Archive for November, 2017
Will Bitcoins Be the Subprime Mortgages of the Next Capitalist Crash?
The price of bit-coins has risen from 900 dollars to 10,000 dollars in a single year.
Radical Political Economist Thanksgiving Letter to the One Percent
This satirical article by political economist Jack Rasmus is filled with economic statistics about the wealth of the 1% compared to the rest of us, especially concentrated since the crisis of 2008.
An Afghan Year: My Road from Soldier to Socialism
“War is hell.” How often have you heard that phrase? It’s been repeated by celebrities, politicians, characters in books, all more than can be counted. This saturation has denuded it of its weight.
New Silk Road Coming to Africa: Opportunities and Problems for China
This article nicely describes the geopolitics of China, Turkey and Pakistan as they enter agreements with Sudan in building a New Silk Road.
German “Left” Fears New Elections in Germany
Despite its initial reluctance to join in another grand coalition government, the leadership of the Social Democratic Party of Germany is now talking about joining.
Going Red, Not Green, Will Save the Planet
It’s pretty amazing to see a story about capitalism’s impact on climate change and global warming in corporate media.
Pros and Cons of Secession Under Global Capitalism
This is a very careful cross-cultural and historical weighing of the pros and cons of seceding under 21st century capitalism.
Asian Age Blossoming: Silk Road Links to Syria and Turkey
Towards the end of their lives Andre Gunder Frank (ReOrient) and Giovanni Arrighi (Adam Smith in Beijing) both argued that Asia was going to become the center of the geopolitical world.
Democracy From Below in Venezuela Controls Capitalist Pricing
Can you imagine going to a congressional body in the United States and voting for price controls on capitalism when it comes to essential goods like food and toothpaste?
Petrodollars Currency In More Trouble: Will Saudis Abandon the Dollar?
There are three solid countries who have broken past petrodollars: China, Russia and Iran. (more…)
Another Blow For Centralist Politics: Merkel’s Failure to Form A Coalition Government
Germany has been the strongest capitalist economy in Europe and the heart of the European Union.
The Class Exploitative Nature of Automaton
The capitalist mythological story we are told about automation is that it is the inevitable outcome of scientific progress and has nothing to do with politics or economics.
Let Them Eat Cake! Tax Reform for the Rich
This picture really says it all. Here is the secretary of the treasury, the former head of Goldman Sachs and hedge fund founder, impressing his Marie-Antoinette of a wife with his signature on the new dollar bill.
Are “Evil Russian” Neoliberals and Neocons Closer to Moving on Trump?
This article is mistitled for it is not primarily about the U.S. military. It is more about the neoliberal and neoconservative forces who want a war with Russia.
Tattering Sails of a Capitalist Flagship; 860,000 Homeless In Germany
The European Union looks to Germany to steer the way out of stormy waters.
Desperate Zionists’ “Interference” in Italian Politics
While the Democratic Party in the United States babbles on with their mantra of “Russian interference”, Zionists interfere with the politics of countries all over the world.
Socialist Planning Circles: Building Scaffolds Before the Wreckage
Why is is that socialists form discussion groups about theory but do not form discussion groups about how these theories can turn into socialist plans?
Making Libya Safe For Democracy: Another Capitalist Disaster
Well, now that Obama, Hillary Clinton and the CIA have gotten rid of the evil dictator Qaddafi we can breathe a sigh of relief as Libya is now a pluralistic mess of collapsing infrastructure and warring fundamentalists. Anyone who thinks capitalism guarantees a better standard of living in Africa ought to have a look at Libya.
Read in Strategic Culture
Image from Strategic Culture
Socialists in Recent US Elections: Perils and Promises
A recent survey conducted in the US said that over half the people in the US look favorably on socialism.
Socialist Planning Circles: Building Scaffolds Before the Wreckage
Common objections to socialist planning from below
In my last article, Do You Socialists Have Any Plans? Why We Need Socialist Architects, I argued that the only way 21st century socialism is going to get any traction with working class people is to not only have a socialist vision, but also to have feasible plans which suggest transitions in between the current capitalist crisis and our ultimate vision.
In that article, I presented the following objections along with their rebuttal through a dialogue between two workers: an older worker, Andrew, and a young, anarchist worker, Sean. The objections of Sean, to socialist planning transitions were:
- Marx said a plan isn’t necessary—the workers of the future will figure this out.
- Workers are only capable of dealing with survival needs. Planning is too remote from every-day life for them.
- Plans are rigid and can’t do justice to the complexity of social life.
- Plans aren’t implemented as politics gets in the way. (Stalin’s chaotic five-year plan)
- There is something inherently revolutionary about collective spontaneity.
Let’s examine some small but hopeful moments that could benefit from and be deepened by socialists who have collective experience making socialist plans.
Disaster socialism as a precursor
In his book Introduction to Collective Behavior and Collective Action, David Miller cites convincing research demonstrating that natural disasters bring out the best rather than the worst in people. Contrary to centrist newspapers’ mantras about “looting”, most people respond to a crisis heroically. Instead of mainstream newspapers’ warmed-over version of a Lord of the Flies scenario, if we examine the mass behavior in the recent hurricanes to hit Florida, Texas, Mexico and Puerto Rico, we find stories of people acting altruistically, in socialist ways. From a socialist point of view, the problems with the crowd’s altruistic response to these disasters is that after the storm people have not built socialist institutions that can help them extend their altruism longer before the return to a rapidly collapsing capitalism. Yet the behavior of masses of people in natural disasters is very close to how people behave in revolutionary situations. How can we preserve and deepen the memory of such collective creativity?
Capitalists have done a good job of convincing people that there is “no alternative to capitalism because all socialism is Stalinism – and that has failed“. This ignores the fact that workers’ self-management, workers’ control, and worker cooperatives currently exist and many are surviving with better production records than capitalist businesses or workers under state socialism. (Seymour Melman’s book After Capitalism provides a wonderful description of this). In the case of worker cooperatives, they are managed and run by workers themselves, most of whom have ownership in the company. Through regularly held general assemblies, workers decide together what will be produced, how much will be produced, how long and how hard they will work and what they will be paid. They also decide what tools and resources they will purchase and what they will do with the surplus. This is a radical departure from companies where workers have no say in any of these matters. John Curl’s book, For All the People documents the history of workers coops.We don’t expect miracles from any worker coop because they still have to exist within a decaying world capitalist system. However, worker coops and the flashes of “disaster socialism” are promising.
Rank-and-file union democracy
As many of you know, radical unions in the early 20th century in the United States like the Wobblies used to talk about workers running things on their own, having “One Big Union”. Now unions have given up any vision of workers running anything. Instead, they preside over the most myopic concerns at sparsely attended meetings. In fact, when my partner once asked her shop steward at the university where she worked, “why don’t all these separate unions unite under one union instead of having numerous small ones? Wouldn’t we be stronger united?”, the steward looked at her like she was from another planet. Despite this, one small bright spot in the United States is Labor Notes, a monthly publication which tracks union activity around the US from the point of view of the rank-and-file. These monthly reports are union workers’ experiences with the strategies and tactics they used to combat employers and were largely independent of union leadership.
What is missing from these scenes of “disaster socialism” workers’ coops and rank-and file union democracy is a unified political party which coordinates, synchronizes, deepens and expands all these activities and spreads them to wider sectors of society with some kind of transition program. We don’t have such a party, but if we did the party would need a coordinated plan to link these experiences together in time and space.
Limitations of Trotskyist transition programs
Unlike anarchists, Leninists have experience with state power and understand the importance of a socialist transition program which takes years and decades to implement. In the United States, the Socialist Workers Party used to lay out a transition program as part of their presidential runs. We think this was a very good idea. The problem here is that all the imaginary planning was done by the vanguard party. “The workers”, as Lenin said, “can attain only a trade union consciousness”. They need to be injected with the collective imagination of the vanguard. But the workers of Russia during the first four years of the revolution and the Spanish workers during the Spanish Revolution of 1936-1939 showed more collective imagination than any vanguard party. They developed general assemblies, workers councils, and direct democracy by politically mandating delegates rather than representatives. Optimally, these delegates were rotated and were strictly recallable. These were the inventions of working class collective creativity that were not imposed on them by any socialist leadership. In the case of Russia, it was the Bolshevik party that reacted and supported these councils or “soviets”, for a time. But the origin of these political forms were workers, peasants and soldiers.
Filling in the Gaps
As I said in my previous article, socialists are very good at criticizing capitalism. You can get us to argue about what would and wouldn’t be allowed in our ideal socialist society: whether or not to abolish inheritance; how people should be compensated for their work or whether we use labor vouchers or dissolve all mediated exchange of products and services. But the moment you say “what about the messy transition from the current capitalist crisis to our ideal conditions?”, almost everyone disappears.
There are a few visionaries who propose scenarios about what socialist futures might look like and how to get there, including David Schweickart, John Romer, Michael Albert, and Erik Olin Wright. But do radical organizers use these plans? No. They either don’t know about them or they do know, and they dismiss them because the theorists are academics. But worse, they don’t even think plans are necessary. At best, radical organizers go from socialist principles directly to strategies, tactics and then to collective actions. My claim in this article is that between principles and actions there need to be socialist plans that inform strategies and tactics. Plans mediate between principles and strategies. They ground principles, making them more tangible while they give wings to strategies by keeping the long-view in mind.
Here is what I don’t understand. Socialists have no problem starting and sustaining book clubs in which they discuss and learn what the great theorists say. There are book clubs about politics, economics, history and anthropology. But there are no meeting groups where socialists are forced to write detailed plans to answer questions such as:
- Give me a snap-shot version of how a socialist future will work in terms of politics, economics, the workplace, housing and education.
- How long do you project it would it take, and by what process are you going to get there?
If I weren’t already a socialist these are the questions I would expect most socialists to be able to answer readily. If they couldn’t do this I’d never take them seriously. If fiction-writing groups get together and write stories, why don’t socialists get together and share their dreams as architects of socialism?
My Personal experience with socialist planning circles
About three years ago, four of us got together for over a year and engaged in what we called a “socialist planning circle”. We met for three hours once every two weeks. We each developed our own plans for the most basic social institutions that would need to be reorganized as part of the revolution – food production, basic housing, energy harnessing, transportation systems, and workplace organization, to name a few.
The kind of controversies we addressed were:
- Economic allocation systems: who is entitled to what under what conditions?
- What does a transition out of the wage system look like?
- How do we institute a global minimum wage to keep capitalists from leaving a country?
- How to we abolish finance capital? Is there a place for “socialist banks?”
- How might food cooperatives reorganize food production?
- If we want to abolish the prison system, what do we do with people who continue to engage in anti-social activities?
- By what process would shortening the work week be institutionalized?
- Which social industries can afford to be localized and which, say, energy system might need to remain centralized?
- How to coordinate workers councils from the local to regional level?
- Will we still have a need for political parties and if so, how would they be organized?
Our procedure in socialist planning circles
- We agreed on an area in social life from our master list, say economic allocation.
- Over the next two weeks we each created our own vision of the future about economic allocation. We each made a table and followed it through six phases:
- The current crisis of capitalism
- Transition one phase
- Justification for transition one
- Transition two phase
- Justification for transition two
- Ideal condition
- Justification for ideal condition
- Each of us presented our plan for economic allocation at the next meeting
- We criticized and discussed each other’s plans
- Two weeks later we synthesized the plans into a written document
- We picked a new topic and repeated the steps
What was invigorating about this process was how often we already had ideas about these topics but we didn’t know we had them because we never asked ourselves, let alone anyone else. We also learned a great deal from the criticism from other members. Some of us were hesitant about our own plans but we could be critical of the plans of others. These criticisms in turn led us to look at our own hesitant plans in a new way. What was also interesting was the need to prioritize in what order we would restructure things in a socialist manner. It’s like a parody of the old show “Queen for a Day”. If the gods said you had a week to build a socialist system, what would you do first, second and third?
Justification for socialist planning circles
A socialist planning circle is a small group of 4 to 8 people formed with the intention of:
- Giving socialists confidence that we can plan the future now while living under capitalism. This involves learning and practicing our skills at planning transition programs for the infrastructure, structure and superstructure of socialist society among ourselves. We rehearse our scenarios in the hope that when capitalism collapses we have some semblance of a collective, structured understanding as to what is to be done because we have shaped, criticized and refined our plans through thought, discussion, writing, criticism and revision over weeks, month and years.
- Once we have experienced this process in a pilot group, we establish new groups to provide a supportive atmosphere to help working class people build confidence that they are smart enough to coordinate production across their workplaces.
There is a need for working class visionaries who learn to collectively imagine socialist futures, not by reading books, but by writing and sharing our imaginations now, before capitalism completely collapses. We need to rehearse, rehearse and rehearse our socialist plans with each other. We need to begin to cultivate our social imaginations now, rather than waiting for leaders or vanguard parties to do this for us. We have to have the nerve to say, “I can imagine transportation systems could be run this way, or food distribution should be run that way”. This project requires us to take seriously our socialist claim that we know how things could work in an ultimate sense, as we imagine how we navigate in the immediate future through the muddy, murky waters of getting from the crisis to our ideal conditions.
Why don’t you just start a reading group of socialist visionaries like you mentioned earlier rather than reinventing the wheel?
For the same reasons that you don’t begin scientific research with a literature review. You begin with your hypothesis and what the reasons are you think will support it. Then you do the literature review. Otherwise what you think is buried by the literature review. The same thing is true for art. You don’t begin drawing the figure by measuring it with a ruler. You begin with a gesture drawing, so you bring life into the drawing. You measure later. In the case of socialist planning, I’m convinced that people have an unconscious knowledge of how social organization could be. It is currently buried within them and needs to become conscious and worked on. The scenarios of scholars would only bury this unconscious knowledge. In the revolutionary situations that are coming, we are going to have to figure this out by ourselves anyway.
Socialist planning circles are too abstract and not connected to the working class. Getting together and spinning socialist plans pulls us away from the daily struggles of poor and working-class people. It will draw people who just want to talk and not act.
This is a danger in a discussion group in which there is no reading and where no preparation is required. It is less of a problem in a structured reading group because the individuals must make the effort to read the book in order to discuss it. A socialist planning group requires imagination and preparation, just the way a painting group would require people to bring two paintings to show for the next meeting or a songwriters group would expect people to come up with two songs for the next meeting. In some ways planning is more difficult that imagining ideal conditions. Ideal conditions ask you to imagine how things could be in an ultimate sense. Socialist planning groups ask, “How are you going to get there”. In my opinion, the second requires a far more active commitment. A socialist planning group would very quickly shed ‘dead weight” people who just wanted to talk.
These plans will dissolve once they face the realities of real social life
Any socialist who participated in these groups would know that when they return to their political practice much of the plans they learned to cultivate in the group would crumble and dissolve. However, the collective memory of some of these plans would remain and grow stronger by continuing in the socialist planning hot-houses over weeks, months and even years.
For example “participatory budgeting” is a way for people to become involved in local economics by having a say in the prioritization of the city’s budget. This exercise is designed to give residents practice in how to plan economically. But years ago, anarchist Murray Bookchin argued that the basic unit of city governance should not be city council, but neighborhood assemblies. City budget priorities were proposed at these local assemblies. Does that mean the city council in a capitalist city would accept that local neighborhood assemblies should exist at all? Of course not! Neither are they likely to agree if these assemblies decided that they wanted real estate “developers” kicked out along with a reduction of the police force. The important thing is to awaken in working class people a taste for planning and running things independently of the outcome.
The subtitle of this article was very carefully chosen. I am not advocating a static blueprint. I am advocating building scaffolds. In a technical sense a scaffold is defined as a temporary structure outside a building used by workers while constructing or repairing a building. Scaffolds are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for buildings. Scaffolds are not buildings. But without scaffolds there would be no buildings. The buildings themselves are like the socialist institutions of the future. The scaffolds are the means by which we build that future. There will be no socialist “buildings” without scaffolds.
As capitalism continues to decline, we will have more “disaster socialism” situations because the chickens are coming home to roost in capitalist ecological policies. Workers coops may spread because they will pay better entry level wages than capitalists and they are less likely to fire people in times of crisis. Rank-and-file democracy in unions will spread as workers because increasingly disgusted by a union leadership wedded to the Democratic Party. In all these circumstances the memory and enactment of socialist planning circles scaffolds could only deepen and organize what is already going on.
Optimally socialist planning circles would be an institutionalized, ongoing structure within a working-class party. It could certainly be implemented within the Green Party. But we can’t wait for these organizations to do this. Socialist planning circles should begin now. If organizations form later to house socialist planning circles, fine but we cannot afford to wait for them to see the light. We must be our own light. If they these political forms emerge later, they will be lucky to have us!
Russian Elites are Mute About Their Own Revolution
Not surprisingly, there was no official national commemoration of the 100th year anniversary of the Russian Revolution its country of origin.
Support our Vets by Changing the Capitalist System That is Killing Them
Veteran’s Day was November 11. While everyone was busy celebrating by having time off from work and posting “Thank you for your service” on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, many veterans were – and will be – still paying the cost of that service.
“We’re all being too harsh on Priti Patel. We all know what it’s like to accidentally meet a foreign head of state down the campsite.”
Hilarious perspective from The Independent on Priti Patel’s forced resignation from her position as a British government minister because of her “secret” meetings with Israeli officials.
What Will It Take To Bring People Into the Streets?
On the one hand, we have the political machinations of Republicrats and the economic truck and bargaining of capitalists.
Organizers are the Heart of a Revolution: Learning and Unlearning From Lenin
This is a very interesting article about the relationship between organization and spontaneity.
Catalan Independence: What is the Working-Class To Do?
This article gives very useful information about the reasons the ruling classes want to break away from Spain.
Harvey Weinstein is Only the Tip of the Iceberg: What Could Be Done
While it’s courageous for women to come forward, one by one, to expose how prevalent sexual harassment is, we predict this will fade from public attention because there is no structure in place that can protect women as a group. We need to build women’s solidarity networks, both virtually and face-to-face.
With Crypto-Currency Even Digital Wallets Can be Picked
A disastrous mistake made with one touch of the finger, ethereum, a form of cashless currency held in “virtual wallets”, has been frozen and made unavailable to the owners of those wallets. (more…)
Saudi Arabia and U.S. Involved in Funding Jihadi Terrorists
This should be breaking news because it implies that Obama as President, and Hillary as Secretary of State, were involved in the funding of the very organization they claim to be fighting.
Capitalism Failing in India According to Piketty
India has been presented by the World Bank and the IMF as the most recent poster child for capitalist “development” in a non-European country.
Harvey Weinstein is Only the Tip of the Iceberg: What Could Be Done?
Rats fleeing a sinking ship – the ship of white male privilege
The floodgates have opened. All the disgusting, depraved details are surfacing. Now the “public” is learning what the majority of us already knew – that men of power have been sexually abusing and harassing women for generations. (more…)
Israel Training U.S. Police to Shoot to Kill
Just as Israel has occupied Palestine, they are also infiltrating the United States military, police and surveillance forces. (more…)
Capitalism Failing in Brazil: 7,500 Families Homeless
Under any system but capitalism, where people live is a non- issue. Either people built their own homes, or in the case of socialism, homes are provided, although they may be very modest. But under the logic of capitalism people do no have a place to live because it is not profitable for the capitalists who own the land. So while 7,500 families have no place to live in Brazil, there are plenty of hotels for tourists and foreign ambassadors. Mind you, Brazil is the poster child for capitalism in South America. Capitalism is failing everywhere.Read in Al JazeeraImage by Tommaso Protti/Al Jazeera
Role of Central Banks’ “Free Money” Policy in Creating Financial Bubbles
In a “real” economy, whether capitalist or socialist, the role of a central bank is to stabilize national banks and reign them in. But under financial capitalism, the role of central banks is to provide financial capitalists with free money so financial capitalists can continue with their speculation. Jack Rasmus argues that from the United States, to Europe to Japan as these practices continue, the result will be a financial recession by late 2018.Read at Jack RasmusImage from Terra Daily
Is Your Money Really Safe in Banks? Italian Bank Masked Losses For Years
It’s interesting to think of how economic propaganda works. On the one hand, banks are presented to the public as the essence of safe institutions. On the other hand, putting your money under the mattress goes with signs of stupidity. But this story of the Bank of Italy might make you want to consider getting off the financial grid.Read in Bloomberg NewsImage from Trading Weeks
Economic Democracy: Pros and Cons of Participatory Economics
This article nicely summarizes the pros and cons of Michael Albert’s and Robin Hahnel’s “participatory economics” project.