Tag Archive: democracy


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.

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.

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

Historic Trade Bill Introduced

The Democratic Socialists of America sent me an e-News email that I think is important enough to share.  I will quote the first three paragraphs, and then share why I think it is important.

There has been an incredibly important trade bill introduced–

It’s called the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act. Introduced in Congress on June 4,  its prime sponsors are Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine). There are currently 58 co-sponsors of the bill in the House and four in the Senate. The bill’s numbers are HR 6180 and S 3083. Write them down and don’t lose them! Put them up on your refrigerator with a magnet, on your bulletin board, under your coffee cup or in your computer—wherever you put important political information that you will need again. Because this bill is a keeper.

The act would require the government to review its trade agreements, and it provides a process for renegotiating them, too. The bill also outlines principles that should be used in renegotiating those trade agreements–something that  is consistent with the precepts of DSA’s   Renegotiate NAFTA Project and which was described in the most recent issue of Democratic Left.
The bill is vigorously supported by major unions, environmental and other fair trade organizations. Said Bruce Raynor, President of UNITE HERE, “This bill breaks new ground on the enforcement of labor rights, environmental protection, food and product safety, procurement, safeguards against surges of imports, trade remedies against unfair trade practices and the ability for countries to regulate foreign investment.”
This was sent from Frank Llewellyn, National Director of the DSA, and the rest can be found here- http://community.icontact.com/p/democratic_socialists_of_america/newsletters/democratic_socialists_of_america/posts/5213048991778894381.
Why is this important?
In 1974, Richard Nixon introduced the concept of a fast track on trade, a procedure that would require Congress to vote on a trade agreement and all its changes it imposes on U.S. law, no amendments permitted, within 60 to 90 days of the president’s submission of the agreement and its legislation.  Debate on the bill is limited to 24 hours.  Trade bills are hundreds of pages, filled with clauses, subclauses, etc., ad nauseum, full of specialized trade terminology, and in 60 to 90 days it is barely even possible, with a full staff and advisors, to read all of it–even most of it.  Nixon proposed a council of private sector trade advisory groups to facilitate the process–hardly a disinterested group.  How does this affect procedures?  Let’s take the example of the Uruguay Round negotiations of the GATT, which created the WTO.
“During the . . . Uruguay Round negotiations, the advisory committees were composed of over eight hundred business executives and consultants (with limited labor representation), five representatives from the few environmental groups that were supportive or neutral on NAFTA, and no consumer rights or health representatives . . . [and] meetings of the advisory groups are closed to the public, with representatives required to obtain a security clearance from the government after a background check” (Nader, “GATT, NAFTA, and the Subversion of the Democratic Process,” from Mander and Goldsmith’s “The Case Against the Global Economy” p. 101).
Once trade agreements pass, attempts to figure out what, exactly, was passed face at least a few obstacles.  First, when George H.W. Bush promoted the NAFTA bill, he spoke positively, but the text was only made available to the American people in an unofficial version a month after his public appearance.  The 752 page official version was made available at a price of $41, and only after Bush Sr. left office in ’93.  Second, only those with an expansive knowledge of trade terminology can decipher exactly what the implications of the bill will be.  Third, in many countries (who are expected to pass these bills into their own legislation), the GATT text never became available, or became translated months after its passing.
A provision of the WTO rules, passed by the American government, is that WTO rules and restrictions are now fully enforcible, and governments must conform all laws, present and future, to the WTO.  Trade agreements, in other words, subvert even the constitution, and every law we have.  Combined with the fast track, trade rules are something to be debated more rigorously, considered more thoughtfully, and regulated more harshly than any other potential laws.  Beyond this, the fast track needs to be slowed down.
In the mean time, the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act is monumentally important, and in light of the history of International Capital’s consolidation of power and subversion of democracy, I urge anyone who reads this to talk to their congressmen and congresswomen, and forward the news to support this act to anyone concerned for the future.
In solidarity,
The Practical Utopian