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!

 

 

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Nice Work (If You Can Get It)

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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!