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Find these and more on www.socialistalternative.org PUBLISHED BY: Socialist Alternative EDITOR: Tom Crean EDITORIAL BOARD: George Brown, Eljeer Hawkins,
Joshua Koritz, Ty Moore, Keely Mullen, Kailyn Nicholson, Calvin Priest, Tony Wilsdon
Bernie Sanders and the End of Neoliberalism
2 13 19
Keynesianism and the Crisis of Capitalism Capitalismâ€™s COVID-19 Catastrophe Model for COVID-19 Response? Governments Seize On Covid 19 to Extend Repressive Powers Capitalism and COVID-19:
We Need a Planned 28 Why Economy
32 No Shortcuts 39
The Socialist Manifesto By Bhaskar Sunkara By Jane McAlevy
Trump Pushes to Reopen No Matter the Human Toll Encourages Right-Wing Protests Kelly Bellin
ue to the coronavirus health and economic crisis, more than 30 million Americans have now filed for unemployment in the span of six weeks. This significantly understates the situation. Millions who applied for unemployment weeks ago have yet to receive payments. Millions of gig workers and “independent contractors,” representing over 30% of the U.S. workforce, are still in limbo despite Congress including them in the expansion of unemployment benefits. And millions of undocumented workers have no perspective of ever being able to apply at all. Widespread fear of being unable to afford essentials like food is already a reality for many, as food banks face skyrocketing demand and mass shortages. The majority of renters in the U.S. could not afford to pay April rent by the start of the month, and for those depending on stimulus money to afford May rent, millions are now navigating delays and uncertainty around when or if they will see stimulus money at all. As many frontline workers and others are paying for this avoidable health crisis with their lives, and intense fear of economic disaster grips millions, a debate has opened up in U.S. society around when it would be safe to lift shelter-inplace measures and re-open non-essential businesses.
Trump Eggs on Reactionary Protests
Over the last weeks, a small but very prominent wave of reactionary protests has spread across the country, demanding that the restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 are lifted. These protests, often taking place outside state capitol buildings or governors’ mansions, have featured slogans such as “live free or die in lockdown” and “give me liberty or give me COVID-19.” While tapping into very real economic hardship and fears, the rallying cry of these protests is the shocking claim that an increase in COVID-19 deaths is worth the benefits of reopening the economy. These reactionary, right-wing protests are a clear reflec-
tion of the political polarization in society, but they do not represent mass sentiment. In fact, the vast majority of Americans do not believe that it is yet safe to lift shelter-in-place measures. A recent Washington Post poll found that only 1% of people believe that it has already been safe enough to lift restrictions, an additional 9% believe it would be safe by the end of April, and 86% believe it will not be safe until the end of May or much later. These figures are not a surprise, as states across the country continue to see their highest-ever days of deaths and new cases of coronavirus. More than 20 states now have over 10,000 confirmed cases (8 have over 30,000), even while many of those who are sick are told to stay away from hospitals and forgo testing altogether due to the incapacity of the for-profit health care system to adequately treat this crisis. Increasingly, more and more Americans know someone who has contracted or has died from COVID-19, which makes the current health measures widely popular. Shelter-in-place orders, which more than 95% of Americans have been under since the end of March, are necessary under the current state of the COVID-19 crisis only because of the criminal misleadership of the ruling class. As international examples and epidemiological professionals point to, aggressive and widespread testing from the very beginning of this crisis, with contact tracing and quarantines where outbreaks occurred, could have protected the vast majority of those who are sick and who have died from COVID-19. Flowing from this, the necessity of mass lockdowns could have been avoided in the first place. Despite years of scientific warnings, there was no real plan in place to combat a health crisis of this magnitude. A stark example of the complete lack of preparedness, often pointed to by frontline healthcare workers, is the absurd scarcity of necessary medical equipment to treat those with COVID-19, despite billions of dollars in annual profits going to the very top of the healthcare industry. The profit-based U.S. healthcare system has made this crisis all the worse, necessitating the stark measures that significant sections of big business
Health care worker in Denver, CO blocks a car of protestors demanding Colorado’s reopening. now oppose. On the basis of public health and saving lives, there is no question that forcing people back to work and lifting coronavirus measures at this stage is playing with fire. Perhaps the most prominent opposition to the recent coronavirus protests has been frontline health care workers themselves, who will treat those who contract coronavirus in the wake of prematurely lifting shelter-in-place orders. There are several epidemiological models, which make estimates about how many people are likely to get sick, need a hospital bed or die from COVID-19, with different estimates of the severity of this first wave of coronavirus in the U.S. Yet all these models are based on continued shelter-in-place measures and aggressive testing, as there is broad scientific agreement these measures are absolutely central to preventing an even bigger outbreak.
Trump’s Criminal Negligence
Despite being in direct contradiction to health experts, scientists, and what the majority of Americans see as necessary, Trump has repeatedly supported and encouraged the reactionary fringe protests to lift COVID-19 protections. From his hyperbolic tweets calling to “LIBERATE” swing-states from the grips of shelter-in-place to White House adviser Stephen Moore repeatedly declaring these protestors “the modern day Rosa Parks,” the Trump administration has a laser focus on whipping up a narrow reactionary base, which coincides with the outlook of a section of the ruling class, and instilling con-
fusion around COVID-19. There’s no doubt that Trump’s priority is to reopen the economy without taking measures that would protect workers from COVID-19. Meat-processing plants have become a hot spot nationally for coronavirus infection, so much so that an estimated 33% of U.S. meatpacking capacity has been destroyed following mass COVID-19 infection of the workforce, forcing more than a dozen plants to shut down. Rather than taking drastic action to produce protective equipment or forcing companies to provide safe working conditions, Trump has now invoked the Defense Production Act, mandating that meat-processing plants reopen and stay open, immediately. This mandate is paired with providing protection, again not for the workers themselves, but to shield companies from legal liability for workers contracting COVID-19 on the job. Meanwhile, meat processing workers have no interest in going back to dangerous work conditions. One even asked of Trump’s plan “I’m still trying to figure out: What is he going to do, force them to stay open? Force people to go to work?” This situation is set to continue the workplace struggles that have happened throughout this crisis. Trump’s disastrous approach to the coronavirus crisis has already done enough damage. No doubt the constant spread of misinformation – for example stating from early on that the coronavirus was under control in the U.S. or his recent statement that injecting disinfectant may be an effective treatment – has contributed to the mass fear and confusion around
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the ongoing health and economic crisis. According to some health experts, up to 90% of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. could have been prevented had Trump enacted social distancing measures just two weeks earlier. Going back to the start of the crisis, the Trump administration disastrously failed to provide the necessary testing resources which could have allowed this to be contained with far less cost to society.
Ruling Class Demands Workers Risk Their Lives
While some sections of big business and the ruling class have recognized that lifting lockdowns now will ultimately make the economic consequences of coronavirus worse, significant sections, as well as the hard right, are in unison with Trump. The leadership of the NRA from early on depicted ongoing health measures as an infringement on the second amendment. Elon Musk, reflecting most baldly the priority of corporate profits, has called to “FREE AMERICA NOW” in opposition to shelter-in-place orders. In recent days, a series of state governors have rapidly announced the lifting of health measures, reopening many non-essential businesses and forcing workers back on the job in the midst of the pandemic. In Georgia, on the same day as 1,200 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed, Governor Kemp announced the reopening of restaurants, massage parlors, bowling alleys, tattoo shops, hair salons, and movie theaters. On the same day, South Carolina Governor McMaster openly supported protests calling to lift health measures, and announced the immediate reopening of retail statewide. Florida beaches have been reopened, local tourism businesses such as golf courses and fishing shops are reopening in Minnesota, and Colorado is reopening some sectors such as hair salons. Under shelter-in-place, ordinary people are facing economic turmoil, as well as enduring negative impacts on mental health due to isolation and fear. This reality is being weaponized by sections of the ruling class, who above all else want to salvage business profits and get workers back on the job, even if it means more COVID-19 deaths. There is perhaps not a more blatant example of this than the declaration of Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who offered up the workers of Las Vegas to be the “control group” for coronavirus. In an interview with Anderson Cooper, she shockingly stated that such a control group was needed, and she “would love” for Vegas workers to take a placebo vaccine and get back to work, to show whether these measures would be effective elsewhere. Yet when asked if she would actually go to the casinos along with workers to form that control group, she replied “Excuse me, I have a family.”
Capitalism Makes this Crisis Worse
The Trump administration and large sections of the ruling
class blame the measures being taken to save working people’s lives for the economic crisis. Despite one of the largest corporate bailouts in American history, these forces are fighting to put non-essential workers back on the job, jeopardizing their lives and risking a massive second wave of COVID-19 in the US. No doubt, this has influenced a small section of society to carry out reactionary protests which demand the same. The cause of the catastrophic conditions facing working people is the for-profit system. As millions of Americans face unemployment, hunger, and housing insecurity, billionaires in the U.S. have increased their wealth by 10% during this crisis. In fact, some of the most prominent billionaires have added literally billions to their net worth based on coronavirus profits. What’s been brutally exposed is a system which protects the wealth of CEOs and corporations above all else. Rather than atrocious corporate bailouts, all frontline workers should be given time-and-a-half hazard pay along with full pay for those who become ill or have to care for family. Rather than the rich getting richer from this health crisis, we need a full suspension of rent, mortgage and utility bills with no penalty or requirement to pay back landlords or utility providers. And rather than the working class paying for this crisis, we need $2,000 a month government payments to all, paid for by taxes on the billionaires and big corporations. Two weeks ago, Socialist Alternative addressed the question of how to reopen the economy: “Of course economic activity needs to reopen at some point, but under what conditions, in whose interests, and how are these decisions made? Representatives of workers in key sectors from manufacturing to education need to have a direct say and veto in this process. Reopening the economy is not just about “flattening the curve” of the virus. It must be linked to a clear strategy, putting the lives and health of workers first, and with real resources to deal with new outbreaks which are inevitable.” The problem is precisely that the federal government has not presented a credible plan with real resources for how mass testing will be carried out along with contact tracing. It isn’t even the case that the curve has been meaningfully “flattened” in most states. There is no reason for any confidence at this point in the claims that states are “ready.” No doubt, the wealth already exists in society to provide a lifeline to all during this health crisis. This is why, as socialists, we believe that capitalism has made the COVID-19 crisis infinitely worse than it needed to be. We fight for a system that functions to prioritize the health and well-being of working people above all else. J
Millions of people responded to Bernie Sanders’ call for a “political revolution against the billionaire class.”
Bernie Sanders and the End of Neoliberalism Tom Crean
n April 8, Bernie Sanders “suspended” his campaign for president. In the weeks since, Sanders has turned a defeat into a rout through wholesale capitulation to the Democratic Party establishment. He has given a fulsome endorsement to Joe Biden, the incredibly weak corporate presumptive nominee. He even criticized his press secretary, Briahna Joy Gray, for failing to immediately do likewise. The latest report is that some of Sanders’ closest advisers are forming a super PAC to back Biden. This outcome is deeply disappointing to millions who saw Sanders as the authentic voice of a “political revolution” against the billionaire class. Of course, most of Sanders' supporters will accept his argument that Trump must be defeated at all costs, even if that means voting for Joe Biden. But a significant minority, especially of young people, will not be persuaded to vote for a loyal servant of Wall Street whose 45-year political career includes advocating cuts to Social Security and Medicare; supporting mass incarceration policies; allowing Anita Hill to be humiliated on national television when she called out Clarence Thomas' sexual harassment; and enthusiastically voting for the Iraq War. While
we completely agree about the need to get rid of Trump, to back Biden is to back the failed neoliberal policies that got us Trump in the first place. Sanders ended his campaign at a point where working people in the U.S. are facing the most serious crisis since World War II: on the one hand, the coronavirus pandemic -- made a hundred times worse by the failures of capitalism and the Trump regime -- and, on the other, an economic collapse on the scale of the Great Depression. It is true that Sanders faced a steep uphill climb to the nomination after Super Tuesday. But as a candidate he had a powerful platform to build the mass movement which will be needed to defend working people from chaotic and dangerous “re-opening,” the threat of mass unemployment, budget cuts to essential services and mass evictions. Instead he has essentially told people to put their faith in the Democratic establishment. This abdication of leadership leaves a dangerous vacuum which can disarm working people in the face of the attacks of the right since we know the leadership of the Democratic Party will do nothing to protect us. Nevertheless the Sanders phenomenon has also had a profoundly positive impact on mass consciousness, especially among young people and sections of the working class who
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have swung sharply to the left. Sanders' campaigns in 2016 and 2020, but especially this time, took on the character of a real movement built around a fighting pro-working class platform including Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, ending mass incarceration and a Green New Deal. The rallying cry was for a “political revolution against the billionaire class.” This huge step forward in consciousness will not be lost and will play a key role in the social and political struggles that will unfold in the next period.
The Importance of Sanders
To fully understand the significance of the Sanders movement and its abrupt conclusion we must step back and take a longer historical view. For forty years, since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, American politics has been dominated by neoliberal ideology. Neoliberalism, as the accompanying article on Keynesianism explains, was the response of the ruling class to the economic, social and political crisis of their system at the end of the postwar boom in the ‘70s. Its key feature has been a relentless offensive against the gains made by working people in earlier periods. This was done by removing restrictions on the global movement of capital, giving the big banks ever more power, cutting social services, and privatizing as much of the public sector as possible. The goal was to restore profitability for the bosses no matter what the cost to society. But to succeed in imposing its agenda, the ruling class needed to deal decisive blows to the labor movement. Reagan smashed the air traffic controllers' union, PATCO, in 1981 and Margaret Thatcher defeated the British miners in 1985. They also needed an ideological justification. This included the idea that socialism had failed, which was enormously reinforced by the collapse of Stalinism at the end of the ‘80s. They promoted individualism and meritocracy over social solidarity and promised growth through unleashing the wonders of globalized “free markets.” For a period this agenda won a degree of mass support or at least mass acceptance. Neoliberals also came to dominate the Democratic Party, a process completed by the rise of Bill Clinton. But while the neoliberals made many promises, the reality by the late ‘90s was clear: a massive increase in inequality and eroding public services. Working people were working longer and harder for less. But the throwing back of the labor movement and the left meant overall resistance was weak. An important moment was Ralph Nader's independent run for president in 2000 where he won almost 3,000,000 votes and tapped into a growing “anti-globalization” movement. But this opportunity to build a new political force on the left was squandered. It was the crash of 2008-9 which exposed the full bankruptcy of neoliberalism with millions losing their jobs and their homes. The Democrats under Obama bailed out Wall Street just as they and the Republicans are doing today to the tune of trillions of dollars. It took several years but resistance
began to develop with Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and Black Lives Matter. This was part of an international wave of struggle including the Arab Spring and the anti-austerity struggle of the Greek and Spanish working class. But this resistance was initially not reflected in the political realm in the U.S. This was the historic role that Sanders played. Running as an open “democratic socialist” his campaigns have been a rallying cry for those, especially young people, who have drawn the conclusion that society needs to move in a different direction. As the radical author Naomi Klein said recently, Sanders “broke the spell” of neoliberalism. Sanders' 2016 campaign raised an astonishing $228 million while refusing donations from corporate America. Despite running in the Democratic primary this clearly pointed towards the potential for an independent left political party. Sanders was also pushed to the left by the increasingly youthful and working-class base he had built. In 2020, he declared billionaires “should not exist” and called for a “government of the working class” in which his role as president would be “organizer in chief.” But while all of this was extremely important, as Seattle socialist city councilmember Kshama Sawant explained: “[T]he key reason we supported Bernie so strongly was the same reason the ruling class feared him. His 2016 campaign helped inspire mass struggle, including the teachers' revolt in 2018 and 2019 and the beginning of a rebirth of the labor movement in this country. If he had somehow overcome all the obstacles and won the presidency in 2020, the ruling class feared the enormous rise in the confidence and expectations of working people along with the wave of struggle it could create.” (socialistalternative.org 4/9/20) But 2016 also came with a huge warning: the election of Donald Trump. Sanders said all along that he would support the eventual Democratic nominee even if it was Hillary Clinton. Socialist Alternative, on the other hand, said he should continue his campaign as an independent if he was blocked by the establishment. By refusing to take this path, Sanders left Hillary Clinton, whose tired neoliberalism was deeply uninspiring, as the only alternative to Trump. One of Sanders' key arguments against continuing as an independent was that he did not want to be a “spoiler” and hand the election to Trump. Well, despite standing aside, Hillary Clinton still lost. The real “spoiler” that gave us Trump was the Democratic establishment. Trump, while basing his appeal on outright xenophobia also represented a distorted right-populist rejection of neoliberalism, including its “free trade” deals, which had cost millions of manufacturing jobs. His victory showed the price that would be paid for the failure to build a mass alternative to corporate politics on the left.
The Crisis in the Democratic Party
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was critical for Bernie’s 2020 campaign. Sanders' willingness to support Clinton in 2016 helped paper over a deep crisis within the Democratic Party. After bailing out Wall Street, the Democrats lost control of Congress in 2010. They went on to lose control of 27 state legislative chambers around the country and a total of over 1,000 legislative seats, to reach their weakest position as a national party in 100 years. In 2016, Clinton's message boiled down to saying that Trump represented an existential threat to “American democracy.” She promised virtually nothing to working people, touting the weak economic recovery under Obama that had overwhelmingly benefited the rich. In reality, both the Democratic and Republican establishments defended policies like free trade deals and cuts to social services that were deeply unpopular with ordinary people. The lack of significant differences on economic issues is what has allowed the Republicans to use issues like gun rights to solidify their base over many years. The establishment's weakness was exposed on the right by Trump and on the left by Sanders. The crisis of the American political establishment mirrors that of “center-right” and “center-left” parties in Western Europe who implemented endless austerity after 2008-9. In some countries, particular establishment parties have seen their vote collapse almost entirely. The weakness of the Democrats has continued under Trump despite their victory in the midterms. They have completely failed to build a real fightback against Trump's reactionary attacks on immigrants, women's rights, and against
working people generally. They spent most of their energy on the futile hunt for the “smoking gun” to prove that Trump was a Russian agent and on the tedious “Ukraine affair.” To the extent they have any chance in 2020 against Trump, it's because of his disastrous handling of the coronavirus crisis and the massive economic crisis that has opened up for working people and large sections of the middle class on the Republicans' watch. But while Trump was able to force the Republican establishment into retreat and remake the party in his own image, this has not been the case for the left in the Democratic Party. At a fundamental level the stakes were higher with Sanders. Trump, despite his populist rhetoric and erratic behavior, does not threaten the corporate character of the Republican Party. Since he took office, CEOs have supported his tax cuts for the rich and attacks on environmental regulation as well as generally backing his tough line on China. Sanders’ program and approach, on the other hand, was seen as a direct threat by the corporate interests which dominate the Democratic Party. The 2016 election revealed how rigged the Democratic primary is and how far the Democratic leadership would go to prevent Sanders winning the nomination. In 2016, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the head of the Democratic National Committee, worked out a deal with Clinton that essentially made the DNC a direct adjunct of her campaign. As Donna Brazile, former DNC chairperson, revealed subsequently: “Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy,
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and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailingsâ€? (Politico.com, 11/2/2017).
Establishment Panic on the Road to Milwaukee
This time around, the Democrats' corporate backers made it amply clear that they preferred four more years of Trump rather than a Sanders' victory. The establishment responded by creating a very wide field of candidates to cut down Sanders' support and avoid a repeat of the two-way race in 2016 which increasingly exposed Hillary. For a while this strategy seemed to be working. But Biden floundered, Warren lost traction when she moved to the right and Pete Buttigieg never resonated with working people. Then Sanders won the first three primaries, the first time any candidate had ever accomplished this feat (Newsweek, 2/23/2020). Especially after the Nevada primary, there was intense panic in the Democratic establishment about the possibility of Sanders winning a plurality of delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee in July or even winning an outright majority. This was to a large degree due to the failure of the establishment to coalesce around a candidate to stop Sanders. At this point, in late February, Biden's campaign was basically dead in the water. A Sanders victory or the establishment being forced to block him in an even more blatant way than in 2016 would have pushed the contradiction -- between an increasingly radicalized wing of the base and the zombie neoliberal leadership
of the party -- to its limit. It would also have created a huge opening for building an independent working-class party. It was Socialist Alternative's perspective in February that Sanders, as the frontrunner, facing a very divided field of weak candidates, might very well win the plurality of delegates, forcing the establishment to go even further in using dirty tricks to stop him than in 2016 including at the convention. We called for â€œmillions to the streetsâ€? in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where the Democratic convention was to be held in July. Such a massive confrontation would have exposed the completely un-democratic nature of this party creating a huge opening for independent working-class politics. This may seem at first sight paradoxical since Sanders was standing in the Democratic primary. But it was precisely because of the corporate domination of the Democratic Party that it was impossible for the establishment to accept Sanders as their nominee or as president. As we consistently explained, the only way he could possibly win the presidency and implement his platform was to begin turning his campaign into the outlines of a new party organically linked to a mass movement of working people in workplaces and communities.
Since Super Tuesday, the corporate media has created one-hundred-and-one narratives about the inevitability of Joe Biden's rise and Bernie Sanders' fall. In fact, there was nothing inevitable about the sequence of events that took place. It was certainly not rooted in popular enthusiasm for Biden's stale corporate politics. After one particularly contentious debate before the Ne-
Bankrupt Democratic establishment averts one crisis only to create another.
Environment vada primary, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks pointed out that none of the other candidates had a clear answer to Sanders' critique of corporate domination or his proposals for serious reform: “[none of them] have the categories or mental equipment to take down a socialist like Sanders...saying his programs cost too much is a pathetic response to a successful myth,” (2/20/2020). In reality the response to Sanders of the other candidates was a mix of weak neoliberalism, corporate identity politics and snide redbaiting. After the South Carolina primary, the establishment – and particularly former president Obama – saw their opportunity to intervene more decisively. They “persuaded” every other candidate to get out of the race either before or right after Super Tuesday. The corporate media stepped up its relentless attacks on Sanders around the tired themes that Medicare for All is “too expensive,” Sanders' policies are “too extreme” for the wider electorate voting in November, that Sanders couldn't “work with others,” that he might have been “soft on communism,” etc, etc. These attacks range from the ridiculous to the pathetic but along with the daily parade of “important people” getting behind Biden, they had a cumulative effect. But what really made this rise to the level of mass manipulation is that millions had to be convinced to disbelieve the evidence in front of their eyes: that Biden was not just a tedious, weak candidate whose positions were completely out of touch with the majority of the base of the Democratic Party but that his mental faculties are clearly diminished. It was precisely this issue, best known to the establishment itself, that led them to desperately search for months for an alternative to Biden. If “electability” was the key issue this should have been disqualifying. The lengths to which the party establishment and their media allies were prepared to go has been revealed in the handling of Tara Reade's allegation of sexual harassment and assault against Biden. The New York Times sat on this story for NINETEEN DAYS until after Sanders announced he was leaving the race. They have admitted to consulting with the Biden campaign on how to describe the allegations in print. It's now clear that Reade was trying to tell her story for months, including going to Time'sUp for help which they refused. And up until now, not a single corporate media outlet has asked Biden to respond to the charges! This has also shown the complete hypocrisy of the Democratic establishment on the question of sexual harassment and assault given that the allegations against Biden have every bit as much credibility as those against Brett Kavanaugh. The establishment and their ruling-class backers heaved a huge sigh of relief at the way they were able to push Sanders out and the fulsome support Sanders has given Biden. However, they have actually only escaped one crisis by creating another. Already there is speculation about the Democrats switching Biden for someone else which would create a new loss of credibility for the leadership. But regardless of who
the party's corporate nominee is in November, if they actually defeat Trump, they will take charge in the middle of an unprecedented social and economic crisis where their bankrupt politics will focus the anger of young and working people leading to massive social struggle and the question of a new political party will be posed even more sharply.
Sanders Pulls His Punches
But while the establishment showed its utter ruthlessness in blocking Sanders a second time, there had to be something for them to manipulate. Compared to early 2016, when Trump's rise was ominous but hardly certain, now we are dealing with something different, namely the mass desire to get rid of the most reactionary and dangerous president since Ronald Reagan. It is clear that despite polls showing Sanders beating Trump, significant sections of the Democratic electorate, especially older voters, were not convinced that he could win in November and were therefore susceptible to the establishment's disinformation campaign. Contrary to the argument that Sanders' views were too far left, however, in the first 20 primaries, including the ones Biden won by large margins, exit polls showed a majority of voters supported Medicare for All. A new poll shows that 45% of Republicans now support Medicare for All. In the middle of this Biden reiterated that he would veto Medicare for All if it did pass Congress! What this means is that there was a significant share of the electorate who agreed with Sanders on the issues far more than Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, or even Warren but who were simply not prepared to take the risk because of “electability.” What Sanders singularly failed to do was to define Biden as the corporate tool that he is, notoriously continuing to refer to him as “my friend” throughout the campaign. It is not clear that going on the offensive against Biden at a much earlier stage would have been enough to decisively cut across the establishment's maneuver in early March but it would have given Sanders a fighting chance. For example, if Sanders had run attack ads in South Carolina pointing out that Biden had repeatedly threatened to cut Social Security it could have helped to dent Biden's support among the state's older and heavily black Democratic electorate.
The lack of a sufficiently aggressive approach by Sanders flows from a deeper problem, namely that he underestimates how far-reaching the “revolution” in politics and society needs to be to achieve his stated goals. Sanders' vision of “democratic socialism,” as articulated in the last four years does not extend far beyond Roosevelt’s New Deal and postwar European-style social-democratic welfare states. These were both different versions of applying Keynesian measures whose goal is to save capitalism, rather than move toward socialism. Furthermore, they both ended
10 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 in failure: the New Deal did not lead to a sustained recovery, which only began with the war economy of World War II; the “structural Keynesianism”of the postwar period led to the “stagflation” and social crisis of the ‘70s before the capitalists turned to neoliberalism. Sanders and others on the reformist left imagine a return to the postwar welfare state. But as we explain on p.13 the postwar boom happened for very specific reasons which cannot be reproduced. Capitalism has resumed its long-term decline and the period we are heading into will more resemble the 1930s than the 1960s. Significant reforms can be won but only based on building a fighting labor movement and a new party of working people and the poor. Sanders appears to be motivated by the desire not to be blamed for re-electing Trump by giving any less than his most fulsome support to the only “viable” candidate, Biden. But how will this in any way advance the fight for Medicare for All or a Green New Deal? At the very least there would have to be a credible threat made that his support and that of the millions who follow him could not be guaranteed to extract meaningful concessions from the establishment. Whatever lip service is paid to “progressive” ideas in the coming months by Biden and his surrogates is literally worth nothing. But even if Sanders extracted a higher price for his support, the idea of “reforming” the Democrats is illusory. As we have repeatedly pointed out, turning the Democrats into a “party of
the working-class,” as Sanders promised to do, would require at an absolute minimum that its candidates stop taking money from corporate interests, and that its public representatives adhere to a pro-working-class platform decided on through actual democratic structures. To state this is to show what a fantasy this is. The only positive element of Sanders' demise is that it will help to open the eyes of hundreds of thousands to this reality. Unfortunately, there are those on the socialist left who echo Sanders’ misunderstanding of the situation. In a piece in Jacobin after the Nevada primary, Dustin Guastella and Connor Kilpatrick triumphantly declared “Face it, establishment Democrats – it’s his party now,” completely underestimating the determination of the establishment to stop him at all costs. Around that time, Jacobin editor Bashkar Sunkara also attacked Kshama Sawant for pointing to the need to turn Sanders’ campaign into the beginning of a new party using the same misguided logic that victory in the fight to transform the Democrats was imminent. A few weeks later, after the tide had turned, Dustin Guastella argued that the left had to accept the outcome and stay in the Democratic Party because of its weakness, saying “The Democratic ballot line affords us legitimacy and access to a mass base, and we cannot afford to abandon the tactic of using it because we are upset with the party. We will always be upset with the party, because it is not our party.”
Nurses in New York City protest - respecting social distancing - the lack of PPE and other medical supplies.
At the end of 2019, protests against President Lenin Moreno’s degregulation and cuts forced the government to flee the capital. (3/11/20) Thus in a matter of weeks, his and Jacobin’s position switched from underestimating the obstacles confronting the left to underestimating the capacity of working people to move beyond this dead husk. In reality these mistakes are two sides of the same coin. It is useful to compare what has happened here to the demise of Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing leader of the British Labour Party. From the time he became party leader in 2015 with massive support from young people especially, the neoliberal apparatus which had controlled the party since Tony Blair took over in the ‘90s sought to undermine and sabotage him. As new revelations show, Blairite party staffers worked to undermine Labour in the 2017 elections and conspired with the “anti-Semitism” witchhunt being waged in the corporate maedia against Corbyn and his allies. Unfortunately, Corbyn refused to go on the offensive against the neoliberal Blairites. Over time this undermined his support in sections of the working class, directly contributing to the party's failure in the 2019 elections which led Corbyn to step down.
Entering a New Era
Even before the twin crises of the pandemic and global economic downturn, it was clear that capitalism was entering a new historical phase. The rising trend of protectionism, weakening of international institutions and inter-imperialist conflict since 2008, has sharpened under Trump, resulting in a pronounced “de-globalization.” This is being accelerated under the coronavirus lockdowns with borders becoming harder
and China and the U.S. accusing each other of starting the crisis. While the pandemic is the trigger of the economic slump, we have stressed that there are deeper causes including the long term slowdown of productivity growth combined with endless speculation. The issues that detonated the 2008-9 crisis were in no way resolved in the past decade. Furthermore, neoliberalism has been increasingly unsustainable on a political basis. At the end of 2019, we saw the development of a global revolt from Ecuador to Hong Kong against corruption and austerity. The scale of this revolt can be compared to the late 1960s and came on top of the emergence of a global youth movement to stop climate catastrophe and the mass women's movements in many parts of the world in recent years. The demise of neoliberalism does not mean we are entering an easier period: quite the contrary. The new reality will look more like the 1930s with even deeper social crises and political polarization. The current twin crises and the disastrous response of the ruling class, particularly in the U.S., has completely exposed capitalism. The partial application of Keynesian measures by the ruling class out of necessity to restart the economy can create illusions about the possibility of reform. But serious concessions will be made only out of dire necessity or under mass pressure. There is no basis for return to postwar structural reforms; this will be more like the Keynesianism of the ‘30s which only ameliorated but did not resolve the crisis.
12 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 Workers see food being ploughed back into the ground while shelves are getting more bare; they see trillions being poured into bailing out banks and corporations while benefits for themselves are very difficult to access; and they see frontline workers putting their lives on the line every day for a system that frequently fails to provide them even with basic protective equipment. In general they see that everything including their lives is subordinated to profit. Health care is a particularly explosive issue. It's not just the shocking lack of PPE and necessary equipment in the hospitals and the failure to ramp up testing to the levels necessary. In recent years, hospitals have closed all over the country. There is now a wave of hospital closures in rural areas as well. This has contributed to a massive cut in bed capacity nationally. Even in big cities we are seeing health care workers being laid off in the middle of a pandemic! Given that unemployment may soon reach 50 million or 30% of the total workforce, it is estimated that 35 million could lose their employer-based health care. At the same time, states will soon be making massive cuts to social services including to Medicaid. In every conceivable way, the American for-profit health care system is failing the test. When trillions are being spent propping up corporations and banks, the argument that Medicare for All is “too expensive” has been blown out of the water. The same applies to the arguments against the Green New Deal. As ordinary people see the state intervening in the sacrosanct workings of the “free market” to address the immediate crisis, the question obviously arises of why this can't be done to protect us from the even greater threat of climate catastrophe. What is posed on every level is the need to reorganize society so that our needs – including jobs, affordable housing, education, health care, and a livable environment – are prioritized, not profit.
What the Situation Demands
As this new period opens up, Sanders and Corbyn have been found wanting, unable to meet the challenge. While the way things went down was not inevitable, their half-hearted approach won't work in this new situation. Sanders' failure to stand up to the corporate establishment was also shown by his recent vote for the massive stimulus bill including the multi-trillion corporate bailout. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, to her credit, voted no but has also been backing away from supporting progressive challengers to estab-
lishment incumbents. We can't understate the effect of Sanders abandoning working people at this decisive moment. A dangerous vacuum now exists on the left. But this is not a decisive blow which will set the movement back for a long time. In the short term there is no doubt that the path to forming a new mass party of working people has been blocked by objective developments as well as Sanders’ capitulation. The perspective of a mass confrontation at the Milwaukee convention marking a key point of rupture was not a mirage but has obviously been cut across. But this changes nothing about the profound underlying crisis facing the political establishment especially if it continues to repeat neo-liberal talking points. As explained earlier the Democratic leadership in blocking Sanders and imposing the desperately weak Biden has only managed to defer their crisis and probably not for long. Finding the political road temporarily blocked, the best elements will turn to struggle in workplaces, against cutbacks, and against mass evictions. Some, seeing no other path, will for now continue the hopeless effort to reform the Democratic Party. Others will incorrectly conclude that electoral politics is futile. A large number, however, will be looking for deeper answers and will instinctively understand that transformative change requires mobilizing people on all fronts including electoral politics. This is not because of the false idea that change is simply a legislative process. It was Sanders himself who pointed out that only mass movements create real change. The politics we need is to give organized expression to the genuine support of millions for the platform which Sanders articulated and which becomes more necessary with each passing day. It is the coming social upheaval in the U.S. that will lay the basis for a new party. As in the 1930s, the role of socialists in the coming period will be critical in building a fighting labor movement and mass resistance to social and economic catastrophe. But unlike the ‘30s the left needs to go further and decisively break with the Democrats to build a new mass party. Current debates in the DSA show that many see this is where things need to go even if they are not yet ready to take that step. We need the widest possible discussion on the left on how to develop genuine working class political independence. Bernie Sanders could have performed an enormous service by bringing his movement in the direction of a new party; but with or without him, this must and will be done. J
The IMF and World Bank now estimate that 90% of the world economy is experiencing a slowdown.
Keynesianism and the Crisis of Capitalism George Martin Fell Brown and Tony Gong
The current economic crisis may have been triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, but its roots lie in a deeper crisis of capitalism going back to the financial crash of 2008-9. This ongoing crisis lays bare the failure of capitalism in general, and the unrestricted free markets of neoliberal capitalism in particular. For the working class, this downturn points more strongly to the need for socialist change. For the ruling class, the crisis has forced them to intervene in the economy in ways which completely contradict “free market” orthodoxy. This includes measures to prop up demand – usually described as “Keynesian” – by putting money directly into the pockets of working people. The shift towards Keynesian measures was made explicit on April 3, when the editorial board of the Financial Times, a long-standing defender of neoliberal policies, called for “radical reforms” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic: “Governments will have to accept a more active role in the economy. They must see public services as investments rather than liabilities, and look for ways to make labour markets less insecure. Redistribution will again be on the agenda; the privileges of the elderly and wealthy in question. Policies un-
til recently considered eccentric, such as basic income and wealth taxes, will have to be in the mix.” The latest round of the crisis has seen a more serious turn toward state intervention than in 2008-9. In a span of weeks, government economic stimulus passed by Congress has surpassed 10% of GDP. By comparison, the 2008 bailout took several months to pass and was “only” equal to 5% of GDP. Of course the overwhelming bulk of the “stimulus” is a bailout for the banks and corporate America. As we have discussed elsewhere the crisis has revealed how corporations have gorged on debt in the wake of the bailout ten years ago. This is an example of the underlying weakness that threatens to create a financial crisis of biblical proportions. However, the coronavirus quarantine has first and foremost drastically cut consumer spending, and the capitalists who have laid off millions of workers now expect the government to make up the demand shortfall with stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits. This type of measure is not just being taken in the U.S. In Britain, Boris Johnson’s Tory government has implemented a program that gives unemployed workers 80% of their income up to £25,000. The European Central Bank has removed spending limits for EU member states.
14 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 Why are capitalist governments, including those which yesterday were enforcing drastic austerity measures, suddenly giving cash to workers, and where are these measures headed? Will stimulus checks be able to halt the crisis? In order to make sense of this about-face, socialists need to understand what Keynesianism is. Though often synonymous with the New Deal of the 1930s, Keynesianism doesn’t mean social welfare but represents a worldview with a specific understanding of how the capitalist economy works.
What is Keynesianism?
profitable.” Although the recent stimulus checks are a lifeline to workers to buy necessities and pay rent, even if they fall short, that is not their primary purpose to the ruling class. The administration issued stimulus checks so that working people can return this money to corporations through spending. But at the very same time, state governments with massive shortfalls are preparing to make massive cuts to social spending. Stimulus measures will be temporary and the ruling class will look for every way they can find to offload the costs of this crisis onto the backs of the working class. British economist John Maynard Keynes first developed his theoretical framework during the Great Depression. Given that prevailing orthodox economic theories at the time were unable to explain the crisis or point to policy solutions, the ruling class pragmatically turned to Keynesianism for a way out. Roosevelt, who campaigned in 1932 on budget cuts, was forced to reverse gear and start the New Deal in 1933 to provide much-needed employment, albeit at poverty wages, to millions of workers. Beginning in 1934, the capitalists were also confronted with a historic strike wave that led millions of industrial workers to unionize. To protect their system from the workers’ movement, the ruling class made concessions. However the New Deal failed to deliver a sustained economic recovery and the country slipped into recession again in 1937-1938. It took state-directed war production and the massive destruction of capital in WWII to create new fields for profitable investment and allow capitalism to recover.
This is an example of the underlying weakness that threatens to create a financial crisis of biblical proportions.
Keynesianism is a bourgeois economic school of thought that views the capitalist economy as the sum of all expenditures, divided into four sectors: consumption, government spending, business investment, and net exports. An economic downturn is seen as one of those sectors refusing to spend, and the fix is seen as having another sector increase spending. To prevent crises, the government can adjust a variety of economic levers like lowering interest rates to incentivize spending, or intervene directly with fiscal spending. Keynesians would characterize the current crisis as a decline in production combined with “declines in corporate investment and autonomous consumption” and with the export sector unable to pick up the slack, government stimulus becomes the remedy. The intention of these measures is not primarily to help working people, but to save businesses first and foremost. As Keynes said in 1931, “If our object is to remedy unemployment it is obvious that we must first of all make business more
Container port in the Baltic Sea.
After the war, the ruling class, particularly in Western Europe and, to a lesser degree in the United States, were politically forced to adopt “structural Keynesian” policies which led to extensive social welfare systems. The returning millions of working-class soldiers, having survived the Great Depression and then fighting in the hell of World War II, made it clear to their governments that conditions could not go back to the way they were. In Europe, the capitalist political establishment, facing
Economy collapsed economies and lacking any credibility because of their collaboration with fascism, had to offer an alternative to the political threat posed by the Soviet Union. Keynesianism also played a key role in the world economy through the Bretton Woods system, a tightly regulated international monetary order starting at the end of WWII and lasting until 1971. Essentially, all international currencies were bound to the U.S. dollar (a provision which Keynes, a co-author of Bretton Woods and an economic nationalist, fought bitterly against – he wanted to bind world trade to Britain). This was supposed to control the inflation and interest rates of member countries to help international growth, at the cost of national central banks losing some monetary autonomy. With ready international acceptance of state intervention in the context of the need to restart collapsed economies, Keynesians could implement “industrial policy” in a number of advanced countries that incentivized development of national industry with elements of state planning. While certainly radical by today’s standards, the goal of these measures was first and foremost to help restart the profit machine. Indeed, using industrial policy, massive social spending, and international trade bodies as economic levers, Keynesians presided over the longest boom in capitalist history from the ‘50s-’70s. It appeared that Keynesianism had mastered the boom-bust cycle. While the tweaking of economic levers had an effect, the main material factors behind the long boom were the destruction of capital in World War II, the domination of U.S. imperialism which suppressed inter-imperialist rivalry, rapid population growth, invention of productive new technologies, and bringing more women into the workforce. The capitalist class – who most of the time fight tooth and nail against paying taxes for social spending or restrictions on the use and flow of capital – could temporarily tolerate both in an age of unprecedented economic expansion. The boom was not sustainable. In the latter years of this “Golden Age of Capitalism” productivity growth began to slow. Capitalism has an inherent tendency to “overaccumulate” (overproduce) industrial capital as it introduces more machinery into production, which adds to cost overheads and grows output faster than society can absorb, slowing down profitability. The postwar boom displayed this tendency, and the slowing boom ended in 1973 as the advanced capitalist countries came under an oil embargo from OPEC, creating a severe energy shortage and triggering a sharp recession. Keynesian policies couldn’t overcome a material shortage by lowering interest rates. The result was growing inflation. The massive spending of the U.S. imperialist war machine in Vietnam also prompted excessive inflation, without adding anything back to the economy. This combination of stagnant growth and inflation – known as “stagflation” – severely discredited Keynesianism to the ruling class, which abandoned Bretton Woods, attacked social spending, and turned toward neoliberalism.
Despite the scale of today’s crisis, and the discrediting of the neoliberal model which has dominated for the past 40 years, this does not mean the ruling class can or will return to structural Keynesianism. The requisite social conditions, a booming global economy and tight coordination between national capitalisms, are no longer present. The Keynesianism we are seeing today is going to look more like the adhoc measures of the ‘30s, because we are headed into a deep slump of the world economy and a sharpening of inter-imperialist rivalry, especially between the U.S. and China. Of course, in the face of mass pressure or the threat of revolution, the ruling class could still make big concessions.
Is the Problem Neoliberalism or Capitalism?
Since the crisis of the 1970s, the ruling class shifted its economic approach from Keynesianism to neoliberalism, a particularly parasitic form of capitalism. Neoliberalism, as an ideology, is defined by limiting the role of the state in the economy to the protection of free markets and private property. In practice, neoliberalism is characterized by the large-scale privatization of public services, the opening up of international markets to free trade, the stabilization of currencies and debts, and naked class warfare waged against the working class. It is also characterized by a growing role for financial capital and a massive expansion of credit. All of this represented a certain fix to the profitability problem but only through piling up contradictions which would inevitably explode at a certain stage. Advocates of Keynesianism, especially on the left, portray the rise of neoliberalism as the product of either greed or ignorance. This sentiment has strengthened since 2008 as neoliberal capitalism has run into crisis. But the ruling class adopted neoliberalism in response to Keynesianism’s own crisis in the 1970s, which saw declining profitability, stagnation, inflation, and bankruptcies of businesses unable to find profitable investment. Neoliberalism served to restore profitability, through massive amounts of speculative activity, attacking the state sector through tax cuts and privatization while massively increasing the rate of exploitation of workers through speedups, longer hours, and cutting wages. None of this addressed the declining rate of productivity growth which reasserted itself in the U.S. after 2000 and is a key underlying factor in the current crisis. Neo-Keynesian economists, like Paul Krugman, see unregulated markets, as well as the laissez-faire system that were key features of neoliberalism, as the source of crises, rather than the capitalist system as a whole. They point to the austerity mania of the political establishment, especially in Europe, after 2008-09 as failing to bring the economy back to health.
A System in Decline
Here we need to point to a key difference between Marx-
16 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 working class faces mounting poverty and unemployment. This reality forms the basis of Keynesian theories of underconsumption, that workers are not spending enough for businesses to be profitable. If state intervention can stimulate demand, the Keynesians argue, investment will return and capitalism’s crises can be circumvented. This is a one-sided view of capitalist crises. Keynesianism superficially views the economy as an accounting entity, where fixing a negative number in one sector simply means adding its complement in another. It cannot not answer why business periodically refuses to invest in production all at once. Marxists understand it is because the entire capitalist system is driven by dog-eat-dog competition for profit, so corporations overproduce commodities and capital resulting in glutted, saturated markets. Even during the recent economic recovery, corporations saw less and less return on investment in expanding production. For example, corporations ploughed their profits heavily into the financial casino including stock buybacks. In the current criMillions of people were put to work during the Great Depression under sis, we see overproduction in the form of the Works Progress Administration. Apple hoarding over $200 billion in cash in 2019, unable to find profitable investism and Keynesianism. Marxists see capitalism as being in ment. This again points to the longer term crisis of produca long term decline. In the 18th and 19th centuries, capitaltivity growth and capitalism’s inability to really expand the ism led to a massive and unprecedented expansion of human forces of production as it did in the past, in particular during productivity. World War I was an expression of the imposthe postwar boom. If corporations refused to invest during the sible contradiction between the nation state and the further recent “boom” years, why would the Keynesian policy of givdevelopment of a world economy on a harmonious basis. The ing them more money during bust years make them invest? period between the wars saw no resolution of the underlying Both neoliberalism and Keynesianism developed in recrises – it was marked by stagnation and society lurching besponse to different crises faced by capitalism. And both failed tween revolution and counter-revolution. The postwar boom to stabilize capitalism in the long term. This poses the queswas an exceptional phase. The productivity slowdown and tion of what can be done to get us out of the current crisis. profitability crisis of the ‘70s was the beginning of capitalism resuming its longer term decline as a social system. Keynesians believe the system is not in decline and can be fixed. They view crises in terms of “underconsumption,” the driving down of workers’ wages and living standards lowers demand, preventing businesses from being able to sell their products. This process, a “crisis of realization” in Marxist terminology, is certainly a cause of crises. But it’s not the whole story. During an economic downturn, one of the economy’s sectors refuse, or are unable, to invest in production. This leads to a decline of production and economic activity generally, resulting in job losses and a collapse of living standards for the working class. Businesses shrink or go bankrupt, and the
Can Keynesianism Solve the Crisis?
Government spending can boost demand within a limited scope, and can resolve certain conjunctural aspects of the crisis of capitalism. The New Deal provided much-needed employment and relief for millions of American workers. Today, under the immediate impact of the coronavirus lockdown, certain government spending can mitigate the worst aspects of the crisis. But this only works within limits. Again, Roosevelt’s New Deal was only sustainable in an advanced capitalist country with a strong currency like the dollar, and could not by itself pull the economy out of depression. It took the destruction
Economy of World War II and other conditions as explained to ignite the postwar boom. One obvious problem with resolving the current slump is that, unlike a war or natural disaster, it is not destroying capital in a way that would allow for such a dynamic to occur. What we are likely to see now in the U.S. is a pragmatic and reluctant adoption of Keynesian measures alongside vicious austerity and possibly even privatizations. At the same time as the government is sending out stimulus checks, states are threatening massive cuts to social services and the Republicans clearly relish the thought of the Post Office going bust. In the long run, Keynesianism can’t provide a solution to the crisis. Pumping trillions into the economy won’t do away with the glutted markets that discourage investment. The $2.2 trillion fiscal stimulus has temporarily calmed financial markets, but bourgeois economists have now dropped the completely unrealistic talk of a rapid v-shaped recovery. Japan’s recent experience with three decades of Keynesian policies is a further demonstration of its inability to solve serious capitalist crises. At the start of the ‘90s the Japanese economy crashed and the government responded with public works projects, lowered interest rates, and other Keynesian measures that have lasted to this day except for a period of austerity in the early 2000s. At the cost of accumulating the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world, Japan’s Keynesian measures have eked out an average of 1% annual real GDP growth over the last three decades, interspersed with short recessions. Current Prime Minister Abe has been implementing his own right-wing Keynesianism called “Abenomics” which mixes deregulation and anti-labor laws with payouts to corporations. All this completely failed to restore sustained growth, and has instead shifted workers toward precarious, part-time or gig work. Deep social crisis or renewed class struggle, which Keynesian social and infrastructure spending have helped to avert, could reignite under Abe’s right-wing reforms.
Keynesianism and Socialism
For socialists, the increasing adoption of Keynesian measures even by right-wing governments exposes the hypocrisy of the ruling class. When Bernie Sanders called for Medicare for All, he was met with a constant refrain from Biden and other corporate Democrats of “How are you going to pay for it?” But when the Federal Reserve wants to spend part of its recent $2.3 trillion aid package for businesses and states on stocks and junk bonds to prop up financial markets, nobody asks them how they are going to pay for it. If you can find the money to save big business, why can’t you find the money to save working people? However, while Keynesian measures include business stimulus, they also include social welfare programs. Keynes’s ideas have increasing support on the reformist left among activists who genuinely do want to fight in the interests of the working class. Some, like Bernie Sanders, see Keynesian
policies as examples of “democratic socialism” pointing to Scandinavian welfare states which have also been eroded by neoliberalism. Others recognize that Keynesian policies leave capitalism intact, but see such policies as a means of gradually achieving socialism through peaceful means. Either way, these left Keynesians see capitalism and its crises through the same lens as Keynes himself, blaming the crisis exclusively on neoliberal capitalism, rather than capitalism in general. Revolutionary Marxists see things differently. The logic of capitalism will always lead to an overaccumulation of capital and overproduction, which in turn creates crises. It is absurd that society having too much wealth can create layoffs and poverty but the problem is that this wealth is created by the working class and appropriated by the capitalists. It is this contradiction of idle workers surrounded by the wealth they created that socialists seek to resolve through a planned economy. If big business is taken into democratic public ownership by workers under a planned economy, we can redirect the economy to produce goods for use rather than profit, thereby avoiding overproduction. If production needs to be reduced, a socialist economy freed from profit can simply retrain workers, or reduce the workweek to maintain full employment with no loss of income for workers, paid for by the tremendous wealth created by modern production that’s being hoarded in the hands of the 1%. Keynesianism is fundamentally not socialism, but an attempt to save capitalism from itself. And even if it were possible to fully apply left-wing Keynesian policies it would maintain the capitalist system intact, albeit with more regulations, social services, and selective state ownership. This isn’t a moralistic critique of Keynesianism for “not being radical enough.” Reforms that benefit the working class also cut into the profits of big business, which means they are under constant threat of being scaled back or reversed in the interests of the capitalist struggle for profit. When Bernie Sanders raised the need for Medicare for All in a debate, Joe Biden responded by pointing to Italy, which has single-payer health care but failed to adequately respond to the coronavirus crisis. Biden’s opposition to Medicare for All is indefensible, but the truth is that, since 2001, Italy gutted the national health system, with the aim of transforming it into a profitable appendage of private health care. We should fight for reforms like Medicare for All, but we also need to go beyond it, taking the entire healthcare industry, and ultimately all of the biggest corporations and banks that dominate the global economy, into public ownership. While Marxists reject reformism, they don’t reject the struggle for reforms. Marxists fight for reforms as part of what Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky called the “transitional method.” This entails building a bridge between consciousness as it is today and understanding the need for socialist transformation of society. We fight for reforms that would immediately benefit the working-class, from raising the minimum wage to rent control to raising taxes on big busi-
18 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 ness but we also raise demands that point beyond capitalism such as bringing the energy industry and the big banks into public ownership under democratic workers control. But we fight for these reforms through the organized mobilization of the working class; they will not be won through convincing the capitalists to adopt clever monetary tricks or policy hacks. Moreover, we point to the limitations of any reform and the need to go farther. In our program for the coronavirus crisis we call for the following: “Hazard pay” for all essential workers; all workers to be paid full wages if they lose their job to the pandemic or the recession; a freeze on all rent and mortgage payments; an emergency plan to house the homeless; reopening closed hospitals; taking over empty buildings to establish free medical clinics; massively accelerated train-
ing and hiring of medical staff; and taking over workplaces that refuse to adhere to safety standards. Demands such as these link an immediate response to the crisis to the need to take the economy into public ownership under democratic workers’ control and management. . The only definitive solution to the crisis of capitalism is through public ownership of the top 500 corporations and democratic and rational planning of the economy. The profit motive needs to be taken out of the picture, so that the democratic decisions of workers and consumers can balance spending and income in a way that can assure that production is directed where it’s needed. Through such socialist planning we can achieve a decent standard of living for all, address climate change, and do away with the crises that face capitalism. J
Nurses turned to plastic bags as the supplies of PPE ran out in New York City.
Capitalism’s COVID-19 Catastrophe Bill Hopwood
pologists for capitalism claim that the system is doing the best it can faced with a new virus in today’s complex and interconnected world. These are, at best, only excuses that seek to hide the reality of global capitalism, which has turned a health emergency into a catastrophe. This article examines, in turn, these excuses: that COVID-19 is a new virus so there could not have been preparations; the world is complex and interconnected so the virus spread rapidly and the world is vulnerable to this; and that capitalism is doing the best possible to defeat the virus.
A New Virus
It is true that COVID-19 is a new virus. However, the medical profession has been warning for years about the likelihood and risk of a major epidemic, in particular, the outbreak of a virus that attacks the respiratory system. The British Medical
Journal in 2005 reported that: "The effect of a flu pandemic arising from the mutation of avian flu into a human form would be ‘somewhere between major and catastrophic.’” [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1283216/] COVID-19 is not a form of avian flu, but it is a virus that has similar impacts. While the emergence of new viruses cannot be prevented, they should, in fact, be expected and preparations made to deal with them. The SARS virus of 2002–2003 gave a clear warning and showed some of steps needed to deal with such an outbreak. Most countries ignored the lessons, including Canada, which was the hardest hit after China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. It is clear that worldwide, with a few rare exceptions, health systems were starved of funds and not prepared. There were not stockpiles of masks and other personal protective equipment, respirators are in short supply in hospitals, and intensive care units in many countries had been cut. As the president of the European Society of Anaesthesiology, Pro-
20 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 fessor Kai Zacharowski, stated, “For the last decade across Europe we have been cutting down on hospital beds, including intensive care beds.”
A Complex World
One of the most widespread excuses for the impact of COVID-19 is that the world is interconnected and complex, and therefore the world is vulnerable. It is a true description of the world today. But are complex and connected systems inevitably vulnerable? Every object or system will break or fail if put under enough pressure or stress. However, many complex systems can withstand a lot of stress or variable circumstances. A complex system that has broad coping capacity, ability to withstand varying circumstances and multiple pathways can absorb shocks, stress, and changes. Many natural systems and organisms are complex but can cope — they have buffering. Consider human beings, which are very complex organisms with some 40 trillion cells, of hundreds of different types. For most of the life of a human, from the formation of an egg and a sperm to fertilization and cell separations and divisions, through birth and life with all its complexity, everything works fine. Humans can deal with a huge range of conditions and inputs. Humans learn languages, make tools, live in social groups — very complex individuals in complex social networks. Even when exposed to a completely new thing, a virus such as COVID-19, the vast majority of humans will survive. Capitalism, on the other hand, is shaken to its roots by this same virus. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the instability and vulnerability of global capitalism. Large parts of the world’s economy have shut down, cities are virtually closed, health systems are collapsing, and death rates are soaring. It is not that the world is complex and connected that makes it vulnerable to COVID-19, it is capitalism’s drive for profit. This has shaped the nature of the complexity and connections, making them vulnerable to disturbances. In many parts of life, capitalism has built in vulnerability. A major factor is that supply chains are long and production works on a just-in-time model. The average vehicle has around 30,000 individual parts, which are made in hundreds of factories, often assembling parts supplied by other companies. Many different companies, in possibly in dozens of countries, can be involved. These components in turn have supply lines to the raw materials including aluminum, steel of many different types, copper, glass, rubber, petroleum products, and a vast array of plastics, paint, and more. Finally, the assembly plant where all this is put together to make a vehicle does not stockpile parts. Instead, it relies on deliveries from around the world arriving every few hours. A single break in these chains and the entire production grinds to a halt. Large parts of the world’s car production have now halted. It is not just the auto industry that has long supply lines that are easily disrupted. Food and pharmaceutical supplies
have long supply chains, again often stretching across countries and continents. Food is flown and trucked around the world. A 1992 report, “Journey of a Yogurt,” examined the transport of all the ingredients that go to produce a glass jar of yogurt (including fruit, paper, sugar, glue, glass, aluminum, yogurt, milk, etc.) packaged in Stuttgart and found the transport covered a total distance of 9,115 kilometers. While many pharmaceutical drugs are manufactured in Europe and North America, most of the pharmaceutical raw materials come from China and India. How long will supplies of food and the raw materials for drugs last in this COVID-19 catastrophe? Modern agriculture aims to maximize output. More traditional agricultural systems focused more on food security. This often involved planting several varieties of a crop, each of which grow better in differing seasonal conditions. One would grow better in a hot dry summer, while others grow better in colder wetter seasons; still others were more resistant to certain insects, mold or fungus. In almost all circumstances and conditions, there was always food. Modern agriculture, in contrast, chooses a single high-yield seed and then creates the conditions, almost regardless of nature, adding more water, various herbicides and pesticides, fertilizer, etc. Some cereals crops are even dried with fossil fuels after harvesting to maximize yields. Boeing’s 737 Max airplanes were complex machines but, to save money, were killing machines. To produce a new, more fuel-efficient plane, in response to Airbus’s A320, Boeing installed heavier engines on an existing plane body, the 737 that first flew in 1967. This made the plane’s nose more likely to lift up and cause the plane to stall and fall out of the sky. To counter this, they installed software, Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System — or MCAS, to push the plane down if it had tilted too high up. Except they never told the pilots about it or trained them on how it worked and told the regulators that it was a minor change so did not need a full safety review. To further save money there was only one sensor to inform the software of the plane’s angle. If, and eventually when, the sensor failed the software pushed the nose down when it was already at the correct angle, so destabilizing the plane. Two planes crashed killing everyone on board, 346 people in total, due to a series of profit-driven decisions that unnecessarily made a complex machine a killer. Economic policies of the last decade have made the world more unstable. Governments poured money into the economy, but very little was usefully invested or paid to workers. Instead the money flowed to the banks, the large corporations and the rich, all which used the money to create bubbles in housing, the stock market and elsewhere. As Larry Elliott wrote in The Guardian, “For the past decade, the underlying fragility of the global economy has been masked by perpetually low interest rates” (3/9/2020). While governments poured trillions of dollars into the gap-
Politics ing maws of the super-rich, it was austerity for public services and workers. These policies entrenched wage stagnation, undermined public services, caused high personal debt and insecure housing. Workers’ living standards stagnated or declined, so they piled up debt and now have little or no financial cushion. The government’s largess did not include public services, including, fatally, health. This combined in a lethal combination which is the antithesis of resilience. Complex is not always unstable. Resilient systems are defined as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.” Resilient complex systems and things have the ability to deal with varying circumstances, can adapt to change, have spare capacity to cope — they have stability in a range of conditions and pressures. Many of capitalism’s complex systems, structures and machines deliberately lack all these features. The aim is for short term efficiency, removing all coping capacity and ability to deal with differing or unexpected circumstances. They often rely on cheap energy, burning fossil fuels, regardless of the damage to planet. All this efficiency is not to pay workers more or shorten the working week. The sole aim is to maximize profits now.
Doing the Best to Stop COVID-19
Now that COVID-19 is ravaging the planet, governments and business are trying to reassure us that they are doing everything they can. Really? Italy’s big companies still want to keep factories open. Canadian fossil fuel companies are continuing to bring in construction workers. Construction is continuing on the Canadian government-owned Trans Mountain pipeline. Refugees remain crammed into overcrowded camps, often without clean water or sewage, around the world. Landlords still want the rent paid and banks the mortgage payments, even though workers are losing employment in the millions. Front-line workers do not have safety equipment, such as masks, gloves, and gowns, while test kits and ventilators are scarce or non-existent. Homeless people remain on the streets while hotels stand empty. If governments were doing their best, for a start they would guarantee everyone a living income, house all the homeless and refugees, take control of industry to make the needed equipment, order laboratories to dramatically ramp up testing, and take over all private health facilities and care homes. Governments and businesses are not doing their best for us. They are trying to protect their system. They are trying to do their best to reassure us to deflect from their multiple failings. They are trying to avoid the anger at their actions over the years that have created this catastrophe. But the anger will rightfully come. J
More and more front line workers like nurses and warehouse workers are finding ways to protest during lockdown.
A hospital in South Korea’s Seoul has introduced phone boothstyle coronavirus testing facilities that allow medical staff to examine patients safely and efficiently.
South Korea: Model for Dealing with COVID-19? T
here are currently many comparisons being drawn between South Korea’s response to the first wave of the COVID-19 crisis and that of other countries, leading to a devastating indictment of the role of global leaders and capitalist governments throughout the world. Almost no government has reacted in time or with a clearly focused strategy for managing the COVID-19 crisis. Only one, South Korea, appears to have acted promptly. The rest were very late in acting to deal with a clearly critical situation. In fact, the warning signs have been clear to see for at least seven years! The German government’s bio-medicine research center, the Robert Koch Institute in cooperation with other federal agencies, conducted a risk analysis of the potential pandemic scenario using a modified SARS virus with assumed properties, some close to those found in the current pandemic. This was published and incorporated in a report to the German Bundestag (parliament) in early 2013 but has since been ignored both in Germany and internationally. Now experts in both Europe and the Americas are discussing the way forward, examining what Asian countries from China to South Korea did and are doing to contain or suppress the development of the epidemic. At stake are not just the health implications, but also economic and social stability,
and democratic rights. While tough state action may be temporarily needed to suppress the spread of the virus, their use raises serious questions of how democracy can be assured and the need to avoid authoritarian tendencies. A huge warning can be seen in Hungary where the government has handed sweeping personal powers to the right-wing Premier Viktor Orban. So how has South Korea managed to suppress the first wave of the epidemic? Since the SARS related MERS outbreak in 2015, the country has conducted civil protection exercises and, from the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, it has carried out mass testing, tracing, and case isolation. So far, it has to be stressed, there have been no lockdowns in South Korea. This position is a result not of any foresight or pre-planning that would be expected from a socialist workers’ government, but because the South Korean government was forced by circumstances to take a lot of correct measures, starting with long-term preparation. The political managers of South Korean capitalism did this, not because they had a better understanding than their counterparts of any cost-benefit calculations but because of the special position the country found itself in. In fact, a main feature of modern global society is that no stable island of capitalist reason can exist because of
International the global division of labor, trade, and imperialist relations. That the South Korean government was forced to act by circumstances expose how useless the capitalist elites in general are for the working class and society as a whole.
South Korea’s Testing an Exception
The 2015 outbreak of the SARS-related MERS virus, itself a type of coronavirus, posed a severe and obvious threat to capitalist society on the Korean Peninsula. Following it, decisions were made to develop a civil protection plan and prepare for further epidemics in the future. A procedure was installed which led to faster tests, higher capacities for the development of tests for new viruses, and the speeding up of their approval-procedure. In total, 47 drive-through-stations were built, where tests are offered at no charge. According to “Worldometers,” which monitors global statistics, South Korea had 5,200 tests per million inhabitants when the U.S. was at a meager 74. Wide-scale testing allows for the development of a map of infections with a good overview of clusters, which is critical if the crisis is to be managed effectively. As importantly, preparations were made and the necessary capacities were built before the outbreak. In addition, civil protection exercises and information campaigns were launched to raise the level of awareness about the danger. As early as December 2019, a big civil protection exercise was held. Of course, such an exercise, which means a day away from work, affects companies’ profits. However, the government deemed this acceptable in return for the later payback. The higher level of awareness in large parts of the population is certainly a factor, as it increases confidence in the dependability of actions being taken, especially among trained
South Korean workers clean a public market.
professionals. According to an article on ScienceMag.org from March 17, “Oh Myoung-Don, infectious disease specialist at Seoul National University, says, ‘The MERS experience certainly helped us to improve hospital infection prevention and control.’ So far, there are no reports of infections of COVID-19 among South Korean health care workers.” As a result, it was later sufficient for the government to just call for “social distancing.” The population, to a large degree cooperated, not needing to be coerced. In fact, the example of South Korea does not support any of the arguments of those who have jumped on the band-wagon of lockdowns and need for “bold leaders.” Actually, Oh Myoung-Don’s claim that there are no reports of infection among health care workers was premature. According to South Korea’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, by the end of March in the city of Daegu alone, 121 health care workers had been confirmed with the virus, although over a third of these had been connected to the Shincheonji religious sect, whose irresponsible actions have led to the infection of over 5,000 people. At the same time medical staff face the same problems as their colleagues in other countries — after years of financial cutbacks a shortage of staff, leading to a severe overload on those working, leading to stress and burnout. According to Kim Tae Hyong, an infectious disease expert from Soonchunhyung University, health worker shortages are “a chronic problem that has existed since before the virus, and was unfortunately left unremedied until a crisis hit.”
All Other Capitalist Governments Failed Miserably
While South Korea did react to the MERS crisis in 2015, imperialist superpowers, including Germany chose not to, even ignoring the risk scenario mapped out for them by the Robert Koch Institute. The potential to conduct widescale testing and for the virological/scientific adaption of tests to deal with a new virus exists in many countries. The main limitations to research and testing capacities are market forces and capitalist national egoism. This is also the case at other levels, including vaccine research and protective gear. Any government that tells us there is not enough testing capability is lying. The truth is, they haven’t done the right things to make it available. Governments knew about the potential for a pandemic to develop in January and yet are only now trying to resource tests and equipment.
24 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 By sticking to the principle of market regulation there is, of course, no chance of dealing effectively with a crisis of such proportions. This is already recognized by several governments who are taking piecemeal measures to order companies to change production lines and even taking some into public ownership. But piecemeal measures are too little, too late. Any degree of profit-driven decision making during such a pandemic is undermining any rapid response and collective preparations. International cooperation, based on the planning of all economies, is needed to prepare for, and act during epidemic/ pandemic challenges. This requires the maximum involvement in decision making of working people that run society on the ground, the cooperation of health services and potential patients, and the transparent and publicly owned conduct of scientific research. Emergency and radical changes in legislation concerning patents and scientific research are needed, so they no longer protect the profits of the pharmaceutical industry, but enable them to be used for the benefit of all mankind. Never before has the need for genuine workers’ governments been so apparent. Such an approach demonstrates that today’s draconian measures such as lockdowns are caused by the fact that governments are clueless and to blame for gross mismanagement. Like a drunken driver they grip the steering wheel tightly, trying to convey the superficial impression that they are in control.
Democratic, Civil Rights, and Data Protection
Of course, there are other important questions arising from South Korea’s strategy, especially regarding democracy, civil rights, and data protection. The highly problematic use of face recognition and movement tracking is alarming many people. In other countries such as China and Russia, these methods are widely used for political control. Such technology cannot be neutral. Under capitalism there is always a real danger that modern technology is used to undermine democratic and civil rights. If the use of methods such as face recognition or mo-
bile phone data in contact tracing are indispensable in fighting the pandemic, then the question of who controls the data and how it is protected from abuse is of paramount importance. Here the working class as an independent force and potential revolutionary subject comes into play. Ideally, democratically elected committees dominated by the working class must control their use. If the bourgeois state apparatus or far-right forces try to control them, opposition need to be organized.
Defending a Democratic Struggle Against the COVID-19 Crisis
Socialists do not simply defend democracy in a rigid way, as if forms of bourgeois democracy are the final answer to everything. But in a crisis such as this, it is the capitalists themselves who rush to remove democratic controls, at the very time when workers’ control, even under capitalist conditions would be the most effective way of handling the crisis. The methods of widespread testing and contact tracing would then be of huge importance in any first, or second wave response.
• Door-to-door testing free to all and drive-in-stations; • The immediate provision of protective equipment for all health care and other essential workers; • Employment protection on full pay for anyone in isolation; • Disinfectants and mask, if necessary, provided free for everyone in all public places; • These measures should be preceded and accompanied by extensive communication about the necessity and usefulness of such measures with the widespread involvement of the trade unions, health organizations and other bodies such as the Red Crescent and Red Cross; • Tracing and tracking strategies must be implemented transparently and under democratic control, by a board with elected members from trade unions and health organizations. All data must be anonymized. J
In Nigeria, the military and police are violently enforcing the lockdown.
Governments Seize On Covid 19 to Extend Repressive Powers Stephen Boyd International Executive, ISA and Socialist Party of Ireland
he Economist (3/28/2020) has described it as “the most dramatic extension of state powers since the second world war.” Across the globe governments have implemented draconian legislation akin to that of police states under the pretext of protecting society from the COVID-19 virus. For many the global lockdown has been implemented brutally. In the time when Nigeria had recorded only six deaths from COVID-19, the army and police had already killed 13 people enforcing the lockdown. In Rwanda, the first victims of the crisis were two people shot dead by the police. In Kenya, the police shot dead a 13-year-old boy. Across the neo-colonial world hundreds of millions, especially migrant workers and those in the informal economy, face a stark choice: defy the lockdowns – leave their homes to earn a living to feed their families and risk catching the virus or being victims of brutal state repression – or stay at home and die of hunger. In India, migrant workers have been sprayed with sodium hypochlorite, a bleaching agent that causes damage to the skin, eyes, and lungs. In Paraguay, the poor who break the quarantine have been tasered, in the Philippines curfew viola-
tors have been put in dog cages – 17,000 have been arrested and placed in overcrowded detention centers. In Mombasa, Kenya, police have used teargas and batons in an operation they claim was to protect people against the spread of the virus. Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC government in South Africa has resurrected use of the sjambok, a vicious three-foot-long whip that was a symbol of brutality during the Apartheid era and police have also fired rubber bullets at nurses protesting against the lack of protective gear. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been given the power to rule by decree without reference to the courts or parliament. In Hungary , parliament passed new laws including jail terms for spreading misinformation and allowing the right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to rule by decree under a state of emergency that has no time limit. Orban stated “We are fighting a two-front war: one front is called migration, and the other one belongs to the coronavirus. There is a logical connection between the two, as both spread with movement,” (France24.com, 3/13/2020).
Crisis Legislation That Never Expires
While the majority of people currently look favorably on
26 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 new legislation which is claimed to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, working-class people, trade union activists, and socialists must all be alert to the inherent dangers. Traditionally repressive legislation introduced at times of crisis tends to remain on the statute books to be used at a later date against workers on strike and working-class communities campaigning for their rights. In France in 2015, the state of emergency declared after a terrorist act was subsequently used against climate change demonstrations at the UN Summit. The Guardian Weekly (4/10/2020) quotes Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, saying that prior to 9/11 the U.S. government had been developing regulations designed to protect the personal information of web users. “In the course of a few days the concern shifted from how do we regulate these companies that are violating norms and rights to how do we nurture and protect these companies so they can collect data for us?” In China, drones search for people without facemarks, while in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Belgium, governments are using data from major telecommunications companies to track people’s movement. In Israel, the national security agency is allowed to access infected people’s phone records. South Korea sends texts to the public identifying potentially infected individuals and sharing information about where they have been. The Coronavirus Act in the UK gives the police and immigration officers the power to arrest and detain people suspected of carrying the virus for the next two years. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a request with Congress for a new rule that would allow judges to suspend courtroom proceedings potentially leading to people being jailed without ever being able to formally object. As Kevin Blowe of Netpol
commented “These powers get put in place, and it sounds reasonable at the time – and then very quickly they’re applied for other purposes that have nothing to do with democracy and nothing to do with public safety.”
How do These Laws Get Used?
During the historic British miners strike of 1984-85, thousands of miners were arrested, charged with offenses such as conspiracy and riot, and legislation supposedly meant for national emergencies was used to restrict the movement of miners from one part of the country to another. During the strike, 11,291 people were arrested, mostly for breach of the peace or obstructing roads whilst picketing, of whom 8,392 were charged and between 150 and 200 were imprisoned. At least 9,000 mineworkers were fired after being arrested whilst picketing even when no charges were brought. Papers released from the National Archives revealed that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was secretly preparing to use troops and declare a state of emergency at the height of the miners’ strike. In what became known as the “Battle of Orgreave” thousands of miners from around the country picketed the plant on June 18, 1984. They were met by 6,000 police officers commanded by a South Yorkshire police assistant chief constable, and were subjected to a charge by mounted officers, with many brutally assaulted, hit by police on horses and on foot wielding their batons. Ninety-five miners were arrested, and 55 prosecuted for the offense of riot, which carried a potential life sentence in prison. In 2019, the police used Section 14 of the 1986 Public Order Act to ban Extinction Rebellion climate change protesters from demonstrating in London. Six ESB strikers (electricity supply workers) in Ireland in 1985 were arrested using Section 30 of the Offenses Against the State Act, legislation originally enacted against terrorism. During the present crisis, in the South of Ireland drastic new emergency powers were granted to the state in March by the Dail (parliament). These powers include the power to force someone to stay in their home, to force someone to stay within a certain distance of The CCP regime in China has ramped up the use of robots and facial recognition technology their home, to ban
to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.
International gatherings in a private home and to ban gatherings in public (which would include protests). The Sunday Business Post described the powers as containing “measures akin to a police state.” These powers can remain in place should the Government so choose up until November 9 and can be renewed by the Dáil (Irish Parliament) after that point. In the Dáil debate Socialist Party and International Socialist Alternative TD (MP) Mick Barry opposed the emergency powers by speaking against them, submitting amendments and saying “nil” (no) when the Ceann Comhairle (chairperson) asked whether the powers were agreed. He pointed out that COVID-19 emergency legislation had already been used in other countries to suppress dissent and pointed to the breaking up of a Yellow Vest protest by police in France. He also said that emergency powers had been used in the past in Ireland for purposes other than those for which they had officially been introduced, most notably with the Offenses Against the State Act which had been introduced to combat “terrorism” but was subsequently used many times against workers’ struggles.
Repression Undermines Safety
Rather than assist the battle against the coronavirus, repressive legislation can actually hinder it. In Italy, a crucial contribution to the battle against the virus has been made by those workers who took strike action to demand the closure of nonessential industry kept open by their bosses to maximize profits. Now, emergency legislation which bans strikes up until April 30 will be used as a deterrent against these powerful antivirus actions. In Hungary, the dictatorial measures implemented by far right Prime Minister Victor Orban (which include postponement of all elections) will completely undermine the openness and transparency that the World Health Organization itself says is a key part of winning mass support to fight an epidemic. The most powerful factor in slowing the spread of the virus has been the discipline of the vast mass of ordinary people who have voluntarily implemented hand washing and social distancing guidelines. The voluntary efforts of the mass of the people are a far, far more powerful tool than repressive powers in the fight against the pandemic. Unfortunately, the left internationally have generally not taken a principled position of opposition to the granting of emergency powers to the capitalist state. This was seen graphically in Portugal where the Left Bloc voted in favor of a ban on strikes and the Communist Party abstained. The pandemic and the post-pandemic situation will open up many new challenges, dangers and opportunities for the left. The adoption of a principled position on the question of emergency powers is and will continue to be a key issue for the left as it prepares to meet these challenges.
The Role of the State
In capitalist societies the state is not a neutral arbiter that exists simply to ensure the smooth running of society and to uphold “justice” and “democracy.” Frederick Engels in his book The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, first published in 1884, describes the state as “a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable opposites which it is powerless to exorcise. But in order that these opposites, classes with conflicting economic interests, shall not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power seemingly standing above society that would moderate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of ‘order.’” The state, as Engels put it, can in the last analysis, be understood as “armed bodies of men acting in defense of private property.” Therefore all of the new legislation that is being implemented by governments around the world must be viewed from the perspective of how it will strengthen the bourgeois state and the ability of the capitalist class and their political acolytes to oppress working-class people struggling and campaigning to improve their lives. IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva says the pandemic will unleash the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. A total of 81% of the global workforce of 3.3 billion people have had their workplace fully or partly closed. Nearly 200 million people could end up out of work in the next three months alone according to the International Labor Organization. There will be a political reckoning in the coming years as capitalist governments attempt to make the working class and poor masses pay for the economic impact of Covid-19 on the world economy. They will not hesitate from using the full powers of their states, including the new powers they have recently acquired, against working class people fighting for jobs, for decent healthcare, for better wages and against the increasing impact of climate change. The late Peter Hadden, a founding member of the Socialist Party in Ireland and our international organization, wrote in an article entitled “Northern Ireland: Marxism and the State” (1985): “Marxists do not base their demands on what may be popular at any given time. Temporary moods often develop in which class realities can be obscured from the eyes of the working class. Under such conditions it is the responsibility of the Marxists not to be swept along by the prevailing current of popular opinion, but to defend their program and to tell the working class the truth.” This is the case today – in the midst of the pandemic, when the prevailing mood amongst many is that the state is acquiring new powers to protect us all from the Covid-19 virus it is our duty to tell the truth that these new powers are a danger to all working-class people. J
Cars stretch for miles as people line up for a food bank in New Jersey.
Capitalism and COVID-19: Why We Need a Planned Economy Keely Mullen
apitalism is set up like a house of cards. Disjointed supply chains, competition for component parts, research and technology hoarded – there are weak spots and vulnerabilities built into every joint in the capitalist system. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic crisis which has been brewing for a decade, has caused that house of cards to collapse. Describing the breakdown in the global supply chains, The New York Times (4/10/2020) reported, “At some ports, goods are piling up, while elsewhere container ships sail empty. Dairy farmers are dumping their milk, while grocery store shelves have been picked bare.” Mike Jette, the vice president of consulting services at GEP – a company that provides supply chain software and strategy for major corporations like ExxonMobil and Walmart – predicts that peak disruption for big corporations with international supply chains would likely happen three months from now. We are currently facing a potentially dangerous shortage of key goods: food, medicine, toilet paper, and certain electronics. This is not because we ran out of supplies, or because we
lack the capacity to make more. It is because companies and entire industries are scrambling to reorganize supply chains that have been built around finding the cheapest possible raw materials, component parts, and labor.
Food Supply Breaking Down
In a truly dystopian illustration of this problem, there are currently mountains of food being shovelled back into the ground by wholesale producers while grocery store shelves and food banks sit empty. According to The Guardian (4/9/2020) “Roughly half the food grown in the U.S. was previously destined for restaurants, schools, stadiums, theme parks, and cruise ships.” There is plenty of food being grown and produced, but the nature of the demand has changed. Industrial kitchens are shuttered as large gatherings are on hold and farmers are scrambling to find customers for their excess food. The USDA did not step in to buy up excess food despite repeated pleas and now there is consensus among industry insiders that a potential food shortage is impending. There has been no coordinated response from the federal
Theory or state governments to intervene, buy surplus crops, and distribute them to families in need, so millions of pounds of fresh food is left to rot. The myth of the invisible hand of the market is being exposed with deadly consequences.
An Alternative to Capitalist Anarchy
ventilators or masks – factories could be rapidly retooled to make these products en masse. Multi-purpose factories could be built in order to accommodate the rapidly changing needs of society. Without profit in the mix, production can be determined by human need not the tunnel-vision greed of corporate bosses.
1. Cooperation to rapidly develop needed supplies. The shortage of PPE for U.S. health care workers has deadly consequences. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on industry and governments to increase PPE manufacturing by 40% to meet the dire need. General Electric workers in Lynn, Massachusetts have protested outside corporate headquarters demanding that currently idle factories be rapidly put to use making needed medical supplies. Under a workers’ government, such a protest – or pleas from the WHO – would not be needed. Workers’ representatives, nationally and internationally, would debate and decide on the broad priorities for production and the distribution of resources based on the needs of society. Workers’ representatives in each industry, down to the enterprise level would then discuss and agree on how to implement these priorities. Therefore – when there is a clear and proven need for
2. The testing we need. Despite being a global economic superpower, the U.S. has been pummelled by the COVID-19 outbreak. There are numerous reasons for this, including the Trump regime’s flippant dismissal of the impending crisis for months. Additionally, a key contributor has been the lack of available testing and the devastatingly low capacity of the U.S.’s resource-starved public healthcare system following decades of cuts. On February 10 Trump released his proposed 2021 budget which includes further cuts to SNAP, Medicaid, the CDC, as well as the U.S.’ contribution to the WHO. On both an individual and societal level, testing is a crucial tool to limit the spread of viruses. For health care professionals, testing an individual patient allows for an accurate and quick treatment plan to be administered, including immediate isolation. It also allows for the identification of whoever that individual has had contact with – therefore far more accurately containing localized spreads of the virus. On a macro level, accurate testing information is a key component of mapping the spread, contagiousness, and general life cycle of the virus. In the U.S., rather than using the already in-use WHO test, the Trump administration instructed the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to develop its own test. The CDC, however, is not set up to distribute and carry out mass testing in the event of a pandemic. When the CDC tests were found to be faulty, the Trump administration did not rush to find a solution. The Trump administration made a political decision to reject the WHO test, putting millions of lives at risk. On the basis of a workers’ government and a socialist economy, where medical research and technology is in public hands, scientists from across the country – who are currently idle as labs and universities are closed – could have been deployed to develop accurate testing equipment as well as a vaccine. Tens of thousands of health care workers, alongside workers in non-essential industries, could be sent in to set up testing stations in every community. Testing could be done on a truly mass scale, an essential first step for effectively containing the spread of the virus. This would enable medical professionals to have a better sense of where there are clusters of the disease and to follow up with contact tracing. This will also require tens of thousands of workers across the country and will be pivotal in taking immediate action to limit the spread and prevent a massive second surge.
Illness and disease is unavoidable. Under any form of society, human beings will be susceptible to viruses and infections. (Though it is undeniable that epidemics are growing in frequency due to our constant encroachment on natural habitats.) However, what is by no means predetermined is the scale of destruction and death that sickness can cause. The food supply issues we’ve identified above are just one example of how completely ill-equipped the capitalist system is to deal with the effects of a global pandemic. From the drastic shortages of critical medical supplies to the millions without affordable health care or any health care coverage. From the low wages and lack of paid leave that force millions to work through sickness to the denial of needed personal protective equipment (PPE) to front-line workers as a way for bosses to cut costs. None of these factors, which have exacerbated hundreds-fold the depth of this crisis, are inevitable. They are the result of a system designed to extend the profits of the rich at the expense of the health and safety of the rest of us. What is needed to avoid this scale of calamity is a dramatic reorganization of society on a democratically planned basis. We need a socialist economic system where democratically elected councils of workers make the key decisions about how we invest society’s resources. Such a society would be far better equipped to react to a crisis on the scale of this pandemic for many reasons. Here are just a few.
Without profit in the mix, production can be determined by human need not the tunnel-vision greed of corporate bosses.
30 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 If the approach we’ve elaborated were taken, extensive lockdowns would be generally unnecessary. A socialist society would develop a democratically agreed plan for dealing with virus outbreaks, therefore preventing it from escalating to such a disastrous degree. On the basis of the chaos created by capitalism, however, lockdowns have been a necessity in most countries with a few exceptions. 3. The health care we deserve. Hospitals in many states are bursting at the seams with sick patients and health care workers are putting their lives on the line with devastatingly limited supplies of PPE. Under a workers government, the priorities of society would be vastly reorganized. Health care would no longer be subject to the whims of billionaire executives and decisions about where to allocate resources would be made nationally with the input of workers in the industry. This would go beyond just Medicare for All – or a single-payer health care system at the point of care. It would include the public ownership of the entire health care industry – including hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, as well as medical device companies. In such a situation it is difficult to imagine nurses wearing garbage bags or four patients being forced to share a ventilator. If nurses and health care professionals had direct democratic input in deciding how to run our hospitals, they would not have to beg for safe staffing or basic supplies. High-quality health care would be a priority of a society whose sole purpose was to meet human need. Therefore hospitals would
be given ample funding for beds, more well-trained staff, and necessary supplies and equipment. Sick people could get high-quality treatment at no cost and health care workers could do their jobs with far less fear of infection or death. 4. Minimize supply chain madness. Global supply chains are being thrown into turmoil by the coronavirus pandemic. This is not a surprise given the huge amount of redundancies and kinks in the capitalist supply chain. In a bizarre illustration of this, as we wrote in our August 2019 article “Climate Catastrophe and the Case for a Planned Economy”: When a car is being assembled, almost every single component part will travel to Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. over and over before the parts come together to form a car. The metal base of a steering wheel that’s produced in the U.S. is sent to Mexico to get covered and stitched up before being sent back to the U.S. This is entirely so the company can find the cheapest supplies and labor to make their final product. We do not subscribe to nationalist-based arguments about the need for products to be entirely “American-made.” It would be impossible to continue developing needed technology if component parts were solely sourced locally. For example, smartphones are full of precious metals like cobalt and lithium that can only be obtained in large enough quantities from Africa or South America. We are by no means opposed to global trade, however it needs to be efficiently planned in the interests of people and
A pile of zucchini and squash discarded by a Florida farmer on April 1.
Theory 31 the planet. On the basis of a planned economy, priorities for global trade would be set. If a component part can be sourced locally, it should be in order to minimize the environmental impact of global trade as well as generally making production more efficient. In a cooperative society, supply chains would not grind to a halt because one factory halfway across the world was unable to supply one component part. This is the reality under capitalism because corporations use “just in time” methods and become reliant on the suppliers willing to provide the cheapest possible parts. Under a socialist economy, based on cooperation rather than cutthroat competition in the production process, there would be multiple suppliers that could step in to fill a need.
Fight Like Hell
If society were run in the interests of the vast majority of us, we could have contained this virus and prevented a global pandemic. We would not have been forced to work because
employers were not required to provide sick leave (since the pandemic broke out, companies with less than 500 employees are required to provide two weeks sick leave) or because we do not have enough savings to miss a paycheck. We would not be left to rot with no basic safety supplies while the billionaires hide out in their compounds. We would not have to ration our food to make rent. We need to end the rule of billionaires over our lives and their reckless drive for profit at our expense. We need to replace government in the interests of the billionaires with a government of, by and for working people where society’s resources are deployed on the basis of need. We need a society where decisions are made democratically by councils of workers internationally, nationally and within industries. Hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, around the world will lay dead at the end of this pandemic, killed by a system that couldn’t be bothered to prioritize their lives. For them, we’ll fight for a socialist future. J
A Flawed Manifesto
haskar Sunkara’s 2019 book, The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality is an important contribution to the debate about how to end capitalism – which has produced one disaster after another – and what we mean by socialism. Bhaskar’s book roots his analysis in an extensive survey of important episodes in the history of the labor and socialist movement internationally over the past 150 years. But as we explain in this review, this survey also has many important omissions and flawed conclusions which reflect the limitations of Sunkara’s political approach. Sunkara is the editor of Jacobin magazine and an important figure in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), both of which have played a key role in the current revival in interest in socialism, particularly among young people. His book addresses a key question facing socialists – which of course is not new -namely whether the change we need can be won through a radical series of reforms, or whether a more decisive, revolutionary break with capitalism is required. This debate today is conditioned by the collapse of Stalinism as well as several decades of anti-worker neoliberal attacks to the benefit of the billionaire class which have resulted in a much weaker labor movement.
As a result, the current generation of working-class activists, which has proven its willingness to fight, is still feeling its way, beginning to draw conclusions from its experience, and asking deeper questions. The throwing back of the historic left and a still-weakened labor movement are huge but not insurmountable challenges. A pivotal part of the fight for socialism must be relearning the lessons of the class struggle internationally over the past 150 years – both the victories and the defeats – to draw the correct conclusions today.
Preparing for a New Period
The U.S. has seen a reawakening of the working class marked by the biggest strike wave since the 1980s beginning two years ago with the West Virginia teachers, alongside international youth actions against climate change, and Bernie Sanders’ call for a political revolution as a self-identified democratic socialist. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer found 56% of people surveyed believe that capitalism is “doing more harm than good in its current form.” Internationally, the current phase of deep economic crisis was preceded by the biggest wave of revolts against inequality and corruption from Chile to Iraq to Hong Kong in 50 years. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has ushered in a global economic catastrophe which puts on full display the bankrupt capitalist system. With this background, we can explore the usefulness of The
33 Socialist Manifesto as a guide to action for today’s struggles. To build the democratic, socialist society we’re fighting for, it is critical that we study the successes and failures of revolutionary processes and workers movements of the past. Given the stakes, it’s crucial to be precise on questions of strategy and the revolutionary potential of the working class given what we’re up against in the power of the billionaire class. Bhaskar is a “democratic socialist,” advocating an approach that correctly calls for the working class and its leaders to “choose confrontation over accommodation with the elites” as the “sole way we'll not only Bhaskar Sunkara. make our reforms durable but break with capitalism entirely” (pp. 222-3). But he does not adequately address the inevitable resistance of the ruling class to a challenge against its dominance, nor how the working class can defeat the resistance of the 0.01% to a democratic socialist transformation. He clearly favors the approach of figures in the left wing of European social democracy as opposed to the revolutionary tradition of the leaders of the Russian Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky from which we draw inspiration.
Lessons from Social Democracy
Drawing lessons from history, Sunkara analyzes the degeneration of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Early 20th century German social democracy was a mass organization still formally committed to Marxism but increasingly pulled by a growing layer of trade union officials and elected representatives toward an accommodation with capitalism. Once a leading defender of Marxism in the SPD, Karl Kautsky failed the test of Word War I by failing to oppose the party leadership’s support for the ruling class’ war efforts, abandoning the Marxist program and becoming a staunch opponent of the Russian Revolution. He emerged from the war advocating a path to socialism through parliament. While Sunkara explains how the right wing leadership of the SPD in government used “decisive and cruel measures” after the war including getting the far right to murder revolutionary fighters like Luxemburg and Liebknecht, he glosses over Kautsky’s role saying that he and other “centrists” in Germany “simply fought for peace”(p.78). Kautsky’s wing of the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD) actively worked against preparing the working class for revolution af-
ter the war before returning to the SPD fold. Sunkara also discusses the post World War II period when social democracy played a key role in administering the capitalist state in many European countries during the period of economic expansion that lasted until the 1970s. By then, the leadership of the SPD and other social democratic parties had largely abandoned even the pretense of having a Marxist position. Sunkara elaborates on postwar social democracy’s achievements in Western Europe, particularly in Sweden and Britain, but has less to say on how these gains were systematically eroded in the neo-liberal era beginning in the 1980s often with the help of the same social democratic parties. In reality, the postwar period and the development of the welfare state was an exceptional situation. Every reform won under capitalism can be eroded, like the expanded welfare states won by social democratic parties in Europe which has been under attack in the neoliberal period often by the same parties now completely transformed into pro-capitalist establishment parties.
Marxists and the Role of the Working Class
While Sunkara sees the working class as the key force to achieve significant reform, his analysis discounts the potential of the working class to achieve revolutionary change, both in the neo-colonial and advanced capitalist world. On this point, The Socialist Manifesto’s historical analysis has important omissions and distortions. The problems begin with Sunkara’s fundamentally negative attitude to the most historic victory for a fighting socialist program: the Russian Revolution of 1917 under the leadership of Lenin, Trotsky, and the Bolshevik party. Up to World War I, Lenin and the Bolsheviks in Russia
34 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 looked to the German Marxists for inspiration and leadership. However, the Bolshevik approach, as one of the two wings of Russian socialism, was forged through their experience and debates on how to address the tasks of the revolution in a society dominated by a feudal aristocracy with a weak capitalist class. The Mensheviks, the other wing, saw the coming revolution as a classic bourgeois revolution with the working class in a supporting role while the Bolsheviks saw that the Russian capitalists were too weak and compromised to lead “their own” revolution and that the working class would have to play the leading role. Flowing from their perspective, the Bolsheviks argued for an organization of “professional revolutionaries” which the Mensheviks rejected. Following the important experience of the failed 1905 revolution, the debate – that had already led to a split in 1903 – was shown to have very real implications in actual policy. After the February 1917 revolution, the Mensheviks argued that socialists should support an alliance with capitalist politicians in the post-Tsar provisional government. The Bolsheviks explained that the capitalists would never pull Russia out of the war or transform the lives of workers and peasants. They therefore called for expelling the capitalists from the government and for “all power to the soviets” i.e. to the councils the workers had created in 1905 and February. Over the course of 1917, the Bolsheviks won the majority of the working class to this position. The Bolsheviks then led the working class to power in the October Revolution with the support of the peasantry and rank and file soldiers.. Sunkara calls the Bolshevik Revolution a “moral catastrophe” yet stops short of agreeing with the capitalist apologists who call it a “coup.” While he faults all involved, including the Russian working class, his point seems to be that if only the left-wing Menshevik Julius Martov and his small group had stood in front of the “train of Bolshevism,” then a) maybe the liberal coalition could have won some reforms, and b) Stalinism could have been avoided. However, the “train” in this situation was not the Bolshevik Party, but the larger force of the working class driving toward revolution with the demands for “land, bread, and peace.” Sunkara’s analysis dismisses the potential for workers’ revolution in the wave of mass action that swept Western Europe after the Russian Revolution of 1917. In 1918, revolutions took place in Germany and Austria-Hungary. From March to August 1919, a soviet republic was formed in Hungary. In Italy, 1919 -1920 is known as the biennio rosso (the two red years) marked by mass strike actions of millions including factory occupations led by workers councils, particularly in Turin and Milan. On July 20-21, 1919, a general strike was called in solidarity with the Russian Revolution. The revolutionary fervor in Italy was derailed by the Italian Socialist Party avoiding decisive action, pointing instead toward a legislative road. Indecisiveness doesn’t go unanswered, and the revolutionary period was followed by a wave of violent reaction by the Fascist Blackshirt Militia, and in 1922 by Mussoli-
Book Review ni taking power. This phase came to an end without victory for the revolution in Europe centrally because of the lack of a tested and authoritative revolutionary leadership. But the outcome could have been very different and capitalism only survived with the most ruthless contortions. If they had won it would also have relieved the pressure on the Soviet state and acted as a massive counterweight to Stalinist degeneration. Trotsky describes the balance of forces in this period with an analogy in The First Five Years of the Communist International (1924): “When a ship loses its rudder, it is sometimes necessary to keep its left and right engines running alternately. The ship moves in zigzags, a great amount of energy is expended, but the ship keeps moving. Such at the present time is the steering device of the capitalist states of Europe. The bourgeoisie is compelled to alternate fascist and Social-Democratic methods. Fascism was and remains strongest in those countries where the proletariat came closest to power, but was unable to take it or hold it: Italy, Germany, Hungary, etc.” Lenin, Trotsky, and the Bolsheviks acknowledged that it was not possible to build socialism, in isolated, under-developed Russia and therefore looked to the massive Western European working classes – particularly in Germany – as the only force that could save the Russian revolution against counter-revolution from the capitalists or bureaucratic degeneration. Sunkara describes this “hope for a breakthrough” as a “failed gamble” (p.97). Sunkara is also very forgiving of France’s 1936-1938 Popular Front government and its leader Leon Blum. Sunkara treats Blum’s approach as a strategic calculation, rather than a capulation to bourgeois forces: “Blum grappled with the question of why and under what conditions a socialist would enter government. He distinguished between the ‘exercise of power’ (taking office to prepare the groundwork for socialism) and the ‘conquest of power’ (the actual dismantling of capitalism). In the end, Blum settled for ‘the occupation of power,’ to keep it out of the grasp of fascists” (p.110). In part due to increased confidence after Blum’s government came to power, the French working class took persistent mass actions and won wide sweeping labor and social reforms (the Matignon Accords). But the “popular front” between the socialists, the Communist Party, and the bourgeois “radicals” acted to restrain the working class and to block the only road that could have pushed back fascism: the socialist revolution. While addressing the unprincipled coalitions between the Stalinized Comintern and social democracy, Sunkara concludes “the reforms also contained the seeds of their undoing” (p.111). Sunkara seems to see Blum’s government as some sort of “example” but the hard truth is that the reformist “occupation of power” opened the door to fascism. Sunkara then fails to address the potential for socialist revolution in the period immediately following World War II. In spite of the fact that the Kremlin did not seek to lead struggles for social liberation, more than 25 countries had work-
35 ing-class or anti-imperialist uprisings from 1944-1948, from Algeria to Thailand. It’s unclear why, but he also doesn’t take up the historic general strike in France, alongside the mass social movements and strikes that shook the global ruling class to its core in 1968.
The Chinese Revolution
tion (for land reform, democracy, and throwing off the imperialists). Having seized power, the working class, leading the broad urban and rural masses, must begin to carry out the socialist tasks of the revolution by seizing control of the economy from the capitalists and linking up with the working class internationally to do the same globally.
Reform or Revolution Sunkara tries to address the different problems facing the revolution in the neo-colonial world by assessing the lessFor the working class, it can be fatal to underestimate the well-known Chinese Revolution of 1925-7 as well as the betviciousness of capitalism, and to ignore that the levers of ter known Revolution of 1949 which brought Mao to power. power lie with the system’s defenders. The ruling class does Sunkara says that in order to avoid the “excesses of nationalnot sit back when challenged, but fights ever more viciousism or socialism alike...[t]he solution is a banal one: valuing ly to maintain a grip on a massively unequal society, using and protecting rights and liberties, while ensuring that ordithe state, the “armed bodies of men” in Engels’ words, as its nary people are not only consulted through mass rallies but main tool. A strong working-class movement will inevitably actually have democratic avenues to make choices and hold be faced with the question of reform or revolution to overtheir leaders accountable. Without this bedrock, any postcapcome the power and resources of the billionaire class. History italist [sic] society risks creating a new caste of oppressors,” shows repeatedly the terrible danger of a “half a revolution” (p. 153). when the leadership of the workers’ movement isn’t prepared This is a muddled analysis and falls short of articulating a to split and break up the existing state apparatus, and establish program for revolutionary struggle in the neo-colonial world. a democratic, workers’ government. Concretely, the Chinese revolution of 1925-7 was centered Sunkara describes the question of reform or revolution as on the urban working class and was betrayed by the zig-zag a difference of emphasis: Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, and revopolicies of the Comintern. lutionary Marxists generally delineate this as a foundational The 1949 revolution was based on a peasant army with the difference. The central issue is one of perspectives for Marxurban working class reduced to the role of passive spectator. ists: is it possible to achieve an egalitarian socialist society The result was a Stalinist regime that ended capitalism but without a decisive rupture? Working people have repeatedly the bureaucratic elite blocked the working class from political moved in the direction of revolution when the road of reform power. The working class – with the social and economic cois blocked. But the punishment for a failed revolutionary situhesion to create a democratically planned economy – is the only truly progressive force in modern society. The Chinese “Communist” Party had no internal democratic life, the opposite of the Bolsheviks. For genuine socialism, the core ideas are democratic planning and a liberated society, not the bureaucratization of Stalinism and the Chinese dictatorship. Revolutionary movements face the possibility of the greatest victories, or the most bloody defeats. Trotsky’s Permanent Revolution explains that the imperialist domination imposed on the then colonial world meant these countries could not replicate the “normal” bourgeois development of the advanced capitalist countries. In this situation, only the working class, by leading the fight for national liberation, could take on the tasks of a bourgeois revolu- Luise and Karl Kautsky, 1902.
36 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 Even more radical social democrats have found themselves in an insoluble contradiction because without rooting themselves in the possibility and necessity of revolution, their program leads to class compromise at best and bloody defeat at worst. The reformist leaders of European-style social democracy in the 20th century ultimately denied the need to break with capitalism – Karl Kautsky, Leon Blum, Salvador Allende, Olof Palme, Francois Mitterand – and did not wage a decisive battle against their respective bourgeois. These social-democratic leaders presided over left (but not revolutionary) parties. In the end, even with the very favorable situation of the post-World War II boom, when capitalism was willing and able to make some concessions to maintain class peace, in the longer term the tragic outcome is that the gains won by Revolutionary leader Karl Liebknecht speaks to German workers circa the working class under social democratic 1919-1920. leadership were reversed. In our time, Greece shows the bankation is brutal repression, or an open door to reaction. This is ruptcy of reformism taken to its logical conclusion. Originalnot a question of preference, but of life and death, represently elected on a mandate to reject European Union austerity ing either the greatest gains or setbacks. in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008-9, the radical left The sad truth is that the consequences of getting “reform coalition SYRIZA raised the hopes of the working class then or revolution” wrong have been bloody and brutal. For examdashed them to pieces when its leader Alexis Tsipras cut deals ple, in Chile in the early 1970s, avowed socialist Salvador Alwith the European banking institutions. By trying to comprolende was elected president and began arguing for legislating mise on the basis of accepting a “Greek debt” and enforcing a path toward socialism. the same austerity measures imposed in a previous governIn Chile, the working class was the driving force in the ment led by the social democratic party PASOK, SYRIZA movement that catapulted a coalition of left parties called both failed to prepare the Greek working class for a confronPopular Unity (UP) and Salvador Allende into power in 1970. tation with the EU and tragically miscalculated the internaImmediately, President Allende nationalized a number of mational capitalist institutions’ (EU, ECB, and IMF) determinajor economic industries including copper mining and banking, tion to defend finance capital even if meant pauperizing the and developed a national health care service. Unfortunately, Greek people. The outcome was a historic defeat of the Greek Allende didn’t think it was necessary to purge the reactionworking class. aries out of the officer corps while mobilizing the working class to defend the gains that had been made, and instead kept many of the generals and military apparatus intact. Because of the mass support that existed for Allende, and the popularity of the nationalization of profitable industries to the benefit of the Chilean working class, the global ruling class feared these ideas would embolden revolutions internationally. A U.S.-backed coup brought General Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973. Pinochet’s government murdered leftists and tortured thousands, outlawed labor unions, and “liberalized” the economy leading to a rapid, massive upsurge in inequality. While Allende cannot be blamed for the decades of dictatorship that followed with Pinochet’s rule, his mistaken approach to the state under capitalism is a lesson that building the new world requires a decisive break with the old.
Marxism on the Role of the State
Marx and Engels’ thinking on the state was shaped by the experience of the revolutions of 1848 which showed the need for working class independence. They further solidified their views on what workers’ power could achieve through the experience of the Paris Commune of 1871. The working class “communards” were directly making decisions through their elected councils and were able to push for a system that addressed their needs, rather than lobbying for this or that reform. The communards fought to end the power of the church, liberalize education, end child labor, and passed far reaching reforms for gender and economic equality. Ultimately, the capitalist government re-assembled its forces, and bloodily
37 ended the commune’s temporary liberation of the Parisian workers under capitalism. The whole history of the 20th century shows that the capitalist class will not simply surrender without a fight. We have to examine from the experiences of the countless working-class people who learned this lesson the hard way to take revolutionary theory seriously, rather than rewrite history to justify the political features of today.
We Need A New Party Of, By, and For the Working Class
The Socialist Manifesto’s fifteen point conclusion on “How We Win,” includes Sunkara’s democratic-socialist view of how a new mass workers’ party could emerge. His idea is that “class struggle social democracy” of the Corbyn/Sanders/ AOC variety should facilitate an electoral breakthrough, first writing that, “class struggle social democracy isn’t a foe to democratic socialism – the road to the latter runs through the former” (p.222). For the DSA, this has meant a strategy of using the Democratic Party ballot line. Continuing emphasis on reforming the Democratic Party has led Jacobin and others in the DSA to underestimate what is possible and necessary as the establishment again moved to block Sanders. They have actively opposed calling for a new party even as millions are infuriated with the party establishment which seeks to impose the desperately weak Biden. Sunkara generally calls for a mass mobilization to build “class struggle social democracy” with the goal of “generating working-class strength through electoral campaigns rath-
er than subordinating existing struggles to the goal of getting a few people elected” (p. 217). In essence, he advocates winning a base of support for a broad social democratic program which he believes would then pave the road for greater struggle and a more fundamental change. What is the role of the working class in this process? Without building a new party where working people can participate, can democratically debate its program, and run candidates that reject corporate cash and are required to adhere to the party’s platform, how does this base keep accountable the socialists that have won “decisive majorities in legislatures while winning hegemony in the unions” (p.222)? Flowing from this, is it possible to legislate our way into an egalitarian, socialist society? Although Sunkara agrees that the working class is a critical force for change, his end goal is ill-defined, placing crucial forms of class struggle – like strikes – into an auxiliary role. This approach goes against the recent experiences such as that of Syriza in Greece in 2015 along with historic examples like the Allende government in Chile in the 1970s, where the parliamentary approach simply wasn’t enough. A mass workers party with a fighting leadership is crucial to connect our struggle for every reform possible under capitalism with the fight to restructure society on the basis of socialist planning. Decisive change requires that the working class must be more than a voting block in the struggle against capitalism. While the American working class has historically waged enormous battles without the benefit of a mass workers party, this has also been a decisive limitation. Far more extensive gains could have been won and a real left tradition maintained
In 1973, Pinnochet’s U.S.-backed coup killed Allende and destroyed unions while “disappearing” tens of thousands of leftists and trade unionists.
38 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 over the decades. More than ever, it is critical to coalesce our class around a fighting program pointing toward ending capitalism. The flood of new members into the DSA in 2017 and 2018, mostly young people with a desire to fight for radical change, has pushed the organization toward deeper debate on what they stand for. This includes members challenging the DSA’s historic orientation to the Democratic Party versus the project of building a new party by and for the working class in the U.S. on the basis of mass struggle. At this point, it’s broadly accepted within the DSA that a mass party is eventually necessary which is certainly a very positive step forward. A fighting program is necessary to mobilize the wider working class, which given its role in society and production has the capacity to defeat its oppressors – but this is not straightforward. Initially riding waves of mass struggle to major electoral breakthroughs, new left parties like Syriza in Greece and PODEMOS in Spain have largely failed to meet expectations when tested by the workers’ movement as a tool against the establishment parties of austerity. It is also striking that while Sunkara writes that we need a new party and uses many international examples like the Left Bloc in Portugal and Podemos, he doesn’t discuss the glaring absence and potential for international organization. Millions of people, especially young people, have strong internationalist instincts. This is evident in the global climate movement and the women’s movement. The greatest potential in decades exists for the building of international socialist organizations that makes decisive moves to galvanize the power of working people through mass action in direct confrontations with the billionaire class. Internationalism is fundamental in the fight to dismantle capitalism which itself is a global system. We must urgently rebuild the international organizations that can coordinate this struggle.
The Role of Socialists
If the organized working class underestimates the strength of the forces defending capitalism, the situation won’t remain stagnant. The military, right-wing political parties, and the far-right forces we see emboldened in the situation today, will assert themselves and try to crush any attempt by the working class to achieve fundamental change. But equally we can not underestimate the capacity and necessity of the multi-racial, multi-gender working class -- if organized and unified with a tested revolutionary leadership -- to isolate the tiny minority of exploiters and lead society out of the cul-de-sac of capitalism.
We’re entering an economic crisis which even capitalist economists admit will be far worse than 2008. The key question for the left remains: how to rebuild a fighting labor movement and a new mass party with a clear socialist program. This requires forging a new leadership that truly bases itself on the social power of the working class. Sunkara has failed to understand the full extent of the weaknesses that led to the rapid demise of both Sanders and Corbyn, which in turn exposes the limits of his conception of “class struggle social democracy.” Jeremy Corbyn’s unwillingness to fully mobilize his base against the establishment, Blairite wing of the Labour party who sought to sabotage and undermine him at every step contributed directly to Labour’s loss in the recent general election after which he stepped down as Labour leader. Millionaire Keir Starmer’s recent ascendancy to the Labour leadership is the beginning of the Blairite wing re-asserting its control of the party. It’s a set-back for the British left. To be clear it was not because his overall platform was “too radical” for the British working-class electorate. Sanders’ capitulation sheds light on the main obstacle that left-Democrats face in trying to take over the Democratic Party apparatus with a working class program: overcoming the sabotage of the powerful establishment that is tied by a million threads to the corporate elite and is completely hostile to such a program. While COVID-19 impacted the primary process, what we’ve written from the beginning stands: it would have required nothing short of a mass movement outside the Democratic Party for Bernie Sanders to win the nomination. This is why Socialist Alternative has campaigned for a new party of, by, and for the working class at every step of the way while supporting Sanders. Sunkara writes that “a political party should be the decisive link between explicitly socialist currents and a wider workers’ movement,” but places emphasis on a longer term “a socialist workers movement” (p.230). He poses the question but abstracts the answer to some ill-defined time in the future. “Class struggle social democracy” has given up just when it should be coalescing the working class and socialists into a force organized enough to resist the billionaire class’ attacks on the working class that we know are coming in the face of global economic collapse. The potential exists today to fill the vacuum on the left with the internationalist, revolutionary forces needed to turn these lessons into a coordinated, global fight against capitalism. One thing is clear: the stakes for humanity are high and ideas matter in our struggle for a better world. J
Review of No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age Tony Wilsdon
he spark ignited by West Virginia teachers in 2018 has given new energy to the labor movement. The dynamic teacher strikes which spread from “red states” to big urban areas like Los Angeles and Oakland, centered around mobilization of teachers themselves with active support from the community, demonstrated once again the potential power of the U.S. working class. Just as important was the role played by key activists in organizing for these strikes. Inspired by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 election campaign, a handful of activists set in motion an organizing effort among union members and the community which forced a reluctant union leadership to accept their strategy of mobilizing members into decisive strike action. In both West Virginia and Arizona, these activists studied the book No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age by Jane McAlevy and based their strategy and tactics around it. In No Shortcuts, McAlevey critiques not only the failed business unionism adopted by most unions, but also what she describes as the “mobilizing” model adopted by many more progressive unions. The book describes a model of “deep organizing,” based on the methods used by the emerging radical Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) unions in
the 1930s and ‘40s. This was a period when working-class militancy put its stamp on U.S. history. As a result of these militant strikes and struggles, the basic industries of auto, steel, rubber, and electricity were organized for the first time – changing U.S. history. She also discusses the central importance of community organizing as an essential companion piece to powerful workplace organizing. No Shortcuts is tightly focused on methods of labor organizing in the workplace – a Marxist approach would be broader. This review will focus firstly on the important contribution she has made to help arm labor activists today with successful union organizing methods on the job. These are her strengths. During the review I will also discuss how she has only brought forward one part of the solution. The other issue is the need for emerging activists to arm themselves politically to navigate the difficult political terrain in which unions are forced to operate in a period of declining capitalism. McAlevey has become an important figure on the left of the union movement. While many on the left have critiqued the business unionist methods adopted by the majority of unions in the U.S., the most important contribution in this book is her critique of the failed policies of many of the “progressive” lefts in the unions. She draws a sharp contrast between what she calls the “mobilizing” model of progressives compared to what she advocates: a CIO-based deep organizing’ model.
40 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 She also places the key importance of a well-organized strike as a key tool of any labor organizing.
Three Models of Organizing
McAlevey draws a sharp distinction between three different organizing models: Advocacy, Mobilizing, and Organizing. She describes how “Advocacy,” the dominant method of mainstream union leaders, looks to use the courts and political lobbying to win one-time gains and does little or no mobilizing. It is ineffective and does not raise the consciousness of workers. Otherwise described as business unionism, it looks to work out an agreement with the bosses without mobilizing the workers. The dominant section of the current union leadership see the power of the union rooted in their own “persuasive skills.” At the same time, they seek to find “common ground” with the boss. They see workers as bargaining chips. They see possible outcomes as limited by the “existing political climate,” i.e., the limits of capitalism. Example of this can be found through a quick glance at the methods of the current leadership of the UAW, the building trades, and Teamsters. She contrasts this to the “mobilizing” model, which, while giving the appearance of being bolder and more dynamic, is very shallow and ineffective. Its central weakness is that it fails to organize an expanding base among workers, thus failing to develop the overall strength of the labor movement. One chapter exposes the methods of David Rolf and SEIU Local 775 in Northwest Washington State, and the broader SEIU leadership among health care workers between 2005 and 2007 as a particularly obnoxious example of that strategy. In this campaign the workers were used as pawns in an elaborate scheme to use the union contract to get concessions from the Washington legislature to fund the employers, to then pay for a terrible union contract. In this whole process, the workers were passive by-standers. Her model, by contrast is a return to “deep organizing” of workers in the workplace as done by CIO and that seeks to transform consciousness and is a starting point to sustained struggle.
Origins of Mobilizing Model
McAlevey identifies well-known organizer and author, Saul D. Alinsky, as an early proponent of the mobilizing model. He organized community struggles in Chicago and other cities in the 1940s and 1950s. His successes there were trumpeted by others. He later became a guru for organizing in the 1960s and 1970s. He wrote the very influential Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals, first published in 1971. However, his theory and methods were deeply flawed. There was no central ideology, and certainly it was not based on the key role of the working class. McAlevey gives a quote from Alinksy where he bemoans how he could not duplicate his early organizing successes. McAlevey describes the
reason behind this. Central to Alinsky’s campaign, fighting evictions and agitating for public housing in the stockyards of Chicago in the late 1930s and early 1940s, was the power of the CIO Packing House Workers Organizing Committee. The existence of the CIO unions provided a working-class power base around which he was able to organize successful campaigns. McAlevey states: “Without the real CIO unions, like those Alinsky knew in Chicago, the church and labor alliance can’t possibly match in 2016 what it accomplished in 1939.“ (p. 45). Afterward his community organizing model was adopted by other campaigns. But without having a working-class power base, it failed. She gives examples of how many “corporate campaigns” that started to proliferate in the 1980s also saw Alinsky as their guide. Corporate campaigns looked to change unacceptable corporate behavior through highly publicized protests, political leverage, or media assaults. These campaigns focused the attention of activists on the interests of the “targeted” corporation, and not the workers they were meant to help. Workers were just there to provide a public face for these campaigns. As these methods permeated more and more into labor organizing, labor leaders overwhelmingly hired organizers from colleges and their own organizing schools, rather than from the ranks of their unions. This was especially true with the “New Labor” grouping around SEIU, UNITE-HERE, and UFCW, which took control of the AFL-CIO in 1995. McAlevey addresses an important question: who were the real leaders in these organizing campaigns? The answer was increasingly college-educated experts hired by the unions who relied on sophisticated “modern” techniques such as conducting polls to gauge public opinion, rather than talking to the workers themselves. She quotes Peter Olney, national organizer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU): ”Just before the split in the AFL-CIO, the convention [that New Labor was driving] was about how the workers really got in the way of organizing.” McAlevey states how as far as New Labor was concerned: “Workers are seen as a largely undifferentiated mass...The power analysis widely accepted by New Labor, rationalizes the shift in focus away from workers as the primary source of leverage against employers to all other actors as equally important sources of leverage. In New Labor’s imagination, since workers represent only one of a dozen possible leverage points, it makes sense to rely equally upon the other eleven. Unfortunately, the workers’ interests also get only a twelfthpart consideration in whatever deal is made.” (p. 51) The end result was top-down organizing where workers themselves were passive spectators, and where clever media tricks and political experts predominated. Especially with SEIU, this included roving union staff who were moved from one struggle to another, irrespective of the resulting destructive role on workers and activists who had just been aban-
41 doned. The result was the workers’ hopes were raised and then dashed without leaving anything substantial behind.
McAlevey’s Organizing Model
McAlevey stresses that real power rests with the workers themselves. Her deep-organizing model can be broken down into the following steps: • Only strikes can win real gains and we need to build power in the workplace to win a strike • Success depends on workers building networks in the workplace • The first essential step is to identify natural leaders who can build such networks • That involves challenging these leaders to accept the risks and responsibilities • These leaders then need to build powerful teams around them • The strength of these teams needs to be tested through escalating public actions. Workers need to build support in all areas of their life outside the workplace. The more fundamental the struggle, the stronger the structure that needs to be built. Only then will workers be prepared for what it will take to win. She writes: “I conclude not only that success is contingent on the organizing model as it has been deployed by a handful of successful unions in the workplace, but also, for even these unions to keep winning, the model must be expanded into the community via the workers themselves. For Labor’s commu-
Arizona teachers strike, 2018.
nity actions to be as successful as the best workplace unions, agency must rest with workers, not staff.” (p. 207) While she brings forward the issue of the “whole worker,” i.e. not just looking at a worker only through their relationship to work, she does not discuss what this would really mean. For Marxists, the broader idea of class consciousness is not a secondary issue. Winning real battles is not just a technical issue, but instead, a deeply political one. An integral part of the organizing successes in the 1930s was the transmission of the burning desire of CIO organizers for a new socialist society to developing working-class activists. While the Communist Party played an important role in this, they then misdirected this broader class consciousness into actively supporting Roosevelt and the Democrats rather building an independent political party of the working class.
Building Leaders in the Workplace
McAlevey places great emphasis on identifying the real leaders in the workplace. Quoting a current organizer using CIO tactics, she stresses the skill needed to identify the organizer. Organic leaders are: “Needed for a serious struggle, such as a strike in which most workers must agree to walk off the job. In the CIO model – today as in the 1930s – strikes that cripple production are considered not only possible, but also the highest structural test of whether worker organization in a given facility is at its strongest. It is the culmination of a series of tests that begin by measuring and assessing individual workers’ power and end by testing the collective organization of the workers, worksite by worksite.” (p. 34) McAlevey is correct about the need to root the organizing among all workers, not just the “political” ones as part of developing real power in the workplace. But that is only one side of the issue. The other side is the development of the political consciousness of workers. That means also looking for most far-sighted and sharp-thinking workers in order to build a leadership that can correctly navigate the complex political challenges any union faces inside and outside the workplace. McAlevey does bring back, front and center, a key tenet of Marxism: that the working class must emancipate itself. This is something that has been rejected for decades by the union bureaucracy and is misunderstood by most of the socalled progressive union organizers. Yet it is essential and is an important starting point for building serious fighting unions, as well as broader working-class movements.
42 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020 On the one hand McAlevey correctly stresses that no one can do the necessary tasks but the workers themselves. On the other hand, calling this “worker agency” is one-sided. Yes, the power comes from the engagement of the working class into struggle, and their growing confidence based on winning tangible victories. But, another crucial issue is building an overall class conscious leadership which can continue the struggle in the workplace when the skilled organizer has left.
Lessons from Chicago Teachers’ Struggles
One important theme that McAlevey stresses is the need to build community support. She gives the example of the 2012 strike led by the newly elected radical leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). She writes: “When the Chicago teachers walked off the job in a strike that riveted the nation, they did so after several years of good work with the broader community and months of intentional discussions with the parents in Chicago. Their Community enabled that success by backing them against a vicious and powerful opponent who immediately framed the fight as ‘teachers abandoning their students and the community.’ And that framing failed the mayor precisely because the relationships between teacher and parent, and between teachers’ union and community had already being forged.” (p. 202) While pointing to the dynamism of the 2012 strike as an excellent example of the power of a strike when driven by dedicated and mobilized members and linked to the community, something we agree with, she fails to address CTU leadership’s political weaknesses. In contrast, Socialist Alternative was quite clear about the challenges while actively building on the ground for the 2012 CTU strike, (SocialistAlternative.org, 9/20/2012). Successful organizing is not a technical task alone. Yes, dynamic skills rooted in mobilizing workers into a powerful strike force is an essential first step. But a further step, building a class-conscious political leadership in the union, is necessary if any gains won in a dynamic strike will be built upon and cemented in future years. While McAlevey describes the extensive outreach activities of the CTU in Chicago, she fails to identify the political failures of that leadership, and its consequences. While the 2012 strike was a limited victory in a pitched battle, there was no strategy put forward to win the wider war. A clear political alternative to the budget cuts of the mayor alongside a political strategy for teachers and the community was needed. CTU leaders failed to arm the activists about the way forward to win new gains. For Marxists, the power of an organized and politically conscious working class is the decisive force for achieving real change. This requires a political strategy as well as an organizing strategy. At the end of the day all serious class battles have a political dimension. No wing of the Democratic establishment will ever be consistently on the side of workers in struggle. At root the Democratic Party is a corporate party
that looks to defend and enhance the interests of the big corporations and capitalism over those of the working class. The CTU supported Chuy Garcia for mayor in 2015, a long-standing establishment Democratic candidates who poses as a “progressive.” In the 2019 mayoral campaign they supported the even worse Toni Preckwinkle. Key to achieving the type of mobilization that can win decisive victories is to develop a bold fighting program which can concretize the needs of the workers themselves and link them to the needs of the broader working-class community. This puts the union in position to build a grassroots movement around that program to demonstrate in action those committed to fight for the working class. It is through such struggles that new independent working class political forces will emerge.
Need for Socialist Polities in Unions
While we agree with the McAlevey’s criticisms of the failed organizing methods of union leaderships in the recent period, the issue goes beyond just bad methods. Their bad organizing methods flow from their social situation and their whole political outlook. It is rooted in flawed understanding of the potential of capitalism to provide for the needs of workers, and their own social situation as union leaders under capitalism. It is the elevated social position of union leaders, who have escaped from the day-to-day brutality of the workplace, that drives their policies. These privileges depend on them being able to keep their union positions. Workers getting more involved in “their” union and demanding new policies is a threat to their status. This leads most union leader to become more and more protective of their status and thus it is in their interest to strike a deal with the employer to protect that status. In this period of capitalist crisis, the ruling class will always be looking to take back from unions. With the union leadership seeing its role as an arbiter between the interests of the workers and the bosses, this means negotiating cutbacks. Underlying this is their mistaken idea that capitalism is the only possible economic system, and that any union must limit the demands of “their” members to what the capitalist spokesmen say the system can afford. The union leadership looks to negotiate with the “boss,” whether it be the CEO of a company or representatives of city government. But the city government is in the hands of Democrats or Republicans, both political parties of the bosses, and not on the side of workers. Thus, the need to build independent political power base of the working class. In Chicago, the attempt by the CTU leadership to make a deal with a wing of the Democratic establishment between 2012 and 2019 was shown to be completely ineffective, derailing the energy in the union by miseducated the workers as to their real tasks. For all these reasons, Marxists stress the central importance of the political development of new emerging leaders in the workplace and in the union. This leadership not only
43 needs clarity that real power lies with the workers themselves, but also trusts that these workers can and will learn the lessons as they go through struggles. Only by putting forward effective fighting policies in the unions will we be able to transform them into tools in the class struggle. But this will bring the emerging fighting layer of members into conflict with sections of the union leaders. This is a conflict that cannot be wished away. Through the subsequent debate and struggle, members will learn rich lessons about what policies are needed and the positions of individuals in the existing leadership based on their response to being challenged. The labor movement needs to build a political movement independent of both major parties as a step towards a workers’ party, separate from all wings of the ruling class. This is not an abstract question, but a burning necessity, as has been demonstrated by the political campaigns organized by Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative in Seattle. It was by demanding radical policies like a $15 an hour minimum wage, bold affordable housing policies and a Green New Deal, etc., and running campaigns independent of the Democratic Party that has allowed her elected office to be used as an effective lever to build powerful social movements outside the influence of the establishment.
resource for those looking to organize in the workplace, and for those looking to understand the failed practices of most unions. Most importantly, it brings back the centrality of the working class in organizing, and the need to build real roots in the workplace and community to win strikes. McAlevey gives important examples of successful organizing practices in different chapters. For example, she documents the dynamic organizing drive by UFCW organizers among slaughter-houses workers at Smithfield Foods in North Carolina. This organizing drive was much closer to the typical CIO self-organizing because of the national/community affinities of the workers and the need for serious workplace organization. Particularly interesting is how the organizing campaign overcame decades of employer-driven division between immigrant workers and African American workers. This resulted in the single largest private sector union victory of the new millennium, and the result led to the “Moral Monday” movement in North Carolina. For new union activists, No Shortcuts it is a good counterweight to the ideas of business unionism, and the “mobilizing” model as described by McAlevey is very valuable. It was by adopting deep organizing methods that important victories were won by teachers in West Virginia and Arizona which helped spark the biggest strike wave in the U.S. since the 1980s. J
Despite certain shortcomings, No Shortcuts is an important
Strikers count the days they’ve been on strike at the GM plant in Flint, MI in 1937.
44 Socialist World Issue 3, 2020
Join Socialist Alternative Socialist Alternative is a national organization fighting in our workplaces, communities, and campuses against the exploitation and injustices people face every day. We are community activists fighting against budget cuts in public services; we are activists campaigning for a $15 an hour minimum wage and fighting, democratic unions; we are people of all colors speaking out against racism and attacks on immigrants, students organizing against tuition hikes and war, women and men fighting sexism and homophobia. We believe the Republicans and Democrats are both parties of big business, and we are campaigning to build an independent, alternative party of workers and young people to fight for the interests of the millions, not the millionaires. We see the global capitalist system as the root cause of the economic crisis, poverty, discrimination, war, and environmental destruction. As capitalism moves deeper into crisis, a new generation of workers and youth must join together to take the top 500 corporations into public ownership under democratic control to end the ruling elitesâ€™ global competition for profits and power.