Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Longshore Workers Plan Walkout To Protest Wars

LongshoremenLongshore Workers Plan Walkout To Protest Wars

by Art Marroquin
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West Coast dockworkers plan to walk off the job Thursday to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, even though the action doesn’t have the formal support of their employers or the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.

It was unclear how successful the effort will be at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, where a group of longshore workers admitted uncertainty to how widely the plan was received by other dockworkers.

“There are lots of members who are expressing their personal views and committing to this voluntary action,” said Craig Merrilees, an ILWU spokesman.

ILWU executives had initially given their blessing to an eight-hour work stoppage during the busy day shift, which was suggested two months ago during a union caucus held in San Francisco.

A clause in the union’s current contract allows workers to hold monthly “stop-work” meetings during the evening shift, when cargo activity is considered to be lighter.

The union withdrew its support shortly after the Pacific Maritime Association denied the union’s request for the walkout. An arbitrator ruled last week that the union had to inform its members about the change in plans.

As a result, any work stoppage held Thursday will be initiated by the union’s rank-and-file members, not by union executives, according to Merrilees.

“In light of those developments, we hope that May 1 will come and go without disruption,” said Steve Getzug, a spokesman for the PMA, which represents the West Coast’s shippers.

“We’re anticipating that May 1 is a regular work day,” he said.

Workers who choose to walk off the job Thursday might face some sort of discipline, but it was unclear what avenues the employers would pursue.

Immigration rights groups also plan to hold a series of marches and rallies in Los Angeles and cities across the country on Thursday to call for reforms in immigration policies.

Some port truck drivers and dockworkers have resisted signing up for the federal Transportation Workers Identification Credential because undocumented workers do not qualify for the high-tech security card.

© 2008 The Long Beach Press-Telegraph

Sunday, April 27, 2008

What is a Potlatch?


We love our junk. It doesn’t matter if its deep fried, chrome-plated, fun sized, customized, one-of-a-kind or adult oriented, whatever they’re selling we’re buying. While 37 million Americans live below the poverty line and go hungry, 13 million of which are children, self-storage has grown into a thriving industry. We have more rubbish than space to house it.

We’ve become a nation of pack rats, sleeping on shifting heaps of designer footwear and widgets from Ron Popeil. We’ve been programmed to only experience fun when it includes a money back guarantee. Our culture has been reduced to squirreling away anything that’s not consumed.

But there are other options. Take the Native American festival known as the Potlatch. Celebrated by Indians on the Pacific Northwest, each member of the community would hunt and farm throughout the summer, gathering what they could from the earth. To redistribute this wealth voluntarily tribes met, exchanged gifts, sang, recited poetry and praised the spirits for their blessings. Multi-colored costumes and masks, and energetic dances added to the gala. Those who gave most were held in the highest esteem. The needy received goods and care despite their social status.

We don’t have a cultural equivalent of a potlatch. Nothing quite envelopes the charitable, educational, communal, celebratory and spiritual components of such an event. And maybe that’s intentional. Canada, a country whose history isn’t as innocuous as most believe, outlawed potlatches. One missionary said potlatches were “by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized." (source) Anyone found at a potlatch could be jailed for two to six months. A hefty penalty for attending a party.

The functions served by potlatches can best explain why they are so frightening to elites. First, and most obvious, would be economic redistribution. If the needs of every individual in a community are met then crime rates decrease, upholding the security of that neighborhood. Second, it transmits cultural memory. The songs, stories, traditions, dances, beliefs and so forth that compose each community’s idiosyncratic character is passed down from the older to the younger generations. Third, the act of giving reinforces the concept of usufruct. For those who are unfamiliar with the term usufruct refers to owning property for just as long as it’s useful to you. After completing a job or outgrowing an item, pass it along instead of locking it away so it’s no longer productive to anyone. This simple gesture helps improve a community. Lastly, potlatches cultivate bonds of solidarity between community members. Think of how good you feel when somebody gives you a gift. Imagine if your neighbors always pooled their resources to keep your garden growing or gave you the tools to fix your car. Wouldn’t that urge you to reciprocate?

For me, this is what any successful revolution needs: a strong identity, unbendable human relationships and a sensible dispersal of wealth. There might be a future for this type of experience through the internet, but it is up to us to carry this out of the realm of thought into the realm of action.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Democracy Now: Bolivian President Evo Morales: “Welcome to the Axis of Evil”

evomorales“Welcome to the Axis of Evil”—Bolivian President Evo Morales to Paraguayan President-Elect Fernando Lugo

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Bolivian President Evo Morales came to New York this week to deliver the keynote address at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Morales became Bolivia’s first indigenous president when he was elected in 2005 with more popular support than any Bolivian leader in decades. Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez had a chance to sit down with President Morales at the Bolivian mission in New York for an interview. Morales discusses issues of world hunger, biofuels and climate change, relations with Paraguayan President-Elect Fernando Lugo, his push to introduce a new constitution in Bolivia, his accusations that the US ambassador is leading a conspiracy against his government, his thoughts on the US presidential elections, and more. [includes rush transcript]

JUAN GONZALEZ: Bolivian President Evo Morales opened this week’s UN Forum on Indigenous Issues. An Aymara Indian, Evo Morales became the country’s first indigenous president when he was elected two-and-a-half years ago with more popular support than any Bolivian leader in decades. During his keynote address, President Morales raised criticism about the impact of climate change on indigenous peoples, especially the use of biofuels and how it was affecting world hunger.

I had a chance to sit down with President Morales at the Bolivian mission here in New York for an interview. I began by asking him about the comments he made at the UN.

    PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Thank you very much for the invitation and for this kind interview. I’m very pleased, as always, to talk with you and share our proposals on behalf of life.

    I’ve come at the invitation of the Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples of the United Nations. I was, as a union—to share experiences on climate change, first as a peasant union leader and second as a president. Unfortunately, the so-called developing countries are the hardest hit by natural phenomena. These natural phenomena are a result of the unbridled industrialization of the Western countries. I think that the countries of the West are under an obligation to see how they can pay the environmental debt to reduce harm to the planet earth. The planet earth has suffered a death warrant and must be saved, and that means saving planet earth is to save life and to save humankind.

    But there are other factors that are leading to the inflation in prices for some agricultural goods, particularly biofuels and programs implemented by some presidents for some movements called biofuels or agrofuels. They are setting aside millions and millions of hectares to produce agricultural goods which are earmarked for biofuels. And it’s not possible to understand in this new millennium how there are governments, presidents, institutions that are more interested in a heap of metal than in life. They’re more interested in fueling luxury cars than in feeding human beings.

    That’s where we raise a question. First, land is to be for life and not land for scrap metal or a heap of metal. And while some presidents and some international organizations want to implement measures of this sort, well, I believe very much in the social movements. So, for example, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, well, there’s been an international movement, and we’ve put a halt to it. In addition, there are major movements against biofuels or agrofuels, and we need to wake up some presidents and international organizations before this problem of hunger that’s suffered by families and hectares of land being earmarked to cars rather than people goes any further.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: You have raised some criticisms of some other Latin American leaders. You didn’t name any, but it’s obvious to many that some of your questioning is directed at presidents like Lula of Brazil, who has pushed biofuels. Have you talked to President Lula about this? And what’s been his response, if you have?

    PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] We have had discussions at summits of heads of states, sharing some of our experiences. I am certain that these presidents will understand the cry of the people of Bolivia, of the people of Latin America and the whole world, which wants to have more food and not more cars. First food, then if something’s left over, more cars, more automobiles. I think that life has to come first.

    But the most important thing—and this is the first time that I find I’m in agreement with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund—they’ve publicly stated that if food prices are going up, it’s precisely because of the biofuels question, and it has a major impact. So if we have these points of agreement, then we have an obligation to together explain and persuade these international organizations, together with the social movements, so as to be able to change the policies of some governments or some presidents.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: There’s been another important event happening this week in Latin America, the elections in Paraguay, and a new populist leader was elected, former Bishop Fernando Lugo. And one of the first things he said was that he would like to improve relationships between Bolivia and Paraguay. Your response to his victory and how your country and his country could cooperate or build better relations?

    PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Well, first of all, I would like to tell my colleague, brother, President-Elect Fernando Lugo, welcome to the Axis of Evil. But I am so sure that it is an axis for humankind, liberating democracies that are not subjugated. They should continue to grow in Latin America. The next will certainly be in Peru and Colombia, that there be governments or presidents who are subordinated to their peoples and not to the empire. So I am very pleased at his election.

    And certainly, the small—so-called small countries like Paraguay and Bolivia are going to have a major correlation or coincidence. We’re going to improve our relations. What better than for the small countries of the region to propose and to propose together that we go forward in finding solutions with the countries of the region that are more recognized, such as Brazil and Argentina, who have a great deal of leadership, Venezuela? But they always listen to us, and we will listen to them to see how we can work out problems as in a framework of complementarity as presidents of the region.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: You mentioned with the smile “Welcome to the Axis of Evil.” Have I missed something? Has President Bush added Bolivia to the Axis of Evil in recent months?

    PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Well, first, the Axis of Evil was Fidel and Chavez, and then they included me, and then they draw the president of Ecuador into it. And I’m almost certain, after having heard information—well, many would tie me and Chavez to President-Elect Lugo.

    You know, what’s happening in Latin America, any aggression or provocation by President Bush improves the image and the acceptance of candidates to the presidency. I feel that there’s a rebellion in the Latin American people, especially in the South American people, vis-a-vis the empire. Before, they were dictatorships at the service of the empire. And I don’t want to hide this. You know me. That’s why we’ve had so many interviews. And democracies are coming about as a result of people’s struggles and vis-a-vis democratic movements. There were dictatorships and dictatorships in the last twenty years. There have been neoliberal governments that have been pro-capitalist. Now, as they’ve not resolved their social or structural problems, the social movements are growing with their own sentiment of dignity, of sovereignty, of development. And at this juncture, they’re growing. The liberating democracies in South America are on the rise. It’s very striking.

    That doesn’t mean ending diplomatic relations with the United States or others. We want to improve diplomatic relations, our trade relations, cooperation relations and credits, but in the framework of mutual respect. I recognize the world leadership exercised by the United States. One must recognize it, but not because—just because it’s a big country. It can’t subjugate, humiliate and conspire against those governments that don’t accept and that don’t agree with some errors and some policies of the US government. I’m not talking about the people of the United States, and we have good relations. I just had a great meeting with the indigenous movement of the United States. There was applause. Everyone was very pleased. Sometimes it’s with the governments that we want to have better relationships. And I have no reason to get involved in the internal matters of the United States. We respect them. But they also shouldn’t meddle in my country, even though at this time there is a permanent conspiracy against the government.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to ask you about the situation domestically in your own country. When last we talked, there was a movement toward a new constitution, and there was also some discontent among some of the departments. And recently, Santa Cruz and some of the other departments have moved to call for a referendum on autonomy that the courts have ruled illegal. Your understanding of why the constitutional reform has been delayed and what the crisis with Santa Cruz and the other three departments represents?

    PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] It’s not Santa Cruz. It’s some families in Santa Cruz. And it’s not in other departments. Some politicians or those who play at politics—well, who are those who play at politics? Those who live off of politics and don’t live for politics, former national authorities—they’ve turned to the regions in order to put up resistance against my government—former neoliberals who want to recoup the national government or take back the national government with pretexts, such as autonomy, private property, so many things that they turn to to figure out how they can weaken President Evo Morales.

    Now, speaking of autonomy, the national government is going to guarantee autonomy for the peoples, not autonomy for the small elite cliques. And therefore, in this new constitution, new political constitution of the Bolivian state, which still needs to be put to a popular consultation, there is a guarantee for autonomy, not just autonomy of the departments, but also autonomy for indigenous peoples as the United Nations proclaims in its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, regional autonomy as well.

    But those opposition groups who lost their control over the national government want to use the autonomy question to damage or divide Bolivia. First, the autonomy statute that they’re holding a vote on is illegal and unconstitutional. Why? Because under the current constitution, there is no provision for autonomy. But here, we are guaranteeing autonomy. Second, any referendum must be called by the national congress. And here, the governor decided illegally and unconstitutionally, and all because they are in agony, the historical enemies of the indigenous movement, of the people and the social movements, and, I should say, the pro-capitalists.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: And why are they in agony?

    PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] Because the space for them is ever more limited. And in the face of their desperation, they try to cause confusion with these kinds of calls for a vote on an autonomy statute. So, as it’s illegal and unconstitutional, it’s really like an opinion poll. And they have—they’re fully in their right to have an opinion poll. But it’s not a referendum on the autonomy statute.

    But I repeat, we are going to guarantee—well, to better explain, first the mother and then the child. So, first the new constitution and then a decision on autonomy statutes. How can you have a child without the mother? And from that point of view, they’re not respecting the rule of law or legality. In my first year of government, these groups always said the president doesn’t respect rule of law or legality. Now, the people can see and the whole world can see how these sectors don’t respect the rule of law.

    JUAN GONZALEZ: And finally, Mr. President—I know you’re pressed for time—I’d like to ask you a question about the United States. As you may have heard, we’re having an election for president this year, and there are two Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, vying for the Democratic nomination to run against McCain, the Republican candidate, John McCain. Your sense of whether—which of these candidates has shown a policy that would be more friendlier to the people of Latin America and the aspirations of the people of Latin America and of your country?

    PRESIDENT EVO MORALES: [translated] I have no reason to get involved in the internal politics of the United States. I very much respect that there are democratic elections and primary elections within each party, Democratic and Republican. I fully respect that, and similarly, I would hope that they not meddle in Bolivia.

    There’s a conspiracy headed up by the US ambassador, and I hope that it can be withdrawn or put to a stop by the government and the people of the United States. Processes of change are healthy everywhere seeking equality and social justice, the most important thing that us presidents can do or that candidates can do. But I have no reason to give an opinion in respect of one party or another or in respect of the candidates who are vying for the candidacy in the primaries. So, out of respect for the people of the United States, I don’t have any opinion to share or any candidate to favor.

AMY GOODMAN: Bolivian President Evo Morales speaking to Juan Gonzalez at the Bolivian mission here in New York, as he opened the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the UN. Juan, your reflections on this interview?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the interesting thing once again is that there was almost no coverage here in the United States of his visit here. And I don’t think that many people in the press here understand that Morales has become a hero to indigenous peoples around the world, not just in his own country of Bolivia. For instance, our guest who just left said that she would like to nominate him for a write-in for president, because that’s how indigenous people around the world are seeing the kinds of issues and the kind of message that Morales is bringing to the UN and to people around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: If you missed any part of the interview, you can go to our website at for a transcript, video and audio.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Immigrant Workers Take Direct Action Against “No-Match” Firings

Immigrant Workers Take Direct Action Against “No-Match” Firings

Submitted by intexile on Sat, 04/12/2008 - 2:59pm.
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A group of Latino workers, at the Twin Cities-based D’Amico’s & Sons restaurant chain have organized and taken direct action to resist being fired for receiving “No-Match” letters from the Social Security Administration. The workers ­ many who have well over a decade of service for the company ­ have been joined by family members, some co-workers, the Workers Interfaith Network (WIN), Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Twin Cities General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) and others.

D’Amico’s announced that Monday, March 31, 2008 would be the last day of work for 17 employees who had received the “no-match” letters. This appears to be illegal as the Social Security’s “no-match” notices explicitly state that employers should take no “adverse action” against employees based on these letters. “No-match” means a problem has been identified with a worker’s name and social security number not matching. Sometimes this can be due to immigration status, other times a simple typo can trigger the letter. In any case, the legal precedent has been that it was up to employees to correct the issue and not employers. A California Federal Court halted attempts by the Bush administration to penalize employers for having workers with “no-match” letters.

The D’Amico’s workers were determined to fight these unjust firings. On the morning of the 31st, seven kitchen workers at the Uptown store stopped working, approached their manager with a petition signed by their fellow workers demanding their jobs be protected. The workers then sat down together in the dining area refusing to work until the bosses negotiate. A Sit-Down strike! A lively picket rallied in support of the workers outside. Co-workers, including some who had also received “no-match” letters, and others who hadn’t, joined with WIN, SDS and Wobblies chanting, banging on pots and pans, and marching right outside the window where the sit-down strikers sat. Later that day one non-Latino waiter also refused to work and sat with his co-workers in solidarity.

An IWW organized effort to flood the store’s phone lines during lunch hour to inquire on behalf of the workers frazzled management. One caller, who works with Wobblies at a large telecom call center, was threatened by a manager with arrest for asking questions about the “no-match” workers!

When D’Amico’s owners refused to budge from their illegal, unjust and heartless position, the workers responded appropriately. Starting at 6:00 am the next morning a spirited picket managed to turn away three large delivery trucks from the Uptown store, including meat, produce, and general food supplies. This was a significant victory as the trucks were from both union and non-union companies, and the D’Amico’s Uptown restaurant also does the food prep for all their metro outlet stores. Towards the end of the picket a private contractor in his own vehicle crashed the picket line at the back entrance hitting a student supporter.

Since then the workers and their supporters have thrown up pickets at different D’Amico’s locations, and promise to continue their campaign on many fronts.

The IWW, whose participation has been praised by the D’Amico’s workers and WIN, will continue to advocate an industrial based direct action strategy, including outreach to other workers in the company and industry, tactics aimed at hitting the bosses where it hurts, and for democratic control of the struggle by the workers themselves.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Consumerism and Its Discontents

"The marketplace of ideas, like any marketplace, is fit only for looting.

"Our rebellion is a rebellion against the commodity, against the world of the commodity in which worker-consumers are hierarchically subordinated to commodity standards. We take modern capitalist propaganda, its publicity of abundance, literally. We want to possess immediately all the objects shown and abstractly accessible, because we want to use them. Through theft and gift we rediscover a use that immediately refutes the oppressive rationality of the commodity, revealing its relations and even its production to be arbitrary and unnecessary. Looting is the most direct realization of the distorted principle: "To each according to their needs" - needs determined and produced by the economic system which the very act of looting rejects.

"Once the vaunted abundance is taken at face value and directly seized, instead of being eternally pursued in the rat-race of alienated labor and increasingly unmet social needs, real desires begin to be expressed in festive celebration, in playful self-assertion, in the potlatch of destruction. People who destroy commodities show their human superiority over commodities. They stop submitting to the arbitrary forms that distortedly reflect their real needs. Once it is no longer bought, the commodity lies open to criticism and alteration, whatever particular form it may take. Only when it is paid for with money is it respected as an admirable fetish, as a symbol of status within the world of survival.

"Looting is a natural response to the unnatural and inhuman society of commodity abundance. It instantly undermines the commodity as such, and it also exposes what the commodity ultimately implies: the military, the police and the other specialized detachments of the state’s monopoly of armed violence.

"What is a policeman? He is the active servant of the commodity, the man in complete submission to the commodity, whose job it is to ensure that a given product of human labor remains a commodity, with the magical property of having to be paid for, instead of becoming a mere refrigerator or rifle - a passive, inanimate object, subject to anyone who comes along to make use of it.

"In a world where everything already belongs to someone else, where we are expected to sell away our lives at work in order to get the money to pay for the minimum we need to survive, where we are surrounded by forces beyond our control or comprehension that obviously are not concerned about our needs or welfare, shoplifting is a way to carve out a little piece of the world for ourselves - to act back upon a world that acts so much upon us.

"It is an entirely different sensation than the one we feel when we buy something. When we pay for something, we’re making a trade; we’re offering the money that we bought with our labor, our time, and our creativity for a product or service that the corporation wouldn’t share with us under any other circumstances. In a sense, we have a relationship based on violence: we negotiate an exchange not according to our respect or concern for each other, but according to the forces that we can bring to bear on each other.

"Shoplifting is a refusal of the exchange economy. It is a denial that people deserve to eat, live, and die based on how effectively they are able to exchange their labor and capital with others. It is a denial that a monetary value can be ascribed to everything, that having a piece of delicious chocolate in your mouth is worth exactly fifty cents or that an hour of one person’s life can really be worth ten dollars more than that of another person. It is a refusal to accept the capitalist system, in which workers have to buy back the products of their own labor at a profit to the owners of capital.

"We must rediscover the pleasure of giving: giving because we have so much. What beautiful and priceless potlatches the affluent society will see - whether it likes it or not! - when the exuberance of the younger generation discovers the pure gift. The growing passion for stealing books, clothes, food, software, music and movies simply for the pleasure of giving them away gives us a glimpse of what the Will to Live has in store for consumer society."

Friday Flashback: Roxy Music - "Editions of You"

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Orangeburg Massacre

by Amy Goodman

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Sen. Barack Obama is clearly a bad bowler. The networks rolled the video clip of his gutter ball endlessly across our TV screens. It was an Internet favorite. The media served it, and the public ate it up. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, the host of “Hardball,” hammed it up when interviewing Obama on the campus of West Chester University in Pennsylvania:

Matthews: One of the perks, senator, of being president of the United States is that you have your own bowling alley. Are you ready to bowl from day one?

Obama: Obviously, I am not.

But in fact, it was not too long ago when African-Americans were not allowed in some bowling alleys. In Orangeburg, S.C., three young African-American men were killed for protesting against that town’s segregated bowling alley.

It was Feb. 8, 1968, months before the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. It was more than two years before the massacre of students at Kent State University in Ohio. Students at South Carolina State University were protesting for access to the town’s only bowling alley. Cleveland Sellers, a student at the time at that historically black college, was also a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and an organizer of the protests. In a recent interview, he said about that night 40 years ago:

“It was a cold night … this was the fourth day of activities around the effort to desegregate the bowling alley. … The students had built a bonfire to keep themselves warm and build morale. They were trying to work out some strategy. What should they do next? Should they go back to the bowling alley, where they had been arrested on Tuesday night? Should they go to the City Hall? Should they go to the state Capitol? And they thought that they were in an area that was pretty safe and secure, and they never expected the police to open fire.”

Sellers is now director of the African-American studies program at the University of South Carolina. His memory is vivid: “The darkness turned to light as the police opened fire, nine highway patrolmen and one local police officer firing rifles and shotguns and pistols. It was a shock to many of the students that there was no bullhorns, no whistles, no anything that indicated that this kind of extremely lethal action would be taken on these students.”

Survivor Robert Lee Davis recalled the event in an oral history project conducted by Jack Bass, who was a reporter at the time and now is a professor at the College of Charleston: “It was a barrage of shots … maybe six or seven seconds. Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom! Students was hollering, yelling and running. … I got up to run, and I took one step, and that’s all I could remember. I took that one step. I got hit in the back … this was when I got paralyzed. Students was trampling over me, because they was afraid.”

Sellers put the largely unreported and forgotten Orangeburg Massacre in context: “It’s ironic that here we are 40 years later, and the issue of poverty and the issue of war are still issues that are pertinent all around America again. And I think that it just says that in 1968, with the assassination of Dr. King and with the decline in the civil rights movement during that period, that a number of issues were left unachieved.”

There have been advances in the 40 years since the Orangeburg Massacre. Now, rather than protesting for access to a bowling alley, an African-American man is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, his bowling flubs merely the object of ridicule. But the three young African-American men murdered that night in Orangeburg-Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton and Henry Smith — are not with us to share in the progress. They are hardly remembered at all.

The media this week recognize the one-year anniversary of the deadly shootings at Virginia Tech, in which a lone, disturbed gunman killed 30 students and faculty members. It is an important date on which to reflect. The Orangeburg Massacre deserves a place in our national consciousness as well. We need media that provide historical context, that offer more than a one-year perspective on our society. Instead, the mainstream media keep throwing gutter balls.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 650 stations in North America.

© 2008 Amy Goodman

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Capitalist System


by Michael Bakunin

This pamphlet is an excerpt from The Knouto-Germanic Empire and the Social Revolution and included in The Complete Works of Michael Bakunin under the title "Fragment." Parts of the text were originally translated into English by G.P. Maximoff for his anthology of Bakunin's writings, with missing paragraphs translated by Jeff Stein from the Spanish edition, Diego Abad de Santillan, trans. (Buenos Aires 1926) vol. III, pp. 181-196.

Is it necessary to repeat here the irrefutable arguments of Socialism which no bourgeois economist has yet succeeded in disproving? What is property, what is capital in their present form? For the capitalist and the property owner they mean the power and the right, guaranteed by the State, to live without working. And since neither property nor capital produces anything when not fertilized by labor - that means the power and the right to live by exploiting the work of someone else, the right to exploit the work of those who possess neither property nor capital and who thus are forced to sell their productive power to the lucky owners of both. Note that I have left out of account altogether the following question: In what way did property and capital ever fall into the hands of their present owners? This is a question which, when envisaged from the points of view of history, logic, and justice, cannot be answered in any other way but one which would serve as an indictment against the present owners. I shall therefore confine myself here to the statement that property owners and capitalists, inasmuch as they live not by their own productive labor but by getting land rent, house rent, interest upon their capital, or by speculation on land, buildings, and capital, or by the commercial and industrial exploitation of the manual labor of the proletariat, all live at the expense of the proletariat. (Speculation and exploitation no doubt also constitute a sort of labor, but altogether non-productive labor.)

I know only too well that this mode of life is highly esteemed in all civilized countries, that it is expressly and tenderly protected by all the States, and that the States, religions, and all the juridical laws, both criminal and civil, and all the political governments, monarchies and republican - with their immense judicial and police apparatuses and their standing armies - have no other mission but to consecrate and protect such practices. In the presence of these powerful and respectable authorities I cannot even permit myself to ask whether this mode of life is legitimate from the point of view of human justice, liberty, human equality, and fraternity. I simply ask myself: Under such conditions, are fraternity and equality possible between the exploiter and the exploited, are justice and freedom possible for the exploited?

Let us even suppose, as it is being maintained by the bourgeois economists and with them all the lawyers, all the worshippers and believers in the juridical right, all the priests of the civil and criminal code - let us suppose that this economic relationship between the exploiter and the exploited is altogether legitimate, that it is the inevitable consequence, the product of an eternal, indestructible social law, yet still it will always be true that exploitation precludes brotherhood and equality. It goes without saying that it precludes economic equality. Suppose I am your worker and you are my employer. If I offer my labor at the lowest price, if I consent to have you live off my labor, it is certainly not because of devotion or brotherly love for you. And no bourgeois economist would dare to say that it was, however idyllic and naive their reasoning becomes when they begin to speak about reciprocal affections and mutual relations which should exist between employers and employees. No, I do it because my family and I would starve to death if I did not work for an employer. Thus I am forced to sell you my labor at the lowest possible price, and I am forced to do it by the threat of hunger.

But - the economists tell us - the property owners, the capitalists, the employers, are likewise forced to seek out and purchase the labor of the proletariat. Yes, it is true, they are forced to do it, but not in the same measure. Had there been equality between those who offer their labor and those who purchase it, between the necessity of selling one's labor and the necessity of buying it, the slavery and misery of the proletariat would not exist. But then there would be neither capitalists, nor property owners, nor the proletariat, nor rich, nor poor: there would only be workers. It is precisely because such equality does not exist that we have and are bound to have exploiters.

This equality does not exist because in modern society where wealth is produced by the intervention of capital paying wages to labor, the growth of the population outstrips the growth of production, which results in the supply of labor necessarily surpassing the demand and leading to a relative sinking of the level of wages. Production thus constituted, monopolized, exploited by bourgeois capital, is pushed on the one hand by the mutual competition of the capitalists to concentrate evermore in the hands of an ever diminishing number of powerful capitalists, or in the hands of joint-stock companies which, owing to the merging of their capital, are more powerful than the biggest isolated capitalists. (And the small and medium-sized capitalists, not being able to produce at the same price as the big capitalists, naturally succumb in the deadly struggle.) On the other hand, all enterprises are forced by the same competition to sell their products at the lowest possible price. It [capitalist monopoly] can attain this two-fold result only by forcing out an ever-growing number of small or medium-sized capitalists, speculators, merchants, or industrialists, from the world of exploiters into the world of the exploited proletariat, and at the same time squeezing out ever greater savings from the wages of the same proletariat.

On the other hand, the mass of the proletariat, growing as a result of the general increase of the population - which, as we know, not even poverty can stop effectively - and through the increasing proletarianization of the petty-bourgeoisie, ex-owners, capitalists, merchants, and industrialists - growing, as I have said, at a much more rapid rate than the productive capacities of an economy that is exploited by bourgeois capital - this growing mass of the proletariat is placed in a condition wherein the workers are forced into disastrous competition against one another.

For since they possess no other means of existence but their own manual labor, they are driven, by the fear of seeing themselves replaced by others, to sell it at the lowest price. This tendency of the workers, or rather the necessity to which they are condemned by their own poverty, combined with the tendency of the employers to sell the products of their workers, and consequently buy their labor, at the lowest price, constantly reproduces and consolidates the poverty of the proletariat. Since he finds himself in a state of poverty, the worker is compelled to sell his labor for almost nothing, and because he sells that product for almost nothing, he sinks into ever greater poverty.

Yes, greater misery, indeed! For in this galley-slave labor the productive force of the workers, abused, ruthlessly exploited, excessively wasted and underfed, is rapidly used up. And once used up, what can be its value on the market, of what worth is this sole commodity which he possesses and upon the daily sale of which he depends for a livelihood? Nothing! And then? Then nothing is left for the worker but to die.

What, in a given country, is the lowest possible wage? It is the price of that which is considered by the proletarians of that country as absolutely necessary to keep oneself alive. All the bourgeois economists are in agreement on this point. Turgot, who saw fit to call himself the ..virtuous minister' of Louis XVI, and really was an honest man, said:

"The simple worker who owns nothing more than his hands, has nothing else to sell than his labor. He sells it more or less expensively; but its price whether high or low, does not depend on him alone: it depends on an agreement with whoever will pay for his labor. The employer pays as little as possible; when given the choice between a great number of workers, the employer prefers the one who works cheap. The workers are, then, forced to lower their price in competition each against the other. In all types of labor, it necessarily follows that the salary of the worker is limited to what is necessary for survival." (Reflexions sur la formation et la distribution des richesses)

J.B. Say, the true father of bourgeois economists in France also said: "Wages are much higher when more demand exists for labor and less if offered, and are lowered accordingly when more labor is offered and less demanded. It is the relation between supply and demand which regulates the price of this merchandise called the workers' labor, as are regulated all other public services. When wages rise a little higher than the price necessary for the workers' families to maintain themselves, their children multiply and a larger supply soon develops in proportion with the greater demand. When, on the contrary, the demand for workers is less than the quantity of people offering to work, their gains decline back to the price necessary for the class to maintain itself at the same number. The families more burdened with children disappear; from them forward the supply of labor declines, and with less labor being offered, the price rises... In such a way it is difficult for the wages of the laborer to rise above or fall below the price necessary to maintain the class (the workers, the proletariat) in the number required." (Cours complet d' economie politique)

After citing Turgot and J.B. Say, Proudhon cries: "The price, as compared to the value (in real social economy) is something essentially mobile, consequently, essentially variable, and that in its variations, it is not regulated more than by the concurrence, concurrence, let us not forget, that as Turgot and Say agree, has the necessary effect not to give to wages to the worker more than enough to barely prevent death by starvation, and maintain the class in the numbers needed."1

The current price of primary necessities constitutes the prevailing constant level above which workers' wages can never rise for a very long time, but beneath which they drop very often, which constantly results in inanition, sickness, and death, until a sufficient number of workers disappear to equalize again the supply of and demand for labor. What the economists call equalized supply and demand does not constitute real equality between those who offer their labor for sale and those who purchase it. Suppose that I, a manufacturer, need a hundred workers and that exactly a hundred workers present themselves in the market - only one hundred, for if more came, the supply would exceed demand, resulting in lowered wages. But since only one hundred appear, and since I, the manufacturer, need only that number - neither more nor less - it would seem at first that complete equality was established; that supply and demand being equal in number, they should likewise be equal in other respects. Does it follow that the workers can demand from me a wage and conditions of work assuring them of a truly free, dignified, and human existence? Not at all! If I grant them those conditions and those wages, I, the capitalist, shall not gain thereby any more than they will. But then, why should I have to plague myself and become ruined by offering them the profits of my capital? If I want to work myself as workers do, I will invest my capital somewhere else, wherever I can get the highest interest, and will offer my labor for sale to some capitalist just as my workers do.

If, profiting by the powerful initiative afforded me by my capital, I ask those hundred workers to fertilize that capital with their labor, it is not because of my sympathy for their sufferings, nor because of a spirit of justice, nor because of love for humanity. The capitalists are by no means philanthropists; they would be ruined if they practiced philanthropy. It is because I hope to draw from the labor of the workers sufficient profit to be able to live comfortably, even richly, while at the same time increasing my capital - and all that without having to work myself. Of course I shall work too, but my work will be of an altogether different kind and I will be remunerated at a much higher rate than the workers. It will not be the work of production but that of administration and exploitation.

But isn't administrative work also productive work? No doubt it is, for lacking a good and an intelligent administration, manual labor will not produce anything or it will produce very little and very badly. But from the point of view of justice and the needs of production itself, it is not at all necessary that this work should be monopolized in my hands, nor, above all, that I should be compensated at a rate so much higher than manual labor. The co-operative associations already have proven that workers are quite capable of administering industrial enterprises, that it can be done by workers elected from their midst and who receive the same wage. Therefore if I concentrate in my hands the administrative power, it is not because the interests of production demand it, but in order to serve my own ends, the ends of exploitation. As the absolute boss of my establishment I get for my labor ten or twenty times more than my workers get for theirs, and this is true despite the fact that my labor is incomparably less painful than theirs.

But the capitalist, the business owner, runs risks, they say, while the worker risks nothing. This is not true, because when seen from his side, all the disadvantages are on the part of the worker. The business owner can conduct his affairs poorly, he can be wiped out in a bad deal, or be a victim of a commercial crisis, or by an unforeseen catastrophe; in a word he can ruin himself. This is true. But does ruin mean from the bourgeois point of view to be reduced to the same level of misery as those who die of hunger, or to be forced among the ranks of the common laborers? This so rarely happens, that we might as well say never. Afterwards it is rare that the capitalist does not retain something, despite the appearance of ruin. Nowadays all bankruptcies are more or less fraudulent. But if absolutely nothing is saved, there are always family ties, and social relations, who, with help from the business skills learned which they pass to their children, permit them to get positions for themselves and their children in the higher ranks of labor, in management; to be a state functionary, to be an executive in a commercial or industrial business, to end up, although dependent, with an income superior to what they paid their former workers.

The risks of the worker are infinitely greater. After all, if the establishment in which he is employed goes bankrupt, he must go several days and sometimes several weeks without work, and for him it is more than ruin, it is death; because he eats everyday what he earns. The savings of workers are fairy tales invented by bourgeois economists to lull their weak sentiment of justice, the remorse that is awakened by chance in the bosom of their class. This ridiculous and hateful myth will never soothe the anguish of the worker. He knows the expense of satisfying the daily needs of his large family. If he had savings, he would not send his poor children, from the age of six, to wither away, to grow weak, to be murdered physically and morally in the factories, where they are forced to work night and day, a working day of twelve and fourteen hours.

If it happens sometimes that the worker makes a small savings, it is quickly consumed by the inevitable periods of unemployment which often cruelly interrupt his work, as well as by the unforeseen accidents and illnesses which befall his family. The accidents and illnesses that can overtake him constitute a risk that makes all the risks of the employer nothing in comparison: because for the worker debilitating illness can destroy his productive ability, his labor power. Over all, prolonged illness is the most terrible bankruptcy, a bankruptcy that means for him and his children, hunger and death.

I know full well that under these conditions that if I were a capitalist, who needs a hundred workers to fertilize my capital, that on employing these workers, all the advantages are for me, all the disadvantages for them. I propose nothing more nor less than to exploit them, and if you wish me to be sincere about it, and promise to guard me well, I will tell them:

"Look, my children, I have some capital which by itself cannot produce anything, because a dead thing cannot produce anything. I have nothing productive without labor. As it goes, I cannot benefit from consuming it unproductively, since having consumed it, I would be left with nothing. But thanks to the social and political institutions which rule over us and are all in my favor, in the existing economy my capital is supposed to be a producer as well: it earns me interest. From whom this interest must be taken - and it must be from someone, since in reality by itself it produces absolutely nothing - this does not concern you. It is enough for you to know that it renders interest. Alone this interest is insufficient to cover my expenses. I am not an ordinary man as you. I cannot be, nor do I want to be, content with little. I want to live, to inhabit a beautiful house, to eat and drink well, to ride in a carriage, to maintain a good appearance, in short, to have all the good things in life. I also want to give a good education to my children, to make them into gentlemen, and send them away to study, and afterwards, having become much more educated than you, they can dominate you one day as I dominate you today. And as education alone is not enough, I want to give them a grand inheritance, so that divided between them they will be left almost as rich as I. Consequently, besides all the good things in life I want to give myself, I also want to increase my capital. How will I achieve this goal? Armed with this capital I propose to exploit you, and I propose that you permit me to exploit you. You will work and I will collect and appropriate and sell for my own behalf the product of your labor, without giving you more than a portion which is absolutely necessary to keep you from dying of hunger today, so that at the end of tomorrow you will still work for me in the same conditions; and when you have been exhausted, I will throw you out, and replace you with others. Know it well, I will pay you a salary as small, and impose on you a working day as long, working conditions as severe, as despotic, as harsh as possible; not from wickedness - not from a motive of hatred towards you, nor an intent to do you harm - but from the love of wealth and to get rich quick; because the less I pay you and the more you work, the more I will gain."

This is what is said implicitly by every capitalist, every industrialist, every business owner, every employer who demands the labor power of the workers they hire.

But since supply and demand are equal, why do the workers accept the conditions laid down by the employer? If the capitalist stands in just as great a need of employing the workers as the one hundred workers do of being employed by him, does it not follow that both sides are in an equal position? Do not both meet at the market as two equal merchants - from the juridical point of view at least - one bringing a commodity called a daily wage, to be exchanged for the daily labor of the worker on the basis of so many hours per day; and the other bringing his own labor as his commodity to be exchanged for the wage offered by the capitalist? Since, in our supposition, the demand is for a hundred workers and the supply is likewise that of a hundred persons, it may seem that both sides are in an equal position.

Of course nothing of the kind is true. What is it that brings the capitalist to the market? It is the urge to get rich, to increase his capital, to gratify his ambitions and social vanities, to be able to indulge in all conceivable pleasures. And what brings the worker to the market? Hunger, the necessity of eating today and tomorrow. Thus, while being equal from the point of juridical fiction, the capitalist and the worker are anything but equal from the point of view of the economic situation, which is the real situation. The capitalist is not threatened with hunger when he comes to the market; he knows very well that if he does not find today the workers for whom he is looking, he will still have enough to eat for quite a long time, owing to the capital of which he is the happy possessor. If the workers whom he meets in the market present demands which seem excessive to him, because, far from enabling him to increase his wealth and improve even more his economic position, those proposals and conditions might, I do not say equalize, but bring the economic position of the workers somewhat close to his own - what does he do in that case? He turns down those proposals and waits. After all, he was not impelled by an urgent necessity, but by a desire to improve his position, which, compared to that of the workers, is already quite comfortable, and so he can wait. And he will wait, for his business experience has taught him that the resistance of workers who, possessing neither capital, nor comfort, nor any savings to speak of, are pressed by a relentless necessity, by hunger, that this resistance cannot last very long, and that finally he will be able to find the hundred workers for whom he is looking - for they will be forced to accept the conditions which he finds it profitable to impose upon them. If they refuse, others will come who will be only too happy to accept such conditions. That is how things are done daily with the knowledge and in full view of everyone.

If, as a consequence of the particular circumstances that constantly influence the market, the branch of industry in which he planned at first to employ his capital does not offer all the advantages that he had hoped, then he will shift his capital elsewhere; thus the bourgeois capitalist is not tied by nature to any specific industry, but tends to invest (as it is called by the economists - exploit is what we say) indifferently in all possible industries. Let's suppose, finally, that learning of some industrial incapacity or misfortune, he decides not to invest in any industry; well, he will buy stocks and annuities; and if the interest and dividends seem insufficient, then he will engage in some occupation, or shall we say, sell his labor for a time, but in conditions much more lucrative than he had offered to his own workers.

The capitalist then comes to the market in the capacity, if not of an absolutely free agent, at least that of an infinitely freer agent than the worker. What happens in the market is a meeting between a drive for lucre and starvation, between master and slave. Juridically they are both equal; but economically the worker is the serf of the capitalist, even before the market transaction has been concluded whereby the worker sells his person and his liberty for a given time. The worker is in the position of a serf because this terrible threat of starvation which daily hangs over his head and over his family, will force him to accept any conditions imposed by the gainful calculations of the capitalist, the industrialist, the employer.

And once the contract has been negotiated, the serfdom of the workers is doubly increased; or to put it better, before the contract has been negotiated, goaded by hunger, he is only potentially a serf; after it is negotiated he becomes a serf in fact. Because what merchandise has he sold to his employer? It is his labor, his personal services, the productive forces of his body, mind, and spirit that are found in him and are inseparable from his person - it is therefore himself. From then on, the employer will watch over him, either directly or by means of overseers; everyday during working hours and under controlled conditions, the employer will be the owner of his actions and movements. When he is told: "Do this," the worker is obligated to do it; or he is told: "Go there," he must go. Is this not what is called a serf?

M. Karl Marx, the illustrious leader of German Communism, justly observed in his magnificent work Das Kapital2 that if the contract freely entered into by the vendors of money -in the form of wages - and the vendors of their own labor -that is, between the employer and the workers - were concluded not for a definite and limited term only, but for one's whole life, it would constitute real slavery. Concluded for a term only and reserving to the worker the right to quit his employer, this contract constitutes a sort of voluntary and transitory serfdom. Yes, transitory and voluntary from the juridical point of view, but nowise from the point of view of economic possibility. The worker always has the right to leave his employer, but has he the means to do so? And if he does quit him, is it in order to lead a free existence, in which he will have no master but himself? No, he does it in order to sell himself to another employer. He is driven to it by the same hunger which forced him to sell himself to the first employer. Thus the worker's liberty, so much exalted by the economists, jurists, and bourgeois republicans, is only a theoretical freedom, lacking any means for its possible realization, and consequently it is only a fictitious liberty, an utter falsehood. The truth is that the whole life of the worker is simply a continuous and dismaying succession of terms of serfdom -voluntary from the juridical point of view but compulsory in the economic sense - broken up by momentarily brief interludes of freedom accompanied by starvation; in other words, it is real slavery.

This slavery manifests itself daily in all kinds of ways. Apart from the vexations and oppressive conditions of the contract which turn the worker into a subordinate, a passive and obedient servant, and the employer into a nearly absolute master - apart from all that, it is well known that there is hardly an industrial enterprise wherein the owner, impelled on the one hand by the two-fold instinct of an unappeasable lust for profits and absolute power, and on the other hand, profiting by the economic dependence of the worker, does not set aside the terms stipulated in the contract and wring some additional concessions in his own favor. Now he will demand more hours of work, that is, over and above those stipulated in the contract; now he will cut down wages on some pretext; now he will impose arbitrary fines, or he will treat the workers harshly, rudely, and insolently.

But, one may say, in that case the worker can quit. Easier said than done. At times the worker receives part of his wages in advance, or his wife or children may be sick, or perhaps his work is poorly paid throughout this particular industry. Other employers may be paying even less than his own employer, and after quitting this job he may not even be able to find another one. And to remain without a job spells death for him and his family. In addition, there is an understanding among all employers, and all of them resemble one another. All are almost equally irritating, unjust, and harsh.

Is this calumny? No, it is in the nature of things, and in the logical necessity of the relationship existing between the employers and their workers.


1. Not having to hand the works mentioned, I took these quotes from la Histoire de la Revolution de 1848, by Louis Blanc. Mr. Blanc continues with these words: "We have been well alerted. Now we know, without room for doubt, that according to all the doctrines of the old political economy, wages cannot have any other basis than the regulation between supply and demand, although the result is that the remuneration of labor is reduced to what is strictly necessary to not perish by starvation. Very well, and let us do no more than repeat the words inadvertently spoken in sincerity by Adam Smith, the head of this school: It is small consolation for individuals who have no other means for existence than their labor." (Bakunin)

2. Das Kapital, Kritik der politischen Oekonomie, by Karl Marx; Erster Band. This work will need to be translated into French, because nothing, that I know of, contains an analysis so profound, so luminous, so scientific, so decisive, and if I can express it thus, so merciless an expose of the formation of bourgeois capital and the systematic and cruel exploitation that capital continues exercising over the work of the proletariat. The only defect of this work... positivist in direction, based on a profound study of economic works, without admitting any logic other than the logic of the facts - the only defect, say, is that it has been written, in part, but only in part, in a style excessively metaphysical and abstract... which makes it difficult to explain and nearly unapproachable for the majority of workers, and it is principally the workers who must read it nevertheless. The bourgeois will never read it or, if they read it, they will never want to comprehend it, and if they comprehend it they will never say anything about it; this work being nothing other than a sentence of death, scientifically motivated and irrevocably pronounced, not against them as individuals, but against their class. (Bakunin)


Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Best. Intro. Ever.

I had to throw my two cents into the pot when it comes to my favorite song intros of all time. There’s so many stellar, ear-tugging openers it’s difficult to narrow it down therefore I chose the following three knowing fully that I’ve left out too many to mention:

Rush - "Limelight"

MC5 - "Kick Out the Jams"

David Bowie - "Ziggy Stardust"

Now, I know there are hundreds more so please refresh my memory with your favorite song intros.

What's the greatest intro in the world?

(View Original)

Nowadays, in an age of sensory overload, the need for a song to grab the listener's attention as quickly as possible is more vital than ever


I was watching University Challenge the other night when, incongruously, the deathless opening riff of the Kinks' You Really Got Me popped up. To paraphrase Churchill, never can a pop song have been so identifiable to so many from so little as this classic proto-punk single from 1964. The intro does exactly what the song promises in the title: pins you where you stand, then drags you in. Even the team of scientists seemed to have a fairly good idea of what it was. Paxo, clearly a secret member of the Village Green Preservation Society, simply smiled indulgently.

Most producers, publishers and A&R men - yes, they still exist - tell aspiring songwriters that they have, at the outside, roughly 30 seconds for a song to grab their interest before the mind starts to wander, usually never to return. But what, the poor composer will cry, about the carefully constructed bridge that kicks in after two-and-a-half minutes? Sad to say, you might as well have recorded the sound of your dog scratching at the door for all the attention they're paying by that point.

Nowadays, in an age of sensory overload and increasing demands on our time, the need for a song to grab the listener's attention as quickly as possible is more vital than ever. Which means the intro remains king. But what to do? There are loads of tried-and-tested options. George Martin was a great advocate of leading from the front, sticking the chorus right where you can't ignore it - advice that heightened the initial impact of the Beatles' She Loves You, and has since been followed by everyone from Abba (Take a Chance on Me) to Amy Winehouse (Rehab).

If it's a powerhouse riff you're after, then AC/DC's Back in Black takes some beating, though Smells Like Teen Spirit runs it close. The naked bass line and tambourine combo - featured on the Supremes' You Can't Hurry Love, purloined to equally gripping effect by the Jam on A Town Called Malice - is similarly hard to resist. Sometimes, however, the story rather than the sound proves most effective: the opening seconds of conversation on Leader of the Pack contain the seeds of an entire soap opera; so, in its own way, does "it's Britney, bitch" on Gimme More.

There are other ways and means: the trippy fade-in (Stone Roses' I Wanna Be Adored); the dramatic sound-effect (The Doors' Riders on the Storm; Junior Walker's Shotgun); stark and sultry (Prince's Sign O' The Times); the power-chord-then-pause (Bowie's Moonage Daydream).

A capella. Choral. A bloody big bass drum. Let me know which ones take your fancy. We're after the greatest intro in the world - ever.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Parecon and Crime

Michael AlbertParecon and Crime

Michael Albert
(View Original)

This essays is excerpted from the Zed Press book, Realizing Hope

It is often said that how a society treats those it punishes graphically displays how civilized and humane that society is. If we look at how criminals are treated we see a portrait of a society's moral soul.

It might also be said, look at the numbers of prisoners and the basis for their incarceration to see whether a society produces more solidarity or divisiveness, equity or desperation, dignity or self hatred.

Does society increase crime by making it necessary or at least viable and attractive? Does it disproportionately impel some sectors to crime? Or does society deter crime by making a lawful life worthy and fulfilling, and by confining crime, and particularly long-term incarceration, only to sociopaths?

In this chapter, to investigate this question from the angle of capitalism and crime, I come at the problem from two angles that are a bit different than our approach to other topics in this book.

Crime and Punishment in Capitalism

About 30 years ago I was at a dinner party with a bunch of leftist economics faculty and grad students, and I posed a hypothetical question to engender some dinner debate. If you had only two choices, I asked, would you open all U.S. prison doors and let everyone out, or would you keep everyone right where they are?

To my surprise there wasn't any debate. Only I was willing to entertain what everyone else saw as the utterly insane, ultra-leftist notion that opening the doors might be better than keeping everyone incarcerated with no changes. I then added the option of giving everyone who was let out a job and ample training, but still there were no takers.

Years later, would the result of such a query to leftists be the same? As context, this little experiment might best be undertaken in light of the popular notion that it is better to let ten criminals go free than jail one innocent person. Of course that may be just a rhetorical put-on for gullible law students, but it is supposed to communicate that there is something utterly unthinkable about letting innocent folks fester in prison.

Okay, this implies some calculations. For example, what is innocence and what is guilt, and is it better to jail one innocent person so we can also jail 20, 50, 100, or 1,000 malevolent psychopaths who would otherwise run amuck hurting and killing way more innocent folks? On the other hand, what if the calculus is the opposite? What if the real question is should we keep one criminal in jail along with five or ten innocent folks, or let them all go free?

The crime rate in the U.S. is approximately the same as in comparably industrialized and citified Western Europe. The number of inmates per hundred thousand citizens in the U.S., however, is as much as fifteen times greater than in Europe, depending on which country we compare.

The rate of incarceration in Spain is a bit more than England is a bit more than France is a bit more than Germany is a bit more than Turkey...and Norway and Iceland are relatively crime free by comparison. The U.S. rate of incarceration is about fifteen times Iceland's, twelve times Norway's, a bit over eight times the Turkish rate, and a little over six times Spain's.

The high U.S. rates began spiraling dramatically upward about thirty years ago in tune with political and media exploitation of a largely manufactured public fear of crime.

Political candidates - Ronald Reagan being the game's most effective player - would drum up fear and then use it to propel programs for warring on drugs, expanding the number of prisons, extending minimum mandatory sentencing, and imposing three strikes you're out innovations.

When everyone from the cop on the beat, to the police chief, to the crime beat reporter, to the district attorney, to the judge hears nothing but an endless litany of lock 'em up and let 'em rot rhetoric, they all become predictably aggressive. As Manning Marable reports, approximately 600,000 police officers and 1.5 million private security guards patrol the United States. The U.S. has more than 30,000 heavily armed, military trained police units. SWAT mobilizations, or ‘call outs,' increased 400 percent between 1980 and 1995. And between 1972 and 1998 the number of people in prison in the U.S. rose by over five times to 1.8 million.

Most of the increase in U.S. incarcerations has been due to nonviolent crimes such as possessing drugs, whereas in Europe such "crimes" rarely lead to prison. So in the U.S. we jail 5, 6, 7, or even 11 or 14 people who would be seen as innocent enough to stay out in society in Europe, for every one person we jail who the Europeans would also incarcerate.

In other words, if we opened the prison doors in the U.S. right now, a horrendous proposal in most people's eyes, for every person the Europeans would have us jail, five to ten who they would deem innocent would be set free. This is rather sobering. If we would rhetorically let out ten guilty inmates to free one innocent one, surely we ought to happily let out one guilty inmate to free five to ten innocent ones? And then we ought to refigure our approach to laws, trials, and especially punishment and rehabilitation as well.

The data and most of the ideas above, by the way, did not come to me by way of a dinner party with radical leftists. Instead, I borrowed this material from an article in Scientific American, August 1999. The author, Roger Doyle, was examining some facts to see their numeric implications. Being honest, of course, means looking at facts and reporting them truthfully. Being leftist means looking a little deeper at problems to find institutional causes, and then proposing well thought out solutions that further egalitarian and humanist values.

Doyle went on in his Scientific American essay to point out that (a) a key difference between young whites and (disproportionately jailed) young blacks was that the whites are more likely in our current economy to get jobs enabling them to avoid the need to steal or deal, (b) income differentials are vastly greater in the U.S. than in Europe and, (c) reading only a little into his words, that incarceration may be seen as a tool of control against the poor so that "high U.S. incarceration rates are unlikely to decline until there is greater equality of income."

Kudos for Scientific American's honesty and even radicalism, but what about our hypothetical leftist dinner party? If the difference between the U.S. and Europe isn't that Americans have genes causing them to be antisocial but, rather, that Americans, and particularly black Americans, are put into circumstances by our economy which virtually require them to seek means of sustenance outside the law, and if, to be very conservative, half the inmates in the U.S. are arrested for victimless "crimes" that would not even be prosecuted in Europe, doesn't it make sense to ask whether this entire U.S. prosecutorial and punitive legal apparatus is, in fact, largely counterproductive?

Finally, why are some leftists sitting around a table, whether thirty years ago or today, or why is anyone at all, anytime, for that matter, more worried about the occasional antisocial or even pathological thug/rapist/murderer who is caught and incarcerated going free, than they are worried by (1) the violent and willful incarceration of so many innocent souls who have worthy and humane lives to live if only enabled to do so; or (2) the gray flannel businessmen walking freely up and down Wall Street who preside over the misery of so many for their own private gain, each businessman a perfect biological incarnation of willful, self-delusional, and largely incorrigible antisocial behavior that operates at a scale of violence which the worst incarcerated thugs can never dream to approach, or (3) the government, which, on behalf of those gray flannel businessmen wreaks massive mutilation and devastation on whole countries, then calls it humanitarian intervention so that they can avoid the death penalty our society prescribes for murder of any kind, much less for murder most massive such as they commit?

Our jails are 10 to 50 times more crowded than the number of people a humane legal system would have to incarcerate and/or rehabilitate, because ways to diminish that gap would entail reducing income differentials and improving the lot of society's worst off. Businessmen won't tolerate that, at least not without a fight.

Why does a capitalist country produce crime in greater numbers than genetic endowment plus equitable social conditions might entail? Consider Groucho Marx little joke that the secret of success is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake those, you've got it made. Or consider Sinclair Lewis' description of one of his most famous characters George F. Babbitt as being nimble in the calling of selling houses for more than people could afford to pay.

In other words, we live in a society in which to win is paramount, and even in legal transactions mindsets greared to winning are barely discernable from those geared to fraud and theft. That people excluded from legal means of survival or prosperity might in considerable numbers consider illegal options is hardly surprising.

Here's is Al Capone, the famous, and, in some respects, lionized American thug on the subject: "This American system of ours, call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you will, gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it."

First, capitalism produces poor and poorly educated people on one side, and rich and callous people on the other. In the U.S., upwards of thirty million, and indeed, many more people worry about falling into or already suffer socially defined poverty. More frequently, even larger numbers of people periodically find themselves unexpectedly desperate. Over the course of a lifetime, as many as a hundred million people will suffer unemployment or fear of it at some point. At the same time a few million people have so much wealth and power that they virtually own society and determine its course of development.

Next, capitalism imposes non-stop economic transactional requisites that barely differ from invitations to lie, cheat, and otherwise fleece one's fellow citizens through such means as price gouging, dumping pollutants, and paying sub minimum wages. Further, largely to maintain a degree of order and, in particular, to protect the property and safety of the rich and powerful, as well as to provide a context of control over all others, capitalism elaborates a system of laws even as draconian as three strikes you're out. A largely callous and often corrupt police apparatus and jurisprudence system is added to the mix. And the result is not just massive generally unproductive and very often unwarranted and aggressively dehumanizing incarceration rates with abominable prison conditions, but crime galore, plus rampant fear and hostility. Since it all persists with barely a nod to improvement, presumably this is what those at the top want and are satisfied with, from behind their gated communities.

Capitalism produces disparities in wealth, reductions of solidarity, imposed insecurities, and propulsion of a mindset that winning ought to be pursued by any means necessary. It creates an environment in which getting away with crime is commonplace, crime is profitable, and the repression of crime is not only profitable but an excellent means of social control. Capitalism makes the distribution of tools of violence profitable and even empowering, and induces conditions of cynicism that impede rational judgments about policies and practices. In light of all this, in capitalism we abide an absence of anything remotely resembling rehabilitation and we celebrate, instead, punishments and incarceration that spur more crime.

To figure out a more desirable approach to finding crime, determining guilt or innocence, and administering justice for victims and perpetrators will be no simple task. But to see some of the broad implications of capitalism for crime, as noted above, and for parecon for crime, as noted below, is much simpler.

Parecon and Crime

In a parecon there is no impetus to reduce wide disparities in wealth by cheating because there are no wide disparities to reduce. People are not uncertain, unstable, unsettled, and facing destitution, with crime as a way out. People do not choose between a criminal career and jobs that are debilitating and dehumanizing. But it is not solely the absence of conditions of poverty that induce people to commit crimes to survive or to care for loved ones, nor the absence of conditions of great advantage which instill callousness and a belief that one is above society, that diminishes parecon's crime rates.

In a parecon no one profits off crime. There is no industry which benefits from crime control or punishment of criminals. No one has a stake in larger and larger prisons, police budgets, and arms sales, and thus in crime growing. If there are still workplaces producing guns, no one connected with them has any interest whatsoever in anyone owning them for anything but socially desirable purposes. There is every reason for citizens to rationally and compassionately consider the well being of themselves and of all citizens, and to pursue policies accordingly, rather than settling for personally and socially counterproductive policies in a cynical belief that there's no better choice.

So, in a parecon, equitable social roles and the socially generated values of solidarity and self management, plus stable and just conditions, all make it unnecessary for people to try to enhance their lives through crime. To deter crime rooted in pathology, or just to deal with social violations stemming from jealousy or other persistent phenomena, a good society would of course want to have fair adjudication and sensible practices that continually reduce rather than aggravate the probability of further violations.

But there is another feature as well that is quite interesting and instructive, insofar as we are talking about crime for personal material gain - as compared to talking about criminal pathology (crime for pleasure), or about crime for passion or revenge.

Under capitalism, how do thieves operate? They might engage in fraud or deception, or literally grab items that belong to others. They then either directly have more purchasing power, or they have items they have grabbed which they add to their possessions or can sell to amass more purchasing power. Capitalism's thieves live at a higher standard, as a result. They climb the ladder of material well being and in so doing they appear to have been the beneficiary of high pay, or bonuses, or victorious gambling.

Now what about in a parecon? We don't know what type of criminal justice system it will have, though we know it will incorporate balanced job complexes, of course. But we do know that some people will still be fraudulent, grab what isn't theirs, or commit other criminal acts. The question is what happens next, assuming they succeed? How do they enjoy the material spoils of crime?

If the spoils are tiny, their consumption won't be particularly visible. But the kind of booty that motivates serious theft is substantial. We become criminals pursuing the kind of booty that pushes one's income way up. How can one enjoy that in a parecon?

The answer is, one pretty much can't enjoy that kind of booty in a parecon; save perhaps in one's own basement, if one has stolen items like paintings. In a parecon, any consumption of significant criminally acquired income will be visible to others. In capitalism, there are all kinds of ways for people to have hugely disparate incomes, but in a parecon, that isn't the case. If in a parecon you don't work much longer or harder - and there are limits to what is possible - then the only way you can have significantly extra wealth is through illegal means.

In other words, parecon creates a context of income distribution that makes it impossible for anyone to benefit greatly, in public, from crime. This both reduces the appeal of crime and greatly simplifies its discovery.

Parecon thus reduces incentives to steal, conditions that breed crime, reasons for needing crime, inclinations in people's consciousness consistent with or conducive to engaging in crime, and prospects for success at crime.

But, before I close out this chapter, I should address one more point that some readers may be wondering about - does parecon add another possible avenue of crime as curtail many that now exist?

In any economy, it is a crime to operate outside the norms and structures of acceptable economic life. In capitalism, it is criminal to own other people as slaves, for example, or to pay sub minimum wages, or to have overly unhealthy workplace conditions. Likewise, in a parecon it will be criminal to hire wage slaves, or to use unbalanced job complexes, or even just to operate outside the participatory planning system to accrue excessive income. Have we reduced some avenues to crime in a parecon, only to open up others?

It turns out this is overwhelmingly an economic question because the economic dictates of parecon establish a context in which violations of defining economic structures are so difficult and so unrewarding, that even without considering legal penalties they would rarely if ever attract interest.

Take opening a workplace and hiring wage slaves. It is certainly possible to open a new workplace in a parecon, of course. It entails establishing a workers council and receiving sanction from your related industry council and then entering the planning process to receive inputs and provide outputs and to have employees earn income.

One cannot, therefore, employ wage slaves openly because there would be no acceptance of it. Can one claim to be a parecon firm in public, but behind closed doors have one or two people entirely running the show with all other employees receiving full incomes but then turnning over large parts to their bosses?

Even if we ignore the difficulty of turning over purchasing power, the image is, of course, absurd. Why would any worker submit to this sort of condition when the whole economy is full of balanced job complexes, self-managing positions, and, even more, when the merest whisper about the situation would immediately cause the workplace in question to be revamped into pareconish shape?

Similarly, suppose there is a parecon in some country and an overseas capitalist decides to open an auto plant inside its borders. He brings components in the parecon country and builds a plant - this is already quite impossible, but let's ignore that - and then he advertises for workers. Suppose he is prepared to pay much more than the country's average income level and he promises good enough work conditions that there are takers, which is also hugely implausible (rather like people now agreeing to be literal slaves for a foreign entrepreneur opening a shop in New York City in exchange for luxury accommodations in the slave quarters). Still, even assuming workers are ready to sign on, this is nonetheless an impossible scenario because others involved in the planning process will neither deliver electricity, water, rubber, steel, or other essential inputs, nor buy the cars produced - not to mention penalties against this anti-pareconish firm.

Obviously the above applies identically to violations of parecon short of wage slavery, such as unfair salary differences or unbalanced job complexes inside a particular firm. But another scenario has to be assessed as well.

Suppose I am a great painter, or a great cook. I work in an art council or cook's council in my city and have a balanced job complex and get pareconish remuneration. But I am unusually good and highly admired and well known for the great quality of my creations, and I decide I want to parlay my talent and experience into higher income.

I paint or cook in my spare time, in my home - figuring, as well, that in short order I can leave the pareconish job and work only out of my home. I decide to make the output of my private labors available through what is called a black market, to augment my income. This violates the norms of parecon, but what stops me from doing it?

Well, first, if it so chooses, society can of course enforce penalties for this type of violation just like it does for fraud or theft or murder, say. But even if there were no penalties, I would confront considerable economic obstacles to benefiting through a black market.

To ply my private trade in any great degree I have to somehow obtain all the supplies I need. But, this isn't an insurmountable obstacle since if I also have a pareconish income from a pareconish job, I can forego some personal consumption and use that income to get ingredients I need for black market endeavors. My tremendous talent guarantees that in short order the results will be worth much more than the cost. So far, so good, unlike, say, if I was trying to do something privately where I needed costly supplies or a large venue - such as if I was a pilot giving private flights, or a researcher trying to cure cancer on the sly and sell the results.

But there is still the problem of people "buying" my meals or paintings. How do they consume this illegal black market bounty? And how do I get purchasing power out of it? I can't. The best I can induce if for them to give me something for my output, such as a shirt, a meal, or a piece of furniture, and so on.

But to top off that complication, in addition to the difficulties of the whole endeavor, and the risk of being caught and at the very least suffering ignominy, how can I enjoy my material bounty? I can't enjoy it, except entirely in private. I can't accrue a whole lot of payment in kind and then waltz around wearing, driving, and otherwise visibly consuming it, as that would be a dead giveaway that I was crooked. I have to take my bounty to my cellar, for private consumption.

So the whole picture is that I have to pay for ingredients, produce on the sly something I could be well paid for and highly admired for producing in the real economy, find people willing to illegally barter for what I produced even though they could get essentially the same goods in the economy legally and without hassle, and then enjoy the fruits of my deceptions in private. Even the easiest of all possible types of violation is in a parecon made structurally onerous and of limited benefit, in addition to being illegal.

Capitalism creates poor people who steal to survive or to garner otherwise absent pleasure. It creates wealthy people who steal to maintain their conditions against collapse. It creates anti sociality that makes criminal mindsets prevalent. It makes crime's rewards unlimited. It makes revelation of even public crime unlikely. It hardens and even expands the criminal skills of those who commit crime rather than rehabilitating them.

In contrast, parecon makes crime unnecessary for survival or for gaining pleasures. It eliminates rich people needing to preserve their advantages. It creates conditions of solidarity that make criminal mindsets personally abhorrent. It minimizes crime's rewards, and it makes revelation for anything but the most secretive violation virtually inevitable. It rehabilitates those who do commit crimes.

The bottom line is that parecon tends not to produce crimes and would certainly be compatible with desirable ways of dealing with crime control in a new and improved society.