Editorial: An Economy Built On Cruelty

from ASR 86

CEO compensation at the 350 largest publicly traded U.S. companies rose by an inflation-adjusted 1,460% between 1978 and 2021, according to the Economic Policy Institute, with CEOs now raking in nearly 400 times as much as the typical worker.
Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has repeatedly spoken of his desire to get wages down to control inflation; he’s not talking about the skyrocketing pay of corporate executives or Wall Street bankers. Instead, he’s bemoaning the fact that during the pandemic many workers won modest pay hikes that helped blunt the edges of rampaging inflation. In response, the government is pursuing policies designed to drive up unemployment so that workers will have less power and be forced to accept lower wages. This, they claim, will reduce inflation because workers will have less to spend and the bosses will spend less on wages. Continue reading

Hitler’s Election as Metaphor for the 2020 Election

A Bad Argument for Supporting Biden for President

by Wayne Price, ASR 81

In the debates among leftists over the 2020 elections, one particular historical argument has been raised. It has been cited repeatedly by Noam Chomsky, among others, to argue why radicals should vote for Joseph Biden, despite his flaws. Chomsky has asserted, “What led to the rise of Hitler was the decision of the huge Communist Party to condemn the labor-based Socialists as ‘social fascists,’ not different from the Nazis, and to refuse to join with them in barring the Nazis from political power.” This is similar, he claims, to “the behavior of some of the left” which opposes voting for Democrats today.
(I am not interested in discussing here how individual radicals should vote or not vote. My question is what radicals should advocate be done by organizations and large groups of people, such as unions, the African-American community, Latinx, feminists, LGBTQ people, organized environmentalists, etc. — whether to support bourgeois politicians or to put efforts into non-electoral activities.)
What is Chomsky referring to? In the early 1930s in Germany, popular support for Hitler’s Nazi Party had been exploding. They won a third of the votes to the Reichstag (parliament). Their uniformed thugs marched in the streets, beat up leftwing newspaper sellers and speakers, broke up union meetings, and murdered prominent socialists. Continue reading

Overcoming the Politics of Division & Fear

review essay by Wayne Price, ASR 74 (2018)

William J. Barber with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear. Boston: Beacon Press, 2016.

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness [mercy], and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah (Quoted frequently by Rev. Barber)

The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber became nationally known in 2013 for his role in organizing massive demonstrations of African-American and white working class and poor people in North Carolina. “Tens of thousands of people came for thirteen consecutive Moral Mondays” to rally at the statehouse. “By the end of the legislative session, nearly a thousand people had been arrested in the largest wave of mass civil disobedience since the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960.” (x)

Now he is co-chair of the effort to re-build Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign, with demonstrations at state capitals across the country. Thousands of people have been going to their statehouses to take part in the largest coordinated civil disobedience action across states in U.S. history. This is an effort to mobilize a vast “fusion movement” of a wide range of working, poor, discriminated-against, oppressed and exploited women and men, together with people concerned about war and ecological destruction.

This book was written before Rev. Barber had begun to build the new Poor People’s Campaign. It is an excellent introduction to his strategic and ethical thinking and to the faith which motivates him. The book also covers parts of his family and personal history, including the physical ailment which has afflicted him for years but which did not stop his organizing efforts. However, I will focus on his overall thinking.

He calls for a “Third Reconstruction.” The first Reconstruction followed the Civil War, and was a time of unprecedented opportunities for the ex-slaves. It was destroyed in a violent conservative backlash which established Jim Crow. The “Second Reconstruction” was the result of the Civil Rights movement of the ’50s and ’60s, which ended Southern legal segregation. Now Rev. Barber is calling for a “Third” Reconstruction which will finally end racism and other forms of oppression.

The Fusion Coalition

Two things stand out in what Rev. Barber is doing. One is the kind of “fusion coalition” which he is working to build. The other is the moral/religious basis on which he is building it.

Consistent with the prophet’s instruction to “walk humbly with your God,” he prefers to call himself an “organizer” rather than a “leader.” From his first days organizing, he believed in a joint struggle of the African-American movement and of union organizing by workers (of all races and ethnicities), both supported by progressive forces in the church. “Civil rights could not be separated from workers’ rights.” (48) “Is the real issue today race or is it class? We answer: Yes, it’s race and class.” (128) But like his inspiration, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he came to expand this conception while building a “fusion coalition” movement in North Carolina.

We had folks who cared about education, folks who cared about living wages, and others who were passionate about the 1.2 million North Carolinians who didn’t have access to health care. We also had groups petitioning for redress for black and poor women who’d been forcibly sterilized in state institutions, organizations advocating for public financing in elections, and historically black colleges and universities petitioning for better state funding…. Groups concerned about discrimination in hiring, others concerned about affordable housing, and people opposed to the death penalty and other glaring injustices in our criminal justice system. Finally, I noted the movements for environmental justice, immigrant justice, civil rights enforcement, and an end to America’s “war on terror.” (49)

Over time, people with these varying concerns pulled together. “Moral Mondays… resulted from the efforts of 140 organizations that had worked together as a grassroots coalition for seven years.” (xi) Through conferences and joint actions, the groups came to realize some things: “We all recognized the same forces opposing us…. [But] there were more of us than there were of them.” (50)

At times, Rev. Barber had to finesse in order to be as inclusive as he wanted. For example, there was a state referendum on same-sex marriage, deliberately raised by the right to split the LGBTQ community from religious African-Americans. “It wasn’t our job to endorse same-sex marriage…. But the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law was a constitutional and moral principle which our movement had not only to endorse but also to defend…. The codification of hate is never righteous. Legalized discrimination is never just.” (91) This argument was persuasive in the Black community.

Another issue arose when discussing with Janet Cohn, the president of Planned Parenthood. “I’d told her that with our broad coalition we could not endorse abortion, so she asked, ‘Can you support women’s rights and access to health care?’ Absolutely, I told her.” In turn, he asked if she would “speak up for a black women’s right to vote?” (108) She was very willing to do so – and did. The coalition expanded.

However, this agreement seems unclear to me. The question of “abortion” should not be whether the movement calls for abortions, which it does not. It is whether to support women’s right to chose whether or not to have abortions or other procedures. It is not over what opinion anyone (in or out of church) has about abortion. It is over whether anti-choice people should use the courts, the legislatures and the police – the power of the state – to enforce their opinion on all women (which, among other things, violates the moral value of humility!).

How far this effort of coalition-building by Rev. Barber and his allies will go on a national level is yet to be seen. But it is a vitally important effort. In the time of Trump and the rising of the extreme right, this is a major effort at organizing a real resistance and fight-back by the oppressed, exploited and endangered. That has been described as “intersectionality” – understanding the ways in which different oppressions interact and overlap with each other, and the fights against them interact and overlap. This sort of fusion coalition building is essential.

However, a coalition can be too broad. He writes, “We needed to come together with banks and businesspeople.” (38) Of a unionizing drive, he states, “The factory owners could not simply be our enemy. The community needed them as much as they needed us.” (17) But what if the rich are the enemy? What if they benefit from poverty, weak or no unions, super-exploitation of the workers, the extra oppression and poverty of people of color, the divisions among whites and African-Americans and Latinos, and between straight and LGBTQ people, and among religions, and between genders? No doubt there are personally decent business people, but overall, as a class, it is in their interest to maintain all the evils which Rev. Barber and his coalition are fighting. And he says so:

The people most frightened by our fusion coalition were the elites who had inherited the spoils of white power and had run North Carolina by proxy for generations…. What they had on their side, they knew, was money. [They are] shrewd businessmen. (62)

In North Carolina, the coalition faced “an avalanche of corporate funded extremism.” (93)

It is one thing to reach out to racist white workers. It is really in their self-interest overall to work with African-American and Latino working people, and they can come to see it. But it is against the self-interest of the capitalists to join with their workers. Further, the view that “the community needs” businesspeople shows a lack of imagination, especially for someone who once discussed “establishing worker-owned co-ops.” (5) Under present conditions workers have to live with their bosses, but it is possible to think of an alternate, radically democratic and cooperative, way to organize an economy (see Price 2014).

Writing about the English Civil War (of Cromwell and others), Lawrence Stone concluded that a necessary prerequisite to any revolution was “polarization into two coherent groups or alliances of what are naturally and normally a series of fractional and shifting tensions and conflicts within a society.” (quoted in Foner 1980; 31). While not advocating a revolution, Rev. Barber is working at building a “coherent group or alliance” out of conflicted and fractionalized social forces. This is a deliberate effort, as stated in the book’s subtitle, to “overcome the politics of division and fear.” But people need to recognize that a “coherent alliance” of the people will necessarily be counterposed to another “coherent group” of the rich and powerful.

The Moral Movement

Central to Rev. Barber’s approach is a moral appeal. In the words of the prophet Micah, which Barber likes to quote, the aim is “to do justice [and] to love kindness” (often written as “mercy”). His views are rooted in the African-American prophetic tradition. Theologically, he presents himself as a Christian “conservative.” He jokes that his politically conservative opponents are theologically “liberal,” in the sense that they ignore or twist the large parts of the Christian Bible which speaks of doing justice and loving kindness, of helping the poor, of supporting the least among us, of rejecting riches and power, of being humble, and so on. Nor does he limit himself to Christianity. He specifically rejects the view that the Christian church should be the only champion of ethical values in society. He includes all religions, making a point of including Muslims. “My Holy Bible is not the only holy book.” (105)

The Rev. Barber rejects what he takes to be “the liberal consensus that suggests that faith is either divisive or inherently regressive.” Instead he advocates “a faith-rooted moral movement that welcomes people of all faiths, as well as those who struggle with faith.” (66) As a radical humanist, I too reject liberal condescension toward religious views or the belief that religion is “inherently regressive.” I respect all faiths. While some have used religion to justify the worst of oppressions (as Rev. Barber knows), religious faith has also motivated great struggles for freedom and justice.

However I find his last phrase somewhat condescending toward atheists, agnostics, secularists, humanists, etc., as well as similar references to“people of no particular faith.” (38) I do not feel that I am “struggling with faith” or have “no particular faith,” since I have particular views of my own. In general, I have not found that non-theistic people are any less moral or ethically motivated than are believers in particular religions. (See Price 2009.)

Rev. Barber describes how he came to understand the importance of a directly moral approach when supporting a union organizing drive at a North Carolina Smithfield hog-processing factory. “In the media as well as in the community, the story was simply one of workers’ interests versus business interests.” (69) It was difficult to develop community support. So they decided “to change the narrative by making the workers’ struggle a moral cause for our whole coalition.” (69) They exposed the hard work, the suffering, and the mistreatment of the workers and their families. “The public story was no longer one about workers versus bosses. It was about the moral challenge of people receiving the just fruit of the labor.” (70)

It is completely correct to point to the moral basis of a struggle, of the need to do the right thing, to do justice and love kindness in all our activities. However, this can lead to a certain kind of blindness. Morality (justice and kindness) should not be counterposed to the self-interest of the oppressed. The Smithfield workers’ moral cause only became clear because they were struggling for their self-interest against that of the bosses. It is far easier for workers to see the justice of “receiving the just fruit of their labor” than it is for the bosses, whose financial self-interest lie in not seeing it. And it is easier for the community to see that justice if they realize that the struggle is in all their interests – because “We all recognized the same forces opposing us.” (50)

Elections and the Democratic Party

Most U.S. left and “progressive” forces have a strategy of electing Democrats to replace the Republicans, especially Donald Trump. (I am not talking about how isolated individuals vote every few years, but about the strategy of a movement.)  “Resistance” to Trumpism has become primarily a support for the Democratic Party. This party represents a liberal-to-moderate wing of the U.S. capitalist class. It supports capitalism, the attack on U.S. working people, the imperialist national state, and military aggression around the world. In words Democrats recognize the looming danger of global warming, but in practice they propose only mild and inadequate programs. As the failures of the Republicans have driven people to support the Democrats, so the repeated failures of the Democrats have driven people to support the Republicans. This includes the poverty, economic stagnation, low wages and industrial decline of much of the country. Over decades, liberals, union officials, African-American community leaders and other “progressives” have supported the Democrats as a “lesser evil.” The Republicans have consistently become more and more evil while the Democrats have become less and less good – that is, both parties have moved to their right. A minority of liberals have come to advocate a new, third, party as a strategy. This still relies on elections and the use of the government.

This is not Rev. Barber’s strategy. His coalition-building began “when Democrats were in power” in North Carolina. (52) The biased drawing of voting districts is something “which Democrats had engaged in as much as Republicans in the past.” (83) “No one was listening to poor people. Republicans and Democrats alike.” (88) He has worked for popular demonstrations and civil disobedience, rather than voting. Criticized for “not running… candidates who would champion our agenda. [He replied] … we will not win by starting a third party. We will win by changing the conversation for every candidate and party.” (124) He wants to raise “a clear agenda that doesn’t measure success only by electoral outcomes.” (129) He has opposed any effort to tie the coalition to political candidates or parties. He reports winning over working class and rural white people who had supported Republicans in the past, but were impressed that the movement was not a front for Democrats.

Yet his approach is not all that far from the pro-Democratic strategy. He and his co-workers focus on statehouses and electoral laws. They protest the unfairness of the Republicans’ gerrymandering of electoral districts and their voter suppression efforts. These things are worth protesting because they are unfair and repressive. But even the purest, cleanest, representative democracy would still be dominated by the corporate elite. And even the best democracy would still be vulnerable to forces outside of elections as such.

For example, after the Civil War, the Reconstruction era had a wide range of African-Americans elected to state offices, he writes. “More blacks were elected to public office during the period from 1868 to 1880 than at any other time in American history…. African-Americans wielded significant power in every statehouse.” (56) There was a coalition between African-Americans and many white Southerners. But this electoral power came to nothing. The Southern white upper class, former slave owners and businesspeople, mobilized racism among the poorer whites. They armed these people, built up the Klan, instigated “race riots,” murdered and lynched Black leaders, used “violence, intimidation, and the passage of laws that, together came to be called Jim Crow.”(116) They took away the right to vote and all other rights, by legal and illegal measures. The national government, led by Republicans, did nothing in the defense of democracy.

Could this happen again? Consider the history of fascist coups in democratic European countries in the ’20s and ’30s or in the military coup in democratic Chile in 1973. To a lesser extent, we have seen an African-American president be followed by a reactionary, racist, authoritarian president (who lost the popular vote), who has encouraged fascists, who has blatantly served the wealthy, and whose party has worked to suppress the votes of African-Americans and others.

It is dangerous to rely on elections and government power. The government is an instrument of the corporate rich and their agents and cannot be anything else. A mass movement has to be built outside of and against the government and its big business masters. Even reforms are most likely to be won if there is a militant and independent mass movement.

Along with every other issue, there needs to be a focus on workers and their unions. This is not because they are the most deserving but because they have enormous potential power. If the working people decided not to work for even a day, the whole system would grind to a halt. And they could potentially start things up in a different, democratic and cooperative, way. This would truly be a moral transformation of society.

Revolutionary Conclusions

Rev. Barber is aware that the racist capitalist system is facing a severe crisis. He quotes the radical economist Gar Alperowitz, “What we’re really beginning to experience is a process of slow decay, punctuated by a recurring economic crisis, one in which reforms achieve only sporadic gains.” (85) Barber adds, “Though we ended Jim Crow segregation in the 1960s… the wealth divide that is rooted in our history of race-based slavery is more extreme than it has ever been.” (xii-xiii) He warns that “anything less [than a Third Reconstruction], I fear, will mean the self-destruction of our nation.” (xv)

The implication of these statements is that the struggle for reforms can only go so far. Limited gains may be won, and have been won, but they are harder and harder to achieve. “Only sporadic gains” are the order of the day. This poses questions for any popular movement of opposition, such as the Poor People’s Campaign.

It is necessary to build a fusion coalition to fight for reforms, but this is not enough. What is needed is a moral vision of a new kind of society, based on justice and kindness, freedom and equality, radical democracy and cooperation, in all their political, social, and economic aspects. The wealth and power of the capitalist class must be taken from it. Ordinary people – the working class and all oppressed – must be empowered. The Third Reconstruction needs to be a new American Revolution.

This originally appeared on anarkismo.net, and has been slightly condensed for publication here.


Barber, W.J. (2016). The Third Reconstruction. Beacon Press.

Foner, Eric (1980). Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War. Oxford University Press.

Price, Wayne (2014). “Workers’ Self-Directed Enterprises: A Revolutionary Program.” Anarkismo. https://www.anarkismo.net/article/26931?search_text=Way…Price

Price, Wayne (2009). “Religion and Revolution.” Anarkismo. http://www.anarkismo.net/article/12320?search_text=wayn…price

An Election in Hell

by Wayne Price, ASR #80 (Summer 2020)

The United States is moving toward a national election in the midst of a collapse of world civilization. It is a disaster of an unknown duration, consisting of the covid-19 plague and the economic collapse it has triggered. Meanwhile the catastrophe of climate change continues to loom over everything. Whatever issues were previously important, the overwhelming concern now is how President Trump and his Republican Party have been dealing with the crisis. As any fair-minded observer will agree, their response has been disastrous.

The reaction of people on the Left has varied. Liberals take it for granted that they will vote for Democrat Joseph Biden for president to defeat the vile Donald Trump. Many, perhaps most, former supporters of Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed “democratic socialist,” agree. Holding their noses, they will vote for Biden, although they will not “endorse” or “campaign” for him, they say. Others will not choose between Biden and Trump. Of these radicals, some (particularly those close to anarchism) will not vote at all, while others will cast a protest ballot for Howie Hawkins of the Green Party.

I am not going to argue here about what individual leftists should do about voting. I do not much care. The votes of a small number of radicals, out of millions, will not have an effect either way. This is especially true for most voters who live in “safe states,” where the outcome is foreordained. (I live in New York State, where the electoral college votes are guaranteed for the Democrats.)

The real question is what radicals should advocate be done by progressive voters and organizations. What should the unions be doing about this and other elections? How do we suggest the African-American community should act? Latinx communities? other communities of color? LGBTQ groups? environmental organizations? feminist groupings? These forces are the base of the Democratic Party (which, like the Republicans, does not have a membership as such). Their organizing, mobilizing, get-out-the-vote activities, phone banking and donations of money have been essential to the functioning of the Democrats. Should they continue this strategy? Should they attempt to build a new, third, party? Or should they quit the electoral process altogether for a strategy of demonstrating, organizing, occupying and striking? As a revolutionary anarchist, I advocate the last.

President Trump

The United States is the richest and most powerful nation on earth, even if its relative power has been declining over the past decades. Its economy was highly profitable during the decade-long recovery from the Great Recession. It was “profitable” for the upper classes, not so much for most people; but there was a relatively high employment rate, even if jobs were shaky and low-paid. Economists, both conventional and radical, had been saying for years that the prosperity was brittle and vulnerable to a shock. Now we have had the shock and the capitalist economy has collapsed.

Worst of all, public health and the economy have been in the hands of a completely incompetent government – ruled by Donald Trump, a narcissistic, ignorant, fool, lacking all empathy let alone common sense. His stupidity and weak self-confidence make him disdain all scientific advisors. Vast numbers of people have died due to his inability to organize an appropriate response to the plague.

It is tempting to see Trump as an accidental freak. Then, when he is voted out, things will return to “normal.” This is exactly how Biden presents matters, but it is dangerously misleading. Trump is solidly supported by his party despite his compulsive lying. Republican governors are as dangerously ignorant as Trump in regard to health care and other issues. About 40% of voters support Trump no matter what he does. Big business, while never wild about Trump, likes much of his, and his party’s, policies: enormous tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, reactionary judges, etc. These “conservative” forces will not go away, even if the Democrats take over the White House and both houses of Congress. They will be a constant threat – and a temptation for the Democrats to compromise with, as they have repeatedly done in the past.

This is not to say that Trump or Trumpism is “fascist” (or “neo-fascist”) as many do. Undoubtedly, there are fascist traits in this administration and its supporters (including a crazed minority which does identify as Nazis). Trump is authoritarian, refuses oversight by the legislative branch, sneers at the courts, attacks and denigrates most of the media, and undermines the professionalism of the executive branch. Against the states, he declares that he has “total” power. He whips up his supporters with nativist and racist rants. He panders to the most right wing and hysterical part of his base and refuses to directly criticize the outright fascists.

For all that, he does not have an independent organization of violent gangs, such as Hitler’s stormtroopers or Mussolini’s fascisti. And he can be voted out of office, which no fascist would let happen. He might wish to be president-for-life, but the military, political and business establishments will not let him. They are not (yet?) at a crisis where they might accept this, nor would they want such a ditzy incompetent as ruler.

Sanders the “Socialist”

Many radicals had high hopes for the Bernie Sanders campaign. He called himself a democratic socialist and advocated a “political revolution.” The Democratic Socialists of America went all out for him. And Sanders did astonishing well for a “socialist.” He won in a number of states, getting a great deal of support from young people, from workers, and from Latinx. However he was never going to be allowed to win the nomination (let alone the presidency). The Democratic establishment pulled together all the “moderate” candidates and made a bloc behind Biden. Sanders was never able to win the African-American vote (especially older people). A similar steamroller ran over the other “progressive” candidate, Elizabeth Warren. The capitalists were, if anything, even more hostile to her than to Bernie, due to her history of backing strong regulation of banks and other businesses. She had to go.

In any case, Sanders was never much of a “socialist.” He did not call for the expropriation of any section of big business. He did not propose to replace corporations with a non-profit cooperative system of production. His model of “socialism,” he repeatedly stated, was the Nordic (Scandinavian) countries or the U.S. New Deal. That is, capitalist, market-driven, profit-oriented economies with government regulation and a high level of social welfare. Whatever the virtues of this program, it is inadequate to deal with the fundamental crises which the system is facing.

None of the socialist leaders who backed Bernie discussed the dismal history of socialist governments that were elected to office. There was Mitterand in France, Allende in Chile, and recently Syriza in Greece, Lula’s Workers’ Party in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia, not to mention the current woes in Venezuela. These and many other examples (the various Labour Party governments in Britain) show that it doesn’t end well for socialists to be elected to take over a capitalist state and its capitalist economy. The socialist regime may be undermined by the established state bureaucracy or by the ruling rich’s control of the economy (such as an investment “strike”), causing enough chaos that the regime is voted out, or the regime is intimidated into accepting the capitalists’ demands (Syriza), or, if “necessary,” the socialists are overthrown by the military or fascist forces (Allende). Even if Bernie had been elected, very likely he would have been stymied in his progressive programs, making him ineffectual. As anarchists have long argued, we cannot reach socialism (however defined) by using the state.

What is significant is that a large minority of the U.S. population is attracted to “socialism,” while others were willing to support a “socialist,” whether or not they agreed with the label. To the extent that young people put a clear meaning to the term, they have been taught to mean reformist state socialism. But the possibility of attracting them to revolutionary anarchist-socialism is there.

Joe Biden

Joseph Biden was an uninspiring politician who lost two earlier tries at the presidential nomination. His memory was poor and he was prone to “gaffes,” which are worse now in his seventies. He told lies to look good (such as claiming to have been arrested for trying to see Mandela in South Africa). For such reasons, he did poorly in the early stages of the nomination process and was outshone by younger, more inspiring “moderate” candidates. His only strengths were his name recognition, the image (true or not) that he had the best chance of beating Trump, and that he had been Barack Obama’s vice president. But the Democratic establishment decided that the “moderates” had to rally around one person in order to keep Bernie out. They decided that Biden was good enough. All the other “moderates” capitulated to him. Eventually even Warren, the “progressive,” and Sanders, the “socialist,” did so too.

Supporting a “lesser evil” means admitting to yourself that you are supporting an “evil,” which is psychologically hard to do. So many liberals are trying to persuade themselves that Biden is really not so bad, even pretty good. They note his progressive words, his appeals to Sanders’ and Warren’s bases, his admitted changes in political stances. As he had once made friends with segregationist Democrats and reactionary Republicans, now he was trying to make up to liberals. How sincere any of this is is impossible to say. After all, an opportunist may swing left as well as right, so long as it is not too far left.

I am not going to go over the record of Biden as pro-corporate business, pro-military intervention, pro-racial inequality, misogyny, and generally pro-status quo. (For a full record, see Nathan Robinson’s Current Affairs article, “Democrats, You Really Do Not Want To Nominate Joe Biden.”) Just for example, after pushing Bill Clinton’s repressive crime bill through the Senate in 1994, Biden cheered, “The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is now for 60 new death penalties [and] … 125,000 new prison cells”! While Biden talks a good game about the climate crisis, he was part of an Obama administration which vastly increased fracking and other forms of carbon energy production. As the radical Kevin Zeese says,

Biden is someone who has been on the opposite side of every issue I have worked on for 40 years – the drug war, mass incarceration, racist police enforcement, marijuana prohibition, the Iraq War, militarism and every war of my lifetime, student debt, climate change, energy policy, racism, and desegregation, shrinking Social Security, corporatism… I can’t think of anything significant that I agree with him on. (April 17, 2020; Actiongreens email discussion)

Zeese said he will vote for the Green Party candidate.

The only real argument for electing Biden is that he is not Trump. It is that Trump, while not a fascist, is not simply another bad Republican. That he is something way outside the box, whose politics intersect with a freakish personality to be exceptionally dangerous in a time of extreme crisis. Many respected radicals have made this claim.

However, it is also true that the Democrats have had their part in creating Trump and Trumpism. Look again at the historical record. Reactionary Republican presidents have repeatedly been followed by moderate Democrats, who have been followed by an even worse reactionary Republican. Again and again. Nixon by Carter by Reagan-Bush by Clinton by Bush by Obama by Trump. In no case has electing Democrats led to the end of the right-wing Republican threat. The Democrats play the “good cop” and the Republicans play the “bad cop.” Neither party is able to cure the ills of capitalism, which has repeatedly driven sections of the population toward the only other alternative offered by our two-party political system.

The Way Out

The pandemic was created by global semi-monopoly capitalism, with its intersection of urbanism, industrial agriculture and wild nature; its global production chains and travel; its weakened public health services; and its nation-states. With its unrelenting drive for quantitative growth, profit and accumulation, capitalism had to upset the ecological balance between humans and the rest of nature. Capitalism is the virus. Continuation of capitalism will only lead to more pandemics, climate catastrophes, economic crashes and disastrous wars. What strategy leads to a revolution for a non-capitalist, cooperative, participatory-democratic and ecologically balanced society?

Historically, the main progressive advances in politics have come from direct action outside the electoral system. The great strikes of the thirties gave us unions and won the benefits of the New Deal. African-Americans destroyed racial segregation and gained other benefits through massive civil disobedience and “riots.” The war in Vietnam was opposed through huge demonstrations, draft resistance and rebellion in the military. Gay liberation was fought by the Stonewall “riots” and Act Up civil disobedience. Women’s liberation developed in the context of all these popular struggles. And in every case, the movements died down or were tamed when they turned to working through the Democratic Party in elections.

Even under conditions of the plague, people have been self-organizing. There have been strikes by Whole Foods, Instacart and Amazon workers to demand better health protection and more time off. There have been labor actions by poultry, auto, sanitation and warehouse workers. Unionized nurses have been forceful in protesting shortages. Bus workers in Detroit bargained for fare-free bus service. Workers at GE demanded repurposing jet engine factories to make ventilators. Car caravans demanded a moratorium on rent. There has also been mutual aid organizing for people to help themselves and each other, given the failures of the government and big business.

How long the coronavirus plague will last, of course I do not know. I expect the economic collapse to last a good deal longer and the climate crisis to worsen whoever gets elected. Whatever happens in this election (and it would say something positive about the U.S. people if they reject Trump), progress depends on more mass action in the streets, the schools, the offices and the workshops. Only this could lead to a revolutionary reorganization of society.

Reference: Robinson, Nathan J. (2020). “Democrats, You Really Do Not Want To Nominate Joe Biden.” Current Affairs. www.currentaffairs.org/2020/03/democrats-you-really-do-not-want-to-nominate-joe-biden

Too Far to the Left? Hardly.

Editorial, ASR 78

The support in the polls for two liberals, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, has the capitalists worried. A constant bombardment is heard in the media that “the Democrats are going too far to the left” and how it would be a shame if this might help President Trump get re-elected. Never mind that it is not the Democrats that are shifting to the left, but the voters who are being polled. The subtext in this message is that regardless of what people want, the rulers will not allow it.

It is the capitalists who have revived the fascist movement and seek to terrorize the people with the specter of totalitarianism, even if they try to label it as “socialism.” As is always the case with tyrants, they project their own ambitions on their enemies and blame them for following the same path they have taken. What else but totalitarianism could you call unending war, reckless pursuit of private wealth in spite of global environmental peril, superstition replacing science, and government by decree of a head of state, a real life “Big Brother”? We are forbidden to question this best of all possible societies, and voters must double think who might vote for either Warren or Sanders.

Contrary to the fear being spread by the capitalists, neither Warren nor Sanders threaten the capitalist system. Warren says openly she is no socialist and believes in markets. Sanders claims he is a “democratic socialist,” but when asked what that means he invokes the examples of the New Deal in the 1930s United States and Scandinavian [social democratic] countries. Capitalism remains alive and well in Scandinavia, as it did under Franklin Roosevelt. Many credit FDR as saving capitalism with his New Deal. Neither Warren nor Sanders advocate nationalization of banks, or industry, even a key industry like oil in Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Socialism” under Chavez. The only industries they threaten are the health insurance industry, with their “Medicare For All” single-payer system, and the college loan industries. But those things have been done in most other capitalist countries without threatening the existence of the capitalist class. Capital is fungible. If profits aren’t to be had in one industry, the capitalists invest elsewhere.

Even the “Green New Deal” is not the game changer both its advocates and opponents claim. Government credit will be made available for renewable energy and carbon mitigation, much as funding was provided for canals, railroads, interstate highways, etc. Some capitalists will make new fortunes, and a few may lose them, but capitalism itself is not threatened by the Green New Deal. Workers will still be workers. The poor will stay poor. Neoliberalism will make sure that many of the products needed to rebuild the “Green Economy” will be made by low wage workers living in union-free regions. As the liberal economist Thomas Piketty has shown, a growing economy does not change the fundamentals of capitalism. As capitalists accumulate capital, inequality increases. Only the loss of capital by the capitalist class reduces inequality. (This is why Piketty advocates a global wealth tax, surely something the capitalists will never allow.)

The fundamental principle of socialism is the expropriation of the capitalist class and the social ownership of the means of production. There is no one in the Democratic Party advocating this, and the politicians would be useless in bringing it about. The only way it will happen is if the workers do it themselves.

To resist Trump’s agenda, Oakland longshore workers shut down their workplace

by Peter Cole

On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, many Americans wrung their hands. Some took to social media to express their discontent while others protested. But, perhaps, the most dramatic and important action was taken by dockworkers in Oakland, California: They stopped working. Their strike demonstrated the potential power ordinary people have on the job, when organized.

Longshore workers, who load and unload cargo ships, chose not to report to their hiring hall. As a result, “Oakland International Container Terminal, the largest container facility at the Northern California port, was shut down Friday,” according to the Journal of Commerce. It also reported that all other Oakland container terminals were essentially shut down, too.

Crucially, these workers did not first come together to protest Trump. They belong to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), one of the strongest and most militant unions left in the United States.

The ILWU, founded in the 1930s, represents logistics workers up and down the West Coast of the United States, in Alaska, Hawaii, British Columbia and Panama. For some 80 years, the union has fought for equal rights, democracy, economic equality and a vast array of other social justice causes. ILWU Local 10, which represents workers in the San Francisco Bay Area, often has been at the forefront of those fights.

ILWU members refused to load scrap metal intended for Japan because it had invaded China in the 1930s. The ILWU condemned the racist, apartheid regime in South Africa and Local 10 members periodically refused to unload South African cargo, including in the face of federal injunctions and employer pressure. They also refused, in 1978, to load U.S. military aid for Augusto Pinochet, a Chilean military general who led a coup against a democratically-elected, socialist president, Salvador Allende. On May Day 2008, the ILWU shut down Pacific Coast ports to protest the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Activists take the lead

One key element of ILWU power is its job dispatch system. In the aftermath of its legendary Big Strike of 1934, which briefly became the San Francisco general strike, the union basically won control over job dispatch. Quickly, workers implemented a “low man out” system, which enshrined the idea that the person with the fewest number of hours worked be the first one dispatched. Such socialism in action should not be surprising from a union whose founding members included socialists, communists and Wobblies, the name for members of perhaps America’s most radical union, the Industrial Workers of the World. The ILWU also inherited the Wobbly motto, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Today, though some workers are assigned to specific companies on a long-term basis, many still are dispatched via hiring halls. This system gives workers incredible power because they decide when to report for work, creating the possibility for workers to coordinate not showing up. The result, as seen on Friday, was to shut down the port of Oakland.

Obviously, many workers, nationwide, do not operate under a dispatch system. But they can still organize something similar without technically calling a strike.

At the end of 2014, New York City police officers coordinated a “virtual work stoppage,” nicknamed the “Blue Flu.” And last year, Detroit public school teachers, enraged by the awful conditions students and teachers suffer from because of a lack of state funding, organized an effective “sickout.” In other words, workers need not officially “strike,” or even belong to a labor union, to engineer a shutdown.

Importantly, Friday’s action was not organized or endorsed by the ILWU leadership. Since its inception, the ILWU has stood on the left tip of the U.S. labor movement, but even this union has become more conservative during the past few decades. Nowadays, rank-and-file activists in Local 10 often take the lead.
“There is power”

Like most unions and working people, the ILWU opposes much of Trump’s anti-labor agenda, which promotes “right-to-work” (more accurately right-to-work-for-less) legislation, condemns public sector unions, seeks to privatize public schools and reverse the Obama administration’s actions on paying more workers overtime, reducing wage theft and ensuring worker safety. Trump’s proposed labor secretary, for one, has made his anti-worker positions clear. (That said, Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership is welcome.)

Nor have Bay Area longshore workers forgotten Trump’s insult of Oakland. The president once said, “There are places in America that are among the most dangerous in the world. You go to places like Oakland. Or Ferguson. The crime numbers are worse. Seriously.”

To resist Trump’s agenda, Oakland longshore workers shut down their workplace and reminded us of the potential of organized labor. As the old song, written by Joe Hill and sung by Utah Phillips, declares, “There is power, there is power in a band of working folks, when we stand hand-in-hand. That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land.”

Peter Cole is a Professor of History at Western Illinois University. He is the author of Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive Era Philadelphia and is currently at work on a book entitled Dockworker Power: Race, Technology & Unions in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. He tweets from @ProfPeterCole.


from ASR 69

Despite losing the election, Donald Trump will be installed as U.S. president on January 20. Just over 25 percent of eligible voters cast ballots for Trump or Hillary Clinton, about 47 percent didn’t vote, and the other 3 percent voted third party. (Millions more aren’t permitted to vote.) Clinton – a right-wing politician with a long history of war-mongering, mass incarceration, environmental devastation and neoliberal economics – received some 2.7 million more votes than did Trump. And exit polls and referendum results suggest that most voters are far to the left of either party. Voters in several states raised the minimum wage, legalized marijuana (not that this will stop the feds from throwing potsmokers in jail), and rejected anti-labor measures.

Why, then, did Trump win the presidency (despite getting fewer votes)? In large part, for the same reasons both houses of Congress are dominated by Republicans despite Democratic candidates (as a whole) receiving more votes. This is in large part an artifact of gerrymandering, in individual districts and entrenched in an Electoral College designed to ensure that popular revulsion could not force an end to slavery. Also contributing was a barrage of voter suppression laws that prevent millions from voting. In Wisconsin, for example, 10 times as many voters were disenfranchised in the last few years as provided Trump’s margin of victory.

But the main factor seems to have been widespread disgust. Voter turn-out was down by 10 million since 2008, even though the number of people eligible to vote is much higher. Trump received fewer votes than did Mitt Romney four years ago (and also fewer than John McCain or John Kerry), even though he ran slightly stronger (though still quite poorly) among Black and Latino voters. But Trump did much better than Romney in rural areas and in depressed mining and industrial regions.

While many pundits blamed white working class voters for Trump’s victory, exit polls indicate that Clinton carried the votes of those earning less than $50,000 a year, and Trump those earning more. But huge numbers in both categories stayed home, unwilling to pull the level for either of the millionaires on offer.

Since the election, we have seen waves of mass protests, calls for a general strike on Inauguration Day (though no major union has endorsed these), and nominations of right wing hacks and millionaires to serve in the new Trump administration, including a climate change denier to head the environmental protection agency, an anti-civil rights zealot to head injustice, an anti-minimum wage fast food mogul to head labor, the man responsible for killing coal miners at the Sago Mine to head commerce, a charter school fanatic with no education experience to run education, etc. Trump is sending a clear message that he intends an all-out assault on the environment, on workers’ rights, on women and minorities, on our very ability to survive as a species.

It is not enough to say – true though it is – that the majority have no illusions that either political party serves their interests. The question is what they are going to do about it – whether we can build a movement inspired by a vision of the world that could be, and willing to act to bring it into being. We asked several of our readers and contributors to reflect on this challenge…

The Tragedy of Trump

By Jeff Stein

Democracy is a commons. The election of Donald Trump is the logical outcome of the modern enclosure movement. The 20th century was a struggle between capitalists and the labor movement and liberals to recreate a commons: old-age pensions for workers, universal health care, public education, national parks and wilderness areas, assistance for the unemployed and children, environmental protection for air and water, and public infrastructure.

Commons were nothing new. Before the industrial revolution local communities set aside common areas for pasturing animals, collecting water and firewood, hunting and fishing, and these provided a form of assistance for low-income families to support themselves. As capitalism developed these commons areas were seized and sold off (or given away) by governments to the capitalists.

Then, as now, this enclosure was justified on the grounds that capitalism would result in a more efficient use of the natural resources and the benefits would magically trickle down to the poor as products became cheaper. The fact that the rural poor were left with no income to buy the cheap goods and were forced to the cities and “Satanic mills” was never a concern. Yet from the ashes of the commons was born the union and socialist movements (including anarcho-syndicalism) that fought back. Threatened by social revolution and by their own excesses, the capitalists relented and the modern commons were born.

But capitalism is still capitalism. Commons only benefit capitalists if they can control them and make a profit. Privatization was advocated as a solution to “the tragedy of the commons” – the tragedy was that resources were being used for the common good instead of lining the pockets of the 1% of greedy families at the top of the economic pyramid.

As an environmentalist and labor activist I paid attention when the term “tragedy of the commons” was mentioned on a public radio program while travelling to work. The phrase was coined by conservationist Garret Hardin to refer to the tendency of an unregulated commons resource to be over-exploited. As Hardin’s argument goes, the enclosure movement was necessary to preserve the environment because the benefit derived from overuse of a common resource goes to the individual but the cost is shared by all, so individuals have no incentive to conserve common resources. On the other hand if the resource was owned by the individual or a family, that person had an incentive to take care of the resource in order to continue to benefit him or herself and their descendants.

I decided to write an anarchist rebuttal of Hardin’s argument but the more I delved into the literature the more I realized that Hardin’s argument falls apart because he misunderstands the nature of capitalism. Capitalists are not small farmers growing crops or raising cattle for their own subsistence, but investors making a profit by extracting as much value from their resources by putting them on the market. Markets are commons. If markets are unregulated, there is the same “tragedy of the commons” tendency for individual capitalists to over-exploit resources – to invest in a resource, use it up and abandon it for the next profit-making opportunity perhaps in another country. Growing one’s capital is the goal, not saving communities, not saving a farm or factory, not saving the environment, not even saving the market itself. The individual capitalist is oblivious to the costs being suffered by everyone else.

Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons” is the “Tragedy of the Markets.” The only way to avoid the tragedy of the commons is to “stint,” to place limits on what individuals can do in common resource areas. (E.P. Thompson, the British historian wrote a number of articles about how pre-industrial villages avoided the “tragedy of the commons” before the 18th century enclosure movement by creating local rules favoring conservation called “stinting.”)

Since the rise of Reaganism in the Republican Party and of Clintonism in the Democrat Party, the capitalist establishment has pursued an effort to once again enclose the commons and sell them to the highest bidders. It is only natural that the enclosure effort would eventually engulf both parties and the government itself.

Democracy has been slowly and steadily eroded. The parties are for sale, the political candidates are for sale, elections are for sale, and finally a billionaire has bought his way into power.

Since being “elected” in a rigged contest in which many voters were denied the opportunity to vote or have their votes counted based upon their race, neighborhood or age, President-“elect” Trump has made it clear that his administration is open for business. Democracy has been privatized. He has sold his administration to the right-wing elements of the Republican Party, appointed billionaires and authoritarian generals to his cabinet, and refused to sell off his business interests or even disclose what they are. Where President Trump and Trump, Inc. begins and ends, no one knows.

We can expect a level of corruption that is unprecedented even for banana republics, for it will be backed by the most powerful military and corporate empire the world has known. It is the “Tragedy of Democracy” come home to roost.