Friday, December 3, 2021

The El Salvador Murders, The AFL-CIO, AIFLD. Interview With Frank Hammer

Richard Mellor Admin

Good interview with Frank Hammer here.  Frank has been very supportive of this blog, Facts For Working People. Facts For Working People started a campaign in support of Frank's efforts to get the AFL-CIO to release the AIFLD files some time back.

After a resolution written by another retired UAW president calling for former AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka to release the files passed at a labor body in Duluth Minnesota, Facts For Working People called on other activists and socialists in the labor movement to take the resolution in to their locals and build the campaign. It was an important opportunity to explain to our co-workers and other union members the importance of international solidarity and the role of the US government and the AFL-CIO leadership in undermining it.

A few other resolutions were passed supporting the Duluth call, mostly by supporters of Facts For Working People Blog but regretfully there was almost no support coming from the wider labor movement.  This is quite shameful given the many thousands of activists and lower level officials within organized labor who identify as socialists or anti-imperialist.

To see the Duluth resolution and other material concerning the campaign Facts For Working People created we have a page with most of it at this link: https://weknowwhatsup.blogspot.com/p/blog-page_7.html

New Research: Climate change is making monogamous albatrosses divorce


Changing environmental conditions can put stress on coupled-up animals. Natasha Gillies, Author provided

Natasha Gillies, University of Liverpool

Not all relationships end in “happily ever after”, and birds are no exception. While more than 90% of bird species form monogamous couples, many of these will end in divorce.

The reasons for splitting up are as varied in birds as they are in humans, and often revolve around things like poor compatibility or slacking off by one partner. However, new research has found a surprising cause of divorce: climate change.

Like many seabirds, black-browed albatrosses form monogamous pairs that can last for the entirety of their 70-year lifespans. However, just under 4% of these couples will separate each year. Using data from 18 years of extensive observations, a team in the Falkland Islands have been digging into the reasons for divorce in birds of this species living there.

Environmental conditions profoundly affect animals’ survival and ability to breed successfully. As divorce often follows a bird couple’s failure to raise chicks, researchers imagined that in harsher environments – which could lead to lower breeding success – divorce might be more common.

Birds congregate on a green hillside
The colony of albatrosses studied were in the Falkland Islands. Natasha Gillies, Author provided

The team focused on two environmental measurements. First, they looked at sea surface temperature anomalies, which occur when the annual temperature of the ocean’s surface changes significantly from a 30-year average value.

More anomalies indicate higher surface temperatures than normal. These increases in temperature make it difficult for organisms at the bottom of the food chain, like phytoplankton, to grow: meaning that less food is available for animals further up the food chain, like seabirds.

Second, the team examined wind speed. With their extraordinarily long wingspan that can reach up to 2.5 metres, albatrosses need strong winds to take flight and make their record-breaking migrations over the ocean. As a result, stronger wind currents benefit albatrosses, allowing them to fly long distances with relative ease.

Although the researchers found no effects to couples caused by wind, they did find that as temperature anomalies increase, so does the rate of divorce. In other words, the warmer the ocean, the less likely albatrosses were to stay with their mate.

Why do albatrosses separate?

Many animals that fail to breed in one year will divorce their partner in the next. Their logic is strategic: “I’ll stay with you if we’re successful in having children, and if not, I’ll try someone else”.

A parent grooms its chick
Failure to breed is a common reason for seabird divorces. Natasha Gillies, Author provided

Albatrosses seem to use this approach when deciding whether to split up. Females whose eggs didn’t hatch were five times more likely to divorce their partner than those who raised a chick to fledging at four months old, or whose chicks died later on.

This makes sense. Eggs that don’t hatch probably indicate infertility or incompatibility between partners, whereas losing a chick is usually due to predation – an unlucky event that often isn’t your partner’s fault.

However, this study found that increases in temperature anomalies led to higher divorce rates above and beyond previous breeding problems. That means a female in a previously successful relationship, who would therefore be expected to stay with her partner, was much more likely to divorce her partner when sea surface temperatures were higher than normal. So what’s going on?

Two birds display
Albatrosses form monogamous couples. Natasha Gillies, Author provided

There are lots of reasons that environmental conditions could lead to divorce. Outside of breeding season, animals often migrate to regions where more food is available. There, they can rest and feed themselves in preparation for breeding.

When environmental conditions are poor, animals might take longer to find food and end up returning to the breeding colony late. This could make partners return home at different times, which could lead to divorce. For example, if a male’s partner arrives to the colony long before him, she may end up taken by someone else before the two have the chance to reunite.

Also, warm ocean conditions might make the divorce decision-making process malfunction. In normal conditions, if your partner is a lazy parent, you might end up picking up their slack by spending more time at your nest incubating eggs or feeding and protecting chicks. This might mean you divorce them in the following year to try your luck with someone more generous.

A chick under its parent
Partners who don’t contribute to raising chicks risk getting divorced. Natasha Gillies, Author provided

In years with warm oceans, albatrosses have to work harder to find food, and may end up injured or in ill health. The birds might mistakenly blame their partner for their own hardships – assuming that they are suffering because their partner isn’t pulling their weight to take care of their chick, rather than because the environment is sub-par.

Divorce can be beneficial for many animals, but also comes with drawbacks. For some seabirds, newly-formed couples are less successful at raising their chicks. If climate change increases divorce rates, this could reduce the number of new albatrosses making their way into the world, reducing the entire population size over time.

This research suggests we need to look more closely at whether these kind of climate-driven patterns pop up in the lives of other species, giving us much-needed insight into the many ways climate change is affecting those with which we share our planet.The Conversation

Natasha Gillies, Postdoctoral Researcher in Ecology, University of Liverpool

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Climate Catastrophe: Capitalism's Gift to Humanity

Source

 

By Rick Sklader in Minnesota

The rate of rapid destructive change of our entire climate and all the earth’s distinct and interconnected ecosystems is as stunning as it is horrifyingly frightening. The pace of these changes is quite difficult to come to and wrap ones head around considering that what we’re witnessing has occurred in a nanosecond when compared to geological or cosmological time.


I was born after World War 2 and grew up here in the greater Minneapolis area. Even after moving to the West Coast in late summer 1981, Minnesota continued experiencing relatively normal winters, which to you neophytes means sub-zero temperatures and lots and lots of snow. Sometime in the late 90s Minnesota started warming in the fall and throughout the winter although sporadically at first.

Our first winter back here was 2010/11 and it was the cold snowy weather of old, but that’s no more. It is December 2nd. I just checked the time and it’s 1:17am, but outside it’s 48 degrees Fahrenheit when it should be 18. Still, the local weather clown declared yesterday was a “top ten weather day”. I’m hoping by this weekend that this extended episode of The Twilight Zone will end even though the handwriting so to speak, is everywhere.


Other species on the planet have been responding to these alterations in the climate now for decades. There’s multiple reports in a range of scientific journals (look them up) that discuss how every insect species globally has either been moving north or south away from the equator or to higher elevations, which had been going on for at least the past 20 years and perhaps longer. Many species have already gone extinct because they had no place to go or were deemed unimportant to the global bloodsucking class. Similarly we can no longer talk of invasive species as adaptation to adverse circumstances is a natural process for survival.

I mentioned this before, but it’s well worth repeating.  Almost every bird species is getting smaller. This is an evolutionary adaptation caused exclusively by changes to the climate system caused by capitalism choking Earth’s atmosphere with Greenhouse gases. For many years we’ve been told that Polar Bears could go extinct due to shrinking Arctic ice. Polar bears have been migrating South and mating with other bear species to survive.


These changes, drastic as they are, still do not seem to be sufficient to move the mass of humanity. Maybe the fact that we’re running out of what’s needed to make all the crap we don’t need that just makes us feel emptier and those things we really do need (nutritious food and clean water only two prime examples) we can’t since it no longer exists or do you honestly believe that every supermarket is in cahoots to only sell 5 kinds of wild fish while they increase farm raised “fish”. which is actually accelerating the degradation of the oceans the principal source of our oxygen.

Before I forget there’ll be more rain than snow in the Arctic where it’s been warming twice as fast as anywhere on the planet meaning more intense and longer lasting Polar Vortexes deep in the heart of Texas as well as melting permafrost which is holding countless tons of methane which no species can breathe. Once we believed we’d be dead before the worst of this nightmare came to pass. No longer.

 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

12 Important Points from Jacobin’s Latest Issue: “Reduce the Crime Rate”

I am not alone on the left in being critical of the Jacobin Magazine as the author of this review points out. But like him I have also read a few, not too many, very good articles in the past and this is one of them. I recall two in particular that I posted to this blog and this is another one. I think I will republish them. Excellent material here. We share this commentary from The Multiracial Unity Blog. The author is Joseph G Ramsey.

Capitalism can't live without racism. We can't live with it.

Don’t Judge an Issue Just by Its Cover – 12 Important Points from Jacobin’s Latest Issue: “Reduce the Crime Rate”

by Joseph G. Ramsey

November 27, 2021

It’s not enough to judge a left journal by its cover. A recent case in point: people in left social media circles of late have been taking shots at the democratic socialist magazine Jacobin’s latest issue (https://jacobinmag.com/issue/lower-the-crime-rate), with its provocative (and maybe confusing) cover bearing the slogan “Lower the Crime Rate.” A range of radical voices online have reacted to this cover as if it amounts to a kind of endorsement of police repression in liberal guise. But actually the lead articles inside the issue are, in this comrade’s view, quite good. From the Opening Statement by Benjamin Fogel to the interview with Marie Gottschalk, the contents here are valuable for the way they highlight major blindspots structuring liberal and much “left” common sense and activism around policing, prisons, and the carceral state these days. The issue deserves wide engagement, as it can help us to see more clearly some of the real challenges that lie before us in terms of radically changing the system of “criminal justice” in the USA. One need not share Jacobin‘s emphasis on electoral politics (or the specific organizational vehicle of the Democratic Socialists of America) to find value in the magazine’s pages.

Among the main takeaways:

1) That last year alone 21,570 people in the USA were murdered, a significant surge from the years prior. It follows that the widespread left talking point that the rise in crime is all an imaginary product of right-wing hysteria and sensationalist mass media is false. The USA is between 3 and 30 times more violent than its wealthy “peer nations”; violent crime remains a reality structuring US working-class life. It follows that would-be working-class organizers need to take it seriously.

2) That a black person in the US is 35 times more likely to be killed by another civilian than by a police officer. The US Black population’s murder rate exceed that of all countries on earth, excepting Jamaica and El Salvador. The 1000 or so people killed by police each year in the USA remains a perpetual outrage, but we must not allow this outrageous police violence to lead us to neglect the real problem of violent crime in this country, a problem which disproportionately affects Black (and poor, and Latin@ and Native) people.

3) That polling shows that a vast super-majority of Americans at present (apparently 86%!?) want the police to spend as much or *more* time in their neighborhoods as they do now, even as strong majorities think that “policing requires major changes” (58%) and think that “police violence is a serious problem” (79%). Such (contradictory) numbers can certainly be read symptomatically–as reflecting dominant media, politicians’ framings and general social fears–but, even so, police abolitionists thus have, to put it mildly, a lot of *persuading* to do if they are going to build a majority that can make such a change viable in most parts of the country.

4) That while the Black incarceration rate in the USA is off the charts compared to other countries (as is now well-known), being around 5 times that of the white incarceration rate in the US, even the incarceration rate for white individuals alone is still 4-15 times the incarceration rate of Japan and Western European countries. Thus, to frame the expansion of imprisonment in the USA as simply a “New Jim Crow” or an expression of anti-Black “systemic racism” is clearly inadequate. Even if the US released every single Black prisoner tomorrow, this country would still be imprisoning more people than any other country on earth. Framing incarceration as primarily an anti-“Black” problem risks blinding us to half the problem, and half of the potential mass base for its transformation.

5) That the main driver of mass incarceration in the US has not been non-violent drug offenses–and certainly not non-violent offenses linked only to petty drugs like marijuana. (Such marijuana only offenses amount to only around 1% of those in prison.) Even if ALL prisoners whose primary charge is a drug offense were released tomorrow, that would reduce the prison population by only 20%, still leaving the US by far the main jailer in the world. Drug decriminalization then, however correct (and this author mostly supports it), does not yet speak to the heart of the problem: a growing punitiveness in US society and government that is at once increasing the violence of this society, while responding (and often compounding) high levels of real violence in the society more generally. (The place of property crimes here deserves more attention than the Jacobin issue provides.)

6) That there are more than 200,000 people in the US serving “life sentences,” many of them without even the prospect of parole. This is more than many countries incarcerate at any one time, for any amount of time, and around the *total* number of prisoners held in the USA before the prison boom and the “war on crime” launched in the late 70s. It represents a startlingly state-sanctioned condemnation of our fellow human beings, a mass policy of flushing people away without even the hope of rehabilitation or redemption.

7) That in the USA today, more $$$ value is stolen by employers via “wage theft” each year than the total $$$ of property stolen as a result of “robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and motor vehicle thefts.” Thus, even without going deeper to the Marxist point that all wage-labor involves a kind of theft through exploitation, the employer class is a massive source of criminality, host to a massive amount of robbery.

8)That the hundreds of billions (if not trillions) of dollars of private and corporate wealth that is held (often “legally”) in tax havens like the Caiman Islands or Panama is not only a massive social theft of tax resources from the people, but also creates a swamp of shadow banking and underground finance that attracts, feeds, and enables organized crime the world over.

9) That crime among the masses can and should be viewed not as right-wing (or liberal) invention to justify militarized policing, but as a genuine “index of oppression,” “born out of poverty and the miseries of capitalism.” As such, it requires action not just (and not primarily) at the level of policing or public safety (though the reality of these levels cannot be bypassed), but a deeper social transformation of the entire economic system. The goal of bringing down the crime rate, and thus the widely felt need for expansive policing, requires a broader kind of *abolitionism*, one aimed at abolishing poverty, abolishing homelessness, making quality health care (including mental healthcare) as well as quality education available to all, providing sustaining and meaningful employment to those who currently lack it, and generally redistributing wealth and power downward to reduce the vast inequalities in our midst.

10) That, within the current system, the kind of radical reforms above are going to *cost much more* than the current state strategy of intensive policing and punishment. Shifting the resources from existing police institutions to social programs, public health, or prevention, however well intended or symbolically powerful, will *not* be anywhere near enough (by a factor of more than 10). Indeed, to the extent that a focus on “defunding the police” takes our focus off of fighting to expand the total federal and state revenues for things like universal healthcare, public housing, jobs programs, as well as redistributive progressive taxation, it risks becoming a self-defeating endeavor. (Furthermore, some studies show that underfunded police departments may in fact become *more* abusive, not less.) We need to keep our eyes on the real prize.

11) That the current system response to the economic stagnation since the 1970s has in many ways been a response based on not only social control priorities of the elite, but controlling things on the *cheap,* keeping taxes on the rich and corporations low, maintaining profitability, etc. We should be honest about the massive social investments–and the need to expropriate the social wealth controlled by capital and the rich–that will be necessary for this kind of program of radical reform. You can’t squeeze public health and social safety from the bloody budget of a SWAT team or a Bearcat.

12) Reducing the glut of guns in the USA, shifting drug offenses from the frame of “crime” to “public health” would all be good things, and transferring the deadly militarized budget surpluses of US police to social programs and community based crime prevention initiatives would also (aka “Defund the Police” or even better “Demilitarize the Police”). So would ending the CIA, whose criminal anti-communist crusades have seeded the terrain for organized crime and drug trafficking for generations. But without deeper transformations in Americans political consciousness and society, reforms (radical or moderate) at the level of policing are not only unlikely to accomplish the ends of harm reduction, but may in fact play into the hands of far-right politicians who love nothing more than to run on “law and order,” as if their policies of increasing punishment, surveillance, militarization, and racist profiling are the only way to keep communities “safe.” The left cedes the ground of serious public safety to the right at its peril.

Joseph G. Ramsey teaches English and American Studies at UMass Boston, where he is active in the Faculty Staff Union (FSU/MTA) and in struggles to defend public higher education.  He is presently working on a book recuperating the critical communism of Richard Wright: <

 

Monday, November 29, 2021

Identity Politics and White Guilt. A Dead End For Fighting Racism

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

GED/HEO

11-29-21

 

I was at a comedy show a few nights ago and the first comedian was an Irishman. And I mean a real Irishman as opposed to an Irish American, who all too often, are unable to point to Ireland on a map. The Irishman heard my English accent and that gave him ample material for his show talking about 800 years of oppression from the English and so on. It was a good laugh.

 

I get that Irish Americans have heard all the horror stories from their parents and/or grandparents about the English occupation of Ireland, the banning of their language, culture and so on but to not delve more deeply in to the causes of things in order to gain a deeper understanding of events is a misfortune for them. I am also an English working class man with much Irish ancestry, but to claim to be Irish would result in a real laugh (the craic) from the Irish as I am culturally English, but of Irish ancestry as well, like millions of English people.

 

One thing I do not feel is guilty or responsible for the brutal history of British Colonial Power. I also, like most white workers, do not feel guilty about my skin tone either, or that I was born a male. I enjoy the “accent” privilege I have here in the US and have used it to my advantage on occasion but not to as a tool of oppression.

 

Guilt is poison. It is poison not simply for the person possessing it, but for the person(s) demanding it as some sort of payment, a penance for historical events beyond one’s control. In the US, Guilt is common among white liberals as a means of atonement for their privileges: Attending good schools, the best universities, living in the best neighborhoods, their white skin etc. The views expressed in that trashy book, White Fragility is a classic example of this guilt, a worthless book indeed and the author has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for writing it.  Identity politics, which is so pervasive in the US and has its roots in the petit bourgeois, is a means of obscuring the class issue and very harmful to all working class people.

 

White liberal guilt is the most insidious, condescending form of racism and I agree with Coleman Hughes’ in the video above. He has been called a lot of names by some in the Black community for his views as he points out; an Uncle Tom, just wanting to make white people feel good and advance his own interests and so on. That is such a racist position really and nothing but an attempt to silence ideas. Whether one agrees with him or not, it is clear he is a serious thinker.

It is not 1958. The heroic struggles of the Black working class and youth in the Post World War Two era, what has been called the Civil Rights movement or at times the Black Revolt, forced the white racist ruling class in the US to open some doors, to remove some of the racist barriers to the development of a black middle class, a buffer zone between themselves and the Black working class and the revolutionary potential that is inherent in this class. The Civil Rights movement was an international embarrassment to US capitalism and its claim to be the “land of the free”. There has been a significant growth of the black middle class as a result of the Civil Rights movement as US capitalism needed to divert this movement from the streets and direct action that they do not control to the electoral arena and the courts that they do.

 

We are witnessing the same approach to the Black Lives Matter movement as major corporations and billionaires that control them have thrown or have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to Black colleges, Black owned businesses and banks and other strata in order to strengthen this buffer zone yet again. This class will be evidence that capitalism works, “look at me” will be their mantra, “I made it, so can you if you work hard and make the right decisions”.

 

The white workers will not respond to this guilt strategy, I know I don’t because as I say it’s a nasty form or racism, feeling sorry for people whose history and very existence we should be inspired by as opposed to seeing them as helpless victims. The history of millions of white workers in the US is also one of poverty and abuse, of children working in mines and factories and such. Taking this in to account does not equate to minimizing or ignoring the horrors of slavery or the special oppression that Black folks, Native people and all people of color have to face on top of their class oppression.

 

In my experience as a blue-collar worker that has worked alongside many black workers, in a factory in NYC when I first came here to many years at a public utility in the Oakland California area, I never experienced this guilt pressure from black workers with one or two exceptions that were looking to advance in to management. Their use of racism was that it was an obstacle to their personal advancement. As for the black working class as a whole, they wanted to get out of it and were not very good workers  and quite willing to defend the bosses (of which they were now a part) from accusations of racism. To be honest, the role of most Affirmative Action departments in large companies is to defend the company from accusations of racism. Our union was a much stronger vehicle for fighting racism than the AA office.

 

Black workers like women I worked alongside as well, simply wanted to be treated fairly, to have the same opportunities as anyone else. Working class people have principles and are not lacking integrity.

 

I’ll end this here but need to make it clear for the left types, many in the self-styled socialist organizations, who might call me a traitor for praising a middle class academic, that I have some major disagreements with this young man. Also, as Sean O'Torrain and I always stressed, we don't look over our shoulders at the left hoping we get recognition from them when we write. As far as I know Hughes is not a socialist. I understand that he appears on panels with conservatives and other cheerleaders of the market and the capitalist system.  With some of these black academics in particular, they might be drawn to a genuine left current in the workers' movement if one existed with a working class orientation to racism, its roots in the US and how to fight it. I wonder if he has read Theodore Allen's The Invention of The White Race.

I assume he would not and I have not heard him identify with Malcom X and his profound statement that “You can’t’ have capitalism without racism”. While Malcolm X never specifically called for socialism he was clearly moving in this direction and his remarks certainly place socialism on the table. If you can’t have capitalism without racism, then capitalism has to go and only a united working class is capable of this and we don’t unite the working class by using an approach the intention of which is to divide them.

 

Just a few quick thoughts.


Sunday, November 28, 2021

Michael Roberts: Views on China

by Michael Roberts

The Chinese Communist party’s central committee recently held its sixth plenum, to discuss “the major achievements and historical experience” of the party in its 100-year-history, as well as to consider policy “for the future.”  Just after this, Jamie Dimon, the JPMorgan Chase chief executive, joked that the Wall Street Bank would outlast the Chinese Communist party. “I made a joke the other day that the Communist party is celebrating its 100th year. So is JPMorgan. I’ll make a bet that we last longer,” he said, speaking at the Boston College Chief Executives Club, a business forum.

What is the experience and future for China and its Communist party rule?  It seems appropriate to consider a number of new books on China that have been published that try to answer this question.

Let us start with Isabelle Weber’s, How China escaped shock therapy.  This has had a wide and significant impact in academic leftist circles, endorsed as it is by Branco Milanovic, the leading global inequality expert and also author of a recent book, Capitalism Alone, in which he argues that socialism can never happen and the choice for human social organisation for the foreseeable future is between ‘liberal democratic’ capitalism (the US and the ‘West’) or ‘political capitalism’ of an autocratic state (China, Russia).

Weber’s book is an account of how and why China did not go down the road of restoring capitalism through the ‘shock therapy’ of privatisation and the dismantling of state control as Russia did in the early 1990s.  Instead, according to Weber, China’s leaders under Deng in the late 1970s debated what direction to take and opted for a gradual opening-up of the planned state-owned economy to capitalism, partly through privatisation but mainly through foreign investment.

Weber argues that the ‘gradual marketization’ of the Chinese economy facilitated China’s economic ascent but without leading to ‘wholesale assimilation’ to capitalism. The decision of the Chinese leaders for a gradual move to capitalism was anything but a foregone conclusion or a “natural” choice predetermined by Chinese exceptionalism, Weber claims. In the first decade of “reform and opening up” under Deng Xiaoping (1978– 1988), China’s mode of marketization was carved out in a fierce debate. Some argued for shock therapy-style liberalization while others preferred gradual marketization beginning at the margins of the economic system.  Indeed, on at least two occasions, Deng opted for a “big bang” in price reform, but stepped back from the brink.

From the 1980s, the influence of the dominance of neoclassical economics in the West, both in universities and in government set in motion the process of China’s marketization. Those Chinese economists who favoured a gradual dual economy development were replaced by economists with neo-classical market zeal. But the neoclassical policy of allowing the market to set prices led to increased inflation and eventually the Tiananmen Square protests, the ensuing military crackdown and the imprisonment of Zhao, then General Secretary of the CCP.  Even so, according the Weber, throughout the 1990s, the economics profession in China continued to align with the international neoclassical mainstream.  Neoliberal reformers made deep inroads in the arenas of ownership (selling or liquidating state enterprises), deregulating the labour market and the healthcare system (partly privatised) – things that I think have come back to haunt China’s leaders now, forcing them to advocate under Xi a new turn towards ‘common prosperity’.

However, Weber reckons that the core of the Chinese economic system was never destroyed in one big bang. Instead, it was ‘fundamentally transformed’ (?) by means of a dynamic of growth and globalization under the activist guidance of the state.  In October 1992, Deng Xiaoping made the formal decision to establish a ‘Socialist Market Economy with Chinese Characteristics.’  This formulation was a hybrid concoction which Jiang Zemin, explained as “whether the emphasis was on planning or on market regulation was not the essential distinction between socialism and capitalism. This brilliant thesis has helped free us from the restrictive notion that the planned economy and the market economy belong to basically different social systems, thus bringing about a great breakthrough in our understanding of the relation between planning and market regulation.”  Market socialism was born.

Under Zemin, China moved further towards a capitalist market economy.  Weber says that the Chinese leadership of the 1990s “was willing to shatter all remaining boundaries to the operation of market forces, in the name of economic progress.” Controls over essential consumer and producer goods were now dismantled step-by-step. However, the impact of this “big bang” was far smaller than it would have been a few years earlier. By 1992, “the liberalization effort was akin to jumping off a low-standing rock at the base of a mountain from which one has just descended” (Weber). Weber argues that the state maintained its control over the “commanding heights” of China’s economy as it switched from direct planning to indirect regulation through the state’s participation in the market. “China grew into global capitalism without losing control over its domestic economy.”

Weber’s book is insightful in showing the debates on policy among the CP leaders about what direction to go and the factors that dominated their thoughts.  However, Weber appears to do so from the viewpoint that China was capitalist at least from the point of Deng’s leadership and all the debates after were about how far to go – whether to go for ‘shock therapy’ or moderate moves towards ‘more capitalism’. Weber appears ambiguous on the economic foundation of the Chinese state.  For her, China ‘grew into global capitalism’ but still “maintained its control over the commanding heights”. What does that mean for the future?

In sharp contrast, there is no ambiguity from John Ross, in his new book, China’s Great Road. Ross is Senior Fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China and writes profusely in defence of China and its economic model as he sees it.  Ross provides the reader with a wealth of data on China’s unprecedented economic success, taking over 900m out of poverty (as defined by the World Bank) and outstripping every other economy in output and wage growth over the last 30 years. 

Ross’ view of the Chinese model of development, ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’, is in reality a ‘radical version’ of Keynesianism. But it is different to Keynesian policies in the US and Europe, where budget deficits have been utilised, low central bank interest rates have been pursued and some forms of quantitative easing, driving down long-term interest rates through central bank purchases of debt have been applied. “In China, in contrast, relatively limited budget deficits have been combined with low interest rates, a state-owned banking system and a huge state investment programme. While the West’s economic recovery programme has been timid, China has pursued full blooded policies of the type recognisable from Keynes General Theory as well as its own ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

Ross argues that it was Deng’s lack of ideology or commitment to either a market or state-led economic model that was the reason for China’s economic success.  (Deng: “I don’t care if the cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice.”). Ross says: “Because in the US and Europe, of course, it is held that the colour of the cat matters very much. Only the private sector coloured cat is good, the state sector coloured cat is bad. Therefore, even if the private sector cat is catching insufficient mice (ie the economy is in severe recession), the state sector cat must not be used to catch them. In China, both cats have been let loose – and therefore far more mice are caught.”  So Ross seems to accept Deng’s view that the planning mechanism and public ownership were not vital to China’s success and the market could and can do as well, if not better, in developing China’s economy.  Ross asserts: “A systematic comparison of Marx’s concepts with those of the post-1929 Soviet Union makes it entirely clear that post-Deng policies in China under reform and opening up were far more in line with Marx’s than were the USSR’s”.  

But is it really the case that opening up the economy to a capitalist sector and foreign investment, while necessary for China’s economic development from the 1980s, has no serious contradictions and consequences for China’s ‘socialism’?  That’s not how Lenin saw it when he reluctantly opted for the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1921 in Russia in order to restore agricultural production after a world war and a civil war.  For Lenin, NEP was a necessary step back in the transition to socialism forced on the Soviet Union by the wars and the failure of other revolutions in Europe.  Russia was on its own.  With NEP Lenin put it this way: “You will have capitalists beside you, including foreign capitalists, concessionaires and leaseholders. They will squeeze profits out of you amounting to hundreds per cent; they will enrich themselves, operating alongside of you. Let them. Meanwhile you will learn from them the business of running the economy, and only when you do that will you be able to build up a communist republic.”

Lenin called the NEP ‘state capitalism’, not ‘socialism with any special characteristics’. China’s ‘long NEP’ as described by Weber is not a fulfilment of Marx’s teachings, as Ross claims, taking China gradually towards ‘socialism’; but in reality, it was a forced step back to capitalism.  Lenin in 1921 posed the contradiction for Russia that Ross ignores for China now: “We must face this issue squarely—who will come out on top? Either the capitalists succeed in organising first—in which case they will drive out the Communists and that will be the end of it. Or the proletarian state power, with the support of the peasantry, will prove capable of keeping a proper rein on those gentlemen, the capitalists, so as to direct capitalism along state channels and to create a capitalism that will be subordinate to the state and serve the state.”

Ross unfortunately goes close to echoing the views of that anti-socialist socialist, the recently deceased Hungarian economist Janos Kornai, widely acclaimed in mainstream economic circles.  Kornai argued that China’s economic success was only possible because it abandoned central planning and state dominance and moved to capitalism. According to Kornai, democracy (undefined) can only exist under capitalism as socialism is restricted to dictatorial and autocratic forms: “democratic socialism is impossible”.

Combining public ownership of the commanding heights, indicative planning and a large capitalist sector with market prices has taken China forward, but it has also increased the contradiction between the law of value and the market and planning for social need.  In my view, this is the key contradiction in all ‘transitional’ economies and also within the Chinese economy.  But Ross seems to argue that the combination of markets and planning as the way forward to a ‘socialist China’ has no contradictions. He quotes Xi: ‘we need to make good use of both the invisible hand and the visible hand’. China can and will, because of its economic structure, use both the ‘invisible hand’ of the market and ‘visible hand’ of the state.” But can Deng’s private sector cat and the state sector cat live together in harmony for the foreseeable future or will the contradictions inherent in this combination increase and intensify? – the current crisis in the post-COVID Chinese economy suggests the latter.

Ross recognises that “inequality in China, as is admitted domestically, has risen to levels which are excessive, and need to be corrected,” but he does not explain why there is such inequality and how it may be reduced.  Yes, there have been periodic crackdowns on corrupt party functionaries and the excesses of private capitalists (Jack Ma, for example). But the Chinese leaders continue to oppose any sort of independent action by workers and strikes remain illegal, although in many cases, this prohibition is not strictly enforced.

Ross reckons China’s economic success is based on ‘socialism’ Keynesian-style: “reform and opening up, and socialism with Chinese characteristics, can be easily understood within the framework of Keynes.”, referring to Keynes concept of the ‘socialisation of investment’.  “China’s economy is not being regulated via administrative means but by general macro-economic control of investment—as Keynes advocated.” 

But this is a distortion of both Keynes and China.  Keynes’ socialisation of investment’ never involved massive public ownership of the commanding heights of an economy – he was strongly opposed to that.  And China’s economic success is based primarily on state-owned and led investment not on Keynesian ‘macro management’ of credit and fiscal measures as in capitalist economies.  Ross’ explanation of China’s economic success implies that capitalist ‘macro management’ can work – when it has clearly failed in the advanced capitalist economies. 

This is not a Marxist view of China. A Marxist model of China’s economy should not start by looking at the rate of savings or investment in an economy. Marxist theory starts from the law of value. China’s success is because the law of value which operates in capitalist markets, foreign trade and investment was at first totally blocked and later controlled by a large state-owned sector, central planning and macro policy, as well as by restricted foreign ownership of new industries and controls on the flow of capital in and out of the country. The Keynesian analysis misses a key ingredient and contradiction of economic development, the productivity of labour versus the profitability of capital. 

The Marxist model argues that the level of productivity will decide economic growth because it reduces the cost of production and enables a developing nation to compete in world markets. But in a capitalist economy where the law of value and markets operate, there is a contradiction: profitability. In the Marxist model, there is a long-term inverse relationship between productivity and profitability. Profitability comes into conflict with productivity growth in a capitalist economy and so will result in regular occurrences of crises in production. A developing economy needs to restrict this conflict to a minimum.

In so far as China’s private capitalist sector increases its contribution to the overall economy and the public sector’s role is reduced, then the profitability in the overall economy becomes relatively more important and the contradiction between productivity growth and profitability intensifies. Both the neoclassical and Keynesian models of development ignore this contradiction.

Richard Smith is his new book definitely does not miss the contradictions in a transitional economy with the contradictory forces of planning and the market in play.  He considers China is a “bureaucratic hybrid”, neither capitalist nor a ‘command’ economy.  China’s rulers preside over the largest and most dynamic economy in the world, a powerhouse of international trade whose state-owned conglomerates count among the largest companies in the world. They profit immensely from their state-owned enterprises (SOEs) market returns. But they’re not capitalists, at least not with respect to the state-owned economy. Communist Party members don’t own individual SOEs or shares in state companies like private investors. They collectively own the state which owns most of the economy. They’re bureaucratic collectivists who run a largely state-planned economy that also produces extensively for market. But producing for the market is not the same thing as capitalism.

But Smith concentrates his fire on the failure of the Chinese government to handle the continued rise in carbon emissions and environmental degradation that China’s economic expansion has generated.  Both capitalist and state-owned enterprises continually ignore or flout climate and ecological directives and Xi accepts this because otherwise economic growth will slow and unemployment increase and undermine Xi’s drive industrial self-sufficiency in the face of the attempts of imperialism to isolate and strangle China.

Smith argues that there is just no way that Xi can “peak China’s emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060” while also maximizing growth. He can “pursue development at the expense of protection” or he can “transition to green and low-carbon development… [and] take the minimum steps to protect the Earth, our shared homeland.” He can’t do both. Actually, what Smith shows is that no one country can deliver on controlling emissions and avoiding climate disaster – by definition this is a global existential threat. 

The countries of the global south are not the historical polluters of the world. That honour falls to the imperialist countries that industrialised from the 19th century onwards and continue to shift the generation of emissions to the periphery by consuming the manufacturing and resource commodities produced in the likes of China, East Asia, India, Latin America and Russia.  These countries need help to reduce emissions and stop destroying nature as they seek to ‘catch up’ with the global North.  That help won’t come as long as imperialism continues.  Rather than coordinate with China to deal with climate change, the ‘international community’ is aiming to ‘contain’ and isolate China globally.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Books About Climate Change: A chicken can’t lay a duck egg

The following book review was originally published in the Eco-Socialist website, Climate and Capitalism. Visit Climate and Capitalism for important articles and information about climate change and the catastrophic damage that the so-called free market is inflicting on nature. Most importantly, rather than simply report on the looming environmental crisis, Climate and Capitalism will offer real solutions. Facts For Working People Admin.

Bernice Maxton-Lee is co-author, with Graeme Maxton, of Resetting Our Future: A Chicken Can’t Lay a Duck Egg (John Hunt Publishing, October 2021)


by Bernice Maxton-Lee

How often are we told that the market must be part of the solution to the climate crisis? The efficiency, the focus, the discipline embedded in the pursuit of profit, the refinement of responding to consumer demands, each of us maximizing our individual utility, those are the values that will get us all pulling in the same, sustainable direction.

We’re told the collaboration of business and society will be win-win: companies will make loads of money; we, the people, will get a planet to live on. Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, said “there will be great fortunes made” when businesses start doing “what society wants”.

Bloomberg admits that capitalism caused climate change, but says because vast sums of money will be needed to fund the transition to a sustainable global society, harnessing the power of the market is our best hope.

There’s just one problem with this narrative: experience, time after time, shows us another reality. Companies regularly lie to protect their profits. They conceal important information to protect their reputations. The dodge and weave to avoid following rules of propriety. They produce goods that are dangerous. There are countless examples. Let’s look at two: Boeing, and Exxon.

Boeing makes aircraft. Perhaps the most important feature of an aircraft, apart from its ability to leave the ground, is its ability to not fall out of the sky. But Boeing was so keen to sell its new 737 Max that it repeatedly overlooked this feature. A recent report from the US House of Representatives transport and infrastructure committee found that Boeing knew that a faulty sensor would cause on-board software to force the plane’s nose down. To save money, the company rejected efforts to make extra training compulsory for Max 737 pilots.

A Boeing test pilot discovered the fatal sensor flaw in a 737 simulator, describing the problem as ‘catastrophic’. Boeing concealed the information from the Federal Aviation Authority, from customers, and from 737 pilots. Workers at the Boeing plant were routinely overworked, to the point where safety was compromised. All this, in the pursuit of profit. When two Max 737s crashed, in 2018 and 2019, Boeing concealed all it knew, and tried to blame the crashes on pilot error.

Is this the kind of behavior that will enable a transition to a sustainable future for global society?

Then there’s Big Oil. In September 2020, a lawsuit was filed against ExxonMobil, for deliberately deceiving the public about the connection between fossil fuels and the climate crisis. Like the other major oil companies, Exxon has known for decades that hydrocarbon combustion is causing climate change. Not only did they conceal that knowledge, they also funded a powerful campaign of climate denial, which continues to confuse action of climate change today, lending credence to climate deniers at the highest levels.

Exxon is a member of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), an oil and gas industry trade association, which circulates articles attacking climate scientists, advocates, journalists, and lawyers, including a smear on the law suit just launched against Exxon for climate denial.

Are these the values that will help a transition to a sustainable, carbon-free future?

Bloomberg’s argument that the bottomless money pit of capitalism is the only logical way to fund the transition to decarbonize the global economy ignores where the money comes from.

Money is made from extracting resources without paying for the damage caused to nature or future generations.

Money comes from processing and transforming resources (using cheap fossil energy) into goods that can be sold.

Money comes from speculating on commodities, driving land-use change.

Money comes from tech companies, making silicone chips using vast amounts of water and energy, which go into computers and cell phones, which are designed to become obsolete within a few months, so they can be replaced with new models.

None of the vast sums of money Bloomberg assumes will fund a carbon transition, are themselves carbon-free. And why would hedge funds, mining companies and tech firms spend their profits on sterilizing their golden goose?

The pursuit of profit certainly made these companies efficient, but not in the way global society needs. Pursuit of profit is the reason hundreds of people died, needlessly, in those jets. Pursuit of profit is the reason oil companies have lied about climate science for decades, continuing to pump CO2 into the atmosphere. The free market cannot be part of the solution: it is the problem.

 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Some Thoughts On The Ahmaud Arbery Murder.

 

Richard Mellor

Afscme Local 444, retired

GED/HEO

 

Workers, the poor, the marginalized, will never get justice from the rich people’s courts (the capitalist justice system).  Every inch of progress, every right, every freedom workers and all those victims of class society have achieved, whether it be women, black folks, gays, the disabled you name it, has been obtained through mass action, through strikes, protests, preventing the system from working. In other words, direct action and not the courts. Many have died and many have suffered but it’s not for nought. Progress takes sacrifice.

 

This does not mean that we never use the capitalist courts. We just cannot rely on them. For three decades I was a workplace lawyer of some sort. This is what a shop steward is, or any union official not sitting in an office in Washington rubbing shoulders with the politicians of capital.

My history as a rank and file union worker, and the history of the US from a workers’ perspective, is that our movement was built by and maintained by genuine working class people who fought day in day out for the rights of the worker.

 

There were a couple of times when a lawyer, a good union lawyer saved my ass. There were other times when I had to argue at my union meetings that we should not place too much credibility on a lawyer’s advice, not because they are bad people, but because we cannot substitute the capitalist courts for the potential power that we and all workers have that can, if necessary, change the world.

 

I respected our union lawyer and lawyers have a role to play in the labor and workers’ movement.

 

But watching this, I love this prosecutor and it brings back memories of those cases we won even if it was only the argument that we won but due to the balance of power between the class forces that we lost the case. Sometimes, the legal route can only best be used to help the worker or union member see the bias in it and strengthen our argument that independent working class power and relying on our own strength through direct action is the only solution.

 

So it’s still great to watch her undermine the argument that these racist scum use to defend their actions with regard to their murder of Ahmed Arbery. I don’t care that they never used the “N” word or used racial slurs. I know what they are and so the hell do black folks.

 

Another part of the pleasure for me is that this prosecutor is a woman. She is not the type of woman that the mass media and Hollywood say we are supposed to admire and cherish. But neither were our mothers or our sisters, but we know how beautiful they really were. I wish her the best of luck.

 

I am involved in a court case right now; a fairly substantial one involving billions of dollars.  I was on a webinar discussing the case (as a listener). There were four male attorneys and a woman who presented the details of the case. She was very efficient.

 

As I watched this I thought to myself. Here we go again just like the unions of old where the recording secretary is always the woman and the top folks are men. There was some questions asked and some of the men answered them. When it ended there was a phone number to call the law firm for further questions. I had some further questions so I called it. I got an answering machine so I left a message expecting one of the guys to call me back.

 

When the call came it was the woman that did the presentation, not only that, it is her law firm. I was surprised the top dog called me back but also very grateful and also told her my misconceptions that I thought she was the clerk and wished her the best of luck in her field.

 

I might get some backlash for praising a lawyer in this way from some quarters, but it’s ok.

 

Check out the video and I hope these guys get what they deserve.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

China: “Beautiful faces have beautiful dreams,”


Source
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired
GED/HEO

Just going through some old material and came across this piece. I think it is still relevant today and not just for women in China but here at home and throughout the world. I wrote this is December 2005. RM

“Beautiful faces have beautiful dreams,” says Wang Yaoyao, a contestant in the Miss Artificial Beauty contest held in China’s Hubei province.  Ms Wang is special, a product of the new China, and a product of the free market.  Ms Wang is a representative of the plastic surgery business that is sponsoring the contest.   In a country of 1.3bn people, despite some 800 million of them living in poverty, global corporations and the budding Chinese bourgeois are wringing their hands at the potential for moneymaking.

Ms Wang is free you see; free to make herself beautiful, beautiful for Proctor and Gamble, Hollywood, and the men and women that will use her new found looks to sell soap or perfume. But for Ms Wang it is more than that, it is her ticket to the good life in the new China.  The 21 year-old Wang, (not long an adult) received free plastic surgery on the condition that she promote the hospital that did the procedure.  The plastic surgeon was generous, giving her, according to the Financial Times, “a nose job, double eyelids, a smaller chin, thicker lips and a tummy tuck”.  Ahh! sweet commerce.  Can the old regime be blamed for wanting to isolate itself from the west?   After all, it was not really the west they were protecting themselves against, but bourgeois culture that turns everything in to a commodity.

Ms. Wang, an advertising executive tells the Financial Times, “Even if your smart and good at what you do, nobody will listen to what you have to say if you’re ugly.  But if you’re beautiful, people want to be close to you immediately. Then you can talk to them and get your message across.” How sad is this? It is not confined to China of course.  Women in the US who do not fit the standard of beauty determined by bourgeois culture and the men who dominate it face the same barriers.

Could you imagine the response were clinics here in the U.S. operating on American women, especially ones of European descent, making them look more Chinese.  There’d be racist attacks on Asian Americans. The capitalist press would be whipping up nationalism and fear of being taken over by the “Yellow Peril”.  Chinese, Japanese, South East Asian doctors offices would be firebombed.  Asian teachers would be victimized in the schools.

But in China the beauty pageant is a moneymaker and they are flourishing.  It is not just the plastic surgery business that sees dollar signs.  The perfume industry, clothing, makeup, and let’s not forget the auto industry, all see a bright future in the disfigurement of human beings.  After all gentlemen, you’ll need the right car, the right watch, the right suit to capture one of these beauties.  The beauty pageant market, like any other, is facing saturation point according to the Times.  But as the market ebbs and flows, the damage to millions of young girls, and the young men who expect this beauty of them will be devastating, both psychologically and physically, not just the surgery, but suicides and sickness as the reality sets in and women become slaves to this idea which fails to produce results, fails to make them “happy”.

Admittedly, there are millions of Chinese women, particularly in the rural areas, whose dreams are far more basic than Ms. Wang’s; food, shelter and a job. And I am not able to judge the impact of the phenomenon from afar, but the pace of change in Chinese society is considerable by most accounts.  The economic potential is significant as global corporations like P&G, Volvo, Clark’s shoes and Malaysia Airlines (religious condemnation of capitalism doesn’t seem to be an obstacle here) invest in these pageants.  In 2003, Chinese women bought $9bn worth of beauty products and this is only the tip of the iceberg from global capitalism’s point of view.   The more they convince women they are ugly and that this is why they cannot achieve success, the greater the investment potential.

Like all aspects of the roaring Chinese economy it is quite likely this bourgeois consciousness and the economic basis for it will be cut across by the increasing frustration of the Chinese masses.  Incidents of social unrest in China have increased 600% over the last decade.  Massive wealth alongside extreme poverty does not go unnoticed and each small release of the Stalinist bureaucracy’s boot off the necks of the Chinese workers increases their confidence.  There is no doubt that there is no reversal for the Chinese bureaucracy, not without major social upheaval.  The capitalist road has been traveled too far.  But the future is unsure.  The massive reserves held by China may give a certain leeway to the bureaucracy, maybe they can make some considerable concessions in the face of an increasingly restless population; no one can be sure what the future holds except that it is a volatile situation.

Despite the propaganda of the western press, bourgeois individualism and selfishness cannot exist alone in the consciousness of the Chinese workers.  In the last analysis, consciousness has a material base and in the case of China, it has had 50 years without the market.  But it has had its effect.  “When I ask my male students what they dream of, they say owning a car and being with a beautiful woman.  They never used to talk like that.” One university professor tells the Times.  That’s progress.  (1)

As I read this article that spurred me to write this commentary, I was reminded of Marx and Engels’ comments on the global nature of the market.  I am adding them as a reminder of their genius.

“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.

The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country........ In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.

You can’t beat that.

Karl Marx/Frederich Engel’s The Communist Manifesto 1848

(1) The article from which these details were taken is, The China Doll Revolution
Financial Times 11-05-05 FT Weekend Section