The Tyranny of Nine to Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No wonder your job sucks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Under socialism, workers would own the factories, offices, and restaurants they toil in day after day. They would control their own economic, social, and political destinies–not just at the workplace, but in all avenues of life. Rather than spending most our waking hours toiling away at jobs we hate, workers’ lives would be governed by the old labor motto: “Eight hours for work. Eight hours for rest. Eight hours for whatever you please.”

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

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

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

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

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

Jeremy Corbyn
UK Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

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

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

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

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

  • Bernie Sanders Would Have Won

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • We Cannot Merely Vote Socialism Into Existence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

 

 

The Failure of Identity Politics

Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham, star of the HBO series, “Girls,” shows off her support for Hillary Clinton with a dress emblazoned with the Democratic presidential candidate’s first name.

I maintain, as I have previously argued on this site, that one of the greatest obstacles to developing a mass, diverse working-class movement to fight not only the Trump regime, but also the system that spawned it in the first place, remains the scourge of identity politics.

This political orientation, along with its associated practices of “privilege-checking,” and “calling out,” has rendered the left atomized, devoid of a concrete political vision, and largely incapable of joining together in solidarity. Indeed, even that word, “solidarity,” is quite threatening to practitioners of identity and privilege-politics, who regard it as a sort of “whitewashing” of real inequities in race, gender, and sexual orientation.

The absence of a clearly articulated class-oriented approach to social justice, combined with a generally low-level of class-struggle (recent resistance to Trump’s election, notwithstanding), has allowed the nebulous, postmodernist dictates of identity politics to fill the void. As a result, in places like Portland, Maine the framework of identity politics has become the default orientation of left-wing groups.

According to liberal identitarians all white people are inherently—and perhaps, irredeemably—racist, simply by nature of being white. And no amount of education, enlightenment, commitment to social justice, or personal growth can alter a “privileged” white person’s racist, prejudiced views. Thus, identity politics casts White People or even just “whiteness” as the enemy of the oppressed, rather than the structural racism intentionally perpetuated by the wealthy elite.

As the great abolitionist, Frederick Douglass observed of the twisted genius of the capitalist ruling class in pitting white workers against black workers, “The slaveholders, by encouraging the enmity of the poor, laboring white man against the blacks, succeeded in making the said white man almost as much of a slave as the black himself.”

“Both,” Douglass adds, “are plundered by the same plunderer.”

Proponents of identity politics, likewise, insist Donald Trump was elected president based purely on racism—and nothing more. They point to exit-poll data suggesting a majority of white voters—including a majority of white women—voted for Trump.

But this data is misleading. A majority of white Americans did not vote for Trump. A majority of the whites who voted did. This is a crucial distinction. Nearly 50 percent of eligible voters stayed home on Election Day or were barred from voting.

And, while racism no doubt played some role in Trump’s election, many of the working-class whites who voted for him did so out of legitimate economic grievances. As Jacobin’s Adaner Usmani puts it, “All Klansmen are Trump supporters, but all Trump supporters are not Klansmen.” It is crucial those of us on the left understand this if we are to have any hope of winning some of those working-class Trump supporters–many of whom voted for Barack Obama, at least once–to our side.

This is in no way meant to diminish the very real and insidious role of racism, sexism, xenophobia, and ableism in Trump’s electoral victory. It is merely to acknowledge that his ascension is more complicated to explain—his supporters’ motivations more complex and often contradictory—than the easy scapegoat of “racism” suggests.

Furthermore, it was the slave-owning Founding Fathers’ Electoral College which handed Trump the presidency—not the voters. If we lived in an actual democracy, where candidates were elected based on the popular vote (or, for that matter, if we had more than two candidates to choose from), then Hillary Clinton would currently be sitting in the White House.

But proponents of identity politics conveniently overlook all of these nuances, preferring a simplistic (and decidedly cynical) understanding of society and human nature as governed by nothing more than fear, hatred, and naked self-interest.

As such, Maine activist and blogger, Shay Stewart-Bouley, claims in a recent post on her “Black Girl in Maine” blog that a “fear of the declining value of whiteness is what brought us Trump.”

Stewart-Bouley goes on to admonish her white readers that people of color do not need their “white guilt” in anti-racist activism, only to then proceed to remind them that “racism is largely a white problem.” Sure seems like a guilt-trip to me.

But rather than explaining how white leftists can be better “allies” in the fight against racism, Stewart-Bouley echoes the familiar identitarian doctrine that black and white activists conduct their work in separate circles. This, she explains, is so white people can “have a space [of their own] to work out the kinks on their journey without harming me and other POC [People of Color].”

This insistence of separate spaces for black and white activists flows from the identitarian concept that it is “not the job” of oppressed people to educate others. White progressives, in other words, must “do the work” of educating themselves.

“Seriously, I am not Oprah or Mammy,” Stewart-Bouley writes, “and for my own well-being, I want people to know what they don’t know and work on it without being expected to have their hand held by me while they do it.”

As someone who has worked (albeit, briefly) in education, I can assure you: Dismissively telling students to “go educate yourselves,” with no additional guidance or direction from the teacher, is a surefire way to ensure the majority of them do not take the class seriously, spend the semester slacking off, and ultimately fail the course. And, when it comes to eradicating racism, and building a viable, multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-ethnic working-class movement, failure, as they say, is not an option.

Telling people to “educate yourself” or just “Google it” in response to legitimate questions about unfamiliar phrases, jargon, or histories, merely reproduces “neoliberal atomization,” as one of my comrades in the International Socialist Organization (ISO) phrased it in a recent internal document. That is, “sit by yourself in front of a computer and figure it out alone.” And this is to say nothing of the generally contemptuous tone of telling people, “It’s not my job to educate you!”

Part of being a revolutionary means being willing to educate, discuss and patiently debate with others—even those who may not be as radical as you are. Reading, studying, and debating collectively are indispensable components to building a sense of solidarity, and coalescing around a unified, cohesive political orientation.

Contrary to the dictates of identity politics, just because an individual does not personally experience a particular form of oppression does not mean he or she has no interest in fighting to end that oppression. Indeed, the system of capitalism—a system that is inherently exploitative— oppresses all workers to some degree. The ruling class has its proverbial thumb on all workers—though it presses down with greater force on some particularly oppressed workers (African Americans, women, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities), than others.

But all workers have an interest in cutting off the bourgeois thumb (if not, indeed, the entire hand it is a part of) and dismantling the system that keeps us all down.

As socialist author, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes in her 2016 book, From Black Lives Matter, to Black Liberation:

Solidarity is standing in unity with people even if you have not personally experienced their particular oppression[.] The reality is that as long as capitalism exists, material and ideological pressures push white workers to be racist and all workers to hold each other in general suspicion. But there are moments of struggle when the mutual interests of workers are laid bare, and when the suspicion is finally turned in the other direction—at the plutocrats who live well while the rest of us suffer.

While the inclusion of more people of color, women, and gays in the corporate and political arena is certainly a welcome trend, the folly of multiculturalism is in viewing this diversity alone as a form of progress. The fact is, one can be gay, black, female, or trans and still be part of the bourgeoisie. Take figures like Caitlyn Jenner, Clarence Thomas, Oprah Winfrey, or warmonger “feminist,” Anne-Marie Slaughter, for example.

As left-wing professor Adolph Reed, Jr. writes in a stinging rebuke of liberal identity politics:

[A] society in which 1% of the population controlled 90% of the resources could be just, provided that roughly 12% of the 1% were black, 12% were Latino, 50% were women and whatever the appropriate proportions were LGBT people. It would be tough to imagine a normative ideal that expresses more unambiguously the social position of people who consider themselves candidates for inclusion, or at least significant staff positions in service to, the ruling class.

None of this is to suggest that class is “more important” than race or other aspects of identity. Rather, as Karl Marx observed, class and race are inextricably intertwined.

“In the United States of America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed as long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic,” Marx wrote in Volume One of Capital. “Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

The left must rekindle the old labor slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Only through solidarity—through a shared sense of class-struggle among workers of all genders, gender-identities, races, and sexual orientations—can we hope to fight the right, rebuild the left, and win nothing less than the self-emancipation of the working class.

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

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

Thanks for reading!

 

The Democrats: History’s Second Most Enthusiastic Capitalist Party

Sanders Portland, Maine
Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a crowd at the State Theater in Portland, Maine on April 17, 2017.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ recent appearance in Portland, Maine highlighted the structural disorganization and lack of strategic vision that continue to plague the American left—particularly in the wake of the demoralizing election of Donald Trump.

Over 1,500 people packed the State Theater on April 17 for the first night of Sanders’ and newly-elected DNC chairman, Tom Perez’s post-election pick-me-up tour, “Come Together and Fight Back.”

But make no mistake about which of these two politicians attendees showed up for: Mainers loudly booed Perez, who recently beat out the more progressive, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), to head the DNC. Sanders, meanwhile, remains the most popular politician in the country, according to several polls.

One young woman, waiting in the interminable line, seemed to speak for the crowd. “I’m here to see Bernie!” she announced. “Not the DNC!”

I joined four other comrades from the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) to sell copies of our newspaper, the Socialist Worker, and talk to people in line. (Full disclosure: I am a dues-paying member of the ISO.)

While we did sell a lot of papers, and had some quality conversations with a few folks, most people seemed rather indifferent to our presence. A few even audibly scoffed at the word “socialist,” which is completely baffling to me. Were these people unaware they were waiting in line to hear a self-professed “democratic socialist” speak? Sanders certainly made no secret about his identification with socialism on the campaign trail. He even gave a whole friggin speech on the topic.

One of my comrades ventured into the crowd to talk to people one-on-one. He opened by asking what they thought about the “state of politics, today.” Most people groaned or laughed cynically in response.

“I’m actually feeling optimistic,” my friend countered. “The Women’s March and airport protests have all given me hope.”

Upon reflecting on these recent anti-Trump protests, people suddenly shifted their tone. “Oh yeah!” they said. “That’s right!”

While these informal conversations can hardly be granted the weight of a Gallup poll, I think they are nonetheless informative. They suggest a demoralized left that is unsure how to proceed in the wake of Trump’s election.

Indeed, the initial, seemingly daily protests and rallies that greeted Trump’s inauguration have subsided in recent weeks. And early talk among Democrats of impeaching Trump based on alleged Russian interference with the election have failed to yield any substantive evidence—and, given the overall dubiousness of the claims, are unlikely to.

Instead, the Democrats have resigned themselves—and their liberal supporters—to waiting for the 2018 midterm election where they hope to re-take Congress. (Hence the Sanders/Perez rally.)

Thus, a noticeable sense of despair and demoralization has overcome much of the left—right at the time when we should be ramping up our resistance to Trump’s racist, xenophobic, imperialist policies.

Many of those at the State Theater rally had understandably pinned their hopes on Sanders’ presidential campaign and his social democratic platform. But Sanders’ campaign was ultimately sabotaged by the Democratic Party, which remains opposed to all of his policies.

As such, any path forward for the left cannot come through the Democratic Party. Progressives’ long-standing fantasy of “taking over” the Democratic Party from within remains just that.

The history of left-wing activism is rife with examples of progressive reformers–from Jesse Jackson, to Dennis Kucinich, to Howard Dean, and Sanders–who have attempted to “re-take” or “recapture” the party through “insurgent” presidential campaigns. And not only did each of these efforts fail, but the Democratic establishment was able to pull these candidates’ supporters back into the party fold, every time.

Little wonder the Democratic Party has been dubbed the “graveyard of social movements.”

“The question remains: Can progressives take over the Democratic Party..?” Lance Selfa asks in his 2008 book, The Democrats: A Critical History.

To answer that, one has to consider that the Democratic Party really represents one of the two main parties of corporate rule in the United States. Despite its name, it is not a democratic organization whose members control it. So any activist or trade union or popular attempt to take it over always faces a counter-attack by the people who really control it—big business interests, who will use every underhanded trick in the book to maintain their hold.

In other words, despite their traditional posturing as the party of labor, women, immigrants, and minorities, the Democrats are at heart a capitalist party—just like the Republicans. The Republicans are merely more up-front about their servitude to corporate interests.

While the Dems pose as the “party of the people,” the truth is they are responsible for some of the most grievous ravages against the working class—the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the elimination of welfare, and the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), all facilitated by President Bill Clinton—in modern history.

Indeed, no less a lionized “progressive champion” than Franklin Delano Roosevelt claimed his greatest achievement as president was that he “saved capitalism.”

But don’t take my word for it. House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi recently conceded as much during a CNN town-hall style special. In response to a college student’s question about millennials’ growing preference for socialism over capitalism, Pelosi answered, “Well, I thank you for your question. But I have to say, we’re capitalist. That’s just the way it is.”

Straight from the donkey’s mouth, if you will.

No, the Democrats will not save us. The working class needs its own political party—one that truly represents our interests.

I maintain that the tragedy of  Sanders’ presidential campaign was his decision not to challenge Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party as an independent candidate. Had he done so, he may well be sitting in the White House, today.

(And can we please drop this mantra that Sanders would have had “no chance in hell” running as an independent or with the Greens? In an election in which a record number of Americans were disgusted with both the frontrunner candidates, it is no far-fetched stretch of the imagination to see Sanders winning the presidency as a third-party candidate. At the very least, he would have been able to continue his campaign through the general election, having avoided the DNC’s nefarious underhanded schemes that ultimately undid his primary campaign.)

But then, Sanders has always been a nominal member of the Democrats. It all goes back to Sanders’ longstanding deal with the party: He faithfully tows the party line, and they will not challenge his Senate seat in Vermont. As such, CounterPunch’s Paul Street calls Sanders a “de facto Dem.”

Worst of all, Sanders by running within the Democratic party structure–and, ultimately, endorsing Clinton when his quixotic primary bid was inevitably foiled–failed to build an enduring, politically astute left-wing movement that can continue to push for his campaign demands. Instead, his supporters find themselves disillusioned and uncertain how to proceed. Some of them have ditched the Democrats for good, but others are all too willing to give them “one more chance.” And with Trump in office, those of the latter mindset are likely to have greater sway over the direction of Sanders’ “political revolution”–or whatever remains of it.

On the other hand, Sanders has convinced hundreds of young people to identify as “socialist,” which in of itself is pretty awesome. This means there is an audience out there for socialists. Our task is to tap into that audience, discuss socialist politics with its members, and try to pull them to more radical views.

But if the formation of a viable, militant working-class left is to ever take hold, leftists must disabuse themselves of the misguided notion it can use the Democratic Party as a vehicle for that end. It cannot.

The Democratic Party is and always has been a party for capital, empire, and corporate interests. It has never been a party for the working class. Any successful socialist revolution can only come, as Hal Draper observed, “from below.”

Many readers are likely to scoff at this analysis, dismissing it as “unrealistic,” or beyond the realm of the so-called “politically possible.”

Yet, as Selfa writes:

It’s said that one definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. If that’s true, the partisans of such “realistic” strategies of fusing with the Democrats or “taking over” the Democratic Party–both of which have failed generations of progressives–are really the ones who are out of touch with reality.

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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Small Business Owners — Not the Working Class — Elected Trump President

Trump Supporters

The narrative that has emerged in the months since Donald Trump’s seemingly improbable election last November—that of a “Rust Best revolt” among disaffected, white working-class voters—has been, in the words of left-wing writer, Paul Street, “badly oversold.”

It is not, in truth, an accurate, nor an especially insightful, lens through which to view Trump’s election.

If the left is to mount an effective campaign against Trump’s xenophobic, misogynist, racist, bourgeois policies—a campaign that can win real victories for the working class—it is imperative that we understand how the Predator-in-Chief and his cabinet of swamp monsters oozed their way to the White House, in the first place. And in order to do that, we must push back against this rather misleading narrative that white working-class voters are responsible for Trump’s victory.

Trump basically received the same amount of support as Mitt Romney did in 2012. His election should not be taken as evidence that the nation’s proverbial political pendulum has swung suddenly to the right. Trump’s victory is due less to Republicans gaining support among working-class voters as it is to Democrats losing that support.

As CounterPunch’s Anthony DiMaggio observes, the 2016 presidential election result was “more about growing working class and white voter disgust with the Democratic status quo than it was about being enamored with the Trump candidacy.”

He adds,

“If the Democratic Party had fielded a real progressive candidate who had a meaningful history of seeking to help the working class—Bernie Sanders, for example—the outcome of the election may have been very different.”

Then again, Sanders had the option of challenging Clinton and the Democratic machine as an independent. Likewise, the Green Party’s Jill Stein extended numerous invitations to Sanders to join her presidential campaign. She even offered to take a back seat on the ticket, as Sanders’ vice president.

But Stein’s calls to Sanders’ campaign went unanswered. Sanders, with his history in third-party politics, knew full well what he was getting into when he signed on to run as a Democrat. And no—I do not believe that Sanders would have had “no chance in hell” of winning as an independent. Voter disgust with both capitalist parties is at a record high.

But DiMaggio’s point is well taken.

Hillary Clinton proved utterly tone-deaf to the legitimate economic concerns of working-class voters—many of whom turned out in droves (twice) for the considerably more charismatic, Barack Obama.

Clinton’s empty response to Trump’s inane campaign slogan, “Make America Great, Again,” was that America is “already great.” Not only did this rebuttal fail to clearly differentiate Clinton’s brand of technocratic neoliberalism from Trump’s faux-populist nationalism, but it rang completely false to the hundreds of laid-off workers whose jobs had been shipped overseas, largely as a result of her husband’s policies.

Faced with the “choice” of two bourgeois, corporatist candidates, nearly half of eligible voters (46.9 percent) opted to stay home on Election Day. Indeed, both candidates registered record low approval ratings, even before emerging as their respective party’s nominee.

As embattled WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange put it, choosing between Clinton and Trump is like picking between “cholera and gonorrhea.”

“Personally, I would prefer neither,” Assange acidly told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman.

And several million voters—primarily people of color or those with disabilities–were prohibited from voting due to onerous voter ID laws, incarceration or felony status, ridiculously strict voter registration deadlines, or GOP gerrymandering of voting districts. Those most affected by these punitive laws—which essentially amount to a modern day poll tax—are traditionally more inclined to vote for Democrats.

Yet, despite the depressed turnout and Clinton’s inability to excite the traditional Democratic base, she still won the popular vote by a significant margin—nearly three million votes. This makes Clinton the recipient of more votes than any other losing presidential candidate in American history, according to CNN.

It was the Electoral College–an antiquated relic of the slave-owning Founding Fathers, designed to artificially boost the influence of slave-states in elections–that ultimately handed Trump the presidency.

Trump, despite what he and his spokespeople may claim, has no popular mandate. Only three months into his presidency, Trump’s approval rating is already well below 50 percent. And his recent failure to “close the deal” on Congress’s repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, throws many of his other legislative promises into question.

So, if it was not the “white working class” that elected Trump, as the capitalist media claim, then who did?

With most of the capitalist class throwing its weight behind the more experienced, reliable Clinton, Trump drew his support largely from middle-managers, self-employed workers, and small business owners. According to the Socialist Worker‘s Lance Selfa, Trump’s supporters have a median household income of over $50,000, while Clinton generally drew from voters with less than $50,000. In keeping with the Republican Party’s general makeup, Trump voters are primarily middle-aged, white, middle-upper class, and do not have a college degree.

In other words, Trump’s support came from what Marx and Engels called the “petit bourgois,” (“petty” or “small” bourgeois; the term was intended as something of an epithet). These right-leaning small business owners and middle managers generally hate taxes and subsidies (hence their dislike of “Obamacare”), higher minimum wage laws, and government regulation of any kind.

And many of these voters were receptive to Trump’s racist, xenophobic rhetoric, which blames their economic struggles on immigrants, Muslims, and African Americans. Indeed, a CBS-New York Times post-election exit poll found an alarming 84 percent of Trump voters support deporting undocumented immigrants from the United States. Eighty-six percent, likewise, support building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Meanwhile, a similar post-election poll by the Pew Research Center reveals only seven percent of Trump supporters view sexism as a “very serious problem,” just 21 percent said the same about racism, and a mere 14 percent view climate change is a “very serious problem.”

This is not to suggest Trump voters were not at all motivated by legitimate economic grievances, including the adverse affects of global “free-trade” deals. Many of them certainly were. Nor should we dismiss them outright as irredeemable racist, sexist, ignorant “deplorables.” As Jacobin‘s Adaner Usmani aptly puts it, “All Klansmen are Trump supports, but not all Trump supporters are Klansmen.” Rather than writing these voters off (or worse, mocking them for “getting what they deserve”), the left’s goal should be to hold out an alternative vision of organizing society, one rooted in economic and social justice, that is worth fighting for.

That said, as the findings clearly show, most Trump supporters are not truly hurting economically. Many of them are doing quite well, thank you very much. As such, the media’s narrative of a “white working class uprising” at the ballot box, begins to fall apart upon closer scrutiny.

“The fact of the matter is that Trump supporters represent a perverse fusion of economic discontent and hateful, right-wing bigotry and nationalism,” DiMaggio writes. “We ignore the latter part of Trump’s support at our own peril.”

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 Police State: Racist to the Core

police-barricade
Police cordon off a section of the Old Port in Portland, Maine, during a July 15, 2016 Black Lives Matter demonstration that blocked traffic for hours. Eighteen protesters were arrested. Photo from the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

PORTLAND, Maine- One of the most common objections to last summer’s Black Lives Matter demonstration that shut down parts of Portland’s Old Port on a busy Friday night in July, and resulted in the arrest of 18 protesters, is that the police shootings of unarmed black citizens that have become a regular fixture of the cable-news cycle “do not happen here in Maine.”

As Chris Busby wrote in his Bangor Daily News column (07/21/2016), questioning the overall efficacy of the protest, “If Portland cops are engaging in any racist behavior, word of it hasn’t reached my ears…”

But Black Lives Matter detractors can no longer make such naive assertions.

Chance David Baker, 22, was fatally shot by a Portland Police officer on Saturday, Feb. 20 at Union Station Plaza. Baker, who is black and had a history of mental illness, was seen outside the Subway restaurant, wielding a pellet gun and acting erratically, according to eye witnesses. Police were, reportedly, unable to discern that the pellet gun was not a rifle.

The PPD officer who shot Baker, Sgt. Nicholas Goodman, previously used deadly force prior to Saturday’s incident. Goodman has been placed on administrative leave following the shooting.

Baker had struggled with substance abuse as a teenager, and had been in and out of homeless shelters, according to local news reports. Still, friends said Baker had made great progress in recent years. They praised his selfless nature and committed work ethic. Baker was working three jobs just to make ends meet.

Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck lashed out at criticism of the PPD’s use of deadly force the following Wednesday, telling reporters he is “disgusted” by local officials who have “politicized” the shooting.

“I am saddened, I’m disappointed,” said Sauschuck at a press conference, “and I’ll tell you I’m disgusted by any use of a tragedy to further some kind of political agenda…”

The citizens of Portland are disgusted as well, Chief: Disgusted that police throughout the country feel they can kill unarmed people of color at will without repercussions.

Speaking of “politicizing tragedy,” Sauschuck was scheduled to receive an honorary commendation from the Portland City Council during its Feb. 22 meeting. Mercifully, a group of protesters loudly disrupted the provocatively-timed ceremony, causing the council to go into recess, and the police chief to flee City Hall before it could be concluded.

Baker’s death marks the third fatal shooting by a police officer in Maine so far this year. Much as we like to believe otherwise, we are not immune to racist police violence, here in Maine.

Yet, in our imperialistic culture of mandatory troop worship, many Mainers are reflexively rushing to express sympathy and condolences not with Baker or his friends and family–but with the officer who murdered him in broad daylight.

Eileen Reynolds of Brunswick defends the “brave, heroic sergeant,” in a Feb. 22 letter to the editor in the Portland Press Herald, “who prevented what easily could have resulted in a disastrous situation.”

“This incident,” Reynolds writes, “… should reinforce all of us to appreciate and stand behind our law enforcement officers.”

Donald Trump–who campaigned on a pledge to be a “law and order president”–has, likewise, stoked pro-police sentiments, perpetuating the false narrative that law enforcement officers are “under attack.” Trump and police-worshiping Republicans have countered the mantra of “Black lives matter,” with the ludicrous rejoinder, “Blue lives matter.”

Legislators in Louisiana recently passed a “Blue Lives Matter” law, which expands the list of protected classes under the state’s hate crimes statute to include police officers, firefighters and EMS personnel.

But not only is there no “war on cops,” police work overall is not actually as dangerous as we are frequently led to believe. A 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey of the most dangerous jobs in America does not even list law enforcement among the top-ten. Instead, the survey found that truck drivers, fishermen, electricians, and garbage collectors all face a greater threat of injury or death on the job.

Thus, it is difficult to understand why Goodman felt compelled to use lethal force against Baker, rather than resolving the situation by talking him down and apprehending him. Perhaps the answer becomes clear when one considers the origins of the modern police force and its roots in the late 19th century slave patrols.

The epidemic of police violence towards people of color is not, as is often suggested, the result of a “few bad apples.” The entire system of capitalist law enforcement is rotten to the core.

“The modern police institution is at its core racist, elitist, undemocratic, authoritarian, and violent,” writes Kristian Williams in his recently updated book, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America.

These are the institution’s major features and it did not acquire them by mistake. The order that the police preserve is the order of the state, the order of capitalism, the order of White supremacy. These are the forces that require police protection … These are the ends the police serve.

Far from being members of the working class, the police have historically been the bourgeoisie’s first line of defense against strikes, peaceful protesters, and the threat of slave insurrection in the antebellum South. Though police officers generally make a fairly modest salary, their elevated position in society often causes them to identify more closely with the wealthy elite.

And the overall selective nature of the implementation of law enforcement grants individual police officers (who, unlike most workers, generally go about their job unmonitored by a boss or supervisor) wide leeway in terms of who, precisely, to target. This leaves them to rely on subconscious (and, in all likelihood, racist) prejudices about what a “criminal” or “suspect” looks like, how he dresses, his skin color, etc. Such leeway also provides greater opportunity for corruption.

As George Orwell wrote in Homage to Catalonia:

I have no particular love for the idealized “worker” as he appears in the bourgeois Communist’s mind, but when I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.

Baker’s death must not go unpunished. We should fully support the implementation of body-cameras on all PPD officers–an effort many of the “liberal” local news outlets oppose.

But our efforts for police accountability must not end at body-cameras alone. Indeed, I ultimately envision a world where we do not need the police at all–at least not the institution of policing as it currently exists. (Williams, in his book, points to a form of democratically-run community policing as a viable alternative.)

In the meantime, let us place blame for Baker’s murder squarely where it belongs: With Sgt. Goodman, and the racist, hyper-masculine culture of violence that the police ultimately serve.

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…). Thanks for reading!

Dickensian Days are Here Again

An homage to Charles Dickens

dickens-at-work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, Dickens was no Marxist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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