Posts Tagged ‘Coltan Mining


[In]tolerable Evil

The myth that Capitalism is a great and fair system is becoming rapidly dispelled. Such disasters as the Bhopal gas catastrophe, the BP oil spills, the Minamata bay dumpings,  the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire, and the general level of corruption, ecological devastation, poverty, and exploitation brought on by our current economic structure have brought many to an understanding that Capitalism is in fact an inherently evil system that benefits a lucky few. Even so, the contemporary attitudes toward towards Capitalism are tolerant. In spite of the repeated evils brought on by this system, the simple fact is people don’t care!

People are angry at BP, sure, but not angry enough to illicit action. We’ll scream our heads off after an hour in traffic, but what do we do when we hear about a sweatshop in Indonesia? We’ll tear apart a stadium during a football riot but do we riot when we hear about waste being dumped in the ocean? We’ll get into fistfights when the neighbor’s playing music too loud but do we so much as lift a finger when a man dies because he’s too poor to afford insurance or pay for medical bills?

Why? Because we’re the ones benefiting from Capitalism? Because the evils of Capitalism aren’t oppressing us? What makes me different than a coltan miner in the Congo, or a child slave in Bangladesh? If it weren’t for pure and simple dumb luck– I’d be the one working fourteen hours a day for pennies. I am not where I am today because I worked hard. I am not where I am today because I was smart or because I took advantage of the opportunities offered to me. I am where I am because I was simply born. Others are simply born into poverty, slavery, and starvation and no matter how hard they work, no matter how much they struggle they never advance. Is Capitalism a tolerable evil to them?

One of the greatest ills of Capitalism that affects not merely the proletariat but the middle and upper class as well is the concept of individuality- a flimsy facade for the uglier terms selfishness and egocentricity. We are led to imagine that we are rich because of our own hard work. We’re responsible only for ourselves. It is because of this concept that shrug and walk away from tragedies, be it a mugging or a multinational corporation paying 12 cents a day for designer jeans to be made. And we continue to hold this egomaniacal point of view because we are terrified of what it would mean if we were responsible for each other. If an old woman gets mugged, it’s not just the fault of the old woman for being more careful or the fault of the mugger for choosing to rob her- it our fault for doing nothing to stop it. If a manufacturing plant in Peru has children working for little or no pay, we’re just as much to blame for doing nothing to resist!

And for those who insist upon tolerating the evils of Capitalism and the suffering of others, I can only offer you these words written with greater urgency and eloquence than I could ever hope to have:

THEY CAME FIRST for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

THEN THEY CAME for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

THEN THEY CAME for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

and by that time no one was left to speak up.

-F.G.E. Martin Niemoller, 1892-1984


Working Class Hero

The term “working class” is thrown around a lot these days. It’s applied to everything from Congolese coltan miners to New York City construction workers to cab drivers to anyone employed by a corporation. It’s not easy to define exactly what “Proletariat” is anymore, definitions and conditions have changed since the time of Marx. Do we apply the term to anyone who works for a company? A marketing executive is hardly “working class”. Do we call anyone who works with his hands a member of the working class? Technically a doctor works with his hands. What about mechanics and engineers? Some are down in the pits tinkering with the greasy hearts of machines and some sit behind desks jotting down plans of how to get lever-1 to connect to piston-2. What about the third world? Is a street sweeper in Chiang Mai less or more Proletariat than a janitor in San Diego? Where does the working class end and the middle class begin?

All in all, it isn’t easy to define exactly what “Proletariat” means anymore. For the sake of the arguments used in this post, we will define “proletariat/working class” as follows: The members of society who are employed in such fields that require little or no education and involve physical/manual labor.

So what’s so special about the working class that made Marx hail them as the future of humanity? Well even though we’ve found a definition, let us look at what it is exactly that the Proletariat do.

In Capitalism, society is organized like pillar- or better yet- a pyramid. The base of the pyramid constitutes the largest class, the proletariat or “working class”. The working class supports the entire pyramid, producing the food, mining the hills, hacking down the trees, and generally manufacturing and producing everything consumed by society. Resting on top of the proletariat is a smaller class known as the Bourgeoisie or “middle class”. What separates the Bourgeoisie from the Proletariat is that (1) the middle class is dramatically more wealthy than the working class, (2) smaller, (3) consumes more, and (4) does very little production outside of various “middle-man” jobs. In short, while the Proletariat consist largely of the farmers, the fishers, the miners, the janitors, the construction workers, etc. the Bourgeoisie consists of such people as lawyers, doctors, small business owners, secretaries, non-manual-labor business employees, etc. The Bourgeoisie, however, are in turn forced to support the very top of the pyramid, the Elite or “upper-class”. Just as the Bourgeoisie are considerably more wealthy, smaller (in numbers), and less productive than the Proletariat are, the Elite are vastly more wealthy, smaller in number, and less productive than the Bourgeoisie. The Elite consists primarily of tycoons, multinational corporation owners, bankers, oil barons, actors, etc. For some odd reason this class, which produces and contributes the least, is given the most wealthy and power.

Now in a Capitalist society (which at this point in time is almost every society on the planet), it is impossible to deviate from this social-class pyramid. The size might vary, as well as the slope, but the pyramid is always there. Of course, there have been those who have attempted to deny this. A famous, anonymous anti-Communist quote states that “The communist [sic], seeing the rich man and his fine home, says: ‘No man should have so much.’ The capitalist, seeing the same thing, says: ‘All men should have as much'”. Even a child can see the problem with this logic. If this statement were to be applied, then the lower classes- the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat- would be all crammed into the pinnacle of the pyramid which- having now no lower supports- would come crashing to the ground. The statement should actually read “The Communist, seeing the rich man and his fine home, says: ‘Not all men can have so much!'”. Quite simply, the wealthy can only be wealthy because they are supported by a large middle class and the middle class can only be the middle class because they are supported by the massive working class. As I said- it’s a pyramid. The top can only exist because of the middle, the middle can only exist because of the bottom and the bottom… well, they really don’t need the two layers on top, now do they?

Naturally, some would contest this. Author Ayn Rand, in her famous/notorious novel Atlas Shrugged attempts to convince the reader that it is not the Proletariat but the Elite who support and fuel society. In her book, the mysterious character John Galt essentially leads the wealthy tycoons on a strike, forcing the world to come to a shuddering halt. Of course, the idea that the absence of the least productive members of society would stop the world from turning is laughable. The equivalent would be to claim that losing the decorative fuzzy-dice from a car would keep the car from running. If anything, with the removed weight of the Elite, society would probably run more smoothly. The Elite needs the Proletariat, the Proletariat do not need the Elite.

So what’s the solution to this glorified pyramid scheme we call “society”? Well as we’ve covered before, it’s only a matter of time before the Proletariat are starved, beaten, and oppressed beyond the limits of their endurance and the upper-class’s ability to contain. Revolution, Comrades. The day when the exploiters and enslavers look out of their alabaster windows to see all the Moseses, Toussaint L’ouvertures, Nat Turners, John Browns, Che Geuvaras, and George Habashes of the world bearing down their gilded palaces, howling for justice. By the time the dust settles, there is no more Elite, no more Bourgeoisie- even the old, exploited, “drugged-with-religion-and-sex-and-tv” (as Lennon once said) working class is gone. What exists instead? The new Proletariat.

In Communism, there is but a single class (though Marxism sometimes refer to this as being “classless“). Rather than being the down-trodden support for the Bourgeoisie and the Elite, the new Proletariat combines the best of all classes and purges what was negative. This new working class still is the working class, however, it exists as an individual and independent entity. The wealth that was once funneled to the rich is now equally shared, giving the public a higher standard of living. Everyone has the opportunity to be whatever they are skilled at doing- an opportunity once only attainable by the wealthy. Society is healthier and stronger, since in addition to doing whatever they are talented at doing, the manual labor is shared equally by the public, rather than being forced onto the backs of a single group. With an equal starting point, everyone is able to advance solely by their own merit, rather than by accident of birth and dumb luck.

In the old days, our heroes were god-kings and dragon-slaying aristocrats, today we look up to the Average Joe and the Homer Simpsons, but the future of the world belongs not to nobles and white-collar employees but to those who truly merit praise. Long live the working class hero.


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.


The Success of Capitalism

Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro commented “They talk about the failure of Socialism, but where is the success of Capitalism in Africa, Asia, or Latin America?”.

This is the topic that will be explored here.

At first, it would seem that Castro’s comment- made in 1991- is now outdated. After all, in Asia Capitalism seems to be doing extremely well. Japan has become a world superpower, China (a semi-Capitalist, semi-Socialist country) has one of the highest export levels on earth, and Thailand and much of South-East Asia has made massive profits off of tourism. All in all, it would appear that Capitalism has done wonders for Asia.

Or has it?

Japan, as the world’s second largest economy, has done very well for itself. In almost every respect, Japan has benefitted from Capitalism, depending on one’s definition of what is and is not beneficial- a question that will be addressed later. However, when compared with most other Asian countries, one might very well be led to conclude that Japan’s success is an isolated phenomenon.

Take China, for instance.

As previously mentioned, while China claims to be a Communist country, in reality China could be best described as a semi-socialist dictatorship with high levels of privatization. Quite simply, modern China, despite it’s cultural and political heritage, is Capitalist. And Capitalism has not been kind to China, as is clearly evidenced by the rampancy of sweatshops, child labor, and questionable marketing techniques (such as the notorious poisoned milk scandal in 2008, or lead-painted toy exports in 2007). While one might argue that this not due to Capitalism but to a lack of government regulations however one must keep in mind that Capitalism- pure Capitalism- is one without regulation, as repeatedly argued by Smith, Freidman, Rand, and so on.

And it’s not just China.

Sweatshops and child labor are present in most countries (though to varying degrees), but it doesn’t end at mere repeats of Dickensian nightmares. Though present in every country on earth, the sex trade is particularly bad in South East Asia, most notably Thailand. As described in the previous post, Capitalism is defined as the buying and selling of goods or services for profit- the emphasis on services being key here. Both voluntary and forced, prostitution is a widespread “industry”, for lack of a better term. While some might argue that prostitution is the “oldest trade in the world”, one must still question whether or not this makes it right. After all, it was once Roman practice to leave unwanted children out under bridges, but the fact that was practiced for hundreds of years doesn’t justify it. Or perhaps a person could argue that the sex trade isn’t a result of Capitalism, but if it isn’t, what is? Would these women be selling themselves for free? Would brothel owners auction off women and girls without the incentive of profit? Capitalism’s point is capital– profit. With the profit taken away, there’s not point in buying or selling goods or services- sex included.

And this is only Asia.

In Africa and South America, colonialism, or rather “neocolonialism” is still present, though in far more subtle ways. While sweatshops and sex-trade are present in both Africa and Latin America, Capitalists seem to be less interested in the profits they could make in the countries so much as the profits from what they take out of the countries. Ivory from Kenya, diamonds from Sierra Leone, minerals from Peru, wood from Brazil, and so on in an almost endless list. Corporations, mostly Western, suck Africa and South America dry of its resources in exchange for nominal pay. A person in the DRC could work in a mine for coltan ore in dangerous conditions for long hours and receive less than a dollar for his work- enough to keep him alive, but not enough to allow him to find better work. These conditions, if imposed on Western workers, would lead to riots, but in South America and Africa, corporations are capable of taking advantage of poor living conditions to create a almost limitless workforce of unskilled laborers and bleeding these countries of their natural wealth. An advocate of Capitalism could argue that a coltan miner being paid a dollar is better than the same person being paid less- that these countries are still better off with neocolonialism than without. To this I must ask whether a child is better off prostituting herself than starving. Just because a person, country, or continent is marginally better off doesn’t mean that its treatment is in any way justifiable.

While the world can talk of the “fall of Socialism”, I suggest that one cannot speak of the success of Capitalism either.

March 2018
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