March 4, 2011

Newspeak vs. Euphemism


Orwell’s concept of Newspeak was actually relatively naive and unsophisticated compared to the real life practice among the purveyors of euphemism.
If we can say that there’s a roughly finite body of knowledge which is critical for most people to know, then Newspeak sought to artificially diminish the knowledge itself by paring down the number of words which could be used to communicate it.
Capitalist euphemism has gone in the opposite direction. It wants to vastly expand the number of words and terms beyond the extent of the actual content they convey. I’m not referring to similar denotations with different connotations. Connotation is content, and is the lifeblood of literature, philosophy, and all expression which makes us human.
By bloodless euphemism I mean terms which not only do not connote but which attenuate even the denotation.
This thought was sparked when I read this comment at this thread (an excellent blog with good comment threads, although I haven’t commented there yet):

“Spatial deconcentration” Now that’s a bit of Newspeak for you! Your point about the paradoxical double object of urban renewal is well taken. As I recall, when there were plans to build a stadium for the 49ers out at Hunters Point, there were similar plums offered about better housing and shopping amenities for the African Americans who already lived there. It didn’t sound believable then either.

“Spatial deconcentration”. It’s not really meant to convey any content, is it? Rather just a vague sense that something will be done which the good middle class citizen shouldn’t investigate too closely. If one’s social indoctrination is sufficiently intact, such terms are sufficient narcotics. By conveying no content it touches no inherent emotional buttons. It doesn’t generate innate resistance. By sounding innocuous and very boring it also tends to repel interest in its underlying subject, whatever that may be.
By contrast Newspeak has too much brutal honesty to it, and even the earlier generation of euphemism like “urban renewal” was too specific, conveyed too much meaning, promised too much.
That post was also interesting in how it was another manifestation of the liberal collaboration with predator capitalism, like I had just read about at Naked Capitalism regarding the pro-MBS alliance of the banksters, corporate liberals like the CAP, and alleged “progressives” like affordable housing advocates.
Here’s part of my comment there:

Yves: “For reasons I cannot fathom, the traditional affordable housing-banking coalition is still holding together on this issue. It should be clear by now that affordable housing programs and mortgage finance are two separate beasts, and the extent of the sops demanded by the banksters mean affordable housing goals will take a back seat.”

That’s classic liberal behavior, which in turn is part of the neoliberal corporate strategy. Most of them are corrupt and just want a cheap reward for helping with the scam, while the idealist “progressives” are cowards who cling desperately to the few crumbs they can still get through this collaboration, even when it becomes clear that the crumbs themselves will be taken away.

No matter how many times history proves this will always fail, the liberal pathology keeps repeating it, calling themselves “pragmatic” by way of delusional compensation.

This is similar to the argument I keep having with liberals and technophiles over the green energy scam. How under kleptocracy taxpayer subsidy of “green energy”, electric cars, etc. will never result in an egalitarian deployment of solar and wind energy and a People’s Electric Car (if that could work, why wasn’t oil deployed that way?), but will only go to prop up the luxury of the rich and the police state. Therefore any such subsidy is a loss to the people, both in the money stolen from us and in how the result is a further weapon against us. I wrote about this at greater length here, here, and here.
One big difference is that at least where it comes to housing and energy technology we’re at least talking about actual things in the real economy. But the GSE “debate” is over purely fictional, vaporous, parasitic financialization – securitization and mortgage debt. As I said in the first part of my comment there:

The only reason anyone would want to prop up the very existence of MBS is to serve the banksters, since we know securitization serves no social or economic purpose whatsoever, but is purely destructive.

So this entire debate is false and demented, since it’s purely over what’s the best way to continue enslaving humanity to the banks. Assuming the continued existence of mortgages at all, there’s only one rational, moral, and practical answer here: End securitization and restore the old way of local lending, local filing, and local repose of the loan. No one can give an answer which hasn’t been proven to be a lie as to why we need or want anything more than that……

We need to break the bank tyranny completely and abolish all concept of REO and mortgages.

What we really need to do is transcend this antiquated ideology of landed property and debt completely.

It’s clear that we need to abolish both financialization and capitalism itself. Since liberalism inherently supports and seeks to aggrandize both of these, it follows that we need to transcend liberalism. At best it’s a failed ideology and strategy, and by now it’s far worse. It’s intentionally pernicious.
Toward the goal of true political and economic democracy, even Newspeak would be an improvement over the euphemism adored by liberals and other corporatists.

March 3, 2011

Corporations Are Feudal Manifestations (1 of 2)


Contrary to propaganda, there’s nothing modernistic about corporations. On the contrary, they’re a carryover phenomenon from feudalism. This feudal vestige persisted through the early heyday of capitalism, soon becoming the preferred mode of organization to prevent the full textbook logic of capitalism from developing. The result was that the economy never evolved beyond a feudal-capitalist hybrid. And once capitalism reached its terminal stage starting in the 1970s, where the combination of Peak Oil and the terminally declining profit rate threatened to attenuate forms of economic domination completely, the corporation became the basic unit of class war, and the anti-social, anti-political, anti-sovereign form around which full feudalism is intended to be restored.
The corporation originally arose out of medieval guilds and the monopoly charter. This charter was also called a “searching and sealing patent”. It had nothing to do with production. The charter-holder, generally some royal crony, didn’t produce or do anything but merely took a cut of some production process, nominally for “certifying the quality” of the product. We can compare today’s Food Control Bill, with its myriad FDA impositions, fees, and forced purchases of corporate electronic equipment for small and medium producers. On its face this isn’t to ensure better food quality (if it were, there would be rigorous enforcement of existing law against the big corporate producers, and a total ban on CAFOs), but to “certify” smaller producers and extract “searches and seals” from them. Or better yet, drive them out of business altogether.
The main goal of these medieval institutions and practices was always to restrain economic activity in the interest of the existing power structure. The goal was always monopoly and economic control by setting up rent extraction points. The first corporate innovation was pooled capital, first used for the Russia Company (chartered in 1553), although it wasn’t fully developed until some fifty years later, by the British East India Company. Limited liability followed soon after, at least as early as a 1662 Parliamentary grant to investors in the BEIC.
Although these corporate forms were sometimes organized by the rising bourgeoisie, they were also seen by the obsolete feudal structure as a way to protect its wealth and economic prerogatives, by channeling bourgeois activity through the controlled corporate form. 
In addition to the adaptation of the guild form and the monopoly charter, other medieval practices which now evolved with the times included piracy now becoming chartered privateering and the carryover of private taxation. Eventually the BEIC’s tax extractions from India exceeded its trade revenues. Corporate rent extractions, where not explicitly called “taxes”, are really the government de facto alienating its taxation power in favor of the corporation. Today we’re seeing the increasing recrudescence of de jure tax farming at the IRS. Meanwhile the health racket Stamp mandate is the new model for a government-mandated, IRS-enforced private tax extraction. Even the administration, in arguing for the mandate in court (public money and resources being used to argue on behalf of a private corporate prerogative), now explicitly calls the penalty for refusing to buy the Stamp a “tax”.
With all sorts of examples of artificial barriers to entry and restrictions on activity, as well as subsidies and other preferences for entrenched rackets, we see today the continuation of the original mercantile colonial system, wherein elites strictly controlled the allowed range of economic action for all colonials and other non-elites. This was a primary wellspring of the American Revolution. The chartering of monopolies and corporations was a major part of this control system. The 1773 plan for the BEIC to set up a vertical tea monopoly in the colonies, through chartered commissioners, was a classic example.
Today’s internal mercantilism seeks the same end. The difference is that the alien monarchical/corporate monopoly is nominally our own government and “our” corporations. But in fact the policy and aggression of a Walmart or a Wells Fargo is exactly the same as that of the British East India Company. The community is a colony to be exploited and drained of its wealth.
Remember the axiom, which applies in spite of every lie about “investment”, “ratables”, or any other trickle-down fraud: No big corporation would enter a region unless it expected to take out more wealth, usually far more, than it put in. Otherwise its shareholders wouldn’t let it enter in the first place.
The role of government, starting with chartering the corporation in the first place, is to aid this internal colonization, if necessary using constraint and force to enforce this corporate-colonial prerogative. Globalization started as the extranational, NGO form of this enforcement. With the advent of the EU and NAFTA, the stateless, alien bureaucracy has begun to rule within the West itself. The WTO extended this anti-sovereign process. This too is redolent of the old feudal nobility, prior to the rise of the nation-state, who squatted uselessly and destructively on the land as a purely alien presence, parasitic and predatory.
Another consistent feature, albeit in a frequently changing form, has been slavery. The basic status of the exploited medieval peasant was as a serf. The supposed evolution to capitalism saw both the change from serfdom to indentured servitude (for most Europeans), as well as the recrudescence of ancient direct slavery in the Western Hemisphere. The black slave and the white indentured servant gave way to the proletarian wage slave and the sharecropper. After a brief mid-20th century interlude of relative economic redistribution, we’re now rapidly returning to indentured servitude, debt slavery. The corporation is the main engine of this process. It dominates the real economy, subordinates the real economy to the finance sector, and forces us ever deeper into debt merely to continue to economically exist. 
The most consistent continuation of feudalism throughout the nominally “capitalist” era has been the necessary repetition, at ever-shorter intervals, of the process of primitive accumulation, AKA direct robbery in order to amass seed capital. The great European land enclosures are generally considered a defining feature of the transition from feudalism to capitalism. In fact, this enclosure process has needed to be repeated several times. 19th century imperialism was the first great round. Then post-WWII saw the next great assault as Western governments and corporations scrambled to establish capitalist dominance in the aftermath of the collapse of conventional colonialism. Starting in the 1970s, the final enclosure process began, all over the world including in the Western countries themselves. The land grabs are so far overt and large-scale only in the Global South, but there can be no doubt about the intended end stage in the West as well: 100% of the land, resources, and infrastructure are to be in the hands of a few private rentiers. The corporation is the main engine of this process, as its imposed debt slavery renders it more and more impossible for anyone not rich to hold onto any real assets.
These are some of the main ways that corporate rent extraction has always, throughout the nominally capitalist era, served to set up bottlenecks within the real economy, create forced markets, crush actual innovation, and prevent egalitarian market entry. In all these ways the corporation helped keep alive the spirit of rentier feudalism.
All this is why corporations were excluded from the Constitution, although as we’ve learned to our misfortune the exclusion wasn’t rigorous enough. We now need to amend this Constitution to render it exemplary of the true sovereign people’s constitution. This means abolishing these feudal atavisms.
What has ideologically justified not only the existence but the radical empowerment of the reactionary phenomenon, corporations? Here too, we find a feudal rationale.
Although the SCOTUS and corporate ideologues have worked their way through a menagerie of justifications for the corporation and corporate “rights”, the basic ideological premise is contained in the natural entity theory. This remains the implicit concept, although it’s seldom been explicated since the 1920s. This theory arose out of the late 19th century German organicist movement. Looking back to medieval times, liberal German scholars saw the key to all of its social and economic vitality and freedom in organized “collective personalities” – various clubs, guilds, lodges, the church flock, etc. They looked at how capitalism and the modern state have crushed the integrity and cohesion of such social and economic organs and concluded that the answer wasn’t to get rid of centralized power concentrations, but to create more, intermediate concentrations. (Madison had already formulated this scam in Federalist 51.) They wanted, not for us to assert our citizen and human rights against concentrated power as such, but rather for new corporate rights to be created for these intermediate structures as against the centralized state. The citizens would remain as disempowered as before.
The correct answer to this problem would be to break the centralized state and replace it with confederations of the lower-level community organs. But as always, Big Government liberalism was here in cahoots with corporatism from the start, in principle.
The practical result of this theory, once it reached the US, was to justify an expansive new view of corporate “rights” and prerogatives. The people were supposed to accept the existence of the corporation as god-given, natural, by definition good in principle and practice, and at any rate something we have no choice but to accept. It’s a circular, might-makes-right argument: The corporation is here and is playing a dominant, good-by-definition role, so it ought to have all Constitutional rights. And why should it be allowed to play such a role at all? Like the theory says, you’re forbidden to ask that question, but if you insist, it plays that role because it has the right to play it.
It’s the same rigged logic as in the federal courts which found the Stamp mandate constitutional (Congress can create a forced market, which is then dogmatically called a natural market, over which Congress naturally has full regulatory authority etc…), or of “libertarians” who want to normalize and legalize the crimes of primitive accumulation. Once the robber stops to formalize his plunder as “property”, it’s no longer the proceeds of crime, but now has a retroactive mystical validity going back to Adam and Eve. The propertarian now has the full “right” to idly hoard, bequeath to a worthless parasitic heir, etc.
Since the Constitution self-evidently rejects this “theory” (otherwise it would have enshrined these intermediate corporate bodies and described their powers and immunities), the SCOTUS never explicitly relied upon it much. (Indeed, it went through a series of rationales for corporate “rights”, discarding one and taking up the next, before basically giving up and just going ahead instrumentally, ad hoc, might-makes-right fashion. That’s all it could do in the end, since corporations obviously have no constitutional rights whatsoever, so how can anyone come up with a coherent theory of such rights?) But to this day it remains the implicit foundation of corporatist jurisprudence.
So corporations were one form in which elites tried to continue their feudal prerogatives into the 19th century. Ted Nace describes the circumstances of the first half of the 1800s.

What is not as well known is that, long after the ratification of the U.S.
Constitution and the adoption of the Bill of Rights, most aspects of employer-
employee relations continued to be regulated by a common law
legal structure that continued to enforce principles of privilege and hierarchy
derived from the feudal society of the late Middle Ages. As explained
by political scientist Karen Orren, “The original, mainly
landholding, masters had long since been overtaken by business owners
and managers; however, their privileges remained, passed on to their
successors largely intact.”

This system of workplace regulation, also known as the “law of
master and servant,” was similar to that applying to husband and wife,
parent and child, and guardian and ward. The power of employers over
their workers was considered a private relationship, where normal constitutional
rights did not necessarily apply. Thus, common law permitted
measures of enforcement that were unacceptable in other social
realms. For example, it was not until 1843 that American courts stopped
permitting employers to beat their employees.

Industrial relations in the United States were rooted in their English
antecedents. (p.142)

This is the atmosphere in which feudal practices were being carried over into the age of nominal capitalism and nominal democracy. The corporate form would play an important role in maintaining this employer-based tyranny and residuum of feudalism. The corporation was meant to serve as an anti-democratic fortress during the age of cheap, plentiful fossil fuel energy and industrial abundance, both of which ought to have been radically democratizing forces.
Nevertheless, at first it looked like this feudal vestige as well would wither away. Adam Smith despised corporations as a stagnant feudal holdover, as did influential physiocrats like Turgot. Through them the disparagement of corporations as an obsolete form came to America through Ben Franklin. The US Constitution shunned the corporation, and corporate charters were highly restrictive. Classical economists from Adam Smith to Karl Marx assumed corporations would play no significant role in the capitalist future. They were destined for the scrapheap.
So what happened? A reactionary corporatist coup took place in the US. This coup radically empowered corporations and, through them, the feudal rentier, now disguised as a productive capitalist. In Part 2 I’ll trace how that happened.

March 2, 2011

How “Corporate Personhood” Was Smuggled Into the Constitution

Filed under: Corporatism, Law, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 6:28 am


By 1886 the railroads and their flunkeys had been contemplating for many years the prospect of getting “corporate personhood” enshrined as a perverted interpretation* of the 14th Amendment. Yet even though they apparently had enough votes on the SCOTUS to enshrine this false doctrine, they still felt the need to engage in subterfuge and sleight of hand. Evidently, it was considered too politically risky to openly litigate and decide the issue. The result was a cowardly collaboration between the railroad lawyers, Chief Justice Morrison Waite, and subsequently the entire court, to smuggle in this anti-constitutional doctrine by the back door. I’ll delve into “corporate personhood” as an ideology in a subsequent post. Here I’m just going to describe the steps by which it was snuck into Constitutional jurisprudence. (Much of this narrative is compiled from Ted Nace’s Gangs of America. The site doesn’t have HTML links for the later chapters, but it’s from chapters 9 and 10. Most of the analysis is my own, and goes further than that of Nace.)
[* Self-alleged “originalist” Antonin Scalia was recently expatiating on the 14th Amendment, telling an interviewer that those who voted to ratify it never thought it applied to women. He disclaimed any intent to overturn any existing superprecedent where it comes to gender rights. But if he really believes and cares about this, then where does that leave his aggressive pro-corporatism? The corporate personhood interpretation has been proven to be not just false Constitutionalism but an actual fraud. So even if Scalia still wanted to view Santa Clara as a superprecedent, he still would have no basis to extend corporate “rights” any further. That would be according to his own alleged guiding principle. But then, it’s long been clear that Scalia’s a fraud where it comes to his proclaimed principles, even more than Thomas.]
1. In 1866 the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction drafted the 14th Amendment, guaranteeing “equal protection of the laws” to all “persons” in the United States and forbidding state infringement of this equal protection**. At no time, during the extensive public discussion and debate which followed during the ratification process, did anyone from the Committee claim that the amendment was intended to apply to corporations. On its face and based on the deliberations, from any strict or originalist jurisprudential point of view, the amendment does not apply to corporations.
Senator Roscoe Conkling was a member of the drafting committee.
[** Once “equal protection” rights for corporations under the 14th had been smuggled into the Constitution by the method described in this post, “due process” rights would soon follow. I’ll discuss that in a subsequent post. This post is discussing only the equal protection clause.]
2. Having left the Senate, Conkling went to work for the railroads. He now argued that the 14th amendment had been intended to apply to corporations. He claimed that the Committee actually had this secret intent all along but kept quiet about it. According to him, the plan was to get everyone to think it applied only to human beings, and in particular to newly freed slaves. Now, once it had been ratified on that basis, here was Conkling saying in effect, “Ha ha, suckers! We secretly intended for the amendment to apply to corporations all along, and now you’re all stuck with it!”
Obviously this is bogus. Even if the Committee did have such a secret intent, that would have zero legitimacy. The only authority of anything in the Constitution is, according to one’s interpretive philosophy, what the text says, what’s in its spirit, and/or what the framers publicly claimed to intend by it at the time. A secret plot to smuggle in a coded meaning would have no validity from any perspective. As Hugo Black put it many years later, “..a secret purpose on the part of the members of the committee, even if such be the fact…would not be sufficient to justify any such construction.”
3. To bolster his claims, Conkling produced a journal he claimed to have been keeping in 1866 during the drafting process. In it he details alleged wrangling over the wording of the amendment, the placement of the terms “person” and “citizen”, and that the term “person” was strategically deployed to ensure it would encompass corporations as well.
20th century scholarship has proven that Conkling’s diary was a forgery, and almost certainly his entire story about the Committee’s alleged secret plot was a lie.
But in either case, whether the plot did or didn’t exist, and even if the journal actually had been authentic, would make no difference. If any such intent was concealed from the public in 1866, it would objectively fail to exist from the point of view of the Constitution. Only public expressions have any validity or exist at all. No one in public life has any authority or right to have secret intentions.
4. Conkling testified about all this in the 1882 case San Mateo County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad. When he came back in 1886 to argue Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific, the SCOTUS simply let him assert it.
Why would anyone have believed the railroads’ own lawyer when he first claimed secret plots against the Constitution and magically produced this “journal” no one had ever seen before, all of it alleging to support the positions he was now arguing? Only if they wanted to believe it, because they too were in the bag for the railroads.
5. At the outset of the case, prior to formal argumentation, Chief Justice Morrison Waite proclaimed that the court didn’t want to hear argument about whether or not corporations were persons according to the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause, because the court already agreed that they were.
In other words, Conkling claimed that he and the committee who had drafted the 14th amendment had actually been engaged in a plot against the Constitution and democracy. Waite, instead of ordering him tarred and feathered and rejecting his argument with all the scorn and contempt it deserves, chose to roll over and accept it. So, evidently, did the rest of the Court.
Again, whether or not Waite actually believed Conkling is irrelevant. The fact is that the SCOTUS claimed to believe the Committee had lied to America, and yet let this retroactive interpretation stand. Thus Waite and the Court collaborated in a conspiracy against the Constitution and the people.
6. Waite made his informal statement in May 1886 at the beginning of arguments. The argumentation and decision then proceeded with no further mention of “corporate personhood”, and it played no role in the decision.
But a few months after the decision, when court reporter JC Bancroft Davis was writing up the case, he sent Waite a note asking for clarification regarding this supposed throwaway remark.

I have a memorandum in the California Cases
Santa Clara County
Southern Pacific &c &c
as follows:
In opening the Court stated that it did not wish to
hear argument on the question whether the Fourteenth
Amendment applies to such corporations as are parties in
these suits. All the Judges were of opinion that it does.
Please let me know whether I correctly caught your
words and oblige.

Waite replied:

I think your mem. in the California Railroad Tax cases expresses
with sufficient accuracy what was said before the argument
began. I leave it with you to determine whether
anything need be said about it in the report inasmuch as we
avoided meeting the constitutional question in the decision.

Davis proceeded to insert Waite’s characterization in the Statement of Facts prefacing the decision.

One of the points made and discussed at length in the brief of counsel for defendants in error was that “Corporations are persons within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.” Before argument Mr. Chief Justice Waite said: The court does not wish to hear argument on
the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of opinion that it does.

He then wrote the very first sentence of the case Headnotes (AKA Syllabus) as an incendiary declaration that “Corporations are persons” under the Constitution.

The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Why did Davis (a railroad board member) send Waite a request for clarification about a mere remark whose issues played no role in the decision? And receiving this seemingly odd request, why did Waite leave it to Davis’ discretion on how much to play it up in the written case record?
The answer is obvious. Waite may or may not have premeditated the remark’s being used to smuggle corporate personhood in to a written decision which never included it in the first place. (The fact that Waite ever agreed to countenance Conkling’s malevolent assertions proves Waite’s bad faith from the start.) But Davis’ note made it implicitly clear that he wanted to use the remark that way, and Waite’s reply implicitly gave him the green light to do so.
So we basically have a choice of two possible plots against democracy: Either the Committee conspired to subvert the Constitution and the SCOTUS later collaborated; or Conkling fabricated the story of the original conspiracy, but the SCOTUS still abetted him.
Either way, what’s evident is that the SCOTUS claimed to believe in this conspiracy and yet chose to go along with it.
7. And so it was done. Although the Headnotes and the Statement of Facts are not technically part of the decision and therefore do not constitute precedent, they can have great “moral” force, especially where one wants to pretend that they do add up to some kind of precedent. Sure enough, late that same year Philadelphia Fire Association vs. New York became the first case where Santa Clara was cited as a corporate personhood precedent. Although this citation was in a dissent, no one on the court disputed this allegation of a precedent. Soon it would be the basis of decisions. In 1889’s Minneapolis and St. Louis Railway Company vs. Beckwith, the decision flatly stated that corporations are persons where it came to both equal protection and due process. The illegitimate and malign doctrine had been smuggled in and was now ensconced.
Although it seems likely that corporate personhood was going to become SCOTUS doctrine one way or another, since most on the court were hankering for it and none strongly opposed it, the way it actually was done is appropriate to the wickedness of the whole corporate coup against democracy. That it was smuggled in instead of being openly argued and decided is the Original Sin of pro-corporate SCOTUS jurisprudence. This original crime and betrayal casts its shadow over all subsequent SCOTUS action. This illegitimates all of it.
It’s exemplary of the pro-corporate, anti-democratic role the SCOTUS has played through much of postbellum history. The main role of the court has been to bestow non-existent, unconstitutional “rights” upon corporations. The corporations prefer to use direct political force and might-makes-right to get what they want. But arguing their “rights” in court is a supplement and backstop where brute force fails.
So it seems appropriate that the way this fraudulent, subversive, back-door way of fighting was enshrined in the first place was not through formal argument in open court and an official decision, but through unacknowledged transmissions of lies, forged conspiracies, muttered remarks, furtive passing of notes, and a magically appearing “precedent”.

March 1, 2011

The Real Tea Party


The British East India Company was one of the earliest corporations and quickly became by far the most powerful of its age. In its heyday it was more powerful than most of the world’s governments. It already embodied most of the worst aspects of corporate existence, and its depredations in America ended up providing the final impetus to colonial independence. The American Revolution sought independence not just from British economic and political tyranny in general, but from the British-based corporation in particular.
The BEIC was chartered by Queen Elizabeth in 1600 and first issued permanent stock in 1613. One of the first instances of an award of limited liability for investors was a special Act of Parliament in 1662 bestowing this privilege upon BEIC shareholders. This Act isn’t surprising when we consider that often up to a third of Parliament were shareholders, and Kings often received loans from “the Company”, as it was usually called. Up to 10% of government revenue was from the tax on the BEIC’s tea monopoly.
The BEIC was one of the earliest joint-stock companies, pooling the capital of investors, which was better for the high-risk, high-reward nature of expeditions to places like Russia, Turkey, Africa, and China. The Company was also involved in piracy as well as the legalized chartered piracy called privateering, a common corporate prerogative to this day.
The license to privateer was one of many aspects of the monopoly charter, which originally meant an exclusive charter to extract a particular rent. Monopoly would later extend to doing business in a particular region. Corporate chartering never completely lost this feudal nature, and today the monopoly aspect is again waxing, as is the corporation’s old license to amass private armies, police, prisons, and conduct its own foreign policy. The BEIC and other early corporations did all these as well.
The Company’s original charter granted it a monopoly on all trade east of the Cape of Good Hope. Driven out of the actual East Indies by the Dutch, the BEIC ended up imposing a horrendous plunder regime upon India, depopulating whole countrysides by bleeding them of all economic ability to sustain life. Eventually the Company’s trade revenue was greatly exceeded by its rent extractions – company taxes, forced markets, prohibitions on all local industry and trading – all pure robbery.
By the early 1770s, the Company was on the verge of bankruptcy and needed a bailout. In the 1760s the shareholders kept voting increases in their annual dividends even as revenues were tightening. A Company-caused famine in 1769-70 greatly decreased the amount of plunder the Company tax collectors could extract. Meanwhile the BEIC was also losing share in the lucrative American market to Dutch smugglers.
In 1772, the Company took another severe hit as Europe fell into depression and continental tea sales plunged. It now had a tea glut in its warehouses. In collaboration with Parliament, the Company decided the solution was to dump the tea in America. This would relieve the supply glut and undercut the Dutch. Parliament agreed to suspend British-end duties in order to facilitate the scheme. It was classic globalization. But in a typical example of schizophrenic British policy throughout its confrontation with the colonies, the ministry insisted on the duty being collected at the colonial end. So the colonists would still have to pay the tax, even though the Company didn’t have to pay it in Britain. This helped revive the lately moribund taxation-without-representation agitation.
Far more potent than the tax issue, however, was the monopoly provision the Company added. Only its own special commissioners would be empowered to warehouse and retail the tea in the colonies. In Boston and throughout the colonies, most businesses were family-owned or partnerships. Corporations were unnecessary and unwanted. Under the mercantile policy and the Navigation Acts based upon it, these colonial businesses were already in a constrained position. Colonials were largely forbidden to engage in even local manufacturing let alone manufacturing for export. Their use of native resources was also subject to restraint contingent on the needs or whims of British mercantile entities like the Navy (who for example had dibs on all white pine trees according to the White Pine Act) or the BEIC.
Now these colonial businessmen saw themselves further threatened by the Company monopoly plan. It was a direct attack on their tea warehousing and retailing. Worse than this, all saw it as the prototype for all sorts of future British-imposed corporate monopolies. So not only were they foreclosed from manufacturing, but they’d be driven out of commerce as well. We can compare this to today’s prototypes, examples like the FDA’s milk “definitions” and the health racket Stamp mandate. Together these constitute such a prototype.
Broadsides of the time make clear how this was seen immediately as an early version of Walmartization:

To the Tradesmen,
Mechanics, &c. of the
Province of Pennsylvania

… Hereafter, if they succeed, they will send their own Factors and Creatures, establish Houses amongst us. Ship us all other East-India goods; and in order to full freight their Ships, take in other kind of Goods at under Freight, or (more probably) ship them on their own Accounts to their own Factors, and undersell our Merchants, till they monopolize the whole Trade. Thus our Merchants are ruined, Ship Building ceases. They will then sell Goods at any exorbitant price. Our Artificers will be unemployed, and every Tradesman will groan under the dire Oppression.

The East India Company, if once they get Footing in this (once) happy country, will leave no Stone unturned to become your Masters. They are an opulent Body, and Money or Credit is not wanting amongst them They have a designing, depraved, and despotic Ministry to assist and support them. They themselves are well versed In Tyranny, Plunder, Oppression and Bloodshed. Whole Provinces labouring under the Distresses of Oppression, Slavery, Famine, and the Sword, are familiar to them. Thus they have enriched themselves,thus they are become the most powerful Trading Company in the Universe. …

excerpts from a broadside signed “A Mechanic,” Philadelphia, December 4, 1773

As if wanting to maximize the fear and anger, Massachusetts royal governor Thomas Hutchinson wrangled appointments for his two sons, a son-in-law, and two cronies as the five Boston consignees for the BEIC tea. Hutchinson had long been reviled for among other things his decades-standing cronyist agenda, and the way he systematically sought to enshrine his family as de facto feudal nobles. The tea commissioner appointments comprised the ultimate proof of a nefarious plot between the Company, the ministry, and Hutchinson to economically enslave Massachusetts.
This was the cause of the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. A shock troop of around 150 men assembled at the home of rebel printer Benjamin Edes where they were painted and costumed to look like Indians. Joined by hundreds more in regular dress, shouting “the Mohawks are come!” and “Boston Harbor a teapot tonight!”, they boarded the three tea ships docked in Boston Harbor and destroyed the tea. There was little in the way of political symbolism about it – they wanted to maximize the economic destruction. 120,000 pounds, sixty tons, around 10% of a year’s worth of colonial consumption, 50% of normal imports from Britain, went into the harbor. The tea filled the water and piled up against the sides of the ships, until shovels were needed to keep the piles from tipping back over onto the decks. One man caught trying to secret tea in his pockets was roughed up while his coat was stripped. After the job was done the Mohawk leader, Captain Pitts, had everyone take off their shoes and shake them out, just to make sure no one was inadvertently taking home some tea he might be tempted to sell later. All the details had been carefully prepared. Every cup’s worth of tea was to be destroyed.
The non-corporatized merchants saw doom, so they acted. They destroyed the economically weaponized corporate property. The colonists were economically rebelling against colonialism in general and corporatism in particular, exactly the fight we face today. The rejection of corporate monopoly and the destruction of corporate property lay at the core of the American Revolutionary ideal. And when the British responded to the Tea Party by closing Boston Harbor and the other Intolerable Acts, the colonies didn’t cave in, but responded with galvanization, support, resolve. The American Revolution now definitively moved beyond its stage where most still hoped for some “reformist” solution, to the stage where Independence had become inevitable, even if most didn’t fully realize that at first.
Today anyone who still thinks and feels and acts in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party is an anti-corporate activist. The Tea Party was a direct counterattack on the British East India Company and the BEI/Parliament nexus, which is the same corporate/government nexus which afflicts us today. So a true tea partier is ready to whoop it up again against the tyrannical corporations. History is the authority for this fact.
And today we need such Mohawks. To give one example, for years freedom-loving people from India to Italy have repeatedly taken action to fight back and destroy the GMO fields which threaten their economic and political freedom, as well as the biosphere itself. And can we rely on the rule of law to solve such problems? On the contrary, as we speak the US government is brazenly defying a court order against allowing Monsanto’s GE sugar beets to be planted without even the normal sham environmental assessments. And we just saw the administration’s psychopathic approval of GE alfalfa, a policy guaranteed to contaminate all alfalfa, bringing us that much closer to the inevitable system collapse and world famine GMOs promise to someday trigger.
The same Indians who were once “bled white” by the British East India Company are now driven to suicide in the hundreds of thousands by corporations like Monsanto, by the US government, and by totalitarian globalization entities who are the lackeys of these chartered monopolies. Then there’s the likes of the NYT which continues to viciously, wantonly demand the further escalation of this global war on the people of America and the world.
My purpose in writing this is not necessarily to call for actual property destruction. People will have to consult their conscience and necessity to discern the right tactic for any situation. But I want to make clear how the struggle of the American Revolution was the same struggle we endure today. It was the same struggle against corporations, against monopoly charters, corporate rent extractions, corporate forced markets, the forced restraints of colonial economic policy, the same internal mercantilism we increasingly face today, against the same globalization and internal economic colonization within an empire (consider how truly alien and destructive Walmart and its clones are to our communities).
We see how corporatism is a radically regressive deterioration of our political and economic freedom and power. It’s part of the descent back to feudalism the kleptocracy has planned for us. We see how our only hope for preserving our freedom and regaining our prosperity is to continue on the original path of the American Revolution. This is the path of the true Boston Tea Party. It’s the path of total rejection of corporations and the corporate/government nexus, withdrawal from the grasp of their parasitic extractions, and total resistance to their assaults. This is the only road to freedom and self-determination. It’s the only road forward for humanity.
« Newer Posts