Archive for July, 2010

28
Jul
10

A Communist Response to the Tea Party

The Tea Party has made a point of lambasting the Communist movement. Pictures of Obama (for the last time- not a Communist) are adorned with the hammer-and-sickle emblem, or set up alongside pictures of Marx and Lenin. There are picket-signs with such slogans as “Revolt Against Socialism”-in short, it’s the largest anti-leftist movement since McCarthyism. And not without reason, either. It’s undeniable that there’s a certain appeal to the Tea Party movement. Joining the fight against the [alleged] looming threat of an authoritarian state, bringing the country back to its original values, lowering taxes for the middle-class-everyman- who wouldn’t want in? But as with every political/social/economic movement you have to cut through the buzz words and slogans and examine the core principals and goals.

The Tea Party seems to be focused around three central issues, (1) the limiting of government power, (2) the restoration of Free Market Capitalism, and (3) through these two goals bring America back to the values of the Founding Fathers. In and of themselves these principals seem perfectly reasonable- admirable even. Until you look at history.

Limiting government power? Hey- Communists are all for it. One of the principal goals of Marxism is the abolition of the state. Indeed, despite the Tea Party’s pictures of Democrat politicians with the hammer-and-sickle superimposed on them, Communists have more in common with Libertarians- as far as governmental issues anyways. The problem with the Tea Party is that there not against big government- they’re against big Democrat government. The Patriotic Act was one of the greatest expansions of government power since the Civil War- did the Tea Party protest then? In the Tea Party’s defense though- this is a problem on both sides of the political spectrum; those who protested the Patriot Act have remained strangely silent about the issue now that Obama is in power.

As for the restoration of Free Market Capitalism- there’s a reason regulatory laws and branches have been developed. Before the advent of market regulation, the state of things was appalling. Child labor, strike-breakers, low wages, dangerous work conditions, false advertising, a complete lack of product safety and quality control, rampant pollution- to put it mildly, it was nightmarish. And even despite regulatory laws, corporations continue to pollute and exploit- look at third-world sweatshops and the continued destruction of the environment! If things are bad now, how much worse will they be without laws to protect the workers and consumers?

And lastly and most importantly, there’s the issue of the founding fathers. If you listen to far-right pundits (Glen Beck would be a prime example), you’ll hear repeatedly that the US must be returned to the plans the founding fathers had for it. A closer look at the writings of America’s founders, however, suggest that they might not have been as wild about Capitalism as conservative pundits and Tea Party members make them out to be. Thomas Jefferson, for example, had this to say about private property:

It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for instance. By an [sic] universal law, indeed, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common, is the property for the moment of him who occupies it, but when he relinquishes the occupation, the property goes with it.

Or look at this statement by Thomas Paine (technically not a founding father, but his influence of the Revolutionary War and the formation of the American government is immeasurable):

Men did not make the earth… It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property… Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.

and

…To pay as a remission of taxes to every poor family, out of the surplus taxes, and in room of poor-rates, four pounds a year for every child under fourteen years of age; enjoining the parents of such children to send them to school, to learn reading, writing, and common arithmetic; the ministers of every parish, of every denomination to certify jointly to an office, for that purpose, that this duty is performed… By adopting this method, not only the poverty of the parents will be relieved, but ignorance will be banished from the rising generation, and the number of poor will hereafter become less…

Even half a century later, Lincoln (not a founder, still an important figure in the shaping of American politics) gave us this warning:

As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

Quite simply, as far as the founders go, I doubt their ideologies would have mixed too well with those of the Tea Party.

To summarize, the Tea Party may have a heroic and patriotic veneer, but that’s all that there is- catchphrases, dire warnings about an apocalyptic future, and desperate attempts to restore a past that never existed. And the truly tragic thing is there’s a lot in the Tea Party that could be used for the betterment of the American public. The rejection of big government is admirable- just make sure that you’re not substituting one lack of liberty for another. The desire to restore prosperity is good- Capitalism isn’t the way. The attempt to restore the country to the principals of the founding fathers is commendable- but only so long as you know what those principals were.

23
Jul
10

Trafigura Found Guilty of Dumping Toxic Waste

BBC article linked here.

20
Jul
10

A Communist Look Back (and Forward)

It’s been over a year since I first started this blog, and a lot has happened in the world- I think it only appropriate that I write a brief post reviewing the past year and making a few predictions for the next one.

We have the economic crisis (or rather, a series of crises) of such great proportions the public’s faith in Capitalism has been badly shaken. The bailouts, the BP oil spill, the revelation of corruption within the regulatory branches of government- none of these have done much to convince the people that Capitalism has their best interests at heart. Indeed, the loss of faith in the current system has led many to look into alternatives, such as Libertarianism, Socialism, and to an extent, Communism. Despite this, neocolonialism, economic and cultural imperialism continue to spread. The poor and working class of the third world remain largely oppressed. Slavery rates continue to rise. In xenophobic reaction to ever increasing immigration rates, the US and Western Europe has become more hostile to foreigners.

The controversial creation of public healthcare in the US- indicative of widespread dissatisfaction with healthcare under Capitalism (or the lack thereof)- has garnered both enthusiastic support and vehement opposition, most on the far-left have voiced support for the change, but maintain that free, universal healthcare is the only answer.

In short, to say that the past twelve months have brought forth dramatic change would be an exaggeration- at the same time, it is undeniable that have been significant developments in economics and the public views of Capitalism.

Predictions for next year:

1. Continued disillusionment with Capitalism- independent parties will probably gain in popularity.

2. Extreme right-wing reactions in the Republican and Conservative movements will ultimately alienate moderates and undecided voters, resulting in more harm to the GOP/Conservative movement than benefit.

3. Immigration into the US and Western Europe will result in greater hostility towards immigrants, possibly resulting in blatantly anti-immigrant legislation, violence, and the oppression of minorities. Fascists, racists, and extreme right-wing groups will probably be seeing some victories unless this xenophobia is immediately combated.

4.  Austerity measures in some European countries will result (or rather continue to result) in strikes by the working class- some potential for rioting, but no absolute certainty.

Looks like it’s gonna be fun…

18
Jul
10

The Alienation of Labor

A common question asked during the aftermath of every great industrial disaster is “Could all of this have somehow been avoided?”. It’s an important question too- ‘those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it’ and all that. Marx, who grew up and lived during a time when industrial accidents happened with tragic regularity, saw this and developed from it his theory of the ‘alienation of labor’.

Marx states that as businesses develop, those profiting from the sale of a product/service become further and further removed from the actual creation and creators of that product/service and as a result cease to see the workers creating the product/service as humans and instead merely see them as resources. When one starts seeing his fellow man as ‘profit-versus-cost’ rather than as human beings, it becomes a lot easier to exploit them.

If the owners of GAP actually had to meet with the child laborers in their sweatshops, it wouldn’t be nearly so easy for the owners to pay a mere forty-four cents as a day’s wages. It’s that basic human connection makes us see ourselves in the places of others. Maybe if things were different I’d be the one making t-shirts for forty-four cents. Maybe if things were different I’d have lost a hand working with dangerously outdated machinery.

Of course I say “it wouldn’t be nearly so easy”, because the simple truth of the matter is that better worker-owner relations aren’t the solution to the problem. You don’t get to be a leader of industry by being honest and generous and kind- relying on the benevolence of those who got to where they are in the world being more cunning, deceitful, and brutal than their fellow man doesn’t strike me as the wisest choice. The sad truth is that people will always be selfish and willing to take advantage of others.

And this is the crux of the matter. How do we deal with the problems of the alienation of labor and still deal effectively with the selfishness we find in human nature? The answer is public ownership.

Now we’ve discussed the issue of a Capitalist ignoring the plight of his workers even if he is (somehow) forced to meet with them on a regular basis, but what if we remove the element of private ownership? Suppose the factory is owned collectively by those operating it (and who better to run it than they)? Even if there are those there who, despite working alongside their fellow laborers- sharing the same burdens, the same rewards- still attempt to work solely for their own benefit, they’re not about to say “hey, we could be making more of this product/service if we work fourteen hours a day rather than ten!”. In a collective setting, the only way to benefit oneself is to benefit the whole- cooperation, not competition.

Imagine that the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig hadn’t been owned by BP but by the workers of the rig. Considering that they’re the ones who will be the most affected by a spill or accident, would they pass up an inspection to ensure their place of work is safe for them? How would they benefit by cutting corners? The same goes for any field of work.

Now no Marxist is going to claim that public ownership will bring an end to all avoidable industrial accidents or similar disasters. What we can state for certain is this:

Public ownership is (1) a more just system, (2) a more democratic system, (3) will give the power to avoid accidents to those who have the greatest potential to be affected by such accidents, (4) will shift focus away from profit to the welfare of the workers and the quality of the product/service, and lastly (5) will be infinitely more effective than either private or government ownership (why should someone who’s never set foot in a factory make decisions on how to best run it?).

It might not be a perfect system, but the pros definitely outweigh the cons.

16
Jul
10

A Communist Look at the Republican and Democratic Parties

We live in a two-party system and there’s no denying it. No matter who you vote for on election day, it’s going to be either a Republican or a Democrat who wins. And despite the common belief that the two sides represent opposite values and cultures and agendas and so on, the simple truth of the matter is that there’s not a whole lot of difference between the Republicans and the Democrats. Sure the Republicans staunchly defend gun rights, take pro-life stances (while running, anyways), and Democrats attempt to advance the cause of gay marriage (as candidates anyways) and government programs. Sure we sometimes get the picture that it’s the competent, virtuous Conservative plan versus the decadent, amoral Liberal one (or the compassionate, tolerant Liberal plan versus the heartless, outdated Conservative- depending on how you look at it). Sure we’re constantly being forced to choose between the two, but once you sort through all the apocalyptic campaign ads and vicious rhetoric, you find that both parties hold the same essential values and goals.

Both sides favor a free-market system with some basic form of regulation (arguments about which tend to get depicted as America ‘marching towards Socialism’ or ‘being bought by the corporations’). Both sides favor a strong military and both sides favor strong diplomatic and trade relations with other countries. Both sides favor a strong federal government and seek to maintain the system of law we have currently. The changes that are touted as being capable of saving/destroying the US are in reality minor changes. In short, it’s the same car, just different colors and fuzzy dice.

And it’s a shame. One would imagine that the two-party system is indicative of the will of the public, but this isn’t the case. What we have currently is the crippling fear that the other guy might win, preventing us from ever voting other than Democrat or Republican. For example, you might be in general a liberal but more than anything else you value an isolationist policy. Now you have two options, (1) vote fore the 3rd party isolationist candidate or (2) vote Democrat to ensure that the conservative candidate doesn’t win. People, on both sides of the political spectrum, want to see their ideals represented but ultimately vote Democrat/Republican to prevent the opposition from winning.

The solution? The first step is to realize that with so little difference between the two parties, it’s not worth getting upset over one side winning or another losing. The vast majority of the two-party system’s power stems from the common perception that you’re being presented with two diametrically opposed sides- understanding the situation for what it is will encourage the public to vote according to their values rather than their fears. As a result, there will be a greater dialogue about alternative styles of government and economics- Objectivism, Libertarianism, Isolationism, and of course, Communism.

09
Jul
10

The Communist World

A few years ago, I was attempting to obtain a permit at a government organization that will not be named here, and after waiting in line for a good hour and a half I finally got my turn to take the test required. As I entered the testing room I was informed that I could have circumvented this entire process by mailing this office some paperwork earlier in the year. Now before I had the chance to inform the low-level civil servant in charge of the testing that I had been traveling and unable to send in the paperwork, he snorted and called me ‘stupid’.

Now I generally dislike being called that, but I had just waited in line for an hour and a half and all I wanted was to take the test and be done with it- chewing the guy out wouldn’t have gotten me out of there any faster. But more importantly than all that, I couldn’t help but pity the guy. He was in his late fifties, seriously overweight, in all likelihood suffering from a heart condition, and stuck- day in, day out- processing paperwork in a stuffy, crowded office.

I can’t help but feel that this wasn’t what he had planned on doing with his life.

Sure, there’s the off chance that when his pre-school teacher asked him as a child what he wanted to be when he grew up, he cheerfuly gurgled “I want to be a low-level civil servant doing a dull and repetitive job as I develop health issues while reeking of stale sweat and despair’, but I doubt this is what happened. And I can’t help but think to myself, maybe society could benefit more if this guy only processed paperwork every other Thursday, and spent the rest of the work week doing whatever he’s talented at. Maybe he’s brimming with raw, artistic talent- maybe he could be a concert musician who takes a couple days out of the month to process paperwork. Wouldn’t that be better not only for him but for all of us?

And then I think to myself, what if we applied that to everyone working a repetitive, dull, unskilled job? What if everyone took a turn filing papers, mixing cement, sweeper the streets, stacking boxes, or serving coffee? Wouldn’t thousands- no, millions of people suddenly be freed up to pursue what they were born to do- be it writing or teaching or studying medicine or astronomy or the like? Wouldn’t we be healthier, physically healthier as a society if we all did a share of manual labor? Wouldn’t we have a greater respect for each other if we understood what’s it’s like to scrub a mountain of dirty dishes or pick litter off the sides of the highways? The simple fact of the matter is that with everyone contributing, we would have a happier and more efficient society.

And this is what Communism is- the sharing of menial labor so that everyone can pursue the profession of their choosing. Classism, the separation and segregation of people based on wealth, falls to pieces. The need for an oppressed and exploited working class to support the luxuries of a decadent minority is gone with the creation of this new classless society. This, combined with the abolition of private property, creates a society free from the struggles between the haves and the have-nots- poverty and pointless excess become things of the past. In short- we have Marxism, a society of shared wealth, shared work, and a shared future.

And is it perfect? Of course not. People will always be people- greedy, xenophobic, deceitful, lazy, and irrational. There will always be crime, there will always be war, and there will always be corruption.

But hey- it still beats the system we have now.

07
Jul
10

Norman Rockwell’s America (is Dead)

If you’re familiar at all with contemporary art, then you’ll no doubt have heard of Norman Rockwell. Indeed, chances are if you’ve lived anywhere in the West you’ll have come across one of his iconic paintings (as an original or as a recreation). For the few of you who might not be aware of his work, Norman Rockwell created paintings depicting (most often) bourgeoisie life in idyllic Middle-America*. There’s the family farms and small, private businesses that politicians love to talk about (see Sarah Palin’s “Real America” speech) and Capitalism tries to market to you (see ‘Aunt Jemimah’, ‘Uncle Ben’, ‘Quaker Oats’, ‘State Farm‘, ‘Pepperidge Farm‘ etc.). For many it’s the very face of Capitalism- just look at this 1948 “instructional” video of (exclusively white) high-school teens discussing Capitalism.

Coronet Instructional Films “What Is Capitalism?”, 1948

This is a prime example of the twisted understanding of Capitalism many have, but even in this video we can see the roots of the disparity between the Rockwellian portrayal of Capitalism and the harsh reality. Throughout the film, one word stands out: Competition. The young woman to Jimmy’s right describes how the shop-owner, Mr. Brown, agrees to lend out his truck to ensure she and Jimmy buy from him, rather than the competition. She asserts that Mr. Brown’s interests aren’t in providing service but in making a profit, and it is here we have the crux of the matter. Mr. Brown wants to make profit- the sole existence of his business is to make profit, and so Mr. Brown does whatever he can to ensure his merchandise is sold, rather than the merchandise of his competitors. In short, Mr. Brown is trying to run the other shops in the community out of business to maximize his profits. I’m not arguing that Mr. Brown is morally corrupt (though let’s not rule out of the possibility), we have to understand that in a Capitalist system, the rules of competition apply to everyone. Mr. Brown has to run his competition out or his competition will run him out. Eat or be eaten. At the same time, if Mr. Brown is indeed concerned not with his own livelihood but with his profits, if he does succeed in running his competition out of business he will have a monopoly and Jimmy and his friends will be forced to buy “weenies” at whatever price Mr. Brown sets.

Melodramatic? Consider this:

Starbucks was a small, privately owned coffee shop that has burst into a world-wide empire that has obliterated competition. Walmart also started as a small shopping center before expanding to the point where it has replaced nearly all beloved mom-and-pop stores you see in Rockwell’s art. McDonalds didn’t start out was a global food-chain but just as a privately owned restaurant. Coca-Cola started out as a tonic.

Now of course, there’s the temptation to side with corporations on this issue. One might argue ‘Hey, the fact is that Starbucks, Walmart, and other stores became economic empires by being better than the competition- they deserve the power they have!’. This argument forgets, however, that most corporations don’t get to where they are by simply having better products. The Mr. Brown of the video might run his competition out of business by offering lower prices by (1) temporarily lowering his prices so that his competition will be destroyed and he will make more money in the long run, (2) lowering the quality of his goods, (3) smearing competitors (and if you don’t think this happens, look up a Mac vs PC commercial), (4) lowering the wages of his workers, (5) sabotaging his competitors (corporate espionage), (6) convincing the public that his products are better (actually making them better would decrease profit), or even (7) collaborating with other businesses to harm competition (just look up the tactics of J.D. Rockefeller). Now out of these seven options, do you think that Mr. Brown is going to go with the one that lowers his immediate income? And what happens when Mr. Brown gets a monopoly? Is he going to lose his customers to cheaper options in other towns? Of course not- the astute Mr. Brown is going to open a shop there, and use his profits to undersell his competitors into working for him.

It’s a sad but simple fact. No matter how much we swear by the good, ol’ family farm or shop, small businesses inevitably become big businesses, which become global corporations with a reputation for low prices and even lower wages, product safety standards, and environmental consciousness. To answer the question of the video, what is Capitalism? This is Capitalism: pointless competition, exploitation, monopolization, and the general degradation of all the values we see in Norman Rockwell’s paintings.

*Admittedly, he did do a few pictures of working class Americans and even school children in Soviet Russia- but overwhelmingly his paintings were of the bourgeoisie.