Posts Tagged ‘public

02
Feb
11

A Bit More on Egypt

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Viva la revolucion.

28
Jul
10

A Communist Response to the Tea Party

The Tea Party has made a point of lambasting the Communist movement. Pictures of Obama (for the last time- not a Communist) are adorned with the hammer-and-sickle emblem, or set up alongside pictures of Marx and Lenin. There are picket-signs with such slogans as “Revolt Against Socialism”-in short, it’s the largest anti-leftist movement since McCarthyism. And not without reason, either. It’s undeniable that there’s a certain appeal to the Tea Party movement. Joining the fight against the [alleged] looming threat of an authoritarian state, bringing the country back to its original values, lowering taxes for the middle-class-everyman- who wouldn’t want in? But as with every political/social/economic movement you have to cut through the buzz words and slogans and examine the core principals and goals.

The Tea Party seems to be focused around three central issues, (1) the limiting of government power, (2) the restoration of Free Market Capitalism, and (3) through these two goals bring America back to the values of the Founding Fathers. In and of themselves these principals seem perfectly reasonable- admirable even. Until you look at history.

Limiting government power? Hey- Communists are all for it. One of the principal goals of Marxism is the abolition of the state. Indeed, despite the Tea Party’s pictures of Democrat politicians with the hammer-and-sickle superimposed on them, Communists have more in common with Libertarians- as far as governmental issues anyways. The problem with the Tea Party is that there not against big government- they’re against big Democrat government. The Patriotic Act was one of the greatest expansions of government power since the Civil War- did the Tea Party protest then? In the Tea Party’s defense though- this is a problem on both sides of the political spectrum; those who protested the Patriot Act have remained strangely silent about the issue now that Obama is in power.

As for the restoration of Free Market Capitalism- there’s a reason regulatory laws and branches have been developed. Before the advent of market regulation, the state of things was appalling. Child labor, strike-breakers, low wages, dangerous work conditions, false advertising, a complete lack of product safety and quality control, rampant pollution- to put it mildly, it was nightmarish. And even despite regulatory laws, corporations continue to pollute and exploit- look at third-world sweatshops and the continued destruction of the environment! If things are bad now, how much worse will they be without laws to protect the workers and consumers?

And lastly and most importantly, there’s the issue of the founding fathers. If you listen to far-right pundits (Glen Beck would be a prime example), you’ll hear repeatedly that the US must be returned to the plans the founding fathers had for it. A closer look at the writings of America’s founders, however, suggest that they might not have been as wild about Capitalism as conservative pundits and Tea Party members make them out to be. Thomas Jefferson, for example, had this to say about private property:

It is agreed by those who have seriously considered the subject, that no individual has, of natural right, a separate property in an acre of land, for instance. By an [sic] universal law, indeed, whatever, whether fixed or movable, belongs to all men equally and in common, is the property for the moment of him who occupies it, but when he relinquishes the occupation, the property goes with it.

Or look at this statement by Thomas Paine (technically not a founding father, but his influence of the Revolutionary War and the formation of the American government is immeasurable):

Men did not make the earth… It is the value of the improvements only, and not the earth itself, that is individual property… Every proprietor owes to the community a ground rent for the land which he holds.

and

…To pay as a remission of taxes to every poor family, out of the surplus taxes, and in room of poor-rates, four pounds a year for every child under fourteen years of age; enjoining the parents of such children to send them to school, to learn reading, writing, and common arithmetic; the ministers of every parish, of every denomination to certify jointly to an office, for that purpose, that this duty is performed… By adopting this method, not only the poverty of the parents will be relieved, but ignorance will be banished from the rising generation, and the number of poor will hereafter become less…

Even half a century later, Lincoln (not a founder, still an important figure in the shaping of American politics) gave us this warning:

As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

Quite simply, as far as the founders go, I doubt their ideologies would have mixed too well with those of the Tea Party.

To summarize, the Tea Party may have a heroic and patriotic veneer, but that’s all that there is- catchphrases, dire warnings about an apocalyptic future, and desperate attempts to restore a past that never existed. And the truly tragic thing is there’s a lot in the Tea Party that could be used for the betterment of the American public. The rejection of big government is admirable- just make sure that you’re not substituting one lack of liberty for another. The desire to restore prosperity is good- Capitalism isn’t the way. The attempt to restore the country to the principals of the founding fathers is commendable- but only so long as you know what those principals were.

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.

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.

30
May
10

Communsim, the Environment, and the BP Oil Spill Disaster

While the BP oil spill nothing short of an ecological tragedy, I can’t help feel a tiny bit grateful for it. Like any disaster, despite the overall harm, there’s still a lesson to be learned from it. In the case of the oil spill, the lesson is this:

Capitalism and Environmentalism mix about as well as oil and water.

As has been discussed many times before in this blog, Capitalism’s primary function is the acquisition of Capital– money. It’s not the greater good of humanity, it’s not the advancement of one’s nation, and it’s certainly not the defense of the planet. It’s about cold, hard cash- nothing else. Of course one could argue that there’s money to be made in advancement of one’s nation or the defense of the planet, but precious little compared to that of the simple exploitation of the earth.

Now this is not the first time BP has been implicated in faulty safety measures that have resulted in an oil spill. In 2006, in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, over a quarter million gallons of oil was spilled as a result of BP maintenance cost-cuts. Why cut maintenance costs? To increase profit of course. The higher the profit, the more the Capital– the entire point of Capitalism. So what if it’s dangerous to the local ecosystem? Capitalism is about profit- it’s about keeping the investors happy and the product(s) flying off the shelves. Now one might argue that people want to buy from eco-friendly companies (the entire issue of participatory economics will be dealt with in another post), but in general the trick is simply not getting caught damaging the environment. Really all the same principles behind the exploitation of the laborer apply to the exploitation of the earth. Making sure one’s equipment is up-to-date and functioning safely is costly, you want higher profits, cut back on clean waste disposal for cheap, (and almost inevitably) environmentally damaging) options. Rather than worry about the long-term implications of the effects of one of your products (herbicides, let’s say), make sure people just focus on the fact that it kills weeds in seconds rather than the fact that it does serious damage to the soil. As I’ve said before, it’s about the money, not the potential damage.

Now I’m not trying to argue that every product on the shelves right now has been made in such a way to maximize profits at the expense of environmental welfare. I’m pointing out that the potential is there, that Capitalists have no real reason to attempt to make their products environmentally safe (other than higher profit, of course), and that there are many, many instances of this happening- the BP oil spills being prime examples.

A strong-counter argument to this would be that, to an extent, the same rationale of “profit-before-environment” can be applied to a situation where a factor/mine/rig/etc. is owned by the local public (a major tenet of Communism), rather than a handful of individuals (the foundation of Capitalism). Sure, if the public living in and around the Bay of Mexico owned and operated the rig themselves, there’d still probably be the temptation to cut costs/manpower/time in ensuring the rig is environmentally safe, but if there was an oil spill as a result, the local communities controlling the rig would be the ones chiefly affected by the disaster and would have no one to blame but themselves. But instead of this fair and just ‘you-do-it-you-clean-it-up’ system, we have Capitalism. A man or company can own a rig on the other side of the world, profit off it, and never have to worry about waking up to dead seagulls and black tar in their yards. Now you can call me idealistic, but I can’t help but feel it a bit unjust that someone can be responsible for a major ecological, economic, and sociological disaster and never have to deal with the consequences. The reason I said “there’d still probably be the temptation to cut costs” earlier on was because one tends to have a differently mentality when dealing with something like this. Imagine you’ve been given the job of keeping bears off of an acre of land hundreds, no- thousands, of miles away. Chances are you’re going to be a lot less careful about keeping bears away than if you actually had to live on that acre and would be directly affected. Marx talks quite a bit about the estrangement of labor, but he mentions the estrangement of property as well.

Let’s face the facts. Capitalism is not going to solve our environmental problems (and even if you’re among the few who don’t believe in global warming, you have to acknowledge we’ve got some serious pollution and deforestation issues), and in all likelihood, Capitalism and Environmentalism are going to be at odds. The way the Communists see it, we can’t live without the environment- we’re more than happy to live without Capitalism!

01
Dec
09

The Myth

Perhaps the greatest lie originating (and arguably, perpetuated by) Capitalism is the idea that the wealthy are wealthy because they are intelligent, disciplined, and hardworking and the poor are poor because they are ignorant and lazy. As a result, if a man in a business suit and flawless grammar knocks on your door and asks if he can use your bathroom, chances are you’ll let him. You probably wouldn’t do the same for a man in a ragged bathrobe whose grasp of the English language was sub-average. Indeed, the quality of treatment you offer people is usually determined by what social class they hail from. We make assumptions about people based on whether or not they seem to be poor, middle-class, or wealthy.

Quite simply, we’re bigots.

And not without reason either. If a person is less willing to let a homeless man into his house than a man who is (or at least, seems to be) doing quite well for himself, then the person’s fear is not completely unfounded. A wealthy man has less reason to rob you than a poor man. Crime rates, alcoholism, and drug abuse are highest among the lower classes. Likewise the poorer classes tend to have the lowest levels of education. Statistically speaking, yes, you are more likely to be mugged by a poor person than a rich one, but so what? Bigotry is never tolerable, no matter what. So what if you’re more likely to be mugged if you get a poor guy into your house instead of a rich one? You don’t know either man. Maybe the man in the bathrobe is an honest, honorable person who’s had a run of bad luck. Maybe the man in the suit is a sociopathic murderer or a con artist. Judging people according to how wealthy they are is, no matter how you look at it, wrong!

So why is it that we’re prejudiced to trust the middle-class and wealthy rather than the poor? Is it because the poor are ignorant and criminal while the wealthy are intelligent and decent? Of course not! The poor aren’t poor because they’re criminals; the poor have high crime levels because they are poor. Sure the poor man is more likely to mug you, but is that because of him or the fact that he’s cold and hungry? Obviously there are those who are poor because of their own issues- all humans have a propensity towards greed and indolence. At the same time, it is ridiculous to claim that the poor are only poor because they’re lazy. It’s the poorest of the poor who have the heaviest workload. Across Africa, Asia, Latin America and yes, even Europe, Australia, and North America there are millions of those who for ten hours a day for wages of less than a dollar a day! There’s a reason we call them the Proletariat– the working class! It’s because they’re the ones doing all the actual work. They do the farming, the mining, the sweeping, the building, the cleaning, the producing and manufacturing! Why on earth would we even dare to consider these people to be lazy?

Because we’re lazy.

As I’ve said, humans are lazy. More often than not we don’t take the time and effort to investigate something for ourselves; we simply make assumptions or believe whatever our leaders and the media feed us. Since the poor are poor and unable to afford decent (if any) healthcare, we immediately assume that the poor are simply dirty. Since the poor can’t afford decent (if any) educations, we immediately assume that the poor are ignorant and stupid. Since the poor are poor and can’t always afford food/medicine/etc., many are forced into lives of crime- we immediately assume that the poor are naturally criminal. But laziness isn’t the only reason we don’t ask why the poor live in poverty.

Humans are also naturally arrogant. The idea- no, the myth– that the poor are poor because they are lazy makes us feel better about ourselves. We’re where we are because of our efforts! We’re wealthy because of our intelligence, our skill! We’re where we are because of our work-ethic, our self-discipline, and our decency!

Egotistical lies.

We’re where we are because of our own efforts and the efforts of our parents and their parents before them and because of the state of the world we live in and the class we were born into. Personal effort makes up about ten percent of it- the rest is accident of birth and dumb luck. A person pulling himself to the top from nothing is such a rare event that we make a major Hollywood film out of it. If you’re born poor, chances are you’ll stay poor no matter how hard you work unless you get not one but a whole chain of lucky breaks. If you’re born into a middle-class family, you’re probably going to stay middle-class unless you get a bunch of lucky breaks (though less than if you were poor). If you’re born into wealth and privilege than you haven’t done anything to deserve your life and don’t have to do anything to maintain it. Like I said, it really comes down to accident of birth. If you’re lucky, you’re wealthy, if you’re not, you’re poor and probably will be poor for the rest of your life. The Caste System isn’t exclusive to Hinduism.

So in short, don’t believe in the fairy-tale that the wealthy are the best of society and the poor are the worst, or that the poor are poor only because of their own efforts. We are, for the most part, fixed in our place by statistical chance- individual effort has very little effect on us.

It isn’t fair, is it? Only a sadist or an idiot could honestly state that this is an ethical system. Most of us simply shrug our shoulders and say that “life isn’t fair” or “that’s just the way things are…”. I say that when someone’s been murdered, we can’t stick our hands in our pockets and say “life isn’t fair”. I say that when any injustice has been committed, no matter on what scale, the only ethical course of action is to establish justice. Yes, life isn’t fair- but maybe that’s because no one’s doing anything about it!