Friday, October 30, 2020

Who Should Trotskyists Vote For in 2020?

In a post by the Solidarity Green Party Working Group entitled Solidarity and the 2020 presidential election, they write

As reported in Solidarity’s Election Poll, a Solidarity internal poll found that 47% of respondents supported voting for Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker running as Greens in the 2020 presidential election, 27% supported voting for Hawkins and Walker where the Democrats are assured of winning and for Joe Biden in “swing states,” 21% supported voting for Biden everywhere (motivated as “Dump Trump, fight Biden”), and 5% provided comments but selected none of the three options. ...

How did Solidarity, a revolutionary socialist organization founded on the principle of working-class political independence, get to this point? And not just Solidarity. How did the revolutionary socialist movement get to this point? We ask the question not to recriminate but to discern a way forward.

For any Trotskyist--current or former--the problem is self-evident. As a core principle Trotskyists refuse to cross the class line and will not support a "bourgeois" party. The Democrats are the very essence of a bourgeois party, and accordingly no self-respecting Trotskyist of whatever denomination will support them. My former comrades adamantly reject lesser-evilism, i.e., voting for a Democrat just because he seems more progressive than the Republican. The dogma is that Democrats and Republicans are essentially the same--both representing the bourgeoisie.

The principle distinguishes Trotskyism from the Stalinist tradition which has long supported progressive Democrats, this year championing Bernie Sanders, and now Joe Biden. The Bob Avakian Fan Club, self-avowed Stalinists, write "It is crucial that there be a massive vote against Trump—which means voting for Biden."

Aversion to Democrats is often taken to extreme lengths. This year both the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Socialist Action (SA) are running their own candidates. In the SWP's case this extends a long tradition, and at least the completely useless effort is competently executed. SA, meanwhile, has put forth the laughably ridiculous Jeff Mackler as their candidate--they're not serious.

My friends at Solidarity rightly regard these old-fashioned Trotskyist campaigns as farcical, and accordingly they're looking beyond sectarian Trotskyism for solutions. Their current best choice looks to be Green Party candidates Howie Hawkins and Angela Walker. There is precedent: in the 2016 cycle they supported Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka. Prior to that SWP alum Peter Camejo was the Green Party candidate for Governor of California for three elections, beginning in 2002.

The SWP and SA accuse the Green Party of being middle class, which somehow puts them beyond the pale. The SWP is at least consistent, regarding the entire environmentalist movement as middle class, and therefore not worthy of support. SA supports radical environmentalism, but without supporting the Green Party.

The original leaders of Solidarity are all former members of the SWP, and for them the class line is a solid barrier--thou shalt not cross it! Which is why they're so astonished and disappointed that so many of their new colleagues (never part of the SWP) even countenance voting for Democrats.

The opposite, non-Trotskyist position is held by Bob Avakian, who writes (italics in original)

To approach this election from the standpoint of which candidate is “better” means failing to understand the truly profound stakes and potential consequences of what is involved. The fact is that there can be one—and only one—“good” that can come out of this election: delivering a decisive defeat to Trump and the whole fascist regime. Doing this would create far better conditions for continuing to wage the struggle against everything represented by the Trump/Pence regime and all the oppression and injustices of this system, and would be a great gift to the people of the world.

His claim is that Trump is qualitatively different from Biden because he's a fascist. Therefore, however bad Biden may be, he must be supported.

In contrast, the old majority within Solidarity argue this way:

Left advocates of voting for Biden generally give Trump as the reason. Trump is indeed a menace. His views may be no worse than those of Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush. But he is self-indulgent, chaotic and demagogic far beyond what they allowed themselves. His appeals to white chauvinism are effective with segments of the population, especially older white men. They bamboozle some white workers, who have real grievances but misdirect their anger.

If the U.S. were on the brink of fascism or military dictatorship and a vote for Biden were the last line of defense, perhaps advocating it could be justified. Although it wouldn’t achieve much. It would be like throwing a handkerchief at a charging bear. But the U.S. isn’t on the brink of fascism or military dictatorship. We’re at a highly polarized moment in the alternating administrations of the two-party system.

An article by John B. Cannon makes the case that one should strategically vote for Biden in states where the election is close, while casting a protest vote elsewhere. He writes

On the flip side, of course, Trump is a relatively weak authoritarian. It seems unlikely that he could consolidate a fascistic or authoritarian regime without vestiges of democratic checks, since neither the military nor most of the bourgeoisie support him. ... However, under Trump’s leadership, part of the Republican Party is blurring the line between fascism and right-wing nationalist, authoritarian aspirations, and Republican elected leaders are increasingly unable to operate independently of Trump’s personalistic command. In sum, the politics of fascism are very much at hand, even if the immediate possibility of a fascist consolidation ... is not.

He asks, "What’s a brink, and how do you know you are on it?" Mr. Cannon suggests we're not yet on the brink of fascism, but nevertheless this is a "crisis," perhaps like Germany in 1929 (not 1933). While Trump himself may not lead the way, a future, more competent fascist could really lead us over the brink. Therefore now is the time to stand up against fascism and vote for Biden where it actually makes some electoral difference, i.e., in swing states. Thus, in extremis, lesser-evilism is justified.

A full-fledged turn into the Democratic Party is advocated by Bill Resnick, a personality from Portland, OR. In an article weirdly entitled Dump Trump, Fight and Force Biden: An Electoral Strategy for the Left, he wants to have his cake and eat it too. That is, to vote for Biden while opposing him every step of the way.

He writes,

But just to be clear: everything said about Biden by those who argue against voting for him is true. These truths however, in this moment, don’t carry the day, if you believe, as I do, that Trump has to be stopped in his tracks, repudiated, to decisively interrupt the downward spiral toward a white supremacist autocracy. And a strategic vote for Biden makes sense since his administration will be forced to bargain with “progressive” Democrats in the Congress, and it should be possible to win significant programs, call them non-reformist or revolutionary reforms.

He explains what those reforms are:

We don’t have to wait until after the election to fight for a package of “non-reformist” reforms. By non-reformist reforms I mean programs and policies that:

  • Demonstrate the virtues of radically democratic organizations and social relations which prove that “Every Cook Can Govern” – for example, worker-owned and controlled co-ops, democratically-run teams to treat chronic diseases, participatory budgeting in local government.
  • Honor and reward the skills and contributions of those in non-elite, professional, college diploma- requiring work.
  • Significantly shift political power downward and outward and Increase social organization and power at the base of our society.
  • Provide a solid social safety net that increases the confidence and fighting power of the working class.
  • Challenge all hierarchy including based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, and spiritual practice.

This, to my mind, is straight-out utopianism, and is not possible even under perfect communism, much less from Sleepy Joe Biden. These hippie-like reforms are a far cry from a Trotskyist transitional program. In my day we would have called it a popular front, i.e., forming a coalition with the bourgeoisie. It seems the old guard in Solidarity agrees with that assessment.

Trotskyism has always struggled between sectarian purity, on the one hand, and big-tent alliances on the other. The solution (insofar as one exists) is a united front consisting of only working class organizations. The antiwar movement as represented by the Student Mobilization Committee was the obvious (and perhaps only) successful example. Though it's not clear how that success has furthered the American Revolution.

Popular fronts work better. Martin Luther King's demands--all won through Republican and a few Democrat politicians--have resulted in enduring gains for civil rights in America. American democracy is strong enough, and capitalism successful enough, that wealth and privileges can be extended across society.

I disagree with my Trotskyist friends: I do not think Trump is a fascist--quite the contrary. Instead of growing government, he is trying to shrink it. Unlike BLM and Antifa, he does not have gangs of thugs on the streets. He is no threat to our democracy, having never once disobeyed a court order. He's neither racist nor white supremacist--he simply rejects ridiculous political correctness.

So this blog enthusiastically endorses Donald J. Trump for president--and not as a lesser evil, either.

Further Reading:

Sunday, October 18, 2020

"A Program to Unify the Exploited and Oppressed"

My friends over at Left Voice are very modest. 

No final solutions do they propose; instead they put forth a supposedly tentative document entitled Fight Racism, Imperialism, and the Current Crisis: A Program to Unify the Exploited and Oppressed.

The programmatic issues raised in this statement are not intended to be a complete or finished program. They are a first proposal — to the Left, to the activists of the BLM movement, and to workers’ and community organizations — to discuss the tasks we face now to defend ourselves and prepare for future struggle.

It doesn't seem all that tentative to me: at over 5,000 words it contains 51 programmatic bullet points! How incomplete or unfinished can that be? Far from uniting the Left, this is as sectarian as any document issued by the Spartacist League

Independent of substance, my friends need to learn a few tricks from the Trump campaign. People are persuaded by short, catchy, somewhat ambiguous slogans--Make America Great Again is a good example. While one can argue about what it actually means (I, for one, categorically reject the idea that it's racist), there is no doubt that it means something--enough to inspire millions to go out and vote for Trump. America First and Drain the Swamp are two other marvelous bullet points from the Trump doctrine. The Biden campaign chimes in with Build Back Better, and that's not bad. Much better than Hillary's I'm with her (which is literally meaningless).

The 51 bullets, meanwhile, will only generate argument and disagreement. All you'll get from them is a faculty-meeting talk-shop.

There are better examples closer to home. While Left Voice apparently aspires to become a vanguard party, it could take some advice from an already-existing vanguard party, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Their Updated 2020 Campaign Platform (pdf) only has 13 bullets, which is still probably twelve too many--but at least they're snappy, e.g., Millions need jobs today!

Left Voice will agree with most of the SWP's bullets, so it's not clear to me why they're trying to reinvent the wheel here. I'll suggest that this whole I wanna be the vanguard business is inherently sectarian.

I can't possibly go through all 51 points, but a few of them are likely civilization-ending--on the order of an asteroid hitting the earth.

They demand, for example, that

we must nationalize the banking system with the expropriation of private banks (while protecting the savings of working people) and form a single public bank that is controlled by workers and the people who keep their money there.

Bankrupting all the world's banks will completely freeze up the economy. All trade, finance, and savings will instantly disappear. Hundreds of millions of people across the globe will die of famine within a few months, and the death toll will likely reach billions within a few years. This deeply unserious proposal reflects the class composition of Left Voice--they're typically failed academics and artists from New York City who know nothing about money, finance, savings, economics, or anything else. 

Similarly (boldface in original),

Establish total conversion to renewable energy, which can be accomplished only by taking U.S. industry out of capitalist control and centralizing production for a rapid economic transition.

Again, our friendly English professors know nothing about how the electrical grid works. None of them have any background in electrical engineering. If they did, they would know that this is completely gonzo and will reduce the planet to a medieval lifestyle. As the lights are turned off and transport is reduced to horseback, billions of people will die of starvation and disease in short order.

They write:

Further, we reject the U.S. Constitution and the deeply undemocratic and oppressive system it upholds. A document written by slave owners more than 200 years ago should not stand as the highest law of the land. The reactionary institutions enshrined in this document, from the presidency to the Senate, were designed to keep power concentrated in the hands of the ruling-class minority, excluding the vast majority from society’s most important decisions.

On it's face, this merely destroys the United States rather than the entire world. But given the importance of the USA in food and energy production, not to mention our financial wherewithal, it's likely that this demand will have the same effect as the previous two--namely mass starvation on a global scale. 

Left Voice's opinion is held by extremists on both the Right and the Left. Not only do BLM and Antifa reject the Constitution, but so also do the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. For a description of the modern alt-right, I suggest they read my review of Bronze Age Mindset, whose author shares Left Voice's distaste for Constitutional government.

The alternative to the Constitution is not some better world, but instead rule by warlords and street gangs. Our silly academics look down into the abyss and somehow they see utopia down there. What have they been smoking?

That's a sample of the truly stupid, destructive demands. There are some others that, while less catastrophic, are ridiculous. For example,

Free and unrestricted access that makes voting easy, by making Election Day a federal holiday, instituting easy vote-by-mail nationwide, opening more polling places, abolishing all discriminatory voter ID laws, and ensuring free public transport to and from polling places.

Why bother with all the folderol?  Why not just have internet voting, accessible to anybody around the world. After all, if voting in US elections in a human right, then surely people in China should have as much a right to vote as I do--and without having to sneak across the border first. We can save money too--we won't need polling stations, holidays, or transport. If it's mob rule that you want, then surely this is the best way to get it.

Finally, there is this:

Demand a democratic, secular, single Palestine state in all the historic Palestinian territory, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, and an immediate halt to any further annexation of the West Bank. The only way to realize this demand of the Palestinian people is to fight for the dismantling of the Israeli state as a pro-imperialist and colonial enclave in the perspective for a workers’ and socialist Palestine where Arabs and Jews can live in peace.

Why do they restrict their demand to Israel? How about civil rights the Rohingya in Burma, or the Uighurs in China, or the Catalans in Spain, or the Serbs in Bosnia, or...? There are hundreds of other examples of ethnic conflict for which a "democratic, secular, single" state could be a solution. Yet they pick out Palestine. Why?

First, there's the very incongruity of it--a secular state with its capital in Jerusalem? Jerusalem, where the al Aqsa mosque is built upon the foundations of the Jewish Temple, surrounded by the streets where Jesus walked--and this is supposed to be a secular capital? If there's one thing we can all agree on, it's that none of the disputants want a secular solution. It's impossible.

Second, just as there are valid political arguments to be made for all the other listed ethnic conflicts, there is also a good political case to be made against Zionism. Perhaps some of our Left Voice friends are honest about their political motivations. But some are probably not--some are not merely anti-Zionist, but instead they're antisemitic.  For however honest the merely political anti-Zionists are, antisemites will also flock to the banner. And there are a lot more antisemites than there are anti-Rohingya, anti-Uighur, or anti-Serb.

It's antisemitism that drives the passion behind the Israel/Palestine conflict--and that's why it finds a unique place amongst the 51 bullet points.

Anyway, as befits a group of English professors, Left Voice's document is well and engagingly written. If you want an adventure in kooky, topsy-turvy land, it's worth the read.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Declining Rate of Profit

Correction: Below I mention EBIDTA as an analogue for earnings. This is wrong. "Earnings" happen before interest, depreciation, taxes and amortization are added back in, not after. So Mr. Roberts should just use corporate earnings as his proxy for surplus value. My criticism that he needs to account for amortization still stands.

I keep dinging my Trotskyist friends about the declining rate of profit--magic words they invoke to account for any economic problem at all. It is clear that they generally have no clue as to what that means. But honestly I, too, had no clue what that means, so I thought I'd best go educate myself.

The best source I've found is a conference paper by Michael Roberts, presented in 2011, entitled Measuring the rate of profit; profit cycles and the next recession (pdf). I also looked at two blog posts by Mr. Roberts, here and here. Predictably, there is a huge literature on this topic, and my brief perusal does not qualify me as an expert. So think of this as questions from a novice--for which there are perhaps simple answers--rather than a critique.

The question I always ask my Trotskyist friends is whether by profit they mean operating profit or return on investment--these, of course, are two different things. By Mr. Roberts' account it is some variant of operating profit, i.e., income minus expenses.

Marx's original equation for Rate of Profit (P) is

where s is the surplus value (i.e., what most people would call "profit), c is the total capital stock, and v is the total cost of labor. This is intended to be measured for the entire economy--not just for any individual company.

Mr. Roberts goes through many ways of calculating this equation, but eventually concludes "In my view, the simplest is the best." He measures surplus value as

Or, in words, surplus value is everything left over after depreciation on capital equipment and total wages paid to employees, i.e., something like profit. 

This looks a whole lot like EBITDA, or Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization, which is the gold standard measure for operating margins. It's not clear to me why Mr. Roberts didn't use EBITDA, but I'll speculate because it's only calculated for individual companies rather than for the economy as a whole. He discusses why he doesn't subtract taxes, but he never mentions interest or amortization. 

That last seems to me to be a very important omission. He does write "But these shorter-length profit cycles are really the product of the running down the stock of working capital (called the Kitchin cycle, named after that economist) and not a decisive ‘turning-point’ in profitability," which sounds like amortization in disguise. He seems to believe that all companies amortize all their equipment at the same rates, i.e., over 16 year cycles, and then replace their equipment at the same time. I find this hard to believe. Why not subtract amortization from the measure of surplus value?

On the other hand, perhaps amortization is better included in the calculation of c--the total capital stock. Mr. Roberts chooses what seems to me to be a very strange measure, namely the cost of plant and equipment at the time of original purchase. Alternatively, other authors calculate c as the current replacement cost, which given inflation will be a larger number. Mr. Roberts argues that latter method misrepresents Marx's original purpose, and from his explanation I agree with him. But either way, to include the cost of capital without including amortization is misleading. Amortized equipment no longer counts as an asset beyond its resale value.

I might disagree with Mr. Roberts on some more general, philosophical principles. This sentence bothers: 
The cause of a crisis like the Great Recession must lie with the key laws of motion of capitalism.

Marx, who lived during an exciting time in physics when both thermodynamics and electromagnetism were completely elucidated, may be forgiven for thinking that economics follows physics-like behavior--some "laws of motion." In fact, economics is more a branch of psychology than physics, for it depends ultimately on what consumers want to purchase. Who would've guessed that the most used part of a mobile phone is not the phone but instead the camera?--a fact that put traditional camera makers out of business. Consumer choices like that have a vastly bigger impact on economics than hypothetical measures such as the "global rate of profit."

Likewise, Trump's biggest impact on the economy was likely not the tax cuts, but rather his bully pulpit--his constant championing about how great things are. It gets the animal spirits flowing. Economists call this "expectations," which is a strange word that understates the effect. Judging from Mr. Roberts' essay, Marxist economists discount expectations and/or psychology altogether, which to my mind means they don't understand economics.

Perhaps as a corollary, if there are no "laws of motion" in economics, then I don't understand the purpose in aggregating the rate of profit across the entire economy. Apple has a very high rate of profit; by contrast Walmart fixes its operating margin at 3%--lowering prices when it goes above that, and closing stores if it falls irremediably below that. What is the point of averaging those two companies together? What do you learn from that statistic? I will argue, nothing.

Finally, Marxists make some very weird definitions. They distinguish between productive employees and unproductive employees. The former are workers who actually sit on the assembly line and make, mine, or grow stuff to sell. The latter are all the others, such as managers, marketers, accountants, professors and real estate agents. Perhaps that made sense in Marx's day when the economy consisted only of commodities. But today 80% of all workers are in services. Are they all unproductive employees?

Walmart is ultimately in the marketing business. Yes, I know they have some trucks and warehouses, but at the end of the day it's all about marketing to consumers. Are all those shelf stockers and cashiers unproductive? I certainly don't think so. People like me would starve to death without the efforts of Walmart workers! (And I depend on their managers, too.)

I think the distinction between productive and unproductive doesn't make sense anymore--at least not in the way Marx understood it.

Marxists consider stock market investments to be fictitious capital, to be distinguished from the real money actually invested in plant and equipment as computed by Mr. Roberts, which they call organic capital. If you're stuck with a just-like-physics view of economics, perhaps this makes sense, but economics is not like physics--it's about psychology. Here is the relevant question: Is company X using its resources--capital and labor--in a way that maximizes benefits for their customers? If the answer is yes, then the stock will go up. If the answer is no, the stock will go down. The problem is that customers are fickle--they may decide they prefer telephones to cameras, or sushi to french fries, or whatever. As consumer sentiments change, then so do investor sentiments, and the stock price varies accordingly, even by the hour.

Unlike what Marxists claim, it is precisely so-called fictitious capital that determines business viability. The total market capitalization depends on the stock price--not the sunk cost of plant and equipment. The relevant measure of profit is return on investment, not some bizarre measure of operating income.

Further Reading:

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Election 2020

Two days after I announced the End of Jeff Mackler's Campaign (posted 9/15), the candidate resurrected himself with a short piece entitled Socialist Action 2020 Presidential Candidate Jeff Mackler: No to Trump’s Coup Threat! (posted 9/17). He repeats every Democratic talking point in the book:

Socialist Action is in no way indifferent to Trump’s threat to cancel the 2020 election or to ignore its results on election day should he lose, or attempts to undermine the right to vote by defunding the Post Office to make the prompt counting of ballots difficult or using U.S. Supreme Court rulings to approve racist gerrymandering of districts and other undemocratic measures aimed at reducing the vote of Black and Latinx people. While we have always exposed the reactionary nature of bourgeois elections and all their anti-democratic aspects, we are far from the point of ceding this institution to would-be tyrants like Trump.

Mr. Mackler's supposed defense of free elections is hypocrisy on steroids. Trotskyists--including Socialist Action--put no faith in "bourgeois elections," and participate in them only until they can put together a big enough mob to overthrow the system illegally, after which all elections will be banned. Or if not, then after the Revolution Mr. Mackler will win with 99.9% of the vote. The remaining 0.1% will be put in front of a firing squad.

My original post elicited a comment from UNAC Blog (United National Antiwar Coalition), which looks like an ultraleft front group for Socialist Action. The comment reads in full,

It seems that during this time, as we go through COVID, have had a massive response to cop killings and racism, as jobs are lost, rents coming due and the capitalist parties moving to the right and showing no way forward, the example of an independent socialist campaign - even a small one- is better than none at all.

I have no complaint about a small, independent socialist campaign--I only insist that it be competently run, especially if it claims the Trotskyist banner. "Competent" means, among other things, choosing a candidate with some minimal level of charisma.

I'll suggest that the Socialist Workers Party campaign of Alyson Kennedy and Malcolm Jarrett fits the bill. They're small, socialist, and in the larger scheme of things completely inconsequential. But they're out on the campaign trail, they seek endorsements from outside their own movement, and I believe they'll be on the ballot in at least a few states. 

If you don't like them, then vote for the Green Party.

True to form, Mr. Mackler hasn't been heard from since Sept. 17th--so I'll stand by my claim that the campaign is moribund. (By the way, whatever happened to Heather Bradford, who was initially chosen as his running mate? Unfortunately she left in the Socialist Resurgence split (h/t commenter John B)and is now a designated non-person--likely one of those destined for the firing squad after the Revolution.)

But back to the Democratic talking points that Mr. Mackler so proudly regurgitates in his lede paragraph.

Mr. Trump has never vowed to remain in office illegally. He has promised to appeal close election results all the way to the Supreme Court, which is his right. This becomes "undemocratic" only if he disobeys a court order--which he's never done and almost certainly won't do. (If he does then everybody, including me, will oppose him.) The Democrat's fearmongering about Trump organizing a coup is just that--fearmongering. (Indeed, it looks more plausible that the Dems organized a coup against Trump beginning in 2016.)

Likewise, the post office is not being defunded. It's got plenty of money through the end of the fiscal year, i.e., through the election. The debate is over next year's funding.

For somebody who is trying to "reduc[e] the vote of Black and Latinx people", Mr. Trump is sure spending a lot of time and money to recruit them as voters. He's gone out of his way to blame only Antifa (the all-white fascist grouping) for the violence, only rarely mentioning Black Lives Matter (the half-white fascist grouping). He's made numerous promises to help the Black community economically--and unlike the Dems, Trump tries hard to keep his promises.

It's worth noting that both Blacks and Latinos are very much in support of the police--unlike the white fascist-types that want to "defund the police." Not even Al Sharpton supports BLM on this issue. Kamala Harris can't make up her mind, and Joe Biden has no mind to make up.

Just recently, Joe Biden compared Mr. Trump to Joseph Goebbels. In other words, the accusations against Trump have gotten so extreme and so far removed from reality that it looks likely to backfire on them.

The New York Times claims to have detailed information about Trump's tax returns, from which the bottom line is that there's nothing in there that we didn't know already. He has no big investments in Russia. He didn't launder money through Russia. He took a big loss on his casinos, which he has been able to deduct from his subsequent income meaning that he's paid no income tax in recent years. He's being audited because of a large refund he got ten years ago, which if he loses he'll be on the hook for $100 million.

He has done nothing illegal--or even unethical. He's simply followed the rules the way they were written, which is what taxpayers do everywhere.

I predict Mr. Trump will win reelection, perhaps by a large electoral vote margin. The reason is (as Conrad Black puts it) that the Biden-Harris ticket is unfeasible. Biden is clearly in mental decline. He can't speak extemporaneously to the media--not even friendly media. He's increasingly unable to even read from a teleprompter. He is simply incapable of being president, regardless of any ideology. He can't state any reason for his candidacy except that he hates Trump.

The Democratic strategy is to a) let Trump destroy himself with his supposedly outrageous comments, and b) to tar him with whatever scandal they can come up with. Meanwhile, Biden is supposed to sit in his basement and appeal to his image as being "a nice guy" who's "one of us." The problem with this is that Trump is a known quantity--the man is an open book. There is no new information to be had about the man, and the notion there's some smoking gun somewhere is an illusion.

This won't work. Trump-hatred will not win a majority of voters, and without a positive reason people won't vote for Mr. Biden. The basement campaign will fail.

What's more mysterious to me is why they're keeping Ms. Harris under wraps. After all, given Joe's age and obvious infirmities, Kamala is likely to be president within the first term. Nobody really knows who she is, and I think the public is too risk averse to take a chance on a complete unknown.

So here's Mr. Mackler's chance! As bad as he is as a candidate, he is better than Joe Biden. At least he had the courage to go up against Paul Duddridge, which is more than I can say for cowardly Joe. And even though his program is completely wacko, at least there is one. The man has something to say.

Mr. Mackler's meager virtues notwithstanding, this blog endorses Donald J. Trump for President.

Further Reading:

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Revenge of the Lumpen Proletariat

Let's get the silly stuff out of the way up front. In a Militant article (published by the Socialist Workers Party--SWP) entitled What is the political road forward for workers in 2020, Seth Galinsky writes

The party’s candidates call for the unions to fight for a government-funded public works program to create millions of jobs at union scale, building schools, hospitals and other things workers need. They say we need to organize to cut the workweek with no cut in pay, to prevent further layoffs.

To accomplish this, they advocate a united front with the Tooth Fairy and her reserve army of Magic Unicorns who can build schools, hospitals, and other things workers supposedly need (but don't really) at no cost whatsoever. Because otherwise their proposal is such a misallocation of economic resources that it will drive us all into dire poverty.

Being socialists, they have to make demands like this, which puts them in common league with the entire far Left along with much of the Democratic Party, all of whom live in the Land of Wishful Thinking.

But once you get past the pro-forma BS, Mr. Galinsky's article, along with a more substantive piece by Naomi Craine (Violent course of antifa, Black Lives Matter threat to working class) begin to make a whole lot of sense. I write here not so much to disagree with them, but rather to expand on the ideas.

Ms. Craine has actually been to Kenosha. She writes

On Aug. 29, I attended a rally in Kenosha protesting the cop shooting of Jacob Blake Jr. on Aug. 23. It had been called by Blake’s family to oppose police brutality and to urge a halt to arson and violence carried out by anarcho-radical forces earlier in the week. At an Aug. 25 protest, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse had shot three Black Lives Matter supporters, killing two.

Although the Aug. 29 rally was called a “Peace March,” one of the speakers, who was not identified by name, declared, “If you kill one of us, it’s time for us to kill one of yours.” He went on to bait Caucasians at the action and closed his speech with the slogan, “Race first.” Several black-clad individuals, some openly carrying weapons, participated as a group in the rally.

Ms. Craine is more diplomatic than I will be, but she correctly hints that BLM (at least the core group) is a fascist gang. I use the word advisedly--not as an epithet--because they subscribe to the fascist memeWe're poor because the foreigners stole all the money. Here "foreigners" is a stand-in for some other racial or ethnic group--often Jews. In France today it's Muslims. For BLM it's "white people", who used to get called "honkies." (BLM doesn't like Jews much, either, though I think dedicated antisemitism is more the specialty of Antifa--another fascist gang, as Ms. Craine points out.)

BLM is not a civil rights organization. They don't believe in civil rights at all--certainly not freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, or even freedom of thought. Their creed is what's mine is mine--and what's yours is mine, too.

I do not believe BLM is a mass organization. Ignore the supposed widespread support it seems to enjoy--most of that is just feel-good virtue signaling by suburban liberals on college campuses, aka useful idiots. The actual organization is only a few thousands, perhaps ten thousand, people. A competent government committed to civil order could put them down in a jiffy.

I don't believe BLM speaks for Black people. Even Al Sharpton is separating himself from them. Their goal is a race war--which Blacks will lose big time simply because they're only 12% of the population. There are some suckers in the white community who are falling for the race war shtick--fortunately they're an even smaller minority. But the longer government stays on the sidelines, the closer we get to an actual race war.

Ms. Craine writes

It is in the course of these fights and broader struggles in the years ahead working people will learn how to defend ourselves in disciplined ways from assaults by the bosses and cops who protect their rule. And we will see more clearly the middle-class character and dangerous anti-working-class course of antifa and the Black Lives Matter leadership.

The first sentence is tooth-fairy Trotsky-talk. But the second sentence is more true than Ms. Craine realizes, blinded as she is by Marxist language. Redefining terms will clarify much.

Who she calls "working people," I will refer to as folks with a positive net worth. It doesn't have to be much: some equity in a house; a small 401K account; or even just a marketable skill that can earn a living. Maybe it's a small fishing boat. Whatever it is, these folks are Trump's base--the blue-collar worker who lives in the bungalow in a working class part of town.  Think Archie Bunker if you must.

And the folks she calls "middle class" I'll refer to as the lumpen proletariat--people who don't own anything, not even a marketable skill. Of course that includes the homeless bums and the welfare queens--among many other people who are simply incapable of taking care of themselves. We can all feel sorry for those folks, but they're not the problem.

The worrisome lumpens appear on the surface to be middle class--think Meathead. They include those who've buried themselves in student loans with no chance of ever paying them back. Or others who can't live within their means and are now hopelessly in hock to credit card companies. Or the many who have fallen off the academic ladder--college dropouts--who despite all that "education", know nothing that can earn them a living. Or ladies age 30 who are still in grad school working on that post-modern Jane Austen monograph. Or those who have finished grad school--PhD in hand--and are now competing in the impossible academic job market. Or the guys majoring in "Black Studies," who have learned nothing more than to see themselves as victims.

These lumpens--these are the dangerous folks. They're the true Meatheads of our age, having no chance of ever earning an honest living. And of course they're bitter, and angry, and above all, envious. Compare them with my wife's immigrant relatives--Uber drivers, orderlies, food service workers--all of whom own their own homes and cars and have a little money in the bank. And they have children and grandchildren. Naturally the lumpens are green with envy! That's why they take it out on restaurant patrons, as Ms. Craine mentions.

Or the spoiled off-spring of the upper-middle class who have only menial jobs to look forward to, and now riot with the New Afrikan Black Panther Party (don't you just love that transgressive "k"!). Because at bottom they're stupid and they feel entitled. They never went through the school of hard knocks. They've never had to earn a living.

Those are the people who join Antifa and BLM, for just as Marx predicted, it's the lumpen proletariat who are the soldiers for fascist gangs.

Further Reading:

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Jeff Mackler Quits 2020 Race!

Jeff Mackler (Source)

It appears that Socialist Action's (SA) candidate for president, Jeff Mackler--the most pathetic presidential candidate ever in the history of presidential candidates--has dropped out. 

It was the honorable thing to do.

The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox News, and Breitbart have all failed to mention the auspicious event. Indeed, an announcement hasn't even appeared on Socialist Action's own website! Mr. Mackler's campaign was that unnewsworthy.

So the scoop is mine--I'm apparently the first (and only) media channel to report Mr. Mackler's withdrawal. For that matter, I was nearly the only place besides SA itself where his campaign got any mention at all.

I'd be happy to reprint, link to, or comment on any press release or article post explaining the move. But there has been none.

One wouldn't have to make excuses for the decision. SA, a grouplet of about 60 people, simply doesn't have the resources to run an election campaign--not even one that compares favorably with other Trotskyist grouplets. And then they chose a uniquely bad candidate--an 80 year old with a hacking cough whose YouTube videos are about as interesting as watching paint dry.

Even Joe Biden is a better candidate (though I suppose that's arguable).

Anyway, I infer the event because all mention of Mr. Mackler's campaign has been dropped from the SA website. The wayback machine still works--I don't think they've deleted anything. But you'll find no mention or links on the front page.

They do post an article written by Mr. Mackler (The Democratic & Republican Conventions: A Socialist Fact Check) dated September 3rd, which ends with this ridiculous exhortation:

For the first time in a long, long while, the fighting forces to do so are in motion as never before. They have appeared in the streets in unprecedented number – estimated at 15-26 million – and won the hearts and minds of tens of millions more. They carry with them the potential to achieve wondrous victories that can be coalesced in new and independent forms of struggle aimed at a direct challenge to capitalist rule, including the organization of a mass, independent Black political party and the rebirth of a fighting labor movement free from its current stifling bureaucracy and advancing on the class struggle road. Join us! Join Socialist Action! Vote Jeff Mackler for president in 2020!

So some time between Sept. 3rd and today the Political Committee, or the Campaign Committee, or the National Committee, or some other Brezhnevian committee decided to airbrush Mr. Mackler's campaign out of history.

You can get away with that if you control all the media, as Mr. Brezhnev himself did. Or you can get away with it if nobody cares what you say or holds you to no account. And but for me that latter appears to be the case. So there you have it--it is my honorable task to preserve those 15-26 million potential SA sympathizers from serious folly!

The consequential decision that remains is Who are the five dozen SA comrades gonna vote for in November? My suggestion would be Donald J. Trump, but I doubt they'll take my advice. 

My second choice for them are their former comrades in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), who are running Alyson Kennedy and Malcolm Jarrett for prez and veep, respectively. Apart from SA's antisemitism, their campaign platform is identical to whatever Jeff Mackler was doing. Yes--the SWP's campaign is just as quixotic and silly as Mr. Mackler's, but at least it's competently executed. They'll even be on the ballot in a few places.

Anyway, good bye Mr. Mackler. I'll miss you--you were good for laughs. But I don't think anybody else will. May you enjoy your retirement.

Further Reading:

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Trotskyists on the Economy

"Capital" by Viktor Deni (1919)
(Source: Socialist Action)

Articles by Jason Koslowski (No Return to Normal for the Capitalist Economy, published in Left Voice) and Nick Baker (In the Worst of Times, the Billionaire Elite Plunder Working Class America, published in Socialist Action) are the subject of this post.

Both authors are very angry that the stock market is rising. Mr. Koslowski's lede:

The economy might be collapsing in the middle of a deadly pandemic, but the stock market is booming.

Likewise, Mr. Baker's opener:

In the midst of a global pandemic, unprecedented economic collapse, mass unemployment, hunger and desperation, the stock market is booming and the richest of the rich are richer than ever before.

Mr. Koslowski's otherwise excellent piece offers this claim:

While stocks keep climbing, the ruling class is raking in staggering amounts of money. Amazon, for instance, posted a profit of $5.4 billion for April, May, and June, and on July 20, Jeff Bezos made $13 billion in just a single day. (Links in original, here and in quotes below)

How Mr. Bezos could earn $13 billion when the company only made $5.4 billion is not explained. Of course the comparison is apples and oranges: the earnings are real money, while Mr. Bezos' increased horde is unrealized (and unrealizable) paper profits.

Mr. Baker makes the same claim, albeit without links to support his case. And that's the big difference between the two: Mr. Koslowski sources all his data with useful and relevant links. Mr. Baker cites nothing and permits himself much latitude for exaggeration. Otherwise the two articles say pretty much the same thing, which makes me wonder why they are in semi-competing organizations.

Contrary to what Misters Koslowski and Baker say, the stock market is much more than just a casino for the wealthy. The S&P 500 is probably the best long-term investment anybody can make--all Americans should own a bit of the S&P 500 through an index fund. Because even if you don't own it yourself, the S&P 500 is a direct reflection of the American economy. If it crashes, we all go down with it--not just the very rich.

Anybody with a 401K (e.g., me) depends directly on the S&P 500 for their retirement--that's tens of millions of people! Even those with defined benefit pensions (e.g., most public employees, but not me) rely on the index, because monies that governments are supposed to contribute toward their retirement will inevitably be invested in stocks. If the market doesn't rise fast enough, then not even public employees will get their pensions (see, e.g., Illinois). So a rising market is a bright spot for the economy--I think it's odd that our comrades find it to be a problem.

A well-capitalized company ("high" stock price) can borrow money to finance operating expenses, or sell more shares to raise money for new ventures. Such companies are creditworthy. Conversely, a poorly-capitalized company ("low" stock price) can't do any of those things and is one step away from bankruptcy.

Misters Koslowski and Baker think it's all a bubble. The former puts it this way:

In part, the stock market’s surge has been because capitalists were buying back their own stocks. Buy-backs are a method for driving up stock prices and making more money for investors — so much so that the central bank of the U.S., the Federal Reserve, had to restrict such moves. [The "restriction" applies only to banks, which are required to keep cash on hand.--ed

Buybacks are a way of returning money to shareholders, and they're common because they're tax-advantaged over dividends. Apart from the tax implications, there is no difference between a buyback and an increased dividend. A company like Apple has a huge cash horde that it doesn't need--and buying back from shareholders is an indirect way of putting that money to work in other industries.

Apparently our two authors agree with conspiracy theorists on the right about the malevolent Fed--always scheming secretly to cheat the investor/working man. Mr. Koslowski writes,

The Federal Reserve has given away trillions of dollars by buying capitalist firms’ bonds and other financial instruments to “heat up” the economy. And Democrats and Republicans in Congress passed a $2.2 trillion “aid” bill of taxpayer money to support those in need — cash that was, overwhelmingly, a gift to the ruling class itself. [The link is informative--ed.]

The Fed is buying corporate bonds, which means it is lending money to companies. It is not "given away." While many argue that this exceeds the Feds mandate--which narrowly interpreted says that they should only lend money to banks--the counter-argument is that the Fed should lend to any temporarily illiquid organization (not just banks), but never to an insolvent company. The problem is that it's hard to tell the difference.

For example, are airlines illiquid or insolvent? The former supposes that post-pandemic air travel will go back to the way it was, and then it is an appropriate government responsibility to lend the airlines money to get them through the crisis. The latter suggests that air travel patterns are permanently altered, and therefore many existing airlines will go bankrupt anyway. The government should not lend them additional money because it will never get paid back.

One can ask the same question about renters who lost their job because of the pandemic: are they illiquid or insolvent? If they're going to get their old jobs back soon enough, then they're illiquid, and the government should definitely lend them money (or equivalently, mandate an eviction moratorium). On the other hand, they're insolvent if the old jobs are never coming back. At that point a loan will never do because insolvent people can never pay it back. Instead the government will likely have to issue some kind of welfare check.

Misters Baker and Koslowski misunderstand two things. First, they fail to realize that bailing out the airlines and bailing out renters is really the same problem. The point is to avoid bankruptcy, which in the case of renters will lead to the bankruptcy of the landlords, who in turn can't pay their mortgages causing the banks to go bankrupt. And likewise with the airlines, who won't be able to cover their existing debts and operating expenses.

Mass bankruptcy is very bad for any economy and could cause a deep and prolonged depression. Preventing that is the core function of the Federal Reserve.

The second error our authors make is they assume large firms, e.g., airlines, are neither illiquid nor insolvent. In their mind's eye the corporations are like the cartoon at the top of the page--they're just hording cash that they could easily use to finance everything if they only wanted to--but they're too greedy to even try. It's like Jeff Bezos keeps piles of gold coins in his basement, for which he has no other use than to swim in them after lunch. This picture does not match reality.

Mr. Koslowski asks an important question.

What does all this mean for the working class and oppressed? 
First, it means more austerity. In other words, we’ll see intensified attacks on public, tax-funded services, like public education, and probably on social services like medicare, medicaid, and social security.

And this is true if there are mass bankruptcies. Companies will close, workers will lose their jobs, tax receipts will decline, the money supply will shrink catastrophically, and above all, the stock market will crash. The resources necessary to support the social safety net simply won't exist anymore.

To prevent this dire outcome, one has to hope that the Fed is successful. The assumption that, e.g., airlines and renters are illiquid rather than insolvent has to be correct. If it is, then the ship will right itself soon enough. And if not, then the Fed is just throwing good money after bad and making things worse.

A rising stock market indicates that investors believe it's a liquidity problem rather than a solvency problem. Which is a self-fulfilling prophecy since a good share price makes companies solvent. So we should all hope the market keeps on going up.

Is it just my imagination, but does the cartoon character above look like an African or a Jew?

Further Reading: