Big Tent Anticapitalism

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

One of the most appealing features of the Democratic Party is its adherence to “Big Tent” politics.  Here I’d like to propose political organizations devoted to “Big Tent” anticapitalism, uniting people of various viewpoints in an attempt to create an alternative to the capitalist system.

(crossposted at Orange and at Firedoglake)

It’s amusing that the Department of Energy would deny the theory of Peak Oil yet put out something like this, in which it finally admits that world oil production will decline soon “if the investment is not there.”  Of course, no new investment in oil exploration is going to produce enough new oil to keep up with demand, and it’s been this way for some time now.  Peak oil is here, thus the oil limit on the recovery.  

Meanwhile, the global economy languishes in a recession which is apparently the product of widespread fraud — and bobswern reports on this development in a recommended diary as well.  Geez, maybe a few scapegoats will have to spend a month or two in a minimum-security prison out around Lompoc’s golfing greens.  It’s a tough life, owning government.

Let me fit this into the larger picture for you.  Time is running out on the capitalist system.  Its growth imperative is running into natural resource limitations across the board while its elites are strangling it through what is a fundamental return to “primitive accumulation.”  Thus, as I’ve suggested in my last diary, the elites are prepping us for a coming era of domination, in which control over money will allow elites to directly determine membership in the ever-shrinking pool of the “middle class” as the rest of the world faces shrinking economies and compounding resource crises.  

I find it hard to give a name to this era-to-be-predicted.  G2geek argued in said diary that it was “neofeudalism” — although other names like “corporatism” are good.  I might also suggest “fascism,” as the Wikipedia entry on corporatism suggests a potential future world:

Fascism’s theory of economic corporatism involved the management of sectors of the economy via government or privately controlled organizations (corporations). Each trade union or employer corporation would, in theory, represent its professional concerns, especially through negotiation of labor contracts and the like. This approach, it was theorized, could result in harmony amongst social classes. Authors have noted, however, that de facto economic corporatism was used in specific instances of silencing opposition and rewarding political loyalty.

My main objection to this characterization of our future, however, would be that fascism is traditionally associated with imperial expansion, whereas the political and economic system envisioned here will be associated with reduction — political and economic exhaustion and dissipation.  Thus there will be no need for any Gestapo or Brown Shirts in the new dispensation — though we’ve got to account for this stuff — economic scarcity and political powerlessness will prompt ideological conformity everywhere, and the thieves in power will merely have to write property law.  Think, perhaps, of a state capitalism in reverse.


OK, given that this is a likely outcome of affairs, what sort of political organization would be appropriate to oppose it?  Here I wish to go back to my discussion of Kees van der Pijl in a book I discussed in this blog back in late 2006.  We want to see politics within a larger picture, in light of an evolving capitalist system.  Van der Pijl writes:

The discipline of capital does not emerge spontaneously, from the inner recesses of society.  It is imposed by a social force which owes its apparent autonomy to commodification and alienation, the breaking of elementary community bonds.  Resistance therefore always includes the question for a restoration of some sort of community against this disruptive, alien force.  (37)

Thus we see that actual opposition to the spread of the capitalist system, as it drags the world’s people into its orbit, has always come from fundamentally communitarian sources.  Marx may have dreamed of a global revolution; however, real-life attempts at “communism” have typically arisen in nationalist guise (the Russians, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Cubans, the Nicaraguans, and so on), and thus come out of what Benedict Anderson calls “imagined communities.”  Moreover, politics in the US is also to a significant extent determined by tribal loyalty; see for instance Jane Hamsher’s piece of late March, in which she declaims “irrational tribalism.”  Jane may have picked up on something quite real, there, but it would be good for her to recognize (in that respect) that politics is in fact a set of tribal rituals — tribes “go with the turf.”  

Now, the United States does not now have a “community” or “tribe” of anticapitalists as such — the tiny sectarian political parties don’t really count — rather, there are a number of Americans in various stages of consciousness as to what is going on, and who exist in an equal diversity as to what to do about it.  This can be seen in one sense as a virtue — we don’t have a particular group of any size here in the US which is willing to impose its own authoritarian blueprint upon everyone else.  On the other hand, diversity of opinion also (in our circumstances) means relative disorganization.  Thus the question of how to organize this demographic segment is, I argue, one of how to form a “big tent” to hold their diversity.  If you want to bring together people from diverse communities, you’ve got to create a community for them.

So what is the “Big Tent” concept?  The Wikipedia definition of “Big Tent” suggests:

In politics, a big tent party or catch-all party is a political party seeking to attract people with diverse viewpoints. The party does not require adherence to some ideology as a criterion for membership.

Of course, the Democratic Party is itself already a “big tent party,” in that there are a wide variety of political viewpoints which come together (and sometimes indeed clash) under the “Democrat” brand name.  We might benefit from a political organization (partisan or nonpartisan) which would offer an umbrella for diverse resistances to the capitalist system, to capitalist discipline, and to this sort of state capitalism in reverse which is being imposed upon the world.

Now, perhaps “big tent anticorporatism” would also be a good label for what I’m trying to do here.  I’m not entirely sure at this point.  “Capitalism” is the primary excuse of the system’s press apologists at present.  At any rate, if we are to have something more than a “big tent” full of people who can’t fight the power, we will need some fundamental principles.  Let’s start with these two:


Democracy, in its original sense in which the word is derived from classic Greek, is where the people rule.  Anarchists, communists, environmentalists, and social democrats all have different concepts of what counts as democracy — however, if we don’t have democracy at all, there’s no hope for us.  By this, of course, I mean real democracy, and not some charade in which we merely “elect” leaders without any real say-so in our affairs.  Democracy is our bulwark against oppressive rule by a few, and we do best to strengthen it to the extent possible.  We will have to work through the idea of “democracy,” then, through open and fair debate as to what constitutes a healthy democracy, and we’ll have to make sure our democracy has an ultimate say-so power over life-and-death economic issues, because the main problem of this era is one of economic power running riot over people-power.  This implies that some form of economic democracy must of needs secure a lasting triumph over corporate power.

Ecological rights

Now, the propagandists of the capitalist system like to equate capitalism with freedom, and freedom with economic freedom — but most of our freedoms are predicated upon a meaningful relationship with the natural world, a relationship which can be considered to be “in trouble” if we use up our natural resources.  We will, then, be impelled to use our economic freedom wisely if we are granted ecological rights — the first of which is doubtless the right to live in a world secure from ecosystems catastrophes.

The easy answer to this “capitalism is freedom” propaganda is that under capitalism most people are only “free” to sell their labor-power to the moneyed powers at the going market rate, which will often guarantee them only a very low standard of living.  This argument, however, is only true if most people are excluded from access to land, making them incapable of subsistence farming.  This is a fundamental issue of power, not an appeal to farming per se: if you must either work for the boss, kiss butt on the “free market,” or die, then you have been denied a fourth alternative: working for yourself.

We will, then, have to organize around the concept of ecological rights if we wish to maintain our freedoms.  Freedom, in its most fundamental guise, is predicated upon freedom to make a living, and the freedom to make a living is no longer there if the land can no longer support us.

In a previous diary I have characterized this as a “right to live off of the land.”  Even beyond this, however, there is the concept of the “proxy farmer.”  In a fairly recent piece (“Conservationist and Agrarian,” pp. 165-174 of the collection Citizenship Papers), the essayist Wendell Berry makes an argument for why conservationists should take an interest in food production:

Why should conservationists have a positive interest in, for example, farming?  There are lots of reasons, but the plainest is: conservationists eat.  To be interested in food but not in food production is clearly absurd.  Urban conservationists may feel entitled to be unconcerned about food production because they are not farmers.  But they can’t be let off so easily, for they are all farming by proxy.  They can eat only if land is farmed on their behalf by somebody somewhere in some fashion.  (167)

This is actually a rationale for why everyone should be interested in food production, and by extension the politics of food.  Taking charge of the economy (see above, under “economic democracy”) means assuring that the fundamentals of economic life are assured us — and it is only natural, then, that we start with food.  We need not, then, actually produce our food ourselves — but we do need to assert our ecological rights within a politics of food.  We certainly shouldn’t live in a world which produces enough food for nine billion people yet in which a billion go hungry.  The “right to a bite,” of course, is only one example of ecological rights — our rights to clean water, air, stable climate etc. are all tied to the relative equilibrium-state of Earth’s ecosystems.

The Big Tent

In earlier eras, “communism” became the ideology of contender regimes.  Regimes such as the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China were established in order to combat the imperialism coming from the “core” nations, those nations richer than they were.  These regimes were authoritarian regimes because their leaders attempted a sort of forced-march “catch-up” to compete with the core nations in what was, and is, called “development.”  The expansion of the capitalist system was in the driver’s seat the whole time — the abovecited major contender regimes folded into the regime of global capitalism before the 20th century was out.

Today the whole idea of anticapitalism needs rethinking.  We are no longer in an era of “development,” although the non-government organizations still use that word a lot.  Instead, we can expect that insofar as we survive the 21st century we will be in a world of adaptation, in which, if anything, nation-states will be competing to see which of them will disintegrate last, while the latest technologies will (one hopes) be directed toward the prolongation of survival.  Capitalism will doubtless survive in this world another few more decades — but it will never be too soon to start thinking of, and organizing for, something better.  The ultimate shape of this post-capitalism will have to be the result of group deliberation, thus the “big tent” — but, given the circumstances, it’s not likely to be what it was in previous eras.


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  1. You’re breaking our page with your tip jar.


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  2. replacing the big tent with a big dome instead?

    I’m guessing that many of the ideas created and inspired by this thinker and architect will be key in foundation of new community organizations and systems in the not too distant future.

    • banger on April 20, 2010 at 06:12

    as far as I can see. There has to be something moving towards it–it just doesn’t happen randomly. There is no force that I would call democratic in our society. Neo-Feudalism is where we are going more or less.

    We also live in an economic environment that is losing any sense of a free-market. It was always an impossible notion but as a theoretical construct it was useful but markets, if they can be seized and manipulated will be eventually.

    Having said that, I think we live at a time that offers us uniquely creative opportunities if we can move towards connecting with others rather than going our own way. That is more critical than anything like democracy or imperialism or feudalism.  

  3. is for one faction within the Tent decides it has the divine right to dominate all the others.  Not only to dominate, but seemingly by force of will, to impose its ideology on the other factions (ironically taking a very big tent and turning into a small one of clones of the leadership).

    This is what has been happening for a long time with the Democratic Party and I think why many are suspicious of forming any kind of new “Big Tent”, whether partisan or concept based otherwise.

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