Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/24/2011

Occupy, Occupy, Occupy (a different kind of post)

The Tallest Building in Kansas

The Tallest Building in Kansas

They say it so much better than I can:
A string of quotations. First quotations about/by Michael Harrington whom every budding socialist in America read the ‘60s and ‘70s. I’m not exactly a disciple of Harrington, but he influenced my thinking. Now much of his writing seems absolutely prophetic. Call me old fashioned or stuck in the ‘60s or some such derogation, but then take a look at the article linked at the very end of this posting.

About Harrington:

Dorrien, Gary. “Michael Harrington and the ‘Leftwing of the Possibble’.” Crosscurrents (June 2010): 257-282.

Had Edward Michael Harrington been born anywhere in Western Europe, he would have become a major social democratic party leader. Having been raised, instead, in Missouri, and then transplanted to New York, he could have become America’s leading liberal political intellectual, but he was committed to building a serious social democratic tradition in his country. Thus, he settled for being America’s leading socialist, which, as William F. Buckley Jr. once teased him from a podium, was something like being the tallest building in Kansas.

Harrington’s major works featured the idea of bureaucratic collectivism as a critique of late capitalism. For him the serious question was not whether economic planning would take place in the future, but the form in which it would take place. Corporate capitalism was increasingly a top-down form of bureaucratic collectivism in which huge oligopolies administered prices, controlled the politics of investment, bought off the political system, and defined cultural tastes and values while obtaining protection and support from the state, Harrington argued. It shook down the state for subsidies and favors and was happy to socialize its losses with government bailouts, but preached private enterprise and the right to free capital flows when its profits were questioned. Most importantly, capitalism granted control over investment, credit and social planning to unelected elites holding quite particular interests in the increase of their own wealth and power. It was fine to bail out too-big-to-fail capitalist enterprises with public money, as long as the public interest got no stake in the companies.

Dorrien cites these books of Harrington as sources for his summary:
Harrington, Edward Michael. Decade of Decision: The Crisis of the American System. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.
——The Next Left: The History of a Future. New York: Henry Holt, 1986.
—— Socialism: Past and Future. New York: Arcade Publishing, 1989.

Harrington, Michael. “The Social-Industrial Complex.” Looking Forward. 1968. Available as a NOOK Document: 2011.

Harrington played off of Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” to write about the burgeoning influence of corporations in shaping society. Here are a couple of (almost random) paragraphs from this monograph. Keep in mind, he was writing in 1968:

On the other hand—here is the sinister potential of the social-industrial complex—America might unwittingly hire business to build a new urban civilization on the basis of the very money-making priorities which brought [us] to crisis. The contractor would not simply execute the contract. He would draw it up as well. . .

. . . Something like this pattern [Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex] is beginning to emerge within the social-industrial complex. “Business,” to quote the Wall Street Journal once more, “is turning into an important force for pushing embattled domestic proposals through congress.” An executive of the Department of Housing and Urban Development is quoted as saying, “Each agency has gradually developed a list of firms interested in its field. . . we know how to turn them on. . .” At first glance this might seem to portend a happy situation in which the corporations are lending their political power to a public purpose. But, as the experience of the military-industrial complex demonstrates, such procedures lead straight to private alliances between self-interested executives and ambitious bureaucrats. This trend is already quite developed in the cities industry—where, for instance, real estate men support rent subsidies as a means of attacking public housing.

[Note: My private gauge of corporate takeover: I wonder what Harrington would make of the “American Airlines Center” or the “Oracle Arena” or the “Staples Center” or—worst—the “AT&T Performing Arts Center.” If art and entertainment are controlled by corporations, we have long since sold out our cities. When will Lincoln Center become the “JP Morgan Chase Center” to symbolize the complete Wall Street takeover of society?]

Soper, Kate. “Alternative Hedonism, Cultural Theory and the Role of Aesthetic Revisioning.” Cultural Studies 22.5 (2008): 567-587.

The moment in the aftermath of September 11th, when the West supposedly returned to some sort of normality, was marked by a shopping expedition to New York. Celebrity shoppers, who had lunched on caviar and champagne . . . [were] greeted at Kennedy by Mayor Guiliani with an invitation to ‘Spend! Spend! Spend!’ As a signal of Western spiritual revival this seemed fairly bizarre. . . But we are used to such blinkered forms of self-congratulation on the part of the Western elite. . . more unusual on this occasion was the deliberate staging of the event as a piece of political PR: one whose aim was to persuade us that the newly launched ‘war on terror’ was to be fought not only by military means, but also in the malls and supermarkets, and we all therefore had a duty of ‘patriotic’ shopping. . .  The invitation to the public was to view consumption not just as a matter of private expenditure, self-styling and gratification, but as an act of political identification through which the ‘patriotic’ consumer signals support for the Western way of life. . .

These new appeals to patriotic consumerism must be related, however, not only to the Twin Towers attack and its counter-terrorist aftermath, but also to the new assessments of consumer power that have been voiced in recent times by the anti-consumerist lobby. For if the world of corporate capitalism is now more openly acknowledging its reliance on continued consumer insatiability and logo-loyalty, it is doing so in the context of. . . an oppositional invocation of the growing subversive potential of consumption. Introducing [her own book] No Logo, Naomi Klein tells us that:

AT&T Lives Here

AT&T Lives Here

. . .  as more people discover the brand-name secrets of the global logo web, their outrage will fuel the next big political movement, a vast wave of opposition squarely targeting trans-national corporations, particularly those with very high name-brand recognition. . . this movement is coming, as all such movements do, from a minority, but it is an increasingly powerful minority. Simply put, anti-corporatism is the brand of politics capturing the imagination of the next generation of troublemakers and shitdisturbers, and we need only look to the student radicals of the 1960s and the ID warriors of the eighties and nineties to see the transformative impact such a shift can have.

This article— Revealed – the capitalist network that runs the world—has been posted and reposted on Facebook and such places in the last few days. It is evidence of the fulfillment of Edward Harrington’s fears and the hope of Naomi Klein’s predictions. Even if the article is sensationalism (which I think it is not), one ought to be aware of it.


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