Posts Tagged ‘Democratic

02
Feb
11

On Egypt (and a little bit about Tunisia)

There are those who’ve asserted that, after over a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Middle East is incapable of democracy. They’ve claimed that tribal divisions run too deep, and that the ideals of Islam and democratic, representative government are diametrically opposed.

 

In the past days, Tunisia and Egypt have proven to be shining examples that those claims just aren’t true.

 

Not that it was ever true to begin with. Hamas was, despite it’s vilification by Western powers, democratically elected in Gaza. Indeed, the majority of areas where this “always-has-been-dictatorship-always-will-be” stereotype have had democratically elected leaders- just not pro-American democratically elected leaders. And if without the West’s blessing, democracy in third-world countries tends to be tragically short lived. Just look at the US sponsored coup that ended the life of Salvador Allende, or the US attacks on the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, or the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala.

 

And here’s the rub. While it cannot be denied that the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt are a great victory for the peoples of those countries, I can’t help but wonder how long it will last. The Tunisians and Egyptians have shown that, without the West and indeed, depsite the West, they are, and always have been, capable of autonomy. They can forge their own destiny- but what if that destiny isn’t to the approval of America, Britain, and other world powers? Let us keep in mind that the Mubarak regime was emphatically supported by the US (despite recent, less than elegant attempts to flip-flop on their position). Indeed, the issue isn’t so much “what if the people in the region begin to act in their own interests?” but “when the people in the region to act in their own interests- how will the West react?”. The entire reason US diplomats and politicians are tripping over each other to voice support for the Egyptian public is because of a desperate need to keep the country as an ally. However, with the US having invested so heavily in the 30-year Mubarak regime, it’s difficult to imagine the Egyptian people particularly fond of America, the West, and the ever expanding power of globalization.

 

So it brings us back to the original problem- it’s wonderful that the Tunisians and Egyptians have freed themselves, but how long will they be free?

18
Jul
10

The Alienation of Labor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

06
Jun
10

[Not] Free to Choose

Despite a growing dissatisfaction with Capitalism, there are many who refuse the concept of doing away with the system altogether. Such individuals tend to advocate “happy mediums” between free market Capitalism and state regulation. For example, the 2009 documentary Food, Inc. attempted to expose issues within the American food industry. While the film was highly critical of the some major food corporations in the US and the general way the industry is set up, the film advocated not the abolition of the Capitalist system that has allowed the situation to come to be, but rather the idea that through selective consumption, the food industry will be forced to alter its practices and products. For example, in this new system, one would choose to buy only “green” products, showing corporations that (1) the consumers will no longer buy ecologically harmful products and (2) there’s a profit to be made by selling eco-friendly merchandise.

It’s a painfully flawed system.

First, we must recognize the central role profits play. A product that is eco-friendly, made well, and made by laborers who are being paid decent wages is going to be substantially more expensive than a product that is made with no regard to the environment, the health/well-being of the consumer, and made by sweatshop workers. Products that have the qualities of the former are either too expensive to be profitable (enough) for the corporations producing them or too expensive to be purchasable by the majority of consumers. While there is some degree of public choice involved, overwhelmingly other factors such as the poverty of the consumers make this system impossible to realize.

Second, we must understand that Capitalism is in no way, shape, or form a democratic system. A while back, I had a conversation about Capitalism’s displacement (and to a degree, eradication) of local cultures. The person arguing with me made that claim that if the people of a country didn’t want McDonalds springing up across their nation, they would have only to stop eating there and the McDonalds, seeing no profit, would withdraw. The issue with this is that even if 95% of a population is against there being a product sold, if the remaining 5% buys enough to allow the company to make a profit, they will keep selling.

To recap the situation, product A is bad but cheap, product B is good but expensive, you will probably only be able to afford product A, and even if you manage to purchase product B, your ability to purchase other good products like B will be reduced because B is still expensive. But if you were somehow to rally the public and declare a boycott of product A, the fact that you’ve managed to get 75% of the populace to stop buying A doesn’t mean that A will cease to be a source of revenue. Short of getting a universal ban on product A, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

Now don’t misunderstand this post- I’m not arguing that because you don’t have much choice, you should capitulate to unethical business practices. On the contrary, out of principal, when it is your choice, you ought to spend money on the eco-friendly, fair-trade products rather than harmful or slave-labor products. I’m merely showing that Capitalism cannot be controlled by popular choice. Capitalism cannot be moderated so long as it remains based entirely on the acquisition of capital– and any change to this- the most fundamental aspect of Capitalism- would be an abolition of the Capitalist system altogether.

If you’re not free to choose within Capitalism, maybe you ought to considering choosing something other than Capitalism.

17
Feb
10

How to Kill Democracy

On January 21, the US Supreme Court narrowly voted to block a ban on corporate spending limits in political campaigns. Ironic that one of the greatest blows to the ideal of democracy should come about as the result of a vote.

Essentially, the argument for allowing unlimited corporate contributions to political campaigns is that since contributing to campaigns (financially) is a form of free speech, setting limits on how much corporations can donate (and to which candidates) is a violation of the rights of the individual. Now this argument makes the bold assumption that corporations are as much a person as you or me, and therefore are entitled to the same rights. Considering that corporations can benefit from all the rights of an individual but can’t fulfill any of the responsibilities (such as serving jury duty, serving in the military, being subject to the same laws and penalties as the rest of us, etc.), exactly how one reaches the conclusion that corporations are equal to human beings is beyond me.

But that can all be saved for another post. The purpose of this post is to attempt to predict the ramifications of free corporate campaign contributions.

Now it’s undeniable that corporate support has been a major factor in politics and political elections prior to ending of corporate spending limits. An oil corporation could influence a local election by offering campaign support to a candidate in exchange for the understanding that the candidate (should he or she win) will act in favor of the corporation (tax breaks for large businesses, laxer environmental standards, etc.). Now this may all seem to be a bit excessive- after all, corporations offering funds and advertising can’t buy an election.
Why not? Two brands of the same product may have unique traits to them that make one better than the other, yet one gets sold on a national level and the other remains nothing but a local oddity. It’s all comes down to advertisement- if one product is constantly flashed in front of the general public, it will outsell the rival brands. The same system can be applied to politicians. If two politicians are campaigning for the same office, who’s going to win- the candidate who’s advertised on a car’s bumper sticker or the candidate whose TV ads appear every seven minutes and whose face is plastered over every billboard in the state? Now just because the same strategies that are used in marketing can be used in politics doesn’t mean they should be used. In the end, what we have is the warping of public servants into products to be sold for the highest profits possible. The very purpose of the old corporate spending limits was to prevent one candidate from having an unfair advantage over his rivals solely on basis that his politics are favorable to corporations. With the limits gone, what’s there to prevent a candidate, a campaign, or even a whole branch of government from being effectively purchased by a corporation? If corporations now have the power to make or break electoral campaigns, why should politicians even try to serve the people when public opinion is eclipsed by the opinions of tycoons and magnates? What’s to stop the government from becoming a corrupted, withered facade for corporate agendas?

Still, it hasn’t happened yet. We still have the power to resist and demand that our representatives lobby for the reinstatement of corporate spending limits. While it’s still our choice, we can ensure that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

29
Sep
09

Communism, Capitalism, and Patriotism

The word “Patriotism” is used a lot these days. Some people understand patriotism to be the unconditional and unquestioning support of the government, others hold that patriotism is the defense and advocacy of certain values, and still others maintain that patriotism is any participation in the process of government. But what is true patriotism? At its most basic level it’s simply a love of one’s country- but what does that mean exactly? Who is being patriotic, the person who supports the war in Iraq or the person who opposes it? Who loves their country more, the person who opposes high taxes or the person who lobbies for them? In reality, you can’t attach patriotism to any one side of the political spectrum- after all, a person who believes that strict gun control is right for the country is being just as patriotic as the person who wants as little gun control as possible (provided his motivation is a desire to do what is right for his country).

Sadly, the word “Patriotism” is often misused to the point where its meaning changes altogether, resulting in what we would call “Jingoism”- the belief that one’s government is right in all things. We see this on both sides- people are labeled as unpatriotic (even anti-American) for protesting the war in Iraq and people are labeled as unpatriotic for refusing to support Obama’s policies. If patriotism is “the love of one’s country” then jingoism is a dangerous obsession.

Communists have experienced this more than others- indeed, the 1950s government detachment for investigating and combating the Communist ideal in America was called “The House Un-American Activities Committee”. Now were several problems with the committee, primarily that its creation was a gross violation of the constitution, and also because of the assumption it made that Communism was somehow unpatriotic and anti-American.

Now this raises an interesting question- which of these two world views is more patriotic? Capitalism or Communism?

Well, firstly let us investigate the ideals of Capitalism. As has been stated many times by now, the purpose of Capitalism is capital– money, which is to be obtained through the buying, selling, and general exchange of goods and services. Government regulation is equated with corruption, and tariffs and subsidies (created primarily for the purpose of benefiting the country’s local infrastructures and citizens) are deemed to be nothing more than hindrances to the economy’s growth. So is Capitalism patriotic? Absolutely not. If the purpose of Capitalism is the acquisition of money, then the Capitalist’s loyalties are not to his country but to the markets- and a country is made up of people, not economies. For example, a person in one country could attempt to acquire money through selling products- this is Capitalism. However, if the products he is selling are the country’s natural resources, or even sweat-shop labor, then this- while Capitalist- is far from patriotic. Or take for example the selling of faulty or shoddy products. If a person sells products decorated in lead-based paints, then he- while fully following the creed of Capitalism- is damaging the public and the country.

So what about Communism? Well, the primary purpose of Communism is an attempt to improve society by creating justice and equality through the abolition of the class system, private property, and currency, and the establishment of a free, democratic government. Simplified by Chairman Mao, the Communist’s primary goal is to “serve the people”. Now as stated above, a country is not comprised of its wealth or markets or economy but of its people. What could be more patriotic than a system where serving the public is the end goal?

In short, in a contest between the two, Communism is by far more patriotic than Capitalism can ever hope to be.

07
Sep
09

The Communist Perspective: Obama

Over the course of his campaign for the presidency and his past months in office, President Obama has been called many things, from messiah to monster. Among the wide range of names given to the president, one tends to stand out more than others: “Communist”.

We see these accusations everywhere, from bumper stickers replacing the “c” in “Barack” with a hammer and sickle to picket signs audaciously depicting Obama next to Stalin (who incidentally, was not actually Communist). Is there any substance to these accusations? Is Barack Obama a Communist?

The answer is a resounding no.

Now if Barack Obama was indeed a Marxist, we Communists would be dancing in the streets. Allow me to assure anyone in doubt, Barack Obama is most certainly not a Communist. He is a Democrat and he is left-wing within the sphere of the Democrat Party. However, having certain leftist stances does not make a person a Communist. So far, Obama has done nothing to indicate that he intends to abolish the class-system, Capitalism, or the institutions of private property and commerce. Higher taxes, more regulation, and higher government spending in no way equates with the principals of Marxism.

So what do Communists think of Obama? While opinions vary (as they inevitably do), there is both of a feeling of loyalty and disappointment among Marxists on the subject of the current President. After eight years of the generally right-wing policies of George Bush and faced with the prospect of McCain and Palin in the Whitehouse, Communists were of course happy for Obama’s victory, believing that after nearly a decade of right-wing control, any movement to the left would be a step in the right direction. At the same time, Marxists consider Obama and his policies to be addressing the symptoms of the disease, rather than the disease itself. Rather than attempting to solve the debt crises though pumping money into the economy, redistribution of wealth and property is needed to bride the social divide. Rather than attempt to regulate Capitalism, the system needs to abolished completely. In short, Obama is only aspirin for an injury that desperately requires surgery. Granted, it’s better than McCain or another conservative candidate, but Obama simply isn’t enough.