“Capitalist democracy”: A Contradiction in Terms

When I was a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Maine, a student once informed me that she “cares about capitalism more than democracy.”

I found this frank admission rather striking. Perhaps even more unnerving was the fact that none of the other students in the class challenged her view. But then, sadly, my students’ political views generally ranged from right-wing to indifferent with nothing in-between. (This was in Maine’s notoriously conservative second district, mind you.)

Many people assume the words “capitalism” and “democracy” are synonymous. Indeed, this was the central thesis of Milton Friedman, the architect of free-market fundamentalism, in his 1962 book, Capitalism and Freedom.

But those who assume capitalism and democracy are one and the same —and, furthermore, are compatible with one another — would be sadly mistaken. There is in fact nothing remotely democratic about capitalism.

And this is not even a “radical” interpretation of the term. Just consider the following dictionary definition of “capitalism” from Merriam-Webster:

An economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decisions, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

Wikipedia goes on to enumerate the characteristics of capitalism as including “private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system and competitive markets.”

Neither definition includes anything at all about popular rule or majoritarian decision-making. And this is no accident or mere oversight. It is, indeed, largely by design. The U.S. was never intended to be a democracy. The revered “Founding Fathers” were the reigning — and slave-owning — bourgeoisie of their time. They despised the concept of democracy and popular-rule.

Thus the constitution they drafted, despite its much-touted system of “checks and balances,” actually does more to hinder popular democracy than to facilitate it. They enshrined a series of barriers (the Electoral College, the Senate, the institution of slavery, the mass disenfranchisement of women and the poor from voting, etc.) to protect their wealth, property, and privilege from the “masses.”

As historian, Richard Hofstader, observed in his 1948 book, The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It, in the minds’ of the Founding Fathers, “liberty was linked not to democracy but to property.” They feared democracy would confer “unchecked rule by the masses,” which was “sure to bring arbitrary redistribution of property, destroying the very essence of liberty.”

Things remain largely unchanged in modern times. As political scientists Benjamin I. Page and Martin Gilens conclude in an influential 2014 article, genuine democracy remains elusive for working-class Americans.

They write:

Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination … but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy.

Page and Gilens recently turned their findings into a book with the apt title, Democracy in America?

But one need not be an academic to understand that the U.S. is not — and never has been — a democracy. Just consider the one place the vast majority of us spend most of our waking lives: Our jobs.

The capitalist workplace is a benevolent dictatorship — at best. And believe me, I have had plenty of jobs where even the pretense of benevolence was in short supply.

Workers have no control over the nature of the work they perform, the conditions of that work, the hours or schedule they work, or the products or services they produce or provide. And, at the end of the day, workers cannot claim any ownership of the fruits of their labor. The products workers create belong exclusively to the boss or company. As a result, workers become completely alienated from the work they do.

This is the essence of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels’ concept of class struggle.

Furthermore, none of the First Amendment rights apply to the private sphere of the workplace. Workers must spend the day obeying orders and carrying out degrading tasks (cleaning the store bathroom, for instance) or risk getting fired.

Workers are routinely subjected to round-the-clock surveillance, video monitoring, and drug-testing. They are often strictly forbidden from discussing certain topics with their coworkers (politics, chief among them). Poultry workers are forbidden from using the bathroom during their shift. As a result, many have resorted to wearing diapers on the job. Keep that in mind the next time you are scarfing down a bucket of KFC.

And while it seems like highly draconian working conditions like these should be patently illegal, the unfortunate truth is the worker protection laws in this country are weak and rarely enforced.

It’s not just you. Your job really does suck.

Immigrant workers (approximately 17.1 percent of the U.S. labor force) find themselves in an especially precarious position. Those who are in the country “illegally” are less likely to speak up about cruel working conditions or illegal practices such as wage-theft, for fear of being deported.

To make matters worse, workers’ exploitation does not end when they clock out for the day. Employers have become increasingly scrupulous of workers’ personal lives, hobbies, and political activities outside of work. They can monitor employees’ social media posts or political donations. Many corporate employers coerce (or outright threaten) their staff with termination if they do not vote a certain way.

And those who are self-employed or who work from home have not managed to escape the tyranny of the capitalist workplace. They have merely brought that tyranny and conformist rigidity into their own homes.

“At-will” employment means an employer can legally fire an employee for any reason at all. For that matter, the boss does not even need a reason.

Sure, a worker is “free” to quit her job if she really hates it. This is the typical libertarian response to socialist critiques of the capitalist workplace.

But this argument overlooks the fact that the worker would still need to find employment somewhere else — in another capitalist workplace just as bereft of democracy as the previous one.

And therein lies the crux of the dilemma: Working-class people are not free so long as they face the prospect of “work-or-starve.” No valid conception of freedom can justify such a power imbalance between one small segment of society that produces nothing over the majority who produce most of society’s wealth.

As Marx understood, there is nothing natural about such a system of inequality.

“Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities,” Marx wrote in volume one of his three-part economic treatise, Capital, “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.”

Naturally, most Americans want more democratic rights and freedoms. Programs of social uplift like universal health care, a living wage, the Green New Deal, fully-funded childcare, free college tuition and expanded voting rights are incredibly popular among voters. This, no doubt, accounts for the popularity of democratic socialists like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

But, as left-wing columnist, Paul Street observes in his latest contribution for CounterPunch, “Public opinion on numerous key issues is largely irrelevant under American capitalism.”

Sure, we can vote once every two to four years for politicians from one of two capitalist parties. (Indeed, the U.S. is unique among industrial democracies for its complete lack of a labor party.)

But the simple act of voting is a considerably low barometer for determining the degree of popular democracy present in a country.

As Marx once noted on the efficacy of elections, “The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”

And even if one were to focus solely on elections as a signifier of participatory democracy, the U.S. still lags significantly behind most other democratic nations. Our elections do not take place on a weekend or holiday; prisoners and felons are barred from voting; onerous voter ID laws make voting inaccessible to elderly and poor citizens; and the GOP’s decades-long campaign of selectively re-drawing congressional district lines has made it all but impossible to unseat many representatives–most of them Republicans.

To top it off, the Constitution does not even guarantee every citizen the right to vote.

In other words, we cannot merely vote our way to socialism — a fact even Sanders acknowledges. Only a massive, organized working-class movement oriented around overthrowing capitalism can bring about a real systemic shift in making America a true democracy.

No doubt, the history of working-class struggle has resulted in considerable victories which have broadened the scope of constitutional freedoms to include more people (women, African Americans, LGBT people, people with disabilities).

But, as Erik Olin Wright observes in his contribution to the essay collection, The ABCs of Socialism, “[I]f freedom and democracy are to be fully realized, capitalism must not merely be tamed. It must be overcome.”

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How Not to Talk About Climate Change

System Change, Not Climate Change Pic

Two recent letters to the editor in the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram illustrate the limits of the conventional thinking on climate change and how we can most effectively fight it. Both are worth examining if the left is to move beyond this myopic — and, frankly, erroneous — understanding of the climate crisis.

Len Frenkel of South Portland, echoes the environmental movement’s longstanding concept of employing individual acts to mitigate climate change. (“As warming threatens planet, humans will have to make sacrifices,” 07/31/2018.)

“There are many actions that we, as individuals, can take without our government’s involvement,” Frenkel writes. “But they will be severe and very unpopular. We need to drastically reduce our carbon footprints.”

He continues:

… We can choose to fly for vacations and trips, or not. We can choose to buy unnecessary stuff, or not. We can choose to have second homes, or not. We can choose to eat animal foods, or not. We can choose to have another consumer child, or not. We can choose to travel to entertainment centers, or not. All of these human activities, which are so popular in industrialized nations, are very serious contributors to the greenhouse gases that cause runaway climate change.

This individualist orientation to combating climate change has long been the main focus of the environmental movement — however, that has changed considerably in recent years as the environmental left has undergone something of a radicalization.

It was, nonetheless, the main argument in Al Gore’s 2006 documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth. After expertly and candidly explaining the science of climate change, and highlighting the dangers of rising sea levels, increased “superstorm” hurricanes, and melting ice caps, Gore’s proposed solution is merely for viewers to change their light bulbs, recycle more, drive less, and purchase carbon offsets.

These are all fine, altruistic actions, no doubt. I would certainly never discourage anyone from undertaking any of them. But given the global scale of the climate crisis, the unfortunate reality is individual actions, while no doubt well intended, are essentially worthless in reducing the threat of climate change.

As Martin Lukacs writes of the obvious limits of these small-scale solutions in a 2017 op-ed for The Guardian, “Would you advise someone to flap towels in a burning house? To bring a flyswatter to a gun fight? Yet the counsel we hear on climate change could scarcely be more out of sync with the nature of the crisis.”

Furthermore, the individualist approach to climate change assumes that all Americans share the same carbon footprint — and, as a result, we are all equally to blame for the climate crisis. But that is simply not the case. One hundred corporations — most of them fossil fuel companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and Shell — are responsible for 71 percent of global CO2 emissions, since 1988, according the Carbon Majors Report.

This handful of greedy corporations — and, more specifically, the system of capitalism which places short-term profit above the ecosystem that supports all life on the planet — bears most of the responsibility for despoiling the Earth, and threatening the continued existence of the human race — not working-class people like you and me.

(And while we are holding the guilty parties responsible, the anti-science/anti-intellectual Republican Party, and its decades-long propaganda project of denying the very existence of anthropogenic, or human-induced global warming, also shares a great portion of the blame. We have lost precious decades of proactive environmental action due to the Republicans’ deliberate misinformation campaign.)

Thus, Frenkel’s blanket austerity prescription is misguided. It is the rich, the corporate CEOs, and the fossil fuel companies that should curb their unnecessary consumption — not working-class citizens. Bourgeois elites like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates, who criss-cross the planet on a near hourly basis in their fleet of private jets, are the ones who can most afford to do without. Working-class people, on the other hand, must commute to work in order to just survive.

The subtitle of Naomi Klein’s landmark 2014 book, This Changes Everything, puts it best: Capitalism vs. The Climate.

While this understanding that capitalism, not humanity at large, caused the climate crisis may have once seemed radical, it has become much more prevalent on the left in recent years, particularly among young climate activists. This trend is highly encouraging and should be built upon.

However, as Frenkel’s editorial demonstrates, there is still much work to be done to build an eco-socialist left capable of both understanding the roots of climate change, and how to best halt the trend of a rapidly warming planet.

But if Frenkel places misguided faith in small-scale solutions to save the planet, William Vaughan, Jr.’s response letter, also published in the PPH (“Our behavior won’t change, so let’s not pretend it will,” 08/06/2018) dismisses any prospects of hope, entirely.

“Mr. Frenkel writes as if there is some chance we will stop flying, stop buying unnecessary things, and so on,” Vaughan writes. “But there is no evidence any of that is happening, or will happen.”

“… And since we will do nothing,” he continues in his pessimistic letter, “children and grandchildren around the world, as well as many other species, will pay the price for our inactions.”

Vaughan concludes:

“Better to face the music than to hope or pretend there is some chance our behavior will significantly change before it is too late. It never has and it never will.”

Well, shit… I guess it is a good thing I do not have any kids of my own… Perhaps we should all just shoot ourselves, now and get it over with?

While Frenkel and Vaughan are both correct to be alarmed about — even, in fact, to despair over — climate change and the fate of the human species, outright fatalism such as Vaughan’s contributes nothing to the environmental conversation. The left gains nothing by drowning in pessimism — if not, indeed, nihilism.

This does not mean we should be pollyannish about the environmental crisis unfolding in front of our eyes. We should be frank about how dire the situation is. Klein is correct: “We are almost at midnight on the climate clock.”

But Vaughan is flat out wrong that “we will do nothing,” to change “our” behavior. Hundreds of people throughout the globe are currently engaged in environmental activism, protests, collective projects, and lectures aimed at halting the continued warming of the planet. Millennials, in particular, are deeply concerned about climate change and routinely rank it as one of their most pressing issues.

Likewise, there is nothing inherently static, greedy, self-centered or risk adverse about human nature, as Vaughan suggests. And, for that matter, it is not “human nature” that is to blame for climate change. It is capitalism — a system that runs quite counter to humans’ natural inclination for sociability, cooperation, and collective action.

If Frenkel’s letter is frustrating in its myopic approach to mitigating global warming, Vaughan’s leaves readers downright enraged over its flippant, pessimistic tone.

But Frenkel is right in one respect: We do have a choice. We can ditch capitalism as an economic system and save the planet, or we can ditch the planet and save capitalism. The wealthy elite have already made it painfully clear which option they prefer. Now it is up to us to ensure they do not get their way.

 

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.

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The Socialist Insurgent

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Upsets  Rep. Joseph Crowley In NY Primary
Campaign posters for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who defeated ten-term Rep. Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th district, on June 26.

Three Takeaways from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Primary Victory.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent defeat of ten-term Democratic Party establishment insider, Joseph Crowley in the New York Democratic primary for the 14th district is a welcome sliver of good news in these otherwise trying Trumpian times. Ocasio-Cortez’s June 26 win is a stunning victory against a seemingly invulnerable Democratic apparatchik who has long been eyed as a potential speaker of the house.

The 28-year-old Latina, a self-described democratic socialist and member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), sailed to victory on a Bernie Sanders-inspired platform of free college tuition, universal health care, and, perhaps most boldly, calling for the abolition of the renegade police agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Much has already been written about Ocasio-Cortez since her primary win. (She is all but assured victory in the general election this November.)

Here are three key takeaways:

Socialism is Back, Baby!

For the first time in my life we are witnessing the emergence of a potential socialist movement. Sen. Sanders deserves credit for solidifying it, but the early incubations were apparent during Occupy Wall Street in 2011, which was primarily driven by a nascent anti-capitalist sentiment.

Young Americans, in particular, are more open to socialism and socialist ideas than at any other time since the early part of the 20th century. A recent poll finds a majority of Americans under the age of 30 reject capitalism. A YouGov poll from November 2017 found 44 percent of millennials would prefer living in a socialist country over a capitalist one. Since Trump’s election, socialist groups like the DSA have seen an immense surge in membership and meeting attendance.

And it does not take an advanced degree in sociology to understand why working-class people are turning to socialism and the ideas of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels to better understand the world. As Paul D’Amato writes in the introduction to his 2014 socialism primer, The Meaning of Marxism:

[N]eoliberalism has lost its luster. Nobody believes anymore that a rising tide of corporate profits lifts all boats. More and more people are acutely aware of the fact that the wealth at the top comes at the expense of the labor and health of the vast majority. In spite of decades of media pundits and politicians telling us that we are to blame for our poverty, low wages, and lack of social opportunities, more and more people understand that the system is set up deliberately to benefit a tiny minority.

How these newly radicalized young people define “socialism” is another matter. Ocasio-Cortez’s own admittedly bland and generic conception of socialism is a little too vague and moralistic for my taste. (Then again, Ocasio-Cortez is a politician, and her wide-net definition of socialism may well be intentional.)

Some have argued, likewise, that Sanders is really more of a New Deal Democrat than a socialist. Indeed, Sanders’ hawkish foreign policy positions are quite at odds with those of his avowed hero, Eugene Debs — who famously went to prison in 1918 for speaking out against the first world war.

Still, a political tradition as old as socialism is bound to have developed a variety of strains, divisions, and sub-genres throughout its existence. Even within a room of 100 DSA members, one is unlikely to find a common understanding of the term “socialism.” While socialists of all stripes should definitely engage in comradely yet forthright debates over what sort of world we are fighting for, we must not become too sectarian or even “ultra-leftist” over who can and cannot call herself a “socialist.”

For the time being, I would propose that if you believe in workers’ rights, universal health care, ending poverty and you oppose the oppression of women, people of color, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, and other marginalized groups, then we are on the same side and you are welcome among socialists.

Class Struggle Still Gets the Goods.

While the out of touch, know-nothing punditocracy puzzles cluelessly over Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise upset, her win is no mystery to the working-class voters of New York’s racially diverse 14th district. Like Sanders in 2016, Ocasio-Cortez spoke to working-class voters’ actual lived experiences. Unlike Crowley and the rest of the Democratic elite, Ocasio-Cortez understands working people’s struggles with unaffordable health care, skyrocketing rents, and jobs that do not pay a living wage or offer paid sick days.

As Ocasio-Cortez states flat-out in her authentic campaign advertisement, “Women like me aren’t supposed to run for office. I wasn’t born to a wealthy or powerful family.”

Perhaps most refreshing is Ocasio-Cortez’s refusal to play into the prevailing concept of so-called “identity politics,” in which race and class are constantly pitted against one another. “I can’t name a single issue with roots in race that doesn’t have economic implications,” she said in an interview with The Nation magazine, “and I cannot think of a single economic issue that doesn’t have racial implications. The idea that we have to separate them out and choose one is a con.”

But we are not dealing with rocket science, here. Ocasio-Cortez won because she spoke directly yet eloquently to working-class voters about the issues that affect them. In contrast to Crowley who, like Hillary Clinton two years ago, merely ran on his tenure and supposed “expertise,” — his pragmatic ability to “get stuff done” — Ocasio-Cortez had a clear, tangible message that resonated with voters. As one Sanders campaign sign aptly put it: “Finally, a reason to vote.”

But the Democratic Party still refuses to learn this rather elementary lesson (i.e. that class struggle gets the goods). This brings us to my third and final observation:

“Taking Over” the Democratic Party is a Pipe Dream.

The question over the left’s relationship to the capitalist, Wall Street-captive Democratic Party will become a central one as the working class continues to organize. Activists are already feeling intense pressure to muzzle their “radical” calls for abolishing ICE and instituting Medicare for all and obsequiously fall in line and vote for local Democrats in this fall’s midterm elections. That pressure is only going to increase as the 2020 presidential election looms closer and the left’s primary impetus becomes defeating Trump — even if that means electing a pro-business, corporate shill like Joe Biden, Kamala Harris or, yes, Hillary Clinton.

The fact is, the left has been attempting to “take over” or “take back” the Democratic Party for decades. Progressive candidates like Jesse Jackson, George McGovern, Dennis Kucinich and, more recently, Bernie Sanders, have waged spirited, inspiring campaigns to try to “push” the party into a more radical direction.

But not only has the Democratic Party apparatus swiftly shut down all of those campaigns — it has succeeded each time in absorbing the campaigns back into the “proper channels,” of Establishment politics. This is precisely what happened to Sanders’ campaign in 2016. The Vermont senator set out to spark a “political revolution,” only to end up endorsing and campaigning for — and rigorously shutting down left-wing opposition to — Clinton.

And this is the role of the Democratic Party. As Lance Selfa makes clear in his book, The Democrats: A Critical History, the Democratic Party has long been used by the ruling class to undermine, re-direct, and at times simply crush genuine working-class movements. Little wonder the Democratic Party is often referred to as the “graveyard of social movements.”

Therein lies Ocasio-Cortez’s dilemma. She has signed on with a party that is fundamentally opposed to everything she stands for. Indeed, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is already hard at work re-writing the party’s national campaign platform in order to make it harder for self-identified “democratic socialists” like Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders to run for office on the Democratic ticket.

As the saying goes, “with friends like these…”

The working class needs its own political party — one completely independent of the two capitalist parties. There was a time when I believed the Green Party could serve this role. But the Green Party in Portland has all but imploded, due to its lack of party discipline and chaotic, anarcho-liberal orientation. Thus, a viable working-class party does not yet exist. It is up to us to create one.

None of this is meant to detract from Ocasio-Cortez’s inspiring primary win. Going forward, she and her supporters should use their influence to steer debates and legislation within the halls of power. But we must understand that Ocasio-Cortez’s victory within a party completely hostile to her entire progressive platform comes with certain built-in limitations.

As Selfa writes:

The many efforts of the inside-outside strategy [as it is known] … have not pushed the Democratic Party in a liberal direction. All liberal intra-party challenges, from Jackson’s to Kucinich’s, ended with their leaders delivering their supporters over to the more conservative Democrats against whom they had mounted their challenges in the first place.

… The real impact of these inside-outside challenges is, to paraphrase Jackson, to “keep hope alive” in the Democratic Party. These campaigns help to extinguish third-party movements. For those who want to build a genuine and credible left in the United States, there is no substitute for the slow and painstaking work of building movements on the ground, and of building a political alternative to the Democrats.

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!

 

Notes From a Shithole Country

Airport Uprising
Thousands protest Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban at JFK airport in New York City, on Jan. 27, 2017.

One year into Donald Trump’s nightmarish presidency the United States government has shut down. It is, indeed, an ironic — and highly fitting —symbol to mark the one year anniversary of Trump’s inauguration.

Trump, rather than “draining the swamp,” as he childishly promised on the campaign trail, has merely flooded it with even more raw sewage and swamp monsters. For all his disparaging remarks about “shithole countries” (by which he referred to El Salvador, Haiti, and the “country” of Africa), the U.S. is rapidly devolving into such a shithole. Or perhaps it always was one. Take your pick.

At the heart of this latest government shutdown is the fate of Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers a “path to citizenship” for young adult immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

I put the phrase, “path to citizenship” in quotes because there is no such thing as an “illegal” human being. Additionally, the entire concept of “legal citizenship” is a relatively recent concept. Up until the 19th century, immigration laws were virtually nonexistent. Though many assume their ancestors came to the country “legally” or utilized the “proper channels,” according to the American Immigration Council, “unauthorized immigration has been a reality for generations.”

DACA currently shields some 800,000 immigrants who live and work in the country from deportation. For many of these young immigrants, America is the only home they have ever known. Trump’s elimination of the program would tear families apart and inflict unnecessary suffering upon thousands of working-class people.

“It’s not just affecting one person in the family,” said Patricia Jaramillo, a 23-year-old DACA recipient from Van Nuys, California of Trump’s efforts to phase out the program. “It’s a ripple effect that affects entire communities, entire families…”

Furthermore, local manufacturing businesses like Cozy Harbor Seafood and Barber Foods rely heavily on these immigrants’ labor power — which is cheaper and easier to exploit than that of “native” U.S. citizens. These processing plant jobs — which take place in cold, pungent conditions — are mundane, repulsive, and often involve long hours of standing and repetitive motions.

Workers in these degrading jobs are routinely denied bathroom breaks — to the point where many poultry workers have resorted to wearing diapers to work, according to a 2016 report by Oxfam America. While denying adult employees basic necessities like bathroom breaks may seem patently illegal, the fact is worker protection laws in this country are weak and rarely enforced. The near disappearance of unions has only further eroded workplace protections.

And, as if to add insult to injury, workers at these processing plants are often carefully monitored by numerous surveillance cameras while they work. (This is the case at Cozy Harbor Seafood, where I once worked as an office temp.)

Trump railed on immigration and America’s supposedly “weak” boarder control laws to stoke working-class fear and resentment of “the Other.” During his now-infamous campaign announcement speech, the xenophobic Trump singled out immigrants from Mexico. “They are bringing drugs,” Trump said of Mexican immigrants. “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Republicans howl that DACA is an illegal program — that we are a “nation of laws,” and we must “respect the rule of law.” Yet where was this reverence for the “rule of law” last summer when Trump pardoned corrupt, racist Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio? The right was suspiciously silent about the vaunted “rule of law,” then.

Indeed, capitalists engage in illegal behavior every day and justify it as merely the “cost of doing business.” Perhaps we should deport all of them?

While the Democrats should be applauded (for once) for holding the line on preserving DACA in the latest government shutdown squabble, I fear their stance has more to do with electoral maneuvering than any genuine concern for DACA recipients. It is worth recalling that Barack Obama deported more immigrants than any other president in U.S. history — including Trump.

As of this writing, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has already offered Trump funding for his coveted border wall in exchange for maintaining DACA.

(Just to review, we have money for border walls to keep “illegal” immigrants out of the country, but our elected elites insist single-payer health care is “too expensive.”)

This is further evidence that the left cannot rely on the capitalist Democratic Party to save us. Only mass mobilizations — similar to the Muslim ban protests that shut down major airports last year — can protect immigrant families.

But our efforts cannot stop at merely preserving DACA — though that is an important immediate goal. The left must also put forward a real socialist alternative to the failed immigration policies of both capitalist parties.

Socialists ultimately believe in a world without walls and borders. We believe in a world where people are free to live and roam as they please — or, perhaps more accurately for a warming planet increasingly characterized by droughts, floods, famine, and forest fires, wherever is most habitable. Indeed, climate change is already playing a role in mass migration throughout the globe.

Likewise, many of the Sudanese, Syrian, and Iraqi refugees fleeing to America are victims of our imperialist wars and occupations. To bomb these people’s nations and destabilize them through military force, and then cruelly deny them entry to our shores as they attempt to flee the violence we have inflicted is a particularly sinister form of hypocrisy.

The point is that few immigrants truly have a “choice” in migrating to the U.S. or to any other country. And the ruling class’ concept of a “path to citizenship” for immigrants is, as Socialist Worker’s Danny Katch explains, equally misleading.

As Katch writes in a March 15, 2016 article:

The “path to citizenship” is more like a road to nowhere, a long march that forces undocumented immigrants to go “to the back of the line” of a system in which many have to wait up to 24 years to get green cards. Along the way are many roadblocks, from fines that may be unaffordable, to proving they have been steadily employed — in a country where layoffs and temporary work are becoming the norm for all workers …

The fight to preserve DACA and protect immigrant families is a crucial one. And it is a fight that has the potential to mobilize a new generation of radicals to struggle for a world without walls and borders — a world where no human being is illegal.

Beyond “Toxic Masculinity”

#MeToo Pic

Women’s oppression is inextricably linked to capitalism. 

The widespread allegations of sexual assault leveled at Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein, from an ever growing list of celebrity women and actresses, has pushed the issue of sexism into the forefront of the media like nothing before it. And unlike previous sexual assault cases, the unfolding Weinstein story shows no sign of fading from the headlines, anytime soon.

Yet the discourse surrounding Weinstein and the rampant sexism and misogyny that characterize not just Hollywood, but numerous sectors of life has, unfortunately, lent itself to shallow—and, frankly, predictable—liberal analyses of why sexism continues to pervade society.

I have a liberal friend, for instance, who, commenting on the scandal concludes merely, “Men suck.” Others have similarly chalked it up to “toxic masculinity,” or “male privilege.”

But these pithy buzz-phrases do little to elaborate on the social and economic conditions that create women’s oppression. If we are serious about ridding the world of sexism (as well as homophobia, racism, ableism, etc.), then we need to understand where oppression comes from. Only then will leftists have a political framework for how to dismantle such oppression.

First, let’s be clear: Weinstein’s decades-long history of abusing, humiliating, sexually harassing, and allegedly raping women is nothing less than abhorrent. The only thing more alarming than how long Weinstein was able to get away with his chauvinistic behavior, is how many seemingly progressive male Hollywood actors (including liberal stalwarts like, George Clooney and Matt Damon) turned a blind-eye to Weinstein’s womanizing.

The Weinstein scandal is augmented by the fact that the sitting president has his own long, sordid history of abusing, denigrating, and sexually assaulting women.

A year ago around this time, Trump’s now infamous Access Hollywood, “hot mic” video was leaked to the press, in which Trump bragged to actor, Billy Bush, about his penchant for grabbing women “by the pussy.”

By every conceivable rationale, the tape should have sunk Trump’s presidential campaign. Instead, he won. And while it would be a gross oversimplification to blame sexism (or, for that matter, racism), alone for Trump’s victory, it is undeniable that both forms of discrimination played some role.

“Many of Trump’s voters were not primarily driven by ‘whitelash’ or ‘malelash’ sentiments,” writes Naomi Klein in her latest book, No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need. “Plenty of them said they voted for Trump because they liked what he said about trade and jobs …”

But there’s a problem with these stories. You cannot cast a ballot for a person who is openly riling up hatred based on race, gender or physical ability unless, on some level, you think those issues aren’t important. That the lives of people being put in tangible danger by this rhetoric (and the policies that flow from it) matter less than your life and the lives of people who look more like you. You can’t do it unless you are willing to sacrifice those other categories of people for your (hoped-for) gain.

“To put it bluntly,” Klein adds, “a vote for Trump might not reflect active hatred, but there is still, at best, a troubling indifference behind the act.”

Trump, in typically hypocritical fashion, has condemned Weinstein’s actions, telling the press he is “not at all surprised,” about the revelations. When asked by a reporter how Weinstein’s mistreatment of women differs from his own, Trump just brushed off his Access Hollywood comments as “That’s locker room [talk].”

With repugnant misogynists like Trump and Weinstein (not to mention Bill Cosby, Bill O’ Reilly and Ben Affleck) in power is it any wonder Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale has spent 35 weeks on the New York Times’ bestseller list?

Marxism locates female oppression in women’s historically subordinate role within the family. Marx and Engels referred to the excess amount of housework women have traditionally been responsible for (cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, caretaking, etc.) as “unpaid domestic labor.”

And, while many families have made an effort to more evenly divide the household work in recent years (consider, for instance, one of the most lasting effects of the Great Recession: The rise of the “stay-at-home-dad”), surveys continue to indicate that the majority of domestic chores fall disproportionately on the shoulders of women. This has remained the case even as women entered the workforce after the Second World War.

Capitalism also charges working-class women with the crucial, yet largely unacknowledged role of creating more workers. As author Sharon Smith writes of this role in her book, Women and Socialism: Class, Race, and Capital, “In capitalist societies, women in property-holding families reproduce heirs; women in working-class families reproduce workers for the system.”

Smith continues:

The capitalist class has become dependent on this method of “privatized reproduction” within the working-class family because it lessens capitalists’ own financial responsibility for the reproduction of labor power, which is instead largely supplied by unpaid domestic labor performed primarily by women. The precondition for women’s liberation thus requires an end to their unpaid labor inside the family. This, in turn, necessitates a socialist transformation of society, which cannot be achieved gradually but only through a process of social revolution, in a decisive battle between classes.

In other words, no serious discussion of ending women’s oppression can ignore the system (i.e. capitalism) that creates—and, indeed, relies on–that oppression in the first place.

There is no biological or psychological evidence to suggest that men are naturally sexist. Nor, for that matter, is there anything inherently “toxic” about masculinity—though capitalism and the military certainly have a way of conditioning men to behave in aggressive, combative ways.

While the women’s rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s won significant victories in advancing female equality, the feminist movement has stalled in recent decades, largely due to its co-option with what Socialist Worker‘s Elizabeth Schulte calls “trickle-down feminism.”

This brand of pseudo-feminism suggests that if we simply had more female CEOs, corporate managers, and executive directors, then the work of feminism will be complete. Trickle-down feminism holds up billionaire celebrity figures like Oprah Winfrey (net worth: $3.1 billion), Sheryl Sandberg ($1.57 billion), and Walmart heir, Alice Walton ($33.8 billion) as models working-class women should attempt to emulate.

But there is nothing truly radical about this form of corporate feminism. It is little more than identity-politics. While we absolutely should strive to level the playing-field between men and women, trickle-down feminism is aimed squarely at middle-class women–not the poor, or the struggling single-parents.

The media drumbeat over our supposed “post-feminist” era, Schulte writes, “rarely address[es] the concerns of the vast majority of women who are part of the working class.”

The media, Schulte writes,

measure the success of women at large by the success stories of a few corporate executives or political officials at the top–and argue that these examples of “having it all” will eventually trickle down to all women. The inevitable focus of these [post-feminist] articles and books is what women can do personally to succeed. (Italics hers.)

Should men do more, individually, to combat sexism in the workplace, among friends and in public, as liberal commentator, Alex Steed, suggests? Absolutely.

But we cannot limit our opposition to sexism to these interpersonal exchanges. All of us–women and men–must also “call out” the capitalist system that relies on sexist stereotypes and ideas to function. We must rediscover the language of radical feminists like Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

Flynn, a labor activist in the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in her autobiography, Rebel Girl:

A domestic life and possibly a large family had no attraction for me. … I wanted to speak and write, to travel, to meet people, to see places, to organize for the I.W.W. I saw no reason why I, as a woman, should give up my work for this…

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 Crisis is Capitalism

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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!

 

 

The Re-Branding of the Alt-Right

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Libertarianism: Because that is exactly what America needs–another capitalist party.

AUGUSTA, MAINE- The alt-right’s pathetic efforts to re-brand itself in the wake of the events in Charlottesville, and its overwhelming defeats in Boston and Berkeley, California, last month, were on full display in Maine, this past weekend. A right-wing “free speech” rally in Augusta on September 30 was little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to disguise the demonstrators’ racist, white nationalist views.

Fortunately, nearly 100 protesters—including many from local socialist organizations—turned out to oppose them.

The coalition of left groups included the Portland, Maine branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), along with the John Brown Gun Club, The Socialist Party of Maine, the NAACP of Bangor, the Southern Maine IWW, and the Maine chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), among others. The groups gathered across from the Capitol Building, where the right-wing rally was taking place.

The organizers of the alt-right demonstration, bearing the generic name, “Rally to Denounce Political Violence,” seemed, at first glance, to represent an odd combination of libertarians, right-wingers, out-of-state political candidates (most of them running as Libertarians), and even a few Occupy Wall Street activists.

But closer inspection of the rally’s principal organizers reveals many familiar faces and themes of the so-called “alt-right.”

For starters, John Rasmussen, a Portland native and organizer of the rally, also helped assemble the original Boston “Free Speech” rally, back in May. Boston NPR-affiliate, WBUR, described the rally, at the time, as a coalition of “veterans, ex-police, Tea Party Republicans and young people affiliated with the self-described ‘alt-right’—a conservative faction that mixes racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism…”

Other rally organizers, including an individual who goes only by the name Jarody, have a clear online history of expressing or demonstrating support for white nationalist and far-right views. The cartoon character, Pepe the Frog, widely viewed as the alt-right’s mascot, features prominently on the organizers’ social media pages. One woman showed up to the Augusta rally wearing a hat featuring the character.

A social media page for the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” described the event as a “day to denounce the violence that has arisen recently due to political fearmongering. We advocate for peaceful discussion and the spread of ideas from all points of view.”

The rally organizers even had the gall to conclude the event summary with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yet as Portland ISO member, Erica Hall observed, the free-market, austerity-pushing, privatization policies libertarians advocate are, themselves, a form of violence.

“Libertarians are capitalists, and capitalism is inherently violent,” Hall said. “They make these forms of oppression make sense to people, as if they are natural. But of course, they are not.”

Indeed, ripping apart the already frayed social safety net, abolishing public programs and social services, replacing public schools with private or charter schools, and valuing private property over human lives, are all forms of political violence against poor and working-class people.

Of course, the “Rally to Denounce Political Violence” conveniently overlooked all of these forms of violence. Its focus was, instead, exclusively on the purported violence of the left—particularly anti-fascist groups like Antifa and the Black Bloc anarchists.

——————

THE RIGHT in Maine is clearly taking a page out of Donald Trump’s book—condemning violence on “both sides,” even though it is really only their side that is actively seeking to perpetuate violent acts and intimidation. Its members seek to draw a moral equivalency between the Ku Klux Klan and Antifa, suggesting that both are equally responsible for promoting violence.

Jarody pushed this false equivalency in an interview with the Portland Phoenix’s Nick Schroeder, prior to the rally.

“We’ve got groups like Antifa and the John Brown Gun Club coming to oppose us,” said Jarody. “I’d like to see the organizers of the counter-rally make sure to rein in those on their side who might show up to incite violence.”

This is, of course, a baseless comparison.

The efforts of anti-fascists to defend themselves and marginalized people—violently, if necessary—is in no way comparable to the racism and hate-mongering incited by the KKK and neo-Nazi groups. While those of us in the ISO often disagree with Antifa and Black Bloc’s confrontational tactics, we fully reject the alt-right’s attempts to conflate the two.

As a joint press release issued by the left-wing coalitions stated, “This event, the ‘Rally to Denounce Political Violence,’ … is an attempt to provide shelter for alt-right ideologies under the guise of free speech.”

Perhaps most tellingly, Jarody refused to concede to the Phoenix’s Schroeder that the murder of 32-year-old activist, Heather Heyer, is a form of political violence.

“Nobody knows what [was] going on in that guy’s head,” Jarody told Schroeder, referring to assailant, James Alex Fields, who drove his car into a group of ISO activists, killing Heyer. “Nobody knows what his intentions were. Even though we have footage of it, that’s basically the work of lawyers [sic]. I’d have to listen to what [Fields] says up on the stand.”

Rasmussen, in an interview on a local right-wing radio station a few days prior to the rally, was similarly evasive in his description of Fields’ murder of Heyer.

“Everybody is attacking everybody right now,” Rasmussen said when asked about the events in Charlottesville, on August 12. This cop-out of a reply prompted the conservative interviewer to respond merely, “Okay,” and move on to another topic.

Rasmussen then launched into a rambling, mostly incoherent tirade about how the alleged violence of the left is “going to cycle incredibly fast,” and conservatives are in danger of “walking right into their [the left’s] trap.”

Still, the right’s newfound strategy is clear. They want to paint leftists and anti-racists as unhinged, violent instigators, deeply intolerant of the right’s freedom of speech. Consider this the alt-right’s attempt to re-brand itself as the “alt-light.” They are desperately trying to bury their overt appeals to white nationalism and anti-Semitism, while casting themselves as victims of an antagonistic extreme left that is out for blood.

But counter-protesters were not buying any of it. They understood all too well that this poorly disguised, “free speech” rally was the same vile, rotten right-wing product in a slightly different package.

Indeed, the left easily outnumbered the 20 or so right-wingers who ultimately showed up the Augusta rally. The Portland ISO raised chants and sold copies of the ISO’s monthly newspaper, Socialist Worker. Our group conveyed the strongest political orientation among a friendly, but politically mixed crowd.

A version of this essay also appeared on Socialist Worker.org.

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!