The Empire Strikes Back:
50 Years since the Rebellions of 1968
Glen T. Martin
In May 1968, a half century ago, young people around the planet rebelled. Young people were occupying the universities, closing the streets, disrupting the Democratic Convention in Chicago, shutting down the streets of Paris, bringing the Vietnam war-machine to a crisis, and demanding a world based on unity, compassion, solidarity, and justice. Although mostly in the US and Western Europe, these rebellions had geopolitical significance as Boswell and Chase-Dunn point out in The Spiral of Capitalism and Socialism.
The rebellions were part of the on-going dialectic in the struggle between a system of class-based global exploitation and a future system of planetary equality and justice. The young were demanding a democratic socialism in which economic and political systems would be based on human and environmental values, rather than on wealth and power. Where are we in this dialectic today?
The 60s never posed any real danger to the ruling class and its war-machine, of course. In the US, by 1970, they were ready to call out the National Guard who were happy to shoot unarmed students at Kent State, just as today the Israeli military is happy to shoot unarmed Palestinians demanding human rights and human dignity. These atrocities can be committed without serious consequences to the criminals who commit them. The Vietnam War was only a catalyst that elicited the protests against the entire system. In 1968, we thought that we had established a real “counterculture” in which the values of solidarity, peace, justice, and human decency would be seen throughout the world to be the true values on which nations and peoples must establish economics and politics.
The real danger of 1968 was not to the ruling class or the war-machine. It was in the ideas. From the point of view of the ruling class, ideas that demand a world based on justice, peace, sustainability, and human dignity must be discredited and marginalized in every way possible, all the while maintaining the illusion that there is “freedom of thought and information” within the so-called “democracies” of the world. Nevertheless, as I shall show below, there is nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come. It is time for the people of Earth to demand a transformation of our fragmented, immoral, and self-destructive world system. Now is the time to transcend nation-state fragmentation and join together the people of Earth.
After 1968, the ruling class and their military-industrial-academic complex decided that they needed to overcome the so-called “Vietnam Syndrome.” They continued to secure their ownership of the mass media and their big-money control of government to the point where they could silence and roll back the subversive idea that political and economic arrangements should be premised on ecological and moral values, rather than on lies, propaganda, and manipulation in the service of power and greed. They initiated censorship of the many US wars abroad.
No longer were images of the immense human suffering caused by these wars shown on mass media screens. Geopolitical wealth and power today determine the US support for Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war against Yemen and the same geopolitical wealth and power determines US support for the Israeli genocide against Palestine. Economics and political arrangements are conditioned by wealth and power, not justice, peace, or sustainability. For the past half-century, the dialectic has swung back toward unrestrained capitalism.
In the ruling class analysis, the New Deal, in which the capitalist system compromised with ordinary people in the US to provide social security, employer sponsored health insurance, decent wages, and the possibility of education for the masses, was a major cause of the uppity rebellion of the young. The ruling class in the late 60s and 70s decided it was time to roll back the New Deal and cut off the possibility of real progressive social change. They needed to secure for themselves the domination of globalized capitalism and the imperial hegemony of the US military juggernaut.
Today, the US is actively fighting in some 13 countries. It has a long term and a short term geopolitical strategy. The short term is to destroy all stable governments that are not puppets of Washington. Social chaos, the lives of hundreds of millions of people, are valued at nothing despite the moralizing of Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations, first published in 1776. The long-term strategy is to eliminate Russia and China as possible rivals to US global hegemony. Capitalism is inherently an economic philosophy of domination. The capitalists know full well that the issue is not about “economic freedom.” The real issue is about maintaining and extending their rule of privilege and domination.
The capitalist system commodifies everything. There is nothing that has intrinsic value in this system. Everything (even human beings) can be bought and sold and is valued only according to the market. Its view of human beings derives from the outdated early modern idea that the world is made up of “substances” or “atoms” that have individual reality. Human beings are atoms of “rational self-interest,” according to Adam Smith, and we compete with one another to maximize personal gain.
The famous argument that capitalism provides continuous “innovation” and drives technology and creativity forward for ever more entrepreneurial progress has some truth to it (as Karl Marx understood) but misses the main point. For this engine of innovation has always primarily been led by military innovation—continuous cutting edge progress in destroying human beings and their life support systems (in the service of the domination of capital), as well as continuous cutting edge progress in ways to mine, cut down, exploit, and destroy nature in the name of private profit. The creative engine of capitalism, uncontrolled and uninhibited by human moral and scientifically grounded ecological principles, will ultimately destroy both humanity and nature.
Today, the world is divided among three primary groups. The first group is the 1% who control the economics, politics, banking, and military systems of most nations. They possess more than half of all the wealth in the world. The second group consists in 20 or 30% of the world’s population who find the meaning of life in endlessly browsing in millions of stores and eating in millions of restaurants worldwide. They buy cheap consumer junk sold by millions of desperate vendors around the world struggling to sell the same disposable consumer junk to millions of self-indulgent consumers oblivious of any universal moral dimension that binds all human beings together.
The third group consists in the 50-60% who live in the hell of global poverty, many of whom work in the sweatshops and production dungeons of the empire. They are invisible, no one thinks or cares about them and their immense suffering.They are paid starvation wages, have no rights, no healthcare, and no hope, but are forced to produce the endless consumer junk for the 20-30% who are self-indulgent, thoughtless engines of consumption, without compassion or solidarity with anyone but themselves and their limited identity groups. These statistics are not based on any “reality” of who we are, but on the false early-modern paradigm.
The early-modern philosophical ideology of independent “substances,” or human beings as “atoms or rational self-interest” has some very limited truth about it. However, egoistic human beings operating on rational self-interest represent an immature and childlike feature of our humanity. As we grow to maturity, it is relationships that become ever more fundamental, and our thoughtful compassion and insight into the need for ecological balance also grows proportionately. Capitalists seeking wealth and power are therefore mostly immature children inhabiting adult bodies, and therefore extremely dangerous to humanity and the future. This has been pointed out by such major thinkers as Abraham Maslow and Erich Fromm.
The ideology of independent “substances” (that reality is composed of autonomous parts rather than relationships) has also colonized the political system of the world since this idea was first translated into political arrangements at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Since then, the world has been defined in terms of autonomous, independent territorial entities called “sovereign nations.” Like capitalism, with whom these entities are deeply interrelated and share a common origin in early-modern ideology, these absolute territorial fragments are presumed to operate out of “rational self-interest” in a competitive world system in which each is out for its own interests. Loyalty to one’s territorial segment is expected of citizens who happen to be born in this or that country, each segment defined by absolute militarized borders and promoting its own “national interest.” Just today, Sweden has announced to all its citizens to prepare for war and that its absolute autonomy as an independent nation must never be compromised. They will fight to the death.
If one points to so-called “social democracies” like Sweden (primarily in Western Europe) that appear to have done a good job of regulating capitalism to the point of providing healthcare, education, and a clean local environment for their citizens; this again has some truth to it. However, these countries of Western Europe serve their own citizens by keeping their heads down and their eyes averted from the rogue actions of the global hegemon and the juggernaut of unrestrained capitalism ravaging the resources and peoples of the so-called third world, the more than 50% of humanity who live in a hell without clean water, without education, healthcare, or without a decent environment. These nations serve the “self-interest” and “national interests” of their own citizens by sacrificing the rest of humanity for their local selfish social arrangements.
In the face of the dozens of intersecting global crises that threaten our future and survival as a species on this planet (dying oceans and forests, polluted air and water, melting polar caps, disintegrating weather patterns), this ideology of autonomous sovereign nation-states is clearly bizarre. It prevents us from protecting or implementing universal human rights. It threatens to destroy the planetary environment, and it has forced us to live with the terror of possible nuclear war since 1945.
Yet even so-called “progressive” governments have swallowed this fragmented nonsense. They may try to help their own populations, and protect the economic and social rights of their own populations, but no one (least of all the UN which is a treaty of sovereign nations based on the principle of non-interference) is democratically responsible for the whole and the future of humanity. And for this reason, our common human future is in very real danger.
This entire ideology has been shown to be false and has been replaced in the 20th century by the ecological and cosmological insight that there are no independent substances but rather “fields within fields” of ever-widening relationships. However, the immense weight of capitalism as a system has colonized the planet and the new ecological insight has been buried within the juggernaut of greed and selfishness. Einstein’s relativity theory showed this at the macro level in 1905 and Quantum physics showed this at the micro level by 1927). Billions of dollars from the ruling class have been invested in attempting to cast doubt on the holistic structure of reality and on the scientific-ecological insight into the profound environmental destruction ravaging the planet. Their profits depend on we the people remaining immature atoms of fear, greed, and unconcern for other people or for nature.
The reality of human life is that of relationships and communities. This is both the ecological insight and the true holistic reality of our human condition. We are constituted by our relationships and communities, and success under the relational model means cooperating with one another to provide the necessities of life. It means cooperating with nature rather than exploiting her. It means living in harmony with the realities of our human situation.
Capitalism sets up a valueless system in which private ownership of property gives those who own property the legal right and power to command and exploit the labor of those who do not own, namely the masses of the poor. The wealth of capitalist families is legally handed down to subsequent generations, creating a relatively stable ruling class of the super wealthy who generally continue to get even more wealthy. Adam Smith’s moralizing claiming that individual capitalists should have moral sensitivity, balanced judgement, etc., misses the point. Capitalists giving to charity, etc., does not even begin to address the problem.
The key is in the system itself. Systems powerfully condition and determine people, “behind their backs,” so to speak. People, including most capitalists, are conditioned by the system to the point where they see moral sensitivity as weak, sentimental, as not facing the facts, as a hindrance to success in business, etc. In the US today, Donald Trump is a prime example of this inner death, the moral deadness produced in most people by the capitalist system.
However, by and large, the capitalist system must place value-hypocrites and liars into power. They must be mouthpieces that appeal to people’s moral values while at the same time they must be in the service the ersatz values of greed and power. Capitalism promotes value cynicism both in the ruling class and in many citizens. It promotes selfishness, greed, and exploitation of the poor by the rich without compassion. It ensures the domination of the few over the rest of society.
Half a century after 1968, the ruling class was perhaps correct in their diagnosis. The New Deal in the US had made people uppity. It had given them education, social security, some health insurance through their workplaces, and the leisure (of its young people studying liberal arts in colleges) to examine the system in the country and the world and find it morally bankrupt. The youth rebellions of 1968 were a prime example of this uppity attitude. The youth were not primarily concerned about getting jobs or trying to succeed in the marketplace or in any struggle to survive. The youth were rebelling in the name of the values of equality, freedom, and justice, especially in the privileged worlds of Europe and the US. The same attitude is manifested in the bankers of Europe, who recently gave an illuminating lesson to Europe and the world by their willingness to sacrifice the entire country of Greece to the establishment control of wealth and power.
What was needed, the ruling classes surmised, was to return the working class and the masses to a condition of hunger, desperation for jobs even at minimum wages, people struggling to survive with lack of education, with ignorance about what is happening to them and why. What was needed was young people who were psychologically much more susceptible to the propaganda from the mass media and government declaring for them that there are terrible enemies everywhere and that they must give up their liberties in order to find security.
What was needed was to roll back the New Deal and return the masses to the conditions that obtained under capitalism in the 1920s. Michael Parenti in The Face of Imperialism and other works has pointed to this drive to return civilization to the free-wheeling, unrestrained capitalism of the 1920s. Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine and the Rise of Disaster Capitalism has shown how imperial economics fits hand in glove with imperialist drive to interfere, disrupt, and overthrow country after country around the world. Ellen Brown in the Web of Debt has shown the role of the banking cartels in ruling class exploitation of the world through the global debt system. Michel Chossudovsky in The Globalization of Poverty has shown how social chaos, genocide, and human misery are consequences of the system itself, its economic assumptions and decisions.
Half a century after 1968, the global system of domination and tyranny is well on its way to completion. The US has put together a coalition of governments representing its ruling class domination. These “Five Eyes” scrutinize the electronic communications of the planet for signs of resistance to their domination (which they call “terrorism”). The US has implemented perhaps the ultimate terror weapon in the form of pilotless, weaponized drones patrolling the skies of the places in the world the US has invaded or is struggling to ensure its domination. These drones blast whatever and whomever the imperialists consider in opposition to their juggernaut.
People trying to live their lives in the regions where these terror machines patrol the skies have testified to the nightmare of living in perpetual fear for their lives and their families. The empire reserves the word “terror” for those who resist its onslaught. The empire maintains its own vastly superior fleets of militarized drones, and its militarized hell of snipers, tanks, fighter jets, cruise missiles, and systems of death and destruction (that it imposes upon people everywhere on Earth, with some 730 known military bases worldwide). The use of these forces of death and destruction are labeled “self-defense.” The majority of people who live under the propaganda machine have been manipulated to agree that they are being “defended” against “terrorism” (that is, against any who resist the domination of the planetary overlord, its capitalist system, and its puppet “allies”).
The UN has long maintained a legal distinction between liberation forces fighting oppression and tyranny and “terrorism” designed to kill indiscriminately. But the capitalist media have largely since abandoned this distinction. Today, any forces that resist the tyranny of the global oligarchy and their puppets in governments worldwide are labeled “terrorist.” In Syria, and elsewhere worldwide where the US supplies weapons, pays salaries for, and supports private terror organizations, the propagandists distinguish between “moderate” rebels and the “terrorist” bad rebels. That people believe this crap is quite astonishing. The “moderate” and the “immoderate” rebels use that same tactics. They kill and murder with the same murderous war mentality used by US special forces (who often advise them) and by the entire murderous system of oppression and tyranny.
50 years of effort by the ruling classes of the world to roll back democracy, equality, justice, and freedom (that is, to overcome the rebellions of 1968) have resulted in a world wracked by chaos—wars, massive state terrorism, and destruction of the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of innocent people, many millions of whom have had to flee their homes as refugees from the global assault on human decency in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, and elsewhere. From the point of view of the imperialists, this carnage is success, since from their super wealthy bastions of pleasure and power their lives are not affected by the chaos, and the purveyors of this carnage have no moral qualms about destroying the lives and the livelihoods of millions. Central America
Capitalism produces sociopaths and psychopaths with no moral compass. The wealth of the world has ever more rapidly been funneled into their coffers. The astronomical gap between the rich and poor has today become even more astronomical. The masters of the Earth appear to be winning, even as the planetary environment that supports life is collapsing, the threat of nuclear war wiping out civilization continues unabated, and social chaos reigns throughout the globe.
The UN and its loosely affiliated agencies, like the WTO, the World Bank, and the IMF, have long since been colonized by the mind-bogglingly stupid assumption that ever more capitalism is the only solution to poverty and our economic problems. In my forthcoming book called Global Democracy and Human Self-Transcendence, I have shown that the UN Development Program (UNDP) has attained the insight that quality of life is not dependent on the accumulation of wealth. However, this agency will not take the next step and declare capitalism the enemy. UN ideology prohibits this next logical step. The UN, integrated into the very world system that is at the root of our problems, and colonized by the US and its imperial allies, has proven entirely ineffectual in stemming the tide of global roll back, war, and destruction engineered by the world’s ruling classes and led from the United States.
At the moment, I am writing this in Venezuela, one of the countries under siege by the imperialists for its commitment to the idea that government should care about all the people and not about the capitalist ruling class alone. The way into a decent future for humanity is environmentally conscious democratic socialism. What the word “socialism” means is simply that moral values, like ecological principles, must have a place in economics and politics. Socialism means that we are all in this together and that we should devise economic and political systems that recognize that everyone (not just the rich) has a right to food, housing, healthcare, education, a protected environment, and a life of security, dignity, and peace. Democratic economics is a market economics conducted within parameters that promote human equality and protect the environment. Socialism simply means that moral and ecological values should be at the heart of our economics and politics.
In Venezuela, ordinary people are suffering greatly, not because their government fails to care about providing health care, food, and housing to everyone, but because the imperialist system, led by the U.S., has blockaded basic necessities with the intent of starving and hurting the entire people of this country until their government bends to the will of the capitalists and opens the country up, once again, to exploitation by the rich, which will, of course, throw the majority once again into poverty and misery. This pattern has been repeated in many countries around the world, such as in Chile in 1973, when the US overthrew a democratically elected market socialist government and supported a brutal dictator into power. This is the modus operandi of global capitalism. It has only demonic qualities and no moral dimension whatsoever.
I visited Cuba six times during the late 1990s to early 2000s and saw the same thing there. Ordinary Cuban people, families, women, children, virtually everyone in that country was denied basic necessities because of the US imposed economic blockade. The people of Cuba, warm, generous, and decent human beings, repeatedly would ask me “Why?” “Why are they doing this to us? What did we ever do to them?” But the answer is never personal. Cuba did nothing to the imperialists, just as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Venezuela did nothing to them. The answer is systemic. The world system of power, exploitation, and domination requires their destruction in the view of the imperialist functionaries of global domination.
In What Uncle Sam Really Wants, Noam Chomsky answered this question concerning socialist initiatives with great insight and concision: “The threat of a good example.” Global imperial capitalism cannot tolerate any alternative to its tyranny. If some country achieves successful democratic socialism, it would show the rest of the world what is possible. If another country like Libya shows too much independent thought and concern for the future, it must be destroyed. A democratic socialism would show that hunger, homelessness, poverty, and misery are not inevitable consequences of life or failings of some corrupt human nature. A successful example of an alternative economics of cooperation and conservation would call into question the entire capitalist ideology and, with this, the domination of the imperial storm troopers of death and destruction who militarily enforce capitalism on our suffering planet, led by the monstrous US military juggernaut. Libya was considering switching to the Euro for the sale of its oil and was promoting the unity and solidarity of Africa. It had to be destroyed.
During the 20th century, many psychologists and philosophers reached a broad consensus concerning the stages of moral and cognitive growth that characterizes our human potential for actualizing the higher moral and cognitive stages of our common human endowment. This consensus includes such thinkers as Abraham Maslow, Lawrence Kohlberg, Ken Wilber, and Jürgen Habermas. If the process of growth takes place normally in human beings, we move from the egoism of youth to a stage of acceptance of the primary culture that envelops us. This second stage is called ethnocentrism, since most people accept the beliefs and values of their surrounding culture as somehow the most correct, or the best, when compared to other nations, cultures, ethnicities, etc.
However, this ethnocentrism (especially rampant in the imperial center of capital with its notorious “American exceptionalism”) remains an immature stage in the process of human development. Every human being is genetically nearly identical with every other, and every human being shares our same planetary home. Our true potential for maturity is actualized when we move beyond ethnocentrism to a world-centric orientation.
At the world-centric level, we increasingly actualize our sense of oneness with all other human beings. We become capable of a universal compassion for human and animal suffering wherever this happens, and we begin to formulate values of planetary peace, justice, and sustainability. Authentic, objective moral values arise at this level. The values that were followed at the earlier egoistic and ethnocentric levels are now seen to be merely conventional and arbitrary, and hence not legitimate moral values. At the world centric level, we begin to actualize truly objective values such as dialogue directed toward mutual understanding, commitment to truth and justice-making, commitment to nonviolence and peace-making, commitment to democratic socialism, ever-deeper kindness and compassion, and the need for democratic, world level solutions to our multiple global problems.
One reason why the ruling class wants to end net neutrality and make internet communications dependent on the ability to pay is because the internet provides a freedom of thought and information beyond their control. Hence, it may cultivate human world-centric maturity in a multiplicity of ways that place people in opposition to the ruling class and their drive to oligarchic tyranny. At any rate, all over the world today, there are hundreds of millions of people, including young people, who are becoming worldcentric. They are repudiating the dynamic of nation-state fragmentation and competition. They are seeking ways to live with others from around the world in peace and harmony, in what I call “species solidarity,” which is also what Karl Marx called living from our species-being.
It may be that the dialectical pendulum is swinging back toward socialism on a higher level than that implicit in the rebellions of 1968. It may be that the socialist idea of human relationships and cooperation in a value-based economic and political system is re-emerging at the global level. It may even be that this dialectical struggle will end in a truly decent and compassionate world system of peace, justice, and sustainability. Albert Einstein said our problems can only be solved by moving to a higher level of existence. Perhaps now is the time for human beings to move to the global level and embrace the holism of our situation.
In the extensive literature on “global problems,” (that is, problems that are beyond of scope of any nation to deal with) “capitalism” is not often identified as one of these problems. However, it is indeed one of our central global problems and perhaps the cause of many other related global problems, such as global militarism, global poverty and misery, and global environmental destruction. There can be no solution to such global problems without a global public authority with the structural capacity to deal effectively with them. This means we need a global public authority, a World Parliament, with the capacity to establish a world system predicated on mature, world centric values.
Economics must be specifically designed to be a sub-discipline of ecology, and hence in harmony with and protecting our planetary ecosystems (as economist Herman E. Daly and others have pointed out). Economics must also be designed to create reasonable prosperity for all people and not simply for the ruling classes. Politics must be taken out of the hands of the rich, and authentic democracy must be established so that government becomes representative of the genuine needs of the people and not the needs of the rich and their corporations.
Democracy is quite impossible under capitalism because the rich will always colonize the political process in their own interests, and because the imperial nation-states will always interfere in the elections of smaller nations in order to maintain their domination and the domination of global capitalism. If the electoral process nevertheless succeeds and the wrong candidate is elected (as with Allende in Chile in 1970 or Chavez and Maduro in Venezuela today), then next option is overthrow of the existing regime and the installation of a right wing puppet dictator (as in Chile in 1973).
Global capitalism creates immense poverty around the world, it destroys the planetary environment in the name of private profit, and it fosters militarism everywhere on Earth. These are all reasons why a World Parliament under the Constitution for the Federation of Earth is needed. The Earth Constitution places the global public authority in the hands of a diverse World Parliament composed of three houses: a House of Nations (about 300 representatives), a House of Counselors (200 representatives), and a House of Peoples (1000 representatives). The representatives in the House of Peoples are directly elected from 1000 electoral districts apportioned by equal population. www.earth-constitution.org.
Election campaigning is limited to similar space for all candidates (taking big money out of politics) and therefore creating a World Parliament genuinely representative of the people of Earth. Government (through worldwide election commissions as defined in Article 8) monitors and sponsors free and fair elections and a World Parliament is elected with the mandate to address all global problems beyond the scope of nation-states. The “broad functions” of the Earth Federation are to (1) end war and procure disarmament (2) protect universal human rights (including the rights to food, housing, healthcare, and education), (3) end the blight of global poverty, and (4) protect and restore the planetary environment to the extent this is still possible. All this is found in Article 1. A global democratic public authority is created that represents the common good and common interests of all people on the Earth. No such authority currently exists, least of all the UN, a treaty of supposedly independent sovereign states colonized by the global hegemon.
This is the option before us as human beings living on tiny, spaceship Earth. Either we act together to create a global public authority that serves the true interests of us all, or we continue toward the abyss of extinction lead by a global oligarchy who care nothing for people or the planet. The Constitution for the Federation of Earth has been translated into many languages and is found on-line in many places such as www.earth-constitution.org. It presents a concrete, practical option to the present global nightmare of imperialism and destruction.
Half a century after the rebellions of 1968, our planetary future looks bleak indeed. But there is hope that this very crisis will help unite human beings to act in solidarity with one another. We must overcome both the fragmentation of capitalism and the fragmented ideology of sovereign nation-states and unite as a species in global democratic socialism under the Earth Constitution. The Earth Constitution does not abolish nation-states. Nor does it abolish markets. It simply constrains markets to serve the common good, and constrains governments to live under the rule of authentic democratic laws.
It establishes a federation in which persons everywhere continue to operate with their local governments, regional governments, and national governments. The Earth Constitution adds the level of global government based on moral and ecological principles, the only level capable of effectively dealing with global problems. Our true future, if we are to have one at all, lies in unity, solidarity, and mature, authentic values (both moral and ecological).
The Earth Constitution offers a practical route into a genuinely alternative future. It provides our most practical and doable option for creating a decent future for the Earth, a future characterized by peace, justice, and sustainability. Now is the time for all peoples to join in solidarity and establish the true human community. Only the principle of authentic unity in diversity under the Earth Constitution can redeem our human future from the threat of global tyranny or ecological collapse.