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Neoliberalism Has Created New System of Dual Citizenship for the Poor and the 1%

By June 1, 2015August 24th, 2018No Comments
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

In a lecture at Harvard during my freshman year, a professor—who may have been Martin Peretz—offered an insight that left a profound impact upon me. “Citizen,” the professor noted, was a unique and quite revolutionary concept. Different from many other terms, e.g., “comrade,” the notion of citizen implied a specific relationship between an individual and the polity. It specifically suggested a role for the individual within a state system in which said individual was a participant/actor rather than an observer.

Since the resurrection of the concept of “citizen,” in the context of the French Revolution, the term along with “citizenship” has been contested terrain.(1) There is no universally accepted criteria as to how one becomes a citizen of a nation-state. Countries differ greatly on whether being born in a particular territory is sufficient for such definition; under what conditions one can apply to become a citizen; how and under what circumstances can one’s children become citizens? These questions are not answered the same way in any number of Earth’s nation-states.

Despite this unclarity, the notion of citizenship remains a powerful concept and one which people insist on fighting to achieve. It demarcates freedom vs. slavery; it offers the formality of participation. Yet most importantly, citizenship offers legitimacy and visibility. Citizenship assumes that one’s history and life are relevant to the larger polity and, by implication, that one shares in the larger historical narrative. The fight to define and achieve citizenship becomes a fight to define and achieve recognition of one’s humanity.


The transformation of global capitalism over the last 40 years has catalyzed the transformation of the concept of citizenship, in some ways making it unrecognizable from most other periods of the so-called modern era.

Traditional citizenship exists between an individual and a nation-state. One is a citizen of a nation-state and has certain rights and responsibilities. This concept, of course, says nothing about the extent to which such rights and responsibilities are meaningful and have any content. They exist at the level of “formal” relationships.

Neo-liberal globalization has transformed citizenship so that the individual, within the context of a nation-state, may exist on one of three levels.  First, there is the traditional understanding of citizenship, i.e., an individual within a nation-state having certain basic rights.  How that individual gains citizenship, of course, is a different matter.  Second, there has been the rise of ethno-national and warlord states.  Third, we have witnessed the emergence of what might be loosely called “caste status,” or what we will reference as “sub-citizenship” which, by definition, is not citizenship at all but a parallel existence. We will look at each of these in turn.

Traditional citizenship remains a feature of the contemporary world, but with increasing restrictions on both the availability of citizenship and the rights of citizens.  In the USA one can see examples of both.  The political Right, for example, has been increasing its demand to overturn the right of an individual born in the USA to automatically become a US citizen.  Additionally, they wish to restrict the rights of migrants with regard to achieving citizenship.  The rights of citizens, as whole, have been increasingly restricted with the tendency for the democratic capitalist state to evolve toward a neo-liberal authoritarian state.

The role of the citizen in political affairs has been devolving as the capitalist state appears more and more distant from the realities of everyday life. Neo-liberal globalization is experienced by masses of people as taking away the decision-making power from the local or even national levels and investing control and/or veto power, in supra-national formations, e.g., NAFTA. While the reality is more complex, i.e., the national political elites are advancing a transnational capitalist project, the national citizen, rather than feeling part of the larger polity, finds himself/herself feeling more and more alienated from decision-making and the institutions through which such decision-making is supposed to operate.  Leaders are elected, allegedly to look out for the national citizens, only to seemingly betray the “national interests” in favor of multi-national corporations, trade agreements and/or supra-national bodies. Such a situation lays the groundwork for both left-wing and right-wing critiques, though in the contemporary world right-wing populist sentiment is the more significant force in responding to this sense of alienation, at least in the global North, in part because of the linkage of this phenomenon to race and imperial consciousness.


With neo-liberal globalization nation-states have been undergoing some complicated changes. European states, since the feudal era, evolved in various directions, including multi-national (Austria-Hungary), unitary (France), and linguistic-based unification (Germany, Italy). The tendency, until relatively recently, had been to increase the size of the nation-state either directly, through invasion and annexation, or though colonialism. The emphasis was on securing and expanding the national, capitalist market.

In the post-World War II period of national independence and national liberation, nation-states in the global South tended to conform to the borders created by the colonial rulers. Increasing the size of the national boundaries was less important than securing the borders.  Within the borders of most such nation-states was a multi-ethnic reality, though a particular ethnic group might tend to be in a dominant position. Though there were particular ethnic groups that fought for their own national homeland, e.g., the Kurds, the character of most struggles was for national self-determination with a built-in assumption that all who were within a specific territory were expected and welcome to be active participants in the future of the nation-state (assuming, of course, that they favored national liberation).  Citizenry, therefore, was open to most, if not all. Even in cases of settler colonialism, e.g., Algeria, Zimbabwe, upon liberation the settlers were offered citizenship and were not driven out of the newly founded nation-state.

With the growth of neo-liberal globalization, and particularly in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, nation-state construction took on a different character and, with it, the notion of citizenship. Two phenomena have risen in prominence: first, ethno-national states; second, warlord fiefdoms.

Ethno-national states have arisen under various banners but generally are dominated by right-wing ideologies (though, not in every case, e.g., the Kurds). Whether they claim they have been the victims of some sort of national oppression or that they have been used to the benefit of others, e.g., Slovenia, the ethno-nationalist orientation suggests that a nation-state form must be created in order to guarantee the safety and sovereignty of a particular ethnic group. The creation of such forms can frequently be associated with variations on ethnic cleansing in order to rid the given territory of peoples considered undesirable. (Israel falls into this category despite having been formed during the Cold War and prior to neo-liberal globalization.) The Yugoslav wars of secession were a case in point. Each nation, within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, fought to ensure the purity of its respective ethnic territory, in many cases driving out people who had been there for generations.  Ethno-nationalist projects inevitably redefine citizenship.  Citizenship and ethnicity overlap either explicitly or implicitly.  In the case of the Rwandan genocide, for instance, the Tutsi minority were viewed and described as “cockroaches” who were incompatible with the mythical Hutu regime that the right-wing wished to establish. It was not enough to try to drive the Tutsis out, which had happened on a large scale some years earlier; now they had to be destroyed outright.

Warlord-dominated fiefdoms have also emerged in the post-Cold War world of neo-liberalism. This phenomenon became noticeable with the breakup of Somalia, following the uprising that overthrew dictator Said Barre. Such states are dictatorships and citizenship, to the extent that one can speak of such a thing, is more a matter of existence within the territorial boundaries of the fiefdom.  There is no assumed right to political participation, nor is there a genuine collective identity. It is an existence. All is not necessarily chaos, however.  The lack of a nation-state does not necessarily mean the complete breakdown of everything. Warlords can be “excellent” defenders of economic instruments as was demonstrated in Somalia or more recently with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS).

The emergence of ethno-national and warlord states can take place precisely because while nation-states remain essential in order to advance the interests of global capitalism, the large, multi-ethnic nation-state is no longer necessary in this era.  The transformation of much of the world’s economy with the internationalization of production and financialization has altered the role of the nation-state.  As noted, the nation-state remains essential, as an instrument to further the objectives of global capitalism, but the terrain on which global capitalism operates is not restricted to a particular national territory or set of territories. If the political state can fulfill its role as a means of repression and defense of key economic interests, there is less global capitalist concern about the actual character of the state. In that sense, the world’s ignoring of the horror of warlordism and disunity in Somalia was less a characteristic of lack of humane consciousness and more a recognition by the elites that Somalia remaining a nation-state was irrelevant to the interests of global capitalism.

A second factor, which is particularly relevant to the matter of the ethno-national state concerns the issue of resource wars in the era of neo-liberal globalization and environmental crisis.  The ethno-national state has become a means to fight over diminishing resources.  This is an almost classic Hobbesian scenario of a war of all against all.  The ethno-national state determines, sometimes quite mythically, who the relevant population or ‘citizenry’ can be and then posits that it—the ethno-national state—serves as the protector of this population.  The ‘relevant’ population asserts its own identity, thereby claiming that its demands are the only ones to be legitimate compared with the ‘other.’  Again, by reference to Rwanda, the genocide took place in the context of an economically strapped Rwanda which had acceded to neo-liberal/structural adjustment demands.  Focusing the popular fury of the Hutus on the Tutsis was part of the process through which the right-wing Hutu regime was able to distract the attention of the population from the real enemies—global capitalism—and, instead, suggest that the Hutu state was, allegedly, the protector of their interests.


If the traditional nation-state is shifting its character in a highly authoritarian direction, with a corresponding restrictive definition of citizenship, and we are witnessing the growth of ethno-national and warlord states, this situation poses a question regarding the fate of masses of people who are, de facto or de jure excluded from the ranks of the ‘relevant’ population.

Twenty-first century capitalist states have increasingly come to rely on something that is actually not new, but has been revised. We can call it “caste status” or “sub-citizenship.” There is probably a scientific term but what we are speaking to here is more than a class relationship to the means of production and more than specific forms of oppressive social control (e.g., racist oppression; national oppression; gender oppression/patriarchy). Sub-citizenship includes migrants, the structurally unemployed, prisoners, ex-felons, as well as communities that have been victims of historic forms of oppression.(2) Sub-citizenship speaks to the relationship of a group(s) to the larger society and the extent to which it has formal or real rights to which others are bound (or not) to respect.

Some segments of this sub-citizen sector may have formal rights. In the USA, the structurally unemployed from among whites, African Americans, Native Americans, and non-immigrant Latinos and Asians, have formal rights as citizens but they actually live on the margins of society and their situation is so depressed that the existence of their formal political rights are almost meaningless. They see little advantage in political and/or civic participation, summarized in the notion that “…my vote does not really count…”

Migrants to the global North, another sub-citizen category, frequently exist in a shadow world. In science fiction, the robot stories of Isaac Asimov are among the closest glimpses into the world of the migrant. Migrants, the metaphoric robots, are neither seen nor heard, but fulfilling certain functions that the capitalist state needs done and done under conditions in which the worker is not only rarely acknowledged but lacks a mechanism through which they can achieve justice and respect.

Labor unions are an instrument to struggle against sub-citizenship which, in many respects, constitutes part of the explanation as to why they are being viciously attacked. Neo-liberal capital needs the sub-citizen category not only as a source for increasing their profits, but also as a means of eliminating or reducing the size of the relevant population (thereby reducing the demand for the provision of social and human services to huge segments of society).

The existence of a sub-citizenry carries with it genocidal implications. The sub-citizens not only lack rights, but it is also the case that their existence is considered largely irrelevant. In that sense the Rwandan Hutu disparagement of the Tutsis as “cockroaches” is globally significant. The sub-citizen is seen as a pest in capitalist societies or, at best, a necessary annoyance (as in the case of certain groups of migrant workers, particularly in the global North). The sub-citizen has no past and no future. They exist and, in the minds of the “citizens,” though especially the elite, they take resources that could otherwise serve the legitimate or, to borrow from Ronald Reagan, the ‘deserving’ population.

The sub-citizenry must ultimately be “retired,” to use a powerful term from the science fiction classic Blade Runner. This does not necessarily mean concentration camps but instead a reality that permits the slow but steady erosion of living standards and generalized conditions.


The neo-liberal world is a world of vast inequalities. In the last several years the matter of economic inequality has received significant attention.(3) Yet the neo-liberal world contains other forms of inequality, not the least being between the citizen and the sub-citizen. The inequalities exist on multiple levels including relationship to the police; housing; education; employment; and healthcare.

The existence of these inequalities is largely considered collateral damage by the elite; acceptable losses, in certain respects, in an otherwise healthy socio-economic system. Thus, the dystopias predicted in science fiction are not seen as catastrophic in any real sense as long as the situation is managed or manageable.

Neo-liberal capitalism, therefore, does not pretend to offer an idealistic vision of the future. There is no further sense of satisfying a collective future in which we are all in this together. Neither is there a sense that one can expect, even as a citizen, that one’s living standard will continue to exist, let alone improve. The elite, the common citizen, and the sub-citizen have all been in the process of being trained to measure and modify their expectations of life.

Neo-liberal capitalism, then, proves itself to be a peculiar form of ‘social barbarism.’ It appears to be civilized yet is anything but. It promotes the expansion into the global North of the differential that existed between the global North and the global South. It is this reality that has been so difficult for populations in the global North to fathom. It was one thing sit back, observe, and accept the treatment of billions of people in the global South as subhuman. It is a completely different thing to import that into the global North through both the expansion of sub-citizenship and the denigration of the formal citizen himself/herself. The citizen of the global North repeatedly asks what is it that distinguishes or should distinguish their life and existence from that of the sub-citizen. Despite increasing immiseration of the mass of citizens of the global North, they are, nevertheless, prepared to take up arms against the sub-citizen, seeing in the sub-citizen a threat to the existence of the citizen and the few links to the possibility of a good life that they may have.

The neo-liberal nightmare is not in a distant future. It is what we live, and only getting worse. And with it the category of citizen will become all the more important as delineating the relevant and irrelevant populations. It will become codified, dramatically different existences that will be reinforced through the strengthened ability of the neo-liberal authoritarian state playing upon popular fears of crime, the environmental crisis and Muslim terrorism. Such fears lend themselves to scapegoats and the sub-citizenry is there waiting to be forced to play such a role.

It is only through the route of systemic change that such a future can be challenged. And challenging it must occupy many spaces including the realm of ‘common sense.’ The neo-liberal world has posited that there are and can never be utopias that benefit the billions. It is not simply Margaret Thatcher’s assertion that there is allegedly no alternative. There can be no alternative that benefits the majority of humanity and, as a result, we are called upon to accept the polarization of the planet as human fights humans over diminishing resources. A political project of the dispossessed, therefore, is essential in order to respond to the despair and fatalism encouraged by neo-liberalism. I would describe it as “anti-dystopian” rather than utopian in that it must be a project that is very much in touch with reality, fighting for a future that breaks with neo-liberalism and barbarism, and encourages hopefulness. But such a future must take account of the 20th-century socialist efforts at creating an alternative to capitalism that, regardless of their strengths, entered crisis, and in most cases, collapse.


The world of science fiction grasped the importance of the question and evolution of the category of citizenship much sooner than many political scientists and social movements. As mentioned earlier, Asimov’s robot stories raised significant questions concerning the nature of humanity and sentience, but within that, the question of the bi-furcation of society. In Asimov’s case, the vehicle was the existence of robots vs. humans. But robots, in practical terms, substituted for a sub-citizen race.

Film and television have offered very provocative and insightful examinations of the question of citizenship. As with all science fiction, there is a combination of metaphoric critique as well as futuristic speculation. Perhaps one of the most powerful can be found in Blade Runner (1982). Ridley Scott’s film rendition of the Philip K. Dick novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?explores a neo-liberal future of economic polarization plus environmental destruction in which human-like androids, known as Replicants, do the work of and serve humans who have settled other planets. Those replicants that revolt are chased down by assassination teams known as “blade runners,” the equivalent of special operations units.

The robot/android serves as a metaphor for Philip K. Dick and, in film, Ridley Scott, following from Isaac Asimov. The question haunting Blade Runner is one of who actually is human. The answer to this question is, quite literally, a matter of life and death. To be human, in the Blade Runner universe does not guarantee one a good life. It only guarantees life, or better put, non-execution. The forces of the state are arrayed against the replicants. The replicants cannot be easily distinguished from humans and, thereby, constitute an existential threat, at least from the standpoint of the state. The replicants, despite the brutality of those at the center of the story, seem only to want life.(4)

The replicants live the lives of the sub-citizen. Always on guard, in effect exiles, they have no legal existence on Earth, and a subordinate status on Earth colonies in space. Their search for an extension of their lives is a search for their admission into humanity.

Blade Runner leaves the viewer with this sense of ambiguity. While the chief character, Deckard, played by Harrison Ford, kills most of the replicants, he is ultimately saved from death by Roy, the leader of the replicant escapees. Ford’s character must then flee due to the fact that he fell in love with a replicant who he wishes to save from “retirement.” But he may also be fleeing his own retirement since Blade Runner hints at but never answers the question as to whether Deckard (Ford) is, himself, a replicant.

The line between the citizen and the sub-citizen in Blade Runner is convincingly blurry and reminds the viewer of such a reality in contemporary society. It equally paints a future where the consequences of that line, however, are deadly.

Blade Runner does not suggest an ‘out’ from this dystopia other than individual action. It reminds the viewer of the humanity and legitimacy of the demands of the sub-citizenry, and also suggests to the viewer that in the absence of answering these demands the responses will be increasingly violent on the part of the sub-citizenry. Though Deckard (Ford) undergoes a series of ethical challenges through the film, his answer to these challenges and to this dystopian environment is very individual: run.

Television offered a very compelling look at the near-future and the matter of citizenship. In a two-part episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine titled “Past Tense,” three members of the senior staff of Deep Space 9 (5), as a result of a temporal accident, find themselves on Earth in the year of 2024—which seemed a long time off when these episodes were first aired (1995). The team (Commander Cisko, played by Avery Brooks; Dr. Bashir, played by Siddiq El Fadil; Lieutenant Dax, played by Terry Farrell) lands in San Francisco, but a San Francisco where there are three distinct existences, which I would distinguish as the elite citizens; sub-citizens without criminal records; and sub-citizens with criminal records. The elite citizenry live a grand life. The sub-citizens with criminal records are only mentioned in passing in the episodes, but one can infer from that that they are either totally repressed or otherwise excluded. The sub-citizens without criminal records are those who are the main characters of this story. They are the unemployed and/or the homeless; the redundant population. It is for them that every major city has constructed or walled off sections of territory which are called “Sanctuary Zones,” constructs that remind one of the ghetto districts established or reorganized by the Nazis where Jews were restricted prior to their deportation to concentration camps.

The two-part episode revolves around an uprising and hostage taking in one such Sanctuary District which ultimately involves, by accident, these DS9 officers. The uprising is suppressed by the state—violently—yet the rebels are able to make a public appeal regarding their cause and the viewer later finds that this massacre shakes the public and results in significant changes. The DS9 staff return to their own time surprised that humanity ever made it out of the 21st century.

The vision of the future presented by DS9/”Past Tense” appears quite plausible. The story does not rely on the metaphor of robots/androids or aliens in order to directly address a very realistic neo-liberal dystopia. The horror of this dystopia is that it is reminiscent of much of what we experience today. The Sanctuary Zones may, at first glance, appear melodramatic instruments aimed at making a social critique except when one considers the proliferation of ‘dead cities’ throughout the global North (and especially here in the USA) which have become reservations or ‘sanctuaries’ for redundant populations. Settled in such dead cities are a range of sub-citizenry, including migrants who are not permitted to live in the major metropolitan areas—in contrast to the experience of European immigrants who arrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries—as well as the structurally unemployed, among them the remnants of populations from the sites of major manufacturing from an earlier era.

Interestingly DS9, while presenting a dystopian future, does not present one lacking hope. The residents of the SF Sanctuary choose to organize and revolt. The revolt is not a riot or any sort of self-inflicted wound on the residents of the Sanctuary itself, but has a clear political aim to change the conditions of those trapped in the Sanctuary Zones. This vision stands in contrast with much dystopian literature in science fiction, including but not limited to Blade Runner where, as noted earlier, the chief character chooses to run and seek a life outside of the view of the state.

DS9/”Past Tense,” however, presents the dystopia of the Sanctuary Zone period more as a reflection of a sort of cavalier human attitude toward the poor and dispossessed. The solution becomes the equivalent of the end of Spike Lee’s film School Daze, where the characters call upon the viewers to awaken. The Sanctuary Zone uprising in DS9/”Past Tense” supposedly leads the larger population of the USA to awaken to the horrors of this segregation.

What is missing is a systemic analysis, something for which I am actually not critical of DS9 given its mainstream production and audience (not to mention sponsors). The fact that the creators of DS9 were even able to make the extensive critique that they offered was, itself, an accomplishment. Yet, despite this accomplishment, it presents the situation of the Sanctuary Zone as a matter of the callous treatment of the unfortunate that can simply be reversed by public opinion. One would wish this to be the case, however, neo-liberalism is not a reflection of public opinion; rather it is an approach adopted by major segments of capital (beginning in the mid to late 1970s) in order to address a specific crisis that it faced beginning in the late 1960s. That approach, over time, engendered a world view that included the points we have discussed here, e.g., redundancy and inequalities, as acceptable in light of the final goal—the unimpeded achievement of capital expansion.

While influencing public opinion, as contained in the story-line of DS9 episode, is critical for change, it is the influencing of public opinion to move not against the symptoms of the problem but to challenge neo-liberal capitalism and, ultimately, capitalism itself, which counts.

Sub-citizenry is not an ancillary component of neo-liberalism but an essential element. In connection with the scientific-technological revolution that has laid the foundation for the altering of work and communications, neo-liberal capitalism has declared populations unwanted and, frequently, unnecessary. DS9/”Past Tense” dramatizes this reality quite keenly.

A similar theme can be found in 2013’s Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. From the director of the 2009 stunner District 9 (Neill Blomkamp) the film deals directly with matters of citizenship and sub-citizenship. (6) Taking place in 2154, humanity is divided between an elite population living a near idyllic life on an off-world colony satellite called “Elysium;” while the rest of humanity remains on Earth in obscene conditions, at the service of the elite and policed by militarized robots.

Though taking place more than a hundred years after the scenario from DS9/”Past Tense,” the situation is quite similar, however, the atrocious conditions are far more graphic in Elysium. Migrants who attempt to illegally reach Elysium are destroyed. Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is drawn into a plot within Elysium when he is accidentally poisoned but then promised a cure on Elysium if he cooperates in a theft of key information. Ultimately Max finds himself in the midst of a coup carried out by what might be described as a ‘lumpen proletariat’ element within Elysium that chooses to overthrow the elite that it has served, and rule on its own. The coup implodes and Max releases a computer program that opens up citizenry to all of those on Earth, thereby making them eligible to obtain the high tech medical assistance that prevails on the orbital colony.

Elysium starkly presents the citizen/sub-citizen contradiction. The sub-citizenry is neither robot nor alien, but human beings of all walks of life who have been locked into a caste-like existence, deprived of a suitable living standard. They are servants of the elite—an immiserated proletariat—and there are no mechanisms for them to exercise any rights and demands outside of forms of rebellion. Somewhat reminiscent of 1995’s Johnny Mnemonic, the rebels against the order are small bands of high tech activists. Not driven by a discernable ideology, they appear to represent dissatisfaction with the status quo and are defenders of the poor and dispossessed. The Da Costa character ends up doing the ‘right thing,’ but contrary to the DS9 scenario, Da Costa is not what one could describe as a conscious revolutionary.

Elysium serves as both an excellent metaphoric critique of the current neo-liberal world and a sober warning regarding the high tech evolution of this world into two separate worlds. Such a trajectory is not in the least bit farfetched. Elysium resembles a guarded and gated community of today’s rich and superrich, only that Elysium exists in orbit around Earth. Given the environmental and political crises that Earth is currently undergoing, there is little question but that the elite envision a similar such escape. (7)


Science fiction, through stories such as those mentioned,(8) is an important vehicle in critiquing the current reality of neo-liberal globalization, but also in offering warnings of the direction that neo-liberalism is taking the planet. Generally the ‘answer’ to the dystopias that are projected in science fiction takes the form of the courageous individual, or in some cases, a small group of individuals, either escaping or leading to some sort of overthrow of the evil clique (rather than system) that has brought about this horrendous existence. While this makes for exciting drama, it is politically misleading.

The crisis of citizenship in the 21st century is a direct outgrowth of the evolution of capitalism. The polarization of wealth along with the transnationalization of capitalism has dramatically changed the terrain for nation-states, increasingly advancing the repressive side of the role of the state as the resources for the so-called social safety net are robbed by the global elite. The state becomes a mere symbol—though a highly effective and dangerous one—allegedly representing the relevant population against the barbarian, greedy “other” who seeks to abscond with the ‘goods’ of the deserving or relevant population. The state seems to be the vehicle to ensure that the relevant population preserves what is “theirs.” Thus, smaller and smaller groups lay claim to the need for a state in order to protect themselves and to ensure that they get “theirs,” while the rest of humanity is left to rot in hell, or, at best, to succeed on its own.

The crisis of citizenship cannot be resolved outside of the larger socio-economic questions facing humanity. To the extent that neo-liberal globalization remains hegemonic, there will be a greater and greater tendency toward the polarization of wealth and resources in favor of the elite. This will mean that there will be less for those at the bottom and, therefore, a greater tendency toward genocidal wars carried out in the name of protecting this or that ethnic-national group or warlord fiefdom against everyone else.

One can conclude that this gives particular urgency and relevance to the alternatives posed by Fredrick Engels and, separately, Rosa Luxemburg more than a century ago: socialism or barbarism? To put it differently, the exit from a dystopian future does not rest with a brave individual or a small group of high tech activists who undermine the state. Rather, it rests in winning the confidence of millions that there is an alternative to chaos and dystopia that is not to be found in one or another variant of authoritarianism. This is the challenge for the global Left, and a challenge that it cannot afford to ignore.



1 Resurrected in the sense that it found its origins in the Greek city-states.

2 Historic forms of oppression rather than discrimination. There are sectors of the population that fall victim to a time-specific discriminatory regime. Some European immigrant groups, for instance, in arriving in the USA would be in that category. They may face vicious discrimination, but such discrimination is not built into the system itself and is normally resolved when that group comes to be absorbed into the “white bloc.”

3 With a great deal of well-deserved attention to the work of Thomas Piketty. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, translated by Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

4 Due to their almost super-human strengths and abilities, replicants have a very short life-span. As the creator of the replicants, a billionaire scientist Dr. Eldon Tyrell, explains: “The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long…” The rebel replicants in the film seek a means to extend their lives and to have such lives without the ever present threat of “retirement,” the euphemism for assassination at the hands of a blade runner unit.

5 A space station that the United Federation of Planets—through Star Fleet—administers in the 24th century on behalf of a Palestinian-like population known as the Bajorans; a station once run by the Cardassians, who had occupied Bajor.

6 Interestingly, so too does District 9, though in D9 the director uses the vehicle of alien refugees to address a series of issues including migration and repression.

7 Or, perhaps, the creation of underground or enclosed cities on Earth open only to “citizens” acceptable to the state structure dominating them.

8 To which one can, of course, add many others including the hard-hitting In Time from 2011, starring Amanda Seyfried and Justin Timberlake.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of the Global African on Telesur-English, the author of They’re Bankrupting Us: And Twenty Other Myths About Unions, and the co-author of Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path to Social Justice. His website is


IBW21 (The Institute of the Black World 21st Century) is committed to enhancing the capacity of Black communities in the U.S. and globally to achieve cultural, social, economic and political equality and an enhanced quality of life for all marginalized people.