Friday, December 14, 2018

Argentina: Ford Execs Convicted of Torturing Union Activists Under the Junta

Carlos Gareis, right, a former worker at Ford and a former political prisoner, held the hand of his daughter, Estela, center, after the verdict that sentenced two former executives at the plant to long prison sentences.CreditCreditJuan Mabromata/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
BUENOS AIRES — A court in Argentina on Tuesday convicted two former Ford Motor executives and sentenced them to prison for helping the country’s military dictators kidnap and torture 24 workers during the 1970s.

The convictions were the first in which representatives of a multinational firm were found culpable in a human rights trial in Argentina.

Activists hailed the sentences as a major step toward making amends for the cooperation that several businesses provided to the brutal junta that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. Union leaders were among the tens of thousands of people sent to clandestine detention centers where suspected dissidents were arbitrarily detained, tortured and often killed.

Relatives of the 24 victims in the Ford case burst into applause in the courtroom as a judge read the verdicts.

A three-judge panel sentenced Pedro Müller, 87, then a manufacturing director at a Ford factory in Buenos Aires province, to 10 years, and Héctor Francisco Sibilla, 92, then the security manager at the plant, to 12 years for assisting in the kidnapping and torture of their colleagues.

The two executives “allowed a detention center to be set up inside the premises of that factory, in the recreational area, so that the abductees could be interrogated,” according to court papers.
The court also sentenced Santiago Omar Riveros, a former head of the army’s fourth battalion, to 15 years in prison. All the sentences can be appealed.

“We were able to show during the trial that the company benefited economically during the period and how it used the repressive arm of the dictatorship to get rid of people that bothered them,” said Marcelo García Berro, the prosecutor.

Of the 24 workers whose cases are detailed in the case, 17 were detained in their workplace and 11 are alive today.

Pedro Müller, left, then a manufacturing director at a Ford factory in Buenos Aires province, was sentenced to 10 years, and Hector Francisco Sibilla, right, then the security manager at the plant, was given 12 years.CreditJuan Mabromata/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
“These weren’t people tied to the subversion or anything of the sort. They participated in the unions,” Mr. García Berro said.

Although the prosecution had requested sentences of 25 years, the victims’ lawyers said they were satisfied.

“The sentencing of two company executives leaves no doubt that Ford was directly involved in committing crimes against humanity against workers, and that is historic,” said Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, one of the lawyers.

Another one of the victims’ lawyers, Tomás Ojea Quintana, told Reuters that a lawsuit against the automaker may be filed in a federal court in the United States.

“It is clear that Ford Motor Company had control of the Argentinian subsidiary during the ’70s,” said Mr. Ojea Quintana. “Therefore, there is a direct responsibility of Ford Motor Company and that might give us the possibility to bring the case to the U.S. courts.”

Ford said in a statement the company was “aware of the verdict about the supposed participation of ex-employees of the firm in events related to human rights in the ’70s.” The company added that it “always had an open and collaborative attitude with judicial authorities supplying all the available information.”

Officials at Ford declined to comment further, noting that the sentences can still be appealed.
Argentina has done far more than its neighbors to punish former military officers and their accomplices for crimes committed during the dictatorships that became the norm in much of the region in that period.

As of September, Argentine courts had convicted 862 people among the more than 3,020 individuals charged for human rights abuses, according to the attorney general’s office. The vast majority of those convictions involved former military officers. Relatively few civilians who were complicit in grave abuses have been convicted.

Experts said Tuesday’s verdict marked a turning point because it made a clear link between the dictatorship and the persecution of union activists.

“This is the first time that Argentina convicts business executives for crimes against humanity relating to union activism,” said Victoria Basualdo, a historian who served as an expert witness in the case.

Many businesses saw the dictatorship “as the opportunity to resolve labor conflicts in a repressive manner and increase profits,” the Center for Legal and Social Studies, a human rights group in Argentina said in a statement. By giving material assistance to the dictatorship, “they became one more link in the structure of state terrorism.”

Brexit: Theresa May's End Game

December 13, 2018

Theresa May’s period in office as Prime Minister has been the longest car crash in British political history. The accident-prone saga of her leadership of both the Tory Party and the government seems now to be approaching a denouement. As it has been with every Tory leader since Margaret Thatcher, May has been undermined by the anti-European, xenophobic and Union-Jack-waving sections of her own party, one wing of which has now effectively morphed into UKIP, while UKIP itself has morphed into the EDL.

Although she has won her vote of confidence among Tory MPs – by an uncomfortably low majority, heavily dependent on the ‘payroll vote’ – in the words of former Tory Chancellor George Osborne, she is “dead woman walking.” Or, as another Tory put it, sarcastically changing a phrase used by Thatcher, “We limp on. We limp on to win.”

It is not an accident that the political representatives of British capitalism are the most ineffective and effete for generations, unable or unwilling to work in what is even in the best interests of its own class. As we see with Macron in France and the man-child in the White House, it is becoming a generalised feature of world politics that the crisis in capitalism is reflected in a crisis in its political leadership.

The entire logic of the Brexit saga has pushed Theresa May into a position where she cannot possibly appease both wings of her own party. The argument is not fundamentally about the so-called Northern Ireland ‘backstop’ agreement. It is about the fact that the UK is thereby placed in a ‘temporary’ EU/UK customs union. In other words, it is about the  nature of the UK’s eventual relationship with the European Union.

As we wrote in an editorial in July, after the so-called ‘Chequers’ plan that was unfurled and hastily amended: “It is still the most likely outcome that the May government will manoeuvre in negotiations with the EU towards a close alignment with the EU customs union and single market because that is the only way to avoid the kind of chaos against which the Financial Times is warning…The problem for the Tories is that this will inevitably lead, come the autumn and the re-convening of Parliament, in more splits than ever before”.

Theresa May running down the clock
By postponing the vote on her deal in Parliament last Monday, it looks as if Theresa May is intent on playing a game of ‘chicken’ with the EU and with MPs. By pushing the vote back to the end of January – effectively only eight weeks before the Brexit date – it looks like she is aiming to put pressure on Tory MPs (and not a few Labour MPs) to support her deal. The argument will go along the lines that “it is either my deal or the economic chaos of a cliff-edge Brexit”.

Following the challenge to her leadership, that strategy still applies, although the postponement still does not guarantee the deal a parliamentary majority. Indeed, unless there is a big defection from Labour’s ranks, the size of the Tory vote against May – 117 MPs – gives an indication of the scale of the mountain May has to climb to get it past the House of Commons. Jacob Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group will be more than happy to see the government run down the clock so that increases the likelihood of British capitalism crashing out of the EU without a deal.

No Tory Brexit!
Left Horizons has argued throughout this sorry period that the aim of the Tory Brexiteers is to fundamentally undermine the wages, conditions and living standards of the working class. They want a bigger version of the Singapore economy, off the coast but accessible to Europe, and based on low business-taxes, low-wages and low-skills. A part of the much-vaunted push for non-EU trade deals, especially with the USA, is the abolition of all EU regulations on food standards and the environment. Liam Fox and Boris Johnson will happily let the hoi polloi eat ‘cheaper’ chlorinated chicken from the USA, and beef pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones. They will not partake of such food themselves, of course.

The main thrust of the Brexit campaign in 2016 was against immigration and refugees and a Tory Brexit migration policy would be strictly based on what is in the interests of business. EU workers already settled in Britain will find their security and peace of mind rudely shattered. It is not surprising that for the first time in years there is now a net movement of EU citizens out of the UK, where they no longer feel welcome; they understand that post-Brexit, for them the UK will indeed be a “hostile environment”. It is for these reasons that we have said No to a Tory Brexit! We can have no confidence in any political process fostered by one wing of the Tory Party, and the most rabidly nationalist wing at that.

We understand that the EU is a customs union and a single market of capitalist states. Its laws and regulations are fundamentally tilted against all public enterprises and public services in the interests of profit. Greek workers have had their hopes as well as their living standards crushed by the IMF and the European Central Bank. They know better than most that the structures of the EU have a merciless and a relentless disregard of the interests and needs of workers. In the last four weeks we have seen the French workers take to the streets in their hundreds of thousands. EU membership has no answer to their needs. 

Tory Brexiteers are peddling an illusion
In 2016 there were many genuine lefts in the labour and trade union movement who voted Brexit for the right reasons. Trade union members in the rail industry, to take one example, were quite rightly alarmed at the possibility of any restrictions being imposed on public ownership or public works as a result of EU competition rules. But the privatisation of rail was not done by the EU: it was the John Major Tory government.

If the EU single market, the most integrated capitalist market in the world, cannot provide answers to the problems of austerity and cannot satisfy the needs of the majority of its population, then the answer is not to break this integrated capitalist market into 28 separate, fragmented capitalist markets. That idea is a reactionary utopia.

Socialists always stand and fight where they are. Our main enemy has always been the capitalist class at home, whether British capitalism is a part of the EU or not. Left Horizons refuses to foster the illusion that leaving the EU will somehow take us one step closer to socialism or make the fight for socialism one bit easier.

Tory Brexiteers are peddling an illusion – worse, they have in mind a conscious aim to undermine jobs, conditions, food and environmental standards. Socialists have a responsibility to fight against the xenophobia and economic strategies of this reactionary wing of the Tory party. We must tell workers the truth and we cannot support an economic illusion, moreover one that provides an opportunity to scapegoat migrants, when socialists should support the free movement of labour.

The question of a second referendum – a so-called “people’s vote” – is now assuming more importance as a way out of the impasse the Tories now find themselves in. The supporters of such a referendum started off as a handful of middle-class activists but they have now drawn in a growing number of Tory MPs, right-wing Labour MPs, business and trade union leaders. Even the august Financial Times has supported a new referendum as a ‘second best’ in the event that Theresa May’s deal is rejected by the House of Commons.

Left Horizons
is opposed to political alliances like the “People’s Vote” campaign which blur over the fundamental differences of economic interests between the rich and powerful on the one side and the working class on the other. Those in favour of a “people’s vote” assume that a second referendum will reverse the first, although that is not a foregone conclusion. Worse, they are promoting a mirror-image of the same illusion peddled by the Brexiteers – that all the ills of society would somehow disappear “if only” the spectre of Brexit were to be exorcised.

That idea is false to the core because in a very real sense, the whole Brexit issue is a side-show. The most important issues facing the big majority of the country have been the squeeze on their living standards and the state of collapse of the public services upon which they depend. The old, the sick, the poorest and the disabled have suffered appallingly from Tory austerity in the last eight years – a policy that has been, in the words of Labour’s John McDonnell a “political choice and not an economic necessity”. Although the Tories boast a record number of people in employment, millions of today’s jobs are precarious, low-paid, low-skill dead-end jobs. Not surprisingly, millions, of younger people especially, feel utterly cut off from the possibility of being able to afford a decent home and a future for themselves and their families.

The real news of 2018 was not Brexit
Lost in the chaos of Brexit in the last month, the real news of last month was not Theresa May’s ‘deal’, but the statement by the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in the UK. We quote here some extracts from this report:
“14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in twenty-first century Britain is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster, all rolled into one…
…through it all, one actor has stubbornly resisted seeing the situation for what it is. The Government has remained determinedly in a state of denial… but it is the mentality that has informed many of the reforms that has brought the most misery and wrought the most harm to the fabric of British society. British compassion for those who are suffering has been replaced by a punitive, mean-spirited, and often callous approach”

These are real issues and the ones on which the labour movement must focus. Labour is absolutely right, therefore, to demand a general election. This would be a real referendum on poverty, on low pay, on the strangulation of the NHS, on public services, on the housing crisis and on other issues.

An election campaign would have to be fought on policies in the interests of working-class people: the cancellation of austerity, the restoration of cuts made in services and the NHS, the renationalisation of the railways, Royal Mail and public utilities plundered by private companies, and so on. But Labour must go further and campaign also for the public ownership of banks, land and the big monopolies that dominate the country and leech off the contracts of public contracts.

It would only be by mobilising mass support for a democratic socialist plan of production, using all the resources, wealth and skills of the country, that Labour could really offer a decent life and living standards ‘For the Many not the Few’. If such a Labour government was swept to power and was determined to carry out socialist policies and if it was then obstructed by the EU, then that would be a fight worth having. That would be a ‘Brexit’ worth fighting for.

But in the present political and economic crisis, it is not enough for the Labour Party to restrict itself to demanding an election in the august chamber of the House of Commons. The Tories might be in disarray, but they will not easily agree to a general election in which one of them would lose their seats.

Labour must take a leaf out of the book of the gilets jaunes protest movements in France. Labour must set in train a series of demonstrations – not only in London, but in every major city – to demand a general election and the end of this hated government. There has never been a better time in recent years than there is at present, to demand an end to the rotten, corrupt and out-of-touch Tory system we have and to demand a fundamental change of society in the interests of the huge majority of the population.

Opinion: Brexit Will Make You Poorer

From Nick T in London

Labour has played a canny game but I think the time is fast approaching when they need to get off the fence.

Brexit is a right wing nationalist project - just look at who is leading it. I could never associate myself with something pressed forward by Johnson, Farage, Duncan-Smith et al with Trump and Murdoch also firmly behind it.

I don’t understand Lexit - what does it mean ? The problems in British society are caused by capitalism not the EU. It is very difficult to build support for socialism in a sea of nationalism - look at the polls where Labour is level or even behind this shower. That's largely down to Brexit with many working class communities fearing that Labour will unravel the referendum whereas the Tories will deliver the change they voted for.

You can’t build socialism in one country or by retreating behind the borders of our little island. Socialism is international or nothing. The job of socialists should be to transform the EU and its member states - not help break them apart in the wave of right wing nationalism which is a symptom of neoliberalism failing across Europe.

Labour needs to get into the working class communities that voted Leave and to say to them we fully understand your anger at decades of neglect and why you voted the way you did. We need change but that won’t be aided by leaving the EU. The Brexit project is about making you poorer with a low wage deregulated economy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Why is Marx Demonised? Here's a Hint.

Excerpts from Karl Marx, The German Ideology written fall 1845 to mid-1846. From the Marxist Internet Archive

Was he wrong? Or was the guy on the right, right. Let Marx speak for himself.

"The first premise of all human history is, of course, the existence of living human individuals. Thus the first fact to be established is the physical organization of these individuals and their consequent relation to the rest of nature. Of course, we cannot here go either into the actual physical nature of man, or into the natural conditions in which man finds himself – geological, hydrographical, climatic and so on. The writing of history must always set out from these natural bases and their modification in the course of history through the action of men.

Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion or anything else you like. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence, a step which is conditioned by their physical organization. By producing their means of subsistence men are indirectly producing their actual material life.

The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means of subsistence they find in existence and have to reproduce. This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the production of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production.
This production only makes its appearance with the increase of population. In its turn this presupposes the intercourse [Verkehr] of individuals with one another. The form of this intercourse is again determined by production.

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an “eternal law.” "

Oakland CA: Homeless Women and Children Evicted by Oakland Police

Homeless Women Evicted from Village from Endangered Ideas on Vimeo.

This was posted to the East Bay DSA  page I am on. I couldn't share it from there but here is the post from the woman comrade who out it up. I think the meeting was yesterday but the video is an example of how the US treats its people. It is neither Muslims, ISIS, Iranians Mexican immigrants Central American gangmembers that are doing this but the most powerful legalised gang in the world, the US state and its security forces.  Housing (human shelter) is not or should not be a commodity and wouldn't in a civilized society. But capitalism is anything but civil.  RM

We really need people to come out to Oakland City Council tomorrow which starts at 5:30pm to support our unhoused neighbors. Here is a video showing the disgraceful destruction of the Housing and Dignity Village in East Oakland last week, which was home to 13 women and children. The City promised to hold off on this eviction until they could negotiate with the residents and find them safe beds to go to, then showed up the next day with 60 OPD officers and utterly destroyed everything. Let's stand in solidarity with our unhoused comrades against the City of Oakland!

In the small town that I live in next to Oakland, a one bedroom apartment can go for over $2000 a month. A closet can cost $1000 or more. This is state violence, state terrorism directed at working class people and disproportionately people of color. As is always the case as well, women, the aged and the very young are prime victims of this state terror.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Harvard: Capitalist Think Tank Invests in Water to Profit From Climate Change

Harvard's Paso Robles Wineries: Source Bloomberg
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

It is a barbaric civilization indeed that affords the fruits of human intellectual and physical labor like healthcare to people on the basis of how much they can pay for it. But capitalism is barbarism. Education, energy, transportation to name a few, none of these social necessities should be a business, be run on the basis of profit.

But I read some months ago about a major corporation that is in the education business buying land in Latin America as an investment also implying it is participating in agriculture which, should be an important human activity. It seems that this corporation, Harvard University, is using its $39 billion endowment fund to buy up thousands of acres in the California Central Coastal Valley and with the land purchases comes water rights and there are huge supplies here.  Harvard is paying above market prices for the land and initially small concerns in the area had no idea who the buyer was.

Harvard is intending to use the land and its water source for vineyards that have now reached $305 million in value according to the Wall Street Journal. Leaving aside what the purchases will do for land prices, there are many small operations as well as some San Luis Obispo officials who are concerned that Harvard’s wine businesses will use up water and have a negative affect on the entire community. The California Central Coast has “experienced drought conditions for 30% of the past two decades compared to 14% for the past 100 years”, the Journal adds. What Harvard, a capitalist think tank, is doing is taking land that should be public and using it to make money to produce a commodity based solely on that commodities profit potential so it can educate more members of the ruling class in the decades ahead.

What the US ruling class refers to as “freedom” gives this huge private corporation and its billionaire owners the right to own land and what’s under it and refuse to disclose any details of its activity.  Harvard has a policy not to discuss its individual investments apparently.  Harvard spokespersons do admit that it is investing in natural resources like land, “..because we believe its physical products (in this case water) are going to be in increasing demand in the global economy in the coming decades.” The reader should think climate change and global warming here. Harvard, as a capitalist institution and intellectual center recognizes that climate change is real, it is socially destructive and are moving to take advantage of it as there is nothing capitalism can do to halt this looming global catastrophe that threatens the human species. Capital thinks short term, as Barak Obama’s friend Rahm Emanuel, the Mayor of Chicago says,You never want a serious crisis to go to waste…”

Other sections of the capitalist class will all be frothing at the mouth with Harvard’s entrance in to what it calls agriculture as for some chaos will ensure, “the best property with the best water will sell for record breaking prices and properties without adequate water will suffer in value” says one real estate appraiser. So the small winery owner or farmer and there’s precious few of them, will be driven out of business though some of them will get good prices for the land. Hedge fund managers and other social parasites are investing in this way.

There have been complaints from some local residents living in the vicinity of Harvard’s land that vineyards that Harvard planted in 2012 have caused residential wells to run dry. Harvard now owns thousands of acres in the area. One small family owned vineyard owner is concerned that there is no way that the inflated prices Harvard paid for the land makes “economic sense” if all the education corporation wants to do is “grow and sell grapes”  A Harvard official maintains that all of this activity is purely “agricultural in nature”.

In 2014 California governor Jerry Brown introduced legislation aimed at preventing water depletion in the area including the water under Harvard’s land and gave until 2020 to draw up the plans top do that.  So here’s what happened in 2017 per the WSJ:
“To help write those water plans the big landowners in Shandon (the area in question) voted in 2017 to create their own water district governed by a five member committee….”  Matt Turrentine, a local former grape broker who quit the business and is the agent and land purchaser for Harvard is on that committee. So big business all around decides what we grow what we eat, what we do with a precious natural resource like land.

This is not unlike the BP crisis a few years ago when government regulators handed over the writing of deep water drilling regulations to the energy industry. If I recall the NY Times reported at the time that the rules were written in pencil. The point at when the US working class tires of this abuse is getting closer and not too late hopefully.

Harvard has applied to build three large reservoirs in one of its vineyards in the Cuyama Valley and there have been some objections from other small local producers concerned that Harvard will simply send the water to the cities leaving water more scare local, driving up prices and likely driving small producers out as well.

Water, land, and how we use it, what we grow on it and its use in general should not be in the hands of private corporations like Harvard and determined by profit as opposed for use, for human need and in a way that is in harmony with nature. Harvard is lying when its mouthpieces, pimps really, talk of it being involved in agriculture, it is involved in creating profits. Are more vineyards what we need? Do we need to grow anything at all on it especially as agricultural production in California central valley is wholly artificial, imported water, imported labor and chemicals; It’s a desert remember.

One thing is certain to me, this move by Harvard is to protect its business interests in the wake of global warming and water shortages. It will harm the environment of this beautiful state further.  Capitalism has historically taken public land and by that I mean land held in common and driven its occupiers from it with violence and with catastrophic consequences, from the enclosure of the commons in Britain and the genocidal wars to drive Native Americans from the land here in the US including slaughtering their food supply.

Capitalism cannot not do this no matter what its liberal wing says about Climate Change. Capitalism is a growth system and growth and accumulation of capital comes before the long term health of the environment. "A farmer has a right to farm and can utilize the water under their property" says a Harvard consultant defending the farce that Harvard is a farmer but reminding us that everything is a commodity and capitalist private property rights are sacred. Of course, if the average person wants to farm in California they are free to do so----if they have the money.

This land that is a natural resource should be taken out of private hands and what we do with it determined through a collective process. Small farmers are different not that we have many of them, I think only 2% of the US population work on the land.  The Native American community must play a central role in any public land management as they have been the historical carers of it prior to colonization and along with rural communities, workers, small farmers, environmentalists, naturalists, scientific experts and workers organizations and communities how we relate to the land that nurtures us can be determined in a responsible way, responsible to nature and humanity not hedge fund managers and other unproductive human activity.

This cannot be done in isolation of course and when I drive a little out of my small town through the suburbs the housing built by developers who may come from any region in the US or the world it is nauseating looking at these ugly 4000 sq. foot monstrosities, rows and rows of them destroying the local environment, a middle class ghetto completely out of pace with the local natural surroundings. Human shelter, which is what housing should be, must also be taken out of private hands. A home should not be a commodity either.


Monday, December 10, 2018

What Drives the Capitalist Economy?

Back to Front 

by Michael Roberts

Is it supply that drives an economy or demand?  Such was the question asked by Keynesian economics blogger and Bloomberg columnist Noah Smith.  Smith often raises issues that enlighten us on the differences (and similarities) between mainstream neoclassical and Keynesian economics, and, in so doing, where Keynesian theory and policy differs from a Marxian analysis.

In a recent article, Smith questioned the traditional neoclassical view of economic growth, namely that real GDP expansion depends on employment plus productivity (output per employee).  This neoclassical view, says Smith, means that, while Keynesian monetary and fiscal policies might get an economy out of a slump, they can do little to raise long-term productivity growth.  But he begs to differ.

This ‘supply-side view’ is inadequate, says Smith.  Boosting demand with Keynesian-style measures of cheap money and government spending could create the conditions for raising output permanently onto a new and higher trajectory: it may be time to momentarily step away from economic orthodoxy and look at demand-based policies to help boost productivity.” There is a ‘demand-side’ view of long-term economic growth.

Smith cites Verdoorn’s law as relevant to this thesis: Dutch economist Petrus Johannes Verdoorn describes a correlation between output and productivity — when growth is faster, productivity also grows faster. You can see this correlation in the data.”  This, claims Smith, “leaves open the tantalizing possibility that the reverse is happening — that high levels of aggregate demand also drive up productivity.”  So, when there is a boom in demand, this leads to more sales and output and encourages companies to invest more and, as a result, this leads to rising productivity.  Thus demand creates its own supply – the reverse of Say’s law, as promoted by Ricardian and neoclassical economics, that supply creates its own demand.

So has neoclassical economics got things back to front and all we need to do in economic policy is to keep “running the economy hot, through continued monetary and fiscal stimulus”? Well, the first thing to say is that Smith’s reference to Verdoorn’s law to support his argument that Keynesian-style demand boosts will sustain increased productivity is misleading.  Actually, all that Verdoorn shows is that “in the long run a change in the volume of production, say about 10 per cent, tends to be associated with an average increase in labor productivity of 4.5 per cent.”  This correlation proves nothing about causation.  So output and productivity growth are correlated – surprise! – but is it total ‘demand’ or output growth that stimulates productivity growth, or vice versa?

Smith cites research that is supposed to show the causal connection from demand to supply, but when you check that research you find that the authors cited, Iván Kataryniuk and Jaime Martínez-Martín, conclude: “some of the deterioration of the TFP (productivity – MR) growth outlook in recent years may be explained by a negative business cycle, but structural weaknesses remain behind the slowdown in medium-term growth, especially for emerging countries.”  So it’s not demand that is the main cause of long-term productivity growth.

From a Marxist view, what’s missing from this debate, as always between mainstream neoclassical and Keynesian disputes, is profit and profitability.  Sure, it is obvious that when an economy is booming and demand for goods is strong, then companies will usually increase investment in new technology as well as employing more workers (but I say ‘usually’, because in this Long Depression, it seems companies have increasingly kept cash or invested in financial assets ie their own shares, rather than in productive assets).

An expanding economy leads to a virtuous circle of growth, investment and even productivity growth.  But that virtuous circle eventually turns into a vicious circle of slump, a collapse in investment and output that cannot be corrected by easy money or fiscal stimulus.  Why does a boom turn into slump?  The Marxist view is not because of some unexplained shock to the harmonious development of the market economy (the neoclassical view) or some unexplained change in the ‘animal spirits’ of entrepreneurs to invest (the Keynesian view).  It is because, in a profit-making economy (i.e. capitalism), profitability and profits fall back.  When that happens, as it will at recurring intervals, then output, investment and productivity will follow.  There is a profit cycle.

The Marxian view argues that it is the Keynesian view that is back to front.  Supply leads demand, not vice versa.  But this is not the same as the neoclassical view that supply creates its own demand (Say’s law).  For Marx, Say’s law was a fallacy.  In a monetary economy, there is always the possibility of a breakdown (both in time and inclination) between sale for money and purchase with money.  Hoarding of money can cause a collapse of sales and purchases. But what causes that possibility to become a probability or reality?  For Marx, it is a fall in the profitability of capital.

In the Keynesian world of macro-identities, National Income equals National Expenditure.  National income is composed of wages and profits and National Expenditure is composed of Consumption and Investment.

NI = NE can be decomposed to
Wages +Profits = Consumption + Investment

If we assume that workers do not save but spend all their wages, then the equation becomes:
Profits = Investment

This is an identity that does not reveal the causal direction.  The Keynesian view is that Investment (demand) creates Profits (supply).  But the evidence is against Noah Smith and the Keynesians.  The body of empirical evidence is that changes in profitability and profits lead to changes in investment.  And it is this that decides when there are cyclical booms and slumps and also the long-term growth path of a capitalist economy

Smith says “much more research is needed” to see whether demand creates supply or vice versa.  But the research is already there.  It is well established that ‘easy money’ (low interest rates and ‘quantitative easing’) won’t work in restoring long-term productivity growth – as Keynes also concluded in the 1930s and the evidence of the last ten years confirms.  The search for some ‘natural rate of interest’ that establishes full employment and maximum potential output growth is a mirage (reaching for the stars).

And studies (including my own) of the (Keynesian) ‘multiplier’ effect of boosting government spending or running the economy ‘hot’ (Smith) is much weaker (and even inverse in direction) than the impact of the profitability of capital on growth and productivity.

Clearly in this Long Depression, hysteresis is in operation, namely that low growth in output and profits has pushed investment and productivity growth onto a permanently lower trajectory.  But this is not the result of a lack of ‘effective demand’ per se, but comes from the failure of the profitability of capital to return to pre-2008 levels and/or to grow fast enough.

Smith may suggest that neoclassical theory has got it ‘back to front’.  But so has Keynesian theory.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Working Class Unity

 Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

This is a very powerful and accurate account, brief as it is, of how the European/White capitalist class built its base in the continent they were colonizing. Martin Luther King speaks in class terms here talking of the white European peasants and the need to build an "economic floor"  under them in some ways similar to the floor they built under the Protestants they imported in to Ireland as a base from which to dispossess the native population of its land and rights.

I saw this on the internet posted by someone on Facebook, a religious group I believe. The person that posted it added the headline "The Real Reason the Government Took Him Out." I believe the author of the headline sees economic empowerment and black capitalism as the way to liberation and an end to racism. I do not agree with this view nor did Malcolm X.

So that headline is not completely accurate I don’t believe. The ruling class in the US did not like that he told the truth about the history of this country. What he says here is true and it is dangerous in that it undermines the accepted narrative intended to portray whites as superior in every way to blacks leaving out the favorable treatment one gets over the other. But what is the motive for this white ruling class history? It is to maintain it's position as a ruling class and to do that it must divide the exploited. Every ruling class does this. 

Along with his ability to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people from all different backgrounds Martin Luther King was so dangerous because he was saying dangerous things and expressing ideas that if taken up by masses of people threaten the position of the ruling class and their exploitative brutal system. 

Where MLK was a real threat to this white racist ruling class was his bringing together all oppressed peoples and toward the end of his life talking about the need to change the system. and talking of socialism. Martin Luther King led a mass movement against exploitation and injustice. His approach united the working class against oppression. This is what made him so dangerous, the concept of working class unity. 

In a letter to Coretta Scott in July 1952 King wrote:
I imagine you already know that I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic… [Capitalism] started out with a noble and high motive… but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today capitalism has out-lived its usefulness.

In a speech to his staff in 1966 he said:
You can’t talk about solving the economic problem of the Negro without talking about billions of dollars. You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of slums. You’re really tampering and getting on dangerous ground because you are messing with folk then. You are messing with captains of industry. Now this means that we are treading in difficult water, because it really means that we are saying that something is wrong with capitalism.

[W]e are saying that something is wrong … with capitalism…. There must be better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.

And in a speech to the Southern Christian leadership Conference  in Atlanta Georgia on August 16, 1967 he said:
And one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there forty million poor people in America? And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth.’ When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society…”  

 He said to New York Times  reporter José Iglesias in 1968:
 “In a sense, you could say we’re involved in the class struggle.

Same with Malcom X who was increasingly moving toward the socialist alternative to capital. And both men were also moving closer to organized labor as well speaking at rallies strikes and labor events. They spoke in class terms.

Malcolm X said that "You can't have capitalism without racism".  What is that but a condemnation of a social system. It is far more dangerous than going around saying all white people are devils. Malcolm X was not  killed by the state when he was saying that, he was useful to the white racist ruling class who are not afraid of nationalism or separatists that make no class distinctions at all between groups.

Toward the end of h
is life he was questioning the concept of black nationalism and what it meant. He said:  “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash, but I don't think it will be based on the color of the skin...” It is inconceivable that this statement from Malcolm X, who, along with Martin Luther King is one of the great US revolutionaries of the 20th century, did not terrify the white racist ruling class in this country. It is a statement which opens a path to him and his ideas for millions upon millions of oppressed and exploited people,

In a January 19, 1965, Toronto television interview, Pierre Berton asked Malcolm X whether he still advocated a Black state in North America he said he didn't and that, “I believe in a society in which people can live like human beings on the basis of equality.”

In the same interview he told of meeting the Algerian ambassador when he was visiting Ghana in 1964, a man who he respected, the issue of black nationalism came up.  Malcolm X said, the ambassador asked him, “Well, where did that leave him? Because he was white. He was an African, but he was Algerian, and to all appearances, he was a white man. And he said if I define my objective as the victory of Black nationalism, where does that leave him? Where does that leave revolutionaries in Morocco, Egypt, Iraq, Mauritania? So he showed me where I was alienating people who were true revolutionaries dedicated to overturning the system of exploitation that exists on this earth by any means necessary.” Malcolm X The Final Speeches. Pathfinder Press

The struggle for working class unity does not negate the struggle for black liberation or the liberation of any specially oppressed section of society----it strengthens it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

French protests show profound hostility to existing order

By Greg Oxley in Paris

The movement known as the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) began as an outcry through social media networks with a mass petition against the increase in tax on petrol and diesel. But it rapidly passed over into a wave of militant protests in towns and cities across the entire country, with the setting up of road-blocks on highways and barricades barring access to fuel storage facilities.

As the protest gained momentum, it became clear that the issues being raising went well beyond petrol prices and taxes. Various lists of demands have been published, covering a wide variety of subjects. The demands reflect the presence of different and to some degree conflicting political tendencies. Taken as a whole, however, they express profound hostility to the existing social order, and a pressing need for the radical transformation of society.

The organisational form of the movement means that it is not possible to put accurate figures on the scale of participation. What is certain, however, is that the people directly or indirectly involved in the protests numbered at least 200,000 to 300,000 on each day. All opinion polls have shown crushing majorities in popular support for their aims, generally ranging from 75% to 84% of the population.

Impressive as these figures are, such massive support would, in itself, indicate a coalition of favourable opinions formed on the basis of very different political inclinations. A poll published on the website of the radio station France Info indicates that 90% of traditional left-wing voters support the gilets jaunes, together with 75% of the right-wing electorate and even 50% of supporters of Macron’s own party.

Contradictory trends have been present, to some degree or other, on all barricades and on street demonstrations of the gilets jaunes, ranging from extreme right-wing nationalism to left-wing, anarchist and revolutionary leanings at the other extreme. Among the articles published by the various left groupings, most of which are not actively involved either in the organised workers’ movement or in protests, we can read comparisons between this mass movement and that of May-June 1968, just as we can read that it is essentially ‘fascist’ or ‘poujadiste’ (a movement of the 1950s based largely on the rural right-wing), or an expression of the ‘enraged petite-bourgeoisie’.

The few reactionary trends which have a marginal existence within the gilets jaunes movement have made some PCF and trade-union militants reticent about expressing any formal support for it, although the CGT, the PCF and the left-wing party led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon, La France Insoumise, have all correctly recognised that this is essentially a mass movement driven by desperation and anger over falling living standards and social injustice, and they have therefore given their support, while at the same time dissociating themselves from the minority racist and reactionary trends within it.

Most demonstrators are workers finding it difficult to manage
The confusion over the character of the movement arises from the fact that it is in reality a coalition of various political and social forces, whose strands are as yet still too intertwined to permit a clear description of the movement as a whole. The majority of the gilets jaunes are wage-workers who in spite of long hours in mainly manual jobs are finding it increasingly difficult to find decent housing and properly-paid stable employment to feed, clothe and offer a viable future to their families.

That is the root cause of this movement, without the slightest doubt. And the fact that some groups of employers and right-wing nationalist organisations have tried, here and there, to exploit it for their own reactionary ends does not change this fact.

When building industry employers, caring little for the problems of the workers and angling for tax concessions specifically for themselves, lend machinery and vehicles to serve in barricades and roadblocks, the workers grasp this help with both hands. But talk to them and you will see that they know these are unreliable allies, and that fear of betrayal makes them seek more active support from other workers and students.

This is not anything like what happened in 1968, which was the culmination of a steady rise in organised working class militancy during the first decade of the Gaullist régime, and triggered by massive student protests. The movement of the gilets jaunes is very different. The wage-workers who form the backbone of the movement are drawn from the swelling ranks of the unorganised working poor. They are overwhelmingly new to politics and active protest, and unfamilier with the crystallized ideological and political trends that are ordinarily confined to a thin layer of regular activists. Most of them live in the lesser developed regions of France, where public services – including public transport – are scarce.  For them, increases in prices hit hard, as do increases in taxes, especially because they see no benefits from taxes in terms of public services and the development of local infrastructure.

The pressure on living standards has stirred up the ordinarily invisible and silent depths of society and brought them to the surface. The ideas of these people have not been fashioned in fancy debates, with articulate speakers and raised hands for questions and contributions, nor by books on history and philosophy. And so, yes, they may appear to some self-proclaimed ‘revolutionary theorists’ as rather unpolished, given to one-sided views and guilty of occasional racist or sexist remarks.

Movement of gilets jaunes is fluid and unpredictable
But be that as it may, they have become engaged in a bitter struggle, in a revolt of proportions not seen for decades. Their views are not fixed once and for all. They will draw conclusions from the present struggle. The different strands within the movement will unravel in time. As to the nature of their conclusions and relative strength of the different political tendencies taking shape as a result of the present events, that is still an open question.

A proportion of the workers manning the barricades may have voted for the Rassemblement National (formerly the Front National). This does not mean they are consciously racist and reactionary. Many such people could and should be won over to the labour movement. It is possible that the movement of the gilets jaunes will prove to be a prelude to a new upsurge in organised militancy. On the other hand, it is possible that the nationalist and xenophobic trends in society could be strengthened, to the detriment of our cause. There is nothing inevitable about the triumph of socialist ideas. The consciousness of the workers depends upon a struggle of living forces. And struggles can be won or lost. To turn our backs on the gilets jaunes, to write them off as ‘petit-bourgeois’, ‘fascists’ or ‘poujadistes’, would be a grave mistake.

An examination of the main demands which have come to the surface in the course of the movement shows that most of them express an attempt to reduce the precariousness of working class life, to improve the conditions and the net income of workers and to attack the privileges and power of the ruling elites.

Demands include the call for a general reduction of taxes – not just on petroleum products – and an increase in pensions, an increase in the minimum wage, real quality of pay for men and women, an increase in housing benefits and financial help for students. The demand for an end to special pension schemes (such as the one railway workers are trying to defend) is there, but this is followed by the demand for the same method of calculation for all pensions, all of which should be higher. They call for the inclusion of disabled people in all aspects of social life and for an access to culture for all.

The demands of the gilets jaunes
One of the most important parts of the list of demands handed to the government was about the organisation of government. They call for a reduction of the wages paid to members of the government, for the abolition of privileges such as the payment for stipends to ministers even when they are no longer in office, for an end to fake jobs created for friends and relatives, and insist on the strict control of the personal expenses for politicians. They also demand that members of parliament actually attend parliamentary sessions.

Further demands include the convocation of a citizens’ assembly, more frequent consultation of the people by referendum, the abolition of the Senate, and the promulgation of laws by the people. Significantly, there are demands for the protection of the environment, giving the lie to the propaganda of the government claiming that the revolt is against ecological concerns.

It is true that one of the lists of demands published in the press says that refugees who have been denied asylum should be sent back to the country they came from, and that other ideas put forward are of a racist and nationalistic character. But overall, it is clear that this general platform, notwithstanding some isolated demands that socialists would oppose, has nothing to do with ‘fascism’ and does not represent a reactionary movement.

Macron was elected by default. The electoral base of his own party was something like 25% of active voters. He only won because the second round of the presidential election was a choice between him and Marine Le Pen. Since that time, what little support there was for his policies has largely collapsed.

Macron has attacked workers’ rights and pensions
Macron puts himself forward as the man who will balk at nothing in pushing through his program of counter-reforms in the interests of big business. He rode roughshod over the national leaders of the trade union organisations. Nothing was to be negotiated. He would only consult with them, to tell them what was going to be done to reduce workers’ rights. He attacked railway workers’ conditions, cut pensions, reduce taxes for the rich and – as the petrol tax shows – increase the tax burden on the poor. Hospitals and schools and local authorities are starved of resources. More than 5 million are out of work. His arrogance and brazen contempt for the ordinary people has been amply demonstrated on many occasions, such as when he told a young unemployed man that he only had to ‘cross the street’ to find a job if he really wanted one.

The attempt to justify the fuel tax increases on ecological grounds is completely spurious. The idea is that if petrol is more expensive, more people will leave their car at home and take public transport. But in many areas, no regular or reliable public transport is available. People have no alternative to cars. Also, many formally self-employed workers use their vehicles as part of their work.

The gilets jaunes took Macron and his government completely by surprise. His ministers have branded the movement as the work of the extreme-right. But this is a ploy intended to drive a wedge between the left and militant unions such as the CGT (trade union federation), on the one hand, and the demonstrators on the other.

It is possible that the government could capitulate and withdraw the tax
(since this writing Macron has capitulated and withdrawn the fuel tax.) . But a great deal is at stake for them. Backing down would encourage large-scale protest movements on other issues. So far, Macron is trying to weather the storm in the hope that it will blow over before too long. He also hopes the violent behaviour of some elements among the gilets jaunes, but mainly of organised groups outside of the movement, will erode popular support. One of the difficulties he has is that this movement has no recognised leaders. The individuals who have been invited to discuss with the government have all emphasised the fact that they have no mandate and no authority to speak or decide anything on behalf of the movement as a whole.

Unbearable social consequences of capitalism
Whatever the outcome of the present struggle, the events of these last few weeks are a symptom of the unbearable social and economic consequences of modern capitalism, which can only continue at the expense of the living standards, the rights and prospects of a growing proportion of society, and by the steady erosion and destruction of the social conquests of organised labour. This cannot go on forever without provoking a major social upheaval at some point, on a much greater scale than we are seeing at the present time.

All over Europe, the social consequences of austerity are driving millions of people towards nationalist and reactionary demagogues. This has also been the case in France. Workers have seen right and left governments come and go, applying policies that are very similar on all fundamental questions, and presiding over a general decline in the living conditions of the mass of the people.

They have also seen that trade-unionism, while it may have weakened the impact of some of the blows directed against them, has not prevented those blows and has delivered no blows in return. Workers are desperate and impatient for change and for concrete results. This explains the insurrectionary mood of many on the barricades and the demonstrations of these last few weeks. The workers’ movement must find a way to channel and organise this yearning for change, otherwise the nationalists will make considerable gains in the future.

Communist Party seriously weakened
The nationalist right-wing is taking advantage of the political and organisational weaknesses of the workers’ organisations, which are hampered by a narrow reformist outlook. Changes in the Communist Party (PCF) spearheaded by the party leadership in the 1990s, led to a dilution of the party program and acceptance of pro-capitalist policies, to the point of approving and even directly organising a number of major privatisations under the Jospin government of 1997-2002. This seriously weakened the position of the Party within the most conscious and militant section of the working class and, by extension, within the class as a whole.

Now, at last, there is pressure within the ranks of the PCF to move back in the direction of presenting an alternative to capitalism. But the weakened organisational base of the Party – with just 50,000 paid up members – has become a major obstacle to be overcome before the PCF can appear as a strong and effective militant organisation in the eyes of the mass of the working people.

It cannot be ruled out that Mélenchon at the head of La France Insoumise could win the next presidential election. It is too early to say and the situation in the country is too volatile, to speculate about what will happen three years from now. Even if Mélenchon did win, he would rapidly abandon the most progressive elements of his program, which further underlines the imperative need for an alternative political force to the left of La France Insoumise. In spite of all the difficulties – and there are many – no other organised forces in French society are better placed to fulfill this role than the PCF and the CGT.

Greg Oxley is a member of the PCF and is the editor of the French Marxist paper and website, La Riposte.  The article is also published on the Left Horizons website UK

Postscript: Since this article was posted, the government of Macron has indeed folded as the article suggested he might. This is the first time in his 18-month presidency that Macron has backed down in the face of opposition to any of his policies and it is not unconnected to the fact that his personal poll ratings are at a record low of only 26 per cent. Macron and his Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, have postponed the fuel tax increases, but only for six months, no doubt in an attempt to defuse the movement of the gilets jaunes and to buy time to prepare for protests at a later date.
Whether the climbdown is enough to stop the protests remains to be seen. According to the French think-tank, Institut des Politiques Publiques, tax and benefit changes by Philippe/Macron will leave the bottom fifth of the population worse off, with huge gains for the top 1 per cent.

A prominent member of the gilets jaunes, told the Financial Times, “The French want more than crumbs. They want the whole baguette”. (December 5)
Another analyst, Nicolas Bouzou, thought that the Macron climb-down would not be enough. “We have a real problem with living standards”, he said, “and there is real hatred for political elites and authorities. The fuel tax increases were nothing more than a trigger.” John Pickard, editor, Left Horizons UK