Thursday, August 26, 2010

Democrat Double-Speak on Social Security

Of course, Obama is right to say that the GOP is patently hostile to the very existence of a popular program like Social Security. But, what is concealed by this claim is the fact that the Democrats themselves aren't averse to placing Social Security on the chopping block. The difference between the two parties here is mostly one of rhetoric. One tells you that they're about to screw you, the other says one thing and does another.

Sure, the Dems may not be quite as strident in their neoliberal zeal to privatize Social Security. But they are still interested in making punishing cuts to both Social Security and Medicare, and Obama is on the front line of this assault. Who is going to stop them?

Yes, the Republicans are openly hostile to Social Security. But ask yourself this: will merely voting for Democrats (or, closer to liberal rationalizations: "voting against Republicans") keep popular social programs off the chopping block? The answer is already provided by what's happening right now. So the real question must be: What can be done to stop the Democrats from imposing austerity and punishing cuts? The answer, any reflective person will note, has nothing to do with acquiescing to the two-party straight-jacket.


More ass-backwards "analysis" of the budge crisis...

...from the NYTimes. SW's take on it here.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

In defense of the mullet

Interesting, nuanced article on the cultural politics of the mullet here. Demolishes the "fashion is just a matter of individual taste" argument.


Monday, August 23, 2010

"Delusions of Gender"

Here's a review of a new book-length critique of pop "scientific" accounts of neurobiological pseudo-theories purporting to legitimate gender hierarchies. Of course, this has been a point emphasized by dozens of feminist theorists and activists already. But its refreshing to see some sharp push-back in the pop non-fiction genre against the proliferation of bullshit like this.


Seymour on Opinion Polls

Here. Excerpt:

The polling industry is not an extension of the democratic process, but a quite deliberate attempt to subvert democratic reasoning and debate, to 'settle' important issues before they have been discussed, to bully opponents and put them on the back foot etc. Polls are taken to provide elites with raw materials the better to manipulate us with, not so that they can respond to our genuine concerns. Further, taken collectively they tend to disclose a set of apparently contradictory dispositions, ideas, and values, suggesting that the pseudo-finality of "a percentage" is indeed hopelessly inadequate as a register of the real ideas that people have.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Who Cares about Colorado? Against Electoral Politics Part II

NYTimes is thrilled about this, but I don't see what the big deal is. Who gives a shit?

Ostensibly, elections are held to elect representatives so that they will pass legislation that the people want. People wanted an end to occupation and war, significantly increased social spending (in particular on health care and education), increased taxation for the rich, and so forth (polls repeatedly bear this out). None of these social needs have been satisfied.

Instead we got a smooth continuation of Bush's policies re: Wall Street, increased aggression in Afghanistan, attacks on Medicare and Social Security, a tepid health "reform" bill with not even a Public Option, broken promises to labor and glbt movements, 180 on oil-drilling, and so on.

But according to the NYtimes, this is the wrong way to think about elections. Elections aren't for the sake of something else (e.g. social change); on the contrary, elections are important for their own sake. A sports analogy will help: mainstream media act as though we should take the same interest in electoral politics that we do in, say, baseball. It's an endless cycle of seasons and games, where the rules are fixed in advance, and the only two legal teams are managed by wealthy elites. If you don't like this kind of "politics", well, then too bad for you. You must just have different "entertainment preferences" in the "marketplace of political ideas".

So, rather than being about social change, fighting oppression, justice, what have you, politics is only about elections. And what are elections about? The NYTimes would have us believe that elections are about the reproduction of some party's power as an end in itself. It's not what a party does, it's not what their principal goals or values are, it's not whose interests they represent... no, no politics is merely a matter of latching onto the narrow strategic maneuvering that the political class employs to keep their own power intact (war-chest spending, rhetorical packaging, marketing, PR, etc.). The result is that politics is no longer about people having some external claim or demand on the system itself. On the contrary: politics is only about internalizing the narrow strategic calculations made by wealthy, "visible" campaigns waged by one or other of the two big corporate parties. This is, in essence, the subject matter of the "political" coverage on CNN, MSNBC, FOX, NYTimes, WaPo, etc. etc.

Rather than being a mere means to some end, elections come to be ends-in-themselves. This is completely ass-backwards.

"Progressives" or people on the Left in general, have no independent interest in seeing the Democratic Party reproduce its power as an end in itself. The liberal argument was supposed to be that left-leaning people ought to support the democrats because they will allegedly pass progressive legislation.

Of course, when the Democrats don't do anything progressive (but do quite a lot of damage in the meantime), that is, when they show their true colors as an organization enthusiastically committed to Wall Street and Big Business, the liberal argument above should be obviously refuted. There should no longer be any good rationale to uncritically support the Democratic Party as an agent of progressive change.

The correct inference to draw here is this: Left-leaning people shouldn't throw their weight and resources behind a basically conservative, pro-Business political organization that has too much invested in the status quo to change it.

But this isn't the inference we're encouraged to draw by the mainstream liberal press. There, the political line is identical to the one described above in the NYTimes: left-leaning people have an interest in the continued reproduction of Democrat control of congress, as an end in itself. It matters not what they do. "Left" doesn't connote some determinate set of political principles or demands; on the contrary, "Left" just means "whatever the Democrats do". Thus the grounds for criticism melt away, and the status quo is insulated from serious scrutiny. How can the Democrats do anything wrong if whatever they do is ipso facto "Left"?

Once you accept this bit of sophistry, you're prepared to accept another bit: if whatever the Democrats do is automatically "Left", then any criticism of them must be from the Right. In other words, any critique of the politics of the Democrat establishment only helps the Right wing. Hence, the media obsession with the Tea Baggers (while excluding innumerable expressions of popular left-wing anger), appear to license the inference that left-wing people must uncritically return to the Democrats in order to stave off a right-wing backlash. The message is clear: sit down, shut up, and vote Democrat because we don't want a "Tea Bagger Nation".

How long are we prepared to continue this never-ending cycle of conservatism? Republicans get elected --> Democrats pose as the agents of progressive change --> infuriated voters reject GOP --> large Democrat majorities emerge only to demonstrate the obvious: the Democrats basically keep the political program of the GOP intact and shamelessly bow to Business --> GOP poses as populist critics of the Democrat Machine --> repeat cycle ad infinitum.

As Peter Camejo observed, "every major gain in our history, even pre-Civil War struggles such as the battles for the Bill of Rights, to end slavery, and to establish free public education -as well as those after the Civil War, have been the product of direct action by movements independent of the two major parties and in opposition to them".

Just to name two of the most obvious recent examples: the Social Security Act arose in a context created by militant sit-down strikes in 1934 that put the fear of God in the Ruling Class; the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was reluctantly passed after massive extra-electoral struggle and unrelenting black rebellion against the existing order forced the issue.

The formal political system in the united states is a symptom of other factors: shifts in economic configuration, the level of class struggle, the power and organization of social movements, etc.

The electoral system is not a prime-mover; the big shifts in policy arise from shifts in economic power and social struggle. Focusing intensely on the symptoms to the exclusion of the causes is a recipe for perpetual political exclusion.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

False Dilemma Masks Class Warfare

The first line of a recent article on the Democrats decision to slash food stamps begins as follows.

As they prepare to slash food stamps to pay for Medicaid and teachers’ salaries, House Democrats are facing up to a harsh reality: To save some social programs, they’ll have to sacrifice others.
Read more:

This lone sentence is infuriating. And totally false.

Think of all the variables it holds fixed: spending on war and occupation, taxes on the wealthy, lack of enforcement of existing taxes for high rollers, money spent bailing out financial institutions, other corporate welfare, etc.

All of these remain fixed, merely natural parts of the background. "A harsh reality" we cannot question, but must accept. But what causes this "harsh reality"? What are the culprits here? Politico's answer: Medicare and teachers' salaries. In other words, in order to pay for the economic crisis created by those who make the big decisions about investment (i.e. capitalists, financiers, etc.), we must attack the living standards of ordinary Americans. We must make them pay for the crisis. This is class warfare, packaged as an innocuous "neutral" news piece.

This "either Medicare or food stamps" bullshit is ideological distortion pure and simple. This defiantly stupid article actually compares this "forced choice" to Sophie's Choice. Are you fucking kidding me? As Richard Seymour recently put it, this regime of cuts is basically "an attempt to cover the costs incurred by the economic crisis by redistributing wealth from the working class to the financial elite".

Why are budgets in such bad shape all across the world? Why are tax revenues down so much? Why do so many more people need unemployment insurance and food stamps? The answer has nothing whatsoever to do with teachers or Medicare. Nor does it have to do with "profligate spending" or "government waste".

The reason budgets are shit all across the capitalist world is that we're in a deep recession. Next question: why are we in a recession? Because of all the neoliberal garbage that conservatives are offering up as the solution to this crisis, (e.g. more deregulation, privatization, cuts to public spending, lowering corporate taxes, eliminating public services, etc.). In other words, the anarchy of the "free market" in the US, unencumbered by democratic accountability, nearly sunk the entire world economy with its reckless hubris in pursuit of profit.

These out of control speculators dragged down many billions of people with them in their destructive path. Yet they received trillions of dollars in TARP funds, so that they could turn around and dole it out in massive bonuses to themselves. Meanwhile Politico would have us believe that Medicare and teachers salaries are the reason we have to cut food stamps? Are you kidding me?

Amidst the vast wealth this country has amongst a small, gilded elite... we MUST cut food stamps because of teachers and Medicare?! As though teachers and Medicare users caused this financial calamity in the first place!

And the kicker here: Democrats have no agency according to Politico. They have no choice but to cut services for workers and the poor. They have no choice but to escalate in Afghanistan and spend billions on corporations and war. It's not like they run the government or anything. Could it be more clear, given Obama and Co.'s recent attacks on Social Security and Medicare, that the Democrats stand on the side of the elites over and against the people? Could it be more clear that they are intent on holding the line set by the Bush government by balancing the budget on the backs of ordinary people? Could it be more clear that the two-party system we live under is basically one in which we choose between two more or less pro-Business parties?


Monday, August 9, 2010

Seymour breaks down Harvey's argument in Limits of Capital

An oldie, but a goodie.


Angus Maddison has provided some figures which give a sense of the scale of this. In 1820, $694bn circulated through world markets (on 1990 dollar values). In 1913, it had risen to $2.7tn dollars. By 1950, it was $5.3tn. By 1973, it was $16tn. By 2003, it was $41tn. The current World Bank report puts total world output in current dollar values at $56.2tn. The average compound growth rate has been around 2.2% per annum since 1770. The current position of Gordon Brown and Barack Obama is that they want to restore the world economy to a growth rate of roughly 3%. But while 3% growth may seem feasible when you're talking about a productive system thriving in a few industrial centres of the UK and a few places beyond in 1750, it looks like a different bargain altogether when you have a capitalist system operative in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Africa, North America, and all of Europe. Three per cent growth on current output means that the system needs to find profitable investment opportunities for $1.5tn. In twenty years time, the system will have to find profitable investment opportunities for $3tn. This leads to the "capital surplus absorption problem". Where will all this capital go?


Krugman: Chop from the top

In effect, a large part of our political class is showing its priorities: given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation’s foundations to crumble — literally in the case of roads, figuratively in the case of education — they’re choosing the latter.


But isn’t keeping taxes for the affluent low also a form of stimulus? Not so you’d notice. When we save a schoolteacher’s job, that unambiguously aids employment; when we give millionaires more money instead, there’s a good chance that most of that money will just sit idle.
read the rest here.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tariq Ali on Obama

Excellent Tariq Ali talk on Obama and the American Left here. A must-see!


Obama's "Deficit Commission" Targets Medicare



Geuss on Reflexive Political Thinking

"I and every knowledgeable person I knew thought we were able to see very clearly before the fact that the invasion of Iraq was a recipe for human and political disaster and a potentially self-destructive policy for the UK to pursue, so why wasn't Blair able to see this? However, even to ask the question in this way means one has not come very far. The tradition of philosophy that descends from Hegel to the early Frankfurt School holds that philosophical thinking, including philosophically informed thinking, must be reflexive. Whatever questions I might put about claims my interlocutor makes, I must also put the very same questions to myself with exactly the same or even greater rigor. In the heat of the moment it is very tempting to look for one's opponent's failure of imagination, that is, for a diagnosis of Blair's problem, but to do this is only one half the story. Equally important, and perhaps more important for me and those who thought as I did, was to reflect on what problem I had that prevented me from being able easily to imagine that a politician could see projects like the invasion as merely one among other possible, unobjectionable options for action, rather than as nothing but a clear disaster waiting to happen."
-R. Geuss, Politics and the Imagination


Richard Seymour on the Cuts in the UK

excellent in-depth analysis (as well as proposal for action) here.

In 1945, you could vote for a welfare state, free healthcare and the nationalisation of industry. If you wanted to, so it seemed, you could vote against capitalism. Now, you get to vote for one or other brand not merely of capitalism, but of neoliberal capitalism. Now you get to vote for how fast and deep the axe falls, but not whether it falls. Now you get ‘consulted’.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Say it with me: Irony.

In the post below I referred to the case where two state employees of Utah have leaked detailed information to the media from state records about people they suspect of being "illegal," including names, birth dates, addresses, social security numbers, and due dates of expectant mothers. It's a horrifying case. The otherwise neocon governor of Utah responded surprisingly quickly with a probe into who accessed and leaked the information, immediately firing one suspect and beginning the firing process for the other who has some protections as a permanent employee of the state. The story is shocking and incredibly scary for the 1300 people on that list. Firing and prosecuting the people who compiled and leaked the list will not reverse the violation that has been done to them or undo the fact that they face increased danger at the hands of local hate groups.

But there was one gem of irony in the Salt Lake Tribune's story about that second employee, Teresa Bassett of the Department of Workforce Services, that I just can't resist sharing:

This week, Bassett sought the assistance of the Utah Public Employees Association, the union representing state workers, although she was not a member of the organization.

“Teresa approached me for some advice and I gave her the advice that she probably ought to seek representation by an attorney,” said Dennis Hammer, deputy director of UPEA.

Bassett also asked to join the union, filling out a membership card that Hammer said he would hold onto until the criminal investigation into her activities is complete.

So, an employee of the department of workforce services betrays the very workers she is supposed to have been helping by releasing their private information and making them targets of hate groups, and then when she faces consequences for doing so she turns to the union she has refused to join during her fifteen years of state employment to help bail her out.

Note to Bassett: Worker solidarity. You're doing it wrong.


The mythology of "the anchor babies"

With the good news of the blockage of certain parts of Arizona's SB 1070 last week, other spheres of the anti-immigrant hysteria sweeping the southwest are being ramped up, including a new flurry of efforts to end the constitutionally protected birthright citizenship that, yes, even the children of undocumented immigrants get to enjoy.

This talk of "anchor babies" is incredibly dehumanizing, xenophobic, and nationalist in some really frightening ways. It is rooted in a fear that Latinas are crossing the border to have a child so that they then have a legitimate claim to remain in the U.S. and leach off of our welfare system. The very notion of "anchor babies" is as dehumanizing to undocumented women as it is to their babies. But how to respond to someone raving about the "invasion by birth canal" (yes, a fellow human being said it), other than just pointing out their chilling sense of entitlement and fear?

I found this recent article in The Nation really helpful:

Like the slur "anchor baby" itself, each of these claims is a fallacy. Far from "anchoring" their parents to US soil, many children born to undocumented immigrants are seeing them be deported. And for all the rhetoric spewed by the right about the need for tough new legislation to combat the immigrant "invasion," laws governing immigration to the United States have gotten more restrictive in the past fifteen years.

Today, a citizen must be 21 in order to sponsor the green card application of a parent or an immediate relative. The applicant must then show documentation proving that he or she has not been in the United States unlawfully for more than one year. Barring such proof—the primary obstacle most immigrants face—the parent must return to the country of origin for ten years before being allowed to lawfully re-enter the United States and resume the application process. This is commonly referred to as the "touchback rule," explains María Blanco, director of the Earl Warren Institute at the UC, Berkeley, School of Law, and it is among the most insurmountable restrictions placed on the legal naturalization process in the name of "immigration reform" passed in 1996.

Templeton also points out that there are very few welfare benefits even legal immigrants can access, especially in the libertarian border states receiving most attention, like Arizona. Additionally, and most frighteningly, immigrant women are much less likely to seek medical care in hospitals if they are undocumented, for the very fear that they will be deported or jailed. This makes the recent leak of the names of some immigrants seeking services for their children who are U.S. citizens by two Utah state employees even more disconcerting.

Overall, these are useful facts to calm the anchor baby alarmists down. But I feel a little uncomfortable leaving it at "they aren't really taking much from us, so don't worry," and not addressing the very assumption that children of undocumented immigrants or anyone present in our communities is not entitled to the very same protections those of us lucky enough to have many generations of citizens in our families.

I'm curious to know any other strategies and lines of reasoning to employ, once you've gotten past your initial horror at hearing someone talk this way about other people. Generally, I try to spend my time arguing with people with whom I share some common ground and leave the extreme right for another day. But, as this article in The Nation points out, the majority of Americans polled support changing the constitution to end birth right citizenship. This makes me think we haven't been doing a good enough job of pointing out the absurdity and the hatred of the anchor baby myth.


More on Freedom

Those on the Right are promiscuous in their use of the language of freedom. This is not a new trend. Bourgeois revolutionaries intent on overturning feudalism in order to expand the power of industrialists and merchants made frequent use of it as well. But though the elites professed to struggle on behalf of liberty against the ossified hierarchies of feudal societies, there was always a vast gap between their rhetoric and the reality they defended. This gap did not go unnoticed by the oppressed and the poor.

Take the English Revolution. It's a popularly held, but false and ideologically distorted, view that the English Revolution was waged on the basis of broad agreement among a mass of "people" who all shared the goal of smashing feudalism and replacing it with a regime of liberty. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Christopher Hill makes extremely clear in his wonderful, politically sharp The World Turned Upside Down, the reasons that the poorest and most oppressed members of English society had for revolting were far different from those of Bourgeois leaders who wanted to establish capitalism. Hill writes:

Within the English Revolution of the mid-seventeenth century which resulted in the triumph of the Protestant Ethic -the ideology of the propertied class- there threatened another, quite different, revolution. Its success 'might have established communal property, a far wider democracy in political and legal institutions, might have disestablished the state church and rejected the protestant ethic.
Political formations among oppressed classes, such as the Levellers, the Ranters, etc. were inspired to revolt on the basis of resistance to both the aristocracy and the emerging capitalist class. They threatened to carry the ideas (freedom, equality, democracy) through to their full realization, which would've meant all of the things Hill mentions above: rejecting the elite rule of capitalists, smashing private ownership of major productive assets, establishing wide participatory democracy over against the top-down structure of industrial capitalism, etc.

This is just to say, even during the paradigmatic Bourgeois revolutions in Europe, the supposed birth place of the values often abused in the defense of capitalism, we find that there were large swaths of people who took the idea of freedom seriously, but did not think for a moment that this idea could be realized under capitalism. On the contrary, they took themselves to be struggling against ruling classes as such, whether they be the old Aristocracy or the new capitalist class.

There are plenty of other examples: anti-colonial struggles in the 20th century, the black liberation movements of the 1960s in the US, the New Left student movements that rocked the world in 1968, the womens' liberation movement, Stonewall and the movement to smash glbt oppression, etc. All of these movements, in one way or another, took the idea of emancipation, of freedom, quite seriously. They thought it actually meant something more than the ability to choose between Wheaties and Cheerios; they were all inspired by the goal of smashing certain social relations of domination. They were interested in freedom from the weight of oppressive institutions, social norms, dominant groups, etc.

With such a politically rich history, it's frustrating that the neoliberal Right has attained a near monopoly on the language of freedom. We can't allow them to get away with this. We can't allow neoliberal ideology to distort the way we think about freedom, nor can we retreat and concede the concept to right-wingers. In truth, neoliberals ("libertarians", capitalist-apologists, whatever) have no ground to stand on when they talk about freedom. Their view is riddled with contradictions, it is self-undermining. You can't say you stand for "individual freedom", as "libertarians" say they do, and propose a social order that subordinates all individuals to the alienating machinery of profit and growth for growth's sake. You can't say you stand for individual liberty and defend a social order that leaves the vast majority of people in chains. The fact that the Right can speak the language of freedom and keep a straight face is remarkable. This needs to be challenged.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Fragmentation and Alternative Histories

From Linda Tuhiwai Smith's Decolonizing Methodology:

The fact that indigenous societies had their own systems of order was dismissed through what Albert Memmi referred to as a series of negations: they were not fully human, they were not civilized enough to have systems, they were not literate, their languages and modes of thought were inadequate. As Fanon and later writers such as Nandy have claimed, imperialism and colonialism brought complete disorder to colonized peoples, disconnecting them from their histories, their landscapes, their languages, their social relations and their own ways of thinking, feeling and interacting with the world. It was a process of systematic fragmentation which can still be seen in the disciplinary carve-up of the indigenous world: bones, mummies and skulls to the museums, art work to private collectors, languages to linguistics, 'customs' to anthropologists, beliefs and behaviors to psychologists. To discover how fragmented this process was one needs only to stand in a museum, a library, a bookshop, and ask where indigenous peoples are located. Fragmentation is not a phenomenon of postmodernism as many might claim. For indigenous peoples fragmentation has been the consequence of imperialism.


Coming to know the past has been part of the critical pedagogy of decolonization. To hold alternative histories is to hold alternative knowledges. The pedagogical implication of this access to alternative knowledges is that they can form the basis of alternative ways of doing things. Transforming our colonized views of our own history (as written by the West), however, requires us to revisit, site by site, our history under Western eyes. This in turn requires a theory or approach which helps us to engage with, understand then act upon history. [...] Telling our stories from th epast, reclaiming the past, giving testimony to the injustices of the past are all strategies which are commonly employed by indigenous peoples struggling for justice. On the international scene it is extremely rare and unusual when indigenous accounts are accepted and acknowledged as valid interpretations of what has taken place. And yet, the need to tell our stories remains the powerful imperative of a powerful form of resistance.


Marx, Democracy, Freedom and Equality

It is fashionable in some post-structuralist circles to argue that ideas like freedom, equality and democracy are rotten to the core. This is, of course, not entirely true (take Derrida, for instance, who said that "I can think of nothing less outdated than the classic emancipatory ideal" and who spent the last years of his life talking about a nebulous, unclear "democracy to come").

Nonetheless, some critics of the global capitalist order, even some self-proclaimed Marxists, have wanted to say that the values of freedom, equality and democracy are themselves the mere ideological products of capitalist domination.

I can't go into too much detail here. This is a massive topic. But I'd like to jot down some quick rebuttals to this mistaken view (with emphasis on its incarnation within Marxism in particular).

Marx himself did not think that freedom, equality, and democracy, were, in themselves, nothing but mere capitalist ideology. To be sure, like all facets of life in contemporary societies, capitalism has attempted to appropriate, defang and efface these values. The result is that George Bush (and now Obama) can speak blithely of freedom and democracy at the same moment as they bow to the wishes of corporations, occupy and bomb foreign countries, and impose austerity for working people while making the rich richer. But does this mean that Marxists stand against freedom and democracy as such?

Of course not. Marx argued, as those who've read him are aware, that the problem with liberal capitalist societies wasn't that they had all the wrong values. His claim was that the dominant values (freedom, equality, democratic self-determination) could not be realized under capitalism. Thus, and his text "On the Jewish Question" here is exemplary, his argument was that the self-image of liberal societies was a sham. (His historical writings, particularly the writings on the Paris Commune are excellent here as well). Marx's claim is that such bourgeois societies could not ever deliver on the promises they made without undergoing revolutionary change; their basic structure, according to Marx, was shot through with contradictions.

Why? Why can't capitalist societies realize the values of freedom and equality? Why can't they be democratic?

Marx's answer is remarkably short and succinct: because capitalist societies are societies in which the major means of production are owned and controlled by a small class of capitalists. Production is for the profit (of this class) and not for social need.

Freedom (i.e. being free from exploitation and oppression, being autonomous and self-determining) is not fully possible for all in capitalist societies, because production under capitalism requires the exploitation of the labor of those who do not own any means of production. That is the vast majority of people in contemporary societies. When you hear a rich politician blathering about freedom, ask: whose freedom? Who is made more free by cutting education and spending vast sums on bailouts and war? Whose freedoms are increased by deregulation, privatization and cuts to social spending?

Capitalist societies have unequal social relations built into their very infrastructure. Thus, the capitalist mode of production erodes people's capacities for free, self-determining action in various other ways as well (e.g. by commodifying culture and media, by reducing people to passive consumers rather than active self-determining citizens, by placing them at the whim of crisis-prone financial markets, causing them to grovel and take on alienating jobs in order to subsist, etc.).

As we've seen above, freedom for all classes is not possible in capitalist societies (more freedom for rich capitalists does not mean more freedom for working people). Why is this so? The reason for this unfreedom is closely linked to the fact of systematic inequalities in capitalism. There is vastly unequal ownership and control of productive assets in capitalist societies, and as a result, working people (those who own no means of production) are unfree. Because of unequal, private ownership of the means of production, ordinary people have no say in big economic decisions and investments that have massive effects on their lives and well-being. Because of unequal concentration of productive wealth, electoral institutions and representatives are constantly under the tutelage of moneyed interests. Inequality and unfreedom are inextricably linked. Equality and freedom are inextricably linked.

Democracy is not far from the discussion here at all. Democracy is the realization of freedom and equality: all have an equal say, an equal voice, in the major social decisions that determine the conditions in which they live their lives. The interests of all are owed equal concern in such decisions: that is what democracy is about.

But capitalism is necessarily and profoundly undemocratic.

Market relations endow consumers only with freedom of exit (i.e. the freedom not to buy something), but no freedom of voice to determine how things are produced. Capitalism, as we saw above, concentrates decision-making and control of production in the hands of a small, gilded elite. Markets operate on the basis of "effective demand" not human needs. Moreover, markets encourage decision making on the basis of unreflective, lowly (ideological) consumer "preferences", rather than reflective principles about which we deliberate and discuss amongst one another. Capitalism allows millions to suffer neglect, disease, poverty and other social ills that erode their capacity to be effective participants in self-government. Capitalism isolates us, divides us, and alienates us from fellow human beings, thus damaging our capacity to be co-legislators in the production of our collective social life. Capitalism encourages and relies upon the anti-democratic destruction caused by racism, sexism and other modes of oppression.

Socialists fight for real democracy (socialist democracy, democracy-from-below, etc.) against the necessarily ineffective set of electoral institutions masquerading as "democratic" in contemporary capitalist societies.

Equality, freedom and democracy, then, are inextricably linked. Their meaning was borne out of struggle against exploitation and oppression. Their practical import has yet to be truly tested. They must be wrested from the control of bourgeois ideologists in the media and political establishment. The gap between these values and our own society is staggering; they should be the basis for struggle for below, not the window-dressing for exploitation, neocolonial oppression and domination worldwide.


Tommie Shelby on Why Racism isn't in the "Heart"

The below is excerpted from his article in the Journal of Social Philosophy, titled "Is Racism in the "Heart"?"

Rather than focus on the mental states of individuals without regard to
their sociohistorical context, which can often lead us astray, I would suggest
that we view racism as fundamentally a type of ideology.10 Put briefly and
somewhat crudely, “ideologies” are widely accepted illusory systems of belief
that function to establish or reinforce structures of social oppression. We
should also note that these social illusions, like the belief that blacks are an
inferior “race,” are often, even typically, accepted because of the unacknowl-
edged desires or fears of those who embrace them (e.g., some white workers
have embraced racist beliefs and attitudes when they were anxious about the
entrance of lower-paid blacks into a tight labor market.11 Racial ideologies
emerged with the African slave trade and European imperialist domination
of “darker” peoples. These peoples were “racialized” in an effort to legitimize
their subjugation and exploitation: the idea of biological “race,” the linchpin
of the ideology, was used to impute an inherent and unchangeable set
of physically based characteristics to the subordinate Other, an “essential
nature” which supposedly set them apart from and explained why they were
appropriately exploited by the dominant group. This ideology served (and
still serves) to legitimize the subordination and economic exploitation of non-
white people. Even after slavery was abolished and decolonization was well
under way, the ideology continued to have an impact on social relations, as
it functioned to legitimize segregation, uneven socioeconomic development,
a racially segmented labor market, and the social neglect of the urban poor.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Police Racism in France, Ordered From Above

(via Guardian) here.


Monday, August 2, 2010

Must-read: Richard Seymour on American Politics

Excellent Richard Seymour post on the present state of American politics here. Below is an excerpt:

Obama and the Democrats are in trouble. Barring some unforeseeable development on a par with Katrina in terms of scale, the GOP is going to romp the mid-terms on a much reduced turn-out. The capitalist media will say that this is because of the Tea Party 'movement', or because the president moved too far to the left in a centre-right nation. Left-wing anger, and the disillusionment of working class constituencies previously supportive of Obama, will be ignored.