Posts Tagged ‘society

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.

Advertisements
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.

21
Dec
10

It’s [Not] A Wonderful Life

The holidays are here, and whether you participate in them willingly or have them thrust upon you, there’s really no escaping it. The constant blaring of Christmas music (seriously people, do you really think that “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is such a great song that we can hear it for the thirty-seventh time without going berserk?), the milling crowds of shoppers who’d rather stand in-line for half an hour than just use eBay, the pundits debating (yet again) whether or not there’s a war on Christmas and who’s winning it. And then there’s It’s a Wonderful Life– perhaps the most iconic Christmas movie of all time and the subject of tonight’s post.

 

For those of you who may not have seen the film, allow me to summarize. The film opens up in the vast expanse of space as one angel (named Joseph) tells another angel, (named Clarence) that he’ll be sent to earth to keep a man named George Bailey from killing himself. Clarence is shown the progression of George’s life, in which George repeatedly sacrifices himself for the protection and well-being of others- from leaping into a frozen lake to save his younger brother’s life (causing George to become deaf in one ear as a result), to giving up his dreams of seeing the world to take care of his father’s business, to giving up his and his wife’s honeymoon savings to help local townsfolk. Now despite his hard work and selflessness, nothing really much goes right for George, his trouble’s climaxing when Mr. Potter (a slumlord and the main antagonist in the story) takes advantage of George’s absent-minded uncle and then attempts to sue George’s company for fraud. George, no longer able to take the pressure, drinks heavily, prays tearfully, and then resolves the only solution left to him is to kill himself (getting his family a decent life-insurance payment). Now just before George hurls himself off a bridge into the roaring water below him, Clarence (in human form), appears in the water below, calling for help. George, forgetting suicide (for the moment), leaps in to save Clarence who, after being dragged to safety, reveals he threw himself into the water to keep George from killing himself. Clarence proceeds to show George what life would be like for the town if George had never been born (and it’s not a pretty place), convincing George that his life is worth living. George returns home to find that the townsfolk, having heard of his plight, have rallied together to raise the cash George needed to deposit (prior to Mr. Potter ripping them off).

 

Now despite sounding like one of the most heartwarming stories ever told, It’s a Wonderful Life actually contains some seriously dark truths about our lives and morals depressing enough to have us all want to leap off of bridges.

 

I. Hard Work Does Not Pay Off

One of the myths that Capitalism is built on is that if you work hard enough, you’ll eventually become wealthy (laziness equals poverty). Now we have George Bailey, who has worked hard all of his life, and he’s no wealthier at the beginning of the film than he is at the end. Indeed, he struggles to make ends meet, and Potter ripping him off quite nearly bankrupts him. It’s makes for a very different message, even if the truth is depressing- the moral being “If you work really hard, you might- just might– be able to pay the heating bill on time. How magical would that be?”.

 

II. Honesty, Charity, And Selflessness Will Kill You

George is as close as you get to the physical manifestation of kindness. The guy never takes anything for himself (though he desperately wants to), and is repeatedly shown giving up his dreams of traveling the world to help others out, from chucking out his honeymoon savings to the needy to keeping a pharmacist from accidentally poisoning a kid (getting slapped around at first- the pharmacist’s a mean drunk). What does George get? Near-poverty, nerve-wracking stress, major depressive disorder, and he never travels out of the country. Again, it’s the perfect example of the Capitalist society we live in. Greed, not charity, is rewarded. Deceit, not honesty, selfishness, not self-sacrifice. These are the qualities you need to get ahead in a world where profit comes before people. Mr. Potter is in all ways the complete and utter opposite of George, and he’s the wealthiest and most powerful man in town. The observation here- you better hope morality will build you a mansion in heaven, because it’s not going to get **** on earth.

 

III. Evil Goes Unpunished

The moment you see Potter swipe the $8,000 from Uncle Billy, you’re just waiting for the climax of the film where George, wrapped in an American flag and surfing on a wave of fire, pummels Potter to death with a cinder block. Sadly, it never happens. In fact, nothing happens to Potter. He just get’s away. With 8,000 dollars. Just like that. No prison time, no public shaming, no sternly worded letter- Potter just becomes eight-k richer and that’s the end of it. It’d be like if OJ Simpson got found ‘not guilty’ or if Wall Street got a 700 billion dollar bailout or Nazi scientists got out of war-crimes trials for helping the US against the Soviets… oh wait, that all happened. The moral here is “You know the people without souls? The one’s who are constantly screwing the world over for their own benefit with no regard for the pain, misery, and death they cause? Yeah, they’re gonna keep on doing that.”

 

Like I said, it’s a depressing film- but it’s about Capitalism, so what else can we expect?

19
Dec
10

Films For Communists

In a world where the bearded-Russian “Communist” stereotype is the antagonist in every film made before 1990, I thought it might be time to list a few films where Marxists are (for once) portrayed in good light. Below is a list of mainstream films that deserve to be seen by any Communist:

 

Shadowlands (1993): Despite having only a fleeting reference to Communism near the beginning of the film, it’s refreshing to see a Marxist portrayed with being in the process of torturing some American soldiers or preparing to launch nuclear warheads.

The Edukators/ Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei: While I don’t recall Communism ever being directly addressed in this German film, the movie deals with the various issues and struggles of fighting Capitalism in this era. The film opens with the main characters handing out tracts on sweatshop labor, and follows them as they escalate their responses to social injustice (breaking up the “action” sequences with lively discussions on activism and sequences depicting some of the ills they’re trying to fight against). Again, while Marxism is never directly discussed, it is evident that this is a far-left film.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): While I don’t believe there are any explicit uses of the terms “Communist” or “Marxist”, the film takes place during the last years of the Spanish Civil War, in a remote part of the country where a Fascist captain is attempting to destroy the “Red” resistance hiding in the nearby mountains. The film is a fairy-tale and never becomes especially political, however the Communist rebels are shown in a very sympathetic light.

Battle in Seattle (2007): Though the film doesn’t deal with Marxism, it does (excellently) show different perspectives on social activism, from a black bloc Anarchist (embracing violence as a means of protest) to a group of non-violent protesters, to a riot policeman, to a simple bystander, to a news crew, to the mayor of Seattle. If nothing else, it’s a discussion starter not merely for Communists, but for anyone.

Defiance (2008): Set during the holocaust, this film follows the story of the Bielski brothers and their followers, a group of Belorussian Jews who formed a resistance to the Nazi occupation of their country. Throughout the film, the Bielski partisans interact with the Soviet resistance, and while the Soviets are portrayed as being generally arrogant and unhelpful, the film does show them (1) fighting the Nazis (a part of Communist history too often forgotten) and (2) makes reference the official Communist policy of ending antisemitism. In addition to this, it is suggested that one of the members of the Bielski group is an active Socialist, and the partisans adopt a communal form of a living.

Quantum of Solace (2008): Now you’d probably think the last place you’d find Communist-sympathies would be in a James Bond film- after all, the man spent a good 80% of his career foiling Soviet plots (the other 20% being unbelievably picky about his drinks- seriously, how will he even know if it’s been shaken or stirred?). Despite this, Quantum of Solace actually is about as left-wing as Bond’s ever been, as the film deals with politics used by the West to dominate third-world countries. In Haiti, there’s a brief discussion between the two villains about how raising the minimum wage angered foreign corporations, and the Quantum’s plot (the “quantum” being the cabal of tuxedoed bad-guys) is to control the majority of drinking water in Bolivia (a clear reference to the attempt to privatize drinking water in Bolivia back in 1999).

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008): I’m a bit at a loss to describe this two-and-a-half hour film detailing the roots, rise, and fall of the RAF (Red Army Faction). While certainly sympathetic to the causes of the characters in the films, the story does not shy away from showing the faults of the RAF- honesty that I believe only serves to strengthen the film’s credibility, even with the left-wing slant. While the previous film’s I’ve mentioned have tended to shy away from explicitly dealing with Marxism, this is made up for (and then some) by The Baader-Meinhof Complex, which constantly brings up the issues of politics, economics, revolution, and culture. While it’s an exhausting film to watch (again, nearly three-hours packed with conflict, history, and so on.), it’s well worth seeing.

Che (2008): In all honesty I was slightly disappointed by Che. For being nearly five-hours long (divided into two episodes), the film really didn’t say much about the justification for the actions of perhaps the most iconic Communist of all time. While the film did artfully chronicle Che’s role in the Cuban Revolution, and his expedition to Bolivia, the film leaves out Che’s actions in Cuba after the revolution (baring a sequence of Che’s trip to the United Nations) and his time in Africa. While the film definitely is sympathetic to Guevara, the film really only deals with Guevara- and not the ideals he fought for. It almost feels like I watched the beginning and the end of a documentary on the man. Even so, it’s still a decent film.

The Trotsky (2009): While the film technically doesn’t deal with Communism, considering the main character believes himself to be the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, themes of revolution, unionization, and rebellion are hard to get away from. Again, while the film centers on the issue of youth rebellion (apathy vs boredom), the movie is inundated in Marxist slogans, philosophy, and art. Leon Bronstein (the protagonist), constantly quotes Trotsky and other prominent Marxists. Throughout the film, pictures of Che Guevara, Einstein (yes, he was a Socialist), Lenin, and other revolutionaries can be seen on posters and paintings and t-shirts. Now while I am tempted to go on, I’ll save this film for a more in-depth review later- suffice it say for now that The Trotsky is a great movie for Marxists.

 

Please note that this list is by no means complete- any suggestions are welcomed and I hope to have full reviews of these films out soon.

16
Nov
10

The Point Of It All

I’m not feeling so great. I’ve been up since six this morning with no real sleep for the past two days. My stomach is aching from a combination of stress and oily, fatty college cafeteria food. I’ve spent the past three hours having my brain clubbed into a gooey pulp by a statistics test, and I’ll be having to write up a major presentation and memorize it by tomorrow evening.

 

I have it easy.

 

There are millions of people out there who would sell their own children to be in my place. Thousands of people have sold their own children to have a chance at being where I am. There are millions of people who, no matter how hard they work or how long or how well, will never be where I am.

 

That’s just a little something to put things in perspective.

 

I’m sitting here, eyes-bloodshot, stomach churning, neck-aching and I’m wondering why? Why am I putting myself through this everyday (sure it’s nothing compared to other people’s hardships, but let’s stay focused here)?

 

Why do people go to college? Well, some people are in college because they want to party for four years before the responsibilities of life and the universe hit them. Some people are here (at my college especially) to find someone to marry, but in general, the overwhelming number of us are in college to get degrees so they can get jobs.

 

Not sure, you don’t need a college degree to get a job. You don’t need to know how to find a t statistic for related samples or the definition of a theodicy to get a career in a textile mill or as a janitor. Only problem for those who try going down this road is that in the West, the vast majority of jobs you would be able to get without a degree can be done infinitely cheaper by a twelve-year old in Indonesia or an illegal immigrant. Sure there are still jobs out there for the degree-less, but it’s hard to support yourself, let alone any sort of family, working the grill at McDonalds or mowing lawns. There’s always the army, but considering the pay isn’t much better and the work is slightly more than hazardous, it’s a bit of a gamble.

 

So that’s where degrees come in. You want to have a decent-paying job at some point, you’ll need a degree. I’m at college to get a degree and chances are that you were/are/will be at college to get a degree. But is that really enough? I can’t help think back to a Peter Kreeft book where the resurrected philosopher Socrates approaches a college student to figure out why he’s attending college. I’ll paraphrase it briefly:

Socrates: Why are you here?

Student: To get a degree so I can get a job.

Soc: Why?

Stu: To make a lot of money so I can have a family and send my children to college.

Soc: Why will you send them to college?

Stu: So they can get degrees and get jobs.

 

It goes on like that.

 

Now this is really what I’m seeing here at my college. Students come in from generally the middle-class/upper-class to get degrees, get jobs, and return to being part of the middle-class/upper-class. People will take jobs on the basis of pay, whether said jobs are fulfilling or not, and spend the next forty years or so grinding away at their jobs. Why? To do what they really want to do. To go fishing, to take care of a garden, to spend time with family, to paint, to read, to tinker with cars, to cook, to write, and so on. It’s seems to me to be awful rate of exchange if we’re working sixty-plus years at jobs we don’t care about (or even hate) to spend our old age desperately trying to do the things we we wanted to do from the beginning (indeed, the things we were born to do). I don’t want to work on the machine that going to sap me of my life, rewarding me with the chance to do what I love doing when I’m too old to do it! I don’t want to have wealth, I want to have purpose.

 

That, I think, is the point of it all.

The only question we’re left with is “what purpose”?

 

19
Oct
10

A More Perfect Union

We have a complicated relationship with labor unions in the West. We have the timeless image of decent, simple, blue-collar men (and women) who work hard to put food on their family’s tables, until the company they work for decides to cut wages, leaving the worker’s no choice other than to form a union, strike, and eventually victor over the soulless corporate fat-cats in a heartwarming, straight-to-television kind of way. Balancing this image is that of the corrupt, surly, indolent teamsters, siphoning off cash from both the company and the workers, and bullying any opposition into submission.

 

Now there’s a bit of truth to both sides. On the one hand, unions were once (and in many parts of the world, still are) violently persecuted and harassed by companies and corporations who had men, women, and children working long hours for low pay in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Unions were, for the working class, their sole means of getting a fair wage or better conditions. On the other hand, it’s undeniable that there is corruption within many unions- just look at the news stories of unions hiring non-union workers to picket for them (linked here).

 

Now as you can probably guess, Communists side unilaterally with unions. Indeed, Communists were among the first to push for worker’s rights and unionization, and continue to do so to this day. However, what is the Marxist response to the problem of unions becoming parasitic organizations that exploit both employees and employers?

 

The problem of union corruption arises from an attempt to fight for worker rights within the Capitalist system, rather than recognizing Capitalism as the source of exploitation. Imagine that you lead a union of textile workers. You’ve just got the company you work for to agree to good wages, safe working conditions, good benefits (healthcare and whatnot)- where do you go from there? If you dissolve the union, there’s the high likelihood that the company will simply begin to exploit the workers again. If you continue to fight for higher wages and more benefits, then you might damage the company by draining it of its profits (demanding $100 hourly-wages in a lemonade stand that has a weekly profit of $5- extreme example, but you get the idea). And since we live in a society based entirely on acquiring the most cash possible, the best option for you is to line your pockets with money from both sides- higher wages from the company and union dues from the workers. This is the problem- if nothing is done about the Capitalist system that caused the exploitation in the first place, unions can be just as bad as the company.

 

So what’s the solution?

A change of priorities.

 

Communists, both in this country and around the world are working both with and in unions to fight for worker’s rights, but in a very different way than their Capitalist counterparts. Instead of working towards the end goal of more money, the Communist solution is for unions to work towards more control. Instead of continuing to work for the corporations, unions are to work for greater control over their places of work, be it a textile factory, a automobile assembly line, or a fast-food chain. Ultimately, all workers would have a fair and equal wage, and an equal share in the company. Essentially, the textile factory would be owned and run by those working there. With an equal share of the company, profit becomes secondary to the well-being of the workers and the quality and quantity of theĀ  product being made. Exploitation would be impossible, and there would be no dichotomy between the will of the workers and the will of the company. This is the kind of union worth fighting for.

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.