The following exchange between Michael Carriere and Alex Knight occurred via email, July 2010. Alex Knight was questioned about the End of Capitalism Theory, which states that the global capitalist system is breaking down due to ecological and social limits to growth and that a paradigm shift toward a non-capitalist future is underway.
The interview will be available in four parts. Scroll to the bottom to read all of Prof. Carriere's questions.Part 1. Crisis and Opportunity
MC: The current financial crisis is clearly a moment of peril for both individuals and the broader system of capitalism. But would it also make sense to see it as a moment of opportunity?
AK: Absolutely. I see opportunity springing from every crack in the structure of capitalism. For all those who wish to see a different world, this moment is dripping with opportunity because the old order is crumbling before our eyes.
The crisis extends far beyond the broken financial system. Millions of people are losing their jobs, homes, and savings as the burden of the crisis gets shifted onto the poor and working class. Public faith in the system, both the government and the capitalist economy, has been shattered and is at an all-time low. And it's not just the economic crisis. The bank bailouts, the endless wars in the Mid East, the BP spill and the meltdown of the climate, and about a dozen other crises have shaken us deeply. It's become common sense that the system is broken and a major change is needed. Barack Obama was elected in the US precisely by promising this change. Now that he is failing to deliver, more and more people are questioning whether the system can provide any solutions, or whether it's actually the source of the problem.
Shattered faith is the dominant sentiment today. You can see it in people's faces the disappointment, grief, worry, and anger. To me, this loss of faith presents an enormous opening for putting forth a new, non-capitalist way of life. People are ready to hear radical solutions now, like they haven't been since the Great Depression.Historic Crossroads
If we go back to 1929, we'll see some interesting parallels to our current moment. When that depression started, millions lost their livelihoods to pay for the bankers' crisis. Faith in capitalism sunk to rock bottom. The public flocked to two major ideologies that offered a way out: socialism and fascism.
Socialism presented a solution to the crisis by saying, roughly: "Capitalism is flawed because it divides us into rich and poor, and the rich always take advantage of the poor. We need to organize the poor and workers into unions and political parties so we can take power for the benefit of all."
Socialism attracted millions of followers, even in the United States. The labor movement was enormous and kept gaining ground through sit-down strikes and other forms of direct action. The Communist Party sent thousands of organizers into the new CIO, at the time a more radical union than the AFL. Socialist viewpoints even started getting through to the mass media and government. Huey Long was elected Senator from Louisiana by promising to "Share Our Wealth," to radically redistribute the wealth of the country to abolish poverty and unemployment. (He was assassinated.) Socialism challenged President Roosevelt from the left, pushing him to create the social safety net of the New Deal.
On the other side, fascism also emerged as a serious force and attracted a mass following by putting forth something like the following: "The government has sold us out. We are a great nation, but we have been disgraced by liberal elites who are pillaging our economy for the benefit of foreign enemies, dangerous socialists, and undesirable elements (like Jews). We need to restore our national honor and fulfill our God-given mission."
When people hear the word fascism, they usually think of Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy, where successful fascist movements seized state power and implemented totalitarian control of society. Yet fascism was an international phenomenon during the Depression, and the United States was not immune to its reach. General Smedley Butler, the most decorated Marine in US history, testified before the Senate that wealthy industrialists had approached him as part of a "Business Plot" and tried to convince him to march an army of 500,000 veterans on Washington, DC to install a fascist dictatorship.
Today we are approaching a similar crossroads. When I hear the story of the Business Plot I think about the Tea Party, which has sprung from a base of white supremacist anger, facilitated by right-wing elements of the corporate structure like Fox News. This is an extremely dangerous phenomenon. The "teabaggers" have moved from questioning Obama's citizenship, to now trying to reverse the gains of the Civil Rights Movement, such as the ability of everyone, regardless of color, to enjoy public accommodations like restaurants.
I think it's fair to name the Tea Party, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, the Christian Right, etc. parts of a potential neo-fascist movement in the United States. Their words and actions too often encourage attacks on people of color, immigrants, Muslims, LGBT folks, and anyone they don't see as legitimate members of US society. Ultimately, many in this movement are pushing for a different social system taking power in the United States: one that is more authoritarian, less compassionate, more exploitive of the environment, more militaristic, and based on a mythical return to national glory. This is not a throwback to Nazi Germany. It's a new kind of fascism, a new American fascism. And it's a serious threat.
On the other hand, this crisis is also an opportunity for all of us who see capitalism as a destructive force and believe the message of the recent U.S. Social Forum that "Another World is Possible. Another US is Necessary." "Socialism" in the post-McCarthy/Cold War era of the United States is a dead word, because it carries a lot of baggage from the Soviet Union. Rightly so, the USSR was a terrible dictatorship that is hardly an example to follow. The question is, how do those of us who are progressive and anti-capitalist articulate our ideas to resonate with a mass audience in this moment?