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I would first of all like to thank everyone who donated to and supported my Kickstarter campaign to try to raise money for my book. Unfortunately, it was a resounding failure, so the book has to be put on hold indefinitely. It’s back to the drawing board, and potentially back to school for me. I am, however, attempting to continue doing some writing of shorter articles in the meantime, so long as I can afford to do so.
In the past couple weeks I have written and posted two articles on Greece and its relationship with Germany and the EU:
I am also currently working on putting together a short video on Europe’s crisis and those who wield power across the continent.
But I cannot continue doing any of this without financial support. So while I attempt to solve my medium and long-term financial challenges by planning to return to school and potentially get a ‘real job’ (perhaps put my writing on hold for some time), any short-term financial support would be greatly appreciated! If you are able, please consider making a donation.
Thanks again to all who have contributed and supported my work over the years.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
I have recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise money to support my efforts to finish the first book of what will likely be a series on ‘Power Politics and the Empire of Economics’.
What I am asking of my readers is not only to consider donating to the project, but more importantly, to share and promote it through social media, by sending it to others who you think may be interested, and to help get the word out in any way you can!
Every bit helps, and a great deal of help is needed if this is to be successful!
I have collected below links to the campaign, as well as a video I made to promote it, and links to the sample introduction chapter that I published online so that potential patrons could read the kind of material that they would be supporting.
About the Project:
This book will tell the stories of the rich and powerful oligarchs and family dynasties who collectively rule our world: the global Mafiocracy, operating behind-the-scenes playing their games of power politics, globalization’s Game of Thrones where rich and influential families play their games, balancing collusion and cooperation with fierce competition to rule the world Empire of Economics.
In 1975, Henry Kissinger told President Ford: “The trick in the world now is to use economics to build a world political structure.”
This book is that story.
A small network of banks and other financial institutions dominate the global economy, its wealth and resources. This small network of corporate power functions as a global financial Mafia, complete with excessive criminal behaviour in laundering drug money, funding terrorists, rigging interest rates and manipulating markets.
Name a nation, and there are rich dynasties that rule behind the scenes. The Rockefellers in the United States, the Rothschilds in France and Britain, the Agnelli family in Italy, the Wallenbergs in Sweden, the Tata family of India and Oppenheimers of South Africa, the Koc and Sabanci families of Turkey, the Gulf Arab monarchs and the rich industrial families of Germany with dark Nazi pasts.
Germany once again rules Europe, with the European Union’s institutions of unelected technocrats undertaking a process of internal colonization as they impose their economic empire upon Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus. Finance ministers and central bankers are the agents of empire, cooperating closely with bankers, oligarchs and dynasties to create a world which best serves their interests. The global financial Mafia mingles with political leaders at forums and secret meetings like the Bilderberg group, the Trilateral Commission and the World Economic Forum.
From the streets of Athens, to Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, China, South Africa, Chile, Canada, and in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore, people are rising up against exploitation, repression and domination.
This book is not simply a collection of stories of the ruling Mafiocracy; it is designed to encourage strategy among popular and revolutionary movements capable of creating something altogether new. It is time to do away with a world ruled by oligarchs, and save the species from itself. But first, we must know our world better.
Help me to complete the first book in a series on ‘Power Politics and the Empire of Economics’. For four years I have been doing my own research, scouring the archives of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, government documents, official reports and corporate strategies, studying the world of power and empire, translating the political language of ‘economics’ into plain and simple English.
I have been published in multiple news sources, online and in print, interviewed by radio and television networks, and now I am asking for your help to raise $10,000 so that I can finish the first book in this series, to expose the Empire for all to see, its strengths as well as the weaknesses left exposed for us to exploit. Let us bring true democracy and an end to Mafiocracy. Help me to write this book, and together, let’s help each other to end the Empire.
Donate today. Thank you.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
The first sample “chapter” has been completed, in its rough draft form. Now begins the process of editing. As per usual, the chapter is obscenely long, 137 pages in total. And so the editing process will either trim it down (by roughly 100 pages), or it will simply be published as a series of samples from multiple chapters throughout the book, which is the general intention of the introduction anyhow.
But within the 137 pages a great deal of areas are covered in at least some detail, serving as an introduction to multiple subjects which will be the focus of the first book in this series, including: the influence of corporate and financial dynasties, the concentration of ownership and influence among dynasties, individual oligarchs and institutions within what are broadly called “financial markets”; the nature of power politics and empire, with the central role of states and political authority in the exercise of that power; the realm of economic and financial diplomacy and governance (finance ministers, central bankers, international technocrats); the construction of a system of global governance through economics; the institutions and forums through which globalized power is exercised, from think tanks like Bilderberg and the Trilateral Commission, to industry associations and lobby groups like the Institute of International Finance and the Group of Thirty, and political forums of financial diplomats and heads of state, such as the Group of Five, the G-10, Group of Seven and G-20; the gangster state power politics that lies behind the veneer of China’s totalitarian technocracy; and much more!
The approach and influences to discussing these issues of power politics, Mafiocracy and the Empire of Economics is a mix of a linguistic-rhetorical critique drawing heavily from George Orwell and Noam Chomsky (with a focus on the uses and abuses of ‘political language’ and ‘Mafia principles’, though applying these concepts more to finance and economics than politics and foreign policy), as well as a mix of Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince’, written as a clear and concise examination of power as it exists (as opposed to power in theory). Machiavelli dedicated his book to the first financial dynasty of the modern world, the Medici family, whom he had long advised, among princes, popes and others. His intention was to analyze the realities of power and strategy, to speak plainly and purposefully in an effort to support those institutions and individuals of authority. I am trying to bring a similar approach to discussing power, though with opposite intentions: to expand the understanding and support the development of strategy among the wider population, mixing an anarchistic approach to revolution with a pragmatic understanding of power.
I am hoping that the editing process for this first chapter (or multiple samples) will be completed this week, and published almost immediately thereafter, I shall keep you readers updated on progress.
Thanks again for all the support.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Power Politics, Mafiocracy and the Empire of Economics
As a brief update, I have raised more than stated goal of $500 to finance the completion of the first chapter of my book on, ‘Power Politics, Mafiocracy and the Empire of Economics’. I would like to thank all those who have generously donated to supporting my research and writing. This really would not be possible without your contributions and support, so thank you!
I am currently well into writing the first draft of the first chapter of the book, which I still have to finish and subsequently edit (a great deal!). The chapter is designed to serve as a rough introduction to the subjects and themes of the book(s) to follow, an examination of the power politics that lie behind the public pronouncements and posturing of politicians, the behind-the-scenes financial and corporate dynasties who wield immense influence and indirect power, the modern-day Machiavellis who serve as conduits and collaborators between dynastic and oligarchic groups and the ruling political and state power structures.
The book is a collection of stories about a system of Empire built largely upon economics and finance, the institutions and individuals who rule in public and private, their games of power politics, balancing cooperation with competition in what can be described as Globalization’s ‘Game of Thrones‘. Henry Kissinger, the glorified errand boy (modern-day Machiavelli) to the global Mafiocracy, told President Ford in 1975 that, “the trick in the world today is to use economic to build a world political structure.”
This book is that story. The first chapter provides a glimpse at the cast of characters, the key locations, influential institutions and events which have come to characterize power in the modern world.
Upon its completion, the first chapter will be made available for all to read online, in order to promote the book and further fundraising, so that readers and supporters (and newcomers) can get a glimpse at the kind of research and writing their support contributes to.
Thank you, once again.
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Global Financial Diplomacy and the Empire of Economics
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
30 March 2015
The world of Global Financial Governance and Diplomacy is a world of empire, power politics, colonialism, war and destruction. Its brutal functions are veiled behind the dull, technocratic language of economics and finance, obscuring behind rhetoric the realities of ideology, actions and effects. It is an empire built by war, waged not with bombs and bullets but with numbers on screens and other illusions. Through the flow, management and direction of money and debt (representing what we call ‘financial markets’), nations are raised up and pushed down, countries prosper and plunder, people are enriched and impoverished, societies are structured, shaped and dismantled.
At the center of this system are the banks, asset management firms, oligarchs and financial dynasties that together control the network – or cartel – of the Global Financial Mafia. A network of roughly 150 of the world’s largest financial institutions collectively control each other and a significant percentage of the network of the world’s largest 47,000 transnational corporations. This unprecedented global financial power concentrated in a relatively small list of banks, insurance companies and asset management firms is itself controlled by rich and powerful individuals and families: the core constituency of the world of Global Financial Governance.
As with every imperial system, a form of State Power is needed, as only nations have sovereign authority and accepted legitimacy. The global imperial system is multi-faceted and complex, though the most obvious areas of operation are in the ministries and departments of powerful nations concerned with foreign policy, military and defense, intelligence and ‘national security’. The largest military power in human history is the United States. Its foreign policy apparatus spans the globe, with hundreds of military bases in foreign nations, aircraft carriers, destroyers, air fields and fighter jets, entire fleets spread out across the Oceans. Large military occupations and bombing campaigns are waged by America (and its key allies) in the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia. Hundreds of millions live under the brutal authority of dictators and tyrants, propped up with money and weapons from the powerful nations. International Relations is, in truth, a lobotomized label to describe a game of empire and power politics.
It is an imperial system overseen and managed not simply by presidents and prime ministers, but by foreign ministers, Secretaries of State, defense ministers, intelligence and military chiefs. The foreign ministers promote the nation’s interests and policies abroad, working to build alliances with other nations and undermine those who defy the demands of the imperial power. If the diplomats are unable to solve the situation, the military and intelligence chiefs move to the front. Collectively, they strategize and implement policies designed to advance the imperial power interests of their home nation. It is a function and reality of all empires through history that there are official positions of authority dedicated to the planning and implementation of ‘foreign relations’, of protecting and advancing the interests of the empire. At times this calls for cooperation with other empires, at times it calls for competition, and at times it calls for conquering and occupation. It is an historical and present reality of Empire.
But distinct to the modern global imperial system – which is to say, distinct to the ‘democratic-capitalist’ system of nations – is the scope and structure of the financial and economic system of imperialism. It is a complex system, dominated by many – often conflicting and competing – interests, with state power being exercised by financial and economic diplomats: finance ministers, treasury chiefs, central bankers, trade ministers, and the heads of regional and international organizations.
Foreign and Defense Ministers are most concerned with the “stability” of the ‘international system.’ Stability, however, has a particular definition. In the case of empire, stability means that the interests of the imperial power are safe and secure. Occupied populations are passive, “friendly” dictators are secure in their positions, and Western corporations and banks are able to influence and profit off of foreign policies and programs. This is, by definition, a state of “stability.” Nations that do not follow the instructions (or “advice”) on how to govern their nations and behave in the international arena are seen as a threat to the ‘stability’ of the global system. Order, then, must be restored, even if it means through war.
Foreign policy officials are largely drawn from and frequently remain within the foreign policy establishment: influential universities, think tanks, foundations and research organizations that ‘educate’ and employ those who are interested in ‘foreign policy’. With individuals drifting back and forth from these institutions into government agencies, the foreign policy establishment shapes the ideology, language, objectives and policies of powerful nations. But because we live in the ‘post-colonial’ world, where outright declarations and endorsements of empire and imperialism are no longer publicly acceptable (as it was in past centuries), the language and rhetoric of foreign policy must be made inaccessible for most people to understand (for those without a proper ‘education’).
In nations or regions of imperial interest and action (which is to say, the entire world), foreign policy figures talk of destabilization, radicalization, threats to ‘national security’, attacks against democracy and freedom. Behind the ‘democratic’ rhetoric lies the brutal power politics that have guided nation states and empires since their origins: Who shall rule, and in what way, through what means, and to what ends?
As a corollary to the world of political diplomacy and the foreign policy establishment there is the world of financial diplomacy and the financial policy establishment. Finance ministers, central bankers and other technocrats are most worried about the threat to the global financial system, and above all else, declare their desire to see ‘stability’ and ‘growth’ in the global financial and economic system.
If the interests of ‘financial markets’ or the global economic system are not served by certain nations or regions, then the global financial diplomats do their best to integrate these regions into the ‘global system’. Over the decades and centuries, this system has extended its influence across most of the world. This is the system of Global Financial Governance, itself a product of and supported by the financial (and economic) policy establishment: universities, think tanks, foundations, and research organizations that ‘educate’ and employ the members of the economic establishment. Officials pass through these institutions into finance ministries, central banks and international organizations. And just as with the foreign policy establishment, the financial diplomats also integrate with and pass through the revolving doors between academia, think tanks, state institutions, international organizations, as well as to and from the boards of corporations and big banks, with larger paychecks, hefty financial holdings, shares, directorships and cushy consulting jobs, rewarded for their years of service to the financial and corporate world.
Just as in the foreign policy world, the world of financial diplomacy and economic policy must obscure its imperial interests and ambitions behind incomprehensible ‘technocratic’ rhetoric, understood only to those who have received the proper ‘education’ and ‘expertise’ to understand the complex world of economics and finance. They do not speak of empire, exploitation and domination, but of austerity, structural reform, deficit reduction, interest rate adjustment, labour flexibility and ‘market discipline’. They do not desire to control colonies, but rather, to foster the development of ‘market economies’. They speak not of threats to ‘national security’, but the threats of ‘market instability’. Their version of promoting ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ is to champion ‘free markets’ and ‘free trade’.
Financial diplomats do not send weapons or armies to tyrants and regions seeking to maintain and extend their influence and domination. Instead, they send money and teams of technocrats to advise and implement programs of ‘fiscal consolidation’ and ‘structural adjustment’ with the desire for stability and ‘growth’. They do not bomb and conquer; they privatize and deregulate. They do not occupy, they ‘consolidate’. They do not colonize, they ‘liberalize’.
Behind the words, terms and technical details, lies a world of empire and domination, power politics and colonization. It is a brutal, unforgiving world; far more advanced, globalized and institutionalized than its foreign policy counterparts. It is more directly connected and representative of the networked ‘core’ of the global financial system: concentrated corporate and financial power. For this reason, financial diplomats maintain regular contact and interaction with leading institutions and individuals who represent this core of financial power: the Global Financial Mafia.
It is this world of global financial diplomacy and governance – the financial policy establishment – and its related institutions and interests which is the chief focus of my upcoming book, and which will be the primary focus of a sample chapter I am currently raising funds to support. With a goal of $500, I have thus far raised $200 to support the writing of a sample chapter in a book on these subjects (and much more!). For an expanded list of topics to be discussed, please see this previous posting here.
The objective is to place the unnecessarily complex world of economic and finance in the context of its real-world role (as opposed to the fantasy world of its rhetoric and ideology): a world of empire, tyranny, colonization, conquering, mass destruction and control. Foreign ministers and politicians, military generals and intelligence chiefs are always concerned with the rumbling and rising masses of people in the world, the potential for revolutions and uprisings against tyrants long-supported by our “democratic” nations, armed to the teeth with aid from our “humanitarian” foreign policies. Finance ministers and central bankers are also concerned with the restless and rising populations around the world, with those who take to the streets, resist austerity, protest, riot, rebel and revolt against neoliberalism and the global financial order which takes so much from so many and gives to those who already have the most.
This is the Empire of Economics, a world ruled by a Mafiocracy, leaving mangled nations and impoverished populations in its wake, with billionaire bankers and private family dynasties dominating global wealth and the power that comes with it. In short, it is a world not unlike those that came before, but it is ours to understand and to take a stand if we hope to change it. If these subjects interest you, please consider making a donation to support my writing, and the completion of a sample chapter within the next month which I will make available for all to read.
Thank you kindly,
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Global Power Project: Bilderberg Group and the Tyranny of the Technocrats
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
19 December 2014
Originally posted at Occupy.com
Bilderberg is an inherently technocratic institution. It brings together top “experts” and decision-makers from a number of important sectors to engage in off-the-record conversation, speaking a “common language” in order to help design and coordinate policies that more accurately represent the interests of concentrated power.
As such, Bilderberg not only serves a technocratic function, but it is also populated with a number of the world’s most influential technocrats who are members and invited guests: top officials of central banks, finance ministries, international organizations, think tanks, foundations and universities. Their participation in Bilderberg meetings provides them with a “private” forum in which to engage with the political, corporate and financial oligarchy. More concretely, Bilderberg meetings enable participants to promote the expansion and further institutionalization of technocracy. But to understand Bilderberg’s relevance to technocracy, let’s first define the concept.
What is Technocracy?
Technocracy is largely defined as “rule by experts,” or the exercise of power by “professionals.” As the Economist explained in 2011: “Technocracy was once a communist idea: with the proletariat in power, administration could be left to experts.” But the scientific management of society “was popular under capitalism too,” and the magazine noted there was even a prominent “Technocratic Movement” in the United States in the early 20th century.
The late 19th and early 20th century witnessed rapid industrialization, new oligarchies, mass migration, revolution, a clash of empires between old and new, emerging technologies and inventions, expanded literacy, new energy sources and novel forms of communication and transportation. It was an age of oligarchs and unrest. Many of the most powerful societies turned to technocracy to help manage the great transitions of the era. As the oligarchs sought to maintain their influence by institutionalizing it within society, they also while sought to manage the expectations and interests of the population: by engaging in social engineering with the objective of maintaining social control, or what the ruling class called “stability.”
Capitalist, Communist (or State-Socialist) and Fascist societies turned to technocracy and the rule of experts to transform the structure of modern civilization through a “scientific management” of human society – where oligarchic power is legalized and institutionalized, and the population gives its consent, or is at least its obedience, to the ruling structure.
The Chinese Communist Party and state is largely ruled by unelected technocrats, as are several military dictatorships and one-party states. On occasion, even Western “democratic” nations become ruled by unelected technocrats, though as the Economist noted, “only for a short time” and “in unusual circumstances.”
Recent examples include the imposition of technocratic governments in Italy and Greece, in late 2011 when democratically elected leaders were removed from power and replaced with economists and central bankers. Another recent example was in Ukraine, where, following the removal of the more pro-Russian president, the management of the government was handed to a former central banker.
Despite these exceptions of direct technocratic rule, there are technocratic institutions and individuals who oversee major parts of our society and determine important policies that have profound consequences for hundreds of millions, and often billions, of people around the world. Central banks, finance ministries, international organizations, think tanks, foundations and universities are all highly influential technocratic institutions, often managed by high-level technocrats and governed (or advised) by members of the financial and corporate oligarchy.
China’s Technocratic Tyranny
A November 2013 article in The Atlantic described Chinese politics as “a nightmare” for those who were “lovers of clear, concise language.” The author, Matt Schiavenza, cited the names of the top ruling body (Politburo Standing Committee), the major conference establishing policy and direction for the following years (Third Plenary Session of the 18th Party Congress), and the conference’s resulting document that promised to “comprehensively deepen reforms,” and argued: “Chinese politics are designed to attract as little attention as possible.”
The technicality and obscurity of the language serves to hide the exercise and effects of power behind an image of “expertise.” Only those who are experts in matters of law, finance, economics, political science, etc., are capable of understanding the language, and thus, the implications of its use. In China, the technocratic language of the Party and state hide the rule of not only the visible top technocrats, but of the powerful political and financial oligarchs and dynasties behind them.
China’s political and economic power is concentrated in the hands of a new aristocratic class of what are called “Princelings,” the descendants of Communist China’s revolutionary leaders. These leaders wielded formal political power, and after the turn to capitalism, from the late 1970s onward, the descendants of these families came to dominate the economic resources of the country. As Bloomberg noted, in China “wealth and influence is concentrated in the hands of as few as 14 and as many as several hundred families.”
For foreign businesses and banks to gain access to the Chinese market, the most effective means has been through the practice of hiring or establishing relationships with the Princelings. Major global banks, such as Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse and others, frequently hire princelings in order gain access and influence within China’s leadership, since the relatives of princelings themselves govern the bureaucracies and state-owned industries, determining the flow of money through society.
JPMorgan Chase has been under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for its practice of hiring hundreds of princelings in China to gain access to its lucrative market. In the words of Bloomberg, these princelings have become China’s “new capitalist nobility.”
Wen Jiabao served as China’s prime minister for the decade leading up to 2012, and his family amassed billions in assets, a practice consistent for most (if not all) of China’s ruling political figures, including its new president, Xi Jinping. Almost all of the nine members of the ruling Politburo Standing Committee under the previous Chinese government were from families that amassed enormous fortunes and controlled entire areas of the economy, with corruption “more severe than at any time in history,” as the Financial Times quoted a veteran Communist Party member and journalist.
China is a one-party dictatorship with powerful military and security forces and high-tech surveillance. It is ruled by gangsters, oligarchs and technocrats. China is, essentially, a Mafiocracy. Yet the language of its technocratic form of governance obscures this reality behind the veneer of impartiality and expertise. Behind the scenes, gangsters rule and families feud.
This reality of Chinese politics was revealed in 2012 when one of China’s princelings and rising political stars, who was set to gain a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee in 2013, became the subject of a dramatic downfall worthy of the palace intrigue in ancient imperial China. Bo Xilai’s rise to power was turned into a life sentence in prison after his closest adviser sought asylum in a U.S. consulate, fearing for his life and telling the Americans that Bo Xilai’s wife had murdered a British banker in a hotel room with cyanide.
The fall of Bo Xilai and his family was not a subject the Chinese leadership wanted aired publicly. The popular attention and implications of the story were largely the result of social media being used by an increasing percentage of Chinese citizens. What was intended to be the behind-the-scenes factional power struggles of families vying for top-spots on the Politburo Standing Committee, spilled out into the public as the most dramatic news story since the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, and changed the course of Chinese politics.
It is also interesting to note that one of China’s top technocrats, Liu He, was invited to the Bilderberg meeting in 2014. In China, Liu He is one of President Xi Jinping’s top economic advisers, considered to be largely “pro-market” and seen as a prominent reformer. The Wall Street Journal described Liu He’s job as “nothing less than to craft an economic vision that will guide China for the decade to come.” He has also been referred to as “China’s Larry Summers.”
Technocracy in the West
Much like the powerful, dramatic and shocking figures and processes hiding behind the bland language of Chinese politics, the ambiguous language of global economics and finance hides its own ruthless realities. Behind the words and actions of central bankers, finance ministers and other top technocrats, we’re able to see countries collapse, governments overthrown, populations impoverished, societies destroyed, fascism and racism explode as people riot, rebel and revolt.
The language of “financial technocracy” belies a world of mass impoverishment, exploitation, domination and immense concentrations of power. These technocrats define and manage global financial and economic policy, construct the ideology the justifies the rule of the oligarchy, and implement policy which is intended to protect and expand the interests of that oligarchy.
As central bankers demand “fiscal tightening” and finance ministers implement “structural reforms,” the populations of Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Cyprus, Spain and Italy were plunged into crisis. Meanwhile, poverty and unemployment rise, fascist parties emerge, social unrest and riots in the streets become common, suicide rates increase, health and education systems come under strain and collapse, and governing political parties lose legitimacy and turn to police repression to control the crowds. Economic opportunity and political democracy become things of the past. Behind the technocratic language of economics lies a world of brutality.
Bilderberg’s structure, members and objectives that promote and expand the power of technocracy are inherently destructive to democracy. Europe’s debt crisis, and the technocratic institutions and individuals that managed it, have had profoundly negative consequences on the lives of hundreds of millions of people. The functions of technocracy and the actions of Europe’s top technocrats effectively serve the interests of concentrated financial and corporate power.
From Ferguson to Freedom, Part 2: Institutional Racism in America
By: Andrew Gavin Marshall
16 December 2014
The primary issue of race in America, as elsewhere in the world, is less about the overt acceptance and propagation of racism on the individual level, and more about the realities of institutional racism. A racist society is established and sustained not simply by racist individuals, but by racist institutions and ideologies. If racism were simply an individual experience, education and interaction between racial groups would seemingly be enough to eradicate the scourge of racism in modern society. After all, most white Americans would likely not identify as racists, and in a society where a black man can become president, many may be tempted to proclaim that America is a “post-racial society.”
Viewing racism simply from an individual level is misleading, embracing the notion that because I am not a racist, we no longer live in a racist society; because the president is black, we have moved beyond racism; because there are black people who have succeeded in society and risen to top political and economic positions of power, there are no longer issues of racial segregation and oppression. These views present a mythology of ‘equal opportunity’ and ‘individual initiative.’ In other words, segregation and other overt forms of political and legal racism have been largely dismantled, and therefore, the rates of poverty, crime, imprisonment and death in black communities are no longer the result of a racist society, but rather, a lack of “individual responsibility” and failure to take advantage of the equal opportunities afforded.
Institutional racism, however, takes a view of society, of the relations between power and people, beyond the myopic and misleading focus of ‘the individual’ alone. Society is institutionally structured to support the rich and powerful at the expense of the vast majority of the population, which is evident through the structures, policies, and effects of institutions like the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, Wall Street banks, the IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organization, etc. The ideologies and actions of these institutions effectively protect the powerful, bail them out, promote policies which benefit them, punish the poor, impoverish the rest, and support a top-down power structure of the national (and global) economy.
There may be individual policymakers, executives or economists who advocate more economic equality, who criticize bailouts and austerity, who oppose the parasitic nature of the modern economy. However, when sitting in positions of power and influence, these individuals must succumb to the institutional demands of those positions. An executive at a bank may individually oppose the actions of banks in creating financial crises and then needing bailouts and profiting from them as millions lose homes, go hungry and are pushed into poverty. However, that executive cannot change the operations of the bank or realities of the industry alone, he must be concerned with the institutional realities, which focus on short-term quarterly profits for shareholders, which in turn would require him to follow and mimic the actions and initiatives of all the other big banks. If such an executive did not follow the path as designed by the institutional structure of the bank and financial markets, such an executive would be fired. Institutional inequality and economic exploitation are realities of the economic system, regardless of whether or not there are individuals within the system who oppose many of the policies and effects of that system.
The same logic applies to racism. This has been true for as long as racism has been a reality. In the United States, racism was institutionalized from the beginning, as the U.S. was founded as a Slave State. Racism was a legal reality, and it was reflected in the institutional structure of the economy, labour system, education, health care, politics, geography, demography, the criminal justice system, city planning, foreign policy and empire. Over the course of decades and centuries, there have been many tangible improvements, with reform to various institutions, legal changes and social transformations: the end of formal slavery, Civil Rights Movement, voting registration, etc. Yet, despite these various improvements and changes over the course of centuries, the realities of institutional racism remain in many facets, old and new. Institutional racism is embedded in the original and evolving structure of society as a whole, and to effectively challenge and remove racism from society, most of society’s dominant institutions must also be challenged, changed or made obsolete.
The institutional structure of society largely serves the same purpose, to protect and support the rich and powerful as the expense of the vast majority of the population. This is true, regardless of race. However, those same institutions enforce segregation, exploitation, domination and exclusion not only in terms of class, but also race. This has the effect of dividing the population among themselves, pitting white against black, promoting and maintaining social divides and conflicts between the population to ensure that they do not unite (through experience or action) against the true ruling groups and structures of society. Racism thus allows for more effective control of society by the few who rule it.
Stokely Carmichael helped to popularize the term ‘Black Power’ in the late 1960s, having risen to acclaim as a young leader in the Civil Rights movement. In 1966, Carmichael published an essay in The Massachusetts Review entitled, ‘Toward Black Liberation,’ in which he wrote that, “The history of every institution of this society indicates that a major concern in the ordering and structuring of the society has been the maintaining of the Negro community in its condition of dependence and oppression… that racist assumptions of white superiority have been so deeply ingrained in the structure of the society that it infuses its entire functioning, and is so much a part of the national subconscious that it is taken for granted and is frequently not even recognized.”
Carmichael provides an example to differentiate between individual and institutional racism: “When unidentified white terrorists bomb a Negro Church and kill five children, that is an act of individual racism, widely deplored by most segments of the society. But when in that same city, Birmingham, Alabama, not five but 500 Negro babies die each year because of a lack of proper food, shelter and medical facilities, and thousands more are destroyed and maimed physically, emotionally and intellectually because of conditions of poverty and deprivation in the ghetto, that is a function of institutionalized racism. But the society either pretends it doesn’t know of this situation, or is incapable of doing anything meaningful about it.”
Carmichael described the ‘Negro community in America’ as being subjected to the realities of “white imperialism and colonial exploitation.” With more than 20 million black Americans accounting for roughly 10% of the national population (in 1966), they lived primarily in poor areas of the South, shanty-towns, and the urban slums and ghettos of northern and westerns industrial cities. Regardless of location in the country, if one were to go into any of these black communities, Carmichael wrote, “one will find that the same combination of political, economic, and social forces are at work. The people in the Negro community do not control the resources of that community, its political decisions, its law enforcement, its housing standards; and even the physical ownership of the land, houses, and stores lie outside that community.” Instead, white power “makes the laws, and it is violent white power in the form of armed white cops that enforces those laws with guns and nightsticks. The vast majority of Negroes in this country live in these captive communities and must endure these conditions of oppression because, and only because, they are black and powerless.”
The realities of institutional racism can be seen in the case of Ferguson. An analysis by Keith Boag of CBC News looked at the legal structure of St. Louis County, where two-thirds of the population, approximately 650,000 people, live within “incorporated municipalities.” There are roughly 90 of these municipalities, Ferguson being one such area, with a population of roughly 21,000 people. Fourteen of these areas have populations less than 500 people, and 58 of them have their own police forces. Boag describes the origins of this structure as dating back several decades to before the Civil Rights movement, when white people in the city of St. Louis fled to the suburbs as poor blacks moved to the inner city. As whites moved out of the city, they sought more autonomy and local power, establishing the system of ‘incorporated municipalities’, allowing the local populace to control their own development, writing legal ‘covenants’ which imposed restrictions on “who could buy or lease property within its boundaries.”
In 1970, Ferguson was 99% white, with their covenant enshrining in law that blacks could not sell, rent own property in any way. Over the decades, the covenants were eroded due to their overt racist forms, and they became “unenforceable.” Thus, black people from the city were able to move out to the suburbs, but had to inherit the plethora of jurisdictions left behind by the white population who continued to flee the movement of the black population. In many of these small jurisdictions, there are too few people to provide for a necessary tax base to afford the services and functions of the local administrative structure. The result was that many communities became increasingly dependent upon “aggressive policing” to raise revenue through ticketing and traffic fines.
Boag describes this as a “tax on the poor,” since they are the most susceptible to such practices: “It’s they who have trouble finding the money to pay fines. It’s they who may have to choose between driving illegally to work or not working. It’s they who may be struggling just to feed a family.” The main preoccupation of police becomes issuing traffic fines and tickets, and then arresting people for not paying those fines. As a result, people do not view the police as being there to ‘protect and serve’, but, rather, “to pinch and squeeze every nickel out of you in any way they can.” This system is rampant in the town of Ferguson, as confirmed in an investigation by the Washington Post.
In effect, the poor black population of Ferguson is thus made to pay for their own oppression, stuck in a cycle of poverty which forces them to pay fines (or go to prison) in order to pay the salaries of the police who fine them, arrest them, beat them and kill them.
Thus, racism in Ferguson, itself a product of the segregationist policies of the Jim Crow era, is institutionalized in the very legal structure, tax and revenue structures, city planning and law enforcement institutions. Such circumstances do not require an overt articulation of racism, nor for it to be enforced by individual white racists (though both of these realities also occur and are encouraged by such a system).
The same logic also applies to the official system of slavery that existed in the United States prior to the Civil War. The slave system was an inherently and obviously racist system. However, there were (on occasion) slave owners who would treat their “property” with kindness, even those who criticized and opposed the system of slavery, but would still participate within that system. The realities of the institutional system of slavery meant that despite an individual’s personal views and preferences, they operated within a system which was racially structured, and thus, were made active participants and supporters of a racist system of domination and exploitation.
If one white slave owner were to free his slaves and promote equality and justice, he would lose his entire economic, social and political base of power within the society, be ostracized and made irrelevant and ineffective. Further, the newly-freed slaves would likely be captured and sold to other slave owners, with ‘freedom’ a short-lived and largely symbolic experience. The actions of a moral individual within an immoral institutional structure cannot change anything alone.
What is required is the collective action of many thousands and hundreds of thousands of individuals, working together to make the costs of such a system greater than its perceived benefits, forcing institutional change. Collective and large-scale actions will, in time and struggle, force reform and gradual change from the top-down. Alternatively, collective action and radical struggle will add to this same pressure, but also propose, organize and initiate alternative methods and visions for social organization and objectives, promoting more revolutionary alternatives.
The events and reactions in Ferguson, New York and increasingly across much of the country and even internationally represent the emergence of a powerful new and resurgent force in society, the reactivation of people power. From urban rebellions and ‘riots’ in Ferguson and Berkeley, to mass arrests and protests in New York and Los Angeles, to the civil disobedience in Miami, Boston, Chicago, Seattle and beyond, America is witnessing the first few weeks and months of a powerful new social movement which promises not to go away quietly. Nor should it.
With chants of “shut it down!” the demonstrators recognize that their power comes in the form of being able to disrupt the normal functioning of society. Institutional racism has led to immense injustice, segregation, exploitation and domination over life in America. The realities of present-day America are the modern manifestations of an institutional system of racism which pre-dates the formation of the United States itself. The current unrest is a reflection of the fact that solutions must go to the core of the problem, within the founding and functions of the institutions themselves.
America may have a black president, but he still has to live in the White House. Black Americans may have more political freedoms and opportunities than in previous decades and centuries, but they still have to live in a society shaped and dominated by institutional racism.
The black population has been kept at the bottom of the social order in the United States since the U.S. was founded as a country (and in fact, long before then). This has been unchanged over the course of several centuries. If progress is defined as one black man being able to rise to a position over which he exerts immense power over a society that continues to subject the majority black population to institutional racism, then ‘progress’ needs to be redefined. An individual, alone, cannot alter the institutional structure of society. Obama is not a symbol of a “post-racial” America, he is a symbol of the continued existence of an “institutionally racist” America, where one can have a black president overseeing a white empire, at home and abroad.
Obama is the exception, not the rule. The rule is Ferguson; the rule is Michael Brown and Eric Garner. The rules need to change. The rules need to be broken and replaced. The rule of racist and imperialist institutions and ideologies must be smashed and made obsolete. The rule of the people must become the law of the land. The road to justice runs through Ferguson, driven by the collective action of thousands of individuals, taking the struggle into the streets with the very real threat that if true liberation is not achieved, the system has lost any sense of legitimacy. When the cost of subservience to the status quo is greater than the cost of changing it, the people will “Shut It Down.”
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a freelance researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada.