Posts Tagged ‘Poverty

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.

26
Dec
11

5 Personal Annoyances of Being Communist

I’m still working on a larger post for tomorrow, so for today I thought I’d just post five personal annoyances I’ve run into as a Communist- maybe some of you can relate.

 

I. “You’re a Communist, so you must love Russia!”

Upon hearing that I am a Communist, most people assume that, as such, I have a torrid love affair with all things Russian. Vodka must be my favorite drink, the ushenka must be my favorite hat (the big, furry ones), I must always be rooting for the villains in old James Bond movies.

Ok, technically I am- but only because this guy is really, really obnoxious...

Now if the USSR was still around, this assumption  would be more understandable- but the Soviet Union fell apart decades ago- why would people continue to assume that as a Marxist, I’m a fan of Russia? Even the basic logic of this is flawed. Let’s say that, for just a moment, that Russia was the very epitome of the Marxist ideals (it wasn’t). It still wouldn’t make sense. The equivalent of saying “You’re a Communist, Russia is Communist, therefore, you must like Russia” would be arguing that “You drink water, cats drink water, therefore you must like cats”.

And why Russia? China used to be seen as a Communist nation- why am I never assumed to be a big China fan?

A very big fan...

It’s not that I dislike Russia (barring the national cuisine, which should constitute a cruel and unusual punishment), it’s just that I’m tired of my political views being taken to assume that I am, in the end, just obsessed with all things Russian. It’s a false depiction of Communism as something exclusively Eastern European and I can only imagine the Russians are sick and tired of the comparison as well.

 

II. “If you’re a Communist, how come you aren’t poor?”

Now this is something that really bothers me- maybe you’ve run into it as well. Someway or another, the fact that you’re a Marxist comes up, and someone pipes in that “Hey- if you’re a Communist, then how come you aren’t poor?”.

How come I’m not poor?

Look, I get the idea that there are plenty of people out there who complain about the injustice of wealth despair from the more comfortable of the two sides. A common way people will put down the Occupy Wall Street protestors is by claiming they’re just a bunch of spoiled college kids complaining about wealth on their apple computers. Hey, I am a college student (for a few more months, anyways) in my early twenties railing about the Capitalist system- I fit a lot of the stereotypes as well. What kills me though is the lousy logic behind this- you have to be poor to complain about poverty. Yeah, kinda like how you have to be a slave to rail against slavery, or be starving to condemn the effects of famine.

It’s just plain idiocy.

And it stems from this similarly irrational concept that the radical left is, because we’re opposed to wealth inequality, must be advocating universal poverty.

This isn't exactly our vision for the future...

The idea that you must be poor to try to fight for an equitable society, or that you can only choose between a few being wealthy and everyone being wealthy- well, you can probably guess that being tagged with this false representation is pretty irritating.

 

III. “If you’re a Communist, why don’t you have a job?”

A similar argument that gets presented to me sometimes is the question of jobs. While now working part-time as a janitor, I used to get harassed with the question of “If you’re a Communist, why don’t you have a job?”. Now at first glance, this might seem like a legitimate criticism, after all, if Communism is based on the workers rising up, it might seem strange to speak out on behalf of the workers when you yourself don’t work. But let’s run with that logic for a bit, shall we? Using this logic, people who are out of work don’t qualify as part of the working class. Same goes for the homeless, the mentally challenged, immigrants, etc. Effectively, it’s the reverse of the “You’re too well-off to be a revolutionary”, arguing that the most oppressed and alienated in society are “Too poor to be revolutionaries”.

Needless to say, when faulty reasoning is employed to discredit you as a hypocrite no matter what you do, it can feel pretty aggravating.

 

IV. “You’re a Communist, huh? Then that means you have to give me your ________!”

Now I’ll admit, I’ve only ever encountered this with one person (though he did constantly fall back onto this argument), I can’t say for certain whether or not it’s something other leftists run into, but here it is.

This one person, a follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism (aka, Capitalism on PCP) would argue “Hey, if you’re a Communist, then you have to give me whatever you have!”. As I said, I’ve only ever encountered this reasoning with this particular person, but it does seem to be reflective of a larger view on Communism. Only Communism isn’t about handouts, it’s about sharing. Whenever this person used that argument, I’d respond with “No, I won’t give you my _________, but I’ll share it with you if we both participate in a mutually beneficial venture. Again, its a false portrayal of Communism as being about handouts, when nothing could be further from the truth. Equal work for a common reward using tools and resources we share.

Like I said, I’ve only ever had this line of thought explicitly used by a single person, but the general misrepresentation of Marxism as being about enabling the poor to leech off of the wealthy.

Poor People: Viciously exploiting the wealthy since 8,000 B.C.

 

V. “Democrats are Socialists!”

As much as liberals and Democrats hate being called Communists, it pales in comparison with how much Communists hate being called liberals and Democrats.

I think Phil Ochs perhaps said it best with this song:

In case you’re like me, and have an irrational aversion to clicking on YouTube links on blogs, let me break it down for you. The comparison between the radical left and Democrats/liberals/progressives is so annoying is because, despite the yawning chasm that supposedly separates the mainstream right and left in the US, they really aren’t all that different.

"Evil Republicans endorse Capitalism with some government restristictions, unlike the good Democrats who endorse Capitalism with some government restrictions..." -Everyone on AlterNet

I don’t like having to sift through countless pictures equating Obama’s policies to Marxism when I’m looking for Communist-related photos. I don’t like my values and perspectives being put on par with those of Bill Maher. I cannot state this enough- the policies of the liberals and progressives are in no way, shape, or form similar to those of Communists, and it is a pain in the neck to constantly have to try to extricate my symbols and terminology from the “Obamunist” apocalypse foretold by the right-wing. Again, I’m not bashing Democrats as people- I have Democrat friends. What aggravates me is the equation of my ideology with theirs- the relationship simply does not exist.

This kind of junk has got to stop

02
Mar
11

A Breif Note on Liberation Theology

For a college theology class, I had to watch the 1989 film Romero– the story of Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador and an advocate of Liberation Theology. In one particularly poignant section of the film, just after a brutal massacre has taken place by the Salvadoran Army on left-wing peasants and priests, a young woman asks Romero “Will I go to heaven when I die? It’s so bad here… I’ve got to have something I can look forward to…”. It reminded me of Marx’s comment “Religion is the opiate of the people”.

Now most people, even many communists, understand this comment to be Marx’s denouncement of religion as nothing but myths concocted to keep the have-nots from rising up against the haves. I don’t believe this was the point Marx was trying to make. Yes, Marx was a committed atheist, but after studying his discussions of religion, what I have found is that Marx doesn’t actually have an issue with concepts of faith and spirituality. Marx’s attacks on religion aren’t so much attacks on the ideas of the supernatural, but attacks on the use of religion by those in power to subjugate those who they were exploiting. “Religion is the opiate of the people” doesn’t speak so much on the nature of religion as it does on the predicament of the poor and oppressed. Going back to that scene in Romero, what is shown is that there are those whose lives are so utterly miserable, that an existence beyond death is the only thing that makes existence bearable. Again, Marx doesn’t decry the idea of life after death, but the conditions of life before.

Now evolving out of that criticism, or at least, out of similar views, was the concept of “Liberation Theology”, a perspective of Christianity (specifically Catholicism in South and Central America) that focused on alleviating the suffering of poor and oppressed peoples and bringing about fundamental changes in society that were the root causes of poverty and exploitation. Another scene in Romero probably gives the best example of Liberation Theology doctrine, in which the bishop leads a number of locals in prayer “Lord, you created us for freedom… Christ, you made us to live in dignity… Lord, you strengthen us in the struggle for justice…” and further commenting “The mission of the church is to identify itself with the poor and to join with them in their struggle for justice….”.

Naturally, Liberation Theology, directly attempting to improve life and the advance the rights of the powerless was embraced by the poor, and not just a few Marxists as well. Indeed, some of the goals between Liberation Theology and Communism were so similar, that governments accused local clergy of colluded with Marxist rebels (which was, in some cases true) and others to denounce Liberation Theology as Christian Marxism. Indeed, one of the most outspoken critics of Liberation Theology was a German cardinal named Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict the XV. Sadly, while Liberation Theology does still exist (as well as variants of it), a its precepts were rejected by the greater Catholic Church and for many still, religion remains an opiate to many of the poor and disenfranchised.

23
Dec
10

A Few Thoughts On The Homeless

Despite being largely a mire of polemic and melodramatic prophecies about an impending Republican police state, the liberal, progressive site AlterNet does occasionally produce some good articles. I just recently found one about new legislation passed in San Fransisco targeting the homeless.

The article’s been linked here.

Now it reminded me of a lecture activist Shane Claiborne gave at my college- he discussed an occurrence in Philadelphia when a similar law was enacting, unfairly targeting the homeless. Indeed, we can probably all think of some time when we’ve heard about something like this.

Now of course such laws are never called “anti-homeless” or anything along those lines and more often than not are simply disguised as anti-loitering laws. The reality, unfortunately, is that law enforcement may be selective about who they fine for “loitering” or “obstructing” the sidewalks or “panhandling”. Is a man in a business suit, asking you for some spare change, just as likely as an unkempt man wearing four jackets? Is a woman in high-heels just as likely to be told to “move along” as a woman with plastic-bags taped to her feet? I think not. Nevertheless, legislation is constantly being introduced for the specific purpose of persecuting the homeless, ranging to anything from fines (exactly how fining the poorest of the poor is supposed to work I can’t say) to imprisonment (as if living in abject poverty wasn’t punish in and of itself).

 

Why? Why are we so bent on attacking the most broken members of society?

 

Perhaps the reason we so despise the homeless is because we’re afraid of them and what they represent. They’re the products of our manipulative and exploitative social system, and a grim reminder that any of us could have the same fate. The homeless don’t respect the illusions of total prosperity we insulate ourselves with. When we categorize our worlds into neat areas and neighborhood based on class, the rich and middle class can live warm, fuzzy lives of blissful ignorance until some unruly schizophrenic shuffles down the sidewalk clutching a battered backpack and muttering something about George Lucas stealing his thoughts. Then the homeless person turns into a stark, in-your-face reminder of poverty, disease, and pain. I’d go even so far as to say that the homeless are dark reflections of our own lives- that we’re not all that different from the homeless. A friend once sent me a comedy routine in which the speaker says “We’re not supposed to give money to the homeless because they’re just gonna spend it on drugs and alcohol. But wait- that’s what I’m gonna spend it on…”. What’s the real difference between a homeless person living in a cardboard box downing cheap booze and a billionaire living in a mansion drowning his sorrows in rare wine?

 

So what’s the solution?

 

Going back to the comedian I referenced just a minute ago, his routine went on to recount “He [the guy a homeless person had asked for money from] said ‘Why don’t you get a job, you bum?’ People always say that to homeless guys- ‘Get a job!’ like it’s always that easy. This homeless guy was wearing his underwear outside his pants. I’m guessing his resume aint all up-to-date. I’m predicting some problems during the interview process…”. Clearly the problem isn’t going to be solved by simply telling the homeless to get jobs and houses and integrate into society. Besides, more often than not it’s society that’s responsible for the creation of the homeless in the first place- these people don’t simply materialize. You take a person, throw him into a Capitalist world where he has to face-off against his peers for jobs and opportunities, there’s a chance he might not make it. Is there really any point in taking the homeless and forcing them back into a world that will either chew them up and spit them back out or cause them to displace others? It’s our way of living as a whole- competition instead of cooperation.

 

And in the meanwhile, how should we treat the homeless? They aren’t where they are because of laziness or choice, and they aren’t animals without need for human compassion and help. We need to resist the temptation to separate ourselves from them or bring in laws to harass the homeless into inconveniencing someone else’s city. Who knows if luck will turn and you or I will end up in the same position as them?

09
Jul
10

The Communist World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15
Jun
10

[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.

THEN THEY CAME for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

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

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.

03
Apr
10

Live Long and Prosper?

If you were to look up “Communism” in a philosophy book, you’d probably find it under a section dealing with “Materialism”. The problem with this is that the popular meaning of the word “Materialism” has changed radically over the years. In terms of philosophy, the original meaning of “Materialism” was a category of philosophies primarily concerned with the concepts of property and their effects on human society/history. If I were, however, to use the term “Materialist” today, it would commonly be assumed that I was referring to the idea that the end goal of life is to accumulate wealth (radical hedonism, essentially). This is a recurring problem with many terms connected to Communism- in Marx’s day, “Socialism” meant a society embracing shared property and rejecting the class system, today we use it to refer to a politico-economic system where the majority of property is owned and managed by a massive government- but perhaps that’s off topic.

The issue with trying to categorize Communism in philosophy is that Marx was rather critical of philosophy as a whole. He asserted that analyzing the world should not be an end but merely a means to bring about change and advancement (“Philosophers have merely interpreted the world. The point, however, is to change it!” -Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach”). While Communism definitely does offer a socio-politico-economic perspective, to claim that Communism is an all-out philosophy wouldn’t be quite correct. While most philosophies make some basic assumptions about the purpose of life (hedonism, as much pleasure as possible; Socratic philosophy, preparing for death;  aesthetic realism, finding harmony in life; the list goes on and on), Communism on the other hand functions more like a scientific theory than a code of ethics or an understanding of existence (indeed, one of the reason people find Marx so hard to read is the fact that he treats economics almost like a branch of physics). Don’t misunderstand me- Marx did have convictions. He saw the exploitation of the proletariat as the principal factor in the toppling of Capitalism and the class system and believed that the toppling of the Capitalism and the class system would propagate justice and equality. It’s like a scientist discovering that running electricity through a gas filled bulb not only creates light but it is his moral imperative to run electricity through a gas filled bulb and create light. As a result of all this, you’ll find no single, coherent Communist philosophy but rather a number of philosophies espousing Communist political theory. On one side you have philanthropic, altruistic humanist communists who have become Communist out of love for their fellow man. On the other side you have cynical and bitter antisocial communists who have become Communist out of a belief in morality rather than man (the author falls into this category). And between these two extremes you’ll find any number of other philosophies- religious Communism, green Communism, Anarcho-Communism, etc. If there’s a mainstream philosophy out there, you’d be safe to bet that there’s a Communist version of it (baring, perhaps, Ayn Rand-style Objectivism).

Now one might argue that the exact same rules apply to Capitalism. “Capitalism is a socio-economic theory too. You can hold any philosophy or worldview and still be a Capitalist!”.

Now this is partly true. You can indeed be a Capitalist and hold the purpose in life to protect and preserve the earth and all its natural wonders. The problem is that if you also accept Capitalism, you have to maintain that it is perfectly legal (and indeed, a basic human right) to purchase a mountain, to prevent anyone else from walking on it, and if the owner so chooses, to blow it to pieces.

“Alright, so Environmentalism and Capitalism don’t mesh so well- but there’s still a ton of other philosophies out there.”

Absolutely, and they too don’t seem to mesh well with Capitalism. If you hold the purpose of life is to live honestly and decently, then you’re presented with a number of challenges (the primary of which is that in Capitalism, the highest profits come from underpaying and overworking your employees and overpricing your products- not exactly honest or decent, is it?). If you declare that the end goal in life is to live long and prosper and see your family happy and secure then you have to deal with the fact that this is the wish of not only you but a large percent of humanity and since in Capitalism there’s only so much room at the top you’ll have to viciously compete with your neighbors for this lifestyle (unless you’re born into it, in which case you just have to worry about the huddled masses eying your house and pool. Even if you believe that the sole purpose of live is to live in decadence and luxury, you have to contend with the very definitions of the words. Do two houses in Monaco count as decadence and luxury, or should you get a yacht as well (or more importantly, will you be any more happy and fulfilled with the yacht than you are now?).

So essentially, no matter what your philosophy is, it has to be accepted that in all likelihood, you’d be able to pursue it better in a society free from Capitalism. You want peace and happiness for your family? Maybe you should opt for a system where a starving homeless man is going to gun down your wife/husband for her/his necklace/wallet. You want to be able to do whatever you love doing? Maybe you should opt for a system where you aren’t forced to take whatever job pays the bills, no matter how painful or bland. You want to be able learn everything there is to know about a subject? Maybe you should opt for a system where education is a high-priced commodity available only to some.

Maybe you should opt for Communism.

15
Mar
10

The Frontline

Since the beginnings of civilization (if this oppressive class-system society can be called “civilized”) the poor and working class have been pushed to the front lines of every battle and conflict. In ancient Greece, soldiers were expected to procure their own armor and weapons- resulting in the wealthy being able to procure decent armor and weapons for themselves while the poor had (at best) worn-out leather armor and homemade weapons. As you can doubtlessly imagine, casualty rates among the poorer members of the vying forces tended to be much greater than those among the wealthy.

Now obviously things today have changed since ancient times. We have the resources to maintain a trained and (equally) equipped military in times of peace and war. Does this mean inequality between social classes (with regards to war and the armed forces) has been wiped out? Of course not!

Now imagine, if you will, that you are a military recruiter. It is your job and your duty to convince members of society to join your army and kill for (or be killed for, as the case may be) their country. Now who would you target? The wealthy corporation owner? Of course not. He’s living in luxury- what motivation would he have to take up an austere and dangerous military life? How about the professional middle-class woman? No way. She’s got two kids and a steady job- even the most jingoistic patriot would be reluctant to leave that behind. Perhaps an eighteen year-old from a bourgeois background? Yeah right. You really expect this guy who’s looking at colleges to go out and potentially die? It’d have to be a seriously dire situation before that happens.

How about working class youths fresh out of high school with no way to pay for college, little or no chance at a decent job, and no future?

Jackpot.

So you approach these disenfranchised, poorly-educated, and more than likely desperate youths and offer them a way out of crime-and-poverty. “Education, dignity, power, and the respect and gratitude of the nation- all this can be yours (oh, and there’s a pretty high chance that you’ll be killed or maimed or develop a mental condition as a result of you killing/maiming your fellow man- but we don’t like to talk about that)”.

There’s a catch to everything.

And so the ranks are swelled by the poor fighting in wars they don’t probably don’t understand or have a stake in. It’s really the ultimate con game. The poor line up to die for their country when their countries have done nothing for them. Just look at the Vietnam War. Martin Luther King Jr. was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, not only because it was opposed to his pacifist ideals but also because he saw war as a diversion of funds that ought to be used to aid the poor (claiming “A nation that continues… to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”). It’s just the unbelievable injustice of it all. Society is built on the backs of the poor. The proletariat sweep the streets, clean the gutters, build our houses and buildings, pave our roads, manufacture our products and produce the raw materials that our nations run on and in addition to all this they die for whatever cause the government deems justified. And for the poor and working class who do not go to war- what’s their lot? Why, it’s their “patriotic duty” to tighten their belts, buckle down, and make sacrifices for the war effort. Overtime at the munitions factory. What’s that? You’re arm got caught in the belt and you desperately need surgery? Sorry- you’re just some working class zero, you can’t afford insurance. Government healthcare? If they hadn’t diverted all the funds to help our brave boys on the western/eastern/southern/northern/ front it’d be no problem. You’re out of work now and the cost of living is going up? If you were middle-class you wouldn’t be feeling the pinch as much, would you? Maybe you should’ve thought about being born into a wealthier family!

You get the point.

And this is where you’ll witness a seeming hypocrisy among us Communists. On one hand, we’re screaming for revolution, the toppling of Fascists, imperialists, and the bourgeois and corporate taskmasters. On the other hand, you’ll probably find Communists at every major anti-war rally going on. Our reply? Our reply is this: We are opposed to war as much as war is opposed to us (for there have been few wars indeed where the workers have had any benefit). For us, there is only one war worth fighting and that war has been going on unceasingly since the immemorial. Our war is against Fascism, against imperialism, and the oppression of the Capitalist system. Let there be no war but class war!

03
Jan
10

Sweet [and Sour] Charity

Let the facts be faced, charity is a futile practice. No matter how much money we donate, the poor seem to just get poorer. No matter how much aid is given to third world countries, no matter how many people volunteer at the local homeless shelters, no difference seems to be made.

It’s not because the right measures aren’t being taken. People aren’t (in general) being fed for a day- most charities and aid organizations attempt to help people help themselves. Impoverished families are taught modern farming techniques and are given poultry and livestock, the homeless are offered shelter and are instructed on how to hold a job. At first glance it would appear that charity is working great. There are, sadly, several factors which most people don’t take into account.

Firstly, there’s the overwhelming logistic issue. On the whole, charity and aid aren’t the foremost thoughts in the minds of those who actually do have excess capital. Give a man five dollars and his first impulse probably isn’t going to be to give that money away to someone else. Once we establish that very few people actually do give to charity on a regular basis, we have to realize that the number of people in wretched, abject poverty is monumentally greater than the number of people donating. For example, imagine that all that’s needed to bring one man out of poverty is a mere hundred dollars. If the average person donates five dollars per month (and that’s a generous estimate) it’ll take either (1) twenty months for enough cash to be raised to help the impoverished man (by which time it may be too late) or (2) twenty donors to help a single person. At this rate (and it’s a generous rate), charity will never help more than a fortunate few.

But of course, this is only if the aid gets to these people at all. Corruption is rife both within aid organizations and in every channel that the aid must pass through. Some estimate that only a quarter of all the money given to charity actually reaches those who need it (again, this is a generous estimate).

But of course, all of this is dwarfed by the third and most critical issue: what’s the point of getting people back on their feet when they’ll just get knocked down again? People don’t choose to be poor, people either become poor or are born poor. This is a world dominated by the principals of Capitalism. Competition is brutal, and those who aren’t quite as strong or smart or deceitful or brutal as others will inevitably find themselves forced to the lower rungs of the social ladder. The children of these people, through absolutely no fault of their own, find themselves born into this hellish existence (to call it “life” would be a gross exaggeration). Now imagine enough money filters through to lift a family out of poverty. What then? We’ve simply placed them back into a glorified game of Monopoly where they’ll either be forced back down or force down someone else. Simply throwing people back into the system responsible for their situation is about as useful as bailing water out of a boat with a gaping hole in the hull. Essentially, the capitalist idea of charity is throwing money at something until it’s covered up. It’s costly and completely unproductive.

Now does this mean that charity and aid are wrong? Absolutely not! Helping one’s fellow man through any means is perhaps one of the noblest things a human can do. The problem isn’t with charity and aid- it’s with the system. Until we mend the hole in the boat’s hull, charity and aid serve only to offer fleeting comfort.

And perhaps that alone is something worthwhile.