A New Generation of Organizers Are Building Union Power in the South By: Maximillian AlvarezRead Now
Editor’s Note: The following is the transcript of a special live episode of the Working People podcast. It was produced in collaboration with the Action Builder / Action Network team on March 21 in Atlanta, Georgia. In this panel discussion, Max speaks with local organizers about the specific challenges workers in the South face in their workplaces and in their efforts to organize—and how they are finding creative ways to overcome those challenges today. Panelists include: Chris Daniel of the Georgia AFL-CIO; Melanie Barron of the Communications Workers of America / United Campus Workers; and Maurice “Mo” Haskins of the Union of Southern Service Workers.
Mariah Brown: Hi, everyone. Hello. There’s also some seats up here in the front, so you all don’t have to stand. But no pressure, no pressure. Hi, everyone. My name is Mariah Brown. I am the strategic partnerships manager here at Action Network/Action Builder. We want to welcome you all to Build Power Atlanta. So please give yourselves a round of applause. You made it out of rush hour traffic. We appreciate you. [applause]
So, Build Power is where we connect with people in the labor movement, community organizing, who have a vision and goal of building power in their communities. I would like to introduce our executive director, Brian Young. And then, shortly after Brian speaks, we’re going to pass it along to Max, who is our facilitator and host for this evening. And I’m going to give a brief bio on Max before I pass it over to Brian. Max Alvarez is the editor-in-chief of The Real News Network, and he’s also the host of Working People podcast, and the author of the book The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke. And so, thank you.
Brian Young: Thanks, Mariah. And again, thank you all for coming. As Mariah said, this is Build Power Atlanta. It’s the third. We had DC, New York, Atlanta. Next is Montreal, maybe. So we’re going global with these. These are events, as the title says, about building power. We build technology. For those of you who don’t know, Action Network and Action Builder are the two tool sets. We’re a nonprofit, and we build technology in partnership with users. We all come from the progressive movement. And the idea was always the best way to build tools for the movement is to build it with the movement. So every feature, every piece of technology we’ve ever built, has been guided by organizers and activists. Because in the end, the goal is not to sell technology; we’re a nonprofit. It’s to build power, and we always keep the end goal in mind.
But technology is a tool. They don’t actually do anything. The people using technology are what does something, and getting people together to talk about how to build power is consistent with our mission. We build the tools for the end result. And conversations like this – This is now the third that Max has facilitated for us – Is a way to get people together and start sharing notes, start building community around building power for workers in our economy in the US. So I’ll turn it over quickly. Thank you again for coming, and I look forward to hearing from all of you. [applause]
Maximillian Alvarez: All right. Thank you all so much for being here. It’s really great to be back in Atlanta. I am Max Alvarez. I will be your host for this evening, and we are going to be hosting this panel as a live show of Working People. So a heads up that we will be – [to stagehand] Are we recording already? – Yep, we are recording. So please, before we get rolling, if you could silence your cell phones so we don’t pick it up on the recording. And during the Q&A portion, I want to encourage folks to use the free floating mic so that we can get your question on the recording. If you’re not comfortable being on the recording, please come up to us afterwards, and we’ll be available to chat if you don’t want to talk on the recording.
But thank you again for being here. And without further ado, we can get going. But first, let’s get the energy up. So we’re going to do formal introductions. Everyone’s going to introduce themselves, once we get the episode rolling. But to give some quick shout outs, I wanted to thank the Action Network/Action Builder team. Let’s give it up to them for hosting us. [applause]
[To stagehand] Thank you for running the audio for us. We really, really appreciate it, man over there in the booth. Let’s give it up for the support staff [applause]. And on our incredible panel, we’ve got Melanie from the Communications Workers of America, United Campus Workers. Let’s give it up for Mel. [applause] We’ve got Christopher from the Georgia AFL-CIO. Let’s give it up for Chris. [applause] And we’ve got Mo from the Union of Southern Service Workers. Let’s give it up for Mo. [applause] Alright, so let’s do this. So I’ll hop in with a little live introduction, and then we’ll get rolling into the discussion.
Welcome, everyone, to another special live show of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and made possible by the support of listeners like you.
So I am truly honored to be here with all of y’all here in Atlanta for our third collaborative live show with the great folks at Action Builder/Action Network. We are taking this national. We are going around to different parts of the country, talking to workers and organizers on the frontline to learn more about the struggles that they are engaged in, how they are winning, what we can learn from failures and missteps and setbacks. And, most importantly, what we can all do to better support one another and continue to grow as a labor movement and to continue to make connections with other social movements. And I want to pause on that for a second, because I’d be remiss if I didn’t say, up top, that, speaking for myself and on behalf of The Real News Network, we stand unequivocally with the people of Atlanta, and we condemn the actions taken against the protestors who are trying to stop Cop City here in Atlanta. [applause]
And make no mistake, to everyone listening to this, after the day’s events, this is all of our fight. SWAT murdered tree defender Tortuguita and lied about it. Police raided the six-acre property of the Lakewood Environmental Arts Foundation. Police also raided a peaceful festival, detaining over 30 festival goers and charging over 20 of them with domestic terrorism. Cops are swarming peaceful protesters around the city who are handing out flyers, giving information about Cop City. This is a serious crisis, and we all need to be invested in the fight against it. And I wanted to note that there has been a really positive development on that front. I was very pleased to see that The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades general president Jimmy Williams Jr. actually released a statement condemning the violence against Cop City protesters this week.
I wanted to read a quick passage from Jimmy’s statement, which reads, “The right to speak up and peacefully protest is fundamental to our union and to all working people. Since the protest began, we’ve seen violence; including the death of one protester, as well as dozens of arrests and incredulous charges of domestic terrorism, in some cases, stemming from the Defend the Atlanta Forest Movement. I believe these tactics are designed more to quell dissent and to dissuade working people from exercising their rights to protest and demonstrate than they are to legitimately uphold the law. It has to stop. Our rights as working people must be upheld, and we deserve to live in a society free from police violence.” Shout out to Jimmy and The Painters Union, and I encourage more folks in labor to join this necessary struggle and to speak out openly about it. And what Jimmy says about workers being able to express their rights is obviously what has brought us all here. And the right to not organize in the workplace, but to exercise our free speech, is fundamentally a labor issue.
I am currently wearing one of my two shirts from the United Mine Workers of America, this one featuring a great quote from MWA president Cecil Roberts about how the Constitution gives me the right to stand on a picket line and call a scab a scab. As great and as true as this quote is – The Warrior Met Coal strike in Alabama, as you all know, the longest strike in Alabama’s history, which came to an end or entered a new phase, with workers unconditionally returning to work without securing the contract that they hit the picket line for – Throughout this strike, workers have had their rights to speak stripped. Business-friendly judges have granted injunction after injunction, limiting their abilities to picket, thus curtailing their right to go on strike and to strike effectively. They’re not the only ones. As we covered relentlessly at The Real News and on my podcast, Working People, as I’m sure everyone here knows, railroad workers are among the class of workers who basically don’t have these rights.
We saw what that looked like last year when scab Joe Biden and Congress forced railroad workers back to work, effectively making their ability to strike illegal in late November. So again, this is fundamentally connected to the struggle against Cop City. It is connected to the struggle of workers here in the South, who have historically been really up against it – Both in terms of legal barriers to exercising our rights to extra legal barriers, violent barriers, racist, and sexist barriers, that have made worker organizing, particularly for poor Black and Brown people, incredibly hard, if not next to impossible – But that’s what makes this event so crucial. And what folks here in the South, like you all, like our incredible panelists, what you’re doing is so important. Because folks are banding together and finding creative ways to get around those barriers. We are thinking outside of the structures of laws that were written by racists and that enforce racist and sexist and classist policies.
And I really, really couldn’t be more honored to be joined by this incredible panel of folks, who are going to talk to us about how they – And the folks that they work with – Are doing that, here in the South, on a day-to-day basis. So without further ado, let’s get to the good stuff. I want to start by quickly having our amazing panelists introduce themselves to you, and then we’ll go back around and we’re going to talk more pointedly about how y’all got into organizing and what that looks like. Normally on this show, I get to sit down and talk with workers one-on-one about their backstories, how they came to be the people they are, work the places they work, and what that work entails. We’re doing a condensed version of that with these live shows, focusing specifically on how we got into organizing. So we’re going to do that in the second round. But first, let’s go around the table and introduce ourselves to the good Working People listeners. Melanie, why don’t we start with you?
Melanie Barron: Hi, my name is Melanie Barron. I’m a senior campaign lead with the Communications Workers of America. I work with United Campus Workers. We’re organizing public higher education workers all over the Southeast and increasingly out West as well. [applause]
Chris Daniel: Hello, everyone. I’m Chris Daniel. I work with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations here in Georgia. Nationwide, we are Democratic Voluntary Federation of 60 National and International Labor Unions, and we represent about 12.5 million working people. Here in Georgia, that number is about 200,000 working people that we represent. So I’m glad to be here and learn more about what everybody’s doing. [applause]
Mo Haskins: Hey, I’m Mo, I’m part of the USSW, The Union of Southern Service Workers. I also have a lot of experience cooking, serving for a decade now; between Zaxby’s, Waffle House, and now working over at EAV. I have a lot of experience in it. I’ve noticed a lot of discrimination, struggles, and abuse, and people taking advantage of workers for a long time. And through USSW, I really see an opportunity to learn and grow. [applause]
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. We have a real kick-ass panel here, and I am super excited to learn more about you all and the work that you’re doing and that your unions are doing and that the workers that you organize with are doing. Normally on the show, I get to do interviews that start with digging into people’s backstories, how they came to be the people they are, the path that led them to doing the work that they do, and I want to do a shortened version of that, specifically in regards to your organizing history.
So let’s start by going back around the table, and tell us about your own path into organizing. I imagine present company may be excluded, but most of us don’t grow up thinking, I want to be a labor organizer. There’s always an interesting story with how people get into the movement. So tell us a bit about your story, and tell us more about what the day-to-day work of organizing looks like for you. What did you originally think that work would look like? And how has your experience been compared to those expectations?
Melanie Barron: What a question. You are correct that I did not grow up thinking I would be a union organizer. I grew up in Dalton, Georgia, Northwest Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene’s district if anybody... I know. It’s very scary. We’re all very scared up there. There’s nobody there that cares about anything. No, it’s not true. There’s a lot of people out there, like me. We don’t have a very strong voice. And so, my path to organizing is long and winding. I’ll shorten it by saying that I graduated from Georgia Southern University in the midst of the recession. There were no jobs at that time. And so, I had the opportunity to go to grad school and I took it, because it paid me real money. It felt like real money at the time, and it was more money than I had ever made, making $17,000 a year as a graduate student.
And once I started working it, I realized how little money that really is, and I ended up taking out a lot of student loans. I really loved what I was doing. I really believed in it. I thought that there was a really important role to play working in a university, and I still deeply believe that. I believe in public education, and I feel that we are not given a fair shake. I started grad school in 2010, learned about my union, United Campus Workers, in 2012, and fell in love with the labor movement.
It is the most beautiful thing to be a part of, and especially where I joined my union at the University of Tennessee, there’s a long history of United Campus workers and people that have been organizing there since the early 2000s, who taught me how to do everything, who taught me the methods that it takes to change the world. And it starts right in your workplace. I became a Superunion member, got involved in a campaign called Tennessee Is Not For Sale, where we defeated our billionaire governor’s attempt to outsource facilities workers across the state. [applause]
That was the campaign that got me hooked, and I was able to join the staff of my local [UCW-CWA Local 3865] and continue to organize and continue to show people those methods in changing the world. And I get to do that now as an organizer with the Communications Workers of America, who’s continued to invest in United Campus Workers and organizing public sector, higher education workers, all across the Southeast. And so, on a day-to-day level, at this point, my life looks like training more and more people to do the work that we do. One of the most challenging parts of organizing in the South, but probably in a lot of parts of the US, is that people don’t know how to do any of this stuff. What do you mean? A petition? What do I do with my petition next? Where do I take it? How do I do...? Wait, will the person that needs the petition, can they get there? Wait, where...?
So there’s a whole series of questions and a whole series of things that you can show other people how to do. And that’s what I do on a day-to-day basis; whether I’m training other union staff who are like me, or I’m training people in the rank and file to do this work as part of their day-to-day life, challenging the boss in day-to-day life. And that rules. So I’m excited to hear from the other panelists. Thanks for the opportunity to be here.
Chris Daniel: Awesome. Well, we have a lot of organizers in the room, I’m sure. And every other week, I have a family member asking me, what in the hell is an organizer? And what do y’all do? And I don’t care how many times I explain what I do, it’s still hard to understand, but I tell them that we do whatever we need to do for working folks. So sometimes that means I’m stuffing envelopes. Sometimes that means I’m calling up 100 affiliates. Sometimes that means I’m talking to rank and file members. It means a lot. But I got into this work from my senior year in college. I really didn’t have a direction in where I wanted to go. I was always interested in what’s going on in the community. And I started with a group called Voices for Working Families, which was convened by Arlene Holt Baker, who was one of the first high-ranking African American females in the AFL-CIO, along with Helen Butler.
Helen came onto my campus, she plucked a few students. She said, look, y’all are going to be leaders here. And she went about and made it her business to train us on how to become a leader in community organizing. We did a lot of work around voting rights during that time. And from there it was a natural progression to start with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees as an international organizer. I did that for a good while. Long story, I moved to Kenya, came back, did some work with the UAW, and now, I’m excited to be able to be in Georgia at this time. Because we have a tremendous opportunity now to change what the face of the union looks like here in the South. So I’m excited to be here and learn more from our panels and talk to you a little bit more about what’s going on here in Georgia. [applause]
Mo Haskins: So I joined the union while I was working at my current job. I couldn’t get no [inaudible]. It was a weird experience. I never had any experience with unions. I never understood what it meant, but the whole thing was always foreign to me. There have always been bad things said about it. It hurts companies, hurts the economy. It’s bad overall. And it’s people being selfish. Once I joined the USSW specifically, they really showed me that it was a weird concept they’re forcing down your throat, which I always thought was weird. It’s people having power over the workplace. You come in every day, you make all the money every day, you do things your GM can never figure out by themselves. [audience laughter] And it is you working every day, day in day out, sweating, breaking your back, people working like 17-hour shifts, two jobs, and still getting the crumbs.
But yeah, that’s what brought it to me. But when I joined it, I expected to be doing strike after strike. I go from one strike, well, that’s done. Let’s go to another one. Wake up, going to do two this day. But it’s nothing like that actually. [laughter] It’s being down in the dirt every day. It’s talking to workers every single day, whether it’s at Zaxby’s, whether it’s at McDonald’s, whether it’s at your favorite restaurant, gas station worker, healthcare worker, it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s a service worker.
You pass them every day, you probably worked a service job, and it’s inescapable. But somehow, they’ve always been treated like dirt, less than people, machines, a cog in it. And if you’re broken, it feels like you get replaced, but no one understands that you are the machine. Without you, there’s nothing. And that’s really the purpose of worker power that I really appreciate and love.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. Well, let’s drill down on some of the stuff that y’all already brought to the table. Because like Mo was saying, there are a lot of challenges and obstacles to organizing – Many of which are the perceptions that we have of ourselves as workers who even deserve to have a say in the workplace, that we deserve better than a $17,000 stipend a year, or that we deserve some regularity with our scheduling instead of having to figure out who’s going to watch our kids, how we’re going to get home, and accepting that we are as worthless as the system teaches us we are.
And that can look different in different sectors. I know in higher ed – Speaking from experience – On top of those other challenges, you have the additional challenges of convincing folks that they are workers in the first place in higher education and that, as such, they deserve the same rights as every other worker. You also have the arms race to try to get grants or try to get jobs or try to get noticed for your work, so you feel competitive with your fellow workers.
So that’s one example of the challenges to the organizing that you’re doing that I want us to dig into here, both to organizing workers in general, beyond the South. What sorts of challenges and obstacles do we face in labor organizing today? And what challenges are we facing in the South specifically? And since we’re fortunate enough to have such an incredible range of folks on this panel, let’s talk about what those challenges look like in different sectors, and then we’ll talk about how we get around them.
Chris Daniel: I’ll start, if y’all don’t mind. I’m talking specifically right now about the Delta flight attendants, the ramp workers, and mechanics that are organizing. And one of the major challenges that we are having right now is how big Delta is and the type of immense wealth that they have to fight our efforts. And the way that we are getting around that, we are creating this type of synergy here in this state where we’re not fighting each other about jurisdictional issues right now. What we’re doing is combining our efforts, and we are moving together on these huge employers like Delta. So the thing that I’m most encouraged about in Georgia and in the South right now is the way that these unions are coming together and forming these multi-union organizing spaces. There’s going to be a lot more of that happening here in the future. We’re going to do a lot more winning; we’re going to kick some butt in that way. [applause]
Maximillian Alvarez: Before we move on – For folks who are listening to this, maybe outside the South – Delta has its hub here for a reason. Could you say a little more about that?
Chris Daniel: Well, a lot of people don’t know. So Delta is the largest employer here in the state. They employ more than 30,000 workers. Pre-pandemic, there were more than 33,000 workers. The type of revenue that they bring into the state is immense. So they have the funds to fight us, but we have the manpower, we have the will, we have the synergy that we’ve created, and we have some really amazing organizers and worker committees that have been developed to kick some ass. [cheering] So we’ve got people power. They may have a little money power, but we’ve got people power. And that’s going to get us where we need to go.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah.
Melanie Barron: That rules, go Delta. I’m excited to see some of my coworkers in the back of the room, who showed up, who were organizing the campaign. [applause] It is huge, and I hope that all of us, in this city and across the South, participate in that amazing and transformative campaign. To build on what you were saying, part of one of the challenges that working people face in the South – And in many parts of the US, more generally – Is the lack of organization itself. The employers that we’re going up against have unimaginable resources, unimaginable resources compared to the everyday people who are working for them.
And so, the intervention that we are making in United Campus Workers, a lot of the time, is we lack organization as working people, period. We’re completely disparate. We’re not talking to each other. I was at the University of Alabama last night, and one of the things that strikes me about that institution in particular is how separate people are on a day-to-day basis. And it is a college campus, it is a unit, it is a geographic unit. You can walk around and talk to different people, but on a day-to-day basis, people don’t interact. And that’s by design.
So the union that workers there are building functions as this connective tissue to share information, to share struggles that they’re facing on campus; whether it’s people who are teaching college classes and don’t have health insurance, to people who are working in the dining halls or working in residence halls, who make very little money. It varies from campus to campus, but sometimes people are making way less than $10 an hour, very close to that $7.25 line. And so, that’s unacceptable. The amount of challenges that people have to face in their day-to-day life to get by in the US economy is enough to be a huge challenge to organizing.
And then, let’s say somebody gets fired up and wants to do something about it. Where do they go? Who do they call? Often there’s not anything there. What we’re able to do with organizing, outside of the traditional labor framework in the US, is to create a place where people can go and learn the skills and be with their coworkers to organize more. I feel like a broken record about it – And many of us in CWA probably do – But building organization in itself and the lack of organization among working people is the fundamental challenge that we face as the working class.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. Let’s give it up. [applause]
Mo Haskins: In the South – Specifically the Black Belt – It’s known for its racism, its sexism. That’s been going on for... Yeah, it’s been existing for as long as the South’s existed. And there’s been laws created since back then that still hold up to this day, laws that are here today – Like the right-to-work law – Laws created to stop the raising of minimum wage. All these are based in racist and sexist origin. And there’s nothing being done about it still. Service workers have been struggling with this for, I don’t even know how long, but there’s always been a fight going on in the South for it, for as long as I can remember, since the origin of civil rights movements and the labor movements. And I’m happy that we, including the USSW, can carry on that fight today.
Maximillian Alvarez: So I want to focus even more on the specific campaigns that y’all are working on, are part of, and how, on a day-to-day level, you are working to get around these major obstacles. Because, Melanie, you said something that we should all take to heart, and Mo as well: even if we play by their rules, those rules are stacked in their favor, for very shitty historical reasons, that are meant to make it harder for us to actually win what we’re trying to win. So we know that, but even if we do play by their rules, they could always change them. And that has happened; we’ve gotten two object lessons in the span of a week.
I also produce this labor segment, occasionally, for Breaking Points, called The Art of Class War. The last episode I did was on legislators in the state of Iowa trying to roll back child labor laws. Here in the South, of course, there was the bombshell story about parts manufacturers for Hyundai and other car manufacturers having child labor. They should be a national scandal. And what does fucking Arkansas do? – Pardon my French – They changed the laws to make it easier for children to go to work, to do more dangerous jobs, to work longer hours. This is how craven the ruling class is in general, but this is also how they’re weaponizing that here at the legislative level in the South on top of that.
Like I said, we’re recording this as a live show of Working People. The episode that is going to be published this week is a panel that I recorded with campus workers, graduate student workers at Duke University, North Carolina, and faculty workers at Rutgers in New Jersey, who were prepared to go on strike as well. The Duke grad student workers played by the rules. Now, the Duke University administration is not only refusing to recognize the union, they are flipping over the chess board, and they are vowing to challenge the National Labor Relations Board 2016 ruling that basically solidified the right of graduate student workers at private universities to unionize. So what Duke is saying is, not only are we not going to recognize you, our graduate student workers, as a union, we don’t believe you have a place at the bargaining table with us. But we’re going to go to the national level and try to rip this right away from grad workers at universities across the country. That is what we’re up against.
But there are signs of incredible hope and struggle and folks who, like y’all, are working around that. One example I would give, before I toss it back to our great panel, last week, I reported at The Real News Network on the five-day march, led by the Coalition of Immokalee Farm Workers in Florida. I don’t know if folks heard about that, but they’re an incredible group that emerged also out of the fact that, for very explicitly racist reasons, farm workers were written out of the National Labor Relations Act a century ago.
So they don’t have a lot of the same rights that other workers do, and that opens the door for hyper-exploitation, especially of migrant workers who can have their immigration status held over them. There’s rampant sexual abuse and harassment in the field, so on and so forth. And yet, this group of workers in Florida that could not band together in formal capacity banded together anyway, and they have managed to get huge corporations like Taco Bell and Walmart to say they will not purchase produce from farms that do not abide by a certain code of conduct that the workers themselves have crafted. [applause]
So they did it again last week; they did a five-day march. They are demanding that other companies that have refused to sign onto that pledge, other companies that have refused to say, we will not source produce from producers and growers where slave labor happens, where rampant abuse and exploitation happens. Those companies have names. They are: Wendy’s. Wendy’s has refused to sign on to this pledge for many, many years; Kroger: Kroger has also refused to sign this pledge. And so, workers, at great risk to themselves and their families, marched five days through the South of Florida to demand that these companies sign that pledge. That’s one example of how we can still use people’s power to work around the racist structures and barriers that are put in our way.
So I want to go back around the table and ask a bit more about the different campaigns that y’all are working on. How, with the Union of Southern Service workers, with campus workers, how you are still harnessing labor organization, people power, infrastructure building, so on and so forth, to make gains, even with all of these ridiculous barriers that are put in your way? So who wants to go first?
Chris Daniel: I’ll take it.
Melanie Barron: Great, take it. There you go.
Chris Daniel: Sounds good. So I’m going to start by saying this: the South got something to say. You’ll hear people say all the time, nothing is happening in labor down in the South, y’all aren’t doing nothing down there. Density is decreasing. It is not labor friendly in the South. But the South got something to say, workers here have something to say. What they don’t tell you about that statistic is that, actually, in the South, membership is growing around – Especially in Georgia – Membership is growing. It’s that the pool of workers is also growing. So density may be decreasing, but that doesn’t mean we’re not growing our numbers. So the South got something to say, people are ready now to organize and get this thing done. And I’m going to go back to it. We are facing immense challenges from folks who don’t think the way that we do.
When I think about this state, in the next couple of years, clean energy jobs will be here. We’ve got electric vehicle plants coming. There are about 13,000 jobs coming in electric vehicles in the next couple of years here. And talking about those challenges that we have, our governor sent a letter during the last election cycle to our congressional delegates in DC, basically telling them, do not negotiate with unions about this new clean energy money that’s coming out. So those are the challenges that we face. We face immense challenges. But what we have – And you talked about it – We have the fact that all of our work connects us. And now, our unions understand that, and they’re taking this challenge on together. So we’re not fighting as one small union against these huge organizations. We’re coming together and doing this thing together.
So what I hope that you take away from my conversation today is that we don’t have to fight these battles alone. One thing that our team is doing right now, we’re reaching out to all of our community allies. Our community allies, they face the same issues. The issues that we face in the communities are the issues that we face in the workplace. So it’s time to create that synergy, together with community and labor, and start to fight these fights together. And that’s what we’re doing at the Georgia AFL-CIO: we are creating spaces where we can connect the community with labor, connect labor with the clergy. We want to make sure that we connect all of these different connective tissues and fight this fight together. So that’s what we’re doing, and that’s how we’re ganging up on the boss.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. [applause]
Melanie Barron: In United Campus Workers – For the most part, with very few exceptions – We have no collective bargaining rights, we have no pathway to that unless we change laws, and in some cases, change state constitutions. There’s a whole world of legal barriers. So we’ve been able to organize a union anyway, because a union is an organization made up of people who do things together collectively. One of the main ways around some of the challenges that we face is, like, what are y’all going to do to us? We’re talking about organizing with our First Amendment rights. If you’re going to take that away from us, then we have very big problems as a country, my friends. So we really lean on those rights, and we exercise those rights, in some ways to be able to protect them in the first place, in the political climate that we’re in.
But we also collect dues. Everyone who’s a member of United Campus Workers pays dues through a bank draft system. And with that, we’re able to build a serious resource base with which to fund ongoing organizing all over the place. That’s a really important angle of how we get around it. There’s also all kinds of fun campaigning that you can do, when you don’t necessarily have a lot of legal restrictions that you’ve got to call the legal department about all of the time. Usually, we can march on the boss, or have a picket, or do all kinds of tactics like that, because we’re exercising our rights as people who live in the US. We can do that, and it is effective.
There’s a lot of different campaigns active in United Campus Workers right now. Many places are fighting for a raise in the minimum wage, in particular, to match the real cost of living in our country right now, with the rising cost of living and inflation. So $25 by 2025 is a prevailing demand that’s being expressed in Atlanta, in Arizona, and lots of other places.
We also have grad students who are organizing. There’s a lot of energy in higher education organizing in general around graduate workers, and they’re routinely screwed over all the time. It’s so silly, not even being able to get paid on time. So workers at the University of Virginia this year rang in the new year by getting their paychecks sent to them on time. Workers at the University of Southern Mississippi made sure that they were going to get paid on time in the fall, because the university wanted to make sure that they didn’t. So there’s all kinds of different campaigns happening, and putting people in motion really does work over time. It’s good. [applause]
Mo Haskins: So the USSW really builds itself around being an anti-racist, multiracial union, which, in the South, is a very important thing to have. Honestly, It’s essential. And the five things we do are our five demands, which I really feel like gives us the basics that we deserve: higher pay; a fair schedule; being treated equally; a seat at the table; and very importantly, safety and concern at a workplace. I feel like safety is ignored at the workplace. You know how many times we walk to McDonald’s, you see them get into a fight with someone and right away, it’s McDonald’s. You go into these places and it’s a normalized thing that’s expected of them. They’re ghetto folks though. Doing what ghetto folks do.
[long pause] Sorry, I’ve got some points I have to make sure I get to… And what we do that’s very important is direct action. Instead of going through the NLRB, when we unionize, we prefer to unionize the individual instead of the store. Since you’re in a service industry, odds are their jobs can have a high turnover and you’re going to be working two jobs, at least. And by giving the individual a union, you can create consistency throughout all their jobs, and that’s really important. The way we do this is by worker power. We do have organizers there to help us with the tools that we need, but honestly, it’s the workers with the power.
So we’re out there every day. I’m out there every day. When I’m not working, whenever I’m going by a place, if I see that they’re not being treated the way they need to be, I’ll tell them about it. I’ll tell them they have options. I worked in the industry for almost a decade and I never knew this. I came in there, I worked as hard as I could, I got shitty pay, and then I went home. And I did it over again. That’s how it’s supposed to be. That’s a job. But it’s not right, it’s not right at all.
So I made sure I told people that, and it actually took me a long time to learn that. My good friend, Monica – I love you, Monica – For as long as I’ve been working, she’s been over there telling me, that’s not fair. You shouldn’t be dealing with that. Don’t deal with that. Say something. I’m like, that’s your job. I ain’t trying to get fired, it’s not worth it. Keep doing it. She said it every day, over and over again, for years actually, until it finally clicked to me. Maybe I should say something. So I finally decided to speak up and say something. And it made a difference, my voice was heard. And that’s the thing about it. Closed mouths don’t get fed. If you want something to happen, you gotta make it happen. And I’m happy I figured that out through this.
Chris Daniel: I want to circle back and acknowledge a few campaigns. I know we’ve talked about Delta, and we’ve got some amazing organizers here from the Delta campaign, from AFA, from IAM, as well as the Teamsters. But also, today, we, about 7 different labor unions, went to support our sister, Jennifer Bennett, and the IATSE 798. [applause] Today, we went down to the NLRB to support them as they voted to have their own union. Now, that has been a tremendous fight for them over the past couple of years, and I didn’t want it to get lost in the conversation, that they are now ready to take that next step.
With that being said, while they did vote unanimously for their union, [applause] you know the boss ain’t going to let this thing happen easily, so the boss immediately contested it. But what we do know is that same synergy that you had today, all of the unions are behind you, and we’ll be there fighting along to make sure that this thing happens. So I wanted to prop up that fight.
Maximillian Alvarez: Hell yeah. Give it up one more time. [applause] And I want to be clear that this is a live recording, this is a live show, so we’re playing by those rules. But when we’re talking about certain campaigns or certain actions coming up, we don’t want to put all our goddamn cards on the table. We don’t want to tell the boss everything that we’re doing. So again, if you have questions about that, you can talk to us afterwards, but I don’t want to ask any of our guests to talk about anything that’s going to compromise them or the campaigns, so on and so forth. So I wanted to make that disclaimer.
And speaking of one of the really common threads that I’m hearing from y’all, which again is so exciting, not just for the South, but something that organizers everywhere should learn, is that your enemy does not shape the rules for you to play so that you can win easier; they do it for the opposite reason. And so, if you keep playing by those rules, there’s only going to be so much that you can do. But there actually can be real moments of liberation and creativity and exciting power when we start looking beyond those restrictive protocols for, say, organizing a union in a single shop, or, how are we going to get this worker who’s having their wages stolen from them their wages back?
I would point people to connect this across the continent, one of the most exciting labor stories that we’ve reported on at The Real News in the past year is by a group called the Naujawan Support Network in Toronto. Has anyone heard of them by any chance? They kick ass. Go Google them. They’re doing what y’all are doing in a really exciting way, because these are primarily Punjabi immigrant student workers in – [cheering] Hell yeah.
…In Canada, because of their student visas, they can only work, say, 20 hours a week. But they’re working to not only live in Toronto, but send money back home. And so, because of their immigration status, because of the restrictions on how much they can work, they are a rife for hyper-exploitation, which happens all the time in Toronto, which is very sad and infuriating. But like you said, individually, they have no power. And even as a workforce, they don’t have a whole lot of power, because the hammer can come down on them, they can get deported. There’s so much at stake, and the bosses know that. And they’ve been exploiting that. And they also can’t unionize because of their immigration status.
So what do they do? They essentially turn the community into a union, and they have grandmas, aunts, uncles, kids marching with them on the boss en masse, with signs saying, this guy’s a wage thief. They’re publicly shaming, they are adopting tactics that the farmers in India used when they launched the most massive worker mobilization in the modern era. And they’re taking that to Toronto, and it’s working. The bosses don’t like being called out in their neighborhoods and having their neighbors see the chalk written in front of their house saying, this guy’s a wage thief. So I’m not saying you necessarily have to do that, but that people across the working class are figuring this stuff out. And it’s very exciting to be amidst others like you all here, who are doing that as well.
And I wanted us to round out on that point, before we open it up to Q&A, because like the other live shows that we’ve done in New York and DC, we ultimately want folks who listen to this, after the fact, to realize we’re talking about them too. We all have a stake in this. This is all of our fight, and we can all learn really valuable lessons from everything that y’all have been sharing here. And so I want to focus on that on our final turn around the table. We should talk about some of the practical points, tips, and stories that we can build on and learn from in our own workplaces and beyond.
How has Action Builder played into the organizing work that you’ve done? And what can others do with tools like Action Builder? But even more broadly, what lessons do you think people can learn from your successes, setbacks, and approaches to organizing? And lastly, what can all of us learn from each other about how to fight and win? And how can we better support one another as a labor movement that isn’t in competition with our brothers and sisters and siblings on the other side?
Mo Haskins: Well, my failure is what I spoke about earlier: how I ignored good advice over and over again. Someone kept telling me something, but I kept believing the lies I’ve been told before. I chose to be ignorant. I never decided to really look into it and understand it, and I’m happy I did. Educating yourself on what’s really out there, your other options, your choices. It’s so important to do.
And honestly, communicating with other people around you. Everyone here has the knowledge in the room that they need to change the world. Now, not every single person has it, but the room together, we all have what we need. Talk to each other, communicate with each other, share information, and solidarity. That shit’s real, people power. It’s an important thing that we all have, and I feel like we should really focus on it as much as we can. Really uplift each other. [applause]
Chris Daniel: Yes, I’m with you, Mo, that was basically one of the points that I wanted to make. Solidarity. Every day, we make calls to affiliate leaders and community leaders, and we want to figure out where those connective issues are. We want to make sure that we can connect our issues with the issues of folks in the community. One of the big failures that we have as an organized labor body is that we sometimes let these jurisdictional fights – And the belief that we can better serve these workers – Sometimes that gets in the way of our progress.
But what we really should be doing is fixing the jurisdictional stuff in the beginning, figuring out where we have some common ground, and moving that way. Because we’ve been talking about it – And I know this has been a common theme that I’ve been talking about – Is some of these fights that we’re fighting, it’s going to take faith-based communities, with labor, to win these things. We talked about the Delta fight, we talked about the opera. It’s going to be hard to win these things on our own, but we know the amazing work that these different organizations do. If we get together, there’s no way we can be stopped. So that’s my thing is, like you said, solidarity. That’s how we win. And lack of solidarity is how we lose a lot of the time.
Melanie Barron: Amen to all of that. Talking to your coworkers about the things that you care about at work, you can do it. So many people are afraid to do it and are afraid to break those social boundaries. And that is the most powerful thing that you can do in your day-to-day life is say no, fuck you, to the boss, together, with your coworkers. And that does make a difference. It adds up over time. And I will be on brand for this panel and say I love Action Builder. I think it’s great.
And those tools can help you make sure that the knowledge that you’re gaining on a day-to-day basis from those conversations with your coworkers and other people across your workplace actually gets saved somewhere, actually can contribute toward building something over the long term. If we’re serious about building working-class power, then we also want to be serious about – Even at these beginning stages – Dreaming about, what does it mean to have a majority of people on this campus or in this workplace agree with us?
And it takes a really long time to do that. The people who are organizing in Delta right now, those databases are gold. You really need to know how people think and shift and change over time. And those tools are really helpful. And to all organizations out there, this is a really important tool to be investing in. And I want to shout out to my coworker, Taylor Mills, who is the best data specialist ever, [applause] and has built Action Builder for our campaigns, to be extremely useful. And I’m training people on it all the time and really evangelizing about it. So don’t be afraid of the tools that are there to help you. You can learn it, you can do it, and it will help you. Don’t shy away from that stuff. It’s very helpful.
Chris Daniel: I’m going to circle back around to, I’ll be taking the Action Builder training in the next couple of days, so I’m excited about being able to take what – And I know that they have reworked Action Builder for the AFL-CIO – So I’m excited about the possibility of using it and getting our affiliates on board, to make sure that we are using data, to make sure our work is efficient. Because data is really important in the work that our affiliates do. And Action Builder, I’m chomping at the bit to learn more, and I’ll be calling you –
Melanie Barron: Call Taylor. Sorry, Taylor.
Chris Daniel: …I’ll be calling you, Taylor.
Maximillian Alvarez: And rapid fire, final closeout round. For any working person who is in the South listening to this, what is your message to them about this moment and why they should get off the sidelines?
Melanie Barron: It can’t wait. Do it now. Do it today. Do it because your life is important. Do it because your coworkers’ lives are important. Yeah, do it now.
Chris Daniel: For me, the enduring point that I would leave with you is that work connects us all, and that’s it. Work connects us all.
Mo Haskins: I agree with both of them. Now is really the time. Ain’t no one got time to waste time. You really gotta do what you can. Communicate with everyone that you can. Create a community, because honestly, you already got a community. You got to bond it together.
Chris Daniel: I want to bring up one last point, and I’ll leave it here. For all of my folks who are seasoned labor folks, make sure you reach back and bring us some young folks, not to bring them in as grunt workers. Bring them in and let them lead. I remember a brother named the Rev. James Orange, and he was one of the folks that helped bring me up in this labor movement. And one thing that he would always do, I don’t care where we were, if you were with brother James Orange, he was going to prop you up into the forefront, and he was going to make you a leader that day. So the last enduring thought that I would leave you with is to bring up some young person behind you and make them a leader.
Maximillian Alvarez: Let’s give it up for our panel, everyone. [applause] All right, well, we have a floating microphone here. Let’s open it up to Q&A. If you have questions for our amazing panelists or struggles that you want to spotlight, things that you want to address, let’s go for it.
Shelly Anand: Hi, thank you so much for sharing all your knowledge. It’s so, so inspiring. My name’s Shelly Anand. I’m the co-founder and executive director of Sur Legal Collaborative. And we mostly work with poultry workers in Gainesville, Georgia, who’ve survived toxic chemical leaks. And I would love to hear the strategies that you’re using now, or strategies that you dream about using, to bring undocumented workers into the fold of this amazing moment in labor history.
Chris Daniel: I can speak a little bit to that. So the AFL-CIO is embarking on this new campaign. We are going to start naturalization clinics. So next month, my team will be going over to Austin to learn how to bring naturalization clinics here to Georgia. So if anybody’s working in that realm, please get at me, because we want to figure out how we can work together on that.
Speaker 1: [inaudible]
Chris Daniel: Yes. So I’ve been talking to IUPAT, I know they’ve been doing a lot around deferred action clinics. We’ve been talking about how we can marry those two clinics, so let’s get it done. It’s important. There’s some estimates that say 500,000 people in this state are eligible to naturalize. And you can imagine that could be a huge part of the electorate come 2024. So it’s going to be important for us, not because it could be an important part of the electorate, but because it’s the human thing to do.
Speaker 1: Hoffman Plastics will not apply anymore. They have a work permit. They have all the rights of [inaudible].
Chris Daniel: Yep, yep, yep, yep.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, and I wanted to hook this back to our last live show, where we had Taf Sourov from Laborers Local 79, the Construction Workers Union in New York City. I’ve been very, very heartened to see the work that they are doing, because as we know, construction workers in NYC don’t have the greatest track record on this question. And unions in general have a pretty bad history – In terms of seeing their undocumented fellow workers, returning citizens, folks who are in fact the most exploited and the most ripe for exploitation, somehow, as their enemy, as the ones undercutting their wage – And the only one who wins in that situation is the boss, as we know.
And so, it’s really heartening to see unions like Local 79 in NYC, not really focus a lot of their organizing resources on workers at companies and contractors in the city, that are known to be the most exploitative of undocumented workers: like Alba Demolition – I interviewed some workers in Spanish for The Real News Network. You can check that out. It was posted in January – Who were working with the union to hold Alba accountable for its disgusting practices, from having workers remove asbestos with nothing more than some goggles and throwing it into some black bags, to workers falling through floors, because the foremen aren’t actually keeping things up to code.
Laborers Local 79 is really devoting resources, organizing resources, financial resources, to reaching out to undocumented workers. But also, one thing they really deserve a shout out for is that they have been instrumental in pushing to create the Excluded Workers Fund in NYC, which was designed during COVID to provide social aid for workers, domestic workers, undocumented workers, who were not eligible for the unemployment benefits and so on and so forth when COVID hit. So there are examples of unions figuring this out and correcting past mistakes, but we need more of it. Much, much more of it. Do we have another question? Okay.
Michael McClure: How are you guys doing? My name is Michael McClure. I’m an organizer for AFA, Association of Flight Attendants, working on the Delta campaign here in Atlanta. I would firstly want to let you all know I have buttons for everyone here. Chris will be mad at me if I don’t tell you. I have some buttons for you guys to sport. But my question is this. We live in a city that’s been heralded as one of the most progressive places in the South. It’s this city on the hill, where people look across the South about how progressive we are. But there have been so many labor abuses, so many abuses against working class folks, that are really based right here from this city. We are in a space where we’re creating this campaign, creating opportunities, creating conversations from scratch, because the fact is that Atlanta feels and says and uses a progressive messaging while also doing everything they can to tear down poor and working class people.
So my question for the folks on the panel, what are you doing to, firstly, broaden that narrative about what it means to really hold these labor ideals too highly and holding folks accountable? How do we build community around, not messaging, but around new realities for folks here in the South? And I definitely want to commend each one of you for the work you’re doing. Also, I want to add this point, the Georgia Democratic Party doesn’t even have a labor caucus. It shows how far we are away from the point where we work towards every single day as a group, but as a city, as a state, we are so far from the mark. So how do we work towards getting there?
Mo Haskins: I’ve said this before, I’m going to say it a hundred times again. I’m really sorry about that. But I’m going to say it a hundred times: worker power, people power. No one’s going to do a thing for us. We have to go out there, we have to force action. And USW loves to take direct action, between walkouts, petitions. We like petitions. We like to do strikes and media, a very important thing, media. Because honestly, sometimes you have to shame them into understanding that we’re out here too, that we exist.
Chris Daniel: Something important that we can do here, for instance, in the Delta campaign, it’d be dope if we had a CBA with the community. We had an agreement with the community that says, look, we need to hold these folks to a different standard, and this is that standard. So CBAs are a way that we can mitigate some of the ugliness from these folks. For instance, Fulton County, Clayton County, East Point, all of those folks, we have some friends that are in those cities. They’re on the board at the airport. We should be able to get a CBA that our friends help us get. So those are the types of things that we can do as organized labor to help move our organizing along here. So CBAs is something that I’m thinking we can prop up as a tool here.
Melanie Barron: And in regard to the labor conditions in Atlanta, tell the truth, tell it loud, say it over and over and over again. Georgia State University, down the street here, it blows my mind every time I’m on that campus and talking to people. Y’all thought my $17,000 at the University of Tennessee was low. Go talk to some of the workers there who make less than $10,000 a year today.
It’s unreal. It’s unreal. And they definitely get away with it. We need to keep building and we need to keep encouraging each other to be very brave and speak out against these institutions that get away with really, really horrible things on a day-to-day basis. And your organization is a place where you can find safety and community in that, and that’s really important. So building that organization, in regard to building more of a voice for working people in the political apparatus in this state, we need to build unity and get involved and make sure that we’re bringing all the right people to the table, to make a caucus like that happen. It needs to happen here. [applause]
Mariah Brown: Okay. We have time for one more question. Go ahead. [inaudible]
Speaker 10: Okay, that’s me. Thank you all so much for your work. I would love to hear from each of you. How would you describe the world that you are working for, the world that you want to live in? If we weren’t fighting day in, day out, for our lives, for dignity, for respect, for health, all the things. How would you paint the picture of what you’re fighting for?
Mo Haskins: What I’m fighting for, it’s a sense of respect. I like to feel like, when I help someone with something, which we’re doing, we’re helping a business grow stronger every day. I feel like I deserve some form of respect for it, some dignity. I want to feel like what I do matters, because it does matter. If I disappear today, it’s going to make a big difference. But in the right world, it wouldn’t be this obvious line in between what’s happening here and what’s happening there. That’s obviously some people are being run over and ran out, and I don’t know, my perfect world would be different. Yeah.
Chris Daniel: One of your questions was, what does that world look like? And then, what are we fighting for? So I have two daughters. I don’t know if anybody has children. If you have children in this room, you can probably attest to this. What I fight for is to make sure that they have a world where they can work with dignity. So that’s what I fight for. That’s it.
Melanie Barron: Fairness, at the end of the day, is the thing that I think about the most, in addition to the words you all said; respect and dignity and fairness. Our world is deeply, deeply unfair, and people deserve a fair shake day in and day out, no matter what circumstances they were born into. And that’s part of why I believe in public education and why I fight for it every day is because that’s one pathway to having some amount of fairness in our society. Worker power is the realest pathway that I can see.
Maximillian Alvarez: Well, that seems like a great spot to end on. So thank you all so much. Let’s give it up for our panel one more time. [applause] Thank you to Action Builder/Action Network. Thank you for hosting us. And please, if you have more questions, want to come up, meet our great panelists.
Chris Daniel: Don’t forget those pins.
Maximillian Alvarez: Get those pins.
Maximillian Alvarez is the editor-in-chief of The Real News Network.
This transcript was distributed by Economy for All in partnership with The Real News Network.
"such power and the people who excercised it, embodied a mystique, expressed not simply in guns but in books, uniforms, social behavior and a mass of manufactured products. Only by accepting these things and those who brought them would it be possible to penetrate this mystique and grasp the power which lay behind it" (Chris Clapham, Third World Politics: an introduction, 1985)
The Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, assesses Hezbollah as the "most formidable" armed non-state actor in the world. Hezbollah has developed exponentially since the 1980s growing to be the largest political party in the Arab world: spearheading the Axis of Resistance coalition against Zionism and US imperialism [and its Arab allies] in West Asia at large. The political strategy toward Hezbollah has recurrently caused sharp disagreements among the Left in the Arab World and abroad: whereby some would promote anti-imperialist solidarity with the party, and others would explain away the party's anti-imperialist achievements to critique other factors.
In “Fighting Imperialism and Authoritarian Regimes: Between the Devil and the Deep Sea”, Sumanta Banerjee introduces a pertinent debate of leftist circles into academia (2003). Banerjee offers a critique of post-soviet anti-imperialism: contrasting old leftist anti-imperialist liberation movements with contemporary identity-based anti-imperialist liberation movements which presumably fall short of leftist standards of social liberation. He argues that the Left is regressing by uncritically prioritizing the contradiction of imperialism while overlooking other tenants of social liberation which he characterizes as violating “the beliefs and operative norms” of “the Left and democratic forces” (S. Banerjee, 2003, p:183).
The regression and eventual dissolution of the USSR stifled the popularity of socialist ideals and did away with the blanket ideology that most anti-imperialist actors adopted a variant of. It became a notable trend of liberation movements, especially in West Asia, to turn towards their respective cultures for revolutionary inspiration rather than turning to the literature of scientific socialism. The prior leftwing secular character of liberation movements was replaced by cultural indigenous ideologies: the most distinguished among which is Hezbollah.
In his article, Banerjee condemns these non-socialist anti-imperialist movements as 'authoritarian'. He doesn't directly address Hezbollah but poses a critique generally to all non-socialist anti-imperialist actors. He argues that they are hardly any better than their imperialist oppressors such that they too stifle social liberation: thus allegorizing the latter as the ‘Devil’ and the former as the ‘Deep Sea’ (S. Banerjee, 2003, p:184). He adds that the anti-imperialist struggle against US hegemony has been distorted since the time of ‘Che Guevara’ and ‘Nelson Mandela’ (S. Banerjee, 2003, p:183). Many leftists, he argues, have remained uncritically fixated on supporting any party opposing US hegemony regardless of other factors; he theorizes that they have been so blinded by the evils of the Devil that they have obliviously backed up into the embrace of the Deep Sea (S. Banerjee, 2003).
Banerjeee's argument, essentially, challenges the precedence of the struggle against imperialism in leftist lore and activism. The novel significance of his article is that it formulates a topic heatedly debated in vintage cafes and niche pubs and introduces it into academia where it can be scientifically unpacked. While he doesn't address Hezbollah directly, his arguments echo those posed by some leftists against initiatives for political affinity with Hezbollah.
Imad Salamey (2019) comports the aforementioned argument to be point-precise geared toward Hezbollah by introducing the prospect of "communitarianism". Salamey explains in “Hezbollah, Communitarianism, and Anti-Imperialism” that Hezbollah is one byproduct of the global trend of communitarianism (2019). Communitarianism, Salamey explains, arises as a result of the ferocious expansion of capitalism and the equivocal decline of nation-states caused by the curbing of government intervention in favor of laissez-faire market policies (2019).
In the absence of the state’s welfare role, communities turn inwards for a safety net. Hezbollah’s inception in Lebanon came in this context: in light of the Shia community’s social marginalization, the sectarian chaos of the Lebanese civil war, and the recurrent Zionist attacks on the predominantly shia-populated south. Hezbollah arose as the safety net for its immediate community against the ills of capitalism and imperialism.
Salamey explains that communitarianism is rooted in a “primordial cultural solidarity” which undermines the nation-state (2019); In the case of Hezbollah, this underlying cultural solidarity was of that between the Iranian and Lebanese Shias: which was optimized ultimately in the form of the robust alliance between Hezbollah and the Islamic Revolution's Guard Corps.
In addition to unpacking the communitarian basis of Hezbollah, Salamey synthesized the general conception of anti-imperialism in Marxist lore and then presented the two as incompatible. He argues that:
The conclusion of Salamey’s article builds on that of Banerjee’s: leftists in support of Hezbollah under the pretext of anti-imperialist solidarity are violating the ideological beliefs and operative norms of the Left (Salamey, Hezbollah, Communitarianism, and Anti-Imperialism, 2019; Banerjee, Between the Devil and the Deep Sea, 2003). This Post-Soviet Communitarian critique of Hezbollah roughly presents some arguments typically posed by western and westernized leftists denouncing affinity with Hezbollah.
Argument 1: Hezbollah isn’t Leftist
One of the typical discourse narratives posed against affinity with Hezbollah is by wistfully contrasting Hezbollah with romanticized leftist anti-imperialist icons like Che Guevara or Nelson Mandela. While this is an unscientific criticism of Hezbollah that is uncommon among credible Leftist intellectuals or noteworthy parties, it is popular among the contemporary 'woke' left as a to-go-to argument.
The objective of conjuring the picturesque revolutionary experiences of Guevara and Mandela is to undermine Hezbollah’s strive for liberation in contrast. Proponents of such speaking points aim to marginalize Hezbollah’s achievements against Zionist colonialism and Takfiri fascism by putting it in competition with icons like Guevara or Mandela: In an effort to present Hezbollah's anti-imperialist efforts as ‘accidental’ or ‘isolated incidents’ sidelining them in the assessment of Hezbollah’s character.
These speaking points offer no real critique but only employ symbolic smearing to discredit Hezbollah: in an effort to contain Hezbollah’s popularity momentum from extending to the Left-wing in the Arab World and the West. Argument 1 marginalizes Hezbollah’s admirable strife against the Zionist and Takfiri footsoldiers of US imperialism. It conditions support for Hezbollah upon the party's self-identification as a leftist party, factoring out the consequential significance of Hezbollah's strife against the forces of reaction. A bullet that pierces the heart of a colonizing soldier or a fanatic fascist promotes people's liberation regardless of the ideological incentives which motivate the soldier.
Argument 2: Hezbollah isn't Secular
While Argument 1 stands as a strawman argument against leftist solidarity with Hezbollah, other arguments present a more sophisticated version of Argument 1. Primarily, and most commonly, is the argument referring to the Islamic ideology of Hezbollah: an argument that is alluded to by the aforementioned prospect of communitarianism (Salamey, 2019).
It is argued that Leftists can’t stand in solidarity with Hezbollah despite its anti-imperialist practice and stance because of its Islamic ideology. The Shia Islamic 'communitarian' character (or the ‘sectarian’ character of Hezbollah, to put it in the language of Lebanese political discourse), is argued, to devalue Hezbollah’s revolutionary anti-imperialist character.
Proponents of this argument explain that Hezbollah’s strife against Zionists and Takfiris arises from an in-group (shia community) vis-à-vis out-group (non-shia communities) rationale rather than a scientific understanding of imperialism. The scientific conception of imperialism, defined by socialist theorists, explains imperialist violence as the byproduct of the disproportionate accumulation of capital in favor of some nations at the expense of others, which entails the exploitation of the latter by the former for the purposes of maximizing economic interests (Lenin, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism, 1917).
Hezbollah, however, isn't sectarian despite adopting a religious ideology and employing religious discourse. The party’s praxis isn't a zero-sum game of competition with other religious groups and this is assessed consequentially (i.e. in terms of results). Even if we were to entertain this faulty accusation and grant the validity of inferring chauvinistic sectarianism from religiosity, Hezbollah’s anti-imperialist character still holds. Assuming that Hezbollah is a “sectarian” communitarian party and interpreting wars in the “middle east”, from an orientalist lens, as irrational wars between different tribes motivated by identitarian chauvinism, Hezbollah’s praxis remains consequentially anti-imperialist praxis. Even if we were to assume that the Party’s wars against Zionists and Takfiris is motivated by an inter-communitarian feud, this doesn't change the fact that (1) Zionists and Takfiris were acting as footsoldiers of Imperialism and (2) Hezbollah’s strife against them was successful and effective.
This line of reasoning is cited by prominent theorists of Scientific Socialism. Marx and Engels hailed the Irish struggle for independence from British colonialism while acknowledging that the Irish liberation movement was prominently led by Catholic clergymen and that the conflict of decolonization had manifested for the Irish fighters as a war for protecting the catholicization of the indigenous population of the Island against the Protestant British invaders (Marx &Engels, On the Irish Question,1867).
Additionally, Stalin, in “Foundations of Leninism” when addressing the monarchist Emir’s efforts for liberation in Afghanistan, emphasized assessing liberation movements according to the results which they yield rather than according to a checklist of democratic standards (1924). “The national movement of the oppressed countries should be appraised not from the point of view of formal democracy, but from the point of view of actual results, as shown by the general balance sheet of the struggle against imperialism. The revolutionary character of a national movement under the conditions of imperialist oppression does not necessarily presuppose the existence of proletarian elements in the movement, the existence of a revolutionary or a republican program of the movement, or the existence of a democratic basis of the movement.” (Stalin, 1924).
More so, however, Hezbollah stands as significantly more politically sophisticated than the Irish liberation movement in the 1860s (endorsed by Marx and Engels) or the Afghan Emir's liberation attempt (endorsed by Stalin). The party's religious and cultural ideology doesn’t exclude a scientific conception of imperialism as expressly stated in their 2009 manifesto. In the Chapter on Domination and Hegemony, it reads “Savage capitalism forces - embodied mainly in international monopoly networks of companies that cross the nations and continents, networks of various international establishments especially the financial ones backed by superior military force have led to more contradictions and conflicts - of which not less important - are the conflicts of identities, cultures, civilizations, in addition to the conflicts of poverty and wealth. These savage capitalism forces have turned into mechanisms of sowing dissension and destruction of identities as well as imposing the most dangerous type of cultural, national, economic as well as social theft. Globalization reached its most dangerous facet when it turned into a military one led by those following the Western scheme of domination - of which it was most reflected in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon, where the latter’s share was the July 2006 aggression by the ‘Israelis’ ”(2009).
Marxism isn't as vehemently anti-religion as McCarthyists and infantile leftists make it seem. Dominoquo Losurdo unpacks this adequately in “Class Struggle: A Political and Philosophical History” (2016). He explains that, historically, the classes of society achieved initial awareness of the national question through religion: that It was through religious idioms and prospects that people became conscious of real material contradictions. “Marx and Engels carefully avoided indiscriminate liquidation of movements inspired by religion... Religious affiliation can be experienced very intensely and mobilized effectively in political and historical upheaval, but is not the primary cause of such conflict" (Losurdo, 2016).
In the case of Hezbollah, political theory and praxis of anti-zionism and anti-imperialism was developed in reference to the Epic of Karbala, in which Al-Hussein fought ferociously for justice against the tyranny of Yazid. This cultural narrative is native to the Lebanese Shia even prior to the inception of Hezbollah. The cultural significance and religious rituals of Aashura weren't parachuted from Iran on the eve of the Islamic revolution. Aashura is a historic watershed of Arab history. It symbolizes an indigenous revolution against the tyranny of the Islamic caliphate: the descendants of the Prophet contended the distorted interpretation of Islam which manufactured political legitimacy for tyrant caliphs by triumphing the authentic interpretation of Islam which promotes the normative ideal of justice.
One would dismiss this, citing Marx: "religion is the opiate of the masses" (Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of the Right, 1843). Aashura, however, unlike the religious narratives which promote pacifism referenced by Marx in his opiate metaphor, acted as a catalyst for the masses of the Lebanese Shia community to bear arms against Imperialist projects.
Hezbollah capitalized on the Epic of Aashura which has long been transmitted from generation to generation in this community. The narrative was allegorically projected to contemporary politics following a scientific analysis of the material contradictions as the 2009 manifesto expressly elaborates. The cultural spite against Yazid's injustice and tyranny was evoked by Hezbollah's clergymen to be compared to the hegemony of the US empire, and consequently mobilizing hundreds against the proxies of imperialism. This tactic of mobilization proved exceptionally effective in consolidating the world's most powerful non-state actor, reversing the Arab nation's setback in their struggle against Israeli colonialism, and snuffing out the deviant Takfiri fascist enterprise in the Levant.
"What human consciousness does is try to understand the world. When social life is calm, so are ideologies; when class conflicts come to existence so too do competing ideologies and conscious statements; and only when a revolutionary class arises can revolutionary ideas come into being" (Peter Stillman, Marx Myths and Legends, 2005)
Picturesquely, it is the whispered Islamic idioms that teemed serenity and discipline in the hearts of fighters fortified in Bint Jbeil as they took on the full brunt of the Israeli war machine, and it is the battle cry of “Ya Zaynab” which resounded as Kornet ATGMs flattened Israeli tanks back in 2006.
The Compatible Left
However, acknowledging criticism and engaging in self-criticism is central to the development and optimization of political praxis. A scientific analysis, regardless of the conclusion it's comported towards, is generally beneficial. It introduces theoretical concepts that allow one to think better of complicated issues and theorize about them: like the allegory of the devil and the deep sea (S. Banerjee, 2003) or the trend of 'communitarianism' (I. Salamey, 2019).
In the same context, to frame the discourse and filter critique from smear campaigning, it is notable to introduce a term coined by CIA strategists: The Compatible Left. Which refers to leftist intellectuals and parties coopted by the CIA in an effort to manufacture a Left that is compatible with imperialism. The Compatible Left is also comparable with the Neo-comprador class which James Petras theorizes about in "NGOs: In the Service of Imperialism" (2007). The compatible left is an inconsequential left: it employs leftist lore and language while ensuring that the status quo of imperialism remains robust and unchallenged.
Sammy Ismail Lebanese communist, Philosophy and Political Science graduate from the Lebanese American University, columnist and news-editor at Al Mayadeen English, twitter: @klashinkovv
This article was originally published at Al-Mayadeen English.
Ideology and Hypocrisy Amid Slavery and Democracy - Strange Bedfellows from Time Immemorial By: Stephen Joseph ScottRead Now
The history of the existence of slavery as an institution in antiquity and beyond is one of the most common; and, at the same time, one of the most complex tales to be told. Virtually every society, touching almost all the continents of the world, has had its own form of enslavement. The implication being that, nearly, every group of humankind whether racially, ethnically, or culturally categorized as diverse, unattached, or essentially separate, has been marked by the legacy and tradition of human bondage geographically and/or ancestrally. This work will be focusing on the origins and culturally supportive underpinnings of ancient Greek identity, its philosophy, law, ideology, and ethnicity; and, those extant essentialist elements, such as class, that not only made slavery in the ancient Greek world possible but normalized its place within a societal hierarchy that helped define who and what an ancient Athenian was - pitched against a broader Mediterranean ethos. Beyond that, this work will address how ancient Greek thought, as to what essentially constituted a slave versus a free person, later ignites a heated counterpoint which asserts hypocrisy lies at the core of ancient Greek thinking when it comes to the fundamental differences: physical, psychological, and emotional, that inexorably lie between free-persons and human-beings in captivity – made evident by how that debate rages to this day in contemporary historiography….
It is best that we start at the beginning with Homer: ancient Greek storyteller and legendary poet, who lived as early as the 8th century BCE; and, is still considered one of the most celebrated and influential writers of antiquity - for good reason. Homer is brought to the fore because his illustration as evidenced below reveals the essential deleterious effect of human bondage, which, poignantly foreshadows the debate mentioned above by millennia, ‘For Zeus who views the wide world takes away half the manhood of a man, that day he goes into captivity and slavery’ (Homer, Odyssey 17.367-9). Homer is explicitly defining the enslavement of a man as the diminishment, in a purely ontological sense, of one’s inherent human dignity. Aristotle, on the other hand (ancient aristocratic Greek philosopher and polymath extraordinaire), who penned his work in the latter 4th century BCE, some four hundred years after Homer, sets a foundational opposition and enduring precedent of his very own when it comes to the quality, status, value, and condition of enslaved persons.
Aristotle, as is broadly known, defined an enslaved person (doulos), that is, a human-being held in bondage, as ‘a live article of property’ (Aristotle, Pol. 1253b33). The great thinker himself, speaking on behalf of his class interests, goes on to define the value he derived from such persons defined as property, ‘Of property, the first and most indispensable kind is that which is … most amenable to Housecraft; and this is the human chattel.’ He then goes on, with a decisively imperialist tone, ‘Our first step therefore must be to procure good slaves (doulous)’ (Arist. Oec. 1344a23-26). Aristotle makes clear his essentialist views which not only defined a slave as property, but goes further, stating that the value, status, utility, and material condition of persons classified as slaves is not only a useful one, but a natural one:
These considerations therefore make clear the nature of the slave and his essential quality; one who is a human being (anthrôpos) belonging by nature not to himself but to another is by nature a slave, and a human being belongs to another if, although a human being, he is a piece of property (ktêma) (Arist. Pol. 1254a14-18).
Aristotle’s proposition is an important one given this work’s purpose which is to bring forth these precise notions, or conflicting theories, that have significantly undergirded, influenced and/or reinforced conceptions of class, personhood, value, and status interwoven within western thought throughout the ages.
Which brings us inevitably to the longstanding property versus domination argument spearheaded, in modern scholarship, by Orlando Patterson in his 1982 book entitled Slavery and Social Death. Patterson delivers a scathing rebuke to Aristotle’s customary formulation of slavery in terms of property. He unequivocally argues that slavery, from his learned vantagepoint, is, in fact, ‘the permanent, violent domination of natally alienated and generally dishonored persons’. Which poignantly parallels Homer’s description that human beings, held in captivity against their will, are not only persons dominated physically, but are individuals essentially diminished morally, emotionally, and psychologically. The conventional view, as presented by Aristotle, is unsound, according to Patterson based on two distinct factors. Firstly, Patterson argues, ‘to define slavery … as property fails as a definition, since it does not really specify any distinct category of persons.’ Because everyone, whether ‘beggar or king, can be the object of a property relation.’ One can only construe that what Patterson is saying, when it comes specifically to slavery, is that the term ‘property’ obscures, diminishes or diverts one’s attention away from the overt and brutal nature of an enslaved person’s everyday lived experience. Secondly, Patterson contends that the term property is inconsistent in substance when it comes to diversity of culture - meaning many societies, however archaic, lacked the very concept of ownership. Denoting that slavery has accompanied mankind through time immemorial, from primitive village societies to ancient Mesopotamia and beyond, where, he argues, the laws and social mores of any given society didn’t precisely match that of Aristotle’s definition of property – therefore it generally fails as a classification of slavery .
David M. Lewis counters Patterson’s argument on the ‘property point’ as stated above by proclaiming that during the Neo-Babylonian and Persian periods, the evidence clearly demonstrates in abundant detail, that the circumstance between slave and master, in legal terms, was ‘a relationship based on the fact that the slave was the property of his or her owner’-exhibiting all the elementary features necessary, per legal theory, to reach the standard of ‘property’ . Lewis challenges Patterson’s stance further by stating:
[The popular] view that esteems private property rights to be an advanced development of Roman legal theory ignores the findings of almost a century of legal anthropology, which has observed private property systems in a variety of tribal social systems that were far less advanced in terms of technological and social complexity than even the society imagined in Homer’s epics .
While Lewis’ examination proves ‘slavery as a form of property’ in a legal context, there is still validity in Patterson’s position given the fact that persons in bondage (from a humanist perspective) reduced to the level of property in a solely ‘legal sense’ nullifies their individual agency and all that essentially makes them human.
In fact, slavery, and democracy, in ancient Athens and beyond is a multidimensional and multifaceted story of innate human capacity and agency, dignity, adaptability, fortitude, and resistance. Meaning, ‘…slaves were not passive objects, whose identity and existence was completely dominated by their masters.’ As described by Xenophon (Greek military leader and philosopher), there were without a doubt slaves forced into strenuous domestic work: ‘baking, cooking, spinning’ and scrubbing under their owner’s will (Xen. Oec. 9.9). That said, we are also told of others that gained valuable skill-sets outside the home, coinciding with their inherent intelligence and creativity, from potters to builders to bankers and shoemakers (Hyperides, 3.1-9; and Aeschines, 1.97). These slaves participated in communal undertakings (such as workshops and spiritual associations) together with other free and enslaved persons. Even Aristotle, who had little love (agape) for the underclasses, had to acknowledge, albeit cautiously, the inherent democratic nature (and/or threat thereof) made evident by the sheer numbers of this uniquely collective phenomenon - what the great theorist himself branded as koinônia, simply defined as fellowship of the masses. But the politikê koinônia (he warns) was specifically formed for the benefit of its members (Arist. Eth. Nic. 1160a4-6). Influenced by his celebrated teacher, renowned philosopher Plato, who argued that the limits of citizenship and its influence correlate with ‘the precise form of constitution and law’ in place (Plato, Laws 714c) - Aristotle’s well-known anti-democratic discourse on ‘mob-rule’ and the necessity for the ‘rule of law’ as fundamental to ‘the natural order of things’ thus becomes most evident. While in agreement with Pericles’ famed proclamation on the importance of the ‘rule of law’ in the ancient Greek city-state; when it came to what Pericles professed as the virtues of democracy defined, the two-men parted ways in dramatic fashion. In what is considered the ideal of a democratic philosophical vision, Pericles outlines demokratia (in his famed funeral speech of 431 BCE), as follows:
Its administration favors the many instead of the few…equal justice to all…class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way. The freedom which we enjoy in our government…[teaches] us to obey the magistrates and the laws, particularly as regard [to] the protection of the injured (Thucydides, 2.37).
On the contrary, Aristotle’s depiction of a ‘democratic regime’ and/or constitution is one with an inherent propensity toward ‘license and lawlessness.’ He defines, ‘radical democracy,’ in that of Athens for example, as having two critical flaws: firstly, the influence of the demos can potentially supersede the law (Arist. Pol. 1292a4ff.); and secondly, the demos hold the power to impeach magistrates for wrongdoing (such as malfeasance) which Aristotle intimates are both a step too far (Arist. Pol. 1292a30, and cf.1298a29-35). That said, as threatening as he might have interpreted it, the concept of koinônia permits us to observe enslaved persons actively utilizing their intrinsic agency within a broader collective milieu.
Returning to the question as stated at the outset of this work, Lewis’ focus on the laws of ancient societies, in lieu of the contention outlined above, is immensely valuable when it comes to understanding the conventions per Athenian slave society and their ramifications. Broadly viewed as a protection mechanism for slaves, given a singular example, the Greek law on ‘hybris,’ in ancient Athens, expressly defined as the negation of the deliberate implementation of violence to humiliate, demean, or degrade - is not as straightforward as it might appear. Yet again, hypocrisy abounds as evidenced: to presume that the Athenian law pertained to an owner’s mis-conduct toward his ‘property’ obliges us to disregard the ‘abundant proof’ of regular and generally habitual violence toward slaves by their masters (Lewis, 2018, 43). Beyond that, it is difficult to correlate the law as ‘protectionary’ given this evocative assertion by Plato, ‘[a slave] when wronged or insulted, is unable to protect himself or anyone else for whom he cares’ (Plato, Gorg. 483b). The following statement is as definitive as it gets when revealing the underlying deceit interwoven within Athenian law itself when it came to enslaved persons and their standing, ‘[the] law included slaves [simply] because the lawgiver wished to curtail the spread of hubristic [or anti-social] behaviour among the citizens tout court … the hubris law was designed to engender respect and orderly conduct among citizens not to protect slaves’ . Meaning, that the Athenian lawgivers were not overly concerned with the physical wellbeing of persons classified as slaves, but perhaps were more intent on curtailing their judicial workload.
The reality was that the right of masters to physically abuse their slaves in ancient Athens was, if not absolute, certainly extensive. Xenophon affirms the practical necessity on behalf of owners to punish their slaves, but simply asks for them not to do so in a state of rage (Xen. Hell. 5.3.7; cf. Hdt. 1.137). Demonstrating that, violence toward persons in bondage in ancient Athens was perfectly acceptable if it was executed in a manner of equanimity. According to Xenophon, however, slaves should never resist. He goes on to say, that masters could, or should, ‘clap fetters on them so that they can’t run away’ (Xen. Mem. 2.1.16). Hence, so it is argued, in summary, that what helps clarify, or defend, Aristotle’s assertion that ‘the slave [is] an article of property imbued with a soul’ (Arist. Pol. 1253b32), is justified due to the fact that ‘this view of the slave as an article of property’ was a generally held belief of society at large when it came to the status of enslaved persons within the ancient Greek ethos .
That said, when it comes to hypocrisy, the law and excessive abuse – domination, as defined by Patterson permeates the historical record. A poignant example of the common acceptance in ancient Athens of emotional and physical abuse (or the threat thereof) cast upon slaves, and the like, is provided by Lysias, where he describes in detail the testimony of a plaintiff in an Athenian court recounting the brutal (and pervasive) threat of torture (and even death) that hung over the heads of enslaved mill workers - commonly known ‘as mill-roaches’ (Lysias 1. 18-22). In addition, owners of enslaved persons were generally granted legal leeway, under the authority of judges, to sexually abuse their slaves. Signifying that when a slave was purchased, they were in fact the owners’ possession to do with as they desired - which helps lend even more credence to Patterson’s analyses of domination as described.
A question of further importance is what defined, or signified, a slave and their station in ancient Athens? Was it one of ideology or innate difference that helped delineate the distinction between a Greek and a non-Greek? As understood in the broadest sense of the term, barbarian is the word used to describe not only a non-Greek speaking immigrant, but in fact, a definitional term which explicitly portrayed an enslaved person of foreign origin, as, ‘non-Greeks imported from foreign lands via the slave trade’. An Athenian essentialist view, as noted, between native slave and foreign slave, (that is, between natural born Greeks and outsiders) is underscored by Aristotle’s description of an enslaved Greek as ‘an accident contrary to nature’ (Arist. Pol. 1255a1). These Greek essentialist views, of one people’s ethnic superiority over another, are noteworthy because they significantly impact western thought and societal conditions throughout the ages – emphasizing race and class as inherent points of difference develop into a clear normative of class hierarchy.
Fast forwarding to the 18th century Anglo-world for example, Francis Hutcheson (elite 18th century British moral philosopher) proclaimed that permanent enslavement should be ‘the ordinary punishment of … idle vagrants.’ ‘Idle vagrants,’ being defined as most anyone with what Hutcheson considered, ‘slave like attributes,’ from the idle poor and indigent to confiscated and subjugated human cargo - principally Africans . Conversely, in something of a confessional, Thomas Jefferson (slave owner, philosopher, and 18th century American statesman) recognized and voiced the odious elements of the dominion argument, as defined, some two hundred years prior to Orlando Patterson, ‘[the] commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of … the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other.’ He then goes on in a revelatory tone, to inform just how these elite classes, throughout the millennia, bequeathed attitudes of dominion from one generation to the next. Stating that, the children of the elite were thus ‘nursed, educated and exercised in the daily art of tyranny.’ Virginia’s slave plantations as he describes, were by their very nature, ‘schools of iniquity and domination’. Consequently, Aristotle’s, early, and pervasive, theory of the ‘natural order of things,’ when it comes to class and ethnicity, is made brazenly evident (Arist. Pol. 1252a-1253b).
Finally, how common place was slave society in the ancient Greek world and what was its magnitude? It is said that the importation of slaves was a lasting one, being that Greek slave society lasted enduringly throughout both the archaic and classical periods until its absorption by Rome in 146 BCE. Although the Roman slave trade surpassed that of the Greek numerically, given Rome’s imperial might over the Mediterranean world, it is said that ‘the Greek slave system was both the elder and the longer-lived.’ The Greeks had helped set a historic precedent by perfecting their own imperial prowess through the conquering of their neighbors . But, where in fact were these subjugated and enslaved persons extracted from and how common were they in ancient Greece? Ancient Greek inscriptions help make evident that enslaved peoples, represented a wide breadth of humanity throughout the known world at the time. These people included men, women, and children in a variety of hues, from such far-off places as Thrace, Phrygia, Syria, Caria in southwest Anatolia, Illyria on the western Balkan Isthmus, Scythians from eastern Iran; and, Colchians from the eastern Black Sea - depicted by Herodotus, in the 5th century BCE, as a ‘dark-skinned and woolly haired’ people (Hdt. 2.104.2). What Herodotus’ quote helps to highlight for us is an ancient Athenian social construct. That being, the prevalent belief (when it came to the stature of imported slaves), of a clear and innate delineation based on race (and/or phenotype), accentuating a natural taxonomic classification or difference between indigenous Greeks and all others – especially slaves.
When it comes to how common slaves were, Josiah Ober estimates the slave population of fourth-century BCE Athens to be around 35 per cent of the total population of roughly 227,000 . Which made slavery quite pervasive throughout ancient Athens and helps to explain the essentialist Greek/Other dichotomy as such. As Vincent Rosivach makes evident, ‘[When] Athenians thought about slaves, they habitually thought about barbaroi, and when they thought about barbaroi they habitually thought about slaves’. Suggesting that this was commonplace in classical Athens - legislatively undergirded by the proposed law of Pericles of 451 BCE which confined citizenship solely to persons of Athenian birthparents on both sides. Ultimately defining in ethnocentric terms, an essentialist difference (between Greeks and others), based on birth lineage and cultural origin (Arist. Const. Ath. 26.3). In paralleling slave societies throughout the epochs, ‘the slave system of the fourth-century Greek world was of roughly the same numerical magnitude as that of the United States ca. 1800.’ By the early 19th century, in the South, ‘30-40 percent of the population’ was made up of chattel slavery under the brutal control of concentrated wealth and political power, land, and resources… . Both societies (separated by millennia) became indulgently rich and hegemonically powerful in their respective spheres of influence – primarily based on the wealth created by their slave societies thus implemented. As mentioned, due to the commonality of the everyday interaction between slave and non-slave, and its oblique dangers in ancient Athens, elite class interests reinforced ‘the construction of local and wider Hellenic ethnicities, as well as of non-Greek ethnicities, must have been fundamentally imbricated with the ideological needs of the slave trade…’ . The main point being that the possibility of a unifying or coming together of freeborn citizens, of lower-class status, and slaves, posed a direct structural (and numerical) threat to the established order of things. Ideology, woven within Greek identity, plays a key role in the hegemonic control of social norms, but not an absolute one.
The understanding by the masses (and a small number of elites alike) that extreme concentrations of wealth played a destabilizing role in the Athenian political and social realms, when it came to privilege, power and class, is made obvious by the following quote from Demosthenes, ‘for the demos to have nothing and for those who oppose the demos to have a superabundance of wealth is an amazing and terrifying (thaumaston kai phoberon) state of affairs’ (Ober, 1990, 214; Dem. Ex. 2.3). Which helps make evident an ancient Athens as not only the well-known paradigm of direct democracy (or rule by the many), but also its intrinsic contradictions (or threats thereof) when it came to status, class, and wealth – which has echoed, as argued, throughout the centuries. As presented, Lewis and Canevaro, bring to the fore, a carefully crafted top-down societal prejudice designed to sow division amongst the masses using class distinctions and/or differences as its exclusionary tool of choice:
Since it was in fact slaves who were more naturally associated with manual labor—they were the prototypical manual laborers— elitist writers and reformers found in this proximity a productive avenue for attacking their suitability for political participation—for having a voice. For elite Greeks and Romans this was a productive strategy for denigrating and dehumanizing ‘the poor’ in political as well as daily life .
Paradoxically, these notions of disdain toward the poor (or the slavish), defined (mostly) by the ancient Greek elite as, ‘anyone who had to work for living’ (Arist. Pol. 1277b5-7; 1255b23-38), were not limited to the Athenian upper classes. In fact, as Lucia Cecchet suggests, due to the sheer force of elite ideological thought and its pervasive influence (in the 4th and 5th centuries), even within the jury courts of democratic Athens, the repulsion of poverty (including slaves) became commonly offered as a widely conventional view, ‘a communis opinio that the rich and poor shared alike’ ; attitudes that permeate western societies to this day, making evident, the powerful effects of elite capture through hegemonic cultural influence in ancient Athens and beyond.
In conclusion, throughout western history, ancient Athens has been viewed as the ultimate model of democracy in a political, ideological, philosophical, and ethical sense – as presented in this work. At the same time, hypocrisy, pertaining to these epitomes of democracy (demokratia – or rule by the many – as outlined by Pericles), adversely permeated its upper classes and beyond with lasting ramifications. Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle and Xenophon, for example, were all critical of democracy, focusing their ire upon the populous; the possibility of its bad decision making; and (what they believed to be), as ‘the [intrinsic] ignorance … of the demos, demagoguery and civil strife’ . Again, these great theorists thought of democracy not as the rule of the many (which was the general Athenian ideal of demokratia), but they portrayed it in a more threatening or hostile sense, such as, ‘the rule of the poor or the mob,’ which helps taint Athenian demokratia within recorded history with a prejudicial top-down class perspective throughout the millennia . The proximity between, slave and poor within the democratic confines of ancient Athens, made them susceptible, in both high-level institutional deliberation and, sometimes, in daily collaborations, to manipulative stratagems which ‘aimed to denigrate and even disenfranchise them by stressing the “slavish” nature of their occupations, as incompatible with the virtue required for political participation’ . Furthermore, enslavement, as implemented in ancient Athens and across time, populations and locations could differ enormously or, in fact, possess significant similarities. As is inferred, by ancient Greek scholars throughout this work, the characteristics which helped mold Greek slave culture and its expansion comprised, but were in no way limited to, the amount of prosperity slavery added to the fundamental aspects of that society’s supposed wellbeing, especially its economic growth and military strength. In most instances, throughout the ancient world and beyond, the capturing and subjugation of persons classified as salves was meant to possess, chastise, and/or diminish an economic rival. Thus, as noted, chattel slavery was quite widespread throughout the ancient world and beyond. That said, the agency and humanity, as offered by Orlando Patterson, of subjugated persons, and their relentless struggle for freedom, permeates the historical record (from Athens to Virginia) - which cannot and should not be ignored. Enslaved human beings left behind a powerful legacy of opposition and struggle to free themselves and the family members they so loved. Through the common bond (of unrelenting misery) they forged powerful alliances of resistance and revolt, despite the cultural forces arrayed against them – their historical age or geographical setting.
Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study (Harvard University Press, 1982), 13.
David M. Lewis, Greek Slave Systems in Their Eastern Mediterranean Context, c.800-146 BC, First edition. (Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2018), 34.
Kostas Vlassopoulos, “Greek Slavery: From Domination to Property and Back Again,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 131 (2011): 195.
Edward E. Cohen, Athenian Economy and Society: A Banking Perspective (Princeton University Press, 1992), 61–109.
Mirko Canevaro, “The Public Charge for Hubris Against Slaves: The Honour of the Victim and the Honour of the Hubristēs,” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 138 (2018): 100–126.
Lewis, Greek Slave Systems in Their Eastern Mediterranean Context, c.800-146 BC, 42–43.
David M. Lewis and Mirko Canevaro, “Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity,” in A Cultural History of Poverty in Antiquity (500 BCE – 800 AD), ed. Claire Taylor (Bloomsbury).
Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: Norton, 1995), 324.
Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia: An Annotated Edition, Notes on the State of Virginia (Yale University Press, 2022), 249.
Lewis and Canevaro, “Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity,” 7.
Lewis and Canevaro, 4.
Josiah Ober, “Inequality in Late-Classical Democratic Athens: Evidence and Models,” in Democracy and an Open-Economy World Order, ed. George C. Bitros and Nicholas C. Kyriazis (Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2017), 129–129.
Vincent J. Rosivach, “Enslaving ‘Barbaroi’ and the Athenian Ideology of Slavery,” Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 48, no. 2 (1999): 129.
Peter Kolchin, American Slavery, 1619-1877 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1993), 242.
Lewis and Canevaro, “Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity,” 15.
Thomas Harrison, “Classical Greek Ethnography and the Slave Trade,” Classical Antiquity 38, no. 1 (2019): 36–57.
Lewis and Canevaro, “Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity,” 29–30.
Lucia Cecchet, “Poverty as Argument in Athenian Forensic Speeches,” 2013, 61.
Ober quoted in Mirko Canevaro, “Democratic Deliberation in the Athenian Assembly: Procedures and Behaviours towards Legitimacy,” Annals HSS 73, 2019, 3.
Mogens Herman Hansen, The Tradition of Ancient Greek Democracy and Its Importance for Modern Democracy, Historisk-Filosofiske Meddelelser 93 (Copenhagen: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, 2005), 8.
Lewis and Canevaro, “Poverty, Race, and Ethnicity,” 29–30.
Stephen Joseph Scott is an essayist associated with The University of Edinburgh, School of History; a singer/songwriter, humanist/activist – a self-taught musician, and performer. As a musician, he uses American Roots Music to illustrate the current American social and political landscape.
How The U.S. War on Taiwanese Semiconductors Might Benefit Japan By: Vijay PrashadRead Now
On May 15, 2023, Berkshire Hathaway reported in a Form 13F filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it had completed the sale of its $4 billion stake in Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC). This sale completed a process that began in February 2023, when Berkshire Hathaway announced that it sold 86 percent of its holdings in TSMC. In April, Berkshire Hathaway’s leader Warren Buffett told Nikkei that the geopolitical tension between the United States and China was “certainly a consideration” in his decision to divest from TSMC. TSMC told Nikkei, is a “well-managed company” but that Berkshire Hathaway would find other places for its capital. At his May 6 morning meeting, Buffett said that TSMC “is one of the best-managed companies and important companies in the world, and you’ll be able to say the same thing five, ten or twenty years from now. I don’t like its location and reevaluated that.” By “location,” Buffett meant Taiwan, in the context of the threats made by the United States against China. He decided to wind down his investment in TSMC “in the light of certain things that were going on.” Buffett announced that he would move some of this capital towards the building of a fledgling U.S. domestic semiconductor industry.
TSMC, based in Hsinchu, Taiwan,, is the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer. In 2022, it accounted for 56 percent of the share of the global market and over 90 percent of advanced chip manufacturing. Warren Buffett’s investment in TSMC was based on the Taiwanese company’s immense grip on the world semiconductor market. In August 2022, U.S. President Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law, which will provide $280 billion to fund semiconductor manufacturing inside the United States. On December 6, 2022, Biden joined TSMC’s Chairman Dr. Mark Liu at the $40 billion expansion of TSMC’s semiconductor factories in North Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Liu said at the project’s announcement that the second TSMC factory is “a testimony that TSMC is also taking a giant step forward to help build a vibrant semiconductor ecosystem in the United States.”
The first TSMC plant will open in 2024 and the second, which was announced in December, will open in 2026. On February 22, 2023, the New York Times ran a long article (“Inside Taiwanese Chip Giant, a U.S. Expansion Stokes Tensions”), which pointed out—based on interviews with TSMC employees—that “high costs and managerial challenges” show “how difficult it is to transplant one of the most complicated manufacturing processes known to man halfway across the world.” At the December 6 announcement, Biden said, “American manufacturing is back,” but it is only back at a much higher cost (the plant’s construction cost is ten times more than it would have cost in Taiwan). “The most difficult thing about wafer manufacturing is not technology,” Wayne Chiu—an engineer who left TSMC in 2022—told the New York Times. “The most difficult thing is personnel management. Americans are the worst at this because Americans are the most difficult to manage.”
Blow up Taiwan
U.S. Ambassador Robert O’Brien, the former National Security Advisor of Donald Trump, told Steve Clemons, an editor at Semafor, at the Global Security Forum in Doha, Qatar, on March 13, 2023, “The United States and its allies are never going to let those [semiconductor] factories fall into Chinese hands.” China, O’Brien said, could build “the new OPEC of silicon chips” and thereby, “control the world economy.” The United States will prevent this possibility, he said, even if it means a military strike. On May 2, 2023, at a Milken Institute event, U.S. Congressman Seth Moulton said that if Chinese forces move into Taiwan, “we will blow up TSMC. … Of course, the Taiwanese really don’t like this idea.”
These outlandish statements by O’Brien and Moulton have a basis in a widely circulated paper from the U.S. Army War College, published in November 2021, by Jared M. McKinney and Peter Harris (“Broken Nest: Deterring China from Invading Taiwan”). “The United States and Taiwan should lay plans for a targeted scorched-earth strategy that would render Taiwan not just unattractive if ever seized by force, but positively costly to maintain. This could be done effectively by threatening to destroy facilities belonging to the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company,” they write.
Right after Moulton made these incendiary remarks, former U.S. defense undersecretary Michèle Flournoy said that it was a “terrible idea” and that such an attack would have a “$2 trillion impact on the global economy within the first year and you put manufacturing around the world at a standstill.”
Taiwan’s officials responded swiftly to Moulton, with minister of defense Chiu Kuo-cheng asking, “How can our national army tolerate this situation if he says he wants to bomb this or that?” While Chiu responded to Moulton’s statement about a military strike on TSMC, in fact, the U.S. government has already attacked the ability of this Taiwanese company to remain in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s economics vice minister Lin Chuan-neng said in response to these threats and Buffett’s sale of TSMC that his government “will do its utmost to let the world know that Taiwan is stable and safe.” These incendiary remarks aimed at China now threaten the collapse of Taiwan’s economy.
Made in Japan
In his May 6 meeting, Warren Buffett said something that gives a clue about where the semiconductor manufacturing might be diverted. “I feel better about the capital that we’ve got deployed in Japan than Taiwan,” he said. In 1988, 51 percent of the world’s semiconductors were made in Japan, but as of 2022, the number is merely 9 percent. In June 2022, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) announced it would put in 40 percent of a planned $8.6 billion for a semiconductor manufacturing plant by TSMC in Kumamoto. METI said in November that it has selected the Rapidus Corporation—which includes a stake by NTT, SoftBank, Sony, and Toyota—to manufacture next-generation 2-nanometer chips. It is likely that Berkshire Hathaway will invest in this new business.
Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Workers at Blue Bird Corporation in Fort Valley, Georgia, launched a union drive to secure better wages, work-life balance, and a voice on the job.
The company resisted them. History defied them. Geography worked against them.
But they stood together, believed in themselves, and achieved a historic victory that’s reverberating throughout the South.
About 1,400 workers at the electric bus manufacturer voted overwhelmingly in May 2023 to join the United Steelworkers (USW), reflecting the rise of collective power in a part of the country where bosses and right-wing politicians long contrived to foil it.
“It’s just time for a change,” explained Rinardo Cooper, a member of USW Local 572 and a paper machine operator at Graphic Packaging in Macon, Georgia.
Cooper, who assisted the workers at Blue Bird with their union drive, expects more Southerners to follow suit even if they face their own uphill battles.
Given the South’s pro-corporate environment, it’s no surprise that Georgia has one of the nation’s lowest union membership rates, 4.4 percent. North Carolina’s rate is even lower, at 2.8 percent. And South Carolina’s is 1.7 percent.
Many corporations actually choose to locate in the South because the low union density enables them to pay poor wages, skimp on safety, and perpetuate the system of oppression.
In a 2019 study, “The Double Standard at Work,” the AFL-CIO found that even European-based companies with good records in their home countries take advantage of workers they employ in America’s South.
They’ve “interfered with freedom of association, launched aggressive campaigns against employees’ organizing attempts, and failed to bargain in good faith when workers choose union representation,” noted the report, citing, among other abuses, Volkswagen’s union-busting efforts at a Tennessee plant.
“They keep stuffing their pockets and paying pennies on the dollar,” Cooper said of companies cashing in at workers’ expense.
The consequences are dire.
States with low union membership have significantly higher poverty, according to a 2021 study by researchers at the University of Minnesota and the University of California, Riverside. Georgia’s 14 percent poverty rate, for example, is among the worst in the country.
However, the tide is turning as workers increasingly see union membership as a clear path forward, observed Cooper, who left his own job at Blue Bird several months before the union win because the grueling schedule left him little time to spend with family.
Now, as a union paper worker, he not only makes higher wages than he did at Blue Bird but also benefits from safer working conditions and a voice on the job. And with the USW holding the company accountable, he’s free to take the vacation and other time off he earns.
Cooper’s story helped to inspire the bus company workers’ quest for better lives. But they also resolved to fight for their fair share as Blue Bird increasingly leans on their knowledge, skills, and dedication in the coming years.
The company stands to land tens of millions in subsidies from President Joe Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and other federal programs aimed at putting more electric vehicles on the roads, supercharging the manufacturing economy, and supporting good jobs.
These goals are inextricably linked, as Biden made clear in a statement congratulating the bus company workers on their USW vote. “The fact is: The middle class built America,” he said. “And unions built the middle class.”
Worker power is spreading not only in manufacturing but across numerous industries in the South.
About 500 ramp agents, truck drivers, and other workers at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in North Carolina also voted in May to form a union. Workers in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 2022 unionized the first Starbucks in the South.
And first responders in Virginia and utility workers in Georgia and Kentucky also formed unions in early 2023, while workers at Lowe’s in Louisiana launched groundbreaking efforts to unionize the home-improvement giant.
“I wouldn’t hesitate to tell any worker at any manufacturing place here that the route you need to take is the union. That’s the only fairness you’re going to get,” declared Anthony Ploof, who helped to lead dozens of co-workers at Carfair Composites USA into the USW in 2023.
Workers at the Anniston, Alabama, branch of the company make fiberglass-reinforced polymer components for vehicles, including hybrid and electric buses. Like all workers, they decided to unionize to gain a seat at the table and a means of holding their employer accountable.
Instead of fighting the union effort, as many companies do, Carfair remained neutral so the workers could exercise their will. In the end, 98 percent voted to join the USW, showing that workers overwhelmingly want unions when they’re free to choose without bullying, threats, or retaliation.
“It didn’t take much here,” said Ploof, noting workers had little experience with unions but educated themselves about the benefits and quickly came to a consensus on joining the USW.
“It’s reaching out from Carfair,” he added, noting workers at other companies in the area have approached him to ask, “How is that working out? How do we organize?”
As his new union brothers and sisters at Blue Bird prepare to negotiate their first contract, Cooper hopes to get involved in other organizing drives, lift up more workers, and continue changing the trajectory of the South.
“We just really need to keep putting the message out there, letting people know that there is a better way than what the employers are wanting you to believe,” he said.
Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).
This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.
Instead, an independent foreign policy is desperately needed—and gaining support.
Recently, the United States has been followed by a number of European countries in supporting a cold war policy toward Russia and China. This has created increasing problems in Europe—bringing a major war to the continent, creating serious economic difficulties, and intensifying a decline in living standards.
In this context, the case for Europe establishing an independent foreign policy has gained support, as a way of ensuring security and prosperity.
The U.S. Brings Hot War to Europe
Starting with the most extreme expression of the situation, the war in Ukraine has claimed tens of thousands of lives. The UN calculates nearly 18 million people need humanitarian assistance and millions have been displaced.
This tragedy was avoidable. The underlying cause of the war was the U.S. policy to expand NATO up to Russia’s border, including the proposal that Ukraine join NATO when Russia has repeatedly made clear that that is a ‘red line’ threat to its security interests. The U.S. continued to push for NATO expansion despite this.
The absence of an independent European foreign policy has been demonstrated in the policy of major European governments during the past year, with these governments supporting U.S. policy in Ukraine.
This has been extraordinarily expensive. In 2022, NATO powers allocated huge sums to Ukraine—about $50 billion from the U.S., €52 billion from the EU and its member states, and £2.3 billion from Britain. In 2023, there has been an escalation in military aid sent. After pressure from the U.S., Germany approved the deployment of their Leopard tanks, while the British government is sending depleted uranium munitions.
Militarization in Europe is clearly on the rise, in the past year, with major European governments increasing military spending—something the U.S. has called for over many years.
Last year, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged €100 billion in military spending, committing Germany to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense going forward. President Emmanuel Macron is increasing France’s military spending to around €60 billion by 2030—approximately double 2017’s allocation. Britain, historically the U.S.’s closest European ally, already spends 2.2 percent of GDP on the military, £48 billion a year.
The U.S., in turn, has 100,000 troops stationed in Europe and numerous military bases, including 119 in Germany.
The impact of this has negatively affected Europe’s interests. Without an effort to negotiate peace in Ukraine, rather than escalation, many will die and be displaced. Meanwhile, across Europe, there is an impact of high energy prices as a result of sanctions on Russia, while increased military spending diverts resources away from addressing the cost-of-living crisis. Europe has become more dangerous and poorer.
The U.S. has not supported recent proposals for peace in Ukraine, such as those from China, which means a prolonged war. European countries could pursue a different path and play a role in backing negotiations to end the conflict.
Global Cooperation Is the Key to Economic Prosperity
Economically, Europe faces a parallel crisis. Slow economic growth, high inflation, and government austerity policies are hitting living standards while some European governments’ policies toward Russia and China have made the situation worse.
Europe has been seriously damaged by participation in sanctions against Russia. These have increased energy prices while the U.S. has profited from selling more expensive liquefied gas to Europe to replace cheaper Russian gas delivered by pipelines. Journalist Seymour Hersh has made a serious case that the U.S. was also responsible for blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines between Russia and Germany. But European governments have failed to support the call for an independent investigation into this attack on Europe’s energy infrastructure.
The U.S. has also urged Europe to pursue a more anti-China posture. This recently led to Europe’s relationship with China deteriorating. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment between China and the EU, agreed in principle in December 2020, has not been signed despite the economic opportunities it opens for Europe. European governments are also being asked to join the U.S. attacks on China’s technology industry, some recently banning TikTok from government work phones with pressure for a wider ban.
The economic consequences of this direction would be serious for Europe. China is the EU’s largest trading partner and the most rapidly growing major economy. The IMF’s latest growth projections for 2023 estimate China will grow by 5.2 percent—six times faster than the euro area’s 0.8 percent. The potential benefits for Europe of increasing win-win economic cooperation with China are therefore considerable.
The Struggle for an Independent Foreign Policy
The U.S.’s new cold war policy has therefore tended to produce chaos in Europe. In light of this, there are now signs some major European politicians do not wish to continue down this course.
President Macron made a widely reported comment following his April 2023 visit to China. He stated that Europe must not be a “follower” of the U.S. when it comes to Taiwan, a key issue, and should instead pursue “strategic autonomy.” This followed significant economic deals struck between France and China during Macron’s visit. It remains to be seen whether Macron will have the political strength to follow through on such an independent approach, particularly given the backlash these comments immediately received from Washington.
In March 2023, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez struck a similarly independent tone, stating, “Relations between Europe and China do not need to be confrontational. There is ample room for win-win cooperation.”
Globally, the pursuit of an independent foreign policy is a growing trend. Such an approach has sustained peace in Asia with most countries focusing on economic development rather than confrontation. The recent breakthrough restoring diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, established with China aiding negotiations, opens up the possibility of overcoming a number of conflicts in the Middle East. In Latin America, Lula’s recent reelection in Brazil strengthens the political forces in favor of regional independence and development.
Trends in Europe seeing an independent foreign policy as important for the region’s future are therefore in line with this overall global development.
Fiona Edwards is a writer and activist based in London and a member of the No Cold War international committee. Follow Fiona on Twitter at @fio_edwards.
This article was produced by Globetrotter.
Claiming to protect children, Republicans are going after libraries and librarians instead of the police, gun manufacturers, and actual child sexual abusers.
Missouri Republicans in early April voted to cut all public funding for libraries as part of their state budget proposal.
Leading the move was Cody Smith, a top Republican lawmaker and chair of the state’s budget committee, who made no attempt to hide the fact that he was retaliating against librarians because they dared to join the ACLU in suing the state over a Republican-led book ban. Smith said, “I don’t think we should subsidize the attempts to overturn laws that we also created,” even though the ACLU is entirely funding the lawsuit.
Indeed, Republicans forced Missouri’s librarians into suing their state in what appears to be yet another flashpoint in the GOP’s increasingly desperate culture wars. In 2022 the GOP passed SB 775, criminalizing librarians for providing “sexually explicit” material to minors. They face a $2,000 fine or up to a year in jail if found in violation of the bizarre law.
Thankfully, the state Senate Appropriations Committee moved quickly to restore public library funding, with Senate Republican Lincoln Hough admitting, “I think it was kind of a punitive cut that the House made.”
But the threat still remains after Missouri’s Republican State Secretary Jay Ashcroft pushed through an administrative rule that threatens funding if libraries violate the book ban. He did so in an explicitly undemocratic manner, saying, “I have to figure out how to do this, because by rule I can get it done much more quickly than if I wait on the legislature.”
“Defund the Library” could be the GOP’s new slogan, succinctly encompassing a free-market agenda to destroy public funding of institutions that enlighten and educate, all under the disingenuous banner of “protecting children.”
Missouri’s library debacle isn’t an isolated incident. Patmos Library in Jamestown, Michigan, lost its public funding last November after it refused to ban books that conservative voters deemed objectionable.
Louisiana Republicans are also advancing a state bill that threatens library funding over material deemed objectionable.
And Texas Republicans voted to cut library funding in retaliation for “drag queen story hour” readings, again claiming to do so in order to protect children from being exposed to men and gender-nonconforming individuals wearing makeup and dresses with pride.
A Vox analysis of libraries under attack explained the disturbing trend: “Usually, lawmakers start with book bans. If the bans aren’t as effective as they’d hope, they escalate to threatening to defund local libraries.”
U.S. libraries have long been institutions embodying freedom: the freedom to learn, and to do so anonymously, without regard to one’s financial status. When Congress rushed through the USA PATRIOT Act in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, librarians were among the first to counter the anti-democratic law, refusing to spy on their users for the government. They stood up to the federal government and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One Connecticut librarian named Peter Chase, who was bound by a government gag order over a requirement to turn over records, said, “As a librarian, I believe it is my duty and responsibility to speak out about any infringement to the intellectual freedom of library patrons.”
Libraries offer free use of computers and free internet service, an especially important service for people living in low-income neighborhoods, rural areas, and tribal communities. During the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, when lockdowns forced children out of classrooms, many libraries created community hot spots and enabled Wi-Fi access in their parking lots so that kids without home internet could connect remotely with their classrooms.
Libraries do so much more than lend books. They offer passport services, help with job applications and school research, and provide low-cost or free spaces for community events. They promote local authors and participate in city-wide reading programs and book clubs. A 2021 California report on libraries in the state concluded that “Through digital labs, makerspaces, career centers and business resources, memory labs, public programs, community partnerships, and online resources, public libraries help communities explore, learn, connect, and have fun beyond their traditional ‘library’ brand.”
When Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders ran for president in the 2016 election, he cited public funding of libraries as an example of democratic socialism in action, and libraries as “socialist institutions.”
Indeed, these socialist institutions are hugely popular. A Gallup poll of leisure activities conducted every 10 years found in 2019 that going to the library was “the most common cultural activity Americans engage in,” even more so than going to the movie theater. Libraries were far more popular among women than men, and low-income residents were far more likely to use their local library’s services than their higher-income neighbors.
In Michigan, where several libraries are dealing with book bans and where Patmos Library in Jamestown faced defunding, a March 2023 poll found broad support among the public, across party lines and political affiliations, to support libraries and the free dissemination of information.
These days it seems as though any public institution that actually helps and protects Americans is ripe for Republican-led destruction. It’s no wonder that conservatives are taking aim at this pillar of American democracy, deeming libraries “bastions of Marxism,” and “woke” purveyors of material that encourages racial justice and questions sexual orthodoxy. Not only have hundreds of books been banned across the country, but Republicans, like the ones in Missouri, are threatening librarians across the nation with fines and imprisonment. The Washington Post in a May 2023 analysis found that “[a]t least seven states have passed such laws in the last two years.”
Unlike police, who routinely kill and maim Americans, and who rightfully deserve to be targeted with defunding, and unlike gun manufacturers whose weapons continue to wreak constant violence and death across the country, librarians are the ones protecting and serving the public and its right to access information freely. But the GOP prefers to protect police and weapons makers while attacking librarians.
One New Jersey high school librarian named Martha Hickson was shocked to face unfounded accusations from a conservative of being “a pedophile, a pornographer, and a groomer of children,” during a heated debate over a book ban.
It turns out that not only do Republicans have a deep disdain for librarians, but also for children, the purported focus of their vociferous concerns.
Setting aside the GOP’s failure to protect children from mass shooters, Republican lawmakers have often shielded sexual predators. Pennsylvania Republicans refused to hold the church accountable for years of sexual abuse of children. Dozens of House Republicans refused to vote for the Respect for Child Survivors Act, a bill that would have protected child victims of sexual abuse. And Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert even praised a pastor friend and read his sermon on the House floor—a pastor who was a convicted child sexual abuser.
In fact, Daily Kos has a forum where readers submit news reports of “Republican Sexual Predators, Abusers, and Enablers.” The list is shockingly long.
Indeed, we should not be surprised to find out then that a Kansas City right-wing activist named Ryan Utterback, who pushed for Missouri’s book ban on the basis of protecting kids from LGBT-themed books, turned out to be an accused sexual predator. Utterback faces a felony charge of second-degree child sexual molestation.
In the battle over who really protects our children—librarians or Republicans—librarians are the ones who belong in our good books.
Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
US would rather see the world end than lose its supremacy By: Global TimesRead Now
The recent developments in East Asia, such as the détente between South Korea and Japan, South Korea's increasing hostility toward China, and the talk of a liaison office of NATO in Tokyo, have raised alert of observers, as the US escalates confrontation with China. What are the obstacles for East Asia to maintain peace? Global Times (GT) reporter Wang Wenwen discussed these issues with K.J. Noh (Noh), a US-based journalist, political analyst, writer and educator specializing in the geopolitics and political economy of the Asia-Pacific region. He is a member of Veterans for Peace and Pivot to Peace.
GT: It is hyped by some Western media outlets that an East Asian NATO that comprises the US, Japan, South Korea and even China's Taiwan region should be established. What do you think?
Noh: I think it's an act of madness. NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, neither Japan or South Korea is in the North Atlantic. They are all in the Pacific. NATO is a Cold War relic that should have been disbanded after the fall of the Soviet Union. But since then, it served and it still serves as the military arm of US imperialism and US force projection around the world. It comes into the Pacific to threaten China, and talks of preserving peace or upholding human rights, which is hypocrisy beyond belief.
GT: Japan is in talks to open a NATO office. How will it affect regional stability, as the US pursues confrontation with China?
Noh: It will destroy regional stability. Anytime you hear the word "stability" from the US media, they are really talking about destabilization. Anytime you hear the word "deterrence," they are really talking about provocation. It will escalate the threat. It's not just a liaison office, it is an office to prepare for interoperability between the US and Japan.
So it is very threatening. The idea behind this is to expand the theater of war and the number of forces that are pinching China. But it's an extraordinarily dangerous confrontation and provocative act, and everybody in the West would be opposing it.
GT: What are the obstacles for East Asia to maintain peace? What lessons should East Asia draw from the ongoing Ukraine crisis?
Noh: The key obstacle for peace in East Asia is the US. Asia wants peace. China certainly wants peace, but the US wants war. It's good at waging war. I'm talking not just hybrid warfare, greyzone warfare, technological warfare, trade warfare, academic warfare, legal warfare, cultural warfare, information warfare. It's doing all of that. But it is also preparing for shooting war, for kinetic war. It will go to war to maintain its hegemony. The US would rather see the end of the world, rather than the end of their supremacy.
As for the lessons of the Ukraine war, it's important for all the countries in East Asia not to engage in a proxy war and not to be provoked into responding. The US will do everything to cross every red-line to provoke a war. It wants to create a kind of bandwagon strategy against China and get the entire world to sanction China as it has done with Ukraine.
What China is doing is very important, because it has proposed peace and it's acting as the wise mediator. I believe that over the long term peace defeats war, just as the soft defeats the hard, civilization defeats barbarism, ethics defeats wrong. Taking the higher road and engaging with diplomacy and working for peace, China is setting an example for the world that the rest of the world will eventually follow. At this extraordinary, dangerous and difficult moment, it really is the fact that the US wants to trigger war. The US certainly doesn't want peace that China has mediated or ushered in, because that would be just as bad as losing the war, and it would lose its global legitimacy.
We are in a very dangerous moment, but the lessons that we should learn is to look at Ukraine and don't let the US bring war to your shores. We have to work for peace and not be fooled by the lies of a failing patron that is so intent on either having its way or wreaking havoc around the world.
GT: The G7 Summit was held from Friday to Sunday. In recent years, the G7's original nature of economic cooperation has weakened, but its military and ideological nature has continued to increase. What do you think of G7's role as an accomplice of war and economic coercion?
Noh: These countries are going along, not because they see China as a threat, but because the US is actually the threat to them. If they don't bandwagon with the US, there will be mistreated sanctions. In a certain sense, they are an unwilling coalition.
The US wants to create as many gang members as it can to do its bidding to gang up against China, so that they can criticize China and say China is a threat to the rules-based order. It's the US usual propaganda. We can also note that there is a dissension within the G7 itself. France has made some noises about being more independent.
On a foundation level, economic cooperation with China is essential for all the Western states. China is the only major economy that's growing, and the only economy that has the capacity to bring these Western Atlantic states out of the economic morass. If they were thinking rationally and if they had their own interests at heart, they would be seeking to build and strengthen relations with China, and they would do away with this absurd demonization of China.
But to a large extent, the US is the ventriloquist behind the scenes, and the G7 largely are going to be capitulating and repeating the US lies. They will use every symbolic and rhetorical strategy to reinforce their hostility to China. That is a great mistake and a great tragedy.
GT: It seems that South Korea is tilting more toward the US. There has also been a growing negative trend in China-South Korea relations, as South Korea's president touched upon China's core issue, the Taiwan question. Do you think Seoul is jeopardizing its diplomatic balance and losing strategic independence?
Noh: It's true that South Korea is leaning more towards the US. The Yoon administration has put all of its chips onto aligning with the US. The key thing to understand is that inside South Korea's DNA in its history, South Korea has always been a US client state. The state of South Korea was created artificially by the US, by dividing the peninsula into two.
What we're seeing now is a reversion to the historical template. Yoon is giving the US everything it wants. Not long after he was elected, he came up with the South Korean Indo-Pacific strategy. This is essentially the US Indo-Pacific strategy. The US' pivot to Asia strategy is rebranded. It is a plan to prevent China from developing and even to encircle and attack it.
The US is provoking South Korea as a proxy or a pretext to escalate against China. Essentially, the key point is that South Korea does not have strategic independence.
This article was republished from Global Times.
Image credit: Left Voice.
The history of Marxism has a parallel history of counter-Marxism — intellectual currents that posture as the true Marxism.
Even before Marxism came into being as a coherent ideology, Marx and Engels devoted an often-neglected section of their 1848 Communist Manifesto to debunking the existing contenders for true socialism.
As the workers’ movement painfully sought a system of beliefs to animate its response to capitalism, the ideas of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels gradually won over workers, peasants, and the oppressed. It was not an easy victory. Liberalism — the dominant ideology of the capitalist class — served workers and peasants in their fight against absolutist tyranny.
With capitalism and liberal institutions firmly established, anarchism — the ideology of the disgruntled petty-bourgeois — rivalled Marxism for the leadership of the workers’ movement. Contradictorily, embracing extreme individualism and Utopian democracy distilled from capitalism, yet voicing a bitter hatred of capitalist institutions and economic arrangements, the anarchists failed to offer a viable escape from the crushing weight of capitalism.
Once Bolshevism seized power in 1917, the workers’ movement found an example of real-existing-socialism led by real-avowed-Marxists, a powerful beacon for the way forward in the struggle against capitalism. The victory of the Russian Revolution established Marxism as the most promising road for an exploited majority, with Leninism the only successful ideology for revolutionary change and socialism. To this day, Leninism has remained the only proven guide to socialism.
Immediately after the revolution, rival “Marxisms” sprang up.
The failure of subsequent European revolutions outside of Russia, especially Germany, sheared away numerous intellectuals, like Karl Korsch and György Lukács,who imagined a different, supposedly better, path to proletarian revolution. Buoyed by material support from benefactors, university appointments, and the many eager sponsors of class betrayal, critics and detractors of Leninism abounded.
Especially in the West — North America and Europe– where the working class was significant and growing dramatically, dissidence, class betrayal, and opportunism proved disruptive forces in the world Communist movement, forces that capitalist rulers were eager to support. Young people, inexperienced workers, aspiring intellectuals, and the déclassé, were especially vulnerable to the appeal of independence, purity, idealism, and liberal values. Money, career opportunities, and celebrity were readily available to those who were willing to sell these ideas.
Indeed, not every critic of Marxism-Leninism — revolutionary Communism — was or is insincere or without merit, but honesty demands recognition that no real advocate for overthrowing capitalism could achieve prominence, celebrity, or a mainstream soap box in the capitalist West. He or she could be a curiosity or a token for the sake of appearances — a stooge.
Conversely, any intellectual or political figure who does achieve wide-spread prominence or influence cannot represent a serious, existential challenge to capitalism when the road to prominence and influence is patrolled by the guardians of capitalism.
Nonetheless, the workers’ movement has been plagued by divisive ideological trends or fads spawned by independent voices who, wittingly or not, are exploited by and render service to the capitalist class.
In the West, it is almost impossible to be a young radical and not be tempted by a veritable ideological marketplace of putative anti-capitalist or socialist theories, vying with one another for allegiance. Since the demise of unvarnished, real-existing socialism in the Soviet Union and the disorientation of many Communist and Workers’ parties, the competition of ideas has created even more confusion.
Clearly, the working-class movement, the revolutionary socialist movement, needs guidance to avoid distractions, bogus theories, and corrupted ideas. The march of political neophytes through the arcade of specious, fantastic ideas is a great tragedy, especially regarding those ideas posing as Marxist.
Happily, a new generation of Marxist thinkers are challenging the allure of Marxist pretenders, more specifically, those associated with what has come to be called “Western Marxism.” A sympathetic Wikipedia article offers about as accurate a definition of the words as one might want: “The term denotes a loose collection of theorists who advanced an interpretation of Marxism distinct from both classical and Orthodox Marxism and the Marxism-Leninism of the Soviet Union.” It couldn’t be made clearer: Western Marxism is anything but the Marxism-Leninism that has buttressed worker-engaged revolutionary parties since the time of the Bolshevik revolution!
Marxist historian and journalist, Vijay Prashad, gave a seminar at the Marx Memorial Library on November 21, 2022, in which he excoriated the Western Marxism of the 1980s:
"There was a sustained attack on Marxism in this period, led by New Left Books, now Verso Books, in London, which published Hegemony and Socialist Strategy by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe in 1985. The book mischievously utilised the work of Antonio Gramsci to make an attack at Marxism, to in fact champion something they called “post-Marxism.” Post-structuralism, post-Marxism, post-colonialism: this became the flavour of academic literature coming out of Western countries from the 1980s… Particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a great weakness in our ability to fight back against this denigration of Marxism in the name of post-Marxism… When they [Laclau and Mouffe] talk about “agency” and “the subject” and so on, they have basically walked away from the structuring impact of political economy and returned to a pre-Marxist time; they have in fact not gone beyond Marxism but back to a time before Marxism." (“Viewing Decolonization through a Marxist Lens,” published in Communist Review, Winter 2022/2023)
Prashad places the influential works of Hardt and Negri and Deleuze and Guattari in the same post-Marxist mix.
He regrets the multiculturalism turn because it ”basically took the guts out of the anticolonial, anti-racist critique, at the global level you had the arrival of ‘postcolonial’ thought, and also ‘decoloniality’ — in other words, let’s look at power, let’s look at culture, but let’s not look at the political economy that structures everyday life and behavior and reproduces the colonial mentality; that has to be off the table… So, we entered into a kind of academic morass, where Marxism was not, in a sense, permitted to enter.”
Prashad might well have added the intrusion of rational-choice theory into Marxism in the 1980s, an uninvited analysis of Marxist theory through the lens of methodological individualism and liberal egalitarianism. One leading exponent of what came to be called “analytical Marxism” eviscerated the robust Marxist concept of exploitation by proving that if we have inequality as an initial condition, we will quite logically reproduce inequality– a trivial derivation with little relevance to understanding the historically evolved concept of labor exploitation..
Prashad might have noted the continuing influence of postmodern relativism upon Marxist theory in the 1980s and beyond, a denigration of any claim that Marxism is the science of society. For the postmodernist, Marxism can only be, at best, one of several competing interpretations of society, coherent within Marxist circles, but forbidden from making any greater claim for universality. Moreover, the postmodernist denies that there can ever be any valid overarching theory of capitalism, any “metanarrative” that plots a socio-economic system’s trajectory. While its flaws can not be addressed here, the late Marxist historian Ellen Meiksins Wood exposed the academic trend with great clarity.
Another excellent, contemporary critique of Western Marxism can be found in the writings of Marxist author Gabriel Rockhill. Rockhill skillfully and thoroughly discredits the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxism, especially its most celebrated thinkers, Hockheimer, Habermas, Adorno, and Marcuse, exposing their fealty to various sponsors. Those who paid the bills enjoyed sympathetic ideas, an outcome often found with the practitioners of Western Marxism.
Rockhill also does a scathing exposé of today’s most prominent Marxist poseur, Slavoj Žižek. I was happy to heap praise on Rockhill’s deflation of Žižek’s unmatched ego in an earlier post. Both Rockhill’s unmasking of the Frankfurt School and his destruction of the Žižek cult are essential reading in contesting Western Marxism.
Western Marxists can conveniently overlook capitalism’s history of genocidal, undemocratic, and exploitative sins while excoriating the Fidelistas for settling accounts with a few hundred Batista torturers. They deplore the sweeping changes that Soviet and Chinese Communists implemented in agriculture to overcome the frequent famines that devastated their countries when the changes unfortunately coincided with severe famines, as though great change for the better could evade natural events and tragedy anywhere but in their imagination.
They turn a blind eye to the human costs imposed on humanity by ruling elites’ resistance to great change, while denouncing revolutionaries for seeking that change and risking a better future. Western Marxism diminishes the great accomplishments of real existing socialism, while relentlessly denouncing the errors incurred in socialist construction. Garrido effectively underscores the necessary pains and errors in realizing a new world, in escaping the clutches of ruthless capitalism.
As Garrido notes:
This is the sort of ‘Marxism’ that imperialism appreciates, the type which CIA agent Thomas Braden called “the compatible left.” This is the ‘Marxism’ which functions as the vanguard of controlled counter-hegemony.
He eloquently summarizes:
Socialism for the Western Marxists is, in the words of Marx, a purely scholastic question. They are not interested in real struggle, in changing the world, but in continuously purifying an idea, one that is debated amongst other ivory-tower Marxists and which is used to measure against the real world. The label of ‘socialist’ or ‘Marxist’ is sustained merely as a counter-cultural and edgy identity which exists in the fringes of quotidian society. That is what Marxism is reduced to in the West — a personal identity.
I might add that it is also a commonplace for Western Marxists to invest heavily in other-people’s-socialism. Rather than engaging their own working classes, Western Marxists fight surrogate struggles for socialism through the solidarity movement, picking and choosing the “purest” struggles and debating the merits of various socialisms vicariously.
Garrido elaborates on socialism-as-an-investment-in-identity:
In the context of the hyper-individualist West’s treatment of socialism as a personal identity, the worst thing that may happen for these ‘socialists’ is for socialism to be achieved. That would mean the total destruction of their counter-cultural fringe identity. Their utter estrangement from the working masses of the country may in part be read as an attempt to make socialist ideas fringe enough to never convince working people, and hence, never conquer political power.
The success of socialism would entail a loss of selfhood, a destruction of the socialist-within-capitalism identity. The socialism of the West is grounded on an identity which hates the existing order but hates even more the loss of identity which transcending it would entail.
Garrido’s objectives are not completed with his masterful dissection of Western Marxism. In addition, he devotes great attention to Western Marxism’s critique of the Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) in a section entitled China and the Purity Fetish of Western Marxism. Of course, he is correct to deplore Western Marxism’s unprincipled collaboration with bourgeois ideologues in attacking every policy or act of Peoples’ China since its revolution in 1949. As with the USSR, any honest, deeply considered estimation of the trajectory of the PRC must — warts and all — see it as a positive in humanity’s necessary transcendence of capitalism.
As anti-imperialists, we must defend the PRC’s right (and other countries’ rights) to choose its own course.
As Marxists, we must defend the Chinese Communist Party’s right to find its own road to socialism.
But Garrido goes further, by mounting an impassioned, but one-sided defense of Chinese socialism. As a militant advocate of the dialectical method, this is an odd departure. As esteemed Marxist R. Palme Dutt argued in the 1960s, the pregnant question for a dialectical materialist is Whither China? not: Does the PRC measure up to some pure Platonic form of socialism?
A more balanced view of the PRC road would reference the significance of the Communist Party’s overwhelmingly peasant class base in its foundation, its engagement with Chinese nationalism, and the strong voluntarist tendency in Mao Zedong Thought. It would consider the 1960s’ break with the World Communist movement and the rapprochement with the most reactionary elements in US ruling circles in the 1970s, capped by the shameful material support for US and South African surrogates in the liberation wars of Southern Africa. PRC was funding Jonas Savimbi and UNITA while Cuban internationalists were dying fighting them and their apartheid allies. Which suggests the question: Could Peoples’ China do more to help Cuba overcome the US blockade, as did the Soviet Union?
A fair account would address the PRC invasion of Vietnam in 1979 and Peoples’ China’s unwavering defense of the Khmer Rouge. Surely, all these factors play a role in assessing the PRC’s road to socialism.
These uncomfortable facts make it hard to agree with Garrido that the PRC has been “a beacon in the anti-imperialist struggle.”
Of course, today is another matter. My own view is that the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is “riding the tiger” of a substantial capitalist sector, to use imagery reminiscent of high Maoism. How well they are riding it is in question, but they are indeed riding it. There are many promising developments, but also some that are worrisome.
In any case, the comrades who are critical or skeptical of the Chinese road should not be summarily swept into the dustbin with Western Marxism.
Garrido brings his purity fetish home when he discusses US socialist organizing. He casts a critical eye on the class character of most of the US left, rooting it in the petty-bourgeoisie and the influence of petty-bourgeois ideas. He locates the conveyor for these ideas in academia, the media, and NGOs. Additional material support for petty-bourgeois ideology comes from non-profit corporations and, of course, the Democratic Party.
The petty-bourgeois bias of the US left reinforces its hyper-critical attitude toward movements attempting to actually secure a socialist future. Wherever socialists or socialist-oriented militants tackle the enormous obstacles before them, many on the left will insist that they adhere to courteous liberal standards, an unrealistic demand guaranteeing failure. Garrido mocks the insistence on revolutionary purity: “…the problem is that those things in the real world called socialism were never actually socialism; socialism is really this beautiful idea that exists in a pure form in my head….”
The purity fetish of the middle strata extends to radicals who scorn workers as “backward” or “deplorable.” Garrido counters this purity obsession with a wonderful quote from Lenin: one “can (and must) begin to build socialism, not with abstract human material, or with human material especially prepared by us, but with the human material bequeathed to us by capitalism.”
Regarding the Trump vote and the working class, Garrido scolds the US left:
…they don’t see that what is implicit in that vote is a desire for something new, something which only the socialist movement, not Trump or any bourgeois party, could provide. Instead, they see in this chunk of the working class a bunch of racists bringing forth a ‘fascist’ threat which can only be defeated by giving up on the class struggle and tailing the Democrats. Silly as it may sound, this policy dominates the contemporary communist movement in the U.S.
While not all of the left is guilty of this failure, the charge is not far off the mark.
Finally, Garrido faults much of the US left for its blanket dismissal of progressive trends and achievements in US history. Many leftists debase heroic struggles in US history by painting a portrait of a relentless trajectory of reaction, racism, and imperialism. Garrido correctly sees this as an instantiation of a negative purity fetish– denouncing every page of US history as fatally wanting and inauthentic: “…purity fetish Marxists add on to their futility in developing subjective conditions for revolution by completely disconnecting themselves from the traditions the American masses have come to accept.”
While this is true, it must be remembered that there is always the danger that US history would be celebrated so vigorously that the country’s legacy of cruelty and bloody massacre might be muted by patriotic zeal. During the Popular Front era, for example, Communist leader Earl Browder’s slogan that “Communism is twentieth century Americanism” invested too much social justice in Americanism and too little in Communism.
US history and tradition is contradictory and Marxists should always expose that contradiction– a legacy of both great, historic social change and ugly inhumanity. The country’s origin shares a tragic settler-colonial past with countries like Australia and South Africa in its genocidal treatment of indigenous people. Those same settlers established or tolerated the brutal exploitation of Africans forced into chattel slavery. While we could lay the blame at the doorstep of the US ruling class, it is US history as well.
At the same time, the US revolution was the most radical for its time and every generation produced a consequential movement to correct the failings of the legacy or advance the horizon of social progress. An emancipating civil war, the expansion of suffrage, workers’ gains against corporations, social welfare and insurance, and a host of other milestones mark the peoples’ history.
While writing and reflecting on the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution (Echoes of the Marsellaise), Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm couldn’t help but be struck by the lesser global influence of the earlier US revolution upon nineteenth-century social change. He thought that reformers and revolutionaries of the time could recognize their point of departure “more readily in the Ancien Régime of France than in the free colonists and slave-holders of North America.” Undoubtedly, the stain of the genocide of indigenous peoples and brutal slavery influenced that disposition.
Indeed, Hobsbawn’s observation underscores the contradictory character of the US past. It is not a “purity fetish” that explains this judgment, but the cold, harsh facts of US history.
Nonetheless, it is appropriate for Garrido to remind us of the many revolutionaries — Marx, Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, William Z Foster, Herbert Aptheker, Fidel, and more — who have both drawn inspiration and offered inspiration from the victories of the people as well as the fierce resistance to ruling-class oppression contained in US history. He effectively cites Communist leader Georgi Dimitrov who rejects the practice of national nihilism — the denigration of all expressions of national pride and accomplishment. Within every national identity is an identity to be celebrated in its resistance to oppression and its dedication to a better way of life. Workers must draw national humility from the failures of the past, while drawing national pride from the victories over injustice. A left that attends to only one and not both will fail the working class.
Western Marxism — Marxist scholasticism, disconnected from revolutionary practice — distracts far-too-many well-meaning, hungry-for-change potential allies on the arduous road to socialism. It is heartening to find voices rising to challenge the sterile, obscurantism of this distraction, while defending and promoting the tradition of Marxism-Leninism and Communism. We should encourage and support Marxists like Prashad, Rockhill, and Garrido in conducting this struggle.
Greg Godels writes on current events, political economy, and the Communist movement from a Marxist-Leninist perspective. Read other articles by Greg, or visit Greg's website.
This article was republished from Dissident Voice.
‘Market Fundamentalism’ Is an Obstacle to Social Progress By: Richard D. WolffRead Now
A changing world order, a shrinking U.S. empire, migrations and related demographic shifts, and major economic crashes have all enhanced religious fundamentalisms around the world. Beyond religions, other ideological fundamentalisms likewise provide widely welcomed reassurances. One of the latter—market fundamentalism—invites and deserves criticism as a major obstacle to navigating this time of rapid social change. Market fundamentalism attributes to that particular social institution a level of perfection and “optimality” quite parallel to what fundamentalist religions attribute to prophets and divinities.
Yet markets are just one among many social means of rationing. Anything scarce relative to demand for it raises the same question: Who will get it and who must do without it? The market is one institutional way to ration the scarce item. In a market, those who want it bid up its price leading others to drop out because they cannot or will not pay the higher price. When higher prices have eliminated the excess of demand over supply, scarcity is gone, and no more bidding up is required. Those able and willing to pay the higher prices are satisfied by receiving distributions of the available supply.
The market has thus rationed out the scarce supply. It has determined who gets and who does not. Clearly, the richer a buyer is, the more likely that buyer will welcome, endorse, and celebrate “the market system.” Markets favor rich buyers. Such buyers in turn will more likely support teachers, clerics, politicians, and others who promote arguments that markets are “efficient,” “socially positive,” or “best for everyone.”
Yet even the economics profession—which routinely celebrates markets—includes a sizable—if underemphasized—literature about how, why, and when free (i.e., unregulated) markets do not work efficiently or in socially positive ways. That literature has developed concepts like “imperfect competition,” “market distortions,” and “externalities,” to pinpoint markets failing to be efficient or benefit social welfare. Social leaders who have had to deal with actual markets in society have likewise repeatedly intervened in them when and because markets worked in socially unacceptable ways. Thus, we have minimum wage laws, maximum interest-rate laws, price-gouging laws, and tariff and trade wars. Practical people know that “leaving matters to the market” has often yielded disasters (e.g., the crashes of 2000, 2008, and 2020) overcome by massive, sustained governmental regulation of and intervention in markets.
So then why do market fundamentalists celebrate a rationing system—the market—that in both theory and practice is more replete with holes than a block of Swiss cheese? Libertarians go so far as to promote a “pure” market economy as a realizable utopia. Such a pure market system is their policy to fix the massive problems they admit exist in contemporary (impure) capitalism. Libertarians are forever frustrated by their lack of success.
For many reasons, markets ought not claim anyone’s loyalty. Among alternative systems of rationing scarcity, markets are clearly inferior. For example, in many religious, ethical, and moral traditions, basic precepts urge or insist that scarcity be addressed by a rationing system based on their respective concepts of human need. Many other rationing systems—including the U.S. version used in World War II—dispensed with the market system and substituted a needs-based rationing system managed by the government.
Rationing systems could likewise be based on age, type of work performed, employment status, family situation, health conditions, distance between home and workplace, or other criteria. Their importance relative to one another and relative to some composite notion of “need,” could and should be determined democratically. Indeed, a genuinely democratic society would let the people decide which (if any) scarcities should be rationed by the market and which (if any) by alternative rationing systems.
Market fetishists will surely trot out their favorite rationalizations with which to regale students. For example, they argue that when buyers bid up prices for scarce items other entrepreneurs will rush in with more supply to capture those higher prices, thereby ending the scarcity. This simple-minded argument fails to grasp that the entrepreneurs cashing in on the higher prices for scarce items have every incentive and many of the means to prevent, delay, or block altogether the entry of new suppliers. Actual business history shows that they often do so successfully. In other words, glib assurances about reactions to market prices are ideological noise and little else.
We can also catch the market fetishizers in their own contradictions. When justifying the sky-high pay packages of mega-corporate CEOs, we are told their scarcity requires their high prices. The same folks explain to us that to overcome scarcity of wage labor, it was necessary to cut U.S. workers’ pandemic-era unemployment supplement, not to raise their wages. During times of scarcity, markets often reveal to capitalists the possibility of earning higher profits on lower volumes of product and sales. If they prioritize profits and when they can afford to bar others’ entry, they will produce and sell less at higher prices to a richer clientele. We are watching that process unfold in the United States now.
The neoliberal turn in U.S. capitalism since the 1970s yielded big profits from a globalized market system. However, outside the purview of neoliberal ideology, that global market catapulted the Chinese economy forward far faster than the United States and far faster than the United States found acceptable. Thus the United States junked its market celebrations (substituting intense “security” concerns) to justify massive governmental interventions in markets to thwart Chinese development: a trade war, tariff wars, chip subsidies, and sanctions. Awkwardly and unpersuasively, the economic profession keeps teaching about the efficiency of free or pure markets, while students learn from the news all about U.S. protectionism, market management, and the need to turn away from the free market gods previously venerated.
Then too the market-based health care system of the United States challenges market fundamentalism: the United States has 4.3 percent of the world population but accounted for 16.9 percent of the world’s COVID-19 deaths. Might the market system bear a significant share of the blame and fault here? So dangerous is the potential disruption of ideological consensus that it becomes vital to avoid asking the question, let alone pursuing a serious answer.
During the pandemic, millions of workers were told that they were “essential” and “front-line responders.” A grateful society appreciated them. As they often noted, the market had not rewarded them accordingly. They got very low wages. They must not have been scarce enough to command better. That’s how markets work. Markets do not reward what is most valuable and essential. They never did. They reward what is scarce relative to people’s ability to buy, no matter the social importance we give to the actual work and roles people play. Markets pander to where the money is. No wonder the rich subsidize market fundamentalism. The wonder is why the rest of society believes or tolerates it.
Richard D. Wolff is professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a visiting professor in the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University, in New York. Wolff’s weekly show, “Economic Update,” is syndicated by more than 100 radio stations and goes to 55 million TV receivers via Free Speech TV. His three recent books with Democracy at Work are The Sickness Is the System: When Capitalism Fails to Save Us From Pandemics or Itself, Understanding Socialism, and Understanding Marxism, the latter of which is now available in a newly released 2021 hardcover edition with a new introduction by the author.
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Post-9/11 US Conflicts Killed Over 4.5 Million People By: Brett WilkinsRead Now
The author of a study on the people killed indirectly by the War on Terror calls on the U.S. to step up reconstruction and assistance efforts in post-9/11 war zones.
Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. (Filetime, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)
The post-9/11 War on Terror may have caused at least 4.5 million deaths in around half a dozen countries, according to a report published Monday by the preeminent academic institution studying the costs, casualties, and consequences of a war in which U.S. bombs and bullets are still killing and wounding people in multiple nations.
The new report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs shows “how death outlives war” by examining people killed indirectly by the War on Terror in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
“In a place like Afghanistan, the pressing question is whether any death can today be considered unrelated to war,” Stephanie Savell, Costs of War co-director and author of the report, said in a statement. “Wars often kill far more people indirectly than in direct combat, particularly young children.”
The publication “reviews the latest research to examine the causal pathways that have led to an estimated 3.6-3.7 million indirect deaths in post-9/11 war zones,” while “the total death toll in these war zones could be at least 4.5-4.6 million and counting, though the precise mortality figure remains unknown.”
As The Washington Post — which first reported on the analysis — details:
“Since 2010, a team of 50 scholars, legal experts, human rights practitioners, and physicians participating in theCosts of War project have kept their own calculations. According to their latest assessment, more than 906,000 people, including 387,000 civilians, died directly from post-9/11 wars. Another 38 million people have been displaced or made refugees. The U.S. federal government, meanwhile, has spent over $8 trillion on these wars, the research suggests.
According to the report, “The large majority of indirect war deaths occur due to malnutrition, pregnancy and birth-related problems, and many illnesses including infectious diseases and noncommunicable diseases like cancer.”
One 2012 study found that more than half of the babies born in the Iraqi city of Fallujah between 2007 and 2010 had birth defects. Among the pregnant woman surveyed in the study, more than 45 percent experienced miscarriages in the two-year period following the 2004 U.S. assaults on Fallujah. Geiger counter readings of depleted uranium-contaminated sites in densely populated Iraqi urban areas have consistently shown radiation levels that are 1,000 to 1,900 times higher than normal.
The study also found that some deaths “also result from injuries due to war’s destruction of infrastructure such as traffic signals and from reverberating trauma and interpersonal violence.”
Savell said that “warring parties who damage infrastructure with an impact on population health have a moral responsibility to provide quick and effective assistance and repairs.”
“The United States government, while not solely responsible for the damage, has a significant obligation to invest in humanitarian assistance and reconstruction in post-9/11 war zones,” she added. “The U.S. government could do far more than it currently is to act on this responsibility.”
This article is from Common Dreams.
This article was republished from Consortium News.
Woody Guthrie Prize Given to Punk Rock Group that Supports Escalation of Ukraine War and Overthrow of Russian Government By: Jeremy KuzmarovRead Now
Members of Pussy Riot receiving the Woody Guthrie Prize in Tulsa Oklahoma on May 6. [Source: Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
As a proponent of peaceful relations with the Soviet Union, Woody Guthrie would likely be rolling over in his grave if he knew how his heirs betrayed his name
Famous for his song “This Land Is Your Land” and for adopting the slogan “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar, the great American folk singer Woody Guthrie was an authentic American dissident and radical.
As a member of the Communist Party, he supported militant labor strikes and spoke out against U.S. foreign policy.
A mere month after the dropping of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, Guthrie—who served with the Merchant Marines during World War II—wrote a series of songs in The Yank Weekly, which lamented the destruction in Hiroshima and called for the immediate abolition of nuclear weapons.
Woody Guthrie [Source: independent.co.uk]
Subsequently, Woody was part of a songwriters’ collective, considered seditious by the FBI, that supported the 1948 presidential campaign of Henry Wallace, who advocated for peace with Russia and the dismantling of the worldwide network of U.S. military bases.
Henry Wallace [Source: thefamouspeople.com]
More than a dozen songs found at the Woody Guthrie Center Archives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, show that Woody criticized the Korean War in terms that anticipated the New Left critique of the Vietnam War.
In “Bye Bye Big Brass,” (1952) Woody imagined a scenario in which he is shipped off to Korea and, rather than kill a Chinese soldier he encounters, he sits and talks with him by a campfire. After getting to know one another, the two hide out together and fight back against the U.S. Army when it tries to capture them.
In “Hey General Mackymacker” (1952), Woody exposed the lies of General Douglas MacArthur who repeatedly claimed that the U.S. was winning the war and would be home by Christmas, but did not specify to which Christmas he was referring. Woody also condemned MacArthur for threatening to use the atom bomb again, this time on North Korea and China.
If Woody were alive today, he would surely see through the lies of MacArthur’s heirs and the folly of the U.S. government provoking a potential nuclear war, and be horrified by the U.S. government’s support for a regime in Ukraine that has been infiltrated by the far right and suppresses workers’ rights.
Woody would likely also have deep misgivings that a center created in his honor awarded its tenth anniversary prize to Pussy Riot, a punk rock group that supports the government in Ukraine and the overthrow of the Russian government, in line with the goals of U.S. foreign policy.
Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter, announcing the granting of the 2023 Woody Guthrie prize to Pussy Riot at Cain’s ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 6. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
While fashioning themselves as anti-war, Pussy Riot is in fact pro-war because they advocate for Ukraine’s victory in the conflict over Russia and not a peace settlement, which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, backed by the U.S., has so far refused to negotiate.
Pussy Riot singer Maria V. “Masha” Alyokhina in a “Stand With Ukraine” t-shirt at concert at Cain’s ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 6. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
By branding Putin solely responsible for the war, Pussy Riot ignores Ukrainian and U.S. government provocations. They show an egregious double standard in purporting to be against dictatorship and fascism while wanting you to stand with Ukraine when its government has a) banned 12 opposition parties; b) shut down independent media; c) banned churches affiliated with Russia; and d) carried out wide-scale detentions, acts of terrorism, assassinations, and car bombings directed at political opponents and extending into the Russian Federation.
Pussy Riot at Cain’s ballroom in Tulsa on May 6. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
Woody was adamantly against war profiteering on Wall Street so would have been against the $100 billion plus in military aid that the U.S. government has given to Ukraine as a subsidy to weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Boeing so their stocks could go up.
A zealous war hawk who has supported missile strikes in Russia and the bombing of an oil pipeline that transfers Russian oil into Hungary according to classified U.S. intelligence documents, Zelensky has further passed regressive new labor laws right out of Chiang’s playbook, and sold out Ukraine’s economy to foreign interests in the way that Chiang did.
Volodymyr Zelensky addressing the U.S Congress with Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris holding the Ukrainian flag. [Source: news.sky.com]
Woody’s love of Russia was evident in a November 1942 ode that he wrote to Lyudmila Pavilchenko, a famous Russian sniper said to have killed over 300 Nazis who had invaded her homeland. Woody wrote:
“Miss Pavilichenko’s well known to fame;
Russia’s your country, fighting is your game;
The whole world will love her for a long time to come
For more than three hundred Nazis fell by your gun.”
Lyudmilla Pavilchenko [Source: reddit.com]
While it cannot be predicted if Woody would have written any odes to Russian snipers who have killed Azov battalion neo-Nazis in the current war, it’s almost certain that he would have opposed the fascists on the Ukrainian side who slaughtered trade union activists in Odessa after the 2014 Maidan coup, and have terrorized the people of Eastern Ukraine since that time.
Hooligans Elevated to Heroes in a Twisted World
Pussy Riot first made a name for themselves in February 2012 when they disrupted a service at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and performed an obscenity-laced song called “Punk Prayer,” which attacked the Orthodox Church’s support for Vladimir Putin.
Pussy Riot performing their “punk prayer” in Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior. [Source: dw.com]
Several weeks after the cathedral stunt—which was broken up by church officials—Maria “Masha” Alyokhina, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were arrested and charged with “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
They were subsequently held without bail until their trial when they were convicted and sentenced to two years in prison.
While many Russians believed that the sentence was too severe, a large number also believed that Pussy Riot’s actions were a gross offense to the Orthodox faith and that the group engaged in other vulgar public acts that were morally offensive. These have included filming videos where members of the band kissed Russian police officers in public, urinated on a portrait of Putin, and burned him in effigy.
Elena Doshlygina, a Russian language professor at the University of Tulsa, told me: “To me this group [Pussy Riot] is totally disgusting. [Nadezhda] Tolokonnikova was previously a member of the Voina group. They organized a sex orgy in the Zoological Museum, very close to Red Square, in 2008. I believe it’s associated with the Moscow State University [the most prestigious university in Russia]. Actually my ancestor, [Sergei] Buturlin, a well-known ornithologist donated and sponsored part of his collection in the museum. What Pussy Riot did is a total insult to me. They are vulgar and totally immoral. I can’t even send you the links. They are all so horribly pornographic. There were also other performances before the Church, totally vulgar and disgusting. I resent the fact that they are presented with awards as heroes for the fight for democracy.”
Obviously Pussy Riot is receiving so many awards is because their political message denigrating Vladimir Putin accords with U.S. regime change designs. These stem from a desire to turn back the clock to the 1990s when foreign capitalist interests were able to exploit Russia economically and begin to take control over its abundant natural resources.
Putin may have authoritarian features, but he has restored Russia’s economic sovereignty and regional power while effectively withstanding the U.S. sanctions and enhancing Russia’s trading relations with China.
If a U.S. punk group pulled the kind of stunts as Pussy Riot targeting churches and government officials, it is unlikely they would receive any major awards; rather their members would likely be imprisoned like Pussy Riot was in Russia and be treated like delinquents.
The fake progressive veneer of musicians like Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Madonna was evident in their support for Pussy Riot and call for their release when they were jailed; human rights groups also designated them prisoners of conscience and Time magazine put them on the cover as 2012’s Women of the Year.
In 2013, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), a CIA offshoot that promotes political propaganda and supports dissidents in countries targeted by the U.S. for regime change, sponsored a forum that idealized Pussy Riot.
This breeds suspicion that Pussy Riot may have received covert NED assistance—though this is difficult to verify, as the NED does not disclose the groups to which it provides funding.
Journalist Tony Cartalucci found an indirect connection in that Pussy Riot members associated with Alexei Navalny, an agent of U.S.-funded sedition who formed a political organization, Democratic Alternative, that received NED funding.
Alexei Navalny [Source: theguardian.com]
Cartalucci also found that a woman heading Pussy Riot’s support campaign in Finland, Oksana Chelysheva, was a board member of the Russian-Finnish Civic Forum, which was also funded by the NED, and George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, which is linked to the CIA. Chelysheva was additionally a member of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, which was funded by the U.S. State Department to promote Chechen terrorist propaganda.
Pussy Riot’s visit to Tulsa to receive the Woody Guthrie Prize on May 6, tellingly, was financed by George Kaiser, an oil billionaire and chief financier of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma whose foundation may be used as part of some kind of quid pro quo to advance CIA projects—including a cyber-security program at the University of Tulsa, which received a National Security Agency (NSA) excellence award and hosted CIA Director John F. Brennan.
George Kaiser [Source: tulsaworld.com]
Kaiser financed the building of the Woody Guthrie Museum, which opened in 2010. The Kaiser Foundation’s executive director, Ken Levit, served as CIA Director George Tenet’s Special Counsel from 1998 to 2000.
Ken Levit [Source: gkff.org]
Very clearly Pussy Riot’s visit to Tulsa and its receipt of the Woody Guthrie Prize had an explicitly political agenda: to use the name of a legendary anti-war folk singer to undercut the U.S. anti-war movement and promote solidarity among people who identify as leftists for the war in Ukraine as well as for U.S. regime change designs in Russia, which is the end goal of the war.
At the concert on May 6 in Tulsa’s Cain Ballroom following their receipt of the Woody Guthrie Prize, Pussy Riot band members displayed pro-Ukrainian t-shirts and waved the Ukrainian flag—as did some members of the audience.
The musical quality of the show was dubious—nowhere close to Woody Guthrie’s level or that of previous Guthrie Award recipients like Bruce Springsteen and John Cougar Mellencamp—though it was rather entertaining to watch.
At a key moment, Pussy Riot brought out and then proceeded to urinate on and then destroy a portrait of Vladimir Putin.
Pussy Riot also condemned Russian atrocities in Bucha—though independent investigations determined that the majority of civilian deaths there were likely caused by the Ukrainians—and the Russian takeover of Crimea, when Crimeans voted overwhelmingly to rejoin Russia which they had historic and economic ties to.
Part of the Pussy Riot show was a narration of their story of arrest following the 2012 Moscow Cathedral stunt and the hardship that the young women experienced in a prison in the Urals, which they likened to a Soviet-era Gulag.
At one point, a photo was shown of Vladimir Putin with Belarus’s socialist leader Alexander Lukashenko, whom Pussy Riot also hates.
This aligns very neatly again with the position of the U.S. State Department, which has supported numerous color revolutions directed against Lukashenko because he has resisted NATO expansion and the penetration of the Belarusian economy by U.S. corporations.
[Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
Pussy Riot advocates for revolution, but the book Riot Days, written by band member Maria Alyokhina, does not explain what economic model they would pursue that would improve the quality of life of the Russian people.
[Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
While some aspects of their anger at the Putin government and advocacy is justifiable, one is left with the impression that they just want to sow anarchy for anarchy’s sake.
In a forum at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema, Pussy Riot members admitted that the group was anti-intellectual and tries to play off people’s emotions. They urged Oklahomans to oppose abortion restrictions but had nothing critical to say about U.S. foreign policy and seemed to possess only a limited understanding of world geopolitics.
Members of Pussy Riot speak at forum at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema on May 7. [From left to right: Diana Burkot, Olga Borisova, Maria Alyokhina. [Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
One of the girls, Diana Burkot, recounted how her father supports the Russian Special Military operation in Ukraine and has basically disowned her. I felt sorry that while some of her values to me seem good, she is being used by U.S. oligarchs and arch-imperialists of the George Kaiser ilk who want to destroy her homeland so they can dominate Eurasia, loot Russia like they did in the 1990s, and sustain a unipolar world order dominated by the U.S.
[Source: Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Kuzmarov]
In an interview before the show with Bob Santelli, executive director of the Bruce Springsteen Archives and Center for American Music at Monmouth University (NJ), Pussy Riot band members said that Russia has become totalitarian under Putin.
One of the political prisoners whose plight Pussy Riot spotlighted at the show, Alexei Navalny, was arrested on what appears to be legitimate embezzlement charges and is a Western backed political operative who received funding from the NED and British intelligence agents.
If an American in the pay of foreign intelligence agencies were similarly spreading anti-U.S. invective and working to bring down the U.S. government, he would likely meet the same fate as Navalny, if not worse.
The prize should have gone to a dissident American singer/songwriter who, in Woody’s spirit, is trying to challenge the U.S. permanent warfare state, grip of Wall Street, and new Cold War in a renewed climate of McCarthyism.
Someone like David Rovics, a protest singer and truth-teller like Woody who has eloquently spoken out against U.S. policy in Ukraine. Or better yet, Roger Waters, the co-founder of Pink Floyd, who has endured denunciations and blacklisting for his condemnation of U.S. and NATO policy in Ukraine and support for Palestinian rights and Julian Assange.
Roger Waters, a true embodiment of Woody Guthrie’s spirit who has endured vicious attacks for speaking out against U.S. imperial foreign policies in Ukraine and elsewhere. [Source: rt.com]
Instead of choosing to honor these true embodiments of Woody Guthrie’s spirit, we have the sad spectacle of Guthrie’s offspring teaming with a billionaire oil tycoon to host an event headlined by artists known for their crude vulgarity whose political message perfectly aligns with the State Department and CIA.
And we have counter-cultural types who attended the event waving the flag of a country where fascists were empowered in a CIA-backed coup, and which has provoked a conflict that is leading us toward World War III and potential nuclear Armageddon.
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine. He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018). He can be reached at: email@example.com.
This article was republished from Covert Action Magazine.
60 years after death, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn still scares the right By: C.J. AtkinsRead Now
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, 'The Rebel Girl,' addresses strikers in Paterson, N.J. in 1913.
Although she’s been dead for almost six decades, it looks like Elizabeth Gurley Flynn is still getting under the skin of right-wingers. Just two weeks after it was installed, a historical marker commemorating her birth in Concord, N.H., has been demolished on the order of Republican state officials.
The green and white cast iron plaque—the kind you see on the side of highways or in public places noting where significant events occurred or famous persons once lived—was erected on May Day in downtown Concord, where Flynn was born in 1890.
The sign was barely bolted into place before conservatives demanded its removal, embarrassed apparently that the state might recognize someone who devoted her life to fighting for workers’ rights, women’s right to vote, birth control, civil liberties, and economic equality. But it was Flynn’s leadership in the Communist Party USA that really boiled their blood.
“This is a devout communist,” complained Joseph Kenney, a Republican member of the Executive Council, the five-person body that approves state contracts, judicial nominees, and other positions. “How can we possibly promote her propaganda, which still exists now through this sign in downtown Concord?”
An agitator her entire life
Flynn earned her Rebel Girl nickname doing battle against the same kind of reactionary politics expressed by Kenney. She made her debut as an activist at the age of 15, giving her first public speech, “What Socialism Will Do for Women,” at the Harlem Socialist Club in New York.
Two years later, at just 17, she was already a full-time organizer for the Wobblies, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a revolutionary labor group that sought to organize all workers into “One Big Union.” She traveled from one end of the country to the other, organizing restaurant workers in New York, garment workers in Pennsylvania, weavers in New Jersey, miners in Minnesota, Montana, and Washington State.
She was immortalized in song for her exploits by famed songwriter Joe Hill, who penned “The Rebel Girl” in 1915, giving Flynn the monicker that would follow her for the rest of her life.
With bosses and their hired guns in local police departments determined to muzzle anyone demanding rights for workers, the IWW faced many free speech fights. City councils were pressured by employers to ban organizers from speaking in the streets.
During one such battle in Spokane, Wash., Flynn chained herself to a lamppost so the cops wouldn’t be able to drag her off to jail as easily. There, she gave a fiery speech demanding freedom for workers to organize and publish their views. She’d end up behind bars more than ten times during her years with the IWW.
With the first Red Scare in full swing following the Russian Revolution, constitutional freedoms like speech, press, and assembly were under attack across the United States. Workers and their organizations were the primary targets, and foreign-born immigrant workers faced mass deportations. This prompted Flynn and others to found the American Civil Liberties Union to defend democracy against right-wing reactionaries.
She also pushed the ACLU to take an active role in fighting for women’s rights, particularly access to birth control and the right to vote.
When Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were framed up on murder charges in 1920, Flynn became a leader in their defense campaign and helped turn their case into an international cause célèbre.
During the global fight against Hitler fascism and Japanese imperialism during World War II, Flynn played a key role on the home front. She led struggles for equal pay for the women who replaced men on the assembly lines and agitated for day care centers for these working mothers.
In 1942, she ran for Congress in New York, making unity in the fight against fascism and the battle for equality at home the primary planks of her campaign. She earned 50,000 votes.
After the war, Red Scare repression returned. A dozen top leaders of the CPUSA were arrested in 1948 and accused of violating the Smith Act under the false charge of “conspiring to advocate the overthrow the government by force and violence.” The Rebel Girl was a central leader in the movement to defend not only the Communist leaders but also the First Amendment from those who wanted to see it destroyed.
When a second wave of anti-communist arrests was launched in 1951, Flynn was thrown in jail with 16 other party members. At the opening of her federal trial, she declared:
“We are not a criminal conspiracy, but a working-class political party devoted to the immediate needs and aspirations of the American people, to the advancement of the workers, farmers, and the Negro people, to the preservation of democracy and culture, and to the advocacy of socialism.”
Nine months later, the court handed down a guilty plea, and Flynn was sent to Alderson Prison in West Virginia for the next two years—along with Claudia Jones and Betty Gannett, two other women party leaders charged under the Smith Act.
As Prisoner #11710, Flynn set down on paper the details of life in a federal women’s correctional facility, published later as My Life as a Political Prisoner: The Alderson Story. She detailed not only the physical brutalities of incarceration but also its psychological toll:
“The heavy shadow of prison fell upon us in those three days—the locked door and the night patrol. The turning of a key on the outside of the door is a weird sensation to which one never became accustomed. One felt like a trapped animal in a cage.”
She also took the opportunity to expose the classist and racist nature of America’s prison-industrial complex. “No rich women were to be found in Alderson,” she wrote, highlighting how the prison system mostly consumed poor and working-class women, the majority Black and Spanish-speaking with past lives defined often by abuse, mental illness, or drug addiction.
Over 25,000 people turned out for her state funeral in Moscow’s Red Square. Her remains were returned to the U.S., where they were buried in Chicago’s Waldheim Cemetery, near the Haymarket Martyrs and other labor heroes.
Flynn described herself as a “professional revolutionary, an agitator” against the injustices of capitalism, racism, and misogyny. As Prof. Mary Anne Trasciatti wrote: “It is no exaggeration to claim that Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was involved in almost every major campaign of the U.S. left in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century.”
And it is that life lived in struggle which so irritates conservatives in New Hampshire; they simply can’t stand for the erection of a historical marker that might remind people of such a figure or prompt them to learn more about her, or, heaven forbid, follow in her footsteps.
So, it is no surprise that Gov. Chris Sununu quickly acted on the demands of his fellow Republicans on the Executive Council who said the historical marker in Concord was “inappropriate, given Flynn’s communist involvement.” Since the marker was on state property, his office had power to order its destruction.
Sununu’s spokesperson, Ben Vihstadt, said on Monday, “All policies and guidelines were followed in removing this controversial marker.
Supporters of accurate history differ with Sununu. They accuse the state of violating its own rules for the markers, rules which say that markers can only be “retired” if they “contain errors of fact, are in a state of disrepair, or require refurbishment.” None of those apply in the Flynn case.
“We still say that under the department’s own guidelines, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn’s birthplace in Concord is a fitting location for a historical marker,” said Mary Lee Sargent, a former U.S. history teacher and labor and women’s rights activist.
With the intervention of Sununu and reactionaries at the highest levels of state government, that tradition is over. Anti-communism may have won out, but perhaps there is a silver lining.
Thanks to all the media coverage conservatives have generated with their contrived controversy, more people will probably learn about Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from articles like this one than would have ever read a plaque at the courthouse in downtown Concord.
C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.
This article was republished from Peoples World.
April 29, 2023 - Cornel West: The Limits of Neo-Pragmatism and the Quest for a Democratic Philosophy By: Anthony Monteiro & Saturday Free SchoolRead Now
We are publishing a transcript of Dr. Anthony Monteiro’s opening remarks from the Saturday Free School’s April 29, 2023 session Continuing Hegel’s Science of Logic. The Free School meets every Saturday at 10:30 AM, and is streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.
Good morning to everybody. We are going to go back to Hegel, but it’s always useful to contextualize the reading of a text like this, and to keep the text itself and our reading of it grounded in the reality that we live, including the ideological reality of this time. And so without going for too long, I just wanted to talk about the Cornel West event that we attended at the University of Pennsylvania, and there were a lot of questions that we had afterwards and perhaps we could even you know go through some of those questions again because they are very fascinating and they are philosophical and they do relate to Hegel, the Science of Logic, the whole concept of a philosophical system which I would wish to explain in a moment.
And then a little talk about unified theories, and the reason I just wanted to touch on that is because in a certain sense we in the Free School are attempting to forge a unified theory of Lenin and Du Bois, or you know the revolutionary and Marxist tradition of Europe and of the Russian Revolution, and the Black Radical Tradition which is grounded in Du Bois, but I’ll come back to that.
Just some things before we read – [I want to] talk a little bit about how we should look at this great work. Frankly, as a not yet complete work, and I think Hegel saw it that way himself – a work in progress. But let’s talk about Cornel West. Last Thursday we attended a really, I think important, lecture by Cornel West. You know, the two most important public intellectuals in the United States today are Noam Chomsky and Cornel West. And there are many, many things philosophically that they hold in common, I think. And there are differences, I also think. As you know, Noam Chomsky is more a social scientist, a cognitive scientist, a theorist of language and grammar and semiotics, et cetera. Cornel West is a philosopher, a pure philosopher. It was a very fascinating lecture. I had not seen Cornel West in a couple of years in person and I’ve only kind of kept up with him in relationship to his political commentary, in effect, as you know, his anti-Trump politics and his claim that Trump is a neo-fascist thug and so on. Which then pushes him of course towards Bernie, and I think that’s a real trap given Bernie’s recent political practice relative to Robert Kennedy’s announcement of his presidency challenging Biden from a very progressive point of view, an anti-war, anti-militarist, anti-corporatist state position.
And Biden could not hardly announce his candidacy before Bernie is endorsing him. I mean in good faith you could have waited at least. I mean, how do you just so quickly and easily jump on the Joe Biden bandwagon, and this is the most dangerous presidency in the history of the country threatening war on two continents just because Trump is an alleged fascist, so I got to go with the guy that’s pushing the world toward maybe a nuclear confrontation. Well it doesn’t make any sense, but it does make a lot of sense if you know that Bernie Sanders is a fake socialist, a fake progressive and a political opportunist of the worst type. And I don’t see any other way to put it. We cannot excuse and we cannot apologize for it.
Cornel, and this was the sad thing – although Cornel’s lecture stayed at the level of philosophy – and theology by the way – he did say in passing that Biden would be better than Trump without making the argument. I think it was some of that which left most of us, and not quite me – I’m a bit biased for reasons that I’ll try to explain – but most of the people in the Free School who were there found the lecture unfulfilling, I’ll use that language. People can use their own. That Cornel’s brilliance, you know, you get a cat with a huge brain and all of this philosophy and literature and theory packed. A guy who also has, apparently, what is a photographic memory.
So he’s a formidable thinker, really a formidable thinker with a big heart. He’s not satisfied with confining himself to his academic office or to a university. He goes into the world, engages with the world, and I should tell you, sometimes putting his own life in jeopardy. There was an instance in about 1998 at the Black Radical Convention in Chicago, and he and I happened to be there and together, and a guy stepped to Cornel in a threatening way. And I happened to step to the guy before he could, you know, accost Cornel. And I never forgot, Cornel was a bit shaken I guess you might say. And he said, you know, “I’m a Christian, but I’m not a pacifist,” you know, blasé blasé blasé. But I’m just saying that to say, I’m certain that for all kinds of reasons, a lot of people feel, because he is accessible, he is in the world, he usually travels alone. Although I kind of sense this time he had a security person with him to help him out, just in the event that somebody stepped to him. But I just say all of that to say that the man has a heart and he has a lot of heart. He’s not a punk. He’s not afraid in that regard. And even in my own case at Temple University, he was so gracious to support me and to even come to a rally that we held, and then to appear at the [Free School’s] Black Radical Tradition conference and speak.
And so I’m a little biased because of all of that. Although of course philosophically, we’re not on the same page. And just in his lecture, his determining category is the category “catastrophe.” And his narrative is, how do you live a principled life in the face of social catastrophe? And then along with that, a principled moral life in the face of so many people bending to the politics of the dominant class.
And so he is, when he speaks – and he deploys everybody from Chekhov to William James to Kierkegaard – I mean, I’m sitting there and I’m saying, “Oh, I’m hating, man. I’m never gonna be able to know all of that.” And then I’m saying, “I got to put some respect on your name.” I mean just to have achieved that, you know, is quite a bit. And to have achieved all of that knowledge and not used it for his own academic promotional reasons, as y’all know, he left Harvard in the early 2000’s I think because the then-president called Cornel, and this when Cornel was a tenured professor, a full tenured professor in fact, at Harvard. And Lawrence Summers, who was the president – he called Cornel in to his office and tried to, to say intimidate is not really the word – literally to put him in his place, literally saying, “You should be grateful that you have this position at Harvard, and you should thank us, meaning we the white establishment, every day of your life. And therefore we want you to cease this engagement with the hip-hop generation, with the younger generation and withdraw into doing polite and acceptable academic things.”
I don’t know what Cornel says but I do know that Cornel can curse. He’s from the hood, you know, Sacramento, so he knows how to curse like I curse. And he may have cursed him out and told him to kiss his behind, and then left Harvard and took a position at Princeton. I don’t know whether Richard Rorty was still around, the philosopher, or who was around but they told him, “Look man, you don’t have to put up with that, come to Princeton.” And then he went to Princeton, and then a few years, maybe ten years later, the black people in particular at Harvard said, “Larry Summers is gone and we want you back here and we will guarantee you tenure, that you will get your tenure back.”
So when he went back to Harvard, everybody said, “Oh, yeah, Cornel’s back at Harvard.” You just assumed he had tenure. But he didn’t have tenure. And I put that on the shoulders of the black professors who told him to come back, and did not do what they needed to do to guarantee tenure. Tenure would give him the protection that a person like him needs because he’s going so much against the grain on so many things.
Then it turns out, about two years ago, it comes out Cornel doesn’t have tenure. And they’re telling him, “Well, we’ll give you a year-by-year contract and don’t worry about it.” And at that point he left Harvard and took a position at Union Theological Seminary. I think that’s where he began his teaching career and that’s where he is today. But you know, with all of that he maintained his dignity and this is important. When you’re betrayed, and he had to be betrayed in that “come back to Harvard” thing. And humiliation in a certain sense, you know ‘cause a lot of people who for jealousy, envy, just don’t like you ‘cause they just don’t like you kind of thing. “You’re too large, talk too much,” all that, were on the sidelines snickering and laughing. You know how that goes, I won’t go into that.
But he handled himself with dignity, he goes back to Union Theological Seminary and hasn’t missed a beat. He continues to be Cornel West and to do what Cornel West does as an intellectual and a public intellectual and a figure that lives with integrity and creates these wide discursive spaces where people like us can both agree and disagree. You see what I’m saying, by keeping the door to discourse, and serious discourse – you know, not just some Afro-centrism kind of, you know, “We are Africans,” and all of that – but drinking from the deep wells of human knowledge wherever he can find it. And of course no one person in his brain can grasp the totality of human civilizations and knowledge, I mean, when I think about string theories and their claim of ten dimensions of space and time, you know I’m often reminded of the Bhagavad Gita, which talk about seven time dimensions. But anyway, I mean, just to wrap your head around the Bhagavad Gita and Plato’s dialogues and Martin Luther, I mean, come on. You need an army of intellectuals who live monastic lives to grasp all of that.
But Cornel, unafraid, unashamed, drinks from the wells of knowledge. And of course he could be canceled, just like, you know, “Why are you quoting Plato? He supported a slave-owning society and plus he’s a white man, and a man.” You know, that kind of cancel culture dismissal. Or his thing with Chekhov. But he doesn’t seem to be fazed by it. He continues pushing this high level of discourse, trying to make what is in the end a principled, moral, ethical argument about how to live a life that resists injustice at this time.
Now, having said all of that, Cornel West is a combination of what we call neo-pragmatism which is a unique American philosophy; pragmatism arose in the United States as a philosophical movement in the middle of the 1800s. It morphed in the 1960s and 1970s into what we call neo-pragmatism. The fundamental argument of neo-pragmatism – first of all it is American but it’s also English, it’s an English American, we call it Anglo-American philosophical move. As you know, the English philosophers going back in many ways to the beginning, we talk about George Berkeley or David Hume, John Locke – the beginning of English serious philosophy – has always staked out its differences with European rationalism. In particular what they call philosophy that attempts to build systems. In our case Kant and Hegel.
Pragmatism, and usually the founder of pragmatism is usually associated with a man named [Charles Sanders] Peirce, whose work I really don’t know, I have to be honest with you. And then further developed by Du Bois’s mentor at Harvard, William James. But what pragmatism argues is that it philosophizes from the standpoint of the ordinary human being, not from the standpoint of a supposed rational system of philosophy and of knowing.
Thus it claims to be a democratic philosophy, a philosophy that upholds, I think Cornel has used this word, plebeian democracy, the democracy of the ordinary person. Hence, they often say it is philosophy without foundations, without prior assumptions, without categories. We’ve gone a bit through this, that Kant and Hegel think through categories. For instance the categories of time and space, the category of being, the category of non-being. Each appeals, Kant and Hegel, to logic. Different logics, of course. Hegel, we know, dialectical logic. Kant, more traditional.
Each, Kant and Hegel, were trying to align philosophy with science, in particular Newton and Copernicus but Newton in particular. And to align science with philosophy, and this is why Hegel said that philosophy is a science. I think Kant would have agreed with that. Hegel said it is the science of sciences; another way of saying that – it is the scaffolding upon which the meaning of scientific experiments and the meaning of scientific discoveries can be elucidated.
This is a huge undertaking by the way, huge undertaking, and remains a part of the way we in the Free School think. We’ll come back to that. But Cornel starts from a pragmatist point of view – that it is the individual seeking meaning in a world that does not in and of itself provide meaning. That is why if you listen to Cornel, there is always on the edge, if you will, or suggesting, that we live on the edge of suicide, of you know, what Jean-Paul Sartre talked, being and nothingness. And how do we realize our being? It is through more moral engagement with a world that will not give us meaning. It is living in good faith, moral good faith in a world where things are commodified, where money trumps principle and hence bad faith. You operate without a moral imperative, without a moral intentionality, you see where I’m coming from.
So, neo-pragmatists. Richard Rorty is big in Cornel West’s graduate studies at Princeton. Richard Rorty is the famous academic philosopher, a neo-pragmatist at Princeton. He wrote his last book, a small book but I think a very important and should-be famous book entitled Achieving Our Country. The title of the book he takes from James Baldwin. And Rorty attacks the intelligentsia and the academics who have abandoned the working class. It is a great book, a great manifesto which takes, you know, the whole question of the plebeian or democratic thrust in philosophy, I think, to an important place of engagement. But this is Cornel, you know a plebeian – a people’s philosophy, a people’s framing. Framing philosophical and moral issues from the standpoint of the ordinary person.
And that is why I think he has this great fidelity, this great commitment to the blues – with critique, and I didn’t quite agree with his critique. But the blues, which is the narrative of the ordinary people. The blues, talking about navigating the narration of disappointment, but the narration of overcoming, of resilience, of “I’m still here in spite of everything.” He considers the blues to be a very high expression of living morally in a world that tries to undermine your efforts to do that. You know, the pressure is to sell out all the time. But here’s the blues man, the blues woman saying that we can still be principled in spite of the pressure to sell out.
So Cornel calls himself a blues man of the mind. He has such interesting formulations. But he sees himself as a blues man and as a traveling musician. He also sees himself in relationship to the blues and John Coltrane. And this scaffolding, this architecture of morality coming out of black resistance is so much a part of him and the way he lives. And you know, even as he talked about music you all might remember, and he really digs Philadelphia, loves Philadelphia because of Philly’s music. And he says Philadelphia’s a soulful city. And he mentioned the O’Jays – and his soundtrack by the way, is the same soundtrack as the Free School. The same music that we listen to, he was gesturing to. The Isley Brothers – did he mention “Harvest For the World”? One of those great calls to morality to resistance. And of course he talked about Stevie Wonder’s love song “Love’s in Need of Love.” You know, which is like us.
And the moderator, who I was not too thrilled by. (‘Cause I know some people weren’t there, so I’m filling in, creating a picture.) But the moderator, when Cornel was talking about the O’Jays and the Isley Brothers, [the moderator] tried to say Meek Mills. Now how do you get from that, to that? I don’t see it. But Cornel resisted it, you know in his generous way of course without saying, “I disagree,” but just saying the music that he stands upon. And he’s absolutely right about this, he’s absolutely right. That blues, jazz and R&B is still the strong hand in our music and poetry.
But along with neo-pragmatism [for Cornel] is existentialism, a contemporary form of existentialism, and this is again where I would find myself in a bit of a difference with Cornel. For him, the important existentialists would be people like Karl Jaspers and Albert Camus, not Jean-Paul Sartre, the radical, the communist, the socialist, the anti-colonialist. Not Jean-Paul Sartre, but Albert Camus who in fact opposed the Algerian independence movement. Oh by the way this is something that James Baldwin spoke about as well in one of the essays in No Name in the Street, I think the first one entitled “Take Me to the Water.” Jimmy Baldwin did not like Albert Camus either and felt, like Sartre, that Albert Camus was pro-colonialist and operated in bad faith.
So it is this sense of the absurd, and in philosophical and existentialist terms, the absurd means non-being or no meaning or lack of meaning. You see what I’m saying. And so it is this tightrope that Cornel navigates upon. To me, it is interesting, it is dramatic, it is exciting. Like I said, “I got to put some respect on your name, hometown. You know, you remain so energized, so hopeful, so alive, you know what I’m saying?” Where it would be easy to say, to throw in the towel, “I’ve been doing this for too long you know. Three of my marriages broke up because of this, I’m going to throw in the towel.” But he stays real, he stays alive and he remains who he is. And welcomes difference and critique. That’s the positive thing.
Philosophically, and in terms of social theory, I feel that his approach does not account for a big part of human history including the Russian and Chinese revolutions, the revolutionary leaderships of these movements and their philosophies and theories. It does not account for philosophies paralleling science, or philosophies in the Hegelian or Kantian sense attempting to correct science, and to clarify for scientists and non-scientists what the discoveries of science suggest, in scientific terms and in human terms. That tradition is usually associated with what is called rationalism although it’s much, much more than that. Can you see what I’m saying?
Cornel’s position is more in the English American tradition of empiricism, pragmatism and existentialism. There is not … I guess we could put it this way using what we’ve already read in Hegel. There is not, in pragmatism and neo-pragmatism – in fact they reject the whole concept of mediation – it is all resolved at the level of the immediate, and of the individual. And not to mention, that English philosophers – I would say everybody from John Stuart Mill through Bertrand Russell and up to till present, have always smeared Hegel as somehow being the source of authoritarianism and even Nazism. That the rationalist tradition, especially as it crystallizes in Hegel’s philosophy, can only lead to anti-democratic practices and that to return democracy to philosophy, you have to separate philosophy from what is called the rational tradition, or thinking through categories. We can come back to that.
So it is a claim and I think this is a problem for Cornel because it generalizes, in fact reduces the question of democracy to an Anglo-Saxon practice. That everything that is not Anglo-Saxon in its theory and practice of democracy is by definition authoritarianism. Well does that sound familiar? Yes it does, because that’s the paradox that the Biden administration and the US ruling class tries to present us with. Either Anglo-Saxon democracy or authoritarianism. Either John Locke and John Stuart Mill – or Hitler. I won’t say my friend, but a guy that I follow, Lex Fridman is always doing, sadly, this conjunction of Mao, Stalin and Hitler – they’re all the same, you know. But that’s the Anglo-Saxon smearing of human revolutionary aspirations.
So when you listen to Cornel, he is operating and thinking within the folds of Anglo-American philosophy, and hence the unusual in the political arena that does not fit the narrative of Anglo-American democratic theorizing and narrative is thereby authoritarian and even neo-fascist. And I want to underline the unusual, because the thing of Anglo-American philosophy has become a dogma rather than a project of scientific critique, of democracy and the possibilities of changing it, of advancing it.
I just want to say a couple of few other things. In this sense, and people who were there, we saw a crescendo in his narrative, and to me it was exciting because I’m trying to, you know – all of these people, you know, I read, I know a little bit about. But he seemed to weave this narrative out of all of these thinkers from Chekhov to Kierkegaard to William James, and just, I mean just unbelievable, man. That’s why I said, “I got to put some respect on your name.” But in the end, he reaches the apogee and he couldn’t go any further. And then it had to be a repeat. It had to be a re-do, re-saying of similar things that he had previously said because he refused to go to the world of contradiction, of possibility, of danger. He stayed within this beautiful narrative, this exciting narrative that he started with.
The other thing is his constant referencing and gesturing to Christianity, in the sense of liberation Christianity or Black Christianity. No problem. As we all know through our own experiences and observations, that Black religion is a religion of resistance, that being is realized in-becoming as Martin Luther King said in one of his graduate school papers. Being is in-becoming. That for Black Christianity, the end is not an end, it is the beginning of something new. And he’s right about that. But then, to me there’s a paradox between Anglo-American political theory and philosophy, and Black Christianity, which is not grounded in the individual or not grounded as Cornel West suggested, in fake hope in the future. It is futuristic but not this Disneyland futurism of the standard ruling class narrative in this country.
And just my last point, I think he gets King wrong. King was not a naive pacifist. If you want any evidence of that just listen to the speech “Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam.” King understood St. Thomas Aquinas’s differentiation between just and unjust wars. I don’t think that Cornel understands the actual and practical real-life meaning of that as it relates in particular to the Ukraine War. Is Russia an imperialist nation, as he says? Or is Russia defending itself against the imperialism, militarism and aggression of the United States. Were the Vietnamese waging a just war? Were Koreans waging a just war? Were they waging a war for peace?
King understood that. He understood the difference between just and unjust wars. And I think that rather than pigeonholing King into this nebulous, ill-defined category of pacifism – you know, King was far too philosophically developed to be reduced to that. What Cornel has not considered is that King in fact was a theorist and practitioner of the struggle for democracy. A peaceful means, a political rather than a civil war path to the democratic and political transformation of the American nation; to disarm the ruling elite in its efforts to pit black against white in the struggle to change the country, for black and white people.
That is what King was saying. He was a theorist and a practitioner of the struggle for democracy. The concept of love. You cannot, in King’s sense, appeal to pragmatist or neo-pragmatist philosophers, or to English theorists of liberal theory or society, to understand King’s concept of love and the Beloved Community. It seems that Cornel missed a tremendous opportunity to further develop, to further deepen, to further extend his own theory of moral behavior and moral action.
How beautiful might it have been if he could have turned or extended that discourse to King’s notion of the Beloved Community, which goes hand-in-hand with his idea of the means to radical transformation as important – this is King – as important as the ends themselves. So King was talking about a democratic path to achieve a new democracy, that unites and transforms the people in the process. I don’t think the philosophies that ground Cornel necessarily predisposed him to that kind of Kingian or even Baldwinian thinking. I’ll stop there and just say that we had a rich discussion for the time that it lasted on Thursday evening.
Dr. Anthony Montiero is a long-time activist in the struggle for socialism and black liberation, scholar, and expert in the work of WEB Dubois. In fact, he is one of the most cited Dubois scholars in the entire world. He’s worked and taught longer than most of us have been alive. Currently, he organizes with the Saturday Free School for Philosophy and Black Liberation in Philadelphia.
This article was republished from Positive Peace Blog.
Talk of economic issues in the media often gives the distinct impression that what is being discussed is obvious—or at least beyond control—though it rarely is. It is always conveyed by talk, but the suggestion is that there is really nothing to discuss, think about, let alone contest or even object to. Consider, as the case in point now, the state of the economy and the continuous talk of inflation which has persisted since the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic. The virtual consensus of experts and elites on this topic is that inflation is happening and that it is obviously a bad thing, though they do not go into any further detail. Who could disagree with the claim that we want a good economy, rather than a bad one? Inflation means consistently and rapidly rising prices. And this might seem to be something which is obviously bad for everyone. Yet there is no further discussion of the inflation of prices of which kinds of things, or for whose harm or benefit changes will occur, as though they were all the same. Occasionally, however, the opinion-doctors, political-economic elites, and managers make statements which make one wonder: Good or bad in what sense? Good or bad for whom? And such occasions must be seized upon. For instance, it is claimed, workers’ wages and employment are simply too high, because they are causing inflation, which is bad. But anyone who works for a living is right to be suspicious here. In what follows, several such conspicuous statements will be considered as the expressions of class warfare which they are.
The Battle over Inflation is Class Warfare
To begin, let’s get clear on what “inflation” is supposed to mean and the ways in which it might be good or bad and for whom that would be so. Inflation is supposed to be the general, consistent, and rapid rise in prices. The neo-liberal view which now dominates mainstream opinion is what economists call “monetarism” or the so-called quantity theory of money. And in the terms of that view, inflation is characterized as “too much money chasing too few goods”. On the basis of this view, there are two ways in which inflation can be counteracted: one can decrease the amount of money in circulation, or one can increase the amount of goods which are produced and offered for sale in the market in relation to money, such that there is not “too much money chasing too few goods”.
The mainstream view that one hears in the media only advocates the first way (“less money”). And it could be pursued in three versions: by cutting public, government spending; or by creating unemployment, which decreases consumer spending; or by increasing the rate of interest that the federal reserve pays to the holders of bonds (i.e., monetized government deficits made into interest paying debts). Increasing the rate of interest on government bonds is meant to have the same effect as the first two versions of this solution (“decreasing money”), because it is supposed to redirect money away from investment in the economy or demand for products—into bond-holding. Wealthy people putting money into bonds, instead of investing it into production which would employ workers who are the consumers of products, would mean less money is fueling demand in relation to the supply of those goods. And so it is supposed to “cool off” the inflation of prices of products.
It is curious that influential voices and powerful interests never advocate that we simply adopt the second way that their formula also includes. They never suggest that we simply increase the amount of goods which are produced and offered for sale on the market in relation to money and demand, even though it would increase the aggregate wealth and prosperity of the nation. In other words, you could also decrease inflation by producing something! And this is a conspicuous fact which requires deeper consideration, because it suggests that someone benefits while others lose in that particular kind of “solution”. There is more to the matter than the mainstream view presents to the untrained eye. And so, it is worth asking who says so and why they might put it that way. In other words, cui bono?
One must step back to consider the issue on a larger scale to clarify the deeper political-economic significance of the discussion—and cut through the noise which is obscuring the issue.
Prominent voices often claim that government spending or “printing money” causes inflation. Yet matters are not quite so simple. One must note that the amount of real goods, products, is the term in relation to which there is too much or too little money in circulation in an economy, such that their prices rise or fall. Moreover, when the government spends, it does not spend money that it gathers by taxing the population. Rather, government spending creates money, and taxation destroys money, but private banks also create money when they lend credits to someone which correspond to the debts of other people that they also create. This is obviously politically significant.
Even Alan Greenspan himself has clearly stated that it is not simply the amount of government spending or money-creation which causes problems. Government spending or creation of money by itself, such as the Covid 19 Stimulus checks, does not automatically increase prices of real goods for consumers across the board for everyone. (Private banks, which also create money, can also contribute to inflation, and we should criticize them for that.) Understanding the causes at work here requires that we take a step back and consider the matter more deeply.
The determinant factor in relation to which prices rise or fall is not simply the amount of money in circulation but also the amount of goods in circulation—or the level of production in an economy, because economies can produce more or fewer goods in relation to which there is “too much” or “too little” money in circulation. First, recalls the standard story of “supply and demand”. When supply exceeds demand, the story goes, prices fall, and when demand exceeds supply, prices rise. In order to understand inflation, however, one must not only consider the quantity of money spent or “printed” into existence, or even simply the brute supply and demand of products, but rather what macroeconomists call “effective demand” in relation to the supply of products as well. Effective demand is demand which has buying power, disposable income (e.g., wages), or money to back it up, money with which one actually pays for products, which makes that demand “effective”. Otherwise, moneyless demand or absolute human needs as such, which doesn’t have money to back it up, are on par with an impotent wish which cannot realize itself in the economy—and thus cannot even end up in capitalists’ profits or rentiers’ monopoly rents.
If worker-consumers suddenly have more money or disposable income such that they are willing and able to buy and pay for more goods with that money, however, effective demand would increase in relation to the supply of goods which have been produced. In this case, the companies which produce those goods would respond, in the first instance, by increasing production to meet that increased demand. Companies, which are motivated by profit-seeking, will attempt to increase their profit by producing more products for sale first, before they simply raise prices of products. But then, when those companies reach the point at which they cannot easily produce any more, when they are have reached their capacity, they will respond to increased effective demand for their products in the market by simply raising the prices of their products in order to obtain more profit, if they know they can squeeze more money out of worker-consumers. In other words, inflation is what happens when customers’ effective demand bids up prices on the market after the present capacity has been reached. And this is why increasing the money in circulation by itself is not sufficient to cause the inflation of prices; and, for the same reason, decreasing the amount of money in circulation by itself is also not enough to decrease prices. Here one must not lose sight of the fact that companies ultimately decide to raise their prices to obtain higher profits. That is, profit-seeking companies decide to raise prices in a way which we call “inflation”. They could also change their capacity. So, inflation is neither natural nor an automatic mechanism. Rather, it is the political core of the “private” sphere of the economy in capitalist societies. And price-gouging is all the easier for companies which are basically monopolies, who are fleecing workers who live from paycheck to paycheck. If there is someone to blame, one could start with them.
In this light, it is clear why government spending, the creation of more, new money, does not cause inflation by itself. If that money were promptly hoarded—put under a mattress somewhere in Kansas, for example—or if it were immediately paid to a creditor to cancel a debt, then it would hardly remain in circulation long enough to bid up prices (i.e., inflation). Hence the creation of money per se does not automatically lead to inflation, because it is not necessarily an excess of money in relation to the amount of real goods on offer in the market. Indeed, many stimulus payments were immediately paid to creditors to cancel debts (i.e., debt deflation) or were spent on unproductive speculative assets (e.g., cryptocurrency, Gamestop shares). Money itself is not the only cause.
For Asset Owners, against Working People
In order to focus the issue at hand as clearly as possible in political terms, one must reformulate the question. It is not simply “who does inflation hurt, and who does it help?” Rather, the question is, what kinds of inflation are there, which kinds of inflation are discussed, which kinds are not discussed, and who do the different kinds of inflation help or hurt? Indeed, some kinds are discussed and some kinds aren’t. Ultimately, the issue of “inflation” is a question of the distribution of wealth in society, and this is why the rich are so furious about it.
When the prices of financial or real assets, such as stocks or real estate increase (i.e., “asset-price inflation”), this helps the class of asset owners who gain and benefit from the purchase and resale of those assets (“arbitrage”, “capital gains”), and this kind of inflation is neither discussed nor targeted, no doubt because the people whom it helps have more influence over the media. For example, people who are already wealthy benefit from the increasing prices of stocks or real estate, if they are involved in buying the said assets at a lower price and selling them at a higher price. Hence they do not complain, but rather silently pass over the inflation of these prices. When the prices of real goods increase, however, this is discussed and targeted, not because it hurts working people who do not benefit from asset-price inflation, but because it hurts the value or relative buying-power of the assets of the owner class—and hence their wealth or political-economic power. In other words, if the prices of consumer goods increase, but the prices of assets of wealthy people remain the same, then the relative value of their assets (i.e., buying power and political power) has decreased. It does not matter to the wealthy interest groups if the increased prices of consumer goods only hurt the class of ordinary worker-consumers, who comprise the overwhelming majority of the population. And so, this issue only appears in the media at all to the extent that they can use it for their own interests.
The asset owning class only dislikes rising prices of consumer goods, and it likes rising prices of financial and real assets, because it’s in its political-economic interest. In order to see how this is the case, imagine that suddenly the prices of all products were doubled or even tripled, but wages paid to workers who consume those products were also increased in the same proportion. Let’s say, for example, that the cost of a gallon of milk is $3 in the first week of the month, $6 in the second week, $12 in the third week, and $24 in the final week; and let’s imagine that the minimum wage, meanwhile, is at $15 per hour in the first week, $30 in the second, $60 in the third, and $120 in the final week. This clearly would be a case of so-called hyper-inflation. And if we only look at the absolute figures, then these do look like radical increases. But looked at in relation to one another, we see that the proportions between the costs of goods and the money with which one buys them (i.e., wages, the cost of labor) have not changed at all. Indeed, nothing has really changed. Neither the seller of milk nor the buyer has been harmed—or helped. If wages remain the same, while prices go up, then the real wage of working people falls, which is to say that they get less of the total wealth, while someone else would be getting more. This is why talking heads claim that inflation hurts working people. But if the price labor—i.e., wages—and prices of consumer goods go up, then this would not hurt workers or producers, because, in fact, this question is a matter of the distribution of wealth. Generalized inflation of goods as well as wages of labor does not hurt worker-consumers or producers. It only hurts people whose income is derived from the ownership of financial or real assets (i.e., creditors or landlords).
For instance, in the example just given, it would be much easier for a worker who previously earned $15 per hour and now receives $120 per hour to pay his or her rent or debts at the end of the month than it was at the beginning—eight times easier, in fact. And the landlord or the creditor would receive the same amount of money (e.g., $1000), but it would be less valuable, or it would be able to buy fewer goods than before, because prices are eight times greater now. It’s no problem for all consumers to pay four times as much money for milk, if they are also receiving four times as much wages from their employers. And it would not even hurt the milk-producers, if they would be getting four eight times as much revenue as well. But it would hurt people who do nothing and receive their income passively merely because they own some piece of property, given the current conventions in our society. Indeed, this change would economically and political break those rentiers as a class almost immediately, because the buying power of their fixed incomes would have fallen eightfold. Given that they are the powerful interests which have captured our public institutions, however, they have every incentive to crush such a development, even if doing so hurts working people. This is why financial interests try to squeeze workers’ real income from one side by trying to increase unemployment or lower wages and thereby trigger the kind of deflation that benefits that class, while industrial monopolies squeeze workers’ real income from the other side when they engage in the kind of price gouging which motivates rentiers and talking heads to speak in favor of deflationary recessions. Worker-consumers are the center of this tug-of-war over the distribution of aggregate wealth.
The discussion about inflation is really about a deeply political conflict over distribution of the wealth which labor produces not only in America but all over the world. But what is occurring now is also something more specific. Inflation is not only a matter of class conflict. The war on inflation is also a class war. Though it might not be obvious, it is waged for the interests, power, and wealth, which is just power itself, of an already wealthy minority—not for, but rather against, that of the majority of the population. On the one hand, there is the class which “owns” nearly everything, while there is also the managerial class which “controls” nearly everything for the sake of the former, and on the other hand there is, finally, the working class that “owns” nothing more than the ability to work, which it sells just to survive. Inflation of the kind at issue only harms those persons whose income is fixed in contracts such as landlords or creditors, the class of so-called rentiers, the recipients of rent or interest, which Thorstein Veblen called “absentee owners”, the recipients of “passive, unearned income”—who Lenin once described as “living by ‘clipping coupons’”. In more contemporary terms, it is the so-called FIRE sector (i.e., finance, insurance, and real estate), those who aim to “get something for nothing” and always simply charge as much and “whatever the market can bear”.
And it is important to note that this is not merely a recent feature of contemporary society. Rather, it is an ideology which goes all the way back to the beginning. As John Jay once put it: “Those who own the country ought to govern it.” Similarly, James Madison states: “…if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. […] our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. […] [it] ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. […] The Senate ought to represent the opulent Minority…” And indeed, the protection of the asset-owning class and its opposition to the vast majority of the American population is even written into the Constitution itself: “…nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Surely, this could never be openly acknowledged in such plain terms. So, experts code matters in technical jargon which few can understand and which makes the situation appear to be a natural matter of course, which has the effect of bypassing any critical discussion or political opposition. One must keep calm and carry on, as the saying goes, or simply obey. Yet the road being advocated by political-economic elites and managers is only good for the class of owners of financial assets — which are just equal to other people’s liabilities — not for everyone else. This is why canceling private debts is equivalent to liquidating the wealth and control of the owner class over society, on the one hand, while fighting inflation means defending the economic power of the class of persons whose income is extracted by owning financial or real assets (e.g., lenders or landlords), on the other. This is why the fight against inflation is done primarily for the advantage of the “rentiers”, “absentee owners”, recipients of “passive, unearned income”, to the disadvantage of normal working people and even industry. Indeed, these people hate inflation and love deflation of prices, as economic experts constantly attest to. It is a good thing for them. They have a vested interest in lobbying the state to act in ways that benefit them and promote their economic interest, rather than that of the majority of people who live in a very different situation and perhaps do not even understand the economic situation at all. And indeed, that is exactly what they are doing and what is happening in the argument about inflation. It is not a neutral economic mechanism at stake here, but a deeply political fight over wealth.
The Federal Grift
It is often claimed and considered a good thing that the Federal Reserve is “independent”. But independent of what? It is said that it is independent of “political interference”, though this can hardly be true, if it is serving the political-economic interests of the class of asset-owners, not those of the majority of working people who do not own considerable financial or real assets from which they receive their income. Its sole mission of controlling inflation is often discussed in the language of “price stability”, which sounds as though it is good for everyone, though, recall, a rapid rise of prices across the board primarily hurts rentiers and helps everyone else. The Federal Reserve is “independent” from the political sovereignty and control of the majority of the American population, it is anti-democratic, and it does not serve the interests of most people. This is clear from the fact that the government does actually not perform its stated dual-task — not only price stability, but also a policy of full employment. Indeed, now it is explicitly contradicting it by trying to create unemployment. Regarding price stability, inflation and deflation should both be considered equally evil, but only inflation is said to be an evil, because it hurts the wealth, power and interests of the asset-owning class, while deflation helps them. Regarding full employment, powerful voices sacrifice it to the detriment of the livelihoods of the working class, to boost the wealth and power of the asset-owning class, because it is of no use to them. In other words, the class of asset-owners want prices to fall (deflation) not to rise (inflation), because it makes their financial assets more valuable and increases the buying power of their fixed incomes. That is, the livelihoods of working people must be sacrificed to the inflation gods to protect the value of the assets of the wealthy and powerful elites of this country, whose opinions are heard in the media—and no one else’s.
Let’s consider how some prominent voices – whose opinions influence political decisions and economic outcomes – are very selective about the ways in which they suggest we must deal with inflation. It is not only curious, but also to be expected, in light of what has just been said. And the opinion of “experts” is virtually unanimous here. There is the mainstream assumption of orthodox theory, that there is a natural “trade off” between employment and prices, standing behind it, the so-called “non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment”, NAIRU. This is the basis on which talking-heads proclaim that the only solution is that workers must make sacrifices, rather than wealthy asset-owners. It is the basis on which talking-heads say the problem primarily hurts working people, and the solution is fewer jobs, more unemployment, and lower wages. Hence their perspectives and prescriptions are clearly suspicious.
The influential economist and political advisor, Lawrence (“Larry”) Summers, for example, has repeatedly stated that drastic action of a very specific kind must be taken on the issue of inflation. The way to solve the problem, he claims, which ostensibly hurts everyone generally, yet particularly working people the most, is to create more unemployment, according to Summers. Yes, you heard that correctly: the way to stop hurting working people is to create unemployment among workers. Most recently, he made this argument on Jon Stewart’s Apple TV series, though he has also been making this argument for a while. Somewhat earlier this year, he already claimed that “there’s going to need to be increases in unemployment to contain inflation.” He states:
We need five years of unemployment above 5 percent to contain inflation—in other words, we need two years of 7.5 percent unemployment or five years of 6 percent unemployment or one year of 10 percent unemployment. We are unlikely to achieve inflation stability without a recession of a magnitude that would take unemployment towards the 6% range.
As Summers sees it, 6% unemployment will be necessary to achieve a level of inflation which he thinks is more desirable, which is 2%. Coincidentally, this is the percentage of the population which would benefit most from his advice—the asset-owning or ruling class of this country.
Similarly, the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome Powell, a lawyer (not an economist), has claimed that “reducing inflation” will require “below-trend growth”, which will “bring some pain to households and businesses. These are the unfortunate costs of reducing inflation. But a failure to restore price stability would mean far greater pain”. Certainly, not painfulful costs to himself, though. Claims such as these, that a better economy requires more unemployment and “pain”, are curious, because this is surely not better not for the unemployed. Presumably, the story would go, it would be better for everyone else if we just sacrifice a few victims — 6% or about 20,000 people — to the fickle and mysterious gods of the market, which is a small price indeed to pay for those who do not pay or suffer at all. In other words, aristocracy is great, as long as you belong to it.
More recently, however, the Federal Reserve has indicated that it will pause its increases in interest rate hikes, which have been the most radical action since the “Volcker shock” of the Reagan era, which also tried to decrease inflation by causing a recession—by pushing the damage off onto working people. The real reason for doing so, which might be obvious to anyone who understands and is paying attention, is that those actions have caused massive financial crises. (In the 1980s it was a crisis of the so-called savings and loans institutions.) After years of zero interest rates inaugurated by Barack Obama, which were meant to save the financial sector from collapse after the Crisis of 2008, rather than ordinary citizens, the Fed has now backed itself into a corner: it can only try to stop inflation by raising rates on bonds. But if it raises rates on bonds, then investors will pull their money out of banks to buy those new bonds which have higher interest rates, and so their banks, which hold the older, devalued bonds, will not have enough reserves on hand to pay up. This means they will come up short on reserves and become illiquid or insolvent—as the recent series of bankruptcies and bank-runs since Silicon Valley Bank have shown. The consequence is potentially another general financial crisis.
The pressing question here is just: for whom is the “better economy”, which experts and elites seek by tinkering with interest rates on government bonds, “better” or “best”? This is arguably a case in which the cure prescribed is worse for the patient than the disease. Why not rather a cut for the asset owning class? The answer here is obvious. Because they have captured the institutions which are making the decisions.
Simply put, the public, state-financial institutions in this country have been captured and are working for the interests of the private class of asset-owners—to keep the value of their assets inflated (equity, rents, stocks, bonds, interest), to keep their capital gains high, and to force the costs of unemployment and lower wages on the working majority. And here we reach the uncomfortable moment when Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s definition of “fascism” appears simply to be a description of the dominant brand of finance-capitalism: “ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power”.
A Solution to Inflation that Works for the Majority
If we accept for the sake of argument that inflation is just “too much money chasing too few goods”, then there are clearly two possible cures. The first would be to cut the amount of money in circulation that is “chasing” after goods. And one could do this in a number of ways, as I have already said: by cutting government spending, by creating unemployment which cuts consumer spending, or by increasing interest rates on bonds to attract money out of markets for goods into speculative markets in search of capital gains. This would favor and distribute wealth to the asset-owner class which already has political control of public institutions. On the other hand, however, inflation could also be stemmed by increasing the amount of products on the market which are being chased by money. The amount of products is not fixed, but rather variable, in the short run, and in the longer run, even the capacity of the economy to produce more is variable, rather than fixed. Indeed, in order for capacity to be fully utilized and full employment to be obtained, it must be constantly expanded. So, instead of simply cutting spending, it is possible simply to increase production so that effective demand does not exceed supply and cause inflation. If the well-being of the majority of Americans is really what is at stake, only the second option is the one to take.
Indeed, it is worth asking why the creditor-class of asset-owners consistently dislikes the option of increased production and increased government spending (i.e., currency creation, public deficits). The short answer is that their maximum relative benefit occurs only if the credits and debts which are created are those issued by private banks, which pay higher interest to them, and if the economy deflates, because public government deficit spending and inflation only benefits the vast majority of the population, but not themselves, as they might not get so much interest from it. The political character of the debate is clearest here.
Their howling about inflation is arguably unwarranted, however. If maximum capacity is not exceeded, and if what is occurring is not just price-gouging, then the problematic inflation in question will not follow. If there are fears of inflation, then just produce more or increase capacity! Doing so would benefit worker-consumers, and indeed it would benefit the majority of the population disproportionately. It would even benefit industrial capitalists as well but not at all the asset-owning class, the wealthiest minority. The owners of financial and real assets (e.g., real estate) do not stand to benefit from public spending (i.e., government deficit spending), because they do not get any interest payments from credit creation which is public, rather than private, unless they buy the bonds which the government is currently choosing to offer at abnormally high rates of interest to induce recessions—with massive collateral damage to the financial sector itself. And so, it is clear that the policy prescriptions of elites like Summers or Powell are motivated by their own class interests, or those of whoever pays them (i.e., patronage networks), rather than any neutral or objective view of the entire economy and the wellbeing of everyone in it. The powerful voices which represent the asset-owning class do not like any possible “solution” from which they do not immediately benefit.
In this light, the problem of inflation — higher prices — is just the problem that we are not producing enough and a fight over the distribution of wealth. The class of owners and the political class always oppose public spending because they have little to gain from the increasing industrial prosperity of a nation which they have struggled to deindustrialize for their own gain. Payments for goods made in China might no longer benefit them. And so they are ready to hang American worker-consumers out to dry. The private financial sector does not benefit at all from public deficit spending, though they profit immensely from increasing private consumer debt. Yet if the state spends less for the benefit of the majority of the population, then the private financial sector of banks will benefit more.
Things don’t have to be this way, as Michael Hudson often puts it. At full employment a country could also tax its highest incomes—to stem inflation but keep the entire working class employed at a decent standard of living. Conservatives might complain that taxing high incomes — the mythical “job creators” — will harm productivity and everyone else, because, if they cannot spend their wealth, then it will not “trickle down”. But this is generally false: whatever money they have must also have “trickled up” (i.e., effective demand) and cannot circulate at all if it concentrates at the top. Or rather, it is true only if the wealthiest citizens of a country invest their wealth and income into productive activities which produce real goods and actually employ working people who are also consumers of products. But the ultra-wealthy do not do so. They buy unproductive assets for “capital gains” (i.e. arbitrage). Thus a financialized economy such as the United States of America depends upon the underdeveloped economies of other countries for its industrial products. Archetypically, the owner-class invests in assets already in place instead of real production or employment—in speculation in property, in rent-seeking assets like shares or intellectual property rights, in cryptocurrency, and ultimately in asset-price inflation which forces working people out of home ownership (“gentrification”). These do not produce or employ anyone, but simply redistribute wealth upward, where it permanently stays. These voices have long since ceased to be pro-capitalist, but rather are now clearly reactionary, neo-feudalist advocates of the rent-seeking class. The classical mythology which was meant to legitimate capitalist development was that workers would get an absolutely larger piece of a (relatively smaller) pie which was growing. Neoliberals today, however, are happy to get a greater share in the distribution of pieces of a rapidly shrinking national pie, which is a fact that financialization and deindustrialization have positively contributed to, and leave only crumbs to be “equitably” distributed amongst the rest. The reason to tax that wealth and income at the top, then, would not be to fund anything through the state. The state does not need revenue, which it produces. We need to “stop pretending that we need them to pay for the good society”. Rather, the reason to tax the wealthiest members of society would be the functional outcome to which it would give rise: destroying their wealth and power, as well as cooling off the inflationary economy, without sacrificing working people to involuntary unemployment—the abolition of the kind of inequality which makes modern economies fail and functioning republics impossible. And the fact that someone like Summers thinks creating 6% unemployment obviously is the solution, but taxing the wealthy obviously is not a possibility, shows how this is a matter of class warfare.
Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
The reason why the battle over inflation is class warfare conducted by the class which already owns all the wealth against the class which does not own any wealth, but produces it, is that inflation is a matter of the distribution of extant wealth, rather than the production of wealth for everyone. And indeed, the interest of the wealthy consists in deflation which means less for the workers, while inflation which means less for the wealthy and more for the workers. But there is also a further political dimension at stake here. It is the reason why industrial capitalists sacrifice a portion of their own potential profits in their class-alliance with rentiers to control and dominate the working class which they exploit. And were it not politically efficacious in certain respects, it would be deeply irrational in economic terms.
In his essay, Political Aspects of Full Employment, Michael Kalecki clearly outlines this political-economic situation in a way that helps us make sense of Summers’ argument—that it would be good to have more unemployment, much as Marx and Luxemburg also emphasize that capitalists want unemployment. There are two reasons at work here. First, business management likes unemployment for political reasons, because it is easier to control workers if they can be threatened with being fired, only if there is someone ready and happy to take their job. Solidarity among workers does not benefit the rich. If there is full-employment, that is, then there is no one ready to take the job of a worker who management would like to discipline, and their threats are powerless. Second, the owner class of rentiers, which hates inflation, and likes deflation for the reason that it increases the value of their assets, also likes unemployment. In his essay, Kalecki writes:
… strong opposition by business leaders is likely to be encountered. As has already been argued, lasting full employment is not at all to their liking. The workers would ‘get out of hand’ and the ‘captains of industry’ would be anxious to ‘teach them a lesson’. Moreover, the price increase in the upswing is to the disadvantage of small and big rentiers, and makes them ‘boom-tired’. In this situation a powerful alliance is likely to be formed between big business and rentier interests, and they would probably find more than one economist to declare that the situation was manifestly unsound.
Is it any wonder, then, that people like Summers or Powell, the mercenary guardians of the owner-class, make the arguments which they make? They simply expresses the interest of the alliance of big business and rentiers. This is the context in which Marxists, socialists, leftists, and the rest must all hear statements such as Summers’s claim that “there’s going to need to be increases in unemployment to contain inflation” and that we need a “recession” in order to have a good, working economy. An economy that is good for whom? An economy that works for whom? Clearly, if he is railing against an economy that manages to keep full employment at decent wages, then he is not talking about an economy that is good and works for the majority of the population which is the working class. Rather, he is openly advocating that the majority of the population which is the working class works for an economy which is really only goods for the wealthy minority of the asset owning class. He does so in a coded language which few seem to understand. But he is illustrating perfectly the political problem which Kalecki points out. Thus it must be heard as the piece of class warfare that it is. And once we recognize it for what it is, we can expect nothing more from this approach to politics and economy than the black cloud of managed decline which is looming on the horizon. The time to change course is indeed at hand, though we can expect no changes from those who currently hold any power.
 “When demand rises, some combination of output and price increases will absorb the increased demand, with the proportions varying across industries up to the point of economy-wide full employment. Once that is reached, only prices can rise because firms cannot find more resources to produce more” (Mitchell, Wray, Watts, Macroeconomics, 240). “…if an economy could meet the growth in nominal expected demand by rapidly expanding the capacity to produce goods and services, [then] an inflationary gap would not open. […] Circumstances change somewhat when the economy approaches full productive capacity. Then the mix between output growth and price rises becomes more likely to be biased toward price rises (depending on the bottlenecks in specific areas of productive activity. At full capacity, GDP can only grow via inflation (that is, nominal values increase only). At this point, the inflationary gap is breached” (Mitchell, Wray, Watts, Macroeconomics, 260-1).
 Equally perverse is the mainstream view of “full employment”, which is meant to be achieved when the total of real wages which capitalist employers are willing to pay is divided among everyone who needs to work. Cf. Leftwich, Sharp, Miree, Economics of Social Issues (1980), 274: “The economic aspect of unemployment originates from a situation in which the quantity of labor demanded [by capitalists] is less than the quantity [of labor] supplies [by workers] at the market wage rate. This results in involuntary unemployment”. “The general solution to involuntary unemployment is a reduction in real wage rates until the amount of labor demanded equals the amount supplied. In a competitive market, the reduction in real wage rates would take place automatically” (ibid., 287). In other words, lower wages for the employed so the unemployed get something too—never mind whether this might present a catastrophic lack of effective demand! For a contemporary discussion of this view from a macroeconomic perspective, cf. Mitchell, Wray, Watts, Macroeconomics (2019), 169- 70 and chapters 11-14; on “NAIRU”, cf. ibid., 283f.
 This might come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the founders actual statements about their hostility to majority-rule. John Jay reportedly said: “Those who own the country ought to govern it.” And James Madison similarly stated: “if elections were open to all classes of people, the property of the landed proprietors would be insecure. […] our government ought to secure the permanent interests of the country against innovation. […] [it] ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. […] The Senate ought to represent the opulent Minority…” (https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Madison/01-10-02-0044)
 Cf. Kalecki 1990, 161: “In order for existing capital equipment to be fully employed, it must be continually expanded, since then retained profits are invested. If these investments are not made, profits fall, and along with them the employment of existing plants. [/] Let us assume, as often happens in the USA, that two competing railway lines run between two cities. Traffic on both lines is weak. How does one deal with this? Paradoxically, one should build a third railway line, for then materials and people for construction of the third will be transported on the first two. What should be done when the third one is finished? Then one should build a fourth and a fifth one. . . . This example, as we warned, is paradoxical, since unquestionably it would be better to undertake some other investment near the first two railway lines rather than build a third one; nevertheless, it perfectly illustrates the laws of development of the capitalist system as a whole”.
This article was republished from Class Unity.