How history moves: Economic change precedes; political change follows

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(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!

  • Political will – Will it be there for the global meeting on climate change?

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    This is the question posed by this month’s CPNN bulletin with regard to the global meeting on climate change to take place at the end of the year in Paris.

    It is generally agreed, at least by the citizens of the world, that we need to reverse the global warming that comes from the exhausts of power plants, automobiles, factories, airplanes, etc.

    So what has been keeping national governments from reaching agreements all these years, despite the desires of their citizens? Where has there been democracy?

    The first and most obvious reason has been the powerful lobbies of the oil industry and their allies that have tried to deny the obvious fact that there is global warming and that it comes from their pollution. They have tried to convince us with pseudo-scientific articles. By now, however, the peoples of the world have seen through their false propaganda and they overwhelmingly demand action to stop global warming.

    But more important, the big corporations have paid legislators not to take action that could reduce their profits. In other words they have corrupted the national governments.

    The outcome in Paris will depend on the relative weight of corruption and democracy.

    What should we expect?

    If nuclear armaments are any precedent, we should expect that democracy will lose, that corruption will win, and that global warming will continue.

    After all, we have known for decades that nuclear weapons are an even greater danger than global warming for the future of our planet, and yet there has been no effective action to eliminate them. This year the meeting of national governments at the United Nations in May produced no agreement. Why? Because the United States followed the political demands of Israel that their weapons program should not be questioned.

    National governments are corrupted. In my opinion they are hopelessly corrupted. By the culture of war. Over the centuries, for millennia, in fact, they have come to monopolize war and to construct their power on its basis. Their power has been shared with the miltary-industrial complex, and more recently the military-industrial-media complex, since the media also have been corrupted.

    For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that cities, provinces and regions, as well as civil society, have taken up the cause of preventing climate change. Unlike national governments, they cannot make war, and hence they are relatively free from the culture of war. This month we recognized climate initiatives by the provinces and regions of the Americas, by the mayors of the world meeting with the Pope, by mayors from Africa and Europe meeting with the mayor of Paris, and by the civil society meeting in Mozambique, as well as election results from the oil-rich province of Alberta, Canada, where voters threw out the incumbent party and elected candidates who pledged to establish tougher policies against climate change.

    The leadership of cities, provinces and regions to prevent climate change is a good precedent for their leadership on a more general level, the transition from a culture of war to a culture of peace.

    Food Sovereignty is Culture of Peace

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    In CPNN this month, we ask the question “What is the relation between peasant movements for food sovereignty and the global movement for a culture of peace?”

    Here is my own response to the question.  It is based on the many articles in CPNN this month about the global movement of peasants for food sovereignty.

    Yes, they are an important part of the global movement for a culture of peace, for several reasons.

    First, they are the first line of defense against one of the main advances of the culture of war.  As we said in the document that we sent from UNESCO to the UN to define the culture of peace, it “represents a major change in the concept of economic growth which, in the past, could be considered as benefitting from military supremacy and structural violence and achieved at the expense of the vanquished and the weak.”  What better way to describe the advances of a few transnational corporations, supported by so-called “free-trade treaties” who are attempting to monopolize the seeds that farmers use throughout the world and to impose monoculture agriculture based on their seeds and their pesticides?

    The transnational corporations are supported by the power (ultimately military) of nation states around the world, not only by the great powers, but also by the governments of the small countries.  An example is Guatemala, where despite pressure from a strong peasant movement to support a Rural Integral Development law, the law is blocked by a coalition of right-wing parties.

    Second, the peasant movements are organized not only locally, and to an increasing extent, on a global scale.  Look at the map of protests on April 17, the International Day of Peasant Struggle against Transnational Companies and Free Trade Agreements. There are actions on every continent.

    The peasant movements are based ultimately on the wisdom and experience of their ancestors as described in the blog from this February, “Listen to the indigenous people.”  This is clearly stated in the declaration of the 6th Congress of the Latin American Coordination of Countryside Organizations: “We emerged from the heart itself of the 500-year process of indigenous, peasant, black and popular resistance.”

    The peasant struggle ultimately concerns all of us.  As we concluded in the February blog, we need to “organize local cooperatives and local food production instead of importation and agro-business . . .  In this way we can protect ourselves against the crash of the American empire and the global economy that it manages.”

    Finally, we can say that the peasant movement for sustainable agriculture is not only part of the global movement for a culture of peace, but perhaps its most critical component because it will enable us to survive after the crash and during the period when it may be possible to make a transition from the culture of war to a culture of peace.  For this reason it is especially important that we see more and more young people turning back to small-scale, “human-scale” farming, as described in the CPNN interview this month.

     

    An Institute to Train for Culture of Peace Tourism

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    The following is excerpted from the talk I gave at the recent symposium on Tourism and Peace (See this month’s CPNN bulletin).

    Tourism is an enormous enterprise with enormous resources, and it needs a culture of peace.  Tourism is the first industry to suffer when there is violence.  And it has a great potential to promote all the eight program areas of culture of peace.

    Acknowledging my gratitude to a good friend here today, Lou D’Amore, who has shared with me this idea, I propose that we should develop an Institute to train workers for culture of peace tourism

    As a model for this, let us recall the early years of UNESCO after World War II, when UNESCO helped establish three institutes for training literary workers.  The institutes, located in Mexico, Iran and Egypt, trained a generation of literacy workers, coming mostly from national ministries of education.  The subsequent engagement of these literacy workers led to an great increase in literacy throughout the world.   Even if it is not mentioned in most history books, the drive towards universal literacy should be considered one of the great achievements of the modern era.

    It is proposed here to learn from that experience to develop an institute to train a new generation of workers for another kind of literacy, the literacy of peace.  The UNESCO experience provides a reasonable model for such an institute.

    First, it could be self-financing with income from tuition paid by institutions such as ministries of tourism, hotel, tourist agency and airline companies who send their workers to get training, as well as young people seeking a career in this field.  The faculty could be recruited from activists and retired officials who believe sufficiently in the challenge of culture of peace tourism that they would work for minimum salaries, and from people on-loan from relevant organizations involved in the tourist trade.

    An important lesson was told to me by a veteran of the UNESCO literacy institute in Iran: one should minimize the involvement with buildings and infrastructure by renting space from existing educational institutions rather than building or owning the buildings with its costs of maintenance, cleaning staff, guardians, etc.

    Where should such an institution be located?  In Africa, of course.  Nowhere else is tourism so vital to the economy of a continent.  And nowhere else is there so much to offer to tourists and those who host them.

    How should we go about establishing such an institute?  First, a sponsor is needed.  The most appropriate would be the United Nations World Tourism Organization.  Then, clients are needed.  The most appropriate would be ministries of tourism.  And finally, we need faculty.  From among the distinguished gathering of experts on tourism for peace gathered here this week in Johannesburg, I’m sure we could find an excellent faculty.

    There is another reason that we should locate such an institute in Africa.  In the North, especially Europe and North America, the states have become so linked to the culture of war that they would have a conflict of interest to support a culture of peace.  In Africa, on the other hand, the independent state is a new development dating only from the post-colonial era, and although it is often corrupt, it is not so linked to the culture of war.  Its involvement with culture of peace tourism would point it in a good direction for the future.

    To conclude, I hope that together we can develop an institute for culture of peace tourism, and I offer my services to help work on this.    I hope others will join in.

    Listen to the indigenous people

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    This month’s CPNN bulletin carries remarks by indigenous peoples who are guarding their environment against the destruction brought by our modern civilization:

    From Brazil: “We indigenous peoples have shown that we will never allow our lands to be recolonized, invaded or destroyed, even if that means sacrificing our own lives.”

    From Canada: “We have one Earth, and unless this government is hiding another healthy Earth somewhere, we need to take care of the one we’ve got, and it’s now, it’s now we have to step up.”

    From Colombia: “sooner or later indigenous peoples will be recognized as the true guardians of nature.”

    And it is in the same spirit that the most radical environmental law in global history, the “Mother Earth” law, was adopted in Bolivia, a country with a majority of the people indigenous and a President who is indigenous.

    We should listen to all of them for several reasons.

    They remind us that our very existence depends upon having a sustainable development that does not destroy the earth on which all development depends.   We need to be reminded of this because our lives have become so specialized that we have come to think that food simply comes from a supermarket and that water simply comes from a faucet.   Our civilization puts a priority on exploitation of mineral, oil and water resources without regard to the future, and the imposition of highly-mechanized, monoculture agricultural production which cannot even feed those who produce it.

    Indigenous peoples realize that the destruction of their environment will lead not only to their inability to survive as individuals, but even more profoundly, it will lead to the destruction of their culture.  We need to take this seriously for our own culture.

    Our culture has become urban over the past few centuries, and we depend upon agricultural systems outside of the city.  Often the agricultural production is so distant that we must depend upon transportation systems that bring their products from hundreds and thousands of miles away.   Meanwhile, small farms, people directly tied to the land, have been run out of business by large-scale, monoculture industrial farming.  We take it for granted that all this will continue.

    But we should not take this for granted.  The culture of war, in which we live, is based upon exploitation and exploitation is not sustainable, neither of resources nor of people.  Sooner or later, the culture of war crashes.  This can happen through violence, as it did in the two World Wars of the 20th Century.  Or it can happen through economic collapse as it did in 1929 and for half of the world in 1989.

    A global economic crash at this time of history would be far more disastrous than the crash of 1929 because we are more urban, there is less sustainable agriculture, and the transportation of food is, at the same time, more essential and more vulnerable to a financial collapse, because it is largely dependent upon oil transported in tanker ships.

    In the face of this possibility, Johan Galtung, the dean of peace researchers, recommends that we “organize local cooperatives and local food production instead of importation and agro-business, local banks instead of investment banks, local construction of affordable housing to provide jobs as well as housing.”  In this way we can protect ourselves against the crash of the American empire and the global economy that it manages.  And if Galtung is correct that this may happen within the next five years,  we have no time to waste.

    During this time there is great danger of war and/or a shift to fascist states.  Hence our work for a culture of peace is crucial, and we can also take lessons on this from some indigenous peoples.  As the indigenous of Cauca have told us, “We survived by struggle, but we are peoples with a culture of peace.”

    Not only do we need to listen to to indigenous peoples, but even more we must follow their example.  The very survival of our culture is at stake.  And soon.

    Rio+20: Window into history

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    The events surrounding Rio+20 last month, the huge meeting of governments that was called together by the United Nations, can be seen as a window into history as it is occurring.  The nation-states are failing and new institutional frameworks are growing up to take their place.

    Most commentators agree that the meeting was a failure at the level of national governments.  Many heads of state were present and there were many months of preparation, but the meeting was unable to take any strong action on global warming. The failure was especially great because the meeting of scientific experts just before the Rio+20 event stated clearly that global warming is threatening great damage to the earth. See the CPNN article about the UNESCO Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for Sustainable Development.

    Since sustainable development is key part of a culture of peace, we see once again that nation-states, with their culture of war, are not capable of making a culture of peace.

    At the same time we can see other institutional forces developing to create a culture of peace, including youth, civil society, indigenous peoples and especially cities.  For details see the CPNN bulletin for July.

    The increasing role of cities for sustainable development is in line with what I have written in my recent book, World Peace through the Town Hall.  Cities have not had a culture of war since the Middle Ages when they had their own armies, city walls for defense and gates where they could control who entered and left the city.  Now these are only sites you can visit as a tourist in the old cities of Europe.  Instead, cities are involved in promoting all of the aspects of a culture of peace.  Sustainable development is one of the eight aspects of a culture of peace.

    It is not by accident that these events took place in Brazil.  Ever since the Rio Conference and Environment and Development in 1992 and the 15 million Brazilian signatures on the Manifesto 2000 for a culture of peace, the people of Brazil have been in the leadership of the Global Movement for a Culture of Peace.  The World Social Forums, started in Porto Allegre in Brazil, have contributed greatly.  And you can find many articles in CPNN about local initiatives for a culture of peace in Brazil, including at the level of city governments.