This is another in a series of essays based on the events at the recent US Social Forum in Detroit. At least 19 Nebraskans participated, most through the USSF 2010-Omaha Coordinating Committee.
The following is not a verbatim transcript of the Boggs/Wallerstein panel. It is subjective and impressionistic, recording largely in paraphrase what struck me as important. A few minutes video of the panel can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWlfQy27HBQ
This was a most impressive panel. Grace Lee Boggs, an influential grassroots activist for 60 years who celebrated her 95th birthday the Sunday following this panel, was insightful, articulate and clear as a bell. Immanuel Wallerstein is a world-renowned American sociologist, historical social scientist, and world-systems analyst who tends to write in impenetrable academese; however, at this panel he was down-to-earth, witty and pithy.
Grace began with a rumination on Detroit the city, which she had spent so many years in, leading me to think of the phrase: "seduced and abandoned".
G(race) - Detroit is becoming an experiment in industrial and agricultural worlds.
I(mmanuel) - The modern world is too far away from equilibrium. The system no longer provides enough in its own terms to work. Even the oppressors notice that the system must change and the question becomes what will replace it.
The "free will" factor comes into play when the determinism of the system is overridden by the fact that it is too far out of equilibrium.
G - I used to seek certainty. But in uncertainty there is hope. The feudal system came to an end because it could no longer cope; the gulf crises show that the current system cannot cope.
Moderator - Capitalism is not the first system rooted in greed.
I - Capitalism is the first system to depend on the accumulation of capital. Growth is mandatory. Native cultures have a concept of "buen vivir" - good living. This may be what we want to create.
The successors to capitalism want to create the successor. They could create a system with more hierarchy, more oppression, more exploitation. They will try to invent this new nameless system with these characteristics, as will we try to create a new human-friendly system.
Our goal can be to minimize the pain today. This doesn't transform the world but it meets people's needs. But the idea is to accompany that with the goal of creating a new people-friendly world.
G - The urban agricultural movement grew out of basic needs. Will Allen in Milwaukee started growing food in the city.
I - The commodification of everything is a fundamental aspect of capitalism. 50 years ago water and health care were not commodified. What we can do in the short run is work on decommodifying things.
G - The resistance to commodification is a human response. There is a movement for re-humanizing things. Martin Luther King understood this in his speech against the Vietnam War.
I - Capitalism puts a price tag on everything - on emotion, on community...
We're in a Depression, not a recession...
There never were private, profit-making universities before about 30 years ago. They make their money from student loans. The next bubble is going to be student loans to private, profit-making universities.
The fluctuations in the market today are so rapid and extreme that capitalists, including pension funds, cannot make money. This explains the Tea Baggers and their rage. (Many of them are small capitalists who are no longer working within a system that they can understand or control - Jack)
(Responding to a question about how he views the recent firing of General McChrystal) McChrystal is a very bright guy; he is aware of everything going on under his command. McChrystal set new rules for American troops, safeguarding civilians. He has also postponed going into Kandahar probably because he knew it wouldn't work; so he got himself fired so that someone else would get blamed for losing the war.
Today there are unwinnable choices where there are simply no good options for the government. For example, Spain just passed the biggest budget cuts in its history. The very next day Fitch's downgraded their bond ratings on the argument that Spain had thereby reduced the possibilities of growth. Damned if you do and damned if you don't.
G - The U.S. Social Forum stemmed from the Battle in Seattle which shut down the meeting of the World Trade Organization.
The whole system has become dysfunctional. We can either hope that it becomes more functional demonstrating all the while, or we can begin to work with ordinary people and create a new system, piece by piece.
The objective of the witch hunts was not only to expropriate land, but to eliminate the knowledge of women, that intuitive, personal style of knowledge. Education can serve to create full-fledged citizens and a participatory democracy. what is important is not so much the creation of things but the creation of people.
I - up to the 60's, all liberatory movements were unitary, hierarchical movements; where everything had to be part of that one organization. Now we have the US social forum, a coming together of many different movements. They began by talking to each other rather than denouncing each other. This led to the possibility of cooperating on specific actions and issues.
G - There has not been enough discussion of the changing concepts of revolution. Our job as intellectuals is to develop the ideas that replace the capitalist ideas. How do we replace our notions of oppositional thinking? How do we become more human? Each revolution is an advance on thinking about being human. in 1917, they couldn't help thinking in hierarchical terms. Our challenge is to become more theoretical and more imaginative.
In response to a question about the role of Creativity in the Movement:
I - I would cite the work of Prigogine, who says essentially: Uncertainty is the precondition for creativity. Creativity is the center of possibility.
G - Knowledge is of the past; imagination is of the future.
In response to the introduction of casinos, we created Detroit Summer.