Browsing Category



Dueling Strategies in the Defense of Public Education Part I

The massive turnout across the state of California on March 4 in defense of public education provides indisputable evidence that this movement is just at the beginning stage. And much credit is due to the countless number of students, staff, and teachers who committed many, many hours of their time, tirelessly organizing for March 4; without this dedication, the event would have sputtered to a stop.

Of course, those who participated are eagerly raising the question: What next? But in contemplating the way forward, casting a glance backwards can help illuminate some of the conflicting perspectives that were competing for hegemony in the struggle to defend public education. In this way we can begin to launch a discussion over the underlying strategy and tactics that can best guide our way forward.

The International Students for Social Equality

Although the International Students for Social Equality (ISSE) offered many correct observations, for example, by placing the blame for the decimation of public education at the feet of both Democrats and Republicans, and by connecting the campaign for public education with the need to create jobs, they included in their list of demands the nationalization of banks and major corporations, placing both under the democratic control of working people. Of course, if such a step were implemented, funding for public education would be solved because profits could be diverted from these sectors to public education.

One can supply at least some rationale for the call to nationalize banks at this historical juncture, given the extraordinary unpopularity among working people in response to the federal government’s bank bailouts. Nevertheless, at this time there is virtually no demand on the part of working people to nationalize banks, let alone corporations, and there is no call among working class organizations (either unions or caucuses within unions or other working class organizations that represent a significant sector of the working class) to institute workers’ control. This slogan was so out of step with the current consciousness of working people in general and the consciousness of those involved in the movement to defend public education in particular that it virtually fell flat and went nowhere.

Rather than helping to elevate the consciousness of workers, such a demand, because workers are not even remotely contemplating it, has the result of discrediting those who raise it. They appear completely out of touch with the current desires, aspirations, and organizational capacity of the working class. Demands must serve to galvanize working people to fight for their own interests as they themselves understand and define these interests, not appear as exotic, esoteric, and alien to them. While the demand for nationalizations and workers’ control might be entirely appropriate at a later date, workers will have to learn from their own experience that these are necessary steps to take.

Along the same lines, the ISSE rejects forming alliances with the trade unions, noting that “these organizations work to subordinate working class opposition to the Democratic Party and the capitalist two-party system.” And they add: “They work systematically to impose concessions on their memberships, accepting the lie that cuts are necessary to ‘balance the budget.’”

However, despite more than a grain of truth in these observations, they ignore both strategic and factual considerations.

Despite their flaws, unions nevertheless represent millions of working people, and they constitute the only institution founded on the basis of defending the needs and interests of workers as workers. Consequently, ignoring the trade unions results in the self-imposed isolation of revolutionaries from the organized working class. Also, because of pressure from their ranks, more and more trade unions are now adopting positions in conflict with the Democratic Party. For example, U.S. Labor Against the War has more than 180 local union affiliates, despite the strong support of the Democratic Party for Obama’s wars. Labor for Single Payer health care has many trade union affiliates and just passed a resolution calling on the Labor Movement to organize a Solidarity Day III demonstration to demand jobs, peace and justice. The Democratic Party does not support single payer health care. And many trade unions, especially teacher unions, are calling for taxing the rich or for progressive taxation in order to fund public education and social services, which again runs contrary to the Democratic Party program.

Turning away from the unions also ignores the unprecedented frontal attack the Obama administration has directed against the teacher unions by applauding when all the teachers at a Rhode Island school were fired or by forcing the conversion of public schools into charter schools, which eliminates teacher unions in a single stroke of the pen. The teacher unions will be compelled to oppose Obama’s policies if they want to survive.

If revolutionaries abandon the unions, then the Democratic Party and the employers will have little competition in terms of the hegemony of their ideas among organized workers.

All this is to say that the trade unions have a long and complicated history. In the 1930s many played a militant role in defending and promoting the interests of working people, often thanks to the role of socialists within their ranks. Because their ostensive role is to defend workers, trade unions are particularly susceptible to pressure from their own ranks to do exactly this, even though it might run counter to the interests of the corporate dominated Democratic Party.

Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism

Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism also offers some correct observations. Its members urge linking the struggle for education to the plight of public employees and the working class in general. Rather than condemning unions as completely irrelevant, they argue in favor of transforming unions into class struggle organs of the working class. And they correctly argue that the problem of the funding of education is rooted in the crisis of capitalism. But they fall into the same error as ISSE when they insist that “only an indefinite general strike can reverse the fee hike and layoffs” and therefore call for such a strike at this time.

While this claim might in fact turn out to be true, the working class at this point in history is far from accepting this conclusion, based on its own experiences. In fact, the current mood of California workers in the public sector leans more in the direction of desperately clinging to their jobs in the face of the massive layoffs of their coworkers, as opposed to venturing out onto what for them is the uncharted territory of a strike, let alone an indefinite general strike.

This is not to say that strikes should not be encouraged where the conditions are ripe and workers are prepared to fight. And if an indefinite general strike could result simply from a few leftists raising the call, then the call would be entirely appropriate.

Unfortunately, organizing strikes, not to mention general strikes and indefinite general strikes, requires a tremendous amount of education, preparation, and organization. Many intermediary steps must be taken where, for example, workers gain a sense of solidarity among themselves; where they acquire an understanding of the tremendous power they can wield when they engage in collective action; where they manage to select leaders who have a fighting spirit, who understand the class nature of the struggle, and are entirely trustworthy; where they have an organization in place that allows them to act as an efficient and effective unit; and where they have been convinced that by engaging in an indefinite general strike they could actually win their demands, as opposed to simply losing their jobs.

Those who call for an indefinite general strike in a context that is lacking most of these elements thereby give the appearance that they are not serious and are completely disconnected from the working class. In the current situation the most advanced trade union actions have only amounted to one day, isolated strikes, such as that called by the University Professional and Technical Employees at U.C. Berkeley and the one day strike tentatively called by the Oakland teachers union.

There was yet another problem with the approach adopted by the Humanist Workers for Revolutionary Socialism. They offered an eleven-point program at the outset of this movement that could only be embraced by people who are already convinced of socialism. It included the call for the defeat of the U.S. forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan and the condemnation of U.S. imperialism in addition to calling for the establishment of a workers’ government. Only a small minority of those who participated in March 4 is presently convinced of the desirability of these proposals. Most participants are completely oblivious of the imperialist nature of U.S. foreign policy and the need for a workers’ government. If the coalition building March 4 had in fact adopted this program, the demonstrations would have been miniscule in size.

This approach therefore misses the crucial dynamic involved in raising the consciousness of working people by failing to incorporate the strategic orientation of the united front. Masses of people do not become class conscious simply because someone lectures them on the virtues of socialism. They must learn from their own experience that capitalism always operates to undermine their needs and desires while socialism offers them the only solution, but these experiences only become possible when workers are prepared to fight for what they want. The united front therefore brings workers together over the demands that the workers themselves are prepared to stand up and fight for at any particular moment in history, such as defending public education and social services.

Put differently, the correct demands are not those selected by a few radicals who are intent on showing everyone else how far their own understanding has advanced. The demands must rather be carefully formulated to unite all those workers who want to put up a fight, thereby reflecting their level of consciousness at that point. The role of socialists then is to guide this fighting spirit increasingly in the direction of class independence, so that in the process workers come to realize they can only rely on themselves to bring about fundamental change, not on the politicians, the courts or the capitalists.

In the early stages of the current crisis surrounding education, many students and teachers at first impulsively lunged towards demands directed at defending only their own sector of education, even though clearly everyone was suffering. In the California State University system (CSU), the chosen slogan was: “CSU is the solution.” But socialists in the March 4 movement argued effectively that a far more powerful movement could be created by generating slogans that defended all public education, from kindergarten to the universities. And participants immediately perceived the logic of this proposal and adopted it.

Then, many in the movement, including UnitedEducators of San Francisco (American Federation of Teachers, Local 61), the teacher union covering K-12, have been insisting that the movement to defend education must be linked to the defense of social services, since state and city workers have been subjected to unrelenting attacks in the form of layoffs, pay cuts, and furloughs. This perspective has also begun to be accepted as those in the education sector realize their movement could be much stronger if an alliance was formed with these workers.

With a broadening working class alliance now part of the movement, some have been arguing that the next indispensable step is to raise the demand: TAX THE RICH! In this way enough money could easily be generated to fully fund education and social services. In other words, to avoid fracturing the alliance, the various sectors cannot be pursuing solutions that are unique to each sector but must promote solutions that include and unite everyone. This demand also raises the level of the struggle by framing it in class terms: workers and students are demanding that their needs are to be met at the expense of the rich, not at the expense of one another. And this demand has also begun to be accepted among a large number of the participants.

The united front strategy consequently operates in this way: Initially, demands are raised, although they might be entirely modest, that are aimed at uniting those who want to put up a fight, bringing many people together who might have different political affiliations. But when people participate in a struggle, their consciousness is raised. They learn, for example, that the Democratic Party is not supporting their struggle. They see that writing their so-called representatives in the state legislature or Congress accomplishes absolutely nothing. They learn that the courts and police are routinely used to suppress them, even though their cause is entirely just. But this means that the demands must be carefully crafted to resonate with workers each step of the way.

When leftists insist on including the demand for a workers’ government at the beginning of the struggle, they fail to realize that such a demand is accepted only after working people have had considerable experience consolidating themselves as a class and acting independently of the Democrats or Republicans. If leftists insist that participants must embrace socialism or the slogan of a workers’ government at the outset, they will prevent those who are eager to fight from participating and close the door to the real education these people will get through mass demonstrations and class struggle. In other words, this approach accomplishes just the opposite of its intended goal.

Freeway Blockades

Another controversy in the March 4 movement erupted over the question of mounting blockades of major highways and throughways, a tactic that some students ardently supported. Some of them argued that militant tactics such as these are absolutely essential since peaceful protests often amount to nothing and will only attract reformists, not those who are committed to real change. They added that it is not a question of the number of people who participate but the quality of the participation. In their minds, the more militant the action, the better it is, despite the small numbers who participate.

However, highway blockades mostly victimize working people who are trying to get to or from work or are simply trying to do their jobs. This tactic was imposed undemocratically on workers without affording them the opportunity to vote for or against it. Hence, it often results in repelling working people who would otherwise be sympathetic to defending public education, because they want free quality education for their own children.

Moreover, this tactic tends to divide the movement since it attracts only a small minority of students while alienating many other students, staff, and teachers who are sympathetic to the struggle but might be more sensitive to the negative effects of blocking traffic. It therefore serves to minimize the number of people who are engaged in the protest, rather than maximize it. And as a result, the tactic again inhibits the growth of the movement.

People are energized, enthused, and excited by massive demonstrations because they sense that when large numbers of people are united, the movement gains power and has a chance of success. It is as if subjective desires of working people are transformed into objective truths when embraced by huge numbers of people. Hence large demonstrations result in the participants wanting to reach out to even more workers until they succeed in winning a clear majority to the cause. This in turn inspires them to continue the struggle until victory is achieved.

Small demonstrations, on the other hand, usually demoralize the participants because they feel isolated, powerless, and disconnected from the majority of the population. And trying to win demands at the expense of working people who have the misfortune of being caught up in a freeway blockade will only divide and weaken the movement further. By isolating themselves from other workers they undermine their ability to win more workers to the struggle. Soon their demands begin to look entirely unrealistic because their lack of numbers emphasize their lack of power. And because of their disconnection from the working class, the participants, who often feel morally superior to everyone else because of their recourse to militant tactics, often end up drifting into the Democratic Party where they eventually believe real power resides.

Finally, revolutionary change does not result when only supported by a small minority of the population. To be successful, revolutionaries may not need the active participation of the majority of the population, but they do need their support. Most people, especially working people, believe that society should be run democratically. When they discover that the government refuses to adopt a policy even though the majority of the population has clearly embraced it, such as fully funding public education and providing jobs for all, then a revolutionary situation is created. People begin to demand that a new government that truly reflects the interests of the majority, which is constituted overwhelmingly by working people, replace the old, undemocratic system. Therefore, in order to maximize the possibility of fundamental change, activists must reach out to the majority of working people and attempt to win their support. One’s tactics must reflect this strategic orientation.


Dueling Strategies in the Defense of Public Education Part II

In Part I of this essay we looked at strategies in defense of public education that are referred to as “ultra-left,” meaning that they veer so far left that they sever ties with the working class and consequently lose all traction when it comes to influencing the movement. Here we will examine strategies that veer to the right, often ending up in the camp of opportunism, which means sacrificing principles and working class independence for the sake of quick but illusory gains. The interests of working people are subordinated to those of the capitalist class and the politicians who represent them, be they Democrats or Republicans. Finally, we will return to the question of how to proceed forward.

Organized Labor and the Democrats

Many top union officials often serve as examples of this rightward deviation. Some took the opportunity to place the blame for the crisis of public education at the feet of Republican Governor Schwarzenegger, overlooking the fact that the California Democratic Party politicians have routinely showered generous tax breaks on corporations, thereby depleting the state treasury of much needed money for public education and social services. In this way these union officials are taking advantage of the education crisis to offer backhanded support to Democratic Party candidates by denigrating their opponents. Others do this more explicitly by announcing at rallies in defense of public education that “we” are going to support one or another Democratic Party candidate who is truly a “friend of labor.”

But the promotion of Democratic Party candidates or politicians forgets that Democrats, as well as Republicans, receive huge amounts of money from corporations and the rich. Corporations do not give money to candidates without the expectation of a handsome return on their investment, often taking the form of favorable legislation, including generous tax breaks. After all, the people who run these corporations are always looking at the bottom line, as they say.

One need only take a quick look back at the past four decades to realize the Democratic Party has done virtually nothing for working people. Our standard of living has been on a steady decline while the income of the rich has skyrocketed, public education and social services have been decimated, bankers were allowed to prey on us, ruin our lives, and even commit criminal acts in the process, and then get bailouts while we lost our jobs, our health care, and our houses and were left to struggle on our own. Meanwhile the environment has become progressively more polluted. The tax burden has been shifted off corporations and the rich onto students (in the form of tuition or fee increases) and working people. Moreover, not one significant labor law reform has been passed while the Democrats have held the White House with majorities in both houses of Congress. The latest blow came when, even with their recent super majority in Congress, the Democrats could not bring themselves to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made organizing unions easier. And they have entirely given up pretending that they would like to eliminate the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act.

Democratic Leadership vs. the California Democracy Act

More recently, the Democrats have played a devious and manipulative role in response to the California Democracy Act, which would reduce the requirement for the California state legislature to pass a budget and raise revenue from two-thirds vote to a simple majority. While many of the rank and file Democratic Party clubs have actually endorsed the Act, those who wield power in the party are doing everything they can to subvert it.

John Burton, California Democratic Party Chair, is promoting a competing initiative that would only reduce the requirement for passing a budget to a simple majority while raising revenue would still require a two-thirds vote. The logic behind this maneuver is self-serving and perverse: By maintaining a two-thirds requirement to raise taxes, the Democratic Party can continue pretending as if they would really like to raise taxes on the rich and the corporations, but the Republicans refuse and the Democrats lack a two-thirds majority that would allow them to override the Republican resistance. In this way, Democrats can talk as if they support working people — after all, talk is cheap — while at the same time not alienating their corporate sponsors by actually raising their taxes.

Jerry Brown, California Attorney General and Democratic Party candidate for governor, added his own twist to undermine the California Democracy Act. As Attorney General he has the power to label the initiative and cunningly chose the word “taxes” rather than “revenue,” thereby throwing fear into the heart of ordinary working people who do not want to see their own taxes rise and thereby lowering the chances of its passage. However, the majority of Californians, along with the rest of the country, are strongly supportive of raising taxes on the rich and on the corporations, which is the ultimate goal of those who initiated the California Democracy Act. Because he is now a candidate for governor, Brown does not want to alienate the wealthy with the specter of their taxes rising with the passage of this Act.

Why the Democratic Party Can’t Defend Working People

The explanation for the failure of the Democratic Party to defend the interests of working people is straightforward: they place their faith in capitalism. They believe it is the best of all possible economic systems. But capitalism, because of its very essence, operates in opposition to the interests of working people. Because capitalists are in a constant state of competition with one another, in order to survive each must keep production costs to a minimum. Those who succeed can undersell their opponents, push them out of business, and in this way survive. But labor constitutes a major production cost, and accordingly, business owners are always intent on running the business with as few workers as possible, with the lowest wage scale, and with ever-dwindling benefits. Whenever possible, they consequently transform their workforce into part-timers, mercilessly take advantage of undocumented workers, replace workers with machines or computers, demand that the workforce take a pay cut, contract out work to avoid union wages, transfer the entire business overseas to find the cheapest possible labor, and so on. They are not in business to serve the community or provide jobs to those of us who need them; they are in business to maximize profits for themselves. And if they do not succeed, they go under. The Democrats, just as much as the Republicans, are intent on supporting U.S. capitalism at the expense of working people. Accordingly, despite lip service to the contrary, they are compelled to be fundamentally anti-labor and have done nothing to mitigate, let alone stop, these crippling trends.

Even when the Democrats pretend to do something for workers, like pass legislation that would encourage the creation of jobs, they do it by helping out the corporations. Just this past week Congress passed a so-called jobs creation program that simply amounted to giving corporations one more tax break: they do not have to pay their share of Social Security for the remaining year for any new worker they hire. Of course, the workers have to pay their share of Social Security. And perversely, in the final analysis such legislation will pave the way for the Democrats, in alliance with Republicans, to begin to dismantle Social Security on the grounds it is insolvent.

Alliances with Organized Labor

Convinced at this point in history that there is no other game in town, organized labor has turned to the Democrats, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into their campaign chests, with the desperate hope of winning some substantial gains. But despite these munificent gestures, it has seen very little “return on its investment.” In fact organized labor has begun to exhibit the classic symptoms of the neurotic: one repeatedly does the same thing with the exact same results while expecting a different outcome. As long as organized labor is anchored to capitalism, it will have little choice except to humbly plead for help from the Democrats. But as the capitalist system continues to decline, and economic indicators are pointing in this direction, the pressure will intensify on labor officials from their membership to find their sanity and try something different.

Some have argued that because of their ties to the Democratic Party, the movement to defend public education should reject forming a united front with the unions. A united front is defined as an organized movement in which working people, although they might have different political perspectives and belong to different political parties, nevertheless come together to fight for a few fundamental issues that they have in common. The antiwar movement, for example, is a united front as well as the movement to defend public education and social services.

But despite its ties to the Democratic Party, the impulse to reject working with organized labor in a united front is misguided. First, because of the intensity of the current economic crisis, union members are mounting growing pressure on their union officials to defend their interests as they witness the massive layoffs of their coworkers and suffer pay cuts and furloughs. With no help coming from the Democratic Party, organized labor will be increasingly compelled to act independently of the Democrats and begin to turn instead to mobilizing its own ranks, and working people in general, in the form of mass demonstrations in order to exert political pressure in their own self-interest.

Second, as was mentioned in Part I of this article, the Democratic Party has in fact launched an attack on organized labor, particularly the teacher unions, by championing Race to the Top and leaving No Child Left Behind basically intact. And it has signaled its intention to cut “entitlements,” meaning Social Security and Medicare. These attacks drive a wedge between organized labor and the Democratic Party.

Third, by including organized labor in united fronts, union rank and file members will be exposed to a variety of political perspectives, including those that are critical of the Democratic Party and capitalism. These ideas can in turn influence the direction of the unions.

Fourth, by joining a large united front movement to save public education and social services, an entirely new perspective opens up to the unions. Currently, when fighting for gains or when simply defending what workers already have, unions have been engaging in purely symbolic protests. For example, a small demonstration is called at the house of some U.C. Regent, or at a bank during working hours when hardly anyone can come, or perhaps at Senator Diane Feinstein’s house, where a few hundred union members, at best, show up. But small symbolic demonstrations have little impact on employers or government policy. The union officials are only going through the motions of protesting without believing that anything significant can be won.

Mass Action

In contrast, during the 1930s workers staged massive demonstrations, mobilizing all their members and supporters from the community, in order to completely close down a particular business and force the owners to raise wages and recognize the union. The Civil Rights movement organized huge demonstrations and tore down racial barriers. The women’s movement organized mass demonstrations and won the right to vote.

Massive demonstrations unleash a dynamic that has the potential to change the political landscape. When people are brought together in large numbers, they no longer feel isolated and powerless. They begin to experience first-hand the strength that flows from their unity, which in turn encourages and pushes them forward in the struggle to win even more adherents. Here working people are acting independently of the politicians, flexing their muscles, as it were, and beginning to experience their own political power. As the demonstrations grow in size, it becomes apparent that they truly represent the interests and have the support of the majority of Americans. And because of this support, people become convinced that victory is possible. In the final analysis, these demonstrations lead to the recognition that what was considered an unrealistic dream only yesterday, such as full funding for public education and social services, is now entirely within reach.

By endorsing and building the March 4 mass demonstrations in defense of public education and social services, and by demanding that taxes be raised on the rich and the corporations, organized labor is already embarking on a new course of action that, if pursued, will place it on a collision course with the Democratic Party, which has been championing regressive taxation and has ruthlessly slashed social services, taking money from the most vulnerable people in society and transferring it to the big corporations in the form of new tax breaks.

The stakes are high. Those in organized labor clearly recognize that they will be up against powerful forces, representing the wealthiest sector of society, if they continue to insist on raising their taxes. They understand this will be class war. But as the California state budget continues to hemorrhage so that even more teachers and state workers are laid off, the unions will have little choice but to continue along this path. And while the wealthy are surely powerful, working people, when united and organized independently as a class, are even more powerful. If the owners of businesses, that is, the stockholders, are absent from their work sites, no one notices. However, when workers collectively decide not to go to work, society comes to a grinding halt. In the final analysis this fact ensures that working people have the power to insist that society operate in the interests of the majority, and working people are the vast majority.


Arne Duncan and Corruption at the Top

A recent New York Times article (March 23, 2010) — discreetly tucked in the back pages of the newspaper — reported that Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, kept a confidential log of names of the rich and powerful who were trying to take advantage of their political connections to get their children admitted into Chicago’s best schools when Duncan was Chief Executive of the school system there. On the list were local politicians and business people, including the state attorney general, the former White House social secretary (a personal friend of the Obama family), and an unnamed former United States senator. The Times based its information on an article in the Chicago Tribune.

We can all quietly speculate about the identity of the former United States Senator who was seeking special treatment for his children.

Peter Cunningham, Arne Duncan’s current spokesperson in the Department of Education, was questioned about Duncan’s activity in relation to the log.

The Times accordingly reported: “A spokesman for the Department of Education [Peter Cunningham] said Tuesday that the log was a record of those who asked for help, and that neither Mr. Duncan nor the aide who maintained the list, David Pickens, ever pressured principals to accept a child. Rather, he said, the creation of the list was an effort to reduce pressure on principals.”

The Times then directly quoted Cunningham as stating: “This was an attempt to buffer principals from all the outside pressure, to get our arms around something that was burdensome to them. It was always up to the principal to make the decision. Arne never ever picked up the phone.”

Given these statements, one might conclude that everything was in order and above-board.

Nevertheless, The Times also went on to observe: “The log noted ‘AD’ [Arne Duncan] as the person requesting help for 10 students, and as a co-requester about 40 times, according to The Tribune. Mr. Duncan’s mother and wife also appeared to have requested help for students.”

This apparent contradiction between Duncan’s spokesperson, Cunningham, saying that “Arne never ever picked up the phone [to lobby for particular children],” and the log indicating that Duncan had in fact acted on behalf of 10 students alone and 40 more “as a co-requester,” was explained by Cunningham in this way, where again The Times is quoting him directly: “The fact that his name might be next to some of these names doesn’t mean he was trying to get the kid in a school,” Mr. Cunningham said. “He was only asking after someone said, ‘Hi, Arne, is there any way to get into this school?’”

The Times was quick to add: “Mr. Cunningham said he did not believe principals would have felt any special pressure because Mr. Duncan was the source of the inquiry. ‘We were always very clear with them that it was up to the principal to make the decision,’ he said.”

In other words, on the one hand Cunningham is saying that Duncan “never ever” made a phone call to promote a child and that Duncan’s initials next to a name “doesn’t mean he was trying to get the kid in a school,” suggesting Duncan did nothing to promote the names on the log. On the other hand, and completely contradicting himself, Cunningham is saying that a principal would feel no pressure to admit a particular student “because Mr. Duncan was the source of the inquiry.” [italics added] But if Duncan did not resort to a phone call when he was the source of the inquiry, he evidently availed himself of other means of communication — perhaps a personal visit — to make these unsavory requests.

The Times article left unchallenged the absurd conjecture that a principal, whose career entirely hangs on remaining on good terms with Duncan, would not have felt under intense pressure to accede to Duncan’s subtle pressure tactics. Perhaps The New York Times writer felt under excruciating pressure to please his own boss by trying to make this account look remotely plausible. Evidently Peter Cunningham felt under enough pressure to provide his entirely incoherent narrative in order to please his boss.

While Duncan is evidently prepared to spend part of his days bending the rules for the rich and powerful, he seems to relish spending the rest of the day terrorizing public school teachers across the country, demanding that they strictly adhere to a whole array of standards, no matter how insidious these standards are in terms of undermining quality education, demoralizing teachers, and forcing students to devote themselves to a boring curriculum. But if the teachers do not comply, Duncan wants them fired. There is no mercy or rule-bending here.

The California Federation of Teachers is bravely mounting a defense of public education in response to Duncan’s and the Obama administration’s attacks. It recently passed a resolution that included the following clauses that highlight Obama’s free-market, profit-driven education plan:

Whereas, over the past year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has exploited the economic crisis to impose an unpopular, anti-union, anti-democratic, privatization scheme on our nation’s public school system; and

Whereas, this scheme has entailed scapegoating teachers, students and parents for all the social ills of our society that are reflected in the achievement gap between impoverished, predominantly minority, inner-city districts and primarily white, affluent districts; shredding decades of gains won by teachers’ unions; massive closures of public schools and redirection of school funds and facilities to benefit charter schools; and dictatorial “takeovers” of districts to suppress any community resistance to privatization; and

Whereas, if allowed to succeed, this drive to place our nation’s schools under the laws of “market-forces” will end public education as a right, and increase educational inequality based class;…

Therefore, be it resolved that the California Federation of Teachers endorse the April 10, 2010, March on Washington to Defend Public Education, fighting for the following demands:

Demand that Education Secretary Arne Duncan stop toying with our students’ lives.
End the “Race to the Top” scheme now.
Release all federal education funds to the states based on need
End the attacks against teachers, black, Latina/o and poor, working-class and middle-class students of all races
No privatization of public education
No more separate and unequal
Restore Dr. King’s vision for America….
This resolution, in conjunction with other resolutions by the same union that call for progressive taxation in order to increase revenue for education, points in exactly the right direction. It represents an effort to mobilize teachers to defend public education, their students, and their unions. It encourages teachers to rely on themselves, not hold out some desperate hope that those on top will come to their rescue. After all, those on top are perhaps too busy helping others on top by bending rules and dispensing special treatment.


Both Parties Attack Public Employees

States everywhere across the United States are facing the common enemy of extreme budget deficits. Many states have deficits in the multi-billion dollar realm, as the budget crises dominate the debates for the upcoming gubernatorial elections. In these debates, Republican and Democratic candidates are finding it difficult to disagree on the most essential issues around the budget crises. The most crucial question for any incoming governor must be: how will you resolve the state’s budget crisis? The answer from both parties is a resounding: “Public workers and those who depend on their services will pay for the crisis”!
Take for instance California, where “friend of labor” Democrat Jerry Brown is running for Governor. The union leaders who endorsed Brown are having difficulty promoting him to their membership, since Brown has been bragging about his anti-union credentials, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

Jerry Brown said Friday that if elected governor he would have to “do things that labor doesn’t like,” including cutting pension benefits for public employees and asking labor leaders to “put everything on the table” to get California’s bloated budget under control.

In speaking about cutbacks to public workers, Brown said: “If you’re looking for frugality, I’m your man… I vetoed the pay raises for the state employees not once, but twice…” (September 3, 2010). These are his credentials for handling the budget crisis.

Even with his blatant anti-union perspective, Brown is being promoted as a “lesser of two evils,” since his Republican opponent is a billionaire who is more honest in her anti-public worker comments.

In Oregon, the exact same dynamic is at play: a multi-billion dollar budget deficit with both political parties aiming their sights on public workers. The union-backed Democratic candidate, John Kitzhaber, has been in a war of words with his Republican opponent over who can most effectively take from public employees. The Oregonian reports:

Kitzhaber promised to be plenty tough in [contract] negotiations [with public employee unions], noting that state employees went on strike during his first term in office. But he said only he has the necessary trust of union leaders [!] to lead successful cost-saving negotiations [cutting wages and benefits] next year. (September 18, 2010).

In New York, the current Democratic Governor, David Paterson, has viciously attacked public employees, and has promised that the incoming governor, regardless of political party, will resume the attack.

Likewise in Illinois, another state devastated by a budget crisis, the current Democratic Governor has made huge cuts in education and social services, while adding a sales tax that disproportionally effects working-class people.

The above examples are similar not by coincidence, but part of a well-defined policy agreed upon by the Democrat and Republican parties. Politicians everywhere are using similar, coded language to explain their policies to confront state budget deficits, all of them threatening working people. For example, state governments must completely “reset,” so that government reflects the “new reality” caused by the Great Recession, meaning that education and social services are de-funded, as are the wages and benefits of state workers.

Mitch Daniels, the Governor of Indiana, spoke bluntly of this national phenomenon in the Wall Street Journal, saying that it applied to all states. His article, The Coming Reset in State Government, focused on how permanent, massive cuts in state spending was the only way to deal with the recession:

…[state governments] are facing a near permanent reduction in state tax revenues that will require us [governors] to reduce the size and scope of our state governments. And the time to prepare for this new reality is already at hand. (September 3, 2009).

More recently, the Seattle Post Globe spoke bluntly about how this “new normal” directly affected public workers, in an article entitledTime to Reset State Union Rules. The article argues for changes in law that would make it easier to reduce the wages and benefits of public employees, an opinion widely discussed by corporate interests all over the country, varying only by degree and form:

…the Governor and legislature are going to need more flexibility dealing with state unions to truly transform the state budget.


“Another approach would be to follow the lead of Governor Mitch Daniels of Indiana. One of the first things he did when he took office in 2005 was to issue this Executive Order, which in effect ended any state negotiations with unions.” (August 24, 2010). Brute force replaced negotiations in Indiana, effectively destroying the power of unions.

These corporate-inspired ideas are shared by both political parties. The now-popular term “reset” refers to a national policy that intends to change the equilibrium of power in the U.S. between unions and corporations. Unions are being attacked, so that wages and benefits for all working people can be lowered. This is how corporations plan to survive the recession and maintain the highest profitability possible.

Consequently, the labor movement should be actively planning its defense and counterattack. Union members and community allies need to be educated about the assault and unite in coalitions to defend themselves. Pro-worker solutions to the crisis — such as taxing the rich — need to be demanded in the streets in mass demonstrations.

But this is not happening. Instead, many unions are spending precious time giving money to their attackers, the Democrats, and encouraging union members to phone bank and canvass for these villains. After the elections, these “friends of labor” will soon become enemies, once the state budgets are being implemented, and union leaders will find themselves having to quickly switch directions, telling their members that they were once again “betrayed” by politicians who didn’t make any concrete promises to begin with.

Experiences like these have already happened in most states, and will continue to teach workers plenty of lessons, since the budget deficits are getting worse. The main lesson is that working people need to organize themselves independently of Democrats and Republicans, and fight back against a national assault on their jobs and living standards. “Tax the Rich!” must be the slogan that working people unite around to defend education, social services, and public employees in the face of the state budget crises.

Legal & Law, Politics,

Billionaires Unite! (Against Public Education and Teachers)

In less than a week two billionaires have joined the anti-teacher “Billionaires Club”: a group of ultra-wealthy individuals hell-bent on destroying public education and teachers’ unions. The newest members of the club are Oprah Winfrey and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerburg.Winfrey has used her show — twice in one week — as a platform against public education. She first hosted billionaire Bill Gates to discuss his “philanthropy” in education, as he promoted the new anti-public education propaganda film Waiting for Superman.
Waiting for Superman is a “documentary” focused on the types of anti-teacher school “reforms” desired by the Billionaires Club, who have used their tremendous wealth to force school districts and states to institute their policies.

For example, the Facebook founder’s donation of $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey school district will almost certainly require — according to The New York Times — that the school institute these reforms, much like Bill Gates’ donation of $100 million to the Tampa Hillsborough County School District — and the $90 million to the Memphis school district — had the same types of strings attached.

What are the conditions for receiving this “charity” of billionaires? It’s the same demands for receiving money from the federal government under Obama’s badly-named Race to the Top program: creating more privately administered — or for profit — Charter schools; connecting teacher’s pay with student test scores (merit pay); undermining the seniority of teachers; and other tricks to disempower teachers and public education.

Diane Ravitch, a former corporate-school reformer, has now dedicated her time to exposing the motives of the super rich and their new-found interest in “reforming” public education. In her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Ravitch entitles a chapter “The Billionaires Boys Club.” On the television/radio show Democracy Now! Ravitch summarized the chapter:

“The Billionaires Boys Club is a discussion of how we’re in a new era of the [billionaire] foundations and their relation to education. We have never in the history of the United States had foundations with the wealth of the Gates Foundation and some of the other billionaire foundations — the Walton Family Foundation, The Broad Foundation. And these three foundations — Gates, Broad and Walton — are committed now to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores. And that’s now the policy of the U.S. Department of Education. We have never seen anything like this, where foundations had the ambition to direct national educational policy, and in fact are succeeding.”

There are some key motives for billionaires to jump in a coalition with this singular focus, none of them well meaning.

There are unknown billions in profits to be made in privatizing public education, either in the private administration of schools, curriculum companies, or wholly for-profit schools. There has been much talk in the investor world of this new “market.” In addition, the New York Daily News reported: “Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction. The program, the New Markets Tax Credit, is so lucrative that a lender who uses it can almost double his money in seven years.” (May 5, 2010).
The super rich hate taxes. They would rather not pay taxes towards public education when they could instead invest their money in private schools and reap profits.
Billionaires hate unions (they didn’t become billionaires by paying union wages): The biggest obstacle towards privatizing public education is the powerful teachers’ unions. Teacher unions are also the strongest segment of the labor movement, and thus the most powerful grouping in the U.S. working class — the billionaires’ natural enemies.
The super rich attacked first in this battle between teachers and billionaires. The teachers must defend themselves. Shamefully, certain segments of the teachers’ unions are having troubles labeling their attackers as enemies.

For example, the President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Randy Weingarten, sent a friendly invitation to Bill Gates to address the AFT convention, where Gates was allowed to deceive the teachers about the intentions of his multi-billion dollar “investment” in “reforming” education.

Gates’ ideas about education — blaming teachers for everything — ignores what most teachers already know: the main predictor for a student’s success is social-economic background. Rich students outperform poor students for many different reasons: less stress, more resources, parental help, etc. Ignoring this obvious fact exposes the billionaires’ profit motive behind their fake charity.

Teachers must fight back. They cannot allow the media to frame the debate with the ideas of the corporate think tanks and foundations. Teachers cannot concede on the issues that help keep their unions powerful, such as seniority; merit pay must be defeated for the same reasons.

If the teachers’ unions combined with other public sector unions, parent associations, and the community at large to demand FULLY FUNDED PUBLIC EDUCATION, the billionaires would find themselves without allies. Their money might then be directed towards something useful.

Economics, Politics,

We Need to Pass the Oil Extraction Tax to Fund Education (Prop. 1522)

“Our response to this economic war on the people is to ensure that public education be supported by a stable, rational and democratic system of taxation and we believe a good way to accomplish that is to pass the Oil Extraction Tax To Fund Education (Prop 1522), which would impose a 15% tax on the […]

Rodger Scott

Introduction by Workers Action

Below is the speech by Rodger Scott of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2121, at the Defense of Public Education and Social Services Rally in San Francisco, California, March 1, 2012.  For more information on the campaign, please visit

We’re here today to express our collective and reasoned outrage — and to go forward.

We know we must be united to prevail. We know also that the individuals and corporations that benefit most don’t pay their fair share of taxes to support essential human services like public education. We’d like to transplant a conscience into the minds of the super-rich, but a more realistic goal is to impose a just and reasonable tax on California millionaires and oil companies.

We’re outraged by the unequal distribution of wealth (and thanks to Occupy that anti-democratic reality of the top 1% controlling 40% if our country’s wealth is now part of the national discourse); also the absurd priorities that justify funding undeclared and immoral wars and subsidizing our richest citizens and largest corporations while cutting education, health care and other programs that the people need to survive.

Our response to this economic war on the people is to ensure that public education be supported by a stable, rational and democratic system of taxation and we believe a good way to accomplish that is to pass the Oil Extraction Tax To Fund Education (Prop 1522), which would impose a 15% tax on the extraction of oil and gas: finite resources that belong to the people. That tax would generate $3 to $3.5 billion a year for the 9-10 million students in K-12, Community Colleges, CSU and UC. California is the only major oil-producing state that has no oil extraction tax. Even Texas and Alaska have an oil extraction tax.

Spending $1 million a year to keep one soldier in Afghanistan, allocating more money to prisons than higher education, and having no oil extraction tax for more than 100 years in California all assault common sense and the common good.

In 2010, as wars raged, prison construction continued, and the rich got even richer, San Francisco City College had to cancel the entire summer program because there was no money — and drastic cuts continue this semester.

College and university students fortunate enough to get a 4-year degree now owe on average $23,000, the cumulative student loan debt is approaching $1 trillion and that debt is excluded from personal bankruptcy.

Chevron, which recently posted over $26 billion in profits, ran a half-page ad in the San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 18, 2011 that reads in large bold print: BIG OIL SHOULD SUPPORT LOCAL SCHOOLS. Chevron, however, paid lower taxes than middle class workers–and no oil extraction tax. We demand economic justice and a good public education system with stable funding that serves all the people of California. Public education is the foundation of democratic institutions and the enemy of the de facto oligarchy that tries to equate economic democracy with class warfare.

In San Francisco, for example, where 1 in 2 families studies at City College, the Oil Extraction Tax would generate $34 to $40 million a year to restore classes, rehire teachers, lower tuition, and never again have to cancel the entire summer program.

Public education, K-12 through UC [University of California], needs your help to get 504,760 signatures by April 15 to put the Oil Extraction Tax Initiative on the November ballot. Sign and circulate petitions or make a contribution if you believe in the cause.


Arne Duncan Fouls Out on Common Core

Opposition to the Common Core Standards and the tests tied to them is rising, as a recent Wall Street Journal article (May 6) underlined. Approval for Common Core is now languishing at a mere 17 percent while disapproval has shot up to 40 percent. The article continues: “This year hundreds of thousands of students across the country are boycotting Common Core aligned state exams, and this so-called opt-out movement has been growing. Preliminary estimates are that between 150,000 and 200,000 students skipped New York state’s mandatory English exams last month, up from the 49,000 in 2014.”

The concept of Common Core standards should not be rejected outright. The positive intention behind them is to set the same high standards across the country in order to inspire both teachers and students to attain higher proficiency. Unfortunately, this undertaking has been corrupted each step of the way.

Excellent teaching is surely an art, requiring not only a love of rationality in general, but the love of a particular field of expertise more specifically, and an ability to communicate clearly. Even more, however, it requires a love of one’s students. Excellent teaching only emerges when all these elements are properly mixed together. Like some magic brew, good teaching percolates up as the result of some unanticipated interaction between teacher, students, and the learning process. It does not lend itself to mechanization, nor can it be coerced. Yet these are exactly the preferred weapons of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan when introducing policies into our public schools.

In launching the Common Core, for example, Duncan did not give inspiring speeches with compelling rationality in favor of the high Common Core standards in order to win the enthusiastic approval of school administrators and teachers across the country. There was no love lost here. Instead, the introduction of the Common Core took the form of blackmail: If states do not adopt the Common Core, they lose out on desperately needed federal funding. Accordingly, 45 states initially signed on, although now many are having second thoughts.

Consistently on a campaign of coercion, Duncan insisted that the Common Core be tied to high-stakes standardized tests that would purportedly measure the students’ mastery of these standards. Teachers’ continued employment and salary would then be largely based on their students’ scores, while students would be held back if they lacked acceptable proficiency.

Admittedly, test scores might provide some helpful information about the students’ level of achievement. But basing teachers’ employment and salary on student test scores defies rationality. As Joe Nocera noted in The New York Times, “Going back to the famous Coleman report in the 1960s, social scientists have contended – and unquestionably proved – that students’ socioeconomic backgrounds vastly outweigh what goes on in the school as factors in determining how much they learn.” Basing teachers’ continued employment on their students’ test scores amounts to blaming the teacher for their students’ poverty and blaming the teachers for their under-funded schools and overcrowded classrooms. But lacking convincing arguments in favor of the significance of test scores, Arne Duncan once again turns to coercion and threatens to withhold funding if schools fail to link teachers’ terms of employment to them.

It is no wonder that Arne Duncan is also aggressively pushing charter schools – they seem to embrace the same perverted educational philosophy as Duncan himself. The New York Times (April 6, 2015), for example, conducted an investigation into New York City charter schools run by Eva Moskowitz – the darling of hedge-fund managers – where students seem to be performing well on standardized tests. But the pedagogic techniques were horrific. Students who performed poorly were publicly humiliated, all students were required to sit with military-style posture, students were routinely bribed with candy and prizes, and the teaching was overwhelmingly aimed at preparing students to take the tests. Not surprisingly, teacher turnover is quite high.

Yet this kind of regimen will not create critically thinking students who draw their own conclusions and who become life-long learners prepared to meet life’s complicated challenges. In fact, there is little evidence that the “skills” students learn in this way will aid them in any way in their academic or vocational pursuits.

While the Wall Street Journal article naively regards these standardized tests as “objective measures” of a student’s performance, no test can claim objectivity. First, the questions selected on the test are a reflection of the values of those who create the test, and this includes their cultural biases as well. Secondly, some of the questions are poorly formulated. One parent who got a glimpse of a test described one of the questions, undoubtedly with some exaggeration, in this way: “Tommy had 5 goldfish; he gave 3 away. How many dogs are in Paris?”

The SAT exam is a good example of the value-based nature of the questions. The exam is notorious for testing students on arcane vocabulary, it incorporates trick questions that can only be deciphered by those who have been trained in SAT test-taking, and the scoring is skewed in the direction of exaggerating the differences among students, when in fact differences are miniscule (The New York Times, May 4, 2015). In other words, it deviates from testing the skills that will be relevant to a student’s academic career and life vocation and instead veers in the direction of creating a self-serving appearance that the exam significantly distinguishes among students’ abilities.

With parents gaining increasing awareness that high-stakes testing is not in their child’s interests and choosing to boycott the test instead, Arne Duncan is once again challenged to respond. And like a dullard who keeps repeating the wrong answer, Duncan once again is turning to coercion. According to The Wall Street Journal article, “Mr. Duncan told an education conference in April that if the boycott numbers continue to rise, ‘then we have an obligation to step in.’” This was later clarified to indicate that the Obama administration might “withhold federal funding for districts with test-participation rates below 95%.”

As long as the people in charge of public education are incapable of promoting their policies by means of rational argumentation but resort to tactics of coercion, our schools will continue to be pushed in the wrong direction, unfortunately at the expense of students and teachers. Undoubtedly, politicians will eventually be compelled by the evidence and growing opposition from students, parents and teacher unions to concede that their tactics have failed, just like they have been compelled to concede that the policy of mass incarceration that they have pursued for decades has been a massive failure.

Legal & Law, Politics,

Socialism: What It Is and What It Is Not

“Socialism!” The mere uttering of the word conjures up the most horrifying nightmare for a small, extremely rich minority who, because it monopolizes the productive forces of society-the factories and businesses that make up our economy – succeed in pursuing unlimited profit and unimaginable riches by allotting to the rest of humanity an increasingly smaller share of society’s wealth. Having created an objectively unstable system because of the perilously lopsided distribution of wealth, these rich people are compelled to manufacture on a daily basis massive doses of propaganda to serve as their life-support system, with the earnest hope of convincing their victims that this is, after all, the best of all possible worlds. Socialism, a doctrine which threatens to pull the plug on their perverse system before it succeeds in destroying us, the environment, and the future of humanity, is deservedly the foremost target of this campaign of lies, deceit, and slander.

This small, capitalist, profit-addicted minority has consequently unleashed an unrelenting campaign intent upon tying socialism to totalitarianism, drawing the knot so tightly that the two concepts are pressed into one. One might note, by the way, that U.S. capitalists themselves have no particular aversion to totalitarianism – they have toppled countless democratically elected governments and replaced them with military dictatorships throughout the world. But they also know that ordinary, decent working people are repelled by any form of totalitarian rule and with hypocritical glee these capitalists eagerly exploit this human moral aversion in order to advance their own profit-pursuing interests.

This campaign of lies received an unexpected windfall ironically from the USSR itself. Having usurped state power, Stalin violently shredded every remnant of workers’ democracy and proceeded to establish a privileged bureaucracy which enjoyed all kinds of luxuries, although many people did not have enough to eat. While Stalin personally ruled over the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy in turn ruled over the entire country, smashing every independent voice with an iron fist and murdering those who dared protest. Then, having created its own repressive regime at the expense of the working population, the Stalinist bureaucracy was compelled to manufacture its own propaganda machine to give itself the semblance of legitimacy. Without missing a beat and with his own hypocritical smirk discreetly concealed from the masses, Stalin, with the pious hope that all honest aspirations for a genuinely socialist society would be safely set aside, proclaimed this wretched state of affairs a glorious “socialist” society .

What more proof could an unsuspecting, inquiring person need when the two superpowers, avowed enemies, nevertheless agreed that socialism and totalitarianism were one and the same?

But if one is seriously interested in the truth, would it not be appropriate to inquire whether Stalin, who was intent on suppressing millions of people, might not also be intent on suppressing the truth, if it served his interests? Or should we assume that, even though he fed the Russian people lies while depriving them of food, when it came to an explosive concept such as “socialism,” he became an honest man? And similarly, should the capitalist class in this country, who could lose their vast fortunes if the masses acquire a clear conception of socialism, be exclusively relied upon for an unbiased presentation of the facts? With these questions in mind, let us turn to Marx so that we may be in a position to separate fabrication from fact.

Marx has been credited with codifying the first scientific formulation of socialism. But in what sense is the term “scientific” being employed here? Other socialists, utopian as opposed to scientific, preceded Marx and were united by their moral repulsion when faced with the cruel exploitation of capitalism. All of them individually imagined their own version of a moral, more humane society and hoped that their vision might capture the hearts of humanity so that people would be moved to throw off the barbaric capitalistic system and reorganize society according to the principles they outlined. None, however, offered a realistic strategy that would suggest how their particular utopia could be achieved, nor did any of them argue why their particular version was a more realistic alternative than any of the others, or why it was a realistic possibility at all.

Marx departed from this utopian tradition and established socialism on a scientific foundation by undertaking two studies which enabled him to resolve the above problems. First, he engaged in a detailed study of history which led him to conclude that the propelling force that underlies historical development is class struggle: “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.” Of course, such a statement is an empirical claim, but history is replete with so many examples that even bourgeois historians have been forced to resort to the concept of class in order to explain historical events.

But the fact that history is generated from class struggle still leaves unanswered the questions, within capitalist society: What are the contending classes? Which class will prevail in the struggle? What new kind of society will this class be compelled to create?

In order to tackle these questions, Marx’s second study amounted to a detailed analysis of capitalism, the results of which are recorded in his four volumes of CAPITAL. A few basic features of his analysis are of particular relevance to the questions at hand.

First, because it is an economy based on individual private property, capitalism, at least on one level, is a system which places everyone in competition with everyone else. In this respect, it is indeed Hobbes’ war of “all against all” where each individual attempts to maximize his or her own well-being at the expense of others. “The only force bringing them together, and putting them into relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interest of each. Each pays heed to himself only, and no one worries about the others.” (CAPITAL, Vol. 1.)

Second, and on a deeper level, we find that capitalism by no means places individuals on a level playing field in this Hobbsian war. At the outset some individuals, because of historical conditions, own the productive forces of society – the tools, machines, buildings, etc. that are required to produce articles that will satisfy society’s needs – but the majority of society’s members do not own them and are consequently forced to seek employment from those who do. The capitalists, the owners of the productive forces, are then in business to make a profit and thereby expand the amount of private property at their disposal. But the enterprising capitalist cannot be content with just any profit; each must aim at the maximum amount, since capitalists are in a perpetual state of competition with one another. Extra profits serve as an arsenal that a capitalist can employ to undercut and thereby eliminate a competitor.

But this requirement to maximize profits, resulting from inter-capitalist competition, in turn unleashes an inexorably antagonistic dynamic between the capitalists, on the one hand, and their workers on the other. All of the things that workers want for themselves and their family – higher salaries, health benefits, lengthy, paid vacations, sick leave, pensions, etc. – can only be won at the expense of the capitalists’ profits. The more the workers succeed in pressing their interests, the lower the capitalists’ profits. Consequently, capitalists and workers find themselves in a perpetual state of war with one another. Sometimes this war is waged quietly, almost invisibly, as workers simply leave work early and let someone else punch them out on the time clock. But at other times these antagonistic relations erupt violently where workers battle cops in order to defend their picket lines, defy court injunctions, and halt production until the owners are forced to their knees and concede to their demands.

Thus far we have considered the relation of capitalist-to-capitalist and worker-to-capitalist. Before we turn to the crucial relation of worker-to-worker, we should understand that Marx identifies various tendencies operating within this system.

First, there is a tendency for the working class to grow as a result of the competition among capitalists where the losers are precipitated into the working class.

Second, as one capitalist enterprise swallows up another, there is a tendency for the prevailing enterprise to increase in size, bringing an increasing number of workers into close proximity to one another.

Third, the growth in the size of the remaining enterprises then requires the assemblage of ever-larger quantities of profit to combat the ever-larger capitalist opponent. And this tendency correspondingly implies an intensified struggle between capitalists and their respective workers.

Finally, the chaotic, unplanned, every-capitalist-for-himself nature of capitalism has the inevitable result of spawning endemic economic crises so that huge sectors of the working class are thrown out of work and production in many industries comes to a grinding halt.

“Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.” (Communist Manifesto)

All of these tendencies conspire to compel the working class into action in order to defend its standard of living. Initially, workers will pursue the satisfaction of their needs individually since capitalism, after all, encourages everyone to operate as an isolated individual.

But workers soon learn the futility of obtaining all they want in terms of job security, health benefits, pensions, etc., by approaching the boss alone as individuals, since capitalists know very well that if they concede to the demands of one worker, the others will soon be knocking at the door. But while one worker alone is powerless, workers discover quickly that together they can wield tremendous power. For example, when they launch a strike, production comes to a halt, profits vanish, and the owner incurs ever greater losses as machines lie idle, products sit on the shelf, and customers threaten to seek out another producer.

However, to win a strike, it is not sufficient for workers to remain at home. They must transform themselves from workers who passively take orders at the work place into workers who take the initiative, actively organize themselves, and prepare for battle. They must organize picket lines, make provisions for food, train defense units, create public relations committees, etc. And when all these efforts pay off and workers claim victory, their celebration reverberates throughout the working class. Other workers say to themselves that they could do the same and proceed to organize themselves so that strikes spread like a wildfire. But setbacks are inevitable. Neither ‘the course of true love (nor the course of class struggle) ever did run smooth.’

But there comes a time amidst all these trials and tribulations that the workers come to the realization that this constant struggle is not the result of a few bad capitalists but of the capitalist system itself, a system predicated upon producing profit for the rich by exploiting the entire working class. Workers realize that they are not simply being oppressed individually, but as a class, since profits for capitalists can only be maximized by minimizing wages and benefits for workers. They come to understand that all competition among workers, all attempts to promote oneself at the expense of one’s co-workers, serve the interests exclusively of the capitalist class, while inevitably damaging the prospects of the working class as a whole. They realize that their only salvation lies in acting as a class: organized, unified, and galvanized by the principle, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Moreover, because the working class represents the vast majority of the population, because all wealth is produced by its own sweat and blood, because the working class, like a beast of burden, carries the entire society on its shoulders so that capitalism would collapse in an instant without its willing participation, a deep-seated conviction begins to take hold of the consciousness of working people – a conviction that they alone have the power to seize history, shake society at its very foundations, and remake it according to principles that operate in their interests – the interests of the majority.

So Marx, in painstaking detail, demonstrates that the logic of capitalism ineluctably pushes workers into a march towards socialism. This is no utopian recipe: workers either move towards socialism or watch their standard of living decline. “Along with the constant decrease in the number of capitalist magnates, who usurp and monopolize all the advantages of this process of transformation, the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation and exploitation grows; but with this there also grows the revolt of the working class, a class constantly increasing in numbers, and trained, united, and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist process of production.” (Communist Manifesto)

Tired of watching their real wages fall, tired of being told the company will leave the country every time they ask for a raise, tired of monotonous work, long working days, short vacations, and tyrannical bosses, tired of watching politicians pander to every whim of the rich at the expense of the public welfare, working people will rise up, seize society at its foundations and overturn the entire system with the overpowering strength that comes when the immense majority of the population, act in their own interests and in the interests of all the oppressed members of society. “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority. (Communist Manifesto)

This revolution – for nothing less than a revolution will suffice – will inaugurate a new age where working people take control of the economy and all the wealth they themselves created and begin to implement economic policies that reflect their own interests. The anarchy of capitalism, where individuals struggle to maximize their own private well-being, will be replaced by a democratically determined, planned economy where the most socially enlightened economic alternatives are implemented – those that maximize the well-being of everyone. “Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labor power in full self-consciousness as one single social force.” (Capital, Vol. 1)

For example, in capitalist society huge expenditures are allocated to military production which are then employed to protect the profits of U.S. business abroad. Whenever an elected leader in some foreign country hints at nationalizing U.S.corporate property there, the U.S. government orchestrates a coup, installs a military dictatorship which proceeds to outlaw strikes, restrict unions, etc., and thereby succeeds in lowering wages and raising corporate profits. But as a result of these measures, the wages of American workers decline as they must now compete against cheaper foreign labor. Moreover, under capitalism vast sums of money are spent on advertising to convince people to purchase products that are actually harmful to them (cigarettes, fast food, alcohol, etc.), or products that they really do not need, or to convince people to buy one brand rather than another when there is no substantial difference between the two.

In a socialist society, workers will be in a position to discontinue these kinds of investments in favor of others that directly promote the social well-being of the majority; for example, quality education, housing, public transportation, heath care, cleaning up the environment, developing solar energy, organic farming, etc.

But all aspects of the economy can be similarly reorganized to reflect the interests of the majority. While capitalists strive to minimize the number of workers at every business, but maximize the amount of work each worker performs, thereby making unemployment endemic, under socialism everyone who is able will be encouraged to work so that the work week may be correspondingly reduced, thereby providing working people with more free time.

Moreover, work itself will be immediately humanized. In contrast to capitalism where workers are compelled to submit to the will of the boss, in a socialist society every position of authority will be elected so that these elected officials will nevertheless be required to submit to the will of the majority, under threat of being removed from their position. With this inversion of power, workers can take steps to organize production so that their own well-being and the interests of society are simultaneously maximized.

Once everyone is afforded a quality education, once workers’ control of production is institutionalized and the work week is reduced, the crippling division of labor that capitalism imposes on its work force will gradually be replaced by a society in which individuals will be encouraged to develop all their capacities. “…[T]he division of labor,” according to Marx, “offers us the first example of how… [an] activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. In contrast, under socialism, we will be in a position to move towards establishing a society in which “nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” (The German Ideology)

Marx suffered no illusions about the possibility of establishing a fully developed form of communism in one single revolutionary leap because the kind of human nature engendered under capitalism – selfish individualism, an insatiable desire for the accumulation of material gain, unbridled aggression and the steadfast determination to avoid as much work as possible – will not be extinguished overnight: “What we have to deal with here,” he argued, “is a communist society, not as it has developed its own foundation, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” (The Critique of the Gotha Program)

Accordingly, Marx distinguished a lower and higher stage of communism. In the lower stage, which has come to be labeled “socialism,” people will be rewarded in proportion to how much work they perform: “He [the worker] receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such and such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds), and with this certificate he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as costs the same amount of labor.” (The Critique of the Gotha Program) In this way, people will experience a direct incentive to work.

Of course, this principle – rewards commensurate with the amount of labor performed – represents an about-face from the prevailing capitalist principle: those who have the most shall receive the most, regardless of whether they perform any work at all! Consequently, the wealthiest 200 members of the capitalist class enjoyed watching their wealth double in one year recently, thanks to the stock market, while 20% of working Americans worked full-time but were not paid sufficiently to rise above the poverty line.

One absolutely crucial ingredient in this process of historical development is the relation of the working class to the state. Under capitalism, the state is generally controlled by the wealthy, and democracy amounts to the rich determining among themselves which policies to impose on the rest of society. Even such bourgeois publications as The New York Times have supplied accounts detailing how capitalists – through an elaborate process of lobbying, campaign contributions, etc. – succeed in imposing their will on the public domain. But Marx did not simply endorse the working class trading roles with the capitalist class, taking the reins of government in its own hands and expelling its former oppressor. The capitalist institutions of government have become a huge bureaucracy, immune to dramatic change, a feature which serves capitalists quite well since they have no interest in forging great changes in a system that operates exclusively in their interests. But a bureaucratic government would be anathema for working people, since power is monopolized in the hands of a few while the majority is disenfranchised.

In order to create democratic institutions that could be wielded by the majority, not simply a minority, Marx insisted that the former bureaucratic institutions would have to be “smashed,” as he explained in a letter: “…[I]f you look at the last chapter of my 18th Brumaire, you will find that I declare that the next step of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the preliminary condition for every real people’s revolution on the Continent.” (Letter to Kugelmann, 1871) In place of the oppressive bureaucracy, Marx envisioned commune-like institutions that were created by working people in Paris in 1871 and later in Russia prior to and at the time of the 1917 revolution. These are institutions that are created by workers on the most basic level of their experience, in the factory or in their neighborhoods, in order to democratically press their own needs. “Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes….” (The Civil War in France) The centralized power was then to be demoted in favor of creating real power on the local level:

“…[T]he Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet…. The rural communes of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandat imperatif [formal instructions] of his constituents.”

In this way, “The Communal Constitution would have restored to the social body all the forces hitherto absorbed by the State parasite feeding upon, and clogging the free movement of society,” and the former centralized, bureaucratic government would give way to “the self-government of the producers.” (The Civil War in France)

As socialism unfolds and scarcity is eliminated, removing the blight of poverty from humanity, and after people create new, more nurturing relations among themselves so that the individual no longer looks out in fear upon a hostile world, these social relations will give birth to a new human nature with a new social consciousness where people realize that no one can be free as an individual while others are enslaved. As social creatures dependent upon one another for the satisfaction of both our physical and psychological needs, we come to the realization that our individual well-being cannot be achieved alone. “Only in community [with others has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. ” (The German Ideology) Hence, “…the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” (Communist Manifesto)

Far from suppressing individuality, therefore, communism, as defined by Marx, will be the first social formation that actually allows individuality to blossom. Under capitalism, “… that for which I can pay – that I am…. Thus what I am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality…. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honored and therefore so is its possessor.” Under communism, on the other hand, “…you can exchange love only for love, trust only for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over, people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Everyone of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life.” (1844 Manuscripts)

A life in which most of our waking hours are devoted to acquiring the necessities to survive will give way to a life in which our physical needs are satisfied and we can proceed to develop our more spiritual talents: art, science, philosophy, literature, etc.

Finally, “…after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therefore also the antithesis between mental and physical labor has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banner; “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” (The Critique of the Gotha Program)

While the capitalist class and Stalinists have gone to exceptional lengths to conceal and distort Marx’s positions, Marx himself, with unbridled enthusiasm, did everything in his power to disseminate them in the most unambiguous form conceivable. And so the Communist Manifesto concludes:

The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!

Publication note: Originally published in Socialist Viewpoint, 2001.

Legal & Law, Politics,

A Better World is Possible With Socialism

Ann Robertson
But socialism is more than being well paid for the work one does. It truly revolutionizes how society operates. The capitalist system, in which a small number of capitalists are allowed to subordinate everyone else’s interests to their own – sometimes perverse – pleasures, is replaced with a democratic structure in which the working class […]

Ann Robertson
Originally published in 2002.

When people in the United States are introduced to the concept of socialism – whether in the popular media or in a high school class – they are presented with a simple equation: socialism = a crippled economy that fails to meet people’s basic needs + a totalitarian government. Stalinism, for example, is invoked as a model socialist government, one that brutally murdered anyone who dared oppose it, while the Soviet economy is repeatedly and incessantly visualized in terms of weary consumers standing in endless lines in order to purchase dull, defective products.

Consequently, if the question is raised concerning the relative merits of capitalism versus socialism, we discover that capitalism is the undisputed winner every time, provided that capitalism’s version of socialism is the definition employed. And that is about as far as the investigation proceeds within the few venues for public discourse afforded by capitalist society today.

But with the world economic order in an increasing state of disorder as the U.S. economy falls back into a recession and Japan cannot seem to crawl out of one, a disorder where many countries throughout Asia have just experienced their worst economic crises in recent history and Argentina’s economy has almost ceased to function, a disorder which promotes and intensifies world poverty and world war, it becomes increasingly urgent to raise the question that capitalism always prefers to dodge: Which system is superior, capitalism or socialism? where by socialism we mean the system as originally defined by its founders, Marx and Engels, and as it was elaborated by its supporters. We will argue that when the question is posed in these terms, socialism triumphs decisively. For you to be protected from any financial crisis, you need to diversify your source of income and playing sports betting games via could help. In particular, we will focus on socialism’s ability to raise people’s standard of living to a significantly higher level than what capitalism provides. But first we must have a clear conception of what socialists mean by the term “socialism.”

Marx’s Conception of Socialism

In The Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), Marx distinguished what he termed the “lower” and “higher” stages of communism. Lenin later noted in State and Revolution (1917) that the lower stage came to be referred to as “socialism” while the term “communism” was reserved exclusively for the higher stage. We will adopt Lenin’s terminology in this essay. Here is how Marx drew the distinction:

“What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly [in the lower form of communism, i.e. socialism], the individual producer receives back from society – after deductions have been made – exactly what he gives to it… The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form he receives back in another.

In the higher form of communist society [i.e., “communism” proper], after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have increased with the all-round development of the individual – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banner: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

In other words, Marx argued that a revolution does not immediately transport people into a fully developed form of communism where, because people are more spiritually and socially motivated, they become unconcerned with the amount of material rewards they receive for the work they perform. Rather, because capitalism creates a culture in which individuals are encouraged to pursue their own, isolated self-interest without regard for others, to measure their self-worth in terms of the quantity of their material possessions, and to regard work as something about as desirable as the plague, while some of these impulses largely disappear in the process of organizing and consummating a revolutionary upheaval, others linger and must be acknowledged as factors that demand recognition in the immediate post-revolutionary period. Consequently, one important attribute of socialism is that people are paid commensurately with the amount of work they perform, thereby providing them with a direct incentive to work. No such correlation between the amount of work performed and one’s material rewards exists within capitalism, but we will return to this point later.

A much deeper transformation that socialism introduces in relation to capitalism, however, concerns the fundamental running of society. Under capitalism, businesses, of course, are privately owned, and these owners, who constitute a small percentage of the population, unilaterally determine economic policy. They decide what kind of article their company will produce, how many of these articles will be produced, who will be hired to perform the work, how many workers will be hired, what procedures they will follow, etc. All these decisions are made with a calculating eye fixated on “the bottom line.” All concerns are subordinated to the one supreme concern: the maximization of profits.

But under socialism, the picture is inverted: working people, who constitute the vast majority of the population, will themselves take responsibility for formulating and defining society’s basic economic direction. Of course, such a radical transformation presupposes that workers have created their own democratic institutions in which they can exercise their voice in an organized and effective way, directing the economy through the democratic control of the state. These institutions spontaneously arise in revolutionary periods – workers created Soviets in Russia in the process of overthrowing the czar, and more recently workers in Poland created Solidarity as a vehicle for overthrowing Stalinism. In our society, trade unions are the closest approximation. Through these revolutionary organizations fundamental economic policies can be discussed, debated and determined according to majority vote. In other words, the economy itself will be run, not autocratically where a minority dictates policy as under capitalism, but democratically where the will of the majority rules. And since the majority of the population would wield control, these policies can be reconstituted to reflect the interests of the majority of the members of society.

The Case For Capitalism

As soon as we are old enough to follow the argument, educational institutions hammer into us the conviction that capitalism is the only sensible economic system that history has, or ever will, produce. If one butcher sells rancid meat while his competitor’s meat is fresh and healthy, customers, in pursuit of their own self-interest, will exclusively patronize the business of the second butcher. Or if two butchers sell meat of the same quality, yet one sells it at a lower price, business will flow in his direction. Consequently, each producer, in defending his own interests, is compelled to maximize the quality and minimize the price in order to remain in business. Adam Smith, who developed this defense of capitalism most eloquently, argued in The Wealth of Nations (1776): “…he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.” In other words, every individual is naturally concerned with his own personal well-being. Capitalism acknowledges and incorporates this basic fact of human nature into the logic of its operations. And because we are most productive when we are pursuing our own interests, in the system that Smith described we unintentionally promote the interests of society as a whole since we continually seek to produce the best products at the lowest cost.

The Case For Socialism

Let us now consider which system, capitalism or socialism, can deliver the higher standard of living for the majority of the population, the working class. Of course, one important measure of people’s standard of living is the amount of money they are paid for their work. Unfortunately, Adam Smith’s argument in support of the virtues of capitalism is valid for everyone but working people, particularly with respect to their wages.

In order to compete effectively, every capitalist must keep production costs to a minimum. Otherwise, a competitor who succeeds in producing the commodity for less money can reduce its price on the market and force the former out of business. But labor costs are one of the most important factors among costs of production, and hence each capitalist strives to minimize wages and benefits. In fact, capitalists are no less than ingenious in concocting creative schemes to reduce these costs. Recently, for example, many full-time workers have been converted into part-timers so that they perform the same work as before but for less money with no job security and no benefits. Since labor unions tend to raise the wages of their members because of collective action, corporations have also turned to “contracting out” work to non-union employers in order to circumvent union wages. The most desirable ploy from the capitalist’s perspective, however, is the total replacement of the worker by the machine, thereby eliminating the wage altogether. Consequently, we have witnessed the proliferation of ATM machines and the disappearance of bank tellers, robots have replaced factory workers, computers, have replaced teachers, accountants, telephone operators, and secretaries, and so on.

But while workers must constantly struggle against this unrelenting downward pressure on their standard of living, capitalists enjoy a windfall of rewards without lifting a finger. During the 1990’s, for example, the wealthiest 10 percent of the population watched their wealth double on the stock market. Meanwhile, the people who work the hardest, the farm workers, maids, etc., make the least amount of money.

But if workers’ organizations were running the economy, this picture could be quickly reversed. After all, trade unions have historically fought for higher wages, pensions, health benefits, a shorter work week and safe working conditions. Rather than rewarding people according to how much they HAVE — the principle that capitalism employs – people would be paid according to how much time they actually WORK. With a minimum wage set at a level that would allow everyone who works to purchase their own house and car, if they want one, everyone would have an incentive to work. Currently one-third of the work force is not paid sufficiently to buy a house anywhere in the country.

But socialism is more than being well paid for the work one does. It truly revolutionizes how society operates. The capitalist system, in which a small number of capitalists are allowed to subordinate everyone else’s interests to their own – sometimes perverse – pleasures, is replaced with a democratic structure in which the working class itself collectively directs the economy according to a conscious plan that was chosen after a full debate with all the relevant information and a democratic vote. In other words, a whole new culture will be created in which all of the members of society will become informed and encouraged to participate in determining the fundamental policies that will guide the direction of society. And such a transformation will allow us to leap forward to a qualitatively better life. It will enable us to create a superior economy by substituting the anarchy of capitalism, where every individual capitalist pursues his own individual self-interest, with an economy that is carefully planned so as to meet the vast majority of the population’s needs efficiently. Here, people will have the opportunity to identify and promote productive enterprises that maximize everyone’s well-being while eliminating sectors of the economy which undermine this goal.

For example, quality education for every single child would be in everyone’s interests. When people are highly educated, they are more productive and hence far more capable of producing quality products in vast quantities as opposed to an entirely uneducated population. Free, quality health care for everyone would represent another logical investment choice. After all, people cannot be productive members of society if they are suffering from an ailment, so we all benefit from a healthy population. Moreover, preventative health care saves society billions each year by treating health problems before they become catastrophic or preventing them altogether. Quality housing for everyone is important since being cramped in overcrowded quarters generally produces social conflict, a pervasive unhappiness, and prevents children from developing their full potential, not to mention the debilitating effects of being homeless altogether. High quality, free, public transportation would also make sense since it would eliminate people wasting hours each week trapped in traffic jams, pollution from cars could be reduced, and families would not have to spend huge portions of their income maintaining multiple cars. Other logical candidates for increased investment might include organic food, since pesticides are known to cause cancer, quality day care facilities, after-school programs, solar energy, nonpolluting automobiles, and a massive campaign to clean up the environment. We already know that most people prefer a clean environment, not only for reasons of health, but also aesthetics.

On the other hand, once everyone has all the relevant information, they might choose to eliminate certain branches of the economy because they are either no longer desirable or because they are actually harmful. If people concluded, for example, that the U.S. military actually undermined our safety and security because it was aggressively and unlawfully defending U.S. corporate interests abroad, it might be eliminated altogether and the $350 billion it is presently budgeted could be reallocated into more productive channels. Moreover, there are numerous domestic businesses which produce huge profits for their owners at the expense of the well-being of everyone else. For example, the tobacco industry might be another target for dismantling. Under capitalism these “merchants of death” have been allowed to sell a product that is a known killer, and lie about it; they have been allowed to target youth in a massive advertising campaign, and lie about it; and they have been allowed to spike cigarettes to increase their addictive potency, and lie about it, all with impunity. It’s the power of money in a capitalist society. In fact, advertising, which attempts to manipulate people, particularly the young, into buying products that they do not need and into measuring their self-esteem by the number of commodities they own, might be eliminated altogether, thereby freeing up a sector of the population to seek more gainful, socially acceptable employment. Most working people truly hate advertisements that interrupt television programs, radio programs and the internet, not to mention the billboards that litter the landscape. And telemarketers could be outlawed before they drive us all crazy.

Moreover, through rational planning some of the gratuitous frustrations attached to our current products could be eliminated. For example, under capitalism computers proliferate but are often incompatible with one another. Documents cannot be transferred and e-mail attachments cannot be opened without additional major expenses. Computer companies have chosen to do this intentionally in order to lock customers in to a single brand or to force them to buy expensive accessories. But under socialism, computers could be designed with compatibility in mind, thereby eliminating an array of unnecessary costs.

Finally, one’s standard of living should not simply be measured by material well-being but by mental well-being as well. Under capitalism, businesses strive to replace workers by machines in order to reduce production costs, thereby suspending workers in a perpetual state of stress, as each one wonders when he or she will be the next victim on the workforce guillotine list. Under socialism, however, everyone will be guaranteed a job, and the opportunity to work will be considered a basic right. Consequently, when new technology is developed for the work process, rather than laying people off, as capitalists relish, everyone will remain, but work less. Rather than dreading the introduction of machines, workers for the first time in history will have cause to celebrate their arrival. And by immediately drawing in the millions of workers who are currently unemployed in capitalist society, but want to work, into the work force, the work week can be reduced without endangering productivity, thereby freeing up more time for rest and relaxation and a real enjoyment of life. Moreover, since the goal is to reduce the work week, everyone will have an incentive to raise productivity. Once work is regarded as a right rather than something you have to crawl for, one tremendous source of relentless stress that every worker within capitalist society endures will be removed. When health care is viewed as a basic right, another layer of stress will be eliminated. And as the work week is progressively reduced by introducing even more technology into the work process, people will have more time to spend with friends and family, thereby escaping from the capitalist nightmare where all one does is work, eat and sleep.


Hence, socialism sets into motion a process that begins by enriching – both materially and spiritually – the lot of the working class and ends by raising humanity to a higher level of civilization. It aims at a progressive reduction of the work week, a just redistribution of society’s wealthy and the replacement of a despotic system of government by minority dictatorship with a system of rational dialogue where all members of society discuss, debate, and democratically determine society’s direction, thereby raising individual consciousness from exclusive fixation on one’s individual needs to a genuine concern for the common good. Public education will be revolutionized so that, instead of training the young to perform repetitive, meaningless, rote exercises in preparation for an adult job, they are provided with a rich curriculum, ranging from science and literature to music and the other arts, as well as athletics. And by linking science directly to its potential to liberate humanity from the drudgery of work and the rest of life’s afflictions, students, who previously found it abstract and irrelevant, might be inspired to engage in diligent study in order to unlock its secrets. With this kind of education, children will be encouraged to become well-rounded, self-motivated, and critically-minded members of society, eager to use their knowledge to create a better world.

With a reduced work week, universal quality education, and a system where everyone contributes to the running of society, a new culture will gradually emerge in which “…the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor … has vanished; … labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want;” and “… the productive forces have increased the all-round development of the individual.” Thus, we will finally be in a position to inscribe on our banner: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” A better world is indeed possible.

history, Politics,

Why Join a Revolutionary Socialist Party

Ann Robertson and Bill Leumer

There are basically two benefits to being a member of a revolutionary party. The first, an educational benefit, plays out on several different levels.

(1) Having a strong command of Marxist theory can be extremely valuable on many different fronts. (a) For example, Marx’s Capital provides a sharp analysis of capitalist society so that one can see why irreconcilable differences divide the working class and the capitalist class (because of the extraction of surplus value). Moreover, because these irreconcilable differences form the basis of the system, it becomes clear why capitalism cannot be reformed (capitalism is defined by the production of profit or surplus value). (b) An understanding of history is invaluable. One learns, for example, that the ruling class has never relinquished power voluntarily. And the study of history leads to the conclusion that the history of all hitherto existing societies has indeed been the history of class struggle. Moreover, one learns that ordinary working people, contrary to the convictions of the reformists and almost everyone else, have in fact stood up, organized themselves, taken history in their own hands, and fundamentally altered the social landscape. This insight alone is of incalculable importance. Most of our experience in capitalist society leads us to conclude that any effort to change things is hopeless. Being a member of a party that has a clear picture of history helps individuals maintain a greater perspective. (c) An understanding of human nature is indispensable since one of the most common objections to socialism is that it contradicts human nature. Many people today automatically adopt the assumption that humans are by nature individualistic, selfish, and greedy. Therefore, some argue that socialism, in so far as it contradicts this nature, can only be achieved through force and constant coercion. However, anthropologists who have studied a variety of human societies have concluded that human nature has exhibited a rich array of characteristics and traits and is far from static. And they argue that individuals, far from possessing some fixed, permanent essence, merely reflect the society and culture they are raised in, a thesis that is easily verified by a cursory examination of history. Consequently, the individualism, selfishness, and greed that seem so prolific today do not stem from the individual but from the surrounding capitalist society.

(2) Learning how to provide a sufficient analysis of a particular historical political-economic situation is not easy. For example, what is the correct position to adopt in relation to the movement around Chavez in Venezuela, or Nader in the U.S., or Cindy Sheehan? Different revolutionary parties have adopted radically different approaches to these questions. How does one determine which approach is correct?

(3) In close conjunction with the preceding point, how does one intervene in a specific historical situation? For example, some call for votes for people like Chavez and Sheehan and offer them critical support. Many groups on the left do not do this. What demands do we raise in a union struggle? If one does not provide the correct answers to these questions, one can sometimes perform a major disservice to the working class. However, when some members of the revolutionary party have successfully led struggles in the past, or have participated in them, these experiences provide a wealth of knowledge that can be applied to similar struggles in the present and future. In this way, the party can become a repository of wisdom that can illuminate the path forward.

(4) One learns through all this that Marxism is indeed a science, meaning that it is a rational body of knowledge. Most people today who consider themselves Marxists have no clue how to conduct a rational Marxist analysis. They think all you have to do is declare yourself a revolutionary and suddenly you acquire perfect theoretical vision. Or they think that Marxism is a fundamentally mechanical way of thinking where one simply adds transitional demands, such as workers control, to every struggle. Anything less, in their opinion, constitutes a betrayal of the working class. It takes years of hard work and experience before one becomes adept at providing a genuine Marxist approach. And even when one becomes proficient, mistakes will be made.

All the above points indicate that mastering Marxist theory requires training. And training can best be acquired in a group where discussions are conducted regularly. Moreover, the educational process within a party, when properly conducted, does not stem from the top-down where some esteemed leader simply offers correct analyses from on high. It helps if some members of the party have experience, both theoretically and practically. But all situations are in some sense new and require a new analysis. And the proper analysis can best be achieved through a process of discussion where everyone contributes.

Secondly, aside from education, a revolutionary party can provide a practical benefit. When a group, even a small group, acts in a coordinated way, it can have a significant impact on the course of events. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) never had more than a few thousand members, but even The New York Times had to acknowledge that its impact was far greater than its numbers would suggest. For example, during the antiwar movement around the U.S. war in Vietnam, the SWP eventually succeeded in winning the majority to the slogan: Bring the Troops Home Now. The Communist Party, on the other hand, peddled the slogan, Negotiate Now, as if the U.S. government had a right to negotiate Vietnam’s future with the Vietnamese government. By adopting the SWP slogan, the antiwar movement exerted much more pressure on the U.S. government to withdraw. Moreover, the SWP slogan was specifically formulated with the idea of winning G.I.’s in the military to an antiwar position. The SWP knew the G.I.’s wanted to come home, and when they did return, many joined the antiwar movement. But more importantly, in part because of the antiwar movement, many G.I.’s began to oppose the war while still stationed in Vietnam. That fact made it extremely difficult for the U.S. to continue to conduct the war. In any case, the Spartacist slogan, Drive the G.I.’s into the Sea, obviously did not strike a receptive chord among the G.I.’s, and the Spartacists had no impact on the course of events.

Although this is far from apparent to most people, the capitalist class realizes its hold on power is tenuous. After all, the capitalists constitute only a small minority of the population. However, the working class represents the vast majority, it occupies the moral high ground, but it constantly suffers from a society that does not operate in its interests. Consequently, representatives of the capitalist class, particularly politicians and the media, incessantly attempt to convince the working class that fundamental change is impossible. They use many subtle tricks in order to accomplish this. For example, there might be a huge antiwar demonstration in San Francisco and The New York Times will not report it, as if to say what ordinary people do is of no significance. Or The New York Times will state that single-payer health care is not an option because the political will to promote it is absent. But The Times does not mention the fact that most people in the U.S. want a single-payer health care system. So The New York Times insinuates that what most people want is irrelevant.

These are just a few examples of the subtle ways used to demoralize people who want fundamental change. But once people are demoralized, the battle is lost because then they won’t put up a fight. And, of course, at this point in history in this country, most working people are severely demoralized. And as the economy continues its downward dive while spreading suffering far and wide, working people will become even more demoralized in the coming year, if there is no mass struggle that successfully resists these conditions.

As isolated individuals, we become easily demoralized, in part because we lack the means to initiate significant change and in part because we are not members of a party that can help shield us from the ideological warfare waged by the capitalist class. So the point of joining a party is to refuse to give up. Joining is a refusal to become a victim of demoralization. Instead, we resolve to put up a fight and try to convince others to do the same. And if we do not put up a struggle, we can be assured that the capitalists will get emboldened and make things much worse for us than otherwise.

However, having educated ourselves, when workers are engaged in struggle, we can make a contribution by perhaps proposing the correct demands to form the basis of a united front, or by perhaps suggesting the right tactic to adopt in a specific situation, or even by perhaps leading the struggle itself. In the process we will help educate other workers so that they will be in a better position to launch a struggle aimed at self-liberation. And in the final analysis we can take some satisfaction in knowing that we helped create a better world.