Sunday, October 4, 2015

Trotskyists on Economics

Here is a roundup of recent Trotskyist opinion on economics, broadly interpreted.

Consider first Socialist Action's article headlined Scientists Say: End Fossil Fuel Use Now. I guess that means I won't be able to heat my house this winter. And I should probably forget about going to work on Monday, as that entails driving a car. Oh, and I'm not allowed to use a thorium reactor, either.

So maybe I shouldn't take author Christine Frank so literally? Perhaps she'd be willing to give me thirty days to wean myself off of hydrocarbons? Maybe even a year, though who knows, all of Antarctica might melt before then.

As it turns out, Ms. Frank's solution ignores her imaginary deadline.
The only way to stop further environmental devastation by a greedy capitalist class that refuses to give up its fossil-fuel-based economy is to nationalize the entire energy industry and put it under democratic workers’ control. At the same time, we must ensure a just transition with retraining, union wages, and full benefits for all workers making the shift from the production of dirty fuels to clean, renewable energy.
Even if you could accomplish all of this before the End Of The World, it's not clear to me that democratically empowered workers are going to vote for collective suicide, e.g., freezing to death in the winter. But then Ms. Frank never had much of a brain for practicalities.

Socialist Action is obviously not serious about convincing anybody who doesn't already agree with them. Their website is principally dedicated to the psychological amusement of their own comrades.

Equally ridiculous is the article by Socialist Action's Marty Goodman entitled Syriza Wins, Greek Workers Lose, about Alexis Tsipras' reelection as Greek prime minister following his abrupt turnabout on the memorandum. The correct path for Greek workers, according to Mr. Goodman, is to support the Trotskyists in the ANTARSYA coalition--you know, the ones that got 0.85% of the vote. (Mr. Goodman hilariously mentions that this is an improvement over last time!)

The Left breakaway from Syriza that supported Grexit did much better, getting somewhat less than the 3% necessary to enter parliament. Such a smashing success, per Mr. Goodman, is attributable to their supposedly bourgeois insistence on continued capitalist rule.

The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Greeks want to stay in the Euro. And no wonder, as the alternative is instant poverty. When Tsipras' negotiation failed to produce the expected free unicorns, Greek voters--sadly but predictably--settled for the only remaining option. Mr. Goodman's thesis that the election was somehow unrepresentative is delusional.

I try to take my Trotskyist friends seriously, but these Socialist Action articles are just stupid--there's no other word for it.

The folks over at Solidarity hold the same opinion as Ms. Frank, but they are better informed and more honest about what it entails. Reprinting a piece from the Bureau of the Fourth International (whatever that is), they lay out the unvarnished truth.
To save the climate: 1) 4/5ths of known reserves of fossil fuels must remain underground; 2) the energy system based on these fossil sources (and on nuclear power) must be destroyed as quickly as possible, without compensation; 3) production which is harmful, unnecessary, or based on planned obsolescence must be abandoned, in order to reduce the consumption of energy and other resources; 4) the despotic and unequal productivist/consumerist system must be replaced by a renewable system, one that is efficient, decentralized, social and democratic.
This requires nothing less than the disemployment and mass impoverishment of the majority of the world's population. Of course if that's what's necessary to Save the Planet, then certainly we should all go along--even democratically elected workers must agree.

The Militant's masthead includes the slogan "published in the interests of working people." Socialist Action and Solidarity will both claim similar sentiments. But their relentless insistence on mass poverty will never win the support from anybody who actually has to work for a living.

More serious is an article in Solidarity by Kevin Lin, entitled Chinese Strikes in Manufacturing: From Offensive to Defensive? Mr. Lin obviously knows something, and that right there makes the piece worth reading. He describes strikes at manufacturing companies in China, including at a footwear factory and a clothing & leather company. Some were successful and others not so much.

His thesis (and I simplify it here) is that in the previous decade strikes have been for higher wages and better working conditions--demands that Mr. Lin terms "offensive." More recently, however, unrest has been caused by company closures, severance packages, and demands for workers to relocate. These are "defensive" because while they protect workers, they don't improve standards of living.

Mr. Lin claims that because of the weakness in the Chinese economy, defensive struggles will now prevail. I think he's right.

The Militant also reports on labor unrest, this time in the US. As usual, they're the best reporters on my Beat. Alyson Kennedy files from East Chicago about the contract negotiations between the United Steelworkers and ArcelorMittal. After describing the weakness in the global steel market, she writes,
“We are in for a long fight,” Darrell Reed, a member of Local 1010’s grievance committee, told the Militant. “I’m not optimistic that the latest negotiations will get us something we can live with. Both active and retired members have to stand together. Health care is a major issue, especially for retirees. For some of them the company’s offer means not having enough money for food after paying for health care.”
Mr. Reed has it right. Margins in the steel industry are razor-thin, and companies have no ability to raise prices. Further, even as the workforce shrinks, the number of retirees continues to grow. And contrary to Marxist opinion, benefits for retirees do not come from the capitalists' margins, but instead are paid out of the salaries of the employees. That's why it's going to be so hard to keep active and retired members on the same page--they're both competing for the same pot of money.

Actually, it's all of a piece--the unrest in China, the dispute in the steel industry, and even the demand for $15/hour. For higher wages for Walmart employees means that savings have to come from elsewhere--either by hiring fewer workers in America, or by pinching suppliers. But the suppliers are Chinese workers, who end up footing the bill. That's why their strikes are increasingly defensive, and also increasingly unwinnable.

The only winners are American consumers, who will get cheaper prices. All the workers--whether in the US or China--are really on strike against the consumer. And it's a battle the unions will never win.

The Militant, at least, does not always demand Instant Poverty Now.

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