Saturday, May 21, 2016

Where Have All The Workers Gone?

That's the question Kim Moody tries to answer in this wonderful article in Solidarity. Mr. Moody, an expert economist and unrepentant Marxist, manages to successfully combine those two contradictory traits.

An article of faith among Marxists is that workers are getting poorer. Mr. Moody is no exception, stating at the top of his piece,
In a sense, the current debate over just how much employment is or isn’t “precarious” misses the bigger change in U.S. working-class life over the past three decades or more: the decline in living standards experienced by the vast majority of this class. 
But the whole rest of the article contradicts that claim. It is simply not possible, on the facts that Mr. Moody presents, to conclude that workers are worse off and living standards have declined.

Let's consider some of Mr. Moody's arguments.

The rise of the gig economy is a myth.
A JP Morgan survey found when it looked at what it called “capital platforms” such as Etsy, Ebay, and Airbnb, versus “labor platforms” such as Uber and TaskRabbit, that it was the “capital platforms” that captured the lion’s share of the 1% of adults who used any income generating digital platform. By mid-2015, those who used “labor platforms” accounted for .04% of adults surveyed.”
Though the link he cites (here) indicates a continuing rapid growth in gig-economy jobs, they remain a small fraction of employment. Whatever the wrenching changes in the labor market, it can't be because of gigs.

The growth of the precariat is largely a myth.

Mr. Moody makes a convincing argument that the precariat has not grown much at all, concluding,
So while there might have been some net gain in total precarious jobs, it seems unlikely the overall proportion of precarious workers in the total workforce could have risen much since 2005 or 1995. Give or take a couple of percentage points, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that at least since the mid-1990s precarious work in the United States has not grown as much as many impressionistic accounts claim, and that the large majority of workers, about 85%, are still in “traditional” employment arrangements; though these like the precarious workers have seen their incomes and conditions change significantly for the worse.
So again, nonexistent percentage growth in precarious employment can't explain the perception that the labor market is far worse than it used to be.

Rather than hopping from job to job as one might expect, Mr. Moody shows that the length of tenure at a given job has not decreased. Indeed, workers spend longer times with employers today.
BLS figures covering wage and salary workers of all age groups and industries, using median years of job tenure, actually show an increase for all groups. For all those 16 and older the median years on the job at the time of the survey rose, with business cycle ups and downs, from 3.5 years in 1983 to 3.8 years in 1996 to 4.6 year in 2014.
But manufacturing employment has collapsed:
While manufacturing has been a declining source of employment for a long time, the dramatic loss of nearly five million manufacturing, production, and nonsupervisory jobs since 1980 calls for an explanation.
Manufacturing occupied about 19% of the labor force in 1980, down to only about 12% today.

He correctly dismisses foreign imports as the culprit, saying that only accounts for 20% of the total job loss. If imports were the problem then one would expect a commensurate decline in domestic manufacturing output. But no such decline is apparent--indeed, quite the contrary.
The problem with trade-based explanations is that manufacturing output hadn’t shown a decline, but had grown in real terms by 131% from 1982 to 2007 just before the Great Recession reduced output.
Let me say that again: The US lost five million manufacturing jobs, and yet output since 1982 increased by 131%. Accounting for population growth, the per capita growth in manufacturing output has effectively doubled.

So let's get this straight. The much touted gig economy is a non-event; the precarious workforce is constant at about 15%; non-precarious workers have more job security than they used to have; And...

...we have twice as much stuff as we used to have.

So please, Mr. Moody, tell us how it is we are all getting poorer. There is no way.

Mr. Moody, blissfully unaware of the contradiction in his article, characteristically resorts to data to make his case. He says
One measure of [the decline of living standards] is the fall in both hourly and weekly real wages which despite some ups and downs remain below their 1972 level. 
But now the data lead him astray. For as we have seen, it is simply impossible, given all the other data he's presented, to believe that living standards in these United States have gone down. Indeed, it boggles the mind that one would even think that--all those people buying new cars, flying around the world in airplanes, ordering more & more stuff from Amazon, eating ever fancier food from Trader Joe's or some ethnic eatery, and so on. There simply is no mass increase in poverty, even without taking into account that all the stuff we buy is of substantially higher quality than it was 30 years ago.

The solution to this conundrum is simple. Inflation has been systematically overstated for decades. Actual inflation must be significantly lower than the headline number produced by the government. It makes sense--inflation is intrinsically difficult to measure, but in an era of rapid technological change it becomes impossible. How much did a cell phone cost in 1982? Or an MRI scan? What did Google charge for using its search engine?

So Mr. Moody's estimate for "hourly and weekly real wages" is way short of the mark. Lower the inflation rate by 1 or 2% over many years, and far from declining living standards, workers have been getting richer like gangbusters. Which is obviously true.

Then comes the last bit of the paragraph quoted above:
So stagnant has been the income of the working class majority that 30% of the workforce now relies on public assistance to get by.
Leave aside that people on public assistance can buy more stuff than people used to be able to buy with the same amount of money, so things are not quite as bad as Mr. Moody will have you believe. But they're bad enough, and that brings us to the word that he never mentions: automation.

He talks around it a good deal.
...employment remained flat due primarily to the large productivity gains, averaging over 3% a year achieved by capital through the application of new technology and lean production methods often supplemented or even supplanted by biometric and electronic monitoring, measuring and enforcing of labor standardization and intensification. One measure of the intensification of labor over these years has been the decrease in break time from 13% of the work day in the 1980s to 8% in the 2000s for those in routine goods and service-producing jobs.
Incredibly, he significantly attributes a doubling in the amount of stuff we have to a 5% lengthening of the workday ("speedup" in The Militant's terminology). But the major reason for the increase in productivity is automation--robots are replacing human beings.

And that process is accelerating--driverless trucks are on the near horizon. 3.5 million people work in the transportation sector. It is easy to see how more than a million of them might be losing their jobs within a decade.

So the rise of people on the dole is not a symptom of greater poverty, but rather quite the opposite. There is increasingly not enough work to go around. Some estimate that in the next couple of decades only 50% of working-age people will have a job. The rest will be members of the new leisure class. Obviously that will mean some big changes in social welfare policies--many are suggesting that the government provide a Universal Basic Income to everybody.

But Mr. Moody doesn't see this. He looks at the picture below (copied from his article) and sees future union members. I look at it and see a future army of robots, with one or two human overseers.



There's much more to like about Mr. Moody's article. I love the way he describes recessions as "capital destruction." It's point on, and worth another post just in itself. But I'm already past my word count so you'll have to read it on your own. Here's the link again.

Further Reading:

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Jeff Mackler Goes Full (Groucho) Marxist

"Whatever it is, I'm against it" (from Horse Feathers, 1932).

And that's Jeff Mackler's attitude toward all presidential candidates of whatever party--no matter who they are or what they say, he's against them.

And this, he claims, is because the "US left collapses before Sanders." Only Socialist Action (SA) has the presence of mind and class consciousness to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Everybody else is "collapsing."

Mr. Mackler's big advantage over the rest of us is telepathy; he's able to infer other's motivations from even the slightest reference. He is convinced that the candidates, their svengalis, and most of their staffs are all in cahoots with each other to defraud the working class. For example, rather than trying to win the election, Sander's purpose is to sucker the working class into the Democratic Party.
[Sanders] clearly explained his views in a recent KQED National Public Radio (NPR) interview: “I think we are perpetuating the political revolution by significantly increasing the level of political activity that we’re seeing in this country. I think it is good for the United States of America and good for the Democratic Party to have a vigorous debate, to engage people in the political process” [emphasis added by Mackler].
Most people wouldn't expect Sanders to say anything different. But Mr. Mackler is on to the fraud, so certain is he that Bernie is purposely deceiving his public.
Any illusion that these lifelong professional ruling-class politicians [superdelegates--ed.] will accede to the “popular will” and shift to Sanders is absurd. But promoting this illusion is Sanders’ current bait-and-switch tactic.
What does somebody have to do to prove their working class bonafides? Mr. Mackler provides no answer, but he's clear on what he will not accept.
Solidarity and the International Socialist Organization call on Sanders to run for the presidency as an “independent” or as the Green Party candidate. The Workers International League also speaks favorably of an “independent” campaign by Sanders.
These are the leftists Mr. Mackler accuses of "collapsing." But what's so unprincipled about demanding that Bernie leave the Democratic Party? He'd take his fans with him, and the Left would grow substantially. Socialist Action never explains why this would be a problem.

That Mr. Mackler opposes the Republican and (especially) the Democratic Parties is par for the Trotskyist course. But not just them. Even the Greens are in on the big conspiracy, including Ralph Nader.
In the case of the Green Party, let me remind readers that Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader achieved ballot status in six states via heinous agreements with Patrick Buchanan’s incipient fascist Reform Party. Nader ran on the Reform Party’s ballot line in return for making reactionary statements limiting the right of women to abortion and restricting immigrants from entering the country. (See Nader’s June 21, 2004, interview with Patrick Buchanan in the American Conservative.)
A link to the referenced article is here. It definitely does not support Mackler's claim that Nader was anti-abortion. That seems like a slander. And it is only by taking Mr. Nader completely out of context that you can interpret his statements on immigration as "reactionary." Nader objects primarily to a US foreign policy that essentially forces poor people to move to the United States. Finally, the article says nothing about any electoral deal, which would in any case prove nothing about a conspiracy to favor Democrats.

It is very odd that Mr. Mackler doesn't mention Ralph Nader's running mate, Peter Camejo. Mr. Camejo devoted his life to opposing the Democratic Party. Mr. Mackler apparently lacks the courage to accuse him of secretly conspiring otherwise. Nevertheless, SA is against the Green Party, dubbing them "middle class." An odd insult, to be sure, for which he provides no justification. What would the Greens have to do to win Mr. Mackler's support?

A similarly strange omission is any mention of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) campaign. In past years Socialist Action has offered them "critical support." That's obviously not forthcoming this year, perhaps they're too "right-wing," what opposing reactionary groups like Hamas.

But the SWP is as leftist as it ever was, as revealed by a front-page campaign statement.
More drones or fewer, more diplomacy or less, more special forces or more infantry, more money for NATO or less, trade pact or no trade pact — everything Washington does, whoever the occupant of the White House happens to be, is to defend the interests of U.S. capitalists around the world, not working people anywhere. 
Clinton and Trump’s tactical differences are on how to best defend imperialist interests.
If Mr. Mackler can't agree with that then I don't know what he thinks. Whatever their other sins, accusing the SWP of selling out to the Democrats (much less being part of a huge conspiracy to do so) is simply incredible.

So like Groucho, Mr. Mackler is against them, no matter who they are or what they say. Apparently Socialist Action is going to abstain in this year's election--a typically Trotskyist thing to do. Nothing and nobody is good enough for them

Instead they're hosting forums that let them feel good about themselves.
Keenly aware of the rapidly growing interest in socialist ideas generated by capitalism’s deepening crises and sparked by the Sanders campaign, Socialist Action branches across the country have sponsored a series of well-attended public debates where most of the above socialist organizations, as well as representatives from the Labor for Bennie campaign, shared the platform for fruitful exchanges. While the “lesser evil” syndrome was undoubtedly at work in the presentations of these socialist groups, we were heartened to see that the Marxist-grounded revolutionary socialist ideas of Socialist Action were well received and that our proud party, a consistent participant and advocate of independent mass-action united-front mobilizations against all aspects of capitalist racism and plunder, won new members to the cause of socialist revolution.
Yes, it's true my friends. The most important outcome of the 2016 election will be that Socialist Action recruits two or three new comrades.

Further Reading:

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Trump's Strategy

I think Trump is being very, very clever.

He accuses Hillary of playing the "woman card." And then audaciously claims that "if she were a man she wouldn't get 5% of the vote." (That latter statement is true: were she a man she'd be an establishment figure like Jeb Bush or Martin O'Malley.)

Hillary falls for the trap: she prints up "woman cards" to distribute to her donors, and comes up with PBS-like gifts, such as handbags that proclaim "a woman's place is in the White House."

So people who really care about having a woman for president are probably 20-25% of the electorate. And they're already gonna vote for Hillary, regardless of what Trump says. So he's giving her that slice of the vote.

But what he's also doing is tagging her as a single-issue candidate. The ONLY reason to vote for Hillary, Trump will claim, is because she's a woman. He's cornering her so indelibly as the 'woman candidate' that she'll never get another word in edgewise. If you care about anything else then you should vote for Trump. And as I said, she's falling for it hook, line and sinker.

So expect Trump to keep making attention-getting remarks about Hillary as a woman. That'll win him every news cycle. And then: she voted for the Iraq war; she voted for NAFTA; she supported the TPP; she's against the wall; she couldn't answer the phone at 3am when Benghazi called; she lacks the energy and stamina to be president; she's old and sick. Maybe Corrupt Hillary really is a woman, but she can't Make America Great Again.

If Hillary can't escape that trap then Donald wins hands down.

Further Reading:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Invention

Louis Proyect reposts a review he wrote some years ago of a book by Cliff Connor, entitled A People's History of Science (I have not read that book). The review claims that "elite science" is not what it's cracked up to be, but is much more the work of the common man (and woman) than is assumed.

Surprisingly, I actually agree with Mr. Proyect, at least up to a point. He suggests that academic science is often a fraud.
Advanced degrees and professional societies become the norm, as does the tendency to give ethics the short shrift. Scientists become all too happy to produce scientific studies showing that tobacco will not cause cancer or that atomic energy is the safest source of electricity.
And surely this is right, and not just with tobacco or (arguably) nuclear power. Today's climate change fetish is another example, as are the longstanding nutrition guidelines promulgated by the federal government. Modern science is full of fads, fictions, internal politics, and dishonest people--a lot like the human race generally. Academic science is all that and worse.

Mr. Proyect brings our attention to Robert Boyle (1627 - 1691). Modern chemistry students still study Boyle's Law, which states that the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to it's pressure. Mr. Proyect claims that because Boyle was an aristocrat, and because he hired employees and assistants, therefore he is a complete fraud. Of course this is nonsense, and if that's the best example of "elite science" that Mr. Proyect can come up with, then his case is pretty sad.

Perhaps a better example is Antoine Lavoisier (1743 - 1794), the founder of modern chemistry, whose rules for stoichiometry still torment beginning chemistry students to this very day. The man was a first-rate genius, no doubt, and also an unapologetic aristocrat. But the story ends well for Mr. Proyect, whose political ancestors chopped off his head--all for scientific progress we may suppose.

These stories of "elite science" are not typical. Isaac Newton, who Mr. Proyect promotes to "elite," was born in middle class circumstances in Northern England. Today he would be diagnosed as autistic--he had no close friends, no romantic relationships, and was notoriously difficult to get along with. He got promoted as director of the Royal Mint precisely because the job had no real significance and it got him out of the way (or so they hoped). He was hopelessly obsessive-compulsive, keeping voluminous notebooks.

Mr. Newton, his genius notwithstanding, was insane. There is no way he can be described as "elite." For all that, Newton was much more self-aware than Mr. Proyect gives him credit for. The latter writes,
One of the most remarkable of these figures was a Soviet physicist named Boris Hessen, who was responsible for challenging the “Great Men of Science” approach in the same manner that Marxist historians of his time would highlight the efforts of working people and peasants in changing society throughout history. One of the major figures that Hessen reevaluated was Isaac Newton, the author of Principia, or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, a work that would seem to embody the idea-descending-from-above paradigm.
And yet Newton famously described himself as "standing on the shoulders of giants," by whom he meant people like Brahe and Kepler and Galileo. So even Newton didn't buy the "idea-descending-from-above paradigm."

Still, there is a grain of truth in Mr. Proyect's argument. Science is only rarely done by the "elite." Most of the time great things are accomplished by nut cases, folks more like Newton than Mr. Boyle. An excellent case in point is the Wright brothers.

The Wright brothers owned a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio. Their business was successful and the proceeds were reinvested into what was then a top-rate machine shop. Though they had no academic training, they were incredibly smart guys and superb machinists and mechanics. While they couldn't have solved a differential equation if their life depended on it, somehow they understood that an airplane has more in common with a bicycle than with an automobile or a farm tractor.

That hunch, along with the necessary tools of the trade, eventually led to the first flight in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903. Along the way they also developed the first lightweight, aluminum-cast engine.

They had lots of competition. There were large academic groups working on building an airplane in Boston and in Germany. All they produced are the endlessly entertaining film clips of improbable contraptions collapsing into a pile of rubble. They failed not because they couldn't solve differential equations, but because they lacked the skills of the trade. None of them had decades of experience working with lightweight mechanical devices, nor did they have access to the necessary machine tools. And they didn't understand the Wrights' core insight about bicycles.

So perhaps the airplane would have been invented even if the Wright brothers hadn't come along. That is the Marxist dogma--everything is "inevitable". But it would have taken decades--nobody else was even close. It may be that the rocket ship would have come first. Or perhaps new dirigible technology would have eliminated any immediate need for the airplane.

The point is that history--especially the history of technology--is highly contingent. It depends very much on the specific individuals who invented it. Our modern jet aircraft are heir to the Wright brothers in a very personal way. Inside every 747 lurks the spirit of a bicycle. The Wright brothers did build that!

Of course, like Newton, Orville and Wilbur also stood on the shoulders of giants, specifically Gottlieb Daimler, the inventor of the internal combustion engine. And just as important, the airplane depended crucially on the bicycle market in Dayton, Ohio in the 1890s. Had bicycles not been popular, the Wrights' business wouldn't have been successful, and the fancy machine tools wouldn't have been available. So Mr. Proyect is at least half right--social conditions do matter.

The Wright brothers in no way can be considered "elite scientists." They came out of nowhere. And like Newton, they were completely nuts. Their father was a bishop in this small, paranoid, conspiratorial, very disputatious religious sect--personality traits the brothers inherited. Their pathological secretiveness resulted in the patents being stolen right out from under them. The first commercially successful airplane was not built by Wright Flyers, but instead by Fairchild.

Mr. Proyect shares the received wisdom that scientific and technological progress is on some kind of continuous trajectory. I call this the Magic School Bus approach, which claims that science is an infinite frontier where, if we just dedicate enough NSF funding or more education dollars or inspire more third graders, then new discoveries are bound to happen.

But that's wrong. Most NSF money is completely wasted. Our investment in academic science may not add up to identically zero, but it's uncomfortably close. Putting thousands of people through grad school in biology or chemistry is a horrible waste.

Technological progress, instead, depends on the genius of a very few great men (no women). These people rarely come from the aristocracy, and even more rarely from academia. Instead they're oddballs, kooks, social misfits, nonconformists, who by genius, hard work, and luck happen to stumble on some great idea. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, there have been perhaps a thousand such men, who are responsible for the vast majority of the wealth we now enjoy.

William Perkin (1838-1907) was 15 when he started working as an assistant for the famous chemist August von Hofmann. One of the experiments went wrong and Mr. Perkin (then 18) found this useless, purple garbage at the bottom of his test tube. He didn't tell his boss about it, but had the presence of mind to take it home with him so he could find out what had happened on his own time.

The result was mauveine, the world's first artificial dye. And so was born the entire modern chemical industry. Mr. Perkin did become wealthy, but the industry soon moved to Germany, where the world's largest chemical industry still resides. The dye and textile industry has since settled in India and Bangladesh, where it employs millions of people to this very day--all from the serendipitous genius of an 18-year-old.

They're all nuts: autistics like Newton, psychopaths like Steve Jobs, devil-may-care risk-addicts like Aubrey McClendon (co-founder of Chesapeake Energy), crackpot control freaks like Henry Ford, conniving thieves like Thomas Edison. None of them are normal people. Many of them went to jail.

Robert Heinlein says it best:
Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. 
This is known as "bad luck.”
 Further Reading:

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Which Side Are You On Boys?

Which Side Are You On Boys is an old union hymn from the Kentucky coal country and sung in this particularly funereal rendition by Natalie Merchant. The lyrics include this verse:
They say in Harlan County  There are no neutrals there. You'll either be a Union Man, Or a thug for J. H. Claire. 
Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on? Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?
Trotskyists aren't much for hymnody, perhaps because there aren't that many revolutionary tunes. But occasionally--especially at Oberlin conferences--we'd break out into song.

Life was simple back then. We all knew where the class line was. The cops, Democrats, big business, schools, and the military were all on one side. The Vanguard Party, working people, the Vietcong, and the unions were on our side. Nobody had the choice to be neutral.

Since then it's gotten much more complicated. The class line now wiggles, twists and turn through society, separating Uber drivers from taxi cabbies, Ukrainian rebels from the other Ukrainian rebels, this Syrian sect from that Syrian sect, Greenpeace from the Laborers International Union, and so forth.

My Trotskyist friends can no longer agree who's on which side of the increasingly fuzzy boundary. They increasingly disagree with each other.

Of course some things are clear as daylight. Every Trotskyist of whatever denomination believes the Democratic Party to be bourgeois. And likewise Donald Trump represents the capitalist class--indeed, quite proudly so.

The dispute, then, revolves not around the characterization of the presidential candidates, but rather on who their supporter are. Are the supporters of Donald Trump members of the proletariat? Or are they instead an incipient fascist grouping allied with white supremacism and Islamophobia?

And likewise with Bernie Sanders. Socialist Action's Bruce Lesnick recently published a clever piece entitled House socialists and field socialists. The house socialist (Bernie) is in fact a stalking horse for the Democratic Party, for he believes that capitalism can reform itself into a just, humane society. Field socialists (such as my Trotskyist friends) instead fight for a root-and-branch revolution.

Bernie's supporters, fools that they are, have fallen for his scam and have flocked to the banner of the house socialist.
Long-time union activists have frequently asked each other, “Where are all the young workers?” The first answer is that many of them are in the Fight For $15 movement, and the second answer is that they are attending Bernie Sanders rallies. We have seen in the period of about 10 weeks this summer over 100,000 people crammed into sports arenas in a variety of cities to hear Sanders’ populist message about economic inequality and the fight against the “Billionaire Class.” (from Ann Montague's 2015 piece).
Even though Bernie himself is a charlatan, his followers are people Socialist Action wants to recruit to field socialism.

The Militant doesn't disagree with any of this. And like their fellow Trotskyists they'd also stipulate that Donald Trump is a bourgeois figure not to be trusted. Trump supporters, like their Bernie brethren, are equally victimized by false consciousness and an inability to make rational political judgments.

And yet however much they oppose Trump, unlike Socialist Action they are trying to appeal to his supporters. For they believe (correctly) that Trump is attracting blue collar white voters who deserve to learn about socialism. So just as Socialist Action might attend Bernie rallies, so the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) attends Trump rallies.

Dan Fein reports from Chicago.
The organized disruption that forced the cancellation of Republican candidate Donald Trump’s campaign rally here March 11 “was a blow to free speech,” Socialist Workers Party candidate for president Alyson Kennedy said. “Shutting down political expression is inevitably turned against workers.” 
Kennedy’s statement stands in stark contrast to the celebration of the disruption on the left and among liberals who are increasingly shrill in charging Trump with being the spearhead of a rising racist and fascist movement. This could be “remembered as the dawn of the resistance,” declared Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson March 14.
It is important to note that the SWP remains resolutely Leftist, despite attending these rallies. They don't agree with The Donald at all.
SWP vice-presidential candidate Osborne Hart spoke about why opposing the scapegoating of immigrants, including attacks on Muslims and their mosques, is a life-and-death question for the working class. “These are fellow workers, part of the fight for jobs, for unions, for dignity,” he said. “Unless we approach every worker that way, we can’t build a movement to overturn capitalism.”
Admittedly, Mr. Osborne's remarks were made to an internal audience, not to a group of actual Trump supporters.

But be your audience Bernie's Boys or Donald's Dudes, if you want to talk to somebody you have to treat them like human beings. You can't call them fools or fascists or idiots or unthinking victims of false consciousness. And so Mr. Lesnick opens his piece in a friendly spirit: "I wholeheartedly support the populist programs that Bernie Sanders advocates—from single-payer health care, to free college tuition, to taxing the rich and more."

Similarly, The Militant goes out of its way to defend Trump supporters of being fascists or white supremacists. For if they thought otherwise it would be impossible to even have the conversation.

So there probably isn't a dispute about the class line here. Both grouplets agree that Bernie and Donald represent the class enemy. They likely both agree that their supporters are (in part at least) members of the working class. And yet Socialist Action and most of the other grouplets are going to the Bernie rallies, and as far as I know only The Militant attends to the Trump crowd. Why?

I think there is a distinction between the two crowds--perhaps not a class line, but as Trotskyists might put it, they are different layers of the working class. I've put it in rather pejorative terms in previous posts, which in the interests of civility I'll refrain from here. But the key distinction is their relation to the government.

Bernie's Boys (and Girls) are generally net recipients of tax dollars. They are students ("free tuition for all"), teachers, professors, public employees, and welfare recipients. Some may work in the medical field--nominally private but in reality so heavily regulated and funded that it's essentially tax-supported.

Donald's Dudes (and Dolls) are mostly net payers of tax dollars. They are workers in fast-food places, Walmart, hotels, factories, and businesses across this great land. They are also entrepreneurs and businessmen. The Donald himself is not faking it as a proletarian (which he manifestly isn't), but instead as somebody who pays more taxes than he gets in return. In this he has more in common with any private-sector worker than with the politicians in Washington.

And that distinguishes the politics of the candidates. Bernie advocates for more government spending so that the tax-beneficiaries can get more money and more power. "Free tuition" is an obvious one, as is more money for schools and infrastructure. I'd argue his support for climate change is of the same piece.

Trump, on the other hand, cares much more for the private sector folks. He's not gonna spend more money on schools and colleges than absolutely necessary. Government bennies have to go directly to working people, and not to the bureaucrats and intermediaries in the public employee unions.

Of course Trump's snake-oil won't be anymore successful than Bernie's balderdash in actually making Americans richer. Wealth comes from people spending their own money the way they want to spend it, without government interference. Neither of the candidates seem to understand that.

Still, I'm probably going to vote for Trump in my state's primary. Which side are you on?

Note: Blogging has been light because I was involved in a traffic accident. I have no serious injuries, but it is taking me some time to recover. Should be back to normal soon.

Further Reading:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Bernie's Brownshirts & The American Left

Trigger Warning: This post contains the f------ word.

According to last night's news a group of about a thousand Bernie supporters protested and disrupted a Donald Trump rally in Chicago. Their goal was to get the event canceled, and in this they succeeded.

So people have thrown accusations of fascism toward The Donald. As evidence they cite his occasional quote from Mussolini, the rapturous cheering from his audiences at what seem to be content-free statements, his cult of personality, a perceived authoritarianism, and (most tellingly) occasionally roughing up some protesters who attend his meetings.

It's all Mr. Trump's fault, so claim his critics on both the Left and the Right. "A campaign bears responsibility for creating an environment when the candidate urges supporters to engage in physical violence," Ted Cruz is quoted telling Megyn Kelly.

So I'm not going to defend the actions of every last supporter at every Trump rally, some of which have tens of thousands of people. Of course some of them went over the top. I'll even stipulate that Trump himself has encouraged them occasionally. But what happened in Chicago last night is in an entirely different league and has nothing to do with the Trumpers misbehavior.

What Bernie's supporters did last night was to actively disrupt and eventually prevent a rival candidate from holding a perfectly legal and appropriate rally. This is not a minor misdemeanor or error of judgement--this is a felony against the very spirit of the Constitution and the American way of life. For we in these United States (supposedly) value free speech. "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" (attributed to Voltaire). Ted Cruz, in particular, who claims to value the Constitution above all else, should be very ashamed of himself.

Now I will not accuse Mr. Sanders himself of being a fascist, but some of his supporters certainly are. Those proud of disrupting Donald's rally last night are undeniably fascists. In prior eras they would have been described as brownshirts.

My shorthand definition of fascism is a belief that we're poor because the foreigners stole all the money. Foreigners usually refers to an ethnic group, though not always. The Bernie crowd sees Rednecks, Hillbillies, Yokels, Uneducated people, Religious fanatics, etc. as unacceptable strangers who need to be shut up and are undeserving of Constitutional rights. For the record, it is worth noting that Bernie's supporters are more White than any other campaign.

The American Left is increasingly infested with fascist grouplets. First among them is the explicitly racial group Black Lives Matter. Those folks are more catholic in their choice of targets, extorting groveling obeisance from whatever candidate they choose to disrupt. This is a fascist gang pure and simple.

Similarly, the Boycott, Divest, Sanction group is a viciously antisemitic group targeting "Zionists." Their trademark tactic is to disrupt any speech by any Israeli citizen, whatever that person's point of view might be. These people are fascists in the old-fashioned, Hitlerian sense of the word.

Jonah Goldberg, in his book Liberal Fascism, argues that Hillary Clinton is a fascist. I think he makes a convincing case, but she's not a danger to civil liberties in the way these other examples are.

My Trotskyist friends are mostly not fascists, though they do have tendencies in that direction. In particular, Socialist Action and Solidarity ardently support Hamas, which is an avowed fascist organization. But let's consider that an anomaly and not typical of Trotskyism.

Trotskyists subscribe to a politics that I regard as pro-poverty. For them global ideals are much more important than the welfare of any group of people. For example, saving us all from climate change is sufficient reason to drive a billion people back into subsistence farming. Or similarly, changing the legal ownership of the means of production is cause to completely destroy the world's economy.

Solidarity, for example, is quite explicitly Luddite.
The fact is that ecosocialism simply does not need everyone to have her/his own private automobile (we do not, in fact, need for anyone to have a private automobile) nor a big screen TV in every room of the house, private swimming pools, meat three times a day, and much else.
Not only will the Rednecks be deprived of their pleasures, but workers around the world will be deprived of their livelihoods. This is a semi-fascist doctrine, but to their credit our comrades in Solidarity don't engage in brownshirt tactics.

Similarly, Socialist Action and Louis Proyect are avid, pro-poverty campaigners. While I've argued often against Mr. Proyect's viewpoint, there is no way the man is a fascist. And to his credit he's against Bernie almost as much as I am (albeit for different reasons).

So that brings us finally to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). They are also not fascist, though like the other grouplets they support fascist-like governments. They are, for example, keen on Castro's Cuba and Kim Jong-un's North Korea. The latter seems to me to be indistinguishable from fascism, based as it is on an ethnocentric ideology. (Kim Il-sung, apparently, has ascended into heaven.)

But the SWP distinguishes itself for the better in that they do not support Hamas, and they have come down foursquare in favor of preserving Constitutional rights for citizens. More, they see Trump's followers as potential recruits rather than class enemies. Instead of disrupting the rally they'd rather be part of it (though not in support of the rally's program).

So there is no way the SWP is fascist in any sense that we've been discussing. They're not even consistently pro-poverty (e.g., they have not signed on to the Climate Crusade).

Trotskyists believe in something called the Transitional Program, a route by which Socialist Revolution can be achieved. By this guide today's activists fight for seemingly obvious demands (e.g., "free college tuition for all"), secure in the knowledge that capitalism will not be able to satisfy those demands without bringing itself to collapse.

The SWP's gamble is that American capitalists will not be able to grant workers their Constitutional rights and still remain in power. So they demand the rigorous implementation of the Constitution supposedly knowing full well that such will ultimately bring down the system. After which we can all live in a North Korea-style utopia.

But for the moment it puts them on the side of Donald Trump.

It is very odd to think of Donald Trump as the defender of free speech and Constitutional liberty. But by some odd sequence of events, and by no design of himself, that is exactly where we are.

For that reason this blog endorses Donald Trump for President.

Down with fascism!
Down with poverty!

Further Reading:

Monday, February 29, 2016

Whither the SWP?

In the former incarnation of this blog I frequently dubbed the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) as the Stupid Workers Party. The title seemed to fit at the time (late 1990s). I have since sworn off such language because it is uncivil and precludes conversation.

Beyond that, it simply isn't true. The SWP is wrong and often incoherent, but they are not stupid. Quite the contrary.

For example, their 2016 presidential candidate, Alyson Kennedy, has filed excellent reports in The Militant on the mine workers' struggles in the coal fields (see, e.g., here,  here, and here). This is because she has actually worked as a coal miner and knows something about it. And then she's honest. Which doesn't mean I agree with her. Likewise Brian Williams, The Militant's economics reporter, is at least competent, avoiding the jargon and the howlers that afflict most far-Left publications (though he's often mistaken).

So they're not stupid, but they have been singularly unsuccessful. The Party's Boston branch was recently closed, likely for lack of comrades. And similarly for branches in Houston and Des Moines. The hall in Omaha is no more--the branch has either been closed or merged with the whatever-exists in nearby Lincoln. Not counting Lincoln there are now only 10 branches--the fewest number in my memory. Supposing 15 comrades per branch, and then adding another 20 for the national office, one gets a grand total of 170 comrades, most of whom are over 60. And this is a vanguard Party?

So clearly something has to change. I think the Party has been looking for a new role--something distinctive and important that's in tune with the times. This searching is what often renders them incoherent. They run new ideas up the flagpole to see how well they fly.

I discern three emerging themes:

1. They take their paper's masthead very seriously: "published in the interests of working people." This has a number of counter-intuitive consequences.
  • They rightly dismiss environmentalism as not in the interests of workers. And they are correct to do so--the Greenies ultimately claim that everybody will have to lower their standard of living in order to save the planet. The Solidarity grouplet has gone furthest with this, adopting an explicitly Luddite program. Socialist Action is also flying the Green banner, similarly demanding Poverty for Everybody Now! I summarize a lot of this here. The SWP consistently rejects any pro-poverty platform.
  • The Party has come out in support of Israel. There is no doubt that workers in that state--both Jewish and Palestinian--are better off as Israeli citizens. Indeed, even Palestinian workers in the territories are better off because of the existence of Israel--it's an obvious market for their products.
  • Finally and most recently, the Party understands the importance of the rule of law. In response to Justice Scalia's death, they wrote  
    Scalia was hated by most liberals and leftists for his socially conservative views, but more importantly because he argued the court should base its rulings strictly on the Constitution, rejecting “outcome-driven” decisions that amount to decreeing laws from the bench. 
    But it’s in the interest of the working class that the court uphold the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments won in struggle that are protections of the people against the government. 
    In his dissent on last year’s ruling legalizing gay marriage, Scalia pointed to the narrowness of the class background of the justices, writing they are “only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School.” 
    The justices are all Catholic or Jewish, he pointed out. “Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans), or even a Protestant of any denomination. … Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States.”
However much The Militant sounds like Republicans, there is no question but that the Constitution protects the rights of working people against the depredations of any elite. I think The Militant has made the case very eloquently, and I agree with them totally. Consistency with their masthead demands that they say no less.
2. An abiding hatred of the Democratic Party. I came by my own anti-Democrat credentials as a member of the SWP, despite growing up in an upper-middle class, liberal household. (My mother lionized FDR.) I'm remain as proud today as ever that I've never voted for a Democrat (beyond some municipal elections). In that sense I'm still a "Trotskyist."

But the SWP is realizing that the Democrats are no longer their primary competitor. More and more workers are gravitating toward the Republican Party. Or as I think of it, productive people (workers and capitalists alike) tend to be Republicans, while the parasites (dependent on government largesse) remain with the Democrats. Accordingly, the Party has to address workers where they are at.

That explains why the Party is adopting some positions similar to Republicans, though in no way are they becoming Republicans. Other grouplets, meanwhile, are talking to the Sanders crowd, made up almost exclusively of parasites. They're still defining themselves relative to the Democrats.

3. The Party remains committed to socialism; how could it be otherwise for the Socialist Workers Party. In particular they're avid supporters of the Cuban "revolution." But this is where the incoherence starts: how can you champion the rule of law on the one hand, and yet support the semi-feudal, nepotistic, ridiculous government in Havana? Scalia and Castro don't mix very well.

Even worse, the Party is still carrying water for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, aka North Korea. They defend them even in their most recent issue. And in April, 2015, the Party continued it's annual practice of sending fraternal greetings.
The Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists send internationalist greetings on the occasion of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s April 15 national holiday. We pledge our unconditional solidarity with the struggle to reunify Korea, partitioned in 1945 at the hands of Washington and Moscow.
So much for constitutional rights. And so much for those who claim that Jack Barnes is becoming a Republican. However much it leavens the loaf with a few Republican issues, at the end of the day the Party remains committed to its totalitarian principles.

So will any of this result in an organizational turnaround? Count me skeptical, and not only because the masses aren't going to march for Kim Jong-Un. But if you take socialism out of the mix, then they become no different from any other Republican interest group. So they are condemned to eternal and self-limiting incoherence.

That aside, the Party has gotten too small and too old to be effective anymore. Gram and Gramps will not be able to recruit a younger generation of activists. They've already aged into retirement, and soon they will pass from the scene entirely.

Further Reading: