Saturday, December 16, 2017

The economics of Luther or Munzer?

Thomas Munzer Peasant Leader
by Michael Roberts

Last week leading leftist economists in the UK held a seminar on the state of mainstream economics, as taught in the universities.  They kicked this off by nailing a poster with 33 theses critiquing mainstream economics to the door of the London School of Economics.  This publicity gesture attempted to remind us that it was the 500th anniversary of when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church, Wittenberg and provoked the beginning of the Protestant reformation against the ‘one true religion’ of Catholicism.

The economists were purporting to tell us that mainstream economics was like Catholicism and must be protested against as Luther did back in 1517.  As they put it, “Economics is broken.  From climate change to inequality, mainstream (neoclassical) economics has not provided the solutions to the problems we face and yet it is still dominant in government, academia and other economic institutions. It is time for a new economics.”

The economists included Ha-Joon Chang, University of Cambridge, and author of 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism and Economics: The User’s Guide.  He commented that “Neoclassical economics plays the same role as Catholic theology did in Medieval Europe – a system of thought arguing that things are what they are because they have to be.

Steve Keen, head of economics at Kingston University, London, and author of the excellent ‘Debunking Economics’ that exposed the unrealistic and illogical assumptions of neoclassical theory, exclaimed that “Economics needs a Copernican Revolution, let alone a Reformation. Equilibrium thinking in Economics should go the way of Ptolemaic Epicycles in Astronomy”.

Another post-Keynesian economist, Victoria Chick, warned that students should “read the economic scriptures, in all their great variety, for themselves. Thus they will learn that the Pope (formerly Samuelson, now Mankiw) is not infallible and that they must search for Truth in the contest of ideas.”
This all sounded progressive and exciting and reflected the movement against mainstream economic teaching that has mushroomed over the last few years since the global financial crash, organised by the Rethinking Economics group of graduates and lecturers.

But I have some reservations.  First, is a progressive revolution against the mainstream really to be painted as similar to Luther’s protestant revolt?  The history of the reformation tells us the protestant version of Christianity did not lead to a new pluralistic order and freedom to worship.  On the contrary, Luther was a bigot who worked with the authorities to crush more radical movements based on the peasants led by Thomas Munzer.

As Engels put it in his book Peasant War in Germany: “Luther had given the plebeian movement a powerful weapon—a translation of the Bible. Through the Bible, he contrasted feudal Christianity of his time with moderate Christianity of the first century. In opposition to decaying feudal society, he held up the picture of another society which knew nothing of the ramified and artificial feudal hierarchy. The peasants had made extensive use of this weapon against the forces of the princes, the nobility, and the clergy. Now Luther turned the same weapon against the peasants, extracting from the Bible a veritable hymn to the authorities ordained by God—a feat hardly exceeded by any lackey of absolute monarchy. Princedom by the grace of God, passive resistance, even serfdom, were being sanctioned by the Bible.[8]

But maybe all this shows is that analogies or metaphors have their limits and the idea of copying Luther’s theses as a publicity trick can only go so far.

More seriously, it is clear from the comments of the erstwhile academics that, for them, the mainstream economic religion is just neoclassical theory, namely there is perfect competition in markets, which tend to equilibrium; and economies can grow harmoniously, except for shocks caused by imperfections in markets (trade unions and monopolies) or interference by governments.  Our Lutheran-type protestors thus argue that it is this neoliberal economics that must be overthrown.

But is that all there is of the mainstream?  Our protestors have nothing to say against Keynesian economics – indeed variants of Keynes are the way forward for them.  That’s an irony for a start because the basis of neoclassical theory is marginalism: marginal utility of the consumer and marginal productivity of ‘capital’.  And Keynes held entirely to the marginal theory propounded by his mentor Alfred Marshall.  All he added was that, because of uncertainty and unpredictability in investment decisions by individuals (driven by psychology or ‘animal spirits’), sometimes economies can get locked into an equilibrium where markets don’t clear and unemployment becomes permanent.  For Keynes, this was a ‘technical problem’ that could be fixed; it was not inherent feature of the capitalist production process.

As he said at the end of his life: “I find myself moved, not for the first time, to remind contemporary economists that the classical teaching embodied some permanent truths of great significance. . . . There are in these matters deep undercurrents at work, natural forces, one can call them or even the invisible hand, which are operating towards equilibrium. If it were not so, we could not have got on even so well as we have for many decades past.”  Keynes, the neoliberal.

But our Lutheran protestors had not a word of critique against Keynes, and certainly not his more radical followers like Hyman Minsky.  On the contrary, the 33 theses show clear support of Minskyan theory on crises under capitalism.  Thesis 28 refers to “financialisation, short-termism, speculative finance and financialised real economy” as the key issues, thus implying that it is the growth of finance under neoliberalism that is the cause of crises, not any inherent flaws or contradictions in the capitalist profit-making system as a whole.  Marx’s critique of the mainstream (and not just neoclassical and neoliberal economics) is ignored.

Our protestors follow Luther, not Munzer.  They want to replace Catholic economics with Protestant economics, but they do not want to do away with the religion of capitalist economics.  They wish to correct a ‘capitalism distorted by finance’, not replace the mode of production and social relations.  Indeed, this has been the dominant position of Rethinking Economics as it seeks to reverse the dominance of neoclassical theory in the universities.

The result is that there will be no revolution in economics by following Luther.  Indeed, our Lutheran economists have gone little further than the revisions to ‘neoliberal economics’ that mainstream ‘Catholic’ gurus are considering too.  Martin Sandbu in the FT pointed out that “economists are debating intensively how to upgrade their understanding of the economy in order to prepare better for future disruptions and provide better guides for good policy”.  Nobody could be more mainstream and Keynesian than former IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard and former US Treasury secretary Larry Summers (who is related to Paul Samuelson, the pope of mainstream ‘neoliberal’ economics in the 1970s, according to Chick).  They too want to ‘rethink economics’.  Indeed, all the things advocated in the 33 theses are being considered by the great and good of academic economics.

Back in the 1520s, Luther was eventually accommodated and Protestantism became a religion of the establishment and many monarchies across Europe (and the religious motivation behind capitalism, some argue).  Today’s economic Lutherans may also be absorbed to save capital.  Munzer was executed.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Alabama Elections: Serious Questions for Socialists

"Even though we had slavery...our families were strong our country had a direction." Roy Moore, US Politician 2017
Comrades this is a discussion document from Sean O’Torain and Richard Mellor, co-founders of Facts For Working People Blog and Think Tank.  Facts For Working People (FFWP) seeks to be a Think Tank for working people that can help workers like ourselves clarify issues and positions, strategy and tactics, that are related to the struggle of the working class against capitalism.

Those of us around the FFWP, whoever we are, whatever we are, determinedly struggle against the danger of having ideas that are set in stone. Unlike in the past when we thought we knew everything, through defeats and setbacks we came to realize we did not know everything and as a result are now in a position to know more. That is of course, as long as we face openly and state openly, our mistakes. As Joyce said, mistakes if faced up to are portals of discovery.  We have principles but we are against repeating parrot fashion, without a thought, the old formulae. We are putting our names to to this statement as the other comrades who are on our listserve and who come on our FFWP conference calls have not had time to read it and give their opinions. We are responsible for its content.

We want all those people around and involved with FFWP to have a chance to openly discuss this issue and express their agreements or disagreements in an open public discussion. We hope that others who are not involved with FFWP but who read our Blog and who will read this on our Blog will also express their views, agreements or disagreements. We hope for an open public discussion. We encourage people to add their comments in the comments section below.

We have been posing for some time the following question: Why has the left failed to put down roots in the working class? We are confining our thoughts in this post to the left in the US at this stage. When we speak of the left here we include those within organizations which consider themselves revolutionary socialist and also and more importantly the tens and tens of thousands who consider themselves revolutionary socialists who are not in any organization, many of whom who were at one time or another in a revolutionary organization. There are also the hundreds of thousands, in fact millions, in the US who in polls "favor socialism over capitalism" but we will leave these aside for the moment. Not that they are unimportant but it is easier for us to address the issue we wish to address by focusing on those who consider themselves revolutionary socialists.

We also ask Comrades to think about the ideas we raise in the context of the most conscious anti-racist anti-sexist workers, especially African American women workers in Alabama and throughout the US. How would the ideas we raise here, the position we advocate here be seen amongst these sectors?

So to take the plunge. The Alabama elections. The result was a setback for Trump and Trumpism. It was a victory for the rising women's movement. It was a victory for the anti-racist forces in the country. And whether it knows it or not, and most of the working class do not yet know it, it was a victory for the working class. If this does not sound correct consider if the creature Moore had won. The extreme right, the racist and sexist reactionaries, the “take the US back to slavery” crowd as Moore just about said, their tails would be up. There would be crosses burning, lighted torches being carried as there was in Charlottesville, racist, sexist louts and thugs marching.

Instead, the effect of the result of this election has been the opposite. These forces have been set back. This was demonstrated by the sight of the extreme reactionary degenerate, ex Harvard, ex Goldman Sachs, Trump crony, Bannon, running from the media with his mouth shut jumping into his big chauffeur driven SUV and fleeing into the night. On the other hand the effect that the Jones victory has had on the anti-Trump forces has been to raise their heads and add impetus to the anti Trump resistance. We believe this is indisputable. You only have to look around you and listen. So what conclusions for revolutionaries? But first the objective processes behind the defeat of Moore.

The short article on the Blog on the Alabama result made some points concerning why this defeat of Moore came about. The changed conditions in the economies of the Southern states is important, particularly the increased industrialization, a result of which has been the increase in numbers and diversity of the working class, and along with this the increased consciousness and power of women workers, especially African American women workers who turned out in massive numbers to put down Moore.

It is possible that we can say today that the most conscious section of the US working class at this time is the African American women workers.  FFWP has been insisting for years now that one important feature of the class relations world wide is the increased power and struggles of women as they entered the paid workforce in their hundreds of millions. Our blog has argued that any organization that does not recognize this and look critically at its policies and organizational approach, both external and internal, with this in mind, will play no positive role of any significance. It should also be noted that as part of the rising of the women against the sexual predatory culture we are now seeing increased movements to organize in unions from the mainly women workers in the hotels and service industries. We have been right to stress the need to organize into democratic fighting unions as the way to fight the sexual predatory culture. Unfortunately most of the left as far as we can see have not done this. In part, this is a result of most of the left being swept along the road of identity politics and letting the class divide and the class struggle fall behind or even be ignored in the battle against the predatory culture.

In the article on the Blog on the Alabama election result we have pointed to another factor that is not insignificant. That is where the more strategic section of the bourgeois in Alabama through their mouthpiece Shelby, the senior Senator, came out and openly opposed Moore. We intend to write more on this issue. This development is important in relation to the future of the Trump regime and the most strategic section of the bourgeois. It looks like the Republicans are building to remove Mueller. If they do so, this will throw US bourgeois politics and the bourgeois institutions into further crisis. If they do not, we believe it highly likely that Mueller will expose crimes by Trump and there will be a move to bring him down. This will also mean a deepening of the political crisis of US capitalism and a weakening of its institutions. Either way, US bourgeois politics heads deeper into crisis.  But this is another, though related story.

We are putting this statement on our Blog for anybody to see. We realize this will give ammunition to sectarian groupings and individuals to slander us as supporters of the Democrats. But as we say we do not look over our shoulders at the petit bourgeois sectarian left, we look over our shoulders at the working class, especially the most thinking conscious and active sections of the working class. We hope that by putting this statement on our public Blog that we can develop our Blog further as a type of informal Think Tank for working people. There is a form of intimidation of thought among much of the left. This paralyses the left. This freezes the thought of the left. The authors of this statement speak of our thought being unshackled compared to when we were, in and later expelled from, left organizations. 

We are strongly committed to open discussion and to expressing what we consider our mistakes and the mistakes of the left, we will not be intimidated, we will not look over our shoulder at what the sectarian left might think and say. We consider our ideas in the light of what the most conscious and thinking sections of the working class might think and say.   

So to the meat of this post: What should serious revolutionaries have said and done in the run up to the Alabama election? In thinking about this let us not just consider this question in the context of just being a few people, or even just having a Blog with a not insignificant following, but think about it from the point of view of either trying to build a base in Alabama or even more so if we had a base in Alabama which could influence thousands of people. In other words, consider if we had, or if there already existed, a small workers party in Alabama which say could influence 5% to 10% of the vote. Richard one of the two signatories of this statement when he stood for Oakland City council many years ago won 6% of the vote. So what about the election in Alabama?

We wish to pose this. We may be wrong and if so we wish to be corrected through comradely reasoned exchange of ideas. Whether revolutionary socialists had a base in Alabama or not we are considering that in this election if we had not taken the position to defeat Moore, we would have been ignored or if we had a base we would have lost that base. Or if we tried to get a base in the future we would have always been asked what position did we take in this election.  This is where this issue is related to why the left have not put down roots in the working class. We know there are other issues, the objective situation, the sectarianism, the ultra leftism, the opportunism of the left, that has made it difficult for the left to put down roots, but there is also this issue of ignoring the real genuine movements and struggles and consciousness of the working class, of different layers of the working class and how events effect the class balance of forces and the mass consciousness.

We wish to propose that it would not have been enough to just say we were against Moore for all the reasons we are familiar with and we are sure our readers would agree with. We believe that we would have had to go further and call for a vote for Jones. There we have taken the plunge. Call for a vote for a Democrat? Yes that is what we are saying. We do not think we would have been able to gain the ear of the most conscious and especially the African American workers in this race if we had not said this. We do not believe these workers would have listened us to. But not only that, we believe we would have to have called for a vote for Jones, we would have to have recognized what just about every thinking worker knew and especially the African American workers knew and especially the African American women and some white women workers knew, and that is that Jones winning would push the balance of forces in the country further to the side of the anti Trump movement.

A Moore victory would have raised the heads of the Trump coming movement after the election of Trump in 2016.   Jones winning has strengthened the anti Trump movement.  One of us was with their companion on the night of the election. She hates Trump and all he stands for with a powerful rage. When he said that he would not rule out Jones winning. She said: “I do not want to hear it, I do not want to get my hopes up”. Then the results began to come in. And as Jones crept up and into the lead and then won, her mood was transformed. Her hopes were then up! The anti Trump movements' hopes are now also up. These movements have been strengthened.

Having said this, it is necessary to go further. It is necessary to add to the position of a vote for Jones. It would have been necessary not just to say vote for Jones, to come out and vote for Jones, but it would have been necessary, yes essential to have explained clearly that while we would have called for a vote for Jones we did not do so because we supported the capitalist Democratic Party, we do not, but we called for a vote for Jones because we wanted to deal a blow to the Trump forces and add fuel to the anti Trump movement.

This is how our vote would have been cast. We oppose the capitalist Republican and Democratic parties and will always do so. We would have explained that we were calling for a vote for Jones, as this election was extremely significant in terms of the balance of forces in the country. Vote for Jones because a defeat for Moore would mean increasing the strength and morale of the anti Trump forces. Vote for Jones in order to make the ground more favorable for the struggles of the working class, the anti racist and anti sexist forces. However. And it is an essential “However”. We do not leave it there.
While advocating a vote for Jones, and if we had forces working for a vote for Jones, we would have explained on what basis we were doing so, that we were doing so on a certain basis. We would have explained that calling for a vote for Jones did not mean we were supporting the capitalist Democratic Party but as we have already said we would have been doing so to improve the ground on which the rising women's movement, the rising anti racist movement, and the rising workers movement that is inevitable in the period ahead, are fighting and will fight.

And along with this and an essential part of this while advocating a vote for Jones to defeat Moore and his crew, and to make the ground more favorable for the struggle of the working class and all oppressed minorities and people, we would have advocated and built for the following alternative: 

Build an alliance/united front against the capitalist agenda using mass direct action tactics. Organize the unorganized using the tactics, which built the unions in the 1930’s------mass occupations, mass confrontations with the state and anti union forces on the streets. Build a mass workers party by going to the rank and file in the unions and the workplaces and our communities mobilizing support for resolutions to this end.

And equally essential: Build as part of all these struggles a revolutionary socialist current based on the ideas and principles of revolutionary socialism. And do so in a non-sectarian manner. That is, throughout this entire process we recruit and build a revolutionary current with its roots in the working class. We believe this approach properly explained would be understood and supported by every thinking worker. 

At this stage we anticipate outraged cries from some left groups and individuals that we are committing the sin of sins of supporting a Democrat. We will not be intimidated by such calls. We put our position out here for discussion. We think that serious workers and activists will give it thought. As well as anticipating the cries of horror that we as revolutionary socialists would advocate voting for a Democrat we also believe that there are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of thinking workers out there who hate the Democrats, see their pro capitalist role but who also see the dilemma that existed in Alabama.

We anticipate that these serious workers will give consideration to our position and we believe many will support the position we advocate here.

It is of course possible that we may be wrong. We hope for feed back from readers.  So please let us have your views. Part of the change in the way we the undersigned work is we have broken from the method of so much of the left where mistakes were never acknowledged and where a culture existed in which everybody was afraid to test out ideas. We realize that we are testing an idea here; we think what we advocate is correct. We recognize that testing an idea always involves risk. But as Lenin wrote quoting the Russian revolutionary Chernyshevsky, “Historical action is not the pavement of Nevsky Prospekt.”, a main thoroughfare in Leningrad.

The revolution is not that. It involves risks, involves necks been stuck out. It is worth quoting Chernyevsky in full. He actually wrote: “The path of history is not paved like Nevsky Prospekt; it runs across fields, either dusty or muddy, and cuts through swamps or forest thickets. Anyone who fears being covered with dust or muddying his boots, should not engage in social activity.”  *

Having said this, we trust that class conscious workers and activists will approach this issue seriously and with the aim not to score points but to help clarify strategies and tactics for the class struggle. And we trust ourselves to consider all ideas seriously and if we are convinced we are mistaken to admit openly and in a comradely fashion that we are wrong. At this stage we do not think we are.   In some cases when comradely differences remain we allow objective circumstances determine what worked and what didn’t, what would work and what would not. It is a serious mistake to never change one’s mind in the face of changed conditions and experiences.

We would just like to add one point, or rather to re-make one point a little sharper. Imagine if the revolutionary left had had a party in Alabama where it could have won 5 or 10 percent of the vote and it had run a candidate or advocated a write in for its candidate and this allowed Moore in. That party would have never recovered. It would never be known as a revolutionary socialist party, it would forever be known as the "let Moore in party". The stain would have been indelible. And this would not only have very seriously damaged that party but it would have seriously damaged all socialist parties and all socialists. One of the reasons we think this is so important is that in the future there will most likely be opportunities for the left in various places to form sizable parties, especially as the trade union leadership will not move until they are forced to by a movement from below.

And in such cases where small left parties would develop such tactical issues as this one would mean the difference between such a party having a future and not having a future, would mean the difference between all the work of the members of that small party being wiped out or being maintained and remain in a position to be built upon.

We hope comrades will let us have their opinions. And we hope that it will be possible to have a sober comradely discussion on the issues we have raised here.
Comradely, Sean O'Torain. Richard Mellor.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Marx: How Capitalism Works and Why it Doesn't.

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

I shared this on Facebook already but it's just too good not to put on our blog. This man is a professor of management, so you are getting a brief and extremely good look at the crux of Marx's view of the world in particular his analysis of the capitalist mode of production, how we produce the necessities of life, and it's from a non Socialist or non Marxist. This rational explanation is very different as Marx is generally demonized and approached with extreme bias.

Even though it is a simple explanation, I know for a fact that most workers will still have some difficulty. The point is though that we never understand something the first time we approach it, we have to study and learn and familiarize ourselves with terms that we have not heard before. I know about this because I've experienced it and even in this simplified version, when I see symbols and letters replacing numbers, I get a bit frazzled.

The important aspect of Marx's view of the world though is it is concrete. As workers, sellers of our labor power, our life activity over a period of time, we can understand it in a real living way as it reflects objective reality we experience in the struggle for our material well being through work.

It's best when entering a new subject, particularly one that is so distorted and misrepresented by the paid experts of those whose world view is threatened by our understanding of how society really functions, to discuss with others, trade ideas about it and questions about it. That is why Facts For Working People blog has a workers "think tank" in order to develop a well rounded understanding of the world around us in the face of massive propaganda from the mass media and the institutions of education that are controlled by capitalism. The ruling class has hundreds of think tanks. Here they develop an understanding of the world that suits their interests and then act on it.  If you are a worker that reads our blog regularly we have weekly phone discussions and if you are interested in joining us send us an e mail. The address is on the right. Or contact us on our FB page, also on the right.

But Marx believed that the working class was the only true revolutionary class, the class that can change society. He did not state "Academics of the World Unite" or "Ph.D's of the world unite". This doesn't mean that these groups or individuals from them that put their skill and expertise at the service of the working class in it's struggle to transform society, can't be allies and play important roles, they already have, look at Marx. Che Guevara was from the middle class and died in allegiance with workers and the poor. But the wage workers, the mass of the people on this earth, cannot be subordinated to the worship of the intellectuals.

It was Michael Roberts, the Marxist economist whose writings we feature regularly on this blog who helped bring this to the attention of a wider audience seeing it as an excellent explanation of the basics. In the video the presenter says that Marxist economists would be "appalled" at the simplicity of his presentation. It is to Roberts' credit that he is not "appalled" but praising of it. He sees it correctly explaining the subject that is reachable to the very audience that must know it if capitalism's destruction of life on earth is to be halted and a democratic socialist society built.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Alabama: Trump Receives Another Defeat.

Alabama: To hell with him and the horse he rode in on. (Apologies to Horse) 

Sean O'Torain.

The authors of this Blog have from the beginning been saying that the election of Trump and the rise of Trumpism would, with bumps here and there, with steps forward and steps back, evoke a new movement of opposition of working people and women and oppressed minorities. This is what we have seen in the Senate election in Alabama. In spite of the state's  history, in spite of support from Trump and his cronies, and towards the end the support of the National Republican Party the lout, the thing, I mistakenly wrote thing here when I meant thug, but I will let it stand as both 'thing' and 'thug' are appropriate, the racist, the sexist, the sexual predator, the pedophile, the homophobe, was defeated. 

The main reason for this was that African American voters surged to the polls. African American working people especially African American working women once again showed their high level of political understanding and their determination to fight. At the same time a section of white women who had voted Republican in the past peeled off and either went for the Democrat Jones or stayed at home. And in general in the more urban areas where the greater amount of voters lived more people turned against Moore. He also probably lost a few votes by riding to the polls on a horse. A section of people must have said to themselves how can we let Alabama be represented in the Senate by a clown like this. The jubilation amongst many with Moore's defeat is palpable. Laughter can be heard throughout the land. Heads have come up throughout the land.  

This Blog has in the past been pointing to the change in the Southern states of the US. There has been increased industrialization. This has increased the urban working class as a proportion of the population. This has also increased the unity of the working class as the workplaces that have sprung up as corporations moved into the South for lower wages have drawn together workers of all races and genders and sexual orientations. The working class has been strengthened numerically, in absolute terms, as a proportion of the population, and in terms of diversity. With increased women entering the paid workforce this has also chipped away at the efforts of the extreme right to gain support on issues such as women's rights, abortion rights, reproductive rights.  The defeat of Moore is a reflection of the increased strength of the working class in the Southern states. 

Since the rise of Trump in the primaries and since he was elected by the rigged electoral college system, this Blog has been continually discussing the role of the big bourgeoisie, the most conscious section of the bourgeoisie in relation to Trump. Yes they want him to get them their tax cut, yes they want him to deregulate further. However as we have been explaining on this Blog, the most strategic section of the big bourgeoisie, of the capitalist class are very worried about how Trump is wrecking their institutions through which they rule.

We have been carefully watching the actions of the most strategic section of the capitalist class to see when they would move against Trump. There was an indicator of this process unfolding in the Alabama election. Shelby the senior Senator for Alabama is a mouthpiece for the newly strengthened capitalist class in Alabama, especially the new corporations that have moved in. A few days before the election he came out against Moore. This reflected the decision of the dominant sections of the capitalist class in the state to not only move against Moore but also to move away from Trump. This is a process that is likely to accelerate nationally in the future. Either through the Mueller probe on collusion with Russian imperialism, on financial dealings and money laundering, on obstructing justice or through the accusations of sexual aggression against Trump by increasing numbers of women, it is likely that the decisive sections of US capitalism will move against Trump in the coming period. Of course this will be a developing of the political crisis of US capitalism. It will seriously weaken the institutions through which the US capitalist class rules, but these institutions are being weakened by Trump in any case, so it is most likely that at some stage this decisive section of the capitalist class will move against him and bring him down. 

Another process that this Blog has been pointing to is what we have termed the coming to an end of the two capitalist party monopoly over US politics. If the leaders of the 14 million strong trade union movement would use the resources of the movement to build a labor party this could be achieved at this time. However they will not do so until they are threatened with a movement from below. So this coming to an end of the two capitalist party monopoly, the Democrats and Republicans, will be a complicated process. Probably it will see splits in the Republican and Democratic Party and the rise of new right wing parties and perhaps new left parties. Possibly a women's party.  It is impossible to say how this will turn out. But the old US political equilibrium is coming to an end. 

For activists there are a number of tasks. One is to build an alliance against the attacks of capitalism against working class people using mass direct action tactics. Along with this to build an opposition movement in the trade unions which would oppose the present union leaders' collaboration with the bosses and the capitalist Democratic party and which would use the militant tactics that were used to build the unions in the 1930's. Along with this to advocate and work for the building of a labor party, a party of the working class. And within all these movements and within the labor/workers party build a non sectarian socialist current with the clear objective of ending US imperialism and building a democratic socialist society.

If you would like to join our weekly conference calls where we discuss these issues send us an e mail to: and tell us a little about why you would like to participate.

Hinkel Workers Still Out After 10 Weeks. Mass Picketing Would Change the Game

The potent weapon the union leadership uses to win strikes: rat images.
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired *

More than 80 production workers at Henkel Aerospace Industrial in Bay Point Contra Costa County have been on strike since October 16, 2017.  The workers are members of local 1584 of the International Association of Machinists (IAM). The company manufactures industrial glue and adhesives for airplanes and other industrial uses according to the
Contra Costa Herald.  Henkel is a subsidiary of a multinational company based in Germany.

I visited the picket lines Monday and workers told me that the situation regarding health and safety at the plant is a catastrophe but despite official grievances and complaints being filed, the company just doesn’t care. Workers have suffered serious burns, fatigue, dehydration and other workplace injuries. Henkel has been in trouble before. In 2013, 26-year-old temporary worker, David Eleidjian was pulled in to a mixing machine and crushed. He was rushed to hospital, his legs amputated in an effort to save his life but he died there. One worker told the East Bay Times that the mixer “…is a dangerous machine and getting caught in it happens so frequently, employees call it ‘taking a ride.’” The tragedy here is that this young worker was a veteran of US imperialism’s corporate ventures. He survived two tours of duty in Iraq but didn’t survive the workplace at home.

Over the past decades, the bosses’ have intensified their war on US workers and organized labor.  For simply demanding a safe workplace these 84 workers have been forced out on strike before Christmas. This is no accident, it is a conscious, vicious strategy to bring them to heel. We do not go on strike unless we are forced. Imagine what this means to these brothers and sisters; what pressure it puts on them and their families. This is legalized violence.

I was enthused by the commitment and solidarity these sisters and brothers showed under these conditions. But I see that not much has changed when it comes to the strategy of the trade union leadership when it comes to strikes. I remember being on the HERE Local 2 picket lines some years ago when the union officialdom, the police and the hotel bosses who were being struck, made an agreement that picketers wouldn’t impede the customers entering the struck hotel, in that sense it couldn’t be said they were crossing picket lines as there wasn’t one to cross.  To ensure this agreement was kept, tape was actually put down on the sidewalk and the striking workers kept within it by the picket captains. The mood was good for a while but picketing brick walls gets old quick.

When I went to this IAM picket yesterday I saw a similar situation. There was a strong mood of solidarity and workers were positive and upbeat in the sense that they were standing up to the boss. “We’re fighting for the next generation” one striker told me. But they were all standing around as trucks and equipment, as well as other workers entered freely. They told me they were picketing in front of the entrance for a while walking slowly across it as we used to do, but the bosses’ complained and the union officials told them to stop. If they continued to do it, the cops will come and the union will be in trouble.

This raised the question in my mind: Can we go on strike and win? I believe we can, but not with the present way they are organized.  I spoke to Steve Older, an IAM official, over the phone who is also the head of the Contra Costa Labor Council and when I asked him why the strike was called an “unfair labor practice” strike he said it couldn’t be an economic strike because then the bosses can hire the scabs inside permanently by law.

This is at the root of why we haven’t had a significant victory in decades; this obsession with obeying anti-union laws. Workers are even taken out on strike to pressure the employers to negotiate, no economic demands. In the Wisconsin events when we had 100,000 mostly fresh people on the streets and occupying the capital rotunda, the only two demands were to keep dues check off where the employer collects union dues through payroll and the right to bargain.  The concessions were no problem for the union leaders at the top. Today, strikes are in no way designed to stop production; they really amount to 24-hour protests as strikebreakers are brought in to defeat it. After two months on picket lines stopping nothing as strikebreakers work inside, it can get pretty demoralizing.People feel powerless, like they're having no impact.

The picketers had a rat design on the picket signs, “Show the boss that rat” I said to them, they’ll buckle and settle the contract then. It’s embarrassing that is. Part of the union leadership’s strategy for years has to bring big inflatable rats to picket lines. How can a strike be won this way?  The reality is, the entire union leadership of the AFL-CIO do not believe we can win, hence the rat. Outside of withdrawing one’s own labor there is no real attempt to stop production because it’s illegal.

The strike is in Contra Costa County, the Contra Costa Central Labor Council has about 86,000 members affiliated to it; this is where our power lies, them and workers throughout the community. When we think of that number and we include their families and their communities, we have immense potential power. Motorists were continuously honking in support. The IAM has about 5000 members in this area I think.  In the next county the Alameda Labor Council has over 100,000 workers affiliated to it.  An IAM official mentioned to the media that Boeing workers up in Washington State would be handling struck work if they handled Henkel’s products which they do, but when Boeing workers resisted a concessionary contract themselves a few years ago, the IAM’s national leadership intervened and with all sorts of chicanery pushed it through so it’s not likely they’ll organize that sort of support, it is after all, against the law.

This is why union membership and our wages and benefits have been eroded. And why we haven’t won strikes over the last period; it’s not that we can’t win them. The strategy necessary to win strikes would start with mass mobilization of the millions of workers in unions, with relying on our own strength. and by rejecting this partnership with the bosses under the term Team Concept. It would include being willing to mobilize mass action to violate and challenge anti-union laws.  But this is rejected by the heads of organized labor because it means a confrontation with the bosses, their friends in the Democratic Party and the courts. In the last analysis they see no alternative to capitalism and are forced to help the boss maintain profits and market share, and this is done by pushing  concessions on their own members and obeying the law at all costs.

We live in a society where bankers, hedge fund managers, politicians and everyone under the sun with power is breaking laws day in and day out and the heads of organized labor worship the anti-union laws introduced by big business politicians like they’re the ten Commandments. They do this as a serial sexual predator, racist, and misogynist with some hundreds of law-suits against him sits in the White House.

What message was sent when the building trades leaders met with the sexual predator Trump? The head of the Teamsters, the lawyer Hoffa also talked positively of Trump, a man who argues that US workers are paid too much. It doesn’t project power and strength praising people like Trump and ingratiating themselves before him has Trumka has.

It’s not that we haven’t had victories. The unions were built despite them being illegal. Half a million workers occupied factories and workplaces in the 1930’s when the UAW and the CIO were built. Workers occupied the Flint plant for 44 days.

Instead of leaving locals and a small group of workers isolated, fighting a global corporation alone, which is so often the case. A strike can be linked to organizing all workers and drawing our communities in to it by raising demands for jobs, and supporting community issues.  The amount of support from the community and passers by I saw at the picket line at Hinkel was considerable. This is a source that must be organized. The general mood among much of the rank and file of the union movement is that they only see the officialdom when there’s a union election or to vote for a Democrat or they want something. On most social issues they are silent.

If we want to stop the decline in our living standards we have no choice; we must transform our unions in to real fighting organizations and that means changing the present leadership and their concessionary, pro-management policies.  No one can say this is not difficult---it is going to be a struggle. The bosses will use the courts and the media and the police against us, they always have. And there is no doubt that some of the present leadership will cooperate with bosses in terminating genuine rank and file militant activists in the workplace if they can.  This has been done many times in our history. They will defend their present positions but in the face of a movement arising from below some of them will change.  But the more tightly organized we are, the more we do not allow racism, sexism and tactics the bosses use to divide us, the harder it will be to single us out. The present leadership of organized labor will not mobilize their 14 million members in to a real fightback against the attacks we are facing, they will not voluntarily take the measures necessary to win. The rank and file has to do it. A new leadership must be built.

In any war we have to strategize, discuss, learn the lessons of past victories and defeats and go forward in a way that protects us from harm. As George Schultz, Reagan’s former Secretary of State once wrote: “Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.”  The best way to avoid a strike is to be prepared to win one. We hurt the employer by shutting down their production.

We all want a peaceful life, but the bosses’, and capitalism itself, will not permit that. We cannot avoid this struggle to transform our unions. The alternative if we do nothing is to accept more defeats.  

If you would like to join our weekly conference calls where we discuss these issues send us an e mail to: and tell us a little about why you would like to participate. 

*I am struggling with the word Scabs to describe those workers bused in to work behind a stoppage. I will explain why in my next posting.

Monday, December 11, 2017

More Union Support to Open AIFLD Files

Order this here
By Joel Schor
Member Sailors Union of the Pacific (SUP)
Also identified casual working under ILWU
San Francisco 12-11-17

The meeting of the Sailors Union of the Pacific had more in attendance today than usual because of the holidays. I attended and introduced a motion to support the resolution passed at the Duluth (Minn) Labor Body calling on the AFL-CIO to open the AIFLD files to the public. The files are stored at the University of Maryland. I gave a very brief background on what the AIFLD was and brought up a few clauses in our union constitution which states we support seafarers the world over and also that we support other “bona fide” labor unions in their cause to attain better wages, working conditions and respect on the job.

There were quite a few questions about why the records might be held back and if they pertained to all or a part of the AIFLD files. I explained that these files pertain primarily to the Mexico City Ford plant incident and while Trumka has not stated he is against opening the files he has not acted to allow their release either. The motion passed nearly unanimously from what I saw with only a few abstentions and none against.  The resolution will now go to the local branches on the West Coast which includes LA, Seattle and Hawaii and will likely be passed by all.

The original resolution passed at the Duluth Labor Body has now been endorsed by:

AFSCME Local 444, Oakland CA
Sailors Union of the Pacific (SUP) San Francisco CA

It has been tabled by:
St Paul Minn. Labor Council AFL-CIO
AFSCME District Council 57 Oakland CA
Withdrawn at AFSCME Local 2428 Oakland CA to be introduced in January.

It is also being discussed in other AFSCME, SEIU and UAW local unions and among rank and file members of the trade union movement.

And the resolution has been endorsed by the following non AFL-CIO bodies:

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) 
The DSA Chicago Labor Body
The Workers Solidarity Network
Autoworker Caravan

Here is the text of the resolution :

Whereas, workers in Ford Motor’s Mexico City Assembly Plant were involved in a series of labor disputes in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s resisting efforts to bring their wages and benefits down to the level of the new plants on the U.S. border and demanding democratic elections in their union.  Many were kidnapped, beaten, shot and fired.  One died from wounds received in the plant.
Whereas, the American Institute for Free Labor Development (AIFLD), a now defunct arm of the AFL-CIO was reputedly involved in these events and the AFL-CIO has sent the old records from this group to the University of Maryland, the official repository for AFL-CIO records.
Whereas, the University of Maryland has requested permission for a year to open new AIFLD records and archive them for researchers and has not received approval from the National AFL-CIO to do so.
Therefore, be it resolved, That the National AFL-CIO take the action necessary to allow archivists at the University of Maryland to open new American Institute for Free Labor Development records.

We urge union members to raise this resolution in your locals, on your executive board if you are on it and in the workplace. It is positive that organizations outside the official union movement have endorsed the resolution but what will bring pressure to bear on the AFL-CIO leadership to allow the University of Maryland to make the AIFLD files available to the public is pressure from the ranks of organized labor.

Pakistan: Violence Against Women. A "Ray of Hope?"

This article was originally published in Dawn.  Dawn is Pakistan's oldest and most widely read English language paper.

Ray of hope?

Zofeen T. Ebrahim
December 08, 2017
The writer is a freelance journalist.

In a country where women get raped, gang-raped or killed for ‘honour’; where many more at the slightest provocation are subjected to other forms of horrendous violence that result in life-altering injuries, there is a ray of hope. The Punjab government’s Violence Against Women Centre (VAWC) in Multan which opened recently, has come at a time when rights groups contend that violence against women has increased manifold.

Based on media reports, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan recorded over 2,500 cases of violence — sexual, domestic, burning and kidnapping — against women in 2016. Verbal, physical and psychological and online violence remains under the radar.

The opening of the centre — manned by a trained, all-women team — in March has opened the floodgates: it has received more than 1,300 cases in only nine months, that too from merely three tehsils of Multan district.

Experts contend this is the tip of the iceberg: Violence against women (VAW) remains hugely underreported and among the most misunderstood of crimes. Many women cannot brace themselves to reveal the brutality they suffer, not only because it is ugly and uncomfortable to talk about, but also because of the stigma attached to it. No wonder the percentage of reported rape is so shockingly low. Moreover, institutionalised misogyny in the criminal justice system means that the conviction rate for even instances of such violence that are reported remains dismally low at 1-2.5 per cent.

The launch of the centre for VAW has opened the floodgates.

The choice of Multan by the Strategic Reform Unit (SRU), a think tank set up by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, as the location for the first centre appears a sound one: the incidence of VAW in southern Punjab, an agricultural belt steeped in age-old patriarchy, is perhaps more pervasive than anywhere else in Pakistan.

However, the centre cannot be compared to the Darul Amans, or shelter homes for women, run by the provincial social welfare departments. At the Multan centre, survivors are provided with legal, medical, forensic and psychological support, as well as counselling, post-trauma rehabilitation and shelter, under one roof. This will enable women to rebuild their lives and bypass the fragmented justice system with its web of never-ending court-kutchery procedures.

Rights experts have lauded this effort. They say that when a woman wants to report violence, she typically has to go from one government department to another to register her complaint, not only being made to recall the horror of the incident at every step, but also having to deal with misogyny and bias along the way. Maliha Zia Lari, associate director of the Karachi-based Legal Aid Society, expressed the hope that the VAWC staff is more specialised as that would mean women would be less likely to be exposed to “elements of potential exploitation”.

Over the years, Pakistan has come up with several laws that provide protection for women, yet none have so far been implemented in letter and spirit. The justice system, too, is archaic. Ms Zia says that lack of quality education and training, delays in due process, high fees and a litigious system compound the situation.

The SRU sought the help of the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School to come up with standard operating procedures that have been enforced at VAWC, and which are consistent with international human rights standards.

In many South Asian countries, different departments of government that deal with violence against women work in silos and rarely, if ever, collaborate. Fact-finding and sharing of information is rare too. At the VAWC, special software connects all the departments and tracks all developments.

The VAWC came about after the furiously debated Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act, 2016, was enacted, says Salman Sufi, the force behind this ambitious project. However, this centre will only provide support to the people in Multan. The Punjab government plans to set up three more such centres in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Faisalabad by March 2018 and, eventually, one in each of the province’s 36 districts.

It is hoped that the centre, in its functioning, will offer a blueprint that can be emulated across the country. Punjab’s SRU should actively engage with various political parties, rights groups and government officials from other provinces. In fact, being the first of its kind in the region, it can even be a model for other countries in South Asia and beyond.

However, sustainability requires that the VAWC not end up as a personality-driven institution that crumbles without the team leader’s hand on the wheel. As a statutory body with a set of clearly spelt-out SOPs, it is hoped the centre not only flourishes but that it encourages women to report without fear the violence perpetrated on them.

The writer is a freelance journalist.
Twitter: @zofeen28
Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2017

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Capitalism without capital – or capital without capitalism?

by Michael Roberts

There is a new book out called Capitalism without capital – the rise of the intangible economy.  The authors,  Jonathan Haskel of Imperial College and Stian Westlake of Nesta, are out to emphasise a big change in the nature of modern capital accumulation – namely that increasingly investment by large and small companies is not in what are called tangible assets, machines, factories, offices etc but in ‘intangibles’, research and development, software, databases, branding and design.  This is where investment is rising fast relative to investment in material items.

The authors call this capitalism without capital.  But of course, this is using ‘capital’ in its physicalist sense, not as a mode of production and social relation, as Marxist theory uses the word.  For Marxist theory what matters is the exploitive relation between the owners of the means of production (tangible and intangible) and the producers of value, whether they are manual or ‘mental’ workers.

As G Carchedi has explained, there is no fundamental distinction between manual and mental labour in explaining exploitation under capitalism.  Capitalism cannot be without capital in that sense.

Knowledge is produced by mental labour but this is not ultimately different from manual labour. Both entail expenditure of human energy. The human brain, we are told, consumes 20% of all the energy we derive from nourishment and the development of knowledge in the brain produces material changes in the nervous system and synaptic changes which can be measured. Once the material nature of knowledge is established, the material nature of mental work follows. Productive labour (whether manual or mental) transforms existing use-values into new use-values (realised in exchange value). Mental labour is labour transforming mental use values into new mental use values.  Manual labour consists of objective transformations of the world outside us; mental labour of transformations of our perception and knowledge of that world. But both are material.

The point is that discoveries, generally now made by teams of mental workers, are appropriated by capital and controlled by patents, by intellectual property or similar means. Production of knowledge is directed towards profit. Medical research, for example, is directed towards developing medicines to treat disease, not preventing disease, agricultural research is directed to developing plant types which capital can own and control, rather than relieving starvation.

What Haskell and Westlake find is that investment in intangible assets now exceeds that in tangible assets.

And they reckon this is changing the nature of modern capitalism.  Indeed, it could expose the uselessness of the so-called market economy.  The argument is that an intangible asset (like a piece of software) can be used over and over again at low cost and allow a business to grow very fast.  That’s an exaggeration, of course, because tangible assets like machines can also be used over again, but it’s true that they have ‘wear and tear’ and depreciation.  But then software also gets out of date and also becomes ‘tired’ for the continually changing purposes required.

Indeed, the ‘moral depreciation’ of intangibles is probably even greater than tangibles and so increases the contradictions of capitalist accumulation.  For an individual capitalist, protecting profit gained from a new piece of research or software, or the branding of a company, becomes much more difficult when software can easily be replicated and brands copied.

Brett Christophers showed in his book, The Great Leveller, capitalism is continually facing a dynamic tension between the underlying forces of competition and monopoly.  “Monopoly produces competition, competition produces monopoly” (Marx).

That’s why companies are keen on intellectual property rights (IPR).  But IPR is actually inefficient in developing production.  ‘Spillover’, as the authors call it, where the benefit of any new discovery is shared in the community, is more productive, but by definition almost, is only possible outside capitalism and private profit – in other words rather than capitalism without capital; it becomes capital without capitalism.

As Martin Wolf of the FT concludes in his analysis of the rise of ‘intangibles’, “intangibles exhibit synergies. This goes against the spillovers. Synergies encourage inter-firm co-operation (or outright mergers), while spillovers are likely to discourage it. Who really wants to give a free lunch to competitors?”  So “Taken together, these features explain two other core features of the intangible economy: uncertainty and contestedness. The market economy ceases to function in the familiar ways.”

Under capitalism, the rise of intangible investment is leading to increased inequality between capitalists.  The leading companies are controlling the development of ideas, research and design and blocking ‘spillover’ to others.  The FANGs are gaining monopoly rents as a result, but at the expense of the profitability of others, reducing them to zombie status (just covering their debts without the ability to expand or invest).

Indeed, the control of intangibles by a small number of mega companies could well be weakening the ability to find new ideas and develop them.  Research productivity is declining at a rate of about 6.8 per cent per year in the semiconductor industry. In other words, we’re running out of ideas. That’s the conclusion of economic researchers from Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Innovation.  They reckon that in order to maintain Moore’s Law – by which transistor density doubles every two years or so – it now takes 18 times as many scientists as it did in the 1970s. That means each researcher’s output today is 18 times less effective in terms of generating economic value than it was several decades ago.

Thus we have the position where the new leading sectors are increasingly investing in intangibles while investment overall falls along with productivity and profitability.  Marx’s law of profitability is not modified but intensified.

The rise of intangibles means the increased concentration and centralisation of capital.  Capital without capitalism becomes a socialist imperative.

Friday, December 8, 2017

All I want for Christmas and More.

All I Want

after M. Carey & V. Salt

All I want for Christmas is a bio
of Bertolt Brecht, and to see
a neo-classical economist
lowered into the nearest available
septic tank.

All I want for Hanukkah is Engels’
Condition of the Working Class in England,
and legislation to allow the landlord
be restrained with bailing twine
in his own garden shed
‘til he agrees to reduce the rent.

All I want for Eid is a performance
of The Three Penny Opera in our living room,
and a world in which every child is given,
free of charge, a hot water bottle fashioned
from a former Minister for Housing’s bladder.

All I want for Diwali is Hugh MacDiarmid’s skull
so I can share a whiskey with it of an evening, and Sophie
Scholl’s, or failing that, Arthur Scargill’s backbone
so I can use it to publicly disembowel those
who come out on Facetwit for repealing
the Eighth Amendment the day after
we vote to repeal the Eighth Amendment.

All I want for the Tool Box Killer’s birthday
is to personally fix a scold’s bridle between
the Editor of the Daily Mail’s clacking jaws
(and up any other part of him in danger of talking)
and to live to see the Crime Correspondent
of the Sunday World finally sent
to landfill for journalistically pleasuring
one Chief Superintendant too many.

Note: Ireland's anti-abortion 8th Amendment was inserted in to the constitution in 1983 and basically places the life of an unborn child on par with the pregnant mother.  This led to the death of Savita Halappanavar, a woman who asked her pregnancy be terminated as she was miscarrying. The hospital refused and she died.  There is a referendum on the 8th Amendment in 2018. Hear Irish politician Clare Daly on this issue here.  Read more on the referendum here.