Letters from the Street

Philosophy, theology, and whatever else crosses my mind.

Category: Liberation

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!

Unity Rally: We’re Not Going Back

(Angela Davis was a key figure in the CPUSA in the 70s and 80s. Glad to see her taking part in this Unity Rally.)

Join the Communist Party and the People Before Profits Education Fund Saturday evening on March 4th. We are gathering to promote a higher level of united mass struggle against racism, sexism, relig…

Source: Unity Rally: We’re Not Going Back

Moral March in Raleigh, NC draws thousands

RALEIGH, N.C. — On a lovely, sunny mid-February day, thousands of people came to Raleigh Feb. 11 to let their voices be heard in the 11th Annual Moral March on Raleigh.

Source: Moral March in Raleigh, NC draws thousands

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?

Crisis of Capitalism 3: They Can’t Give Enough Of Us Good Jobs

I’m not an economist. I’m a social worker, which means I interact with a lot of systems. I know a little about a lot of systems, and a lot about a few. Economics is one of the ones I don’t know much about.

But it doesn’t take a specialist to know that we just had a recession more painful to so many more than at any time since the Great Depression. You don’t have to be an economics professor to know that, despite statistics citing employment growth since the depths of the recession, the jobs a lot of our fellow and sister workers now have are more unstable and pay less than what they had before the Great Recession.

This is another circumstance that points to the growing crisis of capitalism.  One of the mainstays of the growth of multinational (imperialist) capital in the 20th century was its ability to reward the working class in advanced industrial countries well enough to keep them as placid collaborators in their own gilded prisons.

They no longer can. Those jobs didn’t just go overseas. Those jobs are gone. People making cars in China aren’t getting what UAW members made during the 50’s and 60’s.

The charade that the Trump sector of the bourgeoisie is playing pretends that those jobs could come back. Trump and his coterie will fail at restoring that kind of prosperity to American workers. This is not just because they will make more money if they keep the jobs overseas, but because they can’t. Conditions have changed. It’s not the America, or the world, that made auto plants in Detroit, or steel mills in Pittsburgh, the cornucopia they once were.

This is one direction the crisis of capitalism is headed to. They are increasingly unable to buy us off.  It’s the inherent nature of capitalism to concentrate money and power among fewer hands. It doesn’t matter if some of the rich might be nice people who want to do kind things. The system will operate the way it’s designed to.

They used to be able to rely on the military to keep the profits rolling in. All those bombs and tanks, the food and fuel and other logistical necessities that keep them going, all of that is expendable. You don’t even have to do the hard work of developing markets. Wars burn up vast quantities of goods by their very nature. Re-building after a war used to be pretty good business, too. The Marshall Plan was as much a boon for the American economy as it was for war-torn Europe.

But a war here and there isn’t getting it any more. America has been at war in the Middle East since 2001. We’ve spent $5 trillion on war since 9/11. That doesn’t count the indirect costs, such as providing medical care and other benefits for veterans. If you add that in, the cost of war since 2001 is much higher. If this money were spent on infrastructure and education, it would provide a permanent benefit rather than going up in smoke. Endless war is still not enough to prop up the economy to be like it was in the post-World War II years.

We are not more secure as a result, either. The Middle East is more destabilized than it was prior to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The rise of ISIS is only one evidence of this. Our drone wars and other activities are creating new enemies all the time.

What will the oligarchs do to keep their profits and powerful positions? They will have to come up with new military expenses. They will have to develop new markets (gets harder all the time, with the globalization of the economy having progressed as far as it has.) They will have to tap natural resources in ways that costs less money (which means risk to the ecology; environmental safeguards cost money.) They will have to invest in financial “products”, like the sup-prime mortgage bubble that had such an effect on the 2008 crash, or relax regulations on old ones.

These things work, until they don’t. Bubbles burst. Wars wind down (even the endless war in the Middle East saw Obama withdraw troops from Iraq.) Markets are saturated. And then another crash occurs, and it takes us all down with it, not just the people who have gained the most from it.

These boom-and-bust cycles will always exist so long as our dominant economic paradigm is capitalism. It’s inherent in the system. The crisis of capitalism is a structural feature. I’m just saying I see the current crisis building up in these examples I’m sharing.

When they can keep us happy with good jobs and plentiful, affordable goods, it makes their job a lot easier. If we’re making enough that we can put some by for a rainy day, then it makes the boom-and-bust cycle easier for most of us. (Not for the more vulnerable among us, such as black youth and rural whites, and women in general.)

But we’re not getting that kind of money this time around. The recovery from the last recession has not been the tide that floats all boats, as the old saying goes. Even a minor recession will hit the working class very hard this time because the margin is so slim already between making it and not making it. This is why we need an economic system that puts people ahead of profits. There is enough wealth in this system to keep everyone out of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and sickness, if it weren’t all going to the 1%.

 

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!

Crisis of Capitalism 2

Keeping track of events as they unfold and trying to make objective sense of them. These aren’t isolated incidents. They are related, either directly by common features, or indirectly by a larger systemic conjunction. I don’t have the resources to methodically gather all or much of the pertinent events. I can only make use of what comes my way. I hope others will use the same methodology to uncover conditions that I don’t or can’t.
First, there’s the Lewis/Trump affair.
  1. Representative John Lewis, in an unusual statement, claimed Donald Trump’s election to be illegitimate due to claims of Russian interference in the electoral process. He and 17 other Congresscritters are staying away from the inauguration. Usually high officials will attend the opposition’s inauguration out of respect for the office and the process. This, in and of itself, shows a rift in capitalist hegemony. The two capitalist parties fight for dominance, and may question the legitimacy of a given candidate, but not of the process itself. It is important for them to preserve the illusion of free and democratic elections to keep the populace calm.
  2. Trump attacked Lewis personally in return. using Twitter. He said “Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad.” This was on the eve of the celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday celebration. Lewis was a noted associate of Dr. King with a long record of social action in and out of Congress, and a recipient of the Medal of Freedom. Trump displays his contempt for facts in this tweet, as well as raising  the concern about racism that dogged his candidacy. During elections, disagreements may be no-holds-barred and include personal slurs. Customarily, in the weeks leading up to the inauguration, the oligarchs try to present an image of even-handed, statesmanlike bipartisan cooperation, with paeans resounding about the peaceful transfer of power and reaching across the aisle.
  3. Trump’s post raised hackles in Georgia, especially in the district Lewis represents. The tweet was seen, not just as an attack on Lewis, but also on their home, which they don’t feel to be in horrible shape, falling apart, or crime-infested. The Atlanta Journal Constitution, a moderate newspaper (center-right on some issues, center-left on others such as civil rights), described the reaction as “incredulous” and “stunned,” and Trump as “clueless.” In their most telling remark, the AJC said “Atlantans understood Saturday that a political fight was playing out.” But this is more than the usual political jockeying for power among different sectors of the ruling class. This is a seismic shift, when even the moderate press, usually trying to appear objective and fair to “both sides,” is using adjectives like “clueless.”
  4. Later that same weekend, Gwinnett County commissioner Tommy Hunter accused Rep. Lewis of being a “racist pig” on his Facebook page. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Hunter “later posted an image that included this phrase: ‘If you’re easily offended and looking for a ‘safe place’ my page ain’t it. Move along snowflake.’ ” The AJC went on to report, “Sometime shortly before 11 a.m. Monday, however, the ‘racist pig’ post was no longer on Hunter’s timeline. The page’s privacy settings also appeared to be changed, but the other posts mentioned above were still visible to ‘friends’ and ‘followers’  — along with additional posts mocking U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, [and] asking if there were ‘any white guys’ on the University of Alabama’s football team.”
The point here is not the language being used by Trump and Hunter. Yes, it’s rude and even offensive, especially the “racist pig” remark. But this is not a post on manners, or how ignorant and hateful a couple of white guys can be about a hero of the racial justice movement.
I’m also not saying that we’ve never seen language as bad as this in political discourse. Some of the things Jefferson and Adams said about each other during the 1800 presidential campaign were pretty awful. Jefferson’s people said that Adams was a “hideous hermaphroditical character, [with] neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams’ supporters called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Adams was also called a fool, a hypocrite, a criminal, and a tyrant, while Jefferson was said to be a weakling, an atheist, a libertine, and a coward. No, the Republic has not been lily-pure in its political strife up until now.
Let’s leave personalities out of it. We’re looking at this as part of a larger system.
The greater significance is that the two bourgeois parties are clashing in a reckless way. They are not just pitting one party against the other, hoping for electoral victory. They’re questioning the legitimacy of the system itself. The two great sectors of the ruling class, of which Lewis represents one side and Trump and Hunter represent the other, are fighting for pre-eminence in a way that could scar the American political structure. The best case scenario is that both are left weakened. The worst case is that one achieves supremacy, without the scheme of checks and balances that have kept the worst sort of politics from taking over thus far in American history. This leads to a more authoritarian form of government which is great for the very rich and bad for the rest of us.
Even within each party internally we see the same sort of confusion, rancor, and take-no-prisoners approach going on. In the Republican primaries, they went so far as to compare penis size. (Well, they’ve never done it publicly before.) In the Democratic primaries, the clash was between the old Roosevelt coalition and the constellation of forces that Bill Clinton pioneered in the 1992 election, the New Democrats of the Democratic Leadership Council, which sought the support of the so-called “Reagan Democrats” and Wall Street.
So we see the crisis of capitalism emerging in the political arena, both between and within the parties. Now let’s consider the economic sphere.
While so many in the news media, and the rest of us also, were digesting the implications of the Trump/Lewis scuffle, something else was happening that didn’t get a lot of attention. On Friday, the day before Trump took on Rep. Lewis, he made a comment regarding lifting the sanctions on Russia. “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?”
If that sounds self-serving, you’re right. Trump’s connections are, on the one hand, very well-known, and on the other hand, not known well enough. But there’s another major player in this: Rex Tillerson.
You see, Rex Tillerson was more than just a little involved in a deal between Exxon Mobil and Rosneft, the Russian oil company and largest petroleum company in the world. Majority owner? The Russian government. The deal? Exploration and development of Russian oil reserves in the Arctic, as a joint venture between Rosneft and Exxon Mobil.
The payoff? $500 billion. Half a trillion dollars. And Tillerson has a whole bunch of Exxon stock as part of his compensation, millions and millions worth.
The sanctions that were imposed over the Russian annexation of the Crimea stopped the Exxon Mobil/Rosneft deal. Drop the sanctions, and the deal’s back on. And our nominee for Secretary of State, who would be involved in lifting sanctions, is intimately involved. Get the picture?
How does this fit into our job of looking at current contradictions of capitalism? There are several ways I can think of, and these won’t exhaust the possibilities.
  1. Exxon Mobil and Rosneft are not the only sharks in the tank. There are other big players in the petroleum industry, like Chevron (which doesn’t own a piece of Rosneft, unlike Exxon Mobil and BP, which do.) The potential for this Arctic Shelf project to affect these other companies’ profits won’t exactly make them happy.
  2. There are other countries besides Russia who are deeply involved in the oil industry, like China, Canada, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Iran, Iraq, the Persian Gulf states, and former Soviet republics like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. They won’t be happy about the competition either.
Just with those two factors, there is plenty of room for conflict. The maneuvering could be very interesting – if it weren’t for the rest of us getting hurt more than any of the “big players.”
Now throw in the environmental issues. Remember the controversy over oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a fight which is not over yet although it hasn’t been in the news as much lately. It’s predictable that there will be a similar fight over development in the Russian Arctic. This is not just the forces of Greenpeace; there is an important sector of the ruling class that gets that all-out exploitation of the environment, just like all-out exploitation of the workers, may pay off in the short run but not for the long haul.
On another front, students of history will remember such events as the explosion of the battleship Maine (which kicked off the Spanish-American War (and allowed the US to take power in the Philippines, control the Cuban economy, and annex the Guantanamo Bay area which is a source of contention to this day, over 100 years later); the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand (which was the casus belli for the onset of World War I, a contest over markets and colonial resources); the Reichstag fire (which was the rationalization for Hitler’s mass arrest of communists, especially those in parliament, which gave him a majority and consolidated his power), the Gulf of Tonkin incident (partly true and largely fictionalized, and gave Lyndon Johnson the pretext to plunge the US into the Vietnam war); and the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon (a genuinely tragic affair which nonetheless allowed the Bush government to pass the Patriot Act, greatly expanding the ability of the intelligence community to spy on US citizens and other civil rights infractions.)
So, do not be surprised if some event, whether an actual assault or a false flag operation, takes place early on in Trump’s presidency, which he will use to expand his powers, punish his opponents, and quell dissent. It may not involve overt action on Trump’s part. He may just make the kind of statements, like the one about the 2nd Amendment people and Hillary Clinton, which will suggest to his white supremacist pals that they should take matters into their own hands against Muslims, blacks, Mexicans, communists, or any other disfavored group. Those of us who are in the opposition had better be making plans for how we will respond. Some sectors of the ruling class will support this, and others will feel it goes too far, and will provoke yet another crisis among the capitalists. “When elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”
In a previous paragraph, I expressed a hope that others will use the same methodology to examine other events that may not cross my radar. What methodology is that? Dialectical materialism and class analysis, that’s what. I hope that in what’s been said above, the class analysis is obvious. These are not just an isolated set of coincidental events. Without the tools of class analysis and dialectical materialism, there is no context or systematic way to comprehend the flow of events.
I was in a discussion recently with someone who thinks Trump is uniquely dangerous, unlike anyone else past or present, and does not see him as one part of a greater danger. This is because she does not have a methodology with which to view and dissect what is happening. It’s hard to connect the dots when you only see one dot at a time.
There is a major power struggle going on among those with the vast majority of the money and power in the world. Hillary Clinton is a good example of one faction, those who want to be able to exploit natural resources and the labor of working folks, but trying to take somewhat better care of those workers. The other main faction, of which Trump is currently the most obvious representative, doesn’t worry about people or the planet; naked exploitation in its raw form. So those two contending forces form one set of contradictions, thesis (raw exploitation) and antithesis (exploitation with some care for the “livestock”), out of which a new synthesis will emerge.
Then there is the set of contradictions between the ruling class and the working class. The plutocrats want all the wealth and power for their own personal use, and squabble among themselves to get it, but are all in agreement that it is OK to rip off the rest of us to do it. We, the ones who actually create all the value, don’t want to be exploited. It rankles, for instance, to have Congress talking about taking health care away from millions who got insurance through the Affordable Care Act, while they themselves enjoy a deluxe insurance policy funded by our taxes. So a struggle goes on between these two groups also for dominance.
We will keep watching how current events are developing towards a critical state. The point of course is not just to understand what is happening, but to use that dynamic knowledge to change the system that produces these disasters.

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 a 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 stay 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 are all 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 own more than 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 has been 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 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 reap 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 a separate 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. I’m told he once said that he was not a Marxist. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Since Bernie Sanders mounted such a fine 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. Some of those communist parties can be described as democratic socialist. This is true of the Communist Party of the USA, with its “Bill of Rights Socialism.”

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, such as Stalin and Mao, have committed unspeakable violations of human rights. Remember earlier when I said there are different models of communism? Some of those models have failed atrociously. Such abhorrent 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?

*(Update – they do now. Just got mine.)

(On a personal note: I know some who know me will read this and make assumptions. You can’t assume that I believe X because I said Y. In some ways, I’m rather conservative. In other ways, I might look like a libertarian. At times, I’ve held positions that I later decided were wrong, sometimes regrettably so. But always, since taking a hard left turn in 1967, I’ve had a Marxist take on society. It’s why I’m the kind of social worker that I am. It’s why, as a Christian, I study Liberation Theology.)

Gringo Liberation Theology: Temporarily On Hold 

It’s too important to be  doing Liberation now. Events are taking place here in Babylon that demand our attention, our action, our hearts, minds and souls. Still have to make a living, too. 

I hope to post some material here from time to time, but lately my energies have been engaged in struggling against incipient fascism, as represented this time around by Babyhands and his gaggle of moguls. 

I never got to the post about how South American Liberation Theology is built on the communities of the base, the poor, humble and disenfranchised millions who gather together to love God and each other enough to stand up against the power of the billionaire class. Well, we’re going to have to make it up as we go along, because it can’t be done alone. I reckon that’s a good way to do it. 

Keep the faith, sisters and brothers. Love each other and the whole world,  because it’s going to take all the love we got to save the people and the planet from the onslaught of greed,  hate and ignorance that is being unleashed. We can do this.  

Gringo Liberation Theology: A Course Correction

A slight but important course correction to the series formerly called North American Liberation Theology:

It struck me the other day that, although I’ve addressed the issue of diversity a couple of times in these posts, the title was misleading. “North Americans” are a broad mixture of race and ethnicity. North Americans can be Afro-American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic, Creole, Middle Eastern, etc.

I wanted to create a dialog specifically for members of the dominant culture in North America. I want us to realize that, despite our privilege, we have a very real stake in being part of a movement for justice and freedom across lines such as race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or creed. I wanted those of us who are people of faith to have our participation in this movement firmly grounded in that faith.

Using the term “North American” may have made sense in some way. That way would be looking outwards, from within the dominant culture. To do this well, I have to recognize when I’m doing that and try to change. I want to be one with my brothers and sisters across all those lines. I want out of these barriers. That’s one of the reasons we in the dominant culture need to adopt a liberation mentality, to free ourselves from those gilded cages while allying with others who are liberating themselves from the chains the dominant culture has imposed.

So as a step in this direction, and with tongue in cheek, I’ve renamed North American Liberation Theology “Gringo Liberation Theology.” Makes it a little more clear who I’m trying to reach. I went back and changed parts of the earlier essays. Tell me what you think.

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