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Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Liberalism is Dead, Now What?: Two Cheers for Bhaskar Sunkara by LeGauchiste

3:31 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Bhaskar Sunkara’s recent essay in The Nation, Letter to ‘The Nation’ From a Young Radical, argues persuasively that American liberalism is “practically ineffective and analytically inadequate” to the twin political tasks of mobilizing supporters and generating policy. Sunkara blames the crisis of liberalism on the fact that, “Liberalism’s original sin lies in its lack of a dynamic theory of power,” which leads liberals–Sunkara specifically cites Obama–to treat

politics as a salon discussion between polite people with competing ideas. . . [in which] the best program … is assumed to prevail in the end…[and] political action is disconnected … from the bloody entanglement of interests and passions that mark our lived existence.

Admitting that liberalism is “a slippery term” Sunkara defines it in terms of the two dominant species of Washington Democratic insiders, which he defines as follows:

to the extent that we can assign coherence to the ideology, two main camps of modern American liberalism are identifiable: welfare liberals and technocratic liberals. The former, without the radicals they so often attacked marching at their left, have not adequately moored their efforts to the working class, while the latter naïvely disconnect policy from politics, often with frightening results.

Both sorts of liberalism, Sunkara argues, have failed analytically and politically, though in different ways and for different reasons. Nevertheless, Sankara has the same prescription: “the solution to liberalism’s impasse lies in the re-emergence of American radicalism.”

What would that look like? The first task is that

Socialists must urgently show progressives how alien the technocratic liberal worldview is to the goals of welfare-state liberalism—goals held by the rank and file of the liberal movement. … Broad anti-austerity coalitions, particularly those centered at the state and municipal levels like last year’s Chicago Teachers Union strike, point the way toward new coalitions between leftists and liberals committed to defending social goods.

But anti-austerity is not, of course, the full program, but

just one example of the kind of class politics that has to be reconstituted in America today; surely there are many others. The Next Left’s anti-austerity struggles must be connected to the environmental movement, to the struggle of immigrants for labor and citizenship rights, and even, as unromantic as it sounds, to the needs of middle-class service recipients.

Although Sunkara’s essay, like his groundbreaking publication Jacobin Magazine, is an important attempt at creating bridges between liberals and radicals during a time of onslaught by the corporate Right, even as it demonstrates the analytical weakness of liberalism, it suffers from some of the very same analytical inadequacies of liberalism itself, especially its lack of a dynamic theory of power.

Specifically, Sunkara’s categories of analysis are rooted in politics and ideology, with no moorings in the social formation beyond a few statements about working class support for social welfare liberalism–statements which fail to recognize the accomplishments wrought via American working class and subaltern self-activity. In light of this, it is perhaps not surprising–though it ought to be–that a self-described “young radical” had no place in his analysis for a discussion of capitalism as an exploitative economic system whose nature is at the root of or contributes greatly to every one of the social problems liberals profess to care about.

American Liberalism and the American Working Class

American liberalism is difficult to understand, not just because the word came to mean the opposite of what it had meant the prior century, but also because the modern version is genetically incapable of analytical consistency or rigor because it is based on half-truths about capitalism, which are the only truths the system allows into discourse about itself.

Specifically, modern liberals understand that capitalism creates class and other forms of conflict, but rather than seeing that conflict as inherent to the system and an engine for change, they seek to defuse its oppositional energy and channel what remains into policy proposals that preserve the status quo of capitalist relations. Given that, how could liberals do anything other than become, if not the enemies, then the unwitting enabler of the enemies, of the working class?

To be radical is to get to the root (Latin: radix=root) of things, to understand not merely their appearance but their underlying structures and dynamics. To understand American liberalism, we need to understand its history from the past forward, not start with a bestiary of newspaper pundits and then work back.

American liberalism originated during the New Deal, but the energy underlying it came not from FDR and friends but from American working people, not from above but from below. FDR came into office on a conservative platform of cutting the federal budget, and the centerpiece of his First New Deal (1933-34) was the NRA, a corporatist scheme that allowed big corporations to collude on production and prices as a way to replace “ruinous competition” with rationality.

Even the liberal accomplishments of the Second New Deal (1935-36), which included Social Security, rural electrification, etc., came about not because of liberal leaders but because of pressure from below. Consider the case of labor law.

The NRA had a landmark provision granting workers in NRA Code industries the right to organize labor unions–which was inserted only because of pressure from Labor leaders and rank and file members. After the Supreme Court struck down the NRA, labor law reform took the form of the National Labor Relations Act, which the FDR administration supported only belatedly and under political pressure.

But the Wagner Act itself well illustrates the inherent conservatism of liberalism. New Deal liberal leaders, including bill sponsor Sen. Robert Wagner, were equally disturbed by the militancy of working class strikers (especially the Sit Down strikers) and the violence of anti-union goons hired by employers.

As a result, the purpose of the NLRA was to rein in both sides, as though both labor and capital were equally to blame for the violence of the era’s labor struggles. Most particularly, labor unions were reduced to contract negotiators and managers, limited to engaging in collective bargaining on behalf of their members at a particular employer and then enforcing that contract. Unions were even made responsible for strikes that take place outside of the bargaining context, thus making the unions into enforcers against their own members.

Because they subscribe to orthodox economics, which holds that equilibrium is the natural state of capitalist markets and thus capitalist social formations, liberals are and always have been unable to conceive of social conflict as anything other than a social malady to be cured, and thus always wind up on the side of establishment institutions against those seeking to change them.

The Collapse of Liberalism

During the Great Prosperity of the Pax Americana-Sovietica, American capitalism dominated the world, US manufacturing capital reaped huge profits, and American workers used their union power to share in the prosperity. As corporate profits began a long-term decline in the late 60s-early 70s, however, capital began the process of reneging on what Sunkara rightly terms the Fordist compromise of the Boom era.

The macro-economic side of liberalism–the aspect of the ideology that was supposed to use Keynesian tools to ensure continuously rising GDP, i.e., a bigger economic pie–began to fail in the 70s, and the emergence of stagnant growth with inflation gave the right the opening it needed to turn its anti-labor ideas into policy, and liberalism became a dirty word in American politics.

Reconstituting a Broad American Left

The solution is not for liberals to become socialists, nor for them to adopt a Marxist analysis of capitalism, although those would be great of course.

I suggest that liberals and radicals can come together by focusing on and actively supporting those elements of the US working class–including many working people who identify more strongly in racial or ethnic terms than in class terms–that are engaging in rights’ struggles. We should be looking to them for guidance on the issues, on emerging organizational forms of struggle, and much more.

Fast food workers, for example, are not simply demanding higher wages and better working conditions. Like Occupy, the fast food workers are pioneering new forms of worker organization, largely out of necessity imposed by the nature of the fast food industry. The collective bargaining model of the NLRA simply does not apply to fast food, with its very small units of production and high employee turnover, and workers are responding by making demands that do not fit within that paradigm. Consider also the struggles of the Immokalee, Florida, workers, whose innovative campaigns have succeeded in breaking the usual labor mold.

This means that liberals would need to reserve pre-judgment of worker demands as excessive or outside the box or too radical, and that radicals would need to likewise reserve pre-judgment of demands as too conservative or beside the point of class struggle. Mostly, for those of us who are writers and/or activists, it means listening to those who are most often ignored with open minds.

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Trillions in Capitalist Wealth: Where Does It Come From? by Justina

3:45 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Recently, Forbes magazine, a major tool of the capitalist class, reported that the “Super Rich” are hiding $21 Trillion dollars in off-shore tax-havens.  A single trillion dollars is a looooooooooo….t of money, and that amount pales besides the trillions the super rich are holding quite openly — in factories, equipment, office buildings, agribusinesses, stocks, bonds, derivatives and ownership of magazines like Forbes and all our media industries.

Where did all that vast wealth come from?  Why are so many impoverished under our capitalist economic system, while the few gain such tremendous wealth? Karl Marx (1818 – 1883), Hegelian philosopher, political economist and practical revolutionary, asked that basic question and provided the most definitive answer to this very day in his study, Capital published in 1867.

 

So why does this old book strike such fear today into the hearts and minds of America’s corporate owners that they virtually forbid its teaching in American universities’ economics and business schools?  

Some members of our Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up group hope to explore that question and the basics of Marx’s theories in a series of once monthly posts, of which this is the first, on surplus value.

We will explore other issues such as wages, profits and the falling rate of profit, accumulation of capital and the means of production, use value versus exchange value of a commodity, money as an intermediary between buying and selling commodities,  alienated labor, private property, private versus state capitalism, finance capitalism and globalization, the role of cooperatives versus unions, finance capitalism and like issues.  We’ll break it up into different diaries one a month. Maybe you’ll volunteer to write one too?  (Please do!).

Economics Professor Richard D. Wolff (University of Massachusetts and the New School for Social Research) provides, in his four part series of lectures on the basics of Marx’s economic analysis. available on his web site, www.rdwolff.com,  a solid, readily understandable and thoroughly enjoyable introduction to Marx’s economic theories which this writer uses as her departure point.

Wolff shows how Marx discovered, by analyzing its inner-most workings in detail, why capitalism is so de-humanizing and exploitative of its workers and produces such poverty and misery for the vast majority of the population.  Marx’s analysis is set forth in his “theory of Surplus Value”, which is the secret to where all the trillions of wealth, both hidden and open, came from.

Professor Wolff places Marx’s work into its historical and intellectual context.  Like other progressive intellectuals of his day, Marx was nourished on the slogans of the French Revolution of  Liberté, égalité, and fraternité.  He questioned why the transition from feudalism to capitalism had not brought the promised freedoms to the society.

Marx started out as academic philosopher of the Hegelian school, then applied Hegel’s dialectical method to analyzing the practical economic reality he saw around him.  Writing between roughly 1840 and 1883, when the capitalist economic system was gaining total dominion over economic life and  submerging the old European feudalism in the wake of the French Revolution of 1792. The aristocracy and the Catholic church were ousted from their hegemony, the industrial capitalists had taken over the reigns of economic and political power.

Professor Richard D. Wolff, in his lectures, demonstrates how Marx discovered, by analyzing its inner-most workings in detail in his work, Capital, why capitalism is so de-humanizing and exploitative of its workers and produces such poverty and misery for the vast majority of the population.  Marx’s analysis is set forth in his “theory of Surplus Value” within “Capital”, which is the secret to where all the trillions of wealth, both hidden and open, came from.

Marx looked at the actual production process in the average factory of his day and saw that this is where the pernicious exploitation process of capitalism has its start and its motive force.  The capitalists’  profits are generated from the stolen labor power of the workers.

First, the worker, no longer having land to farm as under feudalism, gives up his control over his own work day, selling his work day, his labor power, to the factory owner for a fixed sum, thus his labor has itself become a commodity.  The owner, depending on the vagaries of the supply of available workers, pays the workers as little as possible for his labor time, hoping to extract as much labor as possible in return.  In Marx’s time, 15 hour work days were not uncommon.

Let’s use a rug factory as our simplified example here to describe the process of extraction of this value.  In a 10 hour work day, the weaver, using the power loom machines  owned by the employer might produce 10 rugs. (The machines are one form of the “capital” owned by the capitalist.)

The owner, having bought the work day for sufficient to keep the worker fed and surviving, perhaps the equivalent of two rugs, now has 8 additional rugs to sell in the market.  The capitalist owner has effectively appropriated 8 rugs of “surplus value”  from the worker.

If he can, the owner will try to reduce the worker’s wage as low as he can, perhaps to the equivalent of one rug, but if there is shortage of workers in the town, he might be forced to pay the worker the equivalent of 3 or even 4 rugs, thus reducing the surplus labor he can appropriate.  Workers with specialized skills likewise may be paid more than unskilled workers as their skills may be harder to find.

Once extracted from the worker, the capitalist owner is free to distribute the value of his 8 rugs anyway he sees fit, and those decisions may determine whether the business thrives or declines, depending on the vagaries of the market and/or his competition in the rug business, but the theft of the surplus labor is complete upon the end of the working day for the worker.

The worker’s labor has produced much more than he has been paid, that is the “surplus”  in the Theory of Surplus Value.

Marx focused on the extraction of surplus value under capitalism because that was the critical aspect which determines all the other consequences and machinations.   It is precisely from this stolen surplus labor that the trillions of dollars in wealth owned or controlled by the wealthy, the big corporations or even the State,  derive.  It is simply the surplus value that has been accumulated over time as savings or turned into newer and bigger factories, machines, corporations.

Living human labor is the only source of value and the human being is the only “machine”  from which the capitalist can extract a surplus.  The capitalist may buy a new machine to add to his fleet of machines (his “means of production”), but that machine has a fixed price and a fixed operable “life”.  The owner cannot extract more use from that machine than it was designed to produce and what he paid for it.

 

A worker, on the other hand, can be made to work for forced over-time, forced to produce 15 rugs in a 15 hours day rather than 10 in a 10 hour day, or, with a superior machine, to produce 15 rugs rather than 10 in the 10 hour work day, at relatively little more cost  to the owner.

But the pernicious nature of capitalism extends beyond the mere economic deprivation suffered by the workers, its process of depriving the worker of the use of his mind and creativity, depriving him of control over the conditions of his work, depleting him of the energy to live a fully human life.

Thus, in the auto industry in Detroit in its heyday, the workers not only had to work “forced”  over-time, but the speed of the assembly line was increased as much as possible to likewise increase the surplus produced.  Recently, with the help of the federal government and the UAW auto union, the company was allowed to pay new workers less than the former “union wage”, obviously increasing the amount of surplus value and thus profits available to the employer, a process that not only diminished the wages of the workers, but the very power of their union to protect them.

Clearly, putting a few workers on the board of directors of a company or giving workers minority shares of company stock will not fundamentally change the capitalist production process, nor will mandating that corporations give a certain percentage of their profits to charity, even expropriating companies and titling them in the name of the state will not do so– or  any of the other schemes that are touted in the attempt to make capitalism kinder or more equitable, none of this abolishes the extraction of surplus value, and thus capitalism exploitation and all the evils that flow from it, continues a pace.

Capitalism steals not only surplus value from the worker, but his very humanity, his energy, his autonomy, his right to think creatively, to determine the conditions of his work life, the right to be treated as a whole human being with a body and a mind.

In Detroit in the 1950′s and 60′s, the union fought only for higher hourly wages or related financial benefits while the rank and file workers were fighting for their humanity, for  control over the speed of the assembly line and an end to forced over-time.

These workers wanted better and more humane working conditions, not merely more money.  They objected to being turned into commodities themselves which were thrown away when their useful work lives were ended.  They objected to the fact that they were treated as things, not thinking, creative human beings.

For more voices direct from the auto assembly lines see the excellent booklet, Workers Battle Automation written by  Charles Denby, a Black auto worker and editor of Marxist-Humanist newspaper, ” News & Letters” , detailing the struggles of auto assembly line workers in Detroit in the 1950′s and 1960s.

Workers Battle Automation described in detail and the fight against the constantly increasing speed of the assembly line.  Obviously, by speeding up the assembly line, the bosses could increase the number of cars produced per hour, and thus the amount of surplus value extracted from their workers.  See also Denby’s autobiography,http://www.amazon.com/INDIGNANT-HEART-Charles-Denby/dp/0919618936. Indignant Heart., as well as his editorials published by News & Letters and preserved in their archives..

It is only when the workers in a given factory or workplace join together to re-appropriate the previously stolen labor in its machines and buildings, join together to  decide what to produce, how it will be produced, and how the proceeds will be distributed that their labor can cease to be a commodity, cease to be alienated from them.  It is critical to break down the division of mental and manual labor in the work place so that all the workers, democratically, control the conditions of their labor and the distribution of its proceeds.  It is crucial to abolish capitalist production and its consequences and create a human basis for not only production of goods but for our human communities.

 

Karl Marx on The Paris Commune and Occupy Wall Street

4:26 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

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The Occupy movement has sent out a Call to Action for a June 20th   “Global Festival” to celebrate their global demand for a Universal Living Wage:

The regime of wholesale robbery — what the 1% call “austerity” — is already falling across Europe, and soon will fall across the world. But the inevitable collapse of austerity is not enough. We, the 99%, demand a world beyond Wall Street. We demand a system where everyone can not only survive, but flourish.  To reach this world, we are raising our voices to demand a universal living wage.

We call on all occupies, unions, community organizations, immigrants rights groups,  bodies, religious organizations, environmental groups, anti-poverty activists, and everyone to join us June 20th, 2012 for a new holiday for the 99%: A Global Festival for the Universal Living Wage.

No, Karl Marx, dead since 1883,  is not now able to report on the events of the Occupy Movement, as he did on events of the U.S.’s Civil War for the NY Herald Tribune in the 1860′s and the Paris Commune in the 1870’s, but strangely, to this day, the mere mention of his name still strikes terror into the hearts of global capitalists and their media puppets, such as Sean Hannity.

There must be a reason that the capitalist powers of the 21st century tremble at his name 129 years after his death, his writing must have been very dangerous indeed.  How much they must be fear of Tim Poole’s live-streaming.  No wonder they arrested him this month in Chicago!

Read below to understand why Karl Marx, and especially his writing on the Paris Commune, was such a danger to capitalism.

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