To Be Effective, Socialism Must Adapt To 21st Century Needs

Vijay Prashad

IS socialism making a comeback? If so, what exactly is socialism, why did it lose steam toward the latter part of the 20th century, and how do we distinguish democratic socialism, currently in an upward trend in the U.S., from social democracy, which has all but collapsed? Vijay Prashad, executive director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and a leading scholar in socialist studies and the politics of the global South, offers answers to these questions.

C.J. Polychroniou: Socialism represented a powerful and viable alternative to capitalism from the mid-1800s all the way up to the third quarter of the 20th century, but entered a period of crisis soon thereafter for reasons that continue to be debated today. In your view, what are some of the main political, economic and ideological factors that help explain socialism’s setback in the contemporary era?

Vijay Prashad: The first thing to acknowledge is that “socialism” is not merely a set of ideas or a policy framework or anything like that. Socialism is a political movement, a general way of referring to a situation where the workers gain the upper hand in the class struggle and put in place institutions, policies and social networks that advantage the workers. When the political movement is weak and the workers are on the weaker side of the class struggle, it is impossible to speak confidently of “socialism.” So, we need to study carefully how and why workers — the immense majority of humanity — began to see the reservoirs of their strength get depleted. To my mind, the core issue here is globalization — a set of structural and subjective developments that weakened worker power. Let’s take the developments in turn.

There were three structural developments that are essential. First, major technological changes in the world of communications, database management and transportation that allowed firms to have a global reach. The global commodity chain of this period enabled firms to disarticulate production — break up factories into their constituent units and place them around the world. Second, the third world debt crisis debilitated the power of national liberation states and states that — even weakly — had tried to create development pathways for their populations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The debt crisis led to [International Monetary Fund] IMF-driven structural adjustment programs that released hundreds of millions of workers to international capital and for the workforce of the new global commodity chain. Third, the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern bloc, as well as the changes in China provided international capital with hundreds of millions of more workers. What we saw is in this period of globalization was the break-up of the factory form, which weakened trade unions; the impossibility of nationalization of firms, which weakened national liberation states; and the use of the concept of arbitrage to force a race to the bottom for workers. These structural developments, from which workers have not recovered, deeply weakened the workers’ movement. Read more

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Alessandro Baricco ~ The Game

Alessandro Baricco. Ills. Joseph Sassoon Semah

Alessandro Baricco onderzoekt in The Game, opvolger van zijn zeer succesvolle boek De Barbaren[zie video onder artikel], de digitale revolutie en de gevolgen daarvan op onze beschaving. Deze revolutie heeft onze manier van denken en leven voorgoed veranderd. Maar lopen we niet het risico onze menselijkheid te verliezen in het digitale tijdperk? Waar en wanneer begon deze transformatie en waarheen leidt die ons?
Als een archeoloog onderzoekt Baricco de mijlpalen van de revolutie – van internet pioniers tot de uitvinding van de IPhone en Netflix, van het computerspel Space Invaders uit 1978 (de nulwervel van de digitale revolutie) tot kunstmatige intelligentie.

De Game is ontstaan uit de drang naar een leven zonder elite, net zoals de eerste technologische hulpmiddelen werden uitgevonden om de macht te vermalen door hem aan iedereen te geven. Nu heeft iedereen toegang tot elke informatie van de wereld, kan iedereen met iedereen communiceren en ook zijn mening geven, wat vroeger was voorbehouden aan de elite. Dankzij The Game is het monopolie van de elite niet langer onaantastbaar. In The Game zet Alessandro Baricco zich nadrukkelijk af tegen de oude elite die geen zin heeft de nieuwe wereld te begrijpen en zich ver weg houdt van de nieuw realiteit.

Baricco ziet het startpunt van de digitale revolutie in de zeventiger jaren als een digitale opstand tegen de rampzalige beschaving van de twintigste eeuw met zijn twee wereldoorlogen: die tragedie mag nooit worden herhaald. Informatica-ingenieurs, politieke militanten, hippies uit Californië zagen de technologie dan ook vooral als bevrijdingsinstrument, aldus Baricco. De digitale opstand richtte zich op de onbeweeglijkheid en de overmacht van elites door tools te bouwen die de beste bewegingsmarges garandeerden die de elites buiten konden sluiten. Ze braken de macht af en verdeelden die onder mensen.
Het logo van de vrijheidsstrijd werd: mens-toetsenbord-scherm, zowel een fysieke als mentale houding met de bereidheid de wereld via apparaten te benaderen. Apparaten werden een soort protheses, een verlengstuk van de mens.

Barricco markeert de presentatie van de iPhone door Steve Jobs, op 9 januari 2007, als het ontstaan van de Game.
‘In die telefoon – die geen telefoon meer was- was de logische structuur van computerspellen leesbaar (oersoep van de opstand), werd de houding van mens-toetsenbord-scherm geperfectioneerd, stierf het twintigste-eeuwse concept van diepgang, werd de oppervlakkigheid bekrachtigd als huisvesting van het zijn, en voorvoelde men de komst van post-ervaring.’
Voor Baricco is de Game de verzekering tegen de nachtmerrie van de twintigste eeuw: de voorwaarden om zoiets nog eens te laten gebeuren zijn ontmanteld. Maar er gingen ook mooie en waardevolle, unieke dingen ten onder, die we weer opnieuw moeten opbouwen met gebruikmaking van de Game en met zijn idee van design.

De Game heeft weliswaar geen grondwet, geen teksten waarmee ze wordt gelegitimeerd maar er zijn wel ’teksten’ waarin het genetisch erfgoed wordt bewaard, zoals Spacewar, een van de eerste computerspellen (1972), die de volledige genetische code van onze beschaving bevat. In die eerste computerspellen schemerde al de betekenis van computers door, de potenties van het digitale, de voordelen van de houding mens-toetsenbord-scherm, een bepaald idee van mentale architectuur, een idee van snelheid, de zaligverklaring van beweging, en het belang van puntentelling, aldus Baricco.
Maar nu worden ook de tekortkomingen zichtbaar: ten eerste is de Game moeilijk en vereist skills, die niet worden onderwezen. Ten tweede is nu een systeem ontstaan dat heeft geleid tot gigantische machtsconcentraties, die niet minder toegankelijk zijn dan de elites van de twintigste-eeuw. De derde tekortkoming is in het besluit om ‘de geraamte van de wereld’, de grote bolwerken van de twintigste eeuw, intact te laten: de staat, de scholen, de kerken.
Op dit moment hebben we geen oplossingen: het is nog niemand gelukt voor de Game een eigen model te bedenken van economische ontwikkelingen, sociale rechtvaardigheid en verdeling van rijkdom.
De rijken van de Game zijn nog steeds beperkt en rijk op een traditionele manier.

De grondleggers van de Game waren man, wit, Amerikaans en ingenieur/wetenschapper. De Intelligentie van nu is meer gevarieerd: er is behoefte aan vrouwelijke cultuur, aan humanistische kennis, aan een niet-Amerikaans geheugen, aan hedendaagse talenten en aan intelligentie uit de marges. Maar vooral het humanisme is belangrijk voor het voortbestaan van de Game. Mensen hebben behoefte zich mens te blijven voelen, nu men door de Game is gedwongen tot een hoog percentage kunstmatig leven. Kunstmatige intelligentie zal ons nog verder van onszelf afvoeren, dus dat betekent dat de komende honderd jaar niets waardevoller zal zijn dan alles waardoor de mensen zich mens voelen, aldus Baricco.
We moeten de identiteit van het soort bewaren en dat kan alleen als het humanisme de achterstand inloopt en toetreedt tot de Game. De Game moet van niet alleen geproduceerd door mensen, maar zich ontwikkelen naar een tool voor mensen.
We moeten komen tot contemporary humanities als setting van de Game, dan wordt het weer een verhaal van mensen en is de Game levensvatbaar.

Alessandro Baricco ~ The Game. Amsterdam, De Bezige Bij, 2019. ISBN 9789403147802

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Sarah Repucci ~ Freedom And The Media: A Downward Spiral

Key Findings:
Freedom of the media has been deteriorating around the world over the past decade.
In some of the most influential democracies in the world, populist leaders have overseen concerted attempts to throttle the independence of the media sector.
While the threats to global media freedom are real and concerning in their own right, their impact on the state of democracy is what makes them truly dangerous.
Experience has shown, however, that press freedom can rebound from even lengthy stints of repression when given the opportunity. The basic desire for democratic liberties, including access to honest and fact-based journalism, can never be extinguished.

The fundamental right to seek and disseminate information through an independent press is under attack, and part of the assault has come from an unexpected source. Elected leaders in many democracies, who should be press freedom’s staunchest defenders, have made explicit attempts to silence critical media voices and strengthen outlets that serve up favorable coverage. The trend is linked to a global decline in democracy itself: The erosion of press freedom is both a symptom of and a contributor to the breakdown of other democratic institutions and principles, a fact that makes it especially alarming.

According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World data, media freedom has been deteriorating around the world over the past decade, with new forms of repression taking hold in open societies and authoritarian states alike. The trend is most acute in Europe, previously a bastion of well-established freedoms, and in Eurasia and the Middle East, where many of the world’s worst dictatorships are concentrated. If democratic powers cease to support media independence at home and impose no consequences for its restriction abroad, the free press corps could be in danger of virtual extinction.

Experience has shown, however, that press freedom can rebound from even lengthy stints of repression when given the opportunity. The basic desire for democratic liberties, including access to honest and fact-based journalism, can never be extinguished, and it is never too late to renew the demand that these rights be granted in full.

Read more: https://freedomhouse.org/freedom-media-2019

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Nach Stolperstein-Verlegung in Kusel: Kontakt zu Bermann-Enkeln soll aufrechterhalten werden

Die Rheinpfalz, 4.6.2019.

„Wir haben unseren Besuch in Kusel als etwas Besonderes erlebt, für das wir sehr dankbar sind“, schreibt Bermann-Enkelin Linda Bouws aus Amsterdam. Die Enkelin der Jüdin Paula Bermann, für die am 13. Mai ein Stolperstein vor deren früherem Haus in der Gartenstraße verlegt worden ist, blickt wie ihre Verwandten gerne auf die Zeit, die sie vor drei Woche in Kusel verbracht hat, zurück.

Auch die überaus gut besuchte Lesung aus dem Tagebuch von Paula Bermann am Sonntag, 12. Mai, hinterließ einen bleibenden Eindruck. Urenkel Mano Barten schreibt: „Ich möchte für diesen fantastischen Moment danken, den ihr uns geschenkt habt.“ Er habe das nicht erwartet und sei darauf auch nicht vorbereitet gewesen. Daher habe der Besuch großen …

Het artikel zit verder achter een betaalmuur:

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The Embassy Of Good Science

The goal of The Embassy of Good Science is to promote research integrity among all those involved in research. The platform is open to anyone willing to learn or support others in fostering understanding and awareness around Good Science.

The Embassy aims to become a unique ‘go to’ place, a public square where the community of researchers can gather to discuss ‘hot topics’, share knowledge, and find guidance and support to perform science responsibly and with integrity.

We want to focus on researchers’ daily practice. Our ambition is to collaboratively map the laws, policies and guidelines informing good practices and highlight relevant cases, experiences, educational materials and good practice examples. We will also support educators to develop training on research integrity and ethics.

Let our community take over
The Embassy of Good Science is developed by and for researchers, who are willing to gather and join forces to preserve and safeguard good science. No embassy can function without its ambassadors. And that’s where you come in.

The Embassy of Good Science
Your platform for research integrity and ethics
Our declaration describes the Embassy’s principles in strong, affirmative language. It forms a clear reference for all involved, including you.

Go to: https://www.embassy.science/

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If Democrats Can’t Win The Economic Debate, Trump Will Win In 2020

Prof.dr. Robert Pollin

Pundits and economic models predict that if nothing changes in the next two years on the economic front, Donald Trump will be re-elected in 2020 by a bigger margin than in 2016. To be sure, the economy is usually the top priority for voters heading into a presidential election, and the U.S. economy appears on paper to be doing well since Trump moved into the White House. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first quarter of 2019 (real GDP grew by 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018), and the national unemployment rate is at a low 3.8 percent, with applications for unemployment benefits having declined to a 49-year low.

Nonetheless, while the economy looks strong, the economic condition of most Americans is anything but rosy. And, according to a Federal Reserve’s “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2018,” roughly 40 percent of households would not be able to cover a $400 “unexpected expense.”

At the same time, the majority of Americans think that the economic system benefits mostly the wealthy, and want to see the government do something about this situation.

As such, the question is whether Democratic presidential candidates have the vision and the boldness to put structural economic reforms on top of their pre-election campaign. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have already positioned themselves as the ideas candidates for fixing the economy, although Wall Street Democrats will clearly oppose both of them. In the absence of a plan to abolish capitalism, drastic reforms to make it more equitable are a necessary precondition for the economic well-being of the majority of people in the U.S. — reforms that would likely prove to be detrimental to the economic interests of the super-rich, who are intent on accumulating ever higher amounts of wealth. Yet, it is unclear what sort of reforms deserve top priority in today’s U.S. economy. To answer that question, we interviewed Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, the U.S. economy is said to be booming, although Democrats attribute this fact to the policies of the Obama administration. Firstly, is the U.S. economy in such a good shape as it appears to be on paper? Secondly, for how long can the Democrats go on giving credit to Obama for today’s signs of a strong economy?

Robert Pollin: First of all, based on the most standard measure of overall economic performance, the growth rate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the U.S. economy has not been booming under Trump. Indeed, over the two full years under Trump, 2017-18, real economic growth (adjusted for inflation) averaged 2.5 percent per year. This is no better than the average for the full eight years since the Great Recession officially ended in 2010. Over the 57-year period prior to the 2008 Great Recession (1950-2007), U.S. real economic growth averaged 3.4 percent per year. The Trump economy obviously hasn’t come close to reaching this long-term average growth trend.

It is true that the official unemployment rate is at a historic low, at 3.8 percent of the labor force. However, let’s also consider a broader official measure of unemployment coming from the U.S. Labor Department, one which includes both the “underemployed” — i.e., people in part-time positions but seeking full-time work — as well as people who have become discouraged from looking for a job due to lack of success. By this measure, the unemployment rate rises to 7.3 percent. If we also add in the roughly 5 million people who have dropped out of the labor market following the Great Recession, that would bring the unemployment rate to 10.3 percent. So while labor market conditions are indeed far better now than they were 10 years ago, as we were just coming out of the Great Recession, there is still a lot of distress among people trying to get jobs, much less good jobs.

The Obama administration, along with the Federal Reserve, does deserve credit for helping to avoid a total financial collapse in 2008 that could have led to a Depression as severe as the 1930s. Who knows where we would be today if, a decade ago, the unemployment rate had risen to, say 25 percent, as it did in the 1930s, versus 10 percent during the Great Recession.

Read more

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