After the tragedy of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine: anger, solidarity, and rejecting Islamophobia in France

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Crédit Photo: DR.

In the wake of the horrific murder of a French high school teacher, President Emmanuel Macron is playing the Islamophobia card in hopes of distracting the country from his catastrophic failure to stem the tide of newly resurgent Covid-19.

According to The Guardian, “Macron, who visited the site near a school in a Paris suburb, said the victim had been ‘assassinated’ and that his killer sought to ‘attack the republic and its values.’ ‘This is our battle and it is existential. They [terrorists] will not succeed … They will not divide us.’”

This following statement was released by the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste (New Anticapitalist Party) of France (NPA).

On Friday, October 16, the NPA received the news of the decapitation of a high school teacher in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine with shock and horror. All our thoughts are with his family, his friends, his students, and his colleagues as well as all people in the larger education community, which has been shaken by this atrocious crime.

The NPA condemns this disgraceful act. Whatever the conclusions of the investigation, nothing can justify such an assassination. We stand by our unwavering attachment to freedom of expression and educational freedom for teachers.

Since the tragedy, President Emmanuel Macron and Minister of National Educaton Jean-Michel Blanquer have been playing the game, repeating declarations of love for teachers, for whom they have nothing but contempt at all other times, and praising the essential role of schools, which they have continuously attacked in recent years.

It is difficult not to feel indignant at Blanquer’s hypocritical defense teachers’ freedom of expression when we know to what extent the hunt for dissenters is organized by the Ministry Education as demonstrated by the image of four teachers in Melle being sanctioned for mobilizing against the reform of “le bac” (high school graduation qualifications that divide students into professional, technical, and general categories).

Moreover, the government is participating in an escalation of Islamophobia, trying to make a link between the tragedy in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine and its legislative bill on “separatism,” the logic of which is to further strengthen the supposed connections between Muslims, fundamentalists, and terrorists.

Far from opposing the outburst of Islamophobic hatred that we have witnessed since last night, the powers that be are contributing to it, reinforcing the fractures along which the hate-mongers, lethal ideologies and religious fanaticisms, and enemies of all workers and peoples thrive.

We express our total solidarity with Samuel Paty’s relatives, friends, and colleagues, and more generally with all educators who have been impacted by this assassination. The NPA will join initiatives to express our mourning, our anger, and our solidarity in the wake of this tragedy, while refusing to support the logic of national unity with the false-friends of teachers and those who support a repressive headlong rush into an increased stigmatization of Muslims.

Originally released in French on October 17. Translated by No Borders.

Cuba’s New Economic Turn

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A series of recent developments in Cuba have struck the already faltering economy of the island leading the government to adopt a series of economic policies that point towards a greater opening to capital while maintaining the political controls of the one-party state.

First in the list of the latest disasters that have befallen the island is the Covid-19 pandemic. Compared to other Caribbean countries, Cuba did better due to a public health system, which, however much it declined in the last thirty years, is still able to organize an adequate response to collective disasters such as the pandemic. Thus, to stop the contagion, the Cuban government adopted drastic measures such as shutting public transport in its entirety, and in response to a rebound of the infection beginning in late August, it restored similarly drastic measures in many locations, including the Havana metropolitan area, although in early October the government reduced the restrictions in most of these places.

The tourist industry, the third most important earner of foreign exchange after the export of medical personnel and foreign remittances from Cubans abroad, was also shut down, as were many other commercial and industrial establishments. Cuba’s intake of foreign exchange—badly needed to buy essential imports, including 70 percent of the food it consumes—had already been seriously curtailed before the pandemic by the cancellation of its export of medical personnel to countries such as Brazil and Bolivia where hard right governments had recently come into power. In addition, the oil shipments that the island was receiving from Venezuela (in exchange for the export of medical personnel to that country), crucial for the functioning of the island’s economy, were cut down as a result of the political and economic crises under Maduro’s government.

To make matters considerably worse, Donald Trump escalated in a decidedly aggressive fashion the US criminal blockade of Cuba, in part motivated by the latter’s support of the Maduro regime, by reducing, or in some cases cancelling, some of the concessions that Obama had granted to Cuba during his second period at the White House. Among other hostile measures, Trump limited the remittances by Cuban-Americans to their relatives in the island, sharply reduced travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens who are not Cuban-Americans, prohibited U.S. visitors to Cuba from staying in hotels owned by the Cuban government, and engaged in a campaign to discourage foreign investment in the island through his invocation, for the first time ever, of Title III of the 1996 Helms-Burton law (approved by Congress and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton) that punishes foreign firms that utilize American property confiscated by the Cuban government in the early 1960s. The Trump administration also suspended licenses authorizing U.S. economic activities in the island, such as the one granted by the Obama administration to the Marriott Corporation to operate hotels in Cuba.

Will Washington’s policy change under a possible Biden administration? The Democratic presidential candidate promised to follow in the footsteps of President Barack Obama, moving towards a normalization of political and economic relations with Cuba. The extent to which a Biden administration will do so depends on a variety of factors ranging from the electoral results in Florida to relations with Venezuela. Although the latter was not very important in relation to Cuba policy during the Obama years, it became a major consideration for Trump who, following the advice of Senator Marco Rubio and the then National Security Adviser John Bolton, made Cuba’s support for Nicolás Maduro a major issue and used it to justify the tightening of sanctions against the island. The fact that both Biden and congressional Democrats have supported Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s claim to be the legitimate president of Venezuela does not augur well in terms of a Democratic administration normalizing relations with the island.

Powerful corporate interests such as major agribusiness firms and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have for a long time been in favor of full economic relations with Cuba, although it is hard to predict how much political capital they are willing to invest to bring about that objective. In any case, a complete normalization of economic and political relations with the island would require a congressional repeal of the 1996 Helms-Burton law. This is a dubious prospect considering the likely composition of both houses of Congress following next month’s election, despite the fact that a significant number of Republican congresspeople have supported, on behalf of agricultural and other business interests, the normalization of relations with Cuba. Nevertheless, the president of the United States has considerable discretion in improving relations with Cuba even if Helms-Burton remains the law of the land.

Meanwhile, all of these events have considerably exacerbated the problems of an already weak Cuban economy suffering low growth for several years (0.5% in 2019), low industrial and agricultural productivity, and a very low ratio of capital replacement needed to maintain an economy at least at its existing level of production and standard of living, let alone any significant economic growth and improved living conditions. To make matters worse, this situation has been developing in the context of an increasingly aging population, a demographic process that began in the late seventies and that will lead to a number of serious problems, such as a shrinking labor force having to support an expanding number of retirees.

In response to the pressures created by the recent deepening of the economic crisis, the Cuban government recently announced a series of economic measures that will bring the country an important step closer to the Sino-Vietnamese model, which combines an authoritarian one-party state with a growing role for private capitalist enterprise. These new measures represent the Cuban government’s decision to relinquish a part of its economic control in an effort to acquire hard currency, import capital, and promote greater dynamism and growth of the Cuban economy.

Development of Small and Medium Private Enterprise

One economic proposal that has been brought back to life is the establishment of private “Pequeñas y Medianas Empresas” or PYMES (Small and Medium Enterprises in English). For over a decade, the Cuban government under Raúl Castro’s rule has allowed the existence of very small private enterprises that by now employ approximately 30 percent of the labor force. This includes about one quarter of a million private farmers who work the land in usufruct, meaning that they rent it from the government for renewable twenty-year periods, as well as some 600,000 people who own or work for small businesses in urban areas. Most of these micro enterprises are primarily concentrated in the areas of food services (restaurants and cafeterias), transportation (taxis and trucks), and the renting of usually renovated rooms and apartments to tourists, probably the most lucrative small enterprise of all. Then, in 2014, in an important official document entitled Conceptualización del Modelo Económico y Social Cubano de Desarrollo Socialista (Conceptualization of the Cuban Social and Economic Model of Socialist Development), the Cuban government announced that it would allow the creation of small and medium private enterprises. This notion has recently been revived and being discussed by, for example, President Díaz-Canel, stating that it is necessary to “unblock” (destrabar) the PYMES and cooperatives in Cuba.

Few details have been given on what these enterprises may encompass in terms of size and other characteristics. Most likely that will remain under wraps until the government enacts the new law, which is scheduled for April 2022, regarding both state and private enterprises, although deputies to the official parliament have indicated that regulations concerning PYMES will be formulated as early as this year. Still, one can get an approximate idea of what those medium-size enterprises will comprise by looking at how they have been defined in other Latin American countries. In Costa Rica, for example, where PYMES are widespread and play an important role in the economy, medium enterprises refer to those that employ between 31 and 100 employees; micro enterprises to those that employ less than five workers (the largest group-size in present day Cuba), and small enterprises to those hiring from 6 to 30 workers. Chile approved a law officially defining the size of enterprises along the following numerical criteria: Micro, up to 9 employees; Small, from 10 to 25 employees; Medium, from 25 to 200 employees; and big, more than 200 employees.

Based on those definitions, it is clear that given their size, private medium-size firms are regular capitalist enterprises unlikely to be managed solely by their owners, and will need some kind of hierarchical administration to run the business in terms of its economic planning, administration and production. The establishment of these medium-size firms will likely go along with the official state unions moving in to “organize” the workers in those firms, as they have already done with the much smaller “cuenta propistas” (self-employed people) and their few employees. As in China, the official unions in Cuba will do nothing to truly represent the workers in their relations with the employers.

Cuba’s 2014 Labor Code

In this context it is very important to consider the Labor Code (Código Laboral) that has been in force since it was approved by the Cuban government in 2014. This Code eliminates the requirement to compensate workers whose place of employment has been closed, and allows private employers, as matter of their right as proprietors, to fire workers without cause. In the case of state employees, the government also fires workers by declaring them unsuitable (no idóneos) for their jobs, with little recourse for the affected workers. The new code also relaxes the 8-hour day allowing employers to stretch it to nine hours without extra compensation. As a matter of fact, there are already many workers in the private sector working 10 and even twelve hour shifts per day without overtime pay. (They do it anyway because their base pay is higher than in the state sector.) The Code also permits private employers to only grant a minimum of seven days of annual paid vacation instead of the thirty-day paid annual vacations that state employers are entitled to. It also abolishes release time for the continuing education (superación) of all workers, so currently it has to take place during the workers’ earned free time, like accumulated vacation time. This Labor Code is expected to also apply to the PYMES sector of the economy.

Modifying the State’s Monopoly of Foreign Trade

Along with widening the door to private enterprise, the Cuban regime has very recently relaxed its monopoly of foreign trade, that is, the exclusive control that, until now, it has had over all business import and export activities in the island. A short time ago, Rodrigo Malmierca, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment (Mincex), announced that thirty-six state enterprises specializing in foreign trade were preparing themselves to offer their helping services to private importers and exporters to process and smooth out their foreign operations. As an added incentive to stimulate these (hard currency) private export activities, the government has offered to apply a discount to the tax on profits of state, cooperative and private enterprises if they show an increase in sales of products and services compared to the previous year.

In 1959, the first year of the revolution, when most of the economy was still in private hands, the revolutionary government, faced with a sharp decline in its hard currency foreign reserves, required Cuban private firms importing from abroad to get the permission from Cuba’s national bank to obtain the hard foreign currency (usually dollars) they needed for their transactions. This was how the government was trying to carry out its plan to use its scarce hard foreign currency on imports that were key to the country’s economic development rather than in, for example, luxury goods for personal use. It is not yet known what kind of say the government will now have in the import/export initiatives put forward by the private sector.

Rationalizing the Monetary System

The new rules governing export, and especially import, activities will be closely related and undoubtedly affected by the monetary difficulties currently facing Cuba, particularly those regarding the scarcity of hard currency. That scarcity is also playing a key role in the government’s ongoing discussion of monetary unification, an issue over which much ink has been spilled for many years in Cuba and that is increasingly becoming center stage in the new economic policies, and which may finally occur during the next few months. As the Cuban government attempts to increasingly integrate its economy into the international economy, the more it will need to regularize the exchange rate between its domestic currency and foreign currencies used by foreign capital for its transactions. This would allow a more rational arrangement for, among other things, establishing a system of prices and economic incentives, and measuring economic data.

For many years, Cuba has had a simultaneously existing double monetary system operating domestically, one in dollars and another in Cuban pesos. Until recently, that double system took the form of the Cuban peso and the CUC–-a non-convertible Cuban currency roughly equivalent to the dollar—which for a long time was pegged at approximately 24 or 25 Cuban pesos to one CUC. But the CUC lost its value and is in the process of disappearing due to the lack of hard currency to support it. Meanwhile, the Cuban economy has become directly dollarized: Cubans now get access to goods in special dollar stores selling a wide variety of goods, including food supplies that have been getting very hard to obtain with Cuban pesos elsewhere. Products in those dollar stores are bought with plastic cards issued by the government in order to prevent informal black-market speculation in dollar bills. They are the only form of currency accepted by those stores and are based on dollar deposits made in Cuban banks, most of these originating from remittances from abroad. However, with the disappearance of the CUC, we can no longer speak about currency unification but rather about the rationalization of Cuban monetary policy, particularly the exchange rate between the peso and the dollar. As the Cuban economist Pedro Monreal has pointed out monetary changes will have to be part of a broader package involving adjustments in prices, subsidies, salaries and pensions.

The monetary regularization of the exchange between the Cuban peso and the dollar now being discussed in the island poses to the government a series of complications that will be very difficult to solve. They primarilystem from the fact that while the general population has been exchanging 24 to 25 pesos for one dollar, state enterprises have enjoyed the economically distorting exchange rate of one peso for one dollar (a rate that has clearly favored the import of foreign goods, but has hurt the export of Cuban goods). The regularization of the currency in this context means that the government will have to square various circles in order to both prevent the closing of many state firms that used to benefit from the import subsidy they enjoyed at the special one-to-one exchange, and block an increase in inflation. Because of internal political pressure and popular expectations, the government might be forced to grant an exchange rate favorable to the peso. If that favorable exchange rate is not matched by increased availability of goods and services, it could lead to inflation. Compounding problems, a lack of independent trade unions will leave Cuban workers unprotected from their government’s monetary policies.

Especially important is the major policy change that the Cuban Minister of Labor and Social Security Marta Elena Feitó first announced on August 6 (and was later confirmed on October 13 by Alejandro Gil, the Minister of Economy and Planning), which will substantially increase the number and kind of urban occupations that Cubans can engage in the private sector. As part of his early economic reforms, Raúl Castro allowed the opening to private self-employment and the hiring of others of a limited number of occupations that eventually increased to over two hundred, which were then reorganized into 123 occupational groups. (It is worth noting that this increase was far from a linear process, and on more than one occasion the government retrenched and diminished the number of permissible occupations in the private sector.) As per Ministers Feitó and Gil, that list of permissible private occupations will be eliminated, and presumably a new one will be prepared listing only those occupations that Cubans will not be allowed to practice on a private basis, such as, for example, the private practice of medicine. Neither minister has yet set a date when these changes will go into effect.

Finally, to facilitate the operations of both the rural and urban private sectors, the government announced that it would increase the number of wholesale markets to allow small and medium private entrepreneurs to purchase food and other goods in bulk at lower prices. The lack of access to wholesale markets has been a big problem that has seriously affected the viability of both rural and urban private ventures. In order to improve matters, the government very recently announced that starting in September wholesale markets will start functioning in growing numbers in the provincial capitals, although the transactions will be exclusively conducted in hard currencies, which has been clearly the principal impulse for this and other announced economic changes.

Should the Cuban government carry out all of its announced changes, the economy of the island will have travelled a long way from the highly nationalized economy of the late eighties— more nationalized than the economies of the USSR and Eastern Europe–to a fundamentally mixed economy thus moving ever closer towards the Sino-Vietnamese model. It remains to be seen to what extent the proposed changes will improve the mediocre performance of the present Cuban economy where low economic growth and low productivity have characterized both the urban and rural economies for a long time. It is worth noting, however, that in spite of a generalized low agricultural productivity, private farms have already surpassed the state farms in the production of several staples, as was the case in Eastern Europe under Communist rule. In only a little after one decade since a substantial amount of land was distributed to private farmers, and in spite of the great difficulties in their obtaining access to credit and wholesale trade, agricultural tools and other implements, private farmers, who still own less arable land than the government, already produce 83.3 percent of fruits, 83.1 percent of corn, and 77.9 percent of beans in the island. This, however, is not so much a testimony to the wonders of private enterprise, but rather to the disaster that bureaucratic state agriculture ran from the top in a centralized fashion has been for Cuba (and for several countries that used to be part of the Soviet bloc). In such bureaucratic systems, the people involved at the point of production lack both material incentives, such as greater purchasing power, and political incentives, such as self-management and democratic control of their workplaces, whose absence has historically led to widespread apathy, negligence, irresponsibility and what Thorstein Veblen called “withdrawal of efficiency.” It is this lived experience, and not capitalist propaganda, that has increasingly made the capitalist model attractive to Cubans.

The Political Context

A critical issue arising from this discussion is the nature and composition of the Cuban political leadership that is facing the current crisis and presiding over the above-mentioned proposals fifteen years after Fidel Castro withdrew, for health reasons, from his direct command of the country and was succeeded by his younger brother Raúl, the head of the Cuban armed forces and heir apparent since the very early days of the revolutionary government. Upon taking power, Raúl introduced a series of economic reforms opening up the system, to a modest degree, to usually very small size private enterprise, and promoted a significant degree of liberalization like, for example, changing in 2012, the rules controlling foreign travel to permit Cubans to travel abroad. But this liberalization was not accompanied by any kind of political democratization. Just the opposite. Thus, the repression of dissidence has continued. So, for example, while liberalizing travel abroad for most Cubans, the government has either placed traveling obstacles to many dissidents either delaying their timely appearances in conferences abroad or making it impossible for them to travel abroad for which purpose it has elaborated a list of “regulados” (regulated people) of some 150 dissident Cubans not allowed to leave the country. It is worth noting that, like in so many other repressive measures adopted by the Cuban government, this continues to be, as in Fidel Castro’s times, a political and administrative decision outside of even the regime’s own judicial system. The same applies to the thousands of short-term arrests that Raul’s government has carried out every year, especially to prevent public demonstrations not controlled by the government.

The one-party system continues to function as under Fidel Castro, with its enormous social, economic and political control implemented through its transmission belts in the mass organizations (e.g., labor unions and women’s organizations) and other institutions such as those in the educational system. The mass media (radio, television and newspapers) continues under the control of the Cuban government following in its coverage in its coverage the “orientations” of the Ideology Department of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. The sole important exception is the internal publications of the Catholic Church, which, however, exercises extreme political caution, and limits the distribution of its publications to its parishes and other Catholic institutions. The Internet, which the government has yet been unable to bring under its complete control, remains the principal vehicle for critical and dissident voices.

Meanwhile, an important generational change has been taking place inside the Cuban leadership that poses questions about the Cuban system’s future. The new president of the Cuban republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermudez, was born in 1960, a year after the revolutionary victory. The occupant of the newly created position of prime minister, Manuel Marrero Cruz, a man with long years of experience in the tourist business, was born in 1963. These two men could be seen as being under a sort of probationary apprenticeship under Raúl Castro, who at his 89 years of age, is still the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party, although he will officially retire in 2021. There are other “historic” leaders still at the top of the political hierarchy as well. José Ramón Machado Ventura, a medical doctor who for a time was number three after Fidel and Raúl Castro, and is a member of the Political Bureau, will be ninety years old on October 26. Ramiro Valdés, another “histórico” who occupied many top positions during more than sixty years of the revolutionary government, including Minister of the Interior, now a member of the Political Bureau, is 88 years old. Several top generals in high positions also belong to the older generation. General Ramón Espinosa Martín, member of the Political Bureau of the CPP, is 81 years old. In comparison, General Álvaro López Miera, also a member of the Political Bureau is a youngster at a mere 76 years of age. General Leopoldo Cintra Frias, the Minister of the FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) is 79 years old.

Yet, there are younger people, less visible than Díaz-Canel Bermudez and Marrero Cruz, who now sit in critical governmental positions and whose power will likely increase in the context of a transition after the old “históricos” are gone from the scene. One of them is sixty-year old General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, a former son in law of Raúl Castro, who is the head of GAESA, the huge business conglomerate of the Armed Forces, which includes Gaviota, the principal tourist enterprise in Cuba. Various active and retired high Army officers currently hold leading positions in other key areas of the Cuban economy. The Cuban Army has formed technical and business cadres who, together with a group of civilian technicians and managers, have for some time played a major role in the Cuban economy. Many of them have become international businesspeople acting on behalf of the Cuban state and have developed extensive connections with international banks and other international capitalist institutions. To them we must add the managers of state-owned industry, who have just been granted more autonomy by the government. All of these functionaries may end up benefiting from the announced establishment of PYMES by using their business contacts to obtain the capital necessary to create their own medium size enterprises in the island. They constitute the kernel of a developing Cuban capitalist bourgeoisie that is emerging from within the Communist apparatus itself.

Opposition, Disaffiliation and Discontent

There is political opposition and Cuba, principally but not exclusively on the center and right of the political spectrum. However, it has been politically marginalized by government repression, and by the Plattist (after the Platt Amendment imposed by the U.S. on Cuba at the beginning of the twentieth century curtailing Cuban independence) practice adopted by sections of that opposition, which instead of organizing and raising funds among the close to two million people of Cuban descent in the U.S. and other countries abroad–just as José Martí did among Cuban tobacco workers in Florida to support Cuban independence in the 1890s–has instead relied on U.S. government handouts to survive the Cuban government’s persecution.

While the government might have successfully marginalized the active dissidence in the island, it has not been able to stem the considerable political disaffiliation from the regime, particularly among the younger generations that grew up since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the Soviet bloc in the late eighties and early nineties. It is worth noting that almost as much time has elapsed between 1990 and the present as it did between the revolutionary victory in 1959 and the collapse of the Soviet bloc. This collapse – and the major withdrawal of economic assistance to Cuba that accompanied it–produced a catastrophic economic crisis and a considerable erosion of the legitimacy of the Cuban regime. Since then, public and private corruption has markedly increased, a phenomenon that was even denounced by Fidel Castro in a famous speech at the University of Havana in November of 2005, when he warned that it could destroy the revolution from within and thus accomplish what US imperialism had failed to bring about for many decades.

The current economic crisis, considerably aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has added to the already widespread discontent stemming from the shortage of consumer goods. Much of this discontent has become focused on the “coleros” (from “cola,” a queue or line of people waiting), a term currently used for people who regularly monopolize the first places in the now ubiquitous lines forming everywhere to get increasingly scarce basic goods or in order to sell those places to latecomers; and for people who taking advantage of their holding, in one way or another, the first places in the line buy up as much as there is in stock in order to resell it at exorbitant prices. The government has used to its advantage the understandable popular indignation aroused by the “coleros” by denouncing and arresting them, but avoids focusing on the economic causes of the “colero” phenomenon, namely, the scarcity of basic goods due to insufficient domestic production and/or importation. The fact is, however, that given the shortage of agricultural production due to the existing economic and political regime in the island, there does not seem to be any practical alternative to this problem. Even rationing the hard currency goods bought by the “coleros” by incorporating them into the already existing peso-denominated rationing system is not likely to work as there may not be a sufficient amount of them to provide for everybody.

It is difficult to tell whether the circumstances under which the current disaffiliation and discontent may translate into a political alternative, let alone a democratic and progressive one, to the existent undemocratic one-party state regime. It is true that Obama’s shutting off the road of Cuban emigration to the United States in the final days of his administration eliminated an important safety valve for Cuban opposition and discontent. (It is worth noting that Trump did not repeal this particular measure by Obama, proof that his opposition to Communism is far weaker than his xenophobia and racism). Nevertheless, the shutting off of emigration to the United States has not so far appeared sufficient to ignite any major significant political development in the island.

What is clear is that the adoption of the new economic measures discussed above, particularly the legalization of the so-called medium-size enterprises, may considerably extend and deepen Cuba’s double exploitation and oppression: the one exercised, for a long time, by the highly authoritarian one-party state, and the other one, exercised by the future medium-size private businesses helped along by the false protection afforded to the workers by the state unions that will in fact function as company unions in the PYMES context. The Labor Code approved in 2014 already offers a glimmer of what is to come.

The new economic distribution of power that sooner or later will develop in Cuba will further demonstrate the urgency of truly free trade unions, and the need to replace the undemocratic one-party state that by its nature makes independent unions impossible, with a truly socialist and democratic republic in Cuba.

 

 

 

 

 

Capitalism Made Women of Color More Vulnerable to the COVID Recession

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Migreldi Lara, a single mother of three who is out of work as a hair stylist due to the pandemic, stands with her daughters during a protest outside the Berks County Services Building in Reading, Pennsylvania, on September 1, 2020.
Ben Hasty / MediaNews Group / Reading Eagle via Getty Images

First posted at Truthout.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) monthly jobs report for September proves with numbers what we have all known anecdotally and experientially: This pandemic-laced recession has been disastrous for women, especially women of color.

Between August and September, 865,000 women dropped out of the workforce, a rate four times higher than that for men. One in 9 Black women, and 1 in 9 Latinas, aged 20 and over, respectively at rates of 11 percent and 11 percent, became unemployed in September. Compare this to white men who have an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent and white women who have a rate of 6.9 percent.

These figures are not very different from the spring, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics report in April told us that women accounted for 55 percent of the 20.5 million job losses. The unemployment rate for adult women then was 15 percent, as compared to the 13 percent unemployment rate for adult men.

From the start of the pandemic, job losses for women have been so much greater than for men that some feminist policy makers have called this a “shecession,” in contrast with 2008. And “she” is most certainly a woman of color.

Sometimes numbers — percentages and charts — can obscure social wounds. We can see the 11 percent job loss figure for Black women, but we don’t necessarily associate that number with the impacts on people like Kyaira Jackson, a seventh grader in my daughter’s class, whose mother, the sole earner for her family, just lost her job at Walmart. Her mother, Jazmine Pinckney, asked me if I could help return some of Kyaira’s school things as the family would be moving soon. As is the case for most Americans, Jazmine’s family’s health care, as well as her ability to pay rent and buy food, were solely and relentlessly dependent on her wage. She would now move back to her childhood home in Atlanta, back to the house she left to make her way in the world, this time with her two young children.

Jazmine’s life, like the lives of so many Black women in this pandemic, is like Ariadne’s thread, leading us through the maze of capitalist social relations. It helps illuminate the monsters behind the inequality that existed long before the virus was even heard of. The first step to understanding the devastation caused by the virus in the lives of women and people of color, is to understand that it was merely the spark; the kindling was there all along.

Let us begin with the wage, since its tyranny shapes not just our working lives but crucially, our lives outside of the workplace.

Well before the pandemic, women in this country earned 82 cents to the dollar that a man earned, while Black women earned 62 cents on the dollar, and Latina women earned 54 cents on the dollar. Often it is difficult to determine cause and effect for gendered wages. It is because women earn less than men that they tend to work part-time and spend their unwaged time doing care work in the home, as both child care and elder care remain exorbitant in the U.S. But it is also true that certain jobs become less prestigious and lower paid when women become the ones primarily performing them. Teaching was treated with much respect and remunerated better in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century when it was mostly men who became teachers; now, K-12 teachers are mostly women, and they are neither as well paid nor well respected.

Waged work remains inextricably braided with unwaged work. Lack of access to quality child care and elder care forces women to consider quitting waged work before their male partners since their jobs were less paying to begin with. This in turn ensures that women are pushed into, or remain locked into, lower-paid work due to “lack of experience” or for having taken “career breaks.” Just under a third of single mothers were already living below the poverty line; since the pandemic, over a million of them have lost their jobs.

When schools and child care centers closed in the spring, and as they continue to offer partial services through the fall, many women, particularly white women, decided to leave the work force. As Stefania Albanesi put it in The New York Times, “white families tend to have higher wealth and higher average income so they can afford to reduce labor supply, compared to most African-American households, where earnings are quite low.”

If our analysis stops at the doors of the workplace, and only pays attention to the wage gap or unemployment figures, it will fail to see the multiple ways in which waged work orchestrates the unwaged slices of our lives. Ecologists use the term “cascade effect” as a concept to understand how primary extinction of a species can trigger multiple secondary extinctions. The tyranny of the wage has a similar cascade effect on our life-making.

Consider the health of Black women and Latinas during this pandemic. Low wages certainly determine the kind of health care these women have or whether they have it at all. But we should not only be concerned about low wages in the here and now. Historically, Black communities have been forced to live in neighborhoods that have poor air quality and/or contaminated water. They are 75 percent more likely to live near polluting industries that produces hazardous waste.

Schools that predominantly serve Black and Brown communities are chronically underfunded and the first ones to close during a financial crisis. Consistent redlining through the years have ensured that these neighborhoods are also more likely to be what the federal government calls “food deserts” or “areas in which residents are hard-pressed to find affordable, healthy food.”

When a virus with no apparent cure comes into the lives of people in these communities, who, then, shall we blame for the disproportionately high death rates? It is not simply the pandemic or the recession that is driving the disproportionate harm experienced by women of color in this moment. It is an economic system stacked against them.

For all the women who have lost their jobs during this pandemic, for Black women and Latinas who have performed the bulk of the essential work during lockdown and borne the brunt of the recession, for all the Black and Brown elders who have lost their lives during this crisis, it is capitalism that has been their preexisting condition.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission.

Trump Turns to Red-Baiting to Save his Stumbling Campaign

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This article was written for L’Anticapitaliste, the biweekly newspaper of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) of France. 

The accompanying graphic is a Trump campaign ad aimed at Spanish-speakers saying “Progressive = Socialist.” The photo shows Joseph Biden when he was vice president meeting President Nicolás Maduro at conference in Brazil. The well-known photo was published widely in the conservative Spanish language press to attack Biden as a socialist.

President Donald Trump, who is now losing the presidential election campaign by 12 points, is turning to vicious red-baiting against Joseph Biden and the Democratic Party. ABC News reports, “The presidential race stands at 53%-41%, Biden-Trump, among registered voters, and a similar 54%-42% among likely voters, with minimal support (in the low single digits) for the Libertarian and Green Party candidates.”

Voters have turned against Trump because of his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, as demonstrated by his own infection at a super-spreader event he organized in the Rose Garden that infected 34 White House insiders. The virus has now killed 215,000 Americans. So the president is now trying to change the debate to law and order and the dangers of socialism.

Trump spoke on Saturday from the White House balcony to a crowd of hundreds wearing red MAGA (Make America Great Again) hats and blue t-shirts in support of the police, in what he called “a peaceful protest in support of law enforcement.” He told his cheering followers, “We cannot allow our country to become a socialist nation.” He also referred to the Democrats as “Communists.” Racist and sexist, Trump has repeatedly referred to Democratic vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris, whose parents are East Indian and Black, as a “monster.”

At the same time, Trump is now pressuring Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to release to the public the emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and is demanding that Attorney General William Barr indict Clinton and former president Barack Obama as well as former vice-president Joseph Biden for spying on his campaign in 2015-16. He calls Biden a criminal who should be barred from running for office. This is an unprecedented development in American politics indicative of Trump’s authoritarian attitudes.

Some 31% of Americans identify as Democrats, 25% as Republican, and 40% as independent. So for the Republicans, winning elections depends not only upon convincing voters, but also on eliminating from the rolls as many Democrats and independents as possible—often through changing the voter registration rules—or by closing or moving polling places, or distributing information with incorrect voting dates. All of this is aimed in particular at Black voters, Latinx voters, and students who might vote Democrat. This time Post Master General Louis DeJoy has also created chaos in the post office while without evidence Trump attacks mail ballots, being used more this election because of the pandemic, as contributing to fraud.

The Green Party, which is to the left of the Democrats, has always been small, but now it has been marginalized further by Democratic Party challenges to remove it from the ballot in several states and by reports that the Republican Party has been aiding the Greens. On the left, most support Biden, some support Howie Hawkins, presidential candidate of the Greens, and others reject electoral politics and call for building mass movements.

We can expect disruption and violence in some states on Election Day as the far right mobilizes. The possibility of Election Day violence became clear on October 8 when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested thirteen members of an illegal armed militia accused of planning the kidnapping of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the violent overthrow of the Michigan government.

American unions, Black and Latinx organizations, and women’s and LGBTQ groups are overwhelmingly now turning to getting out the vote for Joseph Biden. But they are also creating organizations to defend the voting process, the polling places, and the counting of the ballots for fear Trump and Republican governors may mobilize police or troops to attempt to steal the election. There is also some discussion among social movements and the left about how to resist an attempt by Trump to stay in office despite losing the election.

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The Hunger of Vibrant Matter: Materialism and Food in the Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it has set off has severely sharpened the global food crisis. Prior to the pandemic nearly a billion people worldwide were already experiencing either chronic or acute hunger (Chotiner). Since the onset of the pandemic, farmers have had to waste massive amounts of food because they could not sell it. Large U.S. farms, for instance, were destroying “tens of millions of pounds of fresh food” in mid-April (Yaffe-Bellamy and Corkery). Meanwhile, people are starving and hunger is expected to reach a “catastrophic” level, doubling the number of those experiencing “acute food insecurity”—a euphemism for extreme hunger, malnutrition, and starvation (Chotiner). The reigning narrative about the looming food crisis-upon-crisis has pointed to “logistical” issues to explain away the crisis of commodity production: production for exchange and not to meet people’s needs. For example, Arif Husain, the World Food Programme’s chief economist, lends credibility to this narrative of “logistics” when he states: “We have ample global stocks of food to feed everybody,” but “[t]he problem is the movement of those commodities. The problem is how can we get the food from where it is produced to where it is needed” (Chotiner). Here Husain also makes clear that the logic of logistics is a “distributionist” logic—that is, from this view “logistics” is the “logistics” of (re)distribution of already produced food—hence putting out of sight the question of food production and the way that the production of food as a commodity determines its (mal)distribution.

In the U.S./national version of this reigning narrative, the discussion of the crisis and its cause/s revolves around the “logical obstacles” and “challenges” involved in repackaging and redistributing food to other buyers as well as charities (e.g., food banks) after the pandemic forced the closure of restaurants and hotels as well as disrupting the distribution of food through institutions such as schools (Yaffe-Bellamy and Corkery). This narrative simply ignores the fundamental contradiction between production for exchange (profit) versus production for use (need), which is the source not only of intermittent food deprivation, but of chronic and acute, life-threatening hunger for hundreds of millions of people worldwide. This story obscures the fact that the means exist to end hunger, but these means are directed instead to profit-making for a small class of capitalists.

In contrast to the reigning narrative, bourgeois theory, as usual, offers a more subtle reading. But, in the end, it provides only a more subtle subtle reading within the logic of logistics—that is, (re)distribution severed from production. From this view we get ethical consumption as a “solution” to the food crisis. Food, for instance, is treated by such new materialist theorists as Jane Bennett, as “lively” matter with its own agency that is represented as being ignored by humanist thought. New materialism emerged as one of the main interpretive tendencies in cultural theory after what Slavoj Žižek calls the “fading” of Derridean deconstruction (114). The main claim of new materialism, to quote from one of its early “manifestos,” is that poststructuralism (the deconstructive turn to culture) “privileges language, discourse, culture, and values” and consequently, neglects “climate change or global capital and population flows, the biotechnological engineering of genetically modified organisms, or the saturation of intimate and physical lives by digital, wireless, and virtual technologies” (Coole and Frost 3, 5). However, I call it a “bourgeois” theory because it displaces “materialism” (which is a relation to mode of production) with a “self-vital” matter-ist substance existing outside the social relations of production (Bennett). Matter-ism is an evasion of materialism.

In Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, for instance, Jane Bennett writes: “If I am right that an image of inert matter helps to animate our current practice of aggressively wasteful and planet-endangering consumption, then a materiality experienced as a lively force with agentic capacity could animate a more economically sustainable public” (51). Like all idealist theories, for Bennett the problem lies not in the practices of food production, but in the “style” of consumption fostered by “an image of inert matter.” For Bennett, in other words, it is not the material relations within which food is produced—wage labour/capital relations, which determine the only means of access to food for the majority of people on the planet is to submit to performing unpaid surplus labor (exploitation) for the employer—that is the cause of hunger amidst plenty, but the thoughtless, greedy consumption of food by some that causes the hunger of others.

In Bennett’s view what is more material than exploitation is the new status of the object (in bourgeois theory) as an independent actor producing effects. Thus in “Edible Matter” she proposes re-conceiving food as an “actant”—in the terms of Bruno Latour’s now reigning discourse of nonhuman agency (Science in Action)—which produces “effects” as the basis for transforming (particularly “American”) consumption so that it is more “artful” and, by extension, more equitable. In other words, if logistics is “that part of supply chain management that plans, implements, and controls the efficient, effective forward and reverse flow and storage of goods, services, and related information between the point of origin and the point of consumption in order to meet customers’ requirements” (Murphy and Knemeyer 21), then Bennett’s “vibrant materialism,” which focuses on “the distinctive capacities or efficacious powers of particular material configurations” (ix)—configurations that are limited to configurations of consumption of that which is already produced within relations of exploitation—is a form of logical analysis par excellence.

Take, for instance, Bennett’s discussion of the “hitherto unrecognized powers of dietary fats” (41). “[C]ertain lipids,” she argues, “promote particular human moods or affective states” which, in turn, can have positive (or negative) impacts on culture and by extension society (41). Bennett supports this argument by, for instance, citing scientific studies that show that consumption of food rich in omega-3 fatty acids (like some wild fish) has been found to reduce “disciplinary offenses” in prison populations, produce “significant improvement” in cognition and behavior among certain children with disabilities, and show promise in preventing and redressing serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia, bipolar affective disorder, and major depression.

Bennett refers to “the eater-eaten complex” or the “assemblage in which persons and fats are participants” and argues that “[t]o take seriously the efficacy of nonhuman fat is, then, not only to shift one’s idea about what counts as an actor but also to focus one’s attention away from individuals and onto actants in assemblages” (42). When Bennett refers to the “assemblage in which persons and fats are participants,” what she is referring to, in a rather complex language, is eating, or consumption of foods that have already been produced and distributed. In other words, she presupposes food (“as actant”) as always already produced and available for consumption. As such, Bennett’s assemblage theory, which she presents as a radically democratic theory because it breaks from humanism and its anthropocentrism which negates the agency of nonhuman actants, is radically ahistorical: it presumes labor as a force of nature that transforms it, the form of labor which must take place daily throughout all of human history in all modes of production and historical formations. In doing so, she also erases from view the historical form of labor within capitalism (wage-labor) and thus food as exchange-value.

Agency, in contrast to Bennett’s and other new materialists’ claims, which reduce materialism to matterism, is not the production of “effects.” It is “purposeful” “productive” labor, which is to say that it is an “expenditure of human labour-power” and “in a specific form and with a definite aim” (Marx, Capital 56). For historical materialism, it is the means by which humans, in their dialectical relations with nature, transform nature to meet social need, and in doing so, transform themselves. This collective agency of labor produces all value under capitalism, and it is the basis on which all humans’ needs can be met with the transformation of private property relations. The posthumanist double de-agentizing of agency, first by reduction of human agency to “effects” and then by making it an agency shared by all animate and inanimate “matter,” is in actuality an ideological means of disappearing the global subject of labor and its revolutionary role. A world in which food-things appear as the basis of the social, however, is not an “enlightened” age of human sensitivity to the nonhuman other but a symptom of profound human alienation through exploitation, the historical stage of productive relations in which “the relationships between the producers, … take on the form of a social relation between the products of labour” (Marx, Capital 82).

Contrary to Bennett’s implication that hunger is a problem because of the thoughtless, greedy consumption of food by some, hunger is a problem under capitalism because food is a commodity whose (exchange-)value, like all commodities, is determined by the socially necessary labor time on average required to produce it and as this falls due to competition and concentration of capital, food is overproduced relative to the amount of labor required for its production. The result is too many people without the means to buy food on the one hand and too much food without buyers on the other. In other words, as the productivity of labor increases with, for instance, the introduction of new machinery (as in industrial agriculture and agribusiness), the ratio of surplus labor (the basis of profits) to necessary labor (the basis of wages) grows (exploitation deepens) and this means that “The worker becomes all the poorer the more wealth [s]he produces, the more production increases in power and range. The worker becomes an ever cheaper commodity the more commodities [s]he creates” (Marx, Economic 271-72). In other words, within capitalist relations of production, production of food in order to nourish people—its use-value—is necessarily secondary to the production of food as a means to produce surplus (exchange-)value, because such value is the basis of profit. “Obesity,” is an effect, for one, of poor quality food and, like hunger, stems from the production of food for profit rather than use (nutritional needs). The massive waste of food at the same time as increasing masses of the working class go hungry during the pandemic is, indeed, “ghastly” (Yaffe-Bellamy and Corkery), but it is a ghastliness that is a predicted and predictable effect of the same underlying class antagonism that is at work in the “normal” everyday of capitalism—the subordination of use to exchange, need to profit, workers’ needs to owners’ profits.

While the theory of vibrant matter quietly erases from view materialism as the materialism of production, in actuality, of course, this does not change that “the first premise of all human existence, and, therefore, of all history” (Marx and Engels, The German Ideology 31) is “that men must be in a position to live in order to be able to ‘make history'” and since “life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things,” then “[t]he first historical act is … the production of the means to satisfy these needs” (41-42). To posit food as “always already” available for, or in the process of, “coacting” in “assemblages” is to take up a bourgeois perspective wherein these basic human needs are always already met—by the producing class—and thus to erase, along with production, the social relations of production which, in capitalism, are exploitative relations which structure daily life for all, whether we are conscious of it or not. In the 1859 Preface, Marx writes:

In the social production of their life, [people] enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces … [and, moreover,] at a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or—what is but a legal expression of the same thing—with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. (263)

It is this contradiction between the for-profit relations of production and the existing forces of production that means that while the productive forces that have been developed within capitalism make it possible to meet all people’s needs for food, this need cannot be met until and unless wage-labor ceases to be the measure of value that determines individuals’ access to the means to live. In Bennett’s theory of the materiality of assemblages, the effects of this underlying contradiction, including hunger amidst plenty, are dehistoricized and naturalized as “the strange logic of turbulence” of vibrant matter and its interactions (xi). What Bennett is proposing is, in her words, “a better discernment” (ix) and a “decent politics” (xi) that amounts to a (re)partition of the sensible (vii).

Having eliminated any discussion of the mode of production, Bennett’s ethical concern for “things” amounts to little more than a more “fair” and “equitable” distribution of the existing “green washing” of capitalism that does not change social relations as much as it seeks to place everything on a conceptually flat plane. Her version of assemblage democracy—which recognizes agency in things while reducing human agency as a sign of “hubris”—reflects the economic relations of capital as “dead labour which vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks” (Marx, Capital 241). In a world in which “corporations are people,” “money is speech,” and workers are forced to return to work during a deadly pandemic, giving “things” more of a voice is already what has happened under capital. What is necessary is not “thingifying” the world—which is really another way of putting commodification out of view—but bringing about the real, materialist democracy of communism, in which the goal of food production is meeting the health needs, nutritional well-being, and enjoyment of life.

Works Cited

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: The Political Ecology of Things. Duke UP, 2010.

Chotiner, Isaac. “Covid-19 Will Lead to ‘Catastrophic’ Hunger.'” The New Yorker. May12, 2020.

Coole, Diane, and Samantha Frost. New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, Politics. Duke UP, 2010.

Latour, Bruno. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Harvard UP, 1988.

Marx, Karl. Capital. Volume I. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Collected Works. Vol. 35. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1983.

—–. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Collected Works. Vol. 3. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975. 229-346.

—–. Preface to Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Collected Works. Vol. 29. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1987. 261-65.

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. The German Ideology. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels Collected Works. Vol. 5. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976. 19-539.

Murphy, Paul R., and A. Michael Knemeyer. Contemporary Logistics. 12th ed., Pearson Education, 2018.

Yaffe-Bellamy, David and Michael Corkery. “Dumped Milk, Smashed Eggs, Plowed Vegetables: Food Waste of the Pandemic” The New York Times. April 11, 2020.

Žižek, Slavoj. “A Plea for a Return to Différance (with a Minor Pro Domo Sua).” Adieu Derrida. Ed. Costas Douzinas. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 109-33.

Trump’s Campaign Stumbling, Biden Rising, Still Danger of a Coup Attempt—Coronavirus Surges, Economy Stagnant, Armed Groups Plot Insurrection

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Will Biden's lead last?This article was written for L’Anticapitaliste Revue, the monthly journal of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) of France.

We are now three weeks from the U.S. presidential election as the country sees a worsening of the pandemic, a continued economic crisis, threats of armed violence from the right, and an increasingly erratic President Donald Trump whose own experience with coronavirus leads him—perhaps because of side effects of his steroid mediation—to see himself as a superman. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would create a commission to investigate the removal of the president under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, because he is in “an altered state” and may be unable to carry out his duties. She and some other legislators apparently believe the president is going insane following his remarks that he survived COVID because he is “a perfect physical specimen,” while attacking his closest allies in the cabinet and planning to go back on the road campaigning before ending his ten-day isolation period.

Meanwhile, Trump appears to be losing the election following his disastrous performance in a national presidential debate and then his infection with COVID and hospitalization.

Trump’s fall in the polls began with the first presidential debate held on September 29, degenerated into chaos as the moderator lost control and Trump repeatedly interrupted Biden. While Biden made coronavirus the central issue, Trump’s bullying behavior made it impossible for the candidates to hold a discussion, and with Trump badgering him, Biden responded by calling Trump “a clown” and telling him to “shut up.” Typically the debates have little impact on polling, but in this case it was followed by Trump’s loss of support in the polls.

Democratic Party candidate Joseph Biden now leads in the polls everywhere including in the battleground states such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida. Overall, Biden leads by about 10 points. Many older voters, white working class voters without a college education, and suburban women have all turned away from Trump and toward Biden.

The danger of the far right and the possibility of Election Day violence became clear on October 8 with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrest of thirteen men, members of an illegal armed militia accused of planning the kidnapping of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the violent overthrow of the Michigan government. Whitmer, a Democrat, who has faced repeated demonstrations by armed protestors who called her a “tyrant” for imposing health restrictions because of the COVID pandemic. Whitmer thanked the FBI but blamed Trump for encouraging such rightwing and white supremacist groups, leading him to attack her as ungrateful.

The Michigan insurrection plot increases the fear that the president will use federal marshals or other police or troops and mobilize his armed supporters to attempt to steal the election and may promote violence and perhaps even attempt to stay in office if he loses in what would be in effect a coup d’état. Around the country groups are now organizing to insure a safe election, to protect the ballots and the count, and to resist a coup.

Trump’ Failure to Handle the Virus

The principal cause for Trump’s decline in the polls is his disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic. He has overseen the worst health crisis in U.S. history and the worst handling of the pandemic in the developed world: 215,000 have died, and they are still dying at a rate between 900 and 1,000 per day; there re about 50,000 new cases each day and 7.7 million people have contracted the spreading disease. The U.S. government still has no comprehensive plan for testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine. Trump created a coronavirus task force, but then the he constantly contradicted the health experts, provided false information, offered up bogus cures, and flagrantly disregarded best health practices. And we are now on the verge of the second wave.

Then, on top of all of that, Trump—who has refused to wear a mask and scorned those who did—held a series of events without masks, without social distancing, some held indoors, that created super-spreader incidents leading to the infection of Trump himself, about 20 White House advisors, an admiral, and three Senators. Altogether since March twenty senators and representatives have fallen ill with coronavirus as well as123 Capitol employees. Trump’s flagrant violation of his own administration’s health standards led to his own infection and brief hospitalization.

After his brief, three-day hospitalization, still sick with COVID and being treated with remdesivir, regeneron, and the steroid dexamethasone, Trump returned to the White House where he ostentatiously stood on the balcony between American flags and, still gasping for breath, took of his mask. He refused to stay in quarantine in the White House residence and went into the presidential Oval Office to work with staff members. He tweeted, “Feeling really good! Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life. We have developed, under the Trump Administration, some really great drugs & knowledge. I feel better than I did 20 years ago!” Physicians and public health authorities were aghast that he suggested the disease was not to be feared. And many criticized the president for his failure to mention his infected colleagues and the hundreds of thousands who have died. It is exactly this kind of behavior that is now driving Trump down in the polls.

The United States now appears to be on the verge of a second wave of coronavirus as cases in many states resemble the situation back in March. It is expected that the late fall and winter months will lead to more COVID cases because more activities must be held in doors. The coronavirus will also coincide with the seasonal flu that takes about 34,000 each year. No vaccine is expected before next year and the distribution of the virus may take six months, so relief may not come until next summer.

The American Economic Crisis 

Trump’s failure to deal effectively with the coronavirus led an economic crisis in the United States as great as that of the Great Depression of the 1930s. Since March 15, 62 million individuals have filed unemployment claims, and about 900,000 continue to file for unemployment benefits each week. Some people have gone back to work, but the U.S. Labor Department reported in September that 13.6 million or 8.4 percent of workers remained without a job, though the actual figure may be over 11 percent.

The pandemic has affected workers very unevenly. Many white-collar workers have able to work on their computers from home. Workers in essential industries—hospitals, childcare, agriculture, food processing, and grocery stores, water and waste, energy, transportation, and a few other sectors—have had greater exposure and have suffered more sickness and deaths. Many of these essential workers are women, Blacks, Latinx, and immigrants, documented and undocumented. The economic crisis has also brought a fiscal crisis leading to state and city budget cuts, reduction in services, and layoffs of public employees.

On March 27, Congress passed the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion economic stimulus bill that provided financial support to businesses, state and city governments, and to workers. The CARES Act provided a one-time-only payment of $1,200 to each unemployed person and families would get $500 per child.  There were also additional weekly payments of $600 to unemployed workers, but those ended on July 31.

The state unemployment benefits vary dramatically, from Florida, which pays only $275 per week, to Massachusetts, which pays $803. Some workers’ unemployment benefits will have run out and some workers who were paid under the table never received such benefits. Many undocumented workers have received nothing. And still the recession continues: United Airlines and American Airlines are laying off 30,000 workers, Walt Disney is laying off 28,000 from its theme parks, and Allstate Insurance is letting go of 3,800 workers. Congress is now debating another stimulus bill similar to the CARES Act, but it is stalled.

The pandemic and the depression have battered the American people. Tens of millions were facing eviction but first a temporary federal law, then an order from the Centers for Disease Control, and some state laws have prevented most evictions. Still landlords have thrown out some tenants and in any cases the rent due is still accumulating. When the pandemic ends and the orders are lifted, tens of millions will owe tens of thousands of dollars in rent.

Health insurance, which in the United States is usually received through one’s employer, is also an issue. When workers are laid off, they lose their health insurance. At an earlier point it was estimated that as many as 27 million people had lost their health insurance. Many can no longer afford to visit the doctor or dentist.

Food insecurity is also an enormous problem. One in four families lacks adequate food and one in three families with children have too little. Food insecurity in Black and Latinx households is 19 percent and 17 percent, respectively, compared to 7 percent in white households. Charities now provide food to millions.

Climate Crisis

Climate change has also had a disastrous impact on the United States in the last year with tremendous forest fires in California, Oregon, and other Western states and hurricanes and tropical storms in the Gulf States. In Southern California temperatures reached 51 degrees and the heat has been accompanied by strong winds. In these conditions, fires mostly caused by lightening strikes, have burned 2023428 hectares, destroyed thousands of homes, and took 34 lives. The fires also created dangerous air quality for millions on the West Coast.

We hve had two-dozen tropical storms this year; eight are hurricanes. There has been at least $16 billion in property damage, many homes and businesses ruined, and 125 lives lost. Millions have had to evacuate for either fires or floods, and economic activities have been disrupted. All of this contributes to the sense of a national catastrophe.

The Social Struggles and the Left

The coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying economic crisis closed workplaces and schools making possible the largest social protest movement against racism in American history. With the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 between 15 and 26 million people participated in the months of protest. The police murder of Breonna Taylor of Louisville and several others also fed the outrage. Marching under the banner “Black Lives Matter,” the Black-led, protests, involved mostly young people of all races and religions. The participants generally masked, so they did not lead to new COVID outbreaks.

Police brought the violence to the demonstrations with their heavy-handed use of batons, tear gas, pepper sprat, and flash grenades. In response, some in the crowd throwing plastic water bottles or returned the tear gas canisters and some leftists destroyed property. In other places, white nationalist militants infiltrated the crowds and encouraged violence, hoping to generate a race war. Where deaths occurred, such as they did in Kenosha and Portland, it was where protestors on the right or the left were armed. Still, despite police provocation, 90 percent of the protests were peaceful.

While the anti-racist protests were enormous and spirited their impact has been limited. The protests raised consciousness about racism in America. Newspapers published educational articles, TV and radio and the social media broadcast videos on the Black experience. Universities, government agencies, and even private businesses organized discussions of racism. But the movement had no national organization and no political party to speak for it and its political demands were quite minimal or currently unrealistic.

The movement’s most prominent demand was “defund the police,” a demand some interpreted as cutting the police budget and transferring those funds to social services, though some interpreted it as a call to abolish the police. While people want an end to police racism and violence, few people want the abolition of the police, especially those in Black, Latinx, and poorer white neighborhoods with higher crime rates. Only the far left calls for the abolition of the police with little echo in the society at large. A very few cities have reduced the police budget or reallocated funds to social services, but not many.

There have also been worker protests, particularly by heath workers, but also among public transportation workers, hotel and restaurant workers and others. Nurses unions and their members have called protest demonstrations at hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. Many workers in various industries have engaged in short walkouts or small strikes. The heads of most national unions, however, have not provided leadership; they have not advocated protests or strikes. The labor leaders look to the election of a Democratic president and Congress rather than to the power of its members. So, despite the many small and local actions, there is no sense of a national working class response to the health crisis or the economic crisis.

The left has grown. Most visible and quantifiable is the expansion of the Democratic Socialist of America, which now has 70,000 members. Other left groups—socialist and anarchist—are also growing and producing new Internet sites, newspapers, and videos. While the left has grown, it remains too small to have a great influence on the major political and social events taking place. Leftists participated in the massive anti-racist protests, but they had little impact upon on them. Some left groups have a presence in the unions, but most are too weak to take many initiatives. The level of class struggle remains low and the left small.

The Green Party remains the most important party on the left and its presidential candidate Howie Hawkins and his running mate Angela Walker are both open socialists, but the party has never won more than 2 percent of the vote. DSA, the largest socialist group, has shown little confidence in the Green Party and does not back its candidates. The real contest this year is between Trump and Biden.

With the election in danger of being stolen, groups such as Protect the Results, Defend Democracy, Fight Back Table, Working Families Party, Movement for Black Lives, and Majority Rising are working to protect the voting process and the count. They may also have to help stop a coup. Trump may send federal marshals to seize the ballots and claim victory. The period between the November 3 election and the installation of the president on January 20 could be chaotic, violent–and decisive for American democracy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Support Biden, Even Against Trump

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Biden with arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond in the U.S. Senate

We, members of the New Politics editorial board, wish to respond to the “Open Letter: Dump Trump, Then Battle Biden,” published in Common Dreams and signed by 55 progressives, including two other members of the board. Given the horrendous nature of Trump and his regime, we understand why the signers have taken this position. Nevertheless, we reject the letter’s call for leftists to vote for Biden as a lesser evil.

The signers include writers and activists whom we respect and admire; all the more unfortunate, therefore, that their letter parodies arguments about refusing to support a candidate who stands firmly in favor of the disastrous status quo that preceded Trump. Take this sentence: “But the message that not voting in swing states sends in 2020 is that we are okay with Trump for four more years as long as we don’t have to sully our hands by voting for Biden.” To portray those who insist on the political independence of the left as fastidious purists who only want to keep their hands clean misrepresents what we have said and believe: We are not “okay” with four more years of Trump, and we are not claiming that the letter’s signers are okay with Biden for four years. After all, the letter acknowledges that Biden, the lesser evil, is evil. Our differences are not about “purity” but how to most effectively combat Trump and the right-wing forces he represents.

First, it is important to note that Joe Biden is a “lesser evil” who has used his power to do great harm. For 40 years, Biden has been an enthusiastic proponent, and often a leading architect, of neoliberal foreign and domestic policies: assaults on public education, bank deregulation, militarized police forces, mass incarceration, gargantuan military budgets, savage wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, full support to Saudi aggression against Yemen and Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. Biden is a member in good standing of what Naomi Klein calls the “Davos class.” His entire career in Congress was bankrolled by the credit card industry. And now, running for president, he famously promised his donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” for them if he is elected. This is a promise that Biden can most assuredly be counted on to fulfill if he can. The neoliberal status quo ante, to which Biden was and is committed, together with a left that remains submerged within the Democratic Party, and therefore unable to make a broad appeal to the vast majority in this country, created the conditions that spawned Trump.

To Biden’s conservative and destructive record, the letter merely comments: “Protestations that Biden is beholden to elites are true but beside the point.” On the contrary, they are very much to the point, because they have everything to do with successfully fighting Trumpism and the extreme right. We have come to this miserable state of affairs in large part because the left has failed to create an alternative to “lesser evils” who, along with the greater evils, have devastated lives and imperiled the planet.

Biden is indeed different from Trump in ways that are important to recognize. Unlike Trump, he does not openly espouse racism and xenophobia and acknowledges the reality of global warming. Yet he stands for a return to the Obama-era status quo, in which millions of migrants were deported, people of color were at the mercy of the police, the prisons were full to bursting, economic inequality grew to immense proportions, and the globe was hurtling toward climate catastrophe. Despite the mostly meaningless promises of the Democratic platform, designed to convince the left to support him at the polls, Biden has made it clear that he rejects such progressive goals as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, and defunding the police. He has not even pretended that he would heavily tax the rich, make massive reductions in military spending (he plans in fact to increase it), restore civil liberties, stop foreign military interventions, or identify legislation he will support to defend workers’ rights on the job, including unionization. Effective solutions to the climate crisis, which threatens life itself on the planet, require a major, sustained attack on the corporate “rights” and privileges which Biden has always fervently defended. Bernie Sanders’s claim that Biden would be the most progressive president in recent history is, at best, wishful thinking. Instead, a vote for Biden in any state is not just a vote to get rid of Trump, but also a vote for a corporate military agenda and a vote to do next to nothing about the climate crisis.

The past few years have seen the biggest, most interracial mass protest movements in U.S. history. Most of the protest has been against conditions that Trump has exploited and exacerbated but were in place before his stunning ascension to power—systemic racism; militarized police departments; public services from medical care to education ravaged by privatization and cuts targeted at the most vulnerable in our society. In the face of this upheaval, leftists are both morally and strategically wrong to advocate voting for a candidate and party that have countenanced and deepened inequality and injustice.

There is no lack of outrage at the rank injustices of the system under which we live. What is in short supply is the vision and hope that something can be done about them. One of the biggest obstacles to radical change is the misplaced loyalty that millions feel for the Democratic Party, despite the lack of enthusiasm that most have for its current leader.

Some of the letter’s signers have opposed voting for Democrats as lesser evils in the past, and they will admit that lesser evil voting has brought us worse and worse evils. But they will insist that the extreme danger posed by Trump means that 2020 is exceptional. We ask what they think will change four years from now, or eight, or twelve, that would prevent them from making the same choice. Even without a raving sociopath like Trump, even with Biden in the White House, the threat from the far right will intensify. That threat can be met only by mobilizing a militant, democratic, independent left, both in the street and at the polls. This is a daunting task, but it is made much more difficult by again rallying the bulk of the existing left in support of the Democrats.

To bar the way to an authoritarian coup or a nascent fascist movement, we advocate direct action, confrontation and civil disobedience on a massive scale, and the formation of an independent political party of the left. “Dump Trump, Then Battle Biden,” says the letter, in effect calling on the left to “stand back and stand by” during the election, and then re-emerge to continue the fight. But this fight will continue to be undermined by the stubborn, irrational belief that the Democrats are the only possible alternative to the right, a belief reinforced by supporting Biden in this election.

The society that spawned Trump and his followers is a society of monstrous class, racial, and gender inequality, a shredded welfare state, rampant brutality by police forces now known to be infiltrated by organized white supremacists, and the glorification of military violence. Its bombs and missiles, armed forces, corporations, and financial institutions enable it to confront the world as a tyrannical overlord. The Democratic Party shares with the Republicans, if not equal responsibility, then a great deal of it for this abomination. Trump is certainly far worse than Biden, but Biden is no alternative.

Thomas Harrison

Lois Weiner

Aaron Amaral

Phil Gasper

Scott McLemee

Emma Wilde Botta

Voter Suppression, Democratic Party Style

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Voter suppression has become a real issue in recent years. Mostly, what we hear on voter suppression are Democrats correctly accusing Republicans of disenfranchising people of color and poor and working-class people. I want to call your attention to the voter suppression activity by the Democratic Party in the 2020 election. In a number of states, Democrats are actively trying to keep the Green Party off the ballot.

The best-known example of this occurred in Wisconsin. Green Party candidate for Vice-President Angela Walker changed her address during the petitioning period. The Hawkins campaign notified the Wisconsin Elections Commission. In response, the campaign was notified by the Commission to include a notarized statement of candidacy with Angela’s new address when submitting the petitions. That was done.

A Democratic Party spokesperson then filed a challenge against the Green Party petitions, claiming the change of address by Walker invalidated some of the petitions. The hearing on the challenge before the state Elections Commission had all the trappings of a kangaroo court. The attorney for the Democratic challenger huddled with the Democratic chair of the Elections Commission to restrict the testimony of Green Party attorneys.

The Commission upheld the Democratic challenge and the signatures on those petitions were invalidated—conveniently just enough to keep the Greens off the ballot. The Greens filed suit in the Wisconsin Supreme Court where they lost 4-3.

Wisconsin is not the only state where Democratic operatives acted to deprive people of the opportunity of voting for Hawkins/Walker. In Montana, the State Supreme Court removed the Green Party from the ballot five months after the Secretary of State determined that the Greens had qualified. Somehow the Democrats got copies of the Green’s petitions and went to signers and encouraged people to remove their signatures.

On this pretext, the Democrats sued to reverse the Secretary of State’s decision. Because the Greens were not a party to the suit, they had no opportunity to defend themselves. A lower court upheld the Democrats’ challenge. The Secretary of State appealed to the State Supreme Court where the lower court was upheld 5-2.

In Pennsylvania, the Democrats went to the state Supreme Court to remove Hawkins and Walker from the ballot. They were victorious on the flimsy technicality that the Greens did not submit signed filing papers in person but had mailed them in.

In Texas, the Democrats sued the Green Party to remove Green Party congressional and state office candidates for not paying filing fees, even though a state court had declared the fees unconstitutional. Nevertheless, the candidates were removed.

Earlier this year in New York, Democratic Governor Cuomo signed a bill greatly raising the number of votes needed for third parties to retain ballot status.

So, what should we make of these actions? The most obvious is the total hypocrisy of the Democratic Party. As the national Green Party said in a statement about Wisconsin. “By kicking Howie and Angela off the ballot in Wisconsin and then publicly celebrating this naked act of self-serving disenfranchisement, the Democrats have made plain their intention to ‘save democracy from Trump’ by killing it themselves first and then dancing on the grave.”

It should be noted that there has not been a public outcry about this undemocratic behavior, even from the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party. I would add that these undemocratic acts reveal how many Democrats feel about Biden and the poor campaign he is running. Biden should be winning in a walk, but the race is uncomfortably close.

Don’t Hope for a Biden Pick, Dream of Abolishing the Supreme Court

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The thing we knew would happen any day now happened. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is dead.

Trump is now on the verge of being able to place a nightmare Justice on this court, giving it a 6-3 imbalance in favor of the conservative Justices.  Similar to basically everyone he appoints to any position in government, his nominee is an absolute villain for the job.

A judge from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals (the Federal appeals court seated in Chicago) Amy Coney Barrett is anti-LGBT, anti-choice, hyper-religious, and anti-healthcare—not the traits you’d look for in someone who would be called by the title “Justice.”

Trump hopes that Barrett would replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who made her judicial mark with, among other things, her work on gender equality, abortion access, and voting rights.  I am an employment rights’ attorney and a woman.  I owe a lot to Justice Ginsburg’s work and her legacy.

As far as Supreme Court justices go, she was good.  But, of course, you know that. The internet bursts with inspirational eulogizing. In life, she was hailed a hero, in death, she is absolutely sanctified.  Just look her up on Etsy.com and you’ll see what I mean.

In three decades on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg had great power to shape our lives and little accountability outside her colleagues on the bench. While we applaud her sharp dissents and groundbreaking work, we must also be cautious of the superhero sheen that blinds us to her harms.

Historically, Ginsburg sided against indigenous sovereignty.  She called Colin Kaepernick’s protest “really dumb.  She had just one Black clerk in thirty years on the bench.  She voted to reject the argument that pretrial detention does not qualify as imprisonment in federal law. She sided with conservatives to endorse the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.  She agreed with the Trump administration to expedite deportation of asylum seekers. Justice Ginsberg, despite her important work for gender equality, was not so reliable on racial equality.

***

Understandably, Justice Ginsberg’s death caused a wave of panic among reproductive rights activists. If you google Roe v. Wade, the first listing on the auto-complete is “overturned.”  Lots of people are rightfully freaking out. The anti-abortion movement has a long line of hopeful cases, which, if taken up by the Supreme Court, pose direct threats to Roe.

Overturning Roe would be devastating.  It would not make abortion illegal but would leave the matter to be determined by state law. Four states have automatic bans at the ready. Ten states have pre-Roe bans that could automatically return, and many other states have vowed to ban abortion to the fullest extent possible.

That said, the threat of “losing Roe” has been the siren song of mainstream abortion rights organizations to lure activists onto the rocky coast of the Democratic Party, steering energy away from protest and speakouts, and into lobbying and electoral campaigns.

Now, with Justice Ginsberg’s death, the internet is bursting with (mostly white) women who are terrified (rightfully so) about losing the constitutional right to abortion. The answer for them is to vote for Biden so he can nominate the right kind of Supreme Court Justice who will save Roe.

The Democratic Party’s promise to save Roe rings hollow for thousands of people who have effectively already lost Roe. For people on Medicaid who can’t borrow enough money to pay for the procedure—Roe is gone. For people in the military who are not victims of rape or incest or impending death from the pregnancy—we are already post-Roe. For people who live too far from a clinic in a state without public transit, for people who will lose their jobs for taking too much time off to meet onerous counseling requirements, for minors who fail to convince a judge that they are mature enough, or minors who are undocumented. Or for anyone tricked by a fake pregnancy clinic into believing their pregnancy is still in its earlier stages so the deadline for a legal abortion passes without notice. For all those people, Roe is already lost.

Moreover, abortion is just a part of reproductive justice. Recently, mass hysterectomies have allegedly been forced on women in detention centers. The assault on the reproductive lives of women of color is threaded through US history. This violence is not only our history but rather also continues today.

Based on her history, Judge Barret would likely vote to overturn Roe. Still, Supreme Court Justices can be unpredictable. Justice Ginsburg, historically anti-indigenous sovereignty, sided with the tribes in the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision this year in support of indigenous sovereignty. She also apologized about her comments on Kaepernick.

Also unpredictably, this year the Court upheld LGBT workplace protections in Bostock v. Clayton County, struck down a Louisiana anti-abortion law in June Medical Services v. Russo, and rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA. In all three cases, Chief Justice Roberts, generally conservative, sided with generally liberal Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor in the majority opinion.

In Bostock, Justice Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion! Justice Gorsuch replaced his late judicial icon, the raging homophobe Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch endorses the same juridical principles as Scalia. But Gorsuch blindsided us when he used a textualist approach to find that transgender workers are protected by federal law.

Roe v. Wade was passed by a Court with four justices appointed by Nixon, two by Eisenhower.   One of the Nixon appointees wrote the opinion and two joined it. Probably less because those judges took a closer look at the constitution and realized that it protects the bodily autonomy of people with uteruses, and more because there was a mass movement pounding at the door. That said, since the 1980s, Republican presidents have been more careful to nominate only hard-right justices (with the one exception of Souter).

This might sound confusing, because the Supreme Court is supposedly a nonpolitical body that is removed from democratic election so that it may be an impartial check on undemocratic or tyrannical actions by the Executive or Legislative branches.

Of course, we know that’s not true. First, the Supreme Court is nine un-elected people appointed for life who make consequential decisions that impact the lives of millions of people. Those decisions are nearly always founded in precedent, which necessarily means looking backward.  This has no place in a democracy, which is supposed to be based on the will of the people.  (That is, the will of the representatives elected by the majority of voters, which in reality also operates undemocratically as campaign promises are rarely fulfilled and recalling an elected official is nearly impossible.  But that discussion is outside the scope of this article).  The reason the Court sometimes responds to mass movements is that the Justices recognize their decisions must have broad legitimacy and that their role is to maintain social stability. That’s why they have been so cautious to overturn Roe wholesale even though it’s been challenged since it was first decided.

Second, the Court is very much a political body. Despite the alleged political neutrality, we still know who the conservative and liberal judges are. The Supreme Court does not actually act as a check on undemocratic rule of the other branches. Instead, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor in a brilliant article, “The Case for Ending the Supreme Court as We Know It” published in  The New Yorker argues, the Supreme Court appointments “reflect the current balance or imbalance of political power, making it impossible to neatly untie them from the political bodies that determine who sits on the Court and who does not.” One need only recognize that Trump is likely to appoint a full third of the Supreme Court before he leaves office, giving him, in Taylor’s words, “one more opportunity to limit the political rights of the minority populations that he disparages and despises.”

Taylor explains the legacy of the Supreme Court as enforcing conservative social order, which it has done for most of its existence with one limited exception in the 50s and 60s. That decade stands out as an anomaly because the U.S. state was under tremendous pressure here and abroad and needed to project itself as a beacon of democracy to hide the racial injustice raging at home.  With that exception, Taylor explains, the Court is a force of conservatism. Even in socially progressive decisions, such as Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court often merely undoes the harm of its own earlier decisions.

I won’t list all the cases that any decent human would consider were decided the wrong way (looking at you, Plessy v. Ferguson, Koramatsu v. United States, Bowers v. Hardwick). The law is the smoke and mirrors that legitimizes a system of exploitation and corruption. “Legal” doesn’t mean “just,” “moral,” or “humane.” It means lawfully permissible. The Supreme Court, when it decides cases in the interest of social justice, simply tails the social standards that we have already set.  The Court does not disrupt the status quo.

These days, the status quo is failing. For some people, the status quo is fatal. The status quo is cracking and everything about our society is up for debate. The Left is thinking it, the far-Right is thinking it. We know what we don’t want; we must also be re-thinking what kind of society we do want.As a socialist, I believe the way forward is collective action. As Taylor said on Democracy Now, we have the parts of a mass movement: numbers, discontent, passion. Trump is not as popular as the media make him seem. The right wing is not as big as they pretend they are.  Trump has almost a 40% approval rating, right? Well, 100 million people didn’t vote at all in the 2016 Presidential election. According to the New York Times, 15-26 million people participated in Black Lives Matter protests this summer – that was the largest movement in U.S. history.

We deserve a better world and we can make one. On our way, we need to abolish the Supreme Court. We’re obviously not there yet. We can call this a “yes, and.” Yes, we must abolish the Supreme Court because it is the antithesis of democratic decision-making. AND right now we need to organize to stop Trump’s nomination of a super-villain  for a lifetime appointment on the highest judicial body.

Trump Contracts COVID, Aides Also Sick, His Campaign in Crisis

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This article was written for L’Anticapitaliste, the biweekly newspaper of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) of France. 

The American election and the country’s future are once again a question. Early on the morning of October 2, President Donald Trump tweeted that he and wife Melania Trump had both contracted the coronavirus. Since then it was revealed that others, including the director of the presidential office and the head of Trump’s campaign, had also tested positive for COVID, as well as others in his inner circle. Three Republican Senators have tested positive too.

The White House and Capitol Hill cases appeared to be the result of recent Republican political events, all of them ignoring public health practices such as social distance and masking and some held indoors. Trump and others who tested positive will have to be quarantined for fourteen days, slowing down the president’s campaign.

Trump being a male, 74-years old, and obese is in a high-risk category with a much greater chance of severe illness or death. His doctors had him flown to Walter Reed Military Hospital where he was given a still experimental cocktail of monoclonal antibodies, as well as Rendesevir, which has become a standard treatment for severe cases of COVID.

Trump has over the last several months called the coronavirus a hoax, downplayed its severity, saying it was no worse than a cold or the flu; he has constantly contradicted public health officials’ warnings, suggested dangerous treatments and not only wouldn’t he wear a mask but he discouraged his family, friends, and coworkers, and his millions of followers from wearing them. At the first presidential debate a couple of days before, he ridiculed his Democratic opponent Joseph Biden for wearing a mask. To many the president’s illness appeared to be poetic justice or divine retribution, but it is simply science: with his refusal to wear a mask and to social distance he brought the illness upon himself.

Early reactions to these events suggest that they will contribute to the continued downward spiral of Trump’s campaign, which has been losing support because of his poor handling of the pandemic. But it is too early to say for sure what the effect will be.

While Trump has been the focus of news reports, about 800 Americans are dying of the disease each day, and 210,000 have died altogether so far because of the president’s maladministration of the government response to the disease. Trump’s failure to provide leadership leaves the United States with inadequate testing, ineffective contact tracing, and no authority to insure quarantine or isolation for those affected. Some 7.4 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease, but few if any will receive the kind of care that Trump is receiving from the best physicians at one of the country’s leading hospitals.

The American presidential election, which will take place on November 3, will be the most important since the 1930s. It may well determine whether American democracy—such as it is—continues to exist or is replaced by an authoritarian government, perhaps even by a dictator. At the time Trump fell ill, most polls showed Biden leading by roughly 10 points over Trump and as of October 3 the Financial Times predicted Biden winning the Electoral College by 279 to 125. Winning the votes may not be enough.

President Donald Trump, authoritarian and racist, has polarized the country, encouraging the growth militant white nationalist movements that include armed quasi-fascist organizations. Trump has said that he will not necessarily accept the results of the election; he will try to tie up the election in the courts; and it is feared that no matter who wins he will claim victory and use his authority to perpetuate himself in office. All the major news media and the social media have discussed openly the possibility of a coup d’état in the United States.

How Trump’s illness will change the election remains unclear. Whatever happens, we on the left will all be on guard, prepared to resist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bolivia: Amid new crisis, coup government seeks to divide spoils, impunity

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Protester in La Paz holds up a sign that reads: “Anez: hunger does not wait”. Photo: Radio Kawsachun/Facebook

Just weeks out from the October 18 elections, Bolivia’s coup government is again in crisis following the departure of three key ministers over an unconstitutional attempt to privatise an electricity company.

It comes as polls show Movement Towards Socialism (MAS) presidential candidate Luis Arce potentially winning in the first round, less than a year after his party was thrown out of office by a right-wing coup.

Relatively unknown senator Jeanine Áñez was sworn in as “interim president” last November following the coup against then-MAS president Evo Morales.

Despite pledging to only occupy the post for 90 days until elections could decide a new president, Áñez’s illegitimate regime has instead attempted to use its power to roll back anti-neoliberal measures implemented by the Morales government and unite the various anti-MAS factions.

Her regime, however, has been marked by its catastrophic handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has, so far, left almost 8000 dead and left Bolivia with the third-highest COVID-19 death rate in the world.

This failure has been compounded by her government’s poor economic management — with more than 1 million Bolivians dropping below the poverty line — and more than 20 high-profile cases of alleged corruption within her cabinet — which has had 17 changes of ministers in 10 months.

Corruption

The most notorious corruption case was the use of a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) to purchase 179 ventilators in May, at more than twice their regular price, which led to the arrest of the health minister and other top health officials for corruption.

Another similar scandal involved the purchase of overpriced tear gas for the police by the defence minister.

The latest cabinet crisis was triggered by fallout over a push to reprivatise the Cochabamba regional electricity company, ELFEC, which was nationalised by the Morales government in 2010.

The disagreement led to the sacking of economics minister Oscar Ortíz and the resignation of the labour and productive development ministers on September 28.

A week earlier, state general prosecutor José María Cabrera was also dismissed for questioning the constitutionality of the privatisation decree. Cabrera was overseeing the investigation in the questionable purchase of tear gas by the defence minister.

Speaking to the media, Ortíz said he refused to sign the privatisation decree as it went “against the legal system” and did not have “sufficient legal support.

“I do not think that the government, in its last weeks, should allocate new contracts or important tenders, which should be left for the next administration.”

Ortíz also denounced the government for attempting to push through with several other purchases and contracts in its final weeks in office, including more than $7 million on new vehicles.

The Plurinational Legislative Assembly has announced it will open an investigation into this and other questionable purchases, as well as several irregularities and alleged acts of corruption that have occurred within various state-owned companies.

In Ortíz’s place, Áñez promoted planning minister Branko Marinkovic, who was quick to announce he would travel to the United States to solicit new loans from, among others, the IABD.

Impunity

With Arce leading the polls — despite the wave of government and right-wing paramilitary repression against the MAS, which has only escalated during the election campaign — various government factions are seeking ways to protect themselves and their ill-gotten gains.

A day after right-wing think tank Jubilee Foundation released a poll showing Arce winning in the first round, Áñez announced she was stepping down as a presidential candidate on September 17.

While presented as a move to help unify the fragmented anti-MAS bloc, currently divided behind several opposition candidates, it is more likely that her withdrawal was motivated by a desire to strike a deal for immunity under any potentially victorious anti-MAS candidate.

Rather than endorse any particular candidate, Áñez — who will still appear on the ballot due to the late timing of her withdrawal — instead called on voters to unite behind the candidate with the best chance of defeating Arce.

Meanwhile, the state attorney general told the Assembly that the military is refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the massacres at Senkata, Sacaba and Yapacaní last November, which left at least 32 anti-coup protesters dead.

Given all this, many are questioning whether the elections will be free and fair — or if they will happen at all. The elections have already been postponed twice and the October 18 deadline was only established following mass nationwide protests in August.

With the future of Bolivia’s democracy and economy at stake, much more will no doubt occur in the coming weeks.

First published by Green Left Weekly.

Trump Refuses to Promise a Peaceful Transfer of Power Should He Lose

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This article was written for L’Anticapitaliste, the biweekly newspaper of the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) of France. 

U.S. President Donald Trump has refused in repeated interviews to promise a peaceful transfer of power should he lose, his statements causing consternation among the public, the Democratic Party opposition, and even in his own Republican Party. Trump claims that mail ballots—being more widely used because of the coronavirus pandemic that has left 205,000 dead—are a “scam.” He says there will be massive voter fraud, though mail ballots have been used by some states for years and there is no evidence of fraud. All of America is now discussing the possibility of an illegal seizure of power by Trump.

Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi told Trump, “You are not in North Korea; you are not in Turkey; you are not in Russia, Mr. President, and by the way, you are not in Saudi Arabia. You are in the United States of America. It is a democracy, so why don’t you just try for a moment to honor your oath of office to the Constitution of the United States?” Even Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell who has strongly supported Trump felt obligated to make he statement, tweeting out, “The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.” Most Republican politicians try to avoid comment.

Trump’s opponent, Democratic Party presidential candidate, Joseph Biden, is leading in the polls in battleground states. And many women, some white working class voters, and older voters are deserting Trump. So he has been working to steal the election. He has reduced U.S. Postal Service resources, which will impede the timely return of mail ballots. He has brought lawsuits against four states—Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey, and Montana—and against the Navajo Nation to make mail voting more difficult. He claims that mail ballots will make it impossible to determine who has won the presidential election. It is expected that in some states final election tallies might not take place for days or perhaps even weeks after Election Day. Trump is pushing to fill immediately the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying the court may have to decide the election.

What could happen on Election Day?

  • It is virtually impossible for Trump to win the popular vote, but if he wins a clear majority in the Electoral College he will be the winner and retain office, proceeding with his authoritarian transformation of the U.S. political system.
  • If Trump wins an election that Democrats believe to be unfair or stolen, the Democratic Party can and will file court cases to overturn the election, though his Attorney General would fight the lawsuit to delay any decision. There will no doubt be massive protests. Trump might call out the military to suppress the protests. His supporters, many armed, might also come out to battle his opponents.
  • If Trump clearly loses the election but refuses to acknowledge defeat and leave the White House by January 20, this could open up an even more profound conflict. The U.S. military might become a decisive factor in removing Trump and installing Joseph Biden in office. If that should happen, the military’s role in American society would be fundamentally changed. The military would become the guardian of American democracy, a prospect that would seem to vitiate the idea of democracy itself.
  • Almost any scenario we can imagine might well lead to armed conflicts in American streets between Trump’s supporters and his opponents on a scale much larger and more violent than anything we’ve seen so far.

Part of the left—myself included—urges a vote for Biden to make it more difficult for Trump to claim victory and justify seizing power. Facing Trump, the Democratic Socialists of America has thousands of new members and the entire left can play a more important role in building a powerful resistance movement and the new socialist party we need.

Hearts on Fire for the 43  

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[September 27, 2020 ] On the sixth anniversary of the forced disappearance of the 43 Ayoztinapa college students, a flurry of developments is spurring optimism among long traumatized relatives of the students and their dedicated core of supporters.

Nonetheless, frustration and outrage boil among relatives as well as the latest generation of Ayotzinapa students and other student teachers from colleges across Mexico, who waged militant demonstrations last week in Iguala, Guerrero, where the students were forcibly disappeared by Mexican security forces the evening of September 26-27, 2014, and in the Guerrero state capital Chilpancingo. Both actions ended in the partial destruction of state government buildings and property.

The students demanded punishment for officials linked to the mysterious disappearance of videos presumably recorded at Iguala’s court building which could show the students carted off the evening of their disappearance.

“The lack of truth is part of the social inequality gap that we suffer in Mexico,” wrote in La Jornada Abel Barrera Hernandez of Guerrero’s Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain, a leading advocate for and ally of Ayotzinapa parents and relatives who’ve waged a relentless struggle for years that’s kept the 43 students on the national agenda.

“Those of us who work in the countryside are not only burdened by centuries of abandonment but also strongman governments, military repression, persecutions, tortures and forced disappearances….Our heart is on fire waiting for the shining moment of truth.”

Barrera’s sentiments were very much on display September 26 and 27, when thousands of Mexicans marched in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Mexico City, Morelos, Guerrero, Michoacan and Chihuahua, according to press reports.

At a September 26 press conference, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) vowed to get to the bottom of the Ayotzinapa affair.

“I want to reaffirm my commitment to continue with the goal of clarifying what happened, and that the truth-the authentic truth-be known. That is the commitment,” said Lopez Obrador. “And as always that we know the whereabouts of the young men and punish the responsible parties.”

The President’s office says 80 people have been detained so far this year in the Ayotzinapa investigation and 70 arrest warrants issued for individuals, including Tomas Zeron, a former high-ranking federal justice department official who is accused of cover-up and document falsification.

According to officials, efforts are underway to extradite Zeron from Israel. Many of the legal charges pursued by AMLO’s government relate to the alleged torture of suspects in the disappearance and the fabrication of a now largely discredited “historic truth” under the previous presidential administration of Enrique Pena Nieto which held that the 43 students were abducted by police and paid killers and all the victims were taken to the Cocula dump, where they were killed and burned in a large fire.

An investigation of the world renowned Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, however, did not find evidence of the type of fire required to incinerate 43 bodies at the Cocula site; no remains of the students were ever discovered at the dump.

The all-died-at-the-dump story was further weakened when Austria’s Innsbruck University recently identified remains belonging to missing Ayotzinapa student Cristian Alfonso Rodriguez Telumbre; the young man’s remains were previously recovered about a half mile away from the dump.

An alternative line of investigation that the students were divided up and whisked to different places was bolstered by comments made by Mexican Federal Prosecutor Alejandro Gertz Manero to La Jornada newspaper last July that the 43 students, who formed part of a larger group engaged in seizing buses in Iguala for use as transportation to a planned demonstration were confused with members of a rival drug organization, detained by multiple security forces and then summarily executed.

Other developments portending progress in the search for the truth include the establishment of an Ayotzinapa truth and justice commission promoted by parents, a new investigation announced by the head of Mexico’s official National Human Rights Commission and formal agreements with a host of international partners. These include the United Nations, Innsbruck University, the Argentine forensic specialists and the Inter-American Commission on Human Right’s Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), an investigative body of foreign experts which was invited in by the former Pena Nieto government but not allowed to continue its work in Mexico after issuing a couple of inconvenient reports that departed from the premises of the “historic truth.” Under AMLO’S administration, the GIEI is back in town.

To be sure, serious obstacles crowd the road to the truth, not the least among them the resistance of powerful interests which might be involved in the crime as well as the notoriously bureaucratic and reputedly corrupt judicial system where the Ayotzinapa cases have been fragmented and delayed.

Another glaring example of justice denied surrounds the outright murders of six people in Iguala on the evening of September 26-27, three Ayotzinapa students and three civilians who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gathering cobwebs in the court system, the murder cases have largely been overshadowed by the mass abduction of the 43 missing students.

Mario Patron, longtime Mexican human rights attorney and former director of the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center which has represented Ayotzinapa parents, identifies another huge barrier standing in the way of truth and justice.

“The environment of macro-criminality that was operative in Guerrero at the time of the events has not been clarified,” Patron recently wrote in La Jornada. According to Patron, one of the strong points in the previous GIEI reports was zeroing in on the largesse and mechanics of an operation that disappeared dozens of students over an eight hour period and with ample resources drawn from throughout the northern region of Guerrero state.

“That could only happen by means of a criminal structure that connected organized crime with distinct levels of government,” Patron continued. “It’s pertinent to reiterate that, when we speak of macro-criminality, we refer to criminality strengthened from the State, in which public institutions work for the interests of organized crime.”

Six years after the Night of Iguala, the case of the 43 perhaps stands as the litmus test in determining the nature of the Mexican State. What will prevail?  A viable State committed to human rights, justice and democracy or an endlessly corrupted and brutal version of it.

Why I’m for Voting For Biden and Urge You To Do So

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For the first time in my life, in fifty years of voting in America, I am voting for a Democratic Party presidential candidate and urge others to do so as well. As an activist on the left, a writer on politics in various publications, and an editor of New Politics, I feel that I must publicly acknowledge that I have changed my position on this question and explain why I recently signed a letter advocating a vote for Joseph Biden.

I became an activist in the 1960s in the movement against the U.S. war in Vietnam. Our enemy was the Democratic Party of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson which was carrying out the war. The reactionary Republican Party was of course beyond consideration. I cast my first presidential vote in California in 1968 for Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther leader who was the candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party, an attempt to give political expression to the two great social movements of that era: civil rights and opposition to war. Like many others at that time, I became convinced that the Republican and Democratic parties were both dominated by the capitalist class, both parties of racism at home and imperialism abroad. I still believe that to be the case.

In my part of the left, we took the position that we stood for what we called “independent political action,” that is for supporting candidates and parties to the left of the Democrats that were independent of the capitalist class. So I supported and voted for years for the Green Party and supported the Labor Party when it was founded in 1996, though unfortunately it never found the courage to run candidates against the Democrats. I helped Medea Benjamin with her Green Party campaign for governor of California in 2000 and I voted for Ralph Nader in that same year when he was accused of being a spoiler leading to the defeat of Democrat Al Gore and the election George W. Bush. In 2010 the Socialist Party, having won a ballot access lawsuit asked me to stand as its candidate in Ohio for the U.S. Senate, which I did to propagandize for socialism.

When Bernie Sanders declared himself a “democratic socialist” candidate for president in 2015, I worked for his election, while maintaining my Green Party registration. When Sanders ran again in 2019 I was opposed to supporting him because I believed his campaign would not have the impact it had had in 2015-16 (which turned out to be true) and because I believed he and his supporters had become more integrated into the Democratic Party (which is debatable). I regret none of those former positions I have taken nor do I repudiate the logic that led me to take them.

The Democratic Party remains a capitalist and imperialist party. I do not believe that reformers can have much impact on its general policies and direction, and I certainly do not believe that it can be taken over by the left. Joseph Biden is a repugnant candidate, as Branko Marcetic detailed in his book Yesterday’s Man. He helped the Democratic Party to carry out the neoliberal turn from the working class to the professional classes, and he supported the racist and imperial policies of the Clinton and Obama presidencies. I am not a political supporter of either the Democratic Party nor of its candidate Joe Biden, but I urge a vote for him on narrow and pragmatic grounds: to prevent Trump from having a second term.

I have come to the conclusion that this election—with the possibility of massive electoral fraud, the likely refusal of Trump, should he lose, to leave the White House, and a possible coup d’état—is quite different from anything in my life time or in American history. All the major media institutions, TV, press, and social media, are discussing the possibility of a rightwing seizure of power by Trump. I am not urging a vote for the Democratic Party because it necessarily can or will stop a coup. I do NOT believe that the Democratic Party is a bulwark against an authoritarian or fascist coup. But I do believe that a large vote for Biden everywhere, even in safe states where one might vote for the Green Party, makes it more difficult for Trump to justify to the Republican Party, to his base, and to the American people that he has the right to stay in office. I do not wish to make it easier for Trump to move ahead by claiming he won the election if he did not. Voting for Biden certainly does not represent in any way on my part a commitment to the Democratic Party or its candidates in the future. But this time I will vote for Biden.

Unfortunately, much as I admire Howie Hawkins, I see no way that voting for the Green Party will do anything but make it easier for Trump to win or to claim victory and fight to stay in office, to become a dictator. I am not convinced that there is a strong connection between voting Green and building social movements, in fact, I think there is little connection. I do not believe that voting Green will somehow have an impact on the political consciousness of many Americans, since the current crises push everything else to the margins. I understand that some will want to vote Green to demonstrate to themselves their continued commitment to the left, but I think that is better done by stopping Trump for now—if we can—while also working to build the movements we need to overcome Biden’s administration and policies.

I wish I could vote for the Green Party, a labor party, a socialist party, or some other progressive party on the left that represented a mass movement. Unfortunately there is no such alternative. It has not been easy for me to arrive at this position or to publicly advocate it. But I have and I am. I urge all voters to vote for Biden to stop Trump’s reelection. As I said, I regret having to make this decision, but I would regret even more a second term for Trump.

 

The greater evil

A response to Charlie Post and Ashley Smith
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Stephen R. Shalom criticizes the arguments against lesser-evil voting and makes the case for the Left both to support Biden and build the social movements.

Ashley Smith and Charlie Post present a case against lesser evil voting that is convincing neither in terms of logic or evidence.

They begin their analysis by telling us that Biden “appears headed for victory” but the “Democratic establishment” is “haunted” by the defeat of their sure-win candidate in 2016.

But it’s not just the Democratic establishment that is haunted by the failure to anticipate Trump’s victory in 2016. Anyone who cares about the future state of American society ought to feel chastened by the 2016 election and avoid glib predictions about 2020. Yes, the Democratic establishment got 2016 wrong, but so did much of the left. When the left touted polls showing Jill Stein garnering 3.5 and even 7 percent of the vote they were no less engaged in wishful thinking than were the corporate Democrats.

And though pollsters have improved their techniques since the debacle of 2016, the threat of unprecedented voter suppression and disenfranchisement, not to mention other ways in which Trump might try to steal the election, make the drawing of firm conclusions from Biden’s current lead in the polls especially dangerous this year.

Stein only ended up with 1 percent of the votes in 2016, but had her supporters instead cast ballots for Clinton in three battleground states, the election outcome would have been different. Trump was the result of rejecting lesser-evil voting—either by voting for Stein or by abstaining—yet in their analysis of the “trap” of lesser-evil voting, Smith and Post don’t discuss this rather significant case at all. Did the benefits of voting for Stein or staying home outweigh the horrors of Trump’s presidency? This seems relevant to the topic at hand, yet Smith and Post say nothing about it.

It is true that some Stein voters might have voted for Trump or stayed home if the Greens weren’t on the ballot, so we can’t actually know the impact of Stein’s candidacy on the outcome (though it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of a Green Party campaign that its appeal may be to Trump voters). But what matters is that Smith and Post are trying to convince those who are today wavering between the lesser evil and the Greens to vote Green. So, to the extent that they succeed, they will swing the election towards the greater evil.

Social Movements and Lesser-Evil Politicians

Smith and Post get wrong the relationship between electoral work and social movements, and use the recent anti-racist protests to try and make their case. They counterpose the victories of Black Lives Matter to the actions of lesser-evil politicians and in so doing misunderstand the way social reform takes place.

As an initial matter, the authors tell us that the “Black Lives Matter uprising scored more victories in a few weeks than decades of voting for the lesser evil.” Yet many analysts are rather less impressed with BLM victories than Smith and Post, noting that much of what has been accomplished is symbolic — removing Confederate flags and taking down statues – rather than fundamental changes in policing and criminal justice, where progress has stalled.

But let’s accept that Black Lives Matter victories have been substantive. Where did the victories take place? Almost all of them have been in Democratic states (like California and New York) or in Democratic-controlled cities. But on the national level, where the lesser-evils are not in control, the record is rather different. Trump issued an Executive Order but it offered “anemic reforms,” with “only cosmetic changes.” In Congress, where the Republicans hold the Senate, the bill that the Democrats passed in the House has been blocked.

It is absolutely true that left to their own devices, the Democrats have done and will do nothing. They need social movements, powerful social movements, to compel them to act. But it is also true that social movements can rarely push politicians who are beholden to the most reactionary forces in society. The Fraternal Order of Police and the International Union of Police Associations have both endorsed Trump for re-election and Trump will accommodate their concerns, not those of Black voters. Lesser-evil Democrats, on the other hand, are beholden to Black voters, and therefore susceptible to pressure on this issue.

A local police union endorses Trump. Trump: “No one will be safe in Biden’s America.

Take the example of Pentagon transfers of excess weapons and equipment to local police forces. This initiative, known as the 1033 Program, was instituted under George H. W. Bush and continued under subsequent administrations. Under Obama, huge transfers to local departments were made. But after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the Black Lives Matter movement that emerged, Obama felt compelled to issue an Executive Order modestly curtailing the program. So yes, without the pressure of social movements, Democrats won’t do much. And under the pressure of the movement, Obama acted. However, after the lesser evil was defeated in 2016, Trump issued his own Executive Order, reversing Obama’s. Thus, today – despite what has been by some measures the largest protest movement in U.S. history – we are worse off in terms of the legal status of military equipment transfers to local police than we were under the last lesser-evil president.

Other Examples of the Relationship

The September 2019 climate strike was a huge mobilization, with 250,000 people marching in NYC. But less than two months later, the Trump administration gave formal notice of its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Despite the outpouring of environmental activism, we have seen a “stunning rollback in less than four years of environmental regulations that go back decades, including not just Obama-era climate change rules but even the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock law signed 50 years ago, which [Trump] has moved to unilaterally weaken.” Environmental activists could win a thousand local victories and they wouldn’t come close to reversing the new harms introduced by Trump.

And the pattern holds historically as well. The famous Selma to Montgomery march was a high point of social protest, with the tremendous dedication and heroism of the protesters moving the nation. But if there had been greater-evil Barry Goldwater in the White House, would the marchers have been protected by 3,000 federal troops and federalized national guard? Would Goldwater – who voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, who thought Brown v. Board of Education was “against the law,” and who opposed using federal troops to integrate Ole Miss – have pushed for the 1965 Voting Rights Act as lesser-evil Lyndon Johnson did?

National Guard troops returning from Flint, MI in 1937.

The great sit-down strikes in Flint, Michigan, in 1936-37, represented a tremendous upsurge of labor militancy. But their success was not unrelated to the fact that lesser-evil Gov. Frank Murphy called out the National Guard not to evict the strikers, but to protect them from police and company thugs. Murphy also declined to follow a court order to expel the strikers. A month later, General Motors recognized the UAW.

So it’s not a question of lesser-evil politicians or social movements. Rather, it’s a question of which politicians will provide a more favorable environment for social movements. Movements need to get the most sympathetic politicians in office and then, when they’re in office, fight like hell to push them in a progressive direction.

Enabling the Right

Smith and Post tell us that “the lesser evil strategy always enables, rather than hinders, the growth of the right.” Note that they don’t say that sometimes the lesser evil strategy fails. They claim that it “always” enables rather than hinders the growth of the right. This claim is bizarre.

Smith and Post know that Trump has strengthened the right. They want us to know that lesser evils are not reliable, consistent, nor socialist opponents of the right. Granted. But that’s not the issue. The question is whether the right would be weaker or stronger today if those who rejected the lesser-evil strategy in 2016 – who voted for the Greens or who abstained in that election – had instead voted for Clinton.

Would the right be doing better today with Hillary Clinton in the White House rather than the past four years of Trump? Would Clinton have supported the white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville? Would she have filled the courts with the most rigidly far-right judges in decades? Would she have sent Homeland Security forces to Portland? Or pressured Homeland Security to underplay the role of white supremacists? Or emerged as an inspiration for the German far right?

Those who rejected the lesser-evil strategy in 2016 enabled Trump to win. Some who did so probably didn’t expect that outcome and may well regret their decision. But even in retrospect Smith and Post are claiming that it was those who voted for Clinton who “enabled” the growth of the right, not those who might have tilted the Electoral College towards Trump by rejecting lesser-evilism.

Why do shrewd rightwing operatives try to quietly promote the Green party? Is it because they think this will harm the right? Or is it because they know what most people know, namely that every vote that can be diverted from the Democrats to a third party with no chance of winning furthers the prospects of the right? Why did GOP operatives help try to get Kanye West on the ballot in Wisconsin? For the same reason.

Historical Examples

Smith and Post state that two historical examples “prove” their claim that “the lesser evil strategy always enables, rather than hinders, the growth of the right.” One is drawn from the Spanish Civil War, where the workers movement had to decide between social revolution and supporting the popular front government that was backed by the Communist party. This example seems particularly inappropriate to the current American context: there is no substantial workers movement, still less the possibility of social revolution. In any event, it’s not at all obvious that the workers movement would have been any more able to survive by taking the path of revolution given that they (and the Republic) had a desperate lack of weapons, which Stalin controlled, and given that they already didn’t need much incentive to fight in the face of the likely massacres that the fascists would commit upon their victory.

Their second example is the presidential election in Germany in 1932, where the Social Democrats supported Hindenburg to stop the Nazis’ rise, but Hindenburg ended up appointing Hitler chancellor. It’s true that voting for Hindenburg didn’t block Hitler, but was there a better, non-lesser evil strategy? Here are the results of the second round of voting (where only a plurality was needed):

The Social Democrats (SPD) were about 20 percent of the electorate. What would Smith and Post have had them do? Vote for Thälmann? Then Hitler wins. Run their own candidate? Then Hitler wins again. Now maybe this makes no difference at all, but it’s hard to see why having Hitler take power a year before he actually did would have been a great victory. Nevertheless, this is supposedly a decisive piece of historical evidence against lesser evil voting.

Campaigning in the 1932 German election.

Germany in those years of course offers another lesson about lesser evilism, but not the one mentioned by Smith and Post. The Communist Party (KPD) considered the SPD to be “social fascists,” given its collaboration with capitalist parties and its support for authoritarian and austerity policies. It may have been a lesser evil than the Nazis, but to the KPD it was still evil and thus the KPD refused to partner with it in a United Front to oppose the Nazis, with disastrous consequences.

If one were actually concerned with relevant historical evidence then one would look at cases where progressives had a choice between voting for a lesser evil or for their preferred candidate who had no chance of winning, and try to assess the costs and benefits of each of the voting options. Sometimes this assessment will lead to the conclusion that one should vote for the lesser evil and sometimes not. Sometimes the assessment will be a close call. But Smith and Post never undertake this assessment generally, and they don’t do it for the 2020 U.S. presidential election in particular, where the difference between the two major party candidates is one of the most extreme in modern history.

Short-Term and Long-Term Impacts

It is sometimes suggested that we unfortunately need to accept some short-term pain of the greater evil in order to get future benefit. So we have to accept the greater evil now because we are building the movement and institutions that will give us substantial long-term progressive change.

But the long-term and the short-term are not so simply separated. In the short run, Trump undermines democracy by disenfranchising voters and by appointing rightwing judges who will be issuing rulings for decades to come. And these are not just short-run harms; they hurt the long-term prospects for social change. Had a few thousand Nader voters in Florida in 2000 cast votes instead for the lesser evil, George W. Bush might not have had the opportunity in his second term to elevate John Roberts and Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, rather than two justices who might have been chosen by a re-elected Al Gore. That outcome led to the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, gutting a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, with long-term negative consequences for the political clout of African Americans. (Gore needn’t have chosen Angela Davis to the Court; one can assume any non-rightwing ideologue he chose would have voted with the four Clinton and Obama justices.) Likewise, Trump’s two new justices helped provide the 5-4 decision in Rucho v. Common Cause, allowing partisan gerrymandering far into the future.

There are many other short-term policies with awful long-term effects. Trump makes it harder for workers to unionize or exercise their rights. This reduces the long-term prospects for worker organizing and for building a labor party. Trump’s tax policies have made the rich richer, providing greater resources for rightwing causes over the long term. And of course, Trump’s dismantling of the environmental regulatory structure in the face of imminent irreversible climate catastrophe threatens long-term human survival, let alone long-term social progress.

So how do Smith and Post assess the costs and benefits of Trump versus Biden on these issues? They don’t mention Trump’s climate policies, despite environmentalists’ warnings that we have very few years left in which to avert disaster. They don’t mention the judiciary – except to say that Biden “backed the appointment of right-wing judges” (though he voted against Clarence ThomasRehnquist for chief justiceRoberts, and Alito). Labor rights are not mentioned at all. Democratic rights are discussed in their claim that Trump is not a literal fascist – true enough, but irrelevant to the question of whether he will institutionalize authoritarian structures. And if you think Trump has been dangerous to democracy so far, consider how much worse he will be as the judiciary becomes less of a check on him.

Spoilers

Smith and Post recommend third party campaigns in “one party” cities and towns “where we can’t be accused of being spoilers.” No disagreement there, but why don’t they care about being the biggest spoilers of all in the presidential contest?

Howie Hawkins offers an inadequate discussion of the spoiler issue (if the Democrats can’t beat Trump, “it’s their own damn fault,” don’t “blame the little Green Party”). But a party can be very small and still act as a spoiler in a closely contested race, or a race where one side uses massive voter suppression to overcome its lack of popularity. And whatever the faults of the Democrats, the left can’t control those; all it can control is its own contribution to the looming catastrophe. But where Hawkins provides an unconvincing discussion of the spoiler problem, Smith and Post don’t discuss the problem at all. They don’t acknowledge that if enough leftists listen to their advice and refrain from voting for Biden in battleground states, that could swing the election to Trump.

One can’t vote for Biden and still be critical of him, say Smith and Post. We shouldn’t be diverted into trying to “turn out the vote for someone who opposes everything we’re fighting for.” But this is an extremely misleading formulation. Yes, Biden opposes socialism and our radical agenda. But he doesn’t oppose our defense of DACA or our rejection of leaving the Paris climate agreement, the Iran deal, and nuclear arms control agreements, or our opposition to Homeland Security forces in Portland, or our call for Covid to be addressed with science, or our battle to protect reproductive rights and LGBTQ+ rights, etc., etc. Not all lesser-evil leftists who are trying to turn out the vote for Biden are doing it for Biden or for the Democrats. Many are doing it for the well-being of the American people, of the world’s people — and the future of the left.

This article was originally posted on: The Tempest.

Pandemic, Polarization, and Resistance in the US; an Interview with Ashley Smith

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This interview of Ashley Smith was conducted by Joseph Daher for the newspaper of the Swiss socialist party Solidarités, and the French leftwing website, Contretemps

 

Joseph Daher: Can you tell us about the current situation in the US regarding the COVID-19 Pandemic? 

Ashley Smith: We are in the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe with distinctly US characteristics. Over 7 million people have been infected with the virus, more than 200,000 people have died, and experts predict that as many as 400,000 could lose their lives by the end of the year. The vast majority of those that have died are the elderly in nursing homes, people of color, and essential workers required to work through the outbreak of the pandemic. 

Of course, no capitalist nation state has been spared from the ravages of the pandemic. All of them have been compelled by the logic of capitalism to reopen their economies from lockdowns to get profits flowing again. But the US, along with other states also led by right wing governments like the ones in Britain, India, and Brazil, have been particularly callous in putting corporate interests before life. 

In the US, as the revelations in Bob Woodward’s new book Rage document, President Donald Trump deliberately disguised the severity of the crisis and even went so far as to block a plan developed by the Post Office to distribute masks free of charge through the mail.

Trump put profits, his re-election campaign, and frankly his ego first, and the lives of workers and oppressed people last. 

From the beginning he was reluctant to support any lockdown and quickly pressured states across the country to reopen as quickly as possible. Why? Because the economic expansion under his watch was the only chance to secure his reelection to the presidency. 

Those crass economic and personal political interests drove him to deny then mismanage the crisis, and deflect blame for the catastrophe onto everyone else from China to the Democratic Party. He has stooped to science denial, toxic macho posturing against the wearing of masks as a sign of weakness, and plain old misanthropic contempt for working class people and especially people of color to justify his criminal misbehavior.

Meanwhile, the bodies pile up in the morgues across the country. 

Joseph Daher: What about the socio-economic situation of the US economy? What have been the effects of COVID-19? 

Ashley Smith: It’s important to understand that the world economy was headed for a recession even before the pandemic struck. Its three powerhouses—China, the US, and the European Union (EU)—were already showing all the signs of an onrushing crisis.

COVID-19 was thus the trigger, not the cause, of the global recession. The pandemic then  exacerbated the depth of the recession in countries throughout the world. In the US, it forced states and cities to impose lockdowns on all but essential economic activity. 

The scale of the economic crisis is staggering. Real GDP in the US contracted by 31.7 percent in the second quarter and by 5 percent for the year. The collapse in the economy threw 20 million people out of work, raising unemployment to close to 15 percent. 

While the economy has started to recover and unemployment has dropped to around 8 percent, millions of workers remain unemployed, survive on reduced income, and face mass eviction for failing to pay their mortgages on their homes and rents for their apartments.

The US government rushed to stop the economic freefall just like did they during the Great Recession in 2007. The Federal Reserve poured over $2.3 trillion into the economy—slashing interest rates, printing money, buying securities, and extending loans to banks, corporations, and state and municipal governments. 

The Federal Government poured another $2 trillion into the economy to keep it alive. While the Democrats got some important benefits for workers like increased unemployment and one time individual payments of $1,200 per person, Trump and the GOP ensured that the bulk of the bailout went to corporations, keeping alive all sorts of zombie firms that otherwise would have gone belly up.

But, contrary to bourgeois hopes and predictions, this bailout has not produced a sharp recovery. The ongoing pandemic has forced states and cities into periodic lockdowns, preventing normal economic functioning. 

But Trump and the Republicans have refused to pass another stimulus package. They are reluctant to drive up the government debt and deficit and oppose increased unemployment benefits and individual cash payments based on the myth that they will stop workers from looking for jobs. 

Nevertheless, the US state has yet again saved capitalism. But in doing so, it has prevented the cleansing of the system’s unprofitable corporations, ensuring that we will not see a deep recession followed by a sharp rebound in growth, but a protracted slump, plagued by too many corporations producing too much stuff that they cannot sell at high enough profit rates. 

These conditions have intensified the deep political polarization in the country. On the right, Trump, while not a fascist, has lurched further to right with his law and order racism against the Black Lives Matter movement. He has also greenlighted the far right and fascist formations, which are developing rapidly in the petty bourgeoisie, a section of the working class, and the lumpen-proletariat. 

Despite Trump’s disastrous mismanagement of the pandemic and economy, he retains support of about 40 percent of the country. This new right is here to stay, no matter what the outcome of the fall elections. 

On the left, pandemic and recession has powered the surge in membership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) as well as all sorts of emerging formations on the left. Those form the core of a new socialist movement amidst sections of students, the working class, and oppressed groups.

Joseph Daher: What is the status of the Black Lives Matter’ movement? Is it still dynamic? Is it structured as a movement? What are its main demands?

Ashley Smith: This summer’s Black Lives Matter movement is the single largest wave of protests in US history. As many as 26 million people have participated in the demonstrations that swept the country since the racist police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The video of his killing rocked the consciousness and conscience of the entire country driving people into a mass rebellion. 

This is the second major wave of the movement. The first erupted in 2014 in the wake of the racist cops killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York City, and then exploded after the police killing of Freddie Gray into a full scale rebellion in Baltimore, Maryland that forced the city and state to call in the National Guard to impose order. 

This second wave is far larger and, in some ways, more radical than the first. This time Black activists have galvanized far more support from white people than the last time. Demonstrations against police racism have occurred not only in Black and brown urban areas, but in majority white suburbs and small towns all across the nation. 

This Black-led multiracial rebellion appears largely spontaneous, but at its core are activists networked in national and local formations. Black militants are organized in formations like the Movement for Black Lives, Critical Resistance, and many other national and local groups.

Beyond this core, there is an informally organized mass layer of young students and workers who have read and discussed anti-racist books and staged various actions in their schools and communities since the first wave of protests. As a result, there were pre-existing activists-in-waiting armed with ideas and also Black Lives Matter posters, banners, and t-shirts. 

The movement’s central and radical demand is to defund the police. The left wing of the movement is very clear that the goal is police abolition as part of a fight for system change through mass collective struggle in the streets, communities and workplaces.

By contrast, liberal currents and the Democratic Party aim to contain this radicalism, redefine defunding as merely budget cuts to police departments, and redirect it into the dead-end of police reform and increased investment in police training. The Democrats hope to get the movement off the streets and into campaigning for Biden in the presidential election. Thus, there is a struggle at the core of the movement over its politics, strategies, and tactics.

The movement has proved yet again that mass social and class struggle is far more effective than electoral politics in winning reforms. It has scored more victories in a few short months than decades of voting for and lobbying Democrats. It has forced cities to cut police budgets, expel police from schools in various cities, and redirect money into social services and education. 

Despite these advances, we are still far from winning the defunding of the police let alone their abolition. They continue to brutalize and kill Black people with impunity. Frustration with this situation compelled perhaps the most radical action yet—the strike led by Black professional basketball players in the NBA.

They shut down the NBA playoffs and triggered a wave of job actions by women players in the WNBA as well as by athletes in sports with few Black players like baseball and even hockey. This multiracial strike by worker-athletes electrified the nation. 

With the sports industry facing spreading work stoppages, former president Barack Obama intervened to help broker a deal to get the NBA players to go back to work. The sports bosses promised to support the movement for Black lives and Obama encouraged the players to help turn out voters for Biden. 

At this point, the movement is in an ebb, but the constant killing of Black and brown people by the police continues to provoke explosions of protest in various localities. The cops’ endless murder spree guarantees that the movement will explode again and again over the coming months and years until systemic change is won. 

For now, though, most organized forces are being pulled into the fall elections to campaign for Biden. But, far from being an advocate for the movement, Biden opposes its main demand of defunding the police. Nevertheless, most see no alternative but to support him in order to defeat Trump. 

Meanwhile Trump has demonized the movement and rallied his base to support the police. He placed law and order racism at the center of his reelection campaign and stooped to some of the worst white supremacist demagogy in the history of modern bourgeois politics. 

Joseph Daher: Any other major movements you want to mention having any influence? Labor Movement? Women’s Movement? Migrants’ Movements?

Ashley Smith: Since the Great Recession, we’ve seen episodic explosions of struggles. These began with Occupy, the Black Lives Matter movement, and a handful of strikes most importantly the Chicago Teachers Union strike in 2012, which set the model of teachers strikes in the following years.

Since his election, Trump has provoked a new round of protest beginning with the Women’s March right at the start of his rule. Since then, we have seen protests against his attacks on immigrant rights and Muslims and a strike wave among teachers, beginning with the Red State Teachers Revolt in 2018 when teachers illegally struck in several Republican controlled states. That revolt inspired teachers to stage strikes in Democratic Party controlled cities like LA, Chicago, and Denver. 

The pandemic and recession have compelled workers, especially Black and brown workers,  in essential industries to take job action to protect their health. Workers at hospitals, schools, Amazon, and meat processing plants to name a few have staged protests and, in some cases, strikes to secure personal protective equipment and hazard pay. 

We are clearly in the early stages of increasing militancy after decades of retreat, defeat and disorganization. But the major institutions of our side—social movement organizations, NGOs, and the unions—are transfixed by the election. They are subordinating the building of struggle to electoral politics in the vain hope that the election of Joe Biden and the Democrats will provide a solution to the catastrophes of US capitalism. 

Nevertheless, the growing and deepening class and social inequalities of US capitalism will compel the rank and file of the unions and movements to build organizations willing to push for higher levels of militancy to take on the bosses and the growing far right. We are in the early stages of a whole epoch of crisis, political polarization, and struggle.

Joseph Daher: Is there anything left of the Sanders’ movement? Was the Left able to build on the dynamics of Sander’s candidacy? DSA? 

Ashley Smith: Bernie Sanders’ dramatic runs for the Democratic Party presidential nomination were contradictory expressions of this episodic explosion of social and class struggle. On the one hand, Sanders cohered students and young multiracial workers radicalizing through activism behind the idea of socialism as an alternative to capitalism. He helped make socialism common sense for a whole generation.

On the other hand, Sanders trapped the project of fighting for socialism inside the Democratic Party. But that party is a capitalist one, not a social democratic party or labor party. It is tightly controlled by its wealthy funders, party bureaucrats, and bourgeois politicians. 

Sanders running in that party had two negative impacts. First, Sanders diverted energy from building a new party of our own into the dead end of trying to take over the Democrats. Second, in the process of trying to get votes in that party, Sanders redefined socialism as  Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal liberalism. 

The DSA positioned itself as the prime beneficiary on the left of Sanders’ campaigns. They grew from a moribund organization of aging reformists committed to the Democratic Party into a new, young organization of 70,000 socialists, inspired by the struggles from below and attracted to Sanders’ version of socialism and his proposal for social reform like Medicare for All. 

Tragically and predictably, however, the Democratic Party blocked both Sanders’ attempts to win their presidential nomination. In 2016, the establishment rallied to Clinton and then did the same behind Biden. In fact, Sanders did considerably worse in 2020 than he did in 2016, proving that while the Democrats are happy to tolerate leftists in their midst to keep them from building a new socialist party, they block every attempt by them to take over the party. 

After his defeat, Sanders fulfilled his promise to support the Democrat’s nominee, and rallied his supporters behind Biden. Even worse, he’s giving Biden a facelift, predicting that he has the potential to become the most progressive president since FDR. Any even cursory reading of what Biden and his handlers say to his Wall Street backers makes a mockery of this claim.

As a result, Sanders has largely disorganized his movement and attempted to reorient it and its organizations into supporting Biden at best as a progressive and at worst as a lesser evil to dethrone Trump. DSA has been challenged in this changed situation to reorient the organization.

While DSA chapters and members have been active in the waves of struggle, the Sanders campaign and similar down-ballot electoral runs inside the Democratic Party came to occupy a central focus for the organization. While DSA has continued to score some electoral victories especially in New York City, it has lost its orienting focus with Sanders’ defeat.

And the organization’s overwhelming electoral focus has led it to take its eye off the ball when it comes to the new waves of struggle. For example, while its members have joined the Black Lives Matter protests, DSA as a national organization and most of its chapters have not played a prominent role in the movement. 

Joseph Daher: How is the Left in the USA positioning itself for the presidential elections?

Ashley Smith: The November presidential election is not what the Left and DSA expected. Many if not most wrongly expected Sanders to win the Democrat’s nomination. Now, DSA and the Left face the unappealing and classic trap of an election between a right wing Republican, Trump, and an establishment Democrat, Biden, who’s committed to restoring bourgeois norms through a government of national unity.

Faced with this “choice,” the Left breaks down into three predominant currents. First, the liberal left is all in for Biden with varying degrees of illusions in his program. Some are fooling themselves into thinking he will be as progressive as Sanders claims while others more soberly are voting for him in full recognition that he is a neoliberal capitalist but the only way to get Trump out of office.

On the socialist left, the main current is one that accepts the traditional position of lesser evilism—of voting for the lesser evil to stop the greater one. The best of this current is promising to campaign and vote for Biden and then fight him on day one, while others are sowing illusions that having Biden in the White House will make it easier to win progressive reforms. 

A small current of revolutionary socialists, which I’m part of, argues against both these positions. We contend that you cannot fight the greater evil by voting for the lesser one for three reasons. First, once the Left accepts the choice and lines up behind the lesser evil, we get taken for granted and our demands ignored.

Second, if and when the lesser evil wins, the Left that has supported that evil will be tempted to cooperate with it in office, some even going so far as to join the administration, and others  that remain outside giving it a honeymoon hoping it will deliver reforms. That leaves the far right as the only opposition. 

In that case, the Left will be tempted to defend the administration, completing the Left’s cooptation and neutralization. Meanwhile the lesser evil in power will cut deals with the greater evil. Biden has made a career of making just such rotten deals. 

Third, campaigning for the lesser evil is not an individual decision but a collective one with enormous consequences. If the Left backs Biden it will aid and abet the bureaucracies that control the unions, social movement organizations, and NGOs in redirecting activist’s time, money and energy from building struggle to fight for what we want into campaigning and voting for what we don’t want—a neoliberal lesser evil.

DSA as the main organization of the Left has all these currents inside it. It is barred as an organization from endorsing Biden by the “Bernie or Bust” resolution it passed at its last convention. But members of some of its caucuses are actively campaigning for Biden and many if not most of its leaders and members will individually vote for Biden however much they distrust or despise him. 

Joseph Daher: What future for the DSA and more generally the Left in the USA?

Ashley Smith: We are in the midst of a profound crisis of the capitalist system, one with multiple interconnected features—a protracted global slump, an ongoing pandemic, climate change, and intensifying inter-imperial rivalry between the US and China. It is the gravest systemic crisis since the 1930s.

In the US, it is producing profound political polarization to the left in the form of DSA and the new socialist movement and to the right in form of Trump at the top of the GOP and the growing ranks of organized far right and fascist militias. The capitalist establishment is increasingly oriented to the Democratic Party in the desperate hope to stabilize what appears to be a failing state and economy. 

In conditions of a deep recession and pandemic, workers and oppressed people are being driven to fight for their very lives from the Black-led multiracial uprising against police brutality to strikes. The emerging left will have to cohere itself into a force, eventually a new socialist party, that can help lead these struggles from below and provide an alternative to challenge both the capitalist establishment in the Democratic Party as well the Trumpite GOP and far right. 

DSA is best positioned to launch the effort to build a new party. But its many currents are not united behind that project: some remain committed to Sanders’ project of taking over the Democratic Party; many hope to use the Democratic Party ballot line to build a force of elected politicians to eventually launch a new party in the future; and most are oriented on an electoral road to the formation of that new party. 

The question will be whether the revolutionary left inside and alongside DSA can argue for a different strategy, one focused on class and social struggle and local electoral work independent of the two capitalist parties, with the goal of launching a new socialist party as soon as we possibly can. Everyone inside the Left and in DSA are debating these ideas now in the run up to the election. 

In the unlikely though possible event of a Trump victory, we are in for the fight of our lives against an emboldened right. In the more likely event of a Biden victory, we will have to  agitate for DSA to engage in a two-front struggle—one focused on forcing the Biden administration to deliver what we want and another against a right far more radical, militarized, and dangerous than the Tea Party was under Obama. 

If Biden wins, the biggest danger is that Biden is given a honeymoon by the Left, opening the door for the right to go on the offensive and set the terms of struggle in politics, on the streets, and in the workplaces. We are midst of a deep crisis of historic proportions, one fraught with great dangers on the right and pregnant with enormous opportunities for the Left. Our future hangs in the balance. 

Joseph Daher is a Syrian-Swiss anti-capitalist academic and activist. He currently teaches at Lausanne University and is a part time affiliate professor at the European University Institute, Florence (Italy). He is the author of Hezbollah: Political Economy of the Party of God (Pluto Press, 2016) and Syria After the Uprisings: The Political Economy of State Resilience (Pluto Press 2019). He created the blog Syria Freedom Forever.

Ashley Smith is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America in Burlington, Vermont. He has written in numerous publications including Truthout, Jacobin, New Politics, Harpers, Spectre, Tempest and many other online and print publications. 

A Letter to the Progressive International

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When a new “Progressive International” invited Syria’s Yassin al-Haj Saleh to join, he was happy to accept. When he then submitted this letter for their publication, they ceased contacting him without explanation.

[Al-Jumhuriya Editor’s note: In April, the Syrian writer and Al-Jumhuriya co-founder Yassin al-Haj Saleh was invited to join the advisory council of the Progressive International, a new movement seeking to “unite, organize, and mobilize progressive forces” around the world, involving well-known figures such as Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, and Yanis Varoufakis. The below letter was to be al-Haj Saleh’s inaugural contribution to the movement’s media arm, Wire; envisaged as a platform “for the world’s progressive forces, translating and disseminating critical perspectives and stories from the grassroots around the world.” The letter, however, was never published by Wire, which ceased correspondence with al-Haj Saleh without explanation. It is published here by Al-Jumhuriya, with minor edits, for the first time.]

Dear comrades and friends,

It is a pertinent and timely moment for us to come together and work for a new international, active, progressive, and genuinely democratic world. So many of our problems today are global in nature, with no possibility of finding merely national solutions for any of them. The Coronavirus crisis shows this with renewed clarity, although environmental degradation has been demonstrating it for a generation at least. I would add another global problem: the double-headed beast of racism and the “War on Terror.” This War is by no means an actual war, but rather in effect the torture of whole societies, and I see torture as a socio-political practice of creating races. Torture belongs to a family of evils, the other members of which are slavery, colonialism, and genocide. By torture, which is a cruel game played by torturers on the boundaries between the lives and deaths of the tortured, masters and slaves are created: races, in other words. No shortage of “theory” is invoked to justify and legitimize this. Everything can be employed in the service of the racist scriptures: modernity; secularism; the War on Terror; even anti-imperialism.

It happens that my country, Syria, was a torture state for decades before it became a major theater of the War on Terror, in which so many of the world’s crime agencies have demonstrated their skill by joining this torturous war; Bashar “Chemical” Assad leading their way. After the Syrian uprising began in March 2011, Assad’s regime abolished the state of emergency that had been in effect in the country since the first Baathist coup of March 1963, only to replace it with laws of “combating terror,” moving thus from one form of what Agamben calls a state of exception to another. The move was simply a continuation of an exterminatory war on political organizations and independent initiatives.

In Syria today, which has now been ruled by the Assad family for a whole half-century, and where the privatized state called on foreign powers to protect its ownership of the country, we enjoy no fewer than five occupations: Israeli; Iranian; American; Russian; and Turkish. There are plenty of sub-state actors as well: Hezbollah, which is a Lebanese satellite of Iran; additional Shia Islamist militias from Iraq and Afghanistan; the Kurdish PYD, which is the Syrian branch of the PKK in Turkey; the al-Qaeda offshoot currently known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham; and various other smaller Salafi-jihadist groups. In its heyday between 2014 and 2017, the Islamic State/Daesh managed to attract jihadists to its ranks from almost half of the world’s countries, a feat rivaling the UN and its organizations as an international body. Jihadism is a sort of Islamic international, whose imaginary is haunted by specters of transnational Muslim empires of the past.

With so much of the world in Syria, and as many as 6.5 million Syrians (just under 30% of the population) displaced outside the country, scattered around the world, present-day Syria is a denationalized nation, a non-homeland. If we understand internationalism as a progressive and positive denationalization of the world, then the curious situation of Syria should be an analytical starting point. The country is a microcosm of a world which has become a macro-Syria. To understand Syria greatly helps us understand the world today, and I believe the failure of understanding and analysis is worse than the failure of solidarity with the subaltern millions in the country. I mean not to be harsh, but most of the prevailing analysis is truly pathetic, showing rare levels of oversimplification and poverty of knowledge: sheer ignorance, in short. One cannot but be amazed at the active worldlessness that has been rebellious Syrians’ lot: to be told that Putinist Russia’s protection of a genocidal regime is legitimate; or to hear sympathy expressed for a serial murderer like Iran’s Qassem Soleimani, rather than the victims on whose blood he walked victoriously in Aleppo and many other parts of Syria. These are just two among innumerable examples of dehumanized people being told for almost a full decade now that they are irrelevant, indeed ostracized from the world. That is why I believe a new international that ignores or marginalizes the gravest international crime of this century so far, or that does not challenge these conditions of worldlessness and misrepresentation in both theory and practice, is dooming itself to failure.

It came to many of us Syrian leftists and democrats as a shock that our struggle for democracy, justice, and dignity was dismissed by anti-imperialists in the West, and indeed globally. It appears the regime narrative was accepted by many. The wised-up came to convince themselves that there were “no good guys” over there; a catchphrase formulated by that close friend of Syria’s murderous mukhabarat, the British journalist Robert Fisk (whose knowledge of Arabic, after more than 40 years living in the region, is such that he believes the word is “muhabarat”). This is worse than a mistake. It replaces knowledge of the present with a remembrance, even nostalgia, for the past; put simply, it sticks to early Cold War ways of thinking and judging. This is a recipe for an old and reactionary international, not a new and progressive one. Syria is a privatized state, owned by a ferocious dynasty of mafiosi, whose highest aim is to stay in power forever, even at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and surrendering the country to such cruel “protectors” as Iran, Russia, and their satellites.

The comprehensive failure of international forces, anti-imperialists included, vis-à-vis this century’s principal struggle is symptomatic of an even larger crisis: their disorientation, and lack of a vision and project.

We are in need, at the global level, of what might be called a third solidarity movement. The first came after Bandung, and survived for some two decades. Its center of gravity was the newly-independent countries, where ideas of Afro-Asian solidarity, or the peoples of the “Tricontinent,” were widely held. It was the time of decolonization and the socialist ideal. This first solidarity occurred between nationalist governments in the Third World, and it unraveled in the 1980s with the ascendance of brutal oligarchic regimes in many Asian, African, and Latin American countries, and the gradual decline from the 1970s onwards of the communist and socialist bloc that supported nonalignment against the common enemy; the capitalist West.

By the late 1980s, capitalism had achieved its biggest victory in a century. In the ‘90s, a second movement of solidarity with the victims of oppression, dictatorship, and discrimination against minorities started to appear in the West. Progressive-minded people adopted causes from the “Third World,” or oppressed communities in Europe itself, building organizations and networks to support this cause or that, usually in a patronizing way. The politics of solidarity have been atomized, with no efforts to bring the disparate causes together. Perhaps supporters of the Palestinian cause, for example, might cooperate with anti-racism activists, but in general causes and the solidarity movements attached to them are separate, intellectually and organizationally. One easily discerns an unequal power relationship in solidarity activities, whereby the causes of the oppressed and their agents are patronized by Western solidarity networks, and a “market” of causes emerges, with oligopolistic tendencies. Like many Syrians, I have had unhappy experiences with this sort of solidarity activism in Turkey and Europe, on which I reflected in my article, “A critique of solidarity.”

Now, then, is the time for a third solidarity movement on a global scale. It should be more affirmative, aimed at global regime change. To pit causes against one other, granting some solidarity while ignoring others, is by no means a progressive policy. We need more systematic analyses that show the roots of the problems of racism and poverty, and the crises of health and the environment. The clash of victimhoods to which the second solidarity structure was susceptible must be avoided, indeed condemned. The stage of this third solidarity is the world. International ideals are irreconcilable with Eurocentric visions and visualizations. What brings us together is partnership based on equality and equity, though asymmetric temporalities and different autonomies of struggles are basic principles for a decentralized and radically democratic international.

The Progressive International can be an active agent in this third solidarity. I would have preferred a different name for the initiative; a young friend suggested “Planetary Dignity,” which I find more creative and progressive. The name refers to the home of humans and non-humans alike who are existentially threatened by capitalism and the worship of power and profit. Dignity is the value that encompasses other values, and that requires respect for ourselves, everyone else, and life itself. Regardless, I believe we are indeed heading toward a new wave of international and planetary-minded movements. Plurality is needed within each movement, as it is essential for a more democratic world.

May we be partners in the struggle for a better life for humans, and better humanity for life.

Yours,

Yassin al-Haj Saleh

This aritcle was originally published in Al-Jumhurya.

The Me Too Movement in Iran: What Is New About It? What Can It Learn From Abolitionist Feminism in U.S.?

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For the past month, an unprecedented development has started to take place in Iran. Thousands of women and some men have started to speak publicly on social media about their experiences of sexual harassment, abuse, assault and rape. Although in the past, some individual women and men have occasionally spoken about sexual abuse online, the current wave has lasted longer and embodies a more diverse group.

The perpetrators include an IRGC (army) commander and member of parliament, clerics, journalists, university professors, artists, various professionals, students and ordinary people including brothers, fathers and other family members. What stands out, however, is the cases of famous men of arts and letters who claim to be defenders of women’s rights.

Multiple complaints about a well-known sociologist and anthropologist, Kameel Ahmady’s sexual abuse of women and abuse of power, has led to the suspension of his membership in the Iranian Sociological Association until further investigation. Ahmady is an academic with a focus on gender, children, ethnic minorities and child labor. He is the author of works on female genital mutilation and on child marriage in Iran.

There are also 22 mostly anonymous allegations of sexual abuse and attempted rape against a prominent artist, Aydin Aghdashloo. One case involves a woman journalist, Sara Omatali who met him at his office for an interview in 2006 only to be confronted with a naked Aghdashloo attempting to rape her. Laleh Sabouri, a film actress and student of Aghdashloo has also claimed that sexual misconduct was a natural part of his behavior.

The public exposes have included many stories of incest and abuse by women of a variety of backgrounds. However, the voices of working-class women speaking for themselves are still faint.

For now, a socialist feminist activist in Tehran has started publishing a series of interviews with workingclass women who have been sexually abused for a lifetime and have been forced to turn to sex work to earn a living. These testimonials have been confirmed by social workers helping the interviewees as well.

The reactions to the current Iranian Me Too movement online have ranged from enthusiastic support to contempt. Some are encouraging more women to speak out. Some are calling women “spoiled brats” who are “making a big fuss.”

Context of Emerging Me Too in Iran

These public disclosures mark a very important development in a country in which women have been subjected to the repressive and misogynistic Islamic Republic for 40 years, and where there is a great deal of shame and fear of becoming outcasts associated with talking about sexual abuse. Under the previous regime, the Pahlavi monarchy (1925-1979), which claimed to be Iran’s first modernist government, even though women had some limited rights, they were still subjected to sexual harassment and assault at home and at work, as well as political repression imposed on society as a whole.

It is not surprising, however, that more Iranian women are now speaking publicly about sexual abuse and assault. The Islamic Republic has not been able to stop them from attending universities and getting bachelors’ and post-graduate degrees. Over 60 percent of Iran’s college graduates are now women. Women have published novels and translations of feminist works. Whether college graduates or not, women are now more literate and have also been exposed to the world through the internet. There was a failed but nevertheless important Million Signatures Campaign for gender equality initiated by women activists in 2005. Women have also participated in various waves of popular protests against the regime since December 2017. In fact, a wave of women taking off their headscarves in public places began a day before the December 2017-January 2018 mass protests which called for an end to the Islamic Republic and an end to its military interventions in the region. During the November 2019 and January 2020 popular protests, women played a much more visible role as leaders of protests.

There have also been internet campaigns by Iranian women, men and LGBTQ activists against honor killings and other forms of femicide, and in support of women political prisoners. Iran’s most famous woman political prisoner, Nasrin Sotudeh, is a feminist human rights attorney who is currently serving the third year of a fifteen-year prison sentence for her defense of women who removed their headscarves in public and for her opposition to the death penalty. She is currently on hunger strike. Another well-known woman political prisoner, Kurdish activist Zeynab Jalalian has been in solitary confinement for months and is going blind after thirteen years of imprisonment. Other women in prison include workingclass women who used drugs or took the blame for their husband’s debt or defended themselves against an abusive partner. Some are in prison along with their babies and small children. All are suffering from exposure to COVID-19 in a country where the pandemic is raging.

What Can We Learn from Me Too in Iran & What Can It Learn from Abolitionist Feminism in U.S.?

There is no doubt that an important force in propelling the new campaign of Iranian women speaking publicly against sexual abuse has been the global Me Too movement. It has had a powerful impact on the minds and hearts of Iranian women who have gained courage and realize that they should not remain silent about sexual harassment, abuse and rape.

Among those who have written about the new Me Too movement in Iran in the English-language media, Masih Alinejad and Roya Hakakian argue that Iranian women have come to the conclusion that the hijab will not protect women from predators. Rather “what can actually shield them from sexual harassment is the rule of law, and a society in which no individual figure can reign above the constitution.”

Alinejad and Hakakian believe that “in contrast to the Me Too movement in the countries of the West, which aimed to upend gender inequality, the current outpouring in Iran does not see gender inequality as the problem but merely as a symptom of a more serious affliction: the regime itself.”

In response, Sara Tafakori has argued that “the primary referent of the women speaking out is neither the state nor the regime; it is the very misogynist and patriarchal structures of both workplace and society.” She emphasizes that this movement’s “points of orientation are . . . global and universal.” She also challenges Alinejad and Hakakian for being uncritical of western imperialism and proposing western liberalism as a model for Iranian women.

This is an important debate. There is no question that the Me Too movement arising in Iran demands laws that support women, and in doing so also strongly opposes both the Iranian regime and patriarchy and misogyny on a global and universal scale. However, there is more to say about the actuality and potentiality of the Me Too movement in Iran.

In a recent article, Narges Imani, a young socialist feminist translator and researcher living in Iran argues: “But there is an important and partially contradictory point which has received less attention: Explanations based on patriarchy as a mental construct. . . see the education of more and more men concerning respect for women’s rights as the solution for confronting the lack of culture leading to sexual harassment. In fact, however, the main perpetrators of the current assaults are “very cultured” men, some of whom are famous figures in the field of art or science or ideas. Fundamentally, one of the main reasons for the shock brought about by the recent exposes is not so much the mere fame of these assaulting figures but the damage which these exposes have done to “the cultural explanation of patriarchy”.

Imani goes on to argue that the impact of the logic of capital on the body and the mind needs to be addressed. In this article and others, she addresses the ways in which capitalism uses both precapitalist forms of domination such as “masculine-centeredness” or religion and more modern forms of domination to discipline the body or to shape our desires, to commodify and instrumentalize human relations.

In light of the important questions and ideas raised by Imani, we can also return to the origins of Me Too movement in the U.S. and draw out critically important dimensions that can help the Me Too movement in Iran and globally.

The Me Too movement arose in the U.S. in October 2017 when Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano publicized the many accusations of sexual harassment and rape against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The Me Too campaign, however, was originally started in 2007 by an African American woman Tarana Burke, who had been conceiving such an effort for ten years since 1997 after a conversation with a thirteen-year old young woman victim of rape.

In a 2017 interview, Tarana Burke has emphasized that her goal and vision in starting the Me Too campaign was to take the conversation beyond the level of individuals, whether the accuser or the accused, and focus on challenging and uprooting structural foundations of power and privilege in our society. She started with the aim of focusing on women of color, transgender folks and people with disabilities who experience the highest rate of sexual violence in the U.S. Her preoccupation has been “real structural change” and transformative justice because “many perpetrators are themselves survivors of sexual violence, particularly child sexual abuse. And that complicates a lot of things. We’ve got to get a clearer understanding of what justice is and what people need to feel whole. And if we’re ever going to heal in our community, we have to heal the perpetrators and heal the survivors, or else it’s just a continuous cycle.”

Abolitionist Feminism, a movement started in the U.S. by African American women concomitant with their theorizing and struggle against the Prison Industrial Complex, also further articulates the goals and vision of the Me Too movement. Abolitionist Feminist leaders such as Tarana Burke, Angels Davis, Ruth Wilson Glmore, Joy James, Avery Gordon, Romarilyn Ralston, Mariame Kaba, oppose gender violence and see it as part and parcel of the racist, sexist and heterosexist capitalist system which is carceral in its foundation. They oppose capitalist dehumanization, commodification and all relations of domination.

In the Feminist and the Sex Offender, Abolitionist feminists, Judith Levine and Erica R. Meiners also emphasize that gender violence cannot be separated from state violence. They argue that “Me Too is evidence that without thoroughgoing social change, the law does little to protect people from sexual harm.” (p. 30) Furthermore, “freedom from violence is not an end in itself but rather the atmosphere in which all can flourish.” (p. 5)

Iranian women who are speaking out against sexual abuse, assault and rape can find much inspiration in Tarana Burke’s definition of the Me Too campaign and in Abolitionist Feminism. Living under an authoritarian police state which currently holds 240,000 prisoners including hundreds of political prisoners, they have no trust in the Iranian criminal justice system.

Conclusion: Need for Solidarity

The Iranian Me Too movement and struggle against femicide is a critically important development that is raising important questions for the global feminist movement.

This movement needs support from feminists around the world. It also needs active support from Iranian labor activists. Currently there is a wave of ongoing labor strikes in Iran which oppose non-payment of wages, dangerous working conditions and the “privatization” of formerly state enterprises which are facilitating greater state exploitation of labor.

Although Iran’s labor movement includes many women including teachers and nurses, the struggle against gender and sexual violence has not entered the public conversation within the labor movement. Such a separation is hurting both the labor struggle and the struggle for women’s emancipation.

Will labor activists and women demanding an end to gender violence join forces to defend women’s right to self-determination and help move the struggle forward?

Mexico’s AMLO Is No Leftist, as His Handling of Covid Demonstrates

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Since he took office in December of 2018, some on the left have argued that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is a leftist, even a socialist. Some like Kurt Hackbarth defend AMLO’s record, despite his alliance with the banks and big business, his political coalition with a rightwing party, his commitment to maintaining Mexico as a leading petroleum producing country, and his dedication to the Maya Train that threatens indigenous communities and the environment. They defend AMLO’s presidency despite the fact that he has overseen an increase in the country’s already extraordinarily high murder rate. In the first half of 2020, there were 17,439 murders, a 1.7% increase on the same period last year, as well as a 9.2 percent rise in femicide, the murder of women. And finally there is AMLO’s subservience to U.S. President Donald Trump, acting as his cop in policing Mexico’s border to keep migrants out of the United States.

Maybe it is unfair to criticize AMLO for those things, as some say. Well, the coronavirus pandemic has given us yet another measure with which to judge AMLO’s government. Amnesty International recently reported that since the pandemic began over 7,000 health workers have died around the world, and that “at least 1,320 health workers are confirmed to have died in Mexico alone, the highest known figure for any country.” The United States is second, with 1,077 health worker deaths, but the U.S. has a population almost three times that of Mexico.

There have been many articles in Mexico, the United States, and other countries criticizing AMLO for his handling of the pandemic in a way that resembles the terrible policies of Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. Much as in the United States the government did not act swiftly, it has not had a consistent policy, and there is not enough testing and not enough tracing. But there are other problems as well.

The Lancet, the distinguished British medical journal decided to look more specifically at why Mexico should have such high numbers. First comes the lack of everything.

Less than three weeks after Mexico recorded its first COVID-19 case, staff from a Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) hospital blocked a Mexico City road, demanding medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE). At least 70 protests have followed, according to a report by six former health secretaries, with medical staff decrying shortages of supplies and tests, along with a lack of hospital infrastructure and even proper training.

While Mexico did finally get more supplies, health officials say they were often of poor quality.

There are many factors affecting Mexican health care workers. “A lot of people in the health sector workforce are basically working on informal contracts,” Madeleine Penman of Amnesty told Lancet. “That affects a lot of things in terms of job security and access to sick leave.”

Lancet also reported that Rafael Soto, an IMSS nurse and spokesperson for the National Union of Health Workers, said that unions representing health workers were keeping quiet on issues of workplace safety, preferring to please the government rather than address members’ demands. Some protest leaders, he said, have had their jobs terminated by their employers or have been sanctioned by their unions. Unfortunately, such behavior, kowtowing to the boss and punishing the members, is typical of many Mexican unions.

While the unions play a role, government is most responsible. Mexico has several government health agencies that cover most workers and the pubic in general, but for decades the budgets for these programs have been cut, including by AMLO. Defunding the public health systems and the low pay of public health physicians led many of them to take private sector jobs in addition to their government positions, as well as teaching. So doctors have divided loyalties and work too many hours.

Lancet also pointed out that many Mexican health workers suffer from some conditions common to the population at large, such as obesity and diabetes. These are conditions, present in the Mexican population only for the last 40 years, that a good public health system would work to eliminate.

As president, AMLO has responsibility for what happens on his watch, but clearly he inherited a profoundly corrupt system that he has failed to reform. The neoliberal governments of the last 40 years, and AMLO’s government which is so proud of its austerity, have failed to maintain the health system. Mexican labor unions, in most cases creations of the state, fail to fight for workers. Not only is AMLO’s government not socialist, it is not democratic, it is not competent, and it is not socially responsible. AMLO is a populist with a leftist image and rightist policies.

The Mexican people deserve better. Some of them are fighting to reform their unions and to organize forces to reform the government. We stand in solidarity not with AMLO’s government but with those like the health workers mentioned here who are fighting from below to change it.

 

 

Economics for the People

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Review of Hadas Thier, A People’s Guide to Capitalism: An Introduction to Marxist Economics (Haymarket Books, 2020)

This is a well-written, accessible introduction, which is also stimulating even for those familiar with Marxist Economics. It covers the basics with extensive quotations from Capital and some  of Marx’s other writings and does an admirable job of covering the key features of Marx’s explanation of the inner workings of capitalism in a clear manner. The author uses current examples and explains that the fundamental principles Marx laid out in Capital still apply, while integrating the changes that have taken place since Marx’s time. The book also includes a very helpful glossary of Marxist economic terms at the end.

This is not an abstract economics book. It is written by a socialist activist for other activists. It follows Lenin’s aphorism that “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.” The purpose of the book is to arm activists with an understanding of the capitalist economy to help them overthrow it. The main points that the author wants to get across are summarized on page 234:

  • “These [the fundamental problems of capitalism] are not accidents. They are not isolated incidents of greed. They are simply the way the system works…”
  • “These same processes of accumulation necessarily lead to contradictions that threaten the very profits that the capitalists seek…”
  • “’The point however is to change it’ argued Marx… Better understanding the system, as Marx wrote ‘to reveal the economic law of motion of modern society’ is a critical first step.”

For those already familiar with the basics of Marxist Economics, the most interesting sections of the book will be the  brief examination of various theories of capitalist crisis. In a section called “Why Mainstream Economists Get it Wrong” (150-55) the author skewers explanations of crisis found in bourgeois economics, including Say’s Law—the idea that every purchase is also a sale and that capitalism therefore tends toward equilibrium.

Thier also takes on various Marxist explanations of crisis. She rejects the “underconsumptionist” explanation that crisis is caused by the inability of workers to buy all they produce, because “capitalists don’t just  produce commodities for workers to consume. They also produce luxury goods for the rich and more importantly raw materials and means of production for other productive capitalists” (158).

Thier makes the important and often ignored distinction between underconsumption and overproduction. The former focuses on the chronic inability of workers to consume all they produce. She notes that this would result in a permanent crisis, since workers never receive the full value of what they produce.

Overproduction, on the other hand, can be sporadic and is related to the fundamental drive of capitalists to increase profits. From page 163 on, Thier explains the boom-bust cycle of capitalism:

“Businesses hustle to produce more, knowing  that it is likely that their goods will find buyers”(163), but “Alas, the fever pitch of expansion eventually oversaturates the market. Too many goods have been produced to be able to sell at the exaggerated prices produced by the boom, or even at their value. Profits begin to tumble.”(165)

The disproportionalities between different industries exacerbate this process.

Thier also notes that there is a debate on the significance of the “tendency of the rate of profit to decline,” which Marx noted was caused by the displacement of labor by machinery. Since labor is the source of surplus value, there is a downward pressure on profit rates.

Some modern Marxists discount this. Others see it as the immediate source of every crisis. Thier takes an intermediate view. She says that it is important in the long run and is one of the most important contradictions of capitalism: over time, the drive for profit undermines the ability of the system to generate profit. She also argues that the downward pressure on the rate of profit increases competition and intensifies crises. However, she does not see the immediate cause of every recession or depression as the decline in profit rates.

Thier also follows Marx in seeing economic crises as coming from dislocations and overproduction in the real economy. This is also controversial, since many economists see the source of crisis as financialization of the system. The author extensively addresses the growth of financial capital, examining the creation of new financial instruments and the growth of this sector. However, she sticks to the fundamental Marxist idea that profit comes from the direct exploitation of workers in production.

A People’s Guide to Capitalism brings Marx’s analysis of private capitalism up to date with current examples. But there is one area that it does not develop in detail: Marx’s view of unproductive labor. For Marx “productive” labor creates surplus value and therefore profit. It is at the heart of the system.

However, even in Marx’s time, there were many “ unproductive” workers—i.e., workers who did not directly produce surplus value and were not directly exploited. In Marx’s time, these included the domestic servants of the rich, who Marx said lived off the revenue that capitalists received from the surplus value created by the productive workers they employed.

In modern times, “unproductive workers” would include, for example, public school teachers , public hospital nurses, etc. A direct profit is not made from their labor. However, these workers are also part of the working class. They are also necessary for the maintenance of the capitalist system. They too are paid comparable wages to productive workers. They have the power to shut down parts of the system and would benefit from a socialist transformation of society. The author mentions some of these workers as part of the working class but she does not theorize how they fit into her analysis of directly exploited workers.

This omission aside, A People’s Guide to Capitalism is a tremendous contribution to the understanding of economics today, and more importantly how we can get rid of capitalism. It will be very useful both to veteran Marxists and people new to the subject. Everyone interested in this topic, and indeed anyone interested in fundamentally changing the world, should read this book.

Abortion Clinic Defense: A Testimony

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I escort patients at an abortion clinic. My role is to be a friendly face, ready with an open umbrella when patients arrive, to escort them in and out past anti-abortion protesters. I do my best to bear the brunt of the abuse, shielding my patient both physically and emotionally. Some hide behind my umbrella, some walk defiantly inside while I smile proudly at them, some just seem bewildered— all have made the decision to come to the clinic. Here, I have seen firsthand how the patriarchy harms everyone.

I have been doing this work for a long time, though I didn’t always know it. I was born and raised in the Evangelical Church, where purity doctrine is held as high as Jesus Himself: sex is only permitted within the confines of a legally binding marriage between one man and one woman. We girls were to keep ourselves pure for our husbands. Not only were we responsible for our own choices, we were responsible for not tempting the boys with how we dressed and behaved.

One of the girls in my youth group got pregnant. She couldn’t bear the shame her extremely conservative family would heap upon her for being an unwed mother— held up as a disgraced example (for the rest of her life) to her siblings of what not to become, believing no one would ever want to marry her now that she was “damaged goods.” So she had an abortion and I covered for her. She never told anyone except me and the doctor.

Many anti-abortion protesters come from a similar background. Those who’ve had abortions are placed front and center to wail and plead with patients about the psychological torture they’ll endure for life if they go through with it. Statistics show that less than ten percent of people regret their abortions, but these facts don’t matter when one believes they’re “saving babies.” Anti-abortion women refer to themselves as “post-abortive” and call out dire warnings to patients as they enter and exit the building. I often wonder if they’d still regret it if their families and churches hadn’t told them they should.

There’s a very young woman who comes regularly with her infant. She told me, crying, “You’re a baby killer, would you kill my baby? He is no different. Go ahead, judge me for being a teen mom. Yeah, I’m unmarried. I got pregnant and chose life.”

I wanted to tell her I support her. She’s not a slut and fuck them for making her feel ashamed. If a teenager wants to have a baby and needs a ride to her prenatal appointment, I got a car, hit me up. Wanna let me rock your baby while you hang out with your friends for a few hours? I love taking care of babies!

But I can’t help her. I couldn’t talk to her or even give her an encouraging smile. I had to just stand there, stone faced, bearing witness to her attempt to shame other women. She has internalized the patriarchy, she does not recognize it and cannot see beyond it.

In a way, she humanizes the need to liberate women as part of class struggle. But my compassion for these people only goes so far. I also wanted to tell her to put sunscreen on her very red baby and take him home, he’s overheated. And to quit crying at and pleading with my patients, she’s harassing them.

Each individual has their own reason for seeking an abortion. As a clinic escort, that is not my concern. They’re there because they’re pregnant and don’t want to be. I help them gain access to the health care they need. But I know that women from vocally pro-life families can be driven to seek an abortion out of desperation to keep their sexual history a secret. I sometimes wonder if they might have made a different decision if their families had been willing to support them as an unwed parent. (I use the word “parent” because I have made inclusive language a habit. But the term “unwed” is most often applied to mothers, rarely fathers. She’s an unwed mother, a teen mom.)

Many times, the reason is a complex one— poverty. Access to health care, prenatal and a continuum of care after birth until death, is a luxury for those who can afford it. Add to that a lack of affordable housing and education, and the prospect of raising a child under these conditions is daunting. The pro-life movement sneers at this as not a valid justification. “You got yourself into this, you did it to yourself, now accept the consequences of your actions.” But children are full human beings in their own right, they are not punishment for sex.

Some protesters bring and weaponize their children. After one such instance, I felt compelled to write about it in my journal.

Trigger Warning: child abuse

Dear little boy,
The image haunts me… two adults pointing down at you asking over and over, “Can we kill him? Can we murder him?” I saw your eyes widen. You looked scared and I was powerless to protect you. Later, I smiled at you and you smiled back at me… I’m worried I got you in trouble for that. I won’t make eye contact with you next time— not because I don’t like you anymore, but because I am afraid to endanger you.

I reported everything I witnessed to Child Protective Services today. I’m trying to send someone to help you since I can’t do it myself. I don’t know your name but I love you. Hold on.

He was six and a half years old, being used as a weapon against abortion. His guardian brought him the following week, and I never saw him again. His guardian still comes to the clinic but I don’t know what happened to him.

Anti-abortion protesters are abusive towards male-presenting people who bring their partners for an abortion. Women who have an abortion are murderers but their partners are cowards. Men scream “real men protect women and children!” at these faithful, supportive partners. He is a coward for helping her— for not stopping her— you’re not a real man if you’re not controlling her body. The patriarchy and toxic masculinity is very much a part of the pro-life movement.

If anti-abortion protesters truly cared about ending abortion, it would be far more effective to alleviate poverty. Living wages, affordable housing, free health care (medical, mental health, dental, vision, addiction treatment, etc.), affordable/free education beyond high school, all help to reduce abortion rates. Studies consistently prove that comprehensive sex education and access to contraception is the number one way to prevent teen pregnancy and abortion, but the same churches insist upon abstinence-only curriculum in the public schools and continually block legislation that might provide these things.

Pro-lifers tear down women. All of us. Even their own. They call themselves pro-life, but they’re really just pro-control. They care nothing for quality of life outside the womb. They would rather stand between a person seeking health care and reproductive justice than stand between a bulldozer and a tent that is someone’s home. They would rather pray on the street corner for all to see than quietly do what they can to ease human suffering and end the cause.

And in all of this, there is still my patient, who is just trying to get to the door for their appointment.

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