Thursday, 26 March 2009

Saskia Sassen Reimagining Socialism

The American left magazine 'The Nation' is carrying an impressive range of contributors for a Forum on 'Reimagining Socialism'.

Here's how 'The Nation' introduces the latest contribution by the important theorist of globalization and global cities Saskia Sassen.

Socialism's all the rage. "We Are All Socialists Now," 'Newsweek' declares. As the right wing tells it, we're already living in the USSA. But what do self-identified socialists (and their progressive friends) have to say about the global economic crisis? In the March 23issue, we published Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr.'s "Rising to the Occasion" as the opening essay in a forum on "Reimagining Socialism." will feature new replies to their essay over the coming weeks, fostering what we hope will be a spirited dialogue.

Go to for the full range and for various hyperlinks. The other contributors so far are listed at the bottom of the piece.

An Economic Platform That Is Ours.
Reimagining Socialism: A Nation Forum
By Saskia Sassen

March 25, 2009
As Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher note in their essay, we lack a plan for a post-capitalist society. I find the idea of such a plan almost an impossibility. But we do have the elements of a map of what's to be done by the left--including socialists and other adherents of critical politics--with inconsistencies and many blanks. Together, several comments in this forum begin to draw such a map. Henwood, Solnit and Wallerstein each argue for interventions in response to today's crisis that are either already underway or that we can work on now.

I want to add one element to that map. Let's focus on the work that needs to be done in our country. It is vast--we need to produce housing, healthcare, build urban parks and develop urban agriculture, clean our waters, weatherize all housing, and so on. Doing that work would absorb all available workers, and then some. It would require those who are skilled in the task at hand to train the unskilled. In short, we would all be occupied.

The reason that beginning such a long term project is more of an option now than in the last fifty years is that the government has shown that it is willing to pump money into the economy. Pity it has been pouring most of it into rescuing zombie banks.

Over the last few months we have gotten used to hearing talk of the trillions it will take to rescue our financial system. But it would take billions, not trillions, to begin the work that needs to be done. If we think in terms of the billions of the economy, rather than the trillions of high-finance, it all looks better. Indeed, this project only really makes sense as part of a larger effort to reconstruct key building blocks of our political economy away from vulture capitalism. And there are over 6,000 small traditional deposit-based banks in the US that also function in billions or millions and are doing fine and can be channels for offering credit to the small to medium-sized firms that could be engaged in this kind of effort.

What I have in mind is a widely distributed range of "growth sites" that incorporate more and more people. Clearly, this is not a revolution. This would occur within capitalism, but it begins to lay the ground for a widespread and distributed economic network, which can function as one platform for gaining entry into the economic "system" and begin to relate to it as ours. It is a sort of parallel to the notion of an organizational infrastructure, which the left has long viewed as necessary to take us past this type of brutal capitalism.

In a capitalist economy, the government needs channels to use taxpayers' money to work on social needs, needs that cannot easily be met through market mechanisms. Infrastructure repair/development and greening are two key mechanisms for governments to channel money to localities, small and medium sized firms and indirectly, households.

Just a few numbers to illustrate what we could do.

Spending on infrastructure creates jobs. For example, one US government study concludes that for each $1 billion of federal spending on highway construction nationwide, 47,500 jobs are generated annually. The ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) estimated that the US needs to invest an average of $300 billion a year over the next five years to repair our overall infrastructure. It documents that most components of America's infrastructure are poor or mediocre, and all sectors except aviation have declined since 2001. For instance, by 2007, 26 percent of the nation's 599,893 bridges were rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. According to EPA estimates, the US needs to invest $390 billion over the next twenty years to replace existing waste treatment systems and build new ones to meet increasing demand. The EPA's 2004 Clean Watersheds Needs Survey calls for an estimated investment of $134.4 billion for wastewater treatment and collection systems, $54.8 billion for combined sewer outflows and $9 billion for storm water management. If this is not done, then we risk losing the gains that have been made in cleaning up the nation's rivers, lakes, and streams since the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

For a list of all kinds of infrastructure projects that would together cost less than $1 trillion and would make an enormous difference along the lines I describe above, see this article.

Other Contributions to the Forum
Barbara Ehrenreich & Bill Fletcher Jr., "Rising to the Occasion"
Immanuel Wallerstein, "Follow Brazil's Example"
Bill McKibben, "Together, We Save the Planet"
Rebecca Solnit, "The Revolution Has Already Occurred"
Tariq Ali, "Capitalism's Deadly Logic"
Robert Pollin, "Be Utopian: Demand the Realistic"
John Bellamy Foster, "Economy, Ecology, Empire"
Christian Parenti, "Limits and Horizons"
Doug Henwood, "A Post-Capitalist Future is Possible"
Mike Davis, "The Necessary Eloquence of Protest"
Lisa Duggan, "Imagine Otherwise"
Vijay Prashad, "The Dragons, Their Dragoons"
Kim Moody, "Socialists Need to Be Where the Struggle Is "

Acting on Climate Change

Next Soundings Meeting

6.00 – 8.00 pm
Wednesday 29 April
Lecture Theatre 2 (LTB2)
Leeds Met University, Woodhouse Lane

Climate Change is the challenge of our lifetime. While the rhetoric of government policy addresses the urgency to act on Climate Change, many policy decisions undermine the transformations needed. From air-travel expansion to the renaissance of coal powered energy production, government decisions driven by powerful lobbies drive us closer to climate chaos. Our three speakers will assess ways of political action and lobbying that address the failure of government policy and offer stepping stones to transition.

Dr. Paul Chatterton
Course Leader MA Activism and Social Change, University of Leeds

Paddy Gillett
Plane Stupid

Dr. Simon Lewis
Royal Society Research Fellow on Tropical Forests and Climate Change

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Leeds Salon

Taking soundings has a new rival in Leeds. Let's hope it's a success! Here's their invite:

We would like to invite you to the first Leeds Salon debate on Friday 17 April 2009 at Waterstone’s in central Leeds.

Leeds Salon is a new public debating forum which aims to promote lively and open discussion around contemporary political and cultural issues.

Global Citizenship in the School Curriculum
Friday 17 April 2009, Waterstone’s, 93-97 Albion Street, Leeds, 6:30pm.
Alex Standish, Assistant Professor of Geography, Western Connecticut State University, author of 'Global Perspectives in the Geography Curriculum: Reviewing the Moral Case for Geography', (Routledge, 2009).

Dr Vanessa Pupavac, Lecturer in International Relations, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham, author of 'Children’s Rights and the New Culture of Paternalism; The Disciplining of Desires and Emotions'.

As the school curriculum in Britain and in the U.S. has changed from a subject-centred and national approach towards a child-centred and multicultural one, global citizenship - a new set of values to do with respecting the environment, diversity, and human rights – has been imposed on almost every subject and geography in particular.

For its supporters, the turn towards global citizenship represents a belated opening of education to the real problems facing the world. It is a change that has the potential to connect children’s lives to global problems and to show how, by modifying their lifestyles, individuals can contribute to the wellbeing of the planet and of humanity. For its critics, the teaching of global citizenship is a moralistic attempt at behaviour modification which undermines the integrity of school subjects and children’s understanding of the world. Far from creating better citizens, it fails to develop children’s capacity for autonomous judgment.

Interesting articles:
Keep ‘Global Issues’ Out of the Classroom, Spiked 18 Dec 2008

Geography lessons sacrificed in favour of trendy causes, Daily Telegraph 20 Jan 2009

If you would like to join the debate please reply to this e-mail. This event is free, but a small, voluntary contribution will be asked for on the night towards costs.

Coming up at Leeds Salon on Thursday 4 June 2009:
Kenan Malik, author, broadcaster and Moral Maze panellist will discuss his new book From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy. Details to be announced.

Paul Thomas
Leeds Salon

Friday, 20 March 2009

We won't pay for their crisis meeting

We won't pay for their crisis Leeds invites to its next public meeting on 25th March 20.00h in the commonplace. Discussion focus will be plans for London protests at the G20 summit. Further actions in Leeds will be also be discussed.

Reading Group on G20 in Leeds

Economic Justice for All (EJFA) in Leeds invites to a discussion and reading group on the G20. The meeting will take place parallel to the G20 summit on the 2nd of April from 10 30 – 12 30 pm in the cafe area of the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds.

Two set of texts will form the background to the open discussion.

The current edition of the New Internationalist focuses on economic alternatives, especially on ideas coming out of the World Social Forum meeting in Belem in Brazil in February 2009.

Information setting out the ideas behind the ‘Put People First’ March in London on 28th March 2009, especially the ‘policy platform’ and their ‘full policy platform document’ can be found at

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

25th Anniversary of the Miners Strike

People in Leeds might be interested in a meeting organised by the local Labour history society, the Ford McGuire Society.

It's on 23rd March 2009 at 19:30 in The Victoria pub, behind the Town Hall.

The speaker is Ken Capstick (fromer VP Yorkshire NUM and editor of 'The Miner') and he will be speaking on the history and the lessons of the strike for today.

For more on the Ford McGuire society: named after two great 19thC pioneers of socialism and feminism in Leeds go to

The miners were Shafted

I was lucky enough to go to the book launch for ‘Shafted: The Media, the Miners’ Strike & the Aftermath’ in Leeds last week and it was a marvellous occasion. People were being turned away. About 100 of us, mostly there by word-of-mouth or email, crammed into a too small and too hot room to remember the 25th anniversary of the miner’s strike. Can it really be 25 years? There was at least one contribution from someone not born at the time and Chris Kitching, who was on the picket lines at age 17, spoke as Secretary of the NUM.

We listened to some Roy Bailey songs and heard Anne Scargill from Women Against Pit Closures talk about some of her experiences from the strike. It was a warmly human and moving event, with stories about some of the good and even funny moments in a hard year, even if the anger at the treatment that the miners got during the strike from the state and from the media was still pretty hot.

The book is fantastic – it looks good, feels good and will do you good. The event was put on by Granville Williams from the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom and they deserve support as well. They have a web-site which can easily be found.

There was a strong connection with the present. The woman in the famous photograph from Orgreave, showing the mounted police taking a swing at her head, was there and spoke about what is going on now. One of the contributors to the book is Pete Lazenby from the NUJ. I warmly remember Pete addressing ANL meetings in the late 1970s and his journalism in the miners strike is clearly remembered by miners and activists today. Anne Scargill said it was only his involvement that got her involved. And Pete is key to the current round of NUJ strikes against major redundancies at the Evening Post in Leeds. You can find out about this strike and much else via the NUJ Left. Pete had a blistering letter in The Guardian on Thursday, replying to the craven and stupid lies and distortions made by that paper in its editorial the previous Saturday. Check it out here.

And track ‘Shafted’ down – it really is a very good book. Available from Amazon if you can't find it anywhere else.

Immanuel Wallerstein going over the top?

The distinguished American progenitor of world-systems theory produces a short fortnightly column that you can sign up for. Always worth a look. Wallerstein is vry much in the school of unstoppable American decline, but is he getting too alarmist (or excited) in this latest piece?

Mar. 15, 2009, Commentary No. 253
"Civil War in the United States?"

We are getting accustomed to all sorts of breakdowns of taboos. The world press is full of discussion about whether it would be a good idea to "nationalize" banks. None other than Alan Greenspan, disciple of the superlibertarian prophet of pure market capitalism, Ayn Rand, has recently said that we have to nationalize banks once every hundred years, and this may be that moment. Conservative Republican Senator Lindsay Graham agreed with him. Left Keynesian Alan Blinder discussed the pros and cons of this idea. And while he thinks the cons are a bit bigger than the pros, he was willing to spend public intellectual energy writing about this in the New York Times.

Well, after hearing nationalization proposals by arch-conservative notables, we are now hearing serious discussions about the possibilities of civil war in the United States. Zbigniew Brzezinski, apostle of anti-Communist ideology and President Carter's National Security Advisor, appeared on a morning television talk show on February 17, and was asked to discuss his previous mention of the possibility of class conflict in the United States in the wake of the worldwide economic collapse.

Brzezinski said he was worried about it because of the prospect of "millions and millions of unemployed people facing dire straits," people who have become aware "of this extraordinary wealth that was transferred to a few individuals without historical precedent in America."

He reminded the listeners that, when there was a massive banking crisis in 1907, the great financier, J.P. Morgan, invited a group of wealthy financiers to his home, locked them in his library, and wouldn't let them out until they all kicked in money for a fund to stabilize the banks. Brzezinski said: "Where is the monied class today? Why aren't they doing something: the people who made billions?"

In the absence of their doing something on a voluntary basis, Brzezinski said, "there's going to be growing conflict between the classes and if people are unemployed and really hurting, hell, there could even be riots!"

Almost simultaneously, a European agency called LEAP/Europe that issues monthly confidential Global Europe Anticipation Bulletins for its clients - politicians, public servants, businessmen, and investors - devoted its February issue to global geopolitical dislocation. The report did not paint a pretty picture. It discussed the possibility of civil war in Europe, in the United States, and Japan. It foresaw a "generalized stampede" that will lead to clashes, semi-civil wars.

The experts have some advice: "If your country or region is a zone in which there is a massive availability of guns, the best thing you can to leave the region, if that's possible." The only one of these countries which meets the description of massively available guns is the United States. The head of LEAP/Europe, Franck Biancheri, noted that "there are 200 million guns in circulation in the United States, and social violence is already manifest via gangs." The experts who wrote the report asserted that there is already an ongoing emigration of Americans to Europe, because that is "where physical danger will remain marginal."

If Brzezinski hopes for the emergence of another J.P. Morgan in the United States to force sense upon the "monied" class, the LEAP/Europe report sees a "last chance" in the April 2 London meeting of the G20, provided the participants come forward with a "convincing and audacious" plan.

These analyses are not coming from left intellectuals or radical social movements. They are the openly expressed fears of serious analysts who are part of the existing Establishment in the United States and Europe. Verbal taboos are broken only when such people are truly fearful. The point of breaking the taboos is to try to bring about major rapid action - the equivalent of J.P. Morgan locking the financiers in his home in 1907.

It was easier in 1907.

by Immanuel Wallerstein

Monday, 2 March 2009

We won't pay for their crisis Report

We won’t pay for their crisis!-Leeds

An afternoon of talks, discussions and ideas, with speakers from Greece, Italy and Iceland.

A great meeting of about 70 heard reports about protests in relation to the global financial crisis from Iceland, Greece and Italy. The reports were recorded and are available online. In a following discussion several ideas were developed how to act on the crisis locally.
Later the meeting heard about plans to protest in London for the G 20 meeting at the beginning of April. More information about the plans for London can be found at Put People First, Climate Camp 09 and G20 Meltdown.