Saturday, March 24, 2018

New York City Front Line Report From March Against Gun Violence

Profit addicted capitalists of gun industry want to sell anything to anybody. New York Marchers say NO. One of 800 similiar marches in US.  Many others internationally. 


The march here in New York was slated to start at 11:00 am at 72nd St and Central Park West. By the time I arrived to the area shortly after 11:00 am, the entrance had been relocated to 86th street (14 blocks and one avenue away) due to crowding. Pedestrians were moving at snail pace (that's 28 blocks and one avenue from "ground zero" where speeches were supposed to be taking place) but a friend and I made quick work of passing in and out of barriers and around the designated route. We made it as far as 81st street and Central Park West before we were stopped entirely for an hour. Every block as far as we could see north and south was filled. Since the march was set to finish at 42nd street thats a minimum of 44 blocks filled simultaneously, not including the 14 blocks and one avenue where marchers were re-routed. Thousands besides jumped barricades to line sidewalks, side streets, and rock walls in the park overlooking the avenue.. When we reached Columbus Circle (59th street) at the Trump Hotel things grew noisy and the crowd started chanting "Shame" and giving one finger salutes. The march was routed to the left around Central Park South then right down 6th ave (avoiding Trump Tower on 5th.) Still, we passed Fox News headquarters where there was even more of an uproar. Folks were shouting "Fake News" and "Fuck Fox News!" as the network appeared to be filming.

All in all I didn't see the same commercialization as comrades did in Chicago. A few screens that weren't showing anything by the time the majority got to them. A handful of tables, mostly registering voters and a couple of CPNY/CPUSA and anti-Fascist groups. The same were passing out information, with a small number of members peppered over a dozen blocks or so. The whole event seemed surprisingly grassroots. The demographic was overwhelmingly white, of all ages. Not what I would call hip and definitely not multi-cultural. I was inspired to see such strong numbers and have to wonder what a behemoth this thing would be with a more mixed turn out. 

Democratize Social Media

The following is from Left Horizons (UK) (images added)

Editorial: democratize social media
March 21st 2018

The data amassed by Facebook and the alleged use of this by the secretive Cambridge Analytica company has raised important issues for Labour and trade union activists. It is long over-due that there should be a discussion on the role of social media within the labour movement and, perhaps even more pertinently, in the struggle for a socialist future. The problem is, of course, that many of today’s best and most hard-working activists cut their teeth in the decades before social media was around. Information Technology as a mass phenomenon is barely over two decades old, and social media perhaps half of that.

The questions that need to be asked and discussed revolve around the extent to which social media is a positive factor in the struggle for socialism and to what extent it is an obstacle to be overcome. We also need to ask how social media can best be managed and made accountable to the majority of the population, the working class.

This not the occasion to comment in great detail on the structures of the big tech giants, but it must be remembered that they are first and foremost profit-making companies. They have all been responsible for tax-dodging on an industrial scale and there are regular reports in the British press about the piddling amounts of taxes being paid by the likes of Google and Facebook, despite hundreds of millions of pounds in turnover and profit.These companies run rings around the tax authorities, by using their complex international structures to shift profits from one offshore location to another.

The social media provided by these big tech companies is now ubiquitous and across the whole planet it is dominated by only five firms: Facebook, which also owns Whatsapp and Instagram; Google, which also owns Youtube; Yahoo, which owns Flickr and Tumblr; and then Twitter and Linkedin. These companies, respectively, have 1.9bn, 1.5bn, 161m, 271m and 187m accounts. Although obviously many people will have multiple account across all these platforms, these numbers are nevertheless staggering and they are rising relentlessly.

The potential of these companies to harvest ‘meta’ data – a broad range of links, contacts and even a lot of personal detail – on on their billions of customers is mind-boggling and it is clear that the state, both in the UK, the USA and elsewhere is now fully equipped to do just that.

Britain’s facility at GCHQ and the American National Security Agency have been storing and keeping vast amounts of data for years. Wikileaks released information two years ago about the ‘PRISM’ programme of the NSA which has a colossal capacity for data collection, storage and retrieval. These agencies have the technical capacity to eavesdrop on conversations anywhere in the world where there is a mobile phone.

According to Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, (writing in his book, WhenGoogle met Wikileaks), Google is thoroughly integrated into the United States military-intelligence-surveillance complex. He mentions Eric Schmidt, the executive Chairman of Google from 2001 to 2017 and Alphabet Inc. from 2015 to 2017, as someone who cut his teeth working for ‘agencies’ connected to the Pentagon. Google, according to Assange, has made “petabytes of data” available to the US intelligence community through its PRISM programme.

Google helped to launch a satellite from which it shares data with the US intelligence community. Its research into navigation and robotics, often through subsidiary companies like Boston Dynamics, is integrated into, and accessible to, research of the military-industrial complex. Assange quotes a sinister comment from the New York Times nearly twenty years ago:

“The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps” (Thomas Friedman, in the New York Times, 28 March, 1999).

The particular issue in the news today – the Cambridge Analytica (CA) company – is an example of how sections of the ruling class are gearing up to use social media in the political sphere. Although the Chief Executive Officer of CA has been suspended because of his exposure by a Channel 4 documentary, this suspension is little more than damage-limitation. The company was clearly set up by an old-Etonian in the first place – and bank-rolled by a wealthy hedge fund – to act as a political vehicle, not just to make a profit.
Awww! How Sweet
Cambridge Analytica claims to have played a key role in the election of Donald Trump. The company head of data, on the Channel 4 programme, boasted of the role they had played: “…when you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by three million votes but won the electoral college vote, that’s down to the data and the research…you did your rallies in the right locations, you moved more people out in those key swing states on election day. That’s how we won the election…[Trump] won the election by 40,000 in three states. The margins were tiny…”

Alexander Nix, the suspended chief executive of CA boasted on the same TV expose about the ability of his company to pull the wool over the eyes of the authorities.  “…they’re not technical”, he said, referring to politicians, “They don’t understand how it works”.

Whistle-blowers who worked for social media companies have only confirmed what many have suspected for a long time, that huge amounts of personal data have been ‘harvested’ by outside bodies. Sandy Parkilas, previously the platform operations manager at Facebook told the Guardian (March 21st) “My concerns were that all of the data that left Facebook servers to developers could not be monitored by Facebook, so we had no idea what developers were doing with the data.” Asked what control Facebook had over the data used by developers, he added, “Zero, absolutely none. Once the data left Facebook servers, there was not any control…” The ‘blind’ suspicion that many Facebook users have expressed, that their likes, dislikes and activities are ‘monitored’ is therefore completely founded on truth. There are no effective controls and, indeed, it is likely that meta-data on all Facebook users is stored somewhere at GCHQ or NSA, or both.

We should not forget another aspect of the misuse of social media, in the form of automated accounts, so-called robot accounts, or just ‘bots’. These are accounts set up in the thousands, using apparently real people’s names, and they can be managed on this large scale by only a handful of technicians. Their purpose is to feed information, usually as links or short comments or tweets that support a particular political point of view. By using a large number of bot-generated posts, all apparently from bona-fide people, the impression can be given that a particular point of view is more widely supported than it really is. It is not only the Russians who are masters at this – the Israeli Government too has a very well-funded and accomplished IT propaganda wing that is active on social media.

There is no point in just being paranoid, however. One could reasonably ask, what does it matter if the NSA or GCHQ knows the whereabouts of every activist in the British labour movement? It would take an army of observers, even using alogrithms to weed out key words, to keep tabs on every malcontent. Moreover, the ‘malcontents’ are growing in number week by week.

Being more positive about modern technology, there is no doubt that in the information age news and information is disseminated at lightning speed all around the world. We could couple that with the fact that it seems to be proving harder and  harder to maintain secrets. Capitalism as an economic system is not only based on greed and corruption, but also on a veil of secrecy that hides the truth from a literate and intelligent population.

Increasingly, as technology becomes more ubiquitous, that veil is lifted and the public get a glimpse of the dirty dealings that go on behind closed doors. The organisation Wikileaks is itself testimony to that. In recent years we have had a succession of scandalous revelations about secret diplomacy and, above all, about tax-dodging and money laundering. The Pentagon papers lifted the veil on secret US diplomatic e-mails and then the Panama papers and the Paradise papers spilled the beans on tax-dodging.

The dissemination of this information has definitely filtered through to the social consciousness of millions of workers and in some cases has had a direct effect on fermenting big political events. In Julian Assange’s book, he quotes the former Tunisian propaganda minister, after the first stirrings of the ‘Arab Spring’ overthrew the regime of Ben Ali. The Wikileaks releases at that time, he said, were “the coup de grace, the thing that broke the Ben Ali system.” Within a month of Ben Ali being overthrown, there were civil uprisings or protests in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Sudan, Oman and even Saudi Arabia. Social media certainly played a role in galvanising these protest movements and uprisings.

Tories outspend Labour on social media advertisement
Here in the UK, it is thought that social media had a significant effect on the general election in 2015 and even more so in 2017. In the month leading up to the deadline for registration for the 2017 election, 1.76 million under-35-year-olds registered to vote.  This was higher than the figures for 2015 (1.39m) and 2016 (1.28m) and without a doubt social media played a role in getting younger voters out, the majority of whom voted Labour.

According to the BBC’s Media Show (June 14, 2017), several new social media outlets and websites made contributions to getting young people to vote. London Economic, for example, was a site set up to counteract the negative reporting on Corbyn in the national newspapers and on TV. They claim that one of their articles had 1.6m hits and hundreds of thousands of shares on social media. Another relatively new site, Evolve Politics, reporting on issues like housing and the NHS, claimed that their Facebook page had 1.3 million hits in May 2017and a reach of 17 million over last week of the election period, despite only having been going for a year. On the same radio programme, a Daily Mail journalist lamented the declining influence of papers like his.  “They just don’t have the same influence they had 25 years ago…”, he moaned. The Tory press, with a combined sale of around 9 million copies, do not reach more than a quarter of the total electorate.

Social media is actively used by labour movement activists today. There is hardly a meeting organised anywhere that is not advertised on social media. However, it is important that we also understand the limitations of social media. Discussions, arguments and issues are raised in millions of conversations on Facebook on a daily basis. Millions of tweets are posted on Twitter every day. But what is exchanged is at best a few pithy phrases, perhaps a paragraph or two, and not a few insults as well. One thing is clear, a proper discussion cannot take place on social media. There is no depth, no development and no possibility of an extended and rounded exposition of a point of view. On Twitter, even doubling the number of characters from 140 to 280, only a headline can be put forward. More often than not, Facebook and Twitter are used as signposts – to point readers in the direction of a properly-developed argument or point of view, or facts and figures somewhere on another website.

In the same way that we should recognise the limitations of social media in having serious discussions, we should acknowledge the limitations of so-called ‘e-democracy’ in supposedly promoting accountability and transparency. As with social media, e-democracy tends towards what is partial, shallow and transient. If democracy needs to be informed to be meaningful, then e-democracy is sorely lacking in information and it tends, in any case, to be controlled by those who manage the discussions and the e-election platform. When the Lansman coup took place in Momentum there was much discussion about the coup being allegedly in favour of increasing the participation of members through ‘direct’ democracy. This has turned out to be a sham. In the most recent electronic voting – on representation to Labour’s constitutional inquiry – it got a maximum of around 3800 participants, which is between 11 and 16 per cent participation, depending on which membership figures are taken.

Social media has its uses, therefore, but it also has its limitations. When there has been serious social unrest, as has happened in Egypt and, more recently in Sri Lanka, governments are not averse to shutting down social media altogether. In the struggle for socialist change the drawbacks of social media need to be understood and worked around. As long as activists in the labour movement are using social media to facilitate the organisation of meetings and activities that is all very well, but social media is not in and of itself a substitute for real, face-to-face meetings and for organisations of real people.
In the final analysis, it is not the means of conveying the message, but the message itself, that will move people into political activity. It is not social media, but austerity that is driving millions of workers across the globe in the direction of political activity and shaking up political consciousness to an unprecedented degree.

In the last general election, according to the Electoral Commission, the Tories spent four times as much as Labour on Facebook adverts (£2.1m compared to £577,000) and twice as much on Google advertising  (£560,000 compared to £254,000). Yet in every age group brought up with social media, Labour had an overwhelming majority of support. It was the message, not the medium, that counted. That, and the actual presence of a Labour leader who spoke at more than a hundred meetings and rallies around the country, by-passing the hostile national press and – to a degree – also by-passing social media.
Future success in achieving a real and lasting socialist transformation may well be facilitated by social media, at least in its early stages, but it can only be guaranteed in its fullest sense by real working class people, in meetings, demonstrations and strikes. Social media may help, but the real job to be done is on the streets, in the communities and in the workplaces.

Then a socialist government could ensure that social media is not subject to the secretive and rigid control of a handful of multi-billionaires, but would be owned and democratically managed by users and subscribers, with the support of IT specialists and elected bodies. The terms of operation of social media platforms would be open to scrutiny and their use of personal  data tightly subscribed and, in any case, transparent. The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica issue has raised important issues for us in the labour movement and we should use the opportunity to discuss all the ramifications and implications for the struggle for a socialist future.

[When Google met Wikileaks, by Julian Assange, published by Navayana, 2014]
March 21 2018

Chicago front line report from march against gun laws written by gun industry capitalists.

Chicago march against gun laws imposed by gun industry capitalists and their stooges NRA.

US march against gun capitalists selling just about anything to just about anybody. Anything for profit.   

Greg Bartik. National Nurses United. (Personal Capacity)

Union Park 11a today Chicago's West Side

Was thrilled to see a Woodstock like attendance as I approached.
Roads overwhelmed 
Young and old old black and white throngs approaching on foot 360
5 helicopters and a drone
1000 cops
500 on bikes
Was expecting 300 of the same old protesters at everything
Park swollen with mostly a rainbow of high school kids
But everyone including geezers in wheelchairs
Parents pulling wagons of small kids.
Bleachers. Sound So full with thousands I had no hope of getting close
When luck kissed me for being a nurse
I young black female in an orange vest and a walkie talkie was trying to get an ambulance for someone collapsed in front
I volunteered
Wierd slow mo run through crowd
They were gone
Stayed in bleachers
Marvelled at 4 propeller drone over stage
And the $ spent
2 huge hi def tv erected from flatbed trailors
Speaker arrays hanging from cranes
Huge stage with all modern concert technology
Media island
Tent 200 porta potties
Festival fencing
Rubber floors
Officail ID's etc 
Hundred of thousands of dollars from above making real event staged and bigger
Super well orchestrated 
Singers dancers rappers poets etc
Piped in Boys from.Fla HS using a stronger together slogan woven in
PC liberal Dem spiced up with local minority talent
Controlled opposition 
Tightly controlled
Festival union labor
Told black dance crew about the song Compaired to what 
From Les McCann in 69
Being relevant
And about controlled opposition
Shook hands when he got on play list
Back to Puerto Rican restaraunt to warn up

“Young Karl Marx”: A Must-See Film

I really enjoyed this movie and was particularly surprised and pleased that the two women companions/comrades of Marx and Engels were given the place in history they deserve and that all the characters come across as real human beings struggling to understand the world around them and change it for the better. It is a pleasant experience indeed to watch a movie in which historical characters so vilified by the capitalist media and ignored by "official" history for the masses yet who played such important roles in shaping it are given their due. Were I capable of writing a thoughtful intelligent review of it I would have. Instead, I share this excellent review of the film from Frieda Afary from the Alliance of Middle Eastern Socialists. Richard Mellor
Raoul Peck’s Young Karl Marx has succeeded in presenting a holistic view of the young Marx and his time that also speaks movingly to the problems of our time . . .  Three aspects stand out as unique:  

I. Marx’s concept of organization; 
II. Marx’s challenge to the French Anarchist thinker, Pierre Proudhon;  
III.  The role of women.

Reviewed by Frieda Afary

It is not easy to make a movie about a multidimensional and historical figure like Marx without privileging one aspect of that figure’s life over another.  Raoul Peck’s Young Karl Marx however, has succeeded in presenting a holistic view of the young Marx and his time that also speaks movingly to the problems of our time.

That success seems to be rooted in two elements:
First,  In addition to being very knowledgeable about Marx’s work and time period,  Raoul Peck and Pascal Bonitzer,  the screenplay writers have largely drawn on the  correspondence of  the main characters, Marx, Friedrich Engels, his closest colleague and collaborator, and Jenny von Westphalen, his comrade/wife.  In doing so, they have allowed us to hear these characters think.

Secondly, Peck’s own life-experience has made him a creative intellectual/filmmaker/political activist, sensitive to the issue of human suffering and emancipation.    Born in Haiti, under Duvalier’s dictatorship, he went to the Congo with his family in 1961 where the first democratically elected government of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba had just been overthrown by U.S.-backed forces loyal to the dictator Mobuto Sese Seko.   After living under the dictatorship of Mobutu for many years, he continued his education in France and Germany where he received degrees in industrial engineering, economics, and film.  He has had jobs as varied as being a taxi driver in New York, a journalist and later, Haiti’s minister of culture in 1996-1997.  

During the past 36 years, Peck has made 21 films,   most notably,  Lumumba, about the Congolese revolutionary and independence leader,  and I Am Not Your Negro about the African American writer, James Baldwin.  It is this knowledge and life experience that has been brought to bear on his presentation of the young Marx.

The film thus starts with a chilling scene in which poor peasants– women, men and children –collecting deadwood in Prussia’s Mosel forest in the Rhineland, are assaulted, beaten and killed by agents of landowners who arrive on horsebacks.  In the background, we hear excerpts from one of  Marx’s 1842 essays on the Prussian law on the theft of wood, which he wrote for the newspaper Rheinische Zeitung, where he challenged the very hypocrisy and  inhumanity of this law and its use to kill peasants.  

Film viewers are then taken to the office of the Rheinische Zeitung where the 24-year old editor, Marx (not yet a communist) is challenging his colleagues to be more radical, even as the Prussian police is banging on the door with an order to shut down the newspaper and arrest them.

Peck then,  introduces us to Friedrich Engels,  the son/employee of a German textile factory owner in Manchester and a socialist intellectual seeking  the collaboration of workers to help him write a book about the condition of the working class in England.  Marx and Engels meet for the second time at the office of the German philosopher and political writer, Arnold Ruge.  They discuss their respective works, ideals and goals,  and the rest is history.

Since it is not possible to  discuss all the dimensions of Peck’s film, in this short review,  I would like to limit myself to  three aspects which stand out as unique:   I. Marx’s concept of organization;   II. Marx’s challenge to the French Anarchist thinker, Pierre Proudhon;   III.  The role of women.

I. Marx’s Concept of Organization

While a two-hour film cannot possibly allow any writer/director to do justice to the philosophical, economic, political and social issues that Marx was writing about,  or Engels and Marx were jointly writing about,   what comes through in Peck’s film is the following:   Marx saw himself as a philosopher,  the originator  of a unique critique of political economy and  a totally new concept of human liberation.  He was not simply exposing income inequality but challenging alienated labor and the alienation of humanity.   He was a profound philosopher and economist but also not an ivory-tower intellectual.  Thus,  he and Engels actively reached out to workers, men and women,  to poor people,  to other revolutionary intellectuals,  and helped transform the League of the Just from an organization that limited itself to “the brotherhood of men”  to one whose manifesto became the Communist Manifesto,  written and published on the eve of the 1848 Revolutions that shook up Europe.

The fact that Marx’s concept of human emancipation and his views on organization were completely distorted and turned into totalitarian state capitalist societies, as seen in the USSR and Maoist China,   does not permit the abandonment of that concept and its relevance for today.

II. Marx’s Challenge to Proudhon

Peck emphasizes how much the development of Marx’s ideas was a response to what he and Engels thought were the inadequacies of Pierre Proudhon’s views.   At the same time, we see that  Marx and Engels made an effort to reach out to Proudhon in their organizational work, because they respected him as a worker-intellectual and a working-class leader.

The gist of Marx’s critique of Proudhon is expressed in a few scenes in which Marx challenges Proudhon’s view of “property as theft” for being inadequate in its understanding of capitalism and capitalist relations of production, namely alienated mechanical labor and its consequences.   Peck also depicts how Marx took it upon himself to do a serious study of  Proudhon’s  Philosophy of Poverty (1846),  and was compelled to write  Poverty of Philosophy(1847), as a response.

In his Philosophy of Poverty,   Proudhon had argued that if money were abolished and if workers were paid vouchers based on their labor time,  the vouchers would allow autonomous cooperatives and communities to have transparent exchange and social relations without the need for a central plan.

Marx, in his Poverty of Philosophy, and later in the Grundrisse,  critiqued Proudhon’s thesis and argued that under capitalism too,  workers’ wages are based on their labor time.  However, the labor time used as the measure of remuneration under capitalism is not the worker’s actual labor time but the minimum labor time for the production of an exchange value.  Later in Capital he called this measure, an average or  “socially necessary labor time.”  He thought that any conception that fell short of comprehending the capitalist mode of production and its fragmentation of the human being, would not be able to offer an alternative that could truly transcend capitalism.

While the detailed content of these books could not be discussed in The Young Marx, the film does show that  Poverty of Philosophy was meant as a book  for workers as much as for intellectuals.   In one scene, Mary Burns, a worker, is shown holding it up at a labor meeting and calling on the participants to read Marx’s response to Proudhon.

III. The Role of Women

Peck makes a special effort to highlight the role and characters of Marx’s wife,  Jenny von Westphalen and Engels’s companion,  Mary Burns.   Jenny von Westphalen was the daughter of an aristocratic family in Trier and had been Marx’s friend from a young age.   She was not simply Marx’s wife.  As a highly educated woman who had also become a revolutionary,  she was a thinker and a comrade who could carry on debates with Marx and assisted him in the development of his ideas.   She was independent-minded and articulate.   She endured poverty and endless hardships because of having married a revolutionary who kept getting expelled from one country after another for his ideas and activities.   However,  she did not  return to Prussia to live with her aristocratic family,  because she truly believed in the cause for which she and Marx were both fighting.    All of these dimensions of Jenny Marx come through in the film and make viewers truly admire her.

Mary Burns was also not simply Engels’s companion.   She was a militant and vocal Irish worker who challenged the horrible conditions of factory labor and helped introduce Engels to the League of the Just, an organization of revolutionary artisans and workers led by German emigrant artisans, Karl Schapper and Wilhelm Weitling.   She was also very interested in the ideas that Marx and Engels were developing,  and participated in activities with them to introduce these ideas to other workers.
The last scene in the film in which Marx, Engels, Jenny von Westphalen and Mary Burns are sitting around a table and editing the handwritten copy of the Communist Manifesto,  is truly memorable.

IV. Marx’s Relevance for Today

It is the Communist Manifesto,  the culmination of the film,  that Peck argues,  speaks volumes to today’s crisis-ridden capitalism.  In an interview about the film,  he states:   “Both projects [I Am Not Your Negro and The Young Karl Marx] were a sort of response to the world I see around me, and not only here in this country [U.S.] but in Europe and in the Third World.  It’s what I call the rise of ignorance, of confusion . . . I just wanted to give a response and come back to what I call the fundamentals.”  ( In another interview, he states:  “Marx was not dogmatic.  Marx always said you need to reanalyze your current situation and your historic situation.” (

It is not only Marx’s critique of capitalism but also his ability to comprehend reality in a holistic way, to analyze, to be a critical and independent thinker,  that Peck thinks we can learn from in order to  challenge the growing  populism,  dogmatism and authoritarianism that is engulfing the world.   Peck wants a new generation to know that they can change the world for the better and revolutionize it, provided they begin with the thinkers who give us the foundation to do so.

Hopefully,  Peck will go on to make parts II and III of this film to cover the other periods of Marx’s life.

Frieda Afary
March 23, 2018

Cast: August Diehl as Karl Marx, Stefan Konarske as Friedrich Engels, Vicky Krieps as Jenny von Westphalen,  Hannah Steele as Mary Burns, Olivier Gourmet as Pierre Proudhon, Rolf Kanies as Moses Hess, Niels-Bruno Schmidt as Karl Grun, Alexander Scheer as Wilhelm Weitling.
Director: Raoul Peck
Writers: Pascal Bonitzer and Raoul Peck
Cinematographer: Kolja Brandt
Editor:  Frederique Broos
Composer:  Alexei Aigui
Languages:  German, French, English with English subtitles
Length:  118 minutes

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Fed, trade wars and recession

 by Michael Roberts

World stock markets took another tumble on the news that the US Federal Reserve under its new chair, Jerome Powell, had raised its policy interest rate and that President Trump had upped the stakes on an international trade war by adding to the already announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminium, a new range of tariffs on imported Chinese goods.  With China likely to retaliate, the risks are rising of a new recession triggered by rising borrowing costs on debt and falling exports globally.
The Trump administration announced plans on Thursday to impose tariffs on up to $60bn in annual imports from China, raising fears of a trade war between the world’s two largest economies and sending US stocks sharply lower.

The Fed’s ‘policy’ interest rate sets the floor for all borrowing costs in the US and even internationally in many countries.  It is now at 1.75%, a level not seen since 2005.  And the Fed’s policy committee (FOMC) signalled that it intended to raise its rate at least twice more this year and even more in 2019 and 2020, to double the rate to 3.5%.  Powell commented that “the economy was healthier than it had been in ten years” (i.e. at the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008).

The long depression, characterised by weak economic growth (the slowest recovery from a slump in the post-war period), low investment rates and profitability in the capitalist sector, appeared to be over.  And this justified further interest rate hikes to “normalise” the economy.  In addition, the recent corporate tax cuts and other measures by President Trump would lead to a sharp boost to consumer and investment demand “for at least, say, the next three years”.  The US economy was now primed to grow at 3% a year at minimum, suggested Powell.

In previous posts, I have argued that if the cost of borrowing rose while profits and profitability in the corporate sector turned down, then the Fed could provoke a new recession, as happened in 1937 during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the US monetary authority thought the depression was over.  But profitability then had not made a recovery and increased borrowing costs only squeezed earnings for investment and so pushed the economy back again.  The risk is that this could happen again now.

The Fed does not look at profitability as an indicator of the health of the US capital; instead its mandate is employment and inflation.  On these indicators, employment continues to rise, with the official unemployment rate right down to pre-crisis levels; and inflation remains relatively subdued.  So all appears well.  And if the Fed did look at profitability, it might still argue that things are ok there too.  But that is not entirely correct.  As I argued in previous posts, the overall trend in US corporate profits has been down for over two years. And this is particularly the case for non-financial profits, the key sector for driving productive investment.

Indeed, although the first three months of 2018 are not yet over, various economic indicators forecast that US economic growth, far from accelerating towards 3% a year, has slowed to under 2% from 2.5% at the end of 2017.

Sure, that could just be a first quarter downward slip, as has happened in previous years.  After all, the Fed has raised its forecast for the whole of 2018 to 2.7% and 2.4% for 2019 – not 3%, but a bit better than previous years since 2008.

Actually, despite Trump’s boasts and Powell’s expectations, the US economy is stubbornly stuck in the 2% range of economic expansion.  And the Fed economists have been notoriously wrong in their forecasts of economic growth, inflation and employment.  The real pick-up since trough in the Kitchin short-term growth cycle of 2015-6 has been outside the US; in Europe and to some extent Japan and Asia.  Real GDP growth in Europe is currently higher than in the US.

Most significant has been a profit recovery. JP Morgan economists recently looked at global corporate profits, which in past posts I have measured as making a mild recovery.  Measuring profits as earnings from the top quoted companies in various stock exchanges (by no means a perfect measure as JPM admits), the JPM economists recorded a significant jump in profits across most areas of the capitalist world after a recession-like contraction through mid-2016”.

And where does this jump in profits come from? Mainly the energy sector, as oil prices recovered from the deep lows of the 2015-6; and from the financial sector, as stock and bond markets boomed.  In contrast, healthcare, IT and telecoms profits slowed.  And it came regionally in the advanced economies, while the emerging economies made only modest moves up. Within the advanced capitalist economies, it was profits in Europe and Japan that shot up – areas where the corporate sector had been in the doldrums or worse until recently.

None of this may last.  ‘High frequency’ indicators of economic activity, called the purchasing managers indexes (PMIs), have been at very high levels.  Anything over 50 implies that an economy is expanding and anything over 60 means very strong growth of up to 4% a year rate.  The US ‘composite’ PMI stands at 54 – not bad, but hardly exciting.  The Eurozone’s is higher at 55 but coming down.  Japan is around 52 and China is 53.

Indeed, figures for retail sales (consumer spending), employment and GDP growth suggest a ‘topping out’ of the recent acceleration since 2016.  And now the major capitalist economies face a double whammy of rising borrowing costs and the prospect of an international trade war – just as trade was picking up from the doldrums of the long depression.

A key measure of US borrowing costs, the spread between the US three-month Libor rate and the Overnight Index Swap rate, has reached its highest level since 2009.  And we already know that corporate debt in the US, Japan and Europe, is at record highs relative to GDP.

The hoped-for end to the long depression may be wishful thinking.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Contrast Marx to the Gloomy Desperation of Bourgeois Intellectuals.

Guardian: Capitalism Cannot Solve This
Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

We read every day on social networks or the mainstream media about the sorry state of the world. I just read a couple of articles in the Guardian, a media outlet whose political view is that capitalism can be reformed, can be made human and environmentally friendly, and what is now a global system can solve the numerous and potentially catastrophic crises that we face. Pollution, climate change etc. can all disappear if we elect the right people.

One was an article about the floating mass of debris and plastic swirling around in the Pacific Ocean. The author points out that scientists underestimated its size and it is now 16 times larger than they thought, twice the size of France. It’s depressing to read this stuff which is why people avoid it. It’s not that they don’t care; they don’t see any solution to it.  An international effort is needed one expert says, not simply to clean it up which would be fairly easy but to change the way we produce things that end up in places like this, plastics in particular which would also be easy but-------not within the framework of capitalism. A non-profit is tackling it which is why it’s not getting done. A coordinating international effort doesn’t happen either. That’s why it’s depressing to read it.

Marx explained why an international effort is difficult. The modern nation state is capitalism’s creation. The world is divided in to competing geographical nations. Their relationships are inherently hostile and the stronger devour the weaker as the struggle for control of the world’s resources and natural wealth as well as human capital, continues. There is no real cooperation between capitalist nation states that can advance the interests of the working class or prevent impending environmental catastrophe.

The other article I read was about  another gloomy prediction by Paul Ehrlich that a collapse of civilization is“near certainty”. Ehrich  wrote the book, The Population Bomb. Well he’s right about the end of civilization as we know it although capitalism as an economic system of production is not very civilized at all. But like the example,  this is another thoroughly depressing and defeatist rant; it doesn’t inspire people to act or encourage it in any way, just the opposite, people will feel bad and avoid it next time. For Ehrlich it’s overpopulation and overconsumption that is the problem. This argument is always made by people who refuse to face the reality that how society is organized has to be changed and they have to participate in that. In other words, they are simply whining about what is, and refuse to accept that class struggle and indeed class war and the building of a democratic collectively owned and rationally planned socialist economy and world federation of states is the answer. For Ehrlich there is no alternative to the present system and the rule of the capitalist class over humanity and he does not see the working class as the force that can change this situation and rescue humanity from extinction.  For him, the working class doesn't exist at all it seems. He has a thoroughly defeatist and therefore depressing worldview that can only demoralize as his answer is to ask the foxes to clean up the henhouse. 
"it is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence but their social existence that determines their consciousness"

As socialists we engage in a struggle for the consciousness of the working class. The working class itself does not see that it is the force that can rid us of a wasteful and destructive inhuman system. The propaganda of capitalism and its agents including the heads of workers' organizations is very strong. But in the last analysis, ideas and consciousness have a material base. Workers are forced by conditions to fight. But this fight for the consciousness of the working class is crucial as capitalism has the ability to and will, end life as we know it if it is not ended.

Reading these pieces its almost like philosophy is dead. Marx himself said in his Thesis on Feuerbach that,  philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it. These two examples above are exactly what Marx is referring to. They in no way help us understand the world or world history and why things happen.  This doesn’t mean Marx was perfect, he made mistakes too, he did not predict nor did any Russian Marxist at the time believe, outside of Trotsky, that capitalism could first be overthrown in a backward country like Russia. This in turn led to the rise of the Stalinist monstrosity, but there's a materialist explanation for all things and nothing in this world is guaranteed including life itself. Marxism is not a dogma like religion that goes so far to claim that there are such places as heaven and hell.

The quote below is from the Preface to Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.  When I first read this I was excited by it; I’d never read anything like it. It resonated with me as a serious and objective analysis of society, of how societies change, how human consciousness arises and in particular social consciousness. It is uplifting and it inspired me. It encouraged me to find out more. No wonder he is so hated by the ruling class and the religious clergy that gives them divine credibility with all their rituals and fancy dress. Their wealth, opulence and social positions are all threatened by it. It is a revelation, a scientific one unlike the Book of Revelations that, like a phantasmagorical Grimm’s fairy tale, talks of demons and angels, chariots and other monsters.

Eliminating this is about production. Capitalism produces it.
I hope those workers that read our blog will take the time to read it. I know some workers, particularly those that have been terrified, or brainwashed (as I was) by bourgeois and religious propaganda that deters them from reading the Communist Manifesto as they have as yet been unable to overcome the fear of doing so. What might it do to the way they see the world? What will their friends family and others think? But it’s one of the few things Marx wrote about socialism (a phase of transition toward a communist society) and communism (a classless economy and society. Collective humanity working in harmony with nature).

But read this and if you are new to this subject it is natural that terms and ideas written about over 150 years ago will take some time getting used to. But it is a history lesson, an economic and philosophical lesson but not a philosophy of interpretation. It is an exciting explanation as to how the world works that is clearly a major step to how we can change it. It a basis for action not whining. It is a theoretical basis for understanding the world from the point of view of the worker, practical, concrete.

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure.

In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.

For those followers of Facts For Working People new to these ideas, we have weekly conference calls where we discuss all aspects of our work and political events and if you are interested in discussing the subject matter in the above paragraphs for example, we do that. Think of that horrible swirling waste in the ocean, or the poverty in Dhaka, Bombay or here in the US, the richest country in the world. Or the threat of nuclear war and whole swathes of the planet being uninhabitable. None of us can escape the consequences of this, but we can act to prevent it if we understand the causes, and a war between Satan and God is not one of them. If you are interested in that contact us at and we can talk about that. Or contact us through our blog’s Facebook page @

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Sanders Stumping for the Democratic Party Again.

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

“The issue of oligarchy and wealth and income inequality is the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time and it is the great political issue of our time, yet it gets very little coverage from the corporate media.”
Bernie Sanders

So says Democratic Party ideologue Bernie Sanders. He is hosting a Town Hall meeting on inequality in order to help people understand that we are not in good shape.

If you read his column in last Friday’s Guardian Sanders uses the term “understand” numerous times. Until “we” understand the minimum wage is too low, that drug prices are too high, that corporations write tax polices etc. The “we” he’s referring to is US workers of course. It’s nauseating reading it.  Does Sanders think the average worker doesn’t “understand” these things, isn’t aware of them? Does he think workers have no idea that there is a clique of rich elite people that run society? He must not have read the polls after the 2007 crash. But Bernie is out stumping for the Democratic Party with Elizabeth Warren and Michael Moore as mid-terms are coming up. 

The Title of Sanders’ column is “The corporate media ignores the rise of oligarchy. The rest of us shouldn't.”

 The issue of oligarchy is, “ the great moral issue of our time,” and we’d better not ignore it.  What is oligarchy?  This is my dictionary’s definition: a form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.

So Sanders opposes a small minority having too much political and economic power I guess, that’s what his oligarchy is.  Hard to oppose that. This is a common term used by radical liberals and radical petit bourgeois thinkers these days, people like Chris Hedges, Elizabeth Warren and their ilk.

Another common term used by the radical liberals and we see more often, is plutocracy. Here is my dictionary’s definition of plutocracy: “The rule or power of wealth or of the wealthy.”  So it’s pretty similar to oligarchy.

So what Sanders focuses on is not the system of production in which we live and labor, but the ruling class of that system.  In a slave system the oligarchy would be the slaveowners, in a feudal system, the feudal aristocracy and their wealth would be in land of course.
Sanders and Warren. For A kinder, Gentler Oligarchy

Terms you will not find in this column from the great socialist of our time is socialism or capitalism, or for that matter, working class. What the fraud Sanders is actually talking about is sharing the wealth more fairly and introducing laws that will assist in that regard. His vehicle for this is the Democratic Party. The working class and mass direct action, the social force and tactics that have brought us the gains we have left is a non starter for Sanders.

What Sanders actually is, is a reformer. He believes capitalism can be made human friendly despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Reform is one thing when it is used in order to expose capitalism for the bankrupt system that it is and as part of building a movement to overthrow it and replace it with  democratic socialist society. But that’s not what Sanders is about. He is aware that today, a huge section of the population want not only a new political party but are favorable to socialism, more favorable than he is.  The corporate media doesn't "ignore" the oligarchy, it is their media, or more accurately, the media of the class to which they belong and it represents their class interests. Workers may not be clear as to what can be done about the the rise of the oligarchy as they feel it every minute in every day in the form of cuts in living standards, poverty, lack of social services and the other consequences of their governance, police abuse, racism, sexism, environmental destruction etc. so they certainly can't and don't ignore it.

Besides the examples given, there is another term the capitalist mass media uses to describe the most blatant and brutal aspects of capitalist society and that is “crony capitalism”, but it’s used more to describe competing capitalist regimes as opposed to US capitalism.

Sanders, Warren and these defenders of the capitalist mode of production avoid raising the issue of systems as it is best to ignore the fact that we actually live in one. Capitalism has to be seen as permanent, almost a divine creation and there is no alternative-------bad things happen because there are just greedy people.

The capitalist mass media was not so shy when Stalinism (which certainly was not socialism or communism) collapsed. Communism has been tried they argue, and it failed. They accept there is a system then.

A friend and I were talking about this the other day. About how the mass media and politicians like Sanders and radical liberal writers like Hedges and a few others can be so depressing because they tap in to the anger people have about the world around them and write about the struggles they face but offer no alternative at all. Sanders' column is damn insulting, certainly condescending, lecturing workers about how we must understand this and that. He’s a nasty character. He knows he’s saying what people already understand and is underhandedly sheepdogging folks in to the Democratic Party. The millions of people that don’t vote are not uncaring or apathetic. They realize both parties are against them and both parties serve Sanders’ oligarchs. And it’s unlikely Sanders trickery will convince them otherwise and for their disdain they will be attacked for not following the false prophet. The austerity and cuts US workers and the middle class have faced over past decades have been imposed on us by Democratic and Republican parties alike. Democrats have such political power in California that we have been described as a one party state but are we to assume there's no poverty here? There's certainly lots of prisons.

The reason these terms that have to do with individuals or a class or group of people are used by the US capitalist media as opposed to what system they govern or what their class role is within that system, is that it places them in a bind. I will share here some edited comments about this from another author on this blog (Sean) who I was discussing this with yesterday:

Whenever I hear the various US capitalist media mouthpieces yammer on about Putin assassinating people, some other assassinations come to mind like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Fred Hampton, and their own when it suited them, John F Kennedy the Minnesota Senator Wellstone.  There is also the hundreds of thousands abroad that US imperialism has massacred to keep its power. And the youth it massacres in the streets on a daily basis and that fill US jails. US imperialism and all its mouthpieces all refer to Putin and his buddies as Oligarchs or Plutocrats. Why this phraseology? When Stalinism collapsed US imperialism helped by the Roman Catholic hierarchy organized to have capitalism replace it. That is what now exists in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. In other words US imperialism got what it wanted. The restoration of capitalism. Of course, such a reactionary step backward was accompanied by the most vicious capitalist class, former KGB thugs like Putin and his fellow capitalists. Gorbachev ushered in an era that took the collective wealth of the Soviet workers and gave it to the Stalinist clique that governed.

US capitalism rose to power through genocide of the Native People, slavery and civil war. Putin's capitalists are mild compared to the US capitalists. But to refer to them as capitalists would be to admit that they are the same. Putin and his class colleagues represent Russian capitalism-----Russian imperialism. Trump, the Bushes and the Clintons and the rest represent US capitalism.

We must reject Sanders, the radical liberals and the US mass media terminology for capitalists and refuse to call Putin and his bunch oligarchs or plutocrats. Call them what they are-----capitalists. They are capitalist just as the US ruling class is capitalist and the squabbles between them is just fighting over who can get the greatest share of the spoils.