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.
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.
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.