By Paul Krehbiel
“The capitalist class is in a serious crisis without solution,” said David Schweikart at the Moving Beyond Capitalism conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, organized by the Center for Global Justice (July 30-Aug. 5, 2014). “But there is a solution,” he said, “economic democracy, democratic socialism.” Over 200 people from 15 countries discussed how to make this happen.
Chronic high unemployment, depressed wages and benefits, cuts in social services, growing inequality and repression, and social and political resistance are endemic to nearly all capitalist countries, said Schweikart, a Philosophy professor at Chicago’s Loyola Univ., author of After Capitalism.
Schweikart’s model calls for a regulated competitive market economy, socialized means of production and democratic workplaces (he advocates worker-run cooperatives, as an example), non-profit public banks to finance projects, full employment, and a guarantee that human needs will be met for everyone.
Cliff DuRand, a conference organizer, said people are creating alternatives to capitalism today all over the world. “If we’ve built these alternative institutions, the next time the capitalist system collapses…we’ll be able to survive without it.”
Gustavo Esteva, former Mexican government official, founder of the University of the Land in Oaxaca, and an advisor to the Zapatistas in Chiapas, gave a good account of how the indigenous people of this region are creating a new democratic, socialist-oriented society they control, within the borders of capitalist Mexico. The Zapatistas launched an armed uprising in the mid-1990’s to stop NAFTA and the Mexican government from allowing multi-national corporations to come into Chiapas to extract minerals to enrich the corporations and destroy their lives and local economy.
Ana Maldonado of the Venezuelan Ministry of Communal Economy couldn’t attend, so Univ. of Utah Prof. Al Campbell filled in. Campbell has worked in Venezuelan with the Community Councils, a new form of grassroots democracy and socialism. Created in 2006 by the late socialist president Hugo Chavez, there are 20,000 Community Councils today, each meeting in neighborhoods where all residents can attend, discuss, and vote on decisions for their community.
Private, for-profit banks came under sharp attack for causing the 2008 Great Recession, and for ripping off billions of dollars from people world-wide. Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Institute in CA, declared, “Without interest payments, there’d be no national debt,” which now stands at over $15 trillion. Politicians use the debt as an excuse to cut funds for education, health care and other social programs. An example of local bank rip-offs is a mortgage, where the homeowner pays the bank 2-3 times more than the cost of the house due to interest payments.
Brown said the solution is to set up not-for-profit public or state banks — like the Bank of North Dakota. She describes how to do it in her book Democratizing Money: The Public Bank Solution. Since the 2008 economic crash, 20 states have introduced bills to study or establish publicly-owned state banks.
“The US controls third world countries,” Brown explained, “by putting them in debt and then forcing repayment with high interest rates,” which they can’t afford to pay. Brown said the book Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins explains how devastating this is.
Camila Pineiro Harnecker, a leader of the cooperative movement in socialist Cuba, explained that her country is giving much more attention to the development of worker-run cooperatives as a way to help workers create jobs for themselves, and learn how to become masters of their work and work lives. The state socialist sector dominates the economy, but coops now comprise 12% of the workforce and are expected to increase.
There were many examples of people struggling against capitalist-caused injustices to survive, and to weaken capitalism by creating socialist-oriented building blocks within capitalist society.
Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese of Occupy Wall Street in Washington D. C. facilitated discussions about how the Occupy movement redirected talk of cuts in social services to stopping the top 1% from enriching themselves at the expense of the 99%.
Enrique Lazcano, a member of the Authentic Workers Front (FAT) in Mexico, talked about building cross-border solidarity with the United Electrical workers (UE) in the US, and how this strengthened both unions. Juan Jose Rojas Herrera of Mexico spoke about the Solidarity Economy, where work is done with as little capitalist exploitation as possible and for the common good. One day was devoted to visiting a nearby co-op market and learning how it’s run. David Schwartzman, a biology prof. at DC’s Howard Univ., spoke about combating the capitalist-fueled climate change crisis by changing the system to socialism.
Song Mengrong, an educator in China, spoke about new policies enacted by the Chinese government to focus on the needs of the people, calling it “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.” Francisco Javier Ramirez of Mexico spoke about MORENA, a new people’s party pledged to reverse the neo-liberal policies which serve the corporate elites at the people’s expense. Harry Targ, Poli. Sci. prof. at Purdue Univ., spoke about “fusion politics,” uniting many social movements to oppose capitalism and imperialism, and highlighted the struggles of the Arab Spring and “Moral Mondays” in North Carolina to stop attacks on civil rights and democracy.
Kathy Sykes of Mississippi talked of the campaign to organize a union at Nissan and a socialist-oriented Cooperative Economy project initiated by the late mayor of Jackson, Chokwe Lumumba. Janet Tucker, former president of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and national organizer for the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, spoke about building grassroots labor-community coalitions in Kentucky. This reporter spoke about how member-driven union Stewards Councils were built in large public hospitals in LA County, and how they empowered workers on the job. One theme in many presentations was that organizing is a full-time job, and if ignored, gains could be reduced or lost.
Cynthia Kaufman, Philosophy prof. at De Anza College, author of Getting Past Capitalism, captured a key element: “We get past capitalism by building on the healthy non-capitalist aspects of our world, while we also do pitched battle with the capitalist aspects that we have a fair chance of winning against.”
The conference ended with a discussion of priorities. One was to fight neo-liberalism and especially trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the second was to build the environmental movement to fight climate change.
PHOTO: Paul Krehbiel