Category Archives: Working Class

Paul Volcker’s Long Shadow

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan called Paul Volcker “the most effective chairman in the history of the Federal Reserve.” But while Volcker, who passed away December 8 at age 92, probably did have the greatest historical impact of any Fed chairman, his legacy is, at best, controversial.

“He restored credibility to the Federal Reserve at a time it had been greatly diminished,” wrote his biographer, William Silber. Volcker’s policies led to what was called “the New Keynesian revolution,” putting the Fed in charge of controlling the amount of money available to consumers and businesses by manipulating the federal funds rate (the interest rate at which banks borrow from each other). All this was because Volcker’s “shock therapy” of the early 1980s – raising the federal funds rate to an unheard of 20% – was credited with reversing the stagflation of the 1970s. But did it? Or was something else going on?

Less discussed was Volcker’s role at the behest of President Richard Nixon in taking the dollar off the gold standard, which he called “the single most important event of his career.” He evidently intended for another form of stable exchange system to replace the Bretton Woods system it destroyed, but that did not happen. Instead, freeing the dollar from gold unleashed an unaccountable central banking system that went wild printing money for the benefit of private Wall Street and London financial interests.

The power to create money can be a good and necessary tool in the hands of benevolent leaders working on behalf of the people and the economy. But like with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice in Disney’s “Fantasia,” if it falls in the wrong hands, it can wreak havoc on the world. Unfortunately for Volcker’s legacy and the well-being of the rest of us, his signature policies led to the devastation of the American working class in the 1980s and ultimately set the stage for the 2008 global financial crisis.

The Official Story and Where It Breaks Down

According to a December 9 obituary in The Washington Post:

Mr. Volcker’s greatest historical mark was in eight years as Fed chairman. When he took the reins of the central bank, the nation was mired in a decade-long period of rapidly rising prices and weak economic growth. Mr. Volcker, overcoming the objections of many of his colleagues, raised interest rates to an unprecedented 20%, drastically reducing the supply of money and credit.

The Post acknowledges that the effect on the economy was devastating, triggering what was then the deepest economic downturn since the Depression of the 1930s, driving thousands of businesses and farms to bankruptcy and propelling the unemployment rate past 10%:

Mr. Volcker was pilloried by industry, labor unions and lawmakers of all ideological stripes. He took the abuse, convinced that this shock therapy would finally break Americans’ expectations that prices would forever rise rapidly and that the result would be a stronger economy over the longer run.

On this he was right, contends the author:

Soon after Mr. Volcker took his foot off the brake of the U.S. economy in 1981, and the Fed began lowering interest rates, the nation began a quarter century of low inflation, steady growth, and rare and mild recessions. Economists attribute that period, one of the sunniest in economic history, at least in part to the newfound credibility as an inflation-fighter that Mr. Volcker earned for the Fed.

That is the conventional version, but the stagflation of the 1970s and its sharp reversal in the early 1980s appears more likely to have been due to a correspondingly sharp rise and fall in the price of oil. There is evidence this oil shortage was intentionally engineered for the purpose of restoring the global dominance of the U.S. dollar, which had dropped precipitously in international markets after it was taken off the gold standard in 1971.

The Other Side of the Story

How the inflation rate directly followed the price of oil was tracked by Benjamin Studebaker in a 2012 article titled “Stagflation: What Really Happened in the 70’s”:

We see that the problem begins in 1973 with the ’73-’75 recession – that’s when growth first dives. In October of 1973, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries declared an oil embargo upon the supporters of Israel – western nations. The ’73-’75 recession begins in November of 1973, immediately after. During normal recessions, inflation does not rise – it shrinks, as people spend less and prices fall. So why does inflation rise from ’73-’75? Because this recession is not a normal recession – it is sparked by an oil shortage. The price of oil more than doubles in the space of a mere few months from ’73-’74. Oil is involved in the manufacturing of plastics, in gasoline, in sneakers, it’s everywhere. When the price of oil goes up, the price of most things go up. The spike in the oil price is so large that it drives up the costs of consumer goods throughout the rest of the economy so fast that wages fail to keep up with it. As a result, you get both inflation and a recession at once.

… Terrified by the double-digit inflation rate in 1974, the Federal Reserve switches gears and jacks the interest rate up to near 14%. … The economy slips back into the throws of the recession for another year or so, and the unemployment rate takes off, rising to around 9% by 1975. …

Then, in 1979, the economy gets another oil price shock (this time caused by the Revolution in Iran in January of that year) in which the price of oil again more than doubles. The result is a fall in growth and inflation knocked all the way up into the teens. The Federal Reserve tries to fight the oil-driven inflation by raising interest rates high into the teens, peaking out at 20% in 1980.

… [B]y 1983, the unemployment rate has peaked at nearly 11%. To fight this, the Federal Reserve knocks the interest rate back below 10%, and meanwhile, alongside all of this, Ronald Reagan spends lots of money and expands the state in ’82/83. … Why does inflation not respond by returning? Because oil prices are falling throughout this period, and by 1985 have collapsed utterly.

The federal funds rate was just below 10% in 1975 at the height of the early stagflation crisis. How could the same rate that was responsible for inflation in the 1970s drop the consumer price index to acceptable levels after 1983? And if the federal funds rate has that much effect on inflation, why is the extremely low 1.55% rate today not causing hyperinflation? What Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is now fighting instead is deflation, a lack of consumer demand causing stagnant growth in the real, producing economy.

Thus it looks as if oil, not the federal funds rate, was the critical factor in the rise and fall of consumer prices in the 1970s and 1980s. “Stagflation” was just a predictable result of the shortage of this essential commodity at a time when the country was not energy-independent. The following chart from Business Insider Australia shows the historical correlations:

The Plot Thickens

But there’s more. The subplot is detailed by William Engdahl in The Gods of Money (2009). To counter the falling dollar after it was taken off the gold standard, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and President Nixon held a clandestine meeting in 1972 with the Shah of Iran. Then, in 1973, a group of powerful financiers and politicians met secretly in Sweden to discuss how the dollar might effectively be “backed” by oil. An arrangement was finalized in which the oil-producing countries of OPEC would sell their oil only in U.S. dollars, and the dollars would wind up in Wall Street and London banks, where they would fund the burgeoning U.S. debt.

For the OPEC countries, the quid pro quo was military protection, along with windfall profits from a dramatic boost in oil prices. In 1974, according to plan, an oil embargo caused the price of oil to quadruple, forcing countries without sufficient dollar reserves to borrow from Wall Street and London banks to buy the oil they needed. Increased costs then drove up prices worldwide.

The story is continued by Matthieu Auzanneau in Oil, Power, and War: A Dark History:

The panic caused by the Iranian Revolution raised a new tsunami of inflation that was violently unleashed on the world economy, whose consequences were even greater than what took place in 1973. Once again, the sharp, unexpected increase in the price of crude oil instantly affected transportation, construction, and agriculture – confirming oil’s ubiquity. … The time of draconian monetarist policies advocated by economist Milton Friedman, David Rockefeller’s protégé, had arrived. The Bank of England’s interest rate was around 16% in 1980. The impact on the economy was brutal. …

Appointed by President Carter in August 1979, Paul Volcker, the new chief of the Federal Reserve, administered the same shock treatment [drastically raising interest rates] to the American economy. Carter had initially offered the position to David Rockefeller; Chase Manhattan’s president politely declined the offer and “strongly” recommended that Carter appeal to Volcker (who had been a Chase vice president in the 1960s). To stop the spiral of inflation that endangered the profitability and stability of all banks, the Federal Reserve increased its benchmark rate to 20% in 1980 and 1981. The following year, 1982, the American economy experienced a 2% recession, much more severe than the recession of 1974.

In an article in American Opinion in 19179, Gary Allen, author of None Dare Call It Conspiracy: The Rockefeller Files (1971), observed that both Volcker and Henry Kissinger were David Rockefeller protégés. Volcker had worked for Rockefeller at Chase Manhattan Bank and was a member of the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations. In 1971, when he was Treasury undersecretary for monetary affairs, Volcker played an instrumental role in the top-secret Camp David meeting at which the president approved taking the dollar off the gold standard. Allen wrote that it was Volcker who “led the effort to demonetize gold in favor of bookkeeping entries as part of another international banking grab. His appointment now threatens an economic bust.”

Volcker’s Real Legacy

Allen went on:

How important is the post to which Paul Volcker has been appointed? The New York Times tells us: “As the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve System, which by law is independent of the Administration and Congress, has exclusive authority to control the amount of money available to consumers and businesses.” … This means that the Federal Reserve Board has life-and-death power over the economy.

And that is Paul Volcker’s true legacy. At a time when the Fed’s credibility was “greatly diminished,” he restored to it the life-and-death power over the economy that it continues to exercise today. His “shock therapy” of the early 1980s broke the backs of labor and the unions, bankrupted the savings and loans, and laid the groundwork for the “liberalization” of the banking laws that allowed securitization, derivatives, and the repo market to take center stage. As noted by Jeff Spross in The Week, Volcker’s chosen strategy essentially loaded all the pain onto the working class, an approach to monetary policy that has shaped Fed policy ever since.

In 2008-09, the Fed was an opaque accessory to the bank heist in which massive fraud was covered up and the banks were made whole despite their criminality. Taking the dollar off the gold standard allowed the Fed to engage in the “quantitative easing” that underwrote this heist. Bolstered by OPEC oil backing, uncoupling the dollar from gold also allowed it to maintain and expand its status as global reserve currency.

What was Volcker’s role in all this? He is described by those who knew him as a personable man who lived modestly and didn’t capitalize on his powerful position to accumulate personal wealth. He held a lifelong skepticism of financial elites and financial “innovation.” He proposed a key restriction on speculative activity by banks that would become known as the “Volcker Rule.” In the late 1960s, he opposed allowing global exchange rates to float freely, which he said would allow speculators to “pounce on a depreciating currency, pushing it even lower.” And he evidently regretted the calamity caused by his 1980s shock treatment, saying if he could do it over again, he would do it differently.

It could be said that Volcker was a good man, who spent his life trying to rectify that defining moment when he helped free the dollar from gold. Ultimately, eliminating the gold standard was a necessary step in allowing the money supply to expand to meet the needs of trade. The power to create money can be a useful tool in the right hands. It just needs to be recaptured and wielded in the public interest, following the lead of the American colonial governments that first demonstrated its very productive potential.

This article was first posted on Truthdig.com.

Neoliberalism’s Dirty Little Secrets Backfire

Nick Hanauer, a self-professed capitalist billionaire, spoke at a TED conference only recently. He exposed neoliberalism’s brand of capitalism getting away with murder in plain sight.

Mr. Hanauer described himself:

After a 30-year career in capitalism spanning three dozen companies, generating tens of billions of dollars in market value, I’m not in the top one percent (1.0%), I’m in the top zero-point-one percent (0.1%) of all earners… rich capitalists like me have never been richer… how do we manage to grab an ever-increasing share of the economic pie every year?

According to Hanauer:

It all comes down to just one thing: Economics.

There was a time, for example in the 1950s, when economics worked on behalf of everybody in the country. At the time CEO pay was 20xs the average worker. In stark contrast, today’s neoliberal brand of capitalism works only for big corporations and billionaires, nobody else, and CEO pay has skyrocketed to 360xs rank-and-file worker pay.

Neoliberalism is a made-to-order-get-rich-scheme but reserved for the already rich. No outsiders allowed, other than the few that suddenly appear out of nowhere, like apparitions coming to life out of Silicon Valley.

As a consequence of neoliberal ideology over the past 30-40 years, in the USA alone, according to Hanauer: “The top 1% has grown 21 trillion dollars richer while the bottom 50% have grown 900 billion dollars poorer.”  That pattern of widening inequality has largely repeated across the world. It is the Grand Slam of Neoliberalism, and it just keeps on going and growing.

Politically, the neoliberal agenda is a kissing cousin to Republican talking points, arguing (1) raising taxes always kills growth. And, (2) any form of government regulation is inefficient. And, (3) raising wages always kills jobs, as businesses cannot afford to pay higher wages. These timeworn myths have hung in there like some kind of universal stamp of Good-Housekeeping approval ever since the Reagan administration. But, all three are stale myths, meaningless, false, make-believe storylines.

Not only that, neoliberalism’s knee-jerk fix for middle class struggles to cope with stagnate wage growth for 40 years is: (1) globalization (code word for moving jobs to shores of the lowest common wage denominator) and (2) more austerity (code word for cutting social programs to help finance tax cuts for the rich). According to Hanauer, the twin forces of globalization and austerity were the problem in the first instance, undermining the U.S. middle class.

Therefore, with neoliberalism ingrained into the world economic fabric, as it beats down labor while celebrating corporate over-lordship’s legal status as a “person”, what is a society to do?

Hanauer argues that America needs new economics. Toss out neoliberalism. For starters, he claims a growing number of academics and practitioners have concluded that neoliberal economic theory is “dangerously wrong.” Thus, for decades “bad economic theory” has resulted in massive inequality throughout the world accompanied by disruptive political instability. As such, neoliberalism is inherently self-destructive and, by default, it morphs into a replica of 18th century absolutism with power vested in one or more rulers or despotism as a final remaining beachhead for its survival.

Further to the point, neoliberalism is a “backwards approach to economics because it isn’t capital that creates economic growth.” It’s people that create economic growth. And, “it isn’t self-interest that promotes the public good.” It’s reciprocity. And, “it isn’t competition that creates prosperity.” It’s cooperation. Yet, neoliberalism is tethered to capital creation as the engine for growth, self-interest as the fuel for growth, and competition as the determinate of success.

Hanauer’s list of mistaken neoliberal assumptions:

  1. The market is an efficient equilibrium system, which means if one thing like wages goes up, then something else in the same economy like jobs must go down. Not true. In 2015 in Seattle when they passed the first $15/hr. minimum wage, the neoliberals “freaked out.” But, thereafter the unemployment rate fell dramatically. Restaurant businesses in Seattle, which neoliberal advocates said would collapse, boomed (restaurant employment increased by 24,000, post 2015). More people with more money to spend increased businesses across the board. Seattle’s $15/hr. minimum wage lifted all boats.
  2. The price of something is always equal to its value. Which means if one person earns fifty thousand per year and another person earns fifty million per year; person number two produces 1,000 more value. However, people are not paid what they are truly worth. In point of fact, they are paid based upon “the power they have to negotiate.” Workers shrinkage of a share of GDP is not because workers have become less productive. It’s because employers have become more powerful politically amidst a tornado of behind the scenes manipulations cutting labor off at the knees, as well as disgraceful examples of union busting by the nation’s highest court, e.g., Janus v. AFSCME taking aim at the heart of public-sector unions in America, by a 5-4 decision the C0urt ruled against union fees in the public sector as a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech, overturning 40 years of established law.
  3. Humans are homo economicus, meaning they are (1) perfectly selfish, (2) perfectly rational, and (3) relentlessly self-maximizing. This goes to the heart of a crude, cruel neoliberal economics. But, homo economicus fails, as it is both “morally corrosive and scientifically wrong.” In contrast, the latest empirical science describes humans as (1) highly cooperative, (2) reciprocal, and (3) intuitively moral creatures.

A new economics brings innovation as the process by which we solve human problems, and it involves five rules:

  1. Successful economies are not jungles where survival of the fittest rules. Rather, they’re gardens. Thus, markets, like gardens, must be tended. The market is a vehicle to realize innovation and prosperity, but markets left untended, unconstrained by social norms or without regulations, create more problems than they solve.
  2. Inclusion creates economic growth. So, including more people in more ways brings growth.
  3. The purpose of the corporation is not solely to enrich shareholders. The purpose of the corporation should be to improve all stakeholders, including customers, workers, communities, and shareholders.
  4. Greed is not good. “Being rapacious does not make you a capitalist; it makes you a sociopath.”
  5. The laws of economics involve the principals of “choice.” Neoliberal economics has sold the public on the idea that neoliberalism is immutable, natural law and unchangeable. In fact, economics are social norms and constructive narratives based upon those norms that offer alternative choices. People have a choice but don’t realize it.

The credibility of neoliberalism’s faith in unfettered markets as the surest road to shared prosperity is on life-support these days. And well it should be. The simultaneous waning of confidence in neoliberalism and in democracy is no coincidence or mere correlation. Neoliberalism has undermined democracy for 40 years.1

According to Stiglitz, the only way forward to “save our planet and our civilization” is a rebirth of history by revitalizing the Enlightenment and recommitting to its essential value propositions of freedom, respect for knowledge, and democracy. After all, the Enlightenment provided the philosophical basis of the American Revolution as a blueprint for a democratic society. It’s the rebirth of history that Stiglitz prescribes to fix the failures of neoliberalism.

Otherwise, very powerful political consequences of the neoliberal world will continue on a path of self-destructive absolutism with people ultimately pushing back by hitting the streets, like today in Chile, Hong Kong, France, Iraq, Haiti, Lebanon, Spain, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

What do these global protests have in common?

In all cases, price increases for key basic services have proven to be the final straw for people who have long felt shut out of opportunity. For example, in Ecuador protestors stormed parliament over discontinuation of decades-old fuel subsidies as part of an austerity program to cut public spending, insisted by the IMF. A hike in transport prices also sparked massive protests in Chile. In Lebanon a plan to tax WhatsApp prompted wider protests about general economic issues of inequality and corruption, an interesting feature found in all street protests these days as single issues blossom into full-blown universal demands for a fair share.

As it happens, the world has become a tinderbox as seemingly minor changes in policies like transport taxes prompt massive demonstrations. Ordinary citizens hit the streets in outpourings of years of pent-up economic oppression, tired of “just getting by” or “not getting by at all.” It’s a universal threat that neoliberal self-immolation follows continual adherence to a stale emphasis on globalization and austerity.

  1. Joseph E. Stiglitz, “The End of Neoliberalism and the Rebirth of History,” November 4, 2019.

Death by a Thousand Trumps: The Logical End Point of Capitalism

The fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly (and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered): Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?

— Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Ant-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, 1972

There is a fairly typical and recurrent notion among many Americans that Donald Trump and his administration is some sort of aberration. As if his brutal, venal, racist, and bullying nature is something new, or different from previous leaders. For those not inclined to look at the historical record; one only has to look beyond our borders to view the authoritarian personality type that Trump represents in power all over the world: Modi, Orban, Erdogan, Jinping, Duterte, and Bolsonaro being the most obvious comparisons.

Our president is not an exception but the logical culmination of a nation built on genocide, slavery, empire, and capitalism. His virulent nationalism, his racist and sexist attitudes, and unbelievably fragile ego are all undisputable proof that millions of people enjoy, tolerate, or acquiesce to his behavior. Liberal pieties and paeans towards restoring normalcy don’t move the needle for most center-left voters either, as it is at least tacitly/subconsciously understood that after Trump and Brexit there is no going back towards “liberal democratic” rule. A threshold has been crossed.

Trump and his billionaire cronies are simply doing what capitalists do best: doling out more death and destruction, which many US citizens are all too comfortable eliding; except for the understandable shock and anger over the most outrageous travesties, such as the burning of the Amazon or children in concentration camps on our southern border. Even then, there is no programmatic analysis of what caused the problem (capitalism and empire) and very little visionary leadership with any social power or pop-cultural relevancy to propose realistic solutions.

It’s crucial to look outside the borders of the US to see how capital really operates. Western multinationals pay foreign governments to murder, ethnically cleanse, pillage, rape, and despoil entire nations and natural habitats. US transnational corporations as well as federal funding for various authoritarian regimes (notably Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc.) pay for their militaries, private security forces, death squads, proxy terrorists and spies, as well as corporate espionage.

For these reasons and many more it cannot be considered hyperbole to call the USA a fascist state. For those unconvinced, I suggest reading Umberto Eco’s 1995 essay  “Ur-Fascism” to understand why. Henry Giroux uses the term “neoliberal fascism” and his recent book American Nightmare, which I reviewed for New York Journal of Books, spells out in detail the deepening spirals of violence and ignorance American society is succumbing to.

The near total focus on purely domestic policies in mainstream media and by our politicians is excruciating, maddening, and cringe-inducing. The constant domestic policy myopia contradicts any statements that liberals and conservatives actually understand, or have genuine interest or empathy for foreign causes or solidarity with those in need around the globe.

One only has to find old news programs, for example, from the fifties through the eighties to remember that news media for all its flaws then was much more informed and nuanced about international relations compared to today. Dissidents, counterculture figures, communists, and radicals appeared regularly on TV talk shows and were generally encouraged or at least tolerated by liberal establishment journalists, whereas today there is a huge zero. Foreign wars and overseas events were covered more extensively.

There’s no doubt many liberals earnestly want Trump gone for his racist border policy and global warming denialism, among other issues. Yet, of course, much of the outrage revolves around the pseudo-moralizing, a way of saying: “He doesn’t represent us, the good-hearted progressive people in the USA.”

A petty, corrupt, racist, chauvinistic, violent grifter is exactly the type of person to represent the United States. It needs to be said, and repeated, over and over.

There are tens of millions of mini-Trumps all over the nation, exploiting, killing, jailing, and materially and mentally impoverishing working people. Here’s something to ponder. How many US citizens would support kicking out all undocumented immigrants in our country? Almost certainly the number is in the millions, if not tens of millions of people.

Where do US citizens think this is all leading towards? Have we not been locked in a death spiral, circling the drain for centuries, and have our leaders not plundered, murdered, enslaved, and ruthlessly exploited fellow humans, nature, and resources at a horrifying and increasing rate? Even further back, isn’t this where Western civilization has been headed towards for 6,000 years: a system based on brutal and authoritarian hierarchies propped up by organized religion, barbaric racism and tribalism, imperial delusions of grandeur, and myths about a world full of limitless resources?

Also, the ruling classes have been getting more ignorant, more venal, less philanthropic, and less empathetic. There are studies that can confirm this: for instance, through measuring emotional intelligence (EQ), it has been found that in corporate firms, positions above middle management show a dramatic drop in EQ. Of course, we know most CEOs and corporate owners are borderline if not full-blown psychopathic or sociopathic. The ownership of our nation are perfectly willing and able to exploit workers, cut benefits, destroy public programs, ignore the poor and minorities, and breed mass alienation at a level unseen since the Gilded Age.

There are about 585 billionaires in the US, about 175,000 people with over 25 million in total (0.05% of the population), 1.4 million individuals with wealth over 5 million (0.42% of the population), and it’s estimated there are about 12 million millionaires in the US (about 3.6% of the population). They are on the other side of a class divide that is widening more every year.

The 2016 election clearly showed white voters turned out in droves for Trump, but what mostly went unmentioned is that for all voters making over 50k a year, the edge also went to Trump, 49% to Clinton’s 47%. So much for the idea that those with wealth are part of a enlightened and tolerant “meritocracy” as our corporate overlords and their media puppets like to constantly remind us: rather, those with just a little bit of money, unconsciously or not, use their vote to crush the lower classes through Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, tariffs and trade wars, etc.

Umberto Eco also points this out: he correctly demonstrates that one of the features of fascism is an “appeal to the frustrated middle class, a class suffering from an economic crisis or feelings of political humiliation, and frightened by the pressure of lower social groups”. Erich Fromm also mentions this phenomenon at length in his classic Escape from Freedom.

The insatiable desires of the elites and the economic leverage the “Global North” holds further absolutely dirt-cheap prices for all manners of consumer goods, by externalizing the costs onto faraway nations, the environment, and the poor who inhabit nearby industrial or manufacturing sites, and other “sacrifice zones”.

This accounts for the burgeoning phenomena of the worker as an “independent contractor”, a model touted by Silicon Valley and venture capitalists. The new model is to cut as many benefits as possible and use low-wage service work or the threat of falling into this precariat as leverage to squeeze as much work and productivity as possible out of what remains of the middle class.

Small businesses which serviced the rich in previous eras are now forced to compete more fiercely or die, and thus compelled into deflationary business models with price wars, etc.; while the large-sector service corporations effectively have monopolies and can force workers to accept low pay due to the reserve army of labor.

Perhaps soon, the majority of the rich will be forced to acquiesce due to popular demand on issues such as free college or universal health care. Yet, they will never, ever choose voluntarily to surrender their basic model of economic power or to restructure corporate America. Freedom without economic equality is impossible. The majority of us are relegated to a form of serfdom, with no prospects for democracy in the economy and the workplace.

Another point worth mentioning is that reform is never going to happen in time through legislative and judicial means. The amount of hoops to jump through, in our constitution and in the legislature, to structurally change the system will take way too long, sap momentum, and destroy any movement based in electoral politics however good the intent.

Requiring any mass movement to follow every legalistic framework for change is just another form of elitism: forcing the multitude to advance at the glacial pace of the legal system is simply an authoritarian call for law and order to cement unjust property rights. Any form of reformist policies will be denied by appealing to the status quo of existing laws, and their deluded obsession with following corrupt legal procedures and bureaucratic red-tape written by corporations and lobbyists. Rather, citizen assemblies, general strikes, direct action, and public referenda should be used as much as possible to counter the dirty tricks of the elites.

The main strivings of the members of our government, Democrat or Republican, are for power, money, and fame: they are not any substantially or qualitatively different from Trump in this respect. Their warped, huge, and fragile egos have convinced themselves that they really are the right people for the job, regardless of their obvious corrupt nature, lack of knowledge, and moral failings. Rather than being devoted to public service, their actions imply that they view themselves as doing the public a favor by simply existing and choosing to run for office to provide us with an “enlightened” political class, rather than those scary “populists”.

There is an unacknowledged anti-democratic strain in US society which insists every public policy position must be run by an expert, a technocrat, despite all evidence suggesting these professional-managerial class types (personified by Obama, his reign marking the apotheosis, the high-water mark of meritocratic and liberal democratic ideology) are craven, corrupt sycophants beholden to the power elite.

Apparently there are about 5 million people in the US who hold clearance to view classified material. There are about 1.3 million military and about 700,000 police officers. So that’s 7 million right there which constitute the national security state. The 21st century Praetorian Guard, if you will. If you count the defense corporations, fossil fuel multinationals, and various conglomerates which profit off the destruction and exploitation of workers and the environment, and all the sub-contractors which rely on the largesse (trough) of defense, fossil fuel, and other anti-life industries, that’s a few more million easily.

What I’m getting at is dislodging Trump, or any figurehead president, is small potatoes, because there are at least 10-30 million Americans with a shitload of guns and money who do not want to see any — and I mean any — fundamental progressive changes. Without a mass base advocating for socialist and revolutionary democratic policies, there is nothing the ruling classes won’t do to protect their privileges.

Forget an imbecile like Trump. The power elite would rather re-animate the corpse of Genghis Khan than have Bernie Sanders or anyone left of him in charge. Believe that. They would rather use the power of capital flight and take their money to Swiss bank accounts or the Cayman Islands and bankrupt our entire country than see any socialist in power. Bank on it. Forget elections as the exclusive means towards dismantling the power structure. Only mass movements in the streets can fight the barbarism we are confronted with.

Workers Need More Rights and Economic Democracy

As someone who has been a union member since I was a Marine with the American Servicemen’s Union until I retired last year as a Teamster as well as a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, I have lived the reality of mistreatment of workers in the United States.

It is good to see labor rising with teacher and other strikes increasing across the country and with the US public showing its highest support for unions in decades. The next president should harness the energy of working people and build political power for a transformation agenda for working people who have not gotten a real raise in decades, while executives and investors have been getting rich off of higher rates of exploitation with increased productivity and globalized markets and corporate-managed trade deals that enable global corporations to pit the working classes of different countries against each other in a race to the bottom.

Urgent Reforms Needed, Time to Transform the Workplace

The centerpiece of my campaign for president is an ecosocialist Green New Deal. Responding to the climate crisis is going to require changes to many sectors of the economy. We need to create a new democratic and ecological economy. We must define this economy with the rights of workers in mind, not only their right to collective bargaining but the need to make workers into owners to end the capitalist crisis highlighted by the reality that three people have wealth equal to 50 percent of the population.

We need social and cooperative ownership where workers receive the full value of their labor. Now we are exploited. We get a fixed wage and all the surplus value we create with our work is taken by capitalists as profits simply because they own the company, not because they did any work.

The Green New Deal requires the United States to reconstruct all economic sectors for ecological sustainability, from agriculture and manufacturing to housing and transportation. This means millions of new jobs in a democratized economy where some sectors are nationalized, others are controlled by state and municipal government and more are re-made into cooperatives that are worker-owned.

A Green New Deal must include a Just Transition, which means income to compensate all workers whose jobs are eliminated by steps taken to protect the environment. Displaced workers should be guaranteed up to five years of their previous income and benefits as they make the transition to alternative work.

As part of the Green New Deal, I am calling for an Economic Bill of Rights, which includes a job guarantee and a guaranteed minimum income above poverty for all. The housing crisis will be alleviated with the institution of universal rent control and expansion of public housing in walkable communities with access to regional mass transit. Air and water pollution will be relieved by putting in place a 100% electrified transportation system emphasizing freight rails, high-speed inter-city rails, and urban light-rail mass transit, with electric powered cars and trucks where they are still needed.

A crash program of federal government investment and public enterprises to rebuild our economy for zero greenhouse gas emissions and 100% clean energy by 2030 will create full employment and shared prosperity. But not everyone is able to work. And some things should be human rights, not commodities you can only get if you have enough money. That’s why we need a social safety net of social services funded publicly, not privately out of pocket. That means a national health service for universal health care, lifelong free public education, student debt relief, and a secure retirement by doubling Social Security benefits. The ecosocialist Green New Deal is a plan to remake the economy so that it serves the people and protects the ecology and the climate. Those objectives require a socialist economic democracy so that we the people–not big business interests–have the power to choose economic justice and ecological sanity.

Immediate Reforms For Working People

In addition to changes coming as a result of putting in place an ecosocialist Green New Deal, we need are immediate labor law reforms.

Repeal Repressive Labor Laws: Repeal the sections of the Taft-Hartley Act, the Landrum-Griffin Act, the Hatch Act, and state “Right-To-Work” laws that have crippled labor’s ability to organize by outlawing or severely restricting labor’s basic organizing tools: strikes, boycotts, pickets, and political action. This should include putting in place Card Check which extends union bargaining status to majority sign-up or card-check recognition.

A Workers’ Bill of Rights: Enact a set of legally enforceable civil rights, independent of collective bargaining. This should include:

(1) Extending the Bill of Rights protections of free speech, association, and assembly into all workplaces.

(2) Establishes workers’ rights to living wages, portable pensions, information about chemicals used, report labor and environmental violations, refuse unsafe work, and participate in enterprise governance. OSHA must be funded adequately to protest workers and communities and workers empowered to enforce safety and health regulations. Retirement should include a mandatory system of Guaranteed Retirement Accounts that provide a return of at least 3 percent above inflation guaranteed by the federal government.

(3) Establishes workers’ rights to freedom from discharge at will, employer search and seizure in the workplace, sexual harassment, and unequal pay for work of comparable worth. These rights should ensure that workers can take legal action to stop wage theft. In addition to a living wage, workers should have subsidized, high quality child care and elder care. Workers should receive six weeks of paid vacation annually in addition to federal holidays. For every seven years worked, they should receive one year of paid educational leave and one year of parental leave for each child with no loss of seniority.

Employer Accountability: There must be strong and speedy penalties for employers who break labor laws. In addition, federal law needs to ban striker replacements, provide triple back pay for illegally locked-out workers, and there must be unemployment compensation for striking and locked-out workers.

Labor Law Protections for Farm workers: Extend to farm workers the same rights under labor law as other workers, including A Day of Rest, Overtime Pay, Collective Bargaining Protections, Disability Insurance, Unemployment Insurance, Child Labor Protections, and Occupational Safety and Health Standards.

Labor Law Protections for Prisoners: Enact legislation to end the super-exploitation of prison labor at pennies per hour, which undercuts the wages of workers outside the prison system. The prison labor system as it exists now is akin to slavery and the prison labor camps in other authoritarian countries. Work done by prisoners can be part of rehabilitation and enable prisoners to acquire job skills, support their families, and have savings upon release. Work done by prisoners for private contractors and for public works and services should be paid prevailing wages. Prison workers should have all the protections of labor law, including the right to organize unions.

Fair Trade: Trade deals should be rewritten to uplift labor and environmental standards across borders. Fair trade pacts should eliminate secretive trade tribunals to which only governments and corporations have access. Trade disputes should be adjudicated in public courts to which workers, unions, and public have access.

It is time to correct the decades of diminishing worker rights and shrinking unions as well as low-pay. The United States is about to begin a transformation to a clean, sustainable energy future. The new economy we create must prioritize the rights of workers to create an economy that works for the 99 percent, not just the 1 percent.

Trump Has Blocked Wage Gains for American Workers

On June 19, 2019, President Donald Trump bragged at his re-election kickoff rally in Orlando that, thanks to his leadership, the wages of American workers “are rising at the fastest rate in many decades.”

The reality, however, is that they are not.  Indeed, wages rose at a faster rate only a few years before, under his predecessor.  And a key reason for the very limited wage increases since Trump entered the White House is his administration’s success in blocking any wage increases for some workers and in reducing wage increases for others.

In fact, Trump has never been enthusiastic about increasing the pay of America’s workers.  “Our wages are too high,” the billionaire businessman complained back in November 2015, during his campaign for the presidency.

Naturally, then, Trump and his fellow Republicans have blocked any increase in the federal minimum wage during his time in office.  In 2016, Trump stated his opposition to setting any federal wage floor and, since then, has never proposed raising it.  As a result of years of Republican resistance in Congress and the White House, the federal minimum wage has remained stuck at a poverty level — $7.25 an hour — for a decade and has lost much of its purchasing power, making it the lowest minimum wage throughout the industrialized world.  The minimum wage for waiters and other workers relying on tips is even lower: $2.13 an hour.

Moreover, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress continue to oppose any minimum wage increase.  In early May 2019, Trump’s Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, testified before two Congressional committees, declaring:  “We do not support a change in the federal minimum wage at this time.”  In response, Senator Patty Murray, alluding to the ten year gap since the last increase, asked:  “If workers do not deserve [a raise] at this time, then when do they?”  But Acosta did not answer her question.

In July 2019, the new, Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation to phase in an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour, thereby — as the AFL-CIO noted — giving “40 million Americans a raise.”  But only three House Republicans voted for the measure, while Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that he would prevent a Senate vote on it.  Although, in mid-June, Trump said he was “looking at” the idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage, he quickly countered that by stating, falsely, that he had “already created a minimum wage because wages have gone up more than . . .  in many decades” under his administration.  Since then, nothing about a minimum wage increase has been heard from the president, and the Democratic wage raise legislation remains banned from consideration in the Republican Senate.

Trump has also gone out of his way to undermine the income of public sector workers.  In August 2018, he announced that he would scrap a scheduled 2.1 percent pay raise, plus locality paycheck adjustments, for 2 million federal employees.  “Federal agency budgets cannot sustain such increases,” he declared, avoiding any mention of the fact that he had previously secured a sharp reduction in federal income through legislation for a $1.5 trillion tax cut that largely benefited the wealthy and their corporations.  In late December 2018, Trump followed up by issuing an executive order to freeze the pay of federal workers.  But, subsequently, Congress overrode his action and partially restored the pay increase, raising the pay for federal employees by 1.4 percent (two-thirds of the scheduled increase), with additional money factored in for locality pay adjustments.

In the winter of 2018-2019, Trump attacked the livelihoods of public workers once again, when his shutdown of the federal government forced 800,000 federal employees to go on unpaid leave or to work without pay.

One of the factors advancing the income of American workers, as well as helping to safeguard them from excessively-long workweeks, is the provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act that guarantees them time-and-a-half pay for more than 40 hours of work per week.  But coverage is based upon workers remaining under a specific income level and, thanks to inflation over the past few decades, fewer and fewer workers remained below that level.  Recognizing that only 7 percent of American workers were still covered by the law, the Obama administration raised the income level for eligibility substantially. But, upon taking office, the Trump administration severely cut back Obama’s expansion of eligibility, thereby depriving as many as 8.2 million workers of the overtime coverage they had previously been promised.

Despite these actions taken by Trump and his administration to reduce wage gains, what economists call real wages (that is, wages and salaries adjusted for the rising cost of living) have been rising ― in part because many states and localities have passed laws raising their minimum wages far beyond the pathetic $7.25 level set by the federal government.

But, overall, increases in real wages during the Trump presidency have remained minuscule.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor, the real average weekly earnings for American workers increased by just 0.2 percent between June 2017 and June 2018.  From June 2018 to June 2019, the increase in their real average weekly earnings was only 1.2 percent.  Consequently, as Senator Bernie Sanders has stated, correctly, the average American worker earns less today than he or she did 45 years ago.

Although the pundits say the U.S. economy is booming — and it certainly is for the country’s billionaires — it’s not doing much for the incomes of American workers.  And much of the responsibility for this situation lies with Republican officeholders, especially Donald Trump.

Be Realistic: Demand the Impossible

In a previous article on the World Socialist Party of the United States reference was made to Impossibilism. Students of  America’s left history will recognise it as an outlook represented by the now defunct Socialist Labor Party, the extinct Proletarian Party and the still (only just) going Socialist Party of Canada which Larry Gambone describes in a brief history of the SPC.  Also considered part of the Impossibilist movement were Jules Guesde (at least up to 1914) and the French Workers Party.

According to Wikipedia, Impossibilists may be characterised as presenting a political theory and strategy:

that stresses the limited value of political, economic and social reforms within a capitalist economy…and that pursuing such reforms is counterproductive as they only strengthen support for the existing system…such reforms are irrelevant to the realisation of socialism and should not be a major concern for socialists.

The term “impossibilist” emerged as a term of political abuse. Socialists who stood for the end of capitalism and no compromises along the way were seen to be demanding the impossible. The possibilists emerged in France in the early 1880s, and they were the reformists, tired of trying to bring about socialism and nothing less, who imagined that the best possible option would be to chip away at the edifice of capitalism bit-by-bit, reforming it until it looked like socialism. Over a century has passed since these undoubtedly sincere people embarked upon their futile course and everywhere reformist gradualism has ended in the most abject failure. Over a hundred years of demanding “the possible” or “something now” has led the reformists to no-where. The real impossibilists now seem to be these self-proclaimed realists who sought to humanise capitalism by means of legislative reform. So, perhaps it is time for workers to be rather more practical and demand “the impossible”. Revolution rips up social evils by its roots; reform merely shifts it from one spot to another.

Impossibilists argue that socialists should be engaged in class struggle, in trades unions and elsewhere but that capitalism imposed limits to the gains for the working class that such activism could achieve. Impossibilists are generally not hostile to such actions to raise workers’ wages and improve living conditions as best as can be achieved within capitalism.

Impossibilists hold that the political struggle for socialism ought to aim beyond the “guerilla war” of the struggle for immediate demands within capitalism or risk being swallowed up by those struggles. They are not necessarily opposed to individual reforms within capitalism but to a strategy and definition of socialism defined by the reform of capitalism. The possibilists regarded socialism as a progressive social process rather than an ‘all-at-once’ end and presented voters with a platform of immediate demands. Those who regarded capitalism and socialism as mutually exclusive systems and refused to concede their revolutionary position of what became known as ‘the maximum programme’ were labelled as impossibilists.

The Impossiblists introduced a new and important suggestion into the socialist debate. They argued that a socialist party should not have a programme of “immediate demands” –  palliative policies. While not setting themselves up to oppose the attempts of the workers to improve their status under capitalism, they understood the limitations of these attempts. Even to this day, too many workers have yet to learn them.

But it is one thing to say that the socialist impossibilist should not oppose those fighting for reforms, and quite another to state that they should place themselves in a position of trying to make capitalism work in the interests of the workers, when all along they know it cannot. There are innumerable self-styled “socialist” organisations which seek to gain leadership over the workers by aiding them to improve their present position even while at the same time they know this is a futile struggle.

Suppose a socialist party were to embark on a campaign to obtain better housing, hospitals, roads, and so forth. Most likely it would get a lot of people to join but on what basis would they have joined? The same basis of the slogans which the campaigns appealed to them to join. So, in the end, a socialist party would consist of members who were seeking continual amelioration. And what happens when such an organisation is voted into political power? It merely uses the power of the State to carry on running capitalism. It cannot use its control of the State to abolish capitalism, because its own members who joined for reforming reasons only, would be in opposition to it. The Party would have to carry out reform of capitalism or lose its members to another organisation which advocated remedial measures. Impossibilists could cite example after example where a party calling itself “socialist,” but advocating immediate demands now and “socialism in the future” came into political power, and instead of ending exploitation, merely changed the form of it.

Impossibilists do not advocate political legislation to reform capitalism. To do so would put the socialists in a position of mis-educating the workers to believe that the capitalist State can function in their interests when, in the final analysis, the State is the agency by which the capitalist class maintains its domination over the working class.

This approach has remained unchanged during the turbulence of domestic and world history experienced during the twentieth century and has often infuriated and frustrated friends as well as foes.  This it owes in part “to a certain political style which steers an unsteady course between uncompromising clarity and doctrinaire intolerance” according to Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century (Rubel and Crump) but also to a strategy that places its emphasis on persuasion and rational argument – to the development of socialist consciousness – and does not offer the immediate hopes (or jobs for careerists) of “practical” political activism or single-issue campaign politics.

For our demands most moderate are, we only want the earth.

James Connolly, “We Only Want the Earth“, from Songs of Freedom, 1907

Timir Basu focuses on Labor in India

Labor around the world is facing a hostile situation to the extent and intensity unprecedented in labor’s history. At the same time, labor in the Global South and Global North is theoretically, organizationally and politically unarmed. In this perspective, Timir Basu, a revolutionary once organizing the poor peasantry, and after passing hard time behind bars, organizing the labor, and delivering his tasks as editor of Frontier, the radical weekly from Kolkata, for decades, focuses on labor in India, a large economy in the Global South, in the following interview. The interview was taken in April 2019 by Farooque Chowdhury.

*****

Farooque Chowdhury: You were actively involved with organizing the poor peasantry along revolutionary lines. That was days of organizing armed struggle, years ago. Then, after getting out of prison, you actively got involved with organizing unions. You were simultaneously writing on labor and unions/labor movement in two famous weeklies – Economic and Political Weekly and Frontier. Later, over the years, as editor of Frontier, you keenly observe the labor and labor movement in India. What’s the present condition of (a) the labor, and (b) the labor movement in this south Asian country?

Timir Basu: Labor has been on the defensive everywhere since the 1990s, more precisely since the beginning of ruthless aggression of neo-liberalism. And, the South Asian region is no exception.

As for India, labor here is doubly disadvantaged because of a backward manufacturing process inherited from the British colonial rulers. Indian big business houses never tried to modernize their industry despite tremendous advance in technological up-gradation in manufacturing in Europe and America. Indian business tycoons are industrialists with feudal mindset. Also, they never tried to explore and expand market beyond a certain point. Unlike the Chinese capitalists who are latecomer in the race, they remained satisfied with captive market. They were always apprehensive of losing control over their family business empires in case of expansion. But with rapid march of globalization, technological up-gradation became the buzzword in new corporate culture dominated by Ambanis and Adanis, in place of old Tatas and Birlas. They began to automate their production lines with the sole purpose of cutting labor cost, not the improvement in quality of products. This is the main reason why Indian goods are not competitive in international market despite the advantage of cheap labor. Indian economy is not immune to global recession. Despite pompous claim of high growth rate and fairy tale of GDP, joblessness remains the perennial headache of all governments irrespective of color. Barring services sector the much-touted organized sector has been witnessing systematic killing of jobs.

Trade Union movement in general even in the organized sector finds it increasingly difficult to arrest the falling membership and boost the sagging morale of workers who are in constant threat of losing job. They work under the state of fear-psychosis, always encountering uncertainty and insecurity. The old way of placing charter of demands with major thrust on wage revision and compensatory allowance in proportion to rise or fall in consumer price index no longer works. Labor offensive in the form of strike in isolation here and there, quite often fails due to lack of solidarity support.

The phenomenal growth of services sector has created a new generation of employees who are essentially footloose, and May Day has very little meaning to them unless they are politically motivated. They are not interested in the past but what they fail to grasp is they protect their future without knowing the past. Labor movement in the era of digital economy looks more fragmented and the “cybertariat” is yet to stand on its own feet.

FC: What’s the major hindrance – theoretically or politically or organizationally or assault by capital/opponent classes – the labor movement in India is facing now?

TB: For the decline of labor movement what is theoretically valid for workers in the West is equally valid for workers in India. The collapse of Soviet Russia gave employers, more precisely corporate employers, extra leverage to curb their bargaining power. The model of’ socialist societies’ where workers used to enjoy better living standards and social security was no longer there. Socialism itself became a dirty word. The post-Soviet situation also helped right-wing forces organize trade unions under their banner of reactionary and backward ideology. Reversal in China gave them extra teeth to coerce labor and brakes on trade union rights.

Tragically, most workers in the organized sector came under the sway of political right while the left continued to wander in ideological wilderness. In truth, they are still in search of an appropriate strategy in the changed context. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) controlled Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) and [Indian National] Congress controlled INTUC together control most organized membership of unions and don’t allow workers to go on strike even in case of gross violation of workers’ rights.

FC: Which class dominates the labor movement in India?

TB: The middle class as a whole dominates Indian labor movement. It doesn’t matter whether unions are left-controlled or rightist led, leadership always comes with middle class background. Communist and socialist outfits deploy whole-timers to organize trade unions. Right-wing forces too do the same. This tradition has been continuing since beginning of trade union movement in the 1920s. For economically sound big unions, trade union bureaucracy is a nightmare to ordinary workers. The trade union bureaucracy is part of the management now. In the name of maintaining industrial peace, this leadership sometimes openly works against the interests of workers. It’s not that leaders from the working community are rare. But in course of time, they too acquire the status of middle class. Once P C Joshi, the secretary of undivided Communist Party of India, made a unique observation – “workers being promoted to leadership become babus”, the well-off Indian middle class. Declassed in reverse order!

The system of “recognized unions” is a nice device to corrupt TU leaders who do nothing in workplace, but provide consultancy to management. Their sole job is to keep vigil on aggrieved workers on behalf of management and pacify workers at the time of unrest.

FC: Divisive/sectarian politics by factions of the dominating capital is a crucial issue in this big economy. This divisive/sectarian politics of the dominating capital produces an equal and opposite reaction – concentrating on issues in the way, which is also essentially divisive/sectarian, and increasingly confining into another form of divisive/sectarian slogans. Both of these are acting as a tool in the hands of the dominating capital, and harming unity of the working classes, the wage-slaves, the exploited. Do you find slogans – program/demand/movement – from the labor that stand against all forms and colors of divisive/sectarian politics irrespective of appearance and sound, and stand on class line?

TB: It is the basic weakness of labor movement in India that even the far-left, not to speak of official left, does raise the question of class. Nor do they educate wage laborers on class line. Frankly speaking, they consciously keep trade unions free from politics. As a result, it is no problem for capital to divide workers by manipulating divisive and sectarian issues through their paid agents when it is necessary. When the ruling parties spread war hysteria, no protest emerges from workers’ platform as if workers are not affected by such propaganda.

In India one major problem affecting workers and workplaces is caste. Despite toiling for decades side by side in an establishment, workers remain vulnerable to caste and religious prejudices. They remain immune to progressive ideas – no change in their outlook. They come with prejudice and they go back with prejudice. Management encourages prejudice and obnoxious religious practice as Marwari businessmen would patronize in building up Hanumana, the monkey-chief who was an ally of Ramchandra during Rama’s Lanka expedition, temple inside factory premises so that their workers could worship there.

Despite encounter with modern urban life, workers assiduously nurse feudal values. Once a permanent worker in Calcutta Electric Supply Corporation’s mains department summed up the situation nicely: “the parcel that came from Bihar went back to Bihar after retirement without being opened”.

FC: Should the labor with a heroic history of trampling divisive/sectarian politics tolerate and give space to a seemingly pro-people, but fundamentally divisive/sectarian politics as an answer to the divisive/sectarian politics of the dominating capital/factions of the ruling classes in this economy with many competing components/regions/sections?

TB: As workers are not politically trained, they sometimes get swayed by divisive maneuvering of capital. Workers talk politics not at factory gate. No doubt, they discuss elections but they do it as common people, not as workers. So the working class perspective is totally missing in their discourse in roadside teashops or shanties where they live.

FC: The country with its geo-strategically important position and vying for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council is a hot bed for meddling/cajoling/pressure by imperialism. What impact is this making on the labor?

TB: Labor being apolitical they do hardly bother about India’s quest to get a permanent seat in UN Security Council. For one thing, they definitely take interest in Pakistan-bashing. Jingoism is a time-tested tactic to divert public attention. Again, leftists don’t counter it from their workers’ platform.

FC: Do you find the so-called NGOs, which are, in essence, longer and informal arms for implementing parts of foreign policy of a number of powerful states, influencing/intervening/organizing unions?

TB: Yes, NGOs are operating throughout the country. Most people, not to speak of workers separately, do hardly question NGO’s source of funds and NGOs’ action program. But their influence among workers, particularly in TU movement is negligible. It’s basically a middle class enterprise trying to have their presence felt among rural people and marginalized communities.

FC: How are the radical unions reacting to the imperialists’ moves at different levels of life in India including the areas of manufacturing and trade?

TB: Radical Unions’ response to global capital’s anti-national activities and naked interference in some cases is too inadequate to be taken seriously. One area that is totally neglected by radical unions and their rightist counterparts as well is ecology and climate. Imperial capital means unlimited plunder of natural and human resources, and in the process, they destroy ecological balance, inviting climatic catastrophe and engendering future generations. Tragically enough, radical unions don’t consider destruction of ecology as a serious threat to humanity. They talk about it very casually. It’s not on the agenda of their party. Nor is it on their TU agenda. In this area, some NGOs work in their own way and highlight climate change and its adverse impact on society and economy. But their target audience is educated middle class. So workers in Vedanta’s aluminum smelting plant are least bothered about the disaster brought about by their company in indiscriminate mining of alumina bearing hills. However, these mining activities are displacing thousands of tribal inhabitants and killing small rivulets and streams, which sustain life in the hilly region.

FC: Suffering of the farmers chained to credit capital, and their protests in India are now widely known. Bollywood, it should be Mullywood, has produced at least one feature film on this suffering. How is the labor in the industrial part of the economy reacting to these suffering and protests; i.e., expressing solidarity, joining the marches, etc. or having a position of onlooker, indifferent, no move to build up an alliance, etc.?

TB: Communist parties have been propagating the concept of worker-peasant alliance since their inception. But in practice they do precious little. It’s just a theoretical proposition to be discussed in party congresses and conferences. Jute workers struggle against retrenchment and arbitrary shutdown, but plight of jute growers is not their headache.

The idea of worker-peasant alliance cannot grow in isolation. Political parties and unions they control never try to chalk out any common program, which can be practiced jointly. Workers at best are onlookers, rather passive onlookers even when farmers march in thousands in scorching sun. Communists formulate this worker-peasant alliance strategy by borrowing from classical Marxist literature, but what they practice in the field will never succeed in building worker-peasant alliance. In the recent farmers’ long march to Mumbai, many middle class people showed sympathy to marchers – but no central TU came forward with a clear-cut strategy to support their cause. That TUs are asking workers to withdraw labor even for a day to protest farm suicides is unthinkable.

FC: What are the major (a) successes, and (b) failures of the main part and radical part, if identified in this way, of the labor movement in this country?

TB: Some labor welfare schemes have been incorporated in some labor acts. These are successes. But the present dispensation is trying to take away these hard-earned rights under the garb of “labor reforms”. And here unions of all shades, including unions owning allegiance to the ruling parties, are protesting rather half-heartedly. Here they fail miserably to put up a united fight without which workers are going to face medieval tyranny.

The development of an ever more technological complex manufacturing process is root cause of re-skilling of labor force. What they call fourth industrial revolution is all about maximization of automation. Maybe, automation has reached its limits after massive introduction of robots, negating physical presence of labor that was unthinkable at the beginning of the 20th century. Trade unions yet have no answer to automation beyond a certain point. They cannot oppose technological up-gradation. Nor can they resist the advent of labor-eating process even in areas where labor-organizing could have made decisive impact on the broader aspect of bargaining.

FC: Do you like to suggest/propose any step – ideological question, political struggle, relation between unions and radical political party of labor, leadership, inner-union democracy, political education of union members, literature – to the radical part of the labor movement in India?

TB: Well, in the organized sector, TU bureaucracy must be fought out. Even radical unions are not free from this virus. It acts as a brake on labor movement. TUs must raise political issues frequently at workers’ meet, even at plant level, instead of agitating to achieve sectarian goals. Unless TUs educate workers on political lines, this apolitical approach will lead to a more complex situation in which labor will find itself more powerless than ever before.

Capital is global. But now, labor’s resistance is strictly localized, failing to cross the national boundary and make solidarity movement a reality even at regional level. Thus, unions become powerless despite prolonged strike in some work facilities. Gone are the days of international federations and regional or industry-wise groupings. So May 1 is one more ritual, having no lasting impact on the wretched of the earth. Internationally, both left-wing and right-wing labor consolidations hardly make any news these days; they are in limbo. Only revival of socialist outlook internationally can give boost to rebuilding international labor federations without which corporations cannot be confronted effectively.

FC: Thank you for the interview discussing issues related to the labor in India.

TB: Thanks. I like to express my hope that the spirit of May 1 will mend many loose ends that stand in the way of building up powerful labor solidarity across the world.

Rising from its Death-bed

A socialist party that some say is a relic from the past clinging to life-support, is hoping its message can still resonate, and is attempting to sow its ideas in more favorable soil, now that American political life is showing promising signs of a revival. However, a definite class ideology by no means exists as yet and the task still remains to build a mass workers’ movement.

The increasingly reformist nature of the Socialist Party of America (SPA) led some of its members in Detroit to leave in 1916 and form the Socialist Party of the United States although a name change was soon required when the SPA challenged them on the use of the name so the Workers Socialist Party of the United States (WSPUS) was born. At its formation, it had only 43 members, but that’s more than it has now. The WSPUS sent its manifesto to Jack London, who in his last political statement, answered:

Please read my resignation from the Socialist Party,  and find that I resigned for the same reasons that impel you to form this new party…

Its birth proved to be premature. As a consequence of the political repression from the infamous Palmer ‘Red Raids’ of 1919, the WSPUS became the Socialist Education Society. In 1930, the Workers’ Socialist Party was re-formed and later re-named itself the World Socialist Party to avoid confusion with the Trotskyist Socialist Workers’ Party. A fortuitously name change in that it emphasizes the WSPUS’s internationalist world outlook and it is a companion party of the World Socialist Movement, which is, at the present time, more an aspiration than actual reality.

The WSPUS is not large and never ever was. There is no reason to be arrogant or boastful. In truth, it remains minuscule and inconsequential. It failed to make the transformation from a small study group to a mass socialist party. However, it has left its mark. It was WSPUS member Sam Orner, whom Clifford Odets based the character of Lefty in his famous play about the New York taxi drivers’ strike, “Waiting for Lefty.”

The renowned Marxist scholar, Anton Pannekoek, was an occasional writer for the party’s former journal, the “Western Socialist”. While visiting Harvard to accept a prestigious award for his astronomy research, Pannekoek chose to forgo the customary lavish university banquet to address a small meeting of the WSPUS.

Working people do not need yet another reformist party.  Of those, there are plenty enough to pick from, all proposing a plethora of palliative policies. What the WSPUS say is that what really is needed is an organisation that is grounded in the materialist principles of Marxism. The WSPUS has always held to a clear and precise definition of its aim since its foundation: A worldwide system of society in which goods and services are produced solely to satisfy human needs, not profit; which will only be possible when all the productive resources are owned in common and democratically controlled, rather than at present where they belong to private individuals or the State on the “people’s behalf”. Such a society cannot therefore be a system of buying and selling or bartering. It cannot be brought about by promises of political leaders. If the World Socialist Party of the United States at some point in the future were to run a candidate for President and won, their mission would be to abolish the very office they were elected to. It needs knowledgeable working people who understand and desire it. And a clear recognition that the working class are robbed and that the thieves are the capitalist class. Thus, the WSPUS takes up the political position of uncompromising hostility to all supporters of capitalism in any shape or form.

WSPUS has gone against the prevailing wisdom of the Left by not advocating reforms. Undoubtedly, some reforms do benefit workers but as far as political struggle is concerned, the position of the WSPUS is quite simply that it opposes the practice of reformism, on the grounds that campaigning for reforms is incompatible with the goal of achieving a socialist revolution. Once you go down that route, there is no limit to the number of reforms you aim to seek. Sooner or later in the bid to push for more and more reforms, the revolutionary objective of changing society will be neglected and eventually forgotten altogether. Not just that, but many gains of particular reforms are transient and temporary, given with one hand, to be taken away with other. It becomes a constant treadmill struggle to retain them.

For the WSPUS, the strategy of social revolution isn’t just a long-term policy – it is also a good short-term tactic. Faced with voters who refuse to endorse pro-capitalist candidates, confronted by voters who no longer hold to TINA “there is no alternative” theory and challenged by a growing active militant movement for socialism, what else can those in power do but offer as many concessions as possible?

Is the WSPUS an anachronism, well past its use-by date? Or is its efforts to breathe life into itself again in the the age of the internet and social media an optimistic sign of the resurrection of the assumed dead “impossibilist” socialist tradition.

Facing the music: religion, nationalism, and sports have enchanted the working class; socialism hasn’t

Orientation

Religion, nationalism and sports as propaganda for the ruling class.

In the closing section of my course Brainwashing Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century, I ask my students to compare organized religion, nationalism and sports, not only to determine the kind of propaganda they are (black, gray or white), but also the devices and artifacts that are used. This includes the use of architecture, statues, rites of passage, liturgy, sacred music, pilgrimages, holy days, use of visual symbols, language manipulation and techniques for altering states of consciousness. The world religions have used these processes for at least 3,500 years to exploit, control and distract people from their misery on earth and direct us instead to variations of ‘you’ll get pie in sky when you die’.

The history of nationalism over the last 400-500 years has closely followed the techniques of organized religion. In fact, I think it is fair to say that nationalism is more powerful than moderate and liberal religion in motivating people. I doubt whether most people of liberal or moderate religion in the West would sacrifice their life for their religion. But at least among the working class who sign up for the military, nationalism can motivate people to fight and die to kill strangers in other countries who share the same social class.

Sports, as opposed to religion or nationalism, is a more joyous escape from the difficulties of life. If I were a betting person, I would bet most Americans might go to the barricades if the AFC and NFC championships were not televised. A championship playoff game such as the World Series could certainly outdraw any religious or patriotic ceremony in TV ratings. And what is the result? Who wins the game ultimately has little effect on the lives of the fans. Yet they continue to watch. This is some mighty potion going’ on. Do the socialists understand it? Do we use similar techniques to win the working classes to socialism? Not on your life!

Qualification

I am certainly not claiming that religion or nationalism has the same hold on people in the 21st century that they did in the 20th century. At least in the western countries, there has been a steady decline of interest in religion. Nationalism certainly does not have the grip on Europe that it did in the 19th and 20th centuries. Still, in spite of this decline, both carry enormous power.

I   Socialists’ Failures to Come to Grips With Enchantment

It’s not enough for socialists to simply claim that religion, nationalism and sports are examples of “false consciousness” for the working class.

I would think that socialists, being social, would be hip to what is going on with these propaganda techniques. Sure, you may find cultural critics beginning with the Frankfurt School who will bemoan the lack of taste among the masses and state how all religion, nationalism and sports produce false consciousness. But this is a very mechanical and unnecessarily bleak understanding of the potential of the techniques used in these areas to light a fire under the working class. We must not only point out the manipulative nature of enchantment, but we need to be dialectical and ask how we could use these techniques to promote socialism. After all, the construction of a sacred space (whether a church or a ballpark), a dramatized story, ritualized gestures, and the use of music and the arts to alter consciousness is not just naïve superstition. It is part of our bio-evolutionary heritage to be interested in these things. The alternative to the alienated enchantment of sports, religion and nationalism is not de-enchantment, as so many dry-as-dust socialists seem to think. We must build a “this-worldly” pagan enchantment that is a foundation for socialism.

Socialists’ failures against nationalism and religion

Three examples should give you the picture. The first is the famous one of socialists before World War I. The socialist parties in Europe and, to a lesser extent in the United States, were very confident that the workers of the world would unite to oppose the war. After all, the workers understood that they had no fatherland, right? Wrong. Not only did working class people kill each other after being whipped up to mass hysteria, but most of the socialist ministers, some of them great intellectuals like Kautsky, Plekhanov and Kropotkin got emotionally caught up in defending the fatherland. Socialism as a political movement of internationalism was no match for nationalism.

The second example is of Germany in 1933. During the depression in that country, the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD) was the strongest socialist party in the whole world. Economic conditions were bad. Great time for a revolution, right? What did the socialists do? According to the mass psychologist Wilhelm Reich, they simply fed the masses boring statistics about their condition. However, the Nazis understood that there is a charismatic side to people, a side that likes mythology, drama, pomp and circumstance, doomsday scenarios, scapegoats, black and white answers and promises of redemption. Goebbels and the Nazi brass understood mass psychology while the socialists were buried in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

My last example is about the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is one of the most horrendous institutions in the West in the last 800 years. Its officials committed every one of the “seven deadly sins” time after time as they tortured heretics and witches. They’ve made deals with royalists and military dictatorships and they have made peace with capitalists long ago. The Catholic Church has a record of child abuse that spans centuries. Yet many U.S., Italian, Spanish, French and all the other people in Catholic countries continue to attend mass and support the Church financially. At the same time, the socialist parties that actually do want to create heaven on earth with workers could not ever get masses of people to come to meetings once a week. People are too busy for that. But they are not too busy for church. How can this be?

The issue here is not that the working-class is stupid or that they are victims of false consciousness. Rather, I believe the issue to be:

The Church must be doing many things right to continue to collect their revenues and get people to attend in spite of being seen as the world’s first international terrorist organization.
Do the socialists understand this mass psychology? No, they do not.
Do the socialists think that the techniques of religion, nationalism and sports could be used to mobilize people for socialism? Ah, what?

Marx did not understand religion and nationalism

Marx said some very riveting things about religion. Among other things he saw the construction of “god” as an alienation of human creativity. But at the same time he believed that religion would wither away under communism as people’s material conditions got better. Clearly this has not been the case. Neither was Marx very dialectical about how religion could be used by socialists. With the exception of liberation theology, socialists have not understood how to transform all the ingredients that go into “cooking” a religious experience and mythologize a socialist story complete with music, ritual, mythology and patron saints. The closest instance of socialists doing something like this is May Day in southern European countries. It used to be that people made costumes for May Day and gathered together while wearing those costumes, sharing food and singing The International. All these things gave it some of the sweep and drama of religion.

The extent to which the Communist Party tried to outlaw religion is revealing in how little they understood it. All this did was to make it more attractive by burying it underground. Socialists also did not understand that nationalism would not disappear under socialism. During World War II Stalin needed to refer to the “Great Russian Fatherland” (hardly a call to socialist internationalism) in order to inspire and join people together through hardship.

Neither did socialists understand that race cannot be reduced to social class.

Again, Marxists’ general approach is that race will only preoccupy people when capitalists use race to keep people from uniting as a class. But once workers gain class consciousness, the issue of skin color will dissolve in people minds. This has not been born out in experience. In addition, because of Marxists’ cynical attitude towards evolutionary psychology they have yet to make current in their theory the fact that ethnocentrism goes all the way back to hunter-gatherers. While ethnocentrism and racism are not the same thing, ethnocentrism is present enough to see that the skin color of people does matter around the world and that this was present long before capitalism existed.

Marxists cannot explain how sports have charmed the working class

A number of years ago, Noam Chomsky commented on how amazed he was by the intelligence of working class people when they called into a sports talk program the Monday after Sunday’s NFL games. Their analysis of what plays didn’t work, what plays could have worked along with the strengths and weaknesses of the players was astounding. But then he pointed out how all this intelligence goes away when the same people are then asked to make a political analysis of the current events in their lives – working conditions, wages, war. The working class is mute when asked to explain how and why capitalism is failing. The question is not why working class people have cognitive compartmentalization, separating sporting events from their everyday life. The question is what does sports offer people that makes them so involved? Have socialists asked themselves what would have to happen to make working class people be carried away by socialism the way they are by sports?

As many of you know, a number of years ago the Seattle Seahawks played the New England Patriots in the Superbowl. The Seahawks were losing but had a great drive going at the end of the game. With about 90 seconds left and the ball on the New England one-yard line, the Seahawks quarterback decided to pass the ball rather than hand it off to Marshawn Lynch who had a great game. The pass was intercepted. I knew the next day in my brainwashing class, this was what they wanted to talk about. It wouldn’t have mattered if the stock market crashed. Why is this? Unless students were betting on the game, they had no material stake in the outcome. Still – most of the men in the class were very involved.

II  Bad Taste: A Communist is Swept Away By Baseball

Flashbulb memories of my performance as a baseball player

When I was about 7 years old I used to play a ‘let’s pretend’ game. I laid out 4 rags I’d gotten from the garage and placed them in a diamond form which represented the bases. The bases were about 45 feet apart. Then I looked at our house and took my batting stand and let my imagination take over. The scene is no doubt familiar to many of you. It is the last of the 9th inning, we are losing by three runs. The bases are loaded and there are two outs. Then I swing and hit the ball – tsssssch! “ As Mel Allen was saying in my head “there is a high fly ball deep to right center. The centerfielder is at the track. It is going, going, gone”. Then I would trot around the bases. As I got older I played a great deal of hardball and I hit home runs, but never quite experienced the situation I imagined when I was seven until my last year of playing.

In 1968 our team from Brooklyn got into a playoff game at Victory Field which was one of the fanciest fields around. My girlfriend Rose Nuccio let it be known to me that this was the last time she was coming to my games. Sunday was her only day to sleep in. “Besides” she said, “you are 0-8” (referring to my performance in the last two games.) She brought her sister Miriam along with her for this game. In the top of the first inning I am up with two guys on base and two outs. The left-handed pitcher, Rick Honeycutt, throws me a high inside curve ball.

“Tshrush”! I tomahawk the pitch and the ball really does head for the right centerfield fence just like in my fantasy 13 years ago. As I watch the ball head for the fence time and space seem to contract. It’s as if I were in my backyard 13 years ago. The ball lands on the tennis courts on the other side of the fence scattering everyone. I am so out of it that as I make my rounds of the bases I miss first base. The coach has to get me to touch the base. As I round second I see Rosie and Miriam jumping up and down screaming like two young Italian gals will. The look on Rosie’s face as our eyes met was like a melting ray of sunlight that united our eyes. I missed third base too. Finally as I headed for home most everyone on our team came out to home plate to meet me. It was as if we won the World Series. I disappear in a mass of teammates at the plate.

I have told this story in my psychology classes as an example of a peak experience. I also use it in my brainwashing class to show how powerful sports can be in moving people. Virtually every time I tell the story I cannot help but become teary. I’ve seen students cry even though they know nothing about sports. Unless socialists can find a way to create this kind of drama, not occasionally but as part of a regular seasonal sequence, we will continue to be marginalized.

The lure of professional baseball: the return of the hero Ken Griffey Jr. to Seattle

My last example is about a baseball player many of you know. Ken Griffey Jr. was a great home run hitter for the Seattle Mariners for about 10 years. For whatever reasons, I believe he asked to be traded to Cincinnati, where he played for about another seven years. Probably because he was a left-handed hitting center fielder like I was, and because of his grace I liked him and followed his career. Then I heard he was traded back to the American League, to the White Sox. The following year he was traded back to Seattle. How would the fans feel? Would they hold a grudge because he left? I knew they wouldn’t. I wanted to see the homecoming so I watched the game when he came back to Seattle. The fans made signs and were screaming for him. They must have given him a 5-10 minute standing ovation. Tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t even a Seattle fan! What was going on was not a baseball game. It was the return of a god to his home ground.

Movie stars, musicians and sports figures are our gods and goddesses. These celebrities have happily replaced priests and military generals as our heroes. Like gods and goddesses, they enter into sports mythology complete with the stories of great World Series, great stories of betrayal (by playing for another team) drug scandals and homecomings. The people of Seattle understood that when they came to this game they were participating in the final days of a great sports god, and this mattered more than who won this particular game. If socialists cannot figure out that this is what is going on with sports fans and, even more importantly, how to use this energy for our purposes, we will continue to be marginalized.

III Socialist enchantment needs to happen before the revolution

Socialism has certainly had its events that could be claimed as peak experiences or even religious experiences. Anyone who had participated in a revolution knows these moments are euphoric and unforgettable. Anyone who participated in the Occupy Movement will not soon forget it. And those centrists fools who think that Occupy “is over” will be in for a rude awakening as their spastic, decaying capitalist system will continue to undergo more nervous breakdowns. These breakdowns will only produce more “Occupies”.

But what about budding socialists who have never had revolutionary experiences? What do we have to offer them in the way of inspiring collective experiences before a revolutionary process begins? Throughout the year baseball has its opening day in April; the All Star game is in July; the World Series in October. Religion has its holy days peppered throughout the year. Nationalism has its holidays – President’s day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. What is missing under socialism is a similar pageantry of rituals, joining in song and dance along with regular places to meet and celebrate. All of these things build a theatrical stage scaffolding for extraordinary revolutionary events. I am not talking about practical, political meetings. Theatrical stage sets might inform the practical but they are the celebration of the socialist tradition regardless of specific political or economic events that might be happening.

Socialists understand enchantment during and after revolutions, but before the revolution too many socialists are disenchanted crab apples. In part, this is because of a sad lack of yearly seasonal rituals that keep the fires burning between one revolutionary generation and the next.

Lastly, religion, nationalism and sports all have ways of linking the important events of the year to the lifetime of the individual. Catholics have confirmation at roughly the age of nine; Hispanic Catholics have quinceañera around a girl’s 15th birthday. In sports an individual might visit Cooperstown (Baseball’s Hall of Fame) for their birthday. Nationalism has its pilgrimages to the Washington monuments in the summer. What does socialism have to offer? Is it possible to have something like my baseball flashbulb memory tapped into some systematic experience that could be given to socialist children or adolescents? Would it be possible to have an experience of socialism before the revolution, which is similar to whatever it takes to make the fans wave their signs, scream for 10 minutes and become emotionally spent when their hero comes home and is paraded through the streets? Boy, does socialism need some of that potion. We need some Love Potion Number 9.

In Part Two we’ll explore in more detail what this might look like.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

The Banality of Evil Creeps into those Who Believe They Are Good

I was at a city hall meeting in Beaverton, Oregon, the other day when a few questions I had for the presenters dropped jaws. We’ll get to that later, the jaw-dropping effect I and those of my ilk have when we end up in the controlled boardrooms and chambers of the controllers – bureaucrats, public-private clubs like Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and both political operatives and those who liken themselves as the great planners of the world moving communities and housing and public commons around a giant chessboard to make things better for and more efficient in spite of us.

Look, I am now a social worker who once was a print journalist who once was a part-time college instructor (freeway flyer adjunct teaching double the load of a tenured faculty) facilitating literature, writing, rhetoric classes, and others. The power of those “planners” and “institutional leadership wonks” and those Deanlets and Admin Class and HR pros and VPs and Provosts to swat down a radical but effective teacher/faculty/instructor/lecturer isn’t (or wasn’t then) so surprising. I was one of hundreds of thousands of faculty, adjunct,  hit with 11th Hour appointments, Just-in-Time gigs and called one-week-into-the-semester with offers to teach temporarily. Then, the next logical step of precarity was when a dean or department head or someone higher got wind of a disgruntled student, or helicopter (now drone) parent who didn’t like me teaching Sapphire or Chalmers Johnson or Earth Liberation Front or Ward Churchill in critical thinking classes, it was common to get only one or many times no classes the following semester. De facto fired. They fought and fought against unemployment benefits.

Here’s one paragraph that got me sanctioned while teaching in Spokane, at both Gonzaga and the community college:

As for those in the World Trade Center… Well, really, let’s get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire—the “mighty engine of profit” to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved—and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to “ignorance”—a derivative, after all, of the word “ignore”—counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in—and in many cases excelling at—it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.

We are talking 17 years ago, Ward Churchill. The Little Eichmann reference goes back to the 1960s, and the root of it goes to Hannah Ardent looking at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, more or a less a middle man who helped get Jews into trains and eventually onto concentration camps and then marched into gas chambers. The banality of evil was her term from a 1963 book. So this Eichmann relied on propaganda against Jews and radicals and other undesirables rather than thinking for himself. Careerism at its ugliest, doing the bureaucratic work to advance a career and then at the Trial, displayed this “Common” personality that did not belie a psychopathic tendency. Of course, Ardent got raked over the coals for this observation and for her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem.

When I use the term, Little Eichmann, I broadly hinge it to the persons that live that more or less sacred American Mad Men lifestyle, with 401k’s, trips to Hawaii, cabins at the lake, who sometimes are the poverty pimps in the social services, but who indeed make daily decisions that negatively and drastically affect the lives of millions of people. In the case of tanned Vail skiers who work for Raytheon developing guidance systems and sophisticated satellite tethers and surveillance systems, who vote democrat and do triathlons, that Little Eichmann archetype also comes to mind. Evil, well, that is a tougher analysis  – mal, well, that succinctly means bad. I see evil or bad or maladaptive and malicious on a spectrum, like autism spectrum disorders.

Back to Beaverton City Hall: As I said, last week I was at this meeting about a “safe parking” policy, a pilot program for this city hooked to the Portland Metro area, where Intel is sited, and in one of the fastest growing counties in Oregon. Safe parking is all a jumbo in its implications: but for the city of Beaverton the program’s intent is to get three spaces, parking slots from each entity participating, for homeless people to set up their vehicles from which to live and dine and recreate. Old Taurus sedans, beat-up Dodge vans, maybe a 20-foot 1985 RV covered in black mold or Pacific Northwest moss. The City will put in $30,000 for a non-profit to manage these 15 or 20 spaces, and the city will put in a porta-potty and a small storage pod (in the fourth space) for belongings on each property.

This is how Portland’s tri-city locale plans to “solve” the homeless problem: live in your vehicles, with all manner of physical ailments (number one for Americans, bad backs) and all manner of mental health issues and all manner of work schedules. Cars, the new normal for housing in the world’s number one super power.

This is the band-aid on the sucking chest wound. This is a bizarre thing in a state with Nike as its brand, that Phil Knight throwing millions into a Republican gubernatorial candidate for governor’s coffers. Of course, the necessity of getting churches and large non-profits with a few empty parking spaces for houseless persons is based on more of the Little Eichmann syndrome – the city fathers and mothers, the business community, the cops, and all those elites and NIMBYs (not in my backyard) voted to make it illegal to sleep in your vehicle along the public right away, or, along streets and alleys. That’s the rub, the law was passed, and now it’s $300 fine, more upon second offense, and then, 30 days in jail for repeat offense: for sleeping off a 12-hour shift at Amazon warehouse or 14-hour shift as forklift operator for Safeway distribution center.

So these overpaid uniformed bureaucrats with SWAT armament and armored vehicles and $50 an hour overtime gigs and retirement accounts will be knocking on the fogged-over windows of our sisters/ brothers, aunties/uncles, cousins, moms/dads, grandparents, daughters/sons living the Life of Riley in their two-door Honda Accords.

Hmm, more than 12 million empty homes in the richest country in the world. Millions of other buildings empty. Plots of land by the gazillion. And, we have several million homeless, and tens of millions one layoff, one heart-attack, one arrest away from homelessness.

The first question was why we aren’t working on shutting down the illegal and inhumane law that even allows the police to harass people living in their cars? The next question was why parking spaces for cars? Certainly, all that overstock inventory in all those Pacific Northwest travel trailer and camper lots would be a source of a better living space moved to those vaunted few (20) parking spaces: or what about all those used trailers up for sale on Craig’s List? You think Nike Boy could help get his brethren to pony up a few million for trailers? What worse way to treat diabetic houseless people with cramped quarters? What fine way to treat a PTSD survivor with six windows in a Chevy with eight by four living space for two humans, a dog, and all their belongings and food.

The people at this meeting, well, I know most are empathetic, but even those have minds colonized by the cotton-ball-on-the-head wound solution thinking. All this energy, all the Power Points, all the meeting after meeting, all the solicitation and begging for 20 parking spaces and they hope for a shower source, too, as well as an internet link (for job hunting, etc.)  and maybe a place to cook a meal.

While housing vacancy has long been a problem in America, especially in economically distressed places, vacancies surged in the wake of the economic crisis of 2008. The number of unoccupied homes jumped by 26 percent—from 9.5 to 12 million between 2005 and 2010. Many people (and many urbanists) see vacancy and abandoned housing as problems of distressed cities, but small towns and rural communities have vacancy rates that are roughly double that of metropolitan areas, according to the study.

This is the insanity of these Little Eichmanns: The number of cities that have made homelessness a crime! Then, getting a few churches to open up parking slots for a few people to “try and get resources and wrap around services to end their homelessness.” Here are the facts — the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states there are over 200 cities that have created these Little Eichmann (my terminology) municipal bans on camping or sleeping outside, increasing by more than 50 percent since 2011. Theses bans include various human survival and daily activities of living processes, from camping and sitting in particular outdoor places, to loitering and begging in public to sleeping in vehicles.

I am living hand to mouth, so to speak. I make $17 an hour with two master’s degrees and a shit load of experience and depth of both character and solutions-driven energy. This is the way of the world, brother, age 61, and living the dream in Hops-Blazers-Nike City, in the state of no return Nike/Oregon Ducks. Man oh man, those gridlock days commuting to and from work. Man, all those people outside my apartment building living in their vehicles (I live in Vancouver) and all those people who have to rotate where they live, while calling Ford minivan home, moving their stuff every week, so the Clark County Sheriff Department doesn’t ticket, bust and worse, impound.

I have gotten a few teeth – dentures — for some of these people. Finding funding to have a pretty rancid and nasty old guy in Portland measure, model and mold for a fitting. That’s, of course, if the people have their teeth already pulled out.

Abscesses and limps and back braces and walkers and nephritic livers and dying flesh and scabies and, hell, just plain old BO. Yet, these folk are working the FedEx conveyor belts, packaging those Harry and David apples, folding and stacking all those Black Friday flyers.

Living the high life. And, yet, these Little Eichmanns would attempt to say, or ask, “Why do they all have smart phones . . . they smoke and vape and some of them drink? Wasteful, no wonder they are homeless.”

So that line of thinking comes and goes, from the deplorables of the Trump species to the so-self vaunted elite. They drink after a hard day’s work, these houseless people. Yet, all those put-together Portlanders with two-income heads of household, double Prius driveways, all that REI gear ready for ski season, well, I bicycle those ‘hoods and see the recycle bins on trash day, filled to the brim with IPA bottles, affordable local wine bottles, and bottles from those enticing brews in the spirit world.

So self-medicating with $250K dual incomes, fancy home, hipster lifestyles, but they’d begrudge houseless amputees who have to work the cash register at a Plaid Pantry on 12 hour shifts?

I have been recriminated for not having tenure, for not being an editor, for not retired with a pension, for not having that Oprah Pick in bookstores, for not having a steady career, for working long-ass hours as a social worker. The recrimination is magnificent and goes around all corners of this flagging empire. Pre-Trump, Pre-Obama, Pre-Clinton, Pre-Bush. Oh, man, that Ray-gun:

He had a villain, who was not a real welfare cheat or emblamtic of people needing welfare assistance to live back then in a troubling world of Gilded Age haves and haves not. That was January 1976, when Reagan announced that this Welfare Queen was using ”80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans benefits for four nonexistent, deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”

Four decades later, we have the same dude in office, the aberration of neoliberalism and collective amnesia and incessant ignorance in what I deem now as Homo Consumopithecus and Homo Retailapithecus. Reagan had that crowd eating out of his hands as he used his B-Grade Thespian licks to stress the numbers – “one hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”

Poverty rose to the top of the public agenda in the 1960s, in part spurred by the publication of Michael Harrington’s The Other America: Poverty in the United States. Harrington’s 1962 book made a claim that shocked the nation at a time when it was experiencing a period of unprecedented affluence: based on the best available evidence, between 40 million and 50 million Americans—20 to 25 percent of the nation’s population—still lived in poverty, suffering from “inadequate housing, medicine, food, and opportunity.”

Shedding light on the lives of the poor from New York to Appalachia to the Deep South, Harrington’s book asked how it was possible that so much poverty existed in a land of such prosperity. It challenged the country to ask what it was prepared to do about it.

So, somehow, all those people reminding me that my job history has been all based on my passions, my avocations, my dreams, that I should be proud being able to work at poverty level incomes as a small town newspaper reporter, or that I was able to teach so many people in gang reduction programs, at universities and colleges, in alternative schools, in prisons and elsewhere, at poverty wages; or that I was able to get poems published here and stories published there and that I have a short story collection coming out in 2019 at zero profit, or that I am doing God’s work as a homeless veterans counselor, again, at those Trump-loving, Bezos-embracing poverty wages.

Oh, man, oh man, all those countries I visited and worked in, all those people whose lives I changed, and here I am, one motorcycle accident away from the poor house, except there is no poor house.

Daily, I see the results of military sexual trauma, of incessant physical abuse as active duty military, infinite anxiety and cognitive disorders, a truck load of amputated feet and legs, and unending COPD, congestive heart failure, and overall bodies of a 70-year-old hampering 30-year-old men and women veterans.

They get this old radical environmentalist, vegan, in-your-face teacher, and a huge case of heart and passion, and I challenge them to think hard about how they have been duped, but for the most part, none of the ex-soldiers have even heard of the (two-star) Major General who wrote the small tome, War is a Racket:

WAR is a racket. It always has been.

It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.

A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.

In the World War I a mere handful garnered the profits of the conflict. At least 21,000 new millionaires and billionaires were made in the United States during the World War. That many admitted their huge blood gains in their income tax returns. How many other war millionaires falsified their tax returns no one knows.

How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy?

How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?

Out of war nations acquire additional territory, if they are victorious.

They just take it. This newly acquired territory promptly is exploited by the few — the selfsame few who wrung dollars out of blood in the war. The general public shoulders the bill.

And what is this bill?

This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.

For a great many years, as a soldier, I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not until I retired to civil life did I fully realize it. Now that I see the international war clouds gathering, as they are today, I must face it and speak out.

More fitting now than ever, General Butler’s words. Structural violence is also the war of the billionaires and millionaires against the rest of us, marks and suckers born every nanosecond in their eyes. Disaster Capitalism is violence. Parasitic investing is war. Hostile takeovers are was. Hedge funds poisoning retirement funds and billions wasted/stolen to manage (sic) this dirty money are war. Forced arbitration is war. PayDay loans are war. Wells Fargo stealing homes is war. Lead in New Jersey cities’ pipes is war. Hog  excrement/toxins/blood/aborted fetuses pound scum sprayed onto land near poor communities is war. Fence lining polluting industries against poor and minority populations is war.

So is making it illegal to sit on a curb, hold a sign asking for a handout;  so is the fact there are millions of empty buildings collecting black mold and tax deferments. War is offshore accounts, and war is a society plugged into forced, perceived and planned obsolescence.

Some of us are battle weary, and others trudge on, soldiers against the machine, against the fascism of the market place, the fascism of the tools of the propagandists.

Some of us ask the tricky questions at meetings and conferences and confabs: When are you big wigs, honchos, going to give up a few hours a week pay for others to get in on the pay? When are you going to open up that old truck depot for homeless to build tiny homes?

When are you going to have the balls to get the heads of Boeing, Nike, Adidas, Intel, the lot of them, to come to our fogged-up station wagon windows in your safe parking zones to show them how some of their mainline workers and tangential workers who support their billions in profits really live?

How many millionaires are chain migrating from California or Texas, coming into the Portland arena who might have the heart to help fund 15 or 30 acres out there in Beavercreek (Clackamas, Oregon) to set up intentional communities for both veterans and non veterans, inter-generational population, with permaculture, therapy dog training, you name it, around a prayer circle, a sweat lodge, and community garden and commercial kitchen to sell those herbs and veggies to those two-income wonders who scoff at my bottle of cheap Vodka while they fly around and bike around on their wine tours and whiskey bar rounds? Micro homes and tiny homes.

My old man was in the Air Force for 12 years, which got the family to the Azores, Albuquerque, Maryland, and then he got an officer commission in the Army, for 20 years, which got the family to Germany, UK, Paris, Spain and other locales, and I know hands down he’d be spinning and turning in his grave if he was alive and here to witness not only the mistreatment of schmucks out of the military with horrendous ailments, but also the mistreatment of college students with $80K loans to be nurses or social workers. He’d be his own energy source spinning in his grave at Fort Huachuca if he was around, after being shot in Korea and twice in Vietnam, to witness social security on the chopping block, real wages at 1970 levels, old people begging on the streets, library hours waning, public education being privatized and dumb downed, and millions of acres of public sold to the “I don’t need no stinkin’ badge” big energy thugs.

I might be embarrassed if he was around, me at age 61, wasted three college degrees, living the dream of apartment life, no 401k or state retirement balloon payment on the horizon, no real estate or stocks and bonds stashed away, nothing, after all of this toil to actually have given to society, in all my communist, atheistic glory.

But there is no shame in that, in my bones, working my ass off until the last breath, and on my t-shirt, I’d have a stick figure, with a stack of free bus tickets, journalism awards, and housing vouchers all piled around me with the (thanks National Rifle Association) meme stenciled on my back:

You can have my social worker and teaching credentials and press passes when you pry them from my cold dead hands!