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A Revolution in Thinking: What is the People’s Book Project?
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
Since September of 2011, I have been asking people – readers, activists, and others – to support my endeavour to write a comprehensive, critical examination of the individuals, institutions, and ideas of power, domination, and control in our society – both historically and presently. I have called this process ‘The People’s Book Project.’ The support I have asked for is in the form of financial donations, which have come from people around the world: Canada, the United States, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands Antilles, Taiwan, Germany, the Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, Malaysia, and Norway.
According to the site statistics, the website for The People’s Book Project has reached people in the following countries: the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, Switzerland, Germany, France, India, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Philippines, Finland, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Denmark, Netherlands, Netherlands Antilles, Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, Thailand, Hungary, Greece, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Suriname, Taiwan, Spain, Romania, Italy, Turkey, Austria, Slovakia, South Africa, Qatar, Slovenia, Poland, Russia, Puerto Rico, Estonia, Pakistan, Singapore, Chile, Nigeria, Egypt, Argentina, Czech Republic, United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Peru, Uganda, Ukraine, Dominican Republic, Lithuania, Japan, Serbia, Bahamas, Jamaica, Bosnia, Fiji, Tanzania, Bangladesh, Trinidad and Tobago, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Nepal, Georgia, Israel, Benin, Luxembourg, Panama, Kuwait, Latvia, Iceland, Azerbaijan, Cote d’Ivoire, Jordan, Venezuela, Zambia, Bahrain, Aruba, Colombia, Morocco, Zimbabwe, Barbados, Armenia, Tunisia and Ecuador, among others.
The Facebook page for The People’s Book Project has support from people all around the world: the United States, Canada, Dominican Republic, United Kingdom, Sweden, Philippines, Australia, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Portugal, Mexico, Indonesia, Netherlands, Ireland, France, Chile, Estonia, Italy, and Brazil. According to the Facebook stats for the page, 57.7% of those who the page reaches are between the ages of 18 and 34. Many of those who cannot financially support the Project have done so in other ways: re-posting my articles through social media, posting them on blogs, translating them, and spreading the word through other means. Both financially and fundamentally, all of this support has been of immense importance, and both are of equal necessity.
Why is this support necessary?
The People’s Book Project relies upon grassroots support from people around the world in order to remain independent, focused, active, advancing, critical, dedicated, and driven. The avenues for truly independent research and writing is lacking; free to discover itself and its own truths instead of being directed by the purse strings and for the purpose of institutions – whether think tanks, foundations, universities, government, industry, or otherwise. My research and writing is outside the oversight, control, direction, funding and suppression of any institution. It is precisely that which makes this Project have both a great deal of potential, and a great deal of problems. The potential, because the research can take – as it should – its own course to discover knowledge and truth: it is not directed, but instead, it directs me. The sheer volume of research and writing that has already been undertaken presents a great opportunity for a wider audience to receive important knowledge which may inform their ideas and actions: it is knowledge designed not to conform, but to inform; not to indoctrinate, but to liberate; not to overpower, but to empower. Because these are my intentions, and because I ask for support from people – individuals like you – to aid in these efforts, I think it’s only fair if I elaborate on the process of The People’s Book Project, and on my role in it.
What is The People’s Book Project?
I have elaborated on this central question for a great deal of time in many places and forms. Whenever I am asked – “What is the book about?” – I let out a sigh, and think to reply, “What isn’t it about?” I think this, because the more research I do, the more I write, the more I come across, the more stories, individuals, institutions, and ideas I feel the need to discuss and examine and explain; to understand and illuminate the interactions, exchanges, relationships and reactions of these ‘new’ ideas to the ones I have already been spending so much time researching and writing about. As a result, it seems the Project continually gets larger, the scope grows wider, the subject matter swells and expands, the ideas change and evolve. It is precisely because of this last point – that the ideas change and evolve – which pushes the process further: why wouldn’t we want our ideas to change and evolve? It is for this reason that the scope expands and develops, the time it takes to write and research grows, and the efforts increase, and with that, so does the need for support.
Since I have asked for – and received – a great deal of support, and since I will continue to need that support in the future, it is important for me to explain not only an idea of a ‘finished product’ – a series of books – which is being supported, but also the process of getting to that finished product. I also must acknowledge that it is me individually who is being supported in this situation, and therefore it is perhaps appropriate if I explain a little bit about myself and what I am doing. This Project is almost the entire means through which I support myself, I have no other job – (other than a weekly podcast at BoilingFrogsPost) – and I come from a family who are very much among the rapidly-vanishing middle class of Canada. I have just this past January returned to school after more than three years out of school to continue a Bachelors degree, but I am only taking one class in order to dedicate most of my time and efforts to the book. Currently, the students in my province of Québec are on strike, protesting a doubling of tuition fees, which I would certainly not be able to afford.
I have hesitated to write myself into the narrative of the process of the book’s evolution, instead focusing on the subject matter itself. But as the people – you and others – are supporting not only a product, but a process, and a person, it is important that I elaborate on the process and my part in it. In short, to truly explain an end product, one must also examine the process and persons involved.
What is the Process of the People’s Book Project?
I have approached the research and writing of The People’s Book Project in a way unfamiliar to those who have undertaken the task of writing a book on a specific subject. When I began writing this book, the scope of it was comparatively small and narrow, the length was supposed to be short and confined, and the subject was based upon a foregone conclusion. It was to be the product of an institution, not an idea; it was directed and defined as to what it should be and what it should not be. For myself at the time, I was struggling to keep it within the confines of what it was “supposed” to be, for the more research I did, the more I discovered and learned, the more the book – and its ideas – evolved and changed with me. As a result, I could not find it within myself to be moved to – or be proud of – producing a book which began with a preordained conclusion, that the research was simply meant to conform to an idea which was already decided upon. If I were to do that, I would write a book in which I could not agree with nor support its conclusions, nor could I promote it or pretend that it speaks to some great truths when it does not stand up to the scrutiny of my own truths. For this reason, I decided to change my situation and leave my job to pursue my passion. I left behind all that I had written, and started anew, letting the process dictate the product.
Frequently, I find myself even trying to restrict the content and flow and direction of the book. A writer and researcher must, after all, make choices: choices about what to research, what to write, how to write it, why to write it, what to leave out, why to leave it out, etc. Without choices, nothing would get finished (or started, for that matter), and the results would speak for the lack of choices. In spite of my own choices on what subjects I will pursue, what angles I will examine, what I will leave out, what direction I want to go, and even what conclusions I have in mind, I all too often find myself facing this ever-present, persistent, and pervasive power which seems to suggest to me that the only choice I truly have at the moment, is to decide to let the process take on a life of its own.
How does this work?
I will give you a recent example. I have set about – and received a great deal of support – to write a series of chapters on a radical history of race and poverty, specifically focusing on the United States. I wrote a “brief” 20-page essay on the subject, covering its broad focus and ideas, thinking that my efforts would be emphasized on elaborating on the concepts already mentioned in what I wrote, that it would be about filling in the details, connecting the missing dots, and better explaining the circumstances and situations. I often don’t write and research a subject in its exact sequence of events; rather, I approach a subject by focusing in on one aspect, one event, one individual, idea, or institution which has caught my interest and fascination. I use that specific point of interest to act as inspiration; in fact, I cannot help but allow it to inspire. In seeking to learn all that I can about the particular individual, institution, or idea, I must examine its relationship, interaction, and interdependence with other individuals, institutions, and ideas of that particular time, and from there I must go into its history: where did these individuals, institutions, and ideas come from? From there, I follow the path as to where they went: what were the repercussions, results, reactions to and of these individuals, institutions, and ideas, and where do they exist (or not) today? And then of course, the big question: Why?
So for my current subject – a radical history of race and poverty – my point of entry at present into the subject was brought about as a result of the recent anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. I have researched and read about King and his assassination, and how the King we idolize today is not the King who died in 1968. When MLK Day passes, the media, commentators, images, and sounds we hear are about the MLK that existed up until 1965, with the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the “I Have a Dream” speech, and the non-violence of the “Civil Rights Movement.” In the last years of his life, however, King became increasingly revolutionary: he was speaking out against the Vietnam War, the American empire, poverty and economic exploitation, and was even organizing a major national poor people’s campaign to end poverty in the United States. The King up until 1965 was a reformer. The King thereafter was a revolutionary. This is why, when today we “remember” King, we purposely neglect the memory of the man who he was – and was becoming – when he was murdered. By doing so, we are able to forget the issues he was talking about, and how they are even more relevant today than they were in the time in which he spoke, and we can congratulate ourselves on “giving freedom” to black people in the United States. With a black president, many have declared a “post-racial” America. The discourse of race and poverty, discrimination, racism, segregation and exploitation is no longer seen as valid or useful. Naturally, this is wrong.
However, another thing happened to me as I began reading about King and his anti-poverty campaign: I was exposed to new ideas, individuals, and institutions. Specifically, I have been exposed to the ‘Black Power’ movement, organizations like the Black Panthers, individuals like Stokely Carmichael, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, Fred Hampton, and others. I began reading about these individuals, listening to their speeches, researching their ideas, learning about their organizations and actions and objectives and then suddenly, it happened, the process took on a life of its own. I have been utterly and completely inspired by the ideas, individuals, and actions of the Black Power movement. I realized that the revolutionary Martin Luther King that I so admire in the last years of his life, was not the only person speaking about such profound issues related to race, exploitation, history, and empire. What King was talking about in the last year of his life, a younger generation of black leaders had been talking about and acting on for years.
Suddenly, I had to know as much as I possibly could about Black Power, about the individuals involved, and about the ideas and their emergence, evolution, and relevance for today. When people typically hear the words ‘Black Power’ or ‘Black Panthers’ today, there are pre-programmed images and ideas which come into mind (especially if, like myself, you have lived most of your life in a predominantly white community and society): you see the images of leather-jacket and beret-wearing black men with sunglasses and guns, you think of violence and reactionary ideas, and even the concept of “reverse racism” – racism by blacks against whites. Like most things, the pre-packaged conceptions are a far cry from reality.
Black Power was not about hatred of whites, it was about empowerment of black people. The Black Power leaders – like Stokely Carmichael – understood that “integration” into white society would not liberate black people, because the solution was not one of repealing segregationist laws and then suddenly the scourge of racism would be erased from society and history. Black Power leaders and ideas were grounded in a significant historical understanding: they understood that racism was institutionalized in society, in all of its institutions and structures of power, not merely in the specific segregation laws of the South. Thus, what was needed in order to eradicate racism was to remake the institutions and ideas of society, not to simply step into the corridors of power (as Obama has) and proclaim a “post-racial” America. Black Power was not about dealing with the symptoms of racism (such as segregation, voting rights), but rather, in addressing the root causes of racism: found in the socio-political and economic system itself.
Racism was born out of class struggle, economic exploitation, imperialism, and poverty. It has remained a central feature of these issues right to the present day. The Black Power movement sought to challenge the root causes of racism. To do so, it was argued, black people themselves had to organize, mobilize and create their own source of power in society, they had to empower their own community and create their own institutions and articulate their own ideas – not against white people – but for black people. The understanding was that since integration would not solve the root causes of the problem at hand (institutionalized racism, as Stokely Carmichael wrote and spoke about), it was not a solution. Instead, black communities had to build their own power base in creating a new society with a new vision, free of racism (thus, those who equate Black Power with “white racism” do not understand Black Power). With its own power, vision, and objectives, Black Power would not have to conform or submit to the institutionalized power structure which already existed in society, and which had repressed black people for over four hundred years.
The Black Power movement was not about destruction or violence, it was about creation and protection. The Black Panther Party became a prominent symbol of Black Power. It was founded as the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, and its initial objective and the ideas behind arming themselves were not based upon an aggressive idea, or one which aimed to “overthrow” the government (as was the media and government portrayal of the Black Panthers at the time, and up until present). Rather, why they armed themselves was for self-defense of the ghettoes. The black ghetto communities in the United States were subjected to incredible amounts of police brutality, murdering black residents, and even white terrorism. The Panthers emerged, acting lawfully and legally in California (where gun laws stated that people could be armed, so long as they did not point their gun at anyone in public), and would act to protect the ghetto residents against the police and other forms of violence. When police would come into the ghetto, the Panthers would make their presence known and would observe the actions and conduct of the police to ensure that no violence was committed against black residents. Black communities were not protected by white people or the state, they were oppressed and attacked by white people and the state. In such a circumstance, one cannot condemn the actions and objectives of black residents to organize and seek to defend themselves.
The Black Panther Party was not only about self-defense; in fact, that was a rather small aspect of what they did. What we don’t hear about is the fact that the Black Panthers – and their leaders – were revolutionary philosophers and intellectuals, who put action to words, gave inspiration to people (whether black or white or otherwise), and empowered their communities: they organized and made self-sufficient a free breakfast program for black children in the community, free healthcare for residents, free education and literacy. J. Edgar Hoover, the Director of the FBI, declared the “free breakfast” program to be the greatest internal threat to the United States at the time. Why? Because it was empowering a community of people to become self-sufficient, to not depend upon the existing power structures, but to create their own, based in the people and population itself. This, indeed, was dangerous for the existing power structures.
As a result, the FBI and the federal government undertook a war against black America. Through the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and other existing avenues, they infiltrated black organizations (as well as anti-war groups and other organizations) and sought to destroy the movement from inside. The COINTELPRO operation was used not only against Martin Luther King (and resulted in his murder), but against the Black Panther Party, and resulted in the assassination of many of its leaders. One such leader was Fred Hampton, a 21-year old man who was a revolutionary philosopher and activist. Not only did he help create the free breakfast program and other community programs in his branch of the Party in Chicago, but he even negotiated a peace settlement between street gangs and brought them within the movement, he (and the Party) worked with white activists and movements in northern cities and in the poor rural south. Black Power saw as essential the empowerment of all people, everywhere, white or black, articulating the fact that the black community would empower itself to create a society free of racism, but that this required white people to seek to empower their own communities to challenge and eradicate the causes of racism within white America. The Black Panthers worked with, traveled to, and inspired and were inspired by revolutionary movements all over the world, from the Caribbean and Latin America, to Africa and Southeast Asia. They spoke out against imperialism and exploitation not only nationally, but globally. Fred Hampton was one of the most profound thinkers, speakers, and actors within this movement. He was a young, vibrant, energetic speaker and activist, garnering the respect of activists all over the nation. In 1969, at the age of 21, he was assassinated by the Chicago Police Department and the FBI, shot to death at 4 a.m. as he was sleeping in bed with his wife, eight-and-a-half months pregnant at the time. She survived, and two weeks later, she gave birth to Fred Hampton, Jr.
Why are these names, ideas and activities not better known today? Not only is Black Power important for black people to understand and learn about, but for all people. The reason for this is simple: Black Power was truly, at its core, about People Power. The movement inspired and often worked with other communities struggling for their own liberation against repression, such as the American Indian Movement (which was also subsequently destroyed by the FBI), and it lent rhetorical and ideological support to women’s liberation and gay liberation movements that emerged. Huey Newton, one of the founders of the Black Panther Party, later wrote and spoke out on the need to support and promote radical women’s and gay liberation movements. Black Power elaborated and acted on ideas which had potential for the liberation of all people. Perhaps the most important principle of the movement was this: that when confronted with oppressive, dominating, and exploitative institutions and systems of power, the pathway toward liberation is not to join – or integrate – with that power, but to actively create something new, at the grassroots, organically developing out of the communities. The relevance these ideas have to the present circumstances of the world is shocking, and no less important to rejuvenate.
My newfound interest in Black Power has inspired me to such a degree that it is evolving my ideas of society and humanity as a whole. This is the profound importance of new ideas: that they lend to the evolution of our own, already-held ideas, that they may further inform the knowledge we already hold and articulate. Many of the ideas of Black Power already conform to ideas which I already held, such as the notion of empowering people and creating a new system instead of integrating within the existing system, the negation of the idea of “usurping” power (or overtaking the government or other existing institutions), and instead, creating a new form of power: vested in the people. However, this does not mean that the ideas of Black Power simply confirm or reaffirm ideas I already held, but instead, further inform them, lead to their evolution and understanding and aid in their articulation, presenting a view and lens through which to see a path of action. Programs like breakfast for children, education, and free health clinics, run by and for local communities, are ideas that need a desperate resurgence. As the current economic crisis descends deeper into a depression, and poverty and exploitation increase, such ideas and actions are essential to human survival as a whole. They bring hope and heart to issues largely void of both.
While a great deal more people than ever before are aware and increasingly becoming aware of such important issues as imperialism, domination, and exploitation, there is a tendency to pursue the path of integrating these individuals and ideas into the existing power structures. The growth of knowledge is leading to mass movements articulating a single philosophy (dogmatic and rigid in their interpretation and understanding), and seeking to put into power one or a few individuals who articulate that philosophy. Thus, the quest for change and articulation of hope become about a single individual, a single idea, and rests upon the premise of integrating such individuals and ideas into the existing power structures. What the history and philosophy of Black Power teaches us is that what is needed is not integration, not usurpation of power, but creativity and creation: not to take power, but to empower.
As such, the history of Black Power is the history of People Power; black history is human history. While it is incredibly important for the black community to learn and remember this history, it is no less important for all peoples – regardless of race, religion, culture or creed – to learn this history. If you claim to articulate a philosophy of change, which can and should work for the benefit of all people in all places, one must not simply learn their own specific cultural history, but the history of all peoples and cultures. An understanding of black history is best delivered by the black thinkers, actors, and ideas which make up that history. Modern black history – both in the world and in the United States itself – is a history of a particularly brutal, oppressive, exploitative, and ruthless social, political, and economic system. If our objective is to truly understand the system in which we live, articulate its strengths and weaknesses, and plan for a solution to change these circumstances, if we do not understand and address the history of what that system did to its most oppressed, most exploited, and most dominated populations (whether black, Native, indigenous, disabled, etc.), we cannot – and DO NOT – properly understand the nature of the system in which we live. Thus, how can we even pretend to have “the solution” if we do not properly understand the problems?
Stokely Carmichael articulated the concept of “internal colonialism,” which was a description for the ways in which the United States government treated the black population of the United States. Many people criticized this term at the time, thinking it to be exaggerated and inflammatory. Carmichael commented that it was an absurd negation of logic to think that what the United States did to others around the world would not be done at home, and he used an example of suggesting that this was the equivalent of saying that the Mafia runs crooked casinos in Peru, but honest ones at home. Thus, just as black history is human history, Black Power is People Power. As such, understanding this history is of vital importance in understanding how to change history as we live today. To allow such profound, important, and philosophical leaders and actors of this history – like Carmichael and Hampton – to rise up and again speak their words and have them heard, will make the murder of 21-year old Fred Hampton and the dozens and hundreds of others have more meaning, will give his words new purpose, will give his ideas new understandings, and will bring the fallen new life as they again, even decades after their deaths, empower the people of the world. To not revive these ideas is to let them die with the individuals, to not bring meaning to their lives and actions, to let them be forgotten to history. This is why when today we hear about “Civil Rights,” these ideas and individuals are not remembered. This is why the movement is referred to as “Civil Rights,” because it implies a specific objective of reform, when, in reality, the “Civil Rights” struggle was but a single phase in a long and evolving history of Black Liberation, which today can and must empower the long and evolving history of human liberation. As Fred Hampton once said, “I am… a Revolutionary.”
So this brings me back to The People’s Book Project, and the process in which it exists and evolves. My exposure to the ideas of Black Power has not even surpassed two weeks of research, but already it is changing, evolving, informing, and adding to the ideas and issues of the book itself. Already, I can see that this area is so important, that to not write about it is to commit a great injustice, that it is already altering the conclusions of the book which I thought I had in stone. Again, the process takes on a life of its own. This is important because it allows me to grow and evolve my thoughts and ideas as I do the research, instead of supporting and regurgitating only that which confirms to my pre-conceived ideas and notions. As I do this, I am able to expose these ideas to others, and to hopefully inform their ideas and actions. This process is long, detailed, and challenging, no less so because of my own living situation in which I find myself having to write it. But that does not matter. What matters is what the process and the book mean, not only to me, but what they could potentially mean to others.
I would like to quote Stokely Carmichael quoting George Bernard Shaw, “All criticism is autobiography… you dig?” My critique – my book – is as much what I think as it is who I am. Both what I think and who I am are in a constant state of evolution and development, and thus, so is the critique itself. The People’s Book Project, as such, is as much a process of development as it is an objective of creating a finished product. I set out to write a book which may help in the cause of liberation for all people in all places. The process of writing this book, then, must be a liberating process; it must not be confined by rigid structures and direction, but must be permitted to find its own free expression, to discover its own path and direction, and to be the change it seeks, as Mohondas Gandhi suggested. The fact that this process is funded by people from around the world, providing what little dollars and cents they may, spreading the word and ideas as they can, is also evidence that the process is being the change it seeks. The patron of this book is not a think tank, a university, a foundation or a government grant. The patron is the people, the community – globally speaking. This is why it is the People’s Book Project, not my Book Project. As much as I am (for obvious reasons) the most influential single person in this project, I would not be able to do what I am doing if it were not for the support of others, everywhere. As much as I am the most involved in this project, despite all my efforts, I cannot control or direct the process more than it controls and directs me. That process is facilitated only by the support from people.
As a result of this process, I have come to accept that this book is not my product, but rather that I am just as much a product of the book. As the process of the project changes me, I change the product of the project. As the people support the process, they allow both of these changes to take place. The end result will be that when the project – which will certainly be a series of books – is finished, it will be all the more important, informed, and purposeful. Thus, the product of this process will be far more beneficial to the people and purpose for which it is being undertaken: to provide knowledge to inform action in the cause of liberation. If I do not seek to produce the best possible piece of work I can and have ever produced, what would be the point? This is why I abandoned what was supposed to be a 200 page book on “Global Governance” and embarked on the journey of a project which has thus far, resulted in an 800-plus page book on people and power.
Now, I have friends and family who are in editing and publishing and writers and researchers, and they hear – “800 pages” – and they think and say, “What the hell are you doing? Edit, condense, concise, cut down” – and of course, they do it out of love, and I need to hear such suggestions and informed opinions. This is important. As I previously mentioned, writers must make choices, and it would appear that at the moment, I have not made many choices save to say that I have chosen to let the process overtake me and the Project. Now I have explained why I made this choice, that it directed me more than I directed it, and what this means in terms of a finished product, in terms of the purpose of the Project. This does not mean, however, that I will not make choices in the future. This Project will not be never-ending and eternal (though it often feels like it, as I am sure it does to ardent supporters who perhaps desire a finished product in the near future). The process has taken on a life of its own, that is true, and it has its place: it is important and essential to the finished product. But when I am left with what I can only assume will be a book far beyond 1,000 pages, when I have made the choices not to go further (as indeed, I cannot cover everything), but to cover what I think as to be most important (as the process itself dictates what is so), then I will make choices in editing: what are the common threads, ideas, institutions and individuals, what are the major events, the major actions and subjects, what must be within and what can be left out, what order should this story be told in, what structure for the chapters, how can it be broken up, how many books should result, and what are the conclusions that I am left with at the end of this current process? For it is when I reach the end of this current process, that I will understand the ideas and information within the research and writing, and thus, it is then that I will truly develop the thesis, and at which point I can truly tell the story as it can and must be told. The editing process is one all to itself. And when I get there, I will do what needs to be done to ensure that the book and books are readable, presentable, approachable, and purposeful.
The books will not be the beginning and end of human history, far from it; they will not be the most comprehensive examination of our modern world (though I certainly am aiming to make them as much, at least for myself as for others), but rather, I see them as a stepping stone, out of which others will critique the books, their ideas, and their suggestions, and through which such critique, the ideas within them will become more informed, more evolved, strengthened and empowered. I will no doubt write future books and research elaborating on the evolution of the ideas within. In such a scenario, the process is, for me, my very life; but don’t worry, this book will not take my entire life. It is simply what I must do at present, to provide for myself and others, a foundation upon which to stand and create something new. It is not to be a rigid dogma, a concise and complete compendium of all knowledge, no single source could ever hope to (or should) be such a thing. It is simply meant to inspire, to inspire with knowledge, to inspire others to add to and critique that knowledge, to evolve and make it stronger, to inspire action and ideas, to inspire and empower people, regardless of race or place. For this to happen, however, I will need to finish the book and get it out to others. Otherwise the process and the product are nothing more than a selfish and insulated personal journey without any other higher purpose. Thus, when the time comes, I know I will have both the instinct and the impetus to know when to make the choice to stop, to say, this is the story I need to tell.
It was upon researching about Black Power these past few weeks that I have come to truly embrace all that I have written about here, that I have come to be inspired to move forward, but that I have also become determined to allow the process to direct the person (me) in creating the product (the book). For if I had stood rigid and controlling over the subject and direction of the book, and decided, without investigation and understanding, what I would and would not include, I would not have allowed myself to research the issue of Black Power, and as a result, I would not have understood the absolute importance of this movement to human history and its evolution into hope for the future of humanity. If I had taken power over the process, instead of allowing the process to have power over me, the end product would be all the more pointless for what it hopes to achieve. At this point, I cannot imagine producing a finished product which does not include the relevancy of Black Power to the past and present.
So I want to extend my appreciation, with the utmost sincerity, to those who have supported this process both financially and otherwise, because none of this would be possible without you, it would not be where it is if it were not for your support, and it will not get anywhere without your future support. So to my patrons, I felt the need to inform you as to the process of this Project, so that you may better understand what it is you are supporting, how you are supporting it, where that support is going and what it is producing. In every sense of the word, then, this is the People’s Book Project, because it would not be possible without the support of the people.
And how many books can say that?
Thank you all, now and forever.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.
I have had a number of debates and discussions recently, largely through various social media networks and similar avenues, on some issues that are of major concern to those who seek to confront the challenges of the present and construct a better path for the future. So I thought I would take this opportunity, with ideas fresh in my mind, to simply share some thoughts on these subjects and issues. There is also a relevance between these thoughts and The People’s Book Project, for it is the research for the book which has shaped the conclusions and/or directions of these ideas, and which will be supported with historical facts throughout the book(s).
As the title indicates, the subject of this article is: Liberty, Anarchy, Property, Democracy and Power. What are these concepts? What are their historical and present manifestations? How do they interact, inter-twine, counteract, or confront each other? Is it possible to ground these concepts in a wider understanding?
Let’s start with Power. What is power? Power, I would suggest, can be defined as an authority which is imposed over or through an entity or entities, the authority and right to define and direct existence and action. Exercised through individuals, ideas, and institutions, Power can amount to a person’s right and ability to determine the course of their own life, to exercise free thought, establish their own opinions, ideas and make their own decisions, which inform their actions. This, perhaps, could be explained as ‘Personal Power,’ which I would argue is an absolute necessity and is synonymous with autonomy and independence, individuality and freedom. In this sense, “Personal Power” is Freedom. Other forms of power, exercised through ideas and institutions, can give support to Personal Power (through knowledge, action, information, and inspiration), or, alternatively, can oppress and destroy personal power for the benefit of Institutional Power (or centralized/hierarchical power). The power of an idea has the duality of being able to support Personal Power or Institutional Power, or otherwise undermine and oppose them.
So what is Liberty? Many define liberty as that which allows for the free actions and decisions of one individual to determine their own lives so long as it does not infringe upon the liberty of another. Some view liberty as an individual right, and others as a collective necessity. I do not think, however, that the individual is antithetical to the collective. For an individual to thrive, grow, prosper, discover, understand, decide and live free and with their Personal Power to determine the course and content of their own individual life, I think it is an inherent necessity or pre-requisite that collective liberty and solidarity co-exist with individual liberty.
Freedom for one requires freedom for all. Why is this so? If freedom for one individual exists without the freedom of all, their personal liberty (or Personal Power) exists in a vacuum outside and around the collective human experience. One may then be free to decide their own course in life, so long as that course requires no interaction or involvement of others, as those others would not be free, and thus, the interaction would be based upon the concept of one person’s liberty being derived from the deprivation of another person’s liberty, or in other words: tyranny. Further, the notion of “individual liberty” without “collective liberty” and “collective cooperation” in fact, unknowingly deprives the “individual” of the actual freedom, justice, knowledge, interaction, personal growth, prosperity, development, and humanity that comes through social interaction with others. That social interaction is strengthened if the collective (whether we refer to a small community or the collective of all humanity) is itself free and liberated. In this sense, the freedom of others and the interaction and mutual support (cooperation) of the collective strengthens the liberty of the individual: it gives her or him support, protection, Power, growth, knowledge, interaction, information, insight, understanding, material support, inspiration, humility, and love.
To elaborate on this concept, I must admit that such a situation has never existed in history, and that is the point! One may point to a pocket of freedom or liberty here and there, even examine a small isolated island’s experiment with absolute liberty (or Anarchy), and see how such a society collapsed, thus concluding that such a circumstance is unsustainable, unobtainable, undesirable, and ultimately, impossible. Just as no man is an island, no island is even an island, for beneath the surface of the water, it connects with the landmass of the earth below, which connects with all other landmass, all the oceans are connected, and all the people are connected through our mutual co-existence on this planet, whether we interact personally with one another or not.
One need only look at the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 to understand how potential liberation becomes absolute tyranny. Once the most profitable colony in the world, Haiti’s slaves (approx. half a million) revolted against the slave-owning class and established the first black republic in history. Almost immediately Haiti’s government became a military dictatorship, designed to protect the newly-liberated country from the foreign imperial powers of France, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States. It’s history has been scarred by revolution, rebellion, invasion, occupation, civil war, coups, corruption, despotism, and poverty. Yet, even in the revolutionary period, a large percentage of the population desired the ability to have a small piece of land with which they could grow their own food for subsistence and live in liberty. Such a situation would have been impossible if the domestic dictatorships were not constructed, as foreign powers repeatedly attempted to invade and restore slavery; thus, it was deemed necessary to maintain a strong national military. However, that military returned the people to plantation labour under conditions which could compare with the brutality of colonial slavery. So what were they liberated from? Surely, an idyllic free island nation of peasants would not have been possible without the military to protect it from foreign empires; but then, the military itself destroyed liberty in order to secure its own institution and provide economic growth in order to protect the nation from those foreign empires. All the while, the people were thrown back and forth, repressed, controlled, and left to the ravages of an historical contradiction: freedom could not exist without the state, which was required to protect the free from those who would enslave the people; nor could freedom exist with the state, which enslaved people to its will to protect its own survival from those who would destroy it and again enslave the population.
So, freedom could not exist without the state, nor could it exist with it. How do we understand this contradiction, how do we remedy this paradox?
If at the same time that Haiti experienced its revolution, freeing itself from all forms of slavery and domination, and giving liberty to the population, imagine, then, what course of history could have been taken had the liberation struggle taken place simultaneously in all the colonies of the Mediterranean, Latin America, and the world; or, for that matter, had true liberation struggles taken place in the imperial nations themselves. If all people, everywhere, threw off the shackles of domination, control, and hierarchical power simultaneously, in solidarity, and in cooperation; what foreign power then would exist to crush the revolution of a tiny island? What state structure would be built without the justification of “protection of those freedoms” through the destruction of those freedoms? Could states at all justify their existence?
It is in this context that I argue that the freedom of one requires the freedom of all, that, inevitably, individual liberty cannot exist without collective liberty. To add to this, absolute freedom and liberty (also known as philosophical Anarchism) is not to be confused with “chaos”, a word often mistakenly interchanged with that of ‘Anarchy.’ Anarchy is not chaos, as an anarchist society is a highly organized and functioning society, requiring cooperation, collective support and effort and interaction based upon the understanding that individual liberty requires collective cooperation. The organization of an anarchistic society is simply not organized on the basis of hierarchical institutions, which deprive others of liberty and freedom, and impose centralized (institutional) power from above. Instead, anarchistic organization requires cooperatives, collective groupings of free-associations of individuals, working together, discussing together, deciding together (as free individuals, not as an organized ‘mob’), and acting in mutual support. When workers take over a factory and run it themselves, collectively making decisions, sharing responsibilities, and taking action, that is Anarchism. It is not libertarianism, or free-market capitalism, because it rejects the concept of the factory being the “private property” of the ‘owner’, and it’s not socialism because the state has no involvement whatsoever. It is the manifestation of workers realizing that they can work, produce, profit, and prosper without the ownership class.
Just this week in Greece, where the State colludes with foreign imperial powers, bankers, multinational corporations, international institutions, the systems of debt and interest and domination, workers have taken control of a hospital in light of the government’s austerity measures to cut health care spending. They are reaching out to the community for support, and make decisions through a workers’ assembly. The hospital workers recognize that the services of health care are essential for the benefit of the people, and regardless of the decisions or excuses of the state, the banks, the IMF, the EU, or any other hierarchical institution of power, its services are needed, and those that provide the services are the workers at the hospital, not its managers, owners, financiers (whether public or private). So the workers take control, and reach out to the community for direct support, as the community will receive the benefits of the health care. They simply remove the elites from the picture. No doubt such efforts will be trampled, destroyed, opposed, oppressed, and erased from history. Nothing is more dangerous to elites than the threat of a good example. Even though many of these experiments have and likely will have failures, flaws, problems, or be crushed, the examples should be noted and the attempts continued to be made. For as more take notice, as more take action, more examples arise, spreading out like ripples from a drop of water into a puddle, and in time, people everywhere may be attempting the same or similar actions, perfecting (or at least bettering) the specifics, addressing the flaws, learning from the mistakes, improving the effects, including wider communities in the actions, generating international solidarity and support… and, through time, struggle, and effort, all hierarchical power structures everywhere would be struggling against the widening wave of people working together in making elite dominated structures irrelevant.
This is not a process that can be accomplished simply through workers taking control of their own work places, however. It will no doubt be a long, arduous, conflicting, challenging, and painful process, marked by flaws, failures, but driven by persistence, possibility, necessity, and humanity. In this sense, and elaborating on the earlier example of Haiti in explaining my understanding of ‘liberty’ (requiring the freedom of all for the freedom of one), I must also acknowledge that never before has this been possible on a global scale.
Today, and in the course of this century, however, it is possible. We are already globally becoming more interconnected through communication, information, and interaction, largely as a result of the Internet, which allows people in most places of the world to interact with others around the world on a person-to-person basis, not through a lens of power. Previously, unless you had the ability to travel everywhere in the world, one in North America could only view others in Africa, for example, through a lens of power: through the media, the government, educational institutions, industry, popular culture, and through ideas which ‘trickle down’ from hierarchical institutions. Now, however, we have the ability to communicate directly with those around the world who have the same means of communication, to talk to them directly, see them on camera, to listen to their knowledge and learn from it. Indeed, this is of the utmost necessity.
Many critical thinkers, activists, alternative media, and people’s movements in the West operate on the assumption that we have the answers to the problems of the world, and we simply need to spread “our” message to the rest (first to the rest of our domestic society and then the rest of the world) in order to obtain our concept of “liberation” and “freedom.” These activists, intellectuals, critics, and others alike are missing a critical component, however (and that is to say, not ALL of them are missing this, but rather as a general observation): as we are just now grumbling awake from our long consumer-imposed slumber of consent to the system of domination over us, largely galvanized by information exposed to us through the Internet and social media, we should, in fact, consult, discuss, and most importantly – LISTEN – to those who have been aware of the domination of the world, who have been subjected to the brutal blunt force of empire, oppression, and control for hundreds of years. It is of the absolute necessity that for us in the Western industrial nations to be able to move forward and build a new vision of society, we must first interact with, listen to, and learn from those who have been living under (and SURVIVING through!) the brutality and ruthless oppression of the empires that emanate from our comfortable living conditions. These are the other 6 billion people on earth. Without their voices being heard, listened to, understood, contemplated, and EMPOWERED, all action will be without informed understanding.
On a simple historical note, we also owe it to the people’s of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere to give them voice as we speak and discover our own, to listen to them as we speak for others, to learn from them as we educate ourselves. We owe it to the rest of the world, for, without our misplaced consent to our nations and the ignorance of our true ruling systems and structures that we have for so long submitted to, the oppression, domination, destruction, impoverishment, murder, genocide, and dehumanization of the other people on this planet would not have been possible. Yes, we were and are lied to. But that does not absolve us of the responsibility to remedy the lies through seeking new truths. If we push ahead without moving alongside those we have – knowingly or unknowingly – pushed down and kept back, we move forward in a superficial sense. If we propose revolution for ourselves, but leave the rest out of our understanding, ideas, and actions, we doom our own revolutions (whether ideological, philosophical, or physical) to absolute failure. Importantly, our interactions with the colonized peoples of the world cannot consist of dictating TO, but learning FROM. We can begin in our own nations, where our displaced indigenous populations have been subjected to 500 years of domination, empire, genocide, and oppression… and yet, they survive, move forward; they act and seek change, they generate ideas and support each other. This has been the source of their strength in solidarity with one another. And while it is a long way to reach a better place, as most of these communities suffer currently a greater deprivation than most people in our modern societies, imagine the prospects and possibilities not only for them, but for everyone, if the population as a whole started to speak to, listen to, learn from, and act with indigenous communities, poor communities, disenfranchised peoples, and other oppressed and dominated and segregated people the world over.
Until we begin to remedy the flaws in our own social existence, which have been constructed around us and with our tacit if not apathetic participation and acquiescence, flaws that support segregation, isolation, division, exclusion, and domination, we will not move forward in any true, honest, and hopeful way. There is a fundamental and logical idea about segregation which is often overlooked without a thought: that the segregation of one individual or group from the rest, automatically entails the segregation of all. When issues of segregation are discussed, it often points to the community being “segregated” – whether it is a specific race, gender, the disabled, “mentally ill”, “criminals”, etc. – and presents them, alone, as being “segregated.” However, this passes over the notion that the wider community is itself segregated from whatever group is being excluded. Thus, apartheid was as much about keeping the black South Africans excluded from society as it was about keeping the whites excluded from the black population. Thus, the whites do not benefit from the knowledge, growth, development, inspiration, understanding, and existence that comes with interaction from the wider segments of society; just as the blacks were deprived of the benefits of the rest of society (to a much more oppressive degree, I might add). Physical separation augments this process of segregation, whether it exists with prisons, mental hospitals, ghettos, slums, in schools, or with walls, fences, roads, etc. Thus, the segregation or exclusion of one – whether an individual or group – automatically entails the segregation and exclusion of all.
To move forward in any meaningful way, we must address this issue, this fact of our social existence, and begin to deconstruct it in order to achieve a greater inclusion, expand the collective community, and thus, expand collective knowledge, understanding, and experience, which in turn, will inform collective action. This long, painful, and challenging process is what is required, however, to achieve a global philosophical revolution, which would make irrelevant any immediate, narrow, and isolated concept of a “physical revolution” in usurping power, which simply turns into another form of tyranny. A philosophical revolution, however, should be the goal for people – individually and collectively, one which cannot be imposed from above, but which must build and grow from below, like a seedling in dirt, sprouting upwards and outwards into the sunlight and slowly growing tall and proud and into a strong, sturdy tree, which in turn blossoms flowers and seeds for future growth. The philosophical revolution will establish the collective understanding that is required to inform action and to create a new society.
In this sense, we are not yet ready for firm “solutions” in terms of stating flatly: this policy, this law, this structure, this system, this constitution, this state, this idea WILL work. There will be trial and error, but we already have a long human history to learn from and move forward with. It is this history, not simply of our narrow society or nation (itself being a false historical construct), but of the collective human history and experience, which can inform our present understanding, and which will come to inform our future ideas and actions as our collective interaction grows and develops into something more concrete and inclusive. And before my own hypocrisy is pointed out, in saying that I have already advocated Anarchism as a “solution” and then say that we cannot advocate solid “solutions” at present, Anarchism is more a process than a product. There have been anarchist movements and experiments in history, most of which were brutally crushed. During the Russian Revolution, there was not simply the Bolsheviks (Communists) and the liberal-tsarist supporters (Whites), but there were also anarchist communities, which were crushed by both the other factions. The Spanish Civil War saw perhaps the largest explosion of anarchism in modern history, which was collectively crushed by Communists, Fascists, and Democratic State-Capitalist societies, all seeking their own interests. Anarchism does not abide by a strict set of “rules” or “regiments” or constructs for what such a society would entail, look like, or how it would manifest itself. It is an incredibly diverse philosophical realm based upon an opposition to hierarchical authority, upon the principle that centralized-institutionalized power cannot be assumed as just, but must justify itself, and if it cannot, it must be abolished; that people flourish best when free. A common term often interchanged with anarchism is: “libertarian socialism,” which may seem a contradiction, but, as explained by anarchist philosopher, Mikhail Bakunin: “We are convinced that freedom without Socialism is privilege and injustice, and that Socialism without freedom is slavery and brutality.”
In this sense, I think anarchism gets to the root ideals of both socialism and libertarianism. Socialism seeks the benefit for the many, libertarianism seeks liberty for the individual. As separate ideologies, they are opposed to one another, engaged in a constant struggle for identity and superiority. In the realm of anarchism, what was once oppositional ideas becomes mutually supporting: to link the collective good with individual liberty, and to suggest that individual good requires collective liberty. Thus, socialism without the state, libertarianism without private property. After all, how could state socialism benefit the majority if it functions through the centralization of authority? If it functions for a time, how long until the weaknesses inherent in institutional power destroy the ideals upon which it justifies itself (namely, that it attracts the wrong type of people to it, those who want to wield power, and who are more likely to rise through institutionalized power simply because they will do anything to do so)?
When it comes to libertarian philosophy, where a small state is desired, and a “free market” economy is favoured, where private property is sacrosanct and individual liberty is the ideal; how can such a society exist within the context of a state, within the context of corporations, which are themselves constructs of the state? Corporations will exist, grow, dominate, and naturally seek to infuse themselves with the State, support its growth, which then will support their growth (as it does today in our State Capitalist societies), and at the expense of everyone else. Thus, we are left with corporate tyranny, or State Capitalism, the very thing we have today in Western societies. The principle of private property, elevated to holy and untouchable heights by libertarians (who refuse to even QUESTION private property), is viewed as a central foundation and necessity for a libertarian society. In their version of history, private property was viewed as the means to liberty from historical monarchical and feudal societies, where the state dominated land and property. Indeed, this change took place, where the “rights” of private property were guaranteed. However, they served the narrow interests of the new capitalist class that developed at the time. What was defined AS private property, also changed through history, and continues to. At one time, humans were considered private property: this was called slavery. Today, our very genes, cell structures, biology, life force, environment, atmosphere, and all material existence is increasingly being defined as “private property” so that corporation may come to OWN the RIGHTS to life, itself.
An early anarchist thinker once declared, “Property is theft.” Indeed, the concept of private property in libertarian thinking can lay the basis for a free society, as, in principle, it allows for individuals to own their own individual property, free from the control of outside forces, specifically, the state. Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in. As private property became a “right” for the emerging capitalist classes hundreds of years ago, the wider populations did not receive the benefits. In fact, where once they worked and laboured on the lands of the state and king, they then worked on the lands of the private businesses and industries. In time, they became property, and were bought and sold. Eventually, formal slavery transformed into wage-slavery, where workers “leased” their labour for hourly pay, and continued to struggle in a much-deprived existence, while those who OWN the industries and land, whether private or public, profit at the expense of the people. The “principle” of private property liberated in as much as it liberated an emerging elite from an old elite; it did, however, continue to deprive the many, who could own or simply exist on and make use of land and resources collectively, not for short-term profit, nor for the State’s reaffirmation of control, but for the wider benefit of all people, individually and collectively, and as such, the land and resources would be used wisely and with a long-term approach to not plundering the earth upon which all communities and peoples depend: something that neither states nor private enterprise is capable of.
Thus, I view anarchism – or libertarian socialism – not as a “single” idea of a “solution”, a society-to-be, but rather an approach to moving forward which removes the barriers that currently exist between people: institutional power, hierarchical authority, segregation, exploitation, exclusion, domination and oppression. Whatever society results would come through trial and error, experience, effort, small successes and large failure, collective action informed by collective understanding; growth not separately, but together, collectively. I cannot even imagine the structure or form of such a future society, though there are many possibilities, many ideas, many suggestions, but ultimately, it is unknown, unstructured, undefined. In this sense, anarchy is, I would argue, the best means of an approach to moving forward, for it is a uniting force for the people (such as finding the common ground between libertarians and socialists), from which knowledge and growth can occur, without which a true global change cannot take place. As such, anarchy is the only true, direct and intrinsic form of democracy, where it would truly be a society “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” What results, is for posterity to determine, but far from imposing a single idea of what we should replace our current society with, it instead sets out a method of discovering that process for ourselves, collectively and individually.
Anarchists, then, can also be seen as highly pragmatic, as has been the case historically. For example, all anarchist thought generally rejects the legitimacy of the State; however, some strands of anarchist thought accepted the necessity of ‘national liberation’ struggles as a stepping stone to a larger global liberation struggle. Anarchists have been known to modify tactics, ideas, approach, and understanding as the circumstances demand. It is a philosophy of patience, but persistence. It holds to ideals, questions, and particular understandings regarding hierarchy, institutions, and power; but allows for actions to maneuver within the existing present circumstances, knowing that all cannot come at once, but that things will come and go in stages, that the march to progress is slow and hard, and that we should support others who march, whether or not we endorse their specific philosophy (say, for example, nationalism).
Many critical American activists, alternative media, politicians and others make up what some refer to as the “American Awakening,” opposing the government, corporate tyranny, empire and other similar facets of the modern society. But a large degree of these individuals and groups espouse highly nationalistic rhetoric, firmly attach themselves to libertarianism (to the degree that is becomes a blind faith situation), and endorse popular myths of the national history: that America was once a great beacon of freedom, and then outside or other forces turned it into what it is today. America is where it is today because of where it was when it was created. A person gets sick because their immune system is weak. America became the most powerful and oppressive empire in the world because of the weaknesses inherent in its form, structures, institutions, and ideologies throughout its history. If we do not reconcile with our own histories, we do not move forward, but try to jump back to a myth of a time that never actually existed in reality.
We see the factions of the American Awakening in the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement, one generally representing the right, libertarian-leaning faction, and the other the left-leaning more socialist faction (admittedly a very wide generalization, considering the immense diversity that exists within the movements, especially the Occupy movement). They become opposed to one another, struggle against the interests of one another, and demonize each other. As they fight and divide, institutional and hierarchical power centralizes and grows. As they fight one another, they weaken one another; as they weaken each other, the power over top grows and strengthens, and it may more easily co-opt, control, or destroy the resistance movements. These are symptoms of a growing awakening, yes, but they are not the “answers.” As we mature and move forward, we must find common ground to unite the factions against common challenges.
The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement both have a distrust of state and corporate power as it exists and functions in today’s context. It is, rather, their solutions and interpretations of power that divide them. But as anarchism has shown, there is mutual ground to stand upon. Thus, anarchism provides a stronger foundation upon which people may come together and move forward collectively, but this requires the willingness and ability of all parties, whether right, left, middle, socialist, communist, libertarian, or staunch anarchist, to allow for practical and strategic capitulations, in both ideology and action. Through finding common ground to stand on and work together in moving forward, there will be immense opportunities and indeed, inevitability of learning and growing and evolving – philosophically and otherwise – through such cooperation and mutual capitulation, for such an experience would inevitably lead to important lessons and understandings that all parties involved would not be privy to otherwise, had they remained fractured, factionalized, segregated from one another.
It is through this process that people may discover their true power, Personal and Collective. In doing so, they will inevitably deprive institutional forms of power from their own positions and hierarchies. Ultimately, I think this process will be one of the major features of the 21st century, stretching well into this century, if not to the end of it. Just as in all things, there is a perpetual search for and attainment of some sort of balancing force in the world: on the one hand, people will have to come together and create a global philosophical revolution as a precondition for and resulting from the struggle of global liberation and absolute freedom for all peoples on earth from all forms of domination; and, on the other hand, institutional and hierarchical power is seeking to globalize and centralize and dominate on a truly global scale as never before seen, more removed from the many, more controlled by the few, and more dehumanizing than any and every form of tyranny before. Indeed, it may be that it will only be this process of the globalization of power and domination which provides the collective experience necessary to spur on a global philosophical revolution. The interesting fact is that never before in human history have either of these processes been truly possible until today: global domination or global liberation. Both, moreover, are advanced by the same socially transformative process: the Technological Revolution. This is the modern form of the historical human revolutions which brought about the Stone Age and organized human society. In this context, humanity is now emerging from its historical adolescence, where we have always had, and to some degree required, some form of authority telling us how to think, what to do, how to act, who to be; but now, it is time to become an adult: to become autonomous, free, independent, and liberated.
It must be freedom for all, or freedom for none.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
7 February 2012
While I fully endorse the efforts and actions of the Occupy Wall Street protests, now emerging internationally, there are concerns which need to be addressed and kept in mind as the movement moves forward.
The process through which a potentially powerful movement may be co-opted and controlled is slight and subtle. If Occupy Wall Street hopes to strive for the 99%, it must not submit to the 1%, in any capacity.
The Occupy movement must prevent what happened to the Tea Party movement to happen to it. Whatever ideological stance you may have, the Tea Party movement started as a grass roots movement, largely a result of anti-Federal Reserve protests. They were quickly co-opted with philanthropic money and political party endorsements.
For the Occupy Movement to build up and become a true force for change, it must avoid and reject the organizational and financial ‘contributions’ of institutions: be they political parties, non-profits, or philanthropic foundations. The efforts are subtle, but effective: they seek to organize, professionalize, and institutionalize a movement, push forward the issues they desire, which render the movement useless for true liberation, as these are among the very institutions the movement should be geared against.
This is not simply about “Wall Street,” this is about POWER. Those who have power, and those who don’t. When those who have power offer a hand in your struggle, their other hand holds a dagger. Remain grassroots, remain decentralized, remain outside and away from party politics, remain away from financial dependence. Freedom is not merely in the aim, it’s in the action.
The true struggle is not left versus right, democrat versus republican, liberal versus conservative, or libertarian versus socialist. The true struggle is that of people against the institution: the State, the banks, the central banking system, the corporation, the international financial institutions, the military, the political parties, the mainstream media, philanthropic foundations, think tanks, university, education, psychiatry, the legal system, the church, et. al.
The transfer of power from one institution to another does not solve the crisis of our ‘institutional society,’ whereby a few have come to dominate so much, to concentrate so much power at the expense of everyone else having so little. True liberation will result only from opposition to ‘the institution’ as an entity. Placating power from one institution to another renders resistance ineffective. The power structures must be discredited, and power must be distributed to the people, through voluntary associations, communal groupings, and people-powered (and people-funded!) initiatives.
In order to survive as a movement, money will become a necessity. Do not turn to the non-profits and philanthropic foundations for support. The philanthropies, which fund and created the non-profits and NGOs, were themselves created to engage in ‘social engineering’: to ‘manufacture consent’ among the governed, and create consensus among the governors. The philanthropies (particularly those of Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller) fund social movements and protest organizations so as to steer them into directions which are safe for the elites. The philanthropies are themselves run by the elite, founded by bankers and industrialists striving to preserve their place at the top of the social structure in the midst of potentially revolutionary upheaval. As the president of the Ford Foundation once said, “Everything the foundation does is to make the world safe for capitalism.”
Money from philanthropies will organize the movement into a more professionalized entity, will direct its efforts around the promotion of legalistic reform, making slight changes to the system’s symptoms, promoting particular legislation, rallying around very specific issues removed from their global historical context. The effect is to turn anti-system revolutionaries into legalistic reformers. With such funding, movement organizers are drawn into the world of NGOs, international conferences, international institutions, aid agencies, and mainstream political participation. The leaders of the movement become professionalized and successful, both in prestige and finances. Thus, their own personal position becomes dependent upon promoting reform, not revolution; on maintaining the system (with minor changes to the aesthetic), not moving against it. The movement itself, then, would be institutionalized.
For the finances to grow without the threat of institutional dominance, the money must come from the people. A truly populist cause could be funded by the people. Keep the people in charge.
If we truly want freedom and liberation, we must begin to act free and liberated. If we want the ‘true liberation,’ we must understand the true system of power that confines, oppresses, segregates, exploits, impoverishes, and controls us. It is not a matter of the state or the banks or the corporations. It is a matter of the institution, itself. The structures of power must be struggled against so that we may come to liberate humanity from all that confines it, and experience what our true ‘human nature’ is.
If one studies mice in a maze, no matter for how long or what the maze is built of, looks like, feels like, you cannot deduce the nature of the mouse separate from that of the maze. Break down the maze and you may observe the true nature of the mouse. We have been living, always, within a maze. The walls are constructed as institutions which direct, steer, manipulate, define and segregate us from one another.
First we must tear down the barriers that bind us from ourselves, and then we may truly understand what it is to be human and free.
[The Rockefeller Foundation’s policies] were directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The Social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the Medical and Natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control.
- Max Mason, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, 1933
Much of [the Global Political Awakening] is also fueled by globalization, which the United States propounds, favors and projects by virtue of being a globally outward-thrusting society. But that also contributes to instability, and is beginning to create something altogether new: namely, some new ideological or doctrinal challenge which might fill the void created by the disappearance of communism… But [communism] is now totally discredited, and we have a pragmatic vacuum in the world today regarding doctrines. But I see the beginnings, in writings and stirrings, of the making of a doctrine which combines anti-Americanism with anti-globalization, and the two could become a powerful force in a world that is very unequal and turbulent.
- Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Carnegie Council, 2004
We are in revolutionary times. Our societies – the political, economic, and social institutions and ideas that comprise our global, national, and local social structure – are in a state of transformation. We are entering into the Greatest Depression in history, our governments are driven by the logic of imperial insanity, whereby we are increasingly headed for a World War III scenario. The imperial strategists who advise and determine the policies of our nations are bent on a system of total global control. We undertake an imperialist war against the country of Libya, we seek to expand the global war into Pakistan, largely in order to challenge China’s growing influence in the world, and we have set the stage for another imperialist war in Yemen. The covert apparatus – military and intelligence – of our imperialistic nations have and continue to employ the techniques and support of terrorism in order to achieve strategic goals, including using terrorism against our domestic populations themselves.
The middle classes of the Western industrialized world are on the verge of total extinction, with the likely result of leading to riots, rebellion, and revolution. We have entered the era of the ‘Global Political Awakening,’ where for the first time in human history, as American imperial strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski articulated, “almost all of humanity is politically activated, politically conscious and politically interactive. Global activism is generating a surge in the quest for cultural respect and economic opportunity in a world scarred by memories of colonial or imperial domination.” With the Arab uprisings, we have seen a new phase in the Global Political Awakening, which is itself a process in the long road to world revolution. Naturally, our imperial governments seek to co-opt, control, or totally oppress these revolutionary sentiments into more evolutionary, stable, and secure structures.
Elite think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, and the Trilateral Commission work to establish consensus among elites in a global project of social engineering, seeking to establish a system and structure of global governance and ultimately, global government. A major facet of this global social engineering project is through the global economic crisis – the Greatest Depression – whereby a great global debt depression will create and conditions necessary to serve as an excuse for a global government. Already, this process is well under way in the establishment of global economic governance, in the forms of a global central bank and a global currency.
Indeed, the system being constructed and engineered by the elite is not simply a global government as we may understand the notion of government in today’s context, but an entirely new structure, driven by the social engineering techniques of science and technology, into a Global Scientific Dictatorship.
So where are we? How did we get here? Who drove us here? What ideas created these circumstances? Where are we going? Why?
These are questions I ask and seek to answer in my current book project, which is a historical, political, economic and social analysis of the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power in our world. Included in this examination is the history and emergence of the nation state, capitalism, central banking, and the rise of the powerful and dominant banking dynasties – such as Rothschild, Morgan, and Rockefeller – which have come to manifest themselves as the modern imperial families of the global era. Included in this heavily-researched study is the emergence of the concept of ‘social control’ and its manifestation through the creation of the public education system, the university education system, the development and evolution of the ‘social sciences’ as tools of ‘social engineering,’ the emergence of the major philanthropic foundations, founded, funded, and run by the dominant dynastic powers for the purposes of creating consensus among elites, and engineering consent among the governed. Also examined in the book is the apparatus of empire, including the IMF, the World Bank, the UN, the Bank for International Settlements, the Pentagon, CIA, and the uses and techniques of war and covert operations. However, the role of the foundations is a significant facet of the book.
The foundations play a significant part in the examination of power in our global society, and are a major focus of my book. The foundations were created in an era in large part defined by the elite ideology of eugenics, where the elite sought to engineer humanity itself, to establish themselves as entrenched in the social structure of the world, and to create the conditions through which that domination may be expanded and secured. The foundations not only funded and helped engineer the eugenics movement, but they have played a pivotal role in the control, co-optation, consensus-building, ideology construction, and engineering of consent in a large number of other areas: the formation and evolution of the social sciences (including political science, economics, sociology, psychology), the development and direction of science (in particular genetics, microbiology, physics, chemistry, psychiatry, medicine), the population control movement, funding and directing into ‘safe’ avenues major social movements which would otherwise threaten the global social structure and elite interests, such as the Civil Rights movement, the environmental movement, and the anti-globalization movement. The foundations have essentially created and managed a global civil society, supporting the development and proliferation of Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which act as modern equivalents to the missionary societies of the formal colonial era, whereby they contribute moderately to relieving the symptoms of imperialism and domination (such as supporting efforts for education, health care, and human rights) while ultimately undermining and co-opting indigenous resistance movements which might otherwise challenge the power structures that created those symptoms in the first place. The foundations helped establish and fund the major think tanks, such as the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderberg Group, and the Trilateral Commission, which function by bringing together elites from banking, industry, media, academia, politics, military, intelligence and other areas in order to help establish consensus among the elites in the broader goal of engineering a system of global governance. As such, the foundations are ‘engines of social engineering,’ effectively constructing ideology, and aiding in the institutionalization of ideas.
It is the concept of the institutionalization of ideas which is a primary focus of my book, understanding power as being particularly relevant in this context. While certainly there are individuals, families, and groups which are dominant and hold enormous power, there were first ideas and institutions which allowed and facilitated the rise of these very individuals to such positions of power. In the book, I do not refrain from naming the names of the elite, with a particular focus on the roles of the Rothschild and Rockefeller families; however, I also place these dynastic influences within a wider context: understanding that these families were only able to rise to the positions of power they now hold because of the effect of particular ideas and institutions, such as those of the nation-state, capitalism, central banking, private banking, hegemony, empire, and social engineering. More than ingenuity, it was opportunity that allowed these families to rise to power. While since coming to power, they have generally been the dominant forces in steering the direction of the global social, political, and economic structures, they are as much a product of previous social, political, and economic power structures as the rest of us are. As such, we cannot erroneously and simplistically identify all the problems of our world with a few individuals or families. This would be a monumental error if we are to ever move forward and find new solutions. It is, in fact, the power of ideas which is central to understanding our world, and in particular, the effect of the ‘institutionalization of ideas.’
While critically examining the roles of these dynastic powers in our society is imperative in order to understand how we got to this place, if we limit ourselves to that focus alone, we risk the eventual failure of any attempt at true change. If we focus simply on these dynastic influences, we neglect the role played by the various ideas and institutions which have made possible the development of dynastic power; thus, if we fail to properly understand the nature and interaction of ideas and institutions in the context of power, we will ultimately only replace the names of those who dominate the world, not the system of domination itself. If we seek to only criticize and change the dynastic rulers, new ones will rise in their place, for we would hold onto various ideas and institutions which gave rise to them in the first place. After all, if it had not been the Rothschilds or Rockefellers, it would have been someone else. Even if we remove all the ideas and institutions which these dynasties have established, we neglect to see that there were previous institutionalized ideas which brought them to power in the first place. This is the focus of my book, seeking to understand power in the context of the institutionalization of ideas.
As such, we also can come to understand a different notion of human nature, manifested and made possible only by the removal of those ideas and institutions which dominate and oppress humanity, and thus, we can see a possibility of an era of true human liberation, a true global revolution. The circumstances for this global revolution are developing and increasing. Already, we are thrust within the era of the ‘Global Political Awakening,’ where all of humanity is socially conscious, politically aware, and economically exploited. Thus, the conditions for radical change are made present. However, there still remains the multiplicity of views, understandings, ideologies, and intricacies of actions which make the ‘Global Awakening’ at present, a disunited, fractured, largely divided, often antagonistic, and easily co-opted global social phenomena.
The concept of the ‘Global Political Awakening’ has been popularized by the American imperial strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser, former director of the Council on Foreign Relations, former Bilderberg group member, and co-founder with David Rockefeller of the Trilateral Commission, who continues to serve on a number of boards of prominent elite think tanks such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the RAND Corporation. Brzezinski identifies the ‘global political awakening’ as the greatest strategic threat to the institutionalized powers of the world, and proposes that policies initiated by governments and other institutions must address this as the fundamental issue of our time, and thus support the expansion of global governance as a means to deal with this phenomenon. In discussing this concept, Brzezinski warned fellow elites in a speech to the Carnegie Council, that the ‘global political awakening’ remains relatively adolescent and disunited:
But I see the beginnings, in writings and stirrings, of the making of a doctrine which combines anti-Americanism with anti-globalization, and the two could become a powerful force in a world that is very unequal and turbulent.
This book attempts to help fill the “doctrinal void” that Brzezinski identifies as being the fundamental force preventing the unification of the Global Political Awakening. I am attempting to write this book as a study of power in our world unlike any previous examination: how did we get here? Where are we going? And why? Further, the book, through its more comprehensive examination of the power of ideas and institutions, simultaneously undertakes an examination of resistance and potential solutions. As such, the book attempts to articulate a ‘Philosophy of Liberation,’ one that may appeal to the majority of the world’s population.
The Philosophy of Liberation
This philosophy, intended to serve as a potential doctrine for the ‘Global Political Awakening,’ has a broad appeal which can unite the left and right, which has the potential to gain support from both socialists and libertarians. Fundamentally, it is a simple concept: the ‘philosophy of liberation’ entails the absolute and total liberation of humanity from the ideas and institutions which dominate, co-opt, control, oppress and destroy humanity. The aim in such a concept of absolute and total liberation is to free humanity so that we may understand the true ‘human nature’, which has otherwise always been subject to various forms of control and oppression.
Apart from abstract notions of liberation and freedom, however, the book proposes particular plans of action and initiative which seek to bring such ideals to reality. The critical importance of understanding power in our world as a product of ideas and institutions is that we can come to see that what is needed to change this world into something that supports and liberates humanity (as opposed to controlling and oppressing humanity) is simply… a new idea. If ideas built this world and its power structures, if ideas built the institutions which dominate and control, if ideas gave rise to the dynastic powers which rule our world like modern imperial families, then what is required to bring all of this tumbling down is a new idea.
This new idea, which I set forth in the book, is a concept of anti-institutionalism: those ideas which seek to dominate must be challenged by those which seek to liberate; the institutionalization of those dominating ideas must be challenged by a counter-institutional structure which seeks to establish a parallel global system, so that the old institutions may be made irrelevant, antiquated, and extinct. The paradox here is that we must construct a counter-hegemonic system of institutions, but that they must be endowed with a strict adherence to a ‘philosophy of liberation’ which manifests itself as ‘anti-institutionalism.’ In short, we must create anti-institutional institutions.
Why is this so? Is this not entirely contradictory?
Indeed, these are fair questions, but they have fair answers. While we may have ideas of what is ideal, what is desired, and what is important; namely, concepts of peace, justice, democracy, freedom, and liberation. But we must establish a plan of action – a concept of how to achieve those ideals – yet this can only be done by understanding the world as it is, and therefore, the plan of action for liberation must be based on a realistic conception of the world if it is to have any chance of success in changing that world.
We live in a world of institutions and ideas. That is established. To create something new, to progress toward true liberation and freedom, we have to establish plans of action that act within – though opposed to – the global power structure of ideas and institutions. This does not propose a strategy of “change from the inside” where well-intentioned people join the institutions that dominate in the hopes that they may change the system from within those institutions. That strategy leads to folly and failure. Why? Because those institutions are dominated more by ideas than they are by individuals. The idea pervades, penetrates, and dominates the institution and infects the individuals within it, so that those with even the greatest and most humane of intentions can be corrupted and have their intentions disrupted by the institution they inhabit. No, what is needed is the formation of a counter-institutional structure.
The formation of institutions can allow them to flourish, spread, expand, and proliferate in a world which is predominantly institutional. If one wants to cross the sea to get to a new shore, one must first find a way to build a boat that facilitates the crossing. When the shore is reached, the boat has no more purpose. This is the concept of the counter-institutional structure: that it is only temporary, and that these institutions may seek to institutionalize – on a global scale – ideas which imbue a ‘philosophy of liberation’, and thus, they seek to bring about their own obsolescence. They deal with the world as it is, by creating structures within the global system (instead of isolating themselves from it), and thus in the same way that the ideas and institutions which seek to dominate have become so predominant and powerful in our world, we can effectively use the system against itself until the ideas and institutions which seek to liberate can become as powerful among the world’s people. Once a ‘philosophy of liberation’ has taken hold within the world’s population, and these counter-hegemonic institutions have helped establish an alternative system – helping to create people-oriented, locally organized, yet globally cooperative polities, economies, and societies – the institutions may be made irrelevant and dismantled, so that they may not be transformed through the potential to themselves dominate and control.
While the Global Political Awakening is a present reality in the world, the conditions for a true global revolution and challenge to the global power structures has yet to manifest itself. There are movements in different places, through different peoples, with differing ideas, but they are not yet united in aim, ideology, or action. The elite are seeking to establish a system and structure of global government, and are working very hard to establish such consensus among the global elite, as well as to employ specific strategies of action to effect such a change. We must do the same in order to counter this process.
Living in the era of the ‘Technological Revolution’, we are faced with an unprecedented dichotomy, whereby we are in the circumstances where for the first time in all of human history, a truly global oppressive system and structure of governance is made possible, and simultaneously, for the first time in human history, a global resistance and revolution against power structures is made possible via the communication and information revolutions, with the ultimate potential for all of humanity to become free simultaneously. This is unprecedented. Never before have all of humanity had the possibility of achieving liberation at the same time. Thus, we have never truly had a liberated human society. This is both the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity that humanity has ever faced. The elite see these developments in the same context, but with the perspective reversed. The elite see the greatest opportunity they have ever faced in human history as being to achieve the actual construction of a global government, never before possible, but now made plausible through advancements in technology; they also see the greatest challenge they have ever collectively faced in human history as being from a globally aware, active, and philosophically united world population seeking liberation and freedom. The elite are articulating these realities, and attempting to strategize and plan actions based upon these concepts. Brzezinski is perhaps the best example of this, as he has been articulating the notion of the ‘Global Political Awakening’ for many years, and has traveled to several of the more prominent think tanks among the imperial nations, warning the elites of the true realities of the world in which they seek to operate and dominate.
So too must the people of the world begin discussing these ideas, issues, and realities in order to establish consensus in understanding and initiatives for action. So long as we remain divided by artificial separations such as seeking change within the context of the ‘nation-state’ (as many in the anti-globalist movement seek a return to nationalism as a “solution”), which keeps them divided from the rest of the world. Only through solidarity of philosophy and action on the part of the world’s people may we come to actually and effectively create true change. The elite understand this. It’s time that we do too.
A Plan of Action: The People’s Project
The plan of action for establishing the anti-institutional counter-hegemonic system I set forth in my book is what I refer to as “The People’s Project.” The book, by setting forth a more comprehensive analysis of the global structures and systems of power, builds a solution based upon this more elaborate understanding. In particular, as the role of the philanthropic foundations is of particular interest and focus in the book, I propose that in order to properly counter the global power structures, we must create a type of ‘people’s foundation.’ This is what I refer to as “The People’s Project.”
Instead of being funded by wealthy billionaires, philanthropists, bankers and industrialists, the People’s Project would be funded by the people, using the means made available through the Technological Revolution: utilizing social media networks in order to fundraise from people and communities around the world, and to advertise, promote and disseminate the idea globally. As such, the Project is democratically funded, and in fact, it is a representation of genuine free-market principles, something which could appeal to the libertarian elements of resistance. The funding would be directed for specific initiatives and projects that the organization undertakes.
While the funding is democratic and free-market oriented, in that if an idea is not welcomed by the people, it simply wouldn’t be funded by them; the actual organization, operations, and day-to-day decision making process must be undertaken by a relatively small and cooperative group of individuals. If we attempt to make the entire decision-making process democratic, we would be attempting to manifest a democratic institution in an anti-democratic world, and it would be stalled, stagnant, and ultimately a failure. Thus, it must act as an institution of the likes of a major philanthropic foundation. Its operations must be effected and decisions made by a group of people so that it may function effectively within the global institutional system. However, this group of people must abide by a strict adherence to a ‘philosophy of liberation,’ and all the Project’s financial information, decisions, and initiatives must be made publicly available, so that they may be analyzed, discussed, and assessed by the public. The people must be treated as the patrons, since they provide the money. Projects will be proposed and planned by the group within the institution, and the people will discuss, debate, assess, and ultimately vote with their dollars. If a project does not have popular appeal or support, it will not be funded, and thus, will not move forward into action.
The initiatives of The People’s Project itself must seek to create the counter-institutional structure that would make the present global system of power structure irrelevant and extinct. As this is ultimately a process of de-institutionalization, we must understand it in a similar context: that of the de-institutionalization of psychiatric patients over the past several decades. Certainly, releasing prisoners of psychiatric institutions was the right thing to do, as the momentum built for this endeavour and many of these institutions were closed down, and their prisoners (or as they are often referred to, “patients”) were released. However, many of these released prisoners simply ended up as homeless people, having no where to go and nothing to be able to do. Does this mean that the institution was a good thing? No, it was and remains an incredibly dehumanizing idea and structure. The problem was multi-faceted: most important in the failure of de-institutionalization of psychiatric prisoners was the fact that the vast majority of society suffers a severe misunderstanding of what we commonly refer to as ‘madness’ or ‘mental illness.’ This misunderstanding is an intentional consequence of the ideas and institutions of psychiatry, psychology, and pharmacology which are extremely prominent within our society, and which have been largely influence by the major philanthropic foundations. Namely, without a more coherent understanding of what we refer to as “mental illness,” we cannot even begin to understand those who experience different emotional and psychological states of being, which we mistakenly refer to as “diseases.” However, as an impulse, we tend to quickly attempt to define, label, and control that which we do not understand, and therefore we often mistreat those who we are labeling as such. In 1933, Max Mason, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, wrote that the foundation’s policies:
were directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The Social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the Media and Natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control. Many procedures will be explicitly co-operative between [Foundation] divisions. The Medical and Natural Sciences will, through psychiatry and psychobiology, have a strong interest in the problems of mental disease.
What we refer to as “mental illness” or “madness” is yet another avenue and means through which power is exercised in our world, and this is perhaps the most pervasive, damaging, and destructive powers that exist in our world, largely brought about through the institutions and ideas of psychiatry and psychology, which have predominantly sought the prescription laid out by the Rockefeller Foundation, “to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding.” Psychology and psychiatry were largely avenues through which power sought to control the human mind, not to liberate it. Indeed, it is an incredibly important though little-known fact that in 1992, the World Health Organization released a study of comparing treatment of schizophrenia in the developed and developing world (rich vs. poor) that began in 1968, which concluded that patients in poor countries “had a considerably better course and outcome than (patients) in developed countries. This remained true whether clinical outcomes, social outcomes, or a combination of the two was considered.” A follow-up study by the WHO again confirmed that in poor countries, patients suffering “severe mental health” issues had a much higher rate of recovery than those in the rich, ‘developed’ nations, which tend to treat such experiences as a biological disease, and confuse treatment with causation: as in, because we treat such conditions with chemicals (i.e., drugs), the cause of the condition must itself be chemical.
As we largely misunderstand and misinterpret (and thus mislabel) such conditions as “diseases,” we fail to be able to deal properly with those who are subject to such conditions. Thus, the process of de-institutionalization of psychiatric facilities led in most places to human tragedy. From the 1960s onward, radical psychiatrists and philosophers began to challenge the way people view and understand madness and “mental illness.” Among them were Thomas Szasz, who challenged the entire notion of “mental disease” with his famous essay and subsequent book, “The Myth of Mental Illness,” which was perhaps the greatest intellectual challenge to the entire psychiatric establishment ever developed. There was also the French philosopher Michel Foucault who took on the challenge of understanding the history, ideas and institutions of psychiatry as an exercise in power – what he referred to as ‘biopower’ – the direct influence upon the biology and psychology of the individual. There was the radical Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, who posited a different understanding of madness, explaining that, “Insanity is a sane reaction to an insane society.” And there was also the radial Italian psychiatrist, Franco Basaglia, who challenged the dominant ideas and who had actually created a successful method of de-institutionalization of psychiatric centers in Italy. Compared to the failures of North American deinstitutionalization, Italy achieved relative successes, largely at the initiative of Franco Basaglia, who sought to destroy the psychiatric institution itself. Basaglia understood that for deinstitutionalization to be successful, one must create the conditions which make the integration of patients into society possible. In one interview, Basaglia said:
It is not that we put illness aside, but rather that we believe in order to have a relationship with an individual it is necessary to establish it independent of the label by which the patient has been defined.
What Basaglia realized was that, “psychiatric diagnoses were not independent of the prevailing moral and social order which tended to define normality and abnormality in its own class-based terms.” Psychiatry then, provided a “medical rationale” behind the “institutionalized violence” against the prisoners of psychiatric hospitals, which were largely poor, dispossessed individuals. As Basaglia explained:
Once the medical pretenses are gone, we can see the misery and the poverty that are the true nature of the asylum. The specificity of madness is also gone. The deception is obvious: it is one thing to say that an institution locks up fifty ‘sick’ people. It is quite another to say hat fifty ‘poor’ people have been locked up because there is no other solution to their problems.
Psychiatry was thus understood as “a covert apparatus of brutal social control,” and psychiatric physicians were agents of social control. These technicians “diagnosed, with greater and greater precision and specificity, thus fragmenting the problem of ‘mental illness’ into a multitude of diseases so as to avoid confronting its wholeness, its unifying dimensions as a shared experience of alienated human needs.” In fact, “the inhuman regulations of the institution produce signs and symptoms that justify locking up the inmate,” and the “transformation of patient into object is almost literal.” Thus, the institution itself often creates the ‘disease’ more than the individual experiences it as separated from the institution.
Basaglia’s program of deinstitutionalization included having the patients themselves help in physically destroying the institution with their own hands, most especially the physical barriers that confined and excluded them, such as doors, bars, and window gratings. Subsequently, ‘patients’ would work in the hospital, getting paid for their work, thus replicating the notion of a paid labour force on the outside of the institution. There would be daily meetings between staff and patients, and the meetings – known as the assemblea – were gradually transformed from a venue to express personal problems “toward using it as a vehicle for translating the personal into the collective and the political.” The process of “destroying and, ultimately, closing down the wards of the [institution] had to be accompanied by the far more radical and difficult task of ‘opening up’ communities.” The anti-institutional slogan put forward in this movement was, “Freedom is Therapeutic.” Thus, “alternative solutions had to be worked out, links re-established with the community; ex-patients had to develop new personal and social identities and to regain contractual power within the community.” Hence, the process of deinstitutionalization took place on two fronts: “in the hospital and in the community.”
As the communities began to be integrated with the ex-patients, “townspeople could begin to recognize in the distress and suffering of former inmates some of the problems in living that plagued their own lives.” Further, “through the vehicle of art there existed yet another way of sensitizing the public at large to the violence of segregative control.” The physical institution itself, had been converted into a place for community interaction and life, turning wards and rooms into shops, college dorms, radio stations, and day care centers.
Basaglia had to also “confront the old and uneasy alliance between psychiatry and the law. Demedicalizing and decriminalizing madness went hand in glove.” Thus, laws had to be challenged and changed with made for a more effective and humane treatment of ‘patients’ and process of deinstitutionalization.
Why I spent so much time and space discussing the notion of psychiatry and its institutions of control is because the institution of psychiatry – both physical and ideational – can serve as a microcosm for understanding the global institution we live within today. Sociologist Erving Goffman published his monumental study of what he referred to as ‘total institutions’ in his 1961 book, Asylums. He defined the ‘total institution’ as “a place of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals, cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time, together lead an enclosed, formally administered round of life.” In short, we can understand the power structures of the world as a type of ‘total institution’: whereby people are segregated – or confined – from one another, where they live, eat, work, sleep, remain enclosed and entrapped, where their actions and personal psychological health are often resulting from the institution itself: they become a product of the institution, not simply a resident within it. The institution itself creates the conditions it purportedly seeks to treat. The world is, in fact, a total institution. As we move down the road to a system of global governance, that institution is being further defined, segregated, controlling, and dehumanizing. Within the total institution of global society, psychiatry does come to play a particularly dehumanizing and personally pervasive role. As a 1944 Annual Report of the Rockefeller Foundation indicated:
It is not too much to assert… that in its actual and potential contribution to general medicine, to education, to sociology, indeed to the general business of living, psychiatry, without claiming omniscience in itself, is cast for a role of fundamental importance in helping to shape any world that may come out of the present one.
Just as Basaglia sought the means to more effectively and efficiently deinstitutionalize the mental asylums, so too must we – globally – seek to create a more effective process of deinstitutionalizing global society. This requires the dual process of breaking down the institutions that confine us, while simultaneously – and more painstakingly – seeking to establish links, changes, positions, and possibilities within the community itself.
The People’s Project would seek to establish these community initiatives on a number of levels. Just as the philanthropic foundations have engineered much of our society in the world today, down to the very construction of knowledge itself, so too must The People’s Project engage in social engineering, but not with a purpose to control; rather, with a purpose to liberate. These initiatives of the major philanthropic foundations have been articulated by many of their former leaders and administrators. Warren Weaver, a director of the Rockefeller Foundation who led the natural sciences department in the 1930s, wrote that:
The welfare of mankind depends in a vital way on man’s understanding of himself and his physical environment. Science has made magnificent progress in the analysis and control of inanimate forces, but science has not made equal advances in the more delicate, more difficult, and more important problem of the analysis and control over animate forces.
In 1934, Warren Weaver wrote a proposal to the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Foundation in which he asked:
Can man gain an intelligent control of his own power? Can we develop so sound and extensive a genetics that we can hope to breed, in the future, superior men? Can we obtain enough knowledge of physiology and psychobiology of sex so that man can bring this pervasive, highly important, and dangerous aspect of life under rational control? Can we unravel the tangled problem of the endocrine glands, and develop, before it is too late, a therapy for the whole hideous range of mental and physical disorders which result from glandular disturbances? … Can we release psychology from its present confusion and ineffectiveness and shape it into a tool which every man can use every day? Can man acquire enough knowledge of his own vital processes so that we can hope to rationalize human behavior? Can we, in short, create a new science of Man?
The Foundation, however, is an important and potent example to follow for a counter-hegemonic institution. This is because of the nature of how the foundation influences and exerts its power, which while largely through funding initiatives, it can spur developments of entire fields and initiatives simply through the act of suggestion. As a former president of the Rockefeller Foundation, Raymond Fosdick, wrote in 1934 in a letter to the board of trustees of the Foundation:
We do not have to be cynical to admit that if a foundation announces an interest in anthropology or astronomy or physio-chemical reactions, there will be plenty of institutions that will develop a zeal for the prosecution of these studies. The responsibility which this inescapable fact throws upon a foundation is enormous. The possession of funds carries with it power to establish trends and styles of intellectual endeavour… Indeed we would strongly advocate a shift of emphasis in favor not only of the dissemination of knowledge, but on the practical application of knowledge in fields where human need is great and opportunity is real. As a means of advancing knowledge, application can be as effective an instrument as research.
Thus, as the Foundation influences, so too can The People’s Project influence. The key differences, however, are the ideology and patronage of the institution itself. As the former Rockefeller Foundation president Max Mason articulated, the foundation’s policies were directed “to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding.” The People’s Project, however, would be directed “to the general problem of human society, with the aim of liberation through understanding.” Patronage is another important difference. In the private foundation, patronage is the result of wealthy philanthropists, industrialists, bankers and billionaires who fund the foundations, and thus influence and determine the direction it takes. With The People’s Project, patronage would lie with the people, funding would be democratically accountable, and thus, the direction of a project – if undesired by the people – would be made impossible by their refusal to fund the project. It is in this sense that the People’s Project may be accountable, even while its institutional structure is undemocratic.
As for specific initiatives that The People’s Project could and should undertake, I outline this somewhat more specifically in the “Project Philosophy” on the website for the Project; however, I will explain a general concept here.
The first initiative is referred to as The People’s Book Project, whereby the book I am writing may be funded and made possible. I will publish and make available the financial information, donations received, as well as logging the hours I have worked on the book, and thus, how much I am being paid to do so. I will update the site – The People’s Book Project – with information on what I am writing about at that time, giving an up-to-date and interactive process of writing the book, with comments and suggestions from readers and supporters. The book itself will serve as the philosophical foundation for the larger initiative of The People’s Project, laying the groundwork for a more comprehensive analysis and understanding of the world, and thus, serving as the basis for which the organization understands and acts in our world. The book also, as a conclusion, proposes the concept of The People’s Project in terms of solutions. Thus, if the book is itself funded and brought into being through this initiative, its very existence will be brought about by the recommendations it sets forth in its conclusions; thus, its existence may serve as evidence of its validity as a solution.
To put it simply: the book does not simply ‘recommend’ a solution, as it’s very existence would be evidence of that solution. Once the book is complete, The People’s Project can begin to undertake its larger initiatives.
Like the foundations, it must start with the formation of ideology and consensus. That is the purpose of the book itself, to establish a concrete understanding and to support the dissemination of those ideas to people and places around the world, to help institutionalize those ideas in the institutions which the Project creates and supports. Such institutions could and should include: radical think tanks, which are designed to produce research and recommendations for strategies aimed at the global liberation of humanity. The creation of liberation-oriented think tanks, as well as supporting them to become self-sufficient (perhaps in the same democratically funded way as the Project itself) could draw intellectual talents away from the powerful think tanks, or the “alternative” think tanks, which are supported by the major foundations and which draw intellectual talents which might otherwise support radical social change and revolutionary movements into a structure, institution, and context which forces them to be placated by the ideas of slow, evolutionary change to the system, but that type of change which simply addresses the symptoms of the global system, but doesn’t challenge the power structure outright. These types of think tanks exist as controlled opposition to the dominant imperial think tanks such as the Council on Foreign Relations. These “alternative” think tanks must be made irrelevant by the development of radical, liberation-oriented think tanks which seek to directly challenge the system itself, and help in the construction of new alternatives. Their existence alone would create the potential to attract intellectual talent, and thus, become successful initiatives.
Another avenue which The People’s Project should undertake is that of supporting the formation of a ‘new economy’, essentially helping establish a parallel economy to the global system we are all subjugated under. This would initially involve supporting initiatives aimed at creating local currencies, controlled and operated by local communities. The Project should organize conferences and meetings, bringing together representatives from various community currency projects around the world, in order to help understand the different projects, the failures and successes, and come to a better understanding of what works. Further, bringing such representatives together should also facilitate the establishment of trade and exchange ties between these communities, which is important to ensure that a project of building a parallel economy and community currency does not isolate itself from the world (and thus ensure its eventual failure, as it would ultimately be crushed by power-institutional forces from without), but that the parallel economy can establish itself globally. The key difference is that instead of operating through the dominant central banks, private banks, and multinational corporations, this parallel global economy would establish itself among the people directly. Of course, this implies the absolute necessity of – early on – bringing farmers and produce distributors into this system. In this sense, control over food is essential. We must reduce and ultimately eliminate our dependence upon the dominant institutions in our world.
Once community currencies can begin to be established, an immediate initiative of those communities (which the People’s Project can help begin) is to create a community foundation, funded entirely by the community bank, which is accountable to the people, not bankers. The initiatives and projects of the community foundation would mirror those of the People’s Project, but on a local scale. It must be funded by the community bank, without interest or debt. Since the concepts of interest and debt are just ideas, all we have to do to change their existence is to simply agree, collectively, that they are bad ideas. After all, currencies are faith-based, so we need to place our faith in a different currency system which supports people, not bankers. The community foundation could then be perpetually funded by the community bank in order to support local initiatives and community projects. Of course, this is a complex process which would take a great deal of time and effort, and not least without a great many failures along the way. But the point is that we need to establish a plan of action to begin effecting change and interaction and communication on a global scale.
This is not a utopian ideal, it is a humane ideal. Up until present time, what we refer to as “human civilization” is often the process of a coercive and socially constructed method of shaping humanity to fit within the confines and adjust itself to ‘society.’ Human history continuously shows examples whereby societies were constructed and people were then forced to adjust to those societies. Often this was done violently and coercively, but also, and more effectively, and most especially in the past century, this was done through the engineering of consent. The point of this Project is to help free humanity, so that we can properly understand human nature for the first time, and thus construct society around the needs and desires of human nature. Human civilization must come to reflect human nature; human nature can no longer be shaped within the confines of human civilization. As people are largely a product of their environment, down to the very notion of what we know as “mental illness,” we must begin to reshape the environment to support the people. We must construct our society in such a way that enhances and flourishes all that is good in human nature, while minimizing and undermining all that is bad in human nature. Currently, our society does the opposite. That is why war, poverty, dehumanization, and destruction are so common, whereas cooperation, liberation, peace, and harmonious existence are so rare.
It seems quite apparent that our little experiment known as ‘human civilization’ is actually more properly identified as a “dehumanized civilization,” as it ruins, oppresses, controls, co-opts, and seeks to destroy all that is good, wonderful, and beautiful in human nature. We must then, construct a new civilization, a “humane civilization,” one that undermines the negative aspects of human nature and supports the positive. Humans have a tendency to be corrupted by too much power, no matter the intentions and beliefs of that individual, too much power in one person or institution is self destructive. Subsequently, too much power in too few hands implies the de facto circumstance of too little power in too many hands, so that the vast majority of the world’s people are left with very little power even over their own lives. This leads to poverty, despair, violence, terrorism, war, hunger, hatred, and madness. What is implied then, is that power must be decentralized, people must gain more, and institutions must have less. In such a situation, we can begin to see the potential for humanity to gain – for the first time in all of human history – the ultimate liberation, the true freedom. As such, we would be able to see the true reality of “human nature.”
If you study mice in a maze, no matter for how long you may do so, you cannot ever hope to understand the mouse outside of the context of the maze itself. The mouse or mice you study and observe are products of that maze, as they are confined within it and their lives dictated by its walls and parameters. Therefore, you can never hope to conclude a true ‘nature’ of the mouse through observing it in such circumstances. Only when you break the walls of the maze and erase its foundations, thus freeing the mice to their own devices, can you even begin to understand the nature and potential of the mouse. This is the perspective we must come to understand in regards to humanity. We can commonly deduce that it is “human nature” to be violent, to hate, to kill, to destroy; that we need states and governments and powers to stand above and look over us, preventing us from destroying ourselves. Yet, we act in accordance with the confines of our own maze – the global institutional social system – and thus, we are a product – and our nature is thus a product – of the system we live within. If our nature is violent, hateful, and destructive, it is because the system we live within has made it so. Thus, we need to liberate humanity from that system, and simultaneously create a parallel system which may help to establish a society that requires cooperation, true individuality, respect, understanding, peace, and love. We are largely a product of our environment, therefore we must change both the individual – through our personal perceptions and understanding of the world – and the environment around the individual, in order to create a truly ‘humane’ society.
These are the aims and objectives of The People’s Project. The Book Project, as the first phase in the wider initiative explained above, seeks to establish itself as a basis upon which the People’s Project would understand and act in the world. The People’s Book Project can only be made possible through the support, donations, and word of mouth of the people themselves, activated through social media and the Internet, using the unprecedented opportunity we have before us as a result of the Technological, communication and information revolutions.
Indeed, nothing would be a greater shame than to exist in revolutionary times without revolutionary ideas.
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of the People’s Book Project.
 Lily E. Kay, “Rethinking Institutions: Philanthropy as an Historigraphic Problem of Knowledge and Power,” Minerva (Vol. 35, 1997), page 290.
 Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership. Speech at the Carnegie Council: March 25, 2004: http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/4424.html
 Zbigniew Brzezinski, The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership. Speech at the Carnegie Council: March 25, 2004: http://www.cceia.org/resources/transcripts/4424.html
 Lily E. Kay, “Rethinking Institutions: Philanthropy as an Historigraphic Problem of Knowledge and Power,” Minerva (Vol. 35, 1997), page 290.
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 Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Anne M. Lovell, “Breaking the Circuit of Social Control: Lessons in Public Psychiatry from Italy and Franco Basaglia,” Social Science and Medicine (Vol. 23, Issue 2, 1986), page 161.
 Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Anne M. Lovell, “Breaking the Circuit of Social Control: Lessons in Public Psychiatry from Italy and Franco Basaglia,” Social Science and Medicine (Vol. 23, Issue 2, 1986), pages 161-162.
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 Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Anne M. Lovell, “Breaking the Circuit of Social Control: Lessons in Public Psychiatry from Italy and Franco Basaglia,” Social Science and Medicine (Vol. 23, Issue 2, 1986), page 168.
 Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Anne M. Lovell, “Breaking the Circuit of Social Control: Lessons in Public Psychiatry from Italy and Franco Basaglia,” Social Science and Medicine (Vol. 23, Issue 2, 1986), page 169.
 Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Anne M. Lovell, “Breaking the Circuit of Social Control: Lessons in Public Psychiatry from Italy and Franco Basaglia,” Social Science and Medicine (Vol. 23, Issue 2, 1986), page 170.
 Erving Goffman, Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates (First Anchor Books, New York: 1961), page xiii.
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 Daniel J. Kevles, “Foundations, Universities, and Trends in Support for the Physical and Biological Sciences, 1900-1992,” Daedalus (Vol. 121, No. 4, Immobile Democracy?), Fall 1992, page 206
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 Robert E. Kohler, “The Management of Science: The Experience of Warren Weaver and the Rockefeller Programme in Molecular Biology.” Minerva (Vol. 14, No. 3), 1976, page 293
 Lily E. Kay, “Rethinking Institutions: Philanthropy as an Historigraphic Problem of Knowledge and Power,” Minerva (Vol. 35, 1997), page 290.