April 25, 2018
April 24, 2018
Every armed conflict going on in Arab lands has its source and subsistence in and from the US, by Thomas Riggins
by Thomas Riggins, Editor of the former "Political Affairs, (CPUSA)
Amnesty report below: it fails to mention the "Saudi Arabia-led coalition" is actually enabled by the US which arms it and provides the aircraft that refuel the Saudi jets (US made) on their way to bomb Yemen. This slaughter of children is made in the USA and could not be going on without the US support both politically and materially.
Every moral outrage and condemnation the West has hurled at Assad and the Syrians is equally applicable to presidents Obama and now Trump, they and their supporters and defenders are no better (or worse) than those who support Assad and Putin -- and if Assad and Putin have blood on their hands so do Obama and Trump (not to mention every US president bar none since the end of World War II). The only difference between Assad and the Obama-Trump gang seems to be that the former is waging a defensive war against the latter who, just as in Yemen, are aggressively financing and supporting insurgent groups (including jihadists) trying to overthrow the Syrian government and are unnecessarily prolonging this terrible war.
In fact every armed conflict going on in that part of the world -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon's border areas, the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, Libya, Somalia, and beyond has its source and subsistence from the US -- the millions of deaths and refugees are all thanks to the policies of the US and our "American Democracy" -- our party has to be more militantly involved in denouncing the crimes of US imperialism and exposing the myths that the "other side" whether they be the Russians, North Koreans, Chinese, Syrians, Venuzuelans, Iranians, Cubans, and genuine rebels and revolutionaries everywhere opposing US imperialism are some how to be criticised for opposing, by any means necessary, the world's greatest purveyor of violence (MLK).
Serve the people - Our Young Communists’ work among the homeless, The Guardian, Communist Party of Australia
Serve the people
Young Communists’ work among the homeless
Bob Briton *
Every week they’re there. Volunteers distributing between 100 to 150 free, nutritious meals to Sydney’s homeless. Clothes and information on services are available, too. Tea, coffee, fruit and bread to take away are piled onto several trestle tables. The stall at the Macquarie Street end of Martin Place is a happy place. Music plays and the homeless and the volunteers can’t help breaking out into the occasional, impromptu dance. Chats strike up between volunteers, regular customers and the increasing number of new faces.
Nothing exceptional in all this, you would think. Charities do this sort of thing all the time all over Australia as more and more people find themselves sleeping rough. But this group of volunteers is different. The Western Sydney Community Alliance (WSCA) is driven by a group of young progressives who, having learned from the Martin Place Street Kitchen, want to eventually launch similar programs in western Sydney. Their motto, carried on WSCA’s logo, is “Serve the People”.
The work, including the complex logistics, is unrelenting and hard. It should be wearing the group down, but they have plans to provide even more services to people spun off by an uncaring capitalist society. Rather than growing tired, they throw themselves into the task happily. They hold down demanding full-time jobs and study. CPA members see this labour of humanistic love as Party work in their community. They also do a prodigious amount of specifically Party work pasting up CPA recruitment posters and preparing for the various protests around Invasion day, Palm Sunday, solidarity with Syria and housing issues, supporting and feeding pickets, for example.
“Charity” or “political work”
You might wonder about the political value of this “charity work”. The young Marxist-Leninists involved regularly field these sorts of questions from more politically engaged onlookers. I spoke about this with several of the volunteers who all had serious Marxist politics. CPA member Jay, a mainstay of the operation, gave me his take on the politics of feeding the homeless.
“Communist Parties all over the world have always had a charitable element to their function. It’s community outreach that lets working class people know that the Communist Party cares about them, cares about their living conditions. The charity aspect isn’t all that we do, it’s part of what we do and it has the added advantage of drawing a lot of people who are enthusiastic to think about helping out the homeless, who care about social issues to form a good pool of potential allies who the party can talk with and find solutions together to the many political and social problems that face the Australian working class”, Jay said.
He’s right. Communist parties the world over have always had hands on programs to help neglected communities survive. The lower floor of the CPA’s first headquarters in George Street, Sydney, was open in the 1920s to the homeless to take shelter. The Communist Party of Indonesia sourced cheap seed for starving farmers. In Italy, the once mighty PCI was a vital part of serving working class communities. The vacuum that has been left is being filled by fascist groups like Casa Pound. In Greece, the fascist Golden Dawn provides food and other services to the needy for free – to Greeks only!
Friedrich Engels, co-author with Karl Marx of the Communist Manifesto praised the work of the nascent Salvation Army. He said the capitalist ruling class would rue the day they allowed the formation of the army. He reasoned the work of restoring the dignity of desperately poor would allow them to re-join the organised working class and help it overthrow their oppression. The alternative was to abandon them to the ranks of the lumpen proletariat:
“The ‘dangerous class,’ the social scum, that passively rotting mass thrown off by the lowest layers of old society, may, here and there, be swept into the movement by a proletarian revolution, its conditions of life, however, prepare it far more for the part of a bribed tool of reactionary intrigue.”
The Salvation Army did not live up to Engels’ expectations. It became a sectarian and reactionary group interested in keeping the “passively rotting mass” docile and fit for exploitation. Fascists and other right wingers are mobilising this “dangerous class” right now while the left mostly looks on.
Inspiration from a hard history
The volunteers are also inspired by the community programs of the Black Panther Party (BPP) active in the US during the 1960s and ‘70s. They organised breakfast, literacy and health care programs on a massive scale until they finally succumbed to a vicious campaign of disruption and violent repression at the hands of the FBI. Today, the scandalous techniques used against the BPP (and the CPUSA and the anti-Vietnam War movement) during the operation called COINTELPRO are in the public domain; safe now that the revolutionary potential of the times has been crushed or, taking a longer view, temporarily diverted.
“All these programs satisfy the deep needs of the community, but they are not solutions to our problems,” Huey P Newton, co-founder and chief ideologue of the BPP said at the time. “That is why we call them survival programs, meaning survival pending revolution. We say that the survival program of the Black Panther Party is like the survival kit of a sailor stranded on a raft.
“It helps him to sustain himself until he can get completely out of that situation. So, the survival programs are not answers or solutions, but they will help us to organise the community around a true analysis and understanding of their situation. When consciousness and understanding is raised to a high level then the community will seize the time and deliver themselves from the boot of their oppressors,” Newton concluded.
The volunteers of the WSCA realise they may not have the impact that the BPP had in many parts of the US, but they are doing what they can. Members are already volunteering to help struggling students at under-resourced schools. They cooperate with another community organisation in the distribution of cheap food hampers. They want to collect money for the defence of CFMEU officials being persecuted by the ABCC and the rest of the judicial system. They are challenged rather than daunted by the size of the problems facing underprivileged people.
Jay continued with his assessment of the contribution of the CPA Youth:
“It’s also about having a team-building activity that we can go to every week. We see people on an ongoing basis develop deep relationships, which we wouldn’t really be able to do if we were simply turning up to meetings every two weeks and being alienated from each other outside of a shared collective experience that allows us to bond with each other but talk politics at the same time.
“On the one hand we want the public to know that Communists do think like this, Communists do care about social issues, Communists do work in the interests of those who are disadvantaged, who have been made homeless because of the capitalist system but we’re not only here to say that we are the replacement, that we are the solution. We’re saying that the system must be replaced, ultimately. If we can promote that message at the same time as providing a useful service, then people will see the worth of having a Communist Party operating in this country as the basis of future activity and eventually a revolution in Australia,” Jay concluded.
The CPA has become home for the work of the volunteers. The cooking has been done at the Party building lately. The group works intensively at the food prep while maintaining a high level of political chat. They start serving at 3pm and go right through until 9pm or until the food runs out. At the end of the night, they pack up and take their kit “back to the CPA!”.
If you are in Sydney and feeling crushed under the weight of the capitalist agenda being imposed on working people, the unemployed and homeless IRL (“In Real Life”) rather than online, pay a visit one Sunday and talk to the young Communists serving the people at Martin Place. You’ll come away inspired to fight on!
If readers are interested in helping the work of the Western Suburbs Community Alliance, contact Antonella at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/westernsydneycommunityalliance
* Bob Briton is General Secretary of the Communist Party of Australia.
Marx 200: Carney, Bowles and Varoufakis
As the 200th anniversary of Marx’s birth gets closer, a host of conferences, articles and books on the legacy of Marx and his relevance today are emerging – including my own contribution. The most interesting was a speech last week by the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney in his homeland of Canada.
In his speech at a ‘Growth Summit’ to the Public Policy Forum in Toronto, Carney set out to be provocative and headline catching with a statement that Marxism could once again become a prominent political force in the West. “The benefits, from a worker’s perspective, from the first industrial revolution, which began in the latter half of the 18th century, were not felt fully in productivity and wages until the latter half of the 19th century. If you substitute platforms for textile mills, machine learning for steam engines, Twitter for the telegraph, you have exactly the same dynamics as existed 150 years ago (actually 170 years ago –MR )– when Karl Marx was scribbling the Communist Manifesto.”
Just as the first industrial revolution in early 19th century Britain led to the collapse of traditional jobs and held down real wages for a generation in the first two decades of the 19th century, so in this current Long Depression globally, with the advent of robots and AI, a new industrial revolution threatens to destroy human labour and livelihoods.
In 1845, Engels wrote, The condition of the working class in England, which exposed the misery and poverty engendered by the replacement of manual skills with machines and kept real incomes stagnant. Now, says Carney, Marxism might again be relevant with a new burst of ‘capital bias’ (ie a rise in machines relative to human labour power).
Automation may not just destroy millions of jobs. For all except a privileged minority of high tech workers, the collapse in the demand for labour could hold down living standards for decades.
In such a climate, “Marx and Engels may again become relevant”, said Carney.
Without realising it, Carney was reiterating Marx’s general law of capitalist accumulation outlined in Volume One of Capital (Chapter 25), written some 160 years ago, that capitalist accumulation will expand and promote machines to replace human labour but this will not lead automatically to higher living standards, less toil and more freedom for the individual, but mostly to downward pressure on real incomes, not only of those losing their jobs to machines, but in general. It would also lead to more not less toil for those with jobs, while leaving millions in a state of ‘precarious labour’ – a reserve army for capital to exploit or dispense with as the cycle of accumulation demands. (see Capital Volume One p782-3 and my new book, pp32-37).
Carney’s view of the robot revolution leading to massive job losses has much empirical backing. However, as Marx pointed out in Capital, it is not a one-sided collapse in jobs. Technology also creates new jobs and raises the productivity of labour and, depending on the balance of forces in the class struggle between capital and labour over the value created, real incomes can also rise. This happens in periods when profitability is improving and more labour comes into the market.
Of course, this ‘happy’ side of capitalist accumulation is the one that mainstream economics likes to promote, contrary to Carney’s worries. For example, Paul Ormerod, commented on Carney’s view of the relevance of Marx. You see, Marx “was completely wrong on a fundamental issue. Marx thought, correctly, that the build up of capital and the advance of technology would create long term growth in the economy. However, he believed that the capitalist class would expropriate all the gains. Wages would remain close to subsistence levels – the “immiseration of the working class” as he called it.”
In fact, says Ormerod, “living standards have boomed for everyone in the West since the middle of the 19th century. Leisure hours have increased dramatically and, far from being sent up chimneys at the age of three, young people today do not enter the labour force until at least 18.” Apparently prosperity is the order of the day: “every single instance of an economy which enters into the sustained economic growth of the market-oriented capitalist economies, from early 19th century England to late 20th century China. Once this is over, the fruits of growth become widely shared.”
There are several points here that I have taken up in many previous posts. First, Marx did not hold to a theory of ‘subsistence wage levels’. As for the argument that capitalism has taken everybody out of poverty and reduced toil and misery, it is full of holes. Note that Ormerod talks of “everyone in the West”, thus giving the lie to billions outside ‘the West’ that remain in poverty by any definitions. See my detailed posts on the level of poverty globally here.
And contrary to Ormerod’s view (as that of Keynes before him), the rise of technology under capitalism has not led to much reduction in toil. I have shown that most people in “the West” continue to have working lives (in hours per year) much as they did in 1880s or the 1930s; they may work less hours per day on average and get Saturdays and Sundays off (for some), but they still put in over 1800 hours a year and work longer overall (50 years or so).
Ormerod also argues that inequality of incomes and wealth is not getting worse and labour’s share in national income has stopped falling, contrary to Carney. Well, there is a wealth of evidence that wealth and income inequality is not improving, both globally between nations and within national economies.
Ormerod is right, however, to question Carney’s one-sided model of capitalism. Labour’s share of total value created can rise and fall in different periods depending on the balance of class forces and impact of accumulation; and Carney’s own graph shows that real wages did not just stagnate in the first industrial revolution or now, but also in the 1850s and 1860s; and in the first quarter of the 20th century. So there is more to this issue than technology. The current stagnation in real wages in the UK and the US is more a product of the Long Depression of the last ten years than robots or AI, which have hardly started to have an impact yet (labour productivity growth is low or slowing in most economies). The profitability of capital itself and the strength of labour in the battle over value created are more relevant.
Unfortunately it is not just mainstream economists who either distort or dismiss Marx’s economic theory. In an article for Vox, eminent and longstanding Marxist economist Sam Bowles writes on the legacy of Marx’s economic ideas in order to dismiss them. He agrees with Keynes’ view that Capital is “an obsolete economic textbook [that is] not only scientifically erroneous but without interest or application to the modern world” (Keynes 1925). And he agrees with 1960s mainstream economic guru, Paul Samuelson’s judgement that “From the viewpoint of pure economic theory, Karl Marx can be regarded as a minor post-Ricardian…and who in turn was “the most overrated of economists” (Samuelson 1962).
Bowles considers that Marx’s labour theory of value was “pioneering, but inconsistent and outdated”. According to Bowles, Marx’s labour theory of value as a representation of a general system of exchange and his theory of the tendency of the profit rate to fall “did not resolve the outstanding theoretical problems of his day, but rather anticipated problems that would later be addressed mathematically.” Bowles reckons that mainstream economics, in particular neoclassical marginalism, went on to sort out Marx’s failures by replacing his value theory. And this has also led to dropping the idea of social ownership of the means of production to replace the capitalist mode. “Modern public economics, mechanism design and public choice theory has also challenged the notion – common among many latter-day Marxists, though not originating with Marx himself – that economic governance without private property and markets could be a viable system of economic governance.”
Apparently, all that is left of Marx’s legacy is what Bowles calls “despotism in the workplace”, the exploitive nature of capitalist production; which is not due to the exploitation of labour power for surplus value; but the ‘power structure’ where moguls and managers rule the roost over the worker serfs. Thus we are reduced to a political theory (and even that is not much in common with Marx’s political theory for that matter) as Marx’s economic ideas are ‘outdated’ or false.
Well, all Bowles arguments (and those of Keynes and Samuelson) have been taken up by me in various posts in the past, and more thoroughly in my new book, Marx 200. In short, we can show that Marx’s value theory is logical, consistent and backed empirically. It even provides a compelling explanation of relative price movements in capitalism, though that is not its main aim. Its main aim is to show the particular form that the capitalist mode of production takes in exploiting human labour for profit; and why that system of exploitation has inherent contradictions that cannot be resolved without its abolition.
Moreover, the Marxist critique of capitalism is based on economics and leads to revolutionary political action; so it is not (just) a moral critique of ‘despotism’ in the workplace or anywhere else. The market economy (capitalism) cannot deliver the full development of human potential because despotism in the workplace is a product of the exploitation of labour by capital.
Yanis Varoufakis recognises this in his long article on Marx and Engels’ Manifesto of the Communist Party to promote his new introduction to that masterpiece. Varoufakis writes a colourful, if over flowery, article emphasising one great message of Marx and Engels’ CM: that capitalism is the first mode of production that has become global. Varoufakis sees this process as only being completed with the fall of the Soviet Union and other ‘communist’ states that blocked globalisation until then. That is probably an exaggeration. Capitalism from the start aimed to expand globally (as Marx and Engels explain in the CM). After the end of the depression of the 1870 and 1880s, there was startling expansion of capital worldwide, now named imperialism, based on flows of capital and trade.
While correctly recognising the powerful (happy?) effect of capitalism globally, Varoufakis also emphasises the dark side: of alienation, exploitation, imperialism and despotism: “While celebrating how globalisation has shifted billions from abject poverty to relative poverty, venerable western newspapers, Hollywood personalities, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, bishops and even multibillionaire financiers all lament some of its less desirable ramifications: unbearable inequality, brazen greed, climate change, and the hijacking of our parliamentary democracies by bankers and the ultra-rich.”
And, contrary to the conventional mainstream view, Varoufakis argues that Marx and Engels were right that class struggle under capitalism can be boiled down to a battle between capital and labour. “Society as a whole,” it argues, “is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other.” As production is mechanised, and the profit margin of the machine-owners becomes our civilisation’s driving motive, society splits between non-working shareholders and non-owner wage-workers. As for the middle class, it is the dinosaur in the room, set for extinction.”
And he sees that capitalism must be replaced, not modified or corrected for its faults. “It is our duty to tear away at the old notion of privately owned means of production and force a metamorphosis, which must involve the social ownership of machinery, land and resources. Only by abolishing private ownership of the instruments of mass production and replacing it with a new type of common ownership that works in sync with new technologies, will we lessen inequality and find collective happiness.”
Varoufakis recognises the ‘irrationality’ of capitalism as a system for human progress and freedom, but this self-confessed ‘erratic Marxist’does not present the material explanation for this irrationality, apart from growing inequality and inability to use new technology to benefit all. Capitalism also suffers from regular and recurrent crises of production that destroy and waste value created by human labour. These crises are of ‘overproduction’, unique to capitalism and regularly throw human development backwards. This aspect of capitalism’s irrationality is missing from Varoufakis’ article, although it was expressed vividly by Marx and Engels in the CM. See the striking passage in CM where Marx and Engels start by explaining “the need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe” and finishes with “paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises and diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented”.
And a theory of crises is important. People can live with rising inequality, with relative poverty even, even wars etc, as long as, for them, things improve gradually each year without break. But gradual improvement in living standards is not possible because capitalism has regular and recurrent slumps in production, investment and employment built into its system, which can last for a generation in depressions – as Carney’s graphs show. That is a fundamental character of capitalism’s irrationality.
Marx’s economic theories are often trashed or disputed – fair enough in a debate for truth. But when each critical argument is analysed, it can be found to be weak, in my view. Marx’s laws of motion of capitalism: the law of value; the law of accumulation and the law of profitability still provide the best and most compelling explanation of capitalism and its inherent contradictions. And I am leaving out the great contribution that Marx and Engels made to the understanding of human historical development – the materialist conception and the history of class struggle – that lie at the basis of human actions. “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”
As the Manifesto says (and Varoufakis echoes in his article), capitalism has taken the productive forces of human labour to unprecedented heights, but dialectically it has also brought new depths of depravity, exploitation and wars on a global scale. Marx’s legacy is to show why that is and why capitalism cannot last if human society is to go forward to the “free development of each” as the “condition for the free development of all”. Marx’s ideas remain even more relevant in the 21st century than the 19th. But understanding is not enough. As the epitaph on Marx’s tomb in Highgate cemetery, London inscribes from Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it”.
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