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Out of Sight reading group – Chapters 1 & 2

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Today is the second Out of Sight virtual reading group. Today we’re focused on Chapter 1 – Standing up to Corporate Domination: A Brief History and Chapter 2 – Workplace Catastrophes.

Loomis is available to answer your questions so just toss them in the comments.

I have one for him (and everyone): If we take it as a given that corporations have always been at war with the worker, is it possible to achieve a form of capitalism that isn’t a constant battle between the .01% and its enablers and everyone else? And if so, how?

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  • liberalrob

    Perhaps OT, apologies in advance:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/theminewars/

    The Mine Wars

    Go inside the coal miners’ bitter battle for dignity at the dawn of the 20th century with The Mine Wars. The struggle over the material that fueled America led to the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War and turned parts of West Virginia into a bloody war zone.

    • This is based on James Green’s new book The Devil Is Here in These Hills. Likely to be very good.

  • Malaclypse

    If we take it as a given that corporations have always been at war with the worker, is it possible to achieve a form of capitalism that isn’t a constant battle between the .01% and its enablers and everyone else?

    I don’t see how to improve on this as an answer:

    The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

    Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.

    • To speak to Shakezula’s point here, yes, it’s a constant battle and I can’t see how that battle would ever actually end short of full communism. In which the same battle would probably erupt again in a new fashion. At best, capitalism can be tamed. That’s a noble goal though. It’s also one that has been done in the past, to a reasonably effective extent.

      • Brett

        I don’t think it will end unless somebody figures out how to organize large-scale, diversified production of goods and services without specialization of labor, hierarchical bureaucracies, and so forth. You just fight to keep the folks with greater power in the hierarchies accountable to folks farther down, just like what we do with democratic political governance.

  • Miss_Led

    The book is well-written; it is also infuriating.

    It seems to me that global capitalism is just extending the practices of colonialism — land grabbing, enslavement, violence against indigenous groups, seizing resources, etc. Actions that would perhaps not be tolerated if perpetrated today by a state entity are tolerated when performed by corporations.

    • Yes, that’s certainly true.

      All one can say is that it’s absolutely necessary to make demands that corporations be held accountable. The way to do that has to be through the law, barring some vague global revolution that just isn’t going to happen. People have to be respected whether they are want to become westernized and live in Bangkok and Mexico City or they want to remain on their farms and in their villages. International law combined with consumer efforts in rich world countries to support the efforts on the ground of exploited workers has to be the way forward, I think.

  • Thom

    I haven’t yet read Out of Sight. But I have read some Foner. How can you, as a fourth-rate historian, have the temerity to publish a book, nay two books, with another on the way?

    • Is this the time when I am supposed to start throwing feces at critics?

      • Thom

        Perhaps just shitting on them directly. Fine with me if the critic is Craigo (whoever that may be).

    • bexley

      Damn you – I was coming here to riff on that. I demand Loomis throws tomatoes at you from the back row to discourage this sort of thing.

  • Linnaeus

    If we take it as a given that corporations have always been at war with the worker, is it possible to achieve a form of capitalism that isn’t a constant battle between the .01% and its enablers and everyone else?

    Honestly, I doubt it. Class is central to capitalism and from there, it follows not unreasonably that class conflict will always be a feature of capitalist economies. We may find ways to mitigate the effects of that conflict, but it will always be a struggle to do so. We may also decide to accept that we will always need to fight these struggles in the absence of an alternative.

    • Yeah, I think this is how I see it.

    • liberalrob

      I don’t think it’s possible; but I also don’t think it’s necessary, or even desirable, to try to completely eliminate that tension. Properly channeled, capitalism is a way for society to accommodate the large concentrations of wealth required to undertake big projects without resorting to relying on the state to shoulder the entire burden; and it is well known that in general private capital is more efficient in accomplishing project goals than the state. At the same time, a balance must be struck as the interests of private capital will not always align with the needs of society as a whole; in those cases the state must be able to step in and undertake those projects. Given human nature there will always be an incentive for the owners of capital to abuse their power over their workers, and for the workers to be envious of the wealth of the .01%. That envy can be prevented from turning into resentment if the differential in relative wealth is controlled and a satisfactory level of it is allowed to flow downwards to the workers, and abuse can be prevented through establishing firm rules and adequate (and effective) grievance procedures.

      These principles are not rocket science and are well-known. The reason we seem to be going backwards is our public institutions have been co-opted by private capital, also self-evident to anyone with eyes. Until private capital is reined in and its stranglehold over our political process is broken, we will continue to see it rig the system more and more in its favor. There seems to be no will in the judicial system to spare the public from painfully re-learning the lessons of the early years of the Industrial Revolution, and the public (at least a significant fraction of it) seems to be waiting for a strongman to come in and fix it. The only question is how much pain will need to be endured, how bad things will have to get before that inevitable paroxysm of reform occurs.

  • Jake the antisoshul soshulist

    Corporate colonialism has been going on since the beginning of the twentieth century at the latest. United Fruit in Central America for example.
    As a side bar, I had an uncle who was in the Marines in Nicaragua in the 1930s. I cannot find it now, we had a picture of Smedley Butler meeting with Nicaraguan officials that he took at that time.

    • It’s been going on before that. The American sugar companies wrested control of Hawaii a half-century earlier. And really, the early slave trade is probably the proper start of this history.

    • so-in-so

      The British East India Company is sad.

      • Thom

        Also Dutch East India Company–corporate control of territory in furtherance of trade was the purpose of such companies.

        • Linnaeus

          Add the Hudson’s Bay Company to that list.

  • Linnaeus

    While reading the first chapter of Out of Sight, I was reminded of a line from a lecture that David Harvey gave in the wake of the 2009 financial meltdown: “Capitalism never solves its crises; it moves them around geographically.” Erik’s book strikes me as providing some good evidence for that view.

    • More now than ever too. And to great impact for not only the corporate bottom line but the social pressure that corporations face when no one can see what is going on.

      • Troll

        Troll comment deleted

        • Jeeze, I turn my back for five seconds.

          • It warmed up a bit in the last couple of days so Jennie may have come out of its den where it is in hibernation.

      • slothrop

        The book so far reads like an avalanche of disparate historical events explaining the evils of “globalization.” I have only read the first 2 chapters. By the end of chapter 1, I was eager to find some better understanding of your understanding of globalization. “Globalization” is an abstraction that suffers (or benefits) from considerable theoretical inflation. This seems to me particularly true with respect to someone like Harvey. He tends to completely reject a “reformed” capitalism – nothing like this is possible in a world requiring zero growth. There are many other critiques of globalization.

        I’m just wondering if you have some guiding star of globalization theory to anchor all of these historical minutia? (Please don’t take this as an attack on your work – I’ve been reading this blog for many years, and have only recently commented – so, I’ve always admired your work).

        • I wouldn’t say that globalization is evil. I would say that the current global economic system has many evils within it. Globalization itself is neither good nor bad. It’s global capitalism as currently constructed that is the problem.

          • slothrop

            Again, what do you mean by “globalization”? I’m just trying to find a way to contextualize all of this jumble of historical detail with a theory of globalization. Is your critique guided by structural Marxism, autonomism, “Virtual Senate” conspiracy-oriented (and I don’t mean this as an attack on Chomsky, or whatever) agency-centric leftist theories that favor a strategically united global elite guiding “globalization,” etc.

            • As I have stated before, I am not theoretical at all. I see a practical historical and contemporary problem here and I try to provide practical solutions. I don’t even know most of what you state above means. I am just not very interested in larger theoretical frameworks. We need those people. I am not that person.

              • slothrop

                Okay, for me, this is a problem because, as I’m reading, I began to panic about connecting all of this to “globalization” of which there are so many interpretations!

                Is this common with respect to the publishing of historical analysis? For example, when I read someone like the annales historians, They are certainly guided by some kind of theory of globalizing capital formation (Braudel pretty much rejected Marxist explanations for this).

                • Oh no, history is a sharply untheoretical field. Especially US history, which is where my training is. But even in Latin American history, where I have a subfield, you could write more theoretically if you wanted to get it published by Duke. Otherwise, no. I read snippets of Harvey and Soja and the like as a graduate student in a single seminar once. That’s the entirety of my exposure to theory as a graduate student. And that’s at 2 different institutions. Others may have different experiences, but mine is more common than not.

                  Why would anyone say this was a problem? The book is meant to sell copies. Book publishers hate theory. It’s the same with my monograph. I tell stories. That’s my job.

                  Also, I would have to look up what “lacuna” means. And I have no idea what “prosem” means.

                • liberalrob

                  Political Science is where the theories like Globalization are studied. History is concerned with What Actually Happened.

                • Well, I would probably say History is concerned with what actually happened, why it happened, and what its implications are for understanding the larger context of the past (and for the present, at least for some historians such as myself).

                  But yes, history is not primarily concerned with theory.

    • Yes, I was interested to read about early attempts to move textile jobs to Puerto Rico (p. 46) after the North to South shift.

  • Redbeard

    pp47-48 go over how in the 80s, the public dialogue over capital moving factories out of the USA became a “protectionism” vs. “globalization” choice. “there was and is much room in the American economy for good jobs at home and American corporate investment overseas”
    Off the top of your head, can you offer some examples that don’t fall into the 2 choices?

    • This is a really good question. And not one that is easy to answer. As everyone knows, in the 1970s and 1980s, the public began to take note of the jobs disappearing throughout the nation. That this was happening during the economic hard times of the 70s of course made it even worse, you had incidents like Black Monday in Youngstown getting national attention, etc. And the debate because revolved around free trade in a global economy or protectionism. Too often, that debate was rather fundamentalist. Either a total protection of American jobs from foreign competition, especially Japan at that time, or the erasure of all trade barriers and the move toward the global free market, which obviously won out.

      But I think there is a moderate path to be taken here. It should be the role of the government to ensure that all Americans have the right to a well-paying job or to have a guaranteed income and social services to allow all to live a dignified life. Some of that is going to be ensuring that people are employed in industrial jobs. As I’ve stated many times, there are lots of people who just aren’t fit for college. Could be an intelligence issue, could be temperament, whatever. It doesn’t matter. But these people need to also have the opportunity to go to work at 18 and live a middle-class lifestyle. That requires keeping some jobs in the U.S. At the same time, there are lots of reason to encourage levels of foreign investment as well. I want Bangladeshis to have decent jobs as well and if US investment can help with that, then that’s a positive thing. I don’t think it has to be all one or the other. And I certainly don’t think the current system, with an outsourced globalized economy exploiting the world’s poor while destroying the middle class at home is a workable system.

      So I don’t think it’s about not falling into the 2 choices but rather where on the paradigm these choices lie. I don’t have specific examples per se, but it could be government engaging in some protectionist policies to, say, keep the North Carolina textile mills open, while also working with other nations to provide some jobs there too that would also supply the American market. And given how much the U.S. exports and how much we import from non-US companies, there’s a lot of reasons to promote global integration in many ways.

      Just not the system we have now.

  • Troll

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  • Troll

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  • Brett

    If we take it as a given that corporations have always been at war with the worker, is it possible to achieve a form of capitalism that isn’t a constant battle between the .01% and its enablers and everyone else?

    You’d need structural changes in laws and practices concerning corporate governance designed to increase employee control within larger firms, as well as a broadening of the returns from capital investment without undermining the ability of the economy to consolidate capital as needed for investments that need it.

    There’s a couple of ways you could do the former, and the latter would probably flow from that. Require some employee say in picking their immediate supervisors, require that any corporation distribute 50% of its common stock among all supervisory and non-supervisory employees in an equal fashion (while allowing them to elect half the representatives on the Board of Directors), and so forth. Maybe more tax favorability for large-scale cooperative setups like Mondragon.

  • jimpharo

    Perhaps OT here, but I’m turning into a contrarian on this question. I increasingly see reason to believe that we are at the beginning of a new era of social relations — one that, more or less for the first time, is based on something other than scarcity and survival.

    The basis survival needs of humans are well within the ability of humans to provide. Much of the current version of capitalism remains based on a notion that we need to work to provide for our needs and wants. But surely we don’t have to work at the same level that we did 50 years or 150 years ago.

    I suspect the current populist reaction will reveal that we have indulged the needs of the moneyed class far too much, and that an ideology that once again emphasizes the needs and wants of the large majority will emerge. That won’t of course end the age-old debate of haves vs. have-nots, but it will put it on a playing field in which there will be basic expectations that every human has a right to certain basic of both survival and dignity.

    The ability to threaten survival has been a powerful tool of the moneyed class (the “Patriarchy,” if you will, since that’s what it is). Without it, the rest of us stand a better shot at justice — which is what we’ll be debating, rather than how necessary it is for people to show up for do-nothing ‘jobs.’

    Naive? Of course! Looking forward to our robot overlords? With anticipation!

    • I completely disagree and I think it runs counter to how power has always worked in history.

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