Posts tagged communism
Posts tagged communism
Featured in this week’s Harbinger!
Another election season dawns, and yet again students like myself are urged to “make our voices heard” by selecting our preferred candidate. Many of us will undoubtedly be caught up in the fervor of rhetoric and promises, some perhaps even believing that this time things will be different. As a radical student activist it’s often difficult to view this bi-yearly charade as anything other than a perverse blend of distraction and manipulation. Seeing our fellow students fooled over and over again by the same shallow slogans and short-sighted policies, elections can be an exasperating process. However, we can hardly allow such a huge opportunity to engage with the general population to be routinely wasted. So the question then becomes how do we as radical students relate to elections, utilizing them for the cause of revolution without allowing them to corrupt our ideals?
First off, anyone who has examined the US political system can’t fail to notice its remarkable ability to represent the interests of the ruling class at the expense of the population in general. It is clear that our elections are bought, not won. With the demystification of Obama, an increasing number of students are awakening to this fact. Though they may still vote for Obama over any of the Republican field, many will do so more out of a lack of options than from any deep-seated belief in his abilities. As leftist students our alternative should not be a different face to vote for, or a begrudging support for the fabled “lesser of two evils,” but rather a move for political participation beyond voting.
I can still recall turning 18 and receiving a postcard from the government emblazoned with the slogan “your vote is your voice.” It struck me that the unacknowledged subtext of this was that I don’t have a voice outside of the ballot box. This is the ethos put forward by our society as a whole, that political participation means watching the news, choosing a candidate, and then disengaging until the next election cycle. This process is not democracy, but manufactured consent.
It is difficult to question a system to which there is no conceivable alternative. We have grown up in an America without a political left, and so, as we watch our system crumble under the weight of inequality, we don’t know what to do about it. We vote for the ‘other’ people, the ones who didn’t visibly have a hand in getting us to our current situation, or the ones who make the best excuses and offer the vaguest promises. Looking to Europe and Canada, we see a few things that look right—a free or inexpensive college education and health care for every citizen. Conservatives cry “Socialism! Marxism!” and even educated people reply to queries about socialism and communism with, “It didn’t work in the USSR; just look at what happened!” What do you say to that? We would like to know too. We have been listening to critiques of socialism our whole lives, whether we knew it or not, and now we’re going to try to formulate responses to these critiques. In this edition of The Harbinger, we’re going to articulate what it is that we are against, and respond to one of the most common criticisms of communism that we encounter.
We were anti-capitalists long before we knew what the term meant. Growing up watching relatives work awful jobs for very little pay while their employers made exorbitant amounts of money instilled in us a desire to see things change in the worker-employer relationship. For a time, voting Democrat seemed like the best way to address this. However, the past three years of American politics have convinced us that a more fundamental change is necessary. Democrats and Republicans alike are uninterested in seeing full employment, the resurgence of labor unions, or a decrease in CEO pay. These conditions can only be realized by the fall of capitalism.
The path to becoming an anti-capitalist begins with realizing that there is a doctrine of accepted assumptions about how finance, economics, and politics in America function. The process of questioning these assumptions begins differently for everybody—cynicism, disillusionment, voracious reading of history, perhaps a rebellious streak. Noticing that we mistook an unrecognized or unquestioned belief for a fact is a difficult process, made harder still by an aversion to asking what might seem like a stupid question. How is the value of anything determined? What exactly is “capital”? What does, and what should, distinguish private from public property? Like any good question, the answers lead only to more questions. We would like to explore the assumptions about capitalism that we grew up with and the alternatives to capitalism, and learn how to effectively make a case against capitalism.
take up a debate about Occupy and the working class.
AMID A flurry of debates assessing the fallout from the two Occupy port actions in the Bay Area and the upcoming call for a general strike on May 1, an anonymous article posted by “Oakland Commune” aims to put the tactical debates surrounding the port shutdowns into a theoretical framework.
The author or authors argue that structural changes in the nature of capitalism have created conditions that require us to refashion our tactics around a new, more transient and precarious labor force.
In doing so, they defend an idea that has become almost common sense on the U.S. left: that the working class as it once existed—and was once seen as the central agent of revolutionary change for generations of radicals and revolutionaries—has been so diminished and atomized that new struggles and tactics are necessary.
While there can be no disagreement that profound changes have taken place over time, we want to argue that these changes have not lessened the importance of the working class globally or here in the U.S.
A central challenge for the Occupy Wall Street movement remains whether it can tie the broad activism that has developed around it to the power of the working class at the point of production. The attempts to “update” the theory of the general strike don’t represent an advance for our movement, but a retreat.
2011 saw people around the world carrying signs and banners against the domination of the top 1%, denouncing their banks, their corporations, their dictators, their corrupt politicians, and their capitalist system. All these things deserve to be denounced, but we must also critically ask: just how deep are the roots of all this exploitation, looting, and inequality? What will it take to build a free and equal society? It is not just corporations—not even modern capitalism—that must be overcome, it is the rule of market economics. Wage labor, unemployment, treatment of workers as interchangeable parts, useless competition, and the blind necessity of profit are all intrinsic to market economics. What does the market do, exactly? The capitalists praise it as the pinnacle of human endeavor, but it is merely an algorithm for allocating economic resources through price signals. We can do better. In place of capital and its pitiless logic, we can create a 21st-century socialist society which can organize the economy on the basis of human need rather than return on investment, bring even the workplace under grassroots democratic control, and surpass capitalism in productive efficiency.
Under capitalism, prices and profits are used to determine the market price (or exchange-value) of goods and services, which are sold as commodities. However, market prices are ultimately only signals that approximate a combination of an item’s value in satisfying some need (technically, its use-value) and its balance of supply and demand at a specific place and time; capitalist firms use them to make investment and production decisions. As Marx and the classical economists showed, labor is the ultimate source of practical value, or use value. Today, this labor theory of value is amply confirmed with statistical evidence. If we know the amount of labor that has gone into an item and into the productive resources used to produce it, we can use its labor content to quantify its use value.
This labor content can then serve as a precise and universal basis for economic planning and allocation of resources within the context of a dynamic planning system. In return for so many hours of work, one is entitled to more or less the same number of hours of others’ labor in the form of consumer goods. (These could, of course, be chosen as freely as they are under capitalism; planning does not imply Trabants.) Other end-product goods and services—bridges, firefighting, scientific research—can be allocated on a democratically-planned basis, taking into account the trade-offs involved in choosing between different alternatives. Supply and demand will of course remain material facts of life. Under capitalism they work indirectly, with producers and consumers using price signals and forecasts to decide what to buy and what to build; this is slow and inefficient. Given the known labor content of all goods and services, and information (already kept within capitalist firms) on supply and demand, supply and demand can be mathematically balanced in real time. Thus, a socialist economy can surpass capitalism in efficiency. (The notorious Soviet bread lines were a consequence of a planned economy conceived on an entirely different basis, illogically implemented and operating with grossly insufficient information and technology.) While the computational requirements of an efficient planning system are formidable, capitalism itself has developed the necessary algorithms, computer hardware, and networks. In the 1990s, the socialist economists Cockshott and Cottrell showed that modern computers had finally made economic planning a practical possibility.
Of course, increased economic efficiency is not a compelling reason to reconstruct the whole of the economy. The motivation for a socialist economy is precisely the destructive nature of capitalism, and market economics in general. Today, your ability to work is your only productive resource, and you are compelled to sell it as a commodity on the labor market to buy the necessities of life. Work is thus subject to all the fluctuations of any other market commodity, especially given the vast power imbalance in the irreconcilable conflict between employers and workers. The operations of supply and demand lead to forced unemployment, union-busting, jobs at Wal-Mart instead of Ford, and the capitalist imperative to treat workers as interchangeable parts. Yet wage labor—the commodification and market pricing of labor—is crucial to the operation of a market economy; to overcome all this we must do away with markets themselves. Obviously, productive work would still need to be done under socialism, but planning would enable full employment as a matter of policy, and at least relative equality of pay. Most of all, it would make it possible to ensure that everyone’s material needs would be met, simply by establishing this as a constraint of the plan.
The logic of the market means that independent, competing enterprises producing commodities for sale are obliged to turn a profit or else face bankruptcy. This imperative for profit operates according to its own laws, as described by Marx: the need for constant growth leading to periodic crises, concentration of capital creating monopolies, the blindness to any considerations except those of profit, and of course the reproduction of class society. The history of capitalist society is the history of these processes. They will remain as long as markets remain, no matter what regulations are put in place, no matter whether corporations are abolished, even if enterprises were run as worker cooperatives or in any other way. (History has already provided ample confirmation of these laws under all kinds of conditions.) After two centuries of market-created crisis and misery, it is time to develop a more tolerable alternative.
Moreover, the rule of the market means that the most significant decisions about society’s effort and resources are made by unaccountable executives whose sole responsibility is to maximize quarterly profits. None of us voted for oil drilling in the Gulf or the deindustrialization of Michigan. In fact, it is impossible for markets to account for non-economic side effects, what economists call “externalities” and the rest of us know as the benefits of good schools or the harmful effects of coal plants. Decisions about these fundamentally non-economic factors and the tradeoffs involved can only legitimately be made on a grassroots democratic basis. A planning mechanism makes it possible to make a truly informed decision about, say, decommissioning a coal-fired power plant and the full costs of doing so. There is nothing democratic about such decisions being made by power company executives, by politicians beholden to corporate lobbyists, or even by the power-plant workers themselves. Today we know from environmental science that such decisions have worldwide consequences. Only democratic decision-making in a classless socialist society can bring about true self-rule.
Obviously, there are years to go and important struggles to win before the construction of a 21st century socialism is a practical task. However, in order to fully overcome the injustices created by capitalism, we have to critically evaluate all the ideas we inherit from capitalist society. We have to reject its market ideology right along with its ‘free trade,’ its ‘right to work’, and the rest of that stinking heap. Another world is indeed possible.
It is not a coincidence that we live in a time of both increasing environmental and economic instability. The same systemic greed that produced the financial disaster created two powerful industries, the fossil fuel industry and industrial agriculture, which are wrecking our planet as well as perpetuating deplorable social conditions. Given the wealth of research available, in addition to several large scale synthesis reports (e.g. Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment) which underscore our huge environmental footprint and reliance on nature for health and industry, it is obvious a large paradigm shift is needed in all areas of society to ally with ecological realities. However, the continual assault on even modest environmental protections, the failure of market-based solutions, and magnitude of recent environmental disasters makes a sustainable future for our descendants look uncertain at best. Though resource exploitation has always come at the expense of those living on top of those resources, recent programs purporting to address environmental and social problems may actually be exacerbating them. Given the magnitude of these problems, why is progress towards any real solution always constrained? Here I summarize our environmental and policy landscape, and argue that it is state capitalism that impedes real, just solutions.
Increasing global temperatures (1.2-1.4ºF in the past 100 years) and associated changes in patterns of precipitation and extreme weather events are already having a significant effect on our quality of life and industry. As a strong signal emerges from the naturally high variability in weather, there is increasing certainty the rise in major storm and flooding events is influenced by global warming, confirming earlier climate predictions. Recent storm and flooding events in the US are responsible for billions in damages. Higher temperatures may also be lowering wheat and corn yields, driving up their price. In addition, many major world killers such as malaria and diarrheal diseases are highly climate sensitive and have risen in frequency. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that by 2004, warming since the 70’s was already causing 140,000 excess deaths a year.
Humans also have a profound direct impact on ecosystems through land use, particularly for agriculture. About 40% of the terrestrial surface in composed of agricultural ecosystems. Much of agriculture is highly industrialized using genetically modified organisms, extensive monocultures, and large amounts of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. This particular model has had grave consequences for ecosystem health and is a threat to long-term sustainability. Heavily irrigated lands have become highly salinized, and at least 40% of croplands may be experiencing soil erosion, reduced fertility, or over-grazing. Land clearing and the use of pesticides have also had a large effect on pollinators (e.g. Honey bee colony collapse). The large amount of fertilizer runoff and clearing of forests and wetlands (important for capturing nutrients) have impacted our waterways and coasts through eutrophication and hypoxic conditions, severely reducing water quality. GMO agriculture has led to the emergence of “super weeds” (e.g herbicide resistant Amaranth palmeri in cotton and soy fields) and pesticide resistant organisms (e.g. bollworms and rootworms). In many places, the use of GMOs has been a social disaster as well as an economic one, for instance in India where policy and market forces have compelled farmers to use them. These farmers are then often trapped in an endless cycle of debt due to factors such as the high cost of supplies (e.g. seeds and herbicides), volatility of global markets, and the poor performance of GM crops. The human outcome of these dire conditions is every 30 minutes an Indian farmer commits suicide, some with the pesticide they indebted themselves to purchase.
Presented with such a context and the fact CO2 emissions are now rising faster than the worst case scenario in the IPCC report, the need for strong environmental regulations and alleviating of unjust conditions should be uncontroversial. However, efforts to dismantle current regulations may be accelerating. Even modest proposals by the Obama administration to address climate change have been met with fierce attacks by conservatives and the oil industry. Virtually every institution or law that is concerned with environmental protection has been targeted. The EPA itself received a 16% budget cut which will make enforcement of the clean air and water laws more difficult. The clean air act is estimated to have saved 160,000 lives in 2010 alone. Even after the calamitous gulf oil spill and increased awareness of how common spills are, new pipelines such as the Keystone have been proposed and constructed (recently, popular pressure has put the Keystone on hold). Further big agribusiness, which benefits greatly from large subsidies, is aggressively extending its reach. For example, a Wikileaks cable showed after meeting great resistance to GMO agriculture in Europe, Washington has retaliated , attempting to penalize non-compliant nations.
Some market-based programs have been introduced as “solutions” to our environmental and social problems. Though in reality, they do little or serve as thin covers for further resource and human exploitation. Good examples are the emissions trading and REDD+ programs. Emissions trading was advanced as a way to regulate industrial emissions (e.g. CO2 and SO2) by rewarding industries which reduce their output with credits they can sell to more heavily polluting ones. However in practice, heavy polluters are often granted as many free credits as they need to continue polluting and can sell these credits off lucratively. For example, the German utilities group RWE which has done nothing to reduce its emissions but has made 100’s of millions for business as usual. Also loopholes allow big polluters to buy cheap carbon credits from abroad. In the end, these emission trading programs are supplementing fossil fuel use rather than reducing it. The large potential for profits is probably why the organizations most devoted to funding fossil fuel projects (e.g. The World Bank and Tokyo Power) are also eager to setup carbon trading projects.
The UN sponsored REDD+ is another program touted as a way to offset carbon emissions, with the added benefits of alleviating deforestation, biodiversity loss, and poverty. It allows polluting industries to buy up carbon offsets from programs in developing nations that set aside land for forest conservation. In reality however, the program is having disastrous consequences for indigenous and rural people and is likely doing nothing for conservation. Dodgy companies and governments are in effect paid money to setup the conservation areas and typically remove local inhabitants by intimidation or force. These organizations often turn a blind eye to industrial logging, while dispossessed peasants have no choice but to populate urban slums or constructed communities. A model for the way REDD may continue to unfold is Chiapas, Mexico. In places in this region people from indigenous communities have been forced off their lands to relocate to “sustainable” rural cities, such as Santiago el Pinar with its brightly colored chipboard shanties. The forced relocation of locals opens up areas for industrial resource exploitation . Many mining concessions have been granted in recent years and much “liberated” territory has been converted over to monocultural plantations for big agribusiness. Of course, the poor dispossessed peasants, stripped of the meddlesome right of self-determination, are a ready source of cheap labor.
If we want to understand why positive environmental change is so constrained, we must be bold enough to look at the root of the problem: the fundamental nature of our state capitalist system. The state is the institution in which legal power is vested and, by now, corporations have gained unprecedented control of the political process. This was shown demonstrated most cogently by Thomas Ferguson in his book: “Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party of Competition”. The corporate elite compete to control the state via investing in elections. The result is that campaign finance is a good predictor of policy outcome. One of the biggest pieces of supporting evidence for investor control is the 2010 Citizen’s United ruling. Fictional “persons” can now openly purchase elections (rather than using the usual discrete channels), giving them privileges far beyond persons of flesh and blood in our money driven political system. The institutional drive of corporations to increase returns to managers and wealthy investors coupled with their disproportionate influence, explains why we see lavish subsidies, public research funding, and preferential policy for fossil fuel industries and big agribusiness, and why there are sharp constraints on regulation.
Though the prospects for a sustainable and just future seem grim, there is reason for great hope. Despite the false perceptions renewable technology cannot work and smaller funding, they are being increasingly deployed around the world. Between 2004 and 2009, the renewable energy generating capacity grew 10-60% for many technologies. Green energy is also a promising economic sector. From 1998-2007 green energy jobs grew 2.5% faster than jobs overall. Mass popular movements of farmers and the general public in places such as Latin America, Europe, and the US are leading to increasing pressure against the big agribusiness model and GMOs (there are currently bans in regions of Europe) and the call for sustainable, biodiversity friendly agriculture. Even the United Nations and Union of Concerned Scientists have recognized the ability of sustainable agriculture to address hunger, poverty, and climate change. Some countries, such as Bolivia and Ecuador have even enshrined rights for nature in their constitutions. Perhaps the best reason for hope lies in the great global uprisings, from the Arab Spring to the American Autumn. Though not explicit in the demands of the global movements, the fight against tyranny and corporate hegemony could lead to opportunities for significant positive and lasting environmental change. A regeneration of democracy could open space for other values to emerge based on community and solidarity, with a long-range view of the world. Environmentalists should ally themselves to these movements, raising awareness of the systemic, corporate drivers of environmental degradation and the importance of fighting for our ecosystems at this critical moment in history.
Economic justice is inextricable from environmental justice. Roughly put, domination of the earth’s resources, whether mineral or biological, is another way the 1% harms the 99%. Corporate exploitation of resources has profound environmental and social costs, and even threatens the existence of the system that makes highly asymmetric wealth accumulation possible for the elite. We cannot, however, expect positive change from a system that ruthlessly pursues short-term gain, throwing up barriers to any regulation, effectively externalizing the fate of our species. Understanding this, we are confronted with heavy decisions about who controls our resources, how they are used, and who benefits. We would do well to reflect on the magnitude of the choices before us, for it is unprecedented in the history of life that the actions of one species have such profound implications for the fate of the entire planet and all other species on it. We have an opportunity to absorb these truths into the global struggle and fight, not only for economic prosperity for all, but explicitly for a sustainable prosperity we can pass on with pride to our descendants. Perhaps one of the biggest lessons from the occupy movement is we cannot count on our so called leaders. The hope for a for sustainable and just future lies with us, as it always has.
Welcome to another year of the Harbinger. We’ve managed to stay alive and even grow a little stronger, despite the best prayers of conservative FBI informants everywhere. We thought we’d start this semester off with an short explanation of some of the values and ideas that guide us as Anti-Capitalists, allowing us to set right some false assumptions the power structure, and Fox news in particular, has helped cultivate.
Our group, The Student Socialist Union is a multi-tendency leftist organization. We embrace the common ideals of Socialism, Communism, and Anarchy in an effort to build a united front against capitalism. The enemy is too strong for us to be caught up in sectarian bickering: only through coordinated action can we hope to seize our future back from those who seek to sell it for a better bottom line.
Socialism is not the boogie man that the right likes to build it into, but a centuries old ideology of liberation and equality. It encompasses a wide variety of theories all based around the idea that in this modern age, with the vast wealth that our society produces, there is no longer any need for hunger, homelessness, or major inequalities. We believe that the means of production, that is the factories, land and machinery used to produce commercial goods, should be held in common among the people that work and utilize them. Wealth is created through group action, and should be divided amongst the group, not hoarded by an individual. State Socialism, Communism, and Anarchism are extremely dynamic and varied theories, what follows are mere sketches of the ideas entailed in each.
Socialism, as a term is the most general of these ideologies, and has been used to refer to everything from the Labour party in Britain to the Bolsheviks in Revolutionary Russia. The basic idea of socialism is that the majority of the population to take control of government, be it through democratic or revolutionary means, and administer the means of production through the state. This is usually done through a workers party which represents the will of the people, and administers the state in their interests. Socialists governments generally launch a broad platform of educational, medical, housing, and other social programs, also bringing major industries and utilities under the control of the government, and by extension the people.
Communists believe in a radical reorganization of society to create a truly democratic way of life. Generally they believe in worker’s control of the means of production; economic democracy, meaning decisions of what and how much to produce are made by the community; and the end of private property. Some communists see socialism as but the first step on the road to a communist society. They see using the state to redistribute wealth and create the structure of the future society: organizing communes and planning the economy. Others believe that communism should be brought about from the grass roots by expropriation, and localized organizations of working people who come together to create national and international economic organizations.
Finally, Anarchists believe that inequality and oppression are caused by coercive , force based authority. It is a common misconception that anarchists don’t believe in any sort of organization. This is false. Anarchists believe in voluntary democratic organization who’s decisions are enforced by the community, without professional police or army. They believe the people should overthrow the state without taking power, decentralizing decision making to the local level and administering the economy through trade and regional economic unions. Generally Anarchists seek a communist future without resorting to state authority to create it.
It is the goal of our group to find the unities within these ideologies, namely their opposition to capitalist exploitation and sham democracy, belief in worker control of their own lives and jobs, and a more equitable distribution of wealth. We must stand together to oppose the corrupt immoral system of global capital, and fight in concert for a truly better tomorrow.
The warning signs have been in the news for years, for those who have been paying attention. We are passing, or have passed, peak fossil fuel production. We are at or near the tipping point after which global warming cannot be stopped. Combined with erosion, deforestation, soil contamination and other environmental damage, this will cause the earth to lose much of its viable cropland over the next century. The decreased availability of fossil fuels will make modern intensive, mechanized agriculture unviable, further decreasing food production. The population of the planet is projected to double by 2050, but even the current human population is as much as two-thirds greater than the earth’s sustainable carrying capacity. If the environmental situation were better, it would be possible to avert a full-scale malthusian catastrophe by people simply having fewer children, but thanks to the capitalist system, we must face a massive contraction of our food supply at the same time. This is a recipe for famine and conflict.
We have entered the endgame of capitalism, and perhaps the end of human civilization as we know it. The approaching crisis will dwarf all others in recorded history, both natural and man-made. This may sound alarmist, like the preaching of some millennialist cult, but it is simply the logical conclusion of the best predictions science can give us. If globalized, deregulated capitalism persists, the future of mankind will disappear into the insatiable maw of the unstoppable economic furnace.
The basic contradiction is self-evident: capitalism can only function under the assumption of continuous, unending economic growth. Real economic growth—actual increases in the amount of material wealth, not speculators’ financial voodoo—is always the result of natural resources being exploited. Our natural resources are clearly not unlimited. Therefore, unlimited economic growth is impossible. A society that insists on growing its economy despite all environmental costs sows its own demise by undermining the planet’s ability to support life. This is what the past 200-odd years of industrial and post-industrial capitalism have done, and will continue to do. The oil spills, the epidemics of birth defects and cancer in certain factory and mine towns, the destruction of U.S. bee colonies (caused by a prematurely approved, poorly tested pesticide), and the impending collapse of world fish stocks—these are just the tip of the iceberg.
Though it is tempting to blame the over-consuming West, we must realize that our excess consumption is a product of our advertising-saturated society. The impending disaster is the fault of the robber baron capitalist class, whose multinational corporations have committed countless crimes against humanity and the planet. These corporations are able to do this because of deregulation and “free trade” agreements forced on less powerful nations by the United States and other Western nations. With their vast financial resources, they use money to influence governments or control them outright. This control has solidified since the Citizens United decision allowed unlimited, anonymous donations to political campaigns to be made legally. But it is only the latest in a string of controversial cases dating back to Dartmouth v. Woodward in 1819 which have thoroughly entrenched the status of the corporation as equal to the individual. It is a vicious cycle of ever-expanding wealth being used to buy governments that deregulate, allowing further exploitation and expansion of wealth.
Examples abound of corporate misanthropy in the name of profit. The “Fiji Water” brand of bottled water is an enormous moneymaker for its billionaire owners, the Resnicks. Meanwhile, Fijians often drink contaminated water, and live in poverty under a military junta with a record of human rights abuses. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused damage that cannot realistically be measured in dollars, and British Petroleum is still doing business. In a society where corporations are people and all citizens are equal, BP’s assets would have been liquidated to pay for the disaster—the corporate equivalent of the death penalty. Energy giant, Halliburton, in addition to being involved in the gulf spill, has gotten away with numerous environmental crimes, from Texas to Nigeria, where a there is an ongoing bribery case against Halliburton leaders including former CEO (and Vice President), Dick Cheney.
The very nature of market capitalism is such that quarterly earnings matter above all else; the most powerful people in the world have no incentive to consider the effects of their decisions on anyone but their shareholders, and in fact are legally obligated to disregard any such “externalities.” As a capitalist society, we will persist on this highway to hell, either until the system is changed, or until the only survivors are a few thousand ludicrously wealthy elites and a few million impoverished serfs.
The increasingly unrestrained system of global capitalism, which has become especially dominant over the last few decades, is essentially a rush to extract and exploit anything and everything from which a profit can be made. The great contradiction has never been more clear: capitalism is based on the principle of unlimited economic growth, while our planet’s resources are very clearly limited. This inconsistency makes the current situation inherently untenable. If we allow the continued exploitation of the earth, we will face an environmental catastrophe that threatens our species and all others. The continued survival of human civilization is incompatible with the persistence of unrestrained capitalism. It is no longer an option for individuals to be be apathetic or uninterested in changing the system; to do nothing is to choose the status quo, and staying the course will take us to the brink of extinction.
by: Evan Klee-Peregon
On December 2, 1956 a boat carrying 82 men landed on the coast of eastern Cuba. By the time they made their way to safety in the Sierra Maestra mountains their number had been reduced to 20. They called themselves the 26th of July Movement and they declared their goal to be the overthrow of the Cuban government. Two years later this had been achieved, as the U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled and the rebels took Havana. Although this represented the victory of the Cuban people over the economic interests of American companies that had dominated the island, the character of the revolution was still uncertain. In the following years the revolutionary government came to embraced Marxism and came into greater conflict with the United States, which was determined to crush the revolution through economic methods like the trade embargo and military means such as the Bay of Pigs invasion.
The Cuban people made education and healthcare the cornerstones of their revolution, with a great deal of success. In 1961, 1,000,000 Cubans were mobilized in the literacy campaign known as the “year of education.” In this single year Cuba’s literacy rate was improved from 76% to 96% and has continued to increase. The proportion of children in Cuba attending school has been raised from 55% in 1959 to virtually 100% today. Education is free for all Cubans, as is a healthcare service that is widely acknowledged as being amongst the most advanced in the world and has achieved better average lifespans and infant mortality rates than the United States. Free access to this healthcare system is guaranteed in Cuba’s constitution. Another right guaranteed by the Cuban government is the right to work, a fact which is demonstrated by Cuba’s unemployment rate of 1.6% - significantly below the world average of 8.7% and 9.3% in the U.S.
The achievements of the Cuban Revolution aren’t limited to the island itself, as Cuba has supported revolutionary movements across the globe. This support has at times involved sending weapons and volunteers to places as far away as Angola and Guinea-Bissau to aid revolutionaries fighting against European colonial powers but has had other manifestation as well. When the Sandinista government took power in Nicaragua, Cuba trained Nicaraguan teachers to participate in their own literacy campaign and even sent teachers of its own. While these were important contributions to revolutionary efforts, the most successful aspect of Cuba’s foreign policy has been its “medical internationalism” which brings medical care to places in need at no charge to the patients or host countries. Since 1963, an estimated 130,000 Cuban physicians have volunteered in Cuban medical missions in foreign countries, and in 2008 almost 25% of Cuba’s doctors were working abroad. A large proportion of these doctors are currently working in Venezuela, where they have established 6,000 clinics to serve the poorest areas of the country. Cuba also has a large medical presence in Haiti, where its doctors provide medical care for 80% of the population. One of the most successful Cuban programs is Operation Miracle, which has provided free eye surgery to over 1.3 million people from throughout Latin America. In addition to treating local populations, Cuban doctors have set up medical schools in many of the countries in which they have volunteered. Cuba also operates the Latin American School of Medicine, one of the largest such institutions in the world, which trains international students to become doctors. In 2008 there were over 8,000 students from 28 countries enrolled.
The Cuban Revolution has over the past 50 years been able to achieve all of this and more in the face of constant aggression from the world’s most powerful nation. Although errors have been made, the leadership has shown a willingness to admit when its policies have been incorrect. Two of the most well publicized cases have been the government’s previously harsh stances towards organized religion and homosexuality, both of which have been overturned and apologized for by the parties responsible. This shows that the revolutionary government has the willingness to continue to deepen the revolution and continue to build a better society. As a whole, the Cuban Revolution has been a remarkable triumph and should be an inspiration to all those who work for a better way of life.
By: Jack Hagen