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Laissez Fairyland — Making the Intangible Less Tangential

3:01 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

by Annieli

Here we present a simple solution to see that a fad is the result of the same type of behavior that causes any other good to be purchased. It is the characteristic of the good, and the interaction of the various agents with their neighbors that causes the peculiar pattern of behavior that is called fad.

ReaganomicsIs Reaganism such a good and as a commodity is its commodity fetishism available for analysis beyond its intangible assets. Yet Reaganism is tangible and attempts to memorialize the commodity extend materially far beyond the cinematic and the televisual nature of the Great Communicator. The fad of VooDoo(sic) Economics is a useful example of how to discuss intangible assets as forms of virtual capital. The production and reproduction of the Reaganist myth is its own market. Its production of character/reputation and trust/reciprocity is of course legendary and its diffusion to the North American form of teabaggery continues with the institutional support of right-wing venture capital like the Kochs.

In the United States, commentators frequently equate supply-side economics with Reaganomics. The fiscal policies of Ronald Reagan were largely based on supply-side economics. During Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign, the key economic concern was double digit inflation, which Reagan described as “Too many dollars chasing too few goods,” but rather than the usual dose of tight money, recession and layoffs, with their consequent loss of production and wealth, he promised a gradual and painless way to fight inflation by “producing our way out of it”.

An example of fad economics occurred in 1980, when a small group of economists advised Presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, that an across-the-board cut in income tax rates would raise tax revenue. They argued that if people could keep a higher fraction of their income, people would work harder to earn more income. Even though tax rates would be lower, income would rise by so much, they claimed, that tax revenues would rise. Almost all professional economists, including most of those who supported Reagan’s proposal to cut taxes, viewed this outcome as far too optimistic. Lower tax rates might encourage people to work harder and this extra effort would offset the direct effects of lower tax rates to some extent, but there was no credible evidence that work effort would rise by enough to cause tax revenues to rise in the face of lower tax rates. … People on fad diets put their health at risk but rarely achieve the permanent weight loss they desire. Similarly, when politicians rely on the advice of charlatans and cranks, they rarely get the desirable results they anticipate. After Reagan’s election, Congress passed the cut in tax rates that Reagan advocated, but the tax cut did not cause tax revenues to rise.

As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities. — Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I

As one can perhaps see, the transgressive role of the State in the struggle among classes will become the key problem for making this critique work as will the impending institutional arrangements making that State ubiquitous and global.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. — Ronald Reagan

Reaganism was a political perspective in the United States based on a friendly-seeming, grandfatherly-type ex-actor telling us that government could do no good, and then proceeding to become the head of the executive branch of the United States government, drastically expanding the public debt as he saw fit. Why anyone believed it is beyond us.

Prominent lies promoted by Mr. Reagan include:

  • The “free market” is always more efficient than the government at providing solutions to problems. (See universal health care)
  • The “government” is incapable of solving a country’s problems (See Hurricane Katrina)
  • Some woman somewhere on welfare had a Cadillac and a color TV. (He made this up).
  • Hardworking blue collar Americans should hate suffering poor Americans for eating their tax dollars instead of working their asses off for giant corporations themselves. (See trade union)
  • The “rich” are a beleaguered and overtaxed suffering demographic. (Who pay well for political campaigns!)

In Britain, there was a very similar political movement referred to as “Thatcherism,” named for the Iron Lady who advocated the same principles. The impact of this was slightly less than that of the States.

In Marxist philosophy, however, the term Cultural Hegemony describes the domination of a culturally diverse society by the ruling class, who manipulate the culture of the society — the beliefs, explanations, perceptions, values, and mores — so that their ruling-class worldview becomes the worldview that is imposed and accepted as the cultural norm; as the universally valid dominant ideology that justifies the social, political, and economic status quo as natural, inevitable, perpetual and beneficial for everyone, rather than as artificial social constructs that benefit only the ruling class

We live in a Tea (Party) service economy

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Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Final Cuba Jeopardy Answer — “The Emergence of Marxist Holism” by Galtisalie

2:28 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Sven. Who is Chris Farley?
No, I am sorry that is not correct. Your wager, your guaranteed minimum Celebrity Jeopardy $1,000, takes you down to 0.

Pendejo. I’m a gay pirate from Cuba. I’m sorry, you once again failed to put your response in the form of a question, such as where do you come up with this stuff? With your wager of $1,000, you are also at 0.

Richard. Why to the capitalist overlords Cuba must fail and for the rest of us Cuba “must” succeed? Yes, you placed it in the form of question, with the correct question word at that. You succinctly hit themes of your obscure 2008 India-published book, Talking About Trees: Science, Ecology and Agriculture in Cuba . You even subtly changed prepositions to connote the not fully recognized nature of Cuba’s importance to humanity’s future and added appropriate quotation mark qualifiers recognizing the pivotal role that Cuba could play but implying the stubborn persistence of socialism even if Cuba goes the way of the Soviet Union or China. But don’t get fatheaded elitist. A portion of your winnings is being expropriated for Obamacare! And you’ll be coming back tomorrow to battle the SuperTeachers, beginning with “The Embargo” for $100 on an original reason for the embargo was when Castro declared Cuba a _________ state. If all this musical, graphical, and intellectual stimulation makes you nauseous, go back to Hahvard professor.

Nananana nanana, nananana Na nanananana, nananananananana, Na nanana, na, na, na, pum pum.

I hope I did not give you a flashback. I was more of a “Let’s Make a Deal” kid growing up and always got nervous watching Jeopardy. I never could get my reptilian brain around receiving information first and then finding questions that make sense of the information. Later, as a high school student forced to be a Wheel Watcher every weeknight, I reached an unhappy medium in the limbic region around the same time Pendejo was first bearing his chest to a national audience. Good times. I know, I should not joke about such things. Game shows, blockades, and Spandex are serious matters.

I particularly should not tease Sven up there. He dun gooo-ad by standing up to Pendejo. It passes for bravery these days for someone in the corporate media to stand up to a conservative gun nut who uses Nazi imagery (“subhuman mongrel”) for rhetorical purposes when referring to the nation’s first African-American president. He cannot help it that when Alan Gross called him on May 4, 2012 with his weekly phone call that he did not have time to prepare much less to consider notions like the possibility that laying off over 10 percent of a country’s work force might actually contribute to problems that the private sector in the U.S. and around the world is already quite expert at causing not curing:

BLITZER: If you could speak directly to the top leaders in Cuba, what would you say?

GROSS: I would say to Raul Castro that I think he’s trying to do some very courageous things. I think that he himself has been on national television before the national assembly. And he said that a major problem with the economy here is the low productivity. And that can’t be blamed on the United States. It cannot be blamed on the United States.

And I think it took a lot of courage to say that.

And I think that, you know, the – the – the million-and-a-half or so people who are being retrenched from government jobs have to find employment somewhere. And I think he’s a very pragmatic individual who recognizes the need for private sector growth and development here. And he has said that he’s hoping that the – the – the growth of the private sector will offset those newly unemployed.

I don’t know how – I don’t know what the employment j the unemployment rate is in Cuba. But if a million-and-a-half people are – are retrenched from their jobs and there’s only 11 million people in the country, that’s got to say something about a very high unemployment level.

And so I would say – I would say to President Castro that I think he’s – he’s – he’s – he’s courageous and I applaud his – his pragmatic approach to beginning to – to try to create a – a more positive business environment. …

BLITZER: And, Alan, what’s your message to the highest officials here in Washington, including the president and the secretary of State?

What a daunting follow-up question! It also might have been appropriate for Sven to query Mr. Gross about his connections to the U.S. government, including possibly the CIA, which had already been reported on by AP. As noted by The Jewish Daily Forward:

[O]fficial trip reports he filed for an American government agency, revealed by The Associated Press on February 12, paint a picture of a man who knew the risks he was taking. “Detection of satellite signals will be catastrophic,” Gross warned in a report that filtered back to the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to AP.

When he was arrested, Gross, a resident of suburban Washington, was carrying a high-tech cell phone chip more commonly used by the CIA or the Defense Department. …

In addition to using Jewish missions to Cuba as a cover, Gross even asked fellow American Jewish travelers to smuggle electronic equipment into Cuba and then give it back to him at his hotel, the AP said.

The cell phone chip found on Gross when he was arrested would have allowed a user to make satellite phone calls without being detected.

Such activity seems to go beyond the picture painted by Gross’s supporters of a man interested in only helping Cuba’s Jews.

So, I’m confused. Cuba poses an existential threat to my country? Let me try to enter the mind of Pendejo up there, to be followed up later with a strong digital germicidal spraying–

Like the War of the Worlds, we know how this ends PEOPLE. We’ve known it since the Reagan administration, and I’m not talking about Footloose people:

Infiltrators came up illegal from Mexico. Cubans mostly. They managed to infiltrate SAC bases in the Midwest, several down in Texas and wreaked a helluva lot of havoc, I’m here to tell you. They opened up the door down here, and the whole Cuban & Nicaraguan armies come walking right through, rolled right up here through the Great Plains.

An excerpt from IMDb’s 15th most popular feature film in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four of all years.

What more do we need to know????!!!!!????

Get the heck off this computer, duck, and cover yur Dynasty, and I don’t mean Ducky Dynasty, but the time when we had real serious teevee shows about wealthy oil tycoons.

But wait, are not all male Amurricans after all strangely compelled by “Cuba.” Is Cuba the kitty next door?

Well, I don’t know where they come from but they sure do come
I hope they comin’ for me
And I don’t know how they do it but they sure do it good
I hope they’re doin’ it for free

And do not all Cuban women secretly desire at least the younger version of a “gay pirate from Cuba”-joking, guitar hero capable of nimbly purring out a 3-tone minor-key melody harmonized in parallel fourths? Can’t we all be friends? Serious online places like the Hahvard Political Review assure us that Cuba is not after all an existential threat, at least “anymore”: “Does the Republic of Cuba pose a threat to U.S. national security and American interests around the world?” Heck no. It is that truly virulent oil state kitty further to the south:

Venezuela is more of a threat to U.S. interests than Cuba. Venezuela continues to challenge the United States in international relations through OPEC and most recently in the Edward Snowden asylum negotiations.

Ah yes. That is the enemy. Meanwhile in Cuba, a Hahvard “economics concentrator living in Grays” assures us they just need capitalism in Cuba, or maybe Putinism, because, after all, “The embargo is blamed for economic woes when in reality the communist model is likely responsible.”

Have the highly educated people who write this crap ever thought about living conditions on the island next door to the east, which the Spanish named Hispaniola, and which now contains the racist, exploiting of persons of Haitian descent, big sugar lands of the Cuban ex-patriot Fanjul brothers? Hispaniola is not such a nice “Tropical Retreat” for the masses. The DR (and in particular the transnational Fanjul brothers) knows quite a bit about dependency on the U.S. for sugar exports, just like it knows quite a bit about dependency upon the U.S. for grain imports, or as they call it down there, Harina Blanquita. I have seen with my own eyes that neocolonialism in the DR is a continuation of the colonialism of yore, which is to say, about “Conquista y explotación.”

I hate to tell you Grays livin’ man, but when Cuba lost most of its ability to export its primary crop to its largest trading partner, who now, over half a century later, will not allow a Jefferson nickel’s worth of the world’s third largest nickel reserves to be put in a nickel or even a third party country’s components, that might have a bit more to do with Cuban economic woes than Cuban national health care, free university education, the disbanding of the latifundia, the expropriating of corporate property, ecology, sustainable agriculture, public control of science, and other egalitarian “abuses” of its people. But breathe a sigh of relief Hahvard concentrator and “USAID,” “American style” love and austerity is coming to Cuba. Cuba’s austerity will no longer be imposed by the US from the outside but through some measure of coopting of the socialist project! Uu-um gooo-ad. More and more women can adopt capitalist coping strategies involving pleasuring gooo-ad ole’ Uncle Sam, just like women everywhere from the Deep South to the DR.

I am not going to turn this diary into a laundry listing of the amazingly broad and deep extent of the U.S. blockade of Cuba, which, by operation of U.S. law in violation of international law, effectively sabotages Cuba’s ability to have normal trade relations with any nation on the face of the earth, much less the U.S., not to mention directly results in the death of Cuban people unable to access patented U.S. medicines. (For a recent full account of the extent and impact of the Cuban blockade on Cuba, please see Salim Lamrani’s The Economic War Against Cuba (Monthly Review Press 2013).)

The question remains, why the heck does the U.S. go to so much trouble against Cuba? In a word, as the SuperTeachers recognize, “socialism.” It is not just about the preference of expats but about the coinciding of the preference of powerful expats with overall capitalist preferences. As I discussed in a comment in a Cuban-blockade-related diary I wrote last year on the occasion of the annual U.N. condemnation of U.S. treatment of Cuba:

Helms-Burton is replete with references to the requirement for a “market economy” to satisfy the U.S. After all this was among the great crimes of the Cuban government, in the eyes of Senator Helms at least. As per SEC. 2 “Findings”:

(3) The Castro regime has made it abundantly clear that it will not engage in any substantive political reforms that would lead to democracy, a market economy, or an economic recovery.

For Senator Helms types, and perhaps you, democracy is synonymous with a market economy:

For purposes of this Act, a democratically elected government in Cuba, in addition to meeting the requirements of section 205(a), is a government which–
(3) is substantially moving toward a market-oriented economic system based on the right to own and enjoy property;

There is nothing mysterious about this. It is part of the modus operandi of U.S. trade relations with former socialist countries. Interestingly, even proponents of this market-based outcome are against the blockade: See the Washington University School of Law journal article entitled, “THE HELMS-BURTON ACT: A STEP IN THE WRONG DIRECTION FOR UNITED STATES POLICY TOWARD CUBA.” The reason the U.S. government, and the business interests that run it, promote “democracy”-lite, like we have in the U.S., is so that it can obtain investment treaties that accomplish the following:

The [Poland] BIT “established two foreign policy strategies: (1) to encourage the development of pro-investor international legal norms; and (2) to promote free-market economic reforms.”

(Id. at n. 120, p. 234.)

Yes, for my entire lifetime, the most powerful country in the history of the world has tried to crush “socialism” in a small island nation off its southern coast. The socialism of Cuba has not always been pretty or even socialism, which needs to be deeply democratic to be deserving of the name, but its flops often have eventually flipped, sometimes in part because of the very oppression of the U.S. However, Professor Levins demonstrates that patterns of positive living that need to be implemented around the world which first emerged in Cuba through its Marxist holism did not actually have its roots in the added pain imposed upon Cuba through the collapse of the Soviet Union, which led to the Special Period. For instance, while responsive to the continuing economic duress of the blockade, “[I]n 1987 Raul Castro called for the widespread introduction of organopónicos, raised beds of enriched and composted soils where crops could be grown in small areas with no dependence on outside resources.” (p. 150)

Looking even more closely, Cuba’s enormous contribution to demonstrating patterns of ecologically-sensitive, sustainable living developed, and hopefully will persist going forward, because of an evolving Cuban revolutionary commitment to a way of thinking, Marxist holism. (I find it to be completely consistent with my personal intuitive commitment to begin by “accepting life’s complexity,” so I guess that makes me a Marxist, although I have never consciously sought to be one.) The U.S. and by extension the world is stuck in the second corner of a “three-cornered struggle,” with considerable elements of its population, particularly in the rapture-fixated Deep South, keeping a toe or two in the first corner.

The struggles around the nature and value of science can be understood as a three-cornered struggle in which the contenders are (1) a pre-capitalist holism which is hierarchical, static or ahistoric, reactionary and mystical; (2) a capitalist-era liberal, rationalist, secular, reductionist, instrumental scientism; and (3) a post-capitalist, dynamic, anti-hierarchical materialist dialectical holism.
This tri-partite classification is, of course, an abstraction from a more complex reality. Individuals form their own belief system in the context of their society and location in that society but also from more idiosyncratic experiences. Schools of thought borrow and are influenced by each other. Post-colonial societies often combine modern globalized capitalist relations with pre-capitalist modes of power and join their willing subordination to the global corporate system with a petulant cultural nationalism.
(p. 84)

Scientists free to follow principles of Marxist holism sometimes can do “better” scientific work because not only are they not directly or indirectly working for capitalists and subservient to profit but also because they look at problems “better”:

Marxist holism starts from Hegel’s dictum that the truth is the whole. It is a warning that if problems are posed too narrowly they end up attributing explanation to external events. We further claim that many of the major failings of contemporary science have come about because problems have been posed too narrowly. …
A common theme to these failings is a systematic reductionism that posed problems too narrowly, bounded by unstated constraints, and as static. Hegel’s dictum is a warning that there is more out there. We must always ask in studying a particular problem “where is the rest of the world?” it is a further warning that what we have not taken into account can, and eventually will, overturn our theories.
Marxist holism does emphasize connection among phenomena. … Our emphasis on connections among phenomena does not mean that we can cast spells to get justice but that we must trace the connections even among phenomena that are not obviously related.

(pp. 88-89)

“As historical materialists we do claim that knowledge is a social product”:

But we do not stop with the naïve claim that received knowledge is false or that some knowledge is wiser than other because it comes from nicer people. Rather the claim of social embeddedness is a demand to study how that knowledge is produced. We claim that all knowledge comes from experience and reflection on that experience in the light of previous knowledge. Therefore we have to examine the domain of experience that gives rise to knowledge. Learning from the people does not mean that the less educated person wiser, or that “what the ancients say” is a proof of validity. We ask which ancients, why was what they said recorded and why millions of other ancients left no trace in the records. …
[I]n the end nature intrudes. …
“Epistemic charity” is not a blank cheque to the past but the acknowledgement that sometimes, old knowledge is profound where modern instrumentalism sacrifices the long run to immediate gain, and that the wholesale dismissal of traditional knowledge remains a part of colonialist arrogance.
(pp. 89-91)

Professor Levins is a cradle Marxist, key ecologist, and the John Rock Professor of Population Sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health. He is, in my estimation, a really good species-being. We come from totally different immediate backgrounds, but I believe that he is sensitive to understand mine–and yours, whatever it is, and I appreciate that on multiple levels:

Philosophers have sought to understand the world. The point, however, is to change it.
Karl Marx (Theses on Feuerbach, 11th Thesis)

When I was a boy I always assumed that I would grow up to be both a scientist and a Red. Rather than face a problem of combining activism and scholarship, I would have had a very difficult time trying to separate them.
Before I could read, my grandfather read to me from Bad Bishop Brown’s Science and History for Girls and Boys. He believed that as a minimum every socialist worker should be familiar with cosmology, evolution, and history. I never separated history, in which we are active participants, from science, the finding out how things are. My family had broken with organized religion five generations back, but my father sat me down for Bible study every Friday evening because it was an important part of the surrounding culture and important to many people, a fascinating account of how ideas develop in changing conditions, and because every atheist should know it as well as believers do.
On my first day of primary school, my grandmother urged me to learn everything they could teach me–but not to believe it all.
(p. 11)

Society is made up of individuals ideally connected by solidarity. Solidarity can be born in the hearts and minds of individuals who were not always committed to the cause. Seeds of Red and Pink may have been planted decades prior to emergence. Secret unknowing agents for Marxism, like my dear hard core Republican dad, may wear capitalism on their sleeves. You and I don’t have to have been born Red or Pink to die Red or Pink and to bring others into the great cause. And when our journeys become our journey, the converging and converting power of Marxist holism also can emerge if we dedicate our hearts and minds to wise questioning and wise acting.

Leaving aside overarching issues of family and necessity, many of us are compelled to dedicate our hearts and minds to something other than capitalism, for capitalism, even if sufficiently profitable personally, leaves us unsatisfied in one way or another. Not everyone is seduced by the opportunity to sell something, including their souls. We may for a time fixate on one “mysterious” tradition or another, and we may for a time self-medicate with Wheel Watching or chemical remedies to suppress the urge. Friendship sometimes is prescient of getting stoned together watching ball games or aging rock stars strut their stuff and fire their guns, but it also can take off in unpredictable directions. Malcolm Little became Malcolm X who continued to grow and shake off dead skin until he was murdered.

If we are fortunate to be exposed to a humane and tolerant socialist consciousness, we may one day deeply challenge ourselves to be loving, thinking, acting species-beings. Or, in my case, we may find a convert zone with some traditional elements and a whole lot of Marxist holism which embraces literally getting my hands dirty in the gardens and compost piles of life. I do not know what works for you.

Levins believes that, whether it is rolling cigars, growing vegetables, or cutting sugar cane, the drudgeries of working and especially rural life can be at least somewhat alleviated through liberation and empowerment of the workers to be not only in creative control of their own environments but also as much as possible scientists themselves. Although Cuba, at least pre-layoffs, has led Latin America and much of the world in per capita dedicated “scientists,” it has also insisted that they be dedicated to the people and not in league with capital. Marxist holistic science does not support the commodification of anything, much less science itself. This has its genesis in principles of the founder of Cuba’s original liberation movement which merged naturally with socialist notions of science:

José Martí’s modernist value of learning was joined with the traditional socialist appreciation of science to encourage the young revolutionaries to give a high priority to science from the earliest days of the revolution. The traditional socialist view was that scientific knowledge had been produced out of the wealth created by working people but was monopolized by the rich to be used for profit and to build the instruments of power. Therefore the recapture of scientific knowledge for the people was a common goal of radicals throughout the world, and any scientific learning was considered a victory. Further, scientific literacy was seen as liberation from religious obscurantism and bigotry. Scientific news or controversies frequently appeared in the socialist and communist publications. Public lectures in England, the United States, and Russia contributed to this goal. My own grandfather, who had a third grade education, believed that every socialist worker should at least know cosmology, history and evolution. In pre-revolutionary Cuba the lectores (readers) in the tobacco factories were hired by the workers to read from world classics and scientific literature while they worked. [Shout out to my own great great uncle Francisco (whose photo and partial story is in this diary), who while a lector in West Tampa also read "Marxist and other anti-capitalist viewpoints" to the cigar workers"! He was a bad ass who would have recognized Pendejo from the model citizens in pointy hoods who kidnapped him at gun point, stripped and beat him.]
Thus it was natural for Cuban revolutionaries to look toward science for economic development and as part of the necessary culture for a free people.
(p. 128)

Primarily sticking with the words of “Hahvard men” (and Sven, Pendejo, and Alan Gross), it is noted that on March 7, 2014, the Harvard Business Review published an admirably revealing on-line column written by its executive editor entitled America’s Long and Productive History of Class Warfare. Despite the fact that the term is in one of my groups at Daily Kos, I do not like the term “class warfare,” and prefer the term “class struggle.” But I am not here to quibble. In any event, as Warren Buffett has acknowledged for almost a decade in a favorite talking point, the class waging the warfare in recent decades has been his class, through the tax code, not the poor. In fact, its been “a rout.”

Although I disagree with Justin Fox’s underlying assumptions and capitalist economic views (including the part about “our economic system has … largely thrived”), most of what the Executive Director of the Harvard Business Review Group wrote was accurate and keenly perceptive:

Fourteen years ago, with the dot-com bubble fizzling but the rest of corporate America seemingly still going like gangbusters, the great management journalist Geoff Colvin wrote a column in Fortune titled “Capitalists: Savor This Moment.” An excerpt:

The business culture is triumphant. Not just for those in authority but for most of society, business is at the center, and that’s pretty much okay with everybody. It doesn’t feel remarkable to us for the same reason fish don’t notice water; we live in it. But step outside the moment and look at commerce’s role in the culture. It’s unprecedented.

Colvin’s conclusion was that this just couldn’t last. He wasn’t sure what would replace it, and even now it’s not obvious what will. By the numbers it’s still a pretty awesome time to be a plutocrat, but clearly the mood has changed. It’s important to remember, though, that the anomaly is not the current mood of skepticism of business and the rich. It’s what preceded it.

(Emphasis added.)

And that to me is the continuing relevance of Cuba. Cuba helps to demonstrate what would replace capitalism. Cuba may fail, it may abandon socialism, which would be terribly sad. But socialism will always come back because Marxist holism will continue to liberate and empower each of us who chooses to be liberated and empowered by encouraging us to think deeply and freely, and to fight not just to understand the world but to change it.

Socialism for Cuba has made, and for all of us can make, “ecological choices more likely”:

In spite of the incentives and commitments to an ecological pathway, Cubans could have decided otherwise. In fact, they did so at the beginning when in the absence of ecological consciousness, the urgency to meet the needs of the people led to harmful decisions. But when the first, Green Revolution developmentalist approach turned out to be destructive of productive capacity and poisoned people and nature, this was sufficient reason to reexamine the strategy. There were no greedy institutions committed to defending the harmful course with lobbyists, public relations firms, lawyers and hired witnesses. [Cf. NYT 3/16/14, Billionaires With Big Ideas Are Privatizing American Science.] It meant that Cuban scientific and political leadership, which is strongly committed to a broad, dynamic and integral approach, was able to recognize the origins of the different developmental strategies in the world political economy and the implications of alternative choices. It meant that there were scientists prepared to argue the case for ecological development, receptive ears in the leadership and public to receive the arguments sympathetically, and a logic of decision-making that made an ecological pathway of development along with equity and collectivity an essential part of Cuban socialism. That’s how they are doing it.
(p. 154-55)

I very much appreciate Professor Levins’ humility combined with a conscious lifelong extending of the hand of solidarity:

We do not know what roles self-conscious Marxists or the religious left will play in the new movement, how much it will remember from the past or have to learn anew. …
We have to examine and invent new forms of struggle, all aimed basically a changing consciousness and building solidarity even when we are small and seemingly helpless. Revolutionary politics are not limited to storming the winter palaces. Any action that pushes back the boundaries of the permissible, that legitimizes thinking and questions the unquestionable, that strengthens our own capacity to analyze and organize and that tightens the ties that unite us for the long haul, that invents ways of broadening participation and that undermines the crippling burdens of racism and sexism and homophobia and hierarchical posturing within our own movements, is revolutionary practice. …
From the bottom of the trough we need to see the present moment in perspective, to know that it isn’t over, that even when exuberant capitalism wins big victories these do not solve its problems. The problems return even more sharply. Therefore the struggle will surge again, and we will add new pages to our songbook. I expect to see you there.

(pp. 160, 65). How interesting that he wrote this before Occupy Wall Street. And how apt for such groups as Anti-Capitalist Meetup: “Nor do I put down what is derisively called ‘preaching to the converted.’ We, the ‘converted,’ needs lot of ‘preaching,’ lots of analysis, education, encouragement.” (Id.)

Thank you Richard Levins for appearing on Cuba Jeopardy.

And thank you Fidel and Raúl for your dedication to our world. In the blogosphere, little ole’ I, an anti-totalitarian democratic socialist, have been both an active defender and an occasional critic. Free expression is not only a human right but also a good thing even under war conditions, as Debs stood for in WWI and Orwell demonstrated in WWII. If you go to my website’s blogroll you will find publications with “pro-Castro” points of view as well as a link to the critical Cuban left. I do not think any one anti-capitalist individual, party, or organization has all of the answers. International solidarity must be improved and that requires dialogue among all potential allies on the left and openness to the complicated issues relating to both economic and political democracy, particularly in an aggressively capitalist neoliberal world. With a commitment to the Socratic method, I have learned a lot even from engagement with some of your most ardent opponents in the Cuban American community (please see this example of an ongoing effort of mine resulting from dialogue at a popular Cuban dissident blog where the left and the right regularly meet to lash out at each other).

The ultimate goal should be an international social compact that brings together all people of good will. Some people, including the capitalist overlords, will not like this. The citizens of the world must through a creative sacrificial combination of direct actions build from below a deep international democracy while at the same time seizing control of power and property from the capitalist overlords. Democracy must include both civil freedoms and basic economic justice for all. Indirect, i.e., political, action at the nation state level is necessary but not adequate. We each are responsible for system change through cultural change of hearts and minds. I do not know if this can be done. I do know that we have to try. All of our voices count. (From time to time, out of the blue a person searching for ideas on the other side of our world takes notice of my small contribution to the effort.)

We realize the path to the future will not be easy or dogmatic. That is why we need and hopefully increasingly will appreciate the Cuban experiment. For the foreseeable future, Cuba is much more likely to become truly democratic than the US, which is as stuck as Pendejo’s arteries in a democracy-lite, aka capitalist democracy, and with Citizens United just keeps getting worse. (“Funny” how US corporations are people now, free to give money to US politicians but not free to ship junk food and misleading financial instruments to Cuba.) I am for equal human, not corporate, rights and against profiling and police oppression, whether under US, Russian, Chinese, Saudi, Israeli, Cuban or any other jurisdiction. You have acknowledged many “errors” and, under generations of enormous unethical pressure from the US, probably committed some “crimes” (using Levins’ definition, p. 163, which includes the use of force “to settle disagreements within the revolution,” whereas I expressly emphasize that even counter-revolutionaries should be able to participate fully in Cuban political processes–but not Cuban Americans who gave up their rights as Cuban citizens–just like in the US convicted felons who have served their time automatically should be restored their voting rights).

Your country will continue to change, just as mine will and our world will. I hope one day the world, including Cuba, will be far less militarized. The US should remove the plank from its own eye before picking at your country’s military speck, but the speck is not a good permanent state of affairs even if it does not disproportionately take economic resources from the non-militarized people. Guns are, as evidenced by Pendejo’s love for them, not the answer. The correct Jeopardy Question on point is “Why do humans allow the defense and gun industries to lead them around by the nose?” I am not a utopian. Hence, I am not focused on the impossible of ridding our planet of guns and bombs, but as a species we have to admit that guns and bombs are merely one more capitalist commodity seeking buyers, and a deadly one at that. Even if individuals are going to be able to keep and bear some arms useful in hunting and theoretically turning back the hordes, nation states should demilitarize as much as possible. Militarization and international trade in arms promotes death, land and resource grabs (see, e.g., Western Sahara), conflicts which interfere with farming and other peaceful pursuits, and steal from the mouths of hungry people.

Removing the blockade, giving up the notion that democracy is synonymous with capitalism, giving back stolen Guantanamo Bay, and disbanding the CIA, which, with all the self-control of Pendejo just cannot help itself from being capitalism’s evil enforcer, would help to achieve demilitarization of our world, which needs to come into balance, ecologically and economically, and reduce transnational corporate hegemony. Meanwhile, the best global demilitarization plan would be to eliminate corporations themselves, which are a legal experiment conducted on humanity and run amuck and the reason for a great deal of the violence inherent in both the national and international systems. Over time, all nation states should wither and global unity ascend, just like Simón Bolívar dreamed, but that is not going to occur with capitalism, for which the world must be kept “safe” through conflict-accentuating militarization.

I am concerned about authoritarianism in the future of Cuba even more than in the present because at least for now Cuba, unlike the US, is a country built on equity, collectivity, and ecology. Please do not abandon the quest for a true and humane “socialism” worthy of the name. Socialism should always be iterative, fight alienation, maintain “fierce honesty,” and never “debase[] Marxism to apologetics [or cover up] corruption.” (p. 163) Please make it deeply democratic so that long after you are gone citizens of the world will want to be part of a liberating global alternative to capitalism. Please defy history, and possibly your own desperate inclinations, and do the opposite of “most favored nation” China, which abandoned “equity and collectivity,” is a major factor in the global ecological crisis, and preserved authoritarianism. Please when and if the blockade is lifted continue to fight the revolution of “an ecological pathway of development,” (p. 155) which Cuba has pioneered.

You are welcome by me any time in my country, just like “we” welcomed those greedy exploiters. Although I do not so much believe in heaven anymore, I like to imagine tio Pancho, mi abuela, and countless other Hillsborough County cigar workers are smiling down on you, still glad that you prevailed and that they paid from their meager earnings to buy José Martí’s bullets and then yours. Nowadays in my country, by capitalist design it is Pendejo who is armed and dangerous, standing his ground against all manner of human beings with the wrong skin tone or political doctrine. He awaits you and your kind, which is to say my kind too and any other kind that is not his kind. If the cholesterol or Viagra-induced fever does not get him first, he will die serenading a Republican convention or red state county fair opening for Mannheim Steamroller with the world’s longest gray soul patch, so there’s that. But the planet will be boiling while most of the workers and lumpenproletariat are raging for more than kickass rock-n-roll.

Whichever “side” will “win” is a complex question. All we can do is try to ask the right underlying questions as well as possible, hope they are large enough, and act accordingly. There will be no camo outfits, assault rifles, or 24-hour pablum that can prepare us for what awaits. The Road Warrior was just another good times Reagan era movie. More than Cuba is in jeopardy. Which side are you on Sven and Hahvard men with your big sexy brains? Win the race to build the next widget or join the sluts and homos in Cuba to try to save the world?

My comrades and I know which side we are on. Levins’ Postface identifies “some of our tasks.”


1. Assist in the revival and growing clarity of popular struggles, helping the new movements to broaden their vision, to understand the context of their immediate situations and the lessons of past struggles that they can draw on. The long view is vital in sustaining the short term and local struggles in the face of countless disappointment and frustrations, anticipating the pressures of our adversaries to divide and co-opt, and in discovering the common ground between different struggles for justice when they seem to conflict because each asks too little.


2. Combat despair. As against the retreat into nationalism we reaffirm our internationalism, maintain ties among revolutionaries across borders, pool our experiences and ideas, and work for joint strategies. We uphold special solidarities with Cuba and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico because as one of the last of the old colonies it may spearhead the resistance to the recolonizing of the Third World. Cuba because it is the one society which has retained a revolutionary commitment although having to make concessions to global capitalism. Even as it retreats in some spheres of life it leads the world in others, in the vision of an ecological society and the development of socialist democracy.
As against individualism we learn from left feminism to examine the much ignored areas of the personal in society, explaining how our individual miseries are not ours alone, how the commonly marketed solutions to personal fulfillment fail to address the root of the prevailing miseries and wasted talents. …


3. Faced with the dismissal of Marxism as obsolete even by some progressives, we reaffirm a militant Marxism. Rather than shrinking it down to merely a humane economics in order to gain respectability we broaden the scope of its engagement to confront all the ideologies of aggressive capital in all aspects of our existence. Only an honest, creative, and self-critical Marxism can survive to play a vital role in the coming struggles.
a) As a matter of theoretical coherence, practical necessity, and intellectual integrity we have to examine the history of our movement and understand the defeat it suffered. …
b) Openness to new ideas. Just as Marxism acknowledges its debts to English political economy, German philosophy, and French socialism so it must also welcome the insights of feminism, national liberation and anti-racist struggles, and ecology. …
c) Openness to new phenomena, to changes in our society and in the ways people confront that society, to new patterns of consciousness. …

(pp. 160-65)

US occupants did not always treat Cuban revolutionaries with contempt. One of the “new phenomena” we should be open to is actually an old one: the natural neighborliness among all oppressed people searching for answers, the right questions, and the right actions, regardless of nationality. Martí spoke in Spanish (translated here by Pablo Medina in A Century of Cuban Writers in Florida, p. 59 (Pineapple Press 1996).) on November 27, 1891 in Tampa, likely with some of my cigar worker ancestors in attendance, commemorating the deaths of eight martyred medical students summarily executed twenty years before in Havana on trumped up charges of scratching the tombstone of a Spanish newspaperman. The students were not granted weekly telegrams to the US but rather executed two days after their arrest.

Good thinkers who are also effective leaders, be they a founder of a world-changing socio-economic theory and movement, an oft-ostracized leftist Hahvard professor and path breaking ecologist, or a poet and future hero of anti-colonialism, have a way of making other folks sense their own potential significance to “changes in our society,” their own potential significance as species-beings. Sometimes they use emotional messages with holistic symbols from the earth that touch our hearts as well as our minds:

Today let us sing the hymn of life before the memorial of their graves. Yesterday I heard it coming from the earth itself, when we came to this gracious town. The landscape was damp and shadowy; the streams ran turbulent and muddy; the sugarcane, sparse and withered, did not move sorrowfully like the one far away that seeks redemption for those who nourished it with their death. Rather, its blades entered, rough and sharp, like daggers through the heart. In defiance of the storm and clouds, one pine stood with its top raised. Suddenly the sun broke through a clearing in the forest, and there in the midst of the shimmering light, I saw growing over the yellowed grass, next to the blackened trunks of fallen pines, bunches of new pines. That is what we are: The new pines!

Then it is up to each of us to ask the right questions AND to take appropriate action.

It is not just Cuba’s children who have skin in this game. Viva Cuba.

Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up: The Media Landscape After the Culture War by Annieli

3:34 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Every war seems permanent as does every revolution until it ends which requires much in the way of interpreting rather than explaining the victory to the vanquished, even in mediated spaces that can digitally define cultural landscapes. How possible is it to consider Walter Benjamin‘s point on the failure of historical materialism “To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it ‘the way it really was.’ It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger”? More specifically how do we treat cultural danger as presented in the meme of “Culture War” and how can we incorporate Marxist analysis to remediate or reconcile the memories that emerge in momentary crisis that obscure the critically real history embodied and assess their actual danger or risk. Landscapes have that same problem of memory, as actual experience of an expansive and contemplative view of a world or as saved representations of concrete and abstract journeys through those same worlds. The first is individually ontological whereas the latter is a social ontology representing and reproducing an historical relationship to others in a cultural context. Both involve human labor at various scales but it is the crises of value and meaning assigned to those experiences that inform global discourses of war and environment on an unprecedented scale and scope. Today’s culture wars find themselves waging these combative discourses in a media landscape or Medienlandschaft.

The phrase culture war represents a loan translation (calque) from the German Kulturkampf. The German word, Kulturkampf, was used to describe the clash between cultural and religious groups in the campaign from 1871 to 1878 under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of the German Empire against the influence of the Roman Catholic Church. In American usage the term culture war is used to claim that there is a conflict between those values considered traditionalist or conservative and those considered progressive or liberal. It originated in the 1920s when urban and rural American values came into clear conflict. This followed several decades of immigration to the cities by people considered alien to earlier immigrants. It was also a result of the cultural shifts and modernizing trends of the Roaring 20s, culminating in the presidential campaign of Al Smith. However, the “culture war” in United States of America was redefined by James Davison Hunter’s 1991 book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. In this work, it is traced to the 1960s. The perceived focus of the American culture war and its definition have taken various forms since then.

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism. One reason why Fascism has a chance is that in the name of progress its opponents treat it as a historical norm. The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are ‘still’ possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge–unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable.” Walter Benjamin (1940)

In such historical landscapes who are “cultural workers” and what does cultural work as contrasted with cultural objects look like, is it different of the same as all kinds of work and what kinds of value does it produce or more directly can individuals produce “particular kinds of independent and critical reflexivity modelled on the autonomy of the work of art” (Bennett 2011, and Bennett 2009) Societies exist in such landscapes and their collective experiences are often organized or reproduced as mass spectacles, either actual or mediated and consumed in a variety of ways, often driven by tragedy or circumstance.

A well-ordered society would like the bodies which compose it to have the perceptions, sensations and thoughts which correspond to them. Now this correspondence is perpetually disturbed. There are words and discourses which freely circulate, without master, and which divert bodies from their destinations, engaging them in movements in the neighbourhood of certain words: people, liberty, equality, etc. There are spectacles which disassociate the gaze from the hand and transform the worker into an aesthete.

What kinds of spectacles effect these transformations? Do they bear a family resemblance to the manufacturing of consent where spectacles include all forms of mediated politics and of course the intersecting claims of “entertainment” as with Limbaugh the entertainer (“Okay, so I am an entertainer, and I have 20 million listeners”) as a form of reactionary cultural work. It would be easy to say the following if we could identify the “concrete historical context” and since there are multiple mediations, how would a dialectical method of analysis explain rather than merely interpret such products of culture with multiple tropes of cultural war contesting for domination.

In short, mass-mediated products are determined by various factors—the systems of ownership, the process of cultural production, the level of struggle, the state of consciousness in society at a given time, and so on. A dialectical method of analysis would involve studying all these factors within a concrete historical context so as to explain the multiple mediations that infuse a product of culture

For example, while dystopian, there are multiple ideologies at work in the following example of spectacular speculation where doomsday prepping and its media representations are in reality a capitalist industry that exploits the potential danger of refugees coming from cities to attack rural preppers in a variety of romanticized post-apocalypse scenarios. These narratives have a burgeoning market appealing to a variety of religious and political secessionists all with disposable income or transferable construction skills for survival. They become amplified by the seasonal and media driven rise in firearms purchases. All of these actions represent desires for a kind of aesthetic autonomy, however driven by social underdevelopment.

Ron Douglas, for example, has gathered enough supplies to keep his eight person family (two parents, six children) functioning off the grid for a year. His supplies can be broken into four categories: food, energy, shelter, and protection. He’s become such an expert that he is one of the founders of Red Shed Media Group, a business that organizes Prepper expos (40,000 attendees at $10 a person), has a hugely popular podcast radio program, and owns the rights to successful survivalist books.

Under the fold the concrete becomes either more wet or more abstract.

Reproducing the fears of world wars and post-war nuclear holocaust remains a goal for many interest groups whether as video game or end-times political rhetoric and overdetermines as well as oversimplifies the dialectical conflicts by reifying a variety of Others. Predatory capitalism makes these fearsome representations of social life a means for stimulating the production of cultural capital. Spectacles help to mobilize the markets for the consumption of fear as mediated crises promote both the consumption of political capital and commodity fetishism. Such narratives become their own algorithmic commodity in a vast online war-gaming world. Imagining a post-apocalyptic world from one’s living room or basement implies a view of everyday life that returns the survivors to amore primordial “state of nature” even here represented as a prepper video game,

Are these Guy Debord‘s spectacles where “The Spectacle corresponds to the historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonisation of social life.” “Just as baroque culture created the spectacle as a means of suborning mass populations in order to induce them into conformity through pleasure, so the modern world of consumerism can also be seen as a spectacle.”…”In all its specific manifestations – news or propaganda, advertising or the actual consumption of entertainment – the spectacle epitomises the prevailing model of social life.”

Mediation in Marxist theory refers to the reconciliation of two opposing forces within a given society (i.e. the cultural and material realms, or the superstructure and base) by a mediating object. Similar to this, within media studies the central mediating factor of a given culture is the medium of communication itself. The popular conception of mediation refers to the reconciliation of two opposing parties by a third, and this is similar to its meaning in both Marxist theory and media studies. For Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, this mediating factor is capital or alternately labor, depending on how one views capitalist society (capital is the dominant mediating factor, but labor is another mediating factor that could overthrow capital as the most important one).

To give a concrete example of this, a worker making shoes in a shoe factory is not only producing shoes, but potential exchange-value. The shoes are commodities that can be sold for cash. In this way, the value of the labor of the worker is the exchange-value of the shoes he or she produces minus his or her compensation. At the same time, however, the shoes produced have certain social or cultural values as well. If they are Nikes, for example, they may symbolize athletic prowess and style. In this way, the worker’s labor is mediating between the economic or exchange-value of the shoes, and their social or cultural, or symbolic value.

In the 19th Century shoe making was not unlike gun-making in the relatively small scale workshops that become eventually enlarged after wars and under Fordist production but ultimate outsourced in the latter part of the 20th Century as post-Fordism

Van Gogh and Warhol

This question of the social distribution of cultural practices in the 21st Century is not so dissimilar to the issues addressed by William Morris in the 19th Century. In the nineteenth Century the fear of industrialization and the decline in the quality of consumer goods created fragmentation in cultural work where design may have been seen as a remedy to dehumanization in industrial organization as well as the means for improving everyday life. The onset of larger scale national conflict created greater millennialist fears. Movements like the Arts & Crafts movements attempted to improve production by focusing on the quality of smaller batch production and to serve as exemplars for reforming the production process. A variety of idealisms are associated with this including a desire to replicate earlier modes of artisanal production such as those preceding the ear of the Renaissance artist Raphael.

Thomas Cole Destruction of Empire from the The Course of Empire (5 parts) 1836

The Arts and Crafts movement exists in overlapping parallel with
pre-raphaelitism in the latter half of the nineteenth Century to resist the tendencies of quality decline in the production of upper-class consumer goods since the prior century. The latter embraced the identification with a romanticized mode of production primarily due to the proliferation of narratives reviving a variety of genres sympathetic to the increased alienation of individuals in a early modern society.

The principles were deliberately non-dogmatic, since the pre-raphaelite brotherhood wished to emphasise the personal responsibility of individual artists to determine their own ideas and methods of depiction. Influenced by Romanticism, the members thought freedom and responsibility were inseparable. Nevertheless, they were particularly fascinated by medieval culture, believing it to possess a spiritual and creative integrity that had been lost in later eras. The emphasis on medieval culture clashed with principles of realism which stress the independent observation of nature.

Apocalyptic thinking in the 19th Century was at one level a consciousness of modernism and industrialization whose resistance was less machine breaking than understanding the conflict between the social organization of labor and the creation of surplus value and at another as economic development and urbanization promote new forms of consumer culture. So was Morris a DFH? Perhaps but as a political activist he embodied the concerns both for social change and a reconsideration of the role of the artist as a cultural worker in an age of mechanical reproduction where a broader understanding of the role of capital was necessary.

From a later perspective, Stansky concludes that:
Morris’s views on the environment, on preserving what is of value in both the natural and “built” worlds, on decentralising bloated government, are as significant now as they were in Morris’s own time, or even more so. Earlier in the twentieth century, much of his thinking, particularly its political side, was dismissed as sheer romanticism. After the Second World War, it appeared that modernisation, centralisation, industrialism, rationalism – all the faceless movements of the time – were in control and would take care of the world. Today, when we have a keen sense of the shambles of their efforts, the suggestions which Morris made in his designs, his writings, his actions and his politics have new power and relevance.

In ‘Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform’ (1898), Howard argued that the poverty and slum conditions suffered by many living in late Victorian Britain could be alleviated by building ‘garden cities’. These were to combine the best features of the town and country

Mass cultural consumption makes its workers into aesthetes and the arcade as a prototypical shopping mall facilitates that transformation in the urban context, a situation which has not changed as the Modern age has moved from the trade among regional market centers to broader markets for consumption and larger divisions of labor. We trace an ambulatory path through these new sites for consumption that are now documented by our cell phones.

The arcades are, certainly, a “primordial landscape of consumption” – temples of the commodity, with their seductively displayed, endlessly varied wares: “binoculars and flower seeds, screws and musical scores, makeup and stuffed vipers, fur coats and revolvers”. They were created for purposes of profit, or indeed sheer speculation, offering the buildings’ owners unrivalled financial opportunities by concentrating so many rent-paying undertakings within a small space. Seen from one point of view, then, they are archetypal manifestations of the expanding market economy – creations of private enterprise and sources of profit, and most certainly not part of any public works project. The goods displayed are commodities – objects existing for profit above utility, manifestations of exchange value rather than use value: for Benjamin, they participate in the “fetishism of the commodity”, the mystificatory conversion of human-made products into objects of irrational worship, which Marx classically analysed and denounced in the first volume of Capital. link

These are the spectacular sites of transformation an idealized place for Marx’s view of commodity fetishism now made more abstract by online capital exchange and mediated by spectacles for consumption as in the Superbowl advertising that depends on remediation for its effect in an advert that was aired only once

As against this, the commodity-form, and the value-relation of the products of labour within which it appears, have absolutely no connection with the physical nature of the commodity and the material relations arising out of this. It is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things. In order, therefore, to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realm of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. I call this the fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities, and is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities.
— Karl Marx, Capital, Volume I

Hyperrealism and hypercapitalism creates as did the mass production of print media in the 19 Century created new consumer markets and so does the digital networking of information at the 20th-21st Century. Media is no longer about medium in plurality but the praxis of mediation and remediation in more complex networks.

all mediation is remediation. We are not claiming this as an a priori truth, but rather arguing that at this extended historical moment, all current media function as remediators and that remediation offers us a means of interpreting the work of earlier media as well. Our culture conceives of each medium or constellation of media as it responds to, redeploys, competes with, and reforms other media. In the first instance, we may think of something like a historical progression, of newer media remediating older ones and in particular of digital media remediating their predecessors. But ours is a genealogy of affiliations, not a linear history, and in this genealogy, older media can also remediate newer ones

In this sense we are cursed with perhaps endlessly reproducing the sensibilities of genre driven notions of Romanticism as well as a media landscape that requires a more sophisticated understanding of social capital as a type of cultural capital produced and mediated by cultural work.

In The Forms of Capital (1986), Bourdieu distinguishes between three types of Cultural capital: embodied, objectified and institutionalised (Bourdieu, 1986:47). (Later he adds symbolic capital (resources available to an individual on the basis of honor, prestige or recognition) to this list.)

Embodied cultural capital consists of both the consciously acquired and the passively “inherited” properties of one’s self (with “inherited” here used not in the genetic sense but in the sense of receipt over time, usually from the family through socialization, of culture and traditions). Cultural capital is not transmissible instantaneously like a gift or bequest; rather, it is acquired over time as it impresses itself upon one’s habitus (character and way of thinking), which in turn becomes more attentive to or primed to receive similar influences. Linguistic capital, defined as the mastery of and relation to language (Bourdieu, 1990:114), can be understood as a form of embodied cultural capital in that it represents a means of communication and self-presentation acquired from one’s surrounding culture.
Objectified cultural capital consists of physical objects that are owned, such as scientific instruments or works of art. These cultural goods can be transmitted both for economic profit (as by buying and selling them with regard only to others’ willingness to pay) and for the purpose of “symbolically” conveying the cultural capital whose acquisition they facilitate. However, while one can possess objectified cultural capital by owning a painting, one can “consume” the painting (understand its cultural meaning) only if one has the proper foundation of conceptually and/or historically prior cultural capital, whose transmission does not accompany the sale of the painting (except coincidentally and through independent causation, such as when a vendor or broker chooses to explain the painting’s significance to the prospective buyer).
Institutionalized cultural capital consists of institutional recognition, most often in the form of academic credentials or qualifications, of the cultural capital held by an individual. This concept plays its most prominent role in the labor market, in which it allows a wide array of cultural capital to be expressed in a single qualitative and quantitative measurement (and compared against others’ cultural capital similarly measured). The institutional recognition process thereby eases the conversion of cultural capital to economic capital by serving as a heuristic that sellers can use to describe their capital and buyers can use to describe their needs for that capital.

Our barbarism has placed humanity in a more perilous moment in global environmental history threatened not only by nuclear self-annihilation, but by our own mediated ignorance of ecological failure or as Benjamin uses the dialectic:

Dialectical images counter the threat of preservation (tradition) by virtue of the interruptive force they are understood to impart to experience as a consequence of the instantaneous temporality of the now, or what Benjamin famously called now-time [Jetztzeit]: “The dialectical image is an image that emerges suddenly, in a flash” (AP, [N9, 7], 473). It is this image of the image as a ‘flash’ [ein aufblitzendes] and the corresponding image of historical experience as the discharge of an explosive force—the explosive force of now-time, blasting open ‘the continuum of history’—for which Benjamin is probably best known. The philosophy of historical time which these images sum up was elaborated by him in two main contexts: the development of a new conception of cultural history and a political diagnosis of the historical crisis of Europe at the outset of the Second World War. Benjamin did not see culture as threatened by ‘barbarism’, so much as itself being implicated in it:
Barbarism lurks in the very concept of culture—as the concept of a fund of values which is considered independent not, indeed, of the production process in which these values originated, but of the one in which they survive. In this way they serve the apotheosis of the latter, barbaric as it may be. (AP = The Arcades Project, trans. Howard Eiland & Kevin McLaughlin, Cambridge, MA. & London: Belknap Press, 1999. [N5a, 7] 467–8)

As a closing example of how so many of what counts as aesthetic are highly segmented and media information-driven commodities, the notion of a people’s art is reflected upon by two artists influenced by a youth spent in the Soviet Union.

Komar and Melamid’s

Dia Art Centre’s (USA) second artists’ project for the world wide web, begun in 1995, was created by the Russian emigrant artist team Vitaly Komar and Alex Melamid. The Most Wanted paintings, as well as the Least Wanted paintings, reflect the artists’ interpretation of a professional market research survey about aesthetic preferences and taste in painting. Intending to discover what a true “people’s art” would look like, the artists, with the support of the Nation Institute, hired Marttila & Kiley, Inc. to conduct the first poll. In 1994, they began the process which resulted in America’s Most Wanted and America’s Least Wanted paintings, which were exhibited in New York at the Alternative Museum under the title “People’s Choice.”

Anti-Capitalist Meet-Up: 30 June 2013 A Ghost in a Machine walks the Globe by Annieli

2:30 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

If one can claim that a virtual economy offers increased possibility for revolutionary political change, that change should be measured against more material forms of analysis rather than treating information commodities as epiphenomenal. The tenuous connection between correlation and causation much like the meme of “Voodoo Economics” was treated more lightly and less seriously in a 2010 Bruce Watson piece on zombies and vampires as seasonally or cyclically symptomatic of a national economy:

there appears to be a loose connection between recession cycles and monster movies: zombie films tend to be more popular during boom times, while vampire flicks are ascendant when the economy is bad. As I wrote at the time, this makes a certain sort of symbolic sense: after all, as unthinking consumers, zombies reflect the tone of high-consumption boom times. The more melancholic vampires, on the other hand, suggest buyer’s remorse. While the zombie/vampire recession cycle didn’t always hold true, I found that it had a few interesting connections to the economy. For example, for most of the Reagan spend-till-you-drop 1980′s, zombie films dominated movie theaters. In fact, vampire movies’ only brief moment of ascendence in the decade was in 1987-1988, when a stock market tumble sent the economy into recession. Similarly, in 1991 and 2001, vampire films spiked and zombie films fell behind as recessions struck.

Aside from the doomsday preppers and faux survivalists in Dollywood and Hollywood invoking the fear of a zombie apocalypse as signs of an impending breakdown of urban society double-coded as racism, vampires and zombies can be differentiated by information while serving as cultural commodities in mass media. Vampires are asymmetric information commodities since in media narratives their representations appear conventional at first, whereas zombies are symmetric in that we know them instantly by their appearance. In either case they represent a pathological tipping point where fear trumps rationality and wooden stakes, garlic, holy water and shotguns make their appearance in contemporary film.

In a material context, such contemporary monsters represent the same class fears represented by European revolution in the Nineteenth Century not unlike the colonizers’ fears of the colonized or the contemporary anti-immigrant discourse where Americans ignore the labor history of the bracero and the coolie as invisible, informal Gastarbeiter.

A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre

Marx’s invocation becomes more or less ironic in the post-Soviet period

Spectres de Marx: l’état de la dette, le travail du deuil et la nouvelle Internationale is a 1993 book by French philosopher Jacques Derrida The title Spectres of Marx is an allusion to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ statement at the beginning of The Communist Manifesto that a “spectre [is] haunting Europe.” For Derrida, the spirit of Marx is even more relevant now since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the demise of communism. With its death the spectre of communism begins to make visits on the earth. Derrida seeks to do the work of inheriting from Marx, that is, not communism, but of the philosophy of responsibility, and of Marx’s spirit of radical critique.

The philosophy of responsibility may be best represented in the problematic role of information and national security in a virtual surveillance state where Ed Snowden may be a vampire presently in the undead transit lounge of a Russian airport, avoiding the cleansing hot light of sunshine law. The disclosure of information asymmetrically held by a democratic state committed to a public sphere operates in contradiction to its multinational, geopolitical obligations.

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him. [4] If the labourer consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist Link

Virtuality has conditioned all forms of labour to some degree, creating different classes of worker, set against each other, not conscious of the web of virtuality that links them all into a single multitude. That unity is virtual in one sense – a potential that could be activated by virtuality in another sense, the resources of the net.

Come below the squiggle for more “mysterious forces or powers that govern the world and the lives of those who reside within it, but also a range of artistic forms that function in conjunction with these vodun (sic) energies.”

We begin with claims from within contemporary capitalism that there has indeed been a virtual revolution. Is this hyperbole to be taken seriously? How should we situate such claims in a Marxist framework?

a 2005 piece by Bob Hodge and Gabriela Coronado titled FCJ-027 Speculations on a Marxist theory of the Virtual Revolution in the The Fibreculture Journal (ISSN 1449-1443) describes the possibility of solving the problem of concrete versus abstract labor and the co-mingled issues of exchange and use values.

Capitalism has developed a new array of devices to fulfill its old aim, to extract surplus value wherever it can. All these devices to some degree draw on resources of virtuality: “virtual surplus value” makes it easier to appropriate other kinds of surplus value…Yet these are only the dreams of one class, shadows projected onto the screen of virtuality, which has space for many other projections. Outside the camera obscura of capitalist ideology the struggle continues, precarious or strong labour against strong or precarious capital, in a field of struggle unpredictably affected by new technologies of production and information. Virtuality has conditioned all forms of labour to some degree, creating different classes of worker, set against each other, not conscious of the web of virtuality that links them all into a single multitude. That unity is virtual in one sense – a potential that could be activated by virtuality in another sense, the resources of the net. The connections are not being made at the moment, by the real users who are the only ones who could make this grand alliance virtual, and thence real. But will they?

In looking at the original marxological texts, it is useful to compare that contemporary discourse with the mid-Nineteenth Century conception of the same information commodity forms across time and space

Tne cause which acts permanently in differentiating the times of selling, and thus the periods of turnover in general, is the distance of the market in which a commodity is sold from its place of production. During the entire trip to the market, capital finds itself fettered in the state of commodity-capital. If goods are made to order, up to the time of delivery; if they are not made to order, there must be added to the time of the trip to the market the time during which the goods are in the market waiting to be sold. The improvement of the means of communication and transportation cuts down absolutely the wandering period of the commodities but does not eliminate the relative difference in the time of circulation of different commodity-capitals arising from their peregrinations, nor that of different portions of the same commodity-capital which migrate to different markets. For instance the improved sailing vessels and steamships, which shorten travelling, do so equally for near and distant ports. The relative difference remains, although often diminished. But the relative difference may be shifted about by the development of the means of transportation and communication in a way that does not correspond to the geographical distances. Link

Ways where meaning does not correspond to geographic distance can be seen in the motion of the touch screen or the actions of surveillance drones, where the scalability and substitutability of technology can affect the productive forces where superstructure becomes infrastructure.

If we look at the machines which replace the earlier tools, whether those of handicrafts or of manufacture, we find (with the exception of machines whose work itself consists in movement, in changing from one place to another, i.e. transport machines, railways, steamships, etc.) that the part of the machine which actually modifies the material consists for the most part of earlier tools, such as spindles, needles, hammers, saws, planes, shears, scrapers, combs, etc., even if they have received a modified form so that they can function as parts of a mechanism. What mainly distinguishes them is either that what previously appeared as an independent tool now acts merely as one element in a collection of such tools, or that it has taken on much more gigantic dimensions in proportion to the power of the motive force. But the actual task with any mechanism never consists in any more than the conversion of the original movement which is brought about by the motive force into another form, corresponding to the purpose of the labour and imparted to the working machine. Link

The chief means of reducing the time of circulation is improved communications. The last fifty years have brought about a revolution in this field, comparable only with the industrial revolution of the latter half of the 18th century. On land the macadamised road has been displaced by the railway, on sea the slow and irregular sailing vessel has been pushed into the background by the rapid and dependable steamboat line, and the entire globe is being girdled by telegraph wires. The Suez Canal has fully opened East Asia and Australia to steamer traffic. The time of circulation of a shipment of commodities to East Asia, at least twelve months in 1847 (cf. Buch II, S. 235 [English edition: Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. II, pp. 251-52. — Ed.]), has now been reduced to almost as many weeks. The two large centres of the crises of 1825-57, America and India, have been brought from 70 to 90 per cent nearer to the European industrial countries by this revolution in transport, and have thereby lost a good deal of their explosive nature. The period of turnover of the total world commerce has been reduced to the same extent, and the efficacy of the capital involved in it has been more than doubled or trebled. It goes without saying that this has not been without effect on the rate of profit. Link

The effects on profit and subsequent accumulation of surplus value are historically obvious, with the subsequent effect on the globalization and deskilling of labor classes with information commodities adding value in the production of command and control as commodities and subordinating conventional material production in finance capitalism.

Besides the purely technical impediments that are removable by technical means, the irregular habits of the workpeople themselves obstruct the regulation of the hours of labour. This is especially the case where piece-wage predominates, and where loss of time in one part of the day or week can be made good by subsequent over-time, or by night-work, a process which brutalises the adult workman, and ruins his wife and children. [204] Although this absence of regularity in the expenditure of labour-power is a natural and rude reaction against the tedium of monotonous drudgery, it originates, also, to a much greater degree from anarchy in production, anarchy that in its turn pre-supposes unbridled exploitation of labour-power by the capitalist. Besides the general periodic changes of the industrial cycle, and the special fluctuations in the markets to which each industry is subject, we may also reckon what is called “the season,” dependent either on the periodicity of favourable seasons of the year for navigation; or on fashion, and the sudden placing of large orders that have to be executed in the shortest possible time. The habit of giving such orders becomes more frequent with the extension of railways and telegraphs.
“The extension of the railway system throughout the country has tended very much to encourage giving short notice. Purchasers now come up from Glasgow, Manchester, and Edinburgh once every fortnight or so to the wholesale city warehouses which we supply, and give small orders requiring immediate execution, instead of buying from stock as they used to do. Years ago we were always able to work in the slack times, so as to meet demand of the next season, but now no one can say beforehand what will be the demand then.” [205] Link

Michael Perelman, Information, Social Relations, and the Economics of High Technology (1991) and Allen J. Scott New industrial spaces: Flexible production organization and regional development in North America and Western Europe (1988) are texts discussing the recent role of advanced technology on the backward cost-shifting and globalized disintegration of the flexible “just-in-time” production process.

This apparitional exercise closes with Derrida’s list of contagions that today’s version of a pandemic which is evoked by critically real but mass-mediated, undead monsters, whether Reagan zombies or Bush vampires, makes more than an uncertain sort of “symbolic sense”, where “the spirits of the dead live side by side with the world of the living”.

Derrida’s ten plagues are:

1. Employment has undergone a change of kind, e.g., underemployment and requires ‘another concept’.

2. Deportation of immigrants. Reinforcement of territories in a world of supposed freedom of movement. As in, Fortress Europe and in the number of new walls and barriers being erected around the world, in effect multiplying the “fallen” Berlin Wall manifold.

3. Economic war. Both between countries and between international trade blocs: USA – Japan – Europe.

4. Contradictions of the free market. The undecidable conflicts between protectionism and free trade. The unstoppable flow of illegal drugs, arms, etc..

5. Foreign debt. In effect the basis for mass starvation and demoralisation for developing countries. Often the loans benefiting only a small elite, for luxury items, e.g., cars, air conditioning etc. but being paid back by poorer workers.

6. The arms trade. The inability to control to any meaningful extent trade within the biggest ‘black market’

7. Spread of nuclear weapons. The restriction of nuclear capacity can no longer be maintained by leading states since it is only knowledge and cannot be contained.

8. Inter-ethnic wars. The phantom of mythic national identities fueling tension in semi-developed countries.

9. Phantom-states within organised crime. In particular the non-democratic power gained by drug cartels.

10. International law and its institutions. The hypocrisy of such statutes in the face of unilateral aggression on the part of the economically dominant states. International law is mainly exercised against the weaker nations.

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: 31 March 2013 an ACM Introduction by Annieli

2:58 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

I have been thinking about how to introduce some of the methodologies we use in DK to augment the basic liberalism and progressivism necessary to produce more and better Democrats. This piece is intended to introduce some basic texts which for many might seem too simplistic and even heretical but are hopefully useful for those wanting to consider that many of the perspectives often refelected in DK have a sincere and authentic theoretical foundation.

I chose a recent diary by Kos on conservative understanding of the decline in bee populations to serve as an example of how an understanding of Marx can add to the interpretive strength of an already strong argument. The “light comes on” is not enlightenment in any earth-shaking sense but it is a reflection on the need to consider that there are preexisting social analysis methodologies that have made progressives more effective in guiding action and organizing resistance to the rise of RW power.

Buried way at the bottom of this piece on the increasing death rate of honey bees:

But Mr. Adee [the South Dakota owner of the nation's largest beekeeping company), who said he had long scorned environmentalists’ hand-wringing about [pesticide use in crops], said he was starting to wonder whether they had a point.
Of the “environmentalist” label, Mr. Adee said: “I would have been insulted if you had called me that a few years ago. But what you would have called extreme — a light comes on, and you think, ‘These guys really have something. Maybe they were just ahead of the bell curve.’”

I’m going to do some stereotyping and assume that a South Dakota farmer who scorns “extremist” environmentalist is a Republican. It’s not much of a stretch. So like Sen. Rob Portman’s conversion on marriage equality because of his gay son, or Sen. Mark Kirk’s conversion on health care services to the less-wealthy because of his debilitating stroke, Adee decides that maybe the dirty fucking hippies are onto something when he, himself, is directly affected by unfettered degradation of our environment.

I emphasize the expression directly affected because it is important for acting in a way to understand Anti-Capitalism This point of view recognizes that there are changes in consciousness, the understanding that a tension between beliefs and reality has been heightened and proven transformative. In this diary Kos discusses the contradiction of GOP ideology in confronting the complex yet revelatory incidence of bee death as a sign of impending ecological disaster. This serves as a useful way to provide a foundation to discuss the theories necessary to understand a Marxist position on the need to transform the present relations of production.

But many beekeepers suspect the biggest culprit is the growing soup of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides that are used to control pests. While each substance has been certified, there has been less study of their combined effects. Nor, many critics say, have scientists sufficiently studied the impact of neonicotinoids, the nicotine-derived pesticide that European regulators implicate in bee deaths. The explosive growth of neonicotinoids since 2005 has roughly tracked rising bee deaths. Neonics, as farmers call them, are applied in smaller doses than older pesticides. They are systemic pesticides, often embedded in seeds so that the plant itself carries the chemical that kills insects that feed on it.

This suspicion is the simple result of an economy driven by capitalist desire to systematically maximize profit that also ignores the externalities connected to the use of technologies that also harm the environment and in the long-run destroy even the industry itself. American beekeeping and honey production is both hobby-farm, small scale cottage industry and large-scale agribusiness. In other countries it can be even barely organized gathering. Ultimately change comes from knowledge and its productive application, but a knowledge that is crucially aware of direct effects as critical practices.

I have chosen two elementary texts on Marx to give readers an introduction that is often distorted by cold-war anti-communist reactionaries that one finds in the Marx 101 search on the internet, although Brad DeLong’s Understanding Marx lecture is a good one. I have chosen Peter Singer’s. Marx: A Very Short Introduction (2000) and Terry Eagleton’s Why Marx Was Right (2011). This is not a book review, although I would hope that these two accessible texts might appeal even to the less doctrinaire Kossack. Please continue reading to contribute to the discussion of the basics.

The relationship between humans and their environment is one of the ways which we can develop a position against capitalism and for a future that embraces greater democracy. For Marx it is human effort, the energy of cognitive and physical labor(sic) and its relation to the transformation of nature in language, land, materials, and activity as well as the interactions among humans. This diary is intended to introduce two introductory texts on Marx in the hope that readers might become more interested in the necessity of continuing to revisit the Specter of Marx if only to ensure that after the fall of monolithic Soviet style State Capitalist communism in the 1990s he is neither Ghost nor Zombie but with Darwin, Freud, and Einstein, the community of scholars necessary for an Anti-Capitalist future.

Labour is, in the first place, a process in which both man and Nature participate, and in which man of his own accord starts, regulates, and controls the material re-actions between himself and Nature. He opposes himself to Nature as one of her own forces, setting in motion arms and legs, head and hands, the natural forces of his body, in order to appropriate Nature’s productions in a form adapted to his own wants. By thus acting on the external world and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. He develops his slumbering powers and compels them to act in obedience to his sway. We are not now dealing with those primitive instinctive forms of labour that remind us of the mere animal. An immeasurable interval of time separates the state of things in which a man brings his labour-power to market for sale as a commodity, from that state in which human labour was still in its first instinctive stage. We pre-suppose labour in a form that stamps it as exclusively human. A spider conducts operations that resemble those of a weaver, and a bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. But what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. At the end of every labour-process, we get a result that already existed in the imagination of the labourer at its commencement. He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but he also realises a purpose of his own that gives the law to his modus operandi, and to which he must subordinate his will. And this subordination is no mere momentary act. Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention. The less he is attracted by the nature of the work, and the mode in which it is carried on, and the less, therefore, he enjoys it as something which gives play to his bodily and mental powers, the more close his attention is forced to be.
The elementary factors of the labour-process are 1, the personal activity of man, i.e., work itself, 2, the subject of that work, and 3, its instruments.
(Karl Marx. Capital Volume One Part III: The Production of Absolute Surplus-Value, Chapter Seven: The Labour-Process and the Process of Producing Surplus-Value, Section 1 – The Labour-Process or the Production of Use-Values

The imagination here is as important a labor process as that of the body. In an age of increased mediation, it is not the potential magic of the cave painting but the many ideological constructions that affect the awareness of the modality of work and ultimately at scale the modality of production, from primitive communism, to feudalism, to capitalism, to socialism, and then to advanced communism. In each instance it is accumulation of matter, whether as cognitive knowledge formed in minds and transmitted across generations orally or by documents, or physical accumulation of knowledge shown in training, or the accumulation physical objects as wealth or machinery. Unlike the RW, these endowments are based in equity and equality and are a common-pool resource as part of our existence on this planet and remain important for our self-governance.

The ignorance of conservatives that irks Kos as well as so many here in DK is often embodied as the lack of conservative imagination and sometimes referred to as the low-information voter/citizen. Progressives have inevitably embraced the need to consider the greater system of values that exist in economic systems especially those closest to nature and its cultivation as agricultural production. Here’s some of the interpretation of the concept of “low-information” as a hierarchical term

American pollster and political scientist Samuel Popkin coined the term “low-information” in 1991 when he used the phrase “low-information signaling” in his book The Reasoning Voter: Communication and Persuasion in Presidential Campaigns. Low-information signaling referred to cues or heuristics used by voters, in lieu of substantial information, to determine who to vote for. Examples include voters liking Bill Clinton for eating at McDonald’s, and perceiving John Kerry and Mitt Romney as elitist for wind-surfing and jet-ski riding respectively. Some low-information voters’ views are more moderate than those of high-information voters, they are less likely to vote, and are looking for a candidate they find personally appealing. They tend to be swing voters, and they tend to vote split-ticket more than well-informed voters do, researchers say because they lack a coherent ideology. Linguist George Lakoff has written that the term is a pejorative mainly used by American liberals to refer to people who vote conservative against their own interests, and assumes they do it because they lack sufficient information. Liberals, he said, attribute the problem in part to deliberate Republican efforts at misinforming voters. Thirty-year Republican House of Representatives and Senate staffer Mike Lofgren, in a 2011 article entitled “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult”, characterized low-information voters as anti-intellectual and hostile-to-science “religious cranks,” and claimed Republicans are deliberately manipulating LIVs to undermine their confidence in American democratic institutions. Popular syndicated talk show host Rush Limbaugh uses the term with regular frequency to denote voters who pull the lever for Democratic candidates for largely esoteric reasons. In a March 25, 2013 transcript, Rush says “I have never said that low-information voters are stupid. I just said they don’t know what they think they know. They are prisoners to the media, which has dumbed them down. Low-information voters can be doctors. Low-information voters can be scientists. They can be among all walks of life. It has nothing to do with IQ. It has to do with what they don’t know because of their media sources. Low-information voters are clearly people that don’t have all the information available to make a voting choice. That’s all they are. And they’re all over the place. And most of them do vote Democrat. Most of them did vote for Obama. It’s not a comment on their intelligence. It’s not that they’re stupid or don’t understand the issues. They just haven’t had it all explained to them.”

This short-sightedness or false consciousness as shown in the latter example was perhaps even more common in the 19th century of Marx, the self-limiting of human potential is as evident then as it is now with those who cannot understand that the death of honey bees might signal a breakdown in an ecology taken for advantage or as in the 19th century, as easily alienated from its origins as the American frontier and its bounty was alienated from its aboriginal First Nation owners. The colonizers always have an ideology, often referred to as a form of ideology or system of beliefs that rationalizes the separation of ownership or alienation of property from its original owners as a matter of exploitable advantage or power. An individual can regain power or autonomy by appropriating it by some right imposed by a claim of comparative advantage. Money or wealth helps to establish that warrant and eventual social divisions or classes established by wealth or claims to wealth alienate land labor and eventually capital. The goal in the 19th century as it is in a world with unevenly developed economies is to command, control and coordinate the value of what ultimately has always been a more collective product. New forms that mediate that value are proxies like money which arbitrarily measures labor and mystifies its values of uses and exchange.

For the Young Hegelians the ‘superficial expression’ of Hegel’s philosophy was his acceptance of the state of politics, religion, and society in early nineteenth-century Prussia: the ‘inner core’ was his account of Mind overcoming alienation, reinterpreted as an account of human self-consciousness freeing itself from the illusions that prevent it achieving self-understanding and freedom. (Singer p. 21). When rewritten in terms of the real world instead of the mysterious world of Mind, it made sense. ‘Mind’ was read as ‘human self-consciousness’. The goal of history became the liberation of humanity; but this could not be achieved until the religious illusion had been overcome. (ibid p. 22). The solution is to realize that theology is a kind of misdescribed anthropology. What we believe of God is really true of ourselves. Thus humanity can regain its essence, which in religion it has lost.(ibid p.23) …human beings are in a state of alienation, a state in which their own creations appear to them as alien, hostile forces and in which instead of controlling their creations, they are controlled by them.
(ibid p. 69).

This reversal of control is easiest seen in even the most trivial of Easter-time constructions where the entry to Heaven in the Christian religion compares the pursuit of profit to a variety of metaphors ultimately made contradictory later in history by the practice of indulgences. One does not need to think of the money-lenders in the Temple to see Marx’s point of view:

Money is the universal, self-constituted value of all things. Hence it has robbed the whole world, the human world as well as nature, of its proper value. Money is the alienated essence of man’s labour and life, and this alien essence dominates him as he worships it. (J 60) The final sentence points the way forward. First the Young Hegelians, including Bauer and Feuerbach, see religion as the alienated human essence, and seek to end this alienation by their critical studies of Christianity. Then Feuerbach goes beyond religion, arguing that any philosophy which concentrates on the mental rather than the material side of human nature is a form of alienation. Now Marx insists that it is neither religion nor philosophy, but money that is the barrier to human freedom. The obvious next step is a critical study of economics. (Singer p. 27)

The formation of classes is problematic for many reasons none the least of which is the synchronous/asynchronous unevenness of cultural and economic developments in a world of differentiated social divisions and cultural locations, but in a determinist sense the development of divisions of labor and technologies produce new alienations including the property relations of land, labor, and capital including means of (re)production.

Here is the germ of a new solution to the problem of human alienation. Criticism and philosophical theory alone will not end it. A more practical force is needed, and that force is provided by the artificially impoverished working class. This lowest class of society will bring about ‘the actualization of philosophy’ – by which Marx means the culmination of the philosophical and historical saga described, in a mystified form, by Hegel. The proletariat, following the lead of the new radical philosophy, will complete the dialectical process in which humans have emerged, grown estranged from themselves, and become enslaved by their own alienated essence. Whereas the property-owning middle class could win freedom for themselves on the basis of rights to property – thus excluding others from the freedom they gain – the property-less working class possess nothing but their title as human beings. Thus they can liberate themselves only by liberating all humanity. (Singer pp. 29-30) Marx had now developed two important new insights: that economics is the chief form of human alienation, and that the material force needed to liberate humanity from its domination by economics is to be found in the working class. (ibid p. 32). Marx draws another important point from the classical economists. Those who employ the workers – the capitalists – build up their wealth through the labour of their workers. They become wealthy by keeping for themselves a certain amount of the value their workers produce. Capital is nothing else but accumulated labour. The worker’s labour increases the employer’s capital. This increased capital is used to build bigger factories and buy more machines. This increases the division of labour. This puts more self-employed workers out of business. They must then sell their labour on the market. This intensifies the competition among workers trying to get work, and lowers wages. (ibid p. 33). The more the worker exerts himself, the more powerful becomes the alien objective world which he fashions against himself, the poorer he and his inner world become, the less there is that belongs to him. It is the same in religion. The more man attributes to God, the less he retains in himself. The worker puts his life into the object; then it no longer belongs to him but to the object… The externalization of the worker in his product means not only that his work becomes an object, an external existence, but also that it exists outside him, independently, alien, an autonomous power, opposed to him. The life he has given to the object confronts him as hostile and alien.(ibid p. 34)

Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” – Bee Attack from Anselm von Seherr-Thoss on Vimeo.

With beekeeping this is less so, although it is the market for the byproduct which becomes commodified and whose accumulated value becomes contestable, as in who owns the artifical hives, the land on which they sit, the logistics of bringing the honey to market, etc. But the value of the practice is even referred to in the context of cultural products such as Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood, where Friar Tuck is ” a procreator by design”, rather than being a “churchy friar” and that “the bees keep (him) and much as he keeps them”.

A consequence of this alienation of humans from their own nature is that they are also alienated from each other. Productive activity becomes ‘activity under the domination, coercion and yoke of another man’. This other man becomes an alien, hostile being. Instead of humans relating to each other co-operatively, they relate competitively. Love and trust are replaced by bargaining and exchange. Human beings cease to recognize in each other their common human nature; they see others as instruments for furthering their own egoistic interests. (Singer p. 36)

Inevitably it is the emerging social divisions, owners and owned, leaders and followers, worshipped and worshippers, first in language, then in subsistence reality. The generational and intergenerational social relationships constitute with material reality a life often in contradiction to the potential of utopian futures, but in all cases social existence creates consciousness because it is living minds that cognitively produce a conscious life.

The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals… Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or by anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organization. By producing means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life… (Singer p. 44). This is as clear a statement of the broad outline of his theory as Marx was ever to achieve. Thirteen years later, summing up the ‘guiding thread’ of his studies, he used similar language: ‘It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness’. With The German Ideology we have arrived at Marx’s mature formulation of the outline of historical materialism (though not the detailed account of the process of change). In view of this, and Marx’s later description of the work as settling accounts with his ‘former philosophic conscience’, it might be thought that his early interest in alienation has now been replaced by a more scientific approach. It has not. Henceforth Marx makes more use of historical data and less use of abstract philosophical reasoning about the way the world must be; but his interest in alienation persists. The German Ideology still describes the social power as something which is really nothing other than the productive force of individuals, and yet appears to these individuals as ‘alien and outside them’ because they do not understand its origin and cannot control it. Instead of them directing it, it directs them. The abolition of private property and the regulation of production under communism would abolish this ‘alienation between men and their products’ and enable men to ‘regain control of exchange, production and the mode of their mutual relationships’ (GI 170). It is not the use of the word ‘alienation’ that is important here. The same point can be made in other words. What is important is that Marx’s theory of history is a vision of human beings in a state of alienation. Human beings cannot be free if they are subject to forces that determine their thoughts, their ideas, their very nature as human beings. The materialist conception of history tells us that human beings are totally subject to forces they do not understand and cannot control. Moreover the materialist conception of history tells us that these forces are not supernatural tyrants, for ever above and beyond human control, but the productive powers of human beings themselves. Human productive powers, instead of serving human beings, appear to them as alien and hostile forces. (Singer pp. 45-46)

This premise of conflict as a natural and inevitable condition is the history of human governance whether by sovereign or by elites and conditions the fictive universe of those who would manipulate mass consciousness in what the Internet has proven to be the lowest of information forms.

For Eagleton, the need to reiterate the need for Marxian thought in an age of ‘bagger Dittoheads is evermore necessary in the simplest of cultivated activities like beekeeping. The movement for urban beekeeping is such a pervasive example of the power of alterative and progressive philosophies and inverting the relation of country and city not unlike the potential for radical liberalism cited by E.P. Thompson.

“The rational cultivation of the soil as eternal communal property,” Marx writes in Capital, is “an inalienable condition of the existence and reproduction of a chain of successive generations of the human race.” 19 Marx, Capital, vol. 3, p. 219. Capitalist agriculture, he considers, flourishes only by sapping the “original sources of all wealth … the soil and its labourers.” As part of his critique of industrial capitalism, Marx discusses waste disposal, the destruction of forests, the pollution of rivers, environmental toxins and the quality of the air. Ecological sustainability, he considered, would play a vital role in a socialist agriculture. 20 See Ted Benton, “Marxism and Natural Limits,” New Left Review, no. 178 (November/ December 1989), p. 83. Behind this concern for Nature lies a philosophical vision. Marx is a naturalist and materialist for whom men and women are part of Nature, and forget their creatureliness at their peril. He even writes in Capital of Nature as the “body” of humanity, “with which [it] must remain in constant interchange.” The instruments of production, he comments, are “extended bodily organs.” The whole of civilisation, from senates to submarines, is simply an extension of our bodily powers. Body and world, subject and object, should exist in delicate equipoise, so that our environment is as expressive of human meanings as a language. Marx calls the opposite of this “alienation,” in which we can find no reflection of ourselves in a brute material world, and accordingly lose touch with our own most vital being. When this reciprocity of self and Nature breaks down, we are left with the world of meaningless matter of capitalism, in which Nature is just pliable stuff to be cuffed into whatever shape we fancy. Civilisation becomes one vast cosmetic surgery. At the same time, the self is divorced from Nature, its own body and the bodies of others. Marx believes that even our physical senses have become “commodified” under capitalism, as the body, converted into a mere abstract instrument of production, is unable to savour its own sensuous life. Only through communism could we come to feel our own bodies again. Only then, he argues, can we move beyond a brutally instrumental reason and take delight in the spiritual and aesthetic dimensions of the world. Indeed, his work is “aesthetic” through and through. He complains in the Grundrisse that Nature under capitalism has become purely an object of utility, and has ceased to be recognized as a “power in itself.” Through material production, humanity in Marx’s view mediates, regulates and controls the “metabolism” between itself and Nature, in a two-way traffic which is far from some arrogant supremacy. And all this— Nature, labour, the suffering, productive body and its needs— constitutes for Marx the abiding infrastructure of human history. It is the narrative that runs through and beneath human cultures, leaving its inescapable impress on them all. As a “metabolic” exchange between humanity and Nature, labour is in Marx’s opinion an “eternal” condition which does not alter. What alters— what makes natural beings historical— are the various ways we humans go to work upon Nature. Humanity produces its means of subsistence in different ways. This is natural, in the sense that it is necessary for the reproduction of the species. But it is also cultural or historical, involving as it does specific kinds of sovereignty, conflict and exploitation. There is no reason to suppose that accepting the “eternal” nature of labour will deceive us into believing that these social forms are eternal as well.
Eagleton pp. 231-232)

It bears repeating: “Nature, labour, the suffering, productive body and its needs— constitutes for Marx the abiding infrastructure of human history. ” This is why we fight and why we know what is to be done.

Marx had a passionate faith in the individual and a deep suspicion of abstract dogma. He had no time for the concept of a perfect society, was wary of the notion of equality, and did not dream of a future in which we would all wear boiler suits with our National Insurance numbers stamped on our backs. It was diversity, not uniformity, that he hoped to see. Nor did he teach that men and women were the helpless playthings of history. He was even more hostile to the state than right-wing conservatives are, and saw socialism as a deepening of democracy, not as the enemy of it. His model of the good life was based on the idea of artistic self-expression. He believed that some revolutions might be peacefully accomplished, and was in no sense opposed to social reform. He did not focus narrowly on the manual working class. Nor did he see society in terms of two starkly polarized classes. He did not make a fetish of material production. On the contrary, he thought it should be done away with as far as possible. His ideal was leisure, not labour. If he paid such unflagging attention to the economic, it was in order to diminish its power over humanity. His materialism was fully compatible with deeply held moral and spiritual convictions. He lavished praise on the middle class, and saw socialism as the inheritor of its great legacies of liberty, civil rights and material prosperity. His views on Nature and the environment were for the most part startlingly in advance of his time. There has been no more staunch champion of women’s emancipation, world peace, the fight against fascism or the struggle for colonial freedom than the political movement to which his work gave birth.
Eagleton, Terry (2011) Why Marx Was Right (pp. 238-239).

top image information: The daughter of a member of an Ethiopian bee-keeping cooperative in Freweyni village looks after the hives. Her father has been appointed by the cooperative to act as a permanent manager of the colonies, which require protection from ants and small rodents. The cooperative of 19 local people – primarily unemployed and landless – bought the colonies on credit from Millennium Promise. For more information on Millennium Promise, please visit, The closing image is a typical company beekeeping “factory” operation

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: John Brennan, Barack Obama and the Banality of Evil in Service of Late Capitalist Imperialism by Le Gauchiste

12:54 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

“Some years ago, reporting the trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem, I spoke of ‘the Banality of evil’ and meant with this … the phenomenon of evil deeds, committed on a gigantic scale, which could not be traced to any particularity of wickedness, pathology or ideological conviction in the doer, whose only personal distinction was a perhaps extraordinary shallowness…., and the only specific characteristic one could detect on his part as well as in his behavior … was not stupidity but a curious, quite authentic inability to think.”

–Hannah Arendt

Whether political theorist Hannah Arendt was correct in her assessment of Adolf Eichmann–and I am inclined to believe she was duped by his testimony in Jerusalem and hence overstated the extent to which he was an example of the banality of evil–she was onto something important with the concept. For while the idea of the banality of evil may have become at times a cliche and, far worse, a facile evasion of moral responsibility, it nonetheless provides a way to understand how Late Capitalism’s Imperialism creates conditions that necessitate self-alienation on the part of the individual as well the social formation as a whole.

Torture doesn’t matter anymore, at least not to the Barack Obama administration. Four years ago, John Brennan, a 25-year veteran of the CIA, was forced to withdraw his name from consideration to be CIA Director (DCI) because of his public support of–and likely participation in–the Bush administration’s programs of torturing terrorism suspects and/or sending them to foreign prisons to be tortured. Apparently wishing to maintain his anti-torture credentials at the time, Obama appointed Brennan to a White House job that did not require Senate confirmation.

Four years later, his human rights record irretrievably tarnished by the illegal drone assassination program, Obama nominated Brennan–who has been running Obama’s drone assassination program from the White House–to be the next DCI. If confirmed, he would succeed Gen. David Petraeus, who resigned following revelations of an extra-marital affair in November 2009.

So, according to Obama, it’s okay to kidnap and torture and kill terrorism suspects without even a hint of “due process of law,” but if you put your dick in the wrong person, you’re unfit to run the CIA.

Obama is, sadly, right: Under the Imperialism of Late Capitalism, only a moral degenerate like John Brennan is fit to run an utterly amoral outfit like the CIA.

By “the Imperialism of Late Capitalism” we mean the forcible opening up of all spatial, ecological and cultural boundaries of peoples and nations to the global flow of capital and goods and services, according to the needs of capital and of Late Capitalism, which itself is wracked by ever-worsening crises that fuel the need for ever-more globalization.

But unlike Barack Obama, whose tolerance for torture and other human rights abuses seems of recent vintage, Brennan’s views were warped from a relatively young age. Born to Irish immigrant parents, John Brennan earned a B.A. in Political Science at Fordham University in 1977 and an M.A. in Government with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin in 1980.

Although Brennan officially joined the CIA in 1980—he tells reporters a story of how his “wanderlust” was piqued by a CIA recruiting ad in the New York Times—some of his activities at Fordham suggest his recruitment dates back to his school days. Bob Keane, a classmate from the 4th grade through sophomore year at Fordham, told reporters that Brennan spent the summer after freshman year in Indonesia with a cousin who was working for the Agency for International Development, and visited Bahrain on the way home. “I wondered if he had even been recruited that early,” mused Keane. In fact, Brennan spent his junior year abroad learning fluent Arabic and taking Middle Eastern studies courses at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, a well-known site for CIA recruitment and training.

At UT, Brennan wrote an M.A. Thesis, “Human Rights: The Case Study of Egypt,” in which he denied the existence of “absolute human rights,” defended censorship in Egypt and indicated an early tolerance for torture. “Since the press can play such an influential role in determining the perceptions of the masses, I am in favor of some degree of government censorship,” wrote Brennan.

Taking his relativistic view of human rights to its logical conclusion, Brennan argued that

“the fact that absolute human rights do not exist (with the probable exception of freedom from torture) makes the [human rights] analysis subject to innumerable conditional criticisms.” (emphasis added.)

Think about that for a moment: John Brennan wrote that, in his opinion, not only are human rights not absolute, freedom from torture is only a “probable exception”–meaning that at the young age of 25, the Jesuit-educated Brennan was rejecting the 200-year-old anti-torture teachings of the Jesuit-educated Cesare Beccaria, the father of modern penology and human rights, who argued that torture is always wrong. Just a few years after his probable recruitment by the CIA, Brennan’s mind was already being warped by the needs of capitalist imperialism.

Working for Bush in the 2000s, Brennan became the embodiment of the banality of evil, helping to facilitate illegal kidnappings and torture in the name of the greater good–in this case so-called “national security.” Under Obama, Brennan has become the chief Angel of Death in the White House, selecting which terror suspects are to be murdered via unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere–and then lying about it later, as when he publicly claimed that drone attacks in Pakistan in 2010 did not cause “a single collateral death” when authorities knew better.

But the tragedy here lies with Barack Obama, who is able to make statements about the horrors of the Sandy Hook massacre while blithely raining down equivalent massacres on schoolchildren in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is this banality of evil–Obama’s ability to commit evil acts while pretending (to himself and to the world) that he remains a basically decent human being who loves his wife and daughters–that is one of the most corrosive aspects of Late Capitalist Imperialism.

Just as capitalist production alienates the worker, not only from the means of production and the product of his labor, but from his true species-essence as a human being, so too the reproduction of the Late Capitalist system requires acts of moral evil that alienate, not only the doers of these deeds but the entire social formation, from their human essence as creative and moral actors. Because such a reality would be intolerable if faced with honesty, the banality of evil represents a form of social-psychological ideology of denial that perpetuates Late Capitalism and the suffering attendant upon it.

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Brave New World – High Stakes Testing or When a Test is Not Just a Test

1:00 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

(This article was co-authored by Diana Zavala, a parent with a 9 year old child in New York City Public Schools who works with Change the Stakes and Geminijen, a member of the Anti-Capitalist Meet-up Collective who also taught in the New York City Public Schools).

In Aldous Huxley’s sci-fi classic, Brave New World, Huxley explores a dystopian world where the government, for the good of the society, programs citizens to conform to its norms through “repetitive learning” techniques and ‘soma’, a mind-altering drug, that makes humans compliant with its highly stratified, unquestioning consumer society run by a few elites or “alphas.” If a person either cannot or is unwilling to be programmed, they are cast out of the rational “civilized” society into an area saved for “savages” where the messy human emotional traits of people’s suffering and desiring and dissenting are relegated.
This conforms to Marx’s concept that a society’s educational system is designed to reinforce the dominant economic culture, which in the current capitalist mode of production views people as inanimate commodities whose only usefulness is to promote increased profit for the corporate elite.

Obama’s “Race to the Top” model of educational reform (RTT) is an eerily good fit with both Huxley’s and Marx’s concepts. In response to globalization, Obama’s RTT, in line with the 1999 World Bank education reform model, is replacing public schools with privately run but publicly funded schools where a few students are being educated to become the corporate elites leaving the rest to be minimally educated as the blind consumers and maintainers of the system.

Obama’s approach recommends the development of a limited number of charter schools run by private corporations and institutions where the subject content of the schools is nationally standardized and teachers are taught to teach to the tests to indoctrinate the new, more limited number of white collar workers still needed in a global economy into the corporate “new speak.” That this is already happening is evidenced by the fact that under the new business model promoted in the charter schools, students are no longer referred to as citizens, but customers and clients. This corporate model is enforced through a system of standardized testing and “accountability”.

Just as Huxley’s Brave New World used ‘soma’ and repetitive ‘sleep learning’ to program and indoctrinate the populous, our new educational regimen of mandatory testing uses the element of repetition and standardized testing from early learning through high school to the same end. However, it is not the “success” of the individual student these tests are intended to measure. The tests are used to determine and label how well a student conforms to the dominant culture.

As in Brave New World, the Race to the Top educational model uses these techniques to repress any democratic dissent or critical thinking. If students, teachers, parents or school districts question these norms, or refuse to get with the program, schools will lose funding, a teacher may be laid-off or fired for being ‘unsatisfactory’, and a child may be denied promotion or access to a “good” school (i.e., end up among the “savages”). Thus the stratification of society is reinforced by the use of testing.

If punitive standardized testing is the stick that is used to enforce the corporate model, the possibility of upward mobility for the individual child regardless of race, gender or economic background is the “soma” used to sell this model to the public. As in Brave New World, people are told that the programming is for their own good, so that they can compete in the global economy of the 21st century.

Steeped in language of upward mobility and empowerment, rich liberals such as Bill Gates put billions into reassuring people that minority and poor children will receive the same consideration as the children of the rich. All children will begin equal in the race for the brass ring, ignoring the fact that, under this model there will always be only a few winners and that the Bill Gates’s of the world will not be sending their children to these the schools and – oh yes — the necessary funds are only available to those who go along with the program.

Instead of working for the collective good of all children, parents and teachers end up fighting each other for the limited number of slots available and available only to those who accept the corporate kool-aid.

An Educational Model for the “Savages.”

Instead of letting the multinational corporations define and use education to control the rest of us, what should education mean to those of us in the system? What is our view of the value of literacy and education? While education alone cannot create a more egalitarian and humane society, what kind of education can give us the tools to fight the domination of a corporate model that does not have our interests at heart? How can we develop the active critical thinking to question why some people have money and power and others don’t, why individualism and competition is better than cooperation and a collective approach, why teachers shouldn’t only teach to the test but include art, music, sports and literature? Finally, why our work is not valued on its usefulness to society as a whole but what will sell products? Radical education is not isolated from the real world, but is specifically designed to break the mold of top down education to empower students, parents and the community to act in our own self interest.


Challenging the “High Stakes” Testing Model (A Case Study)

Developing an understanding of how we “fight the power,” requires an understanding that for the power to be effective, it must be enforced. In this case, the corporate norms of capitalism are enforced through continual testing with punitive consequences should “the people” refuse to comply with this indoctrination. This continual testing is not only devastating to the mental health and learning process of young children, but as a method by which the state imposes its will on the people.

The following is what we hope will be the first in a series of diaries with a parent with a nine year old son in the New York City public education system. Diane Zavala’s son was subjected to the current version of “high stakes” testing personally. She is actively involved in educating the community about the consequences of high stakes testing and what can be done about it.

I see the role of parents in the current education reform as a critical one. For decades the policies of No Child Left Behind and now Obama’s Race to the Top, have obliterated the presence of parents from the equation. The tests have taken on their own omnipresence in the lives of teachers and students and are a core factor in schools.

“Changing” the system is still something many parents don’t grasp. Parents still see testing as a natural and appropriate part of education. Buzz words such as “accountability” “choice” and “achievement gap”are being used by the RTT advocates in a distorted way by plotting “Accountability” = bad teachers + “let’s get rid of them”. “Choice” = parents want to choose the best school for their children (i.e. charter schools that come in with disparate funding), This often or probably always pits one child against the other, one parent in a lottery against her neighbor. Children within the same school buildings don’t talk to each other because traditional public schools and the new privately sponsored Charter schools are co-located and the charters have the funds to have labs, music programs, libraries, and fancy technology while the zoned school is getting cuts to their budget. “Achievement gap” has come to mean that somehow the Black kids are behind and that what they should aspire is to be like the “white kids” who are the success, in and of itself a racist ideology. These are the core beliefs that we as parents and community members have to fight in order to shift the current direction of ed reform.

Another barrier for parents is the social and emotional concerns parents have over the consequences of resistance. If their child is to opt-out of the testing: will their child be teased by peers for not being part of the group? Will their teachers and principal single the child out and not support a parent’s decision by providing an alternative option during testing time?

For parents to question the value of testing is something that will require a major change of hearts and minds to accomplish. However, the momentum is growing as more parents experience different aspects of the Race to the Top agenda in their own families. Whether it be because:

- they see their child get left-back because s/he didn’t pass the ELA and or Math NYS exam,

- or because they notice that their child is anxious and stressed out about the tests,

- or because they see their favorite teacher replaced by a young, white-childless teacher product of Teach for America,[a conservative program, known for training teachers to educate to the new norms]

- or because they see their child’s school pushed into fewer, less desirable classrooms with larger numbers of students when it is co-located with another school, often a charter school that promoting the new test driven agenda,

- or because their child is “counseled out” of a school because s/he is not meeting the testing standards [and might make the school less competitive],

- or because they see special programs in their child’s school replaced with homework/test prep,

- or because the school they send their children to suddenly received an “F” and can potentially be closed before their second/third child ever attends.

For all these reasons and more, parents are noticing that there is something happening in education that does not fit the schema they have of what education “should” be. This becomes the catalyst for parents who see the need for a change in the system.

The Power of the Test

Parents are kept separate and in the dark about the tests, they are not given information and or asked for consent. Parents are told that the tests exist to prepare the children for college, but they are not told that the excessive emphasis on getting the grade on the test means there is a narrowing of curriculum to focus only on subjects that are tested and excluding subjects like social studies, art, music, technology, second language drama, etc. — all the subjects which make up a liberal arts education.

One role of the parent is to demand that parents be informed and consent be required for their children to participate in the testing, especially when consent is required for everything else from teaching health-education, to a student being photographed, school trips, and peanut allergies. In no other area does a school hold the ultimate decision, maybe in medical requirement of vaccines, but even here there is a way for parents to opt-out by claiming religious or medical exemptions. But even here, when parents comply with the vaccine requirement it is not like their child is taken into a doctor’s office and the parent is not allowed to know the vaccine their child is administered. If the tests are mandatory, then parents have a right to review the tests after the fact, but even this is denied by the current standard of practice for administering the tests. Currently there is a process whereby a parent can request access to see parts, but not all, of a child’s State exams; however, a Freedom of Information Law [FOIL]process is required in order to gain access and access is limited to the principal’s office, no photographs, or photocopying allowed, never mind it being a lengthy process.

This leads to the fact that students are being used as for-profit subjects for for-profit organizations who sample their testing material on the students without responding to an independent ethics committee to assess the impact of the testing on the students. Even when a parent decides to enroll their child in a study for scientific or educational purposes, the parent is given the right to opt-out at any point in the process without consequences. There is nothing that involves a minor in which the parent information and consent are denied, except in standardized, high-stakes testing used for purposes of “accountability” on the shoulders of an 8-year old on whose success lies the whole “national security” as it has been articulated by the likes of Joel Klein and Condoleezza Rice.

Parents are not only being kept in the dark about testing in the schools, but they are also held at the mercy of the privatization agenda by putting the fate of their child’s academic future on the test. Parents are in fear and feel disempowered by the current centralized educational system. There are many considerations parents need to make when confronted with the recognition that there is something not right happening and deciding that change is necessary and that they can be a part of the alternative.

As privatization of the whole educational system is slowly becoming a reality, the role of parents first and foremost in the current educational climate is for parents to unite and demand that their children not be used in this demented system of testing claiming to provide “accountability” and “choice”, which are “good” things, but that in essence are being used to destroy the teacher’s union as the last standing obstacle on the path of privatization. So parents should bear in mind that their civil rights are being violated in this current climate of education reform, and that they are being used to shift public education to the private sphere that has nothing to do with the well-being of children.
The current climate of testing creates a separation between all interested parties in education. When tests are administered, teachers are not allowed to assist a student, usually because the teacher did not design the test, so s/he doesn’t have knowledge of the test question, but it goes as extreme as not allowing a student a bag in the event of vomiting, which is known to have happened in extreme cases of testing anxiety and the teacher is not permitted to provide the student with a bag or a glass of water to assist the student. The administration guidelines prohibit the teacher from engaging with the student other than to proctor the exam by keeping time and by allowing the student required breaks if these are dictated by an Individualized Educational Plan. The alienation from the testing experience runs deep in severing the trust and established rapport a teacher has with his/her students and goes further into separating her from the parents and from the school community as a whole.

If parents can come together and refuse the testing, which is at the core of the privatization agenda, then the whole system of evaluating the teachers, producing the school report cards that leads schools to closure, implementation of charters, and the test-prep industry profiting off of the students will be disrupted. Parents need to see these connections and understand that their voice is critical in destabilizing this machine that will dismantle public education in our country.

Parents are not alone in their isolation from their children’s education and condition of fear of consequences for non-compliance, teachers are also alienated from each other, their union, their administrators, parents, and even from their students. Parents and teachers are often not allowed to share their personal opinions, but required to include the principal/supervisor when communicating with parents. Teachers are afraid for their own jobs, Even tenured teachers are harassed and given unfair evaluations and excessed from their buildings, which gives them a stigma for any future employment and professional growth.

Teachers are divided in two camps, those who were teaching before the days of “accountability” and those who were trained and hired to accept the notion that part of a teacher’s job is to closely analyze data to use to tailor instruction and to fear that if the student is not making quantifiable progress that the quality of her instruction is questionable.

The teachers teaching before the current emphasis on standardized testing are more likely to know that a student comes in many different forms and from many different backgrounds and circumstances that often are not reflected in the grades a student receives. There are those students who are natural test-takers and do well no matter what, and there are also those students who are intelligent, hard-working, creative, good writers, artists but who will not perform the part on a test, no matter the type. These teachers know that engaging instruction and monitoring growth at different points during a unit of study to tailor the instruction to the needs of the students means good teaching. However, with the emergence of NYC ’s Teaching Fellows and national programs like Teach for America, teachers are quickly being trained to administer tests, to follow standards, to analyze data, to keep pace with a dictated [top down] curriculum. They view their job as facilitators not instructors. The scripted curriculum, the national standards, and the standardized tests are the “real” education and they (the teachers)are mere facilitators or human factoids that implement the essential elements of education in the student.

What Is To Be Done?

In the current state of education, parents have been vanished from participation and their voices are ignored in favor of “professional” elected individuals. Often parents protest the closing of a school but will be ignored and the school gets closed. Parents need to be considered in the decision-making process at all levels starting from the classroom, the school, the community, and at the citywide level in order to have a push-back against this powerful train going determined to devastate education.

In the current climate, parents need solidarity with each other to share information and education and to make collective decisions. Parents cannot be pitted against one another because all parents want the best for their children and their schools. Parents need to have a presence in their children’s school be it through established forums or alternatives.

But even if parents participate in Student Leadership Teams [decision making bodies in a school that include parents, the parent organization, and school events], there is also a need to engage parents in an understanding of the structure and function of the citywide and regional administration that include the role of the Chancellor, the regional and district superintendent, learning support, the community school district superintendent, and district offices.

They need to know who makes decisions on charters, school closings, budgets, busing, special education, enrichment, after-school programs, school infrastructure, and resolutions passed by the district decision-making body that collects the concerns at the district level of schools to bring to the higher body for decisions.

The corporate powers that are implementing this system are afraid of the parents and have clearly used their power to encourage the development of school districts in which democratic input is limited; i.e., Bloomberg has usurped the public education system in New York City and is, in essence, the sole decider now in educational reform.

Reestablishing the role of parents and community control as a necessary component in education decisions at the district and regional level is critical. Parents have to get creative as to how this information can be transmitted to other parents [i.e., at a Saturday meeting which helps parents with their English and childcare is provided] There is also a need for grassroots educational organizations outside those within the system. And we don’t have to start from scratch. There is a long history of teaching black history in grassroots Freedom Schools established by SNCC activists in the South during the Civil Rights Movement. This concept continues today in occasional day long boycotts of inner city schools to provide grassroots black history workshops to protest the lack or distortion of black history in the official school curricula. La Raza, a Chicano organization instrumental in the 1960s, is once again organizing the community in the Southwest in the fight to keep bilingual education.

The strategy of focusing on the testing industry as the nexus where students, parent and teacher interests meet could also be the focus of a campaign of escalating protests and civil disobedience. Change the Stakes is a grassroots organization with a membership of about 20 core members who are parents, teachers, former parents or teachers, and professors who share an understanding that high-stakes testing is deforming the quality of education and are dedicated to resisting the use of standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers, and schools.

Change the Stakes (CTS) has organized successful actions (including civil disobedience)against stand-alone field tests administered to the elementary school students for the purpose of sampling questions by the for-profit organization Pearson Inc. to use in future exams.

Parents in CTS also opted their children out of the Spring exams this year. Their act of civil disobedience has gained strength and support with over 2,000 signatures of parents and teachers who support opting-out of testing. The Opt-Out petition has also spawned other testing resolutions including a Principal petition to not administer the tests and a Professor petition to not use the new “accountability” language in their teacher-training curriculum. CTS is leading the way in advocacy against high-stakes testing and the misuse of tests for other purposes not intended such as value-added performance equivalents to measure teacher quality and to create school progress reports.

CTS is pushing for a non-punitive alternative for parents to opt-out of high-stakes testing as these are developmentally inappropriate for children. CTS is an outgrowth of the Grassroots Education Movement (GEM) which created a committee to examine the role of testing in education and has grown to become its own entity but continues to work closely with teachers and teacher issues.

It is CTS’s view that the teacher’s working conditions are the student’s learning conditions and these cannot be separate. What is good for the students is good for the teachers: class size, standardize testing, co-locations, school closures are not good for teachers and these are issues of concern to CTS.

from Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Chapt 2:

“At the end of the room a loud speaker projected from the wall. The Director walked up to it and pressed a switch.
“… all wear green,” said a soft but very distinct voice “and Delta Children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I’m so glad I’m a Beta.”

There was a pause; then the voice began again.

“Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than the Gammas and Deltas. Gammas are stupid. They all wear green, and Delta children wear khaki. Oh no, I don’t want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They’re too stupid to be able …”
The Director pushed back the switch. “They’ll have that repeated forty or fifty times more before they wake; then again on Thursday, and again on Saturday. A hundred and twenty times three times a week for thirty months. After which they go on to a more advanced lesson.”

Till at last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too—all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides—made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions! ”

Working Class Self-Activity III: Walmart Workers Rising & the Prospects for Radical Politics

3:56 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

Walmart Strike in Seattle, November 15, 2012.

Written by Le Gauchiste

“The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class itself.”

- Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels, 1879

On November 6, an electoral coalition made up mostly of working class Americans prevented the election victory of a reactionary party and slate of candidates whose policies would have wreaked untold misery on working people, including the poor, and wrecked the macro-economy as well. But the working class’s real political move this November has occurred not in voting booths but in Walmart parking lots across the country, where Walmart workers protested their wages and working conditions, even as, halfway around the world in Bangladesh, more than 100 textile workers making clothing for Walmart were killed by a fire caused by unsafe working conditions.

We have global capitalism, but have we a global working class or not?

The ongoing grassroots labor activism at Walmart in the U.S. reminds us that while the election is over the class struggle is not, and that class politics moves now from the voting booth to the workplace and the streets. For any Progressive whose political imagination extends beyond the narrow ideological confines of today’s two-party discourse, that is good news indeed. For those of us who consider ourselves socialists or radicals, it is essential, because those confines have rendered electoral politics basically irrelevant to advancing working class interests, as opposed merely to defending them.

Part I: What’s Going On?

Starting in June, Walmart workers have unleashed an unprecedented wave of labor unrest that has shaken the retail behemoth and its global supply chain. The ongoing protests reached one peak on so-called “Black Friday,” when 1,000 strikes and protests were held across the country and at least 500 Walmart workers walked off their jobs, making it the largest U.S. strike in the history of Walmart.

The Black Friday walkout was organized by the “Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart” (OUR Walmart), a year-old group of Walmart employees sponsored by the United Food and Commercial Workers union (UFCW). OUR Walmart and its allies the Warehouse Workers United Union and the National Guestworker Alliance are pushing for an end to unsafe working conditions, a living wage, benefits, and an end to corporate retaliation against employees for organizing activity.

Notice what is missing: There is no demand, or even request, for the formation of a union. Whatever the current Walmart activism is, it is not a union organizing drive, at least not formally and not today. The reason for that lies in the fact that an organizing drive at Walmart at the present time would lose spectacularly, setting back labor organizing in the retail branch of the service sector of the economy by a generation.

In any union drive, there are three basic elements: the workers, the company and the law, and in the case of Walmart all three elements work against labor, at least for now: If asked today Walmart employees would vote heavily against a union; Walmart corporate is ideologically anti-union, once actually closing a store (in Quebec) after its workers voted in a union; and the law is so heavily tilted in favor of employers and against unions that formal organizing drives are virtually a thing of the past.

So OUR Walmart instead emphasizes respect for employees and the problem of wealth inequality within the Walmart company. A low-level Walmart employee averages $8 an hour and won’t get a pay raise until after 6 years of committed employment. And even then, the raise only brings the worker’s pay to $10.60 an hour or $22,048 a year, still below the national poverty line for a family of four in 2012. Low wages force many Walmart employees to rely on food stamps and other government assistance to provide for their families.

Of course, this being capitalism, this poverty is by no means shared equally across the company. In 2011 Walmart’s net income was $15.7 billion, and the net worth of the Walton family totaled $89.5 billion in 2010, as much as the bottom 41.5 percent of U.S. families combined.

Part II: What Does It Mean?

“This struggle about the legal restriction of the hours of labor raged the more fiercely since, apart from frightened avarice, it told indeed upon the great contest between the blind rule of the supply and demand laws which form the political economy of the middle class, and social production controlled by social foresight, which forms the political economy of the working class. Hence the Ten Hours’ Bill was not only a great practical success; it was the victory of a principle; it was the first time that in broad daylight the political economy of the middle class succumbed to the political economy of the working class.”

- Karl Marx, 1864

The Walmart activism, limited as it is both in word and deed, is remarkable because of the significant role–both practical and symbolic–that Walmart plays in the political economy of the 21st century U.S. Walmart’s business model, based as it is on a philosophy of intrusively authoritarian management, payment of the lowest wages possible, and intransigent hostility to unions, is the epitome of neo-liberal business theory. Based in right-to-work Arkansas, Walmart has stayed almost entirely union-free for most of its existence.

The point is that Walmart, with its global supply chain and network of stores, is today’s equivalent of U.S. Steel or General Motors–what we used to call the “commanding heights” of the capitalist system of production. Scaling those heights is the most difficult and most crucial task, for just as the successful organizing drives at GM and USS helped lead to waves of organizing of heavy industry, so too could victory at Walmart open up the service sector to unions.

The company has never before dealt with coordinated labor protest on this scale. Dan Schlademan, director of Making Change at Walmart, another organization backed by the UFCW which works closely with OUR Walmart, explains the significance.

“In the past, Wal-Mart would fire people, would threaten people … and that would be enough to stop people in their tracks. The difference now is workers are using Wal-Mart’s own tactics to challenge the company and not backing down. Really, for the first time in Wal-Mart’s history, the tools that are used to keep people silent and under control are now being used against them. That’s significant.”

“Here is what’s so significant about this: this strike was about sending a message to Walmart that these workers won’t be silenced. This wasn’t a strike to try to cripple Walmart’s operation. This wasn’t a strike to impact their Black Friday sales. This was an unfair labor practices strike to send a message to Walmart that your retaliation is going to get a response like this: it is going to get publicized, and a tool they’ve been using is going to be used against them.”

Although, as noted above, OUR Walmart isn’t pushing for union representation, Schlademan explained why OUR Walmart. “All the other things that are the heart and soul of the labor movement and of workers’ organizing are there, which is collective action, workers pulling their resources together so they have a bigger voice, and utilizing the public to educate and build power to change the company.”

Schlademan said that OUR Walmart is in it for the long haul.

“It’s gotta start somewhere. … Workers are having enough. You look at the sit-down strike, you look at the civil-rights movement, you look at the women’s rights movement, you look at anything, you look at Occupy, right? It started off with a few people sleeping in a park, and it grew,” Schlademan said. “So this is a process—people are building a movement inside of Wal-Mart, and they’re building a movement outside of Wal-Mart. What was in October was the beginning. What’s gonna happen on Black Friday will be a continuation of that … and this will just continue to build.”

The number of union-related work stoppages involving more than 1,000 workers, which reached an all-time low of just five in 2009, rose to 13 this year as of October. And unions aren’t done yet.

Nurses are striking this week at hospitals operated by Sutter Health in California; workers voted against concessions at Hostess Brands Inc., forcing the company’s hand; pilots at American Airlines are wreaking havoc on the airline’s schedule as it tries to cut pension and other benefits.

Julius Getman, a labor expert at the University of Texas, points out that labor activism tends to snowball.

“There’s a lot of agitating going on, people are unhappy. They feel that they’re not being well-treated. There is a swelling of annoyance at the rich. If there really is turmoil at Wal-Mart on Friday, it will set in motion a lot of other protests. There will be a sense of, ‘Well, they did it, why shouldn’t we?’”

Photo by OURWalmart under Creative Commons license.

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Obama Privatizes Public Schools: Out Of The Frying Pan Into The Fire by Geminijen

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Anti-Capitalist Meetup

The battle to privatize education as part of the neoliberal shock doctrine is in full swing–on one side we have a rank and file movement of public school K-12 educators and parents mobilized by the Chicago teachers’ strike trying to save the teachers unions and neighborhood schools — on the other side we have the “educational reform” agenda using the full power of Obama’s “Race to the Top” (RTTT) policy which uses government funding to force the closure of “nonfunctioning” public schools and replace them with privately run “Charter” Schools .

This article will briefly outline some of the current issues and battles surrounding privatization. Much of the information was taken from Education and Capitalism: Struggles for Learning and Liberation, edited by Jeff Bale and Sarah Knopp and Grassroots Educational Movement (New York), Chicago; also: Next month we will take up solutions from a Marxist perspective.

Who Are the Culprits? Education is a particularly vulnerable part of the privatization agenda because the mainstream folks that are supposed to be on the “right” side in this struggle (who at least nominally support unions, social security, medicare, etc.) have jumped ship and are actively supporting privatization.


This certainly includes the Obama/Gates/Duncan triumvirate which has trumpeted the success of its “Race to the Top” (RTTT) policy as educators, individual teachers and students are forced to compete for federal funds by implementing a policy which has resulted in thousands of public schools closures and the implementation of a publicly funded/privately run school model.

Behind the scenes, our most wealthy & influential capitalists such as Bill Gates and the Walton Family are using their combined $30 billion dollars in capital to mold the educational program into a corporate model, with little or no accountability to the general public or the parents.

The media has jumped into the fray with movies which demonize public school teachers (“Waiting for Superman” and “We Won’t Back Down” starring celebrities like Viola Davis). MSNBC recently aired a six hour discussion called Education Nation which put the Educational Reform agenda front and center as the possible answer to all our woes from saving our children to saving our financial system and saving the American Way of Life.

Al Sharpton as a spokesperson for a large section of the black community has travelled the country with Newt Gingrich (!!!) promoting this educational reform agenda.

And it includes many middle class white liberals and “progressives” who are all for a government social agenda — except when it comes to the education of their own children where they tend to run away to the all white schools in the suburbs, homeschooling, alternative schools or private or charter schools.

The Role of Education in a Capitalist Society. The public school agenda to educate our entire populace has been touted as one of the crowning achievements of US democracy. It attracted and still attracts immigrants from all over the world with the promise of free education and upward mobility. While this agenda is one of the real advantages our society has inadvertently offered its citizenry, it was not then nor is it now the real agenda of education. From a Marxist point of view, education, as a part of the economic superstructure, has always been used to benefit the capitalist class and impose the values of capitalist ideology. In the 1800s, when the US capitalists needed more educated labor as we switched from a farming to an industrial economy, capitalists encouraged mass public education to provide the factory owners with the future workers they would need. This educational model was top down, authoritarian, teaching workers external disciplines such as working on a time clock and to accept the information they were being taught without question. The perfect model to get industrial factory workers to obey their bosses.

The decline of the US public schools in the current period began in the 1970s with the globalization of Capitalism and, interacted with the racist legacy of slavery after we failed to fully integrate our society and schools following the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

As globalization has made it increasingly advantageous for capitalists to take their business abroad and outsource their work for cheap labor, the need for workers in this country is becoming more and more obsolete. The capitalist class is no longer willing to support universal public education and has begun a half underground/half overt campaign to end public education as we know it by starving the public schools of funding and resources and shifting its support to a “corporate market model” of education better suited to the “flexible needs of 21st century global capitalism” (per Bill Clinton).

Under the new public/private, for-profit school model, the focus has shifted to a market approach where education is no longer promoted as a public good but an individual choice where educational consumers (children) now become customers of a product (education) at which the corporations can make a profit. While the ideology of the corporate model still mouths the ideology that “No Child Will Be Left Behind,” by presenting students with “a variety of educational choices” in the market, it does not take into account the underlying social inequities of class, race and sex and assumes all students come “equal to the market place.”

The problems of globalization are piled on top of the other major legacy which has created huge inequities and divisions in the working class and, consequently, in public schools — the legacy of racism. For centuries the history of slavery and legal segregation divided the working class. Unions were mainly white (and male), women and people of color could not buy property (houses) in many states, and jobs and schools were restricted or segregated. Efforts of the civil rights movement of the 60′s to integrate white and black US citizens and other minority groups to overcome class, race and cultural differences were only partially successful.

There was a brief period of integration in the 60s and early 70s, when supported by funding from the government’s Great Society poverty programs, the achievement gap between black and white students actually did narrow. However, the backlash toward individualism and a conservative social agenda in the 1980s ended that forward movement in the schools. With white middle class parents fleeing to well-funded all white suburban schools, urban schools have become even more segregated today than they were thirty years ago.

This has given the cities more incentive to cut corners in the urban schools since the populations that are left –lower middle class, the working poor, children of color, disabled students, new immigrants– have very little political power to demand a seat at the table. The teachers’ unions have been one of the few effective voices in getting issues like smaller classes, more innovative programming and enrichment programs addressed.

However, since teachers are mainly white in urban schools where the student populations are predominantly black or Latino, the degree of mistrust of parents of color toward the school system and the degree of mistrust of teachers toward their students often remains very high. While there are many exceptions, since most teachers do not live in the area or send their children to the schools they teach in, there is often a failure on the part of teachers to understand and respect the differences in culture, knowledge and experience of the communities that their students come from.

One of the most egregious examples of racial conflict in the school system was the 1970s strike in New York City where predominantly white unionized teachers failed to support the black community in the Ocean Hills-Brownsville area who were demanding parental control of schools.

The new grassroots movement in Chicago and elsewhere, has overcome some of these problems since there is black leadership in their union movement. In one of the most radical moves which Rob Emmanuel and Duncan (Obama’s education gurus) are fighting tooth and nail is the establishment of local school councils in the Chicago schools which have a high percentage of low income parents and women of color in elected leadership positions.

The Role of Charter Schools.

Charter Schools were originally marketed as a limited alternative to traditional schools where outside groups – nonprofits, private corporations, universities, interested community groups — would “partner” with a public school. The public schools would provide the funding and the outside group would govern the school. It was felt the outside group, often a private for-profit business, would bring “creativity,” “choice”, money and resources, to experiment with new models that were freed from the bureaucratic control of the government. Moreover, it was supposed to be geared to helping disadvantaged students enter the mainstream.

From the 1990s to 2010 the number of Charter Schools grew from a handful of schools to some 4,600 enrolling 1.4 million children nationwide, about a quarter of which are run by private for-profit Companies. Although this increase was due in part to parents frustrations with dysfunctional public schools, it was primarily do to Obama’s major educational policy, “Race to the Top” which requires schools around the country to compete for educational funding which they can only get by increasing the number of Charter Schools and closing “nonfunctioning” public schools.

In the beginning, some well meaning liberals (including the United Federation of Teachers in New York City) supported this idea. In reality, the movement allowed private organizations and for-profit businesses to use public space and tax payer funds, free of charge & with little accountability for the day to day administration of the schools and control of the schools’ message. The only measure of success has been the improvement of students’ standardized test scores. Instead of freeing schools from government bureaucracy, the private sector (particularly private enterprises) have taken on an increasingly close partnership with the government to promote the neoliberal agenda and further their own corporate interests.

The neoliberal agenda in the educational reform movement can be seen in five specific features:

1) The use of austerity measures imposed after the 2008 financial meltdown to make working people pay for the economic crisis. In education over 350,000 teachers have been laid off, thousands of schools have been closed. The included the intentional effort to break the teacher’s union and establish non-union schools to cut labor costs.

2) The increased stratification of the educational population, separating out a minority of elite youth being prepared for the white collar knowledge economy in a few, select, Charter Schools, while investing as little as possible in the education of everyone else. Indeed, the name of Obama’s policy, “Race to the Top” expresses this idea quite clearly. This agenda is often clothed in the talk of “School Choice” which sounds like a very liberating option to many of us, but has consistently ended up in increased stratification where we cannot be sure that our children will not end up on the bottom.

3) Increased social control and an ideological shift from education as a social institution for the public good to a model of Ayn Rand “individualism.” The ideological emphasis on education as the means to survival in the “new economy” increases the competitiveness not only among educational institutions, but among teachers (who are now evaluated individually on the test performance of their students), and the students themselves.

The current trend is to shift the dialogue from equity and a basic education for all citizens to one of education as each person’s individual responsibility. Put into a corporate business model, the student becomes the consumer of the product, a product which they must acquire if they are to succeed in 21st century capitalism. The degree to which we succeed or fail, however does not take into account the larger society questions of poverty, sexism and racism as factors in educational outcomes, but simple talks about the “achievement gap” in certain populations and how we can make it up “individually.”

4) The privatization of the remaining public assets of this country. This is clearly advocated in the Race to the Top (RTTT) policy which will not award any money to a school district unless it increases its number of charter schools. Textbooks and testing companies and other subsidiary forces have also profited from privatization.

5) Following a corporate model, the neoliberal model promotes the centralization of power to one centralized body or one person such as a mayor or a state appointed overseer). In the educational system this means eliminating local, democratic parental/classroom teacher control. As Bill Gates notes “The cities where our foundation has put the most money is where there is a single person responsible.”

The Success (or Lack Thereof) of the Privatization/Charter School Movement.

While the financial incentives of the RTTT program have had a lot to do with the explosion of Charter Schools, the already decimated and many dysfunctional traditional public schools, especially in the inner cities where the poorer and more disadvantaged population have essentially been left to fend for themselves, added another incentive.

Most parents were looking for a “good educational experience” for their children. Many parents in the black community were looking to form schools that would safeguard their children against the racism in the traditional public schools. Any many of the white middle class parents were looking to find schools where they would be assured that their children would be in classrooms where they would not feel “different” (read what you want). In both cases, parents were seeking to protect their children by opting out of the community, leaving others behind.

Unlike traditional public schools which have a commitment to provide a basic education to all students, most Charter Schools, in an effort to raise the standardized test scores (the main criteria used to evaluate their success and subsequent funding ) have managed to avoid populations who do not test well by writing their Charters to exclude these populations. Students with limited English won’t be able to attend a school that does not provide bilingual or ESL classes; students with disabilities will be excluded if there are no special education programs. The students with the least support from home will be excluded if the charter is written to require parental involvement and the child’s parents work two jobs and can’t participate.

When these measures fail (i.e., a percentage of the students are selected by lottery), the Charters have developed a strategy of “attrition” where they “counsel out” students who seem “inappropriate” for the school. As one student who was “counseled out” put it, using the new corporate language of the Charter Schools, “I got fired.”

The two for-profit Charter School networks who received the highest rates of excellence this year, KIPP and Democracy Prep, have a reputation for very high attrition rates. These schools received ratings between 89-95% and will receive 9 billion dollars that would have gone to traditional public schools. Moreover, there are, apparently, still 5% of public schools that rated higher –but that are not eligible for any of this money since RTTT requires that you only get the money by increasing the number of Charter Schools.


Even given the “policy” advantages. increased resources and populations which have selected out the potentially most “successful” students, the overall record of Charter Schools, has not lived up to its promotion.

A national 2003 study by the Dept of Education under George Bush showed that, using the limited criteria of standardized test scores, the Charter Schools, did no better on average than public schools. The study was suppressed because it did reach the desired conclusions. A 2009 study by Stanford economists which included 70% of all Charter School students, found an astonishing 83% of the Charter Schools are no better and often worse than other Public Schools serving similar populations. Indeed, bad Charter Schools outnumbered good Charter Schools by a ratio of two to one.

The reasons for the low performance of Charter Schools are multiple, but one significant finding shows that for-profit schools tend to increase the ratio of students to teachers in an effort to increase profit (since schools are paid by the state on a per pupil basis). In Ohio, where half the charters are for profit, educational results lag significantly behind mainstream public schools (8% excellence to 63%, respectively). Since the implicit goal of the Charter School movement is to remain non-union to keep costs down, Charters generally have less experienced lower paid teachers with a significantly higher rate of turnover, again lowering the educational outcome.

Another outcome is the greater racial segregation of students in the Charter movement than in public schools, even though public school segregation has also been increasing. Studies attribute this to the “Choice” model. Wherever school choice, is included, there is greater stratification and racial segregation.

But the real tragedy of the charter school movement is that it is intended to serve only a small percentage of students, draining and debilitating the general public school population both financially and in terms of high achieving students.

Moreover, the closing of public schools has caused great hardship for students who must relocate when their schools close– especially if they have to take two buses and a train to school each day, adding an hour each way to their school day. If both parents work, this sometimes provides extra stress in how to get your children to school when the parents can’t take them. Often older siblings are late to their own classes because they have to drop off younger brothers and sisters before they can go to their school.

Since Charter Schools often co-locate in public school space, that space is no longer available to the general student population. In one school in Brooklyn, a for- profit Charter School owned by a hedge fund billionaire pushed the students who had previously been in that space into classrooms in the basement, next to the boiler room. The billionaire, who planned to make a profit off the school, did not pay one cent to rent the space in the public school that had been paid for by taxpayer money.

As Jitu Brown explained in “Rethinking Schools,”for affected communities, [the charter school movement] has been traumatic, largely ineffective, and destabilizing to communities owed a significant educational debt due to decades of being under-served.

How Can We Get Educational Equity in a Capitalist system?

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Capitalists will tell you that you can get equal opportunity and upward mobility (which reflects the “Race to the Top” model) but it implicitly only works for a few. Besides, the US now offers less upward mobility than any other industrialized country. So you can take your chances on escaping the worst excesses of capitalism for your child — but it is a risk.

Marxists will tell you, you can’t. That the educational system is only a reflection of the larger economic relations and there will be no meaningful reform of education without connecting this struggle to the larger movements for social justice in society (how you bring the classroom struggles to the social movements and how to bring the movement into the classroom. This follows a “we’re all in the same boat” philosophy and also has its risks, but at least you’ve got a lot more progressive friends in the boat with you. So, what are our real options for our children and our society? Stay tuned to next month’s article on some revolutionary ideas for real educational change.