Marx Was Right: Five Surprising Ways Karl Marx Predicted 2014 February 2, 2014Posted by rogerhollander in Marx and Marxism, Revolution.
Tags: capitalism, communist manifesto, corporate profits, economic cycles, economics, globalization, industrial labor, karl marx, marxism, marxist economics, Marxist Humanism, monopoly, monopoly capitalism, progressive income tax, Raya Dunayevskaya, roger hollander, sean mcelwee, unemployment
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Roger’s note: I find it interesting that journalists cannot write positive things about Marx with a caveat to show, I guess, that they are not slavish ideological Marxists. Marx did not consider himself to be a prophet or a maker of blueprints for the future. If so much of what he projected has come to be true it is because of his profound intellectual and analytic digging and not because he was some kind of a seer into the future. First of all Marx was a philosopher, not an economist. More specifically a philosopher of human liberation. He realized that he needed a complete understanding of the history of human development and economics (he read and absorbed every one of the political economists of his day, from Adam Smith and Ricardo and Malthus to names you and I have never heard of) in order to develop a philosophy that contained the theory and practice for human individual and social liberation. Furthermore, it is not untrue but rather misleading to state that “Most of his writing focuses on a critique of capitalism rather than a proposal of what to replace it with.” With a particular reference to the Paris Commune, he often wrote of a future of “freely associated labor.” He wrote about the “withering away of the state” and, of course, his most profound “vision” of a future classless world was described in his classic: “from each according to his/her need; to each according to his/her ability” (I added the gender neutrality of which Marx would have approved). I found the best introduction to Marx was through his so-called “early writings” or “economic manuscripts” (I have the old Bottomore edition); and for a deeper understanding of Marx, the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya, the founder of Marxist-Humanism.
There’s a lot of talk of Karl Marx in the air these days – from Rush Limbaugh accusing Pope Francis of promoting “pure Marxism” to a Washington Times writer claiming that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is an “unrepentant Marxist.” But few people actually understand Marx’s trenchant critique of capitalism. Most people are vaguely aware of the radical economist’s prediction that capitalism would inevitably be replaced by communism, but they often misunderstand why he believed this to be true. And while Marx was wrong about some things, his writings (many of which pre-date the American Civil War) accurately predicted several aspects of contemporary capitalism, from the Great Recession to the iPhone 5S in your pocket.
Here are five facts of life in 2014 that Marx’s analysis of capitalism correctly predicted more than a century ago:
1. The Great Recession (Capitalism’s Chaotic Nature)
The inherently chaotic, crisis-prone nature of capitalism was a key part of Marx’s writings. He argued that the relentless drive for profits would lead companies to mechanize their workplaces, producing more and more goods while squeezing workers’ wages until they could no longer purchase the products they created. Sure enough, modern historical events from the Great Depression to the dot-com bubble can be traced back to what Marx termed “fictitious capital” – financial instruments like stocks and credit-default swaps. We produce and produce until there is simply no one left to purchase our goods, no new markets, no new debts. The cycle is still playing out before our eyes: Broadly speaking, it’s what made the housing market crash in 2008. Decades of deepening inequality reduced incomes, which led more and more Americans to take on debt. When there were no subprime borrows left to scheme, the whole façade fell apart, just as Marx knew it would.
2. The iPhone 5S (Imaginary Appetites)
Marx warned that capitalism’s tendency to concentrate high value on essentially arbitrary products would, over time, lead to what he called “a contriving and ever-calculating subservience to inhuman, sophisticated, unnatural and imaginary appetites.” It’s a harsh but accurate way of describing contemporary America, where we enjoy incredible luxury and yet are driven by a constant need for more and more stuff to buy. Consider the iPhone 5S you may own. Is it really that much better than the iPhone 5 you had last year, or the iPhone 4S a year before that? Is it a real need, or an invented one? While Chinese families fall sick with cancer from our e-waste, megacorporations are creating entire advertising campaigns around the idea that we should destroy perfectly good products for no reason. If Marx could see this kind of thing, he’d nod in recognition.
3. The IMF (The Globalization of Capitalism)
Marx’s ideas about overproduction led him to predict what is now called globalization – the spread of capitalism across the planet in search of new markets. “The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe,” he wrote. “It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.” While this may seem like an obvious point now, Marx wrote those words in 1848, when globalization was over a century away. And he wasn’t just right about what ended up happening in the late 20th century – he was right about why it happened: The relentless search for new markets and cheap labor, as well as the incessant demand for more natural resources, are beasts that demand constant feeding.
4. Walmart (Monopoly)
The classical theory of economics assumed that competition was natural and therefore self-sustaining. Marx, however, argued that market power would actually be centralized in large monopoly firms as businesses increasingly preyed upon each other. This might have struck his 19th-century readers as odd: As Richard Hofstadter writes, “Americans came to take it for granted that property would be widely diffused, that economic and political power would decentralized.” It was only later, in the 20th century, that the trend Marx foresaw began to accelerate. Today, mom-and-pop shops have been replaced by monolithic big-box stores like Walmart, small community banks have been replaced by global banks like J.P. Morgan Chase and small famers have been replaced by the likes of Archer Daniels Midland. The tech world, too, is already becoming centralized, with big corporations sucking up start-ups as fast as they can. Politicians give lip service to what minimal small-business lobby remains and prosecute the most violent of antitrust abuses – but for the most part, we know big business is here to stay.
5. Low Wages, Big Profits (The Reserve Army of Industrial Labor)
Marx believed that wages would be held down by a “reserve army of labor,” which he explained simply using classical economic techniques: Capitalists wish to pay as little as possible for labor, and this is easiest to do when there are too many workers floating around. Thus, after a recession, using a Marxist analysis, we would predict that high unemployment would keep wages stagnant as profits soared, because workers are too scared of unemployment to quit their terrible, exploitative jobs. And what do you know? No less an authority than the Wall Street Journal warns, “Lately, the U.S. recovery has been displaying some Marxian traits. Corporate profits are on a tear, and rising productivity has allowed companies to grow without doing much to reduce the vast ranks of the unemployed.” That’s because workers are terrified to leave their jobs and therefore lack bargaining power. It’s no surprise that the best time for equitable growth is during times of “full employment,” when unemployment is low and workers can threaten to take another job.
Marx was wrong about many things. Most of his writing focuses on a critique of capitalism rather than a proposal of what to replace it with – which left it open to misinterpretation by madmen like Stalin in the 20th century. But his work still shapes our world in a positive way as well. When he argued for a progressive income tax in the Communist Manifesto, no country had one. Now, there is scarcely a country without a progressive income tax, and it’s one small way that the U.S. tries to fight income inequality. Marx’s moral critique of capitalism and his keen insights into its inner workings and historical context are still worth paying attention to. As Robert L. Heilbroner writes, “We turn to Marx, therefore, not because he is infallible, but because he is inescapable.” Today, in a world of both unheard-of wealth and abject poverty, where the richest 85 people have more wealth than the poorest 3 billion, the famous cry, “Workers of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains,” has yet to lose its potency.
Egypt, women and permanent revolution July 19, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Egypt, Revolution, Women.
Tags: arab spring, arab women, egypt, egypt revolution, genital mutilation, Marxist Humanism, Middle East, misogyny, mona eltahawy, revolution, roger hollander, sexism, terry moon, women
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NEWS & LETTERS, July – August 2012
by Terry Moon
Mona Eltahawy, an American-Egyptian journalist, wrote an eloquent essay published in the May/June edition of Foreign Policy titled “Why Do They Hate Us? The real war on women is in the Middle East.” The myriad negative responses to it reveal serious examples of counter-revolution from within the revolution in the wake of Arab Spring.
ARAB SPRING FACES COUNTER-REVOLUTION
Eltahawy takes up “the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East.” It is crucial that her essay is about the need for the revolutions of Arab Spring to continue and deepen. So important is this to her that she begins and ends with that point. On the first page she declares:
“An entire political and economic system–one that treats half of humanity like animals–must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.”
And on the last page she writes:
“The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man–Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation–but they will be finished by Arab women…. Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought–social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.”
Not one of the critiques I read mentions that this is what her essay is about. Rather than speaking to her essay’s content–the unbearable sexism that women experience in the Middle East–they try to discredit her. Where she talks of how “more than 90% of ever-married women in Egypt–including my mother and all but one of her six sisters–have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty,” she is chided for using the “wrong” word, genital mutilation instead of circumcision. Another critic attacks her by reminding the reader that genital mutilation of women did not originate with Islam or in the Middle East. But none speak to the actuality of genital mutilation, under whatever name.
FORM ATTACKED, CONTENT IGNORED
She was also widely criticized for publishing the essay in Foreign Policy, as if that somehow silenced other Arab women’s voices, even though Foreign Policy invited four responses from Arab women. Or, critics say, it was wrong to publish in Foreign Policy because her audience was presumed to be Americans, but no publications or websites the critiques were in would have printed her essay, and it is crystal clear from the responses that her essay was widely read by an Arab audience.
Then there was this age-old shibboleth, used whenever someone wants to shut up a woman who dares to bring up the fact that we live–all of us–in a deeply misogynist world: Eltahaway “blames and hates all men.”
Any who doubt the importance of what Eltahawy raises need only remember the Iranian women who, in the midst of revolution in 1979, came out by the thousands against Khomeini’s order to wear the chador. They cried out: “At the dawn of freedom we have no freedom.” They were calling for the Iranian revolution to continue. Had their demands been taken seriously by the Left, Iran might be in a very different place today.
NEED FOR PERMANENT REVOLUTION
In an interview given several weeks after her essay was published, Eltahawy reiterated that she is talking about deepening revolution:
“So what my essay is trying to do, is to say that the women…now have two revolutions that need to be completed: The revolution against the regime, which oppresses all of us; but also a second revolution against a society that oppresses us as women.”
While Eltahawy is not talking directly of Marx’s concept of revolution in permanence, that is what she is calling for. As Arab Spring faces counter-revolution from within and without–and is now facing an election where both candidates may well worsen women’s oppression–we call for the greatest possible solidarity with what Eltahawy is raising.
Just What Is Capitalism and Where Did It Come From? March 17, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Revolution, Uncategorized.
Tags: Adam Smith, capital, capitalism, Economic Crisis, economic democracy, feudalism, industrial capitalism, john holloway, karl marx, labor, labour, Marxist Humanism, primitive accumulation, roger hollander, surplus value, worker democracy, workers
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Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com, March 17, 2009
Capitalism: are reports of its death premature?
I don’t believe anyone has the answer to this question, but I do think that it might be helpful to clear up a common misunderstanding. Although capitalism carries with it its own ideology, capitalism is not an ideology but rather the acutal manner in which we human beings have organized ourselves to live and reproduce, our economy; and it is not a thing but a relationship, a relationship between capital and living human labor.
It was not Karl Marx but Adam Smith and other classical political economists who developed the “labor theory of value,” to wit, that only human labor could add value to raw materials. The classical political economists saw no problem with the relationships under capitalism since they believed that the market would rectify any injustices. Marx’s contribution was to show that the relationship between capital and living labor is inherently undemocratic in that the owner of capital pays his workers the least he can get away with and keeps the balance of the value they create for himself. This Marx referred to a “surplus value.” It is what capitalist ideologues (and the popular idiom) refer to as profit.
What then is capital? Capital is nothing more or nothing less than accumulated wealth (or value); and it was this early (or what Marx referred to as “primitive”) accumulation that paved the way for the transition from land-based feudal economic relations to industrial capitalism.
This abominable, anti-human, “profit over people” economic system known as capitalism has grown like a cancer since it inception, and we may in fact be witnessing it in its final throes. However, we should not be fooled into thinking that it was the unscrupulous financial industry executives and predatory lenders who are the fundamental cause of the present crisis; they are a symptom of the capitalist infirmity.
Capitalist ideologues argue that the owners of capital have the “right” to surplus labor or profit since they are the ones taking a risk (as if there were nothing risky about your livlihood depending upon your ability to sell you labor for wages — ask the millions who have lost or are about to lose their jobs). It is therefore instructive to look at how original capital accumulation occured. Here are two opposite versions: first Adam Smith:
In the midst of all the exactions of government, capital has been silently and gradually accumulated by the private frugality and good conduct of individuals, by their universal, continual, and uninterrupted effort to better their own condition. It is this effort, protected by law and allowed by liberty to exert itself in the manner that is most advantageous, which has maintained the progress of England towards opulence and improvement in almost all former times. …
It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers, to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense. … They are themselves always, and without any exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society. Let them look well after their own expense, and they may safely trust private people with theirs. If their own extravagance does not ruin the state, that of their subjects never will.
Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chapter II
(cited in Toronto Globe and Mail, April 5, 2008)
Ah, the heroic capitalist, through his “frugality” and “good conduct” while at the same time beseiged by interfering “kings and ministers,” i.e. government (“the greatest spendthrifts in the society”) he manages still to expand his capital (workers nowhere to be seen or heard in this discourse). Here is another version:
The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c. The different moments of primitive accumulation distribute themselves now, more or less in chronological order, particularly over Spain, Portugal, Holland, France, and England. In England at the end of the 17th century, they arrive in a systematic combination, embracing the colonies, the national debt, the modern mode of taxation, and the protectionist system. These methods depend in part on brute force, e.g., the colonial system. But they all employ the power of the State, the concentrated and organised force of society, to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition. Force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with the new one. It is itself an economic power.Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Chapter 31
“These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation,” and the economic system we enjoy today is the heir of this “rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production,” Its collapse will cause great suffering for millions, but collapse it must (the suffereing and death that has occurred over the years as a result of capitalist economic relations is unfathomable). What will replace capitalism? Logically, if the world is to get better and not worse, it will have to be some form of economic democracy, what Karl Marx referred to as “worker democracy.” But there is no guarantee it will get better. That is up to you and me.
(Interested in delving into the world of democratic socialism/Marxism? I have two recommendations. First the Marxist Humanist website: www.newsandletters.org and the works of the founder, Raya Dunayevskaya. Second, John Holloway’s “Change the World Without Taking Power” (this latter could be a challenge for someone who doesn’t have a background in Marxist studies, but it would be worthwhile to make the effort.)
Tags: abolitionists, alienated labor, bailout, black candidate, capitalism, capitlism's failure, Economic Crisis, economic recovery, emancipation proclamation, food crisis, franklin dmitryev, freedom, great depression, hillary clinton, homeless, ilo, IMF, labor, labour, lincoln, marx, Marxist Humanism, New Deal, news and letters, Obama, olga domanski, paulson, proposition 8, republic windows, revolt, revolution, Robert Gates, roger hollander, roosevelt, state capitalism, timothy geithner, unemployment, unemployment rate, world war II
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by Olga Domanski and Franklin Dmitryev
National Co-Organizers, News and Letters Committees
NEWS & LETTERS, December 2008 – January 2009
The shocking news released Dec. 5 of half a million more workers being thrown into unemployment nearly eclipsed the importance of the election, just one month earlier, of the first African American president.
No one, however, can dismiss the historic importance of a Black man winning the presidency of so racist a land as the U.S. has proved to be since its very birth. None could fail to be moved by the fully interracial and multiethnic millions rejoicing in Grant Park in Chicago, and dancing in the streets of both Harlem and Times Square in New York on election night. Far from simple euphoria, it seemed to manifest a totally new kind of experience. Throughout the whole campaign, the hundreds of thousands who had poured out to Obama’s rallies had been seen by some pundits as portending nothing less than a “revolutionary political shift.” What made it “revolutionary” was that the aspirations of those thousands who poured out to the rallies and stood in long lines on Nov. 4 were casting their ballots for a “change” that went deeper into freedom than just political freedom, to self-determination in everyday life. What distinguished the election of Obama was that it went beyond race as the determinant to the question of freedom.
Getting beyond race as the determinant does not mean forgetting that we are a brutally racially divided land, as any sober look at the conditions of Black America verifies. It is to say that Obama spoke in a language that resonated with the desire for a fuller freedom than the U.S. has up to now been willing to set loose–the freedom for Gays to marry, for women to control their reproductive lives, for immigrants to move freely across borders, for an end to discrimination against all the minorities of this country; and the freedom to live in peace with international neighbors.
WHAT FREEDOM MEANS
Although the theme of Obama’s inauguration is said to be “A New Birth of Freedom,” neither candidate spoke of “freedom” during the election campaign. President Bush has so corrupted the word in the militaristic way he used it as meaning invading another country and forcing his perversion of “freedom” on them, that it requires spelling it out in your actions.
When California’s Proposition 8 took away same-sex marriage, the breadth and depth of the immediate protests, by Gay and straight alike, revealed how serious the masses are about “change” being not just political, but a change in human relations. (See ‘The movement is ours!’: Lesbian activist critique)
What is important now is “what happens after.” Since winning the election, Barack Obama set two more records. One was the amazing speed with which he set up his cabinet and chose his “teams”–immediately after having asserted that there is only “one president at a time.” It emphatically conveyed the need to act quickly because the crisis kept deepening. The other was the strong move to the center very nearly every one of his choices represented. Nothing better demonstrated that deliberate direction than the selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, given the fact that Obama’s victory stemmed in large part from his vigorous opposition to the war on Iraq and his condemnation of her vote to approve the invasion. To the same “national security team” he also named Robert Gates as the first Secretary of Defense ever held over from a different party, who for two years had been in charge of the war Obama opposed. Only the relentlessly increasing severity of the economic crisis briefly delayed the announcement of the “defense team” until after the selection of Timothy Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury and the rest of his “economic team,” all of them also “experienced” players not dedicated to “change.”
While a pull to the center is to be expected once the winner claims a mandate, so quickly did it raise new questions about the direction Obama was taking, that what that extraordinary election meant is in danger of being completely disregarded. Let us not miss the historic importance of Obama’s win, or dismiss him as just another politician whose victory makes no difference. It is impossible to discount the percentages of youth, women, immigrants, and Black voters who participated in the election, some for the first time in their lives. But the dimension most crucial was the number of white workers who cast their vote for a Black candidate.
It is a moment that reaches back to one of the most significant chapters of American history, when the Abolitionist movement represented nothing less than a “new dimension of American character.” It was the first integrated movement in American history, and it is no small matter that in his speeches Obama cited such a movement that was not “racial”–which is to say that the Abolitionist movement made itself the expression of the Black masses’ struggle for freedom and in that way spoke in a language that was demanding action on a question of human freedom for all. It encompassed not only anti-slavery and interracial equality, but internationalism and women’s struggles for freedom–150 years ago.
Obama roots himself not in that radical movement, but in the compromiser Lincoln who was attacked by them for putting off the Emancipation Proclamation until he was forced into it. Nevertheless, his nod toward that glorious page of U.S. history reflects the revolutionary forces simmering beneath the surface of our society.
Are we seeing the beginnings of Black and labor coalescing, as is needed to make a decisive turning point–and will it encompass all the forces from Latino labor to women to Queer? What gave the Abolitionists the extra dimension as intellectuals and as human beings was their alignment with these kinds of struggles from below. Most crucial for our day is the unifying philosophy needed to avoid one more unfinished revolution.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS DECISIVE
What proved to be the real determinant in the 2008 election was the devastating global economic crisis. The opposition to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which had been the number one reason for supporting the Democratic ticket, was pushed to a secondary position. It is why the first posts decided were the “economic recovery program” team.
So many people have been losing jobs, losing homes, going without doctor visits, putting off purchases from clothing to cars, that it was hardly a surprise when the U.S. economy was declared to be in a recession that began in December 2007. Economists and politicians are starting to acknowledge that conditions will continue to worsen well into 2009 at least–with others forecasting “several years of high unemployment…and widespread income losses.”
By November the unemployment rate was reported at 6.7%, with 11.2% for African Americans and one in three for Black teenagers. These official figures do not count the millions who have stopped looking for work or who have had to settle for part-time jobs, who would bring the overall figure up to 12.5%. In the year since November 2007, 3.2 million more people are unemployed, 2.8 million more are involuntarily working part-time, and 1.3 million more are not counted as part of the labor force. Many have lost health insurance. Dreams of retirement shattered, millions dread an old age of poverty.
HUMAN COST OF CAPITALISM’S FAILURE
After a decade of working people’s incomes stagnating and temporary jobs proliferating, these new blows have meant a million bankruptcies this year alone and three million families losing their houses, with Moody’s forecasting five million more foreclosures by 2010. Such anger has built up that some governors and sheriffs have had to declare moratoriums on foreclosures or evictions. The homeless have been building tent cities or, with the help of groups like Miami’s Take Back the Land, taking over homes left vacant by foreclosures. From Republic Windows workers to Prop. 8 protesters (see Republic Windows and Doors sit-in stops bosses’ wage theft), “Yes, we can” has been given deeper content linking back to the slogan’s origin in farmworker struggles.
Republic Windows and Doors workers who occupied their factory demanding justice.
With recession spreading to Europe and Japan, the International Monetary Fund has declared a “major downturn” for the world economy. Globally, the International Labor Organization projects that unemployment will rise by 20 million. Though food prices have retreated, the world food crisis has worsened, with the economic crisis pushing over 100 million people worldwide into poverty and farmers reducing production in the face of lower crop prices. Already children are starving from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. Two years of widespread strikes and revolts over high food prices and other economic troubles give a hint of how the global nature of the crisis also affects the international character of revolutionary impulses that are stirring.
What is most significant about Obama’s quickly gathered economic team is that, like Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, all these economists have had to throw out their faith in the “free market.” Instead they are tossing around proposals for massive state intervention in the economy through deficit-swelling public works programs to provide jobs, in addition to stepping up the ongoing program of corporate bailouts and nationalization.
Ideologues from the Left and center, clamoring for a “new New Deal,” too often forget how the history of the New Deal has been rewritten. First, it did not materialize out of the benevolence of Pres. Roosevelt. The context was strikes, organizing, revolt–the threat of revolution was in the air. That is exactly what the New Deal was supposed to save capitalism from. Today, millions want to change this society top to bottom–and that means a much deeper change than what Obama has in mind.
Second, the New Deal did not halt the Great Depression. It took World War II to cover over capitalism’s decade-long crisis. Civilization can hardly survive a World War III, yet capitalism has no other solution to offer. At $685 billion, the Pentagon’s budget is 85% higher (after inflation) than in 2000–the highest since World War II. Even that is not all the military spending, yet it nearly equals the sum of all other countries’ defense budgets combined.
STATE-CAPITALISM NO SOLUTION
No matter how “green” the new version of the New Deal is painted, it cannot save capitalism from the deep structural crisis into which it has been plunged by the development of the contradictions inherent in capital’s very being. No matter who is appointed to the various posts, or how much cooperation Obama forges with Republicans, all their efforts are about searching for ways to keep capitalism alive. None of the answers proposed by the politicians, advisers or pundits even recognizes what the crisis stems from–capitalism’s law of motion.
As the October-November 2008 Lead in News & Letters (Bailout can’t save capitalism from its own gravediggers) put it:
“Trying to steer opposition in their own direction, nearly all politicians expressed their ‘outrage’ while claiming there is no alternative to saving capitalism and showing ‘bipartisan’ solidarity with capitalists when the whole economy is at risk. This crisis revealed how rapidly objective events can call the whole capitalist system into question and generate a lot of action and new thinking about what is possible. Past failures surely show that the opposite of alienated labor is not to be found in statist intervention, political parties or trade unions, all of which broker on capitalist ground. At this crucial moment of capital’s reorganization, it is important to engage that rethinking with Marx’s concept of what it would take for humanity to break with being organized under the rule of capitalist production’s alienated labor.”
Capitalist rule can only be broken when the masses of working people take control of production and make decisions themselves, not letting anyone else do the thinking for them–whether that be managers, the labor bureaucracy, or planners touting a new New Deal. While that takes a revolution that can only be made by the masses, the history of the 20th century shows the urgency of the question of what happens after the revolution. Revolt and even revolution can be dragged back to the various forms of state-capitalism: the welfare state, fascism, or totalitarian “Communism.” What is needed is unity not only of white labor with Black masses and undocumented immigrants, anti-war youth with Gay and women’s liberationists, and unity across borders, but of theory and practice, rooted in a philosophy of revolution, in so new a relationship as to lay the foundations for a truly human society.
It is that concept of the unity of theory and practice on which News and Letters Committees was organized. News & Letters was created as its concretization in the only Marxist-Humanist journal in the U.S. That is why News and Letters Committees is starting the New Year with a series of classes in all the locals on “Confronting Today’s Crises: The Marxist-Humanist return to Marx and the revolutionary abolition of capitalism.” (See An invitation and an appeal for announcement of classes.) Their aim is theoretic preparation for revolution, part of which is working out a new book of Marxist-Humanism on Marx. The classes cannot be a “how to” manual on breaking with capitalism and achieving a new society, but a methodology.
While no one can overlook the historic significance of this election, the deep crisis the world is in cannot be solved by Obama or any administration. What is needed is a totally new relationship of the movements from theory and from practice on the basis of a unifying philosophy of revolution. It is no easy task. We invite your participation in the classes and contributions to the discussion in the paper, and appeal for your help to keep News & Letters going.
1. This new dimension’s historic meaning is spelled out in American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard: “These New England Abolitionists added a new dimension to the word intellectual, for these were intellectuals whose intellectual, social and political creativity was the expression of precise social forces. They gloried in being ‘the means’ by which a direct social movement expressed itself, the movement of slaves and free Negroes for total freedom…” (p. 34).
2. “New Day for U.S. Economic Policy,” by Larry Mishel, http://www.epi.org/content.cfm/newsflash_081105_obama. Others simply called the latest figures “dismal” and “frightening”; see “Jobs Vanish–Quickly,” 12/6/08 Chicago Tribune.
3. “Rubinomics Recalculated,” by Jackie Calmes, 11/24/08 New York Times, points out the links between Obama’s top economic advisers and Robert Rubin, and “the economic formula that came to be called Rubinomics: balanced budgets, free trade, and financial deregulation.” Named to head the new “Economic Recovery Advisory Board” is Paul Volcker, whose “solution” to the 1970s crisis was to drive up interest rates, helping to push the U.S. into deep recession in the early 1980s and to precipitate the debt crisis in Africa, Latin America and Asia. See “Can Africa Survive Obama’s Advisers?” by Patrick Bond in Links, Nov. 12, 2008 (http://links.org.au/node/738).
The Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation: Fusing Emancipatory Thought and Social Revolt, by Eugene Gogol December 31, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation.
Tags: bartra, capitalism, chiapas, CONAIE, dussel roig, Ecuador, eugene gogol, hegel, Latin America, liberation, lucio gutierrez, mariategui, marx, marxism, Marxist Humanism, paz, quijano, revolt, revolution, roger hollander, salazar, semo, Zapatistas, zea
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(This book review was published in the August-September 2003 of “News & Letters,” the bi-monthly publication of the U.S. Marxist Humanist organization of the same name)
Anyone who has lived and/or followed the Latin American experience/reality in the post-World War II era will have experienced a Sisyphean frustration with respect to the rise and fall of liberation movements and the hope for new human relations to which they aspire. In the eight years I have lived in Ecuador I have witnessed two successful “leftist” coup d’etat that have resulted in absolutely no fundamental social, political, or economic change whatsoever – to the contrary, the economic/political crisis deepens.
In Ecuador, the 1980s saw intense grassroots organization within the indigenous community that culminated in the formation of a national indigenous organization, CONAIE, whose power was expressed in the 1990s through massive protests against oil exploitation in the Amazon rainforest, privatization of social security, and reactionary agricultural laws.
The indigenous revolt of 2000, its contradictions and the reasons for its ultimate failure is taken up in The Concept of Other in Latin American Liberation (Lexington Books, 20002). Gogol points out the contradictions within the leadership of the indigenous movement between those who relied on the creativity of the masses and those who allied themselves with government power. This has come to a tragic fruition with the Gutiérrez government, causing disunity within the indigenous movement that may take decades to repair. These events in Ecuador are in a sense a paradigm of the failures encountered in post-World War II Latin America.
In the first section of the book, Gogol argues that the Hegelian-Marxian dialectic is a sine qua non of truly liberatory revolutionary activity that intersects most dramatically with Latin American historical reality. To those who dismiss Hegel, Gogol shows that they do so at the peril of sacrificing the methodology that can keep revolutionary thought and revolutionary activity dynamic and in sync with social reality.
He takes us upon a philosophical journey touching upon the concept of Other and consideration of the dialectic in the writings of Latin American thinkers including Octavio Paz, Leopoldo Zea, Augusto Salazar Bondy, Anibal Quijano, Enrique Dussel, and Arturo Andrés Roig. He outlines the unique, important and positive contributions made by each, but concludes that in each one encounters an inability or unwillingness to delve deeply into Hegel’s “voyage of discovery.”
In the second section – “Imprisonment of the Other: the Logic of Capital on Latin American Soil” – we find a review of major Latin American thinkers of the 20th century–like José Carlos Mariátegui, Enrique Semo and Roger Bartra. Again, we encounter a richness in thought and analysis of capital’s stranglehold on the masses, showing us that the work of Marx as well as Hegel has taken root in Latin American soil. But we do not yet see the Other unbound. What we find again is the failure to recognize the second negation, the positive in the negative, the pathway to genuine liberation.
In discussing liberation theology’s inability to sustain its momentum in the face of the changing realities and setbacks of movements in Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador, Gogol asks: “If one develops a concept of social change, without such a theoretical labor flowing from a fullness of philosophy of revolution, then what happens to one’s theory when the social movement, the historic moment, has changed?” (p. 115).
Referring to Marx’s economics, not as economic determinism, but rather as a “unity of humanism and philosophy;” not a mere sociology but as a philosophy of liberation. Gogol demonstrates how one expression of revolutionary subjectivity after another has fallen prey to the dead end of state-capitalism or reformist accommodation with different forms of capitalism.
The third section of the work is a journey through selected contemporary liberation movements in Latin America. From the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, we see different forms of revolutionary subjectivity in action: urban, rural, indigenous, women, workers, students, and others. In each of these, be it the tin miners in Bolivia, campesinos in Guatemala, labor organizers in Bolivia, labor organizers in Mexico’s maquiladoras, the Madres de la Plaza of Argentina, or the Landless Workers’ Movement in Brazil, Gogol shows us how self-liberation re-creates itself in its own social environment, creating new pathways towards liberation.
In the Zapatistas of Chiapas, he finds the freshest and most innovative expression of revolutionary subjectivity. In their rejection of focoism, and in aiming not to take state power for themselves but rather to unify the various expressions of Other in Mexico, the Zapatistas broke new ground. Instead of adopting the dead-end, vanguardist “dictatorship of the proletariat” strategies and philosophies which the original urban radicals had brought to Chiapas, what emerged was a re-creation of the principles of collectivity in decision making, that were already inherent and deeply seated in the ways of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas.
As one concerned with understanding and changing Latin America, I see this work as of supreme importance. Although there are a few omissions (the most glaring being a failure to discuss the Colombian situation), the work is comprehensive and probing.
The book concludes with a discussion of philosophy and organization, noting, “It is the theoretician-philosopher(s) who catches the mass self-activity from below, and labors to give it meaning by rooting it within the Marxist-Hegelian philosophic expression…Marx was not afraid to speak of ‘our party’ even in the times when it was only he and Engels” (p. 343).
As one who lives and observes on a daily basis both the ravages of globalized capitalism and the frustration of liberation movements in Ecuador, I can attest to the urgent need for new beginnings in Latin America. And in the light of the Bush doctrine of permanent war and his plans to augment existing U.S. military force in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Aruba, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Honduras, and with new bases in the Galápagos, Brazil, El Salvador and Argentina, the Marxist-Humanist primary task takes on renewed urgency: “To the barbarism of war we pose the new society.”
Marxist Humanist View on the Crisis and Bailout October 22, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: $700 billion bailout, $700 Billion Wall Street Bailout, alientated labor, Bailout failure, Bush bailout, capitalism, Economic Crisis, finance capitalism, Marxist Humanism, mortgage crisis, Paulson and bailout, roger hollander, ron kelch, Treasury Secretary Paulson
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Bailout can’t save capitalism from its own gravediggers
www.newsandletters.org, October – November 2008
by Ron Kelch
As news spread that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was asking the government for $700 billion to buy “toxic” assets to save Wall Street banks, Congress was inundated with a flood of angry opposition in letters, e-mails and calls from ordinary working people. The tidal wave of communications–99 to 1 against–didn’t subside even after threats that failure to act might mean the collapse of the capitalist system. There were also spontaneous public demonstrations throughout the country. On Sept. 25 alone there were 251 rallies in 41 states against this humongous bailout. On Sept. 27 thousands joined the California Nurses Association marching across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco against the bailout and for universal single-payer health care.
Events leading up to this public outrage began on Sept. 18 when Paulson, a former Wall Street investment banker, and Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, visited President Bush, and then the leaders of the Democratic Party-controlled Congress. They requested immediate action to raise the national debt ceiling to $11.3 trillion, give Paulson a whopping $700 billion and unfettered authority to buy up Wall Street’s bad debt, mostly mortgage-backed securities and credit default swaps (CDS) that insure those securities. This, they said, was the only chance to avoid a total meltdown of credit markets and another Great Depression.
This “mother of all bailouts” was preceded just ten days earlier with a $200 billion Fed takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together own $5 trillion or half of the entire U.S. mortgage market. When Wall Street investment bank Lehman Bros., also previously designated as “too big to fail,” came calling, the Fed let it go bankrupt. Credit markets locked up, including money market funds, which banks and companies use to finance daily operations. There was widespread lack of confidence that any given bank could repay their loans. There was even the beginning of an old-fashioned run on the bank between banks themselves and by ordinary depositors, withdrawing uninsured money market funds.
Then came the impending collapse of AIG, the world’s largest insurance company holding half a trillion dollars in CDS and employing 116,000 in 130 countries. A single bank–Goldman Sachs, the unregulated Wall Street investment bank Secretary Paulson headed until 2006–was liable to lose up to $20 billion if AIG could no longer pay its CDS claims. The Fed turned again 180 degrees and gave AIG an $85 billion loan and, in effect, nationalized this corporate giant by demanding nearly 80% ownership in exchange.
IDEOLOGY AND REALITY
By the time of the $700 billion offer-you-can’t-refuse, politicians and bankers alike were in a giddy-whirl of free-market ideology and nearly simultaneous embrace of direct state control of vast corporations and sections of global finance. Liberal economist Paul Krugman, who supported the bailout eventually passed by the Congress, shared his half-joking first reaction: “Commissar Paulson has just seized the means of production.” The only thing new in these ideological poles–statism vs. free market–revealing themselves as identical, was how that identity made so many political ideologues look like deer caught in the headlights.
In spite of the public outrage, both presidential campaigns, the extremely lame duck President Bush, and leaders of both political parties in Congress lined up behind passing a bailout in the name of saving the “real” economy or “Main Street” from Wall Street’s excesses.
Presidential candidate John McCain, a long-time fervent backer of banking deregulation, who, a day earlier, was telling the Fed to get out of the business of bailouts, lined up behind the super bailout even as he repeated that the underlying economy was fundamentally strong. This was so out of touch with the reality of workers increasingly faced with losing their homes, jobs and health care, McCain suddenly lost ground in the polls after he had pulled ahead of Barack Obama through an ad campaign of blatant lies and appeals to racism. Obama gave cautious support for the Treasury Secretary’s power grab, appearing with a line of his own financial experts, including Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, also a former Goldman Sachs Co-Chairman, and former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker.
Feeling the heat from their constituents, the House failed to pass the bill by 12 votes. Four days later, the Senate, where only a third are up for re-election, passed a new bill adding another $110 billion in spending and tax cuts, which then made it through the House and was immediately signed by President Bush.
NATIONAL DEBT IS WORKERS’ DEBT
This colossal sum, on the scale of the cost of the Iraq War, will be added to the already exploding annual budget deficits now running over $500 billion. At the birth of capitalism Karl Marx noted that the national debt is the only part of the national wealth truly owned by the workers. The national debt has been a pivotal instrument of state-capitalism’s despotism over workers, especially over the last two and a half decades. President Reagan started exploding the deficit through military spending in order to starve the gains in the social safety net workers had won after WWII. Obama has already intimated that the bailout will necessitate scaling back some of his spending plans.
In the U.S., workers have been falling further and further behind with a concentration of wealth at the top in the last three decades of globalization and restructuring comparable to the era of robber barons of the 19th century. Under deregulation, demanded by Wall Street bankers like Paulson, the share of profits flowing to the financial sector of the economy increased from 10% to 40%. In 2006 Wall Street bankers gave themselves $62 billion just in bonuses.
The American consumer was then continuously hailed as the reliable “hero” of the world economy, but that was at the cost of going deeper in debt. The U.S. savings rate is now effectively zero, the lowest among developed nations. When the Fed turned on the cheap money spigot to keep the economy up through a real estate bubble, mortgage debt exploded under the sales pitch that home prices would always rise. Many workers used their biggest asset–the homes in which they live–to survive, to pay today’s exorbitant education costs and medical emergencies. It all collapsed when home prices retreated. The foreclosure crisis, now at 10,000 per day, continues unabated. Vacant foreclosed houses blight whole neighborhoods along with modern day “Hoovervilles,” tent cities set up by the new homeless, which are springing up throughout the U.S. For those workers a new Depression has already begun.
Capitalists have learned from the 1930s to keep the system of global finance capital flowing at all cost. What is so crucial about finance capital, and why now does it require an economic czar with unprecedented state power to save it from its own implosion? As our April-May editorial put it after the then-unprecedented $30 billion bailout of “too big to fail” Bear Stearns:
“Finance capitalism, ‘uncoupled’ from production, feeds the illusion that profit can come from speculative bubbles. At the moment of reckoning, the truth asserts itself: that profit only comes from extracting ever more surplus value or unpaid hours of labor from workers. The real vital function of the system of finance is divvying up the loot from all the sweated, alienated labor extracted in labor-intensive manufacturing locales like India, China and Vietnam, as well as what remains in the U.S.”
CRISIS DEEPER THAN LIQUIDITY
This financial crisis brings into sharp relief the U.S.’s status as the world’s largest debtor nation. The tremendous loss of paper profits brings new tension between different centers of capital when they divvy up the shrinking pot of loot extracted from workers. The Chinese government, which could still teach U.S. capitalists a thing or two about combining authoritarian state control and a free market, quietly dropped a bombshell in a state newspaper in the face of what they called a “financial tsunami” emanating from Wall Street. The Chinese state-capitalists, who for now continue to buy much of the U.S. debt, are looking for a way to move away from the U.S. dollar as a global currency and for a global “financial order no longer dependent on the United States.”
A crucial function of state-capitalism in a globalized economy is to discipline workers according to the needs of free-moving global capital. In one country after another, world financial bodies to which those countries have been indebted have been forced into structural adjustments that have cut social spending. The U.S.’s colossal indebtedness and the failure of the dollar to hold its value against other currencies threaten its privileged position in the global system of finance capital. This will bring even more pressure to bear against any expansion of social benefits in the U.S.
The Fed may have learned from the banking mistakes of the 1930s to immediately address liquidity problems, but the intractable problem of unemployment in the Great Depression, reflected also in today’s global unemployed army, has much deeper roots than liquidity. Marx’s prediction that the rate of profit tends to fall because of unemployment–a failure of capitalism to reproduce its source of value, alienated labor–comes alive at different crisis points.
Great Depression economists had to confront the need to couple the economy with employment. However, New Deal programs, which ameliorated severe hardship, never really succeeded in bringing the economy out of the Depression. It was the global human disaster of WWII, which also destroyed a vast amount of global capital, that was the basis for restarting the process of accumulation with a relatively unscathed U.S. as its center.
By the mid-1970s, after Europe and Japan rebuilt their economies with the then latest technology, there was a global recession and an era of low growth. Once again, economists rediscovered Marx’s prediction of a falling rate of profit. Capital’s remedy was massive restructuring of the global economy, moving manufacturing to low cost nineteenth century conditions of labor. This restructuring has run into its own internal barrier with the present crisis as a watershed.
TIME FOR DOING AND THINKING
The U.S. economy has eliminated over 760,000 jobs in the last nine months. In February the unemployment rate was 4.8%. It steadily climbed to 6.1% by August. Many more U.S. workers will join the global ranks of an unemployed army who are already “ill-housed, ill-clad, and ill-nourished” and rebellious. (see “World Food Crisis stirs revolt,” June/July, N&L). With its failure to reproduce alienated labor, Marx said, capitalism produces its own gravediggers.
However, labor doesn’t move with the kind of expeditious class solidarity capitalist rulers have shown in this crisis. There is always a lot of thinking and struggle before labor presents its own collective response in what appears to be mass spontaneity. There are a lot of small strikes against capital’s continuous demand for takebacks like the recent three month strike of 3,650 workers at American Axle that ended in a UAW sellout. Nurses and other health care workers continue to strike over working conditions that diminish quality care and for universal health care. Immigrant labor, now under near police state repression, showed its vitality and crucial place in the U.S. economy in a massive strike in May 2006.
Trying to stir opposition in their own direction, nearly all politicians expressed their “outrage” while claiming there is no alternative to saving capitalism and showing “bipartisan” solidarity with capitalists when the whole economy is at risk. This crisis revealed how rapidly objective events can call the whole capitalist system into question and generate a lot of action and new thinking about what is possible. Past failures surely show that the opposite of alienated labor is not to be found in statist intervention, political parties or trade unions, all of which broker on capitalist ground. At this crucial moment of capital’s reorganization, it is important to engage that rethinking with Marx’s concept of what it would take for humanity to break with being organized under the rule of capitalist production’s alienated labor.
1. See “Today’s Epigones Who Try to Truncate Marx’s Capital,” Sept. 21, 1977, in Marx’s Capital and Today’s Global Crisis by Raya Dunayevskaya.
U.S. Criminalizes Undocumented to Attack Workers’ Movement October 2, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Latin America.
Tags: anti-immigration, criminalization of undocumented workers, Eugene Walker, government raids on undocumented, immigrant workers, Immigration policy, Marxist Humanism, roger hollander, undocumented workers, workers rights
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NEWS & LETTERS, August – September 2008
U.S. criminalizes undocumented to attack workers’ movement
by Eugene Walker
In the biggest raid on a workplace in U.S. history, hundreds upon hundreds of Federal agents mobilized by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement swooped down upon the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, on May 12 to try to seize some 697 undocumented workers for whom arrest warrants had been prepared. The close to 400 workers caught at the plant were not rounded up for deportation. Rather, this was part of a concerted campaign to criminalize the undocumented immigrant. Thus, the workers were criminally charged with “aggravated identity theft” and “Social Security fraud” for using other peoples’ social security numbers or made up numbers.
Just as Katrina demonstrated the government’s indifference towards the poor, primarily Black population of New Orleans, the anti-immigrant raids in Postville exposed this government’s determination to run roughshod over the human rights of another significant segment of the U.S. population–the millions of undocumented who work in U.S. fields and factories, in construction, and in cleaning offices, hotels and homes. The immigrant without papers has become the new Other within our borders. The near police-state actions of the Federal government in Iowa resulted in the jailing of some 387 Guatemalan and Mexican workers, followed by rapid-fire Orwellian court proceedings and harsh sentencing. At the same time, Postville brought forth resistance to the unjust conditions of immigrant life and labor in this “land of the free.”
Women led off the rally at San Francisco ICE headquarters on Aug. 22 demanding rights for immigrant workers.
On Sunday July 27, 1,000-plus marched in little Postville, opposing the police-state tactics used by the government against hundreds of Agriprocessors workers who continue to be imprisoned, protesting against the working conditions at the plant, and demanding legalization of undocumented workers.
Arrested workers were transported to the National Cattle Congress, a 60-acre cattle fairground that was transformed into a detention center. The next day began with hothouse, fraudulent legal procedures that led to prison terms. Erik Camayd-Freixas, one of the many Spanish language interpreters the government brought in, described the process:
“Driven single-file in groups of 10, shackled at the wrists, waist and ankles, chains dragging as they shuffled through, the slaughterhouse workers were brought in for arraignment, sat and listened through headsets to the interpreted initial appearance, before marching out again to be bused to different county jails, only to make room for the next row of 10. They appeared to be uniformly no more than 5 ft. tall, mostly illiterate Guatemalan peasants with Mayan last names, É some in tears, others with faces of worry, fear, and embarrassment. They all spoke Spanish, a few rather laboriously. It dawned on me that, aside from their Guatemalan or Mexican nationality, which was imposed on their people after independence, they too were Native Americans, in shackles. They stood out in stark racial contrast with the rest of us as they started their slow penguin march across the makeshift court.” (For his full report, http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/07/14/opinion/14ed-camayd.pdf).
The preparations for the Postville Agriprocessors plant raid included a diabolical scheme to insure that the Guatemalan and Mexican working men and women would have no choice but to face months of jail time before deportation. The government would only agree to withdraw the trumped-up charge of “aggravated identity theft” if those arrested would agree to plead guilty to knowingly using a false social security number and serve five months in a U.S. jail, and then be immediately deported without a hearing. If any chose to not accept this plea agreement they would have had to remain in jail even longer, six to eight months awaiting trial, with no access to bail because they were undocumented. Even if found not guilty they would still be deported. And if they lost at trial, they would receive a two-year minimum sentence. No wonder they chose the plea agreement. It meant the least amount of jail time in this charade.
The whole procedure, from plea agreement to five month sentences, to being shipped off to various jails, was carried out in a rapid-fire four days. As Erik Camayd-Freixas put it, “The work had oddly resembled a judicial assembly line where the meatpackers were mass processed.”
The result was devastation for the hundreds arrested, as well as for children and family members left in limbo. A third of Postville’s population ceased to be a part of the community. Children disappeared from schools. Many families took refuge in St. Bridget’s Catholic Church fearing to come out in face of the arrests and future deportation. However at the same time, there began a movement of resistance, starting with exposing Agriprocessors.
AGRIPROCESSORS, THE REAL CRIMINALS
Two groups of those arrested were released before the kangaroo-court proceedings–youth who were underage, and thus had been illegally hired to work in the plant, and women with children who needed to be cared for. The women still faced charges, and the youth and women still would come under deportation orders.
In Iowa, it is illegal for a company to employ anyone under 18 on the floor of a meatpacking plant. At least seventeen youth between 14 and 17 years of age were seized in the raid. Now in oral depositions the youth told their stories.
Elmer L., a Guatemalan young man who started working at the plant when he was 16, spoke of 17-hour days: “I worked from 6 in the morning until 11 at night. I slept from midnight until 5 in the morning–5 hours. . . .They did not pay me for all the overtime I worked. They told me if I did not work all that time, I would lose my job. My work was very hard because they didn’t give me my breaks, and I wasn’t getting very much sleep. I had to work to provide for my family. They told us they were going to call immigration if we complained about not getting our overtime pay and our breaks . . . I was very sad and I felt like I was a slave.”
A 16-year-old young woman, Gilda O., spoke of the speed-up demands: “I worked at night. I started at 7:30 and I got off at five or six in the morning. I worked on line plucking feathers off the chickens. . . . When I started I could hardly keep my eyes open. But later I got more used to it. In the plant they made us hurry up as much as we possibly could.”
Those quotes could have come right out of Marx’s description in Capital of English factories of the mid-19th century.
Long before the Postville raid–not against the dreadful conditions on the slaughterhouse floor, but against the undocumented men and women who took these dangerous, exploitative jobs–Agriprocessors was already well known as a vile, unhealthy killing floor. As the NY Times noted:
“A slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa, develop[ed] an ugly reputation for abusing animals and workers. Reports of dirty, dangerous conditions at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant accumulate[d] for years, told by workers, union organizers, immigrant advocates and government investigators. A videotape by an animal-rights group show[ed] workers pulling the windpipes out of living cows. A woman with a deformed hand t[old] a reporter of cutting meat for 12 hours a day, six days a week, for wages that labor ex-perts call the lowest in the industry. This year, federal investigators amass[ed] evidence of rampant illegal hiring at the plant, which has been called ‘a kosher “Jungle.”‘” (“‘The Jungle Again,’” NY Times, August 1, 2008). But in our upside down world, it is the workers who are criminalized, not the company.
PERILS OF UNDOCUMENTED WOMEN
Terrible dangers especially await undocumented women coming to the United States. At Agriprocessors, it took the form of sexual harassment. If you wanted a shift change or a promotion, you had to grant sexual favors to this or that supervisor.
The terrible threat to the lives of undocumented women often begins far earlier. Rape has become commonplace on both sides of the Mexico-Arizona border. Rape is now considered “the price of admission” for women crossing the border illegally. According to Dr. Sylvanna Falc—n: “Anyone from coyotes to U.S. officials, they all have the upper hand here. . . . Our society takes rape seriously, but it doesn’t take this type of rape seriously. In all of our national discourse around securing our borders, rarely, if ever, do you hear about any kind of protection for people who might be crossing. Largely, that’s because the discussion has been framed around protecting us–protecting the U.S.–and once you get into that framework, what happens to the other person is not even on the radar.” (Quoted in the Tucson Weekly, June 9, 2008.)
OPPRESSION AND REVOLT
Hundreds of new laws have been passed at the state and city levels seeking to restrict the opportunities and rights of undocumented immigrants. The draconian federal persecution and anti-immigrant state and local laws are capitalism’s response to a new mass movement among immigrant workers, the high-point of which so far was on May 1, 2006. Hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants and their allies gave a new significance to May Day, whose origin was in Chicago of the 1880s, centered on the fight for a shorter working day.
The July 27 march in Postville, Iowa, brought people from a number of Midwest cities. The demonstration included dozens of undocumented women workers from the plant who were out of jail because they had to take care of young children. Required to wear electronic monitoring ankle bracelets openly, and with a future of jail and deportation, they were in the forefront of resistance. They were joined by a coalition of forces:
- Members of the St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville who have supported the undocumented workers and their families ever since the raids, providing shelter, food, financial and moral support.
- Rabbis and members of Jewish congregations who were outraged that Agriprocessors runs a kosher meatpacking plant in such a degrading manner. They were calling for the revision of kosher food certification to include standards of corporate ethics and treatment of workers. “I’m embarrassed and ashamed at the way Agriprocessors has treated its workers,” said one Jewish activist. “I don’t think it’s kosher meat. I think they’re pulling a farce on the Jews of this country.”
- Latino activists expressing solidarity with the undocumented Latin American workers. Labor activists joined in as well, some from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, who had been trying to organize the plant for a number of years.
Today’s persecution and criminalization of undocumented workers is trying to destroy the movement among immigrant workers, many of whom came north after they were forced off the land as a result of trade agreements like NAFTA. Previously businesses used undocumented workers in many areas like agriculture and construction and as strike-breakers. The new demagoguery is aimed at dividing workers in general and especially within immigrant communities between those who have documents and those who don’t. Now is the time for the firmest international solidarity with immigrant workers, fighting the chauvinism, false patriotism and political manipulation that is growing in this demagogic electoral moment.
As we go to press, the ICE has mounted another massive and brutal raid in the small town of Laurel, Mississippi, at Howard Industries, where nearly half the 800 workers are Latino/a. There are reports of parents snatched by ICE agents and given no time to make arrangements for the care of their children left alone. Those arrested face not only federal laws, but a draconian Senate Bill 2988 that makes it a felony to work without authorization in Mississippi and imposes a one to five year prison sentence and fines of up to $10,000. This outrage must end!