Month: March 2016

Clinton, Classism, and Arendt’s Zinc Box Error

The errors and toxicity of anti-class politics

by Matt Stannard

The case for Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee and likely the next President includes the argument, explicit or not, that the interests of multinational finance capital and those of people making less than $100,000, $50,000, or $20,000 a year, and the interests of this planet’s ecology, are all compatible. Systemically speaking, there is no evidence to support that assumption, nor any evidence favoring either Clinton’s “let’s work with ‘em, regulate ‘em a little but on good terms” or, for that matter, Bernie Sanders’s “let’s beat the hell out of ‘em” approaches. Both are based on a philosophy of contingent redistribution and regulation, which, along with reliance on philanthropy, is insufficient for economic and ecological justice, and in the present condition may even delay it.

Sanders, however, brings to the table the promise of immediate, focused relief for the poor, unemployed, and the economically insecure–the latter a category that includes half of the country, along with an aggressive environmental policy—and it’s critical that a synthesis of environmental and economic justice become the new policy norm. But Sanders brings an additional, more systemic message: Because multinational corporations and finance capital have colonized our political system, pushing back against that needs to be our highest priority–again, not through any material revolution, but by limiting, through judicial and legislative fiat, the power such corporations and wealthy individuals have on our political process. If the rich have the power to stop anything good from happening, we need to check that power first.

Although they are unlikely to succeed, Sanders’s proposals and arguments enrage moderates and liberals who believe either in the Clintonian compatibility assumption or have resigned themselves to accepting the dominance of money in politics. They appear to bother Hillary Clinton herself, who has gone so far as to level an explicit critique against them—one that sounds like a simplified academic debate argument against Marxism. Her rhetoric is striking in its explicit repudiation of class politics, as well as its straw-person characterization of socioeconomic concerns as reductionism:

“Not everything is about an economic theory, right?” Clinton said, kicking off a long, interactive riff with the crowd at a union hall this afternoon.

“If we broke up the big banks tomorrow—and I will if they deserve it, if they pose a systemic risk, I will—would that end racism?”

“No!” the audience yelled back.

Clinton continued to list scenarios, asking: “Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community? Would that make people feel more welcoming to immigrants overnight?”

It’s interesting that Clinton said “overnight.” Why would she need to say that? Because some part of her is aware that the long-term effect of increased economic security and material cooperation really is a more welcoming society—a more gentle, empathetic, and progressive society where the marginalized and disempowered are welcomed into community. But she dare not dwell on that thought too long. Instead, she reverts to the straw person—that anyone, least of all Sanders, is arguing that breaking up big banks would magically end identity oppression.

Of course, on the other side of the mainstream political aisle is a fascistic thug, and since a part of 1930s Germany seems to have beamed into 2016, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the universe guided me, in researching my introductory essay to my new book of poetry based on the work of Bertolt Brecht, to a fascinating artifact, a 1948 review by Hannah Arendt of a book of Brecht’s poetry. Arendt has much to praise in Brecht, particularly for his prioritization of social over personal diagnosis. She also seems to enjoy his eclectic poetic style–really a free roaming across styles. Arendt’s discomfort with Brecht’s poetry increases in proportion to the growing blatancy of his socialism.

Specifically, Brecht wrote a poem in 1936 called “Burial of the Agitator in a Zinc Coffin.” The agitator is clearly a socialist or a communist, and the Nazis buried dissenters they killed in zinc coffins to send a message to families and citizens that they could be next.

Here in this zinc box
lies a dead person
or his legs and his head
or even less of him
or nothing, for he was
a trouble-maker.

He was recognised as the root of all evil.
Dig him in. It will be best
if his wife goes alone to the knacker’s yard with him
because anyone else going
would be a marked man.

What is in that zinc box
has been egging you on to all sorts of things:
Getting enough to eat
And having somewhere dry to live
And feeding one’s children
And insisting on one’s exact wages
And solidarity with all
who are oppressed like yourselves. And
thinking.

What is in that zinc box said
that another system of production was needed
and that you, the masses of labour in your millions
must take over.
Until then things won’t get better for you.

And because what is in the zinc box said that
it was put into the zinc box and must be dug in
as a trouble-maker who egged you on.
And whoever now talks of getting enough to eat
And whoever of you wants somewhere dry to live
And whoever of you insists on his exact wages
And whoever of you wants to feed his children
And whoever thinks, and proclaims his solidarity
with all who are oppressed –
from now on throughout eternity
he will be put into a zinc box like this one
as a trouble-maker and dug in.

 

Irritated more than critical, Arendt accuses Brecht of ignorance, of letting his Marxism run wild, ignoring the true nature of Nazi oppression, political repression.  Brecht, Arendt writes,

deals with this subject as though it were simply the case of an agitator who “has agitated in favor of many things: for eating-your-fill, for a-roof-over-your head, for feeding-your-children,” etc. The point is, that an agitator with such slogans would have been so ridiculous in 1936 that nobody would have needed to put him out of the way.

This criticism is factually shaky and extremely unfair to the poet and playwright, himself a victim of Nazism. As John Simkin points out, there were still one million people unemployed in Germany as of 1937, and those in the working class who were employed were miserable–not merely as politically repressed subjects of Nazism, but uniquely as workers. The Nazis controlled trade unions and severely punished independent union activity. Wages were very low and did not increase with productivity.

So there was much for a socialist or communist agitator to fight against in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. There was Nazism itself, which the far left did a much better job of both explaining and pushing back against than the centrists ever did. But there was also widespread exploitation of labor—from the slave labor that began to build the war machine to the conditions of the working class itself, conditions which, regardless of what the materially privileged Arendt thought, were pretty awful. If you were anti-capitalist and anti-Nazi, you were doubly marked, and it seems foolish in retrospect to suggest that agitation against poor wages and working conditions, and the unemployment of a million people, on top of the triumph of fascism, would have seemed ridiculous or that no such materialist agitators would be put out of the way. Tens of thousands of leftist political prisoners were put out of the way between 1933 and the end of the war. Arendt’s denial of this is criminal. She’s better than that.

Brecht figures strongly into a philosophical discussion of the way some liberals save their nastiest derision for socialists, and one needn’t be a Marxist or even a socialist to examine this. In Threepenny Opera, Brecht writes: “Food is the first thing, morals follow on.” Stripped of an understanding of class, identity politics often drifts into a morality-based critique of power, and while values are undeniably important (perhaps more important than orthodox Marxists admit), Ioan Davies’s interpretation of Brecht’s line in Threepenny expresses the hazard of morals that ignore materiality:

The struggle to be “good” is frequently stressed, but it is a fatuous struggle if it is not linked with the struggle to live . . . No matter how much individuals aim to be just, justice and morality are only possible if the social conditions are just. In fact the attempt is only worthwhile under such conditions: otherwise it becomes blind to the injustice of others.

I think that most of the public discussion about Clinton, Sanders, identity politics, class politics, sexism and emancipation conflates optics and policy. Clinton apologists also conspicuously erase the mainstream Democratic Party’s (and their candidate’s) synthesis of political liberalism and economic neoliberalism. It’s a dangerous thing, thinking that legal protections and moral inclusiveness are enough to check the abuses of the inegalitarian economy. It’s at least as dangerous as what Clinton apologists accuse the left of doing, assuming economic egalitarianism can, by itself, adequately address illiberal, racist, sexist, and other exclusionary cultures.

Clinton apologists are right: socialism alone, by itself, can whitewash identity oppression. But they stop there. One longtime friend recently described to me their excitement in hearing Clinton call for a society where more women and people of color inhabited positions at the top of corporate, academic, and political hierarchies. This friend dismissed my question about the injustices of the hierarchies themselves as “unrealistic” and “unpragmatic,” the latest form of classism and red-baiting that has been hurled at Sanders (who’s really not very red at all) by Democrats and Republicans alike.

In Germany in the 1930s, liberals who shied away from socialism were absolutely helpless to fight against Nazism. I fear that the current centrism of the Democratic Party establishment shares this inability. Because the standard-bearers of the Party support military intervention, tolerate coups in Central America, and support neoliberal free trade agreements that allow multinational corporations to supersede public interest and environmental laws, it has become very easy for Donald Trump to outflank his likely Democratic opponent and be a true populist—just like the Nazis did. Fascists always flirt with isolationism, criticize big corporations, and promise a few economically egalitarian policies. I already hear naïve Greens and others on the independent left cautiously praising Trump for attacking Clinton on her Iraq war vote. I hear them shrugging their shoulders and pointing out that his economic nationalism isn’t that far from Sanders’s, and that Trump is a more credible opponent of bad trade deals than Clinton.

Of course, Donald Trump isn’t a credible anything. He’s an incipient fascist and a narcissist with the tone of a domestic abuser, forging a politics of interpersonal violence that, regardless of his lies otherwise, will be scaled up to brutal militarism when, as President, he realizes he can’t verbally abuse other nations into submission. He’ll crush free speech, and labor, and anything in his way—just as he already has. In order to beat Trump, Clinton will need to go left. In order to beat Trumpism, we all will, and that means recognizing the standing of economic domination and the necessity of an ecologically sustainable economic justice. Economic justice, not liberalism-in-cooperation-with-multinational-corporations, is the antithesis of fascism. Nothing I have seen in the optics or policy universe of the Democrats indicates they can do this.

In this election cycle, I’ve stayed away from telling people how to vote. I’m chiefly concerned about the outcome of the Democratic primary race because of what it says about America’s attitude towards the economically disadvantaged, our propensity towards building sustainable economic justice, and our resistance to the colonization of the public sphere–and all life–by profit-driven corporations and the forces of finance capital. I believe we do, in fact, have to fix that “first,” although not necessarily temporally first. If corporate money can block all good ideas, this means it will block all of your candidate’s good ideas. This is a pretty devastating admission because it means you can’t leverage the power of any of your candidate’s good ideas back over it. It reduces your candidate’s policy positions to those that can co-exist with the needs of multibillion dollar corporations and extremely wealthy individuals. Number one on their agenda is stopping real progress on carbon-induced climate change, the long-term impacts of which are apocalyptic. Many of the injustices we are rightly concerned about across the entire array of identity-based oppression happen to a large percentage of the population every day simply because they are poor.

Pointing this out is dangerous—maybe not as dangerous as it was in 1930s Germany, but if a thinker as sharp and astute as Hannah Arendt had a blind spot on classism then, it certainly explains the active and passive red-baiting going on among otherwise progressive people in 2016 America.

Matt Stannard is policy director at Commonomics USA and director of the Materialized Empathy project. He provides research and communications assistance to the Public Banking Institute, speaks and writes on economic justice, and is the author of Love and Production and The American Commons, both of which will be published in 2016.

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The Poisoning of a city and it wasn’t done by international Terrorists

(Originally at Cat Watters’s blog)

by Cat Watters, AwakeRadio

An UNELECTED emergency “manager” appointed by Gov. Snyder switched the water supply from the Detroit system they had been using for half of a century to the toxic Flint river to try to save $5 million. Right after the switch the residents of Flint started complaining about the foul odor and discolored water that, also, caused a variety of health issues. Initially, the water was infested with bacteria until the city added chlorine which created trihalomethanes or TTHM’s, a cancerous chemical by-product. Legionaires disease, born from the contaminated water, spread to the Flint residents that killed 10 people and left many others ill. The corrosive water was damaging Flint’s aging pipes creating lead contamination most prominently in the children.

Gov. Snyder and other “officials” ignored then covered up the complaints from the residents, for a year and a half, who started fighting back with protesting, citizen journalism, a new elected mayor and a resident lead testing project.

“In 2011 Gov Snyder signed into law the emergency manager law”, said Claire McClinton of the Flint Democracy Defense league who’s been challenging “emergency managers” for years. Under the guise of being fiscally responsible, EM’s were sent into city’s and school districts they deemed in fiscal crisis who were majority African American. They were privatizing services and selling off the assets. The garbage collection was privatized and the parks were sold off. “There’s a coordinated, aggressive effort to privatize our water system which is how we came to this poison water catastrophe”. The people were told that the Detroit water was too expensive and they were going to “cheaper water”. Claire McClinton said it was the GM plant that contaminated the Flint river dumping all their toxins in it, which was the “cheaper water” for the interim. “We don’t just have a water problem, we got a Democracy problem. We got a dictatorship problem”. Flint was the first city to elect an African American mayor. “We’re not the type of people that’s used to being walked on”.

Another resident who needed clean water for her grandson said, she paid a bill of $109 to stop a water shut off.

I do not understand this at all. She was going to have the poison water shut off and she paid $109 to keep it from being turned off. That makes no sense. Don’t pay it! Why would you pay to keep poison water running in your house? I did an interview last night with Sherry Peel Jackson, former IRS agent, CPA and certified fraud examiner on her book, Stick it to the IRS. She did time in jail standing up to the IRS and now teaches others about the fraudulence of the IRS. She said people give all their power over to the IRS and they end up getting screwed, losing their businesses and even their lives from break downs and suicide. She teaches people to own their power and stop giving it away to institutions that take total advantage of the naietivity of people. This is what happens when people give up their fitness and their connection to nature and their gut in exchange for a fake, nam-made system. I’ve tried telling this to people for decades. Now more people are seeing that it’s true. That the system in this country is a total fraud.

Stand UP! Fight back! I was shamed and guilted as a young person and a teen for standing up to and calling out abusive and neglectful “parents by neighbors and relatives. THEY WERE WRONG and I was the one doing the right thing. Every “adult” around me was training me to bow and live with little dignity. I was literally beaten into walking around this planet with such little self worth. Real family should be raising their child and teaching them to defend themselves, stand up for themselves. Its the most basic thing to teach a child. Instead< i was learning the exact opposite, to feel bad for standing up for myself and not bowing to who, I knew in my gut, were not real family.

People are totally brainwashed to bow and they learn it IN the “Home” by “parents” who are followers. I was smart enough at an early age to speak truth to power and I was backed by no one. People do not know their rights and they were passing down the same mentality to me and I was aware enough at an early age and felt it. Had people supported me and come together we would not be living in this kind of world. This is why we’re where we are today. I had doing the right thing beaten right our of me by ignorant people. Taking the way nature and health work and rewiring it so I would be easier to control. It ended up blowing up right in my mother’s face. How can people not recognize the right thing when it’s right in front of them? Talk about a health crisis.

“I respect him because he’s the Gov. of Michigan”, said Kawanne Armstrong of Flint, the woman who came to ask for help getting water for her grandson. People deserve respect when they give respect. People do not deserve respect automatically because they’re in a “power” position. Gov. Snyder is Not treating the residents of Flint with even minimal respect and doesn’t deserve it in return. Period.

Due to growing up in such a broken, chaotic environment standing up to abuse of power instinctually kicked in early in my life. It was healthy and natural to stand up to corruption even at “home”. The body is never wrong. The body and it’s signals are what we should be aligning with, not destroying.

I have to speak out because what I’ve tried to wake people up to decades ago that no one wanted to listen to and take seriously, is now, a much larger problem and getting worse. From living in a completely incompetent “family” with “parents” who were incapable of, or had no plans to do their job and take responsibility and were more than happy to pass down their irresponsibility onto those who deserved it the least, their own children. It’s totally CRIMINAL what happens and what is happening to children in their own “families” and there’s no where for the to turn and No one to be an advocate for them. The more parenting gets eroded and diluted over time, like is the trend since everything is about $, just like the environment, soil erosion and animal slaughter, living things that are speaking up but, are just not speaking up in English. Nature speaks a more clear language that cannot be denied, But, Sociopaths find a way.

The reason I feel it necessary to write about the abusive/dysfunctional ‘family’ system is because that is the source of how and where people learned to be sheople. With all the corruption from the Powers That Be and the Flint water crisis that was an Inside Job and everything else that’s happening in the world, not enough people are taking a close enough look at the source of where they learned to be the way they are in life. Be someone perpetrator, abuser of power, or the one being abused, it important to look at your own part in the ‘relationship’. Just like in a marriage gone bad, if both parties involved don’t look at how they contributed to the failed relationship, it just ends up continuing. The problem comes from the fact that it’s usually the one being short changed that complains and wants to see changes. Many times it could be both parties who are equal contributors whether they’re the perp or the aggressor. It\’s usually the aggressor that refuses to look at how they contribute to the problems. One person, the aggressor usually, is the person who conveniently has a blind spot and doesn’t want to look at and take responsibility for their contribution to the problems.

This is what we are living in LARGE SCALE‎. I did my best decades ago when I was young to get people to see how they were perpetuating their own demise. When and where I was ‘growing up’ it was right in your face that the family system is falling apart, there is no community, there is no one there for the youngest and most vulnerable. The very people who need the most protection, the very people who should be the reason for stepping up and making a better world end up being those who are used to dump all the garbage and emotional excuses onto and get away with it.

These problems with the water crisis in Flint is literally the Macro of the Micro. Amy Goodman asked Melissa Mayer of Water We Fighting For,‎ a Flint resident who’s 3 boys, she says, are now anemic and have other health problems from the lead contaminated water. Melissa said they were A students and now suffer brain ‘fog’, bone pains and compromised immune systems. Melissa, herself, has a host of illnesses including diverticulosis, seizures and liver problems. “The by products in the water are all neurotoxins, copper, lead, aluminum, tin chromium, things that our bodies can’t handle”.

This is the exact same issue I tried raising on my own as a child to the “adults” around me that were supposed to be protecting me! I was being subjected to stress and emotional torture that a child is not equipt to handle and had my health permanently compromised from it. Who is going to admit that what is being handed down to future generations is betrayal when the ones who should be protecting are the ones doing the betraying like Gov Snyder? To this day we don’t hear anything about the abuse of children in the home. I wonder why that is?

Speaking about Governor Snyder, Melissa Mays said “he needs to removed from office. he just doesn’t show any real concern”, she said. “He hasn’t put any real effort into actually making up for the failures of his agencies”. It’s like hearing my words come out of someone else’s mouth. The words I tried so many times as a CHILD to express to the “adults” around me who just couldn’t be bothered because then, they would have had to actually DO something. Imagine being a child and having to deal with a crisis like the people in Flint are dealing with? Imagine being a child and those who are in the position of power showing no concern for the people they’re entrusted to protect? If it’s like this for adults dealing with abuse of power, imagine what it’s like for a child with their own “parents” and neighbors?

Melissa is bringing forth the very same concerns I, myself, was forced to bring up as a young child to the very people making me sick. The ‘family’. You were born because it was against the Catholic Church to have an abortion, and you’re treated like it was your own fault you were conceived and exist. I was treated like I was some unwanted visitor who was criminalized for being healthy and needing ‘parents’ to do their job and protect my health and help me to grow. Doesn’t this sound like Debt? Doesn’t this sound like the signs and symptoms of “Social Climate Shift?” The passing down of the debt and pollution to the very people who should be inheriting a healthy planet, love and respect?

Amy Goodman then brought up being from NYC where 911 attack on the World Trade Center attack took place and the Pentagon in DC, then said, “the Government said after that the biggest fear is that an international terrorist would poison the water supply of a major city. Well, AN INTERNATIONAL TERRORIST DIDN’T DO THIS and a major city’s water supply has been poisoned. The Michigan Government, the Governor, Rick Snyder is involved in this”.

Melissa Mays’ reply was to say that in times of war under the Geneva Convention, a country cannot contaminate a cities water supply. “We’re not in war but, guess what, it seems like it because a whole city’s water supply was poisoned by our state government and allowed to continue. They knew in October of 2014, when GM said they couldn’t use the water anymore, that it was corroding the car parts. If it’s not ok for car parts, how is it ok for citizens?”

More people are finding out what an abused child feels like in their own home. More often, it’s an inside job. When you have to stand up and fight for yourself AGAINST the VERY people who should be protecting and supporting you and instead, Fault you for pointing out to them that they are the ones making you ill, that should be seen as a very serious environmental concern but, of course, it isn’t. ‎

I’m simply looking at math and facts. I was living in utter TERROR as a child and throughout my entire young, and even older, life. I pulled my eyelashes out from the 2nd through the 5th grade and other self mutilation not to mention emotional self mutilation. The problem only gets worse when there is no one to turn to who is a Real adult and would actually admit that you’re being harmed by the very people entrusted to care for you the most. I tried telling neighbors and others who can clearly See what was happening. But, you’re surrounded by low- bar, ignorant people that have no idea that they should be responding and stepping up to the plate. Neighbors and everyone around minimize it all because most people are in on the dumbing down of children who are going to be the ‘future’ so they will be easy to control by the Powers that Be. Those around me were threatened by me and the built in instincts and health that automatically gets brought out when something healthy is subjected to something unhealthy.

Instead of the unhealthy admitting that they’re the unhealthy and irresponsible and moving towards healthy, they make the healthy, innocent child the Bad guy and criminalize them for being too healthy. They make nature wrong instead of using nature as the guideline to move towards fitness which is a normal activity when people learn to walk or ride a bike.  ‎

Nature is being desecrated in more ways than people realize. Their moral health is being eroded by fake, GMO $ like the pipes in Flint by the lead contamination. I got on this path before I realized how bad things truly were. I had no idea when I started teaching myself about mental/emotional health that I would end up feeling like a criminal. ‎It’s extremely clear that $ is at the expense of community and healthy relationships. Not just Globally but, in people’s homes and marriages.

The world is going, at a rapid pace, in the opposite direction I’ve been going in all my life. Growing up in domestic violence, divorce and abuse forced my body, naturally, to move towards healing, relationship skills, conscious communication and the desire to cultivate healthy relationships that can only give us the nutrition we need by following nature. Skipping over any of nature’s process will simply bring us GMO relationships and poor nutrition. Who doesn’t want to be healthy? Really sick people. Really mentally sick ‎people who have the entire Globe rigged. Not necessarily in their favor because, in reality they’re sick addicts who are destroying themselves too. Those who’ve rigged the system want to keep people confused as to what’s real, healthy and truly satisfying in this world. Because they’re addicted to fake wealth they want everyone to be.

Cat Watters can be heard every Tuesday at 6-8pm EST on Organic News on AwakeRadio 

Materializing Antifascism

​Worried about Trump and right-wing extremism in general? You should be. But however you choose to fight it nationally, the true answer to the fascist worldview is cooperative, sustainable economies and community solidarity.

by Matt Stannard

If I were giving this essay as a sermon at a Unitarian Universalist fellowship, the accompanying children’s story at the beginning of the service would be about fighting back against bullies in a world where everyone feels afraid and insecure, and learning that standing up together not only pushes back the bullies, but eliminates bullying. What does economic justice have to do with bullying, you ask?

Violence

We seek what bell hooks calls “the fierce willingness to repudiate domination in a holistic manner.”

For a year and a half I aided victims of domestic violence in the courtroom asking for injunctions against their abusers and in the “system” asking for resources to gain independence. For the last several months watching Donald Trump and his new loyalist Chris Christie, I’ve noted the spot-on similarity of verbal outbursts of both men and the behavior and abuse patterns of respondents in domestic violence injunction hearings. “Sit down and shut up.” “Are you stupid?” “Beat him up.” “Bomb the shit out of them.” Vulgar sexist jokes. Narcissistic and disproportionate self-justification. Those are words victims, in their petitions, report hearing.

Statistically, the incidents and impacts of domestic abuse cluster most heavily in poverty. I just read another article explaining that link, this one by Helen Nianias at Broadly, a Vice channel. There cannot be too many of these articles written or read. The thesis is that lack of access to material security like rental property worsens domestic abuse, traps victims with their abusers, and exacerbates all interpersonal violence.

And I submit, in all seriousness, that the way domestic violence victims interact with their abusers and our economic system tells us a lot about the real context of Donald Trump’s incipient fascism, and why economic injustice is unjust. For millions, American life and politics are an intersection of trauma, material insecurity, and dependence on abusive systems and people. So now we have public behavior from leading political figures –one who may become president— that would be dispositive in a domestic violence injunction hearing.

We Are Material 

Well, we certainly have some things to deal with now, don’t we? And unfortunately, we don’t make our history any way we please. The other night I picked up my old copy of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy, an essay written in response to a certain strain of utopian socialism, but which also contains spot-on criticism of mainstream economics. Grace Lee Boggs, the revolutionary of Detroit who died last year at age 100, read Marx as she read Jesus: urging us, on multiple levels, to shed our fetishization of wealth, seeing a relationship between that fetishization and systems of brutality. My takeaway from The Poverty of Philosophy is that human relationships don’t occur between abstract political subjects, but between human beings immersed in their material conditions. This isn’t hard determinism. It’s simply a humbling reminder that matter exists, we are in it, and we are often overwhelmed by it.

Professional economists tend not to live in or understand that overwhelm.The divisions Marx makes in The Poverty of Philosophy between these mainstream theorists very much resembles the respective economic approaches of the 2016 Republican field, Hillary Clinton’s neoliberal centrism, and Bernie Sanders’s strong redistributivism and old labor politics. Marx writes of the fatalistic conservative economists who see poverty as “the pang which accompanies every childbirth, in nature as in industry” – essentially the economic philosophy of the Republicans, enforced through a combination of now-undead trickle-down economics and apocalyptic Christian exaltation of suffering. He writes of the humanitarians, seeking to ease the pain and conflicts of inequality by calling for concessions and cooperation on both sides—a charitable but fair description of the Clintonian, DNC-guided corporate welfare state. He writes of the philanthropic economists—“den[ying] the necessity of antagonism,” and wishing to turn us all “into bourgeoisie” with no such class conflict at all—a possibility envisioned by Sanders and numerous (but by no means all) “new economy” proponents. A large section of what is now considered left-of-center economic thought now posits that wealth can be used for good, and that we can create structures within the market economy that eliminate involuntary poverty. Almost all of these approaches assume at least a certain amount of good will (or at least cooperation) from the world’s most powerful economic interests. That such good will might be replaced by violent repression (as historically valid as that concern is) does not occur to most humanitarian or philanthropic policy advocates. They should think about it now.

Marx doesn’t stop there, but I will. We don’t need to be “Marxists” to beat back fascism, or build economically just institutions. Sanders’s philanthropic capitalism is not impossible. Nor, even, is Clinton’s capitalism-with-a-human-face (I’m going to ask some tough question about how to achieve sustainability and justice under it, but I’ll listen to the answers). Fighting for those visions is not dishonorable, insincere, or even foolish. Nor are those people foolish who say those fights don’t go far enough and risk too much compromise—those socialists and Greens who raise their heads in interest at the Clinton-Sanders debate, while forging ahead building what they see as a necessary, new politics and economics.

But in what comes from the right, we face a categorical antagonist to any humanistic political economy at all. It is material power reasserting itself as unmoored irrationalism, brutality, and actual interpersonal abuse as politics. How can we adequately respond to that if we have different views of the ultimate good?

Well, we can.

Close Enough

What is it, anyway?  I’ve read several articles and analyses about fascism over the last twenty years, and several articles and short social media posts recently about whether Trump(ism) is (a) fascist/ism. Perhaps I should be more meticulous, perhaps the characterization is hyperbolic or violates one or another scholars’ demarcations, but such hair-splitting is a luxury for those who have time, and I think we don’t have much. What is happening on the right side of American politics is close enough for me. Jim Wolfrey’s decade-old review of Michael Mann’s Fascists and Robert Paxton’s The Anatomy of Fascism lists what I see as decisive: simultaneous anger at, and alliances with, economic elites; bedazzlement of power; incapability of conventional political structures to deliver stable social goods; the shifting of “social frustration onto the symbols of nationalism and violence”; a space for racism and sexism through a methodology of interpersonal violence. Such tendencies are fueled by anti-rationalism. There is no need for internal consistency, so Christianity compliments rather than critiques calls for hate. Whatever ideological tools at hand will do. Does it provide visceral satisfaction? Make you feel like it’s okay to feel anger and hate and belonging and pride? It’ll do. And I don’t care what you call it. Our inability to resolve our deepest insecurities, tied together on a beam of economic and social inequality and an extractive, exploitative model of collective life, summons it into being.

Fighting by Building

Whether the Democrats’ hybrid humanitarian-philanthropic capitalism triumphs over the Republican’s hybrid thugfascist Christian politics of antiempathy is certainly  the defining question of the 2016 presidential election for many. But my concern is how proponents of economic justice and materialized empathy move forward regardless of that outcome. By all means, we should still be active in influencing that outcome, in whatever way our own consciences dictate. But what we actually need to do to create a world where narcissistic billionaires can’t threaten to pull us into their pathetic universes is much more focused and direct. There is a rapidly growing movement for actual economic justice—not mere redistribution, certainly not austerity, but materialized empathy: institutions, laws, and practices that hardwire economic justice, from sustainable and democratic financial practices to provide a material basis for fairness—a basis which, when missing, disempowers us socially and personally, as the sad facts about poor victims of domestic violence illustrates.

And so, when the Berkeley City Council this month joined other cities around the country increasing support for worker-owned cooperatives—tax and land-use incentives, educational programs, devoting city procurement to cooperative businesses, and discounting its bids to make cooperatives more viable in the bidding process—the city not only helped build a sustainable, prosperous, and cooperative economy. In building and incentivizing local economic cooperation, Berkeley also fought fascism.

Materialized Empathy, the Commonomics USA project I direct, assists local leaders and grassroots organizations in building economies of solidarity and security. Many other valuable organizations are engaged in similar efforts. Each local structure we help build makes us stronger opponents of hate and extremism. Commonomics USA also educates Americans about basic income (I’m hosting a live chat about it on March 4) and postal banking, national programs made necessary by the real state of the economy, a perspective miles outside of the Republicans’ ballpark.

Local activism overcomes internal splits too. Tired of your friends in the Sanders and Clinton camps yelling at each other on Facebook? Invite them all to demand public banks in their cities or to shape municipal ordinances supporting community agriculture. Suspicious of the white privilege of many progressives? Study the work of African-American and Latina/o-run cooperative economy projects and intentional communities around the country—and stand in solidarity with them. None of our political standpoints are complete, and none alone can fight the monsters American excess has created. Everyone has a candidate and everyone’s got blueprints. What we need is love—not just in our hearts, but in our policies and—especially—in our economies. That’s how we fight fascism.

In Case I Missed Anything

There is a chance I’ve left something out of this analysis and call to action. If so, unless it says we should be mean to each other, not live sustainably, or not create economically just institutions, it’s compatible with what I’ve been trying, however imperfectly, to say. Join us.

MattBrickWallMatt Stannard is policy director at Commonomics USA and director of the Materialized Empathy project. He provides research and communications assistance to the Public Banking Institute, speaks and writes on economic justice, and is the author of Love and Production and The American Commons, both of which will be published in 2016.