Following last Novembers election of Socialist Alternative candidate Kshama Sawant to Seattle City Council, Jess Spear is the latest socialist seeking to shake up the political establishment. Spear, a climate scientist and organizer with the 15 Now minimum wage campaign, announced her candidacy for the Washington State House earlier this month.
A recent spate of high-profile campaigns against projects based on extracting raw materials has opened up an important new dynamic within the broad processes of change sweeping South America. Understanding their nature and significance is crucial to grasping the complexities involved in bringing about social change and how best to build solidarity with peoples' struggles.
Since the end of the most active, public phase of the Occupy movement, a number of activists have looked for ways to carry on the fight against the "1 Percent." This ongoing struggle has taken many forms--among them are recent attempts to build an independent political alternative to the two dominant capitalist parties.
Too many supposedly radical books are written by academics for academics, apparently competing to see who can produce the most incomprehensible prose. My list of ‘books to be reviewed’ contains literally dozens of overstuffed and overpriced volumes that only a handful of specialists will ever read, books with little or no relevance to the non-university world.
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century was number two in the US Amazon bestseller list last week. It nestled between a tear-jerker about living with cancer and a Disney movie spin-off coloring book for kids.
In Britain the impact has been less dramatic, but it has still featured heavily in print, radio and television.
This is quite an achievement for a nearly 700-page book by a hitherto unknown French economist packed full of statistical tables and retailing at £29.95. Yet in the past few weeks it has enjoyed an astonishing success.
What is “capital”? To Karl Marx, it was a social, political, and legal category—the means of control of the means of production by the dominant class. Capital could be money, it could be machines; it could be fixed and it could be variable. But the essence of capital was neither physical nor financial. It was the power that capital gave to capitalists, namely the authority to make decisions and to extract surplus from the worker.
Thomas Piketty has written a book called Capital that has caused quite a stir. He advocates progressive taxation and a global wealth tax as the only way to counter the trend towards the creation of a “patrimonial” form of capitalism marked by what he dubs “terrifying” inequalities of wealth and income. He also documents in excruciating and hard to rebut detail how social inequality of both wealth and income has evolved over the last two centuries, with particular emphasis on the role of wealth.
Social movements can be fast, and they can be slow.
Mostly, the work of social change is a slow process. It involves patiently building movement institutions, cultivating leadership, organizing campaigns and leveraging power to secure small gains. If you want to see your efforts produce results, it helps to have a long-term commitment.
A former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales (2008-2012). Is an active campaigner and writer on green economics, alternatives to globalization, trade justice, animal welfare and food. Was named MP of the Year in 2013, has been voted the UK's most ethical politician and received Red magazine's Woman of the Year Award 2010 in the ethical/eco category. Is an acknowledged expert on climate change, international trade and peace issues.