Posts Tagged ‘China

08
Jan
11

Corporations To Boycott (Part II)

As in my last post, this is by no means a complete list, and any and all suggestions (or criticisms) are welcome.

GAP:

GAP (called “The Gap” by people who just don’t know better) is perhaps one of the most successful clothing stores in the US. GAP is also notorious for its use of sweatshops and child-labor (resulting in a tragic-yet-hilarious video by satirical publication “The Onion”, which I’ve linked for you here). Some of GAP’s more prominent crimes include:

  • Operating sweatshops and abusing workers in Saipan (a pacific island administrated over by the United States).
  • Operating sweatshops and using child labor in Jordan.
  • Operating sweatshops and using child labor in India.

GAP also owns and operates other clothing outlets, including Banana Republic and Old Navy. Despite it’s size, boycotting GAP (and it’s subsidiaries) is fairly easy due to the prevalence of thrift stores.

Nike:

As with GAP, Nike is infamous for it’s use of child labor, sweatshop labor, assorted violations of worker’s rights, and general exploitative practices, such as:

  • Repeated and widespread use of sweatshops across the third-world, including such countries as Vietnam, Indonesia, Pakistan, China, Cambodia, and other countries.
  • Exposure of workers in Thai factories to toxic chemicals.
  • Repeated use of various music pieces (such as the Beatle’s “Revolution”) without permission from the artists.
  • Capitalization of Langston Hughes’ poem “A Dream Deferred”. Perhaps some explanation is needed here. Hughes was a major black writer during the 1930s, and his classic poem “A Dream Deferred” describes Hughes’ frustration and anger at the oppression of African-Americans. Nike used “A Dream Deferred” In a 2008 commercial advertising their shoes, (commercial linked here). The images and message of the advertisement have nothing in common with the meaning of the poem, and yet the poem is used for promotion of Nike’s product. There’s something very, very wrong about usurping a powerful work about racial segregation and degradation and using it to hawk footwear.

As with GAP, while Nike is a large company with a wide variety of brands and products, boycotting is fairly easy with the wide number of alternatives to buying $300 shoes made in sweatshops.

Wal-Mart:

While you’re probably already familiar with the ocean of criticisms of Wal-Mart, it’s still worth listing a few of the more heinous acts and policies for the few who might not be aware:

  • Wal-Mart is known for underpaying and overworking it’s employees. Allegations of sexism and racism have also been made.
  • Wal-Mart is viciously anti-union, attempting to “inform” workers as to the dangers of unionization, firing workers for both joining/starting unions and discussion joining/starting unions. Wal-Mart has (based on the statements of a former executive, Tom Coughlin) even gone so far as to bribe union employees in order to single-out Wal-Mart employees who had signed union cards.
  • Wal-Mart operates a number of sweatshops in China and Bangladesh.
  • Wal-Mart’s use of sweatshop labor allow it to sell products cheaply in the US, undermining small and locally-owned competitors who are forced out of business.
  • Wal-Mart, during the mid 90s, made a practice of taking out life-insurance policies on it’s employees, allowing the corporation to benefit from their deaths. Wal-Mart had named this practice “Dead Peasant” insurance.
  • Wal-Mart sells furniture made from trees grown in protected habitats in Russia (the trees were illegally cut down). The corporation has stated it will not stop selling the furniture until 2013.

Now boycotting Wal-Mart is substantially more difficult than boycotting other corporations because of the relatively low prices of most Wal-Mart products. More often than not, Wal-Mart is the more economic choice, instead of the ethical. Nevertheless, buying from local stores (dollar stores make a decent alternative) is well worth it.

Caterpillar Inc.:

While I’m guessing most of you don’t buy heavy-duty construction and demolition equipment, it’s still worth adding Caterpillar on to the list- if nothing else it might help shake their public image a bit. The primary criticism of Caterpillar is:

  • Caterpillar bulldozers (and other demolition machines) are bought and used by Israeli army to destroy Palestinian buildings.
  • In 2003, activist Rachel Corrie was killed in Palestine when a Caterpillar bulldozer was driven into her.

As before, chances are you won’t be buying Caterpillar equipment in the future, but it’s still worth pointing out.

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29
Dec
10

Corporations To Boycott (Part I)

While we’re increasingly aware that the majority of products in stores are the results of sweatshop labor or other unethical practices, we tend to be not aware of which corporations are responsible. To help combat this, below I’ve listed some major corporations and a couple descriptions of their more heinous crimes.

 

Nestle:

While you probably wouldn’t associate a company whose logo is a nest of baby birds with anything but sunshine and joy, Nestle will probably make the top ten of anyone’s list of evil corporations. Among Nestle’s major crimes are:

  • Marketing infant formula to developing nations, despite the fact that many water sources (water being used in the preparation of the formula) in the third world are polluted or otherwise unfit for drinking. Many third world women are either illiterate or unable to read the language the formula instructions are written in, leading to babies essentially being fed toxic formula. Nestle has been aware of this since the late 70s but continues to aggressively market it’s products to the world world, even in the face of the 1981 World Health Organization regulations on infant formula advertising. Even with formula that is properly prepared, non-breastfed infants are at a much higher risk of disease.
  • In addition to marketing infant formula to the third world, Nestle has also begun to “freely” offer it’s infant formula in some maternity wards and hospitals. Once new mothers start their babies on the formula, the lactation process in interrupted and the babies must continue to use formula, even after they leave the hospital (and the formula, no longer free, must be bought).
  • Buying dairy products from farms seized and controlled by the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, despite the country being under international sanctions.
  • Contributing to the deforestation of Borneo in order to attain palm oil, used in a number of Nestle products.

Now Nestle is by no means limited to the baby formula market- and has a vast array of subsidiary companies and brands, ranging from Wonka candy to L’Oreal cosmetics. Fortunately, Nestle has a habit of boldly displaying it’s logo on it’s various products, so it’s not especially difficult to figure which products not to buy.

 

Coca-Cola:

Like Nestle, Coca-Cola is one of the corporations you’d never suspect. Among their long list of crimes are:

  • The creation of a subsidiary company (“Fanta”) in order to continue selling products to Germany during WWII. Allow me to say that again, just to make sure you get it. Coca-Cola, an American company, created a subsidiary so they could continue to sell carbonated drinks to the Nazis, during the second world war! Forgetting the fact that Coca-cola advertised itself as a patriotic company and the choice soft-drink of American soldiers and then turned around and built manufacturing plants in country America was at war with, they sold to the Nazis. Even before the second world war it was common knowledge that Fascism wasn’t the greatest thing in the world.
  • A large amount of water is used in the creation of a number of Coke products. In Kerala, India, a Coca-cola bottling plant used so much water that a miniature drought was created, devastating the lives of the local farmers. The plant was eventually shut down, but it still demonstrates the companies lack of concern for the impact the manufacturing of it’s product has on the environment and locals.
  • In both Gautemala and Colombia, union leaders have been murdered by paramilitary groups- contracted by Coca-Cola– for attempting to improve deplorable conditions of the manufacturing plants there. Similar anti-union oppression has occurred in Turkey, China, and El Salvador.

While again like Nestle, Coca-Cola profits from a wide range of brands and products, it’s much more difficult to find out which. Some Coca-Cola products include: Dasani bottled water, Snapple, Heineken, Bacardi, Dr Pepper, Minute Maid, Powerade, and many others. You can see a full list here.

 

Monsanto:

Monsanto is the closest thing we have to James Bond villain’s empire. It’s a massive biotechnological agricultural corporation- in simpler terms, they study, manufacture, and sell genetically engineered crops, hormone growth treatments for animals, and herbicides. Most prominent in their long list of crimes and unethical activities are:

  • The creation of terminator seeds- seeds that have been genetically modified so that after producing a crop, the seeds that crop produces will be sterile (farmers will be unable to use those seeds to plant more crops). Essentially what this means is that farmers must continually buy seeds from Monsanto in order to grow crops. This isn’t so much monopolization as it is enslavement.
  • Monsanto’s animal growth hormones have been alleged to be linked to a number of a verities of cancer.
  • In Anniston, Alabama, Monsanto was documented to have knowingly disposed of mercury and PCB for forty years into creeks serving as the local drinking supply. Monsanto has similarly dumped toxic waste in landfills in Britain.
  • Monsanto was one of the creators of Agent Orange, a defoliation product used during the Vietnam War with horrific effects on both the Vietnamese people and US veterans.
  • In an attempt to escape investigation of the impact it’s genetically manufactured cotton had on the local Indonesian environment, Monsanto bribed a high level Indonesian official.
  • In France, Monsanto was found guilty of falsely advertising it’s herbicide Roundup as being biodegradable- however one of the chemicals used in the herbicide extremely bad for the environment.
  • Monsanto has both a very large and powerful lobbying group and a number of American public officials are former Monsanto employees, including (but not limited to): Michael Taylor- former Monsanto Lobbyist and now senior adviser to the FDA commission on food safety (if you look up “Conflict of Interest” in the dictionary, you’ll find this cited as an example), Donald Rumsfeld (former Secretary of Defense), Linda Fisher- assistant administrator for the EPA, and Clarence Thomas- a justice of the Supreme Court.

In short, Monsanto doesn’t even pretend to be anything but evil.

 

So what’s to be done?

 

While, as the title of the post suggests, boycotting products from these companies is ideal- stemming profits to these companies will give more ethical companies a chance to compete, and if nothing else makes a good ethical statement. Another good move is simply spreading the word- the majority of corporations build of a facade of PR so they can engage in immoral activities behind the mask of decency. The more the public is made aware of the actions of these corporations and Capitalism’s amoral nature, the more likely they will be to take action.

 

As with most lists, this post is by no means exhaustive and will be continued in the future- any comments or suggestions are welcome.

27
Jul
09

How I Became a Communist

It seems that if you were born before 1990, you were born to one of two worlds, Capitalist and Communist. If you were born in the West, you were supposed to be a Capitalist, inherently opposed to any and all things leftist. If you were born in the so-called Marxist countries, you were raised to believe that the Communism, country, and party came before anything else. Life was simple: if you are A then you are against B, if you are B then you are against A.

I was born after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the stereotype of the Red Menace was trite and the US hadn’t picked Arabs to be the next bogeyman. Communism was dead (or at least, the Soviet Union was) and I was an American so I wasn’t expected to be anything other than Capitalist. While I had never been actually educated on the tenets of either system (most eleven year olds aren’t), I had a basic grasp of the two concepts. Capitalism- everything owned, Communism- everything shared. Again, being an eleven year old I didn’t spend too much time contemplating the subject until I began reading and old children’s book from the 70s. It was called The Girl Who Owned a City and it was, to the best of my knowledge, the event that set my down the path to Marxism. Set in a post-apocalyptic world where a plague has wiped out everyone above the age of thirteen, the hero of the story, a girl named Lisa, manages to keep her town safe from roaming gangs by creating an semi city-state in the local highschool. Throughout the story, the lesser characters complain that they want a say in how the “city” is to be run but Lisa simply states that it is her city, and that everyone else is only allowed to live there in exchange for their services. She makes the argument that eventually, Jill (her medically inclined friend) will be able to operate her hospital which will belong to her and no one else. Of course, the subtle Any-Rand style society that was advocated in the book was only part of the story, but it got me to think. A bad habit of mine is that when I read a story, I’ll go through a few chapters and spend the rest of the day putting myself in the place of the main character and trying to figure out what I would do in his or her place. As I read through the book I couldn’t help but feel that there was a major flaw in the arguments the characters made. “Sure,” I thought, “if Jill wants to be a doctor and there’s an abandoned hospital nearby then she could take it and make it her hospital and that’s all fine and well. But what happens when the hospitals run out? What happens when there isn’t any more canned food to go around? If I were in Lisa’s place, could I believe in this system?”. I would try to argue Lisa’s case from every angle I could imagine but I kept coming back to the same conclusion. In a world where everything is individually owned, there will be eventually a group of those who have everything and a group who have nothing, and the group that has everything will have no reason to give anything to those who have nothing, leaving the nothing-group to starve or turn into brutalized, thieving gangs. No matter what reasoning I applied, what rationale I used I found myself inevitably ariving at the same conclusion: Capitalism doesn’t work- there will always be someone left behind simply because he’s unlucky!

Naturally one can imagine it’s not easy for an eleven year-old to cope with the discovery that a major tenet his worldveiw is seriously flawed. For a breif while I looked for a better system, reading up on monarchies, dictatorships, anarchy, and theocracy (I even tried to create my own political system only to give it up once I found that the name I wanted to use had already been taken). No matter what system I looked at, it seemed that the problem (though I wasn’t sure what the exact problem was) would be either simply moved or exacerbated. I concluded- disappointed- that Capitalism as it existed now was as good as it was going to get. I didn’t give much throught to the subject again for three years.

When I was fourteen, I had my first formal introduction to the Capitalist/Communist conflict. My family was looking after a friend’s house and I, sitting upstairs in the ornate library/study, was bored out of my mind. To pass the time, I pulled to random books off of the shelf, determined to read through both of them before the day was over. Setting both tomes on the table in front of me, I flipped open the covers to see what I had picked: The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith and Das Kapital by Karl Marx.

It was probably one of the longest afternoons of my life. I poured over each paragraph, each word, measuring the arguments individualy and against each other. I read the biography’s of the authors in the back of the books, to understand their histories and biases. The Wealth of Nations wasn’t much of a read- I had gotten more or less the same philosophy from The Girl Who Owned a City, but Marx- Marx was enthralling. Whatever preconceptions I had about Communism, whatever images of Stalin’s Russia and dark police states, faded away. Here, I thought, was an actual solution to the problem- which I realized was property and the class system. While I had been becoming a leftist for years, it was on that day I became a Communist.

Naturally my family wasn’t exactly thrilled when I told them, but at the time I believe they thought I would grow out of it. As Otto von Bismarck once said, “Anyone who isn’t a Communist before eighteen has no heart, anyone who is a Communist after eighteen has no mind.” Whenever I told people I was a Communist I got the same condescending nod, the knowing smile, and obnoxious comment “You’ll change your mind when you’re older…”.

Obviously that hasn’t happened.

24
Jul
09

The Many Faces of Communism

Like Capitalism, Communism is not a single political, socio-economic system but a term used to denote any number of systems based around the abolition of private property and the establishment of a democratic, classless system. Listed below are some of the more major forms of Communism.

Classical Communism/Marxism

A common misconception about Communism is that it was created by Karl Marx. In reality, however, the concept of Communism existed before Marx’s time and it was a young Karl Marx who became Communist, rather than Karl Marx founding Communism. Nevertheless, Marx did for Communism what Adam Smith did for Capitalism. Marx, by writing the first authoritive Communist works (particularly The Communist Manifesto) will be forever credited with establishing the basic principles of Communism (also called Marxism). The fundamentals of Communism, as discussed in previous posts, is that the working class, after ages of exploitation by the upper classes, will revolt and establish a new world order in which all property is shared, the concepts of royalty and nobility are abolished and democracy is instated, and the entire class system is destroyed in place of a single, working class. While this might appear more or less straightforward, the exact details of the Communist society were never stated by Marx, and as a result, many have built off of Classical Communism and combined it with other political and economic theories.

Christian Communism

Perhaps the earliest known Communist society was the primitive Christian Church. According to early records and the Christian bible, the Christian community (though technically the word “Christian” had not yet been created) shared all property and had a government specially created to facilitate the distribution of property. As Christianity grew and became more institutionalized, Christian Communism died out and was not revived until the early 1600s, when religious separatists began colonizing America (the most famous of these groups to instate Christian Communism was the Plymouth colony). Again, as Christianity became more established in the New World and as more and more settlers arrived, Christian Communism withered away again (though some groups, such as the Amish and Hutterites, have kept it alive in certain parts of America). Aside from a brief period in the 1700s when many Catholic Missions cooperated with the local Native American population as isolated Communist societies, the actual practice of Communism has died out among most Christian sects- partly because of the spread of Capitalism and partly because of the religious persecution instated by the Soviet Union, China, and North Korea (motivated by Marx’s rather disparaging attitude towards religion). Nevertheless, many Christians have combined Christianity and Marxism, stating Marx’s anti-religious comments were the result of corruption within the church at the time. Indeed, in many parts of the world Christianity and Marxism have been combined as the basis for anti-Capitalist revolution (take the Palestinian PFLP, or the Catholic “Liberation Theology” for example).

Leninism (Bolshevism)

Leninism is the political/socio-economic plan that was in the process of being instated in post-revolutionary Russia. Pioneered by the revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, Leninism (sometimes called “Bolshevism” after Lenin’s party) was more or less the same as Classical Marxism with a few added modifications. Firstly, Leninism holds that in order to effectively redistribute property and manage the national workforce, a strong centralized (federal) government was required. Secondly, Leninism focused on industrialism, factory workers, and production- attempting to make industry the backbone of the Communist society (though it should be noted that some hold that the Leninist focus on factory work was a result of Russia’s involvement in WWI, not ideology).

Maoism

While most Communists hold that Mao Zedong was nothing more than a dictator and a narcissistic megalomaniac who used Communism as a Trojan horse to seize control of China, there are a number of those who believe that before Mao came to power he was a genuine believer in Communism. Using Mao’s early actions and teachings, “Maoism” has been developed as a Communist philosophy acting almost as a counter-balance to Leninism. Unlike Leninism, Maoism demands a strong provincial (state, local) government rather than a massive central power. Also, Maoism puts emphasis on peasants, farmers, and agriculture as the foundation of a Communist society (as opposed to the Leninist focus on industry).

Trotskyism

Created by Leon Trotsky after his exile from Russia by Joseph Stalin, Trotskyism is what one might call “the left wing of Communism”. Trotskyism focuses on the revolutionary aspect of Communism. While most other schools of Communism believe that the revolution must occur before the establishment of the Communist society, Trotskyism holds that a Communist society and the revolution will be happen almost simultaneously. Trotskyism is also perhaps the most anarchic form of Communism, focusing heavily on localized government and state/provincial rights (extremely similar to the Jeffersonian of the early US). Another major aspect of Trotskyite Communism is the belief in circular-revolution, the concept (originating in ancient China as the “Mandate of Heaven”) essentially states that all governments- including Communist governments- will become inevitably corrupt over time, therefore it is not the right but the obligation of the public to revolt and instate a new government each time this happens (a principal also found in The Declaration of Independence).

Luxemburgism

Established by Rosa Luxemburg, this form of Communism is perhaps the middle-ground between Leninism and Maoism. Lexemburgism focuses on the importance of ensuring Democracy, and calls for a balance between local and centralized power. Luxemburgism also calls for populism and general abolition of political parties (extremely similar to the philosophy of George Washington and- with the exception of the call for the balance between federalism and provincialism- Andrew Jackson).

Green/Eco/Environmental Communism

Perhaps the youngest form of Communism, Environmental Communism holds that Capitalism is destroying the planet’s ecosystem and devouring its resources and that Communism is the only viable solution. Eco Communism (as it is sometimes also called) focuses on low-consumption levels through shared property, controlled levels of production, and a lack of corporations blamed for damaging the plant. While most Communist contemporary Communist systems espouse some form of ecological protection, Eco Communism differs in that the protection of the environment is the primary goal, rather than establishing a Communist society based on agriculture or religious principles.

Revisionary Communism

The term “Revisionary Communism” does not refer to a specific philosophy or class of Communism but rather an aspect. While Revisionary Communism can be applied to almost any non-Classical Marxist ideology, it is most often used to describe various fringe groups who believe in amending some or all of Marx’s teachings, particularly on the subject of the Proletariat revolution or class system. While technically Communist, these groups are often motivated by the belief that Marx’s revolutionary ideology is too harsh or unnecessary for a Communist society to be implemented.

Pseudo Communism

Technically, this category refers not to Communists but to various groups, individuals, or philosophies claiming to be Communist but in reality functioning as something else. The best example of this would be the post-Leninist Soviet Union, which claimed to be Marxist but in actuality was simply a Socialist dictatorship. “Pseudo Communism” is, of course, a derogatory name most often given to Stalinist and Contemporary-Maoist groups. It is also used by some to mock Revisionary Communism.

07
Jul
09

Marx and History

If one were to read the works of Marx, or indeed, any major Communist writer, one would find that large portions of the publications are dedicated to criticizing (or often, lambasting) Capitalism and Capitalists. Even this blog has almost as many anti-Capitalist arguments as it does pro-Communist. This of course leads to issues with the Communist image- Marxists are often perceived as self-righteous, angry, and destructive malcontents bent on ripping apart the fabric of society. Perhaps on some level this is true, however, there is a simple and often overlooked factor that contributes to all this: Marx’s theory of history.

In his works, Marx describes his theory as “Historical Materialism”. Now the term “materialism” is often misinterpreted (particularly by members of the religious community) to mean atheistic, worldly, and Darwinist. As I’ve said, this is a misinterpretation. In this case, “materialism” merely means “pertaining to resources” including capital (money), land, and most importantly, people. While Marx’s description of his theory is more than slightly complex and long winded, it can be broken down and simplified.

According to Marx’s theory, the history of the world is shaped by economics and politics, the pair of which are- as Marx claims- inseparably linked. Humanity once lived in a state where the elite- the aristocracy, nobility, and royalty- controlled their nations and the wealth of their nations. The middle class is almost nonexistent and the remainder of society not fortunate enough to be born to the elite are slaves or feudal serfs and peasants. Eventually, as kingdoms become less warlike and more permanently established, merchants, bankers, etc. will be created, resulting in the middle-class or as Marx called it, the “Bourgeoisie”.

As time progresses, the public will become increasingly dissatisfied with the system of monarchy and aristocracy and revolt, creating a democracy. While the elite class will still exist, due to the fewness of their numbers, the political power they once wielded will be limited, and the wealthy and numerous Bourgeoisie will dominate society. In this new society it is not claims to divine heritage or noble blood that count as power but money. The Bourgeoisie will compete viciously with each other in the attempt to gain as much money as possible, and in the process the proletariat (working class) will be used and exploited by the upper-classes. The proletariat themselves living in a state of “wage-slavery”, bound to work for whatever pay is available in order to survive.

After so long, the proletariat will be unable to take any more exploitation and violently revolt- toppling the class system and establishing a single-class society where all wealth and resources are shared equally: Socialism. The state- which controls the public- will wither away and be replaced with a system of government where the public controls the state. Marx defines this state of egalitarianism, public property, and democracy as “Communism”. Marx states that when Communism is achieved Historical Materialism ends (at least for those living in the Communist system).

So what’s that have to do with anything? How is any of this relevant to why Communists always rant against Capitalism? As we can see from Marx’s view of history, Communism is meant to be the correction of Capitalism. Communism isn’t meant to be a form of government more comfortable or efficient than Capitalism- it’s the replacement of Capitalism. According to Marx and his view of history, Communism is the completion of Historical materialism- as inevitable as the change of the tides or the rotation of the earth. The reason Capitalism is constantly railed against by Communists is because, according to Marxist philosophy, Capitalism is a wall that needs to be knocked down before a door can be put in. Capitalism must be removed in order to be replaced with Communism.

“But what about the flaws in Marx’s reasoning?” one might ask, “The Chinese and Cuban people revolted and yet neither of these Communist countries have had the governments wither away or the class systems disappear.” In answer to that, one must remember that neither of these countries are Communist but rather semi-Socialist dictatorships. “If they’re Socialist, then shouldn’t they be on the brink of Communism?” Not at all. One must also remember that the definition of “Socialism” has changed since Marx’s time. Marx used the word to describe the abolition of private property in favor of public property- today the word “Socialism” refers to an economic system where property is largely controlled by the state, rather than individuals or the public. One might also argue that Marx’s theory of history is flawed due to the existence of various tribal societies that have shared property and no class system. Now this is undeniable- across the globe there are people groups that live without private property or the class system however one must keep in mind that these are societies are not democracies. Granted, many are ruled by general consensus however without a voting system, consensus does not equate democracy. A neighborhood might generally agree to regularly cut their lawns, but this doesn’t make that neighborhood a democracy. “That’s all well and good,” one might state, “but Marx’s predictions still haven’t come true. Capitalism has been in the US for well over two centuries now and there hasn’t been any revolt, any collapse in society!”. This is absolutely correct, though by no fault of Marx. In Marx’s time, each country had it’s own social strata- there was the French elite class, the French Bourgeoisie, and the French Proletariat, the English elite class, the English Bourgeoisie, and so on. Marx predicted that the Proletariat would rise up and overthrow the classes above. The reason this hasn’t happened is because of a sudden shift in the class system. Due to globalization, countries and their economies are no longer independent of each other. What affects the middle-class in France will affect the middle-class in England, Germany, Russia and so on (to varying degrees, according to what the event is and how related the countries are economically, culturally, and politically). With this sudden merge of the nations of the world, classes have merged as well, creating the same three-class system only on an international level. Yes, each country has a working class, but in general the majority of actual mining, fishing, forestry, agriculture, and manufacturing is done by workers in the third world. France no longer looks to the French Proletariat for utensils but to China. England doesn’t hire English miners to gather coltan but to Congolese workers. When an American buys a t-shirt, chances are that the cotton it’s made of was grown in Syria and manufactured in Taiwan. In short, as a result of internationalization, there is an international proletariat (primarily the third world), an international Bourgeoisie (such countries as Bulgaria, Mexico, Estonia, Ireland, etc.), and an international elite-class (Japan, Switzerland, Monaco, Kuwait, etc.). Yes, the “Proletariat” of the US aren’t likely to revolt, but that is because on a global level, the American proletariat are wealthy. Even the poorest person in America, England, or Denmark is well-off compared to the average Sudanese person. Does the class system still exist as Marx knew it? No. Does that make Marx incorrect? Not at all. Marx stated that the proletariat would, once conditions became poor enough, revolt against upper classes. This statement works whether you apply it to 1840s England or the contemporary third world. Does this mean that the third world will eventually invade the Bourgeoisie and elite countries? No, but if the publics of these countries were to seize control of their governments, declare their national debts nil, null, and void, and throw out all foreign industry (as Castro did to the US owned sugar companies in Cuba) then the rest of the world would be thrown into chaos. With the formerly indigent countries no longer willing to work in the fields, mines, or the sweatshops, the rest of the world would have to look to the Bourgeoisie countries to become the new proletariat, started the revolutionary cycle all over again until the global class system disappears and Communism encompasses the globe.

Does this mark the end of history? The beginnings of a global, one-government society where crime, hunger, and war have been eliminated? The answer is a resounding no. Marx claims that this will be the end of Historical Materialism– history as affected by wealth and the class system. History- the unbroken chain of events from the beginning of time to the end of it- marches inexorably on.

30
Jun
09

Communism and Religion

A common stereotype of Communism is that it’s an Atheistic political system that advocates the brutal repression of religion. After all, in order to become a member of the Communist Party of China, one must renounce religion and in the former Soviet Union, religious institutions were heavily monitored to the point of being spied upon. Marx himself stated that religion was the “Opiate of the people”.

But is Communism actually irreconcilable with religion? One must remember that the Soviet Union was not a Communist country but a Socialist empire that masqueraded as a Communist democracy. Likewise, China is not an actually Communist but a combination of Socialism and brutal Capitalism. Communism is no more responsible for the actions of these countries than Jesus was for the Spanish Inquisition or Voltaire for the Reign of Terror. As for Marx, one must keep in mind that during Marx’s time, religion was actually used as a method for controlling the working class. Take the example of an early American Industrialist who “converted” his workers to Christianity in order to stop them from drinking alcohol and maximize their productivity.

This has led to one of the greatest controversies among Communists- the issue of religion. According to some, religion remains superstitious nonsense that holds people back. The chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party (USA), Robert Avakian, is the author of the book Away With All Gods!, in which he makes the argument that because of the rampant pain and suffering in the world, a kind and loving God cannot exist and that humanity is better off without religion. On the other hand, such groups as the Communist Party of the USA have attempt to recruit members of the religious community. In a recent article at the CPUSA website (linked here: http://www.cpusa.org/article/articleview/1050/1/27/), the head of the newly created Religion Commission, Tim Yeager, explains that “We want to reach out to religious people and communities, to find ways of improving our coalition work with them, and to welcome people of faith into the party…”.

So which view is the correct one? Does Robert Avakian’s Atheistic stance fit better with Communism, or does the CPUSA’s acceptance of religion mesh to a greater degree?

The answer is simple- we’re not sure. Who knows which view Marx would’ve sided with had he been presented the arguments. Who can say whether or not that decision would’ve been right? After all Marx was only human and fully capable of making all the errors humanity’s prone to. Either way, Marx is dead but Marxism goes on.

And of course, so does the controversy…

28
Jun
09

Communism and Human Nature

As a Communist, I’ve heard many arguments against the Marxism but not quite so common as the “Human-nature-argument”.

Essentially what is argued is that Marxism is a “Utopian” system which can only work if humans were perfect. Since humans are naturally fallible, Communism can never work- indeed, the only system that can work in an imperfect world is Capitalism, which functions on the assumption that humans are naturally greedy and egotistical.

This argument, while popular, is nonetheless flawed due to (1) false assumptions about Communism, and (2) false assumptions about the nature of government, society, and economics.

Firstly, Communism is by no means a Utopian system. There will always be issues with any system, and Communism recognizes this. Where in the works of Marx or Engels is Communism labeled a panacea for humanity’s ailments? Where in Das Kapital or the Communist Manifesto is Marxism promised to solve all of man’s problems? Nowhere. If anything, Marxism promises increased conflict, class warfare, and revolution! Hardly what one would call a “Utopian” system. It is because humans are naturally greedy and self-serving that Marx argues for Communism and against Capitalism. Humans are naturally violent and even murderous- that doesn’t mean we create a legal system that makes allowances for humanity’s shortcomings. As James Madison once put it, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary…”. How then can it be argued that Communism, a form of government, is based on the idea of humanity’s perfection?

Secondly, advocates of Capitalism will point to the fall of the Soviet Union and claim that this is prove that Communism doesn’t work because of human nature. One, the Soviet Union was not Communist (and this cannot be emphasized enough) and two, if the person making this claim would only look at the state of the world, he would realize that nothing works in the long run. According to the laws of physics, everything goes from a state of order to a state of disorder over varying lengths of time. This applies not only to eroding rocks or decomposing meat but to society as well (this is often referred to as “Social entropy”). Every society, regardless of it’s political, economic, or legislative system will, at some point, become corrupted and self-destruct (or become weakened to the point where it is wiped out by another system or force). Is there anything inherently wrong or flawed about democracy? In general, no. Will democratic countries last forever? Absolutely not. Athens, the Roman Republic, pre-WWII Germany were all democracies and they all fell in ruin. Was it the fault of the system? Of course not- it was the fault of humans. As much as we try to halt the advance of disease in our bodies or corruption in our governments, we can only delay the inevitable process. The ancient Chinese were aware of this and rather than attempting to come up with a system of government that could circumnavigate social entropy, they based their political theory on the simple belief that what goes up, must come down. Their system was called the “Mandate of Heaven”, which stated that when a dynasty became corrupt, the people had not the right but the obligation to revolt and instate a new government- a philosophy later echoed by America’s founding father’s in the Declaration of Independence (“That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men… That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government…”). Yes, a Communist government would eventually become corrupt and collapse on itself, but so would a Capitalist government. The laws of physics aren’t optional.

In short, since Communism is based on the belief that humans are naturally predisposed to greed, lawlessness, and violence, it is impossible and illogical to argue that Communism relies on the belief that humans are naturally good. Likewise, because a Communism government- like everything else- will at some point self-destruct (though hopefully, only to be replaced with a new Communist government), it is impossible and illogical to argue that Communism is an unattainable Utopia capable of solving the human curse of war, disease, crime, and conflict. And even if, purely for the sake of the argument, Communism is a Utopian cure-all for death, destruction, and decay, aren’t there worse things to struggle for?