“Communism Leads to Abolition of Private Property” Plus 5 More Objections to Communism: Communist Manifesto, part 3

Steve Jobs and FoxConn Worker- in objections to communism post

Capitalists have had a problem with communism since its inception. In the second part of The Communist Manifesto (third part in my series; other parts here), the authors described how communists related to the proletariat. Communists connected similarities between the European workers’ parties that went beyond national identity (e.g., workers have the same relation to capitalists in England as they do in Poland). Marx and Engels responded to six (technically seven) objections that the bourgeois brought against the communists, and to that we turn. As before, I will try to update some of their language to the present. E.g., I’ll render “bourgeoisie” as “owners,” or “capitalists,” or the “proletariat” as “working class” or “workers.”

The 6 Objections Owners Had with Communism

  1. Communists deny the worker the fruit of his labor
  2. Communists destroy individuality
  3. Those dern communists do away with property
  4. Commies dismantle the family and disrupt family education
  5. Communists desire to share women in common
  6. Communists dissolve nationalities/countries

The main structure of these objections lies in stating a bourgeois objection, explaining how the bourgeoisie critiques communists according to naturalized  categories, and then asserting that what the bourgeois consider as neutral categories (e.g., “the” family, “the” individual, “freedom,” etc.) are actually nuanced by class.

Objections #1: Communists Deny the Worker the Fruit of His Labor

Capitalists, according to Marx and Engels, claimed that communists sought to deny the worker what he had made through his labor: the fruit or product. Workers had this relation to their labor before capitalism. E.g., under feudalism, peasants had to render tribute from their crops, but lords did not own all crops and then sell it back to peasants. This property relation comes under capitalism.

Under the “wage-labor” system of capitalism, a worker receives compensation not in what he produces, but with a wage far below the value he produces. It cost Apple $236 to produce the iPhone 6s Plus, though it sold for $749. In 24 hour cycles, 200K workers were building 540K iPhones daily. At that rate, each worker was producing 2.7 iPhone 6s Pluses per day, which would net Apple $1385.10 ((749-236)*2.7).

You and I both know that most top managers weren’t even making a quarter of $1300 per day. Let’s say the worker is well compensated at $25 an hour. Working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, the same worker who produced 2.7 iPhones per day could not afford to buy the phone outright without almost 4 days’ pay. Admittedly, most people buy on installment plans, helping communications capitalists, but the point stands.

The communists, according to Marx and Engels, wanted to do away with “private property” and move it to worker ownership. In this way of things, the workers (not the shareholders) would own the means of production AND what they produced, drastically altering the relation between persons and capital. By abolishing private property, the authors do not mean taking your iPhone, dog, and fleshlight. One, these would be products you produced yourself. Two, since production occurs for need instead of profit, a new relation develops between humans and commodities.

Objections #2: Communists Destroy Individuality

In the authors’ argument, this objection follows closely from the first. Capital is both the means of production and the product itself. For example, the machines used to assemble iPhones, along with iPhones themselves, are capital that belong to the capitalist class.

What the authors get at is that capitalists mistake their class’s view of individuality with individuality itself (cf. my post on naturalization).

Even if it was a capitalist who originated the idea for the iPhone, the capitalist cannot possibly realize this dream without a mass of labor. However, he attains a social status for the idea/product while the workers remain in the background.

When you think of the Apple brand, who do you picture? Do you think of the thousands of workers involved in producing, transporting, stocking, and selling Apple products? Or do you think of Steve Jobs? This is the individuality communists seek to destroy—a self that is not possible without a largely exploited mass. The communists wish to re-inscribe their individuality.

Objections #3: Those Dern Communists Do Away with Property

Somewhat related to objection 1, owners claimed that communists wanted to abolish private property. Marx and Engels pled guilty. Capitalists equated property with productive property/the means of production. They “rented” this to workers in the form of a wage.

.Capitalists propagated the claim that if property ceased, then work would cease, and universal laziness would follow in this train. Our authors wryly put it,

“You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths” (25).

And guess what: the poor still worked in order to survive. They did not toil for their own needs, which might take roughly 4 hours a day to meet if they lived in a forest commune. No, they worked arbitrarily long hours to create enormous surpluses of products, the profits of which all went back to the capitalists.

Communists wanted, not to leech peoples’ property, but to prevent the already-occurring exploitation of the workers by the capitalists.

Objections 4: Commies Dismantle Family and Disrupt Family Education

This objection is a bit obtuse if you don’t know what’s going on in the background. The authors frame this as yet another case of the bourgeoisie mistaking its own concept of the family for the family itself.

Marx and Engels describe this bourgeois family as based “on capital, on private gain” in contrast with the “practical absence of the family among the proletariat.” I’m not sure what goes on here. Later they remark that they wish to end parental exploitation of their children. It remains unclear, however, if the authors mean bourgeois children, proletarian children, or children in general.

On r/Communism101, u/Ornlu_Wolfjarl claims that the communist aim to end the capitalist family was to remove inheritance rights, and therefore, the propagation of class. This makes sense, for at the end of this section, the authors call on banning all inheritance. U/laserbot claims something similar, in that commies were not about ending marriage or parent/child relations per se, but ending the reduction of women to baby factories and children to heirs.

It seems, too, that workers’ children were subject to child labor at this time. The authors state, “all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor” (27).

The communists wanted every child to have education, not just the owners.

Objections 5: Communists Desire to Share Women in Common

Marx and Engels charge the capitalists here with projecting again. The assumption seems to have been, according to our authors’ assertion, that women were property of their husbands. It makes sense, then, why capitalists would conclude that sharing property would include sharing women.

The authors desire women to self-actualize, to be more than reproductive vehicles, to be more than dependent upon men. Thus, in a communist world,  proletarian women would not have to resort to prostitution, for class exploitation would have ceased.

What communists did wish to share was to share freedom with women. As Clara Zetkin would later state, “When a proletarian then exclaims: ‘My wife!’ he will add mentally, ‘Comrade of my ideals, companion of my battles, mother of my children for future battles.'”

Objections 6: Communists Dissolve Nationalities/Countries

Marx and Engels counter that the workers have no country to leave behind or betray. Since they have no private property and no stake in the state, the authors push for a “nationalism” that is internationalist. In their words, Marx and Engels declare, “Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word” (28).

When the workers gain a foothold within their own states, it seems to follow that they would help workers in other states gain power there, too.

Next, however, they state something spurious, at least as history went on: “National differences and antagonisms between peoples are vanishing gradually day to day, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie…” This comment is definitely of its time. They were writing mainly about and to other Europeans, who shared semi-common cultures.

A Postlude of sorts

Though Marx would relegate religion to an echo of productive means, religion, as a cultural marker between groups, has served just as strong an identifier as nationality does now.

picture-of-Hatch's-the-democratization-of-american-christianityAdmittedly, religion changes as the means of production change. Though not his aim, Nathan O. Hatch chronicles this change (in Christianity at least) in his The Democratization of American Christianity. He shows how religious practice shifted when monarchy shifted to democracy, a definite example of Marx’s theory that changes in the means of production drive history (here, on would say that the shift from feudalism to capitalism changed both politics and religion).

Perhaps, however, this criticism of Marx is premature. While they may have underestimated the power of nationalism (and ideas generally) in our time, Marx and Engels were prescient on group struggles. The ease with which politicians can scapegoat immigrants or unions or anything else for American problems demonstrates one thing. Workers largely have not realized that they are in common cause with workers of other countries. The owners of corporations, the ones who sent American jobs elsewhere, are not the friends of workers, American or not. Unions happened here to guard against the crap non-American workers now endure.

The next entry will be on Marx and Engels’ “10 Point Program.”

Communist Manifesto, part 2 (but really Part 1): Bourgeois and Proletarians

Capitalists wringing money from workers

This is part 2 of my series on The Communist Manifesto. Part 1 is here. Now we get into the meat of the book. While this is my part 2, this entry covers part 1 of the Communist Manifesto: “Bourgeois and Proletarians” (aka capitalists and workers). This is also one of the major socialist works mentioned here.

The Meat: Capitalists and Workers

Marx and Engels claim that society consists of class struggle/antagonism (instead of homogenized/unified/lockstepped nations or realms). The current struggle is between two classes: capitalists (this is how most socialists refer to the bourgeoisie) and workers (this, or “working class,” is a more straightforward translation of “proletariat”).

Marx and Engels reveal that there are more than two classes at play. However, capitalists and workers are the two principal players. The authors mention past antagonisms like lords/serfs and patricians/plebeians.

How and why the classes exist as they do occupy this section of the Communist Manifesto. Their argument unfolds in what is at times history, philosophy, and activism.

How Did the Capitalists Come About?

Capitalists emerged due to a confluence of advances: land discovery, colonization, communication, navigation, technological efficiency, division of labor, and commerce. In a phrase, capitalists owe their existence to new “modes of production.”  They transitioned from a group oppressed by the nobles. Then to one used by the monarchy against the nobles. Then  capitalists came to dominance as the monarchy and nobles fought to their mutual ruin.

Their pursuit of commercial interest above all else led capitalists to embrace “free trade” (by “free trade,” Marx and Engels mean trade free from the encumbrance of nation or faith). As technology became more efficient at yielding product, capitalists had to exploit new markets to keep profits up. These newly integrated markets gave the world a cosmopolitan character,  replacing old social relations (such as patriarchy and fealty) with urbanization.

When I first read this section, I thought Marx and Engels had overplayed their hand. For example, they state, “The bourgeoisie, whenever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations” (11). Let’s grant that feudal relations had largely evaporated by their time. Surely patriarchal relations had not. However, as young people flocked to cities and factories took the place of small-time workers, family ties began to break down. Their new life free from the oversight of the village created a new sense of social relations. In fact, Marx and Engels later assert that as city population increases along side urban production, power shifts from from the village to consolidation in the hands of a few in the cities.

Back to their argument.

How Did the Working Class Come About?

While technological advances helped capitalists become dominant, they also were an Achilles’ Heel. Overproduction became a problem. Oversupply means lower prices. To keep advancing profits, capitalists needed new markets.

Technological innovations created the working class. As each worker became less necessary for profit, the worker’s existence became more precarious. If the owner of a factory needed less workers, working existence becomes more perilous as the workers who are left compete with each other in order to survive. They lived in cities and didn’t own land in the country, so the workers’ entire existence depended on the ability to secure jobs, if they resided in the cities.

Again, technology makes labor less necessary to capitalists. For example, machines make the John Henrys of the world obsolete. Or in Marx’s words, they make age and sex meaningless. A change in modes of production yields change in modes of social relations.

The wages the capitalists spend to maintain the workers’ subsistence soon siphons to smaller capitalists. One should note, too, that this group sinks into the proletariat because of competition with larger capitalists. This is where Marx and Engels begin to describe other classes. There are “petty bourgeoisie,” like shopkeepers (aka small business owners), land owners, etc. These are the smaller version of large capitalists like factory owners or industry leaders.

Development of the Working Class

Now the authors portray a trajectory of the development of the working class. Early in the workers’ development, they are precarious as individuals. If they move along toward union, they first unify in a factory as each worker begins to recognize their factory owners as possessing interests different from theirs. Then, perhaps, all factory workers who machine tools begin to develop a mutual group-interest (or class consciousness). Then they can develop a unified struggle (aka union) against the bourgeoisie in one locale. Initially Marx and Engels describe a reactionary impulse among workers to destroy the machines that replace them. If the machines are absent, they can have their jobs back. The authors soon argue against this folly.

Worker unity becomes possible from the conditions that conjured capitalists into being. Recall improved navigation and communication. Today, the internet is a boon to groups trying to extend their influence. One should note, though, that the internet also allows greater surveillance. When workers unify, they can exploit breaches in capitalist unity, e.g., in the achievement of the 10-hour bill that Marx and Engels mention.

At the time of their writing, 1848, workers were subject to working hours much longer than 10-hour workdays. Imagine working upwards of 16 hours, 6-7 days a week.

As class struggle intensifies, the capitalists and aristocracy, in an attempt to undermine the other, equip workers with education. The petit bourgeois/small capitalists sometimes side with the workers against the capitalists. They do this not to advance worker struggle, but in an effort to retain their former privileges. Another class, the “social scum” (German: lumpenproletariat), the authors portray as dangerous because any group can potentially by them off with enough provisions.

What Happens When the Workers Unify?

The workers of every country share a lack of capital (that is, means of production; see upcoming entry) and oppression beneath the exploitative capitalists. Therefore, if the workers revolt, they have no former privilege to defend. It would be the first revolution of the majority for the majority. Marx and Engels contrast this with revolutions fought by the many poor for the few rich (like the American Revolution fought so owners could self-govern away from monarchic oversight).

Capitalists exploit workers through wage-labor (I will cover this more when I write a series on Marx’s “Wage-Labor and Capital”; in the meantime, here is a definition), creating competition between workers rather than between the workers and capitalists. Therefore, workers must begin uniting against the capitalists in their own countries.

Upcoming Posts

The next section describes the relation of the workers to the communists. I hope this summary of part of the Communist Manifesto helps you understand a little more about it. If so, please follow the blog, and share it on Facebook or Twitter. If you have questions, comments, concerns, or lampoons, please comment, email me at ilostmyprayerhanky2 at mailgay otday omcay (look up Pig Latin if this makes no sense to you), or tweet @PessimistsHope.

Communist Manifesto, part 1: Prolegomena, Preface, and Preamble

Communist ManifestoKarl Marx and Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto [1848]. Authorized English Translation. Translated by Samuel Moore. New York: International Publishers Co., Inc., 1948.

 

 

Prolegomena, or Intro stuff

This entry is a (part of a 4-5 part series) review that covers Engels’ 1888 preface to the authorized English translation of the manifesto, as well as the “preamble.” Thus begins my foray into reviewing the major works of Marxism and socialism (way down the road I will probably do this with anarchism).

In this most (in)famous of texts, The Communist Manifesto (CM), Marx and Engels lay out the program for the overthrow of the bourgeois (those who own the means of production) by the working people (proletariat). Its pace is fast, its metaphors strident. I have read the work maybe twice before, but never in so much detail as now. For example, I went so far as to number the paragraphs and summarize each in my own words. My life situation also makes this reading more memorable.

The CM text I review divides into seven sections, but four primary parts. Engels’ preface covers the reception of the CM following the revolutions of 1848. The second section, or preamble, lists communism as a bogeyman that requires definition and subsequent defense. The main argument of the book (and how the work is structured) consists of four parts: “Bourgeois and Proletarians,” “Proletarians and Communists,” “Socialist and Communist Literature,” and “Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties.” The final section concludes with Engels’ notes.

The Preface: The Communist League and Growing Working-Class Movement

What is now available online for free, and has been read and used by many revolutionaries since its publication, was once the agenda of a secret group called the “Communist League.” They quickly translated it from German into the major languages of Europe. However, Engels remarks on the vulnerability of the group. After the 1848 Paris revolt, and its subsequent repression, many of the League were imprisoned, until they quickly dissolved the group of their own volition.

It is common now to see the left a splintered mess: egoists, anarchists, communists, social democrats, democratic socialists, Maoists, Marxist-Leninists, Marxists, Luxemburgests, situationists, and habitual circle-jerkers. Apparently this sectarianism was present in the 1850s, too, for Engels refers to Marx’s grating success of uniting followers of Proudhon, LaSalle, and English unionists into the International Workingmen’s Association (First International).

Engels claims that the emerging working-class movement followed the translation of the CM into various languages. Though he admits the words “socialism” and “communism” could be used roughly interchangeably by 1888, they definitely could not be used synonymously in 1848. Then, socialists were those who wished to improve the welfare of people without challenging capital; communists were working class people who wanted the benefits that derived from owning capital themselves (more on Marx’s definition of “capital” in upcoming posts). Or to quote Engels: “Whatever portion of the working class had become convinced of the insufficiency of mere political revolutions, and had proclaimed the necessity of a total social change, called itself Communist” (5).

Engels is rather self-effacing when it comes to the origins of the manifesto. He attributes the nucleus of the work to Marx (though he would say they came to similar conclusions independently): social organization being invariably linked to economic production, class struggle, and proletarian emancipation from the bourgeoisie.

I find Engels’s historicizing remarks in the concluding paragraphs of his preface quite striking. He (and Marx for that matter) did not take their words as sacred scripture to be taken without criticism. For example, one of the most famous passages occurs at the end of part two, a ten-point program of sorts (from which The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would pen its own ten-point program). Engels states that some of these aims simply don’t match the historical conditions of 1888 and so remain an artifact of 1848. He also remarks that the socialist literature reviewed in part three only goes up to 1848 and that some of the parties mentioned in part four no longer existed.

That is Engels’ preface. Now to the preamble.

Preamble: “A specter is haunting Europe–the specter of Communism.”

The Communist League saw their mere existence as a threat so severe as to elicit a unified response from parties as diverse as pope, emperors, financiers, and police-spies. The writers took this to mean that they were a power, but one which deserved a hearing of its aims and demands. It was internationalist from its beginnings. In other words, there’s was not a nationalist situation, but a union of members from England, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Internationalism would play a huge part in communist revolutions globally.

Concluding Thoughts

Is the CM mere antiquities, a literary piece for hobbyists? One could use it that way, I suppose, but to do so would forfeit the document’s power. Even if one does not agree with all of Marx and Engels’ assertions, they should at least give one pause. What does it mean if people are grouped into antagonistic classes? What would it mean for working people to unite as a class, overthrow bourgeois hegemony, and obtain political power (the aims of the Communist League on p. 22)? Do the revolutions of Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, and the various Bolivarian revolutions speak to the truth or falsehood of this document? Or how do those revolutions compare to the ideas Marx and Engels put forth?

My life situation makes this reading more poignant this time. I had written toward the end of last year a massive reading goal of 22 non-fiction works and 10 fiction works. Surely with school being done I would have nothing to do. It turned out that working 40+ hours a week in manual labor plus 10+ hours a week in commute time make for a tired and ragged Monte. It’s hard enough being a parent who is present and getting chores done; what little time I have is devoted to reading for this blog, and I don’t exactly feel great about my efforts.

I don’t know how the miners of yesteryear worked 12-16 hour days by candlelight and still made time to organize for better conditions. They are inspiring. They inspire while I feel the pressure of student debt, tired muscles, anxiety and desperation to use my mental skill, little time for my wife and children, and even less time to just read. So is the working class life. We work just to survive, while those who own capital make money off the labor of those who work. This is no a c’est la vie, or “it is what it is” statement; such is the outlook of those who share precarious conditions (like trying to find affordable healthcare), but through some obfuscation see this way of things as natural, unalterable, divinely-inspired, deserved. Recognize the power of your own activity. The way things are are not the way things have to be. Far from it.

Subjectivity, Text, Interpretation, and Faith

This is a letter I wrote to someone dear to me after s/he asked about my faith, with only a little editing. Edits will be inside brackets.

 

“Hey [person who is dear to me]

Thanks for opening up what I think can be a fruitful dialogue. I’m composing this for you as well as for me so I can put down some thoughts […].

The subject line [‘Subjectivity, Text, Interpretation, Faith’] shows in an abstract way how I think we arrive at faith. Children are not born religious or really anything. The faith that they accumulate or don’t comes from life experience. Subjectivity in my model includes all that goes into making a person: habits, decisions, mistakes, parents, thoughts, relationships, abuse/acceptance, bodies, societies, communities, wars, money, education, livelihood, hobbies, etc. I wouldn’t say any one of these things are necessarily more important than any other [after further reflection, I find some of those elements far more influential than others] in self-formation; selves are an amalgam of things that become more or less stable over time.

We bring all (or sometimes only parts depending on how integrated we are as persons) of ourselves to the texts that we read. Based on our experiences we can reject or accept things in texts rather quickly. At other times there are texts that give one pause, particularly if they are eloquent, beautiful, jarring, peculiar, or any combination of these things. If I read a headline, I bring a political bent, previous thinking, as well as openness to the text at hand. More often than not it goes out of my mind by the next day because of the nature of that genre of text. Texts such as the Bible, which contain rich layers of genre and human interest, I […] give more time to.

When I told you today that I hadn’t really touched a Bible that much in a while, unless for class, [it] is because I have spent a lot of time […] ruminating over various passages. Some of these textual interactions have been with me since I was a boy: humans are special (image of God; even if I am probably more of an agnostic now, this value has continued to develop in me even after I left tradition), we are built for community and owe to our communities (brother’s keeper, not good for [hu]man[s] to be alone; the owing of ourselves to our communities is a more recent development), redemption (not so much in an orthodox understanding, but in a narrative sense, I have experienced redemption after Sarah’s and my relationship became better). Things that have moved me beyond reconciliation with evangelicalism (if one assumes inerrancy an integral part of that label): patriarchy as divinely ordained[…], death penalties for trivial things (blasphemy, sorcery, men having sex with men [note the lack of the same standard for women!- original brackets], Sabbath breaking [technically one is to be cut off from the people, but that’s essentially a death sentence in that context- original brackets]), proclivity to war, authoritarianism, embeddedness in monarchy and empire, the concept of messianism, the injustice of [substitutionary] atonement theory, racism/ethnocentrism, slavery, and choosing ambiguities of faith over certainties of reason (particularly when the two are in conflict).

On interpretation, I see it as organically springing from our persons as described above. We can be trained in various interpretive models–the more traditional ones that involve history, language, syntax, and sociology–or more avant guard [hehe, avant-garde] ones like feminist, queer, post-colonial, ideological/Marxist, reader-response, deconstruction, economic, and African-American (this could probably fit entirely under post-colonial approaches). The more avant guard [again, avant-garde] ones call into question the traditional historical-critical approach that understood there to be one inherent meaning per text. Scholars such as Dale Martin have demonstrated that when two scholars beholden to the same historical-critical methods approached one text, they arrived at diametrically opposed conclusions.

Probably where I fit in interpretation is synthetic. I think we have to make use of the building blocks of history, language, and syntax (kind of the historical-critical school in a nutshell) but texts tend not to just sit there as “fully interpreted” if we stop at “this verb means this in such and such tense when followed by the definite article in Hebrew and when used by the leader of a family household.” If that’s what it meant for such a person, what, if anything, has that to do with me? That question involves what I call the gap. There is a vast chasm between ancient literature and myself, of time, language, and culture. I can fill in some of that, but inevitably I fill in with tools from my training, my community, and my life experience. This is why there’s no such thing as a commentary on the Bible without an author. There simply is no such thing as a biblical interpretation without human subjectivity involved. At all. Some are uncomfortable with this. When I came to this realization, it was preposterously disconcerting, especially since I was raised with the idea that the Bible is the only authoritative rule for faith and practice. If that’s the case, we’re screwed. Tons of traditions agree on the idea of inerrancy, but then claim that they have the right interpretation in the bag, regardless of how much diversity of opinion there ends up being.

If God/Jesus/Spirit ruled as a physical personage, we would know who the right and wrong were, for then they could settle the dispute! They’re [the trinity] conspicuously silent when I really need them to come through. We could have real loyalists and real rebels. As we have it, we have a lot of people grasping at straws about the unseen and then holding people accountable based on that unseen thing that some apparently have access to[,] but [which] I don’t to corroborate it. I get along quite well with people even if they accept this. It gets hard when it gets political[,] though [,] for then the innocuous belief becomes a concrete political option that makes or breaks communities.

From my religious studies training, I was exposed to the debate between idealism and materialism. All religions have elements of both: you’d call one theology and one ethics, or the immaterial and material. Because of where I’m at, I focus on the material. If the Bible says, “If a man lays with a man as with a woman, that is an abomination,” (it says something similar to this in Leviticus; I’m just going from memory) and in the other form of that passage it adds the death penalty, I’m going to stop and think a bit before I do something [about the] concrete passage. Even if we account for genre and time, that is still present in the inerrant text. If two men happen to pork each other, and they aren’t doing it in public or to children, I see no reason why they should be stoned, particularly since passages like this one give no reason for the ruling other than “God said” or a sacred text said so. Such arguments from authority simply don’t do anything for me anymore. If there is not a rational basis and God is perfect, that [text] couldn’t have been spoken by God, for then it would be associating irrationality or tyranny with God.

This is getting long. Suffice it to say, I have access to God/Jesus/Spirit solely through a text and the person of Monte I bring to that text. The ONLY thing that would change that would be if they were to speak for themselves. Short of that, we are all gods […] since we end up being the final arbiter of which texts we find authoritative and which ones we don’t.

Love you. Thanks for speaking with me about this and for letting me speak candidly with you.

Even though some of the statements above are put pretty bluntly, or maybe as if I am hardened to change, that is not the case. I am open to dialogue. Challenge me on things. Question me. Ask what my narrative has to do with my interpretation. Ask for clarification. Provide difference of opinion. And defend it.

Again, love you
Mont”

Labor Day: The Domestication of Radicalism

https://ameriquotes.files.wordpress.com/2015/09/pullmancartoon.jpg?w=640Labor Day in the United States began as a local display of union power in New York in 1882. Many workers worked 12+ hour days and 7 days a week, and many were precarious immigrant workers. 10,000 workers took unpaid time off of work to march from City Hall to Union Square. Twelve years later it would become a national holiday, after over 20 states had made it a holiday. What occurred in the intervening 12 years?

According to the House website, Senator Kyle of South Dakota introduced S.730 in August 1893, proposing the establishment of Labor Day, where it sat untouched for 10 months. However, once brought forward, it passed quickly through congress. Why the swift passage?

Image result for george pullman
Never trust a goat man

Workers in Pullman, IL (now Chicago) had begun a strike that eventually turned national. Pullman was a “company town,” a place where George Pullman housed his workers. Pullman’s eponymous town had a Pullman bank, which took out Pullman rents from Pullman worker’s Pullman checks.

When the Panic of 1893 hit, the Pullman Palace Car Company (sleeping cars) began to cut wages while it kept rents the same. Workers went on strike on May 11 the following year. The American Railway Union called on all railway workers not to run trains with Pullman cars on June 22. On June 29, workers were so agitated, they set fire to a train connected to a mail car.

https://media1.britannica.com/eb-media/17/13517-004-48331393.jpg
Governor Altgeld of Illinois

This destruction sparked the ire of President Grover Cleveland. He tried to send in troops because of the breakdown in law and order, but governor John Peter Altgeld blocked this move, seeing claims of anarchy as overblown. Cleveland secured an injunction and sent in at least 10,000 troops. In response to an assault on July 7, troops opened fire, injuring dozens, and killing between 4 to 30 workers. The strike soon ended.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/f3/Grover_Cleveland_-_NARA_-_518139_%28cropped%29.jpg/220px-Grover_Cleveland_-_NARA_-_518139_%28cropped%29.jpg
President Cleveland

Now 1894 was a midterm election year. Cleveland was a democrat. Much of his base belonged to the American Federation of Labor, a union not involved in the Pullman strike. In an effort to appease this base, the creation of Labor Day easily passed. Note, though, that the new holiday passed on June 28, a little over a week before the violence that occurred. The Pullman workers regained employment only on condition of never joining a union again.

Labor Day is probably seen as the mere transition from summer to fall because of the shrinking power of unions. It doesn’t help that a large segment of the public sees unions as the problem (e.g., “sending” jobs outside the U.S., as if the workers who don’t actually own the companies voted to send their own jobs away) instead as security for workers. Who do you think got you weekends, an 8 hour workday, pensions, child labor laws, sick days, and social security? Bosses weren’t trying to find ways to share wealth; they had to be forced by labor.

Why do most workers not realize the radical origins of this day, while business blogs (like Forbes and Business Insider) do? I believe it’s due to the leisure time afforded such persons by their high pay, while gas station, food service, and hospitality workers face precarity and just want a little break from it all. Cheap goods can inoculate a populace to the source of the cheapness. Cheap goods comes on the back of the third world with the full security of U.S. gunboat diplomacy. Even a well run social democracy (aka “welfare state”) can only survive with exploitative capital.

As my pastor stated, it’s ironic that a day established to celebrate workers celebrates capitalism with savings on cars and furniture. And those workers have to work on Labor Day. Who are the workers who still get terrible pay and terrible treatment by the public? This is their day. The thing that labor in the U.S. can do is not blame fleeing jobs on immigrants or “foreigners,” but realize the common struggle of global workers vs. international capitalists. As two cool German dudes once said, “Workers of the World, Unite!”

Top 10 (or 17) Most Mentioned Socialist Texts

I was raised in southwest Missouri. Let’s say it wasn’t exactly a hotbed of socialism. However, Bernie Sanders made it possible for the word to be more than a way to shut someone down when you didn’t like what they were saying.

I had read the Communist Manifesto (CM) in summer 2014, but it didn’t start to hit home until the next summer. I had just learned I probably wouldn’t make it as an academic, and so I while I was looking for a job, I read the CM again with new eyes. What could I attain if I didn’t have capital? Why should a third of my life (my labor) be owned by a very small group of people to do with it whatever they whim?

Since there weren’t any socialist groups around, I did a lot of stumbling around in the dark in making a self-directed reading list. But I found some promising leads.

First, I Found Some Resource Lists

  1. Movimiento Anti-Imperialista– Admittedly, I saw this list on r/communism first, but it is from an Italian communist movement. Since I don’t read Italian, I’m happy a friendly redditor translated it into English (aside: it appears that “proletariat” [“proletarios” meaning workers in Italian] is a faster way of saying “worker class”).
  2. Marxists Internet Archive– This is a treasure house of Marxist literature. Marx, Engels, Kautsky, Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao- they’re all here with many others.
  3. Freedom Socialist Party– Founded in 1966, this American Trotskyist party emphasizes revolutionary feminism as its lens of socialism. They have tons on their reading list as well as more tons of study guides.
  4. Socialist Appeal– Socialist Appeal is now apparently Socialist Revolution as of August 2, 2017. I haven’t read anything about it, other than it looks like rebranding. Anyway, these comrades have resources for days, too. They are another American Trotskyist party, part of the International Marxist Tendency.
  5. From Marx to Mao– According to the webmaster’s statement of purpose, the title of his site is a misnomer, since his intention was to remedy a dearth of Lenin and Stalin texts at the Marxists Internet Archive. If this used to be the case (it doesn’t look like the person has updated much since around 2003), the MIA remedied it since. The major thing I value, anyway, is the person’s reading list, which includes basic readings as well as further reading on various topics.

So if you want to move from

this                                                             to this     

then you have to read at least these ten works most mentioned on the commie webz:

Finally, the Top 10 (or 17) List

So I really tried for the 10 most mentioned, but with several mentions tying for spots, it ended up at 17.

  1. Manifesto of the Communist Party Marx and Engels 5
    Wages, Price, and Profit (AKA “Value, Price, and Profit”) Marx 5
    Socialism: Utopian and Scientific Engels 5
  2. The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism Lenin 4
    State and Revolution Lenin 4
  3. Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder Lenin 3
    Capital, vol. 1 Marx 3
    Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism Lenin 3
  4. German Ideology Marx and Engels 2
    The Transitional Program Trotsky 2
    What Is to Be Done? Lenin 2
    Theses on Feuerbach Marx 2
    The Paris Commune” (From The Civil War in France) Marx 2
    Anti-Duhring Engels 2
    Wage-Labor and Capital Marx 2
    The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State Engels 2
    Critique of the Gotha Program Marx 2

So you see, you might be able to make your own top ten from this, such as read the top 8, and then pick two from the bottom 9. There are also important works missing from the list, such as Rosa Luxemburg’s “Reform or Revolution?” or Trotsky’s “Permanent Revolution.” But this is a start.

I welcome any critiques, additions, subtractions, how-could-you-not-include-this’s, praises, offerings, sacrifices, or clarifications you might have, particularly since I’ve only read two of these. Admittedly, I am a noob. But we are in this together, since the propaganda machine against socialism/Marxism/communism/etc.ism has been so effective, that most people don’t know that a rich literary tradition exists behind the cloak of conservative polemics. I might end up reading most or all of these texts and not find some of them helpful. If that’s the case, I’ll write a scathing review.

If you find this helpful, retweet it, share it on Facebook, or put it on your Trapper Keeper.

Dream big and stay safe, comrades.

Trouble with Labels

Thought experiment. Let’s say you’ve had a best friend since kindergarten. For some reason, you never discussed politics with each other. Then one day, your friend labels himself/herself with the label of your political other (so pretend you’re a socialist and your friend admits to being alt-right, or vice-versa).

What do you do with this information? Do you give more importance to the label than to your friend, and attribute all the negativity you’ve accumulated with that label to your friend? Do you give more importance to your friend, and ask what s/he means by it since you’ve been friends for so long, and maybe you might learn something from a true believer of that label? In other words, if you had shared interests in video games, sports, hiking, music, books, bands, cooking, martial arts, fashion—and interests cultivated TOGETHER over decades—would your friend’s revelation overturn all of that?

What if you two understand the label in completely different ways? Do labels mean something in themselves; do they allow for variance within the label; does meaning shift according to group non/affiliation; do they mean something vastly different depending on history or region; do labels mean something different to leaders and followers?

Why We Are So Frustrated in Political Conversations

After reading some of Terry Eagleton’s Ideology: An Introduction, I’m beginning to look at political discourse differently. Eagleton not only shows the breadth of peoples’ understanding of the term “ideology,” but also strategies used by their ideology.

Two strategies of ideology (let’s for the sake of discussion assume that ideology means something like 1) certain propositions are true, 2) certain narratives are taken as good explanations, and 3) these two assertions both fulfill certain desires or resolve emotions) I want to hone in on are universalization and naturalization. Universalization means something like understanding one’s own position not as one among many, or as sectarian, but simply that from which one can generalize. Universalization is thus closely associated with naturalization, for that which one takes as universal can easily move into the category “natural,” casting any aberration from this frame as “unnatural,” “innovative,” or in moral casting “wrong,” “evil,” or maybe seemingly neutral like “irrational.” Universalization requires the move of naturalization to establish itself, so that competing narratives are considered fantasies beyond the imaginable

So let’s take this topic of ideological strategies and see how it could cast light on interchanges among friends from very different political persuasions. For the record, when ideology gets thrown around, one usually hears it lobbed at one’s opponents as something “they have”; we are the rational ones. If we take a cue from the strategy of naturalization, this makes sense for marking social boundaries. Our ways are so familiar to us, that how could anyone look at the evidence we’re looking at and not come to our same conclusions? This is one of the unfortunate legacies of the Enlightenment, that information speaks for itself, obscuring that information is never neutral. It is always and ever collected, maintained, explained, and brought to bear for certain reasons. Another word for “reasons” that will make its ideological nature more apparent is to replace “reasons” with “interests.”

The very sources we take as authoritative and the interpretations of these sources we take as authoritative are not native to the sources/data themselves, but constitutive themselves of our social groups. Who are we but the sources we cherish and the values we tell ourselves we value, the conclusions of which we have derived from sources we have already picked? To put this more plainly, let’s assume two people are talking about Donald Trump. What is obviously/naturally great to one person is puzzling or even evil to another. I definitely see Trump one way, and it wouldn’t be hard to track down how I feel about him, but that attitude is the result of what sources I already buy into, the friends I cherish, the communities I am in solidarity with, and ways of assessing I take as legitimate. If these fundamental elements aren’t discussed overtly, is it any wonder how our “obvious” talking points go over the heads of our interlocutors or infuriate us because they don’t play by our rules, just as we don’t play by theirs?

What prompted this post was a discussion some of my close family and friends have had over Trump, a recent post on algorithms, and another post on the use of language. Burge, in his article on algorithms, found that there was a strong correlation between being evangelical and being Republican. I asked my friend who posted this that if these identities were as “fused” as they appeared, would a Republican (who also happened to be an evangelical) take a critique of her political views as an attack on his faith. If so, “dialogue” would probably be nigh impossible, nigh if we always keep our prior commitments obscured in discussion. However, I only came to Burge’s article after reading a post by Nongbri concerning the use of language and the communities which constitute the language. Rather than try to look at ways in which “others” distort meaning, he pays attention to the rhetoric employed by groups to establish a stable meaning in the first place. In other words, he doesn’t see meaning as stable at all as much as the social boundaries/indentifiers of particular groups.

So what of all this? Without understanding how groups work, how they include and exclude, how they construct their own boundaries and deconstruct that of others, “dialogue” will be next to impossible, if it ever is. If we don’t understand the ways in which others groups establish themselves, we are quite literally speaking different languages, living different lives, smelling different air, and seeing different people.

Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Pt. 1

So I’ve been trudging through this piece of Aristotle, looking for material I might be able to use in ethical discourse in the American political climate.

Too often I feel ethical discourse retreats into partisan interests, religious interests, or uncritical opinion. This has probably been the case since time immemorial, but that doesn’t extinguish how much it annoys me.

 

Aristotle’s big beef in this work is the “mean” between extremes. He also mentions “virtue” a lot. The name that he gives a virtue ends up being the mean between two extremes which often have to do with vice. For example, he assigns courage as the mean between cowardice and rashness.

Though Aristotle holds the mean as the aim of the good life, he also maintains that it is incredibly difficult (one has to aim for the mean actively; it is not a static state [surely there is a better phrase, but I prefer to write in stream-of-consciousness]) to achieve, and so if one has a proclivity to one extreme, one’s own ethical rule should be to swing toward the opposite pole.

Aristotle also holds open the possibility that there are times when opting for one extreme or another will actually achieve the good. For example, in a passage (Book IV, Chapter 5) on “gentleness” (the mean between angry irritability and lack of showing proper anger [numbness maybe?]), he speaks of appropriate anger reserved for certain people/things, for certain times, and for a certain length of time. He doesn’t go into great detail to fill out these categories, so I was left with questions like: “What situations deserve anger in his mind? Considering such situations, when it is appropriate to express anger and for how long? If violence comes into the picture, how much and for how long is it appropriate”?

While I wish for more concrete examples, it’s almost as if the work is an ice breaker for ethical discussion. It’s like, “Aristotle defines justice as such and such. What are some instances with which we can test this assertion?”

Perhaps I have skimmed parts too quickly because I only have so much time as a husband, father, worker, student, and citizen. Perhaps Aristotle will mention more concrete examples. However, the translator/editor of my edition, Joe Sachs, reminds the reader that Aristotle remains abstract/general because to be too specific on some points would have too many exceptions to be useful (Sachs, Nicomachean Ethics, Focus Philosophical Library, 2002, 35n43).

I’ve just started on his section on justice (Book V). This subject intrigues me the most because of the relativity of justice. Whose justice? When is something just? Is it a set of rules? Is it a way/process of judgment with varying outcomes? Most poignantly in my context, who has the market on justice: the Right or the Left? Does justice lie in only one of them, does it shift between them, is it only established by who is in power?

I’m kind of having fun with this work, though some of it is largely irrelevant to me (discussions of the aristocratic station, etc.) and some of his writing isn’t straightforward enough for my American sensibilities. That said, it’s nice to take a step back in time, away from the interests that bombard me in the present, to see how others (who weren’t interested in my interests) thought about things dear to me.

Crap. That was not a straightforward sentence. At times I wax eloquent and other times I forget all I covered in composition. I beg your mercy.

Non-Fiction Book 1: The Democrats: A Critical History by Lance Selfa

Lance Selfa. The Democrats: A Critical History. Updated edition. Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012. 296pp. $16US

Last year I made a list of nonfiction works I wanted to read this year. I just finished my first book from that list.

Lance Selfa details in eight chapters that any hope for American leftists (and he would argue, the average person in the U.S.) does not lie with the Democratic Party. His argument is not against the Democratic base (i.e., African-Americans, women, LGBT, poor, labor), but against its party leaders. Chapter one argues that Democrats are essentially capitalism lite. Chapter two chronicles the shift from Democrats being the “party of slavery” to the “party of the people.” Chapter three summarizes the rise of the “New Democrats,” or those organized after Carter’s fantastic defeat. Chapter four goes through Obama’s promises for change during his first term. Chapter five argues that Democrats, rather than leading progressive change, coopt and corral social movements. Chapter six shows Democrats to be just as beholden to American empire as Republicans, though with humanitarian justification. Chapter seven lists the many failed attempts of progressives to move the Democrats leftward. Selfa finishes chapter eight with an answer to the question of why there is no left alternative to the Democratic Party. Selfa pays primary attention to Democratic failures concerning labor, civil rights, and militarism. Let’s look at the indictments Selfa brings against the party by topic:

Poor (not a whole lot said about the poor or poverty):

  • the Social Security Administration gave retirement benefits to everyone (including the rich who didn’t need it) though workers subsidized it: it came out of payroll tax instead of taxes on wealth (51)
  • Clinton was the first president since the New Deal to cut one of its programs (welfare) (75-76)
  • Clinton didn’t move to raise the minimum wage when he had a Democratic congress (78)
  • Obama extended Bush tax cuts 2 years, even offering to end entitlement spending (107-08)
  • Obama offered a jobs bill in September 2011, long after having a Democratic congress for 2 years (108-09)

Ties to Capital Interests:

  • FDR ran in 1932 on platform of a balanced budget, 25% cut in federal spending, with no mention of unions or labor (126)
  • Carter cut capital gains taxes and boosted the social security tax on paychecks (66)
  • elections take a lot of money. House seats cost $1.3M in 2006 compared to $193K in 1986, and Senate almost $9M in 2006 from $1.4M in 1986. Democratic Party fundraising only saw a quarter of its contributions from labor while the majority from business (24-26). In the most expensive political seat, the presidency, Obama received $0.5M from unions but $42M from Wall Street during the 2008 election (10)
  • despite rhetoric, Obama was tied to big business: he led McCain in 8 out of 11 industrial sectors in the 2008 election (91-92)
  • Obama’s initial stimulus bill didn’t focus on job creation which ended up increasing unemployment (98)

Health care:

  • “Hillarycare” in 1994 sought input from insurance companies and large employers far more than health care advocates (30)
  • the ACA was so compromised, Selfa claims few Dems were happy with it; it was a boon to insurance companies since everyone was required to have insurance (102)
  • industry stakeholders were involved in writing the ACA, not the persons whose health would be affected by it (103)
  • ACA didn’t renegotiate big pharma down (104)
  • Howard Dean said lack of single payer made ACA worthless, though he eventually voted for it (105)

Environment (not much in the book):

  • Clinton used his influence with environmental groups to gain their support for NAFTA, even as the legislation opened up the northwest to logging efforts (34, 73) (Selfa didn’t pay much attention to environment in the book)

Labor:

  • everyday unionists in 1933 wanted a labor party separate from the Democrats and Republicans, especially since their strikes were suppressed by state militias, the majority of which led by Democratic governors (130)
  • FDR was actually anti-union until 1935 (the year before the election)àthe creation of Social Security and the National Labor Rights Act sealed his 1936 win (129)
  • CIO leaders had warned an FDR loss would bring a fascist reign; contrarily, his election did nothing to stem a recession or decline in union power (50)
  • in a 1937 steel strike, strikebreakers with the national guard killed workers and ransacked homes; courts ruled sit down strikes illegal in 1938 (50-51)
  • Smith-Connally Act of 1943 allowed the president to break strikes in war industries (133)
  • Dixiecrats dominated the Democrats even after the New Deal. This is part of why labor could not gain ground: Dixiecrats collaborated with conservative Republicans against labor. Labor never tried to organize the South, even in the 21st century. Northern companies could thus threaten to move their operations to the non-union South (136-38)
  • the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act banned wildcat strikes, solidarity strikes, secondary boycotts, mass pickets, and legislated anti-communism pledges (54)
  • new union leaders in 1948 election sought to break from Dems/Reps, but Truman pledged to veto Taft-Hartley; unions supported him, forgetting his antiunion record, and on his first year in his second term to break twelve strikes (134-35)
  • real median income peaked in 1973: Democrats controlled congress and most legislatures since 1973 without helping the falling real income of workers afterward (10, 64)
  • 1932-80, Dems held the presidency 32 of 48 years and both chambers of Congress for 46 years with repeal of Taft-Hartley (well, not before its existence in 1947) and national health insurance on platforms: they never passed (57)
  • Senator Hubert Humphrey (VP under Johnson) proposed placing communists in concentration camps in 1954 (57)
  • Communist Control Act of 1954 allowed government to remove union leaders or deny bargaining rights to “communist” unions (138)
  • Landrum-Griffin Act of 1959 allowed government to take over unions (138)
  • Carter used Taft-Hartley to force settlements (66)
  • Clinton pursued NAFTA despite outcry from labor and environment (73)
  • Clinton pushed OSHA to partner with (rather than give oversight of) business and only seek voluntary compliance (78)
  • while Obama bailed out banks, he restructured Chrysler and GM (100)
  • Obama attempted to co-opt Occupy rhetoric even as his Department of Homeland Security fought this movement with military police effort (119)
  • CIO has been involved in the main organizing, financing, and electoral support for Democrats since 1948, even though none of their broad aims have been met (138)

Women:

  • activist groups of the 1960s divided along lines of grassroots activists and lobbying, the latter being pulled to the Democrats; the ERA’s failure was partly due to the National Organization of Women’s denial of its radical arm (including banning lesbians and radicals from ERA marches), in favor of lobbying (150, 152)
  • Democrats agreed to remove gender from hate crimes legislation (152)

Civil Rights:

  • civil rights was not carried out at first because of the Democratic need for the Dixiecrat coalition (58-59)
  • Robert Kennedy initially criticized the Freedom Riders as propaganda for America’s Cold War enemies (140)
  • JFK had promised to end housing discrimination by executive order in his campaign, but shelved the idea in office (141)
  • Kennedy brothers worked to make sure the March on Washington didn’t criticize the government too much, including coercing speakers to modify their speeches (142)
  • Johnson’s Great Society was to replace Dixiecrats with blacks while undercutting black militants (60)àwar on poverty empowered middle class black leaders (who hadn’t supported civil rights), thus betraying the rest of the community (61)
  • LBJ supported the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act, but also supported afterward their segregationist opponents so he could win in 1964. Civil rights leaders created the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as a delegation supporting racial integration. LBJ worked to have this group subverted (143-44)
  • Clinton’s Omnibus Crime Control Act saw highest executions in 1999 in four decades and prison increased by 1.3M to 2M inmates between 1994 and 1999 (79)
  • Clinton’s HUD one strike policy evicted whole families if one member was even suspected of drugs (80)
  • Clinton’s administration refused to alter crack laws that discriminated against blacks (81)
  • Obama increased war on drugs and decreased funding for drug treatment (111)
  • Obama increased deportations by 71% over Bush’s final year, increasing border patrol as well (113)

Gay rights:

  • LGBT meetings with Clinton “demonstrated the administration’s symbolic willingness to listen backed by an intransigent refusal to act” (155, referring to a lack of action on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”)
  • Kerry himself was publicly against gay marriage, and Democrats actively tried to suppress grassroots activism in the 2004 election (156)
  • Obama could have ended “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” when he had a majority in Congress, but waited until 2011 to mobilize the base (157)

War:

  • every major military conflict in the 20th century was begun by Democratic presidents (162)
  • Wilson deployed troops in “Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Honduras, and Guatemala.” He deployed troops in Haiti in 1914 that stayed until 1934, but leaving behind a U.S. trained military that ruled Haiti for the rest of the century (166)
  • Wilson ran in 1916 on an antiwar platform only to enter the war a year later (167)
  • German submarine attacks on U.S. ships was due in part to Morgan House bank loans to the Allies. Wilson admitted the U.S. would have gone to war with Germany even without the sub attacks (167-68)
  • Russia, as part of the Allies, underwent a revolution in 1917. Wilson supplied the counterrevolutionary White Armies in 1918-20 and sent in an invasion force in 1918 (168)
  • unlike before WW2, the U.S. didn’t demobilize the military; Truman’s administration oversaw the creation of the Defense Department and the CIA (53)
  • the post-war economy was fueled (up to 50% of the federal budget) by defense contracts that created, and made possible, the American dream (53-54)
  • Truman sought to intervene anywhere he saw “communism” (162)
  • FDR’s “freedom” rhetoric during WWII was at odds with his domestic policy, including Japanese internment and racial segregation in the military (172)
  • FDR’s claim of fighting Germany over anti-Semitism was at odds with the coast guard turning away literal boat loads of Jews (172)
  • FDR’s brother considered halving the Japanese population acceptable, and Truman dropped the atomic bomb, something Eisenhower didn’t see as necessary for Japanese surrender (173)
  • George Kennan called NATO the insurance “against an attack no one was planning” (174)
  • JFK, while creating the Peace Corps, also created the Green Berets (165)
  • JFK’s actions did not diminish the U.S. role in Vietnam since he increased military presence from 800 at his inauguration to 16.7K two years later (178)
  • running on a peace platform, Johnson sent 25K troops in 1965 almost immediately after his inauguration; there were 540K troops by 1969 (178)
  • money spent on Johnson’s broken promise of deescalating Vietnam couldn’t be spent on the Great Society (224)
  • Carter initiated war policies furthered by Reagan- increased military budget, reinstitution of the draft, the Rapid Deployment Force for the Middle East, and a “strike first” nuke policy (67)
  • U.S. anticommunist interventions in Asia was to give a demilitarized Japan viable trading partners to prevent the loss of Japan were countries such as Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia fall like dominos to communism, outside the U.S. sphere of influence (177)
  • Carter reinstituted the draft, built up the military that Reagan would run with, and developed a first strike policy for a limited nuclear engagement (179)
  • Carter’s interventionism took place on the rhetoric of humanitarianism, while supporting the dictators of Iran and Romania (179-80)
  • Carter’s CENTCOM was an occupying force in friendly states in the Gulf to hold things together until a full U.S. force could show up; it worked in Desert Storm (181)
  • after the fall of the Soviet Union, Clinton inherited a military with no superpower opposition; instead of decreasing military spending and spending it on social programs, Clinton boosted the military budget (182)
  • a Reagan era Pentagon official defended Clinton against George W. Bush’s attacks, stating that Clinton’s military budget was 40% higher per uniform than ever under his father (182)
  • Clinton dispatched troops worldwide 46 times, compared to 26 times for Ford, Carter, Reagan, and H. W. Bush combined (182)
  • Clinton invaded Somalia and Haiti, and bombed Serbia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq throughout his administration (182)
  • 2006 saw Democrats retake congress with a mandate to get out of Iraq: 71% of Americans wanted U.S. out in a year. However, Democrats approved more war spending in 2007 than Bush even asked for (14)
  • Obama’s “change” showed itself as mere rhetoric when he reappointed Bush’s defense secretary Robert Gates (193)
  • Obama signed an executive order to close Guantanamo, only to reverse course and claim its policies as his own roughly half a year later because of hard opposition including the Democrats (194)
  • though Obama critiqued Bush on the use of torture, he refused to try any of those involved in torturing (194)
  • Obama’s use of drone strikes denied Americans due process; these strikes also went into allied territory (195)
  • amid the Arab Spring, Selfa contends that the U.S. maintained support of those such as Mubarak until almost the end (196)
  • Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq in 2011 still left the world’s largest U.S. embassy there with tens of thousands of mercenaries (unrestrained by Geneva Conventions), but also essentially redeployed forces to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to keep presence in the region (197)

Cooptation:

  • Populists formed the People’s Party in 1892 with platform of progressive income tax, public railroads/utilities, and labor organizing support. Democrats changed their rhetoric in response and coopted the Populist platforms (123-24)
  • Democrats pushed for voting rights to quell radical civil rights activists and get them in their camp (144)
  • LBJ’s War on Poverty and Great Society were copycats of the Black Panthers program, in order to divert their power, taking these leaders and plugging them in to the federal program (144-45)
  • The Progressive Democrats of America in 2004 claimed that if they could take over the party, they could institute progressive change (199)
  • for PDA’s grassroots rhetoric, it was completely organized and spearheaded by Dem leaders within the Dem party (202)
  • PDA had an inside/outside strategy: work inside, but also outside by lobbying, press conferences, rallies, and alliances with leftists, particularly the Green Party (202-03). However, “None of PDA’s leading ‘election reformers’ denounced the Democrat-funded campaign to force Nader-Camejo off 2004 ballots” (205)
  • progressives had a chance to do something progressive in the 2006 and 2008 elections when everyone was fed up with Iraq and Bush: in 2007, Democrats gave Bush $120B to continue Afghanistan and Iraq (207-08)
  • inside/outside strategists argue that it is more efficient to effect social change through the ballot (since it only takes a few seconds), though I agree with Selfa that change comes from a populace invested in change for themselves (218). Democrats use leftist groups like the Green Party, the Democratic Socialists of America, and labor for get out the vote work, but then give nothing to these groups (219, 222)

Selfa’s aim is not to critique Democrats as if the solution is to follow after Republican leaders. He goes off the assumption that the Republican Party is a no go; this work assesses whether the Democratic Party is a viable left alternative. I share with him that it is not as leftist as it seems, though it moved more in that direction post-1965 (the shifting of Dixiecrats to the Republican Party). I also agree that the American people need to develop viable third parties (particularly leftist ones), but agree with Michelle Goldberg that this will not happen until our voting system changes: the two-party system is essentially guaranteed by the 12th Amendment.

To be fair, the ACA did get more people insurance. This is indisputable. He was right, though, in that it hasn’t helped as much as it could. Is possessing insurance itself the solution to ridiculous medical and pharmaceutical pricing? That’s not so much an insurance problem as much as a capitalism-run-wild problem.

I think more needs to be said about the non-voting bloc of the U.S. While Clinton won the popular vote, she only won among those who voted. Voter turnout was roughly 55.3%, meaning roughly 44.7% of the voting public didn’t vote. So out of the total eligible voting public, Clinton garnered 26.65% of the total voting population (48.2% of 55.3) and Trump 25.49% (46.1% of 55.3). Discussion of the electoral college vs. popular vote aside, neither can be said to have a mandate at that abysmal of a rate. Selfa cited Walter Dean Burnham who argued that the non-voter bloc dwarfs Democratic and Republican voting blocs, and if they had a labor/people’s party to choose from, it would have a good chance of winning (36). Selfa also cited that the U.S. “regularly leads among advanced Western countries in rates of voter abstention” (221). Take the numbers into account: 44.7% of non-voters far outweighs Clinton’s 26.65% or Trump’s 25.49%. Think of the potential turnout if we had more representative parties.

I am curious to see if Selfa revises this work again after the 2016 election. A lot happened since 2012. Gay rights, which he barely mentions in his work, won a huge victory in 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges. He also hardly mentions the environment—he doesn’t even mention climate change—and doesn’t talk much about women. He doesn’t mention that the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 occurred under Clinton’s watch. It does read as a one-sided smack down of the Democratic Party. I do not think, however, that the strides gained under the New Deal and Great Society should be used as smokescreens for real injustices perpetrated under the Democrats. Change needs to happen; lasting change comes from below, when the people are invested.

I would like some real engagement on this. As you can see, I come at this book with a sympathetic ear to Marxism, but recognize that the vast majority of my friends and family do not share this view. I want to hear your thoughts on what I presented here. Are there shortcomings you see in some of the charges Selfa brings? Do you think he left anything out? Do you wish we had more than a two-party system in the United States?

 

Next I will be reading Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. I have found recently that talks of morals and ethics tend to reference faith domains too much with not enough attention paid to what I guess I would call a public ethic, or a public forum. I am under no illusion that a neutral ethic exists. However, I wonder if there are other wells to draw from if we are to live in a multicultural state that is ostensibly secular (i.e., the Constitution is the highest law in the land, not one group’s sacred text) that would not benefit one group too much at the expense of others.

I’ve also started a video project with Sarah Neau Harris called 7M Connect on YouTube. Come check that out here. You can follow her on Twitter at @sarahneauharris or me at @MonteHarrisSMO.