Regular visitors might notice the link I recently added in my “Friends Elsewhere” category: Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO).  I highly suggesting taking a moment to go check this site out.  While reform-minded folks interested in economics may find themselves wading through the muck of various ways they can imagine to provide “economic stimulus” (eased regulation, tax shifts and breaks, rebates, etc), and while overly-intellectualized radicals try to hypothetical-ize  various forms of post-capitalist (and even post-monetary) economies, the coalition of individuals and organizations who comprise and support GEO are in fact working to accomplish both feats, in the here and now.  From their website:

GEO is a decentralized collective of educators, researchers and grassroots activists working to promote an economy based on democratic participation, worker and community ownership, social and economic justice, and ecological sustainability- a “solidarity economy”.

Instead of looking to this tax break or that legislative dictum, GEO is about radically up-ending the terms under which labor interacts with capital.  Their premise: that those whose labor builds the profits should own those profits and the means to achieving them, not an outside body, board, or owner.  Instead of concentrating ownership in the hands of the few (and focusing “economic development” on how to entice and generally please those few) GEO advocates (through publishing articles, holding workshops and conferences, and offering logistical and resource support) that the worker’s themselves, along with the larger community, are the one’s who are best fit (and most trustable) for ensuring workplace safety, sound allocation of resources and capital, and environmental integrity.  It is a vision, and work, that I wholeheartedly support.  Even more so, this isn’t some far-off and unlikely reality: currently there are hundreds, probably thousands, of democratic, employee-owned companies and organizations who are tremendously successful; in their systems, self-governance, and financially. 

While easily written off as some kind of fringe antiquated-Marxism, I’d like to suggest otherwise.  GEO is a project that was born out of the U.S. Social Forum (USSF), which in turn was born out of the World Social Forum (WSF).  Since it’s inception in 2001, the WSF has grown to be a global event that annually brings 100,000 people or more from throughout the planet together in hopes of building a just, fair, and democratic world counter to the neo-liberal, imperialist vision of it’s arch enemy, the World Economic Forum (WEF).  The first USSF, held in Atlanta in 2007, brought upwards of 15,000 people together from across the country.  One of the mandates to be produced there has seen the light of day in the form of GEO.  As you explore around their website, you’ll come to find that hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses, organizations, and community centers throughout the U.S. are in fact run in a directly democratic (including equalized profits) manner (here in Vermont, this includes King Arthur Flour, Chroma Technology, The Brattleboro Tech Collective, Digger’s Mirth Farm, dozens of grocery/consumer cooperatives, and of course the credit unions such as VSECU).

GEO’s organizers, members, and supporters realize the economic, social, and environmental destruction that has resulted and will continue to result as an inevitable consequence of the capitalist model.  In a word: our current economic systems must be entirely done away with or we will have no planet to live on.  To speak for a moment to this reality, I think it’s important to call the bluff of those who stonewall drastic changes which are meant to protect workers, local communities (i.e., indigenous cultures) and the environment.  “It would cost too much” they tell us.  “Bull fucking shit” we must say back.  Preserving the rich tapestry of human cultures, the dignity and humanity of the working classes, and indeed, our planet itself, has no price too high.  “It would cost too much” is code for “the upper classes will have less”- to which I say “Dam well they should”.

 The alternative scenario, the reality that is currently playing out and will continue to play out as an inevitable result of capitalist globalization, was fairly accurately predicted in an article by Robert D. Kaplan in 1994 for The Atlantic Monthly.  The article, The Coming Anarchy, was expanded in 2000 and released in book form (which is the form I came to it by).  Kaplan is a bestselling conservative writer who also frequently lectures to the U.S. military and was even a consultant for a while to the U.S. Army’s Special Forces Regiment.  His prediction, which has proven pretty accurate, envisioned a rapidly growing (and drastic) global divide between country’s who have and have-not; whole continents, in fact, based on high-tech and white collar jobs (the consumer countries) in the “global North” balanced out by the manufacturing and agricultural countries (the producer countries) of the “global South”.  Kaplan did not envision the creation of a fair and democratic (anarchist) global economy coming from the fall of the Soviet Union, he envisioned a global chaos (anarchy) whereby the rich get richer and the poor get fucked.  The evidence of this global-sized plantation is everywhere:

-A “Fortress North America” comprising the U.S. and Canada is increasingly intertwined economically, socially, and militarily.  A literal fence, a wall, is slowly (but almost inevitably) being erected to secure this fortress from the ills and influence of Mexico and the rest of the Western Hemisphere’s Southern States.  What few unskilled, manual jobs that remain in the U.S. and Canada are generally surrendered to the “illegal” Mexicans who make no demands for minimum wages, benefits, or workplace safety.  What happens to the excess workforce in the U.S. and Canada as a result of this? I’ll get to that in a minute.

-Farmer’s in the American Midwest have reacted to looming water shortages and increasingly un-workable land (as a result of over-toxifacation and erosion from their conventional practices) by becoming huge land-owners throughout Brazil and other parts of South America; for literally a pittance of what land costs to acquire in the U.S. they are snatching up thousands of acres of forest and rainforest, making a few bucks by clear-cutting it, and then starting massive industrial farming operations which produce everything from soy beans to beef.  Literally, the (agriculturally productive) lands of South America are being bought by foreigners, environmentally devastated, and then turned into mega-farms to satisfy the insatiable appetites of those living in the U.S.- all the while those who labor to run and work the farms are making barely subsistence wages while the wealth (the profits, the created capital) head North into fortress North America

 -The creation of a “European Union” which largely follows the same model of Fortress North America- fringe countries of the former Soviet Union are scrambling to be “allowed in” before it’s too late and their economies become associated and intertwined with that of the other “producer” countries; the power elite in these countries know what’s at stake.

-The expansion of producer-country mini-empires who run State-capitalist economies (such as China, India and Russia).  These countries violently enforce an industrial economy upon their populations which serves the interests of the post-industrial/consumer countries (while providing a good return on investment for those in power).  Small hand-outs to their internal populations (the increased availability of consumer goods and the rise of a modest though ultimately powerless middle class within their borders) act as the carrot which maintains social and economic “order”.

-The Perpetual War.  Kaplan and his ilk have long recognized that in order to secure resources in the global South, and to provide safe transportation of these resources around the world, the U.S. and it’s (economic) allies have to permanently place military forces throughout the region.  These troops have to make occasional incursions into otherwise sovereign territories in order to preemptively thwart those who would pose a threat.

-Finally, the “anarchy” which Kaplan predicts will be/is allowed to carry on throughout the global South whenever and wherever it poses no immediate threat to strategic resources or that of the U.S.’ allies.  Genocide in Darfur?  violent totalitarianism in Burma? complete social and economic collapse in Argentina? civil war in (insert name of any number of Asian and African countries here)? By and large these matters are of no consequence to the United States.  Given the U.S.’ response to areas of strategic import (i.e., Venezuela, Iraq and the Middle East), any outside observer has to wonder about the lackadaisical response to any of the above mentioned nations.  An interesting side note here, which concerns the much more socialistic concerns of the people of Europe when it comes to these affairs: the EU is almost always eons ahead of the U.S. in it’s humanitarian reaction to global conflicts and tragedies- this is, in my opinion, probably born out of an attempt to by EU leaders to pacify their population, who generally speaking are far more aware and concerned with global events such as the genocide in Darfur.

 All of which brings to mind a term that I heard a couple years ago when a political comrade from Victoria, British Columbia, was in Montpelier while on a speaking tour of the Northeast.  I had asked him how his trip had been, knowing he had left the tranquil Pacific-Northwest and spoken in places like Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City.  “Everyone in Canada knows things are kinda fucked up in the States,” he said, “But one thing I was not at all prepared for was your urban ghettos; it is just the most incredible, sad, heartless thing to do to a post-industrial surplus population that I’ve ever imagined.”  Wow.  Take a moment with that phrase: the post-industrial surplus population.  With the end of industrialism in the U.S., and factory farms increasingly moved into the Southern hemisphere, an under-educated, un-employable surplus population of people (by no coincidence made-up largely of ethnic minorities and women, though by no means exclusive to these groups) finds itself increasingly a part of sprawling urban ghettos, where opportunity and justice are increasingly distant carrots.

Now, for the United States and Europe, where industrialization meant a need for large numbers of worker’s to fill the factories and the farm fields, post-industrialization has no use for that kind of population.  The only substantial employment offered is in jobs that require a high degree of education and training (with a very small number of people still occupying the “non-skilled” job sector- the people who clean the buildings, serve the coffee and bag the groceries).  In the most horrific of manners, everyone else has been (and continues to be) more or less pushed into increasingly huge urban ghettos (a la the Jews in Warsaw).  They have two real functions: keep themselves divided, distracted, and politically impotent (through drugs, regional waring, etc) and provide (yet another) outlet for the resources of the many to be re-allocated to the upper classes.  The latter happens through the legal and prison-industrial complex.  Absolutely horrific amounts of tax-payer money is used for law-enforcement, prosecution, and detainment of this “criminal” sector.  The professional class (in this case, lawyers, the courts, and the owners of the prisons) are all being paid with money collected from the people.  Even here in Vermont, where there are no urban ghettos to speak of (though, on our own scale, can be seen in places like Barre, Rutland, Morrisville and Burlington’s Old North End) we have recently found out that we rate worst in the nation in education/incarceration spending.  For every $1.00 the State spends on higher education, a $1.37 goes towards “corrections” (“corrections” being a term for “incarceration” a la the “Secretary of War” being re-named the “Secretary of Defense”).  Such an investment is as best a sad statement of our social priorities, and at worst a telling reflection of the role of the State- to protect the elite and de-humanize the poor.

So the writing is on the wall.  Just as over the past 150 years many-a radical could have (and did) predict the logical conclusions of capitalism, and just as even the conservative thinkers have predicted of global capitalism, we can see the waste, the destruction, and the devastation that these systems have brought all around us today.  It’s great to see that some (indeed, many) are beginning to look way “outside the box” in regards to how we organize ourselves and our economy.  I hope we can succeed in bringing about this change before it’s too late.

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