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On “The Making of Global Capitalism”

2:46 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

 

From Diomedes77 and Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up

Cover of On the Making of Global Capitalism

A Marxist look at global capitalism.

As a first group diary, this will be fairly narrow in scope and ambition. There have already been numerous excellent reviews of The Making of Global Capitalism, and a symposium over at Jacobin. It’s a bit too late at this point for me to try to compete with any of that, so I thought I’d just intro one of the most important books of the last decade, in hopes that it might spark debate here.

Leave it to the Canadians to get things right — or left, as the case may be. Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin are both Canadian professors, socialists, and schooled in Marxism, but unlike their American peers, not subject to automatic censure and scorn. As this group is no doubt aware, socialists and/or Marxists in America are pretty much shut out of public discussion, demonized without a hearing, and absent from debates in a field they should dominate. No “school” of economic thought comes close to the rigor, objectivity, depth of analysis or independence of the Marxians, and no analysis is more needed in our day. But in America, the system and its willing executioners have effectively silenced them.

Again, this is not the case in Canada, or Europe, where a far healthier, but still less than optimum diversity exists.

The book in question is exhaustively researched. It’s nearly overwhelming in its breadth and detail, and makes for an excellent pairing with Piketty’s recent Capital, which I have but have not yet read beyond its introduction. This is not a beach book. This is not a casual, page-turning barn-burner. But it is a serious work of scholarship, and in my view, deserves at least three adjectives — which should be rarely used:

definitive, classic and indispensable.

The reasons for that are pretty simple for me. Panitch and Gindin have mapped out American economic history so we can connect the dots. Like the best scholars, they rarely interject their own conclusions into the mix, and leave that up to the reader. But, unlike other attempts along these lines, the book reads as something inevitable, a process toward logical conclusions, with each section reinforcing this along the way. From their preface:

This book is about globalization and the state. It shows that the spread of capitalist markets, values and social relationships around the world, far from being an inevitable outcome of inherently expansionist economic tendencies, has depended on the agency of states and of one state in particular: America. Indeed, insofar as the relationship between the American state and the changing dynamics of production and finance was inscribed in the very process that came to be known as globalization, this book is devoted to understanding how it came to be that the American state developed the interest and capacity to superintend the making of global capitalism. In this respect, this is emphatically not another book on US military interventions; it is about the political economy of American empire. In this quite distinctive imperial state, the Pentagon and CIA have been much less important to the process of capitalist globalization than the US Treasury and Federal Reserve. This is so not just in terms of sponsoring the penetration and emulation of US economic practices abroad, but much more generally in terms of promoting free capital movements and free trade on the one hand, while on the other trying to contain the international economic crises a global capitalism spawns.

The trick for governments, as they demonstrate, is to walk the tightrope between allowing the most free rein possible for Capital, while avoiding, or delaying inevitable crises. Toward the end of the book, the authors show how the American state moved from an attempt to prevent economic catastrophe, to simply trying to manage or contain them after the fact. This reader connected the dots from that and the preceding pages to note that the more freedom the state gives to capitalism, the bigger it needs to be in order to bail it out, defend it, prop it up, keep it going. Which points to one of the rare weaknesses of this account, in my view. I think the authors don’t give enough weight to military intervention on behalf of Capital. But given the overall brilliance of their analysis, I can live with that.

Contrary to right-wing myths about “big gubmint” and capitalism, there is a paradox in place. The more we privatize and commodify existence, the greater the need for governments. The more we extend market integration, the more likely local disasters become global, as we saw most recently in 2007/2008. As in, the more “successful” the American state is in spreading the gospel of Supply Side Jesus, the more likely we are of having Armageddon after Armageddon, until, finally, governments no longer have the resources to begin anew. Capitalism will be its own death, but it’s unlikely to happen because workers finally have that much needed epiphany, find true solidarity with each other, and throw off their yokes. It is far more likely that capitalism dies of its own irrationality and unsustainable nature, its Grow or Die trap.

As an ardent anti-capitalist, I long for the day of its death. But not that way. Not the way of final, worldwide economic catastrophe. Too many people will suffer, and it’s actually far more likely, in my view, that the replacements will be right-wing dictatorships, rather than the first modern day attempt at true socialism, real democracy, and actual emancipation. To get there, we need a democratic revolution, a non-violent revolution, and to provoke that we need to show the best route to “limited government” is without capitalism, which requires massive government to keep it alive. The Making of Global Capitalism provides mountains of evidence for the toxic, centuries-old marriage between State and Capital. It’s time for a divorce.

*A good C-Span discussion by the authors here.

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Misogyny and Capitalism

2:47 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Recent Supreme Court rulings highlight the persistent presence of misogyny in the US.

Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, expressed her anger over the Supreme Court’s message that “women are second-class citizens, not capable of making our healthcare decisions without the interference of our bosses and complete strangers on the street,” and she encouraged the crowd to send a message back.

Supreme Court Nominee Under Scrutiny
This was the most striking language in the buffer zone ruling, to me:

petitioners are not protestors; they seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives.

Unbidden strangers given the rights of “counselor.” Since when is anyone who wants to talk to me considered my counselor? Why is the word “consensual” in that sentence? Patients haven’t consented to this counseling. They are hounded by it. This kind of distortion of someone’s behavior and giving it a title which then affords them rights, when they are really just harassing people would never happen if the recipients of said counseling were white males. Where is the autonomy of the woman in this interaction? This is codified misogyny.

In a country which claims to be “democratic” and to believe in “liberty”, how is it that autonomy is not fully respected for all people?

It would seem that something overrides our belief in the respect of the individual which should be inherent to a democracy and our commitment to privacy when it comes to personal liberty. Could that be capitalism?

Will you join me for an exploration of the linkages between capitalism and misogyny?

***********

author’s note:
For understanding my communications, please know that I distinguish sexism from misogyny, just as I distinguish bigotry from racism. Sexism and bigotry are personal expressions of seeing a demographic group as somehow inferior to oneself. Misogyny and racism are larger cultural systems and atmospheres which serve to keep certain demographics oppressed for the benefit of other demographics. I give an example at the end of the diary.

I want us to explore not only what it is we experience as the actuated reality of a country which worships the concept of capitalism, but what it is we would want in the country of our dreams. Toward that end, I have a question at the end of the diary which I hope sparks some fun and creative conversation. What lies between here and there is simply leading to that.

An Imperfect Metaphor
So, we in the US claim to believe in democracy and personal liberty, yet when we look at our behaviors both as a nation and culture, we see those principles betrayed quite often. I’d like us to think of the country as an organism. A living, breathing entity with a complex set of biological systems. Our principles or values are the heart – the source of our vision and mission, our laws are the brain – directing how we carry out the mission, our populace is the gut – it’s responses and reactions reveal the harmony or disharmony between the heart and the brain. The political and economic systems are the arms and legs with which we walk through the mission and feed the internal systems.

If there is discord and suffering, let’s see it as an illness. Something in the system isn’t serving all the parts of the system. Things are not stable. It won’t be a perfect metaphor, but it can help us to think about how things can move in an unhealthy direction without anyone consciously steering it there.

This is an easy metaphor for me, as I live with a chronic illness. I know many people who do. Often, there were signs of things going wrong earlier than we acknowledged. For me, it was persistent exhaustion. I would complain about how no amount of sleep rejuvenated me. People around me would say that I was stressed and not handling it well. I believed that and kept pushing myself. Once more serious symptoms such as cognitive decline, temporary loss of vision, debilitating pain and seizures presented themselves I finally went to the doctor. Still, it took two more years to get a diagnosis. Why?

It took that long because I had contracted the disease long before and it didn’t look as expected, now. I had an “advanced” version. Something far worse than the original disease. We still had to address the disease, but that would not fix everything. The disease is now pernicious and will return if I’m not vigilant about it. Worse, it had ravaged my body so badly that my systems got messed up and couldn’t recognize healthy cells from destructive ones. My body now attacks itself. I must consciously tend to myself all the time, if I am to have any quality of life. The minute I am lax about it, I lose more functionality.

You see where I’m going here? A society can contract a disease and not realize it. It can start to show a symptom and be in denial about having the symptom and then about recognizing where the symptom comes from. It can live with the disease for so long that it end up not being able to tell the difference between healthy cells and destructive ones. It can begin to perpetuate the symptoms of the disease all on it’s own. One has to work hard to consciously recognize the symptoms and address both the disease and the resulting disorders.

If you build a democracy based on the tenets of individual liberty and equality, how can you have slavery and misogyny and genocide? Those are symptoms of an infection. Likely, something you are not conscious of.

In a healthy organism, the heart and brain and gut and arms and legs are all working together in harmony doing the right thing to keep things running smoothly. If they are fighting with one another, or one of the systems is suppressed, something is wrong.

An Infection Read the rest of this entry →

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Toward a Leftist Program for Working Class Consciousness by MrJayTee

3:05 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

The original title of this diary was to be “Toward a Leftist Program by the Working Class, for the Working Class”, an neat, academic-sounding title reflecting an admirable goal: how can we, whatever our class background or position on the left, understand the needs and goals of working people in the United States and help to catalyze the development of a political program that reflects those needs and goals, one ideally led by the working class itself?

Looking at the critical ingredients of such a program, the lack of one especially stands out to me: the paralyzing absence of any significant consciousness among American workers of themselves as a class apart, one locked in a harrowing and historic struggle with the ruling class for the control of their lives and futures. The purpose of this diary, then, is to consider this problem in general programmatic terms using the thoughts proffered below as a point of departure.

Before going further, I hasten to note that I am not an academic, theorist, or long-time activist, just a working class guy and ecumenical socialist who was lucky enough to get a broad education. I am intent on understanding how my own class, so numerous and possessing a proud history of action and achievement, can embrace and use its own enormous power and what, if anything, the serious left can do to catalyze revolutionary working class consciousness.

First, some basic definitions. By “working class”, I mean agricultural workers and people working for wages in industrial, manual, and service occupations. By “left” and “serious left”, I mean the anti-capitalist left, including, for example, left anarchists, democratic socialists, orthodox socialists, and communists. “Revolutionary” means tending to the significant disruption and subversion of capitalism and its structures with the aim of its replacement by a leftist order. Finally, I am explicitly proceeding on the assumption that working people’s collective self perception as an oppressed but potentially powerful class is an indispensable component of the machinery of radical change.

To be effective, it’s important to be realistic about the scale of the change we’re working for and the speed at which we can accomplish it. If our goal is to nurture working class power to the point of profound social change, we must understand that we are not starting a project, but continuing one. We represent the current generation of a struggle that has been going on at least since the beginning of Industrialization. Thus, our task is to gather the threads of the struggle so far and pull them forward. But while we’re taking care to be realistic about the long time line of our struggle, it’s also important to understand that we have advantages, too.

As labor history shows us, we need not win over the entire working class, or even a majority, to further working class power. Periods of revolutionary change, whether for better or worse, are often sparked by an activist minority surrounded by a discouraged or indolent majority. Victories by key worker organizations in key industries drove the Gilded Age into the Progressive Era and then, after WWI and the Depression, into the period of worker militancy that brought about the New Deal. To use this advantage, what we might call activist leverage, we must identify where worker consciousness is at its greatest today and encourage it, while identifying where it is weak and strengthening it.

Here we come to a profound divide, but also to another advantage. My statement above about the paralyzing lack of class consciousness is really only true of the white majority. Among People of Color, an ever increasing proportion of the population, there is both current militancy and a history of militancy. Today, Latinos and African Americans lead the most visible and successful elements of working class opposition to capital and its systems of oppression, from Moral Mondays in the South to the movement to raise the wages of Fast Food and service workers nationally. In terms of boots on the ground, these movements are overwhelmingly Latino and African American and are significantly so in their leadership.

The Working Class of Color is building on a preexisting, ethnicity-based consciousness of itself to achieve economic and political goals. This demographic is growing, unstoppably it seems, as the white population ages and dwindles. It is significant for the stability and strength of this movement that both African Americans and Latinos already understand, given their histories, that radical change is not achieved without overcoming state repression, including state violence. One of the great disappointments of the Occupy Movement was how little resistance from the state was needed to force it’s dormancy. Black and Latino Americans, on the other hand, long ago understood the nature of their adversary, and have been able despite state oppression to credit themselves with the victories of the Civil Rights and Farm Workers’ Rights movements.

What does the left do here? Where there are active worker-oriented movements, get in behind the workers of color leading the charge and beside the rank and file in the street. Speak, write, and donate, of course, but get out into the street and make it clear we offer not just our mouths and checkbooks, but our dedicated physical presence. Embrace a leftist perspective dedicated to listening and learning from workers of color and pursuing their goals with the secondary purpose of modestly offering a systematic leftist perspective when appropriate and possible.

And what of the contemporary white working class? Particularly since the neo-liberal backlash, this decreasingly organized bloc has functioned more as a self-policing organ of capital than as a class with its own critical interests, something the ruling class has exploited to the hilt. Still, the recent downturn has increased white consciousness of class inequality, even if it hasn’t sparked a movement. Nevertheless, I believe white workers are more open to our message now than they have been in decades, both for direct economic reasons but also because younger working class whites are more accustomed to diversity and less indoctrinated to form a identity based on being “white”, i.e., a certified part of the ruling class.

Here, the task of promoting class consciousness is harder because we must penetrate the ideology that positions the left as alien, or at best irrelevant, to the working class. As with workers of color, the core principles take precedence: listening, learning, and working beside in order to promote working class accomplishment and to build trust and understanding.

We must also reconnect present workers to the achievements of past workers who can serve as models for activism in the present day. Of course the history I speak of is ethnically diverse, but workers of color already have recent and compelling examples of how working people like themselves changed history. We need to reconnect the white working class to their history, to the mine workers of Appalachia and the West, and to the steel and auto workers of the Midwest, people whose sacrifice and bravery changed America radically.

This is not to say we should–or need to–shy away from theory or intersectionality, but that to be effective among working people in general, especially among those so strongly indoctrinated against us, we must break decisively the persistent perception of the left as cold, distant, impractical, and exclusive. We must connect the left and its ideas to issues of direct, here-and-now economic importance to working people. We cannot influence people who simply do not see us.

Many thanks to you all for your attention. I’m not much of an essayist, but I hope this modest piece will bring our some useful conversation.

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: For May Day … Capitalism, Charity, Food Banks and Workers’ Rights by NY Brit Expat

2:56 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Most probably people have heard of the bizarre investigative journalism by The Mail on Sunday in an article which appeared on Easter Sunday (of all days in the year). The Mail on Sunday sent in a reporter, a wannabe Jimmy Olsen, to investigate provision of food by food-banks in Britain and that reporter literally took food out of the mouths of the hungry in order to prove some point. This provoked a backlash on social media that demonstrated that the neoliberal agenda seems to not have sunk too deeply in the hearts and minds of the British people. That is a relief and quite honestly more than I expected, given the constant barrage in the newspapers and on the news on telly that has never questioned the logic (forget the morality) of welfare caps and cuts to welfare benefits.

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ht: my sister Mia for comments and editing on this piece

However, the issue goes far deeper than the attempted neoliberalisation of the provision of charity in the context of the capitalist economic system in a Britain living under austerity; it actually raises issues of wages and incomes ensuring social subsistence in the context of capitalism and hence the reproduction of the working class.

The issue impinges upon the basic rights of human beings to be ensured their subsistence irrespective of the ability to work; this relates both to:

  1. Being unable to find work as there are no jobs due to laws of motion of the capitalist economic system
  2. Being unable to work due to disabilities, illness, or having caring responsibilities and the capitalist economy’s unwillingness to create social policies guaranteeing full accessibility for people with disabilities that can work and the full socialisation of care for children, the disabled, the sick and the elderly which would free women from caring responsibilities.

This then raises the question what are the moral precepts underlying our society in terms of guarantees to all members of the rights to a basic subsistence ensuring housing, food, heating, clothing, clean water and electricity?

The Attempt to Neoliberalise Charity Provision

In many senses, the article is rather chilling in terms of what was attempted. It is also way over the top; charity is private and individual by nature. One would think that would be sufficient to fulfil Tory fantasies of assistance for the poor and unemployed no longer provided by the social welfare state, but guess again.

An “investigative reporter” (and that is using the term very generously) goes to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau (the go-to place when you need assistance to deal with an unfriendly and complex class society) and tells them that he is having trouble making ends meet due to rising fuel bills (this is a very common problem due to rising prices of energy, fuel and electricity). The Citizens Advice Bureau contacts the Trussell Trust who runs many food-banks in this country (along with community groups, other church groups and horribly enough the Red Cross who have been distributing food for the first time since World War II) and issue the “reporter” a voucher coupon).

As an aside, and, to add insult to injury, these vouchers to food-banks, appallingly, are also given by government Jobs Centres when clients come in and tell them that they have insufficient funds to purchase food. The provision of voucher coupons by the Job Centres is part of government policy … even worse, it is government policy to send the hungry and unemployed to food-banks instead of providing sufficient benefits income to those that come in for assistance which is also, disgustingly, government policy.

The Citizen’s Advice Bureau then sent our intrepid reporter to the food-bank where he tells the same story. Correctly, the food-bank provides food and basic goods to this investigative reporter. They did not search his house, ask him for proof of insufficient economic means, demand evidence of any sort; they are a charity and their role is to provide food when people need it. Their job is not to shame people or investigate people or means-test people – their role is to step in to ensure that those that say they have insufficient income to buy food are covered.

That brings us to the first issue: due to government cutbacks in benefits, people cannot limit their use of food-banks to a disastrous situation; which was their original and sole purpose. Sometimes even with the best planning people run out of money; there are unexpected expenses (e.g., dentists, new school uniforms, higher utility bills than usual), which can blow a budget especially in the absence of credit cards and unwillingness to take out a usurious loan (which is impossible to get if you are unemployed anyhow). Food-banks are supposed to be a last-gasp resort for people. As the Trussell Trust (and various clergy have pointed out), the government’s attacks on the social welfare state are literally forcing people to rely on food-banks on a regular basis rather than in desperate circumstances!

For his Easter message, David Cameron enjoyed talking about what a Christian nation Britain is; ironically, he clearly does not want to hear members of the Clergy that came to talk to him about poverty caused by government policy as his staff called the police! Let’s give Cameron a round of applause, as his party seems to be the only one in Parliament that called the police on the Clergy. While extolling the principles of Christianity on the abstract level or when they are useful for anti-immigrant bashing, in actual practice concrete Christianity and David Cameron seem to be at odds.

In many senses, this appalling policy is reminiscent of the “Thousand Points of Light” nonsense promulgated by George HW Bush (the father, not the son) in his inaugural address where voluntarism and charity donations were supposed to replace a modern social welfare state. Thanks again to the US for exporting yet another failed and reactionary policy overseas to justify the destruction of a real social welfare state (as opposed to the rather pallid and anaemic imitation in the US)! In fact, I would argue that this nonsensical speech by GHW Bush was the beginning of the identification of the social welfare state with charity, while these two things are separate and distinct and should never be conflated.

The Response to the Maul on Sunday article

The response to the article by The Mail on Sunday was swift and angry. It spread all over social media and this was chronicled by The Guardian.

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According to the Trussell Trust:

Thousands of people took to social media to express their support for The Trussell Trust and its foodbanks. Well-known names like the author Mark Haddon, musician Billy Bragg, financial journalist Paul Lewis and comedian Jon Ronson donated to the Trussell Trust Easter appeal to show their support and encouraged others to do the same. Almost 5,000 people have donated to the Help Crack UK Hunger Justgiving page since the article was published, and donations to the appeal page rose from £2,000 before Sunday to over £60,000 to date.

Today The Trussell Trust says that since Sunday, donations to Help Crack UK Hunger, combined with donations to Trussell Trust’s general funds, have reached an incredible £97,673.57p. A large proportion of this amount can be attributed to reactions to the Mail on Sunday article and additional coverage.”

Trussell Trust Chief Executive David McAuley says:

“We have been moved, humbled and overwhelmed by the incredible generosity of the British public following the Mail on Sunday’s article. It’s been amazing to see thousands of people react in such a positive way, wanting to help people in crisis. I would like to thank everyone who got behind this campaign, not just for their donations, but also for the positive words of encouragement. It means a lot, and will make a big difference to lots of people who are struggling in the UK.”

The Trussell Trust team has been blown away by the generosity and support of so many people. All the funds raised will help The Trussell Trust to do more to help stop people going hungry in the UK (http://www.trusselltrust.org/latest-news#HCUKH).

As an understatement, I was extremely relieved that so many British people were so appalled by The Mail on Sunday piece and the attempted neoliberalisation of charity.

But, and this brings me to the main issue, I have been far more concerned about the acceptance of the argument that it is charity that needs to provide for those whose wages (whether wages or benefits; as there are working poor people in Britain that get help along with those that are unemployed) or whose benefits are now insufficient due to government economic policies.

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The essential problem is two-fold:

  1. To address the economic crisis, the government suppressed wages to keep profits up under the ideological position/obfuscation that higher profits would ensure investment and get the economy growing again; this is known as Say’s Law for those that know mainstream economic theory (which maintains that all economic growth derives from income saved from profits which is then invested leading to economic growth). This specifically was the case for wages of public employees whose increases were frozen at 1% (way below the rate of inflation measured by the Consumer Price Index which they substituted for the Retail Price Index which covered housing increases), state and public worker pensions were re-pegged to the Consumer Price Index to decrease future increases;
  2. The government then proceeded to cut income for the working class by cutting benefits. The social welfare system in Britain is different from that of the US. It does not only cover the unemployed and poor. There are elements that are cross-class, like child tax credits, child-care benefits, winter heating allowance, disability living allowance and incapacity benefit (that independent worker’s personal contributions), and, of course, the NHS which is available to all. It has historically also been used to prop up incomes of those earning insufficient income to cover general living expenses thus freeing capitalists from having to pay higher wages (e.g., child-care benefit, child benefits, housing benefits, etc).

What is really going on?

What we are seeing is a contradiction of the capitalist economic system manifesting itself. On the one hand, we have the introduction of austerity, the manner in which neoliberalism is attempting to deal with an economic crisis, which is lowering wages to increase profits and profitability. On the other hand, there is the need in the capitalist economic system to ensure the reproduction of working class as these workers are needed to actually work and to produce goods and services over and above the value of their wages to ensure the creation of surplus value (value of the surplus product over and above reproduction of the economy at the same level) which forms the basis of interest, profits and rents.

Moreover, wages need to be of a sufficient level for workers to actually purchase the goods and services in order for realisation of profits to occur; in the absence of sale at a price over cost of production, there are no profits. So, undermining the social subsistence level (and remember this is throughout the advanced capitalist world) could actually interfere with realisation of surplus value in the form of profits.

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That is why there is so much babble about export-led growth; they are actually hoping to ensure the sale of goods and services overseas whilst undermining social subsistence levels. However, what happens when all countries in the advanced capitalist world are all lowering wages to prop up profits? That means that sale of goods is not increasing sufficiently to keep the wheels of the system greased. Guess what, that also means that investment by capitalists to increase output (and employment) is not happening.

That is why economic growth in the advanced capitalist world has not been spectacular. It is also why so much attention is being paid to China to increase wages and create a social welfare state so that the Chinese working class will save less and spend more.

There is an inherent contradiction between the needs of labour (to subsist and reproduce; i.e., to cover housing, food, clothing, heating, water and to have families) and the needs of capital (to have continuous growth and rising profits and profitability) in capitalism.

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What is happening in this period (and this is the culmination of economic policy since the 1970s) is that the perceived needs of capital are increasingly in conflict with the needs of labour. As a result, not only is the recognised social subsistence level being eroded to prop up profits; the fact that the system (in the absence of a public or state sector to increase employment) cannot create full employment of labour is becoming more and more evident.

Essentially, under capitalism, the number of workers that are employed depends on the available technology that can be used to produce goods and services; and what is produced depends on expected profitability of these goods and services which depends upon the expected demand for these goods to be produced.

In capitalism, what is produced does not depend upon human need (it depends upon profitability and expected profitability); the manner in which these things (goods and services) are produced (i.e., technical choice: the use of labour, land and capital of varying types) does not depend upon ensuring jobs for all, but rather potential profitability.

Moreover, the needs of capital do not take into account the impact of economic growth on the planet itself; a planet that we all need to sustain life and not the needs of capital.

We need to understand that capitalism needs to be eliminated; it is sucking literally sucking the lifeblood out of the majority of people on the planet and the planet itself!

We deserve a world that does require the existence of food-banks, where everyone has what they need to lead a fulfilling life; this should not be a privilege granted solely to the members of the ruling class.

This means that we need to talk about what are our social responsibilities to each other as human beings. Yes, we can reform capitalism certainly; but those reforms will not change the basic nature of the system that depends upon wealth and income inequality and exploitation of the majority to fulfil the needs of the economic system of continual growth and profitability.

We also need to discuss how we can ensure that the basic needs of all human beings are covered and that we do not destroy the planet to ensure these things. We need to address how more than basic needs for humans to develop and create and advance themselves can be met. In order to do this, we need to understand that as human beings we have the right to what we need to lead fulfilling lives, irrespective of our ability to work. We also do not have the right to undermine others’ rights to the same fulfilling lives. To put it simply:

“From each according to their abilities; to each according to their needs.”

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Hoping everyone had a wonderful May Day! Please share photos (if you have them) of events where you live!

¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Fagor Goes Bankrupt – Trouble in Camelot by Geminijen

3:24 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

No one should be surprised these days when yet another company goes belly-up in these difficult financial times, especially in devastated economies such as Spain. Yet the bankruptcy of Fagor, the flagship cooperative in the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation (MCC) has shaken many anti-capitalists around the world as akin to witnessing the ending of Camelot. The fact that at least two of the other largest cooperatives in the Mondragon network, Caja Laboral (the bank and financial center of the corporation) and Eroski (a chain of retail stores throughout Europe) are in dire financial straits has only added to the ominous threat.

Fagor, with its 5,600 workers, is a relatively small part of the whole. Even so, Trevino (Fagor’s CEO) warns that its fall “will have an uncontrollable domino effect on the rest of the group with major social implications.” He believes Fagor’s liquidation would create a €480m hole at Mondragon, including inter-group loans and payments the group’s insurance arm would have to make on Fagor workers’ unemployment policies.
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Mondragon has promised to find new jobs or offer early-retirement terms for as many as it can of Fagor’s Spanish workers, but this is a tall order in a country with 27% unemployment. Besides their jobs, workers stand to lose the money they had invested in the co-op if it is liquidated.

Demystifying the Mondragon Myth

For the last 50 some years, the growth of what is now the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation has given many anarchists, socialists and other progressives in the cooperative movement the hope that yes, Virginia, there really is a viable alternative to Capitalism or, at the very least, an economic system that could provide a transition to socialism. Moreover, although many socialists won’t easily admit it, there is often the underlying hope that somehow this transition could occur “peacefully”, without a real class struggle ending in state ownership; that somehow, within the belly of the beast of capitalism, the cooperative model could “out compete” the capitalist multinationals at their own game and become the dominant economic paradigm.

Yet, as one blogger commented in Alternatives to Capitalism,

“There is no escaping the need to challenge Wall Street and the other big financial centers across the world for political and economic power which requires a well-organized and intense class struggle [...] something the promoters of these cooperative schemes try to evade as they try to convince workers there are ways around bringing mines, mills and factories under public ownership which is going to require the nationalization of entire industries.”

Unfortunately, many of Mondragon’s supporters (of which I am one) tend to promote the Mondragon model in a very schizophrenic way. On one hand we talk about the ideology of cooperation over competition in an almost mythological way. We talk about how Mondragon was started in 1956 by Father José María Arizmendiarrieta, a priest who, in the shadow of the fascist dictator Franco, began a cooperative with five workers in the isolated, impoverished Basque region in northern Spain.

We talk about how it is the Father’s vision of worker-owned and worker managed cooperative enterprises, based on democratic control, equality and cooperation among the workers, that makes Mondragon different than other capitalist enterprises.

All the workers in a cooperative would be owners. All workers would have one share and one vote. All workers would have an equal voice in decision-making and setting the company’s policies. Workers would elect their own managers who could not make more than twice the highest paid worker. Cooperatives would remain small (no more than 500 people) and educate all incoming workers so that the cooperative way of life, focusing on the workers and the needs of the community they lived in, would not be replaced by the competitive greed of capitalism. The cooperatives would form a network of manufactured goods and service cooperatives that would support each other.

Yet, when we promote the Mondragon model to others, we tend to evaluate the success of the “Father’s vision” based on capitalist measurements of success–how much money do the coops pull in and how big are the enterprises(the capitalists’ bottom line). After all, if we are going to create a cooperative economy, we have to be able to compete with “the big boys” on their own terms. We seem to have forgotten measurements such as workers stability, democratic decision making, and making products which will enhance our communities, instead of for profit maximization.

So we point to the fact that Mondragon developed into a world-wide network of cooperatives that boasts $14 billion in total revenues, distributed among 110 cooperatives, 147 subsidiary companies, eight foundations and a benefit society with total assets of 35.8 billion euros. The MCC currently employs over 80,000 people, 32,000 of which are coop members, and include in their products manufactured goods as diverse as washing machines and high end bicycles as well as financial products such as hedge funds and a network of retail stores that span Europe. Fagor alone, has over 5,600 employees in 5 factories in Spain and eight other non-cooperative factories in China, France, Poland and Morocco, and the ratio of the CEO’s salary is limited to 10 times that of the highest paid worker.

A cursory reading of the above litany promoting Mondragon’s huge financial success when compared to the ideological model clearly indicates some serious contradictions between theory and practice. Fagor far exceeds the recommended size for a cooperative; the majority of workers in the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation are no longer cooperative members with voting rights but hired employees. Even among the coop members the conditions have changed – it is no longer one vote per share but one vote per coop member no matter how many shares they own. And while the CEO can only make 10 times what the highest worker makes (which is exponentially lower than traditional capitalist CEOs who make 200-300 times what a worker makes), it is still a much greater degree of inequality than in the original cooperatives.
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Can we develop large scale global economies that can compete with a capitalist system without losing our cooperative soul?

In Mondragon and Globalization, Basque Country and Ghosts, Mondragon managers discuss why Mondragon has succeeded as a cooperative business: “Sustainability, worker participation (sovereignty), education, integration, diversification, innovation and flexibility.

How are these terms used in investor-controlled companies? How do we talk about cooperative businesses outside of the dominant paradigm? As part of this we discussed the pillars or keys to success:

• Control and use of capital
• Redefinition of labor/management relations
• Management education
• cooperative development
• lack of “silo” mentality—horizontal and vertical integration
• Inter-cooperative fund mechanism.

All of these are the key to Mondragon’s success. It is hard to imagine that they would be the same cooperative without a commitment to these pillars. Of course, Mondragon, like the rest of the cooperative world, is an island in a capitalist ocean. The problems of capitalism can’t help but creep into our cooperatives because we are part of society and societal norms get determined through a capitalist lens (for now).

Did Fagor Need to Go Bankrupt?

As a practical and real world matter, three decisions exposed Fagor to trouble just before the recession hit Spain in 2008:

1) When the large multinational moved production to low-wage Asian countries, Fagor, also opened some private non-coop companies in low wage countries to take advantage of cheap parts for its products. However, it refused to close most of its assembly lines in high wage countries such as Spain and France to preserve worker-owners’ jobs in keeping with the cooperative principal prioritizing worker security and local job stability.

This policy decision led to two different interpretations:

According to the Wall Street Journal, by keeping the cooperative workers jobs in Spain and France, instead of moving the whole operation to low wage countries, MCC could no longer compete with those multinationals who use solely cheap outsourced labor. This led to loss of sales and profits in the parent country and raised Fagor’s debt burden which made it more financially vulnerable.

However, according to Gar Alperovitz, a supporter of Mondragon, much of the sales plummeted in Spain due a housing recession which was the product of the overall capitalist created banking crisis of 2008 not due to FAGOR’s policy decisions – if people don’t have houses, they will not buy domestic products such as washing machines, cooking ware, etc. no matter what the price.

2) Fagor acquired a French appliance company to try to achieve the scale to compete with Whirlpool Corp. and Electrolux in the free-market global economy. This however, again led to a massive increase in debt and more financial vulnerability.

3) Fagor sank €6 million into the Driron, a refrigerator-size invention that could dry and iron clothes at the same time. A €1,875 price tag and clunky look made it MCC’s Edsel. Again, given the over-heated speculation in the global market, was this a wise time, from the point of view of the workers’ job security to make an expensive speculative investment?

Alperovitz, in an analysis in Truth Out Now, places the blame for the bankruptcy on the cooperative community’s attempt to utilize an internal cooperative model in the MCC while trying to compete in a free market economy without taking into account the mechanisms of the dominant capitalist economic model. He suggests that, if we wish to encourage a cooperative economy we must also include systemic changes in both trade and the domestic market if cooperatives are to survive.

Alperovitz suggested a form of planned trade is necessary in the global market.

According to Alperovitz:

“A serious “next stage” systemic design almost certainly will have to adopt one or another form of “planned trade” rather than “free market trade” – else the fate of specific firms, and specific groups of workers, and also the communities in which both exist, become subject to the ever-intensifying challenges as corporations play one low-wage country off against another, with the destruction of wage standards and firms (cooperative or otherwise) the inevitable result (http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/19704-mondragon-and-the-system-problem).”

In fact, Mondragon did attempt a limited form of planned trade that incorporated both capitalist and planned trade strategies by trying to keep open plants in both the high wage and low wage countries in a policy known as co- or multi-location.

The second challenge according to Alperovitz, takes us beyond the question of planning in connection with trade to planning in connection with the domestic market:

“It was never the goal of the Mondragón Corporation to seek a planning solution to the problems of the Spanish economy. Nor was “changing the system” part and parcel of its primary mission. It always sought to compete successfully in the existing system, at the same time demonstrating a superior form of internal organization. Americans concerned about fundamental, longer-term change need to ponder this particular point carefully. The challenge any system-changing vision presents is at least twofold: First, how to include new models of cooperative organization in a larger strategy that includes managing (and restructuring) the wider economy in its goals; second, how to begin to think through much more carefully issues of sectoral planning within larger democratic or participatory planning goals (http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/19704-mondragon-and-the-system-problem).”

Alperovitz sites nationalization done briefly in the auto sector in the United States during the 2008 crisis as one example of systemic change in the broader economy. As an example of sectoral planning, Alperovitz sites the transportation sector suggesting each part of transportation cooperative network be designed to enhance and support the other parts. With vertical and horizontal planning, it would be difficult for outside marauding multinationals to penetrate the network, Both examples involve state planning, much as Venezuela has started doing in its communal community councils.

How far has Mondragon deviated from the original model?

It is important to recognize when quantitative change has become qualitative. Here are a few additional indicators of how the MCC has strayed from the cooperative principals:

1) While each year, Mondragon University and other education centers within its industrial cooperatives teaches workers cooperative principles, the economic educational component is based on traditional neoclassical capitalist economics.

2) Since its entry into the global market during the 1990s when it reoriented its development goals to compete in a global economy, it has abandoned the cooperative principal of keeping cooperative control in local communities. Instead of using networking of local cooperatives as support for each other and as a buffer against rapacious capitalist outsourcing, it has developed 25 partnerships between local parent cooperatives in high wage countries and private non-cooperative companies in low wage countries. In a 1999-2006 study MCC justifies this major deviation from cooperative principals by saying that they will be more competitive with the pricing of capitalist multinationals so that they will have to lay of fewer workers in the cooperatives and that they can eventually educate and introduce worker cooperatives in their non-cooperative companies in low wage countries.

3) Although Mondragon was able to save all its cooperative workers in the first economic meltdown in 2008 all the workers had to agree to take a 20% pay cut and give back some of the equity they had acquired over the years as owners so they could pay back some of the debt some of the larger, more globally oriented coops had acquired although the workers in the coops had little decision-making power in the acquisition of these debts.
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4) Although the MCC was able to save its cooperative workers in 2008, they laid off all their temporary workers in Spain (about 40% of the workforce and mostly women) who had never had any decision making power, job security or equity in the cooperatives. The same fate may await many of the non-cooperative employees in the Eroski coops in foreign countries.

5) Some of Caja Laboral’s newer coop projects are hedge funds which have a very bad record as far as encouraging risky capitalist speculation.

6) Trevino, the current manager of Fagor wanted to take Fagor in the restructuring and move it to Poland and restart it as a regular capitalist shareholding corporation.

7) The majority of Eroski’s workers, the large retail chain that spans Europe, are not coop members and have no voting, job security or equity rights;

8) For decades, the giant network of industrial and retail cooperatives of Mondragon was held up as an international model of solidarity — whenever one co-op got into trouble, the rest of the Mondragón Corporation would rescue it with cash or take on workers at risk of losing their jobs. In this year of 2013, the Mondragon Corp voted for the first time, to let one of the coops (Fagor) go bankrupt. Of the 109 remaining coops, all but three coops wanted to continue to bail Fagor out but the Board of Directors of Caja Laboral and Eroski, the other two largest coops (which also happen to be the two coops that have strayed furthest from the coop model in terms of a nondemocratic hierarchy and risky financial speculation) voted to let Fagor go bankrupt and, since the vote has to be unanimous, broke the solidarity pact that has been the backbone of the Mondragon model.

For those of us who have never seen the cooperative movement as an end in itself, but as a way of organizing workers as part of a transition to socialism, the rational has been that the coops are still a lot better than the purely capitalist enterprises (I agree). The question then becomes when do quantitative changes become qualitative? And do we just proceed as usual, rationalizing that most of the network is still functioning even though it took a hit, or do we step back and say we have to recognize the need for larger systemic changes. Do we put all our efforts into fighting for the nationalization of industries and, as some socialists believe, and refuse to be distracted by the cooperative model (even though socialist nationalization is a project that is nowhere on the immediate horizon?) Or are there other options in between?

One final question remains – Is the structural problem strictly due to the external dynamics of capitalism as Alperovitz maintains or, in addition to the systemic changes we must make, must we also re-examine how the culture of capitalism, like a Trojan horse, has corrupted the internal culture of the cooperatives themselves?

Sources

1) Trouble in workers’ paradise. The collapse of Spain’s Fagor tests the world’s largest group of co-operatives. Nov 9th 2013 | MADRID | From the print edition, The Economist

2) Mondragon: An alternative to capitalism or part of the capitalist scheme of things?

3) October 13, 2007 Mondragon and Globalization, Basque Country and GhostsFiled under: Management — Tags: innovation, mondragon — John McNamara @ 2:38 pm

4) Mondragón and the System Problem Friday, 01 November 2013 09:04 By Gar Alperovitz and Thomas M Hanna, Truthout | Op-Ed; republished: http://www.garalperovitz.com/2013/11/mondragon-and-the-system-problem/

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Workers, not Servants by Irene Ortiz Rosen

2:40 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Today we are fortunate to have a diary describing the current condition of domestic workers in Mexico. This is an issue which has received increasing attention in the last three years. A long-time activist in the Domestic Worker Movement, Irene Ortiz Rosen, is the Co-Founder and Director of Collectivo Atabal, an organization of activists and feminists formed to defend the rights, dignity and demands of domestic workers in Mexico City. She is also the Co-Author of “Así es, Pues” a socio-economic study of domestic workers in Cuernavaca. A recent emigrant from Mexico, she approaches the subject from a global perspective which emphasizes the class and anti-imperialist aspects of the struggle as well as its patriarchal nature.

In the world of labor, a large group of women whose work is the maintenance of the homes of others is largely ignored—domestic workers. According to the ILO, there are more than 52 million domestic workers in the world.

In almost all countries, domestic workers share the following characteristics: 1) invisibility; 2) migration; 3) low levels of education; 4) gender, ethnic and racial discrimination; and 5) the informality of their labor. These are all products of poverty.
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Domestic workers make up an invisible workforce because their work is carried out in the private sphere, that is, the homes of their employers. Their contract is verbal, their work is isolated, and their mobility is common.

Generally they are migrants, usually, within their own countries. This is the case for indigenous women and women who come from rural areas in Latin America. And as the gap in inequality grows throughout the world, in the poorest countries the phenomenon of migration (usually without papers) is growing beyond borders. That is how they arrive to United States and Canada, by informally working as House Cleaning Personnel, Nannies and Home Attendants. In New York alone, we are talking about more than 200 thousand people who are working under disadvantaged conditions due to their Undocumented status.

Their discrimination is shared with nearly all women, and its logic corresponds to the subordination of women in a patriarchal culture. Within the patriarchal view of the traditional role of women, their work is an extension of the reproductive role, which is considered natural for their gender.

We should not forget that women in general, as housewives and mothers, perform domestic work without any pay whatever. Consequently, their work is not considered part of the national economy despite the fact that it makes up about 20% of the GDP. If a woman looks for waged work, she enters the labor market in a disadvantaged way; forty-five percent of women domestic workers receive salaries that are 10% lower than salaries received by men for the same work.
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Global economic policies that have impoverished the majority of the world´s population have brought women in all countries into the public sphere. The women working in the public sphere then need to hire a domestic worker to care for their children and home. However, because they, themselves, are not paid well, they are unable to pay a fair wage, even if they value the services being performed by domestic help.

Out of an employed population of 42.6 million in Mexico, there are 1.58 million domestic workers. They make up the fifth-largest group of informal workers.
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The Mexican Federal Labor Law (LFT), in a brief chapter, only refers to domestic workers who live in the homes of their employers, “live-in workers,” and specifies two rights: the wage and the working day. In Article 334, it says, “the pay should be 50% in kind (food and a room).” And in Article 333 it says, “they have the right to have necessary time to eat and to rest at night.” In practice this means that the wage is minimal and that the working day is 12 to 15 hours.
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In the case of “external” workers,” their employers are typically members of the middle class and look upon this work as a “service of help,” sporadic and temporary. The law does not specify their labor rights. Their only power is to negotiate their wages according to the current state of supply and demand in the labor market. Occasionally, those who are valued on their jobs because they have been doing it for so long and those who are part of a union (some are unionized) do achieve better work conditions.

From my experience of 20 years as an organizer of this workforce in my country, I see similarities not only in the conditions of the work, but in the efforts and organizing strategies as well, in Latin America, in California, New York, Chicago and Canada.

Labor union organization, as it is well known, is almost impossible because domestic workers don´t work for a single employer. The attempts to organize the unions in Latin America, are almost symbolic, without recognition or force when facing the employers. They are more like social organizations.

Nonetheless, over the past 40 years, there have been organizations, each with its own character in each country. The principal demand is to stop “live in” which is the most exploited type of work. There have also been addition demands, like regularizing the working day, receiving full pay for holidays and other benefits like the year-end bonus, vacation time and health insurance.
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The strategies implemented and agreed upon are based on the sociopolitical and historical context of each country. In my work, emphasis is on the following strategies: 1) the search for alliance; 2) integrating oneself in social movements; 3) searching for solidarity and actively seeking the company of activists and advisers. This includes, accepting and looking for donations, creating campaigns, editing publications, reaching the media, lobbying political actors, and most importantly, educating workers about their rights.

In Mexico, the initiative began when activists pushed workers to unionize. There are also the personal goals of the workers affiliated with unions such as educating them about their rights, the acknowledgment of dignity in their industry, the improvement of their working conditions and their legal defense in abuse cases.
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Of collective achievements, I would like to point out the best known ones: The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights recently won after ten years of struggle in New York State; a federal deputy of indigenous origin in Bolivia who had been the leader of a domestic workers organization; in Brazil, a representative of a domestic workers organization to parliament, along with labor law reform and the recognition of a domestic workers union; In Uruguay, the syndicate achieved health coverage legislation, along with severance pay and a bonus on retirement. In Mexico, 20 years after activists began promoting the organization, an indigenous leader, is continuing the process of organizing in Mexico City.

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The most significant achievement is the adoption of Convention 189 by the ILO on June 16, 2011, which advocates for the dignity of work for domestic workers, along with the adoption of Recommendation 201, which sets the goal of guaranteeing dignified pay and working conditions for domestic workers around the world. At this point, however, only six countries have ratified the convention: The Philippines, Mauritius, Italy, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Uruguay.

I want to conclude by emphasizing that with every achievement, the workers face new challenges that motivates them to keep on fighting. The Bill of Rights, in New York, now has the task of informing each worker of it’s content and it’s right to be followed. No more, no less. It’s a process that some must begin and others must continue in hopes that tomorrow things will be better for everyone.

Personal, the Political, and the Poverty of Children by Le Gauchiste

2:54 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Knows remembers believes a corridor in a big long garbled cold echoing building of dark red brick … where in random erratic surges, with sparrowlike childtrebling, orphans in identical and uniform blue denim in and out of remembering but in knowing constant as the bleak walls, the bleak windows where in rain soot from the yearly adjacenting chimneys streaked like black tears. –William Faulkner, 1932

Infants process a great deal of information through mechanisms involving procedural memory and begin to assemble their repertoire of survival-based learning long before conscious memory is developed. — Robert Scaer, 2005

Two kids with tricycles

Child poverty is getting worse.

Child poverty is a form of child abuse perpetrated by society as a whole on its most vulnerable, helpless members, and its effects are permanent and devastating. After reviewing some newly released data on child poverty in America, this essay discusses some of the devastating impacts of child poverty on a personal level.

Even as mainstream economists tout macro-economic data showing the economy picking up steam, poverty in the U.S. remains stubbornly high, according to data released last week by the Census Bureau.

For the eleventh time in twelve years, poverty has worsened or gotten no better. The official poverty rate–which greatly understates actual poverty–remains at 15%, meaning that 46.5 million Americans are living on less than $18,300 for a family of three, including 21.8% of all children (16.1 million kids), 27.2% of African-Americans, 25.6% of Hispanics and more than 28% of people with disabilities.

That’s $6,000 a year per person, or $500 per month. Try living on that some time and then tell me, like that entitled billionaire boob Michael Bloomberg, that America’s poor aren’t really poor.

From 2000 to 2012, poverty increased overall by 3.7%, and by 5.6% among children, even as median income for non-elderly households fell from $64,843 to $57,353, a decline of $7,490, or 11.6%.

In 2012, more than one-third (34.6%) of all people living in poverty were children, including 37.9% of black children and 33.8% of Hispanic children. The poverty rate for families with children headed by single mothers was 40.9%, and of the 7.1 million families with children living in poverty, 4.1 million (57.7%) are headed by a single mother.

But nearly half of the poor—43.9% or 20.4 million Americans—live below one-half of the poverty line, or $9,150 for a family of three. Thus 6.6% of the total population lives in “deep poverty,” including 7.16 million children.

Also remaining stagnant last year at 106 million Americans was the number of those living in “near poverty,” below twice the poverty line—less than $36,600 for a family of three. This means that more than one in three Americans are either already poor or are living one catastrophe—a job loss or serious illness—away from poverty.

Read the rest of this entry →

Anti-Capitalist MeetUp: Surveillance Corps Capture Congress, Courts, Exec. by Justine

2:33 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

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Wired.com, in a July 26, 2013 piece by David Cravats, details that not-very-surprising fact that those congressional representatives who received the largest political donations from defense contractors voted last week, 217 to 205, to oppose cuts to NSA’s phone-spying dragnet budget. Those who opposed the cuts, and thus the “Amash amendment” received 122% more defense contractor funds than those who voted against it, with one Democratic exception of Representative Dennis Moran of Virginia.

An analysis done by the Berkeley non-profit, MapLight for Wired showed that Defense contractor donations averaged $41,635 from the pot, whereas House members who voted to repeal authority averaged $18,765 for the previous two year period.

The only really surprising fact is how very little the defense contractors had to pony-up to buy their contractor-collusive representative over the two year period: $12.97 million.

In contrast to the billions of dollars these big corporations make each year from their defense contracts in the surveillance industry, the going price for representatives is trifling low. (Of course, undoubtedly some representatives with committee assignments critical to surveillance budget issues do undoubtedly get lucrative extra perks in the form of post-term jobs, many as lobbyists, should they leave Congress, but still the cost of doing business with friendly congressional representatives is virtually a rounding error in their corporate budgets.

Deborah Charles and Ben Berkowitz report on Reuters of June 10, 2013, that:

The U.S. government spends more than $300 billion a year on services that are contracted out, according to Scott Amey, general counsel at the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog that investigates corruption and misconduct in government.

The government workforce has pretty much stayed the same over the last 30 to 40 years but we’ve supplemented that with a contractor workforce that has grown dramatically,” he said. More than 4.9 million people had government security clearances as of October 1, 2012, including about 1.4 million with “top secret” clearance, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Nearly 800,000 government employees had “top secret” clearances, versus 480,000 contractors; the remaining “top secret” holders were not broken down.

In 2009, Lockheed Martin, one of the largest contractors, received 38.4 billion from government contracts, while Boeing received 22 billion and 23 billion in 2008 and 2009 respectively.

NSA Whistle-blower Edward Snowden last corporate employer was Booz-Allen. Booz is not one of the biggest government contractors, but it has done very well from its surveillance work. According to the NY Times of 6/10/2013, Booze earned 1.3 billion in 2012. (Our truth-defying Director of National Intelligence and head of NSA, furtive functionary James Clapper, was formerly with Booze, which is a subsidiary of the Carlyle Group. He is but one of the revolving door clique that routinely alternates between government and Booze employment.) Read the rest of this entry →

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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Anti-Capitalist Meetup: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Women’s Liberation by Geminijen

2:50 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

When I started to write this blog about the sex vs. gender debate, I was going to write a nice, intellectual piece, fully referenced, stating my position. But as I sat down to write it, I realized there is no clear-cut solution and presumably, most of the discussion has been decided in favor of the gender ideology, ranging from post-modern feminists in the academy, to the queer community, to the communist left.

In a recent antiwar speech in Washington, D.C., Angela Davis, while giving a laundry list of oppressions, mentioned both gender and LGBT, but failed to mention the word “women.” Sonia Sanchez, in the same event, left out categories having to deal with women’s liberation altogether (although in her poetry she did make the pronoun gender neutral).

At the same time, mainstream feminists (what is generally referred to as the white middle class women’s movement) seem content to deal with reproductive issues such as abortion and contraception, rape and wife battering in a piecemeal fashion, with little overriding ideology or causal framework. (One positive note: there is a new coalition of young women, WORD [Women Organized to Resist and Defend] which seems to be trying to fuse the concepts of sex and gender back together – along with race, class and imperialism. I look forward to seeing what their analysis will be since so far they seem to be mainly an activist group).

So what, if anything, do I have to contribute to this discussion? As a second wave socialist/ lesbian/ feminist born to a first wave socialist feminist, I have worked on projects with third wave feminists and raised a son who is active in the gay-rights movement. I believe that my long history in these communities might give me a perspective worth sharing. I also hope younger third wave feminists will not write me off as one of those smug old second wave feminists who thinks she knows everything.

By the rambling nature of this blog, you can probably tell that I am writing in a stream of consciousness “consciousness raising” style, true to my second wave “the personal is political” roots; although I believe this form is also regaining popularity among third wave feminists.

To begin. I came into feminism out of a Left Trotskyist organization about the same time I left my marriage of several years, right into the arms of the feminist movement. Most of the women, it is true, were middle class and white and, as a working class woman, I wasn’t sure I would fit in. I remember the first time I entered the women’s bookstore and one of the women commented on my “bourgie” $26 dollar JC Penney’s pantsuit. I was working as a secretary in the college where I was putting my husband through school. I was required to wear the pants suit to work (along with pantyhose) even though the professors I worked for could wear jeans. It took me awhile to realize that most of the women in the bookstore wore jeans that cost four times what my pantsuit cost.

I relate this story because this was my first exposure to identity politics and downward mobility and the tendency of the community to identify one’s class position by external secondary characteristics, not our actual class position. This foreshadowed a similar tendency in terms of defining the issues of oppression in terms of our sexuality. Nevertheless I stayed because those women still had something I wanted and wasn’t getting in the male-identified Left.

One of the biggest issues we discussed in those first few heady months in the bookstore was what we called “sex role channeling.” Although it was a middle class group of women, most of them came out of the “New” Left and considered themselves some sort of Marxist or Anarchist. They believed that women’s oppression was partly biological due to our reproductive capacity; but that biology did not have to be destiny since there was no reason society could not be economically and socially structure society to eliminate the disadvantages of reproduction, especially with new technologies.

However, they also believed women’s initial childbearing function had led to a society in which all labor was divided by sex (the “sexual division of labor”) which led to a society in which men had control over women. To reinforce their control, men developed a social ideology, patriarchy, in which women were viewed as innately more passive (they were like cattle, or chattel, and could be owned and traded) and men were the aggressors and protectors (and owners).
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Because this sexual division of labor began with the first societies, long before capitalism was introduced, most feminists believed this inequality needed to be overcome before one could have a true class revolution.

These ideas were shared to some degree by all the major feminist writers of the time, whatever their other differences, including Simone DeBouvoir (The Second Sex), Kate Millet (Sexual Politics), Shulamith Firestone (Dialectics of Sex), and Robin Morgan (Sisterhood is Powerful). These writers had two things in common:

  1. they all believed that patriarchal oppression of women existed before capitalism and had to be addressed before a class revolution against capitalism could be achieved; and
  2. that “the personal is political,” that we should trust our personal experiences as much as any abstract theoretical tracks when analyzing our oppression (especially since women’s prehistory had been written out of history – including the Marxist texts – and women had not been allowed, in many cases, to read or write books or theorize anyway).
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    The only problem with the “personal is political” approach was that it often theorized that we could transform relations between men and women immediately, by the way we led our personal lives (by whether we wore jeans or skirts).

    And we immediately set out to do this.

    We stopped using pink and blue to identify babies by sex. Mothers got their daughters trucks as well as dolls, and kitchen sets for their sons along with transformer action figures. Girls were entered into soccer leagues and boys went to movement classes. For adults, we were encouraged to enter any profession. We refused to be slaves to traditional work such as cooking (our potlucks were frequently pretty abysmal since everyone brought chips and dips) and we protested against the traditions of patriarchal marriage and sexual monogamy (some women remember those days with great joy—me–while other women felt that the proliferation of sexual partners made them feel abused and used). While not many women (and not all men)were physically big enough to be firefighters, some were and they broke the sex segregated job barrier. The situation is even clearer when we looked at fields such as the doctor/nurse divide.
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    In terms of how we presented ourselves, we tried to blur or eliminate sex role signifiers. Interestingly, there were two major approaches to how this was done. Some of us went for the neutral, androgynous look. We took off our makeup and heels, we cut our hair into a short, but not too masculine, style (pixie’s were in). We wore neutral colors and sensible shoes. Since I came out of the Beat movement, I was very comfortable in black turtle necks and jeans and sandals. Interestingly, the second approach which was more visible in the gay community was to transgress stereotypical sex role classifications. At that time, the gay community mirrored the straight heterosexual community to some degree by adopting one or the other of the traditional masculine or feminine sex roles. So they were already more used to transgressing biological barriers. So in an effort to blur sexual identities, some of the women in our community began adopting traits of both sexes (i.e., a woman would not only stop shaving her legs and underarms, but let her beard grow even if she still wore feminine blouses. A man would start wearing makeup and earrings or, if he were really brave, a cheerleader skirt with combat boots.
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    Two other points about sex role stereotypes. Kate Millet detailed in her book how the stereotypes changed with the times and that the higher up the class ladder you went, the more distinct were the sex roles. With the advent of capitalism, women had long been divided into women of the working class and women of the bourgeoisie. By the time we reached the Victorian Age in the midst of the industrial revolution, the middle and upper class women were secluded in the home under the rationale that they were too delicate and weak to endure the rigors of the outside world. Yet as Millet shows in her book, mine owners in Colorado during that same period were more than willing to use working class women stripped naked to the waist on their hands and knees to haul coal-carts out of the mines because women were smaller and could fit into the mine tunnels (one of my favorite examples). We see the same stereotypes between the Southern Belle and female field slave before the Civil War. So the middle and upper class female sex role stereotype shifted from a passive cow (or chattel or property) to a “feminine” stereotype that was not only passive but frail and childlike, unable to do much of anything.
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    The second point I wish to make about sex role stereotypes is very different. In our desire to get rid of all non-biological, socially imposed restrictions, we took the blurring of sex lines to their obvious and ultimate conclusion – the bedroom. We decided that there was no logical reason for not having sex with our own sex. After all, not all sex was for reproduction. People had been having sex strictly for pleasure for centuries, so why not? Besides who would know better what gives a woman pleasure than another woman? So a whole lot of new lesbian feminists were born. Some remained lesbians for life, others resumed relationships with men after the heyday of the Amazon sisterhood was over. (Bisexuality was not an option in those days as the gay community was as “straight” as the heterosexual community and frowned [officially] on those who stepped outside the box of the binary sex roles. Bisexuality was considered nonexistent or perverted.)

    The main difficulty with breaking down sex role barriers by sleeping with women was that a number of women in the lesbian feminist community saw this as the solution to the problem of sexism. They had found their answer by stepping outside of the exploitative relationships of men and women in the home. And they could still seem like good radicals because this was as big a step as one could take, individually, outside of the mainstream. Unfortunately, it meant they did not feel they had to fight the bigger war for all women; they settled for a personal solution and a little reform work.

    This is not to say that separating oneself from male energy for a time in one’s life was not fruitful. Through this process many women lost their emotional dependence on men (and some learned that just changing the sex of their partners might not be enough to make an egalitarian relationship).
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    So we broke barriers and we did make a lot of changes. Women started wearing pants and took off their high heels, they came out of the home and into the workplace and into previously all male professions. Unfortunately, most of the unpaid work the home remained in the hands of women. They did a study sometime in the late 1970s or early 80s that showed that the actual amount of time the new “Mr. Mommy” spent with his children was 3 hours a week – and that was usually the “fun” time — to take them to play in the park while Mom cleaned the house instead of doing the tough work of cleaning or homework discipline. The situation may have improved but it is still pretty unequal.

    I think our failure to fully deal with this very basic issue of who in responsible for the raising and caring of children (and disabled and elderly) also goes to the very basic issue of:

    1) would the capitalist society let us change that dynamic when they had such a good deal by not having all that unpaid labor cut into their profit (the jury is still out on whether they actually can make new profit off of work in the home); and

    2) “the personal is political” approach can only see it’s own personal perspective and interests. Since most of the movement was middle class (whether radical feminists Marxists in college or the Betty Friedan educated stay-at-home frustrated upper middle class housewife), neither group had to deal with this question immediately as it was not part of their material reality.

    Young women in college were not planning to have children anytime soon and could avoid the issue by using contraceptives and, if those failed, could get an abortion, if they could make it legal. By the time they did consider having children, they would have a husband or a great career and could hire an au pair (like their Betty Friedan counterparts), usually an immigrant woman and/or a woman of color. In recent years, however, we have seen that this apparently doesn’t solve all of the problem as many working professional mothers are now talking about the “mommy track.” At the time, while we talked revolution, many women didn’t seem to be as determined, in fact, to fight for a broader social solution as they felt they still had individual options. Now many of them are beginning to realize this may not be the case.
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    Although the second wave clearly recognized the distinction between biological issues and socially defined or cultural differences and was determined to break them down, the real separation between sex and gender did not begin until the third wave of feminism in the 1980s. Although the word gender had certainly existed before the 1980s and the idea of the difference between biological differences and historical and culturally determined sex roles (gender roles) had certainly been a major concept in the second wave of feminism, it was the postmodern women’s studies professors in academia who finally made the split and prioritized gender over sex as the “locus for struggle.”

    According to this body of feminist work, since sex role differences are about gender, not sex, it is gender issues that caused the beginning of the male hierarchy and oppression of women and it is gender that should be the focus of the struggle. This certainly makes sense in many ways. Just as race and class are not biologically determined, if women’s oppression is not biologically determined, we too should view the oppression against women as culturally determined and focus on that.

    There is only one problem with that: unlike the race and class paradigm, there still is a real biological difference in that biological women still produce the babies for the next generation and, while we may soon have totally technologically produced test tube babies, we are not there yet.

    Every civilization in the world has spent thousands of years institutionalizing the breeding process, usually at the expense of women. This does not mean that deconstructing gender differences is not critical to ending gender and sex oppression, but to do so at the expense of dealing with the underlying biological and material economic realities of most women’s everyday lives is somewhat delusional. It’s kind of like the JC Penney pantsuit and Levis all over again, only worse.
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    The real mind-bender occurred, however, when the issues of the gay community were conflated with the lesbian feminist model of ending sexism or gender oppression. The gay community, prior to the second wave of feminism, had always been pretty much defined by the male gay community. The main issues for gay men were the freedom to express their sexuality in an open and honest way wherever it took them —by appropriating women’s gender roles or exploring the relationship between sex and pain (S/M) or the acceptance of dominance and submission as natural parts of human sexuality. Lesbian feminism, on the other hand, had a vested interest in breaking down power imbalances between people, especially categories such as dominance and submission.

    It is hard to say how much each of these paradigms was, itself, created by the very sex role channeling to which we have been subjected. Women have traditionally been encouraged to repress sexual desire whereas men have been encouraged to be aggressive and adventurous. So, are some women appalled by S/M and the culture of dominance and submission (which is considered natural in the gay male community) because they are repressed and reticent to things accept these as a natural part of animal sexuality, or even if it is, do they want to try to “educate” humans out of this aspect of animal behavior (much as we try to end war and aggression) in the name of equality after centuries of being the dominated sex. Or are these desires of dominance and submission also socially constructed so that men can win wars and “protect” (appropriate)the breeders (women)? These are real questions.

    There are still women who argue that rape is “natural” and women should enjoy it – and we certainly have our share of “enjoyable” rape mythology from the times of the story of The Rape of the Sabine Women to historical romances where the pirate comes and “takes” the lady, freeing her from all responsibility for choosing to have sex in a most unladylike unfeminine manner (this is especially the fantasy of the middle class women where sexuality was repressed). Any woman who has actually been raped or read Fear of Flying gets the difference between fantasizing about rape and the real thing. What I am trying to get at is that many of the realities of male ideas of sexual freedom may also have been “constructions” of gender bias over the years and not natural at all. But the gay community (as well as some heterosexuals) has put the issue of natural biological influences on our lives back on the table.

    Here I’m going to admit to a personal bias based on my own experience when people say that they were “born” gay or as a woman or that the desire for pain and dominance or submission in a relationship is biologically determined. As a bisexual (yes, a real one) who has wandered all over the map and changed back and forth many times for meaningful relationships, my experience is that things are not definitely fixed or immutable. I kind of go with Kinsey who said we are all gender neutral until around two years old when we begin to develop a preference. That being said, I believe that any man or woman who wants to assume a different gender identity from that they were born with to be all they want to be has my respect since they are breaking the social codes of patriarchy. As long as they are not implying that women have to be passive and submissive because they are born that way.

    Meanwhile, all the emphasis on totally environmentally constructed realities which make real biological and economic day-to-day realities – such as trying to figure out if you can afford the hospital price in the maternity ward or that of an abortion or how to get up two hours earlier to take two buses to take your kid to a very expensive daycare so you can get to your low paying job on time – seems slightly unreal, especially when someone turns around and claims innate biological urges such as the urge to dominate as legitimate. Of course there are still other issues, but I think that’s plenty for now.

    Ciao,
    Your lesbian feminist socialist sister.

    P.S. All the books I mentioned are worth reading and not only from a historical perspective but I want to add two other books to the list. One is brand new, Dangerous Liaisons: The Marriages and Divorces of Marxism and Feminism by Cinzia Arruzza; and Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State by Frederich Engels (even if it has some non-verifiable historical and analytical assumptions, it is still the best work analyzing women’s exploitation in the nuclear family under capitalism).