Wednesday, February 06, 2013

What might a revolution look like?

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I finished up my last post saying:
(...) simply by nationalizing Monsanto and Walmart we would have a perfect, planned economy… in other words we are all dressed up and waiting for Lenin.
And several people have since asked me what I meant by that.

It comes in two parts the "planned economy" part and the "Lenin" part.

I use the word "Lenin" very loosely, what I mean by it is a signifier for someone or more probably something, which changes everything. Used like this digital photography played "Lenin" to Kodak's Romanov. More about this later.

The idea of a nationalized Walmart being a “planned economy” is based on the idea that the new technologies, which the soviets never mastered, would make it possible.

The idea simply assumes that Russians are bumbling incompetents and that with “American know how” making it tick, and with the American genius for logistics once applied to it, the whole thing would work smoothly. The centralization is already there, the question is only of ownership, not execution.
One of the great paradoxes in all this is that who actually owns the great corporations of today is not very clear. For example a man named J.P. Morgan no longer owns JP Morgan, it is a publicly traded company and no one institution or individual owns more than 4.00% of this financial mastodon. More on this ownership question later.

Actually what it appears we have now is a sort of socialism of the rich. Losses are socialized and profits are privatized. We have a great centralization of economic power of unclear ownership tied by lobbies to political power enabling the corporate managers to craft laws to the benefit of all concerned: lobbyists, their clients and the politicians, but not to the benefit of the public (sanitized name for “The People”). If we look at the control that is accumulated in this system we see that we already have a “planned economy”, but not exactly planned for our benefit. There is even a "nomenklatura" of the previously mentioned, highly paid managers, who run everything, and often move from corporation to corporation and even from industry to industry or from public "service" to the "private" sector.

The idea, for the moment, merely amusing, is that by the state simply taking control of a few corporations, as might happen during a war, they would instantly possess a "ready to wear", planned, socialized (if not socialist) economy.

Where is the "Lenin" for all of this? Could there be a "revolution"?

Understand that for a steak on a grill being turned over to be cooked on its other side constitutes a revolution. In that sense yes, Virginia, revolution is possible... more on that later.

An American Pol-Pot leading the masses to take Capital Hill and liquidating the enemies of progress? Not very likely. In the case of the United States, because of its enormous size, ethnic diversity and institutional solidity (petrification?) I think that capitalism will just have to take its own sweet time to rot.

At bottom, Americans are practical people and if something doesn’t work, they either fix it or throw it out and get something new, preferably the second option.
I think that if the capitalist era is ever to end it will happen in the USA, because America is the vanguard of capitalism, its most complete expression. And I don’t see it happening violently, but in the same way Americans passed from horses to Model-T Fords, from Wang word processors to PCs and from cassette players to Walkmen to Iphones. America is just one revolution after another, if you think about it... and plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. Revolution is part and parcel of the American way of life.

Americans are really famous all over the world for being practical and innovative and when and if the system spins off its wheels as old Karl predicted, I think that those qualities would surely come to the fore. But given how well the system is vertebrated, it would be traumatic or it wouldn't be.

What could cause our present system to spin off its wheels and self-destruct?
Thinking it over, I imagine if would have to be some sort of "black swan". A lot of people think immediately of a terrorist attack like a dirty bomb in New York, but I think that if something like that happened, God forbid, it would tend to solidify and petrify the system even further.

No, the easiest "revolutionary" black swan that I can imagine is a great worldwide pandemic like the "Spanish Influenza" at the end of World War One or even on the scale of the 14th century, "Black Death", which killed from 30 to 60 percent of Europe's population. With globalization and its disappearance of time and distance and the ensuing promiscuity of the sophisticated with the primitive, such a plague is perfectly possible and many experts think its arrival is only a matter of time.

Something like this would be terrible anywhere, but in countries with more ethnic and social homogeneity and simpler and easier logistics, less distance and less logistical and monopolistic agricultural centralization than the USA, the effects might not change the relations of the societies as profoundly as I think they might change America's.

We have talked about centralization, Walmart, corporate ownership and the nomenklatura. Let us look at what effect our black swan of a pandemic might have on the relation of these elements to each other.

Very few Americans eat food grown anywhere near them, it may come from almost anywhere in the world at the end of a wonderfully efficient and complex logistical system that depends in turn on enormous and usually remote farms owned by great corporations known as "agribusinesses" that depend in their turn on sophisticated machinery and techniques to produce masses of specialized produce. Imagine how a pandemic with 14th century death rates would disrupt all of that: beginning on the farm, then to the transport system, but most significantly to the nerve centers of corporate headquarters, concentrations of human beings that wise survivors among the nomenklatura would want to avoid like... the plague.

Once the local Walmart had been looted, what would people eat? Obviously what remained of the government and armed forces would have to take all these systems in hand. MBAs might be drafted and forced to unlock the inventories and discover where food was stored and find ways of getting that and medicine to the survivors and to help them bury their dead. And as Katrina and Sandy have shown us, today's America doesn't do disasters particularly well, but such a struggle as I am imagining would call forth a solidarity which I am sure the survivors would look back on with nostalgia the rest of their days.
As we have seen the ownership of this very centralized system is spread out to the point of being gaseous and a dying off of the proportions I am talking of would make finding out who owned/owns what next to impossible, so when the pandemic remitted re-privatizing this orphaned, centralized system of uncertain parentage, might be impossible... think of all the dead lawyers.

So that is how I see a possible "revolution": the massive disruption of a highly centralized system of decentralized ownership leading to its nationalization in a climate of solidarity among survivors. DS

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