Photo Illustration: Elise Swain. Photos: Public Domain (4) Getty Images (2).
The Intercept Brasil (@TheInterceptBr) Jeremy Scahill January 21 2018, 1:29 p.m.
FOR THE PAST YEAR, we have all experienced an intense sort of political vertigo. Of course, part of this is due to the fact that Donald Trump is president and constantly scoops the story of the latest outrage about himself by performing yet another outrage just as we start discussing the previous one.
When we are constantly on the run, it is very difficult to take stock of where we are and where we have been. To take a good look at the big picture becomes a luxury no one seems able to afford. And this will have serious consequences. Our brains are being altered, the way we process news and information, our ideas about what constitutes resistance and tyranny. Already, we live in a society that does not study its own history — its unvarnished history — and often current events are analyzed in a vacuum that almost never includes the context or history necessary to understand what is new, what is old and how we got to where we are.
We become detached from our own reality and our own work.
As Trump celebrates his first year in office and demonstrations confront a year of his rule, leading Marxist scholar David Harvey sat down for an interview on Intercepted. Harvey is one of the leading Marxist thinkers in the world and a leading authority on Marx’s “Das Kapital,” which turned 150 years old late last year. Harvey is a distinguished professor of Anthropology and Geography at the City University of New York and he is a pioneer of the discipline of modern geography. Harvey has a new book out called “Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason.”
We aired an excerpt of this interview on Intercepted. Below is the complete transcript and full audio of the conversation.
Jeremy Scahill: Professor David Harvey, welcome to Intercepted.
David Harvey: Thank you.
JS: Let’s start with looking at where we are in this country right now, with Donald Trump in power and these multiple investigations in Congress and with the special prosecutor going on into Russian collusion. I want to talk about some of that with you. But first, I’m curious having now read your book, how did we get Trump? And I ask that meaning from your vast research historically and into Marx and economics and geography. What do you pin as the factors that led to Trump attaining power and residing in the White House?
DH: If I had to simplify it, it would be one word: alienation, that you have a population that’s increasingly alienated. It’s alienated from its work process because there are not very meaningful jobs around. It’s been promised a kind of a cornucopia of consumerism and they find a lot of products that don’t really work, they find themselves having to renew their phone every two years. You find them having to live a lifestyle, which is, you know, they’re disillusioned. And of course they’re disillusioned with the political process; they realize that it’s big money that buys it. They’re disillusioned in lots of ways and it’s not only in this country. And you start to see a vast area of disillusioned population that is alienated from everything.
Now, alienated populations don’t necessarily behave in kind of a way that would probably make sense to somebody like me. They don’t go to the left, for example, they just kind of say: “Give me something that looks different.” And I think when Trump came along and said, “I’m going to be your voice.” He actually, you know, completely trumped, if I can use that term, Hillary Clinton. And I think the same thing you will see over the Brexit vote in Britain, where the metropolitan areas are doing OK, but you’ll find alienated populations in those small towns where the economic basis of life has just disappeared. And you’ll find it India. So you get this kind of real rash of neo-fascist populist right-wing kind of people who are coming along and saying, “Listen to me. Listen to me. I have a different answer to all of these kinds of questions.” And I think that that sort of thing is going on not only in this country but elsewhere.
JS: Do you do you believe that Trump has any ideology based on the actions that he’s taken officially as president or the ideas that he floats when he speaks or tweets?
DH: I think he has some ideas, whether it adds up to an ideology or not — for instance, one of his ideas is to dismantle everything that Obama did. That’s almost instinctual on his part: to go in completely the opposite direction. So he has ideas.
An ideology? I don’t think he has a clear ideology. But he certainly has a persona who, you know, kind of it’s about me, me, me, and the narcissism is obvious. But I think this is a classic sort of situation of populist leaders.
JS: Can you identify any historical analogues to this moment in the United States with Trump?
DH: I think at a certain point if you went back, probably in the 1920s, you would find the rich were doing mightily well but there was a clear kind of disillusionment with what was going on in the country and that of course preceded what happened in the 1930s. So, I think there’s always been a certain instability in the United States. Everybody likes to talk here about the tradition of democracy but if you look at what happened, and McCarthyism, and then the witch hunts back in the 1820s against the anarchists and so on, you’ll see in the history of the United States some rather nasty, kind of right-wing, sort of populist movements.
JS: Part of the reason I’m asking is that I think that if you watch cable news right now, which I don’t recommend that you do, and you listen to the pundits, particularly Democrats or self-identified liberals, you would think that Trump already is sort of one of history’s greatest monsters. And yet, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney killed, conservatively, over a million people in their wars.
DH: Right. Right.
JS: They had essentially the same economic ideas as Trump. Maybe they were a bit better at masking their racism or their bigotry. But is Trump truly the monster that he’s portrayed to be relative to presidents past, both Democrat and Republican?
DH: Oh, absolutely not. I think one of the things that’s happened is there’s been a retrogression, if you like. But if you go back and look at the way in which women were treated in the 1960s, you go back and you look at how race was being figured in the 1960s, you wouldn’t say this was a beautiful society at all. Even though the economy was doing really rather well and a privileged sector of the working class was doing extremely well. But this is in some ways when you look at the situation today; I think it’s far more progressive than it was back then. So I don’t think Trump is somehow doing something that’s not there in the roots of American history.
JS: Trump has multiple mantras that he repeats and his favorite when he talks about his successes is the stock market keeps breaking records, people’s 401(k)s are just going through the roof. He never mentions that the vast majority of workers in this country actually have no pension and are not participating in 401(k) plans. What’s going on right now on Wall Street and with the stock market? I mean, clearly it is breaking records. Trump is totally right. The Dow is above 25,000. It’s nuts if you think about it. What’s happening on Wall Street?
DH: I think it’s just a matter of that, since the problems of 2007 and 2008, what we’ve seen is essentially central banks adding to the money supply. And the money has to go somewhere. And it mainly goes into the stock market and, of course, that money goes into the pockets of the top one percent. So actually if you look at the indices of inequality since 2007, 2008, they’ve increased markedly, not only in the United States but worldwide.
And so, in a sense, what you’ve done is you’ve run into a difficulty in 2007, 2008, and you answered it by throwing money at it, which has been great for the stock market and all rest of it. But as we know, the incomes of ordinary people have not improved at all, people’s situation hasn’t, and hardly any of the benefits of the small recoveries been since 2007, 2008 have gone to anybody other than the top one percent. And that’s, I think, and of course, that’s the bondholders solution to the economic problem.
And the last tax cut was really a bondholders’ charter. And the bondholders have controlled, actually, the whole kind of economic policy since the 1970s. So it’s not only George Bush and so on. I mean that famous moment when Clinton came in and said, “Can I do this or can I do that?” And Rubin, from Goldman Sachs, says: “You can’t do that.” Basically you’ve got to do what the bondholders tell you. And Clinton, who came in promising universal health care, gave us NAFTA, the reform of welfare, gave us the taking down of Glass–Steagall, and all the rest of it, and actually set up the sort of housing financing that produced the crash in 2007 and 2008.
So this has been the case in the United States that in fact the bondholders are creating an economy which is good for the bondholders.
JS: The Pope talks about usury, as, you know that the stock market is entirely an institution of usury. And you write in your book, “The formation and circulation of interest-bearing capital is, in effect, the circulation of anti-value.” Explain what you mean by that.
DH: I mean basically debt is a claim on future labor, and when people are indebted they have to labor to pay off their debts. And we see this with students, for example, right now. Many of them come out, they’ve got this huge debt, in a sense their future is foreclosed — they’ve got to pay off that debt before they can really have a life.
And this is extremely, extremely difficult. That’s why I call it anti-value, because it’s not as if people have a right to the value they’re going to create. They have to actually create value in order to pay off the debt. So for them it’s a negative life that they’re living as opposed to a positive life.
And, you know, it is funny. I think people understand that. Just two days ago I was in a coffee shop in Baltimore, which is one of my old stomping grounds, and, you know, just a few people hanging around talking, and there’s a couple there and then everybody’s talking. They’re not on their cell phones, doing that kind of thing. They’re actually talking, which is kind of one of the nice things about Baltimore is people still talk to each other.
JS: Just for some of the younger people listening: It’s sort of like Snapchat except you don’t need a device and you actually can use your vocal cords, and the other person uses their ears or other means of absorbing the information.
JS: OK. Got it.
DH: So suddenly this couple, they’re about maybe 50 years old. And the guy suddenly says, “I feel totally cheated.” He said, “I really believed in the American dream and getting a house and having a kid and a car and all this kind of stuff.” And he says, “Here I am, 50 years old,” he said, “and all I am is up to my eyeballs in debt.” And he said, “I feel really like I’ve been sold a bill of goods.” And it went on like this. And I felt like saying, “Oh, you mean, like debt peonage, like I write about!” But I didn’t dare do it because, you know, these are just ordinary folk.
And they, and everybody nodded and kind of said, “Yeah, no, we got it. We get it.”
JS: If someone were to arrive here from a different universe and you were asked the question, “What are the wages that workers are paid, or the money that exists in the stock market, or the money that changes hands from we the people to companies like Amazon, what’s it based on? What is that dollar’s actual value in our current economy?”
DH: Well, the dollar should be worth whatever it will buy which is the commodities that people want, and we want useful commodities. And the trouble with that is that capitalism is very good at making commodities that don’t work or break down or only last two years. I mean I often use this example: I’m using my grandmother’s knives and forks. If capital made things that lasted 100 years, what would it do? Instead it makes phones with, you’ve got to get the last, the next one comes out and you have to change it every one or two years. Computers actually don’t function if they’re more than about three or four years old.
So capitalists learn to play this game of having instantaneous turnover of consumption because that’s the only way it can sustain its market.
JS: Well, hello, gas and cars. You know, there’s absolutely no reason why we have to have vehicles on the road that are getting fourteen miles to the gallon.
DH: No, I mean, again, one would like to think that capital was a rational system, but it’s not. It’s irrational, it introduces these irrationalities because that’s the only way it can reproduce itself. And I think, again, people are beginning to see that this is not exactly the good life that they thought they might have some point down the line, particularly for the mass of the population now who are indebted and who have to pay off that debt, whether it be credit card debt, or mortgage debt, or consumer deb, or car debt, so on. So this is the world we’re living in, we’re living in a world of debt peonage, in which most of the population is actually — their future is foreclosed by the way in which the capital is wrapped around them. This kind of thing about the good life is: borrow money and then everything will be OK.
JS: Well I want to get your sense of where we’re headed with companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google. It really does seem that Amazon is, just to use it as an example, is just swallowing wholesale and spitting out the idea of brick and mortar stores or locally owned businesses where workers are attached to the labor and also the value of the products. But many Amazon workers, I was just reading this today, are being told by the company that they should apply for food stamps. And this is happening in different places around the United States where Amazon is building these huge processing plants.
What about the role of Amazon, Google, Facebook in our lives? I mean is this something new in the evolution or devolution of capitalism?
DH: I don’t think it’s new. I look at this historically. We went through this from the 1970s onwards, with what we call deindustrialization — the loss of industrial jobs and the loss of manufacturing jobs. When I went to Baltimore in 1969, there was something like 27,000 or 30,000 people employed in the steel plant. By the time you get to 1990 there’s about 2,000 people employed in the steel plant. And now there’s no steel plant at all. So we lost manufacturing jobs bit by bit and the result was that — you know, the unions were very strong — everything gets lost.
So the industrialization of the manufacturing sector was one big thing. Now we’re seeing the same thing happening in retail and marketing. We’re seeing it through Wal-Mart. We’re seeing it through Amazon. We’re seeing it through online purchasing. And I think the last jobs report was very interesting because it was a loss of, I don’t know what it was, 20,000 jobs in the retail sector. And we’re going to see happening in the retail sector the same thing that happened in the manufacturing sector.
And so, then, the question is what kind of jobs are going to be anywhere? And those places that do have the jobs are going to do what Amazon does, which is to say, well, you’re not really doing anything significant. You’re just doing manual work, just packaging things and sending it out. This is a rather meaningless kind of work. This is what I mean about alienating kind of work. I mean to imagine you could spend the rest of the time on a manufacturing line and just sort of packaging goods and sending out — I mean, what kind of work is that?
So here we have a real transformation in labor processes, which I think is going to have a real big impact upon the American economy. The example of deindustrialization and what happened to industrial communities is now going to hit big consumer centers, which rely upon the retail business.
JS: It’s become just an assumed and accepted part of American politics that both Democrats and Republicans are evangelists for the idea of the free market being the solution to a whole range of problems. What is your critique or problem with the idea that competition is going to give not only consumers, but nation states, the highest quality product?
DH: Well, there are two levels of answer to that.
First off, I’d like to say: What competition? We’ve got a tremendous amount of monopoly. I look at it in energy, look at pharmaceuticals, look at it everywhere and actually there’s a lot of monopoly around. So, the competition is kind of fake competition in lots of ways.
And, internationally, of course, there is some sort of level of competition going on between different nation states, but notice what it does. Basically what you’re supposed to do is to create a good business environment. That’s what the state is supposed to do. And the better the business environment, the more capital will go to it. So that means lower taxes — again, the last tax bill was very much about trying to improve the United States as a business environment — so you’ve got to give money to corporations. And that’s the astonishing thing that corporate capital doesn’t seem to be able to survive these days without subsidies from the public sector.
So, in effect, the public is perpetually supporting large corporations and they’re not really competing. They’re simply using their monopoly power to assemble a great deal of wealth in few hands.
JS: There was a pretty ferocious debate on the left in the United States about the 2016 elections. And I think a very significant chunk, even of leftists, ultimately held their noses and voted for Hillary Clinton as a way of voting against Donald Trump. And Noam Chomsky has also stated that the only sane response to the choices given in 2016 was of course to vote for Hillary Clinton to just prevent the greater evil of Donald Trump.
Where do you come down on these questions when it comes to electoral politics?
DH: Well, I think where I come down is to say well we’ve got to organize something which is very different and alternative on the left, instead of having, what I call, in a sense, the party of Wall Street governing in both parties, one of which is crazier than the other. So, I agree with you that if you’re faced with putting — the sorts of things that worry me about Trump is what he’s doing with the environment, what he might do on nuclear war, all those kinds of things. I mean, he’s totally irrational about some of those kinds of things.
So, yes, I would rather have Hillary in, but I don’t want to be in a situation in which I say the only answer to somebody like Trump is Hillary, because that seems to me is going back into exactly all those problems that we hit with the first Clinton administration which was the beginning of this process of the selling out of the U.S. government to the bondholders and Wall Street. So, we’ve got to find something which is a non-Wall Street kind of party. And that has to be populist at the base. But it also has to, I think, try to revitalize the union power. And it has to revitalize community power, and has to bypass a lot of the organizations which are currently there trying to cope with the situation.
I mean, I think it’s a big problem in this country of social welfare through NGOs. I think the NGOs are a problem. They’re not a solution to the difficulties. We’ve got to have a real, solid, good left movement, which you began to see elements of that crystallizing around Bernie Sanders and the like. But we need to go further than that, I think, which is why it’s so important to start to have an alternative analysis to the ones which we’re generally exposed to on cable news and all the rest of it.
JS: Bernie Sanders identifies himself as a Democratic Socialist and yet his voting record indicates that he supported regime change in Iraq. He said he would continue the drone assassination program as it existed under Obama. He’s voted for neoliberal economic policies in the past. What form of socialist would you describe Bernie Sanders as? I mean, is he a Marxist in your view?
DH: No, no, he’s not a Marxist at all. He’s, as you say, kind of a Social Democrat. But Social Democrats have a rather long history of being rather warlike about all kinds of things and believing in things like military humanism and those sorts of issues. So, the history of social democracy is rather a bit tainted by all of that. And so I think that there has to be a genuinely left socialist movement.
And I think that Sanders, the more he got into talking to the millennials, I think his rhetoric began to shift away from social democracy to a more socialist line. So, talking about a single-payer system and talking about free access to higher education.
And we see the same thing emerging in Britain with Jeremy Corbyn beginning to talk more in terms of those traditional socialist views rather than a social democratic alternative.
JS: What’s your assessment of the current state of the Democratic Party?
DH: I think it’s actually still controlled by what I would call the party of Wall Street elements. Somebody like Chuck Schumer, for example, he’s raised more money off Wall Street than almost most anybody else in Congress. While rhetorically he can say some certain things, I think that he’s very much part of that, and Nancy Pelosi also. I think the leadership in the power structure within the Democratic Party is antagonistic somewhat to a kind of real socialist push. And my nervousness is that they will simply have to say, “Well, they are the alternative to the crazy man Trump.” And they will get into power. But that’s not going to make any real difference. It’s going to actually exacerbate the problems as I see it.
I don’t see them taking on the kind of question of, say, student debt and I don’t see them taking on single payer and things of that kind of questions at all.
JS: You talk about the need to build a left socialist movement in the United States. You have had a growing of the ranks of the Democratic Socialists of America, a lot of young people joining it. They have been running candidates in local races. One of their candidates won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates, a young guy named Lee Carter, who we had on this show. Would the primary purpose of that be to compete in the electoral system or are you talking about a more worker-oriented movement that’s not overwhelmingly concerned with electoral politics?
DH: Yeah, I don’t, as you probably know, I don’t subscribe to a very workerist view of these things. I think there has to be some alliance between the traditional worker union type of movement and community activist movements and environmental movements and the like, and that building alliances between different groups is terribly important. I think acknowledging the significance of the Black Lives Matter movement and some of the gender movements that are around, that these are, I think, very significant elements that need to be put together into a kind of a coalition.
I personally find that the millennials, if you like to call them that, the younger generation is much more open to discuss these things then anybody over 30, 35. And I say to my daughter sometimes: “One of the things you should do, to be very progressive, is to prevent my generation from having a vote,” because, we’re so reactionary by and large.
But I think the younger generation —
JS: Where would you cut off the voting age? What age do you not vote anymore? I support that for driving, by the way. There should be a maximum age limit for driving.
DH: Yeah, well, I’m probably past that. So, I personally am not going to benefit from that.
But I don’t know exactly what the age is. But I find there’s a group in power, in academia, for example, I think it’s the academics who are between 40 and 60 who kind of hold the power right now, and they’re a real problem. I think they have accepted the neoliberal kind of mantra and they’ve got neoliberal attitudes. So it’s people under that age that I think are beginning to sort of ask big questions.
JS: I’m so glad that you brought up the neoliberal ideas. The term neoliberal is thrown around so much these days by people that I think have literally no clue what neoliberal economic policy is or neoliberalism is in general. I think would be fantastic: give people a definition. What does neoliberalism mean?
DH: I took it to be a political project, which originated in the 1970s with the Business Roundtable and the Rockefellers and everybody else, which is to reorganize the economy in such a way as to restore power to an ailing capitalist class. The capitalist class was in difficulties in the late 1960s, early 1970s, because the worker movement was rather strong, there were lot of community activists, the environmental, there were all of these reform things coming through, the formation of the EPA and all those kinds of things. So they decided, through the Business Roundtable, that they were going to really try to recuperate and accumulate as much economic power as they could amongst themselves.
And that had a number of elements to it, such that, for example, if you were faced with a situation of bailing out the people or bailing out the banks, you would bail out the banks and let the people struggle. You would always, say if there’s a conflict between capital and the well-being of the people, you choose capital. That was the simple form of the project, elements of that, that, you know, Reagan set in motion and Thatcher set in motion and that’s basically what it’s been about. It was a political project.
Now some people say it’s just an idea about the free market. Well, yeah, a free market to some. Personal responsibility, yeah. A redefinition of citizenship such that a good citizen is not a needy citizen. So any citizen who’s needy is a bad person. And I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “I, Daniel Blake.” It’s a very good example. It’s a terrifying example of how social services get set up to punish people as opposed to really assist them and help them.
JS: What I often think of as one of the most visible aspects of neoliberal economic policy is the notion of austerity measures that are imposed on economies in the global south, but also in the case of Greece, for instance. You see this demand from the creditors that the first thing that has to go if we were to give you this debt is your social programs and the money that you would normally spend on those is going to go toward paying off either the principle or the interest on the money that is being generously lent to you.
DH: Well, it’s the debt peonage again. You organize debt peonage in such a way as to lock people in, and then they have to pay. But, you don’t take the money away from the bondholders. I mean, in the case of Greece for example, it wasn’t as if anybody went after the French and the German banks who lent all that money to Greece. They kind of basically socialized their debt, turned it into the IMF and the European Stability Fund and all the rest of it and then made the Greeks pay.
Well, actually, if the banks made a bad judgment they should pay. But they didn’t and this is this neoliberal principle at work. And I tend not to like the term austerity, started because austerity —
JS: I’m using the term that they use.
DH: Yes, they use. But austerity is used for policies which are administered to the population. Austerity is not for capital.
DH: Absolutely not for the financial institutions, and it’s not for the top one percent. So austerity is about social programs. And, in fact, the state has been heavily, heavily involved in subsidizing capital over the last ten or fifteen years. So, state power is used that way. So, this again, is part of the neoliberal kind of mix. And it preaches free market but especially for the ideology, as I’ve said earlier, there’s a tremendous amount of monopoly power in this supposedly free market system.
JS: I’ve often thought that at least in part the situation that we saw unfold in Greece is very similar in some ways to what happened in the financial crisis in this country in 2007, 2008. You had these lenders that knew that the people they were giving the money to were not going to be able to afford their monthly payments, not to mention even making principal loan payments. And in Greece it was the same thing. These German, and to a lesser extent, other European financial institutions, they knew that the money that they were giving, or that they were lending to Greece was not going to be repaid and that it would ultimately come to a head. So why did these institutions — why do German banks or U.S. financial institutions — what benefits them to pour money into Greece knowing that it’s not going to be paid back, or other countries?
DH: Because they know it will be paid back to them.
DH: By the state. In fact, the German state will do it. But the German state will do it by actually leaning upon the Greeks and reducing their living standards. But this has been going on since way, way back.
I mean look at something like Mexico in 1982, couldn’t pay its debt. The International Monetary Fund said, “OK, we’ll help you out, but you’ve got to do this and this and this.” And actually they reduced the living standards of people in Mexico by about 25 percent in the next five years. That was what helped pay off the debt.
Now that’s what austerity is about. And, in fact, the IMF has administered austerity by doing that sort of thing everywhere.
So the banks never get hurt and it goes back actually to the New York fiscal crisis back in 1975 when there was a choice between actually bailing out the banks or making the citizens of New York City pay. So, the citizens of New York City paid and the banks didn’t bear any of the cost of what they had done. So this is what the neoliberal order is about. And they call it a moral hazard, by the way, which means that you’re not going to really be caught by any bad decision you make.
JS: When politicians, primarily Republicans but also Democrats talk about, “Oh, we need to reduce our debt and we need to balance our checkbook in this country.” What are the politics of that, when you have politicians campaigning in part on this idea that they’re going to reduce the debt or eliminate the debt of the U.S. federal government? What are they really talking about?
DH: Well, this is a sort of a baseball bat which is taken to politics periodically. Remember Dick Cheney saying that, “Ronald Reagan taught us that debt doesn’t matter.” Because Reagan went into debt like crazy, mainly on the military side and Bush also was going into debt.
Then the Republicans turn around when Obama comes in and says, “We got to do something about the debt.” And that becomes the excuse to stop any kind of programs going through. And we see now the Republicans are back into power, what do they do? They increase the debt by a one and half trillion dollars or something like that.
I don’t think there’s a real issue here, what is simply a political excuse to raise the rhetoric about indebtedness and we’ve got to deal with the debt on our children, but then, of course, it’s turned around. And like this last tax bill, nobody cares about it when in fact they’ve been bleating on about the debt for ages and ages before that. But it’s a political tool, which you use in this particular way, in a particular historical moment.
JS: Who owns the U.S. debt?
DH: Oh, it’s interesting, that. Of course China owns a great deal of it and actually Russia owns quite a bit. Japan owns quite a bit.
In fact, there’s a very interesting story about that if you want to know, when in the middle of the crisis when Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, and AIG were all kind of going dim, the Russians went to the Chinese and said to the Chinese, “Let’s sell all our debt in those institutions and that will crash the U.S. economy.” And it would have done because actually the holders of the debt of those institutions were primarily China and Russia. China refused, for a very simple reason. They didn’t want the U.S. economy to crash because it’s a main consumer market. But if Russia and China had decided at that moment to sell all of their holdings in Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac, and AIG, the U.S. economy would have gone down.
JS: Is there anything in China that you would still describe as, or, if you ever, Communist in nature?
DH: I think that the Chinese situation is a very kind of complicated one.
JS: For sure.
DH: But one that — I’ve gone up and down about this. For instance, Xi has decided he’s going to eliminate rural poverty in two years. And it’s a massive, massive program going on in China right now. And, of course, when the Chinese decide to do something like that they really do it. I mean, when they decided to build a high-speed rail network they had zero miles of it in 2007. They’ve now got 15,000 or 20,000 miles of it and they just went ahead and did it.
JS: Well, but in fairness, you know the there is very little regulation in China for these kinds of construction projects.
DH: Yes, there’s no regulation. There’s no private property rights in your way. You can do what you like. You know I mean, it’s dictatorial in that kind of way. So I’m not saying this is a good system. But it’s interesting that Xi has decided to eradicate rural poverty in two years. And now, people may go on about that in the West. But I don’t see, I mean, can you imagine a program in this country that says it was going to eradicate homelessness in two years? I don’t see it. I mean everybody goes on about affordable housing, something’s gotta be done. But nothing actually really gets done. Xi is going to do it. This is the difference that there is. So there are some very positive things that come out of the China thing, as well as all of the negatives which of course we hear all of the time: lack of freedom of choice, and it’s very authoritarian, party power is being used in certain kinds of ways, and people will talk about all those sorts of things in the West. But what we’re not looking at is the phenomenal transformation that’s going on economically, and in terms of people’s lifestyles. I mean, if you said to people, “Do you want to go back to the kind of world that was there, in say, 1978, or something like that? “The answer would be absolutely not.” That many people there have got a much better life now than was the case back then.
So I think that China is something which we ought to be looking at with a critical eye. But nevertheless not this kind of preachy, oh, it’s not like there’s no concern about human rights. As if somehow or other there’s great concern on the ground for human rights in this country.
JS: With the discussion around Trump and collusion and Russia — I don’t even know if red baiting is the right term, but if I see one more asinine cable news host put a backwards “R” in Trump, instead of T-r-u-m-p, it’s T-backwards r, which is not even the letter R in the Russian alphabet — the idea that the Soviet Union is still there. That Russia is Communist and that Putin is still this kind of epitome of a Cold War commie and he was in the KGB for so long. Is there any nugget of truth whatsoever to the idea that Russia still has any links to what it once was as the Soviet Union? I mean, because it seems to me like Putin is a very kind of sophisticated gangster running a very capitalist institution in the Russian state.
DH: I’m not an expert on all of this but I don’t see anything particularly redemptive about what Putin is doing. And I don’t think it has anything to do with socialism or if there’s even a residual concern about any kind of socialist values. Whereas in the China case I do see some concern about those sorts of issues and they are shifting, for example, to look at environmental questions and taking the lead now in renewable energies and things of that sort.
So, you know, the China case is I think a complicated one because it does have a number of features which are redemptive. At the same time you recognize that there are many features in that society which I personally would not really want to live with.
JS: What would it look like if we were to radically reorganize U.S. society under a philosophy or an ideology rooted in Marxism? Or that the social good was actually a priority in this country rather than everyone fend for themselves? What would that mean in a country as big and as populated as the United States?
DH: I think, if I put it sort of crudely, I think the future of the U.S. in so far that it has a radical future, lies more with some of what I would call almost non-ideological anarchism. I don’t think that it’s ready for the kind of collective endeavor that would really be required to confront the power of the Federal Reserve and find an alternative. I don’t think it’s ready for thinking about a mass movement of some kind that will actually start to redefine how the economy works.
I think if there’s going to be any real kind of left, it’s going to be a kind of a socialist-anarchist kind of left politics that will remerge, which has many redeeming features. And coming out of a Marxist history was supposed to be very hostile to anarchism, but I have a great deal of appreciation for the anarchist tradition. And, I actually find that with my own work that it often gets taken up by anarchists.
I think there’s a ideological area of overlap that has something which will be distinctive to U.S. history and culture, and I think we have to recognize the significance and importance of that history.
JS: Do you have a sense that kind of a radical shift, for the United States to have enough people to fundamentally change the way that the state functions, or maybe an entirely different state would be built up, there’s no plausible path to that short of a complete collapse of the capitalist state in the United States. Am I wrong?
DH: Well, no, I think that one of the things that is going on to some degree on the left is the attempt to redefine forms of government, governmental power, if you want to call it that, which are alternative to the existing state structures. And, to some degree I see the activism that’s going on at the municipal level as an interesting kind of way to start to explore what those alternative structures might look like. Can we create democratic forms of municipal governance for example?
If, so, what kind of institutional structures would work, so that people become involved, become unalienated, as opposed to alienated entirely from the rather corrupt structures of government that we now have. So I think there would need to be already in place the capacity of people to organize themselves into alternative structures of collective governance, which are outside of the conventional forms of the state apparatus.
JS: What states throughout history would you point to as most embodying a socially just structure?
DH: I think that we’ve seen various experiments with forms of governance, which are collective. I mean, many people on the left will talk about the Zapatista movement, for example. But I think you would see in places like Kerala, or Bhutan possibilities of a government structure that is very different. I mean Kerala is a very poor state but on the other hand it has a great high literacy rate. Healthcare is very good.
JS: Well, and a very rich radical left tradition.
DH: Radical left tradition. I actually think that we should be able to talk a little bit more about Cuba. There are all kinds of problems in Cuba. But I don’t think we should write it off. Their health care system is remarkable. The story of what the Cuban doctors have done globally is absolutely astonishing. Again, I think that we have to cherry pick from different historical situations to figure out things that did work.
And I don’t think everything that happened in the Soviet Union was negative, for example. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union many things that were actually very positive for the population disappeared. And I think that, again, we have to look back and find out what were those things that were very positive and can they be reconstructed?
JS: Well I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Cuba myself, and was there in the mid-90s also when Cuba was going through what Castro called “the Special Period” when the dollar was being reintroduced into Cuban society and the Cubans were facing the realities of what it meant for the Soviet Union to no longer exist in the form that it had in the decades that Cuba was one of its close allies in the Western Hemisphere. And I remember watching a speech that Castro gave in which he was talking about, he was lambasting a report by Human Rights Watch, the U.S.-based human rights organization, which often does do the kind of ideological bidding of the U.S. government in the way that it applies its filter to different societies versus the United States, although less so now than it was before. And Castro said that there is essentially a “Western” meaning, like, white-Anglo states’ view of human rights and then there is a different version of what it means to have human rights in countries like Cuba. And he basically was saying, in the West they cherish freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and these things that are sort of of the mind. And here [in Cuba] we would list as human rights, housing, education, health care, etc. Does that absolve Castro of the need to — I mean obviously he’s no longer with us but to embrace the idea that freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are in fact somehow inherently human rights that we all are entitled to just because they’re giving people affordable or free healthcare, affordable or free education, affordable or free housing? I mean is he correct in saying, “Well, these are two different views of what the priorities are in human rights.”
DH: Well I don’t think it’s a question of whether he’s correct or not. I think that was the path that Cuba chose. And personally I would like to see much more in the way of freedom of expression and the like. Freedom of assembly? I don’t know if we have freedom of assembly in this country.
JS: I wasn’t cosigning. I was saying that that’s what’s projected: these are the definitions of freedom where you can assemble, when you can speak. And in Cuba it’s, “Yeah, but what if you have no health care, no housing?”
DH: Yes. Right. No, I think that those elements should be human rights. I tend to say that one of the strategies for a socialist program right now would be to decommodify as much as possible basic human needs which would include, of course, obviously health care and education. I think it’s appalling that we have to pay for education. I got my PhD free in Britain way, way back and I think that should be open to everybody.
So I think there are areas of that sort, and I would simply say that health care should not be a commodity and you shouldn’t be rationed in terms of health care in terms of your income. You should not be rationed in your access to education. I think that housing is an area, and I think that actually basic food supply also should be a human right and Cuba tried to implement things on that and I know that in certain parts, even in places, certain municipalities in Brazil, they set up free food supply for low-income populations. And in a funny sort of way, we have it through the volunteer sector right now, which is, you know, the food and the soup kitchens and things like that.
JS: But Reagan once bragged that the number of soup kitchens had exponentially grown under his administration.
DH: Yes, well, that was a really crazy thing to brag about. But I think that basic needs should be met and so I think that a socialist program would be one where that would be the case.
JS: It’s interesting because when you — and this comes up more and more now in our discourse for a variety of reasons — but you know people will point to what’s sort of called the crimes of communism. That 30 million-plus people under Stalin and the brutality of Mao and Castro’s suppression of dissent and the jailing of dissenters and Che Guevara supporting the firing squads at the beginning of the Cuban revolution. And you know there’s a whole bucket of heinousness in each of the episodes that I just described that’s well known and talked about all the time. But they are categorized as the crimes of communism and yet we never talk about the crimes of capitalism. But in our society, Reagan isn’t viewed through the lens of the crimes of capitalism. Bush and Cheney killing 1 million-plus people with their wars? That’s not the crimes of capitalism. Clinton imposing the most harsh regime of economic sanctions in world history on the people of Iraq. Those are the crimes of capitalism. Should they be labeled in that way?
DH: Oh, absolutely. And I think right now, we even internally, we should be looking at something like the opioid thing. I mean we have declining life expectancy in many areas of the United States right now. And actually Cameron, when he resigned, was the first prime minister in a country where the life expectancy was less when he resigned than when he took office. So declining life expectancy, just to give you an example, is an indicator of something that’s going on in society, which is close to criminal kind of activity.
And I saw, I mentioned, “I, Daniel Blake.” I thought this is a criminal activity that’s going on here and should be called out as criminal activity. Marx actually, in Kapital, is always talking about, well, what goes on in the workplace. In his time, of course, it was kids down the mines and so on is violence and is violence against humanity in a way that should be actually called out as violence.
So, we have to look at all of those elements. And when we look at those elements we see that there are countervailing issues. I mean, people quite rightly talk about, for instance, the great famine in China which came out of very bad policy decisions and many million people died. But what we don’t talk about is the fact that when Mao came to power, life expectancy in China was something like 35; when he died, life expectancy in China was 65. So this is a real transformation in society where I think that we recognize that a particular political regime has made some good things and some bad things.
And I think, actually, again the way the Chinese handle this is interesting. They basically said, “Well, you know, Mao was a genius but he made mistakes. And we recognize those mistakes but on the other hand he did something that was absolutely phenomenal.”
JS: What is the role of prisons or jails in society? Or, rather, let me rephrase that: How do you think society should respond to crime, including very serious crime, murder and rape?
DH: I think one of the things again that we have to do is to look in two directions: one, the kind of incarceration politics that has grown up under the neoliberal order in the ways of storing people in jails and so on, as dealing with the particularly recalcitrant group in the population by incarceration. And I find that politics unacceptable. On the other hand, when there’s violence and pathological violence, we have to try to go to the root of it. And we see some of these things and have to ask questions of where it’s coming from —again, I think there are issues about alienation which are involved here and we need a society that is much more, empathetic to situations. But, yes, of course if somebody is engaging in pathological criminal activity there has to be ways of isolating them and protecting society from their actions.
So I’m not against incarceration to some degree, but there’s punitive incarceration and then there’s remedial incarceration.
JS: Who does it right in the world, do you think? Deals with the inevitability of criminal actions, including violent ones that represent an actual threat to ordinary people?
DH: I don’t know. I have not done enough studies of the criminal justice system to give a good answer to that.
JS: I mean this may sound like a strange question. Is there a city in the world that you think of as the most capitalist city on Earth?
DH: The most capitalist city on Earth — there’s lot of cities that are extremely capitalist.
JS: Well, in your book you talk about London and Shanghai and New York, because of Wall Street and the huge financial concentration, but are they all sort of just on the same or similar level, or are there some more than others?
DH: No, I mean, of course the traditional industrial town with the cotton manufacturing centers of the 19th century, something like that, were purely capitalist. The kind of things that Engels describes in “The Condition the Working Class in England in 1844.” Those sorts of things are descriptions of industrial capitalist cities. But then we’ve got the consumerist capitalist city and then we’ve got the financial capitalist city that has a rather different kind of tone to it.
So I think there are different kinds of capitalist city. And as I am very much into these days is to talk about the city as a sink for surplus capital. So people actually build cities to absorb surplus capital.
And the Chinese have done some of this big time. But, then, if you look at Spain before the crash you find actually a lot of provincial centers were building monumental public works for no good reason whatsoever except the fact that there was surplus capital around it and they needed something to do. And so they kind of said, “OK, we’ll do that.” And of course all of that came crashing down.
But if you look at what’s going on in terms of urbanization worldwide what you see is a tremendous kind of ecological transformation. In cities like countries like Turkey, you drive around in small towns, massive building projects around, many of them not inhabited and you wonder what on Earth is going on. Even in Palestine I saw the same sort of thing going on around Ramallah, a kind of taking of surplus capital and saying, “What are we going to do with it? Well, we’ll build a condominium. Or we’ll build…” and, you know, and of course we see that going on in New York, we see going on in many parts, in many parts of the world. This is almost a universal process, right?
JS: Well and there’s a huge money-laundering operation that’s occurring. I mean, London now is basically finished. You have people from outside the country purchasing expensive real estate as a way of parking their money.
DH: Yes, right. No, I mean, this is going on everywhere. I mean, one of the lines I say, we don’t build cities now for people to live, we build them for people to invest in. And the investors don’t necessarily really care about the quality of life in the city, and that’s one of the negative things.
JS: But how do you realistically change this or stop this? That’s why I asked you earlier — short of like, a complete collapse of the American economy, how do you even make a dent in this?
DH: Well, I think this is likely to be quite a significant withdrawal on the far end of finance at a certain point, and it’s going to be a lot of bankruptcies which are attached to that and I think that some of the things that are going to happen are going to move in a rather different direction. But the trouble is —
JS: What do you mean?
DH: Well, I mean, just take New York. I mean, the quality of life in New York has been declining very radically because rents have been rising very rapidly and small family restaurants and coffee shops and so on are going under and being replaced by chains. So now, what used to be a kind of neighborhood life is being destroyed by the big chains coming in, and bank branches, and who wants to live on a street which is four bank branches and five chains? I mean so there’s a real deterioration in the daily quality of life in the city, which leads to that sort of alienation that I mentioned at the very beginning.
And I think that if that all breaks down then the question arises, how are those empty stores, because there’s going to be empty stores or bank branches which just can’t pay for themselves anymore, what’s going to happen to all of that real estate and how is it going to be occupied and by whom will it be occupied? And that I think is then going to be one of the big questions, where you find sort of communities of artists coming in and taking up for vacant space back in the cities, bit like what happened in the 1970s when you had a very negative property market in a city like New York where a lot of artists communities were forming and it was a very vibrant sort of place to live and people get nostalgic for sort of the 1970s. And I think: Can that be recreated? Will that come back again? Something like that? I don’t know what the future can be.
Who’s going to occupy all of these sort of condos which are being built around which are for the very affluent, which nobody is going to be investing in anymore.
JS: Well yes, and, at the same time, I mean we are a country filled with guns and many of the people who have stockpiled the most weapons are certainly not going to be reading your books.
DH: No. Well, you never know! You never know.
JS: Maybe. OK, maybe there are some like, radical socialist cells out there that have gone about and armed themselves. But I think you get the point that I’m making. My fear if there is some sort of dystopic future on the horizon that the poor are going to get just mowed down in this country or those who try to reorganize.
DH: Well, they already are being mowed down. I mean that’s been going on steadily over the last, 20 or 30 years, a steady degradation. It’s not a single event. It’s a steady degradation of their living circumstances.
JS: I mean, yes, undoubtedly that’s true.
DH: I mean there are more homeless people now than ever before. Why did that happen, we have building booms in all these places like, San Francisco, Los Angeles and everywhere else, and even in cities like Baltimore and so on? I mean this is a production of homelessness. And we’re not looking at the root of how homelessness gets produced. And, yes, they’re being mowed down. But the people who are mowed down very often feel totally disempowered. They are the ultimately alienated. But, at a certain point, you have to go back Brechtian drama to see what happens when the beggars finally come in and say, “OK we’re into real transformations.”
JS: Right, but when you address in the new book, the relationship between the institution of the military and the rest of the economy in nation-states, it takes you into a completely different realm of alienation.
JS: However, the technology that exists right now in the world is such that the world could easily be destroyed many times over, by single actors in some cases: United States, Russia, China could instantaneously destroy the world.
The guns and the caliber of weapons that people have in this country are much more fierce than ever before in history. And I’m not even sure that Marx or anyone from that era would have been able to imagine the level of destruction that could be caused by one individual person with these weapons.
Does that factor into how you think about the future and the possibilities of rebellion or transformation in society, just the sheer level of destruction that could be wrought by a very small group of people?
DH: Yeah, I mean —
JS: Do you understand what I’m saying? Because people are obsessed with dystopic novels and everything, but it’s like: This guy who killed all these people in Las Vegas. I mean the amount of firepower that that individual had, not just in his hotel room but also in other properties. I mean, two hundred years ago, it would be unthinkable that one person could hold that kind of power in their hand.
DH: I agree and I think that politics really has to take account of that. I mean what happened in the American Revolution couldn’t happen today.
DH: What happened in the French Revolution couldn’t happen today.
JS: What happened in 1917 in Russia couldn’t happen today. I mean the thing that struck me about Ferguson was the sight of those militarized police taking and going down — I mean, there’s no way, it seems to me, that a political movement could imagine taking to the streets and storming the barricades and getting anywhere. They would simply be mowed down.
And so therefore politics has to start to think about a kind of progressive transformation, which does not involve confrontation and violence of that sort. Because, simply, I think any movement of that sort would lose. And therefore we have to think of something which is an alternative kind of movement.
The difficulty is that that movements which are, say, attempting to construct some kind of alternative will get criminalized. And so we see the criminalization of environmentalists. We see the criminalization, as we saw in the Dakota [Access] Pipeline, kind of thing, criminalized people who are engaged in protest. And then of course you have the right to go in and kill them, if necessary.
So this is, if you like, the problem on the left. The left has to think of an alternative strategy and not have dreams of the Russian Revolution or the American Revolution or anything of that kind. Because right now it’s not so much that there’s one person that’s got a finger on a button. I mean, yeah, if Trump pushes the button, we’re not going to be here to talk about anything.
JS: It’s a very big button. Much bigger than your button, let me tell you.
DH: Right. So that’s not what worries me so much. But what worries me is the militarization of social control, and the intense militarization and the super-militarization of it. So even something like Occupy, which was a fairly innocent kind of affair in some ways, got treated as an almost semi-criminal, not semi, but a criminal organization, which had to be smashed. And I saw that even something as elemental as that, seems to me is not going to really be able to do very much.
JS: Well, and this prosecution that’s still ongoing, of batches of people, stemming from the J20 protests at Trump’s inauguration where they were going to put people, who the prosecutors themselves acknowledge played no role in any destruction of any property, they were threatened with possibly of decades in prison.
DH: Right. Right.
JS: Now, fortunately the first batch was acquitted. But we don’t know what’s going to happen with the rest of them. It bears out, what you’re saying. The state is intensely criminalizing dissent with higher and higher stakes for those who participate in it, even indirectly.
DH: No, so this is one of the big issues for the left to think about. I mean, because we will get criminalized the closer we get to actually doing something about the real centers of political and economic power in society. I think that we will be treated as criminals.
JS: Well, I want to ask you: Something that I’ve said when I’ve had debates with people who say, “Oh, you know, there’s going to be a coup in the United States that the military ultimately is going to take over,” or that “they’re going to build these FEMA camps,” etc. And I’ve often argued with people, including from my own world on the left, and said, the state doesn’t need to do any of that. They don’t need to build the camp to put you in. They’re already winning. There’s been a kind of silent coup.
It’s like the line in The Usual Suspects, the Kevin Spacey film, “You know, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” In a way, I sort of feel like that’s capitalism in this country. The idea that people think that it requires a finite group of fat, white men, smoking cigars coming up with a way to lock up all of the dissenters because of their thoughts, that’s not how that kind of a force operates. It’s much more ingrained in every aspect of our life.
DH: Yes, and that’s why I come back to notions of debt peonage, one of the ways in which social control is exercised is to get people so deep in debt they cannot imagine anything in the future other than simply living in such a way as to pay off their debt. And if you kind of say what is one of the biggest checks on the radicalism of, say, the millennial generation, it’s the huge student debt that hangs around them. And, I think cognizant of that they’re not going to rock the boat.
JS: Well, yeah, and now if you if you fail to make your payments, then you get reported to a credit agency, then you’re looking at a minimum of seven years of your life basically, where you have to struggle just to get basic services or goods as a result of not paying back that enormous debt from college.
DH: This is, I mean, I shouldn’t say this because I don’t believe it, but it’s a kind of almost return to a feudal order where debt peonage is the order of the day.
JS: Yeah, I mean it’s a much more sophisticated form of it. But when you boil it down to it, I think you’re probably right that that is exactly what’s happening.
As we wrap up, why did you write this book right now?
DH: Well, I wrote in part because I think that Marx is not well read and not well understood. And I thought that to try to give a simple, not simplistic, but simple understanding of what he was trying to do in the three volumes of Kapital.
JS: I would say it’s digestible, is the word where you are able to take in a lot of complex —
DH: Yeah. All right. And then to kind of say that there are some very strong things that come out of this. And there’s a lot of things that don’t come out of it. I mean this idea that Marx spoke about everything in the world and understood everything in the world is crazy. He had a very limited project. But the limited project yields a lot of information, I think, particularly when you start to look at questions of finance and indebtedness and things of that kind.
So I wrote it partly because of that, but then also it seemed to me that there was such an interesting way in which armed with those kind of conceptual apparatus, you could start to get an interpretation of what’s happening: Why is it that the Chinese did what they did after 2007, 2008; and what are the impacts for the rest of the world; and what’s happening to commodity prices and things of that kind.
Again, this doesn’t explain everything that’s going on in the world at all. But, on the other hand, it does say something very significant about the economic order in which we live.
JS: What about the commodification of spectacle? Sports and concerts, other things. What’s your view?
DH: Well, one of the things I point to is that capital survives in part by speeding up. And therefore there’s going to be a speed up in terms of how fast things change. But how do you speed up consumption?
If you’re consuming stuff that lasts for fifty years and hundred years, like my grandmother’s knives and forks, that’s one thing. But we consume spectacle instantaneously, so capital is increasingly circulating through the production of spectacle.
And I think the dream of Silicon Valley is to give us all a universal basic income so we can sit on a couch and just binge-watch on Netflix. And that will be our life.
JS: There was actually, supposedly it was a children’s movie, there was a film made on this very subject called Wall-E.
DH: Oh Wall-E, yeah, that’s right. That’s right. Yeah, yeah, that’s right.
JS: I mean, that’s essentially what you’re saying that they want.
DH: Yeah. Yeah. And the fact is, the Silicon Valley crowd are actually in favor of the universal basic income, which seems like a left project. So some of the left want it, and they want it, too.
JS: Now, you’re on Twitter.
JS: Do you have a mobile phone?
DH: Yeah, I have a mobile.
JS: Do you text with people?
DH: No. Oh! I text with people. Yes.
JS: Do you use Facebook?
JS: Do you use Snapchat?
JS: Do you know what Snapchat is?
JS: OK. I have a sense from the teenagers that I know in my life are completely different than other generations of teenagers. And I’m just talking narrowly through the lens of how I’ve seen social media impact day-to-day interaction.
JS: It is noticeably different. And I don’t mean to be the grumpy old — when I was a young man, we had to walk uphill both ways to get to and from school. I mean the basic notion of conversing with other people has been, it’s like it’s been adjusted. It’s like the system has an update to it that is really scary because we’re all attached to these devices. I’m on Twitter all the time. It changes the way we think about ourselves, about the world.
Where do you see all of this headed, with how attached we all are now to our so-called smart devices? Because I have to be honest: When I stop myself to think about it, I get pretty fucking scared about what this means for our future that we’re so attached to these devices. How do you see it?
DH: I’m scared, too. But I have no answer to that big, big question.
JS: What would Marx have thought of Twitter and Snapchat?
DH: I think he probably would have thought that like any technology, it can be used for revolutionary purposes or it can have counter-revolutionary purposes. And I think the counter-revolutionary side of it is — and we’ve seen a very interesting kind of evolution about this whole Internet thing, from kind of this is a radical democratizing instrument, to realizing that it’s really about social control and all rest of it.
So I think that there’s likely to be a reaction of some kind. I hope there’s going to be a reaction of some kind. And, for the first time we start to see this whole kind of question of the addiction of populations to this coming up as being a significant social kind of, kind of problem.
JS: Oh yeah, there’s all sorts of new diagnoses now, for video games and social media.
DH: Yeah, and I know that a lot of school teachers are being driven crazy by the fact that in their classrooms people are doing this stuff all the time.
JS: Right, we’re all reachable all the time by basically anyone who wants to reach us. And we can be made to feel like we’re the most brilliant people in the world by reading our Twitter feed. Someone like you, who is a public figure with 80-something thousand Twitter followers, I’m sure you have people that are saying, “You’re the greatest thinker alive,” and then people who are denouncing you, and you could get that all served up to you while you’re eating your cereal in the morning.
DH: I confess I tend not to read it, so.
JS: I did send you a direct message and you did respond to it. So I will give you points for knowing how to use the DMs.
OK, last question, I don’t mean to malign the generation of young people, because I ultimately do agree with you that they have a much more open mind than the generation, for instance, when I was in my 20s.
DH: I think the reaction, by the way, to this Internet neutrality thing has been really, really interesting. You know, 14 and 15 years old suddenly have been woken to the fact that they’ve got to do something. And there’s a huge, huge wave of activism suddenly emerging out of that.
JS: Yes, although, part of it is just basic survival instinct because they’re so attached to these devices.
DH: Yes, right, no, no.
JS: I’m going to sound like the curmudgeon here, and you’re going to be the militant supporter of our young people. But on that issue for young people listening to this right now, what advice would you give them about how to be better contributors to society and making the world more just? What should young people read? What ideas should they explore as they go further and further out into the world to make it better?
DH: I think two things. First, while being on Snapchat and all the rest of it, try to cultivate a circle of very close friends that you can have real communication with, because there has to be some ground truthing, as they sometimes say in these words, of what all these abstractions, which you’re getting through the Internet, are about. And I think that by having a group, a discussion group or like-minded group of people.
JS: You mean in real life. You don’t mean like a chat group.
DH: No, I mean sitting around a table with none of the devices on, and talking and drinking or whatever. I mean just, just so that you have real human closeness and you can talk about a lot of the issues that you’re encountering.
And I would be very much in favor, and I think this has been going on a lot, of forming reading groups.
And I’ve been very excited by the fact that I have these lectures on reading Marx’s Kapital. And I find all these reading groups around eight, ten people get together and once a week they get together. And they talk about, and I’m not saying everybody should do Kapital, but have reading groups of that kind so that you can discuss ideas and alternatives.
JS: Well, and the downloads of that are in the millions.
DH: Yes, right, no, I mean that system has worked extremely well, which there’s lectures on Marx’s Kapital. And so people will look at the lectures and maybe look at the book and then they will come in a group and will talk about what’s being said what it means and the like.
And I get a lot of feedback: what did you mean by this; and I think you’re wrong on this. For me that’s been a very successful thing. But I also recognize that when I talk to people who form those reading groups and that they’re doing something significantly different from what goes on in terms of, I’m not against all of the new stuff. I mean, I tend to have a slightly Luddite view of some of this. I’m more in favor of a lot of it, but there has to be something else going on as well. And that’s something else, it’s something which has to be actively constructive. Not in opposition to, but as a companion to what is going on around them in the Internet.
JS: What a great note to end on. Professor David Harvey, thank you very much for joining us on Intercepted.
DH: Well, thank you for this opportunity. It’s been great. Thank you.
CONTACT THE AUTHOR:
Jeremy Scahill email@example.com @jeremyscahill