humans have a natural psychological need to feel their lives are meaningful. A need which is not attended to nor is fulfilled under a system where most of our time is spent enchained in a hyper-competitive environment constantly looking for means to increase surplus value.
In the study, 63% of people said they felt that they were just sleepwalking from Monday to Friday. In Precarious Rhapsody, Italian Marxist Bifo describes the worker as being reduced to fragments of time and it is our time that has become a commodity.
Our identity, in itself, has become susceptible to commodification where consumption constructs the void in this social logic of capitalism. People are not happy. People can’t get jobs, and those who do are overworked. The worker is disenfranchised as he/she is bounded for hours in mundane routine and treated as a replaceable commodity in uncaring conditions.
Workers in the iPhone factory in China are literally throwing themselves off buildings. Yet, I write this piece on my Macbook. The irony is not lost on me.
We are so caught up in the system that alternatives to it are rendered impossible. Political activist George Monbiot describes neoliberalism as an ideology that has become so pervasive we don’t even recognize it as an ideology. We just accept it as some form of biological law. At the heart of neoliberalism lies the expansion of the free market economy.
By centering our lives around competition, neoliberalism has created a system of winners and losers. If you’re making money, if you’re producing, then you win. If not then you are not worthy of being cared about.
Official reports from early 2018 show that 4,751 people are sleeping rough on the streets of England, a 73 percent increase over the last three years. The figure should not come as a surprise as the gap between the rich and poor (the haves and the have-nots) is reaching its peak. Income inequality generated by the rising share of financial assets disproportionately regulated among the wealthy is the leading cause of a polarized society. In laymen’s terms, 82% of the global wealth generated went to the wealthiest 1% in 2017. Projections for 2022 suggest more pessimistic scenarios– if things do not change.
Besides all of that – our personal and professional struggle- is our planet which is reaping the devastating cost of our negligence. The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things on Earth. Yet since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of the plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds. Our oceans are clogged with plastic.
Something is not right.
This lifestyle is not working for us. Not for us, not for the animals nor for the planet. We need to take a good look at ourselves and ask: What are we doing here? Are there any alternatives?
There are alternative ways for societies to function. The functionality of these systems first and foremost focus on sustainability- of the human and of the planet. It calls for the redirection of the very fabric of our social lives away from capital accumulation, privatized industries, deregulation, and competition into the fundamental value of human liberty and relations.
The alternative ways that present themselves as viable solutions are, I believe, global socialism and anarchism.
What is Socialism?
Mainstream discourses have successfully vilified socialist and Marxist ideologies by tying them to hyperboles and myths. Alternative systems that challenge the validity of capitalism will be discredited and rejected.
Socialism is a form of economic and social systems where the means of production are democratically controlled by social ownership. Under socialism, the drive behind social and economic relations transforms from competition into cooperation.
Human cooperation is the basic and most fundamental element of socialism. Our ability to collaborate, compromise and communicate is the measure of its success. By allocating value on the abilities of individual and social needs, preservation of natural resources, education and healthcare would take forefront emphasis. The woes of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness would retreat as power and responsibility will be divided among the many, not the few.
An Examination of Absolute Poverty in South Africa showed that 30.4 million of the country’s 55 million citizens lived below the upper poverty line — that’s three million more than in 2011. Late last year, South African Federation of Trade Unions has issued a statement demanding a fundamentally different life, socialist economy.
“We are determined to reinstate the real programme for radical economic transformation — which has been hijacked by a corrupt faction — and to mobilize mass support for it, based on the call of the Freedom Charter that ‘there shall be jobs and security’ for all.”
Demands for equality are finding contagion across countries as labor protests manifest in Iran, Jordan, France, China and the U.S. Frustrated by low wages and rising prices, truck drivers, teachers, union leaders are all coming the together for a future that is not just plausible but inevitable. In his critique, Marx suggests that wages are intentionally kept low, low enough for the worker to survive and to remain disempowered or ‘enslaved.’
Equal rights are the only premise envisioned by Marx & Engels’ socialist society. For them, the future of mankind constitutes not just classless society but a collective that functions “from each according to their ability, to each according to their work.” It is more than just fighting alienation, exploitation, and private appropriation. It is more than just demanding the end of fascism and bigotry in all forms. It is a society that seeks to legitimize a person’s value, growth, and needs as a basic right.
In his book ‘Why Marx was right’, Terry Eagleton reaffirms that in order for socialism to truly work it needs to happen on a global scale. “Nor did Marxists ever imagine that it was possible to achieve socialism in one country alone. The movement was international or it was nothing. If a socialist nation failed to win international support, it would be unable to draw upon the global resources needed to abolish scarcity.”
In his 1949 essay “Why Socialism?” world genius Albert Einstein has this to say:
This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.
I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals. In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child.
A clear distinction should be made with establishing a socialist society and validating maneuvers for authoritarian rule.
Que in Anarchism.
What is Anarchism?
Just like socialism, anarchism has misconceptions of its own – disorder, chaos, and violence are the terms usually associated with anarchism. It is, however, none of these.
Anarchism stands for the abolition of unjustified hierarchies. It is the belief that nobody is more adequate to practice governance on you than yourself. By that, anarchism challenges capitalism’s pyramid model of hierarchy and promotes self-governance. Political activist and writer, Emma Goldman describes anarchism as the ‘liberation of the human body from the coercion of property; liberation from the shackles and restraint of government. It stands for a social order based on the free grouping of individuals.’
A question I keep asking myself is :
What are the qualifications of ruling institutions and those who run them that make them eligible to govern us? Why are we participating in an unjust dynamic which grants a privileged few an insurmountable amount of power? These officials are people just like us bounded by human logic and flaws. Yet unlike us, they have the power to dictate and enforce dominance in courses of life. Especially since political governments systematically discriminate against women and minority groups.
More than often such propositions, that aim to drastically question and change our current structure, are disregarded as unachievable or overly idealistic. When it comes to anarchism, dystopian English writer George Orwell would beg to differ. In Homage to Catalonia, Orwell, who fought alongside anarchist revolutionaries known as C.N.T during the Spanish Civil War writes:
“Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags and with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivized; Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. There was no unemployment, and the price of living was still extremely low; you saw very few conspicuously destitute people, and no beggars except the gypsies. Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.”
Chances of life would have it that I’m in Barcelona now experiencing the residue of this movement. The Anarchist community is not as big as it once was but attempts by corporations to dominate are still met with resistance. Barcelona is covered with Anarchist symbols and influences. C.N.T still exists and is active today protesting for workers rights and against discrimination.
In an outspoken interview, social theorist and political philosopher Murray Bookchin suggests that liberation from class domination is not enough. According to him, we should look in to and past the struggle of class-based economic exploitation. We should challenge forms of hierarchal mechanisms in all of its facets starting with states, families, schools, sexual relations and among ethnic groups. We need to liberate ourselves from domination that may not have any economic meaning.
In support of that proposal, I quote Noam Chomsky who once said that ‘Anarchism is the closest we can get to achieving true democracy.‘ That is because by eradicating ground for supremacy, anarchism eliminates class, racial and gender-based forms of inequality. It can, thereby, create bottom-up councils situated in democratic confederalism.
In both cases of Global Socialism and Anarchism, power is not concentrated in one body. In her newest book, Noami Kline finds that the decentralization of power, community control, and self-sufficiency to be the most practical way to combat the status quo. The status quo is one where wealth and corporations have the legitimacy to sanction violence, corruption, nepotism and labor exploitation in the name of the free market.
In 1977, Al Traverso magazine published a list of demands:
– Cut the working hours, increase the number of jobs.
– Increase the amount of salary
– Transform production and place it under workers’ control.
– Technology has been used so far as a means of control and exploitation. It wants to be turned into a tool for liberation. Working less is possible thanks to the application of cybernetics and informatics.
-Power to the living labor.
These demands still stand 40 years later.
What I believe in today, is the potential the human race has at achieving a just society. Movements such as Catalonia’s C.N.T which consisted of more than 18,000 workers and today’s Rojava’s resistance in northern Syria is a testament of our ability to commit and mobilize.
I believe in enjoying our time here on Earth which is minuscule by comparison. To not be chained to ungratifying work or ideologies that aim to segregate us. I believe in the compassion of people to look past religions, nationality, sex, race, sexuality to achieve some form of unity. As ideal as it may sound but I truly believe in the intelligence of the human being and their ability to cooperate. After all, the survival of our species and planet depends on it.
Most of all I believe in the power of the people to overcome this stage. A vital stage in our human development which requires the involvement of everybody. Acts of solidarity and speaking out against moments of injustices is a responsibility for ourselves and for future generation.
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