Showing posts with label Socialism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Socialism. Show all posts

20 August 2013

HISTORY / Bob Feldman : A People's History of Egypt, Part 7, 1917-1921

Scene from the Egyptian Revolution of 1919. Image from Egyptian History website.
A people's history:
The movement to democratize Egypt
Part 7: 1917-1921 period -- British oppression leads to nationalist revolution and beginnings of a labor movement.
By Bob Feldman / The Rag Blog / August 20, 2013

[With all the dramatic activity in Egypt, Bob Feldman's Rag Blog "people's history" series, "The Movement to Democratize Egypt," could not be more timely. Also see Feldman's "Hidden History of Texas" series on The Rag Blog.]

Despite the 1882 to 1956 imperial occupation of Egypt by the United Kingdom, until 1914 Egypt was still considered to be a legal part of Turkey’s Ottoman Empire. But after Turkey’s Ottoman dynasty rulers -- on October 29, 1914 -- allied with Germany during World War I, “the British declared martial law in Egypt” on November 2, 1914, and “imposed censorship,” according to Jason Thompson’s A History of Egypt.

Then, on December 18, 1914, “the British government severed Egypt’s ceremonial connection with the Turks and declared the country a British protectorate, changing its territorial status and regularizing Anglo control,” according to Selma Botman’s Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952; and on December 19, 1914, the UK “deposed Abbas Hilmy II” as Egypt’s official ruler “for having `definitely thrown in his lot with his Majesty’s enemies’” and “replaced Abbas with his uncle Husein Kamil, an elderly man, easily managed,” who “was given the title of sultan,” according to A History of Egypt.

But Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952 noted how more direct and overt UK imperialist rule after 1914 brought increased national oppression to most people in Egypt:
As World War I progressed, the British became more aggressive in their efforts to control the entire country. In addition to British civil servants who were brought to Cairo to run the bureaucracy, British Empire troops swarmed the larger cities. With the war came high inflation and a degree of hardship that was painful to the majority of the population. In consequence, Anglo-Egyptian hostility deepened... Military authorities forced the peasants to exchange grain, cotton, and livestock for limited compensation.
As A History of Egypt also recalled:
Large numbers of men were conscripted into auxiliary forces such as the Camel Corps and the Labor Corps. Beginning in 1916, desperate for soldiers, the British began drafting Egyptians into the army. The British also conscripted people’s livestock, taking the donkeys and camels that were often necessary for subsistence... The tightness of the British grip on Egypt became glaringly apparent when Sultan Husein Kamil died in October 1917, and the British...altered the terms of succession so that he was succeeded not by his son, who was viewed as anti-British, but by his half-brother Ahmed Fuad...
So, not surprisingly, near the end of World War I an Egyptian “nationalist leader, Saad Zaghlul, with support from the entire country, openly demanded..... that Egypt be allowed to determine [its]own destiny;” and “in November 1918, an Egyptian delegation of nationalist politicians and well-paid notables was formed” -- that “became the nucleus” of the Egyptian landowning elite’s nationalist Wafd party -- “and prepared itself to represent Egypt at the postwar conference in Paris,” according to Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952.

On March 8, 1919, UK authorities in Egypt arrested Zaghlul and his political associates and deported them to Malta. In response to these arrests, according to the same book, the following happened:
Within days, the country erupted in revolt, protesting against the deportation of Zaghlul, the British occupation and Britain’s refusal to allow Egyptian nationalists to represent their country in negotiations to determine Egypt’s postwar status. Students, government employees, workers, lawyers, and professionals took to the streets...demonstrating, protesting... Throughout the country, British installations were attacked, railway lines damaged, and the nationalist movement gained credibility.
And, according to A History of Egypt, “by the time the British rushed in troops and restored order later in the month, more than 1,000 Egyptians were dead from the violence, as were 36 British military personnel and four British civilians.”

Zaghlul and his imprisoned Wafd colleagues were then released on April 7, 1919 -- following what became known as the “Egyptian Revolution of 1919” -- and were now allowed to attend the post-World War I peace conference in Paris to demand political independence from UK imperialism for Egypt. When the Egyptian nationalist leaders arrived, however, in Paris “the American envoy recognized Britain’s protectorate over Egypt;” and “Egypt’s right to self-rule was not established” in 1919, according to Egypt from Independence to Revolution, 1919-1952.

Although Egyptian labor movement activists and workers joined with nationalist businesspeople in making a nationalist Egyptian revolution in 1919, “the revolution did not produce any movement toward labor reform” in Egypt; “and the alliance between labor and the bourgeoisie quickly dissipated," according to Tareq Y. Ismael and Rifa‘at El-Sa’id’s The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

Labor organizer “[Joseph] Rosenthal and Egyptian intellectuals committed to the labor movement -- among the most prominent were Hosni al-‘Arabi, Ali Al’-‘Anony, Salamah Musa, and Mohammed ‘Abdallah ‘Anan -- set out to establish an Egyptian Socialist Party (“al-Hizb al-Ishtiraki al-Misr”) with Egyptian members who would represent the unionized workers,” according to the same book. And in August 1921, they founded the Egyptian Socialist Party.

The Egyptian Socialist Party then opened a party headquarters in Cairo and established branches in Alexandria, Tanta, Shibin al-Kawm, and Mansura. But when the party “applied for a license to publish a newspaper“ it was denied a license “because of its opposition to British and government policy” in Egypt, according to The Communist Movement in Egypt: 1920-1988.

In its August 28, 1921, program, the Egyptian Socialist Party demanded “the liberation of Egypt from the tyranny of imperialism and the expulsion of imperialism from the entire Nile Valley;” and in a December 22, 1921, manifesto, the party also declared that it would “maintain its socialist program" and would “not renounce the struggle against the Egyptian capitalist tyrants and oppressors, accomplices and associates of the tyrannical foreign domination.”

[Bob Feldman is an East Coast-based writer-activist and a former member of the Columbia SDS Steering Committee of the late 1960s. Read more articles by Bob Feldman on The Rag Blog.]

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20 June 2013

TRAVEL / David P. Hamilton : Aubervilliers Is Paris 'Red Belt' Suburb That Defies Expectations

Some public housing units were interspersed with gardens and balconies, connected by curving pedestrian walkways. Photos by Sally Hamilton / The Rag Blog.

Paris suburb defies expectations:
Visiting Aubervilliers in the 'Red Belt'
Although Aubervilliers at night might be a scary proposition for an American senior with less than perfect French, it is safer than hundreds of places in the U.S. because the population doesn't have guns.
By David P. Hamilton / The Rag Blog / June 20, 2013

PARIS -- Recently my wife, Sally, and I accompanied our in-laws on an unusual Paris tour they had arranged. This tour took us to Aubervilliers, adjacent to Paris to the north, a site not one American tourist in a thousand chooses to visit.

Aubervilliers is in the center of the “Red Belt” north of Paris, a chain of working class towns adjacent to Paris in the “banlieu” (suburbs) that have been governed by the French Communist Party for decades.

Aubervilliers had Communist Party mayors continuously from WWII until 2008. It has a public housing project named after Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Americans alleged to be Soviet spies who were executed by the U.S. government. Another large housing unit is named after Maurice Thorez, leader of the French Communist Party during its postwar prime. And it has a secondary school named after Rosa Luxemburg, martyred founder of the German Communist Party.

Located on the St. Denis Canal, Aubervilliers has been an industrial center since the early 19th century. It has been a melting pot for immigrants coming to the metropolis since then, at first from provincial France, now from almost everywhere, especially from Africa.

Roughly 40% of its population was born outside metropolitan France, and many of those born in France are second generation sons and daughters of immigrants. Our guide, Ingrid, told us that there are nearly 100 nationalities represented among its 80,000 inhabitants. Like her, many of the second generation are of mixed ethnic heritage. This town embodies diversity on steroids, besides being decidedly proletarian.

Aubervilliers is, however, more famous outside France as the scene of some of the worst poverty and rioting in recent French history. Communities of shacks called “bidonvilles” were photographed there in the 1950s as representative of the darkest side of the City of Light. By 1972, these slums were gone, replaced by public housing. In 2005, Aubervilliers was a major center of the rioting by young people protesting police brutality and job discrimination. Hundreds of cars were torched there, but no one was killed.

Most Americans with any awareness of the area have an image of vast, ugly, dirty, alienating public housing blocks with few amenities and poor transportation, filled with unemployed and disaffected people dealing drugs and inflicting violence on the more affluent who might wander into their midst. This image springs readily to the minds of Americans who are accustomed to the abysmally decrepit state and violent reputation of most urban public housing in the U.S.

Although we were only in Aubervilliers a few hours on a sunny spring day and we were being guided by a local, our impressions were quite different.

Olivier and Guillaume, our camera crew,
interview our tour guide, Ingrid.
Our guide, Ingrid, is a young women of Thai-French ancestry who is a native of Aubervilliers. She is a “greeter," who volunteers to show tourists around her hometown. The way the “greeter” program works is that you make a nominal contribution to their organization and then they tell you what unconventional site you're going to visit. This tour service to someplace you may have never heard of is otherwise free. We just lucked out getting Aubervilliers. Our expectations were to be challenged.

This private tour by four Americans was apparently so unique that it was filmed by a two-man crew under contract with a major French television channel that saw Americans in Aubervilliers as a rare and newsworthy event. So Olivier and Guillaume came along with their camera and microphone every foot of the way, shooting film and asking questions. Our tour became something of a moving spectacle as this miniature television crew followed us through town.

Although Aubervilliers has been around since at least 1069, this tour had nothing to do with medieval churches or civic monuments. Ingrid did point out an ancient wall that had been left standing as part of a public garden and an abandoned old paint factory, now a French “superfund” site. But these were just among the random sights as we walked through town on our way to meet her friends.

First we visited Julian at the “Association Freres Poussiere," a small community arts facility. Julian showed us their art gallery-hangout space and theater and told us that the principal object of the center was to bring together Aubervilliers' diverse groups in creative enterprises. Their facilities were humble, but their enthusiasm was strong and their explicit goal was multicultural harmony.

Next, our little group went up into the very bowels of one of those massive and supposedly dehumanizing public housing buildings to visit Fado, a 63-year-old woman from Senegal, bedecked for the occasion and probably all occasions in vibrantly colorful traditional Senegalese dress. She has been in France since the late 1970's and has three children who were born here. Fado lived on the 18th floor.

Arriving at her building we found that one of the two elevators serving her sector of the building was broken and repairmen were busy repairing it. We were told that elevator breakdowns were not uncommon and that there had been times when both were broken simultaneously. Fado referred to other building maintenance complaints, but from our random visit, it appeared that the building was clean and reasonably well-maintained and the exterior nicely landscaped.

Fado's apartment had two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen with adjoining dining area, a bathroom, and storage space. The rooms were small by American standards, but not by Parisian standards. The apartment had roughly 7-800 square feet. It also had a great view, including Sacre Coeur and the Eiffel Tower.

Ingrid told us that Fabo paid rent, but it was on a sliding scale and quite reasonable. “Five hundred euros ($650) a month?," we asked. “Less," Ingrid responded.

Getting an apartment there requires proper qualifications (resident status plus low income or disability, etc) and some time on a waiting list. Fabo had lived in hers since the late 1980s. Her apartment was nice, clean and orderly, with a big flat-screen TV and comfortable leather couches in good condition in the living room. She served fruit juices and cookies. She had done domestic work for many years, but had been on disability due to a back injury for the past four. Her children were grown and lived elsewhere in the Paris area.

Brothers on the street.
Other people we saw in the halls, on the elevator, and around the building were of every racial and ethnic type: white French ladies with their kids, black African and Arab ladies with their kids, old white mostly native French guys playing boules in the adjacent park, older Muslim men wearing skull caps, and a few orthodox Jews in their distinctive black suits and broad-brimmed hats strolling by, and mixed groups of idle young men of every complexion lounging around the grounds.

These people were generally well-dressed and friendly. No one looked especially poor and ragged or noticeably miserable or threatening. Unlike upscale central Paris, there were no homeless people living on the sidewalks and no beggars.

The groups of young men were of particular interest and concern. Under-30 unemployment is reputedly very high in Aubervilliers, maybe 50%. These are clearly the type of guys who have on occasion set a couple hundred cars on fire in protests. These are the guys who would reputedly have no livelihood were it not for the continuation of marijuana prohibition in France.

We were told that job seekers from this area lie about their zip codes when applying in Paris. These groups of young guys were thoroughly integrated, ranging from variations on white to very black, with a lot of North African Arab ancestry in the mix along with a few each of several varieties of Asians, plus growing numbers of “others," such as our guide.

These guys were attracted by the filming, being done by two white native Frenchmen in their thirties, both over six-feet tall and fit. Our camera team interacted with these Aubervilliers street kids in a friendly and animated manner, but later told us that the situation was always delicate. You had to know how to act. Be outgoing and show no fear. Show them you're on the same side. Otherwise, it could become dicey. And your security would be a much more risky proposition after dark when the area turns into the modern version of the Cour des Miracles.

Next we popped into a tea room in a shopping mall at the foot of one of the public housing complexes. There we were treated to tea and pastries by the two ladies from Tunisia who owned and operated the establishment. One of them had once spent two months living with a family in Wisconsin and spoke English. Their pouring of the tea into small, highly decorated glasses was quite formal. They could not have been more charming. Their pastries were delicious. We were served more than we could eat without having ordered anything. If there was a bill, I didn't see it.

Tunisian ladies in the Tea Room.
Finally, on the way back to the metro, we walked trough more public housing, these buildings only three to five stories with irregular orientations, interspersed with gardens and balconies, connected by curving pedestrian walkways named after famous artists like Matisse and Modigliani.

Though constructed primarily of interlocking concrete slabs, they were attractively landscaped, looked more spacious and individualized, and had a less overwhelming scale. We were told that almost half the residents of Aubervillers live in some form of publicly-owned housing.

What can we conclude from our brief visit to Aubervilliers? There are doubtless serious social issues there that are at a level worthy to inspire serious concern, but this wasn't some hopeless, grimy, crumbling slum like those I've seen all my life in the U.S.

Housing is the most obvious contrast. Instead of aging, dilapidated wood frame houses and poorly maintained, privately owned apartment buildings so typical of virtually every U.S. city, Aubervilliers has an enormous stock of decent public housing. It may not be ideal, but it is considerably better for poor and working class people than what is typically offered them in the U.S.

The public housing highrise we entered was not trashed out. There was no smell of urine in the stairwells. There was no garbage piling up in the halls. It was quiet. Windows weren't broken. The broken elevator was being fixed.

The buildings were surrounded by green spaces that were regularly tended. There were attractive parks nearby. Many apartments had balconies with views over Paris. There were publicly-owned commercial centers adjacent to the housing units, filled with privately-operated shops, many run by locals. Rents are controlled and manageable, even for the long-term unemployed.

This community was built by communist-led local governments in cooperation with socialist-led federal governments with the guiding principle being to provide decent low-cost housing for people of modest means.

In the U.S, most low income housing is provided by private entrepreneurs whose priority is maximizing their profits. The principal concern of private owners is that their properties cost them as little as possible while yielding as much revenue as possible. The capitalist's profit motive and the interests of the residents for quality maintenance and improved amenities naturally conflict. That is not the case with public housing in Aubervilliers.

While walking through the central part of Aubervilliers, we passed a large building project nearing completion that Ingrid said was a new recreation center that would include an olympic-sized swimming pool. She also said that there were plans to open a branch campus of the University of Paris there soon and a new metro line.

Some of this government effort is doubtless motivated by the desire not to see the recurrence of the past riots. In addition, the central government continues to invest significantly in places like Aubervilliers as a part of a larger strategy to break down the historic barriers between Paris and the surrounding banlieu.

Besides housing, the boys hanging out on the corner in Aubervilliers have a few other things going for them that boys in a similar situation in the U.S. do not have. They have access to a universal health care system that has been judged the best in the world. They grew up with access to a publicly-funded educational system beginning virtually at birth in which one continues to advance based almost entirely on merit.

No one graduates from a French university owing $30,000 in student loans. They have access to more job training programs and, if they get a job, better-protected worker rights and long-lasting unemployment insurance. And if one of these young men becomes a parent, the government will provide all prenatal and postnatal services, besides paying the parent(s) a monthly stipend until the child is 18, more if the child has a disability.

Although Aubervilliers at night might be a scary proposition for an American senior with less than perfect French, it is fundamentally safer than hundreds of places in the U.S. because the population doesn't have guns. You might get robbed, even beaten up, or be forced to dance for hours to Algerian rap music while toking spliffs, but you won't get shot.

The high-rise public housing was surrounded by green space with public parks nearby.
As a consequence of having a citizenry without firearms, the police are also less likely to shoot people. The old police justification -- “I thought he had a gun” -- doesn't compute. You can actually fight the cops in France without worrying about being blown away. The French riot police may look scary in their protective body armor and may use water cannons, tear gas, and truncheons, but they won't shot you with a 9mm if you throw a rock at them.

Aubervilliers is a marvelous example of the integration process of highly divergent groups of people. It has succeeded at achieving this goal on many levels and on a large scale for a long time. It has played this integrative role for almost 200 years now, originally with provincial Frenchmen. Even the disaffected youth of today are an example of its success.

We were told that there are no ethnically-based youth gangs in Aubervilliers. There may be gang-related crime, but it's well-integrated gang-related crime. Given its extreme diversity, racism within Aubervilliers has plenty of potential, but it seemed minimal in our brief observation.

So if some day fate confronts you with the bizarre choice of either Detroit or Aubervilliers, don't hesitate to start working on your French. And rest assured that speaking it with a strange accent won't bother your new neighbors.

[David P. Hamilton, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin in history and government was an activist in 1960s-'70s Austin and was a contributor to the original Rag. David and wife Sally spend part of every year in France. Read more articles by David P. Hamilton on The Rag Blog.]

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13 May 2013

BOOKS / Bill Fletcher Jr. : Gar Alperovitz and Visions of a New World

What Then Must We Do?:
Political economist Gar Alperovitz
and visions of a new world
The struggle for structural reforms is essential to changing the 'common sense' of the U.S. political arena. But it is not enough to wound the rabid beast; one must ultimately bring it down.
By Bill Fletcher Jr. / Jacobin / May 13, 2013
Gar Alperovitz, author of What Then Must We Do?, will be Thorne Dreyer's guest on Rag Radio, Friday, May 17, 2013, from 2-3 p.m. (CDT) on KOOP 91.7-FM in Austin, and streamed live to the world. They will be joined by Rag Blog economics writer Roger Baker. The show will be rebroadcast by WFTE-FM in Mt. Cobb and Scranton, PA, Sunday morning, May 5, at 10 a.m. (EDT), and the podcast will be posted at the Internet Archive.
[What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution, by Gar Alperovitz (2013: Chelsea Green); Paperback; 224 pp; $17.95.]

I read Gar Alperovitz’s What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution with a level of skepticism. He set out to make an argument as to what can be done right now to demonstrate to a growing population weary of neoliberal capitalism that another world is not only necessary and possible, but that one can already see the first glimmers of that new world.

Alperovitz’s views are shaped by several assumptions. First, that actually existing capitalism is not working. Second, that socialism, as we have known it in the 20th century did not work. Third, that people need to actually see what an alternative world would look like in order to be encouraged to fight for one.

He then proceeds to identify actual examples of different struggles and projects that have been undertaken by progressives that show that a different way of organizing life and the economy is not only a great idea, but living realitiy.

Alperovitz spends little time critiquing 20th century socialism. For the most part he is interested in demonstrating that capitalist dogma, in particular neoliberal capitalist dogma, is both a myth as well as fundamentally unworkable. He suggests that there are projects that can be undertaken -- like worker cooperatives -- that will build power for the everyday person and actually move towards social transformation.

Advocating for these institutions, Alperovitz helps the reader to understand the differences that exist under the rubric of worker ownership, showing that there are forms of alleged ownership that really do not amount to control while at the same time there are processes that can be undertaken that alter workplace dynamics as well as the relationship of an enterprise to the broader community.

Alperovitz links his proposed process with what he sees as the next American Revolution. In that sense he believes that it is critically important that new transformative change in the United States must be rooted in lived reality in the country and also viewed by the public as “American.” For that reason, demonstrating to the “99%” that alternatives are underway and that they are not the creatures of foreign ideologies and foreign powers is absolutely essential.

What Alperovitz proposes are the equivalent of what has been traditionally known as “structural reforms” or in some cases “non-reformist reforms” along with a variation on what the Black Panther Party once called “survival programs.” This is reason enough that this book should not only be read but studied carefully.

The structural reforms and survival programs that Alperovitz is suggesting respond to the irrationality of neoliberal capitalism and the inability of the existing system to meet the needs of a growing percentage of the population. The reforms proposed are both clear and compelling and, in many cases, achievable.

In reading What Then Must We Do? I found it less a platform for revolutionary change than a platform for a frontal assault on neoliberal capitalism. To borrow the terminology of activist Carl Davidson, it is a program of a “popular front” against finance capital. It is the sort of platform and approach that can help to unite a broader progressive movement and make it more than the sum of its parts.

Alperovitz’s concern that the “99%” needs to see examples of the future is not grounded in 19th century utopian socialism. This book is not suggesting that various alternative experiments can be built, exist alone, and somehow convince the larger population -- by their example -- that this is the way to go. Rather he is suggesting that progressive and left forces undertake a multi-decade process of expanding democracy at all levels, within which the various experiments in alternatives are actualized.

Again, this is very much in line with certain more traditional leftist strategic directions regarding structural reforms and survival programs that can be fought for within the context of democratic capitalism.

But is this enough?

In the fall of 1988, I had the opportunity to tour Northern Ireland, meeting with the leaders of Sinn Féin. One of the areas to which I was introduced were worker cooperatives that had been established by Sinn Féin or its allies.

I arrogantly asked Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams what these cooperatives had to do with the liberation of Ireland from the British. Adams, very patiently, explained to me that, while these cooperatives would not liberate Ireland, at the same time the nationalist population was impoverished and needed a way to survive. With my tail between my legs I acknowledged the profundity of his point.

One of the strengths of What Then Must We Do? is that, much like Sinn Féin in the late 1980s, it is responding to an immediate challenge among the population. It is suggesting that there are things that can and must be done right now particularly within sectors of the population that have been largely written off by either the state or by private capital. The “dead cities” of this country come to mind, like Camden, which have become modern reservations for redundant populations.

A second strength is that the objectives that would fall more within the rubric of structural reforms actually do link with a larger democratizing movement that is necessary to take this country away from its drift toward neoliberal authoritarianism (or, for that matter, right-wing populism).

If thought of as part of a larger strategy, struggles around genuine healthcare reform, banking reform, or alternative economic development become battlegrounds not only in favor of the “99%,” but sites where the people are actually engaged in their own liberation.

But Alperovitz does not answer key questions. What, for example, is neoliberal capital doing while we are moving this democratization process? Alperovitz acknowledges that there remain dangers from the Right, including the use of violence. But this factor is critically important for all leftists and progressives.

The ruling power bloc has largely consolidated around a notion that huge chunks of this population -- at least 47%, according to Romney -- are nothing more than parasites and should be written off. They see no need, at least at the present time, to construct anything approaching an alliance with the working class generally, or organized labor in particular, along the lines of the New Deal coalition. Rather they seek to either crush the organized forces of the working class altogether or completely marginalize them.

While Alperovitz is correct to argue that this platform can be critical for a progressive movement, he may understate the challenges that face the Left. At each moment when we win, the forces of reaction not only seek to overturn the victory, but they also seek to overturn the means through which the victory was actually won.

None of this is to suggest that anything other than a movement for consistent democracy should be proposed. Rather, that the struggle that is undertaken in the name of structural reforms, survival, and democracy will inevitably reach a fundamental impasse with capital over the basic rules of society. At that point there should be nothing to lead anyone to believe that capital will handle this peacefully and humbly.

As a result What Then Must We Do? seems incomplete. I was persuaded by Alperovitz that a glimpse into the future is critical largely due to reality of the failure of 20th century socialism, or more accurately, what is better described as the crisis of socialism.

We are not, in other words, starting off with a clean slate. There are experiences with socialist and so-called socialist projects and those experiences are uneven in their outcome, and failed over the longer term to provide an alternative to capitalism.

Yet this does not mean that an evolutionary path into the future is realistic. That may sound contradictory since the direction proposed by Alperovitz is one that I praise. But one must remember the context: his book serves as a platform for a popular front against finance capital. It is not, however, a platform for a new society.

Where Alperovitz and I disagree seems to be on the question of how “elastic” democratic capitalism is and will be over the coming years. I think that democratic capitalism is far more flexible in adjusting to circumstances and crises than many of us on the political Left have believed over the decades.

At the same time, the combination of the economic and environmental squeeze leads me to believe that the ruling elite is on a mad dash to secure as much as it can while it can. If this means political disenfranchisement of millions through voter suppression and other efforts, or more direct forms of terror, there is nothing in the history of capitalism that leads me to believe that they will fail to exercise such an option.

Given this, Alperovitz’s platform is at best one component in a much more long-term socialist strategy. By this I mean not only the vigorous fight for structural reforms, but a level of popular organization and mobilization that ultimately pushes for a different constitutional framework, a fundamentally different arrangement in favor of empowering working people, an end to imperialism, and a new relationship between humans on planet Earth.

Such change necessitates a revolutionary transformation and an active process of eliminating the forms of oppression central to capitalism.

In using the term “revolutionary” I am emphasizing a break with actually existing capitalism rather than a slow transformation away from the current toxic system. Such a break, however, is not something that can be led by a small yet spirited sect, and neither is it something that is simply proclaimed. In that sense what Alperovitz suggests at the level of timeline is correct; we are speaking about a process over decades that is then followed by a process of actual transformation lasting decades into centuries.

For many this may all seem like a distinction without a difference, but the importance of clarifying this lies in both matters of expectations as well as strategy. The “Chilean option” succeeded in part because the forces around Allende underestimated what it would take to defeat the political Right. The struggle for structural reforms and survival presented by Alperovitz is essential in cornering the political Right and changing the “common sense” of the U.S. political arena. But it is not enough to wound the rabid beast; one must ultimately bring it down.

This article was first published at Jacobin / a magazine of culture and polemic.

[Bill Fletcher Jr. is a racial justice, labor and international writer and activist. He is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum; a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; and an editorial board member of His latest books are They’re Bankrupting Us!: And 20 Other Myths about Unions and Reimagining Labor Unions: Busting Myths, Building Movements. Find more articles by Bill Fletcher Jr. at The Rag Blog.]

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12 November 2012

ELECTION 2012 / Harry Targ : 'Vote Today, Organize Tomorrow'

Graphic by Favianna Rodriguez /

Assessing the election:
'Vote today, organize tomorrow'
In the months ahead, progressive forces need to reexamine the history of social change in America, conceptualizing movement possibilities everywhere...
By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / November 12, 2012

The commentaries on the 2012 presidential election are rolling in. Over the next several days and weeks progressives will be discussing the meaning of the 2012 elections for “Where do we go from here?” The desperate need is for us to resume rebuilding America and planting the seeds for a vision of  “21st century Socialism.”

So for now here is a list of some of the issues progressives and radicals should begin to discuss all across the nation.

First, MSNBC commentator Chuck Todd emphasized from the outset of election night commentary that the demographic changes in American society are and will continue to transform politics and the prospects for change.

By 2050, a National Journal report predicted “minorities” -- that is Black and Brown people -- will constitute a majority of the population of the country. In the presidential election just completed 24 percent of the voters were African Americans and Latinos. Also youth as a proportion of these populations is growing.

Finally, women are a segment of the voting age population that is growing and motivated in part by a rejection of political ideologies and theologies that prohibit their control of their own bodies.

Second, in addition to race and gender, the 2012 election results point out emphatically that class matters. There is no question that the labor movement, including public employees, and grassroots workers’ organizations revitalized after 2010 in the industrial heartland, was instrumental in facilitating a Democratic “ground game” in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, and even Indiana.

Working people are fired up, angry, and possibly ready to become a “class for itself.” And, in those states where labor made a difference, activists readily articulated connections between workers’ interests and interests of women and people of color.

Third, big money gives enormous advantage to the one percent as they select and promote candidates and issues. Big money also facilitates voter suppression and it pressures the mass media to give unwarranted attention to their claims about the society.

All the mainstream media, including the more liberal MSNBC, exaggerated the Romney debate bounce, claims about changing momentum, the closeness of the elections, claims derived from multiple and endless polls, and a hyped cognitive airspace about an alleged appeal that Romney/Ryan had.

While much of the election hype was driven by the competition for viewers, there is no doubt that the Koch brothers, the Bradley Foundation, and the millionaire super PACS were able to project their vision well beyond the proportion of those in the society who endorse it.

Even though the power of money should not be dismissed, this election shows, once again, the power of the people. The unsung heroes and heroines were the millions of people who stood for hours to vote in Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, California, New York, New Jersey, and all around the country, despite the best efforts of state governments and Tea Party groups to discourage voting.

It would be a great mistake in the future to demean voting, even voting for one of the two major parties. It remains the symbolic hallmark of real democracy. As articulate spokespersons, such as Nina Turner, Ohio State Senator, and Georgia Congressman John Lewis eloquently expressed it, people put their bodies and lives on the line to secure the right to vote. That must never be ignored.

What progressives need to work for is a society where that vote can be clearly cast for those who support the people’s interests.

Fourth, building a movement all around the country matters. In 2008, the Democratic Party crafted a 50-state strategy. Resources were channeled into campaigns in states and communities that heretofore had only small progressive movements.

But in 2008 that changed and in unlikely places such as Tippecanoe County in North Central Indiana, an overwhelmingly red county, Barack Obama carried the area and Indiana went blue. The same experience occurred elsewhere in states like North Carolina.

After 2008, such communities were written off because they were not communities in “swing states.”

Subsequent to 2008, activists in the industrial heartland, some of the western states, and the South were seen as beyond mobilization again. In some places, such as Central Indiana, Eastern North Carolina, and even Ohio and Wisconsin, those who had mobilized in 2008 remained so despite being written off by the Democratic National Committee (and many progressive groups).

The 50-state strategy had the potential for developing into a nationwide social movement. After 2008, the Democratic Party moved away from this approach and some of the Left returned to focusing on progressive politics on the coasts.

In the months ahead, progressive forces need to reexamine the history of social change in America, conceptualizing movement possibilities everywhere, while recognizing the particularities of history, culture, politics, and organizational potentials in different geographic locales.

Finally, progressives need to examine political outcomes in states and communities. Preliminary data indicate that while progressive constituencies rose up angry against reactionary candidates in various state and local races as well as national campaigns, the most right-wing sectors of the one percent control state governments in almost half of the 50 states (where Republicans control both legislative assemblies).

And it is these state governments since 2010 that have imposed right-to-work legislation, attacked collective bargaining for public employees, defunded Planned Parenthood, built private schools and voucher programs that will destroy public schools as we have known them, resolved to impose anti-science subject matter in school curricula, and have systematically ignored environmental hazards. The national government moved “blue” in 2012 while it remains blood “red” in many states.

Progressives need to address many, many more issues in the coming months: the “fiscal cliff,” military spending, drone warfare, climate change, and expanding the health care system for example. The key point is to begin to change now. As one wonderful graphic urged on Facebook election day, “Vote Today, Organize Tomorrow.”

[Harry Targ is a professor of political science at Purdue University who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. He blogs at Diary of a Heartland Radical -- and that's also the name of his book from Changemaker Press which can be found at Read more of Harry Targ's articles on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

05 November 2012

Jack A. Smith : The Left and the 'Lesser Evil' Dilemma

Graphic from Liberation News.

For whom should the left vote?
Many progressives now view Obama as the 'lesser evil,' but worry he will sell them out once again.
By Jack A. Smith / The Rag Blog / November 5, 2012

There are important differences, of course, between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican contender Mitt Romney, but the long conservative trend in American politics will continue regardless of who wins the presidential election November 6. Either candidate will move it right along.

From a left point of view, Obama is superior to Romney in the sense that the Democratic center right is politically preferable to the Republican right/far right. The Democrats will cause less social damage -- though not less war damage or the pain of gross inequality or the harm done civil liberties -- than their conservative cousins.

Indeed, both candidates are conservative. Obama is moderately so, judging by his first term in the White House, though “liberal” in his current campaign rhetoric and on two social issues -- abortion and gay marriage. Romney is definitely so, though he shifts opportunistically from the extreme right to the right and back again. In the last weeks of the campaign, sensing his impending defeat, the former Massachusetts governor momentarily leaned to the center right.

The Republican Party has gravitated ever further to the right during the last few decades and is now securely in the hands of extremist politicians, symbolized by the ascendancy of the Tea Party and the many House and Senate members who follow its far right agenda. Jim Hightower, the well known liberal Texas columnist, wrote an article in AlterNet October 8 that briefly described key programs in the GOP platform:
  • Medicare must be replaced with a privatized "VoucherCare" (or, more accurately, "WeDon'tCare") medical system;
  • All poverty programs must be slashed or eliminated to "free" poor people from a crippling and shameful dependency on public aid;
  • The government framework that sustains a middle class (from student loans to Social Security) must be turned over to Wall Street so individuals are free to "manage" their own fates through marketplace choice;
  • Such worker protections as collective bargaining, minimum wage, and unemployment payments must be stripped away to remove artificial impediments to the "natural rationality" of free market forces;
  • The corporate and moneyed elites (forgive a bit of redundancy there) must be freed from tax and regulatory burdens that impede their entrepreneurial creativity;
  • The First Amendment must be interpreted to mean that unlimited political spending of corporate cash equals free speech; and
  • Etcetera, ad nauseam, ad infinitum.
The one thing Hightower left out is that if the Republicans insist on identifying corporate bosses as “Job Creators,” why then aren’t they creating jobs? Romney blames China, as do the Democrats, but that’s election politics. China is a rising capitalist economy that only started to really take off about 15 years ago, and it is doing what all such rising economies do -- adopting some measures to grow and protect their developing industries and trade.

The U.S. did it too as a growing economy for many decades. That’s capitalism. It goes where it can make the most profit. Washington supports this. Nothing prevents the U.S. government from investing in the creation of millions of jobs in America except conservative ideology.

Despite the seeming distance between the two parties on economic issues -- emphasized by Republican proposals cribbed from the pages of Atlas Shrugged -- economist Jared Bernstein, a Democrat, wrote on his blog September 6 that he was going beyond “good Democrats and bad Republicans” to perceive “the ascendancy of a largely bipartisan vision that promotes individualist market-based solutions over solutions that recognize there are big problems that markets cannot effectively solve.” He’s on to something.

Bernstein, until this year Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economic adviser, then wrote:
We cannot, for example, constantly cut the federal government’s revenue stream without undermining its ability to meet pressing social needs. We know that more resources will be needed to meet the challenges of prospering in a global economy, keeping up with technological changes, funding health care and pension systems, helping individuals balance work and family life, improving the skills of our workforce, and reducing social and economic inequality. Yet discussion of this reality is off the table.
There are a number of major policy areas of virtual agreement between the parties. Their most flagrant coupling is in the key area of foreign/military policy.

The Democrats -- humiliated for years by right wing charges of being “soft on defense” -- have become the war party led by a Commander-in-Chief who relishes his job to the extent of keeping his own individual kill list. What neoconservative would dare fault him for this? Imagine the liberal outcry had Bush been discovered with a kill list! This time the liberals didn’t kick up much fuss.

During the third presidential debate Romney had little choice but to align himself with Obama’s war policies in Afghanistan, the attacks on western Pakistan, the regime change undeclared war against Libya, the regime change war in Syria, the aggressive anti-China “pivot” to Asia and drone assaults against Yemen and Somalia with many more to come.

Virtually all liberals, progressives, some leftists, and organized labor will vote for Obama. Many will do so with trepidation, given their disappointment about his performance in office, particularly his tilt toward the right, willingness to compromise more than half way with the Republicans, and his reluctance to wage a sharp struggle on behalf of supposed Democratic Party goals.

Many of these forces now view Obama as the “lesser evil,” but worry he will sell them out once again. According to the Washington publication The Hill on Oct. 24:
Major labor unions and dozens of liberal groups working to elect President Obama are worried he could "betray" them in the lame-duck session by agreeing to a deal to cut safety-net programs. While Obama is relying on labor unions and other organizations on the left to turn out Democratic voters in battleground states, some of his allies have lingering concerns about whether he will stand by them if elected....

The AFL-CIO has planned a series of coordinated events around the country on Nov. 8, two days after Election Day, to pressure lawmakers not to sign onto any deficit-reduction deal that cuts Medicare and Social Security benefits by raising the Medicare eligibility age or changing the formula used for Social Security cost-of-living adjustments.

"There’s going to be a major effort by lots of groups to make sure the people we vote for don’t sell us down the river," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. “People, groups, organizations and networks are working very hard to get Obama and the Democrats elected, and yet we are worried that it is possible that we could be betrayed almost immediately," he said.
One specific issue behind this distrust is the awareness that, if reelected, Obama has said he will seek a “grand bargain” with the Republicans intended to slash the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade. During deficit talks with House leader John Boehner over a year ago Obama voluntarily declared that cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security were “on the table” for negotiation -- the first time any Democratic President ever offered to compromise on what amounts to the crowning legislative achievements of the New Deal and Great Society administrations.

At the time Obama envisioned reducing Medicare by $1 trillion and Medicaid by $360 billion over two decades. The exact amount from Social Security was not disclosed. During the campaign Obama promised to “protect” these three “entitlements.”

While denouncing Romney’s “plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program and increase health care costs for seniors,” AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka disclosed Oct. 23 that “a bipartisan group of senators who are not up for reelection is working behind closed doors in Washington to reach a so-called grand bargain that completely bypasses this debate and ignores the views of voters. What is the grand bargain? It boils down to lower tax rates for rich people -- paid for by benefit cuts for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Another reason for a certain suspicion about what Obama will achieve in a second term is based on his unfulfilled promises from the 2008 election. Here are some of them from an October 27 article titled “The Progressive Case Against Obama” by Matt Stoller:
A higher minimum wage, a ban on the replacement of striking workers, seven days of paid sick leave, a more diverse media ownership structure, renegotiation of NAFTA, letting bankruptcy judges write down mortgage debt, a ban on illegal wiretaps, an end to national security letters, stopping the war on whistle-blowers, passing the Employee Free Choice Act, restoring habeas corpus, and labor protections in the FAA bill.

Each of these pledges would have tilted bargaining leverage to debtors, to labor, or to political dissidents. So Obama promised them to distinguish himself from Bush, and then went back on his word because these promises didn’t fit with the larger policy arc of shifting American society toward his vision.
Many liberals and progressives seem convinced that the two-party system is the only viable battleground within which to contest for peace and social progress, even if the two ruling parties are right of center. This is one reason they shun progressive or left third parties.

This national electoral battleground, however, as has become evident to many Americans in recent years, is owned and operated by the wealthy ruling elite which has, through its control of the two-party system, stifled any social progress in the United States for 40 years.

Throughout these same four decades the Democrats have shifted from the center left to center right. The last center left Democratic presidential candidate was the recently departed former Sen. George McGovern, who was whipped by the Republicans in 1972. In tribute to this last antiwar and progressive presidential candidate, and as a contrast to the present center right standard bearer, we recall McGovern’s comment from the 1972 Democratic convention:
As one whose heart has ached for the past 10 years over the agony of Vietnam, I will halt a senseless bombing of Indochina on Inaugural Day. There will be no more Asian children running ablaze from bombed-out schools. There will be no more talk of bombing the dikes or the cities of the North [Vietnam]. And within 90 days of my inauguration, every American soldier and every American prisoner will be out of the jungle and out of their cells and then home in America where they belong.
There is more to America’s presidential and congressional elections than meets the eye of the average voter. Next week’s election, for instance, has two aspects. One has been in-your-face visible for over a year before Election Day, costing billions. The other is usually concealed because it’s not a matter that entertains public debate or intervention.

The visible aspect -- the campaign, slogans and speeches, the debates, arguments and rallies-- is contained within the parameters of the political system which Obama and Romney meticulously observe. Those parameters, or limitations, are mainly established by that privileged elite sector of the citizenry lately identified as the 1% and its minions.

The concealed aspect of elections in the U.S. is that they are usually undemocratic in essence; and that the fundamental underlying issues of the day are rarely mentioned, much less contested.

Many of the major candidates are selected, groomed, and financed by the elite, who then invest fortunes in the election campaigns for president, Congress and state legislatures (over $6 billion in this election). And after their representatives to all these offices are elected, they spend billions more on the federal and state level lobbying for influence, transferring cash for or against legislation affecting their financial and big business interests.

American electoral democracy is based on one person, one vote -- and it’s true that the wealthy contributor of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to favored candidates is similarly restricted to a single ballot. But the big spenders influence multitudes of voters through financing mass advertising, which in effect multiplies the donor’s political clout by a huge factor.

Democracy is grossly undermined by the funding from rich individuals and corporations that determine the outcome of many, probably most, elections. These are the wealthy with whom a Romney can easily describe 47% of the American people as scroungers dependent on government handouts, and they will chuckle and applaud. They are the same breed with whom an Obama can comfortably mock the “professional left” within his party and get knowing nods and smiles.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama at debate in Denver. Photo by Charlie Neibergall / AP.

The most important of the major issues completely omitted from the elections and the national narrative is the obvious fact that the United States is an imperialist state and a militarist society. It rules the world, not just the seas as did Britannia, and the sun never sets on America’s worldwide military bases, an “empire of bases” as Chalmers Johnson wrote.

Most Americans, including the liberals, become discomforted or angered when their country is described as imperialist and militarist. But what else is a society that in effect controls the world through military power; that has been at war or planning for the next war for over 70 years without letup; that spends nearly $700 billion a year on its armed forces and an equal amount on various national security entities?

The American people never voted on whether to become or continue as an imperialist or militarist society any more than they voted to invade Iraq, or to deregulate the banks, or to vaporize the civilian city of Hiroshima.

In the main a big majority believe Washington’s foreign/military policies are defensive and humanitarian because that’s what the government, the schools, churches, and commercial mass media drum into their heads throughout their lives. They have been misinformed and manipulated to accept the status quo on the basis of Washington’s fear-mongering, exaggerated national security needs, mythologies about American history, and a two-party political system primarily devoted to furthering the interests of big business, multinational corporations, too-big-to-fail banks, and Wall Street.

Needless to say, both ruling parties have participated in all this and it is simply taken for granted they will continue to cultivate militarism and practice imperialism in order to remain the world’s dominant hegemon.

There are many ways to keep the voting population in line. The great majority of Americans are religious people, including many fundamentalists. Both candidates of the political duopoly have exploited religious beliefs by telling the people that God is on America’s side and that the deity supports America’s dominant role in the world, and its wars, too.

At the Democratic convention in September, Obama concluded his speech with these inspiring words: “Providence is with us, and we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.” The term Providence, in the sense intended, suggests that God “is with us,” guides America’s destiny and approves of the activities we have defined as imperialist and militarist.

Romney declared last month that “God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers. America must lead the world.”

Further along these lines, Obama said in the third debate that “America remains the one indispensable nation, and the world needs a strong America, and it is stronger now than when I came into office.” Having God’s backing and being the only one of some 200 nation states in the world that cannot be dispensed with is what is meant by the expression “American Exceptionalism” — a designation that gives Washington a free pass to do anything it wants.

American “leadership” (i.e., global hegemony) has been a policy of the Democratic and Republican parties for several decades. A main reason the American foreign policy elite gathered behind Obama in 2007 was his continual emphasis upon maintaining Washington’s world leadership.

Many other key policies will not change whether Obama or Romney occupy the Oval Office.
  • For instance, the U.S. is the most unequal society among the leading capitalist nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). About half its people are either low income or poor, and they received lower benefits than families resident in other OECD countries. What will Obama and Romney do about this if elected to the White House? Nothing. Burgeoning inequality wasn’t even a topic during the three debates. And in Obama’s nearly four years in office he completely ignored this most important social problem plaguing America.

    According to the Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz: “Economic inequality begets political inequality and vice versa. Then the very vision that makes America special -- upward mobility and opportunity for all -- is undermined. One person, one vote becomes one dollar, one vote. That is not democracy.”

  • Climate change caused by global warming is here. America has been wracked in recent years with devastating storms, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, as have other parts of the world. One of the worst of all storms decimated large parts of the eastern United States a few days ago. And what will Obama and Romney do about it? Nothing. This most important of international questions was not thought worthy of mention in all three debates. Bill McKibben got it right the other day when he said: “Corporate polluters have bought the silence of our elected leaders.”

    Obama’s environmental comprehension and occasional rhetoric are an improvement over Romney’s current climate denial (one more cynical reversal of his earlier views). But the president has done virtually nothing to fight climate change during his first term -- and he simply can’t blame it all on the Republicans. He has a bully pulpit with which to galvanize public consciousness but doesn’t use it. Actually the Obama government has played a backward role in the annual UN climate talks -- delaying everything, even though the U.S. is history’s most notorious emitter of the greenhouse gases that have brought the world to this sorry pass.

  • The shameful erosion of civil liberties that swiftly increased during the Bush Administration has been continued and expanded during the Obama Administration. One cannot help but question the teacher training that goes into producing a Harvard Professor of Constitutional Law who blithely approves legislation containing a provision for indefinite detention that in effect suspends habeas corpus for some, a heretofore sacrosanct aspect of American democracy.

  • The economic suffering of African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans in the years since 2008, when the Great Recession began, is far worse than that of whites. Black family income and wealth is incomparably lower. Black unemployment is twice that of whites. The Obama White House has not brought forth one program to alleviate the conditions afflicting these three communities, and it’s hardly likely a Romney government would do any better.
On other visible election issues, such as the rights of labor unions, the Democrats are much better than the Republicans, who despise the unions, but Obama has certainly been asleep at the switch, or maybe he just knows labor will support him come what may.

Portraying himself as a friend of labor, Obama refused to fight hard enough -- even when the Democrats controlled the House and Senate -- to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, the one bill labor truly wanted from the White House in return for years of service. During his first term Obama presided over anti-union legislation and stood mute as the labor movement was pummeled mercilessly in several state legislatures, even losing collective bargaining rights in some states. With friends like this...

In rhetoric, Obama is far superior to the Republicans on such issues as social programs, the deficit, unemployment, foreclosures, tax policy, Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. But in actual practice he has either done virtually nothing or has already made compromises. When he thinks he may lose he backs away instead of fighting on and at least educating people in the process. Look at it this way:
  • The only social program to emerge from the Obama Administration is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a near duplicate of Romney’s Republican plan in Massachusetts. Obama wouldn’t even consider the long overdue and far better single payer/Medicare-for-all plan.

    Obamacare is an improvement over the present system, although it still leaves millions without healthcare. But it only came about after convincing Big Insurance and Big Pharma that it would greatly increase their profits. The big insurance and drug companies accumulate overhead costs of 30%. Government-provided Universal Medicare, based on today’s overhead, would only be about 3% because profit and excessive executive pay would be excluded.

  • In his willingness to compromise, Obama largely accepted the Tea Party right wing emphasis on deficit reduction instead of investing in the economy and social programs, especially to recover from the Great Recession, continuing stagnation and high unemployment. This will mainly entail budget reductions and targeted tax increases focusing on finally ending the Bush tax cuts for people earning $250,000 or more a year. These cuts were supposed to expire two years ago but were extended by Obama in a compromise tax deal with obstructionist Republicans Congress.
It’s an old Republican trick when in office to greatly increase the deficit through tax breaks and war costs, then demand that the succeeding Democratic Administration focus on reducing the deficit by virtually eliminating social programs for the people. Reagan and Bush #1 did it successfully to President Bill Clinton (who spent eight years eliminating the deficit without sponsoring one significant social program), and Bush #2 has done it to Obama.

Almost as informative as what separates the two parties is what they agree upon. Bill Quigley, legal director at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, compiled the following list, which was published on AlterNet Oct. 27:
  1. Neither candidate is interested in stopping the use of the death penalty for federal or state crimes.
  2. Neither candidate is interested in eliminating or reducing the 5,113 U.S. nuclear warheads.
  3. Neither candidate is campaigning to close Guantanamo prison.
  4. Neither candidate has called for arresting and prosecuting high ranking people on Wall Street for the subprime mortgage catastrophe.
  5. Neither candidate is interested in holding anyone in the Bush administration accountable for the torture committed by U.S. personnel against prisoners in Guantanamo or in Iraq or Afghanistan.
  6. Neither candidate is interested in stopping the use of drones to assassinate people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia.
  7. Neither candidate is against warrantless surveillance, indefinite detention, or racial profiling in fighting "terrorism."
  8. Neither candidate is interested in fighting for a living wage. In fact neither are really committed beyond lip service to raising the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour -- which, if it kept pace with inflation since the 1960s should be about $10 an hour.
  9. Neither candidate was interested in arresting Osama bin Laden and having him tried in court.
  10. Neither candidate will declare they refuse to bomb Iran.
  11. Neither candidate is refusing to take huge campaign contributions from people and organizations.
  12. Neither candidate proposes any significant specific steps to reverse global warming.
  13. Neither candidate is talking about the over 2 million people in jails and prisons in the U.S.
  14. Neither candidate proposes to create public jobs so everyone who wants to work can.
  15. Neither candidate opposes the nuclear power industry. In fact both support expansion.
Over the past several weeks, liberal and progressive groups have been seeking to convince disenchanted voters who share their politics to once again get behind Obama with renewed enthusiasm and hope for progress. These organizations fear such voters will not turn out on election day or instead vote for a progressive third party candidate such as the Green Party’s Jill Stein, or a socialist candidate, such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s Peta Lindsay, both of whom are on the New York State ballot.

It would be better for all American working families, including the poor and the oppressed sectors if the Republicans were defeated, and Obama will do less harm than Romney and the far right.

I will not vote for Obama because he is a warrior president comfortably leading an imperialist and militarist system -- a man who ignores poor and low income families, who eviscerates our civil liberties, and who knows the truth about global warming but does pathetically little about it.

I’ll vote for Peta Lindsay, a young African American socialist woman. I completely agree with her 10-point election platform, the last point of which is “Seize the banks, jail Wall Street Criminals.” [Peta Lindsay is on the ballot in 12 states.] And I want to help to build socialism, the only real answer to the problems afflicting America and the world.

[Jack A. Smith was editor of the Guardian -- for decades the nation's preeminent leftist newsweekly -- that closed shop in 1992. Smith now edits the Hudson Valley Activist Newsletter. Read more articles by Jack A. Smith on The Rag Blog.]

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

David McReynolds : In Defense of Independent Politics / 1

Dynamic duo: Does the answer lie elsewhere? Image from Gulf Business.

In defense of independent politics / 1
What is certain is that neither candidate is willing to make a real break with the military/industrial complex which dominates this country.
By David McReynolds / The Rag Blog / November 4, 2012

Part one of two.

This is Sunday night, and my only excuse, weak though it may be, for this late intervention in the 2012 election discussion is that I was in California for three weeks, then found myself engulfed by Sandy (that is, with no power, phones, internet, etc.).

There will be two parts to this, the second to be written after the election (not because the election will change my thinking, but because the two parts are too much for one post).

First, on the essential issue, no I won't vote for Obama. I'm in a "safe state" (New York) where a vote for Obama is truly wasted. Since the Socialist Party is not on the ballot here, I'll vote for the Green candidate. I think there is a difference in who wins -- not much, but some.

(Sometimes a great deal -- I doubt Al Gore would have invaded Iraq -- but as a twist on this, I doubt that, if Stevenson had been elected in 1952, he could have ended the Korean War -- and remember that it was Eisenhower who vetoed Nixon's eagerness to use nuclear weapons in Indochina and it was Johnson who plunged us so deeply into that war.)

By the end of the campaign we are swept up as if the fate of the world depended on which candidate wins. The old radical position is still true -- there isn't that much difference. I remember the Communist Party (and much of the Left) being convinced that if Eisenhower won in 1952 we would have a military dictatorship -- and if memory serves (which it often doesn't) it was I.F. Stone who supported Eisenhower in that year.

I like Obama. And I refuse to hate Romney. One doesn't know enough about him to even know whether or not to like him. He is all things to all people, depending on the situation. I worry most about the neocons in his foreign policy camp, but he might ignore them.

What is certain is that neither candidate is willing to make a real break with the military/industrial complex which dominates this country. Neither candidate dares suggest the need to abolish the CIA. Neither candidate is willing to support the rights of the Palestinians if it risks a clash with the Israeli lobby.

I can list several other areas which both candidates have dodged, areas that are truly urgent. Let's take the developing prison industrial complex -- we call ourselves a free nation but we have more men and women in prison than any other nation on the planet. Let's look at the drug wars, which have failed dismally, yet neither candidate was prepared to discuss legalizing marijuana and treating heroin addiction as a medical problem.

On the issue of military spending, which is more complex than the peace movement seems to realize, Romney is surely out of his mind to urge an increase in such spending. But Obama did not propose closing down the military bases the U.S. has in Europe, Japan, South Korea, Okinawa, etc. etc.

And have we realized that if we simply call for a 50% cut in military spending (or even a 5% cut) we will immediately increase unemployment -- unless there is a government program to provide alternative employment? How ironic that the conservatives, so opposed to any and all government spending for any useful purpose, are not only happy with military spending but want to increase it!

There is one solid reason for voting for Obama in you are in a swing state -- the Supreme Court nominations.

If you live in a state that is considered "safe" for either candidate, then voting for that candidate is an utterly wasted vote. Any conservative in Texas who votes for Romney when they could vote for the Libertarian does not increase the chance of Romney to win, but only endorses the sad failure of the GOP to adapt to modern times.

And any of my friends who vote for Obama in California, or Washington, or Oregon, Illinois, New York, etc., are losing a chance to vote for candidates -- socialist or green -- who would, without any risk of losing the election of Obama, show that there is a body of citizens who want serious change.

What is happening that I find most disturbing is not Romney, but the gradual growth of the Tea Party apparatus at local levels around the nation. They made a concerted effort to limit voting by minority groups. And, when one looks at some of the Tea Party members of Congress, led by Michele Bachman, along with Todd Aiken, Joe Walsh, Allen West, etc., we are looking, not at conservatives, but at nuts.

While, taken as a whole, the Tea Party is racist, that is too simple, since one of their heroes is Allen West, an African American from Florida, who insists there are nearly a hundred members of the Communist Party in Congress.

Liberals should remember that it was not so long ago that the nuts who didn't believe in evolution, or racial equality, were in the Democratic Party -- until the Civil Rights Revolution in the 60's and the shift in the Democratic Party drove these folks into the GOP. But what is disturbing is how comfortable Romney seems to be with these people, with the support of someone such as Donald Trump. It may sound elitist of me, but I'm bothered as much by the sheer vulgarity of Trump as I am by his politics.

What I know, at 83, is that it was foolish of me, in 1964, to support LBJ when it was clear he would win. I had thought my vote -- and the rallying of liberals and radicals in his support -- would be a referendum in favor of civll rights and peace. Sadly he plunged a half million men and women into Vietnam. How much better if we had given our support to any candidates on the left in the election.

I know my position is alien to the three socialist groups of which I'm a member. The Socialist Party will be upset that I support voting for the Greens in a swing state where our party is not on the ballot. Democratic Socialists of America and the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism will (not all of them --- I am not the only member in dissent on this issue) be distressed that I do not see the historic imperative of full support for Obama.

What I think those of us on the Left need to do is to realize, first, how small our forces are. Obama will win or lose even if all the members of the groups I've named above simply sat this race out. Other, much more powerful forces will determine the outcome. The Black Churches, the Hispanic community, the trade unions, the independent liberals who do not belong to any radical group. (And, of course, on Romney's side are other powerful forces, some quite dangerous and essentially anti-democratic.)

The second thing we must do is realize that major changes in our culture never originate within the major parties. The Civil Rights movement, the women's movement, the Vietnam Peace movement, the Gay and Lesbian movement, the environmental movement -- all of these began outside either major party, and only by their growth did they force their issues on the political agenda.

So our work is local. It is slow. It is educational as well as political. And our goal is not to achieve the victory of liberalism, but of a radical change in the economic and social culture of our times. Yes, for me that means democratic socialism -- clearly a discussion for another time, even though the failures of capitalism are by now clear to many.

One final thought, which is on the late entrance of the abortion issue into the campaign. In some ways this is a secondary issue, as I do not think even a Romney victory would result in banning abortion. But there is something about the Tea Party support of "right to life" (and remember that Aiken's positions on this are very much the same as those of Romney's running mate) which is deeply dangerous.

I do understand the profound moral issue this poses for Mormons, Catholics, Orthodox Jews, and evangelicals. I do not mock their concern. I do not take abortion lightly (and by and large neither do women). I will leave to one side the obvious -- that men, from the leaders of the Mormon Church to the Pope in Rome, do not face this problem in any immediate way.

What is important is that to make one's moral position a matter of law -- to decide that not only will good Catholics not have abortions, but that laws should be passed making it impossible for secular women to make that decision-- is to pass from being a secular and democratic society to one which takes on the tinge of the Taliban. That is why we keep Church and State separate -- something the current Republican Party no longer accepts.

Part Two will come later. Meanwhile, I do hope you vote -- that right was won at great cost. Just make your vote as meaningful as possible.

[David McReynolds is a former chair of War Resisters International, and was the Socialist Party candidate for President in 1980 and 2000. He is retired and lives with two cats on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and is happy power has been restored.. He posts at Edge Left and can be reached at Read more articles by David McReynolds on The Rag Blog.]

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24 October 2012

BOOKS / Mike Davis : The Reds Under Romney's Bed

The reds under Romney's bed
The image of the Red Cavalry going into battle with the Book of Mormon in their saddlebags is quite a stretch; most of us, on the contrary, would probably vote for Mormon 'socialism' as the ultimate oxymoron.
By Mike Davis / The Rag Blog / October 24, 2012

Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, by John G. Turner (2012: Belknap Press, Harvard Univ); Hardcover; 512 pp; $35.
History of Utah Radicalism: Startling, Socialistic, and Decidedly Revolutionary, by John S. McCormick and John R. Sillito (2011: Utah State University Press); Hardcover; 456 pp; $39.95.

In 1884 the journalist Edward Bellamy, struggling with an idea for a utopian novel, visited the only actually-existing communist society on earth: Utah. More precisely he spent a week in Brigham City, seat of Box Elder County, where Apostle Lorenzo Snow, who would later become the fifth LDS president (and the last to have personally known Joseph Smith), showed him the workings of a dynamic community based on pooled wealth, producer and consumer cooperatives, and the use of labor scrip instead of money.

Bellamy, like many previous Gentile visitors, was greatly impressed by the Mormon gift for disciplined cooperation. A decade earlier the celebrated explorer-scientist, John Wesley Powell, had championed the Mormon principle of communal water-management in his landmark but controversial Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States. But Bellamy -- like Lincoln Steffens returning from Russia in 1921 -- was even more enthusiastic: he had seen the future and it worked.

Looking Backward (1888), Bellamy’s portrait of a prosperous but authoritarian socialist America in the year 2000, became a bestseller and seeded the "Nationalist" club movement that was an immediate precursor of the Socialist Party of America. (The iconic Bradbury Building in downtown Los Angeles was built by a wealthy Bellamy supporter as an anticipation of the architecture of that socialist future.)

The similarities between Bellamy’s collective commonwealth and the Mormon ideal of "consecrated" community, as well his "Industrial Army" and the semi-military organization of Young’s Deseret, have ignited controversy for more than a century. Indeed one rabidly anti-Mormon website currently makes the claim that as Brigham City influenced Looking Backward, so did Bellamy’s novel influence Bolshevism, thus implicating the Romneys through their church in "the horrors of communism."

But the image of the Red Cavalry going into battle with the Book of Mormon in their saddlebags is quite a stretch; most of us, on the contrary, would probably vote for Mormon "socialism" as the ultimate oxymoron. But millenarian ideologies -- whether the Sermon on the Mound, the revelations of Joseph Smith, or the ideas of Karl Marx -- have an unfortunate tendency to be coopted by advocates of antithetical values.

John G. Turner’s new biography of Brigham Young -- a scholarly and judicious book that is unlikely to be burned in Temple Square -- portrays a social experiment, the most ambitious in American history, that until Young’s death in 1877 explicitly rejected the core values of Victorian capitalism: possessive individualism and Darwinian competition.

He emphasizes, for instance, that while “the nexus of American evangelicalism was individual salvation, Young’s theology, like that of Joseph Smith, centered around extended families.” “For Brigham Young, like Joseph Smith, the chief end of humankind was eternal fellowship and familial glory. ‘[If] men are not saved together, they cannot be saved at all.’” And Smith famously vowed that he would rather go to hell with the Saints than to heaven without them. [161]

Moreover classical Mormonism, like Pentecostalism in the twentieth century, was a religion of the poor and the ruined: hard-scrabble farmers, rural laborers, artisans and downwardly mobile craftsmen, failed small businessmen, and, most strikingly, an army of refugees from England’s Satanic mills that Young and others led to America.

Dickensian England was the major target of early Mormon proselytism. Young arrived in Manchester, capital of the Industrial Revolution, in 1840 in time to witness the formation of the National Charter Association, the first working-class political party, amidst epic social turmoil.

Like Friedrich Engels two years later, Young was appalled by the living and working conditions of the factory working class as well as the servility of the poor. Lancashire, Turner tells us, was already over-run with itinerant preachers and tiny sects broken from Methodism, but Young and his companions were more eloquent egalitarians, offering economic as well as spiritual solutions to proletarian misery.

"Mormon missionaries focused on evangelicalism rather than on politics or socioeconomic analysis, but with no ties to British elites or the established order they unflinchingly lamented the poverty of the labouring, classes, denounced the monarchy’s conspicuous consumption, and promised their converts land and employment in Illinois.” [70]

After the exodus to the Great Basin and the establishment of the briefly independent state of Deseret, Young tirelessly preached the impossibility of coexistence between the communitarian values of Zion and the greed-driven capitalism of Babylon (the United States). Indeed even before the Saints’ wagons had reached Salt Lake City he had repulsed mutineers who wanted to keep going to fat valleys and gold fields of California, straight into the open maw of Mammon.

The driving of the Golden Spike in 1869, however, flooded Utah with cheap Eastern goods as well as outlaws, mineral prospectors, and Gentile immigrants. A few years later the Crash of 1873 demonstrated that Utah was no long insulated from what Young denounced as “the oppression of monied monopolies.”

“The sooty misery of working-class England,” Turner explains,” had left Young with a lingering belief that capitalism could produce an existence worse than chattel slavery.” Convinced that the Kingdom of Saints was now threatened with moral and economic absorption into a society run by Robber Barons and stock jobbers, Young launched a Mormon Cultural Revolution: the United Order of Enoch.

Under the Order, “the Latter-Day Saints would consecrate their property and resources to common management, divide labor according to specialized ability, and eliminate disparities of wealth.” (399) Young, although old, fat, and in declining health, spent most of 1874 and 1875 passionately -- and sometimes threateningly -- shepherding his people into lives of deeper generosity and unity. The original template was Brigham City, but some of the poorer frontier Mormons “attempted to fully live out Young’s communitarian vision." (399)

The most complete embodiment was Orderville, east of Zion National Park, where private property had been abolished, members ate in a common hall, and there was no trade with the Gentile world. Turner quotes Wallace Stegner’s estimation of Orderville as a "communism of goods, labor, religion, and recreation such as the world has seen only in a few places and for very short times." [400]

Although Orderville, Brigham City, and a handful of other Mormon kibbutzes survived through 1880s, the United Order encountered intractable resistance from an emerging upper class of Saints, some of them in lucrative business partnerships with Gentiles. A mining boom, meanwhile, diverted the loyalties of many working-class Mormons. Despite Young’s ceaseless campaigning, public enthusiasm for the United Order died within a few years.

This was the major political and spiritual defeat of Young’s reign. At the dedication of a new temple in St. George, the same southern Utah town where he had launched the United Order only three years earlier, the LDS President gave a fierce speech against the corruption of the Morman soul by capitalism, railroads, and mines. He warned his People that they would “go to Hell” unless they repented materialism and greed. For emphasis he pounded the pulpit with his gnarled hickory cane. Six months later, in August 1877, he died.

MacCormick and Sillito’s fascinating history of the Utah Socialist Party in the early twentieth century (it won 115 state and local elections ) includes a detailed account of the Church’s eventual embrace, after Young’s death, of the capitalist civilization and rule of money that he and Smith had so abhorred. This great U-turn was partly driven by heightened inequality, even class conflict within late-Victorian Mormon society. It was also compelled by the Edmunds-Tucker Act of 1887 which confiscated the Church’s assets, as well as disenfranchising women in the territory (they had won the vote in 1870) and disinheriting the children of plural marriages.

Washington’s message to the LDS was simple and implacable: abandon polygamy and open the doors to eastern capital or face destruction. Brigham Young doubtlessly would have defied the Republicans in Congress, taking his people into the mountains or moving to Mexico, but his successors capitulated: abolishing plural marriage in 1890 and sending church leader Heber J. Grant to Wall Street to establish a credit line for the Church. After statehood, moreover, they moved the LDS hierarchy into the ranks of its former archenemy, the Republican Party.

“Thereafter,” write MacCormick and Sillito, “Church leaders would not only feel increasingly at ease with the ways of American capitalists, but they would be beholden -- at least in the short run -- for their services. Within another decade these influences would go so far that muckraking journalists would begin to cast the Church in the role of a Wall Street plutocrat.” [383]

After three generations of persecution, migration, and backbreaking labor to achieve an egalitarian Zion, the conservative reformation in Salt Lake City was deeply disorienting to many Mormons. As original research for Utah Radicalism has established, at least 40 percent of the Socialist Party membership in Utah before 1920 were Mormons, most of them devout.

Many were the children of the United Order, like Lillie Engle who grew up in Orderville and became a Socialist candidate in Emery County in 1912. (In a poignant reminiscence, she equated the “sorrows that only the domestic servant, the widow, the ‘Mormon,’ the unpopular socialist, and the poor oppressed workers of the world know.”)

Despite increasing attacks by the Church on "satanic" socialism, a number of well-known Socialists were able to play prominent roles in both of their faiths, like Bishop Alexander Matheson in Cedar City or Gottlieb Berger, a Socialist who served on the Murray City commission from 1911 to 1932 while president of his ward’s High Priest Quorum. But the most potent individual link between repressed Mormon communism and Debsian socialism was Virginia Snow Stephen, the daughter of Lorenzo Snow of Brigham City fame, who campaigned to save the life of Joe Hill in 1915.

Gentiles, especially evangelical Christians, have obsessed for 175 years about the occult internal doctrines and practices of the Mormons. But secret handshakes and passwords can be found in any Moose Lodge, weird underwear is widely en vogue, and washings, annoitings, and sealings are just so much boilerplate religious mumbo jumbo. The real scandal of the modern Church is that its so-called Prophets refuse to hear Brigham Young, hammering on the ceiling of his tomb with his hickory cane and demanding the overthrow of Babylon.

A version of this article will be published by the Los Angeles Review of Books.

[Mike Davis is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. An urban theorist, historian, and social activist, Davis is the author of City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles and In Praise of Barbarians: Essays against Empire. Read more articles by Mike Davis on The Rag Blog.]

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