Chomsky And Others Put Forward 'Ideas For Going Forward' In This Crisis-Ridden World
07 April, 2016
The world is facing a Titanic moment. Either humanity comes together as one and save the Mother Ship Earth or we go down without a trace! The major crises we face are ecological crisis manifested in global warming/climate change, soil degradation, water crisis, over all environmental damage, war perpetrated by predatory capitalism which could eventually lead to a nuclear winter, resource crisis, health, education and economic crisis etc. Race/caste and gender/sexuality justice are other major issues that need urgent attention. A group of intellectuals including Noam Chomsky, academics and activists have come forward with a document called "Some Possible Ideas For Going Forward". The document states at the outset,
We hope this document can help inspire more conversations within groups and movements that, over time, come to a synthesis. We do this in the spirit of self organization - and as a rejection of preformed inflexible programs and agendas imposed on activists from above. We believe only program that is fully understood and owned by grassroots participants can win lasting change.
The document puts forward 'Economic Programmatic Ideas', 'Education Programmatic Ideas', 'Race Programmatic Ideas', 'Gender/Kinship Programmatic Ideas', 'International Relations Programmatic Ideas', 'Health Programmatic Ideas' and 'Ecology Programmatic Ideas'. The document calls for "energy innovations, and steps to reduce global warming and mitigate its impact, and, in general, policy to preserve the ecology."
The document calls for cessation of all arms shipments abroad, cessation of any aid abroad intended for the hands of police or other potentially repressive agencies, such as occupying armies, elimination of all U.S. or other nations' overseas military bases and an end to the use of military force as an instrument of national policy.
Some Possible Ideas For Going Forward
Around the world powerful and diverse possibilities are in struggle. We the signers of "Some Possible Ideas for Going Forward" think one high priority for progress is activists developing, discussing, and settling on priorities around which to organize multi issue activism in coming months and years. We hope this document can help inspire more conversations within groups and movements that, over time, come to a synthesis. We do this in the spirit of self organization - and as a rejection of preformed inflexible programs and agendas imposed on activists from above. We believe only program that is fully understood and owned by grassroots participants can win lasting change.
To try to help, we have assembled some familiar programmatic ideas rooted in diverse movements and projects. We signers do not each individually necessarily support every single programmatic suggestion given here. Indeed, perhaps none of us supports every single suggestion much less all the specific wording. Instead, we all support having a widespread discussion of these worthy ideas and of other ideas that emerge from the process, to arrive at widely supported program for left activists.
Some Possible Economic Programmatic Ideas
A left agenda might, for example, pursue four central economic goals - better quality of daily economic experience, more fairness, better production priorities, and increased mutual compassion.
For example, new economic program might seek: (1) a law forbidding capital export and relocation without community and worker agreement, and (2) a law delineating punishments for employers who impede nationally mandated economic reforms. Likewise, it could seek controls on work day and work week length - for example seeking 30 hours of work for 40 hours pay. It might demand that the maximum penalty for owners violating the spirit and intent of such laws would be nationalization of their businesses under the management of currently employed workers.
Similarly, new economic program might propose: (1) reducing inequality, (2) reorienting productive potentials to meet social needs, and (3) enlarging economic democracy.
For example, new economic program might propose sharply progressive property, asset, and income taxes, with no loopholes, as well as a dramatically-increased minimum wage, say $20 an hour, and perhaps a guaranteed income for all, coupled with a new profit tax that would be proportional to inequities in each firm’s pay scale. The more oppressive the pay scale, the higher the profit tax.
Due to a new minimum wage law, minimum pay would rise dramatically. Due to a new pay equity tax, industries with a more equitable pay scale would have more after-tax resources. Not only could more equitably structured firms use these extra funds to further improve work conditions and increase their social contribution, they could generally out-compete less socially responsible firms. New property and asset taxes would dramatically diminish differences in wealth.
New economic program might usefully label all these innovations redistributive and repeatedly explain why redistribution from the rich to the poor is both morally justified and socially essential. Perhaps this part of a new program could be called “reclamation of stolen riches.”
New economic program could seek a comprehensive full employment policy arising from campaigns to rebuild infrastructure and, in particular, to attain sustainable energy policies, as well as via the shift to a shorter work week. It could include comprehensive adult education and job training, and a comprehensive social support system for those unable to work, whatever the reason.
Moreover, beyond material equity, new economic program could also advocate that workers should all have work conditions and responsibilities suitable to their personal development and to their responsibility to contribute to society’s well being. Why should some people endure boring, dangerous, subordinate, and rote conditions, a new movement might ask, while other people enjoy challenging, fulfilling, empowering, and varied conditions? New program could reveal that fairness is not only attaining equity of wealth and pay, but also equity of conditions of work and life.
Using this principle as a long term touchstone, new program could seek to build and support workers’ councils empowered to conceive, demand, and work to implement job redefinition as well as to win increasing say over the pace, goal, and organization of work for the workers who do it. Such a program could emphasize that work can and should be a demanding but rewarding part of people’s lives, rather than an alienating, debilitating, energy and dignity sapping affront to people’s life potentials.
Regarding investment priorities, new economic program could propose tax incentives for socially useful production and tax disincentives and indeed, legal prosecution, for wasteful and socially harmful production. This would help foster production to meet real needs and potentials. Indeed, such a new program could indicate precisely how to successfully regulate, punish, and even nationalize under workers control any business or industry deemed by an independent citizens bureau and public plebiscite to be destructive of the public good. While this might initially point at Walmart scale businesses, in time, of course, it would get at capitalist institutions per se.
Of course, major change in economic priorities that a new program could emphasize could include a massive cut in military spending. Further, new program could propose that existing military bases be converted to centers for ecological clean-up, to new schools for local communities, to workplaces for developing low income housing, or to new centers of clean transportation or energy production. Funding for the new centers of social creativity could persist simply being the old military funding now put to desirable ends and similarly resident GIs or others seeking new employment could be retrained on site, to work in the converted bases.
Regarding economic democracy and participation, new program could work for the formation of consumer and worker organizations to watchdog product quality, guard against excessive pricing, advise about product redefinition, and participate in plant, industry, and community collective consumption decisions with open books and full investigative rights. Beyond these first steps, new program could clarify that the ultimate goal is the full democratization of economic decision making and the initiation of a national public project to develop new institutions for work, consumption, and allocation.
In short, new economic program could: (1) ratify the public’s suspicion that the basic problem with our economy is that capitalist institutions make capitalists prefer war production, persistent unemployment, and homelessness to a working class able to demand a bigger piece of the pie and control over what kind of pie is baked; and, (2) propose uncompromising changes that redress existing grievances, create conditions hat are more just and humane, and establish a new balance of power conducive to winning more fundamental changes, including new defining institutions in the future.
Some Possible Education Programmatic Ideas
A new education program could note that existing schools create subservient and exploitable future workers by providing most students minimal literacy, virtually no dignity or sense of self worth, plus maximum training in enduring boredom and obeying orders.
New education program could explain that schools accomplish all this destruction and distortion by incorporating differences in teacher-student ratios, in resources per student, and in teacher expectations and training—all on top of different conditions of home life, community relations, access to information and comfortable learning conditions, that simply multiply the injustice.
To foster educational change new program could highlight the need to overcome corporate agendas and existing institutional pressures with our own alternatives. It could reveal that to have good education for all we must have a society promising full employment at jobs that require and utilize people’s full capabilities, including facility at decision-making, ample knowledge about society, and expectations of success and participation.
New education program could also pressure for specific pedagogic changes in how schools and classes are conducted both during school hours, and also for surrounding communities in off hours. To enumerate these changes, new program could advocate a national debate about curriculum reform, improved teaching methods and enriched teacher-student relations, improved resources for schools, and increased community involvement and benefit.
New education program could also seek specific goals for education. For example, to reduce class size to a maximum of 20 students per teacher in all schools and to equalize resources per student across all schools, including architecture, computers, books, and food, and, of course, to guarantee free education (through college) for anyone who wants it.
New education program could seek specific funds to staff all schools at night for community meetings and remedial and adult education. Space to meet and engage with others is a huge factor in successful community organizing, and perhaps public schools, at night, could become that space. And finally, new program could seek that funding for education comes from corporate profit taxes and from private progressive taxes collected at the national level to guarantee that regions attain educational parity.
Some Possible Race Programmatic Ideas
New program addressing the pivotal problem of race in the U.S. and societies around the world could seek to ensure that people can freely have multiple cultural and social backgrounds and commitments, including providing the space and resources necessary for people to positively express their views, celebrations, languages, and values.
New program addressing race could explicitly recognize that rights and values exist regardless of race, religion, or cultural allegiances, so that while society protects all people’s right to affiliate freely, its core values are universal for every community.
New program addressing race could guarantee free entry and exit to and from all cultural communities including affirming that communities that do have free entry and exit can be under the complete self determination of their members, so long as their policies and actions don't conflict with society's broader norms of equity and justice. This could include amnesty for immigrants and open borders for all refugees.
But, mainly, new program addressing race could prioritize directly redressing violations of race equity and justice. For example, new program could emphasize confronting the institutions of racist and national oppression, seek community control of police, end mass incarceration, and could seek to reverse the legacies of these same phenomena by way of reparations for Black and Native American communities. New program might categorically reject the notion that "...a rising tide raises all boats..." and the notion that broad and progressive economic reforms such as those supported elsewhere in this call ipso facto resolve racist and national oppression.
New Program addressing race could therefore go beyond universal aims to highlight specific measures needed to repair the damage of hundreds of years of oppression to racial and cultural communities. This would necessitate examining all areas of life including the economy, education, healthcare, politics and law enforcement, in each case seeking to determine innovations required beyond those that are universal for all, precisely to avoid bias that leaves racial communities with less than universally acclaimed and sought benefits.
Some Possible Gender/Kinship Programmatic Ideas
New program addressing the pivotal problems of gender and kinship could emphasize the need to not privilege certain types of family formation and sexuality over others but instead to actively support all types of families and lifestyles consistent with society’s other broad equitable norms and practices.
It could promote children’s well-being and affirm society’s responsibility for all its children, including affirming the right of diverse types of families to have children and to provide them with love and a sense of rootedness and belonging. It could minimize or eliminate age-based permissions, preferring non-arbitrary means for determining when an individual is old or young enough to participate in economic, political or other activities, or to receive benefits/privileges.
It could respect marriage and other lasting relations among adults as religious, cultural, or social practices, but reject marriage as a way to gain financial benefits or social status.
It could respect care giving as a valuable function including making care giving a part of every citizen’s social responsibilities, or pursue other worthy means to ensure equitable burdens and benefits.
It could affirm diverse expressions of sexual pleasure, personal identity, and mutual intimacy while ensuring that each person honors the autonomy, humanity, and rights of others.
It could seek to provide diverse, empowering sex education, including legal prohibitions against all non-consensual sex.
And mainly, given the world we now live in, new program addressing gender and kinship could fight to reverse decades of discrimination’s residual effects and persistent elements, including protecting the rights of women to control their own bodies on the one hand, and to enjoy equal benefits and responsibilities throughout all parts of society, thus seeking abortion rights, day care opportunities, and equal payment requirements.
Some Possible International Relations Programmatic Ideas
Today's policy makers view foreign policy as a way to maintain a flow of riches and wealth out of other countries into one’s own, while ensuring fealty and obedience and curtailing efforts at establishing new relations of true national independence much less social renovation anywhere in the world to avoid their having a showcase effect. In contrast, a proper foreign policy for any country would respect the integrity of other nations and simultaneously seek a human-serving society at home. New foreign policy program could emphasize:
• Cessation of all arms shipments abroad.
• Cessation of any aid abroad intended for the hands of police or other potentially repressive agencies, such as occupying armies.
• Elimination of all U.S. or other nations's overseas military bases with half the funds saved from such closings returned to the Home country for solving domestic problems and half applied to aid to poor countries in the form of no-strings attached infrastructure improvements, job and skills training, equipment grants, food aid, and privileged buyer status for many goods on the international market.
• An end to the use of military force as an instrument of national policy.
• Use of aid and trade, and foreign policy in general, to demonstrate and provide solidarity with struggles for social justice, democracy, and self determination everywhere in the world to benefit all parties, but mostly those who are weaker and poorer.
Some Possible Health Programmatic Ideas
A new health program could emphasize that civilized health care and conditions for our society must involve three main components: prevention, universal care for the ill, and cost cutting. At a minimum a new health program might seek:
• Improved preventive medicine, including increased public education about health-care risks and prevention, a massive campaign around diet, laws against and penalties for corporate activity that subverts health in employees, consumers or neighbors, and provision for community centers for exercise and public health education.
• Universal health care for the ill, including a single-payer system with the government providing comprehensive and equally fine coverage for all citizens.
• Reassessment of training programs for doctors and nurses to expand the number of qualified health workers and to better utilize the talents of those already trained rather than simply aggrandize those at the top of the pyramid of all involved.
• And, as well, civilian review over drug company policies including price controls and severe penalties for profit seeking at the expense of public health up to and including nationalization under civilian control and workers self management, plus similar attention to the medical impact of all institutions in society—for example, the health effects of work conditions and product definitions and components.
Such a campaign could point out that the single-payer system would save tens of billions on billing, collection, and bureaucracy, but, perhaps even more important, would improve the quality of care for all and move us toward a caring and mutual aid conception of life, rather than me firsts. It could also advocate saving billions more, to be allotted to preventive medicine and treatment, by establishing limits on the incomes of health professionals and the profits pharmaceutical and other medical companies could earn. If additional funding was required, it could come from punitive taxes on unhealthful products such as cigarettes, alcohol, and unsafe automobiles, etc.
The overall guideline for health program would be that illness should be reduced as much as possible, the quality of health care should be raised as much as possible, and the costs of these improvements should be paid by those who have gotten rich at others’ expense.
Some Possible Ecology Programmatic Ideas
A new ecological program could establish a department of ecological balance to develop a list of necessary clean-up steps, energy innovations, and steps to reduce global warming and mitigate its impact, and, in general, policy to preserve the ecology.
Beyond this, new ecology program could argue that clean-up funds should come from a reparations tax on current polluters and prior beneficiaries of unclean industrial operations.
The critical innovation in a new program’s approach to ecological sanity, however, could be to open a national public debate about the relation between our basic economic and social institutions and the environment. For example, new program could begin the process of clarifying that we need institutions attuned to ecological costs and benefits and that we must experiment with non-market approaches to allocation, rather than trying to police the inevitable ecological ill-effects that markets routinely produce.
And, of course, new ecology program that was sane, much less highly worthy, would have to formulate a truly massive campaign to turn the tide against global warming, water depletion, and other life threatening trends.
Obviously the above list of programmatic possibilities, culled from projects and endeavors around the world, could be enlarged to include, for example, more comprehensive immigration program, drug program, infrastructure program, diversity program, arts and culture program, science program, and so on. In addition, the ideas offered could be refined, improved, altered, and augmented as grassroots experiences require.
Recent progressive electoral efforts and mass campaigns around the world have revealed a huge reservoir of desire and of creative willingness on the parts of large sectors of populations, and very especially young people, to seek change. Many of those newly participating in progressive activity are already within reach of supporting these and additional programmatic ideas as they are refined and augmented by grassroots voices.
Ultimately attaining worthy new program will entail thinking outside the box, as many emerging struggles around the world have urged, noting that the box is capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and authoritarianism. The box is the imposed mental straitjacket of thoughts and practices typical of all too many countries' political life.
As just a few current prominent examples, why couldn’t the energy generated during Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president in the U.S., Jeremy Corbyn's victory as opposition party leader in the UK, or Podemos' electoral attempts in Spain come over to sustained, militant commitment to suitably refined and improved programmatic ideas of the sort we propose in this document?
Campaigns need money, often a serious stumbling block, but Sanders, for example in the U.S. case, has reached 5 million donors giving an average of over $25 each. Why couldn’t a program like what is offered above, but adapted and improved, attract all those 5 million people and many more, in the U.S., and do comparably well elsewhere in the world, attracting aroused constituencies to contribute creatively to plans for on-going mass activism?
Similarly, in the U.S., as its current prominent case, Sanders has suffered immeasurably at the hands of what he calls rigged elections, as have others here and elsewhere, but another general problem, even beyond the structure of elections, is the corporately organized, profit seeking, and horribly motivated media that operates in country after country. Why couldn’t a prominent campaign built around new program include renovating electoral practices and also taking back communications in countries around the world, which are certainly desirable aims in their own right, as well as bedrock steps on the path to larger programmatic successes?
Despite current progressive electoral energy and, in some places, major movement gains, we have a long way to go to win lasting fundamental change. Partly vile institutions at the core of our society manipulatively and coercively twist our motives and awareness. Partly a right wing surge is also occurring. And partly the public has still not thrown off cynicism and a trembling fear of enduring even worse outcomes if we try to seek better. However, it is not impossible for people to take that crucial step. And when that happens, the massive support many popular projects have lately revealed could become a foundation upon which to go further in the coming period.
We offer the many programmatic thoughts in this document hoping to encourage a movement-wide discussion of where we go and what we stand for as we all attempt to counter the forces of darkness and irrationality with light, hope, and vision.
Michael Albert, Z Communications / U.S.
Greg Albo, Centre for Social Justice / Canada
Gar Alperovitz, The Next System / U.S.
Bridget Anderson, COMPAS / UK
Kehinde Andrews, Organization of Black Unity / UK
Gordon Asher, Activist/Scholar / Scotland
Omar Barghouti, BDS / Palestine
Walden Bello, Focus on the Global South / Philippines
Elaine Bernard, Labor and Worklife / U.S.
Peter Bohmer, Economics for Everyone / U.S.
Leslie Cagan, Peace and Justice Organizer / U.S.
Noam Chomsky, Internationalist / U.S.
Savvina Chowdhury, Rachel Corrie Foundation / U.S.
Alexandre Christoyannopoulos, Activist/Scholar / UK
Marjorie Cohn, Activist/Scholar / U.S.
Ben Dangl, Journalist/Editor / U.S.
Heather Day, CAGJ, / U.S.
Cindy Domingo, Electoral Activist / U.S.
Steve Early, Labor organizer / U.S.
Joe Emersberger, UNIFOR / Canada
Barbara Epstein, Activist/Scholar / U.S.
Mark Evans, What About Classism / UK
Vincent Emanuele, IVAW / U.S.
Laura Flanders, The Laura Flanders Show / U.S.
Bill Fletcher, Talk Show Host / U.S.
Bill Gallegos, Environmental Justice Trainer / U.S.
Irene Gendzier, Activist/Scholar / U.S.
Andrej Grubacic, Global Commons / U.S./Balkans
Arun Gupta, Independent Journalist, U.S.
Thomas Herndon, Univ. of Mass. / U.S.
Sam Husseini, IPA / U.S.
Bruno Jantti, Investigative Journalist / Finland
Antti Jauhiainen, Parecon Finland / Finland
Robert Jensen, Activist/Scholar / U.S.
Ramsey Kanan, PM Press / U.S.
Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence / U.S.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, Tikkun / U.S.
Matt Lester, Economics for Everyone, / U.S.
Joris Leverink, ROAR / Netherlands/Turkey
Rodolfo Leyva, Middlesex University / UK
Binu Mathew, CounterCurrents / India
Scott McLarty, Green Party / U.S.
Auset Marian Lewis, Journalist / U.S.
Mandisi Majavu, Activist/Negritude / South Africa
Ben Manski, Liberty Tree Foundation / U.S.
David Marty, Activist/Scholar / Spain
Robert W. McChesney, Univ Illinois / U.S.
Suren Moodliar, Global Action / U.S.
Larry Mosqueda, Movement for Justice & Peace / U.S.
John Narayan, University of Warwick / UK
Immanuel Ness, CUNY / U.S.
Eugene Nulman, Critical Social Research / UK
Paul Ortiz, University of Florida / U.S.
Garry Owens, Kindle the Flame / U.S.
Leo Panitch, Socialist Register / Canada
Michael Parenti, Activist/Scholar / U.S.
Cynthia Peters, World Education / U.S.
Justin Podur, Activist/Scholar / Canada
Philippe Prevost, Activist/Scholar / France
Nikos Raptis, Activist/Scholar / Greece
Jack Rasmus, St Marys College / U.S.
Jerome Roos, ROAR Magazine / The Netherlands
Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Internationalist / Portugal
Saskia Sassen, Internationalist / U.S.
Lydia Sargent, Z Communications / U.S.
Stephen Shalom, New Politics / U.S.
Marina Sitrin, Lawyer/Author / U.S.
Norman Solomon, RootsAction / U.S.
Sarah Stockholm. Showing Up for Racial Justice / U.S.
Paul Street, Journalist/Author / U.S.
Verena Stresing, Activist/Scholar / France/Germany
David Swanson, WarIsACrime / U.S.
Laurie Tuller, Activist/Scholar / France
Fernando Vegas, Retired Supreme Court Judge / Venezuela
Tom Vouloumanos, NDP / Canada
Greg Wilpert, Real News / Ecuador/U.S.
Cat Zavis, Network of Spiritual Progressives / U.S.
Florian Zollmann, Activist/Scholar / UK/Germany