The Crisis is Capitalism

capitalism-crash-e1466891639998

Life under the Trump regime is, at times, almost surreal. Every day seems to bring a new Twitter tirade, White House squabble, or scandal. Never in my life can I recall reading in the newspaper that the secretary of state openly referred to the president as a “fucking moron.”

It is almost like something straight out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Consider this characteristically irrational exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat:

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Many people have remarked that just keeping up with the daily news is both exhausting and depressing. The headline of the lead editorial in the October issue of Socialist Worker seems to sum up Trump’s brand of “shock and awe” politics, best: “Our resistance in the era of political whiplash.”

The SW editors write:

Think about it: In less than a month’s time, we witnessed the far-right carnival of hate in Charlottesville and a murderous attack on anti-racist demonstrators; the unnatural disasters of [hurricanes] Harvey and Irma confirming the destruction that capitalism has caused through climate change and greed; more nuclear saber-rattling by the world’s main super-bully in Washington; and the Trump administration ending DACA protections for undocumented youth now threatened with deportations to places most don’t remember.

This seemingly non-stop “political barrage,” they add, “is a central part of the right’s strategy: to stun opponents into inaction.”

We are, needless to say, living in radical times. And radical times call for radical politics.

Capitalism is currently in deep crisis. The elites no longer have any credibility. Where once the meritocratic Horatio Alger model of improving one’s living standards through hard work and educational achievement at least held some modicum of truth for working-class Americans, this ruling-class principle no longer holds any currency.

For the first time in decades, an entire generation of young adults will be worse off financially than their parents. And this is despite the fact that millennials are the most educated generation in history. (They are also the most debt-burdened from the ever-increasing costs of college education.)

These diminished economic prospects are compounded by a menacing plague of opioid addiction that, in 2016 alone, claimed an estimated 64,000 lives.

As a result, nearly half of millennials believe the so-called “American Dream,” is dead, according to a 2015 Harvard Institute of Politics survey. Where once the bourgeois elite could at least hold out the promise that if you work hard you too can join the middle-class—if not the rich—now the prospects for working-class people have been reduced to merely hoping a climate-change augmented hurricane or forest fire does not destroy your home and all your belongings.

Now, if that ain’t a reason to stand in patriotic reverence for our national anthem during commercialized spectator sports, well, you must just hate The Troops, you son of a bitch!

Wealth inequality is, in fact, far worse than most Americans realize. Of the $30 trillion in wealth the U.S. has gained since the end of the Great Recession of 2008, the 400 richest individuals received an average of $2,500,000,000 each. Those in the bottom 80 percent, meanwhile, got roughly $13,000 each.

And working-class wages remain stagnant. “Income for the working-age bottom 50%,” writes economist, Paul Buchheit, “has not improved since the late 1970s. The share of all income going to the poorest 50% has dropped from 20 to 12 percent. The share going to the richest 1% has risen from 12 to 20 percent.”

While it is not unusual for capitalism to periodically go into crisis (indeed, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels understood that the unplanned, unmanaged nature of capitalism makes it inherently prone to crisis), the scale of this particular economic crisis has not been seen since the Gilded Age of the 1920s.

Marxist economist, Richard Wolff suggests labeling this “new period” of capitalism “post-neoliberal,” “post-globalized,” or “neo-nationalist.” Whichever term one prefers, Wolff describes this era as one in which,

[T]he major corporations, the top 1% they enrich, and the top 10% of managers and professionals they employ will no longer provide the rest of us anywhere near the number of well-paid jobs and generous government policies of the post-1945 period. Given this reality for them, they could hypothetically reduce, more or less equally across the board, the jobs, incomes, and public services available to the bottom 90% of the US population. But at least in the short run, this is politically too dangerous.

Wolff continues:

The only other option they see is to divide the bottom 90% into two groups. For the favored one, jobs, incomes, and standards of living will be only marginally reduced or perhaps, if possible, marginally improved. For the other group, their economic situation will be savaged, reduced to conditions formerly associated with seriously underdeveloped parts of the planet. The time has thus arrived in the US for a major struggle—economically, politically, and ideologically—over just who will be in those two groups. The violence lurking in this struggle has surfaced so far most starkly and provocatively in the murder of [Heather Heyer] at Charlottesville. It reflects the stakes in the proliferating struggles.

And the crisis of capitalism is not relegated to the United States. Britain’s unexpected vote to leave the European Union (EU) last year (“Brexit”), along with the recent uprising in Catalonia for independence from Spain represent, for the power elite, dramatic threats to the neoliberal status quo. That neoliberal order is crumbling—and the bourgeois ruling class is scared to death.

Their fear is compounded here at home with the expectation-shattering election of Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton was the ruling class’ preferred candidate. Her political experience and proven loyalty to corporate capitalism made her the logical successor to Barack Obama’s Wall Street-friendly policies. For the ruling class, Clinton represented not so much the “lesser evil” as liberals frequently describe the Democratic candidate, but, to use Black Agenda Report executive editor, Glen Ford’s phrase, the “more effective evil.”

But Trump is a wild card.

His erratic and unpredictable behavior makes him difficult for the bourgeois—as well as the elements of the so-called “Deep State” (the FBI, CIA, military-industrial complex, etc.)—to control. And much of Trump’s agenda concerning immigration and nationalism flies in the face of a global capitalist order that, for decades, has relied on cheap, under-paid and easily exploited immigrant labor.

Yet, Trump is merely a symptom of the larger disease of capitalism. While I am all for removing Trump from office (with the understanding that the homophobic, Christian evangelical, Mike Pence would take his place), the fact is life in pre-Trump America was hardly a paradise for working-class people.

Thus, the left’s goal cannot be to merely vote for Democrats in 2018, and Kamala Harris or Cory Booker in 2020–though this is precisely what many liberals advocate. The inconvenient truth is that the corporatist, neoliberal policies of Bill Clinton and Obama paved the way for President Trump. We cannot simply return to business as usual.

Instead, we must build on the renewed interest in socialism, particularly among young people, that Bernie Sanders helped spark. The International Socialist Organization (ISO), which I am a dues-paying member of, has seen record turnout at its weekly public meetings in branches throughout the country. And interest has only increased since the start of the fall 2017 college semester.

People are clearly hungry for a radical politics that both speaks to their lived conditions, and can help them fight back against the proto-fascist far-right. Now is the time to tap into that hunger, and build a viable working-class movement that can agitate for tangible reforms in the here in now, as well as point the way forward to a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable socialist future.

“[H]ere it becomes evident that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an overriding law,” Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto in 1848.

… The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the laborers, due to competition, by their revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of modern industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

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!

 

 

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Solidarity, Not Reductionist Identity Politics, Will Defeat the Right

Screw the Klan

One of the signs at the post-Charlottesville solidarity rally in Portland, Maine on Aug 13 (which I wrote about here) read, “White? Not racist? You/I Still Benefit from White Supremacy.”

I did not get a chance to talk with the young woman holding the sign, but I would have liked to. I find this sort of sentiment—that all white people benefit from white supremacy—endemic among members of the left oriented around identity politics. As such, I think it is worth taking a critical examination of this view, and offering a socialist perspective.

The woman’s sign actually reminded me of an online video that circulated back in 2012, shortly after Trayvon Martin’s murder. The subject of the video—titled, “I AM NOT TRAYVON MARTIN,” in all capital letters—is a young white woman who chastises fellow white activists for wearing t-shirts with the words, “I Am Trayvon Martin,” emblazoned on them.

The woman argues that white activists–no matter how outraged they are over Martin’s racist killing–are not Trayvon Martin. And, by virtue of being white, their attempts to stand in solidarity with Martin and his family are disingenuous at best. Rather, the woman argues, she and her white colleagues have more in common with Martin’s killer, George Zimmerman. According to her a “more accurate t-shirt” for her white colleagues to wear would say, “I Am George Zimmerman.”

Her argument, which is steeped in “privilege” politics, is that white activists can only ever relate to a racist oppressor, like Zimmerman.

(Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder by a mostly white jury, on July 13, 2013.)

“I look at Zimmerman,” the woman says, “and think, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I.’”

She goes on, “… Realizing that you more closely resemble a homicidal, oppressive force than a helpless victim is a really uncomfortable thing to do. I know. But wanting to identify with the victim is weak and immature when it is not an accurate representation of reality.”

This woman (she never identifies herself) makes the same reactionary argument as the other woman’s protest sign: “If you’re white, you are part of the problem. In fact, you are the problem.”

This is the essence of identity politics. It suggests that 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–allegedly subconscious–racist, intolerant views.

Liberal identitarians argue, by the same extension, that all men are inherently sexist, all straight people are homophobes, all Westerners are Islamophobic, and all able-bodied people are “ableist,” etc., etc…

Thus, identity politics casts “White People,” (or even just “whiteness”) or “[toxic] masculinity” as the enemy of marginalized people, rather than the structural oppression (be it racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia) intentionally erected and perpetuated by the ruling class as a means of maintaining its power.

As the 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 added, “are plundered by the same plunderer.”

While there is no doubt that certain segments of society (African-Americans, LGBT folks, women, immigrants, and Muslims to name a few) endure greater forms of oppression than others, the system of capitalism serves to keep all working class people in chains. As such, all workers have an interest in joining together in solidarity, and shaking off those metaphorical chains.

If white working-class people are so “privileged,” why do so many of them struggle in dead-end jobs, performing unrewarding work for dirt wages? Why are so many saddled with thousands of dollars of debt from college loans? Why do so many struggle to afford decent health care—despite the positive gains of “Obamacare”? And why do whites make up the majority of recipients of government assistance programs—despite the fact that blacks and Hispanics endure significantly higher poverty rates?

For that matter, what accounts for the fact that only a tiny portion of white people own the economic means of production?

This is not to suggest there are no obvious advantages to being white in an undoubtedly racist society. There absolutely are. But these predicaments do not strike me as a sign of “privilege.” Quite the reverse, in fact.

Furthermore, I think it speaks volumes to how low we have set the bar for social justice that we now seem to regard freedom from the threat of being arbitrarily murdered on the streets by the police—or those acting on their behalf—as a mere “privilege.” This should be a basic human right.

Yet the dictates of identity politics paint all white people as an undifferentiated mass of reactionary, racist attitudes. The woman in the video claims—with no evidence whatsoever—that the white people disingenuously wearing “I Am Trayvon Martin” t-shirts are all “middle-class.”

To this, I have two questions for the woman: 1) What is this “middle-class” you speak of? And, 2) How do I join it?

No doubt, there is a group of privileged (mostly) white people. (A handful of women and African-Americans have joined their ranks in recent decades.) They are the bourgeoisie, the ruling class, the elite, the wealthy, the capitalists or the one percent. Bernie Sanders calls them the “billionaire class.” Their members include people like Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and, yes, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

These are the people who need to “check their privilege.” In fact, they should check some of their wealth, too. And hand it over to the rest of us.

Not only are liberal identity politics incredibly reductionist and deterministic, but one must wonder at the profound cynicism of those who espouse them. If we are all nothing more than our physical identities—rather than the actions that we take from day to day—then what is the point of struggling for a better world…? If white/male/straight/fill-in-the-blank-with-“privileged”-adjective-of-your-choice people are incapable of feeling empathy for anyone other than the oppressors, as “Video Woman” suggests, then activism is all but useless.

And that is precisely the danger of this mindset. It leads to political passivity. Identity politics is a recipe for paralysis.

Likewise, the proliferation of the practices of “calling-out” and “privilege-checking” serves only to deter potential activists from political participation. Who wants to protest racial injustice if they fear they will be publicly shamed and ridiculed for every perceived “microaggression” they accidentally commit?

This is no way to build a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-gender movement to topple capitalism–or to achieve anything, for that matter. It is, however, a way to ensure the left remains small, fractured, atomized, and largely impotent. If we are serious about defeating the far-right and halting the rise of a resurgent fascism, the left must move beyond the narrow confines of identity politics.

“Video Woman” believes stepping out of one’s comfort zone to stand with the oppressed is “weak” and “immature.” I could not disagree more.

“In … a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners,” Albert Camus wrote, “it is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners.”

Fortunately, it seems identity politics are beginning to lose some of their currency—particularly in the wake of the mass outpouring of resistance to white supremacy following the repulsive “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. That rally—in which white supremacist groups including the Ku Klux Klan, the Proud Boys, and neo-Nazis brandished shields and tiki torches, and chanted Nazi slogans—resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal and activist.

In response, cities throughout the country have mounted rallies, marches, and vigils denouncing white supremacy in all its vile forms. At least 400 people turned out for the aforementioned rally in Portland the following day.

About 40,000 people showed up in Boston on Saturday, Aug. 19—a week following Heyer’s death—to protest a pitifully small “alt-right” rally, which ended early. Leftists in Boston literally chased the Nazis out of the city! This was followed by another rally in Portland, on Sunday, Aug. 20, which attracted 1,200 people.

And these are not your run-of-the-mill protests. In the wake of Heyer’s death, these protests are taking place in a pronounced atmosphere of fear. The events in Charlottesville made it terrifyingly clear the far-right has no qualms about using violence and murder to achieve its ends.

It is also painfully clear the increased police presence at these marches is not for the benefit of the mostly peaceful protesters. The police are there to protect the Nazis. At the Boston march, the Boston Police surrounded a gazebo of 20 or so neo-Nazis, and escorted them away when they got scared of the protesters with their, you know … signs, and water bottles… Hence the socialist chant, “Cops and Klan/Hand-in-hand!”

In other words, these anti-racists—black and white–are coming out to these events at great personal risk. They understand that solidarity–the idea that “an injury to one is an injury to all”–is the only way we can defeat the far-right. We won’t defeat them with reductionist, deterministic identity politics.

None of this should be interpreted as a condemnation of workers organizing around a shared identity or history. Nor is it to suggest that class is “more important” than race. Karl Marx, writing in 1867, understood how race and class 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.”

What I would like to offer is an alternative sign for the young woman at the Portland rally–one with a more simple and direct message: “Unite to Fight the Right.”

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 Tyranny of Nine to Five

Homer at Work
The sign at Homer Simpson’s work-station at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, is meant to remind him that his job is a prison.

In Franz Kafka’s classic novella, The Metamorphosis, protagonist Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman, awakes one “dreary” morning to find himself transformed into “a monstrous vermin.” Yet, in keeping with Kafka’s dark, absurdist style, Gregor is more concerned with the fact that he is going to be late for work.

“Oh God,” he thought, “what a grueling job I’ve picked!”

Kafka’s deliberately ambiguous story, published in 1915, taps into the profoundly dehumanizing effects of modern industrial capitalism. Gregor “was a tool of the boss,” Kafka writes, “without brains or backbone.”

Gregor’s transformation ultimately costs him his job, his relationship with his family, and leaves him a stranger in his own home. He becomes a quintessentially alienated person.

Kafka’s novella highlights perhaps the most glaring contradiction of America. We pride ourselves on our “freedom,” and “democracy,” yet we are forced to spend most of our waking lives in an institution utterly devoid of any such things: The workplace.

The capitalist workplace is essentially a benevolent dictatorship—at best. Employers prize obedience, conformity, and a perennially positive, outgoing personality in workers, above all else. One’s education and ability to competently do the job are almost an afterthought.

The workplace is best described by Bring It On!’s Torrance Shipman to her quarreling cheerleading squad: “This isn’t a democracy. It’s a cheer-ocracy.”

No wonder your job sucks.

None of the constitutional freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights apply to your job—a seemingly irreconcilable contradiction in the “world’s greatest democracy,” your high school Government teacher neglected to point out. The Constitution only delineates public law, whereas the workplace is governed as private property. As such the First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the press do not exist so long as you are clocked in at work.

This means workers have no say over the duration of their work, the conditions under which they labor, their schedules, or their pay. Certain “unskilled” jobs in retail and restaurants place restrictions on how workers may dress, their personal appearance, when they can take a break, and even when they can use the bathroom.

(A report by Oxfam America last year found that many poultry workers throughout the U.S. are forced to wear diapers during their shifts because they are “routinely denied breaks to use the bathroom.” And while it seems like extreme conditions like this should be patently illegal, the unfortunate truth is worker protection laws in this country are weak and rarely enforced.)

Additionally, workers can be monitored at work, surveilled on videotape, forbidden from discussing certain topics (politics, especially), and, when they are not being denied the opportunity to use the bathroom, they can be forced to urinate for drug tests.

Speaking of drug-tests, workers here in Maine can still be fired for using recreational marijuana outside of work, despite the fact that pot is now legal here. (Seven other states and the District of Columbia, have similar laws legalizing recreational marijuana.)

And such terminable offenses are not limited to smoking weed. Workers can be terminated for a host of activities they engage in when they are not at work–in their own personal time. These activities can include such seemingly innocuous “offenses” as cross-dressing, refusing to reveal computer passwords, and calling the boss a “cheapskate” in a letter to an acquaintance.

Certain employers prohibit workers from engaging in activism or political activity of any kind outside of work. Some bosses outright threaten their employees with termination if they do not vote a certain way or for a particular candidate.

And at least one in 17 workers is (illegally) fired or suspended for joining a union—even though it is completely legal to do so. (Again, the worker protection laws in the U.S. are a joke.)

In fact, under “at-will” work laws, employers have broad discretion to fire employees at any time, for any reason–or no reason at all–and with little notice. This is true whether they work in the public or private sector, for the government or at a “non-profit.”

And those who work independently, work from home, or operate their own business have not escaped the dictatorship of the capitalist workplace, as is commonly believed. They have merely reproduced the rigid, anti-democratic structures of the workplace in their own home or business.

“The capitalist workplace is one of the most profoundly undemocratic institutions on the face of the Earth,” writes Marxist economist, Richard Wolff in his book, Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism.

“Workers have no say over decisions affecting them,” Wolff writes. “If workers sat on the board of directors of democratically operated, self-managed enterprises, they wouldn’t vote for the wildly unequal distribution of profits to benefit a few and for cutbacks for the many.”

Working-class people, who have nothing to sell but their labor-power, have no choice but to submit themselves to the tyranny of the workplace. Contrary to the dictates of libertarianism, work-or-starve is not a choice. It is coercion.

Libertarians and right-wing Market worshippers argue that workers are “free” to quit their job and simply get another one, if they do not “like their boss.” But swapping one capitalist job for another does nothing to alter the inherent power-imbalance between the employer and the worker.

Karl Marx understood this artificial power-imbalance was unique to the development of capitalism. Noting that workers, because they do not own the means of production, must sell their labor-power (or their ability to work) to those who do, Marx wrote in Volume 1 of his three-part economic treatise, Capital:

Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.

This is why union representation is so critical. Unions can help ameliorate (though, of course, never truly abolish) the power-imbalance between bosses and workers and give workers a voice where they would otherwise have none.

But the ruling class has successfully waged a 40-year campaign to crush unions. Union membership is at its lowest point in decades–down to a measly 10.7 percent in 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many corporate employers even subject new hires to anti-union propaganda videos as part of their “training.” The goal of these videos–most of which are poorly acted and produced–is basically to intimidate new employees from even considering trying to unionize.

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.”

Marx, addressing the struggle over the limits of the work-day in 19th century England, wrote of the “antimony” between labor and capital:

The capitalist maintains his right as a purchaser when he tries to make the working day as long as possible, and, where possible, to make two working days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold [the worker’s labor-power] implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the worker maintains his right as a seller when he wishes to reduce the working day to a particular normal length. There is here therefore an antimony, of right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchange. Between equal rights, force decides. Hence, in the history of capitalist production, the establishment of a norm for the working day presents itself as a struggle over the limits of that day, a struggle between … the class of capitalists, and … 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!

 

 

 

 

Comrades Converge on Chicago for Annual Socialism Conference

Socialism Conference Pic

CHICAGO- At least 2,000 activists converged at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago for the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) annual Socialism Conference from July 6-9. The four-day conference consists of talks, debates, discussions, and entertainment for dedicated socialists, people interested in socialism or those just hoping to learn more about revolutionary theory.

This year’s conference featured talks ranging from “privilege” theory, the politics of food sovereignty, why we need a revolutionary left, the history of the Combahee River Collective, and the lessons from the Russian Revolution.

(The Russian Revolution featured prominently in this year’s conference, as 2017 marks the centennial anniversary of the 1917 workers’ uprising.)

Notable speakers included actor, John Cusack; comedian, Hari Kondabolu; actor/playwright, Wallace Shawn; and “Socialism” regular, Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! Additionally, Jacobin magazine sponsored a series of talks, including a debate on the efficacy of the left “using” the Democratic Party to get socialists elected to office.

“Socialism 2017” also boasted the largest attendance in the conference’s history. Attendees were no doubt motivated by Donald Trump’s nightmarish presidency as so many Americans have been since his election last fall.

Feminist activist, Angela Davis, perhaps best summed up the urgent need to resist Trump and the racist, sexist, capitalist system that spawned him at the history-making Women’s March on Washington, back in January.

“The next fourteen hundred and fifty-nine days of the Trump administration,” said Davis, “will be fourteen hundred and fifty-nine days of resistance. Resistance on the ground. Resistance in the classrooms. Resistance on the job. Resistance in our art and in our music. This is just the beginning.”

And, judging from the record turnout at this year’s Socialism Conference, Americans—particularly young ones—are heeding Davis’s words.

Indeed, a fierce atmosphere of urgency permeated the conference compared to last year’s. Last year at this time, speakers and attendees had more or less resigned themselves to four more years of neoliberal Clintonism. How wrong we all were…

Trump’s election has emboldened far-right white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and Islamophobes. Incidents of hate crimes against immigrants, Muslims, and people of color rose precipitously since 2016, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Much of this spike in violence occurred in the ten days following Trump’s election.

Thus, this year’s conference theme: “Fight the Right. Build the Left.”

This was my second year attending Socialism Conference. I joined 15 other comrades from the Portland, Maine branch of the ISO.

Author and Princeton University professor of African American Studies, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, gave the opening address—a speech the right prevented her from delivering earlier this year. Taylor was forced to cut short the book tour for her best-selling, From Black Lives Matter, to Black Liberation back in May, after a Fox News hit-piece inspired an onslaught of vicious, racist, and downright frightening death-threats from right-wing bigots.

“Hey nigger,” one such punctuation-less email opened, “keep talking down the President of the United States we will try you in federal court for hate crimes and have you lynched” [sic]. Another was more direct: “If Trump is what you say, you are a dirty ass coon dyke cunt. Just saying … Cunt.”

(Yet “liberal” media outlets, including the New York Times, insist it is the left in general–and Sen. Bernie Sanders, in particular–that is responsible for spreading the hateful, violent rhetoric that pervades contemporary political discourse. The Times flat out blamed Sanders for Republican Rep. Steve Scalise’s shooting, last month.)

Taylor’s talk drew on the inherent, though often overlooked, interrelation of racism and capitalism—how one form of oppression necessitates the other.

“Racism is the central divide between ordinary people in this country,” she said, “and without a struggle against it, it will be impossible to organize any coherent movement for anything.

… It is no mystery why socialism is no longer a dirty word in the United States. It is no mystery why thirteen million people voted for an open socialist—Bernie Sanders—in this country. Not only is this an indictment of capitalism’s failures, but it is also an expressed desire for a better way. We want real democracy, where the people who create the wealth in this society are entitled to have a say in how it is distributed. We want real freedom—freedom from racism, imprisonment, borders, detention, and second-class personhood.

Taylor later joined fellow ISO-er, Sharon Smith and Professor Barbara Ransby for a panel discussion with Barbara Smith and Demita Frazier—founding members of the Combahee River Collective. The panel reflected on the 40-year anniversary of the Collective’s founding, which presented a radical understanding of the intersectional relationship between the struggles against sexism, racism, and homophobia.

The Combahee River Collective’s 1977 statement reads:

We are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives.

The authors went on:

“As Black women, we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.”

Other talks examined the best strategies for fighting the resurgent white-supremacist, “alt-right,” which has brazenly mounted marches and rallies in even in the “bluest” of states in recent weeks.

College campuses, likewise, have seen an influx of high-profile right-wing figures invited to speak since Trump’s election. College presidents and administrators bend over backwards to allow provocative right-wing celebrities like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos to spew their hate-filled diatribes on campus because of “free speech” … or something… (But remember: Conservative college students are a persecuted minority at “liberal” universities, with no outlet whatsoever for their right-wing views.)

When confronted with protesting these campus speakers or right-wing rallies, those on the left are typically presented with two disparate options:

The liberal-left and Democratic Party’s position is to do nothing at all, claiming counter-protests only grant these conservative groups the attention they seek. They urge progressives, instead, to simply ignore the KKK marches in hopes, presumably, that they will just go away.

The approach of far-left groups like the anarchist, Black Bloc and “Antifa” (short for “Anti-fascist”) meanwhile, is the complete opposite. They seek to fight the right by literally beating the crap out of them in physical confrontations.

But both of these strategies have proven ineffective at counteracting the far-right.

Ignoring these groups does not cause them to go away. Quite the reverse, the lack of a visible opposition to their racist, xenophobic views tends to leave the right further emboldened, convincing them their views are more widely accepted than they actually are.

And, while I am all for punching fascists in the face, Captain America-style, this is often precisely what these right-wing demonstrators want. It inadvertently feeds into their public image as “persecuted” by the mean, free-speech-hating liberals. Additionally, these far-right groups traditionally have the backing–whether tacit, or explicit–of the police, the National Guard, and ex-military contractor thugs (like the kind deployed in Standing Rock, last winter).

In other words, these people–many of whom have recently returned from military deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan–are trained fighters. They can crush scrawny, unarmed leftists like you and me with little effort.

Thus, leftists need to devise an effective middle-ground strategy that peacefully (yet forcefully) confronts the far-right by drowning out their repugnant message with our own–one that is delivered in far greater numbers. Our goal should be to hold up socialism as a viable alternative for dispossessed workers who may find the right’s convenient immigrant and minority scapegoating an attractive narrative for why their own living standards have gone down.

“The left must seek … to educate a new generation about the need to challenge the far right through mass mobilization,” writes Socialist Worker‘s Eric Ruder. “This has to include education about struggles of the past, such as fighting fascism in Germany, as well as debates and discussions about strategy and tactics in the here and now.”

“And of course,” Ruder adds, “it means attempting to mobilize the largest possible response anywhere and everywhere” the right rears its ugly head.

Our branch members left conference feeling rejuvenated after a particularly difficult six months. We returned to Maine recommitted to the fight for building a broad, all-inclusive working-class left to overthrow capitalism and build a more just, egalitarian, and sustainable society.

As Karl Marx famously wrote:

“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.”

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

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.

 

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!