Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Isocracy: For Liberty and Common Wealth

above: an image of Lev Lafayette - the author

An Opportunity for the Left

Isocracy is a political philosophy whose time has come. As the last dregs of totalitarian and authoritarian statist socialism have become anachronisms, mainstream politics has become almost entirely colonised by corporate interests as democracy increases loses its honoured attachment to the polis and the formation of genuine public opinion [1]. 'Capitalist democracy' has become the orthodox political position, an acceptable system for conservatives and social-democrats alike; private ownership of the economy, public determination of socially acceptable behaviour. The only recognised alternative to this neo-liberalism is reminiscent of the classic description [2] of the 'dangerous class', the social scum, who have been thrown into existence by the new order. In this case, religious-inspired anti-modernists who through terrorism, the systematic use of violence against non-combatants for a political goal, seek to impose a new totalitarianism which incorporates modern weaponry to enforce the absolute rule of theocratic rulers and and pre-modern prejudices against the ruled.

Where the supposed major conflict is between capitalism and Islamism [3], there exists a enormous opportunity exists for the new left whereby its historical objectives - secularism, republicanism, personal liberty, common wealth, and national self-determination - can reinvigorate the notion of historical progress within the collective human spirit with recognition of the need to re-establish moral reasoning in each and every generation as technology advances. The experience of totalitarianism in the twentieth century shattered forever the Enlightenment illusion of an inevitable connection between technical progress and socio-cultural development, even to the extent that some (e.g., various forms of primitivism) have rejected technological development altogether. Whilst in some cases well-intentioned this is ultimately an idyllic and reactionary approach which abdicates from dealing with the existing social system and technologies, and thus will inevitably fail. More realistically, the most serious challenge is that posed by the claim that history is effectively at an evolutionary end; liberal democracy will become the only - and last - form of government for all States [4].

The weakness with the argument is that it is explicitly tied to the notion of governance through the State and cannot conceive, like many contemporary anarchists, of governance without a State. But the State, as the holder of monopoly on legitimated violence and as an instrument of class rule [5], is a limited institution and one which will inevitably come into conflict with the technological potential, the productive forces, and the social networks that these technologies allow. At that stage of development any State, no matter how progressive it may have once been, will become a deadweight on further social development as its core characteristics require both governance and oppression. Only through overcoming those components of a monopoly on violence and class rule can a society truly become free and the 'withering away of the state' can be achieved [6]. The historic mission of isocracy, "equal rule", with the universal principles of personal liberty through self-ownership and social democracy in the commonwealth is to create such a society in the context of contemporary technology.

Advantages and Limits of Liberal Democracy

This is not to reject the contribution of liberal-democracy as the most developed State system of governance. There can be no doubt that through its founding principles and through the pressure of mass movements, it has provided great improvements in the life, including the highest levels of economic wealth, high standards of education, health, gender equity, the political rights of republicanism, secularism and multi-party democracy. Liberal democracies have, more than any other system of state-government, produced usually professional police and defense forces and it has been well-noted that liberal-democracies tend not to go to war with each other (liberal or democratic peace theory) [7]; as the holders of the most advanced technologies they do, however, engage in invasive wars of other non-compliant sovereign states with increasing civilian to military casualties.

Nevertheless there are systematic limits to liberal-democracy [8] which are difficult to resolve within its own procedures. Firstly, modern industrial requirements towards growth tend to stress the finite ability of the atmosphere to absorb heat. In other areas too, there is a tendency towards environmental negative externalities as various forms of pollution. Indeed, the overall failure of the enhancement of positive externalities (e.g., public infrastructure) and the minimisation of negative externalities has been correctly identified as "private wealth and public poverty" [9]. The supposed solution to these problems has inevitably been onerous taxes on capital and effective corvée labour of workers, further suppressing productive wealth through deadweight losses.

As a related issue, liberal democracy tends to inequality in wealth as it tends towards the monopolisation of natural resources; the treatment of capital and economic land as the same has highly significant consequences, more than any other economic decision [10]. Even a market with high entry costs does not have the same degree of economic suppression and exploitation as necessary goods in fixed supply. On a similar trajectory the institution of formal democracy likewise tends towards a distorted form through the influencing power of mass media and the ratio of elected to electors. This is also results, except where constitutionally protected (e.g., various Bills of Rights), that universal rights are subject to the vagaries of popular prejudice; the tyranny of the majority [11], a particularly important issue for those of minority religions, sexualities etc.

Revolutionary Reformism: The Transition To A Stateless Government

The core propositions of Isocracy - self ownership, informed consent, a common wealth of resource values, decentralised government, civil participation, defensive militia - are fundamental claims which no contemporary state has introduced, even in the most progressive liberal democracies. In theory these items could be introduced, albeit with difficulty, in such systems and as such, . It is possible, barely, that they could engage in a transformation from state-governments to stateless-governments. This possibility is the basis of a rejection of "lifestyle anarchism" [12] or the sort of Marxist-inspired refusal to participate in actual governance itself. But even if such transitions were, by some miracle, to occur in a legislative sense, this would not provide the necessary universal permanence of the claims which are supposed to transcend whatever political representatives are in power.

In order for this to occur two components are required [13]; first there must be involvement from the population with a dedicated view of rebuilding society, establishing novus ordo saeclorum through a constitutio libertatis dedicated to both "positive" and "negative" freedom, which is only possible through localised civil participation. The second component, and as direct result of the first, is that this new society is built not from some proclaimed revolutionary vanguards or by an elite cadre, which will inevitably hijack the impetus, but by the "organic intellectuals" arising from the conflict between social relations and productive forces. Indeed, the genuine purpose of revolutionary organisations is not to implement revolutions but rather to give people the know-how to run their own organisations[14] as ultimately the purpose of all political organisations should be to create the conditions where they are no longer needed.


[1] Jürgen Habermas, "The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere", Polity, 1989 [FP 1962]
[2] Karl Marx, Frederich Engels, "Manifesto of the Communist Party", FP 1848
[3] Benjamin Barber, "Jihad vs. McWorld", Crown, 1995
[4] Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History and the Last Man", Free Press, 1992
[5] Max Weber, 'The Profession and Vocation of Politics', in "Political Writings", Cambridge University Press, 1994 [FP 1919]
[6] Vladimir Lenin, "The State and Revolution", FP 1917, gave numerous, and ironically prophetic, warnings on the requirement of governing institutions to "lose their political character" and for the monopoly of violence (the armed forces, police) to be replaced by civil militia if any revolutionary government wished to avoid becoming an oppressive state.
[7] Bruce Russett, "Grasping the Democratic Peace", Princeton University Press, 1993 and Michael W. Doyle, "Ways of War and Peace", W.W. Norton, 1997
[8] For a thorough assessement see Jürgen Habermas, "Legitimation Crisis", Beacon, 1975 [FP: 1973], See also Jürgen Habermas, Niklas Luhmann "Theorie der Gesellschaft oder Sozialtechnologie", Suhrkamp, 1971 for further discussions on the capacity of the system to resolve these matters.
[9] John Kenneth Galbraith, "The Affluent Society", Houghton Mifflin, 1958
[10] An issue noted by most economists but most fully argued by Henry George, Progress and Poverty, FP 1879.
[11] As first described by Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, (two volumes), FP 1835 and 1840
[12] Murray Bookchin, Social Anarchism or Lifestyle Anarchism, AK Press, 1995
[13] Both these requirements are described in detail in Hannah Arendt, On Revolution, Penguin, 1990 [FP 1963]
[14] In this sense, the mutualist tradition is one of the most revolutionary of all. cf., Kevin Carson, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, BookSurge Publishing, 2007 FP [2004]

Friday, September 18, 2009

Reflecting with Joseph Stiglitz - Addressing the Recession; and Measuring social and economic progress

Earlier this September I happened upon an interesting article in ‘The Age’: a critique by Professor Joseph Stiglitz on the question of what kind of measures we ought use to measure social well-being. The most common measures referred to here is Gross Domestic Product: GDP. As Stiglitz noted, world leaders feel pressured to pursue growth in GDP – but this also “causes conflicts”.

There are environmental factors, and then there are issues of quality – rather than just ‘quantity of output. An important example, here, is US health care – where the sector comprises a greater proportion of US GDP – but quality and outcomes are inferior. And GDP masks real inequality – where concentration of wealth is not reflected in a single indicator of national wealth.

Such insights also sit well with post-materialist critiques of GDP. GDP - as a measure - obscures inequality. Again: it reflects quantity rather than quality. Do we really need to upgrade our cars every second year: or would we be better off allocating our resources – including our time and labour - elsewhere? What about time for family, social circles, or civic activism? And if the consequence of reshaping our priorities is that we need to increase tax as a proportion of GDP to ‘keep up’ with the provision of infrastructure and social services – is this so bad? If the consequence is that free human development and social connectedness flourish – surely the ‘trade off’ can be worth our while.

In another article from ‘The Age’ back in August 2009, Stiglitz also puts the case for economic stimulus in these difficult economic times.

Some might suggest that the case for stimulus is at odds with the project of reshaping the economy for human need. Rather they aim beyond economic measures which are concerned with only quantity – rather than quality of human life.

The pace of such change, however, is slow. In the interim people need jobs. And tax receipts must be supported here and now to provide for infrastructure and services: social wage and welfare provision. Furthermore: the case needs to be won for a readjustment of economic priorities – and in the meantime we must address the problems we face in the immediate term.

All this considered, Stiglitz contends that President Obama’s economic stimulus measures have not gone far enough. He observes that the aim of Obama’s policies was to “create some 3 million jobs more than would otherwise be the case”. Despite the effect of stimulus the unemployment rate in the US at the time of writing is still 9.6 per cent,

This translates to 14.9 million US citizens officially unemployed – with a contractionary flow-on effect for the world economy.

There are many dimensions to the problem: but Stiglitz notes the emphasis in the US on tax cuts. Burdened with personal debt – and in fear of job loss: Stiglitz holds that only a fraction of the US tax cuts have flowed on to consumer expenditure. This has frustrated attempts to buoy the US domestic economy. In the face of this conundrum – further (better targeted) stimulus is required.

The crisis – if unaddressed – could lead to exponential economic deterioration: and so Stiglitz insists that if we don’t spend now “we risk spending much more later”.

These circumstances must be addressed by the Obama administration – but the lessons must be heeded in Australia and elsewhere as well.

Conservative Australian Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull especially needs to face facts – rather than ‘beating the drum’ on government debt and inflation.

Any minor difficulty with inflation later down the track is no reason to ‘take the axe’ to economic stimulus: including expenditure on economic and social infrastructure. Such programs provide for human well being: and may expand economic capacity into the future. Again in ‘The Age’, Tim Colebatch has quoted Max Corden: “One is not causing a flood by hosing down a fire”. Powerful words indeed.

And indeed – the qualitative improvement in living standards which might follow with some programs of expenditure – such as Australia’s ‘National Broadband Network’ – is greater than any purely quantitative economic indicator can express.

Further: some areas of public spending comprise a genuine and important human need - while requiring only a 'one off' major investment. Investment in social housing especially addresses a critical problem in Australia of homelessness. Cutting back on such programs under such circumstances - to reduce the budget deficit - does not make sense.

Without sustained stimulus, the world economy could again nosedive. Hence Stiglitz has also suggested the possibility of a “W-shape’ recession. Without sustained stimulus recovery could be temporary – followed by a lapse back into recession.

Now is not the time to withdraw economic stimulus. In Australia, the US and elsewhere – we need continued and decisive action to support the world economy. But we also need to address qualitative concerns which relate to the economy – not deceptive readings based purely on economic quantity.

The struggle for health care reform in the US is precisely one such issue – and we should all support the Obama administration in its endeavours to achieve change. If anything we need to revisit the kind of mobilisation achieved by the Obama team in its election campaign: to ensure that as comprehensive a public health care program as is possible is achieved in the United States.

I welcome all readers to discuss these issues here at the blog. Hope to hear from you. :))

Tristan Ewins (Moderator, Left Focus)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Left Focus presents 'Bondi Dreaming'

The Seymour Centre presents a BITE and an Actors Anonymous production

Bondi Dreaming
By Sam Atwell
16 Sept - 10 Oct

“a raw and involving piece of theatre..fierce and focused” Sun Herald

Three young Australian men have made one big mistake. Now they sit in an Indonesian jail, about to pay the ultimate price. As they face death, they explore their pasts and what may have been their future.

Inspired by the Bali Nine and similar cases, Bondi Dreaming provides a touching and thought provoking insight into male bonding and mateship, and forces us all to consider the issues around the death penalty.

Special ticket offer
Adults at Concession Prices (Save $9!)
For shows 16 – 24 Sept*
Code word BD

Book Now!

or call (02) 9351 7940

Seymour Centre
Cnr Cleveland St and City Rd

*subject to availability

Monday, September 7, 2009

The case for animal liberation - by Justin George

This contribution by radical activist and writer Justin George challenges readers with a passionate defence of animal rights. Not all readers will agree, but George’s article will give readers pause for thought.

Animal Liberation and Participatory Theory

By Justin George
It's funny to note that while largely ignored or played down by the Left in general, Animal Liberation can be seen as a nexus for many progressive struggles. Meat and dairy industries, and others that rely on animals for profit, imprison and slaughter literally tens of billions animals each year[i]. The industry itself relies on low paid, often migrant labour, to work in stressful and often dangerous conditions[ii]. The creation of meat and animal based products in know to be environmentally devastating[iii], ruining water systems. Tanneries, which are often located in developing countries with reduced environmental and worker protections, rely on dangerous and toxic chemicals[iv]; land clearing for cattle grazing threatens indigenous communities and ruins land and threatens rainforests[v]. This is just from meat production.

Cheap and abundant meat and dairy products, with externalities of production shouldered by the public and environment, allow companies such as McDonald's, KFC and Burger King, along with chain supermarkets and food companies to keep costs low, with a mostly teenage, casualized workforce, ensuring profits remain high.

Like many facets of life in a globalized, neoliberal world, many if not most of the issues that concern the Left can be found within the meat and animal product industries. Importantly, on top of these concerns is the unnecessary enslavement and industrialized killing of sentient and feeling beings. Like previous explicitly oppressive systems the same arguments are used by many on the Left and Right as to why such oppressions are of little concern or must remain in place. Like human slavery, misogyny and other forms of oppressive thought, those suffering as considered non-human, undeserving of acknowledgment of their agency and inherent worth. They are seen as commodities for those in power. That animals truly are non-human does not mean that they do not suffer from such systems and paradigms that humans have fought throughout history-the creation and justification of hierarchies based on artificial or biological distinctions.

Adding insult to injury is that animals rarely have the means to truly voice or rebel against these systems. That billions of animals die to meet our eating desires and little else is all the more horrific due to the scale of the senselessness. Profit and power triumph are the real motivators behind such industries who seek to create, sustain and expand our voracious desire for animal flesh.

Animal Liberation should not be a side issue to our other concerns. Meat and animal industries are industrialized creators of unhappiness, a nexus of the overlapping oppressions and exploitations that theories such as Complimentary Holism seek to address. The Left must recognize that fighting for Animal Liberation is not just about the animals but confronting the wider systems at work that the animals die in their billions for. We must work beyond our own prejudices and habits to see that the long term picture for workers, for the environment, for social justice, so to step closer to ending all human made suffering.

Think for a moment about the impact of a greatly reduced or nonexistent mass animal based industry. Like previous moments when the connections between war, race, sexism, and class emerged, we need to see how addressing these issues along with animal liberation efforts is not only strategically necessary but morally necessary too.

By working for better conditions or the abolition of slaughterhouses then that's one less industry

profiting from relying on illegal and migrant workers who have limited ability to push for better working conditions and rights. By seeking mass change or abolition of slaughterhouses, dairy farms and tanneries then huge steps are taken in reducing our carbon footprint on the Earth[vi]. Efficiency is enhanced, land use more sustainable, rainforests less threatened. The impacts of these damaging industries would also cease to be felt by the poorest peoples of the world and the more isolated towns in the developed world[vii]. Water sources would be free from toxins[viii]. Oceans replenished from overfishing.

Government subsidies and externalities would not be placed upon the public, reducing the numbers of those in power who profit from neoliberal legislation.

The fast food industry would be severely affected, along with eating habits. The epidemics of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol that plague Western nations would be addressed from efforts at reducing meat consumption and changing eating practices[ix]. To have such an understanding comes from learning about the real impact that our diets have, of seeing the damage and pain that's created by meat and animal products. The development of such knowledge can often be revelatory enough to recognize the excesses and abuses present in throughout society.

Our vision and theory, such as participatory economics, has much to offer Animal Liberation efforts. Theories such as Complimentary Holism can make calls for animal liberation retain greater relevancy to those not immediate concerned with such issues. Participatory organizing and economics offers new means for animal liberation groups to organize.

To work towards such institutional arrangements within the industries they critique, as means to enhance worker conditions and industry standards. Rather than seeking the bottom line, a participatory work place has the ability to greatly alter the practices of modern slaughter houses merely by removing the logic that has led to killing (dis)assembly lines.

The arguments presented by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel regarding the reduction of environmental damage in a Participatory Economy due to goods reflecting their real social and environmental value is also true for animal based goods and meat. The costs outlined above along with the suffering inflicted upon the billions of animals would alter the valuation of meat and animal goods, reducing and perhaps stopping its use all together due to actual costs to society and nature. Complimentary Holism and feminist perspectives can provide critical voices to curb and question some of the larger animal liberation organizations tendency to rely on sex and celebrity to sell their message.

In the hands of animal liberation movements such ideas have the potential to become further disseminated to new audiences, put into practice and passionately advocated for. But to do so we need to acknowledge the relevancy and legitimacy in each other's analysis by placing them at the core of our existing efforts and creating closer ties.

At the moment the two movements seem to exist in relative separation. Many animal liberation/rights organizations while having great activist and advocacy networks and fundraising ability fail to relate their work to wider progressive efforts and analysis in meaningful ways. More conscious and concerted interactions by both the Left and Animal Liberation would be beneficial to both.

By ignoring the interconnections existing around issues of animal liberation, we do ourselves a disservice strategically while deliberately marginalizing the suffering of tens of billions of beings.

After all our experiences of struggle, we should have the vision and courage to engage with new struggles for liberation, for in the end we all share common aims. There are many issues here that we can start discussing, to develop participatory means and analysis further in addressing animal liberation.

We on the Left generally, have recognized other forms of oppressions even when misunderstood, unpopular or denied by those in power. Now its time to recognize the rest.[x]

tag cloud

aarons (9) according (12) aged (23) ago (13) america (18) argues (14) au (27) australia (20) australian (32) bank (25) based (14) billion (17) blog (17) book (11) budget (25) bush (11) business (13) capital (17) cent (13) change (16) com (25) comments (15) commonwealth (16) competition (18) congress (10) conservative (10) consider (10) country (10) course (15) cpsa (9) create (12) crisis (12) critical (10) cuba (12) deficit (11) democratic (10) different (10) economic (26) economy (24) en (9) ewins (20) federal (14) financial (11) focus (12) full (10) government (41) greens (12) groups (15) hayek (9) housing (10) html (16) http (42) income (13) increase (13) infrastructure (14) interest (10) investment (9) labels (11) labor (64) labour (13) land (32) liberal (15) market (10) matwe (10) money (9) needs (16) news (13) obama (22) office (15) opportunity (12) org (15) parents (13) party (22) pension (23) people (16) per (18) platform (9) political (18) posted (18) poverty (13) power (14) president (19) production (12) progressive (15) provide (10) public (19) raised (9) rate (14) red (14) reform (16) revolution (17) rudd (12) scare (11) services (12) single (14) social (38) socialist (10) sole (13) state (26) strong (10) struggle (11) suggested (10) support (19) tax (33) taxation (12) trade (12) tristan (23) unemployed (13) unemployment (12) values (14) venezuela (9) vulnerable (15) war (13) wealth (12) week (11) welcome (15) working (9) world (15) www (26) years (27)
created at