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!

 

Russia Stole My Election

President George W Bush visits CIA Headquarters, March 20, 2001.

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the CIA

The alleged Russian hacking scandal is the (fake) news story that just won’t die. And despite recent assertions to the contrary, the public has yet to be offered any compelling evidence to back the claims up.

The claims that Russia undermined the “integrity” of the U.S. presidential election remain just as flimsy as when I first reported on this fiasco last month.

As Counterpunch contributor, Paul Street writes in a Dec. 23, 2016 piece:

The Russian hacking charge seems designed in part to help the DNC [Democratic National Committee] and the neoliberal Democratic Party elite more broadly avoid responsibility for blowing the election. … The “Moscow Stole It” narrative is a fancy version of “My Dog Ate My Homework” for a dismal dollar-drenched Democratic Party that abandoned the working class and the causes of peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability a long time ago.

Nonetheless, the United States’ three top intelligence agencies—the FBI, CIA, and NSA—asserted on Jan. 5, in its strongest language to date, that they have “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the DNC email hacks, with the explicit intent of undermining “public faith in the US democratic process.”

The agencies’ report reads, in part:

We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

But, again, this statement offers no tangible, concrete evidence or explanation as to why its authors have arrived at this conclusion.

As The Intercept’s Sam Biddle writes, the report “does not move the evidentiary ball forward even an inch.” Biddle goes on to call the report, “all confidence, no justification.”

“That confidence and consensus has meaning on its own—and certainly the claims are serious,” he writes, “but it is no substitute for some public understanding of what caused that confidence.”

Furthermore, it is worth examining the intelligence officials who are making these assertions, all of whom have a long, shameful history of deceiving and misleading the American public.

James Clapper, director of national intelligence, blatantly lied to the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing concerning the NSA’s mass surveillance program, in 2013.

When asked point blank, by Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden whether the National Security Agency knowingly collected “any type of data … on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” Clapper responded, “No sir, not wittingly.”

NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden’s subsequent revelations of the agency’s vast data-collection program one month after the hearing, however, cast doubt on Clapper’s assertion.

Clapper, as if channeling his inner-George Orwell, later told NBC News that he gave the “least untruthful answer possible,” to Sen. Wyden’s question. He also called the question itself “unfair,” likening it to being asked a “‘when are you going to stop beating your wife?’-type of question.”

President Barack Obama has ignored bipartisan calls to replace Clapper as head of the NSA.

The CIA, meanwhile, has an even worse track record when it comes to transparency.

Let us set aside, for the moment, the fact that the Central Intelligence Agency, established by Harry Truman in 1947, has no democratic or congressional oversight, whatsoever. American citizens cannot vote for its members. It is directly accountable only to the president.

Since its inception, the CIA has initiated violent coups throughout the world, including in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), Haiti (1959, 1971, 1986 & 1990), Brazil (1964), Indonesia (1965), and Chile (1973), to name just a handful. (But heaven forbid another country try to meddle with our “free” and “democratic” elections!)

The agency used lies and fabricated intelligence to launch the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. The CIA, along with the FBI, has spied on and frequently infiltrated nonviolent anti-war groups, civil rights activists, the Black Panther Party and other “subversive” organizations. It kept extensive files on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Howard Zinn. The FBI even went so far as to pressure King into committing suicide through blackmail.

Yet, despite the deep-state’s protracted role in launching illegal wars, spying on American citizens, promoting imperialism, advancing global capitalism, and undermining democracy and human rights throughout the globe, we are supposed to take its agencies at their word that Russia illegally influenced our presidential election…? Readers will have to excuse me if I remain more than a little skeptical.

Unfortunately, I seem to be in the minority, here. (Well, I and President-elect Donald Trump, a strange and highly uncomfortable irony which is not lost on me, thank you very much.)

A solid majority of liberals not only accept the Russia-helped-Trump-win narrative, but now view the CIA more favorably than conservatives. According to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, liberals and conservatives have basically switched positions regarding the government agency, which the left traditionally has looked upon with great suspicion.

“[F]or the first time since the survey asked about the CIA in 2002,” NBC News contributor, Carrie Dann writes, “Democrats now have a more positive view of the nation’s foreign intelligence agency than Republicans do.”

Additionally, the CIA is “much more” popular than Congress or “either political party,” according to Dann.

While the partisan reason for the left’s sudden admiration for the CIA is somewhat understandable, it is nonetheless quite disconcerting.

First, again, there is the lack of evidence. The intelligence community has mislead the U.S. public before, and I do not think I need to remind readers how that turned out.

But beyond the dubious assertions behind Russia-gate, Dann’s description of the U.S. intelligence agencies as “apolitical” is also deeply problematic.

The fact that the CIA does not explicitly favor either of the nation’s two capitalist political parties hardly makes it an “apolitical” organization. Indeed, the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA absolutely adhere to a political philosophy: Capitalism. As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto, the modern state is “nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”

As such, the CIA and other institutions of the so-called “deep state” exist to further the aims of capitalism, imperialism, and the economic elite. To call them “apolitical” is a bit like claiming the presidential inauguration is not a “political” event as Maine Green Party steering committee member, Ben Meiklejohn childishly insists.

In other words, we should take the intelligence community’s dubious claims about Russian hacking with extreme skepticism. And this is to say nothing of the abject hypocrisy of the U.S.–which has done more to undermine, subvert, sabotage or violently overturn the results of democratic elections throughout the world when citizens vote the “wrong way”–complaining at the highly remote possibility that another nation may have covertly meddled with its election.

Do not misunderstand: If Putin did in fact play a role in swaying the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor it would (noted hypocrisy aside) constitute a serious violation of international law and warrant some sort of response.

But, as The Intercept‘s Biddle points out in a separate article, the potential U.S. response could include military retaliation–“digital or otherwise.” That is a considerably heavy cost for the country to bear over allegations which, as of this writing, still cannot be backed up with substantive evidence.

“If you care about the country enough to be angry at the prospect of election-meddling,” writes Biddle, “you should be terrified of the prospect of military tensions with Russia based on hidden evidence.”

Rather than desperately flailing around looking for scapegoats to pin their stunning electoral loss on, the Democratic Party would do well to engage in some serious critical reflection on its utter detachment from working-class voters.

Alas, the party seems more interested in spreading the very fake news it smugly derides than in taking tangible steps to prevent its relegation to the dustbin of history.

 

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any Word Press-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.

Fear and Loathing in Trump’s America

trump-cartoon
This cartoon of president-elect Donald Trump by a Norwegian artist, has allegedly been banned from Twitter.

If there is any solace to be found in the coming administration of Donald J. Trump—small though it may be—it is in the fact that those who oppose him and all the hate, fear mongering, and bourgeois arrogance he represents, are not alone. Trump has not even been sworn-in yet, and he already has the dubious distinction of being the least popular president-elect in modern American history.

While newly elected presidents typically enjoy a strong show of support prior to their inauguration, Trump’s favorability rating is currently in the low-40s, according to recent polls by YouGov and Morning Consult. Barack Obama, in contrast, shortly after his election in 2008, had an approval rating of 68 percent. Even George W. Bush maintained a 59 percent approval rating during mid-December 2000—despite the fact that he did not legitimately win the election!

You know it is bad when, right out of the gate, you are already less liked than “Dubya.”

We must always keep this in mind in the months and years ahead. President Trump will, like all presidents, try to claim he has a “mandate” for his grotesque xenophobic and misogynistic policies.

He has no such thing.

Trump basically received the same amount of support as Mitt Romney did, four years ago. It was the Electoral College—an antiquated relic of the slaveholding “Founding Fathers”—that put Trump in the White House. It was not the American voters.

Contrary to the insistence of the know-nothing cable TV pundits, America is not a conservative nation. All of the things the left champions—universal health care, tuition-free college education, a living wage, civil rights, paid maternity leave, and increasingly, socialism—enjoy broad, majority support.

Those of us on the left must always keep this fact in mind, no matter how bad things get or how dire the struggle to resist becomes. And make no mistake: Things will indeed become quite dire in the “Age of Trump.”

As liberal columnist, Robert Kuttner writes in The American Prospect of the coming Trump administration:

It is hard to contemplate the new administration without experiencing alarm bordering on despair: Alarm about the risks of war, the fate of constitutional democracy, the devastation of a century of social progress. Trump’s populism was a total fraud. Every single Trump appointment has come from the pool of far-right conservatives, crackpots, and billionaire kleptocrats. More alarming still is the man himself—his vanity, impulsivity, and willful ignorance, combined with an intuitive genius as a demagogue. A petulant fifth-grader with nuclear weapons will now control the awesome power of the U.S. government.

Trump campaigned on his promise to “drain the swamp”—a pithy, though factually misleading metaphor for Washington, D.C. But his developing cabinet already looks like it was pulled directly from the pages of D.C. Comics’ Swamp Thing.

Indeed, Trump’s administration is a veritable rogue’s gallery of corporate CEOs (ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson), disreputable military men (James “Mad Dog” Mattis), privatization promoters (Betsy DeVos), racist bigots (Jeff Sessions and Steve Bannon), and absurdly inept nimrods (Ben Carson).

The Socialist Worker‘s Eric Ruder, in a Nov. 17 article, labels Trump’s motley crew of “white supremacists, neocon war hawks and job killers,” a “creep show,” only to concede that “creep” might be “too nice way to describe” his cabinet of crony capitalists.

He’s right. It is.

We should expect Trump, once in office, to move very swiftly to enact his regressive, proto-fascist agenda.

Trump will prove true to his word in following through with his most egregious policies on deportation, expanding the corporate welfare state, and stacking the already-conservative Supreme Court with more right-wing ideologues. He will, additionally, offer even greater legal impunity for law enforcement officers to kill minorities and people of color at will, countering the cause of Black Lives Matter with the ludicrous, pro-police salvo, “Blue Lives Matter.”

And as if Trump’s climate-change denial was not bad enough, he recently called for the U.S. to engage in a new nuclear arms race with Russia. So much, it seems, for the absurd notion that Trump would prove less inclined to pursue a militarist foreign policy, than Hillary “Queen of Chaos” Clinton.

So, what is to be done? How can the left best resist Trump going forward? Furthermore, what steps can we take to develop a viable left-wing pole of attraction to win over the economically frustrated working-class voters who helped elect Trump?

We can start by committing to attend the dual inauguration protests intended to set the tone for the Trump presidency: The “Not My President” vigil on Jan. 20, 2017, and the “Women’s March on Washington,” scheduled the following day. (The latter event could prove the larger of the two, with more than 200,000 participants already expected.)

But we cannot stop there. The next four years will be defined not only by the horrors of the Trump regime, but by dueling visions for the direction of the country–and, by extension, the world.

Trump’s “vision” (to the extent that one can even call it that) is to further tighten the vise-grip that capitalism has on workers, society, and the planet.

Socialists like me, meanwhile, envision nothing less than the self-emancipation of the working class. Our goal is, as Karl Marx wrote in 1867’s Capital, a society based on the “association of free men [and women], working with the means of production held in common.”

The time for mourning is over. Let us mark 2017 (the 100-year anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, incidentally) as the year the working class mobilized to fight and retake their country. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Editor’s note: Red Flag does not support or endorse any Word Press-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.

Dickensian Days are Here Again

An homage to Charles Dickens

dickens-at-work

Charles Dickens, whose classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol is ubiquitous on television and local theater stages this time of year, is one of my favorite authors. The celebrated British novelist had a keen insight into the arrogant mindset of the bourgeoisie that remains unrivaled in literature to this day.

Consider, for instance, when Ebenezer Scrooge is approached by two social workers who solicit him for a charitable donation for the poor. Upon rebuking them (“Are there no prisons? …No workhouses?”), Scrooge admonishes the social workers:

“I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I mentioned. They cost enough. And those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.”

Fast-forward to president-elect Donald Trump. When asked if he was “sympathetic” to minimum wage workers’ demands for a $15 minimum wage during a Fox News “debate” last year, Trump seemed to channel his own inner-Scrooge.

“I can’t be,” Trump flatly told moderator Neil Cavuto. “…Our taxes are too high…. Wages too high. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it [the minimum wage] the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard, and they have to get into that upper stratum.”

Leaving aside the obvious factual errors of Trump’s response (both taxes and wages are notoriously low in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries; likewise, Americans already rank among the hardest-working people in the world yet only a tiny privileged minority make into that “upper stratum”), his callous rhetoric toward the poor is virtually identical to Scrooge’s.

Turns out the capricious mindset of the rich has not changed much in the last 200 years.

But as much as I enjoy A Christmas Carol, I find it unfortunate it is Dickens’ best known work. Indeed, the 1843 short story really only scratches the surface of Dickens’ literary talents.

Dickens’ novels following Christmas Carol–most of which originally appeared as serialized installments in magazines–featured intricately-woven plots, and delved into darker subject matter than his previous works. The classic Dickens storyline typically features dozens of characters—often, as is the case in Great Expectations and Little Dorrit, hailing from opposite social classes—whose fates are inevitably bound together somehow.

A master of wit and satire, Dickens’ stories tend to feature outlandishly cartoonish characters like the teacher Mr. M’Choakumchild from 1854’s Hard Times or the duplicitous Yes-Man, Uriah Heep from David Copperfield. Consider Dickens’ vivid description, as narrated by titular protagonist, David Copperfield, of Heep from the following passage:

“There I saw him, lying on his back, with his legs extending to I don’t know where, gurglings taking place in his throat, stoppages in his nose, and his mouth open like a post office… Afterwards I was attracted to him in very repulsion, and could not help wandering in and out every half hour or so, and taking another look at him.”

Dickens introduces Scrooge, likewise, as a “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone… a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.” Needless to say, Dickens was never too keen on subtlety.

But it was Dickens’ passionate humanization of England’s poor and working class, and his scathing indictment of the ultra-rich that truly secured his legacy not merely as a writer, but as a social reformer as well.

Like George Orwell and Upton Sinclair, Dickens began his writing career as a newspaper reporter. His stories on the ills of London’s capitalist industrialization easily lent themselves to his literary exposes of child labor, homelessness, and the plight of the poor as depicted in Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.

Even Karl Marx took notice of Dickens’ socially-conscious writing. In an August 1, 1854 article in the New York Tribune, Marx praised Dickens as belonging to a “splendid brotherhood of fiction writers in England, whose graphic and eloquent pages have issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together.”

Dickens’ concern for the poor came out of his own childhood struggles with poverty. At the age of 12, Dickens was forced to leave school to work full-time in a rodent-infested boot-blacking factory after his father was sent to debtor’s prison. Dickens would later denounce these prisons and the institutional criminalization of poverty, in 1857’s Little Dorrit.

Dickens’ own difficult childhood proved a near endless well of inspiration for his novels, nearly all of which feature child or young adult protagonists. For the leftist historian, Howard Zinn, who was greatly influenced by Dickens at an early age, this championing of the plight of children was something of a revelation.

“How wise Dickens was to make readers feel poverty and cruelty through the fate of children,” Zinn writes in his 1994 autobiography, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train, “who had not reached the age where the righteous and comfortable classes could accuse them of being responsible for their own misery.”

To be clear, Dickens was not a socialist and it is not my intention here to paint him as such. While Dickens understood all too well the dehumanizing effects of industrial capitalism, neither his novels nor his nonfiction writing offer anything in the way of an economic or political alternative.

Indeed, as a successful literary celebrity, Dickens likely had as much to fear from a working class uprising as the greedy capitalists he took such obvious pleasure in skewering. This fear is hinted at in the character of bloodthirsty revolutionary, Madame Defarge from A Tale of Two Cities, whose motives have more to do with pure vengeance than any real political agenda.

“Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again,” Dickens writes in the conclusion of Tale of Two Cities, “and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.”

This moralistic, “a-pox-on-both-houses” view of class struggle is all too common among center-left liberals who put their faith in piecemeal reforms and legislation to ameliorate what they describe as capitalism’s “excesses.” Dickens’ novels, likewise, stressed social reforms, a generic Christian kindness, and in the case of Scrooge, philanthropic charity from the wealthy.

Again, Dickens was no Marxist.

(A socialist re-imagining of A Christmas Carol would perhaps see Bob Cratchit organizing his fellow workers to forcibly wrest Scrooge’s business and wealth from him. Come to think of it, somebody should really write that book…)

These limitations of political vision aside, one is hard-pressed to identify a contemporary author who shares Dickens’ keen sense of social outrage.

And this is why Charles Dickens’ work still resonates in our own time.

Today, we find ourselves living in hard times not unlike those that defined Dickens’ Victorian England. In the wake of late-stage capitalism, and Wall Street’s trashing of the global economy, we are witnessing an unprecedented gulf between the rich and the rest of us. According to Oxfam, the richest one percent are currently on track to own more wealth than the rest of the world. This is a scale of global inequality the charitable organization calls, “simply staggering.”

And, in what is perhaps the most frightening indicator that we stand on the brink of a return to the dark, Dickensian days of unregulated capitalism, Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, belongs to a right-wing think tank that endorses repealing child labor laws.

Perhaps David Copperfield‘s perpetually unemployed Mr. Micawber best sums up the plight of the working class:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen-six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.”

Beyond Identity Politics: It’s the Economy, Stupid!

identity-politics

If there is a lesson to be gleaned from the wreckage of the 2016 presidential election, it is that the left needs to move beyond the narrow limits of identity politics and embrace a broad, class-based orientation of solidarity.

Hillary Clinton’s empty appeals to a corporate faux feminism failed to win over struggling working-class voters—including, ironically, at least 50 percent of white women who cast ballots for Donald Trump despite his repugnant history as a misogynist sexual predator.  And brow-beating women and Bernie Sanders supporters (“Bernie Bros”) by claiming, as Madeline Albright did, that there is a “special place in hell” for sisters who did not fall in line behind Clinton, did not help matters.

Even Sanders seems to understand the dead-end that is identity politics. During a recent stop in Boston on his current book tour/post-election-pick-me-up rally, Sanders urged progressives to “move beyond identity politics.”

“It’s not good enough for someone to say, ‘I’m a woman! Vote for me!'” Sanders told the audience. “No, that’s not good enough. What we need is a woman who has the guts to stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

It is safe to say identity politics—along with Clintonian neoliberalism—died on Nov. 8. And I for one say good riddance.

But before explaining why I view the death of ID politics as a good thing, it is worth explaining what, exactly, is meant by “identity politics,” as there seems to be some confusion among leftists over the term itself.

Contrary to the argument put forward by Marcus H. Johnson in a recent story for The Establishment, identity politics are not the same thing as civil rights. Nor, for that matter, is Johnson’s oversimplified definition of identity politics as encompassing the “political interests of women, minorities and other marginalized groups in American politics,” completely accurate.

(Indeed, it is striking how poorly informed Johnson’s entire liberal article is, to the point where he lumps Sanders–a New Deal Democrat, essentially–into something called the “alt-left.”)

Rather, ID politics—which has its roots in academic postmodernism and, as such, is decidedly anti-Marxist in nature—suggests that not only do all members of an oppressed group share the same interests, but that only those members have a stake in ending that oppression. Identity politics argues, furthermore, that all whites benefit materially from racism and, as a result, have no interest in uniting in solidarity with black Americans to end racism—or sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.

(A more ultra-leftist strain of ID politics goes even further, suggesting that all whites are racist, or all men are sexist, simply by virtue of being white or male.)

To be certain, as a white male, I can only imagine the hardships of enduring racism or sexism on a daily basis. I can never fully understand the lived experience of a black person in this country with its long, savage history of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation.

But just because an individual does not personally experience a particular form of oppression does mean he or she has no interest in fighting to end that oppression. Indeed, the system of capitalism oppresses all workers in some fashion through exploitation, wage-theft, income inequality, and surplus labor extraction.

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

Solidarity is standing in unity with people even when 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.

For too long now, the left has defined itself by what Chris Hedges calls the “boutique activism” of identity politics, multiculturalism, and political correctness. While these well-intentioned trends no doubt have called much needed attention to the previously ignored histories and narratives of traditionally oppressed groups, they have come at the expense of structural critiques of the capitalist system that causes this oppression in the first place.

As a result, the left has become atomized, disoriented, and rendered all but ineffective. Where the left once stood firmly opposed to war, empire, and economic inequality, it now agonizes over who has more “privilege.” Multiculturalism has become an end in of itself.

As Hedges argues in his 2010 book, Death of the Liberal Class, “Making sure people of diverse races or sexual orientations appear on television shows or in advertisements merely widens the circle of new consumers. Multiculturalism is an appeal that pleads with the corporate power structure for inclusion.”

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.

Consider, furthermore, that black Americans have lost ground in every economic category eight years after the election of the nation’s first African American president. This is because Barack Obama has done virtually nothing for the black working class. He promptly bailed out the “too big to fail” Wall Street banks, while leaving Main Street to further drown in debt, low-wage jobs, lay-offs, and home foreclosures.

Understand that in critiquing identity politics, I am in no way attempting to downplay the struggle of marginalized groups. Indeed, socialists are often accused of emphasizing the importance of class over race, gender or gender identity. (Curiously, liberal identitarians are rarely accused of the converse–ignoring or diminishing class.)

In fact, Marx himself correctly understood the complex interconnectedness of race and class. “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.”

Marx understood racism as an inseparable byproduct of capitalism. Bourgeois capitalists intentionally stoke divisions of racism, sexism, “ableism” and the like in order to keep members of the working class fighting among themselves rather than turning their ire toward the capitalist system itself and the wealthy elites who profit from it.

But the contemporary left is disconnected from a Marxist analysis of society rooted in class struggle. Sanders’ campaign did a lot to renew interest in socialism particularly among young people–even if his central message was ultimately undercut by his unwavering commitment to the capitalist Democratic Party.

But we still have a long way to go to create a robust, organized socialist movement to counteract both the shallow superficiality of identity politics and the newly emboldened racist right. The sooner the left jettisons this academic trend–as well as its torturous unwavering commitment to the Democratic Party–the better.

Are there groups that will endure greater threats and forms of oppression under the incoming Trump administration…? Without a doubt.

But rather than limiting our focus to only those particular groups (immigrants, women, Muslims) while sneering at those who seemingly may not face as direct or immediate danger, “This isn’t about you!”, our motto should be the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” And let’s not kid ourselves: All working-class Americans–black, white, gay, straight, female, male, trans, disabled–are going to get viciously screwed in the coming years.

Only when workers unite and fight can we hope to obtain our freedom. Now is the time for solidarity. Now is the time for socialism.