An Opening for Socialism (And Other Thoughts on the British General Election)

Jeremy Corbyn
UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour Party’s impressive showing in Britain’s snap election on June 8 is an amazing victory for the Left and the international working class. It also stands as a thorough repudiation not only of critics of Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, but of socialism, in general.

No, Corbyn did not win the British election. He will not serve as Prime Minister—at least not anytime soon. It looks as though Theresa May will attempt to hold on to power by allying with the far-right Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)—sort of Britain’s version of the “alt-right.”

But May’s party—the Conservative Party—lost its Parliamentary majority, and her entire platform of “hard Brexit,” punitive austerity measures, has been roundly rejected. No matter what the out-of-touch pundits say, this is a victory for the left.

Here are three key lessons the American left can take from Labour’s victory.

  • Bernie Sanders Would Have Won

I suspect this first point is hardly revelatory for anyone reading this blog, but it nonetheless bears repeating. Had Bernie Sanders emerged as the Democratic nominee for president last year, it is quite likely he—and not Donald “I Thought It Would Be Easier!” Trump–would be sitting in the White House right now.

And let us be perfectly clear on this point: Sanders did not legitimately lose the Democratic primary campaign to Hillary Clinton. His campaign was actively, intentionally, and maliciously sabotaged by the Clinton camp and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Sanders certainly did not lose the primary, as many media pundits have suggested, because American voters are simply too “centrist,” or even conservative to vote for a self-described democratic socialist. Quite the reverse, in fact. (See below…)

The fact that Sanders was unable to overcome the DNC’s covert machinations to deny him the party’s nomination should be Exhibit A for why the left cannot use or “take over” the Democratic Party. The Democratic Establishment will simply never allow an actual progressive (never mind a semi-socialist) like Sanders to even advance to the general election. In fact, it is because of candidates like Sanders, George McGovern, and Eugene McCarthy that the Democratic Party shifted the nominating process to the unelected superdelegates, and away from the voters.

While my criticisms of Sanders’ (I seem to be the only person who is not on a first-name basis with the man) foreign policy positions remain, I would have been more receptive to his campaign had he run as an independent or even in the Green Party. And, while the DNC’s sabotaging of Sanders’ campaign has certainly soured many progressives on the Democratic Party, it is not clear that enough of them are ready to finally end their abusive relationship with the Democrats, for good.

Still, Sanders’ domestic platform of universal college tuition, single-payer health care, combating climate change, paying workers a living wage, and making the rich pay their fair share is unimpeachable. Furthermore, these social democratic policies are highly popular among working-class voters on both sides of the Atlantic. Indeed, it is for good reason that Sanders is currently the most popular politician in Washington.

Corbyn’s upset should forever silence the naysayers who insist a candidate like Sanders “cannot win,” or is inherently “unelectable.” He can win and he would have.

Turns out catering to working-class voters’ material interests—rather than relying on shallow identity politics and a promise to perpetuate the status quo—is, in fact, a winning strategy.

  • The Abject Failure of Capitalism Has Created an Opening for Socialism

The bourgeois punditocracy clearly did not get the memo, but Marx is back. A spectre is once again haunting Europe, as well as Great Britain and America: The spectre of Communism.

Decades after being pronounced dead—that there is “No alternative” to “free-market” capitalism, in the words of Margaret Thatcher; that Western democracy had reached the “end of history”—there has never been a greater opening for socialist ideas. Indeed, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, a majority of Americans 18-29 years-old have a more favorable view of socialism than capitalism.

And it does not take a PhD in economics to see why.

Nearly ten years after Wall Street’s gambling binge ravaged the global economy, ushering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, working-class Americans are still struggling to get by. The rising cost of college education, crippling student debt, stagnant wages, widespread urban gentrification, employers’ increasing reliance on temporary or contract workers over full-time, permanent employees, and the ever tightening grip of a sinister opioid crisis have all combined to signal the death knell of the already illusory “American Dream.”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll taken on Election Day 2016 seems to encapsulate the working class’s feelings of economic frustration and political alienation. According to the poll, 72 percent of respondents believe “The American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful,” and 68 percent agree that “Traditional parties and politicians do not care about people like me.”

“[T]ry as the pundits may to bury him–Marx keeps resurfacing,” writes Paul D’Amato in his socialism-primer, The Meaning of Marxism.

His ideas are alive because his indictment of capitalism–though first penned in the 1840s–is still confirmed on a daily basis. As the misery worsens, the glaring class divisions give rise to what Marx argued was the motor of historical change–the class struggle. Everywhere around the world, the working class … –those whose labor produces society’s abundant wealth in exchange for a pittance–continues to organize, demonstrate, strike, and resist in various ways.

The point is socialists, leftists, radicals, and revolutionaries currently have an audience for their ideas that they have not had in nearly a century. And this audience has only grown in the months since Donald Trump’s election.

  • We Cannot Merely Vote Socialism Into Existence

While the socialist traditions in many Scandinavian countries are more electorally-oriented, wherein socialist-leaning lawmakers work to enact democratic reforms within the capitalist system, Marxism is centered on the concept of “socialism from below.” In this conception of socialism, workers rather than being handed reforms from above by the government, actively participate in determining their own economic and social lives.

(Workers in Marx’s conception of socialism also own and control the means of production, which is a major differentiation between Marxism and the sort of democratic-socialism countries like Norway or Sweden represent.)

No doubt reforms that benefit workers in the here and now are important (things like raising the minimum wage, union negotiations, rent-controls, adequate and affordable health care, etc.).

But the “socialism from above” model overlooks where real power lies within capitalism. It is not with the Congress, the president or the courts, but within the corporate board rooms that truly exert the most influence over society. As such, even in the unlikely event that someone like Bernie Sanders were to become president, he would quickly find that he is considerably constrained in what sorts of legislation he could actually advance and just how far it could go.

This concept of “socialism from below,” was first advanced by Hal Draper in his 1966 essay, The Two Souls of Socialism.

“The heart of Socialism-from-Below,” Draper wrote, “is its view that socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activized masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history.”

None of this is meant to undermine the very real successes of Corbyn, Sanders and other socialist torchbearers in recent years (and I would call them successes, even if neither Corbyn nor Sanders actually won elected office). It is merely a reminder of the importance of keeping our eye on the proverbial ball if we are serious about changing the world. It is extremely easy to get lost in the rush and excitement a campaign like Corbyn’s generates. But our ultimate aim is not to win elections. It is to win freedom.

So let’s get this class war started, to paraphrase Pink.

“Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution,” Marx and Engels wrote in the concluding paragraph of The Communist Manifesto. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men [and women] of all countries, unite!”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Trump to Planet Earth: Drop Dead

Smokestacks

In a recent conversation with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, Professor Noam Chomsky outlined the two gravest threats to the survival of the human species: Nuclear war and climate change.

“Has there ever been an organization in human history that is dedicated, with such commitment, to the destruction of organized human life on Earth?” Chomsky asked of the Republican Party, which he called the most “dangerous organization in world history.”

“Not that I’m aware of. Is the Republican organization—I hesitate to call it a party—committed to that? Overwhelmingly. There isn’t even any question about it.”

Case in point, President Donald Trump has followed through on his campaign promise to pull the United States out of the 2015 Paris climate change treaty. The unilateral decision, which Trump announced on June 1, was met with strong condemnation from world leaders, and 400 protesters marching in New York City.

The Paris accord is, admittedly, far from perfect. The emissions reductions nations committed to are mostly voluntary. Still, the deal was the best one to come out of the annual, largely fruitless, climate change conferences, since the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. And Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal makes the U.S., in the words of the Bangor Daily News editorial board, “a climate change pariah.”

The U.S. is the world’s leading contributor of CO2 emissions.

In his speech announcing America’s departure from the Paris agreement, Trump rehashed the standard conservative argument that protecting the environment is at odds with accelerating economic growth, “creating jobs,” and maintaining a strong economy.

Trump—an ignoramus who, by his own admission, does not read books, newspapers, scientific reports or his own White House intelligence briefings—joins most of his peers in the Republican organization in blatantly denying the science of anthropogenic, or human-induced, climate change, in the first place. While the GOP has long harbored sentiments of anti-intellectualism, its wholehearted embrace of the trend in recent years is perhaps its most disturbing quality.

Yet, there is a sort of perverse logic to the right’s insistence that we can either have a clean, healthy environment and a habitable planet, or a “robust” economy, but we cannot have both. It is the logic of capitalism.

The bourgeois capitalists—particularly those in the oil and gas industry—understand that any environmental regulations or mandated emissions reductions will hurt their bottom line. And they simply cannot allow that to happen. The logic of capitalism demands capitalists maximize short-term profits above all else—regardless of any unfortunate consequences or catastrophes that may occur down the road as a result.

As author, Paul D’Amato explains in his socialism-primer, The Meaning of Marxism, trying to get corporations—or their state-appendages in the government and the military—to “act as stewards of our environment,” is like “trying to get wolves not to hunt.”

Thus, where scientists and environmentalists view the rapidly melting Arctic as an ominous sign of a planet literally in its death throes, the corporate elite see another business opportunity. Indeed, the system of capitalism, and its tendency to turn everything, including the very ecosystem that supports life on the planet, into a commodity may well be the living manifestation of Freud’s theory of man’s subconscious “death drive.”

And despite whatever emerging markets there may be for solar, wind, and tidal power and other forms of renewable energy resources, capital’s reliance on cheap, dirty fossil fuels is unlikely to be abated any time soon–at least, not soon enough to save the planet. ExxonMobil, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell intend to forcefully extract every last drop of oil from the planet before their CEOs ever begin to consider a new business model.

As Alyssa Battistoni writes in a Dec. 11, 2015 piece for Jacobin:

Capital came into the world dripping from every pore not only with dirt and blood but also coal dust and oil; it very well may be inextricably bound to fossil fuels to power the contemporary pace and scale of global production. It’s certainly never existed without them.

In other words, we cannot sit back and wait for the innovations of The Market to intervene and save us.

Nor, can we place our faith in individual consumer habits or lifestyle choices to make a significant difference in reducing carbon emissions. For decades liberals and environmental groups have advocated we drive less, bike or walk more, become vegetarians or vegans, and shop exclusively at local businesses.

These are all noble endeavors, no doubt, which nobody should be discouraged from undertaking. But climate change is a global problem of such vast proportions individual lifestyle changes alone will, sadly, prove insufficient in remedying it.

Furthermore, the individualist solutions so long proffered by the “Big Green” groups like the Sierra Club or the Natural Resources Defense Council incorrectly place the blame for climate change on the entire populations of industrialized nations—not taking into account the vast disparity in class within those countries.

For instance, a working-class person who owns one car and rents a home has a considerably smaller “carbon footprint” compared to a wealthy investment banker who owns multiple vehicles, two “McMansion”-sized homes, a boat, a plane, and spends his time crisscrossing the globe. In fact, just 90 corporations are responsible for generating two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution, according to a Nov. 20, 2013 story in The Guardian.

Thus, climate change really is a crisis created by the bourgeoisie and dumped, like so much garbage, onto the doorsteps of the working class.

Fortunately, many of the “Big Green” groups have slowly moved away from individualist solutions in recent years as the environmental movement has become more radicalized. Groups like 350.org and Greenpeace have adopted more activist-oriented campaigns aimed squarely at ExxonMobil or the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

The sub-title of Naomi Klein’s landmark 2014 book, This Changes Everything, speaks to this emerging radicalization in the environmental movement: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

It is clear by now that we cannot rely on presidents, Congress or market-driven solutions to halt the worst impacts of climate change. Only the working class, by seizing the means of production and developing a rationally-planned, sustainable society based not on profit but on human need, can hope to avert climate catastrophe.

“[O]ur economic system and our planetary system are now at war,” Klein writes. “Or, more accurately, our economy is at war with many forms of life on earth, including human life. What the climate needs to avoid collapse is a contraction in humanity’s use of resources; what our economic model demands to avoid collapse is unfettered expansion. Only one of these sets of rules can be changed, and it’s not the laws of nature.”

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Impeach Trump — and the System That Spawned Him

trump-impeach

One of the biggest challenges of activism in the Trump era is just keeping up with the constantly shifting developments of the daily news cycle. Indeed, every day seems to bring a new White House scandal.

Only four months into his presidency, Donald Trump’s first (and perhaps, last) term has devolved into its own warped reality TV show, replete with escalating plot-twists, Nixonian cover-ups, and plenty of drama. Binge-watch this real-life House of Cards at your own risk.

In the last week alone, Trump abruptly fired the FBI director, James Comey; nonchalantly disclosed classified intelligence to Russian government officials; and we learned he may have personally attempted to pressure Comey to drop his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go—to letting Flynn go,” Trump told Comey, according to the then-FBI director’s own internal memos. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

I have raised serious doubts concerning the validity of the dubious “Russia-stole-the-presidential-election” narrative, and these recent developments do little to alter that overall skepticism. Not only is there still no concrete evidence that Russia covertly influenced the 2016 election in order to ensure Trump’s victory, but the accusation is quite hypocritical given the United States’ own decades-long role in intervening—subtly or with open military force—with the democratic elections of nations throughout the world when their citizens voted the “wrong way.”

Rather, I think Paul Street’s theory that Comey was fired due to his lack of loyalty to the narcissistic Trump, is more plausible.

“Lack of outward devotion to the new commander in chief is what got Comey canned,” Street writes in a May 15 piece for Truthdig.com. “His sin was insufficient fealty to Herr Donald.

“… Comey was shown the door because he failed to obsequiously kiss the ring of the orange-haired beast, who shows great admiration for authoritarian strongmen like Vladimir Putin (Russia), Rodrigo Duterte (Philippines), Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi (Egypt) and Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey).”

Nonetheless, Trump’s firing of Comey has, as Street concedes, “poured fuel on the Russiagate fire.”

Thus, all the liberals and Democratic apparatchiks who already believe that Trump is a Manchurian Candidate-style Russian puppet are only going to view Comey’s dismissal as further confirmation of this silly conspiracy theory. Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have gleefully embraced this neo-Cold War narrative as a convenient cover for their party’s (and, more specifically, Hillary Clinton’s) staggering ineptitude in defeating arguably the most vile, least qualified Republican presidential candidate in modern history.

(Comey, incidentally, deserves little sympathy from leftists. The now-former FBI director is no hero, and the agency he oversaw is certainly no friend of the left. Indeed, since its inception, the FBI has devoted more resources and manpower to undermining, surveilling, infiltrating, sabotaging, provoking, arresting, physically attacking, and otherwise destroying left-wing groups, activists, and sympathizers, than it has to investigating actual terrorist threats or serious crimes.)

While we may never know the truth about Trump’s Russia connection, there is little doubt the Predator-in-Chief is guilty of obstructing justice. Many Democrats are now even openly talking about impeachment.

Are we really witnessing the beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency?

It is difficult to say. As has become increasingly clear since he first emerged as the GOP’s presidential nominee last year, Trump has a frustrating habit of stubbornly defying expectations. (Indeed, it may well be the man’s only discernible talent.)

While I would like nothing more than to see this Cheetos-skinned ignoramus “fired,” to use his favorite phrase, I remain skeptical of the Democratic Party’s willingness to actually initiate impeachment hearings, should they take back the House in the 2018 midterm elections.

Recent history shows the Democrats have an almost allergic reaction to the very word “impeachment,” even when party leaders are faced with incontrovertible evidence of unconstitutional abuses of power.

House Democrats—most notably then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi—refused to impeach George W. Bush or Dick Cheney after re-taking Congress in the 2006 midterm elections, claiming, at the time, that impeachment would be a “distraction.” Given that the Democrats proceeded to spend the next two years campaigning for the 2008 presidential election, it is difficult to understand what, precisely, holding the deeply unpopular Bush accountable for war crimes would have “distracted” from.

Thus, it would be a mistake for the left to pin its hopes of removing Trump from office on the “dismal dollar Dems,” as Street dubs the party. And even if Trump were impeached, that would leave us with … President Mike Pence—a Christian evangelical zealot, and white nationalist. Not exactly an improvement, if you ask me.

This brings us to the problem of approaching anti-Trump resistance through the narrow lens of impeachment or other legislative maneuvers. At the end of the day Trump, loathsome as he is, is not really the problem. Trump is merely a symptom of the larger disease—the disease of capitalism. Trading one capitalist president for another amounts to little more than a cosmetic reform. The whole system needs to be impeached.

As Danny Katch and Alan Maass write in a May 19 article for Socialist Worker:

“Masses of people are disgusted by Trump, but their eyes are being opened wider about the system that spawned him. Or at least they can be. There is a danger that those masses of people will remain spectators—looking on as the battle plays out within the narrow limits of mainstream politics.”

In other words, it is not enough to just be anti-Trump. The left must put forward its own vision of organizing society—one rooted in Marxism and social and economic justice. We must offer working-class people a path to a world free of sexism, racism, xenophobia and other forms of oppression, and free of capitalist competition that pits workers against one another.

I believe such a world is within our grasp. A majority of young Americans are more open to socialism now than at any other time in the last 30 years. But that world won’t be achieved merely by impeaching Trump. Nor, for that matter, will it be won by signing on to the tepid, narrow reforms the Democrats are offering.

In the meantime, there is a very real possibility Trump could attempt to distract from his deepening scandal by launching another military strike on Syria or even starting a full-scale war with North Korea. Such an action would almost certainly change the national discourse virtually overnight. And we all saw how obsequiously the “liberal,” “opposition party” media proudly cheered the president on during last month’s surprise missile strike on Syria.

As Street observes, though the United States prides itself as the “world’s greatest democracy,” few of our nation’s institutions can accurately be called “democratic.” The U.S. is essentially an oligarchy.

“Impeaching or otherwise removing [Trump] won’t alter that basic reality,” he writes. “The United States doesn’t need a new and 46th president as much as it needs a democracy, a new constitution, a new organizing of institutions—including its frankly absurd and plutocratic election and party systems.”

 

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

The Failure of Identity Politics

Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham, star of the HBO series, “Girls,” shows off her support for Hillary Clinton with a dress emblazoned with the Democratic presidential candidate’s first name.

I maintain, as I have previously argued on this site, that one of the greatest obstacles to developing a mass, diverse working-class movement to fight not only the Trump regime, but also the system that spawned it in the first place, remains the scourge of identity politics.

This political orientation, along with its associated practices of “privilege-checking,” and “calling out,” has rendered the left atomized, devoid of a concrete political vision, and largely incapable of joining together in solidarity. Indeed, even that word, “solidarity,” is quite threatening to practitioners of identity and privilege-politics, who regard it as a sort of “whitewashing” of real inequities in race, gender, and sexual orientation.

The absence of a clearly articulated class-oriented approach to social justice, combined with a generally low-level of class-struggle (recent resistance to Trump’s election, notwithstanding), has allowed the nebulous, postmodernist dictates of identity politics to fill the void. As a result, in places like Portland, Maine the framework of identity politics has become the default orientation of left-wing groups.

According to liberal identitarians all white people are inherently—and perhaps, irredeemably—racist, simply by nature of being white. And no amount of education, enlightenment, commitment to social justice, or personal growth can alter a “privileged” white person’s racist, prejudiced views. Thus, identity politics casts White People or even just “whiteness” as the enemy of the oppressed, rather than the structural racism intentionally perpetuated by the wealthy elite.

As the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass observed of the twisted genius of the capitalist ruling class in pitting white workers against black workers, “The slaveholders, by encouraging the enmity of the poor, laboring white man against the blacks, succeeded in making the said white man almost as much of a slave as the black himself.”

“Both,” Douglass adds, “are plundered by the same plunderer.”

Proponents of identity politics, likewise, insist Donald Trump was elected president based purely on racism—and nothing more. They point to exit-poll data suggesting a majority of white voters—including a majority of white women—voted for Trump.

But this data is misleading. A majority of white Americans did not vote for Trump. A majority of the whites who voted did. This is a crucial distinction. Nearly 50 percent of eligible voters stayed home on Election Day or were barred from voting.

And, while racism no doubt played some role in Trump’s election, many of the working-class whites who voted for him did so out of legitimate economic grievances. As Jacobin’s Adaner Usmani puts it, “All Klansmen are Trump supporters, but all Trump supporters are not Klansmen.” It is crucial those of us on the left understand this if we are to have any hope of winning some of those working-class Trump supporters–many of whom voted for Barack Obama, at least once–to our side.

This is in no way meant to diminish the very real and insidious role of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and ableism in Trump’s electoral victory. It is merely to acknowledge that his ascension is more complicated to explain—his supporters’ motivations more complex and often contradictory—than the easy scapegoat of “racism” suggests.

Furthermore, it was the slave-owning Founding Fathers’ Electoral College which handed Trump the presidency—not the voters. If we lived in an actual democracy, where candidates were elected based on the popular vote (or, for that matter, if we had more than two candidates to choose from), then Hillary Clinton would currently be sitting in the White House.

But proponents of identity politics conveniently overlook all of these nuances, preferring a simplistic (and decidedly cynical) understanding of society and human nature as governed by nothing more than fear, hatred, and naked self-interest.

As such, Maine activist and blogger, Shay Stewart-Bouley, claims in a recent post on her “Black Girl in Maine” blog that a “fear of the declining value of whiteness is what brought us Trump.”

Stewart-Bouley goes on to admonish her white readers that people of color do not need their “white guilt” in anti-racist activism, only to then proceed to remind them that “racism is largely a white problem.” Sure seems like a guilt-trip to me.

But rather than explaining how white leftists can be better “allies” in the fight against racism, Stewart-Bouley echoes the familiar identitarian doctrine that black and white activists conduct their work in separate circles. This, she explains, is so white people can “have a space [of their own] to work out the kinks on their journey without harming me and other POC [People of Color].”

This insistence of separate spaces for black and white activists flows from the identitarian concept that it is “not the job” of oppressed people to educate others. White progressives, in other words, must “do the work” of educating themselves.

“Seriously, I am not Oprah or Mammy,” Stewart-Bouley writes, “and for my own well-being, I want people to know what they don’t know and work on it without being expected to have their hand held by me while they do it.”

As someone who has worked (albeit, briefly) in education, I can assure you: Dismissively telling students to “go educate yourselves,” with no additional guidance or direction from the teacher, is a surefire way to ensure the majority of them do not take the class seriously, spend the semester slacking off, and ultimately fail the course. And, when it comes to eradicating racism, and building a viable, multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-ethnic working-class movement, failure, as they say, is not an option.

Telling people to “educate yourself” or just “Google it” in response to legitimate questions about unfamiliar phrases, jargon, or histories, merely reproduces “neoliberal atomization,” as one of my comrades in the International Socialist Organization (ISO) phrased it in a recent internal document. That is, “sit by yourself in front of a computer and figure it out alone.” And this is to say nothing of the generally contemptuous tone of telling people, “It’s not my job to educate you!”

Part of being a revolutionary means being willing to educate, discuss and patiently debate with others—even those who may not be as radical as you are. Reading, studying, and debating collectively are indispensable components to building a sense of solidarity, and coalescing around a unified, cohesive political orientation.

Contrary to the dictates of identity politics, just because an individual does not personally experience a particular form of oppression does not mean he or she has no interest in fighting to end that oppression. Indeed, the system of capitalism—a system that is inherently exploitative— oppresses all workers to some degree. The ruling class has its proverbial thumb on all workers—though it presses down with greater force on some particularly oppressed workers (African Americans, women, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities), than others.

But all workers have an interest in cutting off the bourgeois thumb (if not, indeed, the entire hand it is a part of) and dismantling the system that keeps us all down.

As socialist author, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes in her 2016 book, From Black Lives Matter, to Black Liberation:

Solidarity is standing in unity with people even if you have not personally experienced their particular oppression[.] The reality is that as long as capitalism exists, material and ideological pressures push white workers to be racist and all workers to hold each other in general suspicion. But there are moments of struggle when the mutual interests of workers are laid bare, and when the suspicion is finally turned in the other direction—at the plutocrats who live well while the rest of us suffer.

While the inclusion of more people of color, women, and gays in the corporate and political arena is certainly a welcome trend, the folly of multiculturalism is in viewing this diversity alone as a form of progress. The fact is, one can be gay, black, female, or trans and still be part of the bourgeoisie. Take figures like Caitlyn Jenner, Clarence Thomas, Oprah Winfrey, or warmonger “feminist,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, for example.

As left-wing professor Adolph Reed, Jr. writes in a stinging rebuke of liberal identity politics:

[A] society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class.

None of this is to suggest that class is “more important” than race or other aspects of identity. Rather, as Karl Marx observed, class and race are inextricably intertwined.

“In the United States of America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic,” Marx wrote in Volume One of Capital. “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

The left must rekindle the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Only through solidarity—through a shared sense of class-struggle among workers of all genders, gender-identities, races, and sexual orientations—can we hope to fight the right, rebuild the left, and win nothing less than the self-emancipation of the working class.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any WordPress-sponsored advertisements that may appear on readers’ screens. This is another reason why workers, including writers, need to own the means of production–or in this case, the Internet.

If you like this essay feel free to share it widely (Facebook, Twitter, all that stuff…). Adam Marletta can be reached at adamd.marletta@gmail.com.

Thanks for reading!

 

Nice Work (If You Can Get It)

r-UNEMPLOYMENT-large570-1

I recently completed a temporary job stint filing medical charts at Maine Behavioral Healthcare, in Portland. I worked there for a little over a month.

When the temp agency presented me with the job, they indicated it had the “potential” to become a full-time, permanent position. But, after a month, the employers decided I was not the “right fit” for the company.

According to my point person at the temp agency, the employers were “extremely satisfied” with my actual work at the job—which they called “excellent.”

But, in the 21st century capitalist workplace, it is no longer enough to merely be a capable—or even an “excellent”—worker. One must also fit in with the so-called “workplace culture.” You must, in other words, be just like the people you are working with. Likewise, they must like you as a person. Failure to assimilate, Borg-style, to the hive-mind collective has become more important than one’s ability to competently do the job.

Given that my immediate co-worker was an ignorant, gun-rights-spouting conservative, who insisted on calling Black Lives Matter an “anti-police” group, my chances of ever “fitting in” were pretty much shot from the get-go.

The job itself was, admittedly, boring and well below my education level. It was essentially eight hours of busy work. But, contrary to the claims of the bourgeois ruling ideology, capitalism does not offer members of the working class a choice when it comes to the type of work they perform. Those of us with nothing to sell but our labor power (i.e. our ability to work), must offer ourselves up to the exploitative capitalist workplace—an institution devoid of democracy of any kind.

Meager as the paycheck at MBHC was, I have grown rather fond of eating. And I am not about to go live in the woods, and hunt my own wildlife for food, Ted Nugent-style, thank you very much. (I imagine having a rock star’s salary behind him, certainly helps Nugent maintain his “authentic,” “self-reliant” lifestyle.)

In the world of temping, nobody really gets “fired” in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, the temp agency merely informs you that the “job assignment has ended.” I have worked some “job assignments” with this particular company that lasted six months, and others that lasted six days.

Employers love using temps because it allows them to “try out” workers—not unlike the act of test driving a new car at a dealership. Best of all, they do not need to offer temps any benefits, sick time, vacations or holiday pay. And if the company does not like the temp it was sent, they can just call up the temp agency and order a different one, avoiding all the messy hassle of actually having to fire somebody. From the capitalist’s viewpoint, temps are a wet-dream come true.

While both the temp agency and the company often hold out the potential of the temp job developing into a permanent, full-time position—assuming, that is, they like you enough—studies confirm that very few temp job actually turn into permanent gigs. This is largely due to employers’ unwillingness to pay the “finder’s fee” in order to “purchase” the worker. And given that the temp agency is also making money off of your surplus-labor, it begs the question how truly invested it is in auctioning off any of its temps.

Either way, the temp agency makes a profit, and the worker is once again unemployed.

Welcome to work in the 21st century: Temporary, part-time or contractual, with no benefits, job security, or union representation. And virtually none of these jobs pays a living wage. While economists and pundits whip up fear about a not-too-distant future where widespread automation replaces human workers, these prognosticators overlook the dystopian nightmare the process of securing and maintaining a job has already become.

Morrissey had it right: “I was looking for a job, and then I found a job/And heaven knows I’m miserable now.”

So much, it seems, for the much lauded “economic recovery.”

Indeed, nearly a decade after Wall Street laid waste to the global economy, ushering in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, working-class Americans are still struggling to get by. Businesses remain highly selective in their hiring practices—largely because they can be. This “reserve army of labor,” as Karl Marx and Frederick Engels termed it, is what allows employers to justify paying such meager wages, or exploiting immigrant labor for even less.

As Marx writes in Volume One of his three-part economic treatise, Das Kapital (Capital):

[C]apitalistic accumulation itself … constantly produces and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent a relatively redundant population of workers, i.e. a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the valorization of capital, and therefore a surplus population… It is the absolute interest of every capitalist to press a given quantity of labour out of a smaller rather than a greater number of labourers, if the cost is about the same… The more extended the scale of production, the stronger this motive. Its force increases with the accumulation of capital.

Even the process of applying for a job—to get one’s “foot in the door,” as they say–has itself become a Herculean effort. Job-seekers are made to jump through an increasingly absurd barrage of hoops just to be considered for a position.

Job-seekers are expected to craft precisely tailored resumes and cover letters, endure multiple job interviews, pass invasive drug tests and background checks, as well as snobbish scrutiny of their credit card histories, and spend hours filling out lengthy job applications–most of which prompt candidates to regurgitate the same information contained in their resumes and cover letters. These redundant applications are then sent to a computer software program which scans them for certain “keywords,” and determines which applicants warrant an invitation for an interview.

In other words, while robots have not yet taken over our workplaces, they are already in charge of the hiring process.

Contrary to the rosy economic picture the Labor Department routinely paints with its monthly jobs report, these measures fail to take into account the hundreds of working-age Americans—mostly men—who have simply given up looking for work, entirely. And I can’t honestly say that I blame them.

None of my friends in my age group are doing much better, economically. They are all working retail jobs with erratic, unpredictable schedules, or as Ed Techs in special education classrooms at woefully underfunded schools.

My generation—the “millennials”—is the most educated in history, yet is less well-off economically than our parents. We are also the most debt-saddled generation in history, due to the ever increasing cost of college. Little wonder then, that a majority of Americans under the age of 30 view socialism more favorably than capitalism.

All of this is to point out what is obvious to anyone who has not had the luxury of being gainfully employed at the same job for the last 30 years: The system no longer works for the majority of working class Americans. Indeed, as Marx and Engels so astutely observed a century and a half ago, it never really did work for them, in the first place.

The writers at the anarchist collective, CrimethInc. are right: We don’t have to live this way.

Work under capitalism is exploitative, degrading, sexist, and entirely devoid of any semblance of democracy. Workers have no say over the conditions under which they labor, how much they are paid, their schedules, or often even the type of work itself.

Under socialism, workers would own the factories, offices, and restaurants they toil in day after day. They would control their own economic, social, and political destinies–not just at the workplace, but in all avenues of life. Rather than spending most our waking hours toiling away at jobs we hate, workers’ lives would be governed by the old labor motto: “Eight hours for work. Eight hours for rest. Eight hours for whatever you please.”

Again, Marx’s understanding of the capitalist workplace as a prison, remains unrivaled.

“Modern industry has converted the little workshop of the patriarchal master into the great factory of the industrial capitalist,” he and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto in 1848.

Masses of labourers, crowded into the factory, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois State; they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker, and, above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.

 

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Capitalism will never grant Americans the universal health care we deserve

Single Payer Now!

Donald Trump, who was elected president largely based on his ability to portray himself as an “average” working-class American, continues with his every utterance to reveal just how completely out of touch with working-class concerns he truly is.

Last month for instance, Trump, in addressing the myriad complexities in following through on his pledge to repeal Obamacare, groaned to reporters, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

Actually, I would wager most working-class Americans who have struggled with lousy, overpriced health insurance that does not actually cover anything, outrageous premiums and co-pays, unreadable, jargon-laden insurance disclaimers, and the criminal dilemma of having to choose between paying for prescription medication, or rent from month to month, are painfully familiar with how unfathomably complicated–and inhumane–the U.S. for-profit health care system is.

Trump–a wealthy elite who has never had to worry about paying for a hospital visit in his life–is only now realizing this. Must be nice.

As bad as Obamacare is, the Republican Congress’ “plan” will be even worse. (I put “plan” in quotation marks because the GOP proposal is not an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, at all. It is merely a retooling of it.)

In the absence of the ACA’s most integral feature, the individual mandate, health care costs will no longer be defrayed by the large pool of insurance purchasers. This leaves health care corporations like UnitedHealth Group (2014 net sales: $130.5 billion), Anthem ($74 billion), and Aetna ($58 billion) free to rack up coverage costs. The Republicans’ retooled plan also grants massive tax cuts to the wealthy, while increasing costs on the poor and elderly.

In other words, the Republicans’ actual health care plan is basically the same as former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson’s (D-FL) sardonic characterization of it during a biting Sept. 29, 2009 House floor speech.

“It’s a very simple plan,” Grayson said of the then-minority Republicans’ opposition to the ACA. “… Don’t get sick … And if you do get sick, here’s what the Republicans want you to do … Die quickly!”

To paraphrase Arnaud Amalric’s famous saying, “Privatize it all and let The Market sort ‘em out.”

As if to add insult to injury, congressional Republicans are now resorting to their standard Ayn Randian, blame-the-victim logic in defense of claims that health insurance will become more expensive under “Trumpcare.”

Rep. Justin Chaffetz (R-UT), in a March 8 interview on CNN, suggested people need to “invest in their own health care,” rather than “getting that new iPhone.” Chaffetz went on to insist that Americans “have choices,” under capitalism, and they “have to make a choice” about how to spend their money.

But this advice is cynically disingenuous at best–cruelly dishonest, at worst. The only “choice” capitalism offers workers–who by definition, do not own the means of production–is to either sell their labor-power to an exploitative employer in order to survive, or to starve to death. That is not a choice, at all. It’s extortion.

As Stephen Pimpare points out in a rebuttal to Chaffetz in the Washington Post, “most American adults who are poor are not poor from lack of effort, but despite it.”

Limited as the ACA is, it has granted health insurance to some 20 million Americans who were previously unable to afford it. And aspects of the law such as allowing young adults to remain on their parents’ plan until the age of 26, and prohibiting insurance companies from denying claims based on so-called “pre-existing conditions,” are admittedly steps in the right direction. Certainly, the revocation of these benefits is nothing for leftist critics of Obamacare to celebrate.

But we must be clear about the ACA’s formidable shortcomings.

The ACA is built on a conservative idea developed by the Heritage Foundation. It is essentially a bailout for the for-profit health insurance industry—one which it did not even need.

President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress never gave serious consideration to the alternative proposal for a government-run “public option” that would have competed with the corporate insurance providers. And the public option plan was already a watered-down Plan B from instituting a single-payer, universal health care system, which citizens in nearly every other industrial democracy throughout the world enjoy.

Indeed, the U.S. ranks 50 out of 55 countries according to a 2014 Bloomberg survey that calculates “life expectancy, health-care spending per capita and relative spending as a share of gross domestic product.” The survey found the United States’ for-profit health care system among the “least efficient in the world.”

Single-payer was “off the table,” from the start of the health care debate. In fact, when single-payer activists interrupted an early White House health care public hearing, Democratic Sen. Max Baucus (MT) promptly called security and had them arrested. Baucus and his colleagues glibly laughed as the protesters were, one by one, escorted out of the room.

And the Democratic Party has only become more forthright in its opposition to universal health care.

Last year, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi rebuked Sen. Bernie Sanders’ single-payer campaign platform—specifically, his intent to raise taxes in order to fund the program. “We’re not running on any platform of raising taxes,” Pelosi said during a Jan. 27, 2016 press conference.

Regarding single-payer, Pelosi added, “It’s no use having a conversation about something that is not going to happen.”

Earlier this year, Pelosi conceded during a CNN town hall-style Q&A that the Democratic Party is “capitalist, and that’s just the way it is.”

I must say, Pelosi’s newfound candidness, though infuriating to many liberals, is rather refreshing. Now that workers know exactly where the Democrats stand in the class war, perhaps we can finally abandon the party for good, and start our own.

Despite the Democrats’ opposition, transitioning to single-payer would go a long way to simplifying our complicated, pay-or-die health care system. Indeed, the U.S. currently wastes $375 billion a year on health insurance paperwork, alone—roughly 15 percent of overall national health care spending. Kinda gives a new meaning to the phrase, “Death by a thousand paper-cuts,” doesn’t it?

“Many people with curable ailments have died for lack of care,” writes veteran investigative reporter, Dave Lindorff, in his submission to the 2014 essay-collection, Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA“That’s what happened to a teenage boy brought to a hospital by police in Chicago. He died on the sidewalk as the cops stood by helplessly: the hospital wouldn’t admit him because he had no insurance.”

Lindorff goes on to observe that the United States is “the only modern industrial nation in the world that does this to its people.”

But as long as we live under capitalism–a system that treats everything, including human lives and the environment, as a commodity–this unconscionable attitude toward the poor and uninsured will continue. The basic necessities of life–health care, housing, and food–will remain out of reach for working-class people. A more efficient and humane way of organizing our economy would treat these human needs as universal rights–not commodities no different than toothpaste.

Abortion, likewise, is a form of health care and should be recognized as such. Women should have access to free abortion on demand and without apology. Indeed, I have long found it curious that the right-wing, “pro-life” zealots who espouse the “sanctity of life,” are completely absent from the fight for universal health care–and, for that matter, the anti-war movement.

(“Trumpcare” will, of course, strip all federal funding from Planned Parenthood.)

“In a socialist society,” Lindorff writes, “a parent with a sick baby could go straight to the doctor, or in an emergency, to the hospital. The baby wouldn’t be at risk of suffering through something potentially life-threatening, and the parents wouldn’t have to face the financial anxiety of deciding to see a doctor–or suffer the guilt of not seeing one.”

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Don’t Be Fooled: Donald Trump is Still a Bourgeois Scumbag

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If Donald Trump has succeeded at anything, it is in considerably lowering the bar for what is considered “presidential.” That is the establishment media’s takeaway, at least, from Trump’s first address to Congress last week.

The prepared speech—which the president dutifully read from a teleprompter, despite his vocal criticism of Barack Obama’s use of the same practice—did not deviate from the president’s major policy proposals.

Trump still intends to pursue mass deportation of immigrants. He is still pledging to build a wall on the Mexican border. He is still demonizing Muslims and so-called “Radical Islam”–though he has precious little to say about the far more pervasive threat posed by Radical Christianity.

He wants to nearly quadruple the already bloated military-spending budget, vowing to “strengthen our military,” which has never ceased being the most powerful and belligerent force of violence on the planet.

And Trump is still targeting society’s most vulnerable, marginalized populations including people of color, immigrants, the LGBT community, and women.

Trump’s speech, in other words, was a veritable “greatest hits” package of the same themes and promises he has been harping on since he first launched his presidential campaign in June of 2015. (That was the now infamous campaign kickoff speech in which Trump referred to Mexicans as criminals, drug-dealers and “rapists.”)

And it was just as devoid of substance, specific policy proposals, and factual information grounded in reality as anything else that has come out of the president’s mouth.

Yet, the “liberal” media nearly unanimously praised Trump’s toned-down demeanor and noticeably more restrained performance.

The New York Times—which Trump has repeatedly singled-out as the worst of the supposed perpetuators of “fake news”—called the address the “most presidential speech” Trump has “ever given.” CNN regular correspondent, Van Jones agreed, claiming with this speech Donald Trump “became president of the United States.”

Like I said, the bar is really low. What is that expression about putting lipstick on a pig, again…?

During one particularly nauseating point of the speech, Trump trotted out the newly-widowed wife of Navy SEAL, William “Ryan” Owens, who was killed in a botched raid in Yemen on Jan. 29. Owens is the first U.S. soldier to die under Trump’s presidency, and his administration continues to callously insist the failed raid was a “success.” At least 20 Yemeni women and children were also killed in the attack.

Owens’ widow, Carryn Owens, received a standing ovation from both Republicans and Democrats, thus proving the two warmongering parties’ alleged “irreconcilable differences” run only so deep.

But Politico’s John Bresnahan lauded this cynical exploitation of Owens’ death—which Trump caused. “That was a Reaganesque moment for Trump,” Bresnahan wrote. He is correct. Only a cold-hearted shill like Ronald Reagan would have stooped to Trump’s vile level of pandering to Americans’ blind military worship and mandatory troop exaltation to score political points.

Not only is the media’s praise of Trump unwarranted, it also threatens to distract Americans from the Predator in Chief’s actual policies.

As Adam Johnson writes in a blog post for the media watchdog group, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR), “The praise from the media for his speech was so overwhelming, Trump is reportedly delaying the roll out of his new ‘travel ban’ (his new attempt to legalize a Muslim ban) so he can soak in all the goodwill.”

Some “opposition party.”

All of this is to point out what is perhaps obvious to many readers, but nonetheless bears repeating: Leftists cannot rely on either the media, or the Democratic Party to oppose Donald Trump in any meaningful way. We must, through mass protests, demonstrations, mobilizations, and even strikes, oppose him ourselves.

As Elizabeth Schulte writes in the Socialist Worker:

For all the threats it made during the election about why we had to stop Trump by any means necessary, the Democratic Party establishment’s idea of “opposition” is so far from what’s necessary to push back the Republicans’ agenda, it’s laughable–especially when you consider the opposition that ordinary people are showing at town hall meetings and at protests that skewer their elected officials for failing to represent them.

But there is an additional element to Trump’s “presidential” speech the corporate media are overlooking. As Schulte points out, Trump’s alleged change in tone may have had more to do with assuaging the fears of congressional Republicans, who still have a rather tenuous relationship with this president.

Not only have the various scandals that have plagued Trump’s administration a mere six weeks into his presidency detracted from the Republican Congress’ actual work (note, for instance, Republicans’ failure to make good on their signature pledge to repeal Obamacare–a vow which has now turned into “repeal and replace,” though replace with what, precisely, remains unclear), but the capitalist elite maintain deep ideological disagreements with key aspects of Trump’s agenda, particularly his isolationist, “America First” and anti-free-trade positions.

Likewise, the president’s nearly singular focus on implementing draconian immigration laws is at odds with capital’s need for cheap, super-exploitable labor from abroad. And Trump’s plan to create “millions” of manufacturing jobs is exactly the sort of “Big Government” program the GOP is adamantly opposed to.

Indeed, Trump’s blatant opposition to the major pillars of so-called “late-stage” capitalism (free-trade, globalization, and access to cheap labor from abroad) is precisely why neoliberal stalwart Hillary Clinton–not Trump–was the capitalist bourgeoisie’s preferred choice for president. How deep and protracted capital’s fight with Trump becomes–and the lengths the so-called “deep state” goes to keep President Trump in line–remains to be seen.

But for now, Trump is merely trying to assure the Establishment everything will be alright. That is, alright for them, anyway. For the working class, not so much…

“Went to war with the Devil and Shaytan,” says Killer Mike, on the rap duo, Run the Jewels’ excellent new self-titled album, Run the Jewels 3, in an overt reference to Trump. “He wore a bad toupee and a spray tan.” (“Shaytan” is Arabic for “Satan.”)

Nearly two months after his swearing-in, Trump may finally be getting the hang of acting the part of president–at least in the same way that Richard Nixon eventually learned how to appear “presidential” for the TV cameras. But he has not altered his xenophobic, racist, anti-worker views one bit.

Trump and his advisers live in their own warped reality, devoid of facts, science, and historical accuracy. They cite phony terrorist attacks that never occurred as justification for their discriminatory policies. Trump by his own admission, does not read. And his equally anti-intellectual supporters have a perverse contempt for those who do.

The media should not be so easily fooled, and neither should we.

Trump is a con artist–and a highly transparent one, at that. The great–if not, indeed, the tragic–irony of Trump’s election is how he managed to convince enough struggling, working-class Americans that he actually cares one iota about them and their plight. And that if they just work hard enough, or sufficiently desire strongly enough, they too can be rich and famous like him.

“If politics is like show business,” Neil Postman warned in 1985’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, “then the idea is not to pursue excellence, clarity or honesty but to appear as if you are, which is another matter altogether. And what the other matter is can be expressed in one word: advertising.”

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