Letters from the Street

Philosophy, theology, and whatever else crosses my mind.

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.

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.

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%.


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!

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.
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