Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism

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XI  Readings on Anti-systemic Protest

Frederick Douglass


Women's Protest


Labor Protest

The culture of capitalism creates for many lifestyles that would have been the envy of the rich of past centuries.  However it has also relegated many--the poor in the periphery and the core, women, ethnic minorities, many children--to the impoverished margins of society.   It has spurred the creation of technological marvels, but it has also led to the unprecedented destruction of the environment.  It has allowed economic growth that would have seemed impossible decades ago, but, in the process, has inspired perpetual change and the constant reordering and disrupting of patterns of social, political, and economic relations.  As a consequence, the culture of capitalism has promoted levels of protest that may be unlike any the world has ever known.  The protest may take the form of striving for national liberation or for better wages and working conditions. There is protest from women, ethnic and religious minorities, and from persons concerned about the state of the environment.  There are militia movements in the United States claiming to be concerned about a vast international conspiracy, and terrorist organizations claming the right to free one or another group from tyranny.  World-system theorists see many of these protests as "antisystemic," that is as directed against the expansion of the culture of capitalism.  The readings in this section each addresses some facet of this protest.


A. The World Revolutions
Immanual Wallerstein proposes that there have been two world revolutions; the first world revolution occurred in 1848 when workers, peasants, and others staged rebellions in eleven European countries.  The second occurred in 1968 when workers, students, peasants, and others in the United States, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Japan, and Mexico participated in popular uprisings.   Neither of the revolutions succeeded in gaining their immediate objectives; but each defined the agenda for protest that followed.  The revolution of 1848 led to the workers-rights and national liberation movements, while the revolution of 1968 spawned civil-rights, feminist, gay-rights, and environmental movements.  They also created reactionary movements to suppress the gains made by the protesters.  The selections in this section address those revolutions.
Reading 1. The ANC and South Africa:  The Past and Future of Liberation Movements in the World System
This article by Immanuel Wallerstein is not so much about South Africa as it is about the two world revolutions and their impact on the world.   Wallerstein outlines the strategies behind antisystemic movements that emerged in these revolutions, particularly those that strove for national liberation.   Wallerstein proposes that the aims of most national liberation movements were to allow colonized countries to "catch up" economically to their colonizers.   As we've seen, this goal has been largely illusory; yet Wallerstein argues that in this failure lies the current crisis of the culture of capitalism, one that may, in the end, lead the solution of many of the problems we have discussed.


Reading 2: 1968--The Year of the Barricades
This is one of a series of lectures by historian Steven Kreis that describes the global events of 1968 and the conditions that inspired them.
Exercise 1: The 1960s
This site from the University of Virginia offers a wonderful perspectives on the 1960s in the United States in general, and also a specific section on 1968.   The selections address largely the revolutionary literature of the period, but offers a good overview of the social ferment that characterized the period.  You may also want to check out the section on Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters.


B. Labor Protest
The costs of labor, as we examined in Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism, are central to the amount of profit that can be generated from capitalist enterprise.  It should come as no surprise, then, that disputes over working conditions and pay should be a virtual constant in the culture of capitalism.  Workers led the revolution of 1848 and were important actors in the revolution of 1968.  Their protests led to major changes in the structure and policies of nation-states.  The readings in this provide some examples of labor protest and the conditions that inspired it.  They focus on the coal industry, and may serve as a supplement to the discussion of coal miner movements of the nineteenth century included in Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism.


Reading 3. The United States Army and the Return to Normalcy in Labor Dispute Interventions: The Case of the West Virginia Coal Mine Wars, 1920-1921
In this selection Clayton D. Laurie provides a gripping narrative of a union protest that brought down the full power of the federal government.  However unlike many confrontations between protesting workers and the agents of the nation-state, this one did not lead to bloodshed.  However the article provides a good overview of the issues that labor protest tried to address, and the attitudes of mine owners and the nation-state to these protests.


Exercise 2. The Life of a Coal Miner's%20Work.htm
This site provides an excellent overview of what it meant to work in the coal mines in the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century.  The account is by Rev. John McDowell, and was originally published in 1902 in a workers journal.  McDowell began working in the mines at the age on nine, and was one of the few to escape what he called a "live of voluntary imprisonment.  There are also excellent illustrations of the coal miners life.
C. Minority Protest
Among the groups marginalized by the expansion of the culture of capitalism are minority groups.  In some cases the causes for marginalization are economic, the need to maintain a ready supply of cheap labor.  In other cases, minority groups, particularly migrants, become symbols that can be used by agents of the nation-state to help create an imagined national identity; minorities are depicted as "outsiders," in order to help define the "real" citizens.  The following selections focus on Black protest in the United States.
Reading 4. Documents from the Black Panther Party
The civil rights movements of the 1950s and 60s in the United States created numerous protest movements, some viewed as more radical than others.  One group that was defined as among the most radical was the Black Panther Party.  This document from 1970 outlines some the goals of the Party along with descriptions of government actions to suppress their activities. 


Reading 5.  Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality
One example of the marginalization of minorities in the United States is the extent to which they are exposed to environmental hazzards to a far greater extent than others.  This selection  from Dumping in Dixie by Robert D. Bullard documents the greater exposure of minorities and the poor to environmental pollution.


Reading 6. Pollution-Weary Minorities Try Civil Rights Tack
NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) became the battle cry of environmental protestors during the 1980’s. The hazardous waste they protested found its way to the back yards of those with the least power to stop it. The following articles discuss how these minorities are fighting to stop the flow of environmental hazards to their neighborhoods.


C. Feminest Protest
While the modern feminist movement has helped raise the status of women, at least in the West, women remain among the most economically, politically, and socially marginalized members of global society.  Consequently, worldwide there are movements to improve the economic and social condition of women.  In spite of some gains, however, the economic position of women in global society remains, as a whole, marginal to that of men. For example, women represent about 60 percent of the billion or so people earning $1.00 or less per day.  The following selections provide illustrates the forms that feminist protest is taking in various areas of the world.
Reading 7.  Global Trade expansion and liberalisation: gender issues and impacts (PDF)

This study prepared for the Department for International Development (DFID) UK by Marzia Fontana, Susan Joekes and Rachel Masika examines the impact of trade expansion on the rights of women and the benefits and negative features of expanded trade.  The report concludes that "The consequences of trade liberalisation and expansion for women both absolutely, and relative to men, have been mixed, with both positive and negative features, depending on a range of factors and preconditions. These include gendered patterns of rights in resources, female labour force participation rates, education levels and gaps by gender and patterns of labour market discrimination and segregation, as well as socio-cultural environments.

Exercise 3: Living the Legacy: The Women's Rights Movement 1848-1998
A wonderful site commemorating 150 years of struggle for women's rights, beginning with the Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848.  The site includes a brief history of the movement, a detailed timeline, and lots of other curricular resources.  There are additional resources at the site on Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1830-1930


D. Environmental Protest
There is little question, as we have seen, that the culture of capitalism is environmentally destructive and that the need for perpetual economic growth requires perpetual environmental exploitation. But, as in changes in other areas of life, such as agriculture, technology, and family structure, not everyone suffers equally. It is true that everyone may be affected by global warming and the increase in acid rain, but not everyone is affected by the flooding of farmland or hunting territories, disposal of waste products, or pollution of water supplies. These problems are disproportionally borne by people who inhabit the margins and periphery of the culture of capitalism. 
Reading 8: Violence Escalates in the Name of Environmentalism
Corporations strive to maximize return on investments in order to encourage further investment in their activities, often at the expense of the environment. When they succeed, stockholders re-invest and more growth occurs at further expense to the environment. Frustration at their inability to stop the damages cause by powerful corporations has led to recent violent acts. Will violence become the new weapon of the environmental movement?


Reading 9: Revolutionary Ecology
An essay by the late Judy Bari that outlines the philosophy behind Earth First!  In the article Bari explains the rationale behind "deep ecology," and "biocentrism," and offers them as alternatives to both capitalism and communism.  The article articulates well the view that capitalism (as well as communism) fails to consider the damage it does to the environment, and that, unless radical changes are made, the Earth will be systematically destroyed.


E. Anti-Globalization Protests
A wave of protests against institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Trade Organization (WTO) has focused attention on the failure of these and other institutions to satisfactorily address problems such as poverty, hunger, and environmental devastation.   In fact, the point of many of the protests are that these institutions have either exacerbated or caused such problems.  To some extent, these protests represent the coming together of various protest movements (e.g. labor and environmental) focused specifically on the expansion of the culture of capitalism. 


Reading 10.  Public Protests Around the World
This account not only provides information on the protests covered by the mass media (e.g. Seattle, Quebec, Prague, and Genoa), but also the many that the media virtually ignores.  As the article points out, the protest is far more extensive than is generally reported.


Reading 11.  Democracy at the Barricades
This article from Le Monde Diplomatique by Susan George address the anti-globalization protests in Genoa, Italy where one protester was shot and killed by police and another 600 were injuried in police raids on shelters.  She discusses attempts by nation-states to discredit the protestors.   As she puts it, "Wrongful arrest, intimidation and ill-treatment of detainees, and closing meetings 'as a preventive measure', are common wherever opponents of globalisation meet."


Reading 12.  Protest in a Liberal Democracy
Brian Martin concludes that most of the freedoms that we enjoy have emerged, in one way or another, from protest.  He examines what forms protests have taken, and ways that the state has tried to repress it.  He suggests, also, that we eliminate the category "protest."  While he doesn't suggest an alternative, we might start with the idea of civic engagement or duty.


Additional Internet Resources on Anti-Systemic Protest


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