Category: Socialism / Anticapitalism


An Open Letter to Vanilla Ice

Dear Mr. Ice,

I recall lines from your magnum opus, Ice Ice Baby, that go as follows:

If there was a problem /

Yo, I’ll solve it. . .

I don’t recall you doing much for social justice after such an impassioned battle cry, but never one to doubt your intentions or nobility, I assume your lack of solving the world’s problems is the result of a mere communication and planning error.  I’m assuming no one gave you a list.  So Mr. Ice, here is a list of problems for you to solve.

(1) Please get us out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya (without letting Qaddafi win).

(2) Please fix unemployment and create jobs, and eradicate global and domestic poverty.

(3) Please fix our two-party, corporate-funded, winner-take-all anti-democratic ‘democracy.’

(4) Please reverse ecological damage, climate change, and other important components of our ecological crisis.

(5) Please eliminate sexism, homophobia, racism, classism, and ethnic and religious conflict and hatred.

(6) Please establish economic democracy as well as political.

(7) Please save our social programs.  And expand them, so they actually work well.

(8) Please keep Huckabee (or any other Republican) from ever getting elected again.  Last election, Chuck Norris promoted Huckabee, and if Chuck Norris is against democracy, freedom, equality and welfare, consequently puppies, smiling children, rainbows, and flowers, then you’re our only hope (given Bruce Lee is dead, and Charlie Sheen is on tour).

(9) While you’re at it, please keep most Democrats from getting elected, too.  Not all. . . but most of them can go.

(10) I would like no more Ingrid Michaelson or Kimya Dawson songs.  Could you duct-tape them to Rebecca Black’s songwriters for Friday, along with Justin Bieber, and send them into the sun?

(11)  Please help M. Night Shyamalan write more movies like The Sixth Sense and less like Signs.

(12) I would like unlimited Dutch Brothers free coffee.  It isn’t selfish because I would share them.

(13) Please Free Weezy.  Oh, wait, he’s already free? YOU WORK FAST!!

(14) And finally, please end the American Empire, WTO, IMF, and World Bank so other countries can have democracy, too.

I appreciate your cooperation, Mr. Ice, and may many an epic poem be penned in your honor for saving civilization.

Yours Truly,

Me

A Fine Slave (poem)

Auction block,
How study his legs,
Strong teeth, bright eyes
A fine slave. Fine slave.
Takes a whipping, never resists.

A fine slave.

Labor market, crisis,
Application, application, rent’s due,
Dental work needed, must keep power,
Application, application, denied, denied,
Lower down the chain, lower down the chain, fuck my degree,
Rent’s due. Sure I’ll take your job,
I’ll flip burgers fine. No questions.

A fine slave.

It’s easy for Scott Walker to pick fights with labor–thanks to the brave workers and their allies protesting, not as easy as might be expected, but still easier than it should be.  Let me make my point clearly: If the majority of Americans identified as working class, and not middle class, (1) unionization battles would be easy, and (2) an attack on any laborers in favor of business would be seen as an attack on all (class consciousness, anyone?).  Americans don’t identify as working class, as workers, and so pro-business ideologies such as “neoconservatism” and “libertarianism,” acting like they have some real freedom, some virtue in them, have ‘selling points.’ They sound good, and they continue to sound good because (thank goodness!) they’ve never been tried in a pure form, and shown to be the Trojan Horse ideologies that they are.

[Commercial Break]

From the makers of the all-time classic teenage hits “You Can’t Tell Me What To Do (You’re Not My Mom!)” and “I Hate Everyone! Leave Me Alone!!” comes that political philosophy for the ages. . . Libertarianism!

[End Commercial Break]

(Right) Libertarianism is predatory callousness masquerading as the advocacy of freedom.  Realistically, though, little in libertarianism is distinct from what is known in general as ‘classical liberal’ ideology–loosely meaning that early pro-capitalist set of beliefs that the Market, left to its own devices, will stay competitive and solve all the world’s problems in the absence of government.  You have varieties of libertarianism–your quasi-sociopathic Objectivism, your rigid Austrian variety, and your Chicago school Friedmanesque version, to name a few–and each worships the ‘entrepreneur,’ the myth that the people at the top of the economic food chain are really just better than the rest of us, a special breed of human, who are the trendsetters and inventors that, over time, have made the world.

But what makes their dreams real? And why do they have the luxury to pursue them?

In all these cases, it is the labor behind the dream that turns idle ideals into something that actually makes life better.  And in most cases, it is those with the luxury of time and resources to pump out inventions–long ago the province of the inspired and obsessed few, but now of the well-financed R+D department.  The daily capacity of the everyday person to be inventive with the labor they do all day is forbidden by a system that centralizes autonomy in a select number of engineers and ‘thinkers’ at the top, and dictates commands to the bottom of the economic food chain of the firm.  You get no more credit for being the source of invention in a system that prevents anyone but you from inventing (and by thinly veiled force at that) than you would for being the one guy with a lemonade stand in a country that forbids the selling of lemonade from anyone other than you.

Our entrepreneur mythos, quite frankly, is an intellectually cancerous bullshit fable, preached by those at the top of the pyramid to defend their ‘Greatness’ to the mass of people lugging boulders up the ramps.  “Why do I have to lug these damned boulders?” laborers ask.  “Because I’m the reincarnation of Ra a hardworking entrepreneur, and you’re lucky I’m building this pyramid for you!” the entrepreneurs reply.

[This commercial interruption is brought to you by my cat, who at this point jumped on my keyboard to give you an important message:  nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn                                      bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb,,.  We now resume our regularly scheduled blog post.]

The majority of the population of every country works, but yet we’re told that the majority of the population are most accurately defined as a politically apathetic, culturally bankrupt, all-consuming herd animals who follow the trends promoted by these ‘entrepreneurs’ –consumers, not producers; receivers, not creators.  This is how libertarians, classical liberals, ‘Tea Partiers,’ and conservatives see workers and the everyday population.  And this is the opposite of what we actually are, and of how we should see ourselves if we are to take America back from the Right wing juggernaut.

I want people to see themselves as ‘working class.’  It is common in America to see yourself as ‘middle class’. . . but what does that mean?  “Working class” intuitively references what you do and makes sense of your social role in society, conceptually lumping you with the other people who, you know, work for a living.  “Middle class” implies, what, you’re in the middle between other classes? What other classes, and in the middle by what criteria? It is common in popular discourse, on the very, verrrry rare occasion that class is mentioned, to define classes not by your place in the structure of society, in the scheme of working-versus-owning, or controlling-others-labor versus controlling only your own (or no one’s), but by income–by how much stuff you can buy.  In this frame (which has bled into sociology) we are all merely different levels of consumers.  Not only does this hide how much social power you gain from ownership (not to mention income) but it hides the question of how you feel about work itself in all its aspects.  ‘Work’ doesn’t exist–and even ‘working class’ (if it makes it into this income-style schema) is somehow transformed into an income category, not a structural position.

It is work that is the background of society, of civilization.  People should be proud to see themselves as workers, whose identity is embedded not in what they have, but who they create themselves to be through their action, and through the ways their actions have benefitted society.  Work makes life work, and without work. . . what would there be to consumer, anyway?  Entrepreneurs, the favored Right term for capitalists, clamp down on resources, holding them for ransom until conditions are profitable–and we don’t need ‘them’.  We need a world where we can manifest our creativity and meet our needs freely, proudly, and where something like Scott Walker’s valorization of business combined with disrespect towards teachers and public servants is completely foreign–we need to see ourselves proudly as working class, and take this country back.

Toward a New Marxism

I’ve reentered school in the fall–a task which has kept me busy, however much I like it, and so I’ve let blogging fall by the wayside.  I really, truly, want to change that, to get back on the horse, so to speak.

The best way for me to start is to go where my heart has been in all this time since I’ve posted more regularly.

First of all, Egypt has inspired me.  From an internet based movement, sparked by the revolution and bravery of Tunisia, Egypt toppled a 30-year-old regime, despite opposition from the dominant party, precisely because regardless of difficulty, the Egyptian people never backed down, never resorted to violence, rape, looting (excepting the violence in defense from pro-Mubarak ‘supporters’), never strayed from message–they consistently would be placated with nothing less than ‘Mubarak, step down!’.  And step down he did.  That settled, and the military verbally guaranteeing reforms for a real democracy (whether they remain committed to such a vision remains to be seen), they proceed to clean up the mess that the protest has created.  This is how a protest should be–clear, revolutionary demands, without resorting to anarchy or being placated by red-herring false promises and impotent, minuscule changes.  And it was a neither a U.S. trained coup nor a militant, Islamist revolt against ‘secularization,’ but a multiparty coalition for democracy which has changed the face of the Middle East.  We should all learn from Egyptians. . . this is what hope and change look like.
In the West, we’ve gone so long without hope and change.  We’ve long felt impotent, and rationalized our inactivity.  “This is the way it’s always been. . . ” or “Americans aren’t willing to move with us for anything better. . . ,” or perhaps “It’s a Right Wing nation” or “Look at the obstacles to change!”  The leftmost phrase one can use to describe oneself is “progressive,” and that rather meaningless phrase is still labelled “Communist” in some crowds, depending on who you ask.  What does one do?
I am a committed Marxist, but not the “Old Left” or “New Left” kind.  The “Old Left” kind prioritized structures over agency, over the need to move in what Marxists called the “superstructure” to help people see the world they live in for what it is, and to pave a path to change it.  The “Old Left” prioritized class over gender, race, sexuality, environment.  The “New Left” hated the same systems of oppression, but saw gender, sexuality, race, and environment sometimes simultaneous to class, and sometimes instead of class.  They rejected authority, either Right or Left, and they fought for a world of TOTAL freedom.  But their overcorrection for the sins of the Old Left, their anti-authoritarianism, allowed them to descend into a rag-tag and decentralized band of competing struggles, each decidedly committed to their own ends and de facto competing against the ends of other New Left groups.  I consider the New Left generation of the 60’s to be the ‘Greatest Generation,’ whose war was not against fascism abroad but totalitarian unfreedom at home–fighting against alienation, homophobia, sexism, racism, capitalism, and for the oppressed, the exploited, the nonhuman animals.  But in their fight against all sources of oppression, the New Left so commonly devolved into a quasi-postmodern, infighting-prone, drug-dependent, and unprincipled band of uncoordinated movements, whose rejection of a capital-O Order resulted in the structural inability to meet their potential, their destiny.
It is our time to learn from their mistakes.  Inequality.  Environmental degradation.  Impotence in one’s workplace, country, city. . . life!  One drinks and lives vicariously through television and video games, playing Madden 2010 instead of football, watching James Bond instead of having martinis with beautiful women (or men, for that manner).  What went wrong?
I believe the New Left of the 1960’s had a lot right.  You cannot build a new society without abolishing racism, sexism, homophobia, traditional family structures, abandoning capitalism, reengaging the environment, seeking new spiritualities, rejecting war.  But the New Left maintained a definition of Freedom that was no more than an extension of the ‘bourgeois’ notion of freedom into wider realms.  The ‘bourgeois’ notion of freedom defines freedom loosely as the freedom to choose within a constrained choice set.  Let me be clearer.  ‘Bourgeois’ freedom argued that if a person’s society and nature keep them able only to choose between ‘A’ and ‘B,’ and prevents them from choosing ‘C,’ ‘D,’ etc. up to ‘Z’, when under other social rules one could have choices from A to Z, ‘Bourgeois’ or capitalist notions of freedom considers you free—because, hell, you have a choice, right?

The “New Left” extended this notion–they argued that no one has a right to make you choose only A or B, between Green Apple Antibacterial dish soap or Orange anti-grease dish soap, when you could have not only antibacterial AND anti-grease dish soap, but way more meaningful choices than soap at the end of the day.  They wanted you to be able to choose between A and Z. But they rarely connected the different systems of oppression, and they never looked at the effects of the systems of oppression and exploitation as a whole, ignoring that alongside the need to have self determination for your nation, your relationship(s), and your workplace, is the need to have self determination over your full self.  And this is not the Christian notion of feeling bad for every time you enjoy a piece of cake or a good lay, but the humanization of one’s desires, making them truly yours rather than enculturated or contradictory pursuits.  So they wouldn’t listen to each other (who are you to tell me what to do?) and they tuned out, and blew their minds.  What do we do?

Like I said, I am neither an Old Left nor a New Left Marxist, but there is value to each.  Perhaps you could call me a Now Left Marxist. Here is a part of where I stand (and if you happen to want the theoretical backing, quotes and such, leave a comment).
Meaningful freedom is more than what you can do with a limited choice set–freedom is both external (your liberty to do what you want without external barriers) and internal (your liberty to do what you want without mental or habitual limitations).  One creates oneself through habituation (among other things), and so either external or internal limitations cripple the self–you are limited in your own self-creating potential.  And there are two types of barriers, natural and social, which can affect either internal or external freedom (I’m sorry if this is too heady, I just have faith in you–if you need clarification, please comment).  I’ll probably expand upon this later, but for now suffice to say that the ultimate freedom is both democratic influence over all the external factors that constrain your choices (social or natural, and for all external structures) and over all internal factors (ideologies, command over one’s own inclinations, habits, desires, etc).  This latter part, I believe, is a fundamental component of Marx’s ultimate project, as well as my own, extending into one’s relationships, consumer activity, etc., and most particularly NOT resulting in a denial of one’s desires, i.e. towards sex, drink, etc., but merely the use of all things as informed by ones fully free choices.

The point is making oneself fully the person one wants to be.  That is freedom.  And advocates of a limited freedom–libertarians, Republicans, capitalist apologists–they don’t advocate full freedom.  They advocate a conception of the lowest level of external freedom–choice within social and natural constraints–but even then an inconsistent version, where one’s external freedom can limit the external (and internal freedom) of another, but for no good reason.  For example, a speculator can buy the property of a family facing hard economic times, and use that power to raise the family’s rent until they can no longer pay.  The speculator has external freedom–no government or external force prevents them from buying the house–but their freedom to do so violates the freedom of the family to stay in their house, and that limitation is first social (social rules backed by force allow the speculator to take the family’s house) and natural (that force, personified by police, can remove the family at a very real physical danger to their lives). People who equate capitalism to freedom don’t get freedom–and I don’t think they want to.  But my Marxism, and I believe it stems from Marx himself, is founded in a fully, consistent, internal and external freedom.

You should be free in your work, government, relationships, beliefs, and over yourself.  You should be connected with your true goals, loved ones, community, environment.  You should manifest your creative power and develop yourself in all aspects of life, be it work or sex, eating or playing, or anything else under the sun, so long as at the end of the day it helps others do the same, rather than hinders them.  Now Left Marxism is feminist, queer, antiracist, environmentalist, and Buddhist (in its emphasis, with Buddhism, on control over the self), and founded in a demand for full democratization and full liberation.  It is this philosophy that I hope to develop here, and I invite comments.  Let Egypt show us that true change is possible, and lesson learned, lets change the world ourselves.

Time Magazine doesn’t get it.

France is revolting.

And I definitely do not mean disgusting.  I mean people-in-the-streets-public-anger revolts, demonstrations, strikes.

They were featured in Time Magazine’s November 1st page 13 “Briefing” subtitled “The Moment” in a short piece by Michael Elliot. The situation: President Sarkozy wants to move the age at which one can claim state pension from 60 to 62, and the age at which one can claim the full amount from 65 to 67.

Elliot’s take?

“The lazy French don’t get it; they don’t understand that pensions and other benefits have to be paid for by taxes on productive workers; they won’t admit that better health care and longer life spans mean that everyone can work longer than they once did.”  He concluded in an implicitly positive tone that the lowering of “spending entitlements” by European countries was in line with “economic realities”, and concluded with “[America]: it’s time to take a few lesson from your students [and reduce social spending].”

Why Rejecting Economic Servitude Isn’t Laziness

Lazy?
Because they think their life might be better spent outside the work force when they’re older?

Don’t get me wrong; it’s clear as day to me that workers are the backbone of society, and that people who can work should.

But at age 60, most people have worked most of their lives (excepting for some or most of the wealthy and some of the very bottom economic rung).

Should they work their whole lives, and stop only because their body has worn down too much to continue?  Should ‘retirement’ be nothing more than the social ‘throw away’ point when no one can profit from you because you are too decrepit to do anything, including enjoy life? Or should you have years where you are healthy enough to work at the end, but since you’ve spent so long benefiting society, you no longer have to?

The Impoverishment of ‘Reasoning’ by ‘Economic Realities’

Let’s look at the ‘reasoning’–‘economic realities’.

Globalization does demand increasing hardship from global labor.  Every sector of the world is increasingly pitted against every other sector, and this is ‘reason’ to demand longer hours, more years, cheaper wages, lowered benefits.

The U.S. has ‘taught’ these principles for years because of the dominance in American society of the business mindset.

In reality, this trend of increasing harm to the world’s population for the sake of global profit is present ‘reality,’ but only because the global capitalist class have the power to act as tyrants over our society, over our jobs and our ability to meet our own needs, and acts as thieves through making money from our work, our debt (from our needs not being covered by our available wages), and speculation.

Tyrants and thieves.
Didn’t we used to revolt over such things?

Remember who collapsed the global economy?  Hint: not everyday people.
And who suffered? The workers and everyday families, who had little to do with it.

“What about them buying houses they couldn’t afford?”

Wages should have kept pace with inflation, and financiers gave loans to people with a low chance of paying them off on purpose. Social programs were intentionally eroded.

It was the irresponsible financial mechanisms, the shadow economy, the default credit swaps and derivatives that crashed the economy.
That’s economic reality.

You want to compensate for lowered state funding?
Fine some billionaire stock traders under the principle of “those who do the crime pay the time.”

Attempting to squeeze the French workers for two more years?
Haven’t you and the interests you serve done enough damage?

The French aren’t lazy.

The bosses who make money off their backs, and the traders who click buttons all day for the expansion of their own wallets without working are far lazier than the French workers at retirement age.
Stock traders perform many activities that can be described with ‘verbs’, but can only loosely be described as ‘work’.

And Michael Elliot?  Try understanding what you’re talking about before you publish next time, eh?

Viva la France! Viva la revolucion!

What happened to dreams?

I miss democracy.  Sure, America was never as democratic as our high-school textbooks would have us believe.  We were founded on land secured by genocide, build off the labor of slaves in the South and poor, mistreated white laborers in the North.  “All men were created equal” actually meant men, and property owning white men at that.  But over time the people who had been shoved aside and stepped on picked each other up.  Over time, slavery ended, women fought for the vote, property qualifications on voting were abandoned, workers could form unions, and currently our Queer brothers, sisters, and transters are fighting for equality.  The revolutionary ire of the 60’s became mired in the liberal conception of freedom–doing whatever one wants without thinking too much about what one wants–and despite the beauty of the ideals of peaceful, happy, free societies, rampant drug use immobilized portions of the hippie movement from creating structural changes.  The gains of the 60s were followed with the consolidation of global capitalist power, leaving us a neoliberal train wreck of an economy–one that pits workers against each other, destroys the environment, replaces living wages with debt, and responds to its lack of profitability with layers of financial tricks stacked precariously on the edge of a very large cliff, and we all may be faced with looking into that abyss. . . or we may not.

We could make it–but we need to dream.  Mainstream economists will tell you that prices have to rise if everyone has a job.  Politicians will tell you the government can’t make jobs (let somehow the government gave them a job–I guess they just mean jobs for us).  And both of those statements are false.  If everyone gets a job, no one’s desperate for a job, so they have to be good–and wages rise.  So they raise prices to maintain a profit.  And profits are nothing other than money we earn and they keep.  Profits are bull–the purpose of job availability and pricing should be to meet needs.  And the government can invest to create jobs same as private companies–but doesn’t because it would compete with a company’s ability to make money off our needs and inadequate government.

We can do better.  What is stopping us from creating communities build around our happiness and needs? In tune with the environment and each other?  Why can’t we co-manage our own workplaces?

The Chamber of Commerce wants to wage war against whatever democracy we’ve fought for over time, hoping that corporate financing of our candidates skews our system in their favor, just as such groups hope corporate financing of NGOS skews our attempts to change the world.

If the moneyed interests want so bad to control our society, I suggest a version of what the Paris Commune tried, and so many intentional communities have tried or are trying ever since. . . I suggest we pull out of their labor markets, their consumption patterns, their apartment complexes.  We form our own worker and consumer co-ops and coordinate production and consumption with each other, and outside of the market.  Different models have been suggested, Parecon and the model developed in Towards a New Socialism–and I’m not suggesting I’m committed to either of those visions in total.  But we can take inspiration, and we can create a new world, a Post-Capitalist world from a process of creating Exo-Capitalist modes of production, consumption, LIVING.

The phrase “New World Order” conjures up a host of images–neoliberal globalization, the Illuminati, (I guess it also has some meaning in the professional wrestling world)–so at first, it may seem a strange phrase to invoke on ‘our’ behalf.  It speaks to outsiders, to external string-pullers, master manipulators of human affairs.

What it really means, though, is somewhat different than its connotations.  According to the oracle of democratic knowledge production, Wikipedia, “new world order” means “any period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power.”  It signifies nothing more than a new structure of global power, a new hegemony.  So what is “we need our new world order” really saying?

“We” references something more than Americans, more than Westerners, and something far more substantial than “global citizens.”  The latter term is more than consistent with the massive inequalities of wealth and power between people and nations–a ‘global citizen’ can mean a postnational, globe-trotting investor for a transnational corporation just as much (if not more) than it can mean a hummus-eating, kimono-wearing, African American artist with a love of German beer and Native American dreamcatchers.  No, ‘we’ references that group of people who usually don’t travel much, don’t each food from chefs with three Michelin stars, and don’t get the luxury of choosing not to work because they just want a day off.  The majority of the world is not composed of highly-educated, globe-trotting ubermenschen.  Most of the world is more likely to be like the ones who worked at or built the airport, shipped the food to or waited tables at the restaurant, who either work too much or can’t find enough.  Most of us take orders from people who take orders from people who, at the top of the economic food chain, wear ties to work and drink wine with their pinkies up.  That is to say, most of us are in the working class.  And most of us are suffering.

We’ve been told that contemporary economies are too complex to manage, and so they must be left to the market’s hoard of millions of little profit-hungry busy-bees, whose collective and disjointed acts of greed will somehow bring about a world full of wonders, roses, and sunshine.  But we let the ‘experts’ run the show through successive rounds of financial deregulation, and the result was a crisis that nearly equaled the Great Depression in gravity–letting those ‘experts’ run the show ended up being nothing more than letting the inmates run the asylum.

“We” need our New World Order.  We need to understand that we, the workers, the housewives, the queer folk, the immigrants–the downtrodden–are the ones who have built this world, raised these families, expanded these worldviews and inched the world towards freedom, well being, and justice.  We need to have faith in ourselves to democratically run EVERYTHING. . . from the ground up.  We need to work, play, sing, dance, run, jump, laugh, speak, high-five, fuck, and breathe liberation, and let it run down our fingertips and spark everyone we touch.  We need to work together to figure out a liberated, democratic world–OUR New World Order–and we need to run down the streets of Wall Street, Main Street, Easy Street, and Sesame Street chanting Viva la Revolution!–a revolution not of guns and bullets, not of stomping boots and broken dreams, but of millions and millions of the downtrodden, dusting themselves off, turning to help their neighbors rise, and seeing the sunshine together as if for the very first time.

Apparently, in supporting Wall Street over Main Street, the capitalists over the working class and citizenry, in health care, job policy, economic regulation (or lack thereof), consumer protections, and unpopular overseas conflicts, the Obama Administration apparently decided that it had not yet chosen enough plays from the Bush Administration playbook.

Democracy Now! reports:

Clinton: US “Deeply Concerned” about Venezuela

Clinton’s visit to Brazil came as part of her first visit to Latin America as Secretary of State. It comes one week after Latin American and Caribbean nations agreed to form a new regional body excluding the United States and Canada as an alternative to the Organization of American States. At a news conference, Clinton criticized the Venezuelan government.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We are deeply concerned about the behavior of the Venezuelan government, which we think is unproductive with respect to its relations with certain neighbors, which we believe is limiting slowly, but surely, the freedoms within Venezuela, therefore adversely impacting the Venezuelan people. And we would hope that there could be a new start on the part of the Venezuelan leadership to restore full democracy, to restore freedom of the press, to restore private property, and return to a free market economy. We wish Venezuela were looking more to its south and looking at Brazil and looking at Chile.”

So, I guess if you have to  defend the American Empire, you. . . uh, pick a fight with Venezuela?  Really?  Now, regarding issues such as the closure of oppositional press and attempts to delimit terms, I won’t say much. . . however, given that the majority of closed press have been closed due to expired licenses (a policy that we would uphold ourselves), and a number of oppositional press supported the 2002 coup attempt (which, if there was an attempted coup in America, there is no doubt we would shut down presses that supported it), and that the limitation of terms is, at least in one sense, arguably undemocratic, given that it restricts the population’s ability to vote for a popular president past a certain point, I don’t think her critique is totally valid (not so say that I would not change some things in Venezuelan policy).

However, let me make a few further points.  First, democracy and capitalism are polar opposites.  First of all, economic democracy, a key socialist principle, would render all corporations employee self managed, in a democratic a nonhierarchical manner.  To the extend that this is not the case in Venezuela, I disagree with Venezuelan policy on the matter. . .but is it the opposite of the case under capitalism, because private ownership of the tools and resources that go into production, exploitation, and the inequality and power that come from them can only be protected if the workers who actually produce the goods that form our world have no democratic say over them.  True economic democracy would allow each worker to see their true importance in the workplace, gain greater knowledge over their work processes, and render them powerful enough to get their fair share of the revenue they’ve produced.  Economic democracy would be better for all workers, and have a number of economic benefits, but would be less profitable for the ruling class.  But none of that under capitalism.

Political democracy is hindered by capitalism, too.  Certainly, the USSR was not a political democracy, and neither was China.  These were mistakes–just as it is a mistake to give economic power to any bureaucratic and hierarchical body, be it corporations or an undemocratic ‘state’ over and above the people.  In fact, convincing arguments have been made to see the USSR and the like as ‘state capitalist’ rather than ‘socialist’ because the people owned no means of production, but a hierarchical body owned and determined it.  That being said, ‘democracy’ in capitalist countries is capitalism in name only.  Because the state is organized in a hierarchical manner as all capitalist institutions, our ‘democratic’ government is actually very unresponsive to the will of the people.  Furthermore, there are ‘checks and balances’ against the popular will by design, such as (1) a president who is not directly elected, (2) a supreme court, seated effectively ‘for life’, and not elected by the people, and (3) the senate, giving states power over the country in disproportion to their populations.  Finally, in that the capitalist class, collectively, holds the means of production hostage from the public will, it commands the majority of social means, and whoever holds the social means controls the ends as well.  Consequentially, the American government must appease capitalists as constraints on any action they take.

An illustration: say Doctors Without Borders builds a hospital next to a village on a hill, and builds a bridge to connect the hill to the village.  The hospital is free for all, so it seems as though everyone has equal access, but Ronald Reagan builds a locked gate on the end of the bridge.  Consequentially, Reagan, who has the only key, controls access to the bridge, and thus to the hospital.  While the policy of the hospital looks officially as though everyone has equal access, Reagan in fact has complete control over whether or not someone can get to said hospital.  What looks like freedom is, in fact, nothing like it.  What is the difference, then, if instead of a locked gate blocking access to the hospital, the hospital charges fees?  And if not everyone can pay?  Whoever has ownership of any corporation or institution has the ability to restrict access to its products and services, and thus, has leverage over anyone who needs them.  Since America is a ‘free market’ country, corporations own the majority of the means of production, and so is the provider of jobs for citizens and some direct income for the state.  Since the state needs income through taxation and these corporations, because it owns no means of production itself, it has to hinge its policies not on what is best for citizens and workers, but what keeps corporations happy.  In addition to funding campaigns, they control jobs and, through which, the means for government to operate.  Capitalism controls political democracy, and keeps means from the people.

In other words, capitalism is an enemy to political AND economic democracy, and here Clinton shows her bias, the same bias present in her husband’s role in NAFTA and the WTO.  Clinton should do her homework. . . you cannot support but a ‘free market economy’ AND democracy at the same time.

What’s labor supposed to do?

Facing setbacks in health care, a decreasing unionization rate (7.2% in the private workforce) , and the loss of the supermajority they would need to pass EFCA (as if the Democrats were doing something anyway), as well as decreasing public support (41%), unions are in pretty bad shape.  But then again, they had been for a long time.

What should labor do?

A number of things.

First of all, real people have little power in America.  Corporations and people of high means have a lot of pull, and individual politicians have some pull.  Democracy in America is democracy in name only. . . and most Americans know it.  They know that the government does nothing to pull together for everyday Americans and will drop anything to help out Wall Street.  Ironically, though such rabid corporatism comes as a result of the power wielded by corporations over our country, and such power is a natural consequence of capitalism, or the ‘free market,’ extreme right-wingers have built the Tea Party movement blaming government and claiming the ‘free market’ is the solution.  Let me reiterate. . . the people who are a huge part of the problem have grown stronger from the anger against the problems people like them have caused.  Why hasn’t the Left organized?  Why hasn’t labor organized in the face of layoffs?

What the people want–radical, liberal, and conservative–is democracy.  They rightly feel powerless against huge corporations and an unresponsive government–which, whatever head of our two-headed Republicrat Party beast is at the helm, does not seem to care about them.  Forget about business unionism–leaving corporations be, forgetting about ‘class issues,’ and demanding only wage increases.  BE A RABID FIGHTER FOR DEMOCRACY.  What the Obama election has taught us so far is that (1) people want change REALLY bad, and if you give them hope for it they will mobilize, and will carry the day, and (2) you can’t trust ANYONE in our bureaucratized government or the corporations that run it to actually do anything that is substantially good for you.

To reverse a paraphrased dictum from Machiavelli, politicians will do what we want if they love us or fear us. . . and their fearing us is more dependable than their love for us.  And by ‘fear us’ I don’t mean fear an uprising. . . I mean fear that we will impeach every single one, advance our own candidates, fill Congress and the Presidency with OUR PEOPLE.

We want Democracy.  Were unions to radicalize, democratize themselves, and democratize America, the people would love them.

Steps:

(1) Look inward.  Democratize yourself.  Make each union radically democratic–every single person has a change to make a real difference–no bureaucratized organizing body.  If people thought “I’d have a real say in my union!” that is a good part of what you need to do to change public perception.

(2) Support all workers, even the nonunion ones.  If you always look out for them, get them gains, workers not in a union will be more inclined to join, and more inclined to take your side and have a good perception of what you do.  It will help you organize, and help change public perception even more.

(3) Support even international workers and labor rights.  Corporations are international and organized and you should be, too.  Overseas workers are not your competition naturally. . . they are your allies.  If a corporation leaves American jobs here, and you argue ANYTHING that sounds like “they took our jobs”. . . you’re demonizing exploited workers who are suffering on their end from the actions of a corporation that is ALSO hurting YOU.  You create an “Us versus Them’ mentality against groups of people belonging to the “Us” group.  Remember, it is always corporations and globalization that hurts workers.  It’s really always capitalism, but you might not be willing to say that yet.  Not to mention that if millions of workers here oppose a company, it’s powerful, but if many millions of workers all over the world strike and boycott, it’s AMAZING, POWERFUL, and INSPIRING.

(4) Demand WAY MORE than just wage increases and REALLY COMMIT to it.  EFCA and Single Payer were great goals–you’re starting to see the need to advocate things that help the labor movement and ALL Americans, and that’s great.  But don’t depend on politicians.  Make noise, march, be rowdy and public, make YouTube videos and Facebook pages, have commercials during the superbowl, protest, strike, boycott! Fight the right-wing noise machine trying to make you look bad–make them, their lobbyists, corporations look bad instead!  They do it themselves, but no one calls them out on their tactics or their bullying, let alone their betrayal of America!  And never stop!  Buzz in their ears until they ring 24/7 whether you are there or not–and always let the public know what you’re doing for them.

(5)  Oppose pro-corporate bias everywhere.  You shouldn’t be afraid to call corporations out, to question their very essence and the system they are a part of.  Their bias hurts your true constituency. . . laborers and American citizens!  They have too much power in the workplace and in society.  Whose side are you on?  Oppose pro-corporate bias in the media, in the schools, in political campaigns. . . everywhere!  Stand for something!

(6) Organize! Organize! Organize! Find what industries have low unionization rates, and start there.  Find out what demographics, states, cities, and occupations unionize little, and reach out to them based on their situations, the uniqueness of their jobs, their histories, their values, their cultures.  Treat each group as its own, distinct population–it is!  Conduct studies and hire rhetoricians, psychologists, sociologists, and figure out what barriers to unionization exists in each group, and transcend them!  Your strength is in people.  And I repeat, DEMOCRATIZE and fight for REAL BENEFITS.  Let these people lead their own fight and represent to the people in their shoes once you’ve started organizing them, and let them determine what agendas are most important for them.

(7) Look outward.  Democratize EVERYTHING–fight for greater self-determination and democracy in corporations, in their management, in their boardrooms, and between workers, communities, and shareholders.  Fight for a greater democracy in American political structures.  Be a force for democracy, and be SO PUBLIC ABOUT IT, so transparent, that no right-wing extremists can lie to the public about you.  Make everything you do about making the government and corporations more accountable to the people and no one will think of you as ‘just another big, selfish, scary organization’.  And unlike Obama, walk the walk AND talk the talk.

Do these things and I promise you the labor movement will turn around.  So will the country.  And we will all be better for it.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100228/ap_on_bi_ge/us_frustrated_labor_4

Good contemporary data: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm

Looking Behind the Curtain

We are supposed to believe that ‘economic growth,’ measured by a rise in GDP or success in the stock market, is the appropriate measure of how well our economy is doing. More strongly, we are told that helping corporations be profitable is the way to create jobs, meet needs, put food on the table. We should be grateful, we are told, because while everyone has equal opportunity, some of us are too lazy to work and to short-sighted to save—while working and saving of course are the source of wealth and riches. Not everyone has that ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ for innovation that improves our daily lives, and so, we are told, we should be so thankful for the time these selfless, angelic entrepreneurs spend working so hard to solve our problems, saving and not spending any of the money their hard work so deservedly earns. If we are poor, it is because we are too hedonistic and lazy to work, or too stupid to have a good idea, and the riches are, then, their own justification, being the result of a decent, moral human being. If we rearrange society to benefit these good human beings, they will earn enough money to expand, and they will so generously create more jobs in the process (for us lazy, stupid, selfish folk). Or so we are told. This capitalist ideology, embedded in Republican logic as well as many Democrats since Clinton, is as widespread as it is taught to the trusting . . . but is it true?

It has been reported by Bloomberg News that most of the S&P 500 have gained a combined $1.18 trillion in the last year—$518 billion more than the year before, and have spent 43% less on job-building capital expenditures. In other words, profits have skyrocketed, but companies have simply sat on it, rather than creating jobs, and around 8.4 million jobs have been lost since December 2007. It seems that the best thing we can say about capitalism is that there is no correlation between profits and job creation. Further evidence pending, such statistics seem to show something much stronger: maybe Marx was right, and capitalism specifically thrives off unemployment.

But what about the claim about hard work being the source of wealth? As of 2003, the wealthiest 1% owned 33.5% of all corporate stock, and the next 9% owned 43.4%—in other words, the richest 10% in the country owned 76.9% of corporate stock, meaning that the higher the income of an American citizen, the lower the percentage of their income comes from work, rather than their property ownership. Certainly some of those with high incomes do work—but most of those jobs involve constant efforts to make their company more money, rather than some socially valuable goal. Profit under capitalism is the money a company receives from the labor its workers perform over what it has paid for their labor and the tools and resources they used. In short (so far), the wealthiest in America own the majority of stock in companies, and the percentage of their income derived from actual work decreases as they go up in income. Beyond this, what work they do is ultimately designed only to increase profit, and successful increases in profit are truthfully derived from increasing the amount of money that employees work for but don’t receive. One becomes rich under capitalism by not working, and by getting others to work for you, without being paid the full value of what they’ve earned. On the other hand, a recent report by the Working Poor Families Project has shown that adults in low-income working families worked on average 49 hours per week in 2006, roughly the equivalent of one and a quarter full time jobs.

I think its time we set the record straight—capitalism does not create jobs, nor does it reward ‘hard work,’ selflessness, or goodness. Capitalism requires people to spend their days trying to increase the money they or the company they work for receives, through increasing the amount of money they contractually steal from their employees, betting on the stock market, or charging interest on loans, and the like. Moral activity, selflessness, altruism, the ability to do what work you want, or choose how much work to do—all these suffer under the endless demand to spend human activity making some capitalist money. Capitalist apologists try to justify prioritizing profits over people by acting as though profits are earned from morally praiseworthy hard work—but we are the source of social wealth. Let us tell the truth—our bosses are obsolete. Let us create our own jobs, field our own candidates for every office from President to dog catcher, create our own entertainment expressing our real values and dreams, rather than being told our dreams lie on the corporate ladder and in the shopping mall. We’ve been creating our world in their image for millennia—it’s about time we start creating it in ours.