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

Jeremy Corbyn
UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

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

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

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

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

  • Bernie Sanders Would Have Won

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • We Cannot Merely Vote Socialism Into Existence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Trump to Planet Earth: Drop Dead

Smokestacks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

 

 

Impeach Trump — and the System That Spawned Him

trump-impeach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Thanks for reading!