Where are we in the course of history?


I have long believed that we are at the point of human history where we can make the transition from the culture of war which has dominated us for 5,000 years to a new culture, a culture of peace. As I prepare the CPNN review for 2016 and compare it to the CPNN review that I wrote one year ago for the year 2015, it gives me the chance to reflect on the question: where are we in this transition?

I frame my response in the context of my novella, “I have seen the promised land“, in which I have tried to imagine the stages by which the transition to a culture of peace could take place.

In the novella, I suppose that the system of nation states, led by the Amerian empire, which have come to monopolize the culture of war, will crash, first as an economic collapse, then follwed by a political collapse (such as I witnessed in the Soviet Union during the 1980s). It will be accompanied by attempts to impose fascist governments, such as occurred during the great depression of the 1930’s. To move forward, we will need strong nonviolent movements to resist the movement towards fascism. I imagine that after the crash, governments will abandon the United Nations and leave a void in which cities, which no longer have a culture of war, can take change of a renewed United Nations and thereby manage the transition to a culture of peace.

In my blog last month, I remarked that “the election of Trump promises to embolden fascists everywhere. We already see fascism in Turkey, and it is threatened in Brazil and Venezuela. Not to mention fascist political parties on the rise throughout Europe. Hence, we are aleady challenged to overcome fascism now, before we suffer from the economic collapse. Perhaps that is to our advantage, because the struggle will be more difficult later when economic survival becomes the priority.” More details are provided in the recent CPNN article that quotes the human rights chief of the United Nations, “‘Fascist Rhetoric’ Becoming Commonplace in US and Europe: UN” Let us recall that fascism is simply the extreme form of the culture of war, with all of its eight aspects exaggerated.

In other words, we are already seeing signs of political collapse, even though the global economy continues to struggle along. At the same time, there is no let-up in the various economic contradictions listed by Johan Galtung as the basis of his prediction that the American empire will crash by the year 2020. These contradictions include: 1. between growth and distribution: overproduction relative to demand, 1.4 billion below $ 1/day, 100.000 die/day, 1/4 of hunger [i.e. the widening gap between rich and poor]; 2. between productive and finance economy (currency, stocks,bonds) overvalued, hence crashes, unemployment, contract work; and 3. between production/distribution/consumption and nature: ecocrisis, depletion/pollution, global warming. Not to mention the ever increasing balance of payments deficit of the United States as it imports without exporting, and the economic burden of its military bases around the world.

Another sign of political collapse is suggested in recent speculations that the new government in the United States, may withdraw its support for the United Nations.

As I concluded in last month’s blog: “We are entering a watershed period of human history. Although it is being pushed forward by economic factors, the ultimate determining factor can become the social consciousness of the people themselves.”

Now, let us look at the CPNN reviews for 2015 and 2016. Do they give us cause for optimism? In the reviews, we have given particular attention to the transition to peace in Colombia, as well as advances elsewhere in Latin America. However, as we have discussed previously, the transition to a culture of peace will ultimately have to be global in scope if it is to succeed.

On a global level, our reviews present some evidence that the social consciousness of the people is developing rapidly enough to resist fascism in the coming years? In particular, we see advances in the practice of nonviolence and the development of peace education, as well as continually expanding participation in the International Day of Peace. We have seen advances in confronting terrorism without violence, and, most recently, the strengthening of sanctuary cities, universities and churches in the face of threats by the new Presdient of the United States.

But, as we have often considered, consciousness is not enough. It needs to be accompanied by the development of a new institutional framework, if we are to replace the nation states in a reformed United Nations. Here, it seems we are lagging. There are calls for UN reform, but they do not seem radical enough. There is growth in peace cities, as reviewed by CPNN, but it seems that the growth is not yet sufficient to play a determining role.

Some things can be done immediately. In particular, I have previously proposed the establishment of an Alternative Security Council composed of mayors or parliamentarians from all regions of the world. Such a “Shadow Security Council: would regularly consider the issues faced by the actual UN Security Council and publicize its “decisions” in order to provide an alternative vision of how the issues of war and peace could be managed at a global level. It would provide a first step towards the eventual institutional change that is needed.

There is important work to be done!

How history moves: Economic change precedes; political change follows


(pour la version française, voir en dessous)

When I visited and worked in the Soviet Union and later in Russia I was able to see how history moves. I watched from within as an empire crashed.

The crash of the Soviet empire, foreseen a decade before by Johan Galtung, was first an economic crash, and then secondarily to that, a political crash. The empire crashed economically because it lost the arms race to the West. The West, led by the United States which devoted something like 40% of its budget to the military, forced the Soviet empire to match them, soldier by soldier, boot by boot, rocket by rocket, military scientist by military scientist. But since the Soviet empire had only half the size of the West’s economy, it had to double the percentage of their economy devoted to the arms race.

Hence, it went bankrupt first and the West won.

Once the Soviet economy crashed, the political system crashed on top of it. The people stayed home, the soldiers stayed in their barracks, and the oligarchs, aided by CIA economic advisors, finished the economic collapse by drastically devaluating the ruble. The people stayed home because they were totally alienated from the system. They used to say you could find truth anywhere except in Pravda (which means truth in Russian) and the news anywhere except in Izvestia (which means news in Russian).

In this month’s CPNN bulletin, we see once again how political change lags behind. Here it concerns the solution to the problem of global warming. We have known for many years that to halt the global warming, we need to change from fossil fuels to renewable energy. But politically, we could not make the change. Last year’s global summit of the world’s nations failed to address the challenge of abandoning fossil fuels.

It’s the economic factors that are making the change. Renewable solar energy has become so cheap and readily available that it is more and more replacing energy from fossil fuels. And the faster we change over to renewable energy for economic reasons, the faster the political change will follow.

The first great sociologist, Karl Marx, understood this dynamic when he developed his theory of historical change. Here’s what he wrote in his Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy:

The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

How does this apply the great historical change that we have yet to make: the transition from the culture of war to a culture of peace?

There is a growing psychological and political consciousness around the world that this transition is necessary. The movement for a culture of peace has been inspired by the movement for sustainable development which has been the greatest political movement of the past half century.

But as we are seeing, the movement for sustainable development can only become effective as a sequel to economic changes which make sustainable development possible and profitable.

The sequence of economic change first, political change second, applies equally to the transition towards a culture of peace. A culture of peace will become politically possible after the economy of the culture of war has crashed. When will that come? Too soon, because we are not ready for it!!!

The same economic fate that destroyed the Soviet empire is already far advanced towards the destruction of the American empire – and for the same reason – devotion of the greatest part of the economy to armaments and wars. Johan Galtung predicted in 2004 that the crash would come by the year 2020. The economic crash will be followed by a political crash; Americans and European are already as alienated from their political system as the Russians were in 1989. As evidence, just look at the abstention from voting in national elections.

When the American empire crashes, the rest of the world will crash with it, just as Eastern Europe crashed when the Soviet Union crashed.

At that moment, there will be a window of opportunity to establish a culture of peace – but that can happen only if we are prepared with institutional frameworks that can replace the nation states. If we are not prepared, we risk the replacement of the present system by a fascist system – just as happened after the crash of 1929 in Europe (and almost in the United States as well).

Whereas the question of global warming and changes of energy sources are matters of many decades, the question of the collapse of the economy of the culture of war is a matter of only a few years. Like the collapse of the Soviet Union, it threatens to catch us by surprise.

I work with cities in the hopes that they will be able to provide an institutional framework to replace the role of the nation states as the basis for the United Nations Security Council (See blog of June 1), but the work is painstakingly slow. Too slow. History is moving faster than us!

      • Comment bouge l’histoire: Les changements economiques passent avant le politique !

        Durant les années où j’ai voyagé et travaillé en URSS, puis plus tard en Russie, j’ai vu comment l’Histoire bouge. Je regardais de l’intérieur pourquoi et comment s’écrase un empire.

        Le crash de l’empire soviétique, prévu une dizaine d’années auparavant par Johan Galtung, fut d’abord un crash économique, puis ensuite seulement, un crash politique. L’empire s’est écrasé économiquement parce qu’il a perdu la course aux armements à l’Ouest. L’Occident, dirigé par les Etats-Unis, qui consacrait environ 40% de son budget à l’armée, força l’empire soviétique à les égaler, soldat contre soldat, botte contre botte, fusée contre fusée, scientifique militaire contre scientifique militaire ! L’empire soviétique ayant seulement la moitié de la taille de l’économie de l’Ouest, il a dû consacrer le double à la course aux armements et a donc fait une ponction enorme dans son économie.

        Par conséquent, il a fait faillite et l’Occident a gagné !

        Une fois que l’économie soviétique est tombée, le système politique s’est écrasé à son tour. Les citoyens sont restés chez eux, les soldats sont restés dans leurs casernes, et les oligarques, aidés par des conseillers économiques de la CIA, ont terminé l’effondrement économique en dévaluant le rouble. Les citoyens sont restés chez eux parce qu’ils étaient totalement aliénés au système et qu’ils n’avaient plus confiance en lui. Je les ai même entendu dire que l’on pouvait trouver la vérité partout, sauf dans Pravda (qui signifie la vérité en russe) et les nouvelles partout sauf dans l’Izvestia (ce qui veut dire nouvelles en russe)

        Revenons à l’actualité, dans le bulletin de CPNN ce mois-ci, nous voyons une fois de plus que les changements politiques sont à la traine en ce qui concerne le problème du réchauffement climatique. Nous savons depuis de nombreuses années que pour arrêter le réchauffement de la planète, nous devons quitter les combustibles fossiles et développer les énergies renouvelables. Hélas, politiquement, nous ne pouvons pas faire de changement. Le sommet mondial des nations du monde de l’an dernier n’a pas réussi à relever le défi d’abandonner les combustibles fossiles.

        Ce sont les facteurs économiques qui mènent la danse . L’énergie solaire renouvelable est devenue si peu chère et si facilement disponible qu’elle commence à remplacer l’énergie des combustibles fossiles. Plus vite nous passerons à l’énergie renouvelable pour des raisons économiques, plus vite le changement politique suivra.

        Le premier grand sociologue, Karl Marx, a bien compris cette dynamique quand il a développé sa théorie du changement historique. Voici ce qu’il a écrit dans sa préface à la “Critique de l’économie politique.”

        “L’ensemble de ces rapports de production constitue la structure économique de la société, la base concrète sur laquelle s’élève une superstructure juridique et politique et à la­quel­le correspondent des formes de conscience sociales déterminées. Le mode de production de la vie matérielle conditionne le processus de vie sociale, politique et intellectuel en général. Ce n’est pas la conscience des Hommes qui détermine leur être; c’est inversement leur être social qui détermine leur conscience. À un certain stade de leur développement, les forces productives matérielles de la société entrent en contradiction avec les rapports de production existants, ou, ce qui n’en est que l’expression juridique, avec les rapports de propriété au sein desquels elles s’étaient mues jusqu’alors. De formes de développement des forces productives qu’ils étaient ces rapports en deviennent des entraves. Alors s’ouvre une époque de révolution sociale. Le changement dans la base économique bouleverse plus ou moins rapidement toute l’énorme superstructure.”

        Comment cela s’appliquera t-il au grand changement historique que nous avons encore à faire: le passage de la culture de la guerre à une culture de la paix?

        Une conscience psychologique et politique croissante apparait dans le monde entier sur la necessité de cette transition. Le mouvement pour une culture de la paix a été inspiré par le mouvement pour le développement durable qui a été le plus grand mouvement politique du dernier demi-siècle.

        Mais comme nous le voyons, le mouvement pour le développement durable n’a pu devenir effectif que suite aux changements économiques qui rendent le développement durable possible et rentable.

        Les séquences “changement économique d’abord, changement politique après” s’appliquent également à la transition vers une culture de paix. La culture de paix va devenir politiquement possible qu’après l’implosion de l’économie de la culture de la guerre.

        Le même sort économique qui a détruit l’empire soviétique est déjà bien avancé vers la destruction de l’empire américain – et pour la même raison – l’attribution de la plus grande partie de l’économie à l’armement et aux guerres. Johan Galtung a prédit en 2005 que l’accident viendrait avant l’an 2020. Le crash économique sera suivie d’un crash politique. Les Americains et les européens sont déjà autant aliénés à leur système politique que les Russes l’étaient en 1989. Comme preuve, il suffit de regarder le taux d’abstention aux élections nationales.

        Lorsque l’empire américain s’écroulera, le reste du monde va suivre, tout comme l’Europe de l’Est s’est écroulée lorsque l’Union soviétique est tombée.

        À ce moment-là, il y aura une fenêtre d’opportunité pour établir une culture de la paix – mais cela ne peut se produire que si nous sommes prêts avec les cadres institutionnels qui peuvent remplacer les Etats-nations. Si nous ne sommes pas prêts, nous risquons le remplacement du système actuel par un système fasciste – tout comme cela est arrivé après le crash de 1929 en Europe (et presque aux États-Unis également).

        Alors que l’affaire du réchauffement planétaire et des changements de sources d’énergie sont les questions sur plusieurs décennies, l’effondrement de l’économie de la culture de guerre est une affaire de seulement quelques années. Comme l’a fait l’effondrement de l’Union soviétique, il menace de nous surprendre.

        Je travaille avec les villes dans l’espoir qu’elles seront en mesure de fournir un cadre institutionnel pour remplacer le rôle des Etats-nations comme base pour le Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies (Voir le blog de 1 juin), mais le travail est très lent. Trop lent. Histoire se déplace beaucoup plus vite que nous!

  • What happens after peace accords are signed


    Now that there is a ceasefire in Colombia, as described in this month’s bulletin of CPNN, the question arises whether a culture of peace can be maintained afterwards.

    When I was working on the culture of peace in UNESCO, I experienced a similar situation in two countries, El Salvador and Mozambique. Both of them emerged with peace accords in the early 1990’s after civil wars comparable to that in Colombia. In both we established national culture of peace programs to maintain the peace afterwards. They were major efforts, as I will describe, but ultimately they failed. Now, twenty five years later, both El Salvador and Mozambique are once again descending into violence, verging once again on civil war.

    Why did they fail?

    First, consider the efforts. The program in El Salvador is described in a journal article, available on the Internet, written by the three of us who managed the program. To quote from its conclusion: the program transformed “conflict into cooperation by engaging those previously in violent conflict in the joint planning and implementation of human development projects of benefit to all. . .. [it] developed both a set of guidelines accepted by all parties to the previous violent conflict, and institutionalized these guidelines in a National Coordination Council and its Executive Committee which ensure that they are put into practice. In particular, the guidelines are being followed in the implementation of project 507/ELS/01, the production of daily radio broadcasts and non-formal education campaigns for the most needy and neglected women in the country. In the course of the working out of this project, during the period from the summer of 1994 to the present (spring of 1996) the participants, representing the government, community radio stations and nongovernmental organizations including those associated with the FMLN, have internalized the basic principles and guidelines of a culture of peace. While at first they distrusted each other to the point that UNESCO had to play the role of arbitrator and mediator, they have since learned to negotiate and arrived at the point of regular concerted decision-making. Daily radio broadcasts are now being produced which reflect the fruits of this process of dialogue, participation and concertation and which up until now have been well-produced and well-received despite time pressures and the demanding schedules of radio broadcasting. These broadcasts are carried by 24 radio stations around the country, as well as in marketplaces, and they are accompanied by the work of 64 correspondents in the various communities who monitor the broadcasts and provide information from their communities to the technical team that creates the programmes.

    The radio project was only one of 20 human development projects in El Salvador that were developed by the method of concertation described above.

    In Mozambique, a similar process of concertation between ex-enemies resulted in the elaboration of ten human development projects with rural women, demobilized soldiers, schools, youth, mass media, community leaders, etc.

    The process worked. Hoping to develop their country, the ex-enemies could be brought together and could work together.

    But the programmes did not work. The Member States of UNESCO refused to fund the projects, preferring to put their development funds into projects that they could manage themselves for political advantage (including, in some cases, corruption and exploitation).

    Alvaro de Soto, who had mediated the El Salvador peace accords, warned us at the time that it could not work. As part of the accords, the US and Europe had promised to fund land reform and judicial reform in El Salvador, but afterwards they reneged and never provided the funds they had promised. By the way, the same thing happened with the peace accords that established Zimbabwe. The UK never came through with the money they promised as part of the accords, to buy land from the white farmers and distribute to the African farmers. Eventually, President Mugabe got tired of waiting and seized the land and Zimbabwe was punished by international sanctions.

    In general, we came to realize that the powerful Member States of the UN do not want peace. They want to exploit the poor countries of the world and that requires the old method of the culture of war: “Divide and conquer.”

    Hopefully, Colombia can learn from the failures of the past and achieve a sustainable peace. As I have suggested in my previous blog, “Advice to Colombia,” they need to develop a network of local peace committees and keep them strong and independent so that they do not have to depend solely on the national government or United Nations support. Those of us in other countries can help with direct people-to people support; as Amada Benavides says, “Peacebuilding moment starts just now. Today we need more support than ever.”

    Proposal for a Radical Reform of the United Nations


    As it is structured now, the United Nations is controlled by national governments, with their military institutions and military budgets. Over the course of history, national governments have come to monopolize war. As a result, if we are to make the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace, we need a radical reform of the United Nations. Instead of being controlled by the Member States, it should be controlled by “We the Peoples,” the words that begin its Charter.

    Before making a proposal for such a radical reform, we need to consider the following:

    1) The national governments of the world increasingly ignore the United Nations when faced with global problems. Just this last month the major countries failed to send heads of state to the United Nations Humanitarian Summit. We first saw this trend with the global economic crisis of 2007-2008; the powerful states, meeting as the G-7, ignored the relevant financial institutions of the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and responded to the crisis with meetings of their finance ministers. Then in 2010, the powerful countries ignored the United Nations Non-proliferation conference and met in Washington in a parallel conference called by President Obama. Only Iran sent a head of state to the United Nations conference. Finally, even when the national governments attend a United Nations summit, the results are not adequate, as illustrated by the conferences to confront global warming in 2012 in Rio and 2015 in Paris.

    2) The global system of national governments periodically fails, leaving a void where other institutions can take their place. During the 20th Century this occurred twice with World Wars I and II, as well as during the global economic crisis beginning in 1929, and (for half of the world) with the economic, then political collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989. There is a growing awareness that the world is due for another economic (and political?) collapse, including a collapse of the American Empire, which may leave a temporary void in international decision-making. It may provide a “window of opportunity” for radical change.

    With this in mind, let us consider what a radical reform of the United Nations could look like.

    Let us begin with the proposal of the Pan-African Parliament, as reprinted in this month’s CPNN bulletin, for a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly. This would have the advantage that parliamentarians have less vested interest in the culture of war than do the representatives of national governments. Parliaments do not have military forces, although they may vote on military budgets. As the Parliament’s President explained, “It is long overdue that ‘We, the Peoples,’ as the UN Charter begins, have more say in global affairs.

    But the real problem is the Security Council. As the bulletin describes, there are many proposals to reform it, but they all continue to assume that it should be controlled by representatives of the Member States. Instead, we need a global organization where the decisions are made by “We, the peoples”. I can imagine two possibilities: a Security Council controlled by the mayors of the world, or one controlled by the parliaments of the world.

    Since such a reform cannot be achieved under the present system of national governments, it must await the “window of opportunity” of their next crash. In the meantime, I propose the establishment of an “Alternative Security Council” (ASC) composed of mayors or parliamentary representatives from all the regions of the world. This ASC would regularly consider the issues faced by the actual UN Security Council and publicize its “decisions” in order to provide an alternative vision of how the issues of war and peace could be managed at a global level. One can imagine that their decisions would be radically different concerning, for example, nuclear disarmament, approaches to the disasters in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, etc.  This would be a powerful force for consciousness-raising in the general public, and it could provide a model for an eventual radical reform of the UN.

    There are several ways that mayors and parliaments are organized globally, any of which could be represented in an Alternative Security Council:

    1) Regional organizations of parliaments such as the European Parliament, the Latin American Parliament and the Pan-African Parliament or of cities such as the Council of European Municipalities and Regions and the Arab Towns Organization.

    2) Global organizations of parliamentarians for peace such as Parliamentarians for Global Action or of mayors and cities for peace, as described in a recent CPNN bulletin.

    3) Global organizations of parliamentarians in general such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union or of cities in general such as the UCLG: Global Network of Cities, Local and Regional Governments.

    All that is needed in order to establish an Alternative Security Council at the present time is;

    a) an institutional host for the ASC, preferable a recognized international body that promotes a culture of peace;

    b) an agreement for membership of the ASC, which could be established with any one of the organizaions of mayors or parliaments mentioned above;

    c) a small secretariat to manage the Council by email (rather than actual meetings which would not be convenient, both because of the cost and because the members would not be free from their other tasks)

    d) a means to disseminate widely the decisions of the council, i.e. a network of partners for publicizing these decisions.

    e) a small budget which would be minimal if the sponsoring organization were receptive and if the secretariat and ASC members were volunteers.

    The time is now to prepare a new system that will be ready to install during the next window of opportunity. If we wait for the crash of the present system, it will be too late. The time is now for radical action. And here is an action we can do now: an alternative security council.