Monday, October 27, 2008

Barack Obama for President

Todd Chretien makes the argument in the Socialist Worker for apparent complete voter abstention November the fourth, a tactic even many anarchists critique as extreme and many times counterproductive; Noam Chomsky’s comments being here relevant.

For instance, surely it is better to have Obama become President and support bills that make it easier to join Unions - such as EFCA, the Employee Free Choice Act - and thus actually organize workers than to have McCain’s opposition. Smaller and compromised reforms can play a small part in a larger and completely autonomous program: such as organizing workers into Unions, establishing a strong Union movement, this in turn helps instill class consciousness as Marx phrased it and, as some left-Marxists – Anton Pannekoek coming to mind – observed: trade unionism plays a necessary role in class struggle, it could serve as the embryo from which a completely autonomous workers’ movement could emerge from.

It is true as surely the International Socialist Organization would argue that, as Pannekoek wrote: “trade unionism is an action of the workers, which does not go beyond the limit of capitalism. Its aim is not to replace capitalism by another form of production, but to secure good living conditions within capitalism. Its character is not revolutionary, but conservative…So there comes a disparity between the working class and trade unionism. The working class has to look beyond capitalism. Trade unionism lives entirely within capitalism and cannot look beyond it. Trade unionism can only represent a part, a necessary but narrow part, in the class struggle. And it develops aspects which bring it into conflict with the greater aims of the working class.”

But from the confines of “…the narrow field of trade union struggle widens into the broad field of class struggle. But now the workers themselves must change. They have to take a wider view of the world. From their trade, from their work within the factory walls, their mind must widen to encompass society as a whole. Their spirit must rise above the petty things around them. They have to face the state; they enter the realm of politics. The problems of revolution must be dealt with.”

But for the short-term it makes a difference to the impoverished, the hungry, the sick and so on whether or not there is going to be four more direct years of anti-union policy, regressive taxation, tax cuts and large subsidies for the upper most bourgeois, mass home foreclosures, unlimited debt, not just an imperial refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also potentially war with Iran and other potential McCain administration targets. Not to forget that McCain's choice for Vice President, Sarah Palin, agrees with Cheney's treacherous and false belief that the Vice President is "in charge" of the Senate and that she "can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes..."; such as legislating hate and discrimination, she's vehemently opposed to gay marriage and equal rights, even further restrict abortion rights or worse and so on (recall that the next President is likely to nominate a few Supreme Court Justices, we can't afford any more nominated by the likes of McCain and Palin).

Surely all of this matters to the ordinary population, which is why the population is going to hit the polls in droves and elect Obama in a landslide; possibly why Chretien is so complacently dismissive of voting for Obama.

A vote for Obama to ensure the demise of the neoconservative foreign policy establishment, among other things, does not mean that those few moments in a booth marking a piece of paper will render the voter incapable of, after leaving the polling station, organizing an autonomous opposition (completely independent of the Democratic party).

The IWW (the Industrial Workers of the World Union) has been conducting a successful international campaign to unionize Starbucks baristas , among many other actions, and in the United States baristas are constantly being fired for attempting to unionize: if for only this reason Obama should be voted for by people concerned for the working class, he will support policy that makes it easier for workers to join unions and McCain won’t, that’s a difference that matters.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Industrial Feudalism

It is many times argued, though admittedly less now during the global economic crisis, that global capitalism has improved life for everyone and has furthered freedom, democracy and human rights. As is often the case, it is of great value to investigate such doctrinal claims and, as is also often the case, when such an investigation is undertaken, it is soon found that reality is the direct opposite of the specific doctrinal dogma.

Let’s first examine the claim that global capitalism has improved everyone’s life for the better. Setting aside the factual basis of this claim, let’s assume it is true, is the fact that a specific system improves welfare an argument in its favor? As Noam Chomsky observes: “No…there were rising standards of living in slave societies. Slaves were better off in the early nineteenth century than the early eighteenth century. Is that an argument for slavery? It’s a terrible argument.”

The mere fact that life has improved within the confines of a capitalist system is not intrinsically an argument in favor of that system, just as the fact that life having improved within the institution of slavery was still not an argument in favor of slavery. Chomsky notes that the same argument would hold for Stalinism: economic conditions in the Soviet Union improved under Stalinism, but that's still not an argument in favor of Stalinism.

Having easily discarded the notion that capitalism is just simply because society has improved over the last several decades, let’s return to the initial presupposition: that capitalism is improving living standards for everyone. Has capitalism made life better for most people?
The populations of early Britain, Chile, Colombia, Haiti, Indonesia and various other nations which were forced – by dictators such as Pinochet and Suharto and capitalist "reform" enforcing organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization – to suffer under neoliberal economic policies – essentially “free-market” dogmas, although free-trade never entered into the picture in any meaningful sense - may have something to say about the effects of capitalism and neoliberal economic reform and their relation to the improvement of life.

Let’s take only the example of Colombia. Noam Chomsky writes of the populations resistance to the neoliberal capitalist reforms being forced upon the population against its will:

“In Colombia, however, the military armed and trained by the United States has not crushed domestic resistance, though it continues to produce its regular annual toll of atrocities. Each year, some 300,000 new refugees are driven from their homes, with a death toll of about 3,000 and many horrible massacres. The great majority of atrocities are attributed to paramilitary forces. These are closely linked to the military, as documented in considerable and shocking detail once again in February 2000 by Human Rights Watch, and in April 2000 by a UN study which reported that the Colombian security forces that are to be greatly strengthened by the Colombia Plan maintain an intimate relationship with death squads, organize paramilitary forces, and either participate in their massacres directly or, by failing to take action, have ‘undoubtedly enabled the paramilitary groups to achieve their exterminating objectives.’ In more muted terms, the State Department confirms the general picture in its annual human rights reports, again in the report covering 1999, which concludes that ‘security forces actively collaborated with members of paramilitary groups’ while ‘government forces continued to commit numerous, serious abuses, including extrajudicial killings, at a level that was roughly similar to that of 1998,’ when the report attributed about 80 percent of attributable atrocities to the military and paramilitaries. The picture is confirmed as well by the Colombian Office of UN Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson. Its director, a respected Swedish diplomat, assigns the responsibility for “the magnitude and complexity of the paramilitary phenomenon” to the Colombian government, hence indirectly to its US sponsor.”

Chomsky goes on to observe that “deplorable socioeconomic conditions persist, leaving much of the population in misery in a rich country with concentration of wealth and land-ownership that is high even by the shameful standards of Latin America generally. The situation became worse in the 1990s as a result of the ‘neoliberal reforms’ formalized in the 1991 constitution, which reduced still further “the effective participation of civil society” in policy formation by ‘reforms intended to enhance executive power and reduce the autonomy of the judicial and legislative branches, and by concentrating macroeconomic planning in the hands of a smaller circle of technocrats’—in effect, adjuncts of Washington. The ‘neoliberal reforms have also given rise to alarming levels of poverty and inequality; approximately 55 percent of Colombia’s population lives below the poverty level’ and ‘this situation has been aggravated by an acute crisis in agriculture, itself a result of the neoliberal program,’ as in Latin America generally.
Chomsky is quoting Arlene Tickner, general coordinator of the Center for International Studies at the University of the Andes, Bogota.

The illustrative example of Colombia generalizes around the world, everywhere such capitalist measures are implemented and enforced, predominately against the will of the population and with violence to quell any resistance by said population, poverty increases, democracy is subverted, freedoms are restricted, violent anti-union campaigns are fought and so on.

So, capitalism improving standards of living is not alone an argument in favor of capitalism and, furthermore, the presupposition that capitalism inculcates improved standards of living, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights is fallacious in the first place.

Apologists for corporate state-capitalism like to point out how modern corporations are trying to incorporate benefits and bonuses for their workers, as though this justified the existence of inorganic entities defined by corporate lawyers egregiously misusing the fourteenth amendment to define corporations as persons with the rights of such, but without the social responsibility of persons.

But the ultimate question is not one of simply improving already poor conditions, but of freedom, democracy and human rights.

It must go unnoticed by most people – especially the previously mentioned apologists – that corporations are in essence totalitarian. They are structured hierarchically with dictates flowing from the top on down and those on the bottom – labor – have essentially no input into the functioning and managing of the corporation: that is what totalitarianism is.

With some perverted form of representative democracy in the political arena, most people seem to fail to notice that within the realm of economic life, they are essentially voiceless and dominated by the interests of unaccountable tyrannies: corporations, conglomerates and so on, which just dominate the political and economic realm.

The problem of industrial feudalism is not only one of standards of living – which are violently denigrated within capitalist systems, even more so the “freer” the market is – but of freedom and democracy. Should people, the ordinary population, workers and so on have the ability to democratically run industry and the economy? Or should private, unaccountable tyrannies be allowed to continue to dominate in a totalitarian fashion?

Apologists would at this point argue that it is less efficient to allow democratic control over industry, therefore justifying corporate domination. To again quote Chomsky:

“So if you care about what is actually happening, the economy is moving towards totalitarian control, or mercantilistic control, and the claim is, as it has been since the late 19th Century, there is no alternative. And in a sense there isn’t, if the only alternative is markets, which are too destructive, so you have to have administration [a mixture of corporation and government control, with corporations having the advantage]. But then there’s the obvious question: why does the administration have to be totalitarian? You could say the same ting about governmental structures. In some respects they may be more efficient when they have totalitarian features, but that’s not an argument for them.”

A viable alternative would be the open and democratic administration of the economy by the workers and the population generally through workers’ councils, service collectives and community cooperatives. As John Dewey once phrased it: “politics is the shadow cast on society by big business.” It’s long overdue to cast some light on this shadow and do away with it's source once and for all.