Posts tagged socialism
Posts tagged socialism
Featured in this week’s Harbinger!
By Ellen Nelson
“America’s war on religion.” Religious conservatives, it seems, are using this term increasingly often. What exactly does it mean? Is the government shutting down churches? Are religious people being denied their rights as Americans? Are they prosecuted for praying? The answer to these questions is, of course, no; the “war on religion” that is being talked about so much, especially now that the election is in plain sight, is a much more enigmatic issue. First, we must determine what religion exactly is in this war. Who feels attacked and why? In the case of “America’s war on religion,” conservative Christians feel that their religious liberties are being taken away by legislation that allows homosexual people to serve in the military (and in some states, receive marriage equality), allows women to have contraception available to them in their healthcare plans and does not allow for religious teachings or practices within public schools. Despite what is known about social justice, women’s health, and the separation of church and state in our modern society, these Christians have a point; the old testament of the Bible, the scripture of Christianity, mentions the wrong in homosexuality, and that people should ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and teach the word of God everywhere. But is this all that there is to Christianity? What exactly is at stake in this war?
According to Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, a Christian is someone who is “of, pertaining to, believing in, or belonging to the religion based on the teachings of Jesus Christ.” So people who say that they are Christians follow the teachings of Jesus. Just what would those teachings be? Let’s take a brief, objective look at the life and message of the historical Jesus. Whether one believes he was the true Son of God or not, he was indeed a real person, confirmed by scholars, who had some important things to say.
Although there are discrepancies between the four gospels of the life of Jesus, certain teachings ring through to scholars as what was accurately said and done. We know for a fact that, above all else, Jesus wanted people to love their neighbors and enemies, that he had no tolerance for rich people and believed that religion and politics should not be mixed up with one another. In the Gospel of Mark, chapter ten, Jesus makes his feelings toward the wealthy quite clear, when a rich man asks him what he must do to go to heaven: “’You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor…Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’”
A surge of questions likely flows through people’s minds when they are handed a radical zine such as this one. The primary one: why? Why are you handing me this? Why should a student at the University of Michigan become involved? I am sure you have at least some inkling that things in this country are not as they should be. Even from just the occasional news story, it’s easy to see that our society is far from the “American Dream.” However, the wide array of societal problems can often seem alien to us here on campus. Here at Michigan, haven’t we “made it”? Aren’t we, “the leaders and the best” on our way to a bright future?
The short answer to these questions is no. Our futures, not just as students but as people, are threatened- to a degree perhaps unparalleled in the past 40 years. Both within the university and outside of it, young people face issues that challenge our right to a better future. However, while we face these great challenges we retain the right and responsibility to fight back.
To start with, let’s look at a few of the problems that confront us as students at Michigan. For many of us, a basic challenge is the ever-rising cost of tuition. Each year, the cost of being a Wolverine rises hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. In the past twenty years, in-state tuition has more than tripled (adjusted for inflation), moving education beyond the grasp of many and forcing most of us to take on crippling debt. To ensure that the University of Michigan, and college in general, remains affordable, something needs to be done to change this pattern of oppressive costs.
I’m unsure of how to describe the 2012 National Student Power Convergence. As I try to encapsulate the five vivid days I spent in Columbus I find myself writing long, rambling paragraphs. Yet each attempt at prose appears too trite or crude to describe the intense feelings of solidarity and love that I have emerged with. After 5 days of almost non-stop debate, discussion and learning I can only begin to describe some of my thoughts from the conference. I must also admit I am a painter and a revolutionary far more than a writer. With more time and distance I’m sure my thoughts will develop further, but for now I just want to try to lay down some general ideas.
I decided to attend the convergence without any extreme conviction. Several years of student activism had moderated my once lofty expectations of grandiose student projects; and while I agreed with the aim of the convergence, I was skeptical of what the results would be. However as the conference opened I gradually realized something dramatically different was happening. Somewhere around my 10th complex political discussion my earlier skepticism began to collapse. I found myself surround by 200 of the greatest and most passionate youth organizers I have ever met. Furthermore instead of embracing the individualized narrow solutions endorsed by mainstream liberalism, the vast majority of us saw and understood the connections between our different struggles, and targeted capitalism as our common enemy.
Beyond political discussion it was as though many of the rules that normally govern our interactions had fallen away, people engaged with one another without effort: making new friends, volunteering to help cook, clean, and generally assist the conference almost without a second thought. On a large scale I experienced what I had before found only in smaller communities: solidarity.
The conference didn’t seem so much like a group of different ecological, labor, education, civil rights and LGBTQ activists interacting; but rather of one vast group of revolutionaries, some specializing in one aspect of the struggle, others in another, all unified by a common purpose and learning from each other. The effect of this sense of common cause was incredible. While I have long academically connected the many separate struggles against our common oppressors, here for the first time I really had the opportunity to work closely with people from a huge variety of backgrounds.
The diversity of perspectives made the creation of democratic spaces an important feature of the convergence. A huge part of this process was the need for each of us to identify and check our individual privilege; being a white, strait, male this meant that I had to make a significant shift in the way I approached large group conversations. Instead of constantly talking, I started to work on limiting my verbal contributions until others had had their say, allowing new voices to join the conversation. Often the insights I had were voiced by other comrades, who added further perspectives. While at times I found this process personally frustrating, in general it created a more equitable and open space for conversation, ultimately engaging more people in the issues being discussed. I realize that to some people these are not particularly striking revelations, but I think many privileged people, myself included, often don’t consider the dynamics of the spaces they are fostering.
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.
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.