Posts Tagged ‘Capitalism

08
Jun
12

Why I Vote

ImageElections in the US may be months away, but already political ads are saturating television, radio, and the papers. But for all the bumper stickers, slogans, t-shirts, and signs stuck in front lawns across the country, many Communists are taking up the cry of “Don’t Vote!“.

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This isn’t exactly a new attitude. People have been decrying elections ever since we first had them. And of course, this isn’t without good reason. When you’re asked once every four years to pick between two corrupt aristocrats maintaining virtually the same platform (platforms they’ll abandon the second they’re sworn in), voting seems like a pointless exercise that insults your intelligence and your values. This general disgust applies just as much- if not more- to the members of the far left, who recognize the current system masquerading as democracy as being, at its most competent, the “executive arm of Capitalism” and at its most corrupted, simply a parasitic organization.

ImageNow every once in a while, you will find Communists who ascribe to the whole concept of “Lesser-Evilism”, in other words, the idea that, despite being opposed to them on every key issue, we should vote for mainstream parties to keep other mainstream parties from winning. It’s the old threat offered to the working class election after election- “Vote Democrat or else the Republicans will win!”, “Vote Labor or else the Conservatives will win!”, you get the idea. And I’m guessing you know who I’m talking about, too.

ImageOf course, giving into this mentality entirely defeats the purpose of having a different opinion in the first place. You can assert all you want that the working class shall one day rise up and establish a truly free and equal society, but if you keep on voting Democrat, that’s what you are. And to those of you who might claim “Hey! We’re trying to bring them over to our side!“, I’ll believe that when they start voting for you, and not the other way around.

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Seriously comrades, let’s get things straight here…

So why, with all of this in mind, would I still choose to vote?
Because it works.

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Bear with me here…

Now am I saying voting is the solution? I am not. Like most Marxists, I disagree with Marx on this idea that Socialism will ever be simply voted in. Besides, even if each and every politician, elected official, and appointed civic servant in the nation was a Communist, we still wouldn’t have Communism. Communism is, after all, a change in the people, not a change in the government.

And I’m further not trying to advocate what some Communists have dubbed “Class Collaboration”- that is, the workers joining forces with the ruling class to meet some mutually beneficial end (or rather, what the workers have been told will be mutually beneficial). The needs of the poor and the oppressed don’t exactly match up with the needs of the wealthy and powerful, and to try to cooperate will almost certainly result in the abandonment of the needs of the proletariat.

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“You want food, I want food- you cook for me and I’ll give you the scraps. We’re a team!”

What I’m talking about is simple: the attempt by Communists to defend the working class from exploitation, and to improve their condition, through any and all means available to us- including elections. Is that collaboration? Of course not, and to the few who might actually try to argue that it is, then I need only point out that by the same criteria, you buying food from a store that isn’t a co-op is class collaboration, as is buying food, watching anything on television, listening to music, and so on.

Granted, to progress anywhere in major elections (now more than ever), resources are needed that will probably be only available through actual collaboration. That said, local elections tend to be more free (the key word there being “more“) than elections on a federal level, and as such, certainly should be considered tools for Marxists. Allow me to offer the example of my brief time as a student representative at my college. I managed to push through some resolutions in solidarity with workers in South and Central America and South-East Asia, as well as prevent a committee I sat on from collaborating with an organization that gave exploitative corporations a free pass. I have to ask- how is a county election any different than this? Cannot a Communist run for office, and use his or her position to make similar decisions in favor of the poor and the working class? Indeed, there have been radical leftists elected to such local positions in the US. Again, I am not advocating elections as the solution, but rather as a tool available to the working class.

ImageEven now, I’m guessing there will be readers who are unconvinced- who are adamant that any attempt to use elections by Communists is at best a waste of time and resources and at worst a betrayal of the movement. I am of course willing to hear your side of things, but I just have to ask- is the whole “Don’t Vote” argument really just a facade for apathy? Is all the cynicism really just in place to give us all an excuse for hiding behind academia and whittling our time away in pointless analysis and retrospection?

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Do we rail against one action to make us feel better about our inaction?

It’s just something to consider. As for me, I will continue to advocate elections as a means of helping the workers in their struggle for freedom and equality. If nothing else- if nothing at all else is accomplished by doing so, we may perhaps take comfort in this:

ImageWe still get some cool pins out of it.

13
Jan
12

Arguments for Communism

A while ago, I wrote a post listing brief counterarguments to the claims usually used to “disprove” Communism. To this day, it’s been one of the most read pieces I’ve written, so I thought it might be time to expand it a bit. Written below are the most common arguments people use against Communism, and my responses to them.

 

Communism Has Been “Tried and Failed”:

The problem with this commonly used argument is that more or less everything has been tried and failed. Take democracy for example. Can I argue that democracy is a futile endeavor because it failed not once but multiple times it was tried?

"I propose we write really depressing plays!"

If I recall, democracy didn’t work for the Athenians.

"I propose we totally rip off of the Greeks!"

And the republic didn’t exactly wind up being a lasting facet of Roman society.

Even in America, democratic government needed to be reworked- but despite the many failed attempts at democracy, the idea that anyone today would want anything other than a democracy is laughable. Let’s keep this in perspective before claiming that Communism was tried once and should now be abandoned for all time.

 

Communism is “Great on Paper”:

I’m particularly irked by this argument because most everything is “great on paper”! Now there’s no real response to the whole “Communism is great on paper but doesn’t work in application” because of how broad it is. Really, it’s more of a prefix to an argument (such as the ones below), and any response is going to have to be more specific. Still, if you really do need an immediate response, simply point out that egalitarian, classless societies that shared work and held common property have existed since the beginning of time.

Remember us?

Communism Conflicts with Human Nature:

I’ve found this line of reasoning especially prevalent among religious groups, and while you could debate whether or not humans are basically good or bad till the end of time, there is an argument you can use in defense of Communism even if humans are inherently evil (which, for the record, I myself believe).

 

Now the argument tends to go “If humans were also basically good, Communism would work. But humans are basically bad- that’s why Capitalism works. Capitalism takes humanity’s evil nature into account.”

 

See, this argument is just ridiculous- first, if humans were basically good, we wouldn’t even be having to bring up Communism to begin with. Second, Capitalism doesn’t so much “take humanity’s evil nature into account” at it does reward it. Greed, deception, selfishness, reckless individualism, decadence, and the like- these are all things that Capitalism not only makes excuses for, but encourages! If we’re going to base our economics on the concept that greed is acceptable, should we then base our legal system on the concept that perjury, harassment, and murder are acceptable?

There's actually a big market for furniture made from human skin...

Just because humans are naturally bad doesn’t mean we should base our entire society around the hopes that they’ll act badly.

 

Communism Is Against Religion:

Let’s face facts- Marx was an atheist, as were many prominent Communists. However, to assume that Communism and religion are opposed would be wrong- indeed, if you take a look at what Marx wrote about religion, you’ll find his issues weren’t so much with faith, as the use of religion by the powerful for control, and the use of religion by the powerless as an excuse for not taking action. In reality, even Communists who would describe themselves as “anti-theist” almost universally hold to the belief that what you believe (or don’t believe) is your own business. On the other end of the spectrum, you will in fact find Christian Communism, liberation theology, and social justice movements arguing that it is not Communism but Capitalism that is antithetical to the basic principals of religion.

Totally what Jesus had in mind...

Communism is Against Democracy:

My response to this accusation is two pronged- first, we need to point out that not all Communist leaders seized power, most prominent among Marxists democratically elected to power was Chilean president Salvador Allende, who lost his life in a CIA-backed military coup. Second, while there were dictators who claimed to be Communist, these men were Marxists in about the same way that the propagators of the Spanish Inquisition were Christian. Take a look at the writings of Marx or Engels or Luxembourg and you’ll see the demands for power to be put in the hands of the people, not the party chairman or head of the military. Communism believes in democracy- it is with Capitalism that democracy doesn’t mesh so well. Democracy is meant to be a system in which all have equal power. However, in a system where money is power, any inequality in wealth is going to mean an inequality in influence over government. The wealthy man can hire lobbyists, give campaign contributions, fund advertising, hire people to smear his opponents, and so on (and let’s not forget the straight-up bribe). Is that equality? Let’s take a look at what democracy looks like in the US.

Not exactly faith-inspiring is it?

Planned Economies Aren’t Efficient:

It’s not a common argument, but every once in a while you’ll run into someone with a penchant for economics who’ll take this line of argument. They state “Hey, there’s no way a planned economy will work unless you’re always over producing ______ or trying to catch up to the demand for ______. It’s inefficient.”

 

Now you can probably argue exactly how a planned economy could work- and that’s a debate for another time. The easiest response to this argument is to point out that Capitalism isn’t exactly efficient either. When someone can take natural resources, use them to create a product, and finding that the market for novelty sumo tables doesn’t actually exist, be stuck with a warehouse full of the stuff, you can’t exactly assert Capitalism doesn’t have just as much potential to be wasteful.

All this and more garbage available from SkyMall!

Society Won’t Function Without the Free Market:

Another argument sometimes used by the economically minded is that the only way for society to function is through the natural process of supply and demand. Now my response to this is to use my own conditions- unless you attend a college set in an extremely rural area, I’m geussing you won’t be able to use the exact same points, but hopefully you’ll be able to use the basic logic behind them.

 

Now as I said, I attend a college surrounded by miles of forest and not much else. There is a massive demand for theaters, restaurants, shops, grocery markets, and other diversions, yet nothing happens. See, what the acolytes of the infallible system of supply and demand don’t realize is that supply and demand is like fate- it only works in retrospect. Yes, demand is met (or else, it moves elsewhere), but how long and how much do you have to demand for a product or service before it shows up? There’s no standard, no pattern, no system. Things were either meant to be or not meant to be- all in all, the whole “supply and demand will answer everything” stance taken by some really can’t be held.

Communism is Against My “Right” to Private Property:

You ever see ads for buying a star, or property on the moon? You laugh at it- maybe you’ll think it’s a nice sentiment- but at the end of the day you don’t take it seriously. After all, the moon and stars can’t be bought because they’re not anyone’s to sell. It all makes about as much sense as buying a cubic foot of air from a man named Steve. Steve can’t actually give you a cubic foot of air, can’t prevent you from moving through said cubic foot of air, and has no way of owning a cubic foot of air to begin with.

Yet we view land (and private property, made from resources from land) as a sacred right. Why? Land is just land- land didn’t belong to anyone until some neanderthal took up a club and declared that all dirt between points A, B, C, and D were his and his alone. Yet today if I were to attempt to do the same thing and claim that all within an invisible border belongs to me and no one else, I would be called a thief. That’s the origin of this so-called “right”, someone in the distant past just took it, and because of this, you can “buy” a plot of land, never use it for anything, and yet have every right to keep anyone from living there. That’s just not rational- the world belongs to everyone, and you can only “own” property in as much as you can be the one currently using it.

Communism Is Against Prosperity:

Come one- you don’t have to be a Communist to recognize that we can’t live in decadence and luxury. Communism isn’t against prosperity, but it is against mindless excess. Private jets, whaleskin leather seats for you SUV (look it up), imported caviar with every meal- there’s no way that we can live like this- the planet is having a hard enough time keeping up with current rates of consumption as it is. Further, let’s not imagine for a moment that fast cars and big houses are what make a life worth living. Freedom, dignity, peace, equality- I’d take that over a gold plated BMW any day.

If You’re a Communist, Why Aren’t You Poor?

The inbred cousin of the question of “Why can’t I be stinking rich?” is the question “Why aren’t you desperately poor?”.  Now I’ve touched on this question before, but it comes up a bit and I’ll try to address it here as well. We might not believe in decadence, but we don’t want people to be poor either- that’s not what Communism is about. Equality in wealth will mean the end of millionaires and billionaires, but for countless people across the planet, the standard of living will dramatically increase. We aren’t poor because we’re not supposed to be poor- no one is!

We’re not big fans of either extreme…

Big Government Doesn’t Work:

We couldn’t agree more. Communists don’t believe in big government, we believe in collectives,  communes, and communities working on a local level to address problems and issues unique to them. If they choose to band together for whatever reason, they may of course do so, but at the end of the day, we do not believe in the state. Even Lenin, a Communist who was about as “big government” as Marxists get, called for the abolition of the state. Communism is about power to the people, not the politician.

Communism  Has Killed Millions:

Here’s the big one.

Now if you’ll take a look at the texts of Communism, nowhere will you find anyone say “By the way, you should totally purge entire sections of your population”, yet nevertheless, it cannot be denied that millions are dead at the hands of “Communists”.

That’s “Communists” in quotation marks- you see, mass murder reflects on the ideals of Communism in about the same way that (as I’ve said above) the Spanish Inquisition reflects the ideals of Christianity. Let’s face it, people will use any justification for their actions. The men who killed in the name of Communism only used Communism as a facade for their own agendas. After all…

The Tuskegee Spyhilis experiments did nothing to treat African American farmers the researchers knew were infected, and did so  in the name of science, but exactly how is (secretly) giving someone a disease reflective of the goals of science?

And the reign of terror- was this the product of enlightenment and reason?

And is this democracy?

People kill people- that’s the sad truth. Communism has nothing to do with it.

27
Dec
11

A Communist’s Defense of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Part I)

I’ll admit freely- I didn’t expect the OWS movement to take off when I first heard of it in August. Despite the advances made by Egypt and other Arab countries utilizing the same techniques, I never would have expected Americans to have taken to the streets in a unified expression of frustration and desperation. And yet here we are, nearly half a year later with the OWS movement in every major city in the US and solidarity movements across the globe. It would naturally be remiss of me to not to comment on the OWS and offer, for anyone interested, a Marxist take on the whole venture. Despite this, months after the first protestors gathered in New York, there are people who claim to not know what it is the movement wants, and the most common criticism of the movement is that it has yet to produce a concrete list of demands.

 

Now this is something that has always irked me, but after some contemplation, I think I’ve figured out what it is that people aren’t clear on. Many seem to be under the impression that the OWS is not so much a movement as it is a campaign- that the protestors are (or at least, ought to be) after a few specific objectives,and after these have been achieved, the movement will disband. But that’s not what the OWS is- not at all. The OWS is not just a political movement, it is an entirely new political and social perspective. You could no sooner get a list of objects from liberalism or conservatism than you could from the OWS movement. These are not goals in play here, these are values. In a world where Republican/Democrat or Conservative/Liberal have been dominant for so long, its difficult to grasp the idea that there are indeed other views out there on the way the world can be.

 

So what is the perspective? Again, defining the exact content of the OWS perspective would be as difficult and pointless as trying to catalog every aspect of liberalism or conservatism- you’re going to find varying degrees of liberalism/conservatism and you’re going to find arguments about what tenets you have to hold to be liberal/conservative. The same is true of the OWS movement- you’re going to meet everyone from moderates, liberals, and libertarians angry at the behavior of corporations to the most hardline Marxists and anarchists. On the whole, the whole perspective could be argued to be the rise (or, depending on how you look at it, the resurfacing) of the radical left, targeting both the current economic system and ever increasing government power. Take the following general values as an illustration of the mindset the OWS represents.

 

Economic Equity:

Despite the old Capitalist fairy tale that the wealthy are wealthy because they’ve worked harder, or are smarter, or more competent than their peers, the recent financial crisis (or rather, crises) have disillusioned most people about the truth in all this. Further, as countless Americans who have worked hard their entire lives, never making a risky investment or acting irresponsibly with their money, find themselves nevertheless in dire economic straights, the justification for the rampant inequality in wealth is more widely being seen for the lie that it is. Greater economic equality, both in the workplace and in society in general, is a core tenet of the perspective OWS represents.

Democracy:

Similarly, the long list of interferences by corporations and the wealthy in government and democracy have forced many to question whether economic inequality can coexist with democracy. When unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, as well as lobbyists, and a host of former CEOs and corporate lawyers now in charge of regulatory organizations, the credibility of both the current administration and in the current system of government in general is rapidly deteriorating (and police brutality against the OWS isn’t helping much either). Greater representation through greater democratic control is another principal component of the OWS perspective.

Justice/Responsibility:

Arising out of the combination of a lack of faith in either the current economic or political system, many are questioning the exact “fairness” of it all. Returning again to the issue of the actions of a few affecting the vast majority, there is much discussion on how to create a world where the majority are not punished for the failings of the minority and vice versa. The twin values of justice and responsibility, even if their correct implementation is not fully understood, is at the heart of the OWS mentality.

 

Human Dignity:

With increased rates of homelessness and poverty, the issue of basic human dignity is emphasized in the OWS movement. With corporate personhood juxtaposed to the suffering of many actual people serving as insult to injury, exactly what it means to be a member of society is being rethought. Emphasis on the right of all people to housing and employment, regardless of economic circumstances is arising out of rejection of the Capitalist treatment of humans as products and instruments of labor.

Of course, there are plenty of degrees to which you can take any of these points. For some “moderates” of the OWS movement, these values can be achieved through the implementation of political reform, greater regulatory legislation, and taxation on the wealthy “1 percent”. For others holding more extreme views, the current system can be neither reformed nor regulated, and the only way to improve society is through eliminating all economic disparity. No demands can be put forward for the OWS simply because the OWS is not a uniform group with a single plan. It is a mass movement of individuals united under a single set of principals, all seeking together to implement those principals.

You still need an OWS objective? Here it is:

08
Jul
11

Another Good Article From Cracked.com

Article (describing growing corporate power) linked here.

23
Jun
11

Joining the Party: CPUSA (Part II)

I began my search for a party to join with the Communist Party of America (CPUSA). Founded back in 1919, it’s one of the oldest and most prominent leftist parties in the US, so starting here seemed as good as place as any.

Now I’ll admit, my own brand of Communism is fairly left-wing, even by Socialist standards; so why I’d start with the relatively mainstream-Marxist CPUSA might be a little confusing. You see, as much as I’d like to work alongside fellow radicals, the left is splintered enough as it is, and regardless of where we stand on certain issues, there are far too few of us to spend our time fighting each other when we ought to be collaborating. If there’s enough that the CPUSA has going for it, I’m more than willing to put my individual politics on hold to work for the greater good.

Now let’s look at the pros:

  1. The CPUSA is, as I mentioned above, one of the oldest leftist parties still active. It’s managed to weather McCarthyism, wars, internal strife, and rivalries with other parties. Durability like that has to count for something.
  2. The CPUSA is, compared to other leftist parties, pretty large- roughly 3,000 members in total.
  3. The CPUSA isn’t anti-religious (as some parties are). Regardless of what your stance is on religion or spirituality, you have to admit that people have the right to be believe, true or false, whatever they want to believe.
  4. The CPUSA has a long history of standing up for labor rights, racial equality, and feminism and gay rights.

And now the cons:

  1. The CPUSA has, at points throughout its history, been influenced by the former Soviet Union, rather than the American left and working class. It’s not good, but with the fall of the pseudo-Communist USSR, it might be forgivable.
  2. The CPUSA has, on multiple occasions, endorsed the Democrats as being “lesser evils”. Further, Sam Webb, leader of the CPUSA, has fully backed (again, on multiple occasions) Obama as being a “friend” and “advocate” of the people.
  3. The CPUSA entirely rejects violence, and asserts that working through the present system is the only acceptable means of securing change.
  4. The CPUSA, on the whole, is barely Communist. At best they might be Social Democrats, and at worst, run-of-the-mill liberals with delusions of radicalism. It’s a harsh judgment I know, but it has to be said.

So what are my conclusions?

While the CPUSA does have a lot going for it, all the good aspects are really negated by how tame the party is on the whole. As a Communist, I’m either laughed at or feared, and since that doesn’t look like it’s going to change, I’d really rather be laughed at/feared for doing something more than just writing letters to Monsanto’s- sorry- my political representatives. The things we’re up against are going to go away just by applying minimal political pressure- we’re facing people who wouldn’t think twice about benefiting from slave labor or bribing politicians. The CPUSA’s hippie-meets-bureaucrat philosophy just doesn’t seem like a realistic means of combating injustice. I’m not saying I won’t work with them if the opportunity arises, but I’m not going to dedicate time and energy to what’s essentially a compassionate lobby

10
May
11

Racism’s Back (Not That It Ever Went Away)

There are bad times ahead.

As the world economy further deteriorates and promises of middle-class prosperity wither, an angry, frustrated public is seeking desperately to find a scapegoat. Convenient targets who can take the blame, and let people prove to themselves that it’s not the system that’s at fault- that they can, if they work hard, be one day rich and happy and famous and secure. And so once again the poor, the powerless, and the different become the targets of a disappointed middle-class, more ready to believe that immigrants and ethnic, national, and religious minorities have conspired against than to accept that the system is somehow flawed.

Yes, it’s yet another post about racism, but it’s a topic that needs to be discussed.

Not to long ago, I found this clip on YouTube.

In short, it’s nearly five minutes of an angry man attacking “Chicano bastards” for “ruining neighborhoods” and “working for less” and a number of other bigoted charges. Right from the start he claims that “The invasion of illegal aliens has caused more misery for the American people than any other race.”. And who are the “American people”, he mentions? They are, as he puts it “The producers- the white people…”. At one point, he even states “We know they can be rounded up… How many Jews did the Nazis round up?”.

But his bigotry is by no means limited to Hispanics, there’s plenty of racism to go round.

Here’s a clip of him attacking the Muslim community in the US:

And another, disparaging the struggles of African-Americans:

Now you might argue “Sure, these videos are disgusting, but it’s all just one nut-case. The internet gives even the worst of us a platform.”. Granted, they’re all videos of the same bigot, but I chose to use them for a reason. At the end of each video, there’s a brief admonition to not provoke his followers as they are “legally carrying weapons”. Problem is, what’s “provoking”? This guy is provoked simply by the fact that some people aren’t white, American, or have “correct” religious views. In short, as crazy as this guy is, he and his followers are armed, and with an ideology based on racism, if that’s not a threat worth mentioning, I don’t know what is.

And Grady is by no means an isolated incident. There are plenty of militant racists out there, made all the more dangerous by the fact that they don’t actually believe themselves to be racists. Take for example, the case of a major German banker, who lost his job after making anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim remarks. Further, rampant Islamophobia has become common in Europe, with many Europeans questioning the ability (and indeed, legitimacy) of Muslim immigrants integrating into various nations. In fact, prejudice against Muslims has become so open, that France has actually banned veils covering the face, a form of modesty among some Muslim women. Other European nations plan similar laws. And it’s not just Muslims feeling the brunt of racism in Europe, Roma Gypsies have been repeatedly expelled from France, and in other countries, the Roma face violent persecution. This is, in sum total, government sanctioned xenophobia.

And what can we do about it?

On the whole, people have tried espousing a philosophy of extending compassion and building understand, and to extent, it works. Racism is rooted, after all, in man’s survival instinct- we’re terrified of the strange because what we don’t know might hurt us. When racism stems simply from ignorance of the group being discriminated against, breaking down barriers and building mutual knowledge is the principal weapon against prejudice. But what about racism in a modern age, when simple ignorance is no longer an excuse?

I grew up in Syria, a country that, after spending a few centuries being stomped on by imperialist boots, was unceremoniously dragged into the modern era. Even now, there are parts of the country where farmers and Bedouin are living lives identical to those their ancestors lived thousands of years ago. These people, many of whom are illiterate, who’ve had no education, who’ve been exposed to no news of the outside world except through what state-controlled media decides, who’ve never seen Ijanib (“foreigners”) before, still treated me and my family with hospitality, generosity, and warmth. When my family moved to Syria in the early 90s, right after the first Intifada had taken place, our landlords were Palestinians. They, of all people, had a right to be hostile to us. What did they do instead? They babysat me and my little sister. They had my family down for visits.

Now what racism in the West? In Europe and America, there is almost unlimited access to news, media, books, and information about other cultures, nationalities, and ethnicities. At any point in his or her day, a racist can go on-line, or go to a library, or even just walk down the street and find information about someone different, or better yet, someone different. At any time, a person can open his or her eyes and realize the self-evident equality of all human beings.

But they don’t. Despite all opportunity, racists choose to be racist.

And I’m tired of it.

At what point does a person stop being responsible for the ignorance- the willful ignorance– of another? With every book, article, essay, declaration, and manifesto written about human equality, with every documentary, movie, and play, with every website, advocacy group, and movement- if the sum of the equality movement and all logic and reason cannot convince them, what can we do?

Only this: In the old racist- he or she may be ignored. Hopefully, whatever poison’s still pent up in them will die with them. In the case of the ignorant, we have to reach out a hand- they certainly aren’t going to. But in the case of the institutional and militant racists, the line has been drawn. They choose to ignore every calm and collected call for understanding, and nothing will convince them otherwise. For these people, ready to persecute and kill in the name of bigotry, there can be no response but that of violence. There is only one way to deal with Fascists, and it is to introduce their heads to the pavement.

28
Feb
11

The Common Evil

Last post I mentioned the opening scene in The Boondock Saints, in which it is declared “We must all fear evil men, but there is another kind of evil that we must fear most, and this the indifference of good men…”. It got me thinking.

A couple years ago, I saw a documentary called The Corporation– an excellently done critique of the issues of globalization, neo-liberalism, and Capitalism in general. One particularly interesting segment was devoted to looking at heads of corporations, with commentaries added by Noam Chomsky and ‘Sir’ Mark Moody-Stuart, the former chairman of Royal Dutch Shell (better known simply as “Shell”). Moody-Stuart recounts a demonstration that was held at his house, in which protesters hurled accusations at him and his involvement in the Shell corporation. Moody’s wife (the event was recorded on film) retorts “Who is the corporation?”. Moody-Stuart continues on in his narration to say “But then we sat down and talked to them… in the end what we found in that discussion was that all the things they were worried about I was worried about as well… climate, you know, oppressive regimes, human rights…”. Now Chomsky, on the other hand, had prefaced that segment with some commentary on individuals within corporations. He argues “When you look at a corporation, just like when you look at a slave-owner, uh, you want to distinguish between the institution and the individual… slavery, for example, or other forms of tyranny are inherently monstrous, but the individuals participating in them might be the nicest guys you can imagine. Benevolent, friendly, nice to their children, even nice to their slaves… as individuals they might be anything- in their institutional roles they’re monsters because the institutions is monstrous.”

And there’s the issue. GAP clothing is made by sweatshop labor in South-East Asia- who should be put on trial? Who is responsible for the atrocities that are committed? We look at the people doing the actual work- the sweatshop managers and owners and they point up asserting that they were only following orders, and that they don’t have any real power. At the top the CEOs and Executives are pointing down, declaring that they only deal with the big figures- that they’re not aware of anything that goes on at the ground level and can’t be held responsible for the treatment of workers or the environment. It’s the lynch mob scenario- because no one person does the entire murder, figuring out which one person is to blame is tricky.

Personally, I say take ’em all. Just because the guilt is spread around doesn’t mean it’s at all diminished. If Person A brings the rope, and Person B grabs the victim, and Person C points out a convenient tree, it doesn’t mean that each person’s committed a third of a murder- it means that all three are responsible. Same seems to go for a corporation- at any point someone can throw up their hands and say “**** it- I’m not going to do this anymore!”. The sweatshop overseer can walk away, the middleman can walk away, the CEO can walk away. Even if no one person can put a stop the unethical practice, at the very least they can remove themselves from it. We would expect a single German officer in the 1930s to bring down Hitler but a resignation of his post and a denouncement of the Nazis would be in order.

Of course, it’s easy to bash corporations, but guilt reaches far beyond the boundaries of corporate HQ. We, as consumers and workers alike, have to stand back and with scathing objectivity look at ourselves and question our involvement. Am I being party to exploitative or unethical systems? Am I doing all that I can to remove myself? Am I part of the problem?

And it’s not easy- we think of evil as being committed by Bond style villains with maniacal laughter and white cats, or by sadistic concentration camp guards and doctors. The idea of common evil- evil weaved into the very fabric of modern society- is an idea alien to us. However, as theologian and writer C.S. Lewis once asserted “The greatest evil is not done in those sordid dens of evil that Dickens loved to paint but is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”. In short, there is no single person who commits the atrocities that plague us. The evil is within the system- and the system has to go.

26
Feb
11

A Very Brief Post

At long last I’ve got my computer fixed and have the time to do some writing. Now as the past couple weeks have been bursting with developments in the democracy movement in the Middle East and North Africa, union protests in Wisconsin, and a couple of my own adventures, it’s going to be tough to comment on everything. So for now, here’s a very brief summary of what has been going on my own reactions to it.

 

Egypt (and elsewhere…)

While I’ve written about Egypt before, I still feel obliged to point out that what has happened- and indeed, what continues to happen- is truly amazing. The Egyptian people have managed to topple a long-standing dictator, with almost no bloodshed, and started on a path to self-determination within the space of a few weeks- something the combined forces of the US, UK, and a host of other countries haven’t been able to do in Iraq in the past eight years. It all just goes to show that there’s no substitute for the power of the people, and that sustainable change can only occur from the bottom up- not the top down. Likewise, the uprisings in Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern and North African countries are very promising.

 

Wisconsin

Recently elected Republican governor Scott Walker, attempting to balance the state budget, has called for major cuts to benefits of state employees and the abolition of the right of state employees to use collective bargaining. While unions have conceded to Walker’s budget cuts, they have of course refused to accept calls to end collective bargaining (which would effectively remove the union’s ability to unionize). Really what we have here is an attempt to obliterate a union and prevent state workers from ever having the ability to call for better wages, benefits, or working conditions. Regardless of what you feel about the current condition of Wisconsin state employees income, we all have to accept that workers, regardless of income, have the right to fight for equitable conditions of employment.

 

Italy

Media tycoon, 74th richest man on the planet, and prime minister of Italy Silvio Berlusconi is currently on trial for an affair with an underage prostitute, corruption charges, and bribing lawyers. Of course, this is nothing surprising, considering Berlusconi’s long history of frauds charges, conflicts of interest, corruption, ties to organized crime, and a series of racist comments and sex scandals that could fill a library (though through vast perversion of the political and legal system, it is doubtful Berlusconi will ever be found guilty). Suffice it to say that Burlesconi might be more at home in the court of Caligula or Nero than in modern Italy- in short, he is both incompetent and corrupt, and as a member of the G8, not only an enemy of the Italian public but the world at large.

02
Feb
11

A Bit More on Egypt

That last post was a little short, so I thought I might do a Q&A style post to give the basics of my and (in general) the Marxist position.

 

Firstly, there’s the question of revolution. This is a popular uprising, but no one is waving red flags, calling for the redistribution of land, and the adoption of the Communist system of government. Why do Marxists (and the rest of the left) support what’s going on in Egypt?

Well, perhaps it’s best encapsulated in the official statement of the Socialist Party USA on the events in Tunisia, stating “The International Commission of the Socialist Party USA salutes the people of Tunisia in this important step toward liberation.”. While it’s a comment about Tunisia, not Egypt, (you can read the full statement here) the key word is “Step”. While an overnight revolution in which the state, private property, and the class system are destroyed would be great, any step in the right direction isn’t something to be dismissed. The Egyptian public are taking their destinies into their own hands and actively obliterating a regime that has oppressed them for the past three decades.

 

Secondly, there’s the issue of what happens after the uprisings have been completed. After Mubarak, what then?

We’re hoping that the Egyptian public will not let this opportunity for democracy (as much as democracy as anyone can have with Capitalism alongside it) be stolen by another dictator (as Stalin did with the Russian revolution) or have it sabotaged by outside forces (as the US has done on numerous occasions in South and Central America). We hope that Egyptian people will realize that dictators are not the only form of oppression, and take the battle to the evils of neo-colonialism, Capitalism, classism, globalization, and exploitation.

 

Thirdly, there’s the issue of revolution not simply in politics but also in culture and social structure. What should we be looking for?

These revolts have demonstrated just how much power the public wields when united. Hopefully, an aftereffect of the events in Egypt will create an even stronger sense of community and public duty. In addition, the end of the regime’s power may also bring about an end to the state-censorship of media and the arts, allowing for a greater, more free dialogue in politics, music and the arts, and social issues.

 

In short, I join with the Socialist Party in saluting the Egyptian people’s struggle and hope for their continued success.

 

Viva la revolucion.

18
Jan
11

What’s It Going To Take?

At my college, I’ve been trying to get a number of products (made by immoral companies or through unethical means) boycotted, both by the campus and by the students. It hasn’t been going so great.

My fellow students are more than willing, when I come knocking at their doors, to sign my petitions, but overwhelmingly that’s as far as they’ll go. More often than not they sign without even asking what I’m trying to do or tell me that they need time to think it over (which has been just a euphemism for “go annoy someone else”). It’s not that I’m ungrateful for having as many signatures as I do, but the real issue here is getting my peers to make a conscious change to the way they live their lives- to make an ethical statement. In all honesty I’d rather have them not sign at all than sign without actually joining the boycotts.

But that’s a bit off topic- here’s the real problem.

I don’t think the moral lines could be more clearly drawn in such a situation. We have companies that have killed for profit, selling their products here on campus, and in the stores and markets across the world. These two companies make junk food, their products are easy to substitute or give up entirely. I and my fellow activists merely ask that our peers stop spending their money to these unethical corporations.

And yet we’ve had almost no response.

It’s not an issue of necessity, where our peers are forced to buy certain products. It’s not an issue of availability- there are plenty of perfectly good (or at least, less harmful) substitutes to the boycott products. It’s not an issue of trust- we don’t want donations. The issue is that my peers just don’t care!

And here seems to be the problem- people don’t care much either way if the beverage they’re drinking came from a sweatshop in Colombia, or if the chocolate they’re eating was harvested by ten year-old slave-laborers in Central America. Perhaps it was best said in the film Hotel Rwanda, when one of the characters comments “…When people turn on their TVs and see this footage, they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible,’ and then they’ll go back to eating their dinners.”. Other than a shallow, fleeting expression of shock or sadness or horror, no one seems to be moved to action.

Perhaps it’s that my peers (and Westerners in general) simply don’t expect anything from the third world other than disease, poverty, starvation, war, and genocide. Just a couple days ago, I saw this advertisement for the New York Food Bank (linked here)- in it, one of the spokespersons states “hunger happens in the third world- not in New York City”. Granted, the statement was made to make a point about the very real presence of hunger in New York, but it bugged me nonetheless. I appreciate them dealing with the issue of hunger in New York, but are they saying it’s acceptable elsewhere? I want to think it was just a poor choice of words on their part, but this kind of mentality does indeed exist. It’s a kind of unconscious racism- the idea that these places always have been miserable and always will be. The idea that there’s no hope. Again, Hotel Rwanda hits the nail on the head when a UN colonel says to the protagonist “You’re black. You’re not even a nigger. You’re an African.”. Perhaps the reason we can’t get people to care is because they just don’t believe the oppressed peoples of the world are capable of ever living in better conditions.

Or maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it’s that people are just distracted by other things. We’re bombarded every waking moment with messages telling us to lose weight or to gain weight or to lighten our skin or to darken our skin or to get a better clothes or a house or a better car and better insurance to protect those things. Perhaps it’s easy to lose track or get our priorities confused, and we start valuing a specific brand of soda over the lives of farmers in India.

Or maybe it’s that people just won’t care unless they themselves are the ones being oppressed and exploited. Maybe we’re so selfish and self-centered that the only motivation we’ll ever have to make the world a better place is when we’re the ones bruised, bloody, and starving. Maybe that’s the only wake-up call I and peers will ever really respond to- a lashing from the sweatshop overseer for falling asleep at our station, or the jab of a soldier’s bayonet for having been born the wrong race. Is this how things are going to be? The people who can help don’t care, and the people need help aren’t able?

At this point in the post, I’d usually throw out some kind of appeal or call to action, but I just don’t know what to say. What is it going to take to wake the world up? What’s it going to take to spur people into action? The movies, the poetry, the charity, the music- it helps for a while and briefly seizes our attention, but we soon get bored and forget. The powerful stay powerful, the powerless stay powerless. The rich get richer and the poor get left further behind. Again, what do we- what do I need to do?