Letters from the Street

Philosophy, theology, and whatever else crosses my mind.

Category: Politics

Colonialism

In a recent period of history, traditional colonialism largely came to an end. Especially in the years after World War II, many former colonies fought for and gained political independence from their former masters. However, political independence didn’t confer complete independence. Those countries were still subject to the imperialistic nature of capitalism in the modern era. Whether or not a country’s governmental processes are ruled by the power structure in, say, the UK, France, or the USA, many decision are still made which keep them subservient. For instance, multinational corporations can move factories in and out without any consent of the people who live there, regardless of economic conditions, environmental impact, etc. And the international financial bodies, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization, ensure that these countries stay in debt, in poverty, and in a state of virtual peonage to the 1%.

This isn’t an abstract notion. It is daily reality to billions of people the world over. Recently, we saw a striking enactment of the nature of neo-colonialism, as Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria wreaked havoc over wide swaths of the Caribbean and North America. In states such as Texas and Florida, the disaster response from government, businesses, and NGOs, was immediate and powerful, In Puerto Rico, a colony of the USA in all but name, the response was pitifully inadequate, and continues to be.

One glaring example of how this is working out concerns the electrical power distribution infrastructure. In places like Texas, most of the work is being done by utility companies which have mutual aid agreements with each other. Workers from electrical power companies which were not affected by the storms have been deployed to areas that were. In Puerto Rico, a contract was given to a tiny utility company called “Whitefish,” based in Montana, to restore the power grid. Whitefish had only two employees at the time Maria hit. One of them is a close associate of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. They have no track record of doing this kind of work and are being paid millions to do it by the Puerto Rican electrical power authority. In other words, wealth is being extracted from Puerto Rico and being paid to Whitefish owners in the US. In the old days of colonialism, they used to extract raw resources such as minerals and spices to make money. Now, they just extract money.

This would be a great time to create a sustainable power structure in Puerto Rico. Blessed with lavish sunshine and wind, the new grid could be based on these renewable sources. It’s not a fantasy. China, according to the BBC, installed more than 34 gigawatts of solar power in 2016. That’s right, in one year. By contrast, Puerto Rico’s total electricity production prior to Hurricane Maria was 4.878 gigawatts. This clearly indicates that it could be done in Puerto Rico.

But creating a self-sustaining energy production capacity doesn’t serve the needs of the old-line power corporations. They want to sell natural gas, petroleum and coal. They have to keep their markets dependent on non-renewable sources. The people who actually live in Puerto Rico are given no choice.

As Marx said in a letter on British rule in India, “The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.”

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Do-Re-Mi

I’m working on a one-person play about Karl Marx. It will be a mix of monologue, rap, and old worker’s songs (we need to keep that old stuff alive!)

I’m changing the words of some of the songs so as to make them relevant either to today’s scene, or to the life and ideas of Karl Marx. Here’s one of them, borrowing heavily from Woody Guthrie’s Do Re Mi (I like John Mellencamp’s version from the tribute album “A Vision Shared.”)

 

Now if you want to get some pay, you’ve got to work the livelong day,

Do what the boss man tells you to and never have your say.

Cuz he owns the whole damn load, all the land and all the roads,

All the judges and the cops and politicians, by the way,

See, he’s got more money than you even know,

And it gives him all the power over how things go, so

If you ain’t got the do re mi, folks, you ain’t got the do re mi,

Why, you never stand a chance against the bosses

As long as they have it all under lock and key.

This whole world could be a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or to see;

But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot

If you ain’t got the do re mi.

If you ain’t got the do re mi, folks, you ain’t got the do re mi,

Why, you never stand a chance against the bosses

Without having proletarian unity.

This whole world could be a garden of Eden, a paradise to live in or to see;

Yeah your little ass is grass without the whole damn working class

Takin’ over the do re mi.

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!

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.

There are 2 Kinds of Strikes

Benjamin Studebaker in fine form:

Source: There are 2 Kinds of Strikes

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

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.

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?

What Do You Think about Violent Protest?

The post on violent protest generated a lot of interest. Time for reader feedback. Here’s a poll.

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