Seven Left Myths About Capitalism

by G.B. Taylor

Occupy Wall Street has renewed hope for a left political renaissance by challenging economic inequality and the neoliberal discourse that legitimated it, and reintroducing the word capitalism to political debate. The “greed” of the “1%,” counterpoised to the hardworking, rule-abiding 99%, has emerged as the dominant political frame of OWS. Rhetorically powerful, the slogan’s elegant simplicity conceals as much as it reveals. The language of “corruption,” the betrayal of Main Street by parasitic Wall Street bankers, and nationalist appeals to “take America back” all express a deep confusion as to the nature of the current crisis. This often results in a highly personalized moral critique of capitalism rather than a systemic one.

The crisis wracking capitalism today cannot be understood as simply the evil actions of greedy bankers and the 1%. In fact, as Max Weber pointed out, unlike the ostentatious opulence of earlier economic forms like feudalism, capitalism actually has tendencies which check greed – for example how intra-capitalist competition forces firms to save and reinvest. Thus the logic of states wielding coercive external power in human form as armies and police is quite different from that of capitalism, wherein power is more difficult to pinpoint or assign personal agency to. Conflating these two modes of power leads to very different political demands and outcomes. Capitalist power acts not only or even primarily on us from outside, but through us, as worker and capitalist alike are caught up in an impersonal competitive imperative that would quickly bankrupt any turncoat bankers or CEOs who might suddenly take Occupy’s message to heart. Continue reading

Advertisements

Supplementary Explanations by Engels: The State and Revolution

by Vladimir Lenin

Marx gave the fundamentals concerning the significance of the experience of the Commune. Engels returned to the same subject time and again, and explained Marx’s analysis and conclusions, sometimes elucidating other aspects of the question with such power and vividness that it is necessary to deal with his explanations specially.

1. The Housing Question

In his work, The Housing Question (1872), Engels already took into account the experience of the Commune, and dealt several times with the tasks of the revolution in relation to the state. It is interesting to note that the treatment of this specific subject clearly revealed, on the one hand, points of similarity between the proletarian state and the present state–points that warrant speaking of the state in both cases–and, on the other hand, points of difference between them, or the transition to the destruction of the state.

“How is the housing question to be settled then? In present-day society, it is settled just as any other social question: by the gradual economic levelling of demand and supply, a settlement which reproduces the question itself again and again and therefore is no settlement. How a social revolution would settle this question not only depends on the circumstances in each particular case, but is also connected with much more far-reaching questions, one of the most fundamental of which is the abolition of the antithesis between town and country. As it is not our task to create utopian systems for the organization of the future society, it would be more than idle to go into the question here. But one thing is certain: there is already a sufficient quantity of houses in the big cities to remedy immediately all real ‘housing shortage’, provided they are used judiciously. This can naturally only occur through the expropriation of the present owners and by quartering in their houses homeless workers or workers overcrowded in their present homes. As soon as the proletariat has won political power, such a measure prompted by concern for the common good will be just as easy to carry out as are other expropriations and billetings by the present-day state.” (German edition, 1887, p. 22) Continue reading

Capitalism: A Ghost Story

by Arundhati Roy

Rockefeller to Mandela, Vedanta to Anna Hazare…. How long can the cardinals of corporate gospel buy up our protests?

CORBIS (FROM OUTLOOK, MARCH 26, 2012)

Antilla the Hun Mukesh Ambani’s 27-storey home on Altamont Road. Its bright lights, say the neighbours, have stolen the night.

Is it a house or a home? A temple to the new India, or a warehouse for its ghosts? Ever since Antilla arrived on Altamont Road in Mumbai, exuding mystery and quiet menace, things have not been the same. “Here we are,” the friend who took me there said, “Pay your respects to our new Ruler.”

Antilla belongs to India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani. I had read about this most expensive dwelling ever built, the twenty-seven floors, three helipads, nine lifts, hanging gardens, ballrooms, weather rooms, gymnasiums, six floors of parking, and the six hundred servants. Nothing had prepared me for the vertical lawn—a soaring, 27-storey-high wall of grass attached to a vast metal grid. The grass was dry in patches; bits had fallen off in neat rectangles. Clearly, Trickledown hadn’t worked. Continue reading

Mass Arrests Follow OWS Return to Zuccotti Park

by Caleb T. Maupin | 

New York, NY – March 17 was the sixth-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. In the late evening, a crowd of hundreds gathered in historic Zuccotti Park, now dubbed Liberty Plaza. Many organizers and progressive forces attending the annual Left Forum at Pace University, very close to the park, joined OWS activists.

The youth gathered in the park for hours, playing drums and refusing to leave. The crowd gradually swelled as the evening went on. A small contingent of youth from Workers World Party circled the square chanting, “Just like Ho Chi Minh! Occupy is gonna win!” Others joined in this anti-imperialist chant.

Michael Moore and Cornel West, who had addressed the Left Forum earlier in the evening, joined the crowd and gave words of support.

When the New York Police Department announced that the park was closed, several hundred youth sat down together, joining arms. They insisted on their right to stay there, citing a recent court ruling that required the park to remain open. When the police refused to listen, they chanted, “We are not afraid.”

Police pulled protesters out of the crowd and handcuffed them. They swung batons and pushed people to the ground. The media reported that police actions injured several people. These included shoving a woman’s head against the hood of a car and pushing a man’s head into a plateglass window. Another woman suffered a seizure because of a forceful arrest, and then police denied her help from OWS emergency medical technicians. It took loud protests from the crowd to get an ambulance to the scene.

A youth who witnessed the police attack told Workers World, “All I could see was batons high in the air, coming down on people.” Some of the 73 people who were arrested reported being held, handcuffed and left on city buses for hours, before finally being taken to holding cells.

A march was called the following evening in support of the arrestees. At the closing panel of the Left Forum, speakers urged the audience to attend the march and support the arrested youth.

Fight Back News Service is circulating the preceding article from Workers World.

Death Rays and the Like

The Guardian, Australia

by Rob Gowland

The scientific boys and girls who work for the US military, products of some of the best educational institutions in the USA, recently showed off their latest effort to move human civilisation forward: a “crowd control” pain ray. Rejoicing in the relatively innocuous name “Active Denial System”, the new US weapon sends out a high-frequency electromagnetic ray. In other words, it is designed to do to demonstrators what a microwave oven does to porridge.

And you don’t have to stick the demonstrator in the oven for it to be effective: the ray has a range of “seven football fields”. Whoopee!

The US military has been experimenting with death rays for decades – as well as nerve gasses, neutron weapons, space-mounted X-ray weapons, etc, anything that might kill people while leaving property untouched.

It seems this policy has finally met up with another US phenomenon: the public backlash against the increasingly obvious way US government policy is being run by and for big corporations, to the growing detriment of the working stiffs who actually create the country’s wealth.

The Pentagon is clearly looking towards the day when they will have to defend the rich and powerful from the multitude of “have-nots”, who are not going to be satisfied with promises and propaganda forever.

The US military already trains for “subduing” civil disturbances, disturbances where the enemy to be “subdued” are not wily foreigners in turbans but typical Americans carrying peace placards!

Turning a “non-lethal” heat ray on them is a not particularly big step from that point. During the “occupy Wall St” protests police in New York herded demonstrators into fenced in areas and then turned their pepper sprays on them at close range. Pepper spray – like rubber bullets and tazers – is also defined as a “non-lethal” weapon, despite instances where the use of such weapons has resulted in fatalities.

According to Pentagon tests, people hit with the heat ray feel an intense, unbearable heat. Turn a weapon like that on to a struggling mass of people, some angry some frightened, and you have a recipe for panic and trampling. Especially if the weapon is in the hands of a soldier who has been taught to regard demonstrators as “the enemy” and who has also been told “not to worry, it’s non lethal”.

Demonstrations are made up of people of all ages and states of health. What is the effect of this heat ray on pregnant women? On a foetus? On someone with a heart condition?

And why is the military being trained to use this weapon against demonstrators anyway? We are constantly being told that the right to demonstrate against the government and its laws is a fundamental measure of our democracy. Well, is it or isn’t it? Gunning down demonstrators with a heat ray doesn’t sound very democratic.

US Marine Colonel Tracy Taffola, showing off the weapon to the media, boasted that: “It could be used across the military spectrum of operations, perimeter security, crowd control, entry control points, you name it. I think our forces will figure out the many different applications that it would have.”

I think that is just what people are afraid of.

The British tabloid the Globe and Mail reports that “Various development versions of the heat ray have been tested for years. One was sent to Afghanistan – but never used – in 2010.” That raises interesting questions: why send it and then never use it? Is it perhaps not so “non-lethal” after all?

The Globe And Mail also reports that “Police departments have shown interest”. I’ll bet they have. When you see how enthusiastically they embraced tasers when those babies became available, shooting people umpteen times with the electric shock weapons, giving police a long-distance way of inflicting pain on demonstrators seems like a very unsafe thing to do.

Among the comments that appeared on US websites about this news report was this one from Socialist, who suggested that “now is indeed time to leave the country”: “My nephew will be going abroad to attend university, he can get a quality education for a tiny fraction of the price of an equivalent US education (taught in English). When he graduates, he will not be a debt slave to the banksters.”

When an on-line correspondent asserted that “There is no place on the face of the earth that you or anybody else will be safe from Obama’s military”,Socialist responded with the commonsense argument: “However in relative terms, there are places that are less violent [than the USA], where essentials of life (like health care, education, quality food and housing) are much more affordable. The Empire, even with drones and all the technology, does not have the power to control everything. The Empire is more fragile than we can imagine. The quality of life in the US is far lower than many would care to admit.”

That last point is very real and is becoming recognised by more and more Americans, as the endless propaganda they are fed – about living in the greatest country on Earth – falls apart in front of their eyes. Just the other day I saw a television news report in which US primary school teachers referred to the schools they taught in as “third world” standard.

Every day that big oil companies and big banks and filthy rich hedge funds get additional tax breaks from the US government while consumer prices continue to rise (not least at the petrol pump), is a day when Americans are forced to look at the reality of the world and to compare it with the laughable fantasy they are fed as “the American dream”. The number who don’t bother to vote is a sad indication of their widespread rejection of that dream as bogus.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon and the corporations it serves continue to develop their weapons to suppress any attempt at a popular uprising. For they know that the current situation cannot prevail forever. And they intend to be ready.

The question is: will the people be ready?

*note: The Guardian is the weekly newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia. You can find the original article on their website here.

Heavy-Handed Response to Protest a Worrying Trend

by Rick Gunderman

One of the chief wonders that modern technology has produced, at least as far as activism is concerned, is the ability to document undeniable video evidence of police brutality. Previous victims of police violence had to rely chiefly on procuring eyewitnesses, and even then it was the word of a handful of private citizens against that of a police officer. The occasional sympathetic judge notwithstanding, victims were routinely denied justice.

A disturbing trend, however, is the relative absence of any real outrage over police brutality when the victims are protesters.

A simple search of YouTube for videos of police violence against Occupy protesters will yield countless results, few of them showing police acting in “self-defence” or using “reasonable force”.

Demonstrators at past G20 summits will remember the hostility of security forces. The Toronto summit in 2010 produced a record number of mass arrests, with 1,105 people arrested and 99 criminal charges laid. The price tag for this display of state power was over $2 billion.

Protests across Europe, notably in Greece, Spain and the UK, have all produced scenes of heavy-handed security forces brutalizing protesters. Rarely is there any visible evidence of what the victims might have done to require such a response.

The fight against tuition fees and education costs has been forefront on the international progressive struggle, particularly in countries without universal post-secondary education. Attempts to raise tuition sparked riots in the United Kingdom in 2010, and most recently students in Quebec have mobilized to fight against steep increases in the costs of education.

The struggle in Quebec shows a lot of promise. Students from both English- and French-speaking universities have joined together in protest, and previous mobilizations in that province have produced results. Their current target is the right-wing, reactionary Charest Liberal government. The increasingly centrist (and in some cases, right-wing) Parti Quebecois has demonstrated little willingness to take up the struggle or even offer more than isolated token gestures of solidarity.

Provincial politics in Quebec, previously among the most left-leaning and progressive in all of North America and especially among the non-Spanish speaking countries, has experienced a major right-ward drift in the last decades, ostensibly in the name of “moderation”. Revolutionary activists recognize any appeals to “moderation”, “middle ground” and other empty slogans as pure class collaborationism. This correlates with the abandonment of the socialist, then later social democratic, principles of the Quebec independence movement in a bid to court “moderates” to help them achieve their goal. Carrying on this tradition today in Quebec is Quebec Solidaire, a federation of socialist and left parties, including the Parti Communiste du Quebec, but the PQ and the Bloc Quebecois have lost much of their dedication to left-wing goals.

In the grander context of Quebec history, the sovereignty movement had firm working-class roots and faced themselves against the largely English-speaking bourgeois class in Quebec. As the sovereignty movement brought the grievances of poor, working, Francophone Quebecois to the forefront of Canadian politics, centrist and right-wing forces alike saw the value in placating their demands, but not through the methods they largely demanded.

By employing methods of raising the political, economic and social standing of Francophones in Canada as a whole and in Quebec in particular, the Liberal and Conservative Parties federally and the Liberal Party provincially produced the convenient side effect, intended or not, of introducing bourgeois elements into the sovereignty movement.

The sovereignty movement having led most of the progressive, working-class and anti-oppression struggles in Quebec, the debasing of its pro-worker program had the profound impact of robbing the progressive, revolutionary and democratic movements in Quebec of their most valuable allies. The PQ and BQ have since fallen into irrelevancy, as recent elections suggest, and they have nothing to blame but their abandonment of class struggle.

Within this context, the increasing willingness of right-wing and centrist elements in Quebec politics to call on security forces to repress left-wing demonstrations becomes less mystified. Student protesters on Champlain Bridge in Montreal, for example, are facing arrests and charges with no visible support coming from the PQ.

A similar trend of abandoning class struggle swept through the social democratic and democratic socialist parties in most of the developed world in the 80s and 90s, with the “Third Way” of Tony Blair’s Labour Party in the UK epitomizing this effect. The responses of British police, whether under the Labour Party or the Conservative Party, are similarly heavy-handed.

Other places in Europe experience similar responses, but to radical movements that still have some vitality. The French progressive movement has been historically very radical, and the responses of the various historical reactionary states in France have been consistently violent. The place in Europe where the communist movement is today in arguably the best position, leading a broad section of democratic and revolutionary elements in society, is Greece. The confrontations between demonstrators and police there are notorious.

This shows a desire by the reactionary forces that rule the liberal democratic states of the West in the name of the people but in the interests of the capitalist class to repress radical, progressive, revolutionary politics, both dormant and active.