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Global Grabbers

book cover

Progressives hope to solve 'American Crisis'

By Jordan Elgrably

Lest anyone doubt we live in a world that is now one hypertrophied marketplace, where everything is for sale, the essays in a new anthology shine a light on the darkest recesses of global capitalism.

The New American Crisis: Radical Analyses of the Problems Facing America Today serves up both muckraking journalism and practical suggestions on ways in which the fragmented progressive movement might begin to organize effectively against the forces of the New World Order. With essays by, among others, Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Zapatista leader Marcos, professor bell hooks and Native American activist Winona LaDuke, the anthology roams the spectrum of alternative viewpoints.

As Jeremy Brecher discusses in "Global Village or Global Pillage?" international law has arranged it so that corporations enjoy many of the same rights our Constitution grants to individuals but without having ultimate responsibility to local communities.

We know that large corporations, usually of the multinational variety, are in control of the marketplace, not just in defense, energy, transportation and computers, for instance, but often in the production of films, music, books and other cultural wares. (Frequently, an entity that has a controlling interest in one of the aforementioned industries also owns television stations and newspapers.) These giants of industry, business and media, which exist in concert across borders and continents, are often exempt or nearly exempt from most government regulation.

One of the most clear-eyed interpretations I've heard in recent times of this American and, indeed, global crisis, comes from director Oliver Stone, who is not a radical by any stretch of the progressive imagination. In an interview with me in 1995, he remarked, "The problem is that the enemy is hidden. The subtlety of international megacorporations who control your lives is so persuasive and seductive and it's such a truth that it's almost like attacking your mother or your father. ... You cannot bite the hand that feeds you, the hand that gives you money, gives you a job, security and food and provides you with a defense establishment, and basically provides you with cradle-to-grave security. That's the idea being promoted by beneficial capitalism, which is not small-business capitalism but big-business capitalism."

What comes across in several of the essays in The New American Crisis is the pervasive commercialism that in many cases is destroying the fabric of local communities.

Herbert Schiller, in "The Information Superhighway, 500 Ways to Pave Over the Public," speaks of the global mall in which information that was once in the public domain, either at local libraries or accessible from state and federal governments, is now being sold off to private information systems. Schiller suggests that the great freedom we seem to enjoy through the Internet is just another way megacorporations have for "getting the money," as the old bookie phrase goes.

"What are the alternatives to destructive globalization?" Brecher asks, noting bleakly that "the right offers racism and nationalism." Many of his concerns are addressed in "Rebuilding America" by Seymour Melman, and "Learning From Native Peoples" by LaDuke.

While it's clear that American workers have lost a lot of ground to the global economy (according to labor economist Harley Shakin, U.S. labor dropped 400,000 members last year), David Dellinger's "Hope for the Nineties" suggests that the left may not be as moribund as we've been led to believe.

By Dellinger's own estimate, "More people protested in Washington in 1992 than in any year in the '60s. The media, however, ignore the greater frequency of protests now and stress the smaller numbers at a particular event, thereby spreading the illusion that the days of social revolt are over."

An activist who was around in the 1930s, "when I cut my political teeth," Dellinger argues eloquently for a renewed wave of grass-roots initiatives, as does Joel Rogers in the essay "How We Might Unite." Rogers outlines three new projects that promise to bond the working and middle classes in a united front. And in a reply to the isolated individual who feels powerless in the face of global capitalism, Dellinger revives Cornel West's jazz metaphor: "As with a soloist in a jazz quartet, quintet or band, individuality is promoted in order to sustain and increase the creative tension with the group--a tension that yields higher levels of performance to achieve the aim of the collective project."

Although many of the essays in this collection paint a bleak portrait of national disunity on the left and economic hegemony on the right, the book is a good resource guide for those who wish to get active or access information not readily available in the mainstream media. The back of the anthology lists alternative radio, TV and print media, as well as citizen empowerment, environmental and advocacy groups.

The editors of The New American Crisis, Greg Ruggiero and Stuart Sahulka, also worked on an earlier anthology titled Open Fire (The New Press, 1993), which gathered material previously published in their Open Magazine Pamphlet Series. They continue to publish these whistle-blowing pamphlets at irregular intervals, operating on a shoestring budget out of an office in Westfield, N.J. ([email protected]). Individual pamphlets cost $4 and are available at independent bookstores in the Bay Area.

The series began in 1991 as an "emergency broadcast effort" to protest the Gulf War. In a mission statement at the time, Ruggiero and Sahulka wrote: "We are questioning why only two parties and a handful of commercial media entities dominate the entirety of political discourse in this country." It is a reality that demands our concern, and is the central theme of The New American Crisis.

In an election year when so many American voters are dismayed at their choices, the words of a striking rubber worker resonate with more force than any political rhetoric. "The rich," he said in "This is War!" by Tom Frank and David Mulcahey, "have got two parties. We need one."

The New American Crisis: Radical Analyses of the Problems Facing America Today, edited by Greg Ruggiero and Stuart Sahulka; The New Press; 327 pages; $13.95 paper.

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From the Mar. 7-13, 1996 issue of Metro

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