Monday, September 12, 2005

CAPITALISM CAN'T COPE - An Anarchist Perspective on Katrina

Some Anarchist Fodder from the Anarchist Age Weekly - by Joe Toscano

"The central problem in Mississippi and Louisiana isn't race or class or the Bush administration's incompetence. The problem is capitalism's inability to deal with a crisis... In an age of mass communication, it's hard to know why it has taken the fourth estate so long to get out the 'Katrina' story... The Louisiana and Mississippi floods could turn out to be an event that shakes the bull mastiff hold that corporate capitalism has on the public imagination..."

CAPITALISM CAN'T COPE: The central problem in Mississippi and Louisiana isn't race or class or the Bush administration's incompetence. The problem is capitalism's inability to deal with a crisis. People find themselves in the deplorable state they are in because there is no mechanism within a capitalist society to deal with catastrophic loss.

Insurance and philanthropy - capitalism's customary response to disaster, cannot cope with a calamity as big as Hurricane Katrina. The tardy and inadequate response to what is happening in the South is directly related to the role the State plays in the United States. The US government is essentially in control of a State apparatus that acts as a disciplinary force. Over the past 30 years, the call for smaller and smaller government has resulted in the privatisation and outsourcing of services that were primarily the responsibility of the State.

The privatisation of welfare, health, education and prison services has dramatically reduced the role the State plays in providing for the needs of its citizens. The State has been reduced to its enforcement role. When the floods hit, people had to rely on themselves to survive; privatised services, delivery systems broke down, order broke down. Those who best survived were those who had the guns to impose their will on those around them. It's interesting to note the State was unable to respond until the armed forces were brought in to distribute aid and reassert their authority by quickly curtailing the activities of those elements in society who were filling the power vacuum created by the State's inability to act.

It's quite possible we are witnessing the end of the privatisation experiment. It's obvious that it's not possible for private organisations to deliver services and make a profit, without cheating those they are contracted to provide services for. We are drawing to the end of an era, an era that has seen the gains made by ordinary people during the 20th century, lost in a fire sale of State assets to the private sector.

Governments like the Bush administration that ignore this lesson, do so at their own peril. The private sector has never been able to deliver services equitably; to ignore these lessons is a recipe for disaster as we are witnessing in Mississippi and Louisiana for unnecessary human suffering and misery.



In an age of mass communication, it's hard to know why it has taken the fourth estate so long to get out the 'Katrina' story. The relentless march of the hurricane was documented in monotonous detail. The reporters that were left in the area were able to post out pictures as the sea rose. The reporting in the days following the hurricane was almost non existent until stories about 'looting' made the headlines.

The plight of the tens of thousands of people left in New Orleans was ignored. It's hard to understand how this could have happened when satellite technology is available that can allow the US government to target an individual standing behind a brick wall in Afghanistan. The US administration has access to information at its fingertips. It could if it wanted to, have beamed images around the world. Incredibly the American Red Cross was denied entry into the flooded areas to provide aid for the victims because those 'handling' the crisis wanted to force people to leave the area.

If the fourth estate is the eyes and ears of the people, it's hard to understand how they could not have known what was going on. The reporters in the field would have known what was happening. Were editorial decisions made to keep a lid on news? Did the Bush administration pressure the media to place an embargo on news from the worst affected areas? Was this a news story that the US administration didn't want anybody to hear about? I don't expect we'll ever know the full extent of censorship that was imposed on news coming out of the disaster zone.

What we need to understand is that news is not value free. It just doesn't appear in your newspapers, on your TV screens and on the radio. It is fashioned, refashioned, moulded and remoulded to suit the prevailing ideological concerns of those who seize power. The control of the dissemination of information is, despite access to mass communication technology, a continuing concern when the means communication are owned and controlled by a rapidly decreasing number of people pushing the same conservative agenda.


MORE PERSONAL OBSERVATION: There are moments in time when one event can puncture the complacency of a lifetime. The Louisiana and Mississippi floods could turn out to be an event that shakes the bull mastiff hold that corporate capitalism has on the public imagination.

To date, every sign that society can't keep on producing commodities to create ever increasing profits for a decreasing number of people, irrespective of the human and social costs, has been ignored. Melting glaciers, the disappearing Siberian permafrost, increasing greenhouse emissions, the ozone hole and massive deforestation have all been dismissed.

Scientific data has been ignored; the globalization juggernaut keeps rolling on, the consumer goods created the soma for a population that equates consumerism with security.

In one devastating moment the certainties of an eon have been dashed. The expectations that we are the masters of our destiny have been shown to be illusory. The manufactured consensus created by a sycophantic fourth estate has been punctured by the jagged reality of mass destruction. The bloated corpses in the first world - a stark reminder that no-one is immune to natural realities. Most importantly of all, the assumptions that global capitalism are based on, lay shattered in the public imagination. Levees can be temporarily rebuilt; cities can be rehabilitated but public confidence in the mantra that 'production for productions sake and profit for profits sake' will never again capture the public imagination.

The doubt lingers on, long after the images disappear from the plasma screens. The inherent contradictions that underline the assumptions that globalization and corporatisation are based on, have been washed onto the shores of public opinion by the fury of Hurricane Katrina. Only time will tell whether we as individuals and a people choose to heed the warning bells or lemming like rush into the abyss holding onto our plasma screens.

"NEWS": The big news that is currently grabbing media attention is the outbreak of looting that is occurring in Mississippi and Louisiana after hurricane Katrina. It seems that the 'assault' on abandoned, private property by people who are reduced to taking what they need to survive, is just the diversion that is needed to keep the public's mind away from the role the United States government has played in the disaster.

It's important to remember that the majority of people who have died in this man made catastrophe were those who were too destitute to afford a ticket or had a car to get out before the hurricane hit. When the bodies are finally counted, it will turn out to be the poorest citizens in Mississippi and Louisiana who have borne the brunt of the rising greenhouse emissions created by the developed world. Looting by survivors is a logical response to the situation they find themselves in. Locked out of the 'good' life, forced to live a hand to mouth existence for generations, this is one way they believe they can achieve justice in a world that has continued to deny them justice.

The tragedy about this sorry saga is the failure of government in the United States at local, State and Federal level to make contingency plans to deal with the possible threat this part of the country was faced with. What is even more tragic is the US government's inability to make arrangements to evacuate those who didn't have the necessary cash in their pockets to leave.

The lack of planning, the pitiful response in the days following the hurricane is hard to fathom. What has happened isn't an 'act of God'; the woeful manner in which this disaster has been managed is linked to US government policies that have made the rich richer and the poor poorer.

This has occurred as a result of decreasing amounts of State revenue being invested in public infrastructure, services and in the US people. It is a tragedy that those who are bearing the brunt of the Bush administration's overseas adventurism and their domestic policies, are the very same people who have been targeted by Bush and his neo conservative allies.

The destruction that has occurred, and the inability of government to deal with the mess their policies have helped to create, may galvanise people to seek practical, social and political solutions that go beyond electoral politics. The death and destruction that has been caused by hurricane Katrina may be just the catalyst that is needed to bring the international capitalist and globalisation juggernaut to a grinding halt, not just in the US but in the rest of the world.

by Joseph TOSCANO / Libertarian Workers For A Self-Managed Society.

From: Anarchist Age Weekly Review No. 659

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