Posts Tagged ‘Socialism

08
Jun
12

Why I Vote

ImageElections in the US may be months away, but already political ads are saturating television, radio, and the papers. But for all the bumper stickers, slogans, t-shirts, and signs stuck in front lawns across the country, many Communists are taking up the cry of “Don’t Vote!“.

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This isn’t exactly a new attitude. People have been decrying elections ever since we first had them. And of course, this isn’t without good reason. When you’re asked once every four years to pick between two corrupt aristocrats maintaining virtually the same platform (platforms they’ll abandon the second they’re sworn in), voting seems like a pointless exercise that insults your intelligence and your values. This general disgust applies just as much- if not more- to the members of the far left, who recognize the current system masquerading as democracy as being, at its most competent, the “executive arm of Capitalism” and at its most corrupted, simply a parasitic organization.

ImageNow every once in a while, you will find Communists who ascribe to the whole concept of “Lesser-Evilism”, in other words, the idea that, despite being opposed to them on every key issue, we should vote for mainstream parties to keep other mainstream parties from winning. It’s the old threat offered to the working class election after election- “Vote Democrat or else the Republicans will win!”, “Vote Labor or else the Conservatives will win!”, you get the idea. And I’m guessing you know who I’m talking about, too.

ImageOf course, giving into this mentality entirely defeats the purpose of having a different opinion in the first place. You can assert all you want that the working class shall one day rise up and establish a truly free and equal society, but if you keep on voting Democrat, that’s what you are. And to those of you who might claim “Hey! We’re trying to bring them over to our side!“, I’ll believe that when they start voting for you, and not the other way around.

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Seriously comrades, let’s get things straight here…

So why, with all of this in mind, would I still choose to vote?
Because it works.

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Bear with me here…

Now am I saying voting is the solution? I am not. Like most Marxists, I disagree with Marx on this idea that Socialism will ever be simply voted in. Besides, even if each and every politician, elected official, and appointed civic servant in the nation was a Communist, we still wouldn’t have Communism. Communism is, after all, a change in the people, not a change in the government.

And I’m further not trying to advocate what some Communists have dubbed “Class Collaboration”- that is, the workers joining forces with the ruling class to meet some mutually beneficial end (or rather, what the workers have been told will be mutually beneficial). The needs of the poor and the oppressed don’t exactly match up with the needs of the wealthy and powerful, and to try to cooperate will almost certainly result in the abandonment of the needs of the proletariat.

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“You want food, I want food- you cook for me and I’ll give you the scraps. We’re a team!”

What I’m talking about is simple: the attempt by Communists to defend the working class from exploitation, and to improve their condition, through any and all means available to us- including elections. Is that collaboration? Of course not, and to the few who might actually try to argue that it is, then I need only point out that by the same criteria, you buying food from a store that isn’t a co-op is class collaboration, as is buying food, watching anything on television, listening to music, and so on.

Granted, to progress anywhere in major elections (now more than ever), resources are needed that will probably be only available through actual collaboration. That said, local elections tend to be more free (the key word there being “more“) than elections on a federal level, and as such, certainly should be considered tools for Marxists. Allow me to offer the example of my brief time as a student representative at my college. I managed to push through some resolutions in solidarity with workers in South and Central America and South-East Asia, as well as prevent a committee I sat on from collaborating with an organization that gave exploitative corporations a free pass. I have to ask- how is a county election any different than this? Cannot a Communist run for office, and use his or her position to make similar decisions in favor of the poor and the working class? Indeed, there have been radical leftists elected to such local positions in the US. Again, I am not advocating elections as the solution, but rather as a tool available to the working class.

ImageEven now, I’m guessing there will be readers who are unconvinced- who are adamant that any attempt to use elections by Communists is at best a waste of time and resources and at worst a betrayal of the movement. I am of course willing to hear your side of things, but I just have to ask- is the whole “Don’t Vote” argument really just a facade for apathy? Is all the cynicism really just in place to give us all an excuse for hiding behind academia and whittling our time away in pointless analysis and retrospection?

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Do we rail against one action to make us feel better about our inaction?

It’s just something to consider. As for me, I will continue to advocate elections as a means of helping the workers in their struggle for freedom and equality. If nothing else- if nothing at all else is accomplished by doing so, we may perhaps take comfort in this:

ImageWe still get some cool pins out of it.

28
May
12

A Communist’s Criticism of Communism (Part IV): America and the World

It would be remiss to discuss the contemporary Communist movement (and indeed, the modern leftist world in general) without taking some time touch on the subject of America, the West, and the Third-World.

Being an American citizen who spent the majority of his life growing up overseas, I’m in a unique position, having seen a little of both worlds. Considering the highly contentious nature of the subjects I’m about to address, I’m hoping you, the reader, will keep this in mind.

With that request, let’s begin.

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“Death to America!”:

You’ve probably heard this slogan, or some variation on it. “Down with the imperialist aggressors!“, “Throw out the neo-colonialists!“, “Destroy the military-industrial complex!” and of course, my favorite, “American pig-dogs!“.

And let’s face it, these insults aren’t without some merit. Even if we forget the attacks on and the abuses of the Native Americans, the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, the countless injustices inflicted on African Americans and Hispanics- the past decade alone, America has committed more terrible acts than I recount (though if you’re looking for some highlights, the wrongful execution of Troy Davis, Citizens United, and the veto of the Palestinian UN membership bid all spring to mind).

Beyond that, there are the obvious cultural issues. The gross excess of consumerism, the fact that nearly seventy percent of Americans are overweight in a world where starvation and malnutrition affect so many- this all serves only to bolster the US’s image as a corrupt and evil empire intent on the pillaging of the world.

And there is a problem with this mentality.

As I said above, I grew up in overseas- in the Middle East, to be specific. I myself have seen the effects of Westernization, globalization, and Bush’s self-proclaimed “crusade” perpetuated even now by the Obama administration. Thereis unquestionably a lot to decry- but there is such a thing as taking it too far.

Bear with me here. When someone says America, chances are, this comes to mind:

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Or this:

ImageOr this:

ImageBut am I the only one who also thinks of this?

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Or this?

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Or this?

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Or even this?

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See, my problem with the criticism and condemnation thrown America’s way isn’t that it’s undeserved, but that it too often becomes generalized. When someone screams “Death to America!“, does that include the homeless population, or the people trying to help them? Does that include Mumia Abu-Jamal? Noam Chomsky? The protestors of America’s various wars? The environmentalists? The activists? Does that include the legacy of John Brown, Eugene Debs, or the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade?

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“Hey! You socialists who risked your lives fighting against Fascism in Spain! Screw you guys!”

I’m guessing you can see my point here. I’m not saying that criticism is wrong, but the blanket diatribes you often run into when talking to Communists- even American Communists, they’re just… well, dumb. And it’s only dumber when your own nation is guilty of many of the same errors- Europeans, I’m looking at you.

Just look at the English. The British Nationalist Party (BNP)- a fascist political movement with a rabidly racist and homophobic agenda- not only has won seats in British elections, but the BNP’s leader, a particularly vile holocaust denier by the name of Nick Griffin, won a seat on the European Parliament- the legislative body of the EU. To put that into perspective, that would be the equivalent of the leader of the American Neo-Nazi Party winning a congressional election.

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“… but we ARE in it for a racially pure Britain…”

Or just look at France’s bigoted treatment of Muslims and the Roma…

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Or German chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration that “Multiculturalism has failed”!

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The last time a German chancellor declared the failure of multiculturalism, things didn’t turn out so well…

Now is any of this to say that we can’t criticize each other? Not at all. Is any of this to say that Europe is utterly and totally evil? Of course not. My point is simply this: Everyone- everyone has their issues. Every nation has its heroes and villains. Criticism is good, but only so long as it is directed at the real enemy- and the real enemy isn’t one people or another- it’s injustice, imperialism, capitalism, and oppression.

First Worldism/Third Worldism:

This criticism is really aimed at two different groups, Communists who believe that a Marxist revolution can only occur in a “developed” nation (like the US or a European country), and Communists who believe that the revolution can only occur in a third-world nation (you probably know who I’m talking about here).

Now in response to the “First-Worldists”, I can only say “really?”. “You think that people who enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world are going to touch off the Communist revolution? You think that so-called ‘development’ is what makes or breaks a revolution?”

“We’re starving, our government has been bought and paid for by foreign corporations, and our homeland is a dumping ground for toxic waste, but until we have air-conditioners and high university graduation rates, we’re just not gonna do a thing about it…”

Granted, having a good education helps. Granted, it’s easier to fight injustice when you don’t have to decide between the picket line and putting food on your family’s plates. Granted, it’s easier to even just have plates to put food on- but let’s face it, you don’t need a PhD to know that you’re being screwed over.

And the reverse arguments aren’t much better. There are those out there who insist that all attempts at revolutionary activity in America and the West are pointless because “there’s no real working class in the first-world”.

Obviously that’s nonsense. Yes, the standard of living in the West is much higher than it is in the rest of the world, but that hardly means there isn’t a Western proletariat, or that they don’t struggle to survive on a daily basis.

“Just look at that decadence…”

I dare you- dare you- to walk through Detroit, Sioux County, Ziebach County, or Appalachia and tell those people that they just have it too well to have “revolutionary potential”.

A wood stove and a plastic bag for a trash bin? Lap of luxury is what that is!

Let’s be serious- if someone wants to join the struggle against Capitalism, do we really care whether he or she is from an industrialized or rural community? Do we really care whether they were born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti or Athens, Georgia? Do we really care whether or not they had enough cash to fix their roof after a bad storm?

A Red Flag Does Not A Communist Make:

Despite our best efforts, every once in a while it happens- some idiot professing to be a Marxist tries to make some passionate defense for North Korea. It doesn’t happen much, but that fact that it happens at all is troubling. The various tendencies of Communism do have their differences, but one thing we should all hold in common is that the Kim dynasty is. not. Communist.

Helpful Hint: When absolute power is held indefinitely, and passed down from father to son for three generations, it’s called a “Monarchy“…

Not too long ago, I ran into a would-be apologist for North Korea- though considering he was fourteen, whether or not he was into Communism simply for the furry hats was unclear. Despite pointing out that North Korea had become something akin to the lovechild of an divinely mandated monarchy and a military junta, and that a perpetual disgrace to true Communists everywhere, this kid continued to insist that the DPRK was the sole bastion of Marxism in an otherwise degenerate Capitalist world. Short of North Korea hauling down their red-flags and pulling the stars off their buildings, nothing would convince him otherwise.

Now this is an issue in Communism. Even though most every Communist will agree that North Korea is a brutal dictatorship and corruption of socialism, the same basic issue is at play in support for other countries. This was, in fact, one of my first major issues with Communism- having encountered it during the days of Iran’s ill-fated “Green Revolution”, following outrage at the alleged rigging of the 2009 elections. At the time, Ahmadinejad had the support of many leftists- and considering the past (near) decade of the Bush doctrine, I wasn’t all the surprised. The issue of imperialism was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and the consensus many came to was that Iran, while definitely not a socialist paradise, wasn’t without justification in taking an “anti-imperialist” stance. My own conclusion was that “Hey, you can’t force change on people- if there’s anything to learned from Iraq, it’s that. If the people want to change things, then they’ll do it, and they’re they only ones who can or should do it.”

Which is of course, just what they attempted to do in 2009.

Now I thought to myself “Hey, they feel cheated. They feel that there self-determination has been taken from them- if it’s the will of the masses, let it be so.” I also thought to myself that most Communists would feel they same.

I was in for a nasty surprise.

Rather than cheering the people on, most of the blogs and commentary made by the left were in favor of Ahmadinejad, calling the rebels tools of imperialism and the West. Considering that Mousavi’s foreign policy was more or less identical to Ahmadinejad, that didn’t make much sense to me, but nevertheless, that was the response. I tried questioning it, but the single reply was always a chorus of “Anti-Imperialism!”.

With the current conflict in Syria (where I grew up), I’ve found the same pattern. Rather than supporting the rebels, again there has arisen a near-universal show of support of Assad and again claim “Anti-Imperialism” as their justification.

Let’s clear up why this irks me so much.

First, oppression is oppression, regardless of whose doing it. When you’re having your freedom stripped from you, does it matter where the tyrant comes from. Is coercion less heinous for being committed by a compatriot? Is inequality less unequal if it comes from your own government? Clearly not.

Second, this justification makes the assumption that the regime in question is the sole thing standing between the people and a colonization. It makes the assumption that the people have no investment in protecting themselves from imperialism, that they’re incapable of defending themselves from foreign exploitation. It makes the assumption that the people are simply ignorant sheep who will fold to any Western pressure. How Communists can rationalize such a deeply elitist and condescending view is a mystery to me.

Third, the assumption that the rebels are either (1) Western puppets or (2) militant, theocratic Muslims. The idea that the people might actually have some reasonable grievances they want addressed is simply “out of the question”. Again, this is a severely disturbing perspective- I’m not saying that Western puppets or theocratic don’t exist- my complaint here is that this third possibility is never even considered.

Fourth and finally, the greater assumption made here is that anti-imperialism is the sole issue at hand. A dictator can brutalize and pillage his own people, but so long as he takes an “Anti-Imperialist” stance, he merits the support of the left.

If only that were the case. Truth of the matter is, a dictator can brutalize and pillage his own people, but so long as he takes an “Anti-Imperialist” stance against the west. Forgetting Russian or Chinese foreign interests and intervention, just so long as the regime in question isn’t generally cooperative with America or Europe, all is forgiven. It’s like giving a neighbor who’s a wife-beater and an abusive father a free pass because he dislikes the same guy you dislike.

That’s all this is, really. This so-called “anti-imperialist” stance has nothing to do with protecting a people from neo-colonization and globalization, it’s about giving the US the finger. This isn’t Communism- this is simply arrogance at the expense of the people in question. To quote one of my favorite artists:

My revolution is born out of love for my people, not hatred for others.

Seriously, look this guy up…

Look, a few social programs does and opposition to the US does not make a nation “socialist” or worth defending- if that was the criteria, we’d have to support Nazi Germany for their social programs and opposition to America. Support from Communists should never be for a government– it should be for a people. And it should definitely be given simply to put down someone else- which brings me to my final topic…

What Can Communism do for US?

This final criticism is directed more or less exclusively at the Communist movement in the US, though I’d imagine a similar issue may exist in Britain. You see, a lot of the American Communist movement’s energy seems to be directed towards addressing foreign policy- and there’s nothing wrong with that. Palestine, the global antifascist struggle, exploitation of workers overseas, antiwar protests- these are not merely good, but essential to creating, maintaining, and advancing unity among the left around the globe. That said, I can’t help but sometimes feel the issues at home are being forgotten.

Back when I was searching for a party to join, something I noticed was that while most every group had a distinct and clear set of demands for foreign policy, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of addressing the issues of the American proletariat. I know these aren’t the days of the labor struggle, but there’s got to be more to be done. When some poor farmer asks what Communism can do for him, he’s not looking down the road- he’s got kids to feed and bills to pay, and he’s looking for an immediate and tangible reason to back the far left. Simply responding “We’re gonna cut the military budget and raise taxes on the rich” is all good and well, but short of both the Republicans and Democrats forgetting to file some important paperwork, there’s no way Marxists will win a major election in the US anytime soon and these people know it. Again, we need to reinvest our efforts into figuring out how we can improve the conditions of the working class without having power handed to us on a silver platter. How can I, using the limited tools and resources afforded to me, make a difference for myself and my community?

(Lest I be called a hypocrite, I do have some of my own ideas, but that’s for another post…)

02
Jan
12

Podcasts for Leftists

Once again I’m putting off writing on a more difficult subject, so I’ve written up three brief reviews of podcasts you benefit from. All are free from iTunes, though I believe you can also download audio files directly from the various host websites.

 

Socialism Conference:

Every year, the ISO helps in the hosting of two major conferences for revolutionary socialists in the cities of Chicago and Oakland (both historically significant cities for the left, but more on that later). Covering a wide range of topics, the conference speakers offer insightful and informative lectures on such issues as the victories and defeats of Marxism in the US, the ever growing problem of mass incarcerations, the Palestinian freedom struggle, feminism, culture, and international politics. I would personally recommend the 2010 Oakland conference lecture “Legal Lynching in America”, in which family members of Oscar Grant, a young man murdered at the hands of the police, call for justice. “Breaking the Siege of Gaza” is also well worth listening to, as the speakers were actually participants in the tragically ill-fated first Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

If there’s criticism to be had of the Socialism Conference lectures, it’s that they, like much contemporary Communist dialogue, tend to be based in analysis of the past, rather than focusing on application. That said, the analysis is great.

 

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Radio Essays:

Incarcerated Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal has, with the help of Prison Radio (a site well worth visiting), been putting out three minute essays on his views on current events, politics, economics, culture (with a soft spot for music), and history, generally focusing on the struggle of African Americans. His involvement in the radical leftist movement, as well as his thirty years experience inside the prison system, serve to bolster his challenging, simply-stated perspectives. Many times I find myself wondering how it is that Mumia, in solitary confinement, is able to speak with greater authority and accuracy on the state of the world than most pundits and politicians.

If there’s a downside to these podcasts, it’s that they leave you wanting more.

 

I hesitate to add “Occupy the Airwaves”, only because I myself have yet to make up my mind about it. A collection of interviews with various OWS members (primarily in California), “Occupy the Airwaves” was created to give people who have yet to make up their minds about the movement a chance to hear some of the backgrounds, perspectives, and demands of the protestors, hopefully raising greater support for the movement as a whole.

 

Now while these podcasts (at least, the five I’ve listened to so far) are informative and interesting, I do often myself frustrated with the host who consciously avoids interviewing what he calls “the regular suspects”, that is, “veteran” protestors (not to be confused with protestors who are veterans, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive). His reasoning for this is that his target audience is one that will be moved to action through seeing “normal” people for whom the OWS movement is their first protest, allowing the listens to relate. Of course, the problem I have with this is that (1) it’s making that assumption that the protestors who demonstrated at the WTO or G12 meetings are not normal or sympathetic, and (2) that a hefty portion of those who have both planned and attended the OWS movement are not being able to voice their own (more radical) views. In the host’s defense, he has interviewed one anarchist, and while I was initially hoping to hear more from the far-left, I’ll take what I can get.

 

Is it a revolutionary podcast? Not at all- the host has a strange obsession with political philosophy John Rawls that, frankly, isn’t an answer to the root problem of inequality and injustice. That said, Occupy the Airwaves is professionally done, and while I certainly don’t agree with the perspectives of the host, it still merits looking into.

27
Jun
11

Joining the Party: Socialist Party USA (Part IV)

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the term “Socialist” gets thrown around a lot. It’s been used interchangeably with Marxism, it’s been used as a generic insult to describe government power, and- as I’ve found to be most common- it’s been used to describe large, centralized, social-program heavy governments typical of many European countries. With the current progessivist movement (endorsing more government programs, regulations,etc.) in full swing, I’ll admit I tend to be pretty cynical whenever I hear the term used. My disappointment with the CPUSA didn’t help my pessimism much, and I started off my investigation of the SPUSA worried that it worried that it too would prove to be tame and conciliatory.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Now my investigation of the SPUSA is far from complete- at the moment I’ve sent some questions over to an SPUSA party member to ascertain the party’s views on a number of issues, in particular the use of violence and the role/existence of the state. For now though, I’ll go ahead and lay out what I’ve seen so far.

Pros:

  • Surprisingly, the SPUSA seems to be more radical than the CPUSA. Unlike the CPUSA, the SPUSA has remained staunchly critical of the Democratic party and has firmly rejected authoritarianism and the welfare state notion that so often accompanies the word “Socialist”.
  • The SPUSA makes repeated demands for unionization, collectivization, and for industries to be controlled by their workers and institutions to be controlled by the communities they benefit.
  • The SPUSA affirms that oppressed groups have a right to “self-defense in the face of attacks”. Now this point could stand to be more clear (does being exploited count as an attack, or only immediate physical threats?) but it remains fairly reassuring to see.
  • The SPUSA seems to generally support the basic tenets of Marxism.

Cons:

  • The SPUSA platform does, at times, seem ambiguous. Exactly how much government power the SPUSA expects to exist in a Communist society is never fully defined- and as I’ve said before, I’m on the left of one of the most left-wing tendencies in the left wing. I want to see government so stripped down, people will question whether it actually exists.
  • The SPUSA never fully defines what constitutes “self-defense”. Indeed, the general feeling I get from reading the SPUSA platform is that they expect to enact social changes through democratic elections. While I’m all for working through the present institutions to fight on behalf of the oppressed, I don’t think it’s how we’re going to be able to bring about real solutions. Capitalism cannot be reformed- even Rosa Luxemburg, arguably the mother of Democratic Socialism, realized this, and advocated for total revolution. I’ve had this same issue with the CPUSA- the exploiters and oppressors in this world have no qualms about enslaving thousands- am I to expect that they’ll simply give up their power? I’m not saying that this is what the SPUSA believes, I’m saying this is the impression I’m getting from their writings. I’m still waiting on a SPUSA member to give me a definitive answer.

Now that said, my overall feeling towards the SPUSA is positive.

It doesn’t mean that I’ll join the SPUSA (again- still investigating), but on the whole the party seems like it’s worth attention.

16
Jan
11

Capitalism and Race

In an older post, I attempted to demonstrate how Capitalism spawns bigotry in terms of both class and race. For this post, I thought I might expound a bit on the latter issue.

 

First, a disclaimer. Capitalism is not inherently racist. It is exploitative, enslaving, and oppressive, but it is not inherently racist.

The key word here is inherently. While there’s nothing about in the tenets of Capitalism that embraces racism (just the opposite- Capitalism doesn’t care much who it exploits), the Capitalist system, once put into practice, adopts the bigotry of the Capitalists. Allow me to clarify.

 

Capitalism produces social classes, the rich, the middle class, and the poor and working class. The rich, often dubbed “the elite” or “the ruling class” by Communists, control society through politics, industry, disproportionate wealth and property, and so on. Now despite the growing multiculturalism we’re seeing across the globe, the ruling classes of various countries still tend be primarily from a single race or ethnicity. Look at America where, despite one of the highest levels of racial and cultural diversity, the upper and middle class remain almost entirely white and Protestant Christian. Now while there’s nothing racist about being white or Christian (though there’s been plenty of racism from whites and Christians), the problem is with human nature. We crave familiarity and are terrified of the strange or unknown. As a result the middle and upper-classes attempt, both consciously and unconsciously, to keep things the way they’ve always been, which often leads to cultural and racial tension.

 

For example, a couple years ago I was in a debate with a woman about the institution of English as the official language of the United States. She was decrying having to “press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish”, and the dire implications of having streets signs and forms written bilingually (though exactly what dire implications would arise she never did enumerate upon). Now as I talked with this woman, it became evident that she was not a racist. She did not believe that her ethnicity was in any way superior to anyone else’s. yet she passionately argued that immigrants must “learn English”. In short, she wasn’t afraid of racial mixing or other people groups, she was afraid of change and the unknown.

 

When you break it down into it’s most basic components, the race/class issue functions like this: the haves are race/ethnic group A, the have-nots are races/ethnic groups B, C, D, and so on. Those in power are race/ethnic group A, the powerless are races/ethnic groups B, C, D, etc. Again, the system is not inherently racist, however, the system almost always becomes racist. The ruling class becomes the ruling race- the lack of diversity spawns an atmosphere of xenophobia at best and blatant, unapologetic bigotry at worst. On the opposite end of the spectrum, resentment (understandably) foments. Again I have to state, even with a system that isn’t inherently racist and people who are, individually open-minded, any social structure that divides us up or separates us from each other will ultimately create racism.

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?

25
Jun
10

Socialism vs Capitalism vs Communism (and a quick note about the tea-party)

According to some pundits the US is currently locked in a struggle between its so-called Capitalist, free-market heritage and the looming threat of Socialism. Keep in mind that the term ‘Socialism’, while once synonymous with ‘Communism’, is currently used to describe a country where the majority of property lies in the hands of the government. Now as you can see by simply looking at some of the policies being enacted by the current administration that the US isn’t moving towards Capitalism or Socialism. Property isn’t being privatized or nationalized to any major extent. What has happened is that the federal government has been increasing in size and power, leading some elements on the right (namely the “tea-party”) to begin making dire predictions of an oppressive Orwellian future.

Now before I start, I feel that I should comment a bit about the tea-party:

Now I don’t have a problem with people protesting big government. As a Communist, I’m as opposed to a powerful central government as much as the average member of the tea-party, perhaps even more so. The problem is that the tea-party isn’t protesting big government! Where was the tea-party when the Bush administration pushed through the Patriot Act? The simple reality of the tea-party is that it’s not about resisting big government, it’s about resisting Democrat big government (in the same way, many of those who protested the Patriot Act have failed to complain about the increases in Government power under Obama- yeah the rule applies to Democrats too).

Now back to the point.

Despite the typical, melodramatic slap-fight between the Democrat and Republican parties, it can’t be denied that every once in a great while, the issues of privatization versus regulation of the markets comes up. On one hand there are the Libertarians who state that government involvement in all areas of life should be minimized. The markets should be allowed to boom and crash of their own accord and government interference only exacerbates existing issues and prevents natural growth (an argument Adam Smith first came up with). On the other hand, there are Socialists and Progressives who point out that history has shown businesses to be corrupt and dangerous if not regulated.

It seems more and more that the public is seeing this debate as an either/or dilemma- free market Capitalism or government regulation?

The sad truth of the matter is that both options are equally awful. Consider this: if there’s no government regulation of business (or as anarcho-Capitalists and objectivists would have it, no government at all), what’s to stop the meat industry from selling dangerously unclean meat? What keeps the pharmaceutical industry from selling us untested cough medicine, or even flavored sewer water labeled “cough medicine”? It is true that history has shown us, time and again, businesses have only one goal in mind- profit. Child labor, slavery, dangerous working conditions, chemical dumping, pollution- what would the state of our world be in if there were no laws against these things? If there were no regulations or watchdogs?

At the same time, regulating the free market has serious side-effects as well. Corporations will do anything to get around labor laws or environmental regulations and the like, and the government will find itself forced to constantly increase the number of regulatory departments and their power and extent of jurisdiction. The result is an inevitably gargantuan, bureaucratic government. State capitalism- as the USSR has demonstrated- is inefficient and oppressive.

But despite what the proponents of free market Capitalism and regulated Capitalism would have you believe, it’s not an either/or situation! Communism advocates the abolition of both Capitalism and the state, offering instead a system based on public property and public choice.

05
Apr
10

The Political Spectrum

It seems that today whenever a right-wing or conservative pundit wishes to criticize the left they use the buzz word “Socialist”. Socialism is, of course, associated with big government and extensive (and invasive) government control of the general public (à la George Orwell’s 1984). Now the issue of simply calling something one doesn’t like about the political left “Socialist” (whether or not said something is actually Socialist or not) is that people have a basic misunderstanding of the socio-politico-economic spectrum. Just take this video by conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck, for example.

As you can see in the opening of the video, there’s a common misconception about the relationship between Capitalism, Socialism, and Communism. Despite the fact that Communism is often portrayed as a more authoritarian version of Socialism, the reality of the situation is that Communism is as detached from Socialism as it is from Capitalism. While both Socialism and Communism reject the Capitalist tenet of private property, Socialism espouses the concept of state property and Communism calls for the institution of public property. Allow me to illustrate.

In a Capitalist world everything is owned privately. “Item X” belongs to you and only you and cannot be taken away from you unless you give it away or trade for something better (though considering the purpose of Capitalism is to get as much “Item X” as possible, it isn’t very likely that you’d just hand it off). In a Socialist world everything would be owned by the state. “Item X” does not belong to you but to the government and only the government and how much you get of it is purely at the whim of the politicians. In a Communist world nothing belongs to anybody (or rather, everything belongs to everybody). “Item X” belongs to you as much as it does to your neighbors and must therefore be shared equally.

Now to this one might argue that while Socialism may advocate state property and Communism may demand public property, since both wish to bring about massive government control the results are the same. Again, the issue with reducing the political spectrum to a linear graph is that political control and economic control simply aren’t the same thing. You can have massive government and state property (Socialism) or massive government and Capitalism (Fascism) or no state control and Capitalism (Objectivism/Libertarianism/Anarcho-Capitalism/etc.) or not state control and public property (Communism/Anarchism/Anarcho-Communism/etc.) or anything in between.

In short, while making the connection between Socialism and Communism is a common mistake, it has be understood that it’s a mistake nonetheless, and only serves in propagating a false understanding not only of Socialism and Communism, but of Capitalism as well.

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.

23
Nov
09

A Brief History of Communism

It is commonly assumed by the public that Communism (also called “Marxism”) was created by the German philosopher Karl Marx. Nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, a young Marx joined the already existing Communist movement and, after publishing several works on the subject of Communism and Capitalism (a term he coined), he became such a central figure that the term “Marxist” became synonymous with the term “Communist”. In much the same way Adam Smith did not create Capitalism but rather created the authoritative work on Capitalism (The Wealth of Nations) and yet is still considered the “founder” of Capitalism.

So who did create Communism?

Like most things in life, there is no short and simple answer. Communism, or at least the primitive ancestor of Communism has existed for thousands of years. At the dawn of man, humans lived in tribes, working together for survival. What one man killed was food for everyone, the spear or hammer made by one person could be used by another. The concept of private-property did not evolve until much later in human history- the reason being that selfishness and individualism simply could not mesh with the harsh realities of the time. One human could not survive on his own, the tribe as a whole could not waste time and energy on creating twenty individual hammers for the twenty men of the tribe when one could be shared just as easily. At the same time, the shared property (combined with the need for everyone to pull their own weight) eliminated any chance of a class system evolving. Without any difference in wealth or workload, society was more or less egalitarian.

So what happened?

As humans became more settled and as the barter system emerged (to be discussed in a later post), shared-property died slowly out and the class system arose. While today the vast majority of hunter-gatherer, pastoral, horticulturalist, and nomadic people groups still live in classless, shared-property systems, the majority of the world’s population began moving away from this system after the establishment of permanent agricultural communities. By the fall of the Roman Empire, most of the world’s people groups practiced Capitalism in some form. It was not until 1516 when Thomas Moore, one of Henry VIII’s closest advisers, published his work Utopia that the concepts of shared-property and classlessness were reintroduced into society (albeit merely as subjects of intellectual discussion). Only in the early 1800s were the concepts developed into actual political/economic theories. Henri de Saint-Simon, a member of the French aristocracy, created several works on the subject and while never implementing them in any major way, laid the foundations for what would become known as the Communist movement. It was not until 1848 when two young Prussian authors named Marx and Engels published their collaborated work The Communist Manifesto that Communism (or “Socialism”- at the time the two words were more or less interchangeable) became a concrete theory. Between the two men’s works, the entire Communist philosophy was created, though it was not implemented until 1871, when Parisian Socialists revolted against the imperial French government and established a short-lived attempt at a Communist government until the Commune (revolutionary government) was wiped out by the French military. While Communist philosophy spread across much of the Western world, there were no major attempts at Communism (baring the establishment of Amish, and later, Hutterite, communities- which are closer to the primitive classless/shared-property practices of various tribal societies). There was a brief attempt at Fabianism (a British Socialist movement), however it quickly devolved into a philosophy, rather than a physical attempt at the implementation of Communism. It was in Russia in 1917 that the first major attempt at a Communist revolution (since the 1871 revolution) took place. The Bolsheviks (the Russian Communist party and revolutionary movement), led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Russian monarchy and the feudal system. After Lenin’s death in 1923, a split ensued that left the USSR divided between the followers of Leon Trotsky (creator and commander of the Red Army and Lenin’s second-in-command) and the followers of Joseph Stalin (the General Secretary of the Communist party). Stalin, despite the efforts of Trotsky and his followers, assumed control and eventually exiled Trotsky in 1929. Under the despotism of Stalin, the USSR, while maintaining the facade of Communism, devolved into a semi-Socialist dictatorship (Trotsky referred to it as a “deformed workers’ state). While Trotskyism grew in popularity in the West, the general Communist movement was marred by the atrocities committed by Stalin and the imperialists policies pursued in Eastern Europe after his death. In China, Mao Zedong led what is generally considered to have been a Communist revolution, but the later policies of Mao have caused many other Communists to doubt whether China could be counted as true Communist country since the mid 1950s. While the revolution itself is considered to be beneficial, the vast majority of modern Communists hold that contemporary China is no more a true Marxist country than Stalin’s USSR (this opinion is viciously opposed by Maoist factions of the Communist movement). While Communism was quickly becoming popular in the third-world (due largely to Western neo-colonialism) the next major advancement of Communism occurred in Cuba after Fidel Castro and Che Guevara defeated the dictator Batista. Once again Communists are split on the subject of whether Cuba may be considered a true Marxist government- much like China, there is popular that the revolution was a positive event but the movement is split on whether Cuba did or did not devolve into another deformed workers’ state. Indeed, the same could be said for almost every country where a Communist revolution has taken place (though almost all Communists are united in believed that North Korea is not a true Communist country). While the collapse of the USSR in 1990 has led many to believe that Communism has been defeated, the Communist movement is technically as active as it ever was.

In short, the history of Communism is far from simple. Much of its history can be interpreted depending on your sympathies and opinions.

Then again, the same could be said for any aspect of history.

 

Author’s Note: Since Communism isn’t merely an economic or political or social theory but rather a combination of all three, you can see how describing the theory itself- let alone its history- is a massive undertaking that could easily fill a book. Considering my space and the attention span of the reader is sorely limited, I have been forced so skim over the major events of Communist history. Don’t be ticked off at me if I missed some (though if I have something that might be wrong, please correct me).