Saturday, July 13, 2013

Why Trotskyists Don't Like Las Vegas

Live, from the Fabulous Strip in beautiful Las Vegas, Nevada, please welcome Trotsky's Children!

Not quite true. I am alive, and I am in Las Vegas. But I'm not on the Strip--instead I'm writing you from a Starbucks on Paradise Road, while the Missus goes shopping with friends at Seafood City. It's all very pleasant, but nothing especially glamorous or unusual. Not a slot machine in sight.

What's there for a Trotskyist not to like? Three things.

Vegas, as you all know, made it's name in gambling, for which it used to have a legal monopoly. Casino revenue built the resorts--the famous ones for which streets are still named: the Tropicana, the Sands, the Flamingo. In those days--so the story goes--high rollers financed this town, betting big bucks on high stakes, losing enough of it to make a lot of other people rich.

That doesn't really hold true today. Yes, there still are "elegant" casinos, but the problem with casinos is that nobody who knows anything about money is going to spend any time there. So almost by definition casino patrons are poor. Not all of them, of course--there are still conventioneers and foreign tourists who visit Vegas once a decade or so, who don't mind blowing a few hundred dollars on a lark. But especially on weekends, the typical punter is low-rent--the big, fat guys with their double-wide brides. Or, perhaps more typically, the double-wides--divorced and lonely--come on their own.

These are people who not only don't earn very much money, but they can't hold on to it. Their sole hope at wealth is the unlikely jackpot--which even if they were to win they'd blow it all in a year or two. Gamblers can't conserve capital--instead, they fritter it. Some people fritter too much. On my early morning constitutional along the Strip, I see them--men and women, drunks literally in the gutter, beggars too tired, depressed, and morose to even look at me, bums scrounging through garbage cans. They are not only out of cash, but they've lost the social capital necessary to generate any income at all.

Welcome to Las Vegas. It's a great place to fritter away your capital.

Trotskyists aren't like that. As much as they advocate the redistribution of capital, they're very much against frittering it. The drug discipline--to which I'm pretty certain the grouplets I follow still adhere--is an excellent example. Trotskyists are under severe discipline never to use illegal drugs--a single offense leads to expulsion. The given reason for this is to prevent victimization by The Man, who could use drug offenses to frame the entire movement. But it colors their entire world view--Trotskyists never had much use for hippies or counter-culturalism. Even today, the Socialist Workers Party didn't buy into the Occupy Movement (rightly so, in my opinion). And they probably view casino patrons in approximately the same light I do--losers.

So fritterers are not a Trotskyist constituency. In this they differ from the Democratic Party, which counts fritterers among their key supporters (free phones, anyone?).

So, second on the list, what about casino workers? Perhaps surprisingly, Nevada has a higher rate of unionization than most states--almost 15% compared to 11% nationwide. Superficially, at least, this would be fertile ground for Trotskyist activism. Certainly with their newfound interest in service workers, Vegas is prime real estate. The biggest union, with 60,000 members, is the Culinary Workers union, representing casino workers.

There are two parts to the union business, and neither Leftists nor conservatives understand that. Part of the union movement is exactly what it says it is--an organization to aid the workingman. Surely this was true of the 1934 Teamsters in Minneapolis, the Flint sit-down strikes that formed the UAW, and the continuing saga of the United Mineworkers. It is probably largely true for today's SEIU, teachers' unions, and the UAW.

The dirty half of the union movement is run by organized crime, and involves labor racketeering. Trotskyists don't acknowledge this history, and conservatives generally fail to see that it's largely separate from the well-intentioned, workingman's movement. But in Las Vegas, it's the main show. The Strip was founded by the Mob, ultimately becoming a wholly-owned subsidiary of Chicago's Outfit. In the early days, the Mob just skimmed the take from the casinos (Howard Hughes complained about being robbed blind). When that didn't work anymore, they unionized the labor force and used the monopoly to extort money from both the casinos and the workers.

So these unions have no honorable past--they never stood up for the workingman. Indeed, they're pretty close to being company unions--no wonder Trotskyists don't want anything to do with them. Still, they're a Democratic Party constituency--Nevada's become a swing state because of the unions.

This morning--perhaps around 7:30--I walked through a Strip casino. There was one craps game going on--I spent a few minutes watching. The boxman was a young Chinese man. The two dealers and the stickman were all middle-aged, Chinese women, who spoke accented English. They were working very hard and took the job very seriously. These people, far from being fritterers, are capital hoarders. I doubt they gamble at all, and I seriously doubt they share their earnings with the Mob. The union movement is dying in Las Vegas as much as in the rest of the country.

There's yet a third strand to Vegas history that's relevant--Mormonism. Much of Eastern Nevada was part of the Utah Territory before statehood. Congress, in it's great wisdom, didn't want to admit too big a state to the union, especially too big a Mormon state. So in it's plea for statehood, Utah was cut down to size. Still, Eastern Nevada is as Mormon as anyplace in Utah, and Las Vegas was founded as a Mormon settlement. Even today, there is a large Mormon presence--just check out the Vegas phone book for evidence.

Like Chinese, the Mormons are great capital hoarders. They don't gamble or drink--they won't even patronize the Starbucks where I now sit! They have lots of children. And hoarding capital pays off--Mormons have become political leaders, including Harry Reid. He's the senior senator from Nevada who is also the Senate Majority Leader.

He's a Democrat. That's almost an oxymoron--a Democrat Mormon, but now you know why. The fritterers are Democrats, the Mob bosses are Democrats, and the unions are Democrats. Success in state-wide politics is a lot easier if you're a Democrat. Mr. Reid is more interested in political success than in religious principle--though if you think of Mormonism as being mostly about capital appreciation, perhaps it makes sense.

Trotskyists aren't fritterers, but they're not hoarders, either. Redistribution is their bag. For that and many reasons, they won't get along with the Mormons or the Chinese.

So there you have it. None of the constituencies--fritterers, company unions, or Mormons--are friendly to Trotskyism. No wonder they've never made any efforts here.

Back in the day I visited Las Vegas occasionally as a tourist, and so I gambled small amounts for entertainment. But now that I come more often (and hope to retire here, at least part of the year) I’ve sworn off the habit completely. I like Las Vegas. I like the weather, the restaurants, the big airport, the passing scene. But there is one rule for life in Sin City:

Don’t fritter.

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