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Barsamian: We Need to Resurrect Socialism

Special for the Armenian Weekly

“Capitalism is resilient. It comes back in different ways and forms,” explained Alternative Radio founder and director David Barsamian in a talk in Beirut on Tues., Feb. 23, organized by the ARF Zavarian Student Association.

‘Capitalism is resilient. It comes back in different ways and forms,’ explained Barsamian in a talk in Beirut

This was part of a series of lectures and discussions known as ZomTalks, a new initiative by the student association that features “individuals of diverse backgrounds and disciplines who share insight and knowledge from their area of expertise” with the Lebanese community. Ideas shared in ZomTalks must “inform, inspire, and empower” attendees.

The latest ZomTalks featured independent journalist, writer, and political activist David Barsamian, who tackled the issue of capitalism, media conglomerates, and global warming to an audience comprised mostly of youth and university students, along with people from all walks of life.

Barsamian started his talk, titled “The Twilight of Capitalism,”  by reciting the piece “A Century Is a Long Time. It Is and It Isn’t,” which he had read in Ankara during the commemoration of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide.

With a transition to the topic of the day, he noted that 2015 is also a record year for capitalism, as it witnessed the highest number of economic deals. Barsamian astonished the audience by explaining that 62 families own more wealth than half the population of the world. Capitalism, he said, creates an enormous amount of wealth for only a few. The activist added, with humor, that “if you want to defend the [capitalist] system, it is doing a great job for the 1%. But it is a disaster for the vast majority.”

Barsamian explained that the 1% versus the 99% discourse was injected in the political dialogue as a result of the “American Intifada” with the Occupy Movement. He added that this movement against Wall Street and what it symbolized was crushed by the state security apparatus. “Capitalism is resilient,” he added. “It comes back in different ways and forms.” Barsamian explained that we are not ready to burry capitalism, but that we have to be very creative in providing suitable alternatives.

University books that teach economics and the rules of capitalism are a lie, Barsamian alarmed the attendees. He detailed his point, explaining how it is widely believed that capitalists love competition, “but when you look at the evidence it says otherwise.” In fact, capitalists love control. They aim for monopoly. “Competition is a myth,” he declared. As a result, there are fewer and fewer choices of suppliers in the market. The American economy (and that of the world) is becoming a stage where the logic of “survival of the fittest” dominates.

One example he gave is the media industry, where in the 1960’s 50 companies were controlling most of the print, visual, and audio media in the United States. Today, that number has dropped down to five or six! These media conglomerates utilize their corresponding outlets (cable networks, magazines, radio stations, Hollywood studios, etc.) as weapons of mass distraction. They distract masses from reality, from topics and issues that actually matter. Barsamian added that it is unacceptable that people in the United States know all the details of the daily lives of the Kardashians, but not what is happening to the people of Syria and Iraq. “This shows the arrogance of power and imperialism.”

“People only speak of income inequality,” he noted, yet wealth (not income) must be measured to show the real socioeconomic gap among the people. He clarified that one who owns a yacht, a building downtown, and a factory, but has a middle-class monthly salary, cannot be compared to someone who earns the same middle-class monthly salary but uses most of it on house rent, bills, and school tuition. These are not two equal sides.

Barsamian stressed the fact that capitalism goes hand-in-hand with the American political establishment. He exemplified this view by highlighting the fact that corporations fund the election campaign of presidential candidates, with the aim of co-opting them on their side. For capitalists, money has to grow, by all means necessary. Thus, it is not surprising that in the upcoming U.S. presidential elections, we actually have a billionaire, Donald Trump, running for president, he said.

Barsamian stressed the fact that capitalism goes hand-in-hand with the American political establishment.

Another point Barsamian made was how the capitalist system distinguishes between classes, and prefers the rich over the poor. Looking at his early life in New York, he explained that whenever his father couldn’t pay the rent for his grocery shop, he would be kicked out of the place. But, when a bank in New York is in deep financial crisis, it is bailed out by the government—by the taxpayer money. “There is hardly any capitalist sector that is not publicly subsidized or will be bailed out by the establishment,” concluded Barsamian.

One consequence of capitalist expansions is the destruction of the planet, noted the speaker. Global warming, climate change, and ensuing natural disasters are becoming more apparent every day. In fact, in the coming era, wars will likely be fought not for gold or oil, but for water!

Barsamian shared his concerns over the fact that the political discourse in the United States has changed in the last five decades. There is no major difference between the Republican and Democrat camps when it comes to discussing capitalism. The political elite has taken the discourse to the far right. People in America, he said, don’t know what socialism means; it is now a distorted term that carries with it connotations of the Soviet Union. This is a result of the planned intellectual cleansing of the American mind by the capitalist establishment, he explained. “We need to resurrect the term [socialism]. We need to give it air. We can come back.”

“The Twilight of Capitalism” was not the first time the Zavarian Student Association tackled ideological topics in modern contexts. In fact, just a few weeks before, on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, it issued an interactive video that introduces the ideological foundations of the ARF, in English. The video aims to simplify the concepts of Nation, Democracy, Socialism, and Revolution, and make them comprehensible to the public.

The Zavarian Student Association was the first student gathering that initiated a conversation with the Nor Zartonk movement of Istanbul. As such, the Armenian community in Lebanon was invited to get to know, understand, and communicate with members of the Armenian community in Istanbul through Sayat Tekir and Pakrad Estukyan, representatives of Nor Zartonk and the Agos newspaper, respectively. Zavarian students also took part in the “Save Camp Armen” movement through a solidarity video that condemned the actions of the Turkish government.

8 Comments on Barsamian: We Need to Resurrect Socialism

  1. avatar sol chooljian // March 2, 2016 at 6:44 pm // Reply

    I can not agree with the basic premises of the speaker. some of the greatest concentrations of wealth in the world are from totalitarian governments/dictatorships. the same goes for pollution . Look at Russia where the pseudo private oligarchs were handed the great resources of the former USSR and are multi-billionaires, same goes for PRC (Communist China) and both are among the biggest polluters. India has taken the former Rajah’s concentration of wealth during and after the British colonization and just transferred it to a socialist style government that suppresses the vast majority of a class based society. Looking at the U.S.A comparison of the definition of the lower economic strata of the society and comparing them to those of other nations, they have a better quality of life in all facets even with having a large number of high asset citizens at the higher levels. Opportunity to rise from the lowest socioeconomic level in the highest in the U.S.A is greater than any other form of economic structure in the world. As proof, look at the sources of wealth of the top level citizens and you will find the majority of earned wealth was made by risk taking and not inheritance. Socialism has crept into the U.S.A. in many ways and is a constant danger to a successful model. Socialism’s cost is less freedom to individuals at a high price.

  2. Is this going back to the darker ages? totally disagree with Barsamian. Socialism has it’s low points at it’s best but it has served the past with it’s dictators at the helm – we now know how it all worked. Please do not tell me that it has served well without corruption – this is just the face and let’s not go into the nitty details which might shock those who will try and argue the point. Capitalism has it’s failures no doubt but it’s alot better than socialism and for what it stands for. Hope we are not going into the dictatorial issues with regards to socialism and or capitalism. There really is some rubbish here with regards to Global warming and Climate Change and the likes so let’s not get into this as there is a big division with it’s integrity. Sorry, after reading through this article, I found the contents very questionable – I am disappointed with it’s contents.

  3. We can say the same for Armenia.Today the entire wealth in Armenia is in the hand of a few and the rest of the population is starving and leaving the country.There are monopolies and impunity by the rich,and the government has become dictatorial.

  4. I agree with Barsamian that we need to resurrect Socialism. My thoughts on this is that the Government should control the big industries, for instants the Oil Industry, the Natural Gas, the Electric Lights, & other big industries, so that the cost of living for the average family does not increase. Property taxes, food, Gas prices, etc. must be better controlled. Capitalism must still exist under a Socialist Enterprise although much must be discussed & brought forward for people to live a normal life.

  5. avatar vart adjemian // March 5, 2016 at 11:11 am // Reply

    Interesting but neither impartial nor fully informative. The lecture is biased because it does not state all the facts with complete accuracy. Some points are valid,but many are false.
    The income gap, inequality is not a problem solely in the U.S. It is worldwide across most countries whether they are capitalist or socialist. Indeed in some countries that had leftist or socialist governments, the income gap widened significantly due to various factors.(corruption, oligarchs,cryonism,bad policies).
    Admittedly the ideals of socialism are worthy causes. Unfortunately in today’s world , with the economic realities and forces, they are extremely difficult to attain. There is no
    perfect system. Utopia does not exist.
    According to most recent data/statistics by financial institutions, the world has:
    – 1826 billionaires.
    -The U.S. has 536-about 29%- which is a reasonable percentage, if taken into account that the U.S. has the largest economy.
    -Socialist/communist countries with billionaires are:
    China – 430
    Hong Kong 55 ( integral part of Chinese economy)
    Russia -93
    The difference between the two, is that in a capitalist system,
    anyone can become successful and become wealthy, while in a socialist regime, the rulers decide who will become wealthy and how they will divide the pot.

    • China, Hong Kong, and Russia are not socialist/communist countries in the true sense of the word. While ruled by communist party, China has adopted the capitalist model. So did Russia and Hong Kong, plus a multi-party system. And when presenting statistics about the number of billionaires in the world, you forgot to mention that the money-bags who own more than 50 percent of the world’s wealth—Rothschilds, Rockefellers, Warburgs, Baruchs, Gates, Soros, etc.—are associated with the capitalist countries, and not the “socialist/communist” countries, as you call them.

  6. avatar vart adjemian // March 6, 2016 at 6:26 pm // Reply

    Dear John,
    So what are the countries that are socialist that we should aspire to?
    What socialist regime should be our model?
    If the biggest and most powerful regimes ruled by socialts or communists have adopted the capitalist model, does it not that say that capitalism in their view is better?
    Vart

    • Vart,

      I wasn’t advocating for a socialist model in the US. I just wanted to show that it is capitalism—not socialism–that’s accumulated most of the wealth of the world to the detriment of the rest of the world population.

      I also think that it is incorrect to say that “in a capitalist system anyone can become successful and become wealthy”. It depends on what your definition of “success” is. If you meant professional success, in a socialist system, too, anyone can become successful. As for becoming wealthy, well, masses of workers in a capitalist system may risk being thrown to the streets and become poor, unemployed, and unable to pay off their mortgages.

      What are the countries that are socialist that we should aspire to? It is for the American people to decide, really, but the Nordic model (also called Nordic social democracy) might be worth considering. I’d certainly wish this model to be adopted by Armenia at some point.

      Lastly, Russia did not voluntarily adopt the capitalist model because she thought capitalism was better. Russia had no other choice because her socialist model was demised by the concentrated destructive effort of Western capitalism and those sinister globalist forces that act behind the scene. China rerailed its economy on a capitalist model, but has preserved the Communist ideology, the one-party system, and much of the socialist infrastructure (education, healthcare, etc.).

      I agree with you that there exists no perfect economic system, just as there exists no perfect form of government.

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