Individual Rights or Solidarity Rights?

I suppose it goes back to the Enlightenment. The scientific revolution triggered the end of the Middle Ages. Instead of being told what to think, people started to think for themselves. And learn. The old doctrines of church and state began to be replaced by empirical investigation and the rise of reason. Not just in the physical sciences, but also in philosophy, culture — and politics.

The Enlightenment had a huge impact on how people thought about their relationship to government and each other. The revolutions in the US and France were major outcomes of these changes.

One of the things that changed was the concept of what Jefferson called “inalienable rights.” A right is something you’re born with. We all have it. It’s not given or even guaranteed by the government, although it can be taken away by someone stronger than you.

Americans have been raised on the recitation of these rights. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” “Freedom of religion, of assembly, of petition.” “Freedom from unlawful search and seizure.” And so forth.

These freedoms, coming as they did on the heels of millennia of authoritarian government (tribal rulers, kings, princes, emperors, popes and caliphs, etc.), were truly revolutionary in their impact. As the power of the hereditary aristocracy gave way to the power of business tycoons, some of whom like Andrew Carnegie rose from very humble beginnings to the very peaks of success, and as the divine right of kings gave way to the Declaration of the Rights of Man (sic), at last it was possible for individuals to make their own decisions, based not on who their parents were, but on what they could learn, make, think and do.

It was truly liberating. It was an entirely necessary development to create the kind of material wealth that so many of us enjoy today. By “so many of us,” I don’t just mean the 1%. People in the working class in all advanced industrial nations enjoy a standard of living that a king in a dark, dank castle could not have dreamed of. (Except, of course, when it comes to the power to rule.)

Many still consider these rights, these individual rights, to be the height and summation of all that humans can aspire to. Liberty forever! (Equality and fraternity, not so much.)

I’m not writing this to discount the importance of these rights. They are still of the utmost importance to our lives, and will remain so indefinitely. But that is not the end of the story of the development of the concept of rights. There is something else happening. The idea of rights is still expanding. Here’s where I think it is leading.

As important as these individual rights are, they leave large gaps in our ability to provide all people with security, good health, shelter, good nutrition, good education, etc. All of those things remain commodities to be bought and sold on the market. Take health care: you pay for it like you pay to go to a movie or for a Louis Vuitton handbag. But health care is not a luxury, it is something that everyone needs.

Under our concept of individual rights, healthcare will always be a commodity to be bought and sold. Why? Because under individual rights, one person has the right to ask for as much money as the market will bear, and to keep all of it for him or herself, regardless of how that affects anyone else.

Let me repeat that: regardless of how that affects anyone else.

That’s how pollution gets poured into our streams and air. That’s how poor people are evicted from their homes so that some developer can make even more money on the property.

We need another kind of rights, in addition to the individual rights that have done so much for us. We need solidarity rights. These are rights that we hold in common, not ones that each of us has separately. The right to decent shelter, clothing, food or health care is not a personal right. You can’t take these things away from someone else, under our current system, because they own and control them.

Within solidarity rights, things change. The individual doesn’t own something like health care. They can’t use it to extort money out of other people. Same with housing, food, or education. These are rights we have, not rights that have. In sharing good food, for instance, we’re not taking something away from someone else, because it never belonged to them in the first place. They still have a right to be compensated for their labor in producing it, they just don’t get to set the highest rate they can and pocket the profit that they exploited from people who need good food.

When Bernie talks about doing away with college tuition, he’s not talking about “free tuition” as his critics say. He is talking about how we all own education, in common with each other. We’re not trying to take something away from anyone else. That something was taken away from us, when it was made a commodity that someone else could get rich from. Rich off of your back. Rich off of the work you do to provide for yourself and your family. Rich off the choices you have to make, whether to have the good insurance or the car that doesn’t break down.

This idea of solidarity rights will continue to evolve. 50 or 100 years from now, we may realize that there are other solidarity rights that at this time we would not be able to recognize, because in the grand scheme of things, we are still barely out of medieval times and we don’t have the perspective yet.

The expansion of solidarity rights will go hand in hand with the expansion of socialism in our economic and political lives. Without greater economic justice, there will be no development of solidarity rights, and without solidarity rights, economic justice will not last.

Workers of the world, you have your chains to lose and a world to gain — for each other!

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Transition to Socialism: Peaceful if Possible, Says Engels

I’ve been posting historical information from the Russian Revolution. At times, the revolution was violent. In nearly every case, this was provoked by the reactionary forces, either of those who were loyal to the Tsar and the old order, or other countries such as Germany, England, and the United States.

The question comes up, must a socialist revolution be violent?

It’s important to remember that the Russian Revolution happened in a particular place, at a particular time, under particular conditions. Those conditions never existed before and never will again. It is not a model for how a revolution has to happen. There are lessons to be learned, for sure, from the failures, from the successes, from the excesses.

Let’s not forget this: while much of the world speaks out in condemnation when the left commits a violent act, or even talks about it (such as the opposition to the appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos, or the Black Panther Party in the 60s and 70s), the ruling class uses violence against the 99% all the time. Every time they kill a black person on the street, every time they shoot an innocent person on a no-knock warrant, every time they fire someone without cause, every time they use dogs or fire hoses on peaceful protesters such as at the Standing Rock encampment, every time they dump toxic waste in a community, every time they use fake emissions testing, every time they arrest and deport a hard-working immigrant, they assert the ability and will to use violence against us. And every time they do, the rest of us know that we could be next, and that innocence is no shield. So this whole topic is rife with hypocrisy and double standards.

Remember this?

Elian Gonzalex

Deadly enemy of the state right there, requiring the deployment of (I kid you not) over 100 federal agents to bring him down.

Just keep that in mind.

Here’s what Friedrich Engels had to say on the topic, from “The Principles of Communism”, published in 1847, the year before he and Karl Marx wrote “The Communist Manifesto.” I believe that they are as valuable now as they were then:

“Will the peaceful abolition of private property be possible?

“It would be desirable if this could happen, and the communists would certainly be the last to oppose it. Communists know only too well that all conspiracies are not only useless, but even harmful. They know all too well that revolutions are not made intentionally and arbitrarily, but that, everywhere and always, they have been the necessary consequence of conditions which were wholly independent of the will and direction of individual parties and entire classes.

“But they also see that the development of the proletariat in nearly all civilized countries has been violently suppressed, and that in this way the opponents of communism have been working [against] a revolution with all their strength. If the oppressed proletariat is finally driven to revolution, then we communists will defend the interests of the proletarians with deeds as we now defend them with words.”

As a lifelong pacifist, I struggle with this issue as much as anyone. There is so much that can be done with nonviolent direct action, as proved by Gandhi, King, and many others. And yet, in the face of extreme injustice, my own moral purity is not what’s at stake.

We Need Love More Than Ever

I’ve been having these conversations with friends who, like myself, are very concerned about the current social/political situation.

One of them remarked that an acquaintance had said that it would be OK to just run over protesters if they were blocking the street. This caused despair for my friend, who then generalized to “Trump voters.”

Well, you know what? Nearly 63 million people voted for Trump. Most of them people not that different from me. Same worries about jobs and kids and all that. They saw a solution being offered by Trump. I think they were mistaken, gravely and dangerously mistaken, but not evil.

They will regret their choice, and perhaps before too very long at the pace things are going.

Out of 63 million voters, were some of them racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic? Yes. Trump brought those folks out of the woodwork and made them feel stronger. I’m not talking about them. They may be redeemable. I’m not counting on it. A lot of that hate is dyed in the wool. They just need to be opposed.

But I know from the depths of my soul that those mean-spirited types were not the majority. And so there’s the majority, regular working stiffs like you and me, who have been fooled by a con artist, and we don’t need to shame or blame them. We need to win them back.

They are our friends, our neighbors, the parents of the kids our kids sit next to in school. We need them. And so, as strong as I am in opposition to the 1% and the way they treat the rest of us, “the rest of us” is us.  All of us. Let’s act like it. Without giving up our resistance to the train wreck that is taking place in Washington, DC and in statehouses all over the country, let’s act like it.

An Opening to the Left

Early in the first quarter of Super Bowl 51, Coca Cola had a commercial featuring people of various ethnicities, singing “America the Beautiful” in a variety of languages.

There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when this would have been merely sappy. “Aww, look at Coca Cola, acting like they care about people ‘n’ stuff.”

Today, in the Trump era, it seems sweetly defiant.

It goes to show: since the fall of 2015, space has opened up on the political landscape to the Left in a way I wouldn’t have predicted 18 months ago.

During the Bush years, the scene shifted so far right that there was very little space to maneuver on the Left. The antiwar movement was marginalized and ineffectual. There were very little other than holding actions for racial or economic justice. The events of 9/11 dominated our national consciousness in a remarkable way. Even pacifist and lefty diehards like me were shocked by the destruction of the Twin Towers and at the Pentagon, and were fearfully herded into compliance with decisions that we would not have accepted under any other circumstances.

The Left had already moved way over to the center during the Clinton years. 9/11 completed the process. Efforts to imitate elements that fueled the rise of the Right, such as Air America’s attempt to do what Rush Limbaugh had done, failed miserably. Cringeworthy, to be honest.

When Obama was elected, not much changed. He sort of sucked the air out of the room. He defined liberalism at that time, even though he pursued a strongly neoliberal agenda. The expectations he raised for Hope and Change, the rhetorical charm, and our legitimate pride in having elected the first Black president, kept (and still keep) many from seeing that Barack Obama was not all that liberal. As noted in The Economist, “Mr. Bush’s and Mr. Obama’s agendas were in some ways more similar to each other than Mr. Trump’s is to either.”

Even the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature accomplishment, benefited the large insurance companies as much as the little guy. And yet, most on the Left, from those so close to the center they can hardly be called liberal, clear on out into what I think of as the moderate socialists (groups such as the Democratic Socialists of America), all view the ACA as a major accomplishment. I’m not arguing here that the ACA accomplished nothing worthwhile. I’m saying that it has structural weaknesses, that it could have been much better, that it was not anything like a socialist program, and yet there was so little room to maneuver on the Left that socialist groups were forced into supporting it.

But there have been significant events in the last 5 years that have indicated a notable movement to the Left. First, there was Occupy Wall Street. Despite collapsing under the weight of its own process, nonetheless Occupy got thousands of people, especially people new to radical politics, out on the street. Just as important, it brought awareness of wealth inequality into a lasting focus. When you say “the 1%” and “the 99%”, people understand the significance, in a way that “the proletariat” hasn’t done in ages.

In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement brought racial justice into national awareness as forcefully as Occupy had made people aware of the 1%. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner in particular energized the racial justice movement in a way that has not been seen since the heyday of the Civil Rights crusade.

Although not a national movement, the Moral Monday activities in North Carolina have had significant impact both in the state and elsewhere. The Moral Monday coalition has protested in favor of voting rights, education, environmental protections, and expanding the Medicaid program, which would have allowed thousands of North Carolinians to benefit from Obamacare.

In 2015, Bernie Sanders announced his candidacy for the Presidency. Initially seen as a fringe candidate, he put together a campaign that came very close to winning the Democratic nomination. He won more votes than any socialist ever has, including the vastly popular Eugene V. Debs.

Most recently, we saw millions of people pour out into the streets on Jan. 21, 2017. Billed as a Women’s March due to Donald Trump’s misogynistic behavior and policies, women and male allies flooded public spaces across the world. Over 500,000 people descended on Washington, D.C., and an equal number turned out in Los Angeles, astounding figures for this kind of event. More than that, millions of others marched and rallied in cities and towns across the globe, including 30 in Antarctica, making it the first occurrence of its kind to have participants on all 7 continents.

Since then, there have been spontaneous demonstrations against the ban on Muslims entering the US, when people poured into airports to protest this xenophobic action by the Trump administration. There was the Day Without Immigrants on February 16th to highlight the negative effects of the suddenly increased deportations. There is a Day Without A Woman planned for International Women’s Day on March 8th, when women and their allies are asked to take the day off from paid and unpaid labor, avoid shopping in any but women- and minority-owned businesses, and to wear red in a show of solidarity. On Earth Day, April 22nd, there will be a March for Science in Washington, D.C. and over 100 cities worldwide, on behalf of the scientific process and the need for evidence-based public planning and legislation.

All of this points to an important fact: Radicals on the Left no longer have to settle for shoring up the center to prevent the Right from gaining even further ground. While the Right remains a formidable adversary, both in the US and in many other countries in Europe and elsewhere, it is now possible for the Left to be the Left. Genuinely socialist programs, and genuinely socialist candidates, have a chance to win that they have not had in the lifetime of most Americans (the median age in the US was 38 years old in 2016.)

This means that groups on the Left need to make the most of the opening that has taken place. Organizations such as DSA and the IWW, that are making the most of this and stating their program in strong and clear language are growing by leaps and bounds. (DSA has more than doubled its membership since the November 2016 election.) Yes, there is a need to protect what was won in previous years, and yes, there is a need to push back against the ascendancy of the Right. But neither of these will make the most of the opportunity that now exists. Besides sustaining and protecting, it is time for the Left to explain socialism to those who are newly accepting of it, to promote uncompromisingly socialist programs, and to move forward with all the power we can muster.

Do you think there is an opening to the Left that we can make use of?

Protest: Non-Violent and Violent

Since the election of Donald Trump as President, there have been many demonstrations against his administration. In the case of the Woman’s March on January 21, which took place at sites all over the world, there was record-breaking attendance.

There is a lot of discussion about the appropriateness of these demonstrations. People on the right don’t like progressive rallies in any form. They say that the people organizing and marching in them are just sore losers. “Trump won, get over it.” Naturally, those who are in these events don’t think that is an accurate characterization. “It’s not that we’re sore losers, we just don’t like his policies and it’s our right to say so.”

But the most contentious discussions center around the kinds of protest that have been happening.

In the days after the November elections, protests erupted all over the country. Many of them turned violent and were described by police as “riots.” On November 11, Portland, Oregon police said some marchers were “trying to get anarchist groups to stop destroying property” and that “anarchists” were refusing to do so. Cars were damaged and windows were broken, two common objects of violent behavior at these actions.

On the day of the inauguration itself, groups of what are called the “Black Bloc” erupted in property destruction in Washington, DC (and punched a Nazi, caught on video and viewed millions of times on YouTube.)

On Feb. 1st, an estimated 150 protesters did thousands of dollars’ worth of damage at UC Berkeley, where Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. According to CNN, “Black-clad protesters wearing masks threw commercial-grade fireworks and rocks at police. Some even hurled Molotov cocktails that ignited fires. They also smashed windows of the student union center on the Berkeley campus where the Yiannopoulos event was to be held.”

Naturally, the right has strongly denounced these violent acts. But they are not alone. Many liberal and progressive people have raised objections to the destruction. Quoting again from CNN, “It’s a sad irony in the fact that the Free Speech Movement was founded here and tonight, someone’s free speech got shut down. It might have been hateful speech, but it’s still his right to speak,” said Shivam Patel, a freshman who stood outside of Sproul Plaza.”

This is typical of the kind of comments I’ve been hearing and reading all day, in the printed press and on NPR. We can’t violate free speech, even of someone like Yiannopoulos. There are also those who say that this kind of action detracts from the more legitimate protest mounted by the 1500 non-violent demonstrators who also showed up in dissent over Yiannopoulos’ appearance. Finally, there are some who say that this kind of behavior plays into the hands of the far right, who will respond with repression.

These are all valid points. First, free speech is an important value, regardless of your politics. Second, when you’ve planned a peaceful protest and something like this occurs, it’s easy to understand feeling as though you had been hijacked. Third, this kind of behavior really could lead to further repression by the white nationalists now in control in Washington and 32 states.

But that’s not the only way to look at these events.

First, the free speech argument. It’s settled law that free speech doesn’t apply to saying things that can harm others. There’s the famous “you can’t shout Fire in a crowded theater.” You can’t threaten people. It’s a very bad idea to joke about bombs while boarding a plane. And so forth.

But I’m not very interested in legalisms. Here’s the real deal: Someone who spouts racism, someone who spews misogyny, someone who promotes xenophobia, someone who slurs the LGBTQ community, someone who talks anti-Semitism: none of these falls under the protection of free speech. Not in my book. You don’t get to plead “free speech” when you are planning your white supremacist takeover.

Second, the argument that this distracts from legitimate protest. Hey, the other side doesn’t see your protest as legitimate anyway. But you know that. You’re worried about the undecided people who you would like to rally to your cause. Yes, many of them will be put off by violence. But if someone really shares your concern about refugees, or freedom of choice, they are going to show up anyway. Half-hearted people are of little or no use in social justice movements. If most of us are showing our dissent in a measured way, the right people will find their way to us.

Third, the “more repression” argument. That’s the strongest argument of the three. We don’t need to throw fuel on their fire. They really are just looking for excuses to increase their power. Handing it to them on a silver platter is a bad idea.

However, I’ve got to say this. Those of us on the side of justice and solidarity have to make it uncomfortable for people to be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. Since the rise of Trump, it has gotten way too comfortable. Hate crime is on the increase. The fascists have to learn that there is a price to pay, and that’s not going to be accomplished by tweets about Trump’s silly hair or perma-tan or his tiny hands. It may not be accomplished by me keeping my own hands clean.

I am a pacifist. I am certain that non-violent direct action is more effective for making real change in most situations. But I don’t think that everyone participating in Black Bloc activity must be misguided or immature. Remember that Black Bloc tactics actually did shut down the World Trade Organization talks in Seattle in 1999. Remember that in every resistance movement there are disagreements about tactics among people sharing the same ultimate goals. Remember that, whether you agree with their conduct or not, they are putting themselves on the line for a purpose we all believe in.

How to Fight Fascism Intelligently

I follow Benjamin Studebaker’s blog because he is intelligent, well-informed, well-spoken, and beholden to nobody. He’s not trying to push some sectarian agenda, he’s mostly interested in telling the truth as best he can. I don’t always agree with his conclusions, but his facts are always interesting, pertinent, and useful. He brings a sense of history and clarity to what he writes.

In this blog, he discusses how errors by progressives can actually feed into making the fascists stronger, which is important to know as we go into this fight with fascism.

Here’s where I disagree with him in this blog: I think he’s being somewhat provocative, maybe on purpose, in the way he chooses to state his conclusions.

Early on, he makes it clear that he is opposed to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc., and having been a reader of his for some while, I can attest to this. Where he makes his mistake IMO is in saying that, in order to not drive white males into the arms of the fascists (and let’s be clear, white males are the principal breeding ground for fascism and that needs to be acknowledged openly), that when dealing with issues of race, sexism etc. we should show white males conspicuous respect, we should support policies that will benefit white males, and so forth.

Here’s my problem: in his usual effort to be non-sectarian, bravo for that, he has avoided stating the obvious: It’s not about white males. It’s about the working class, of which white males certainly are one component. If you read through his 3 conclusions, and substitute “working people” for white males, then it would be pretty much right on the bull’s eye. So, for instance, the first sentence in the first conclusion might look like this: “Always treat poor and working people with respect.” The reality of intersectionality is that what binds us all together, regardless of particular circumstance such as sexual orientation or ethnic origin, is that we are all part of the 99%. The bourgeoisie uses all of those differences in identity to divide us from each other in a very effective divide and conquer strategy. Look how the Trump campaign has used this technique to set one part of the working class against others, in order to gain power.

Neither Studebaker nor I are saying that these identity issues are not important. Honestly, they are all very important, and not just to those whose identity they are. For any of us to be free, we must all be free. And for us all to be free, exploitation of the working class by the bourgeoisie has to come to an end.

If we do what’s right for the working class as a whole, no one will be left out, white males included. And those who experience particular persecution because of who they are, who they love, the color of their skin or what their faith may be will stand to gain the most if we all stand together for each other.

Benjamin Studebaker

President Trump was inaugurated Friday, and a lot of people are understandably upset. Many want to do something about this. This is a good and noble impulse, but I fear in our efforts to fight right nationalism we will instead end up its handmaidens. Let me show you what I mean.

View original post 1,544 more words

Women’s March January 21, 2017

Bonnie and I went to the local march today. Several hundred people had gathered in Union Point Park; not bad for a small Southern town of 25,000 people. Black, white and Hispanic, old and young (very young), female and male. Had some speeches, some of them pretty stirring, and then marched off to the federal courthouse for some more speeches. Originally the plan was to march to the county courthouse, but it wasn’t enough space for the numbers that showed up so they had to change. Now, that’s cool.

It was good to see so many folks I know among the crowd. The mood was not somber! People looked determined, but there were also a lot of smiles and high fives going around.

This is why we went. Going into the Trump era knowing we are not alone, knowing that there are others right here in our home community who are ready to stand up, to resist, to fight for each other.

And then we got home and started looking at all the news reports from around the country and the world. Photos that friends in many cities put up on Facebook. Videos of people marching. One friend took a photo in Greensboro, NC, as the march went past the Woolworth’s where a famous lunch counter sit-in took place back in 1960 (now home of the International Civil Rights Museum.) Now that ties things together, doesn’t it?

And the numbers kept rolling in. Half a million in DC. 150,00 in Chicago — no, wait, it’s up to 250,000. 100,00 in LA. 200,000 in New York City. 100,000 in Denver. 75-100,000 in Madison, Wisconsin. 50,00 in Philly. 35,000 in Austin, Texas. London. Berlin. Paris. Sydney. Cape Town. Vienna. 30 people in Antarctica. Antarctica!

I’ve been to a lot of demonstrations, from my first small local Moratorium on the War in Vietnam in October, 1968, to Solidarity Day in 1982, and the 20th anniversary of the March on Washington (“I Have a Dream.”) Some of them were huge, hundreds of thousands of people. But I’ve never seen anything like this.

There’s been a lot of despair floating around since the Trump Gang won the election in November. I’m glad to say, although I have moments of thinking I’ll wake up and it will be over, I have not given into hopelessness. From election night on, I’ve been saying, paraphrasing IWW organizer and songwriter Joe Hill, “Don’t Despair, Organize!”

But I get it. I know why people have felt scared and hopeless and alone.

Not today. No one had to be scared, there were too many of us. No one had to feel hopeless; the determination was palpable. And we were not alone. Not with millions around the world turning out on the streets in solidarity.

¡Hasta la victoria siempre!

Why I Call Myself a Communist

I used to call myself a Marxist, to distance myself from “those communists.” Now I know better. I’d be a card-carrying communist, if they issued cards.

We’ve been lied to about communism. So much, and so emphatically, that anti-communism is more like religious fundamentalism than serious political inquiry.

Over and over, for more than 150 years, we’ve been told the Big Lie about communism. There are a lot of little lies that shore up the big lie. The big lie is that communism is always and everywhere a form of tyranny that will take away your freedom, property, and dignity, leaving you in poverty and slavery.

All the while, the rich are robbing you blind, making democracy a sham by buying politicians, ruining the environment, supporting dictatorships all over the world, degrading your working conditions when they aren’t shipping your job elsewhere, charging you more for health care and medications, keeping you in wage slavery, ravaging the environment … The list goes on.

They lie to you about communism because they want to maintain the system they have. This system is enormously, unbelievably rewarding to a very few at the top, much less so to those in the middle, and absolutely punishing to the many at the bottom.

This state of affairs is called capitalism. In capitalism, everything – where you live, where you work, what kind of work you do and how you get compensated, what happens when you’re sick, what happens if you’re a person of color, what happens if you are female, what happens if you are LGBTQ, what happens if you belong to an indigenous people, what you eat, drink or breathe – it’s all subordinated to profit.

Profit is a technical term in economics for what most of us call greed. Profit is what makes the handful of people at the top of the current social structure so incredibly rich and powerful. Profit is why one person has billions of dollars, while billions of people live on less than two dollars a day.

Let’s look at some examples of how this works.

For instance, how do capitalists benefit from racism? Several ways. One, it helps them make more money to have a sector of the work force that is kept in poverty, who will be more willing to take crummy jobs for low pay, and keep their mouths shut about working conditions because they can’t afford to lose even a lousy job. Second, it helps keep people in line. If white workers blame black or Hispanic workers for their own miserable jobs or unemployment, then they won’t blame the bosses. Very handy – if you’re the boss.

Same thing with gender. If you pay a woman 69% of what you’d pay a man for the same job, you get to keep more money for yourself. And if the dominant culture allows or even encourages men to take out their frustrations on women, then men won’t see the need to struggle to change the system that keeps everyone – not just women – locked into low pay, substandard living conditions, the cycle of debt, second-rate schools, and all that. (These are not the only ways racism and gender discrimination affect our working class brothers and sisters, just a few brief examples.)

It’s even more obvious why capitalists exploit the environment. If they can take oil, or coal, or wheat, or trees, or any natural resource without having to worry about safety, pollution, or sustainability, then it’s more money in their pockets. If there’s an oil spill and they have to spend $50 million to clean it up, why, it’s just the cost of doing business. If cancer causing chemicals are killing people and they have to pay large settlements, even $500 million bucks is nothing compared to the billions of dollars they’ve kept for themselves.

By using money and power (including violence), the ruling class keeps the laws in their favor. In America, this is done through a two-party system. Both parties are run by the ruling class. This powerful elite is not always in agreement about the best way to run things; this is why they have two parties.

The Republicans think they can win if they get most of the money and lots of people, and the Democrats think they can win if they get most of the people and lots of money. If the Republicans win, then they have to please the people with the money – the plutocrats or 1% – and enough of the voting public to stay in. If the Democrats win, they have to please the voting public and enough of the “plutes.”

So, while the Republicans are more likely to favor the rich people who only care about money, and the Democrats are more likely to favor the rich who want to do something to help “the less fortunate,” both favor the rich one way or the other and keep them in the driver’s seat.

Either way, the billionaire class is less than 1% of the population, so their power is enormously out of proportion to the power of the voting public. This is why both parties cater to the billionaires, the real ruling class. (The 20 wealthiest people in the US have more wealth than the lower half of the total US population. Does “ruling class” sound like an exaggeration to you?)

Both parties will use diplomacy and military intervention as needed to keep America in political and economic power over the rest of the world. Lyndon Johnson was as big a hawk as Ronald Reagan, and did far more damage in Vietnam than Reagan did in Central America. Barack Obama was more restrained than his predecessor George W. Bush, but expanded the use of drones for assassination, and has bombed extensively in Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and Syria, countries with which we are not technically at war.

The alternative to capitalism is socialism. Socialism values the good of society as a whole over personal gain. Everybody would still own their own home, clothes, TV, whatever. This is called personal property, and it will still be there for your personal use. You would still be paid for the work you do.

What would change is that one tiny group of people wouldn’t own all the places where we work, people who do none of the work yet make all the rules and reap all the wealth that we create.

Under socialism, some of your compensation would not need to be given to you individually. If we all have health care, you don’t need money to pay for an insurance policy. If child care is freely available, we don’t need to earn enough money to pay for that. If higher education is free, you don’t have to go into debt to go to college.

Under socialism, some jobs will be valued more by society, so people who have them will earn more. Teachers might be paid more than taxi drivers, because we value our kids’ education so much and we want good teachers. But vast inequalities in wealth and income would no longer exist as they do today under capitalism. Everybody would be working class.

There are varieties of socialism. The best known is based on the work of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels.

Some people who agree with Marx just call themselves socialists. Okay by me. Some call themselves Marxists. Some call themselves communists. Marx, who wrote “The Communist Manifesto,” considered himself a communist.

An important difference between socialists and communists is this: socialists, often called democratic socialists, think that socialism can be voted in. Communists know that the ruling class will not give up without a struggle, and they will make it ugly.

Since Bernie Sanders mounted his campaign for President, the term “socialism” has once more become an acceptable part of our political conversation in the US. Socialism has never been the dirty word in many other countries that it has been here. Many countries have active communist parties with widespread public support.

Communists have done a lot of good in the world. In the US, for instance, communists were crucial in the gains made for working people by the labor movement in the 20th century. They were involved early on in the fight for gender and racial justice. In Asia, Africa, and South America communists have fought for economic equality and an end to colonial domination. Socialists on every continent have established educational programs and affordable medical care for people who had been kept in illiteracy and illness by their capitalist bosses.

The African National Congress, which spearheaded the fight against apartheid, has been allied with the South African Communist Party (SANC) since 1955, and is itself a member of the Socialist International. Nobel laureate Nelson Mandela was a member of the SANC for a time, and was greatly influenced by the anti-imperialist views of Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Other famous communists include: novelist Simone de Beauvoir; professor Angela Davis; poet Amiri Baraka; screenwriter Dalton Trumbo; scholar and NAACP co-founder W.E.B. DuBois; president of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta; author Albert Camus; folk singer Woody Guthrie; nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer; actor and singer Paul Robeson; journalist John Reed; philosopher and playwright Jean Paul Sartre; novelist Howard Fast; labor leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn; painter Diego Rivera; and many more.

Capitalists, and their minions, stooges and patsies demonize communism so you won’t even consider it as an option. They’ve been doing this since communism first appeared. They have used jail, violence, black-listing, character assassination, and more to scare people away.

There’s no question that some who call themselves communists have done some unspeakably horrible things. Such crimes cannot be explained away. But remember this: in that insane calculus in which deaths caused by communists are abominable but those caused by capitalists are merely “unfortunate”, there is neither justice nor integrity.

“But right now, as bad as we may be, as many atrocities as we may commit, we are not as bad as Russia. I mean in America, at least the police don’t shoot you — unless, of course, they do.” (Jordy Cummings)

Criticisms of socialist societies by those whose wealth was built on slavery and Jim Crow, who support the butchery of Augusto Pinochet and the mass incarceration of African Americans, who talk about the dangerous Soviet police state while making excuses for the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and so many others, rings more than hollow. It’s just not believable, so we have to ask what motivates such a fraud? Support of the status quo, that’s what.

For many years, I believed those lies. I’d been raised on them, and didn’t have the knowledge to refute them. Now I do. The truth is not hard to find if you try, and it’s worth looking for. Unless you are one of the 1%, who wouldn’t want a world where people mattered more than greed?