Occupy and the Politics of Consumption

by Richard Estes on March 30, 2013

What is the relation between Marxism and anarchism today? What does the status and practice of anarchism tell us about Marxism, and vice versa? The North Star solicited responses to these questions. We begin today with Richard Estes, on what the Occupy movement tells us about anarchism, and Marxism. We welcome further submissions.

After the eruption of Occupy, the left is, once again, grappling with challenging questions of class and social organization. What are the current characteristics of the American working class? To what extent does it perceive itself as one? How can it empower itself to successfully overcome the neoliberal orthodoxy that is so entrenched globally, and, by doing so, potentially, even capitalism itself? In presenting these questions, and tentative responses to them by reference to Occupy, I do so from a heterodox anti-authoritarian background, referencing Marxist and anarchist perspectives as necessary.

Occupy intensified attention upon these issues that have preoccupied the left as familiar class relations disintegrated in the face of the neoliberal onslaught. Occupy was not a working class endeavor, and as a consequence, the participants did not express their expectations in line with past conflicts between labor and capital. Instead, they reflected the proliferation of social identities, and the particular forms of distress that they have experienced, as the US has been transformed into a market-oriented service economy.

During and after the fact attempts by liberals and leftists to impose an ideological orientation upon Occupy should not be substituted for the reality of it as a variegated, populist movement. Furthermore, it was not a mass movement, despite the willingness of liberals and leftists to embrace it as one. While significant, the number of people involved in occupations and protests initiated by them never reached the critical mass associated with any number of movements in recent decades, such as opposition to US involvement in the dirty wars in Central America, the gay rights movement, opposition to the invasion of Iraq and efforts to emphasize the perpetual violence against women.

Accordingly, Pham Binh’s call for radical Marxist groups to dissolve themselves and subsume themselves within Occupy had an odd ring to it. But there was a powerful logic to it beyond the numbers of participants, namely that it, as recognized by him and Louis Proyect, constituted a political movement with the potential to effectively challenge elites bent upon austerity at home and war abroad. But, for this potential to be realized, it is necessary to properly understand how class relations have changed and the consequences of these changes.

The working class, as conceptualized in the 19th and 20th centuries, no longer exists. Of course, there are still millions of wage laborers and capitalists continue to expropriate the surplus of their labor even more ruthlessly than they have in the past. But the Marxist conception of a working class educated and unified through their common experiences in the industrial workplace is no longer credible. In short, there is no longer a proletariat with a historical agency capable of transforming the capitalist system. One need only look at Occupy as proof in the US context. It was launched by an amorphous group of anti-capitalist, anti-materialist kids, and took off only after a video of one of them being pepper sprayed went viral. It attracted people whom we would characterize as “marginalized”, meaning people who are among the most isolated, vulnerable and powerless, but lacking an empowering class orientation. Efforts to extend Occupy into mainstream trade unions failed.

Hence, college graduates expressed alarm at their inability to find employment while being burdened with incomprehensible amounts of student debt. Middle-aged men and women related heart-rending stories of being foreclosed out of their homes. People of color described the collapse of their communities, their increasing re-segregation and experiences with racial profiling and shootings by the police. Veterans objected to being abandoned after serving in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Supporters of Bradley Manning warned about the implementation of the infrastructure of an authoritarian state. Homeless people responded to the utopian idealism of the occupations and served as their backbone. Upon their departure in response to police violence, the occupations soon came to an end.

Of course, there is an extensive literature that explains the decline of labor militancy in the US in terms of deindustrialization, the expansion of the service economy and the severing of the bonds of collective association among workers. But the social implications of this neoliberal process are not so well understood. Why was Occupy primarily a convergence of marginalized peoples with tangential labor involvement? Why was Occupy so cacophonous, and why did its participants, with the exception of Occupy Oakland, fail to strongly emphasize working class issues, instead opting for a more vague critique of crony capitalism?

A recent New Left Review article by German academic Wolfgang Streeck, “Citizens as Consumers”, provides some guidance in navigating through complex social waters in an attempt to answer these questions. Streeck observes that, in the immediate post-World War II period, the economies of the US and Europe grew rapidly as they satisfied “needs”: cars, dishwashers, ovens and other utilitarian appliances. Consumers placed orders for them and often waited weeks, if not months, to receive them. There was little differentiation between products. Beginning in the 1960s, however, consumers began to insist upon customization so that they could visibly distinguish themselves from others. In the 1970s and 1980s, product differentiation paralleled the public acknowledgement of heretofore suppressed social identities, such as race, gender and sexual orientation, and the emergence of categories within them.

American workers, like their brethren in Europe, place more importance upon their activity as consumers than they do upon their working class status, interweaving this with their now publicly accepted social identity. Capital accumulation in the US economy is now accomplished through the satisfaction of an ever expanding universe of “wants” generated by a synergy between consumers and producers through, initially, marketing surveys, and now, social media. Social media has intensified a specialization of work, consumption and identity beyond quantification.

So far, there is nothing unique about this analysis. Baudrillard, drawing upon the work of 1960s American sociologists, recognized it as it was happening. Streeck’s insight is that people in the US and Europe relate to the public, political sphere in the same way that they do the private one of consumption. They consider politics as yet another opportunity for the fulfillment of particularized individual “wants”. In such a setting, it becomes difficult to perpetuate collective forms of political organization because participants insist upon self-actualization.

With this in mind, it is possible to better understand the fissures within Occupy. Louis Proyect correctly criticized those who irresponsibly engaged in Black Bloc tactics at Occupy Oakland, but his advice that the participants within Occupy Oakland adopt the practice of policing their activities with burly march marshals nostalgically missed the point. Given that Occupy Oakland was populated with people who had varying motivations, varying “wants” to be fulfilled, assemblies could do nothing other than adopt a “diversity of tactics” that permitted all involved to satisfy them to the greatest extent possible. It is entirely possible that allies were alienated by this approach because it exposed a frivolous inability to grasp the collective seriousness of the situation, and not so much because of a failure to enforce a code of non-violent civil disobedience.

Facebook, Twitter and Ustream facilitated this through self-referential communication. Thus, Black Bloc confrontations, “Fuck the Police” marches and other kinds of small, autonomous group direct action protest accompanied by voyeuristic social media participation. In regard to Bloc tactics, which were subsequently utilized by those on the periphery of Occupy SF actions, other critical anarchists have coined a condescending phrase for them: riot porn. It precisely captures the ability of capital to mediate them into commercialized self-satisfaction for participants and social media viewers, a polite way of calling them instances of political masturbation. Some of these actions may be effective, but they are not a mass resistance to austerity and empire, and anarchists have yet to find a way to make them into one. It brings to mind Baudrillard’s statement that the May ’68 protests were neutralized once they were broadcast over French national television to the cities of the provinces.

Indeed, it is no accident that this kind of anarchism has been ascendant during this era of specialization. Just as work, consumption and identity have been specialized, so has political activity. As with NGOs, there has been a proliferation of the forms of direct action and an extensive literature describing its characteristics and methods, with the origins of it going back to the 20th Century artistic avant-garde. Reminiscent of the surrealist and situationist aspiration to create a new world by conflating art and the activities of everyday life, some anarchists celebrate the spontaneity of direct action and its purported transformative potential. One of my friends, a San Francisco ustreamer close to a number of people involved in Occupy SF, rejected the notion that Occupy should be a mass movement at all. Not surprisingly, anarcho-syndicalists, much like Marxists, have had a tougher time of it.

Can we find a way to escape the cul-de-sac of political activity as a form of transitory personal satisfaction? The left faces the daunting task of building a collective ethos from the ground up as a precondition to the development of a class conscious politics that reflects the social relations of our time. As demonstrated by Mark Booth’s recent article, “Solidarity Not Charity: The Case for Mutual Aid”, there are already a lot of people doing it in the United Kingdom. There are many other examples here in the US as well. Regardless of whether one is an anarchist or a Marxist, the test is whether one’s political activity assists in the recuperation of the collective values that made the prospects of the working class so promising not so long ago.

{ 150 comments… read them below or add one }

Gregory A. Butler March 30, 2013 at 2:01 pm

There are about 150 million workers in the United States.

Thirteen million of us are organized in labor unions.

Saying that we don’t exist is pretty silly.

Middle class activists in this country have been claiming that my class is dead for the past 60 years or so.

We must be zombies then, because we’re a pretty lively corpse.

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Joe vaughan March 31, 2013 at 11:53 am

Amen. This article is beautifully written but, like much of the analysis on The North Star it depends on a lot of large and lofty ex cathedra assertions for which no evidence is presented and no primary sources cited.

Surely even among those upon whom The Dialectic has descended like the Holy Spirit, more is required than the mere mention of Louis Proyect’s name and a good reputation, however deserved, to achieve the level of authority that this piece so unjustifiably assumes.

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Gregory A. Butler March 31, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Thank you!

I know it’s Easter Sunday, but preaching without evidence really isn’t called for here.

This isn’t church.

We’re supposed to be scientific Marxists here, so when we make grand sweeping statements, we need some actual EVIDENCE to back them up.

If you grandiosely claim that the working class doesn’t exist because we’re all “consumerists” (even the majority of American workers who make less than $ 15/hr – what do they “consume”, ramen noodles?) and our only hope is middle class anarchists, you sure as hell better back up that boilerplate with some actual data.

Problem is, when you bubble in the numbers, his thesis is shown to be bullshit.

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Ben D March 31, 2013 at 3:32 pm

He didn’t say there is not a working class.

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Alan L. Maki March 31, 2013 at 5:03 pm

We still have very substantial numbers of workers employed in basic industries: mines, mills, factories, transportation, communication, power generating, forestry, chemical in addition to a huge public sector, finance/banking; more and more the service sector is becoming a basic industry if it hasn’t already. Nothing will get changed in this country without the working class moving on any issue/s.

Huge militant working class movements continue to develop in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The working class is now willing to consider breaking free from Wall Street’s two-party trap and as we have seen, the working class is prepared to engage in political mass action and is getting fed up with labor leaders who constantly try to push these initiatives back into the confines of the Democratic Party.

The working class has also shown it wants no part of any kind of sectarian leftism in being manipulated and controlled so its a matter of showing working people that the left can work together as a catalyst for united working class action.

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Gregory A. Butler March 31, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Right here in New York City, the heart of the financialized globalized economy, we have over 500,000 workers in basic surplus value creating industry – 200,000 construction workers, 100,000 manufacturing workers, 150,000 truck drivers and warehouse workers, 40,000 air freight workers, 20,000 telecom/datacom technicians, 12,000 utility workers, 4,000 longshoremen and sailors.

That’s one out of every 8 workers in this city.

That doesn’t include all the construction, manufacturing, trucking & warehouse, air freight, telecom/datacom, utility workers and longshoremen in Long Island, Westchester, the Lower Hudson Valley and northern New Jersey.

That also doesn’t include the 200,000 building service workers, 100,000 hotel workers, 70,000 railroad and mass transit workers and 100,000 hospital and institutional blue collar service workers, or the 200,000 workers in retail trade or the 250,000 restaurant workers.

Figure out how to get those workers in motion, and the moneymen will tremble.

Sneering at $ 15/hr “consumerists” is NOT that way to mobilize them.

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Aaron Aarons April 11, 2013 at 2:51 pm

“Figure out how to get those workers in motion, and the moneymen will tremble.”

But people on the left, of all varieties, have been trying to do that without any major or lasting success for over a century. Part of the problem has been that, especially in an immigrant city like New York, many workers, including many of the low-paid ones, see their position there as transitional toward a better life, if not for themselves than for their families. And that ‘better life’ has been also called ‘the American dream’, which explicitly references and affirms the privileged position of the U.S. population in the global economy.

In fact, one of the contradictions of the immigrant rights demonstrations of this past week has been that, in essence, it demands that those who are here but don’t have citizenship rights, or even the lesser rights of legal migrants, be incorporated into the system of privilege for U.S. citizens rather than, with few exceptions, challenging the system of global inequality of which that privilege is a part. It is not easy to deal with this contradiction, especially for those of us leftists who do have U.S. citizenship, since we certainly don’t want to deny to our immigrant neighbors the privileges that we already enjoy, but we also don’t want to reinforce the idea that the solution to the problems of less privileged, or more oppressed, workers is to be incorporated into the privileged stratum rather than eliminate that privilege.

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Joe Vaughan March 31, 2013 at 6:48 pm

For all practical purposes, that’s exactly what he said. Get a grasp on reality.

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Richard Estes March 31, 2013 at 7:25 pm

Of course, the notion that I said that there is no working class is nonsense. But it is apparently easier to characterize me as saying this than addressing what I did say.

I have this suggestion: go out tomorrow and try this. Go to the site of any major employer and ask the workers as they enter the building if they support workers taking over the facility and operating it themselves. Ask them if they are willing to organize themselves to bring this about. If not, ask them what they would organize to accomplish. Afterwards, come back and report what you discover.

If you do, you will discover that the US working has been fractured into numerous pieces that has no class identity that it is willing to act upon in the Marxist sense, except in terms of some mild regulatory reformism. If you believe otherwise, please present some reasons why, and we can start talking about it.

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Alan L. Maki March 31, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Richard; we did just what you suggest here in Minnesota; check it out— I have included a link.

The results from the workers was very positive and it was the union leadership that started a vicious campaign of red-baiting along with the politicians they supported without approval from the workers.

The City of St. Paul actually called out the riot squad, in full riot gear, when we leafleted.

The majority of the 2,000 workers were for saving the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant through public ownership.

Unfortunately very few of the left wing organizations would participate in this campaign and outfits like Alternate.org receiving funds from the very foundations supporting demolition of the plant spread misinformation as did Carl Davidson and his organizations including “Progressives for Obama.”

The Green Party called for the demolition of the plant and replacing it with a an upscale “model green community.”

http://capitalistglobalization.blogspot.com/

I would encourage you and others to take your advice when plants are closing in communities you live in.

Also, what is preventing the left from calling for re-opening the thousands of closed mines, mills and factories in this country through public ownership?

I think Marx wrote someplace that the “ownership” question should be central to every issue.

How can we expect working people to bring forward the solution of public ownership of mines, mills, factories and entire industries if the left and its leaders refuse to bring this issue forward?

You are expecting workers to take a position on a question which hasn’t received an airing in workplaces, working class communities or the proverbial public square when it is your responsibility— our responsibility— to make sure this happens… maybe we should be reaching outward rather than turning inward which usually ends up with leftists beating up on themselves instead of the Wall Street bosses.

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Aaron Aarons April 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm

The (possible) fact that a majority of workers at a manufacturing plant want to keep it open through necessarily-subsidized public ownership doesn’t mean that doing so is something leftists should support. In fact, where we have the political weight to make a difference at all, shouldn’t we rather organize to demand that public resources go to keeping and improving such things as schools and medical services (which also, incidentally, employ workers) rather than to subsidize competition with Chinese and other workers in the global economy? And, if it does make sense politically and economically to fight for the subsidization of material production, do we really want it to be the manufacturing of more motor vehicles, of which there are already quite enough on the roads of the U.S. and most of the world, rather than, say, the construction of public housing, schools, libraries, health clinics, etc.?

Workers will, understandably, often defend the jobs that they have depended on for their income even when those jobs are socially or ecologically harmful. (Sometimes, in fact, workers and/or their unions will politically support not-yet-existing projects that will, at least in theory, create jobs. One of the worst of these is, for example, the construction of prisons!) The task of the left is to come up with a program of struggle that both defends the interests of the workers involved and transcends the harmful alternatives offered them by capital. This is not always easy, but necessary if there is going to be a workers’ struggle that challenges capital at a fundamental level.

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David Berger April 2, 2013 at 10:43 pm

RICHARD ESTES: Of course, the notion that I said that there is no working class is nonsense. But it is apparently easier to characterize me as saying this than addressing what I did say.

DAVID BERGER: Here’s what you actually said:

RICHARD ESTES: The working class, as conceptualized in the 19th and 20th centuries, no longer exists. Of course, there are still millions of wage laborers and capitalists continue to expropriate the surplus of their labor even more ruthlessly than they have in the past. But the Marxist conception of a working class educated and unified through their common experiences in the industrial workplace is no longer credible. In short, there is no longer a proletariat with a historical agency capable of transforming the capitalist system.

DAVID BERGER: Where did get the notion of “the Marxist conception of a working class educated and unified through their common experiences in the industrial workplace”? What is your source?

RICHARD ESTES: I have this suggestion: go out tomorrow and try this. Go to the site of any major employer and ask the workers as they enter the building if they support workers taking over the facility and operating it themselves. Ask them if they are willing to organize themselves to bring this about. If not, ask them what they would organize to accomplish. Afterwards, come back and report what you discover.

DAVID BERGER: This is your mistake: confusing presently existing working class consciousness with class consciousness as a concept. Yes, class consciousness is low right now. Is there any reason to believe that this low consciousness is universal and unchangeable?

RICHARD ESTES: If you do, you will discover that the US working has been fractured into numerous pieces

DAVID BERGER: What Marxist denies that? Do you think that this is some kind of revelation on your part?

RICHARD ESTES: that has no class identity that it is willing to act upon in the Marxist sense, except in terms of some mild regulatory reformism.

DAVID BERGER: Were you in Wisconsin two years ago?

RICHARD ESTES: If you believe otherwise, please present some reasons why, and we can start talking about it.

DAVID BERGER: Been to Oakland lately? Your problem, Comrade, is that you are looking for and have found to your satisfaction, excuses for abandoning the working class as the primary agent of revolutionary change.

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Joe Vaughan April 6, 2013 at 5:43 am

Really? And you know this because you have a particularly comfy armchair to dream in? Well, what are the precise locations and dimensions of these fragments? Did you measure them somehow? Have you assayed their composition with a mass spectrometer.

I see–you just know this intellectually, so to speak.

Where do you get off demanding facts from others when you systematically avoid them yourself? What is your proof of this alleged “fragmentation” (whatever the hell that is supposed to mean).

The reality is this: either there is a working class that is historically in motion toward revolution or there is no revolution.

Petty-bourgeois intellectuals do not start revolutions all by themselves no matter how many formerly fashionable Frenchmen they can quote.

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Joe Vaughan April 6, 2013 at 10:53 am

I take it you have done this.

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Gregory A. Butler March 31, 2013 at 8:37 pm

That’s EXACTLY what homie said, word for word.

That made the rest of his article less than useless, because it was so far from true.

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David Berger March 30, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Wow! What a load of hot air and wrong-headed analysis. Just for openers, Estes fails to discuss the crucial role of organized labor in the mother of all Occupies, Occupy Wall Street itself. Consider the following, which is by no means exhaustive.

(1) Within a week after the initial occupation of Zuccotti Park, labor unions were using it as a focus for raising their own demands. Notable among them were the Communication Workers and the Transit Workers.
(2) Within a week after the initial occupation, a group, the Labor Outreach Committee, was organized by Leftists with the conscious notion of forging an alliance between OWS and organized labor. That group still exists. (This is the group that Pham Binh derisively called a “red ghetto.” (If there was an Oscar for errors about Occupy, Binh would be the hands-down favorite around here to win.)
(3) Other labor-oriented groups formed, such as Occupy Your Workplace, the Rank-and-File Committee, Arts and Labor Committee, Immigrant Workers for Justice and, later, 99 Pickets. There are others.
(4) All the groups mentioned above, still exist. Their functioning, of course, is curtailed, but they have maintained continued existence, communication with each other and engage in joint action to this day.
(5) The Labor Outreach Committee, the lynch pin of labor action at Occupy Wall Street, has participated in a series of rank-and-file labor actions which have resulted in small but significant labor victories.
(6) The first attempt by New York Mayor Bloomberg to evict the Occupation was thwarted by the actions of organized labor which mobilized over ten thousand workers to defend and protect Zuccotti Park against the cops.
(7) Immediately after the eviction from Zuccotti Park, there was a Labor/Occupy demonstration of about 18 thousand people, including contingents from dozens of unions, to protest the eviction.
(8) Occupy Wall Street was ideologically the strongest force in the group of Labor, Immigrant Rights Groups, May 1st Committee and OWS which built the huge (30,000 plus) May Day march last year.
(9) Various labor groups from Occupy have engaged in strike support, most notably in last year’s Con Edison lock-out.
(10) No anarchist group exists in Occupy Wall Street that has maintained organizational continuity since Zuccotti Park.

So, Comrade Estes says, “But the Marxist conception of a working class educated and unified through their common experiences in the industrial workplace is no longer credible. In short, there is no longer a proletariat with a historical agency capable of transforming the capitalist system. One need only look at Occupy as proof in the US context.”

Comrade Butler’s remarks above are spot on. This is out-and-out wrong. And to use Occupy as any kind of proof of this is to falsify events as they actually are unfolding. In talking about Occupy and working class, one really ought to know something about both of them.

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Gregory A. Butler March 31, 2013 at 8:46 pm

Thank you for keeping it real, comrade.

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A student of Meszaros March 30, 2013 at 5:35 pm

The article is a combination of astute observation and, sorry to say, irrelevance.

I certainly don’t agree with Streeck and Baudrillard that consumerism has irretrievably destroyed working class solidarity, which persists as an inevitable prospect, from the very nature of labor’s role in production; however, when as you aptly point out in quoting Baudrillard on perceptions in the provinces, kids-in-the-lead act out their fantasies of “liberation as theater” in the streets, including black bloc mindless destruction, those who work for a living in pointless, repetitive task-minding, with little prospect of change or even maintenance of their worsening conditions of life, see this as adolescent, negative nonsense perpetrated by privileged youth and want no part of it. Many in a preliminary way learned something of that in reflecting on failure of protest in the 60s. This form of protest will undoubtedly continue, for better or worse, and should, as it has salient effects in putting the problems out there, in illustrating the concealment and evasion of media and officialdom, and in bringing out the brutality of capital’s response.

When those who share a common fate and a common enemy, as the working class by its role in production for profit and expansion of capital inescapably does – and who will more palpably share this perception as capital restructures in increasingly authoritarian and oppressive ways which become necessary to preserve, regenerate and expand return on investment – because the systemic cause of workers’ deteriorating condition becomes increasingly apparent to more and more of us, consumerism and diversion aside, our avenues of protest will bypass the protest of theater, angst and puzzled self-reflection of the current movement and take far more effective and serious forms, flowing from our personal, collective and historical experience.

I think that workers are quickly learning about their class interests and about how to cope collectively and globally with the accelerating attack on the living standards and democratic rights of the working class and the trend of labor irrelevance (to connect dots on exhaustion of current tactics, case in point: the sysyphean struggles of US west coast dockworkers, in the face of rapidly increasing automation and redundancy, whereas in Rotterdam, the largest port in Europe, the docks are now run by a small handful; and as Paul Mattick points out, according to ILO statistics there has not been one new job in manufacturing added in China in the last ten years, because in the southern edge of the country where so much industry and foreign capital is concentrated and where expansion is greatest, they’re using the latest technology.).

Count on the ineluctable, worsening antagonism between labor and capital, which is not about to abate, certainly not until we act together for effective change, to supersede the politics of those who, despite their generally apposite perceptions of the increasing deterioration of the social condition, will be seen in their role and conduct as having been, on balance and however well-meaning, rather irrelevant.

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Richard Estes March 30, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Gregory: of course, there are millions of workers in the US, as I said in the article, but there isn’t a proletariat with the historical agency attributed to it by Marx at this time for the reasons I mentioned

David: Occupy is heavily involved in labor, but, so far, it is still on the periphery, none of the things that you mention indicate that it has been able to push labor in a more progressive direction. I hope that it is able to do so, but, so far, it hasn’t, and it looks like a long slog.

I find it interesting that neither of you have engaged what I consider to be the central aspect of the article, the social transformations of the 40 years that are interrelated with neoliberalism: specialization of identity, work and consumption. Anti-authoritarian leftists, whether Marxist or anarchist, have benefitted, but only in such a way that fails to threaten capitalism. Your comment about the inability of any anarchist group in Zuccotti Park to maintain “organizational continuity” is actually consistent with what I have said in this article, the extent to which the need for self-actualization impairs the ability to organize effectively long term.

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Darwin26 March 31, 2013 at 4:00 am

Wish i’da replied what Richard just said, first. Clearly the Neo-liberal model is so like the Biggest Elephant in the Living Room you can ever possibly imagine. The evolution of society is just as Richard succinctly points out …”Capital accumulation in the US economy is now accomplished through the satisfaction of an ever expanding universe of “wants” generated by a synergy between consumers and producers through, initially, marketing surveys, and now, social media. Social media has intensified a specialization of work, consumption and identity beyond quantification.” Beyond quantification to be sure. This is a small capsule of what makes America apathetic (no real war blood on Tee Vee, maybe? however everything on it is rewritten to fit the Neo-Liberal script).
America is Apathetic to the max (Neo-lib model). I sometimes feel i live in the capitol of Apathy; because ‘they’ the Working Class still get Tee Vee and Food is still available, (till the Neo-lib Austerity hits hard) they’re not gonna make waves.
There was not one single Union member in Occupy Billings except myself (IWW) and i was in it from day 2… till entropy set in. At first, we had a strong, well loud anyway, contingent of Anarchists and Libertarians ((same same))… They were lead by one or two young people who clearly didn’t want anything to do with the OWS’rs… i think they went an made a garden in December, while We/OWS organized and managed to be an entry in the Holiday Parade day after T day ’11 (mopping up the rear as you can expect) (while the Baby Marines marched #1) No Union members were in our merry band of Occupy ‘cept this fw, Billings eleves on a mission to garner support and participants. We got quite a few Waves, big deal.
The Working Class is neither here nor there / they are losing their jobs / (thanks the Neo-lib model) and Johnny is marching home// hur rah hur rah (Iran~ NKorea?) so no jobs and too many workers// lets buy a fucking boat hur rah hur rah//.
i gotta wonder where this unified Working Class is? they really didn’t make it to OWS or we’d still be happening. Sure, a few big cities made some press for what? I think to the average ‘mericun he/she thinks OWS was just some kind of natural disaster and glad to get it over with. Did i say No Union members of any kind were in OWS Billings. We are Yellow Unions. Yes, i did go hang on the Sweetheart Picket Lines and i shoulda asked them why they never came to Occupy? ~ and hang out with us gay pinko Move On commies ???
There’s something to be said for strickly Republican gov’t but in small tiny groups. Todays Govt has to be Better and Bigger. For better id just ask for Integrity and Accountablity… now we have more ppl needing more Gov so why shrink it till it drowns in the tub ala Richard Perle? It’s not gonna grow without the Ballot Box campaigns and elections. We are not hopefully going to lob molotov cocktails and man barricades in the streets (Drone alert) So the Ballot box (some what privatized) is the only resort. I do not like Electoral politics. But i was glad i voted for Jill Stein… we need to back a candidate that can garner at least 20,000 votes; And in this state to even be called minutia you must 17,000 votes in the primary to even get on the Ballot.
Coalition building, discussions, office stuff and trash to dump must be done with organization and things delegated etc it has to have platforms and protocols … OWS was to new. To sporadic, to small, troubled by anacharists. Would it have been to much to ask for OWS# to get on Public Tee Vee and do weekly programs?
For what i know if you’re interested in the Neo-liberal model and what it’s capable of: read “Shock Doctrine” by Naomi Klein.
It’s a different world, we have to make/set our collective goals not predicated on some ancient history before TV; our means and methods have to adapt to the rapid changing political fronts and build a strong new party. I suggest we vote for candidates who subscribe to New Progressive Alliance (google)
Unions are not cohesive. SEIU here they’re collaborators and in other places Leaders.
One question Amanda Mann, a hard to forget personality, asked a question to some speil i had just made “Whats A Neo-Liberal?” ~ i had limited time but illuminated privatization issues. I see that Mr. Estes mentioned a different kind of Black Blok/ Hoody Hoodlums than i was exposed to… ??? but must reread that part again.
I feel this article is very important. i’ would have left out the Bruilliard whatever stuff, Say Who? and what does he have to do with here an now… ? i donno

:)

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Gregory A. Butler March 31, 2013 at 10:53 am

I suspect the reason you didn’t have any workers in your local occupy encampment is because they could pick up on your contempt for them.

I think there’s a bit of confirmation bias going on in your comment – you despise working class people, because we like material comfort and living decently and that’s what drives our struggles.

You find that unseemly and hate us because of it.

Working class people pick up on your contempt, are repulsed from your activism but you perceive it as confirmation of your hatred of the working classes (“you see, those dumb workers are too stupid to understand my politics”).

change your attitude towards workers and labor struggles, and you’ll get different results.

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Darwin26 April 1, 2013 at 12:30 am

Gregory ~ you couldn’t be more wrong. i’m rather put off by your vitriol. i’m wondering how so much ‘hatred’ got into your post?
i mc’d a once a week, year long Tee Vee program sponsored by the IWW : called: the Wobblies} exploring economic , social justice, & living wage. i did manage to get the Greater Yellowstone Cnty Labor Council pres and asst’s to come on ~ tried to get any Union boss person on i could… i asked the head of the local Educators Union to come on and talk about Privatization of Education ~ he said he was afraid for his job ~ i said, you know i’m gonna make that a target on my next show! Dude Yellow is Yellow
i’ve been a laborer all my life, to say i hate the working class is evidence of your myopic sense of reality.
As for OWS; well i’m just one unknown person among a hundred, ~ guess those card carrying Union dudes took one look at me and ran for cover …
*** picking up on your post to Richard E. The Unions in Montana are owned and operated by the Dem Pty and the Dem Pty is owned by Max GE Baucus ~ your words i use in defense of my out rage that the MT Unions are Yellow…

“The problem is,we have a trade union leadership who are pro capitalist, institutionally racist and wedded to the Democratic Party.”
Now here’s a hate filled stmt! You hate Trade Unions, you’re calling them racists and sutured to the eyelids of the Dem Pty ~ Greg, i think your vitriol is getting in the way of simple dot connections.

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Gregory A. Butler April 1, 2013 at 10:14 am

Fellow worker, if you address union officials as “union bosses” I could totally see why they wouldn’t want to be on your show.

As for your curious objection to my statement

“The problem is, we have a trade union leadership who are pro capitalist, institutionally racist and wedded to the Democratic Party”

That’s merely an observation of fact, like me saying that the Atlantic Ocean is full of water or that birds fly in the sky and sometimes land in the trees.

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Gregory A. Butler March 31, 2013 at 11:00 am

Richard, I’d be the first one to tell you that the working class in this country doesn’t have revolutionary leadership and aren’t in a position to make a play for power.

That is the central political question for any serious revolutionary activist in this country.

I still don’t buy your argument.

The problem isn’t “consumerism” – if only because most workers barely have enough money to buy what we need and only get a few petty luxuries by going deep in debt.

The problem is,we have a trade union leadership who are pro capitalist, institutionally racist and wedded to the Democratic Party.

That’s been a problem since the dawn of the American labor movement in the 1860s, long before the rise of modern consumerism.

With that said, American workers are perfectly capable of struggling if we are adequately led.

Problem is, we aren’t.

As for the consumerism stuff, homie, that’s more relevant to the upper classes than it is to us. If you spend half your pay on rent and utilities, you really don’t have enough left over to consume.

It seems you are very invested in this idea that workers are a bunch of stupid shopaholics, incapable of struggle and social change is only going to come from the educated middle classes.

People have been talking that mess since Marcuse in the 1960s.

it was bullshit then it’s bullshit now.

The conflict between labor and capital at the workplace is still the central contradiction of capitalist society and always will be as long as we live under capitalism

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Richard Estes March 31, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I agree with you on the mendacity of labor union leadership, but why isn’t it being challenged more? There have been plenty of efforts to more radically organize workers, to engage them in more radical political action, and they have had limited success. Why such passivity in the face of such an aggressive assault by capital? I have ventured some ideas as to what has happened, and it is a subject that would certainly benefit from the participation of others. In my view, workers have internalized many of the values of neoliberal society in the manner that I have described here, creating an urgency for its reversal.

I also agree with you on the centrality of the conflict between labor and capital, but, again, the problem is that US workers don’t see it that way. US unions are reformist at best, complicit at worst, without any strong radical response. Unfortunately, in the absence of one, the educated middle class is going to be a strong, pernicious force, as have experienced a number of times in the last 25 years. Acknowledging it shouldn’t be confused with acceptance or approval of it.

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Gregory A. Butler March 31, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Richard, on what planet were there “plenty of efforts to more radically organize workers” that were ignored by the working class?

I honestly don’t know what in the blue hell you’re referring to?

There’s about 200 workers centers in this country, of varying levels of militancy, with a combined membership of maybe 20,000 immigrant workers and coverage (non members who benefit from their services) of another 40,000 or so.

There are also a few IWW organizing campaigns here or there and a few militant organizing drives.

That’s pretty much it for “attempts to radically organize workers” – a few efforts that involve less than 75,000 of the nation’s 150 million workers.

Where are the leftists like you?

Why aren’t you trying to organize and lead us?

No struggle happens without organization.

What we have here is a Crisis of Leadership

Time for you and your comrades to step up to the plate

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Joe Vaughan March 31, 2013 at 1:55 pm

If The North Star is going to follow Binh’s lead and take a new look at reformism, one thing people could discuss is repealing the fucking Taft-Hartley Act.

The amazing thing is that unions have survived in any form at all so many years after that calamity. Even if the alleged union leaders were all totally honest and commited to the cause of labor, there’s damn little they could do with that monstrosity in place.

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Gregory A. Butler March 31, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Actually, you can do a lot with the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 as amended. It’s the only labor law framework that most living labor activists have ever known, since it’s been the law of the land for 66 years.

You just have to work the angles and take the fight out of the courtroom and onto the streets (which you can actually do with LMRA – just ask the Walmart workers and their judicious use of Section 7 rights).

Throwing up your hands and saying we can’t do anything until LMRA is repealed is just abstentionism, putting head in sand like Ostrich.

Not a good plan at all.

While you do that, I’ll be on a construction site somewhere in Midtown Manhattan, making struggle happen.

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Joe Vaughan March 31, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Richard, if there “isn’t a proletariat with . . . historical agency,” why bother with Marxism at all?

Your assertion is far too sweeping merely to be assumed in a web blog post no matter how “advanced” the venue claims to be (shades of Social Text).

Is it any wonder that those who jib at this do not engage what you regard as the central points of your analysis?

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Richard Estes March 31, 2013 at 7:31 pm

You are making excuses. First off, I never said that the US working class couldn’t develop such an agency, but lacks one now. Second, there’s no reason why you can’t address a variety of subjects within a post.

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Alan L. Maki March 30, 2013 at 6:19 pm

The movie “Salt of the Earth” has a number of messages for activists as timely today as when it was made which I think are relevant to this discussion:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7ZoomADDOI

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Darwin26 April 1, 2013 at 12:33 am

Thanks Alan, But i’ll have to watch it in spurts ~ almost a 2 hr movie ~ saving it for a late nite.

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Richard Estes March 31, 2013 at 12:27 pm

The relationship of Occupy and social media is one that I believe requires some serious contemplation. Curious that no one here has responded to my remarks, which undoubtedly comes across as Luddite condescension. Even so, there is problem as to whether you control the technology or the technology controls you. Just because 20,000 watch an OakFoSho ustream of an Occupy Oakland march to UC Berkeley and accompanying late night Occupy Berkeley rally doesn’t necessarily say anything as to the political effectiveness of the action, but I suspect that many do make this assumption. Similarly, while Twitter and Facebook can be a useful means of conveying information, they can also engender an insularity that is counterproductive to a political movement, not to mention that a lot of people remain outside of these platforms. If you emphasize either of these as a primary means of communication, you are making a conscious decision to exclude a substantial number of people, and the use of Facebook and Twitter by activists pushes them in this direction subconsciously. All of these things are problems in addition to the self-referentiality that I highlight in the article.

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Joe Vaughan March 31, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Twitter and Facebook can be a useful means of conveying information, they can also engender an insularity that is counterproductive to a political movement …

If this were stated more clearly, I might agree with it.

Another point: Twitter and Facebook are made to order as organs of surveillance if the state chooses to use them that way, which may be the case at the present time. The corporations have already transgressed all the boundaries of alleged privacy.

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Joe Vaughan March 31, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Twitter and Facebook can be a useful means of conveying information, they can also engender an insularity that is counterproductive to a political movement …

If this were stated more clearly, I might agree with it.

An additional point: Twitter and Facebook are made to order as organs of surveillance if the state chooses to use them that way, which may be the case at the present time.

The corporations have already transgressed all the boundaries of alleged privacy. So if anyone is putting “revolution” forward on Twitter or Facebook, s[he] is either taking a hell of a risk or enjoying a suspicious immunity.

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Joe Vaughan March 31, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Twitter and Facebook can be a useful means of conveying information, they can also engender an insularity that is counterproductive to a political movement …

If this were stated more clearly, I might agree with it. But it’s hard to guess exactly what you mean.

An additional point: Twitter and Facebook are made to order as organs of surveillance if the state chooses to use them that way, which may be the case at the present time.

The corporations have already transgressed all the boundaries of alleged privacy. So if anyone is putting “revolution” forward on Twitter or Facebook, s[he] is either taking a hell of a risk or enjoying a suspicious immunity.

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Joe Vaughan March 31, 2013 at 1:50 pm

This comment seems to have got in here three times. I’m not sure I made that happen, but if so, I regret that.

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Darwin26 April 1, 2013 at 12:42 am

i agree. A fantastic performance in a few cities is not a Front for Revolucion! i’d bet most Americans IE the Working Class had no idea what OWS was or was about ~ OWS actions didn’t get much play on Faux … And up in Wisconsin they couldn’t get full Union support to elect a different gov, they mg’d to get some recalls that’s kewl but where was the Full Union support? Home away from danger that’s where. Where was the media? Seemed to me they were all over this… but it didn’t make a big difference in the end except to give us all something to shoot for.
i’ve friends in Portland where some strong OWS took place…the people were turned off by the Anarchists and the media didn’t miss picking up on that dirt.

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Gregory A. Butler April 1, 2013 at 10:17 am

There are about 150 million Americans on Facebook, and another 850 million people outside the US.

I regularly use facebook in my Carpenters Union activism in New York, along with a blog that I operate on blogspot.

The internet is the wave of the future, and the future is now.

There are still things that one needs to do face to face, but facebook can facilitate those face to face meetings very efficiently.

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Joe Vaughan April 6, 2013 at 5:49 am

“The internet is the wave of the future”

The internet is just a tool. Social media have tremendous potential for surveillance and repression.

Those of us who work with Internet technology understand this.

Apparently others do not.

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Steve K March 31, 2013 at 1:43 pm

I think people are missing the important point in Estes’ article. Yes, the article has this exageratted “solidarity is impossible” gloom and doomism that it picks up from postmodern theorists like Baudrillard, but that kind of consumerist individualism really is a problem for the Left, and it really was all over OWS. My friends and I in Occupy spent a lot of time trying to convince other Occupiers to get behind a full employment demand, and over and over again other Occupiers told us “Well, that’s not why I’m here” or “Well, I don’t want a job.” My gut response was always: “Who the fuck cares if you don’t want a job?!? This isn’t about your desires. This is about persuading other people to join us so we can build a mass movement.” But the fact is that many of the Occupiers were not interested in either radicalizing the working class or in building a mass movement. Instead, they just wanted a chance to dance around in front of the tv cameras and be individuals. And that is one of the main reasons why Occupy was incapable of doing outreach and incapable of becoming a mass movement. Every Saturday, I have Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on my door trying to save my soul. Yet, I have not once had a Occupier knocking on my door trying to talk to me about poverty, unemployment, the cost of college tuition, eroding infrastructure, the war on unions, or anything a normal person might care about. We need to think about the reasons why we failed at this.

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Richard Estes March 31, 2013 at 1:47 pm

People accused the German director Fassbinder of nihilism. He responded that he showed the world as he thought it was, warts and all, in the hope that it would motivate people to change it. I appreciate that you seem to have implicitly recognized that I have attempted to do the same.

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Alan L. Maki March 31, 2013 at 2:46 pm

As far as I can see Peace and Full Employment are the two top demands of any serious movement building efforts and when combined with demands for National Public Health Care, National Public Child Care and taking action on Climate Change we have the potential for a very powerful massive movement provided the left becomes the catalyst for this. We need groups of people meeting around kitchen tables, in living rooms discussing how we are going to proceed with leafleting, tabling, letter writing petitions and more importantly these demands turned into declarations of what we want and declarations stating our intent t break free from this two-party trap with the Internet and social networking being important supplements in reaching out to others but not excuses for meeting with people face-to-face in both organizing amongst ourselves while figuring out and planning how to reach out to our friends, neighbors and fellow workers.

What I find interesting is few people seem to want to talk about these specifics— perhaps most of the left has bought into this “we have to be paid” foundation-funded crap.

I would also note that the left has ignored the fact some two-million workers are employed in the hideous Indian Gaming Industry now encompassing some 350 or more operations forcing workers into these loud, noisy, smoke-filled casinos at poverty wages without any rights under state or federal labor laws where a bunch of very wealthy white mobsters own the slot machines and every facet of this industry which includes in addition to casinos— motels/hotels, restaurants, barber/beauty shops, gas stations/convenience stores, golf courses/theme parks/water slides— leaving Native Americans further impoverished with their natural resources being stolen out from under them and left at the mercy of very violent and corrupt tribal councils. How the left has managed to ignore and evade this situation is beyond belief. But, this points to the deplorable state of our movement/s. And by the way— not one single one of these foundation-funded “worker centers” supposedly focussed on immigrant and “undocumented” workers has demonstrated any concern for this situation even though a high percentage of the workers employed in this hideous Indian Gaming Industry are immigrant workers and “undocumented workers.”

I don’t think it is coincidental these workers centers are funded by the same “philanthropists” who lavish Barack Obama and the Democrats with huge campaign contributions.

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David Berger March 31, 2013 at 9:41 pm

STEVE K: Yes, the article has this exageratted “solidarity is impossible” gloom and doomism that it picks up from postmodern theorists like Baudrillard … .

DAVID BERGER: Which makes it one more middleclass excuse for avoiding the working class as the primary agent of revolution.

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Richard Estes April 1, 2013 at 12:01 pm

try reading it again

the real middle class excuse is refusing to adapt to social changes as they happen

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David Berger April 2, 2013 at 10:07 am

I’ve read it several times. My opinion stands. When you write things like this, what other conclusion follows?

“The working class, as conceptualized in the 19th and 20th centuries, no longer exists. Of course, there are still millions of wage laborers and capitalists continue to expropriate the surplus of their labor even more ruthlessly than they have in the past. But the Marxist conception of a working class educated and unified through their common experiences in the industrial workplace is no longer credible. In short, there is no longer a proletariat with a historical agency capable of transforming the capitalist system.”

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Gregory A. Butler April 2, 2013 at 10:55 am

Funny, at a time of working class downward mobility so extreme that even college grads are working for minimum wage, you have the nerve to claim that that the working class is “consumerist”.

Tell that to the 20 million unemployed workers and the 40 million workers who have low wage jobs that pay poverty level wages barely adequate to pay rent and buy groceries.

You need to come down from the ivory tower of academia and take a look at the real world.

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Joe Vaughan April 6, 2013 at 5:50 am

You’re wrong about a lot of things, but you’re right about this.

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Darwin26 April 1, 2013 at 12:56 am

Right On Steve K. i’ m not sure i’d trade places with the JW’s but it seems like a good idea to go door to door and leafleting tabling etc.
In Montana only 1 in 9 make a living wage (union ppl); MT is 2nd in the amt of ppl who have to work 2 jobs to survive and we’re #1 in those who have to work 3 Jobs to survive ~ It’s not just about Jobs. And it’s illegal to strike for more money per hour. What’s a mother to do?
One of the main tools of Neo-liberalism is to keep everyone scratching for scraps so you don’t have time to go to OWS rallies.
Solidarity, till next time
All but one of the OWS Billings folks who weather’d some chilly long days doing our curbside politics at the bizziest intersection in town as the Holidays edged ever closer… was Retired! We had such a fun time with the ‘Get A Job’ contingent as they drove by ~ it became our greeting call!
i didn’t think OWS was ever going to get any steam (‘cept in a few US cities) but our OWS did yeoman’s work developing a structure for the next time it comes around.

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Gregory A. Butler April 1, 2013 at 10:21 am

The first – and last – time I went to Occupy Wall Street, I was struck by just how blindingly White it was, in a city that’s 65% Black, Latino and Asian, where the city’s Blacks and Latinos are generally speaking to the left of the White community and where the city’s working class and organized labor movement are over 70% people of color.

It was the first night of the Zucotti Park occupation and literally the only other Black people I saw besides me were New York City police officers.

That struck me as troubling and was one of the greatest weaknesses of the movement. It always felt like I was the wrong race and the wrong tax bracket for OWS to be relevant to me and my life.

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Pham Binh March 31, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Hopefully no self-described revolutionary would not be in favor of repealing Taft-Hartley. We are a very long way from it given that we don’t even have a workers’ party. It’s a topic I discussed a bit here: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=7901

I think we’re in for a long fight to repeal the state-level laws before we manage to gain enough power to go federal.

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Alan L. Maki March 31, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Repealing Taft-Hartley should be part of repealing right-to-work and “At-will hiring and at-will firing— they are all closely related. Right-to-Work is actually part of Taft-Hartley. So, where is the call and proposal to build a broad-based movement around these three repressive measures?

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Joe Vaughan April 6, 2013 at 1:07 pm

“Of course”–as the theory mavens love to say–you are exactly right.

Curious that so many self-professed revolutionaries, “academic” and otherwise, get their knickers in a twist when this comes up.

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Joe Vaughan April 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm

“Of course”–as the theory mavens love to say–you are exactly right. I find it hard to see how this could be considered in any way controversial, a failure to “engage constructively” (Gob forbid!)–or an affront to the working poor.

Curious that, with a few blessed exceptions, so many self-professed revolutionaries, “academic” and otherwise, are getting their knickers in a twist when this is mentioned here–even though they don’t deny it.

Maybe somebody needs to make this historical case over in enough factual detail to prove its relevance to the present situation.

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Joe Vaughan March 31, 2013 at 7:09 pm

Yes, you did discuss it “a bit” and good for you.

For the most part, however, it’s never mentioned, especially when people are bemoaning the sorry state of the unions.

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Pham Binh March 31, 2013 at 7:56 pm

Agreed. A sign of how far the labor movement has degenerated politically since the peak of its power more than half a century ago.

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Alan L. Maki March 31, 2013 at 8:12 pm

The “peak” of the labor movement’s power came with bringing forward the “Full Employment Act of 1945” after which Wall Street mounted a massive campaign of repression which included the Taft-Hartley Act various other repressive pieces of legislation culminating in the Communist Control Act.

Check out the “Full Employment Act of 1945” and the transcript of the hearings:

http://fullemploymentnow.blogspot.com/

While the labor movement’s “leadership” has seriously “degenerated” over the last 65 years, it is also necessary to point out that severe repression of the left is what caused this degeneration to set in.

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Joe Vaughan April 6, 2013 at 8:24 am

severe repression of the left is what caused this degeneration to set in.

I think Binh gets this. I certainly agree. Moreover, the left in the United States –especially the labor movement–is still being repressed.

The fact that the labor movement and the left survive at all should be grounds for hope in this situation.

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Aaron Aarons April 14, 2013 at 12:27 am

Sorry, but repression of the left and of organized labor in the U.S. has been far less than in most countries of the world. And, since the capitalists will always resort to repression when they find it necessary or beneficial, explaining the political and economic weakness of the left and of organized labor, or of the working class in general, as a result of such repression is useless in pointing a way out of the impasse.

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Joe Vaughan April 15, 2013 at 3:39 pm

“…repression of the left and of organized labor in the U.S. has been far less than in most countries of the world.”

This assertion is meaningless.

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Gregory A. Butler March 31, 2013 at 8:55 pm

It’s easy to be a hater on the sidelines, clucking your tongue at workers who aren’t as “advanced politically” as you claim to be.

It’s a hell of a lot more useful to get out there on the picketline and try to rebuild the labor movement.

I don’t have the luxury of being a sideline hater, since I’m an industrial worker (I’m a union carpenter in office furniture and interior systems installation) and a labor activist and writer.

I’m too busy educating, advocating and organizing my coworkers to stand on the sidelines and gripe.

To be blunt; lead, follow or get out of the way

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David Berger April 6, 2013 at 10:23 am

I’m not a religious man, but “Amen to that.” A lot of people around here, with little or no union experience, and with little or no experience in a Left group, run a line of talk, but when it comes to action, and there’s plenty of “action” right now in the working class, are nowhere to be found.

Right now, for example, there are extensive preparations, working class and non-working class, union and nonunion, for May Day going on in New York right now. I know that there are comrades on this website who live in New York. Where are they?

PS: Anyone wanting get involved, can post a query at this email address.

[email protected]

Mention North Star and I’ll get back to you.

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Gregory A. Butler March 31, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Comrade, you’re putting cart before horse.

We aren’t going to repeal the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 as amended without a large labor movement that’s fighting on the streets and making industry ungovernable.

Until we do that, holding forth about how “we can’t do anything without repealing Taft Hartley” is just an excuse for inaction.

I have skin in this game, as a union carpenter and a Carpenters Union shop steward.

I don’t have luxury of making excuses as to why I can’t do anything.

Me and my brothers and sisters, on the jobsites and in the working class as a whole, have to make things work in the LMRA framework til we have enough strength to overthrow it.

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Pham Binh March 31, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Try to keep the strawmen to a minimum. It detracts from discussion.

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Gregory A. Butler April 1, 2013 at 10:10 am

Pham,

No strawmen here, comrade.

I’m just explaining the facts of life of real world trade unionism.

We don’t have time to tilt at windmills about repealing the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 as amended – because labor doesn’t have the juice to pull it off, and if LMRA ever did get repealed, we’d probably get something even worse.

Better to work with the statute as written and use what we can, like Section 7.

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Joe Vaughan April 6, 2013 at 6:50 am

Thank you for dragging actual workers into this.

But you do realize that you’ve said a) that you are not only a revolutionary but, in present company at least, the revolutionary.

Now you say b) that you believe in working within the system.

Well which is it?

What makes you any more revolutionary than the petty-bourgeois theorists of The North Star? Anyway, Marx, Lenin, and Troksty were all petty-bourgeois intellectuals–and Engels was a coupon-clipping rentier–not a petty bourgeois, but a bourgeois period.

Were they not revolutionaries?

On the other hand world is full of self-righteous bastards (nearly all men, interestingly) who call themselves revolutionaries and post reams and reams and reams of congealed pomposity on their little blogs. They all have some sort of radical pedigree, and they’re always pissing on other would-be leftists, whether they’re calling them baby-killers or merely sniffing with their noses in the air about the proper way to “engage” in a “forum.”

What makes you any different?

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Brian S. April 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Richard is right to raise the issue of the structural and social changes that have altered the character of the working class in contemporary capitalism, and to highlight the impact of “consumerist” identities on the modern public. The left has been in denial over these issues for too long (and remains so judging by a number of the comments here). However, I agree with those who suggest that we need a more detailed and informed discussion before we can start to draw any serious conclusions, and would make the following critical observations on Richard ‘s analysis:
Richard counterposes the reality of the contemporary working class to “the Marxist conception of a working class educated and unified through their common experiences in the industrial workplace”. But this “working class of our dreams” has only ever existed in exceptional local and episodic circumstances – it has never been the spontaneous character of any real working classes, which have always been stratified and fragmented in varying degrees by status, trade, skill, gender, race. The development of mass, class-based movements has always been a work of political construction, as it remains today.
Richard is wrong to attribute the changed character of the working class to neo-liberalism – its roots are deeper than that, and if anything the relationship is the other way around (eg it was Thatcher’s skilful manipulation of the aspirations of a new “affluent” sector of the working class that made the neo-liberal project politically viable in Britain.)
The work of Streeck that Richard refers to offers some interesting ideas on the way in which the development of modern “consumerism” has eroded or displaced collective identities: but I think he exaggerates the importance of this force. The “customisation” that is promised by modern production and marketing is mostly a fiction: minor tweaks or phony repackaging of what remains essentially mass production. Streeck is inconsistent over whether the move for “differentiation” is driven by consumer desires or capitalism’s needs – but the logic of his argument points to the latter. And what happens when the economy cannot deliver the means to fulfil consumer wants?
Moreover both these sets of forces are contradictory in character. In many ways, the working class of contemporary capitalism is closer to the “collective worker” of Marxist theory than its forerunners – previous sources of fragmentation have been eroded (especially the manual/non-manual divide) and modern trade unions are more likely to be “general unions” organising across traditional skill and craft divisions. (Time to revisit the “new working class” of Serge Mallet?)
And the thrust of modern capitalism is not towards “individualised” consumption. Modern producers aren’t bespoke craftsmen – they’re closet mass producers seeking to tap segmented but still mass markets. Their best customer is not the one seeking to create a personalised identity, but those who can be persuaded that they need the latest hyped product in order to avoid standing out from the crowd. And modern marketing is tying itself in strange knots attempting to pursue these objectives. http://www.convinceandconvert.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Screen-Shot-2012-08-06-at-2.55.31-PM.png

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David Berger April 2, 2013 at 10:56 am

Just a quicky:

BRIAN S: Richard is right to raise the issue of the structural and social changes that have altered the character of the working class in contemporary capitalism, and to highlight the impact of “consumerist” identities on the modern public.

DAVID BERGER: These are very different. The so-called “structural and social changes” are a result of the movement of capital to different countries, unemployment, etc. They have not “altered the character of the working class.” The character of the working class is determined by its relationship to the means of production. It is a structural relationship. A retail worker in a box store and the proverbial worker in a steel plant are both members of the working class.

The whole issue of identity, which is both manipulated consciously by capitalism and is a result of capitalism, is a separate issue.

Both these have to be addressed but to claim that because of a shift in identity, caused largely by bourgeois propaganda, the character of the working class has changed is to make a very serious mistake.

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Brian S. April 3, 2013 at 6:49 am

@David Berger. “The character of the working class is determined by its relationship to the means of production.” This is a flawed argument which simply leads the left into denial about the changing social structure in which we have to operate. The character of the working class is determined BOTH by the essential capital/labour relationship AND by the specific social relations of the workplace and community. The working class which Marxist theory saw as a potential “subject of history” was typically the working class of mass production. Working in a mass labour process with a direct relationship to productive technology, the social relations of production were relatively transparent and the possibilities for collective forms of resistance readily visible. Of course, this “ideal” working class was never univeral, and the working class was always quite diverse.
While it may be true that a modern retail worker and a worker in a 1970s automobile plant are in the same objective relationship to capital, the very different nature of their labour processes and work environments has a big impact on their social consciousness and their capacity for collective action. Why do you think trade union densities have declined so sharply across the developed world as these structural changes have taken place?
Its wrong to see the shifts in class consciousness and forms of organisation as just “bourgeois propaganda” – they have structural roots.

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Gregory A. Butler April 3, 2013 at 8:38 am

Brian S,

Class position is determined by relationship to the forces of production. That’s a basic economic fact that the bourgeoisie has tried to obscure for centuries. One of the ways they try to obscure that social reality is by defining class in nonscientific ways that aren’t related to relationships to property.

Also, the decline in union density happened not because of structural changes in the composition of the class, but due to ORGANIZED ATTACKS ON THE LABOR MOVEMENT BY THE CAPITALISTS.

I’ve written about it at length on my blog –

http://gangboxnews.blogspot.com

I’ve chronicled the attacks on the unions in my industry, the New York building trades, in great detail. I’ve also written on the attacks on the Teamsters Union.

Those industries didn’t change structurally at all – trucking and warehousing are still the same industry they were 30 years ago, so is contract construction.

Union density fell dramatically – from 80% to 20% in construction, even more dramatically from 95% to 5% in trucking.

The reason was systematic organized attacks on the Building Trades unions and on the Teamsters and the failure of those union leaders to organize resistance to those attacks.

The same goes for the decline of unionism in the retail trades,and in restaurants in big cities, and in the auto industry itself.

Incidentally, the auto industry has actually EXPANDED since 1980 – 800,000 workers then, 1 million now – but union density has fallen from 700,000 union auto workers in 1980 to barely 300,000 union auto workers now.

No, this isn’t about the composition of the class, this is about attacks on organized labor and the failure of labor leaders to effectively organize resistance.

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Pham Binh April 3, 2013 at 10:55 am

“Class position is determined by relationship to the forces of production.”

Slight correction: it is determined by relationships to the forces of production and to people in the process of production. A manager working 60 hours a week and the worker they can hire/fire who works 30 hours a week have the same relationship to Wal Mart’s means of production but not to each other. They are not in the same class.

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Brian S. April 3, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Well, they are in different authority relations, but not a different class position. They are both exploited by capital. (Unless you regard the manager as a pure spare wheel and therefore an “unproductive” worker).

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Pham Binh April 3, 2013 at 1:36 pm

So management is part of the proletariat?

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Brian S. April 4, 2013 at 1:52 pm

@ Binh. If they’re salaried employees, and their income is primarily in the form of a wage paid in exchange for their labour power, what class would you allocate them to?

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Pham Binh April 4, 2013 at 2:29 pm

I always thought of middle management as part of the petty-bourgeoisie, like the officer corps.

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David Berger April 4, 2013 at 3:50 pm

More like NCOs but still part of the petty-bougeoisie.

David Berger April 7, 2013 at 2:46 pm

They are members of the petty-bourgeoisie. Do you understand the fundamental Marxist notion of class?

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Arthur April 4, 2013 at 11:15 am

Walmart stores have several hundred employees each. “Store manager” is not as junior a supervisory position as typical in UK and Australian retail.

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Gregory A. Butler April 1, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Perhaps the authors of this piece live in a privileged academic bubble, surrounded by affluent people who really are “consumerists” because they have the income to consume with.

Most of the working class don’t live like that, especially Black and [email protected] workers

http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/statistics/

One third of the employed working class are among the ranks of the working poor.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2012/08/30/careers-are-dead-welcome-to-your-low-wage-temp-work-future/

This includes folks that went to college.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/31/college-graduates-minimum-wage-jobs_n_2989540.html?

At a time when much of the American working class are impoverished – and many of the remainder are one layoff away from poverty – it is asinine in the extreme for privileged academics to claim that me and my class are some kind of privileged “consumerists”.

Look around you, people!

Are you willfully blind?

Or are you blinded by your privilege and your consumerism?

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Richard Estes April 3, 2013 at 10:23 am

What you say is all true, and I would be the first to acknowledge it. But it doesn’t refute anything that I say in the article. It’s a false opposition. It is, however, true, that there is a stronger collective ethos among some that you mention, Latinos and the undocumented, for example, as they rely upon family and kinship ties to survive in this economy, as demonstrated by the immigrants rights protests of the last 10 years. It was something that I was going to mention in the article, but didn’t have the time to do, to point them out as a positive example that can be built upon.

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Aaron Aarons April 3, 2013 at 2:14 am

It’s significant that neither the original article nor any of the 55 comments preceding mine contain any word beginning with “impe”! The word “empire” does appear (once ) in the original article, but nowhere else.

The point is that there is no attempt to analyze the material position of various strata of workers in the U.S. within the global economy and class structure. The whole discussion is thus an exercise in philosophical idealism.

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C. Derick Varn April 3, 2013 at 3:59 am

“The point is that there is no attempt to analyze the material position of various strata of workers in the U.S. within the global economy and class structure. The whole discussion is thus an exercise in philosophical idealism.”

I wouldn’t throw around idealism, but because I think “idealism” would be less inchoate than ignoring the questions of labor aristocracy, or the fact that rent-seeking monopoly based economies one sees in the developed world are only possible by a mixture of mechanization and outsourcing for primitive accumulation. The politics of consumption are based on this, and I agree Aaron, we have dig deeper into that to really pull it all part and analyze it.

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Richard Estes April 3, 2013 at 10:18 am

Good points.

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Brian S. April 3, 2013 at 7:58 am

Hi Gregory – Its useful to have your reminder of the facts of life, but they don’t necessarily clinch the argument. First of all, we are referring here to an historical process: popular social consciousness has been formed over a long period of time, particularly in the post-war boom decades. There have always been groups excluded from those benefits, but that doesn’t change the nature of the dominant culture.
Secondly, Richard and Streeck’s argument is not a simple “affluence” one. What they are suggesting is that on the back of a number of social changes (of which historic increases in living standards is just one) most of the population come to see social relations in terms of individual consumption, rather than collective production. You can be affected by this process even if you are economically excluded from it: you may not be able to participate in mass consumerism but you can aspire to it. You could see this in Eastern Europe (especially Poland) after 1989: militant and highly organised working classes accepted massive cuts in their living standards, in part because the shelves of their stores were now full, Macdonalds was opening in every town, and they could be sold the idea that good times were around the corner.
Third, the points you make mostly relate to the situation in the post-2008 crisis: and there I agree with you – this exposes a contradiction in the dominant ideology and opens up opportunities to break through it: but we will still be starting from a position defined by historic factors.

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Gregory A. Butler April 3, 2013 at 8:30 am

Brian,

What’s so terrible about workers wanting to consume more?

A third of the employed working class – 40 million workers – live under conditions of relative destitution, with barely enough for food and rent. Add to them 20 million unemployed workers, and another 20 million outside the labor force and that’s a huge proportion of the plebian population of this country, hell, a huge proportion of the overall population of the country once you take non working dependents into consideration.

So, once we include the kids and retired parents of those 40 million poor workers, 20 million unemployed and 20 million not in the labor force, that’s 160 million people – a flat out majority of the country’s population.

Even for employed workers, for all but the most privileged supervisors, we’re all a couple of paychecks away from eviction and destitution.

That is the reality of the working class in this country so any discussion about “consumerism” is churlish bullshit.

Maybe you and your academic peers are living large enough financially that consumerism is an issue among you and your class.

For the rest of us, we just would like to actually get some of the bounty we produce – and, since we did all the labor to create it, in my book that’s a just demand.

Basically, you are making an argument that the only way we can have a revolution is if we’re all starving and living in shacks.

Problem is, that’s not true.

Your Eastern Europe analogy is incorrect as well.

Those countries went from the Depression to fascism to the horrors of World War II to the tyranny of Stalinism and all four of those factors shattered the organized working class movement in those countries.

There was nobody – save for the Catholic Church in Poland – in a position to organize any kind of serious consistent resistance (Hungary in 1956 was the exception that proved the rule – and look what happened there).

Also, the actual historical record in Poland and in Eastern Europe as a whole belies your insulting “full bellies” theory. Workers tried to resist. They were not able to resist successfully because of the lack of an organized and revolutionary leadership.

In our country, the problem is also an absence of leadership.

It isn’t full bellies – an insulting claim considering how the working class in this country actually lives, even relatively well off workers like me and my coworkers in the unionized building trades!

The fact is, the trade union leaders have failed us, and so has the far left.

Without organized leadership, no serious and successful resistance can happen.

Don’t blame me and my brothers and sisters for the failings of YOU and others who would purport to lead us.

If you want to see why there’s been no successful working class resistance in America, instead of yelling at me for having a cell phone, look in the mirror and blame yourself, and other leftists like you who have FAILED at the task of leading us.

Acknowledge your personal responsibility for failing me and my class, take 100% of the blame upon yourself, the rest of the left and the union leadership, and get back to me and my class when you have a plan to actually lead us in a serious fight against the attacks that happen to us every day in the real world.

Or, you can cling to your fantasy that we’re rich, fat and sassy with our quarter pounders and our iPhones.

You can blame the failures of the left and labor (the true cause) or you can blame the victim, the working class (the bullshit you and the author of this piece are doing now).

It’s up to you, “Brian S.”

Choose wisely.

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Brian S. April 3, 2013 at 10:03 am

@ Gregory Butler. Greg, this is not about objecting to workers “wanting to consume more” but pointing out the social implications that result from channeling consumption in a particular direction – into private consumption goods provided by capital, rather than public goods provided by public institutions. I’m fully in favour of the working class having better housing, health care, education, foodstuff, etc. I’m not so keen on the 3o over-priced, differently packaged but chemically identical painkillers I find when I go to the drugstore to sort out a headache.
You present a picture of the condition of the US working class that sounds like something out of a Victorian social survey; but the links to statistical data that you provide don’t back it up. So which version of your story am I supposed to believe?
All this stuff about “crisis of leaderhip” is too simple and just plain unMarxist. It reduces the crisis of the labour movement to the personal failings of individuals – but leaders’ capacity to mislead arises – at least in large part – from the social influences and pressures on the rank and file. You accuse others on the left of “failing to lead”. But what about you? How come with all this insight you haven’t been able to round up some co-thinkers and provide an alternative? Is that just your failing? Or is it a result of forces and conditions that are beyond your control? And if its the latter, wouldn’t it be a good idea to have some serious discussion to see if we can work out what those factors are and how we might overcome them?

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Alan L. Maki April 3, 2013 at 10:05 am

Yup, Aaron, we are paying a very heavy price for Wall Street’s imperialist agenda— wars abroad paid for through austerity measures here at home.

William Z. Foster, the Communist Party leader, always pointed out that what the U.S. working class needs the most is a good strong dose of anti-imperialist education.

What analysis do you figure is missing? What would be your suggestion for a progressive agenda promoting a movement for working class unity?

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Aaron Aarons April 3, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Imperialism is a two-edged sword for the less privileged strata of the imperialist-country population. On the one hand, it provides lots of looted wealth for that population’s classes and strata to fight over. On the other, it can be costly, especially when it is carried out stupidly or in the interests of narrow ruling-class sectors, and those costs, and not only in material goods but also in bodies, fall disproportionately on the lower economic strata of the imperialist population.

It is the latter edge of the sword that sometimes cause substantial sections of the working class and middle class to join principled anti-imperialists in opposing certain imperialist adventures.

My reaction to the idea of a “progressive agenda” can be found at:
http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=7799#comment-45073

Nor am I interested in “promoting a movement for working class unity” among the working class of the imperialist heartland. Rather, I want to split that working class and the middle class that overlaps with it so that a part of that population unites with the proletarian and middle strata around the world that oppose capitalist devastation in general and imperialist plunder in particular. It will only be when the imperialist metropole cannot suck in the wealth of the world that there will be any possibility of genuine proletarian revolution in that metropole.

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Alan L. Maki April 4, 2013 at 10:39 am

Aaron; I don’t know what word to use to describe your anti-imperialist views other than “perverted.” Isn’t the idea to help working people understand imperialism and how it is ruining their lives, too?

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PatrickSMcNally April 4, 2013 at 10:56 am

“MIMish” might be the best word.

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Aaron Aarons April 7, 2013 at 3:29 am

I won’t bother repeating what I wrote just above about “a two-edged sword”, nor is there any need to respond to your empty comment that my views are “perverted”. And when you propose “to help working people understand imperialism and how it is ruining their lives”, (1) which strata of “working people” are you referring to, and (2) in what respects (consumption levels?, health?) are their lives being, or not being, ruined by it?

Regarding MIM: The best analogy to them would be to people who rightly scoff at the idea that the earth is flat (in this case, the idea that all workers are exploited and none benefit from imperialist exploitation), but then fail to recognize that the earth isn’t an absolutely perfect sphere either. In other words, their basic generalization is correct, but the lack of nuance and subtlety make it a self-caricature.

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Gregory A. Butler April 7, 2013 at 10:24 am

Not to get ad hominem or anything, but you described yourself in another post as an independently wealthy person who doesn’t have to work.

By your own analysis that wealth come from plundering the Third World.

So why don’t you lead the way with that whole “principled anti imperialism” thing – take all of your personal wealth that lets you live without working, cash it out, put it in the form of a money order and mail it to the anti authoritarian Third World revolutionary group of your choice.

Solidarity starts at home and the personal is political, so why don’t you renounce your personal wealth before you start lecturing workers about ours?

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David Berger April 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Is that the William Z. Foster who, as a member of the Communist Party, supported the use of the Smith Act against the anti-imperialist Trotskyists by the imperialist Democratsand them got indicted by it himself under those same Democrats? That William Z. Foster?

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Gregory A Butler April 3, 2013 at 12:37 pm

I get it.

Like the Wall Street Journal and the Business Roundtable, you think that the American working class are fat, sassy and overpaid, living lives of consumerist excess (the mountain of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding).

You think that this is the only reason we haven’t had a revolution and why the working class movement is in full retreat is because American workers are so rich and overpaid.

The failure of the far left, the liberals and the union leadership have nothing to do with the collapse of American unions – it’s all my class’ fault, because we’re so greedy and slothful.

Apparently your “solution” is for us to all be reduced to poverty (and not South Bronx poverty – that’s too “consumerist” – but Congolese refugee camp poverty)

What are you actually doing to help achieve that goal of sackcloth and ashes revolution?

Also, do me and my class have to stay poor after your revolution?

In any cass, I think I’ll pass on that.

I’d rather fight for “goulash communism” – where everybody on the planet gets the living standard currently enjoyed by you totally not consumerist middle class professors (if it’s good enough for you guys why not for me and folks like me?)

You guys get to live far better than people like me, but I’m a “consumerist” and you are a pure “revolutionary” who doesn’t care about unseemly things like money (because youalready have so much more of it than I do)

With that, I’ll leave you guys to your bullshit politics

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Aaron Aarons April 3, 2013 at 8:17 pm

You write:

I’d rather fight for “goulash communism” – where everybody on the planet gets the living standard currently enjoyed by you totally not consumerist middle class professors (if it’s good enough for you guys why not for me and folks like me?)

You guys get to live far better than people like me, but I’m a “consumerist” and you are a pure “revolutionary” who doesn’t care about unseemly things like money (because youalready have so much more of it than I do)

Is anybody here defending the idea that “middle class professors” should continue to consume at their present levels and/or at levels greater than those of workers? And do you, Greg, really think that the planet and its workers can support a level of per-capita resource consumption equal to the average such levels of middle-class professors in the U.S.? Those of us who want the planet to remain habitable for future generations have to be prepared to force a draconian decrease in such resource consumption by the highest-consuming 10-to-20% of the global population while fighting to increase the availability of food and other basic resources to the poorest half or so of that global population.

But one of the essential ways to reduce the resource consumption that threatens the planet is to put the militaries of the imperialist countries out of business, since those militaries, and particularly that of the U.S., are both enormous consumers of resources and enforces of the ability of the privileged strata of the world to continue their excessive and wasteful consumption.

Incidentally, don’t confuse levels of resource consumption with “standard of living”. There is some correlation between them, but they are very different things.

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Brian S. April 4, 2013 at 10:02 am

@AaronAarons as an ex-“middle class professor” (not American, but in American terms where all faculty are generously deemed “professors”) I think you overestimate our lifestyles.

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Joe Vaughan April 6, 2013 at 7:08 am

The title of Professor is jealously guarded in the U.S. , actually.

We have tons and tons of adjunct faculty and graduate students who do most of the actual teaching, often for subsistence wages. Most of these are mere Teaching Assistants, Instructors, and Lecturers.

Your actual professor is as rare as a doctor in a hospital.

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Gregory A. Butler April 5, 2013 at 8:15 am

Yes, I actually do think the planet and it’s workers can support a level of per capita resource consumption equal to the average such levels of middle class professors in the US.

Obviously, we’d have to use renewable resources and electric powered motor vehicles instead of using fossil fuels.

However, we’ve got plenty of sunlight and wind, so I don’t see why that’s a problem.

We also have plenty of iron ore, gypsum, clay and gravel, and we can grow trees and fibrous plants.

We can grow enough food even now – after a revolution we’d be in a position to vastly improve Third World crop yields through automation.

So yeah, we do have the resources, if you didn’t have 1,400 billionaire douchebags hording most of the world’s wealth.

Overthrow those bastards and we’re golden.

Reducing consumption is the program of those billionaires, to “save the planet” (for them to exploit).

If you embrace it, you’re on Team Capitalism too.

I’m on the other side, with the workers and farmers of the world, who deserve the same decent standard of living that you and your class enjoy right now.

As far as your bullshit claim that “don’t confuse levels of resource consumption with “standard of living”. There is some correlation between them, but they are very different things”, only an affluent prosperous person would say that kind of crap.

To the average person who works for a living, “standard of living” is all about “levels of resource consumption”

Spare me the sackcloth and ashes ecology bullshit – that’s the same austerity crap that Wall Street and the rich men I work for are trying to cram down my throat, except you wrapped it up in red and green and call it “revolution”.

If your ‘revolution” means I’m poorer than I am now, you can take your revolution and shove it.

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Aaron Aarons April 7, 2013 at 3:48 am

I am “an affluent prosperous person” in comparison with the poorer half of the global population, but certainly not compared with the average U.S. working person. But, since I am and have been able to get by without working in a regular job, I do have a high “standard of living” in that I can spend time reading, writing, walking the dog, etc., rather than working and consuming more material goods. And, no, my life isn’t what I’d like it to be, but it’s certainly not the lack of material goods, such as a car and fuel for it, that cause me dissatisfaction.

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Gregory A. Butler April 7, 2013 at 10:15 am

So, based on the partial and incomplete information you just gave me, you are independently wealthy – you are affluent enough that you don’t have to work – you choose to live the simple life voluntarily but I’d bet you could live a life of luxury if you chose to.

Considering that one third of the employed working class in this country are working poor, one fifth of the working class are out of work and much of the remainder of the class are so badly hobbled by consumer debt (mostly for necessities like housing, transportation and education) that they have a negative net worth, I suspect that you are indeed an “affluent prosperous person” compared to me and people like me.

To put some numbers on it, income wise I made $ 17,000 from all sources last year – it was a bad year work-wise for construction, so $ 6,000 of that was from Unemployment Insurance and another $ 1,000 was from withdrawing the last of my retirement savings. I’m also about $ 45,000 in debt – because I’m not rich I had to borrow to pay for necessities, then the construction economy collapsed five years ago so I haven’t had the means to pay it back.

This year’s been better – $ 13,000 year to date from wages, $ 1,000 from unemployment and I just got a city job – if I get to start that job, my annual income will be about $ 50,000 by the end of the year, the most money I’ve ever made in one year in my entire life.

My previous high years were 2003 and 2004, during the building boom – $ 42,000 and $ 48,000, respectively.

Sounds like a lot til you realize I live in New York City, where rents and prices are high. A one bedroom apartment in the ghetto can rent for over $ 1,200 a month in this city – add to that $ 112 a month for subway fare and $ 100 a week for groceries, plus $ 300 a month for electric, cell phone and internet service, plus the high taxes here and it’s really not so much.

I’m not lucky enough to be independently wealthy like you – I work for a living because the alternative is the Third Street Men’s Shelter and I’m not with that.

Also, your ostentatious “voluntary simplicity” is a form of conspicuous consumption – especially considering how sanctimonious and self righteous you are about it.

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Aaron Aarons April 9, 2013 at 1:14 am

I don’t know why you put “voluntary simplicity” in quotes, since I never used those words and you seem to be talking about me. Nor do you have any grounds for calling me “sanctimonious and self righteous” or “wealthy”. Then again, not having grounds for accusing people you disagree with here of being upper-middle-class or something similar hasn’t stopped you from repeatedly doing so.

BTW, from your description, I certainly wouldn’t include you among the portion of the U.S. working class that lives off of the surplus value produced by the global proletariat. You do talk, however, like someone who would like to do so, being more concerned, apparently, with the fact that you don’t have an iPad than with the conditions of those who produce those gadgets or with the mass deaths in Africa that the hunt for the necessary resources for such production entails.

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Gregory A. Butler April 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

Aaron,

It appears that, like a lot of upper class neo Maoists, you have some serious contradictions.

You come from money, but you condemn workers poorer than you are for being labor aristocrats.

You claim to practice class politics, but instead preach this almost UNICEF-like moralism. Instead of appealing me to show solidarity with the Congolese miners and the Chinese electronics factory workers, you instead want me to make a public show of piety by refusing to buy the products that they make.

Problem, those workers don’t need your pity – they do need (and have) my solidarity as a fellow worker.

I’m not sure about labor struggles in the Congo, but the Chinese factory workers in particular have been waging a ferocious strike wave for the past five years, and have catapulted wages up by over 200%.

Not buying the phones they make simply doesn’t matter – it’s an empty gesture. If it makes you feel good about yourself, go right ahead.

As for the whole “live off the surplus value produced by the global proletariat” – since I’m an industrial worker that generates part of that surplus value ($ 6,000 a day over and above my wages and benefits, to be precise) I am part of that “global proletariat”.

In any case, good luck with your lifestyle leftism.

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Aaron Aarons April 9, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I don’t “come from money”! Except for a few years over 40 years ago when I received graduate fellowships, I have never had an income even close to that of an average unionized worker. I have been, thanks to my inability to hold a job, what Mrs. Thatcher would have called a “scrounger” for most of my life.

In general, you demonstrate a marked inability to actually respond to what anybody here actually has written. You mask this fact by putting quote marks around words that are not, in fact, quotes, or, when they are quotes, are taken out of context.

BTW, I never referred, in any words, to “labor struggles in the Congo”. The main issue in that country is that millions of human beings have been killed in the largely one-sided wars over access to resources there — resources that mostly are taken by or sold to imperialist corporations in order to produce the electronic devices we use. I have not argued that you or anybody else should refuse to buy such devices, but that dealing with that issue, by various means, should take priority over providing more and newer devices to us.

Also, please clarify the following words of yours (and I do actually quote you, rather than pretending to do so):

As for the whole “live off the surplus value produced by the global proletariat” – since I’m an industrial worker that generates part of that surplus value ($ 6,000 a day over and above my wages and benefits, to be precise) I am part of that “global proletariat”.

Are you, if fact, claiming that you as an individual generate $6,000 a day in surplus value? Please explain how you arrived at this figure? Did you pull it out of your hat or out of something at the other end of your torso?

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Aaron Aarons April 14, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Even if you meant to write ‘$6,000 a year’ rather than the ridiculous “$6,000 a day” that you did write, you are, apparently, confusing price with value. A group of workers in a country like the U.S., especially if working in an industry that is insulated from international competition, may produce a profit for their employer at the same time that their income allows them to purchase more value, measured in hours of socially necessary labor, than the value, also measured in hours of socially necessary labor, that they contribute to global production. So such workers may be net consumers, rather than producers, of surplus value, at the same time that they enable their employer to appropriate for himself a chunk of that global surplus value.

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Gregory A. Butler April 14, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Aaron – I work in office furniture installation. We really do add that much surplus value considering the price of the finished product relative to the cost of the parts. That $ 6,000 a day is on the higher end of things (that particular job had very sophisticated trading desks) but those numbers are based on real wage and pricing data.

Surplus value is a thing, you know – and workers like me create it.

Aaron Aarons April 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Your day’s work, Greg, may enable your employer to realize a $6,000 profit, but the value, as measured by socially-necessary labor time, of the product from which your employer realizes that profit is produced mostly by the totality of workers whose labor transformed elements of nature into the inputs to your own work.

Aaron Aarons April 14, 2013 at 4:15 pm

There are so many things to refute in your post, Greg, that I could never find the time or energy to deal with all of them in any depth. However, you wrote:

We can grow enough food even now – after a revolution we’d be in a position to vastly improve Third World crop yields through automation.

The threats to global food production come not from a shortage of labor, which would be an argument for mechanization, but from (1) the increasing depletion and destruction of soil and (2) the diversion of land to non-food purposes. There are hundreds of millions of former peasants who have been forcibly displaced from the land and who survive by begging, petty commerce and very poorly paid and often dangerous work in industry. A genuine workers’ and peasants’ government would reverse much of that displacement and assist the development of a productive agriculture that preserves and improves the soil for future generations. And, of course, such a government would ban and reverse the conversion of land, whether agricultural or wild, to the production of agro-fuels — or to golf courses and other playgrounds for the rich and middle class.

So yeah, we do have the resources, if you didn’t have 1,400 billionaire douchebags hording most of the world’s wealth.

Overthrow those bastards and we’re golden.

How much of the world’s resources do those 1,400 billionaires (.00002% of the global population) actually personally consume, as opposed to own and control? I find it hard to believe that they collectively consume more than, say, 1.4 million ‘average consumers’. So overthrowing those scum is politically necessary, but not because it will stop their personal consumption.

Reducing consumption is the program of those billionaires, to “save the planet” (for them to exploit).

If you embrace it, you’re on Team Capitalism too.

Capitalists have always been in the contradictory position of wanting to cut wages and other expenses while, at the same time, wanting to maintain and expand at least a section of the population that can pay to buy the products they sell. And most of the propaganda and bribery financed by billionaires these days aims at reducing wages, especially the social wage, while accelerating, or at least not limiting, the looting of nature to fuel more, not less, production of commodities. And their propaganda against private and, especially, social wages is almost always put in terms of money not being available, not in terms of nature being depleted. That’s because ‘Team Capitalism’ has always been the team of (not-so-)primitive accumulation against nature.

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Brian S. April 4, 2013 at 9:56 am

@Greg Butler. Don’t know if you’ve really taken your ball and gone home (people who announce that often sneak back). In the hope that you haven’t: you shouldn’t assume that this is some sort of monolithic site with everyone on the same “party line”. There simply are no “you guys” here: Aaron Aarons and I are a world away from being comrades in arms. But we do think there is some merit in exchanging and debating views, and sometimes learning even from those we vigorously disagree with. I have agreed with some of the things you’ve said here – even learnt from a few of them, like the need to distinguish between industries that have been subjected to technological and structural change and those which haven’t – and disagreed with others . But I’ve listened to them all. Hope you might revisit us from time to time, but if not – sorry to see you go.
Brian S.

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Gregory A. Butler April 5, 2013 at 8:07 am

Brian,

Honestly, the politics I see on this site are very alien to me and my class.

Your type of elite middle class radicalism is worlds away from the kind of pork chop communist unionism I practice.

I’m for making a better life for the working class – and that means more money, so we can buy what we build – and you guys seem to have a bug up your ass about that (odd since I’d bet money that, as a group, you are all in a much higher tax bracket than I am).

Also I’m really nauseated by the hostility to class struggle and it’s organized form, the bona fide trade union, that I’ve seen here.

I’m also disgusted to hear left wing versions of the Wall Street Journal argument that American workers make too much money.

We actually don’t, the census bureau stats prove that – as does spending any amount of time around actual workers. I know this because I’m a working class man living in a working class neighborhood. You guys choose not to see that, because you’re in a middle class academic bubble.

Also, there is this whole middle class hair shirt sackcloths and ashes asceticism going on here, that it’s somehow unseemly for the folks who create all of life’s goods and services to actually want some of them.

Seriously, we build the cars – why shouldn’t we want to drive them?

We build the nice apartments – why shouldn’t we want to live in them?

We build and staff the vacation resorts – why shouldn’t we want to vacation in them?

Why is that so hard for you folks to understand?

I just don’t get it.

The bottom line is, working class struggle begins with the dollars and cents struggle for workers to earn a decent living from the sale of our labor power – if you have a problem with that, you aren’t a revolutionary.

Period.

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Brian S. April 5, 2013 at 10:00 am

@ Greg. The main point I wanted to get across to you, is that there is a diversity of views on this site, and there’s plenty of room for yours if you want some dialogue. You’ve also misinterpreted what most of us have been saying here. The only person who has voiced anything close to the views you object to is Aaron Aarons, and he raises some issues about international inequalities and environmental problems which need to be given some thought.
As I’ve acknowledged above I spent the latter years of my working life as a “middle class professor” but I didn’t emerge from my mother’s womb in that state: I’ve probably spent as much time as you surrounded by working class people and with a working class (and often lower) living standard.
I don’t know what posts you are referring to when you talk about people saying that workers earn too much or that they are hostile to trade unions. I’ve certainly never said that US workers are “earning too much”.Whenever I’ve been in a job that was unionised I’ve been an active trade unionist; and I’ve been involved in solidarity actions to support workers in struggle since I was a teenager. One of the posters here regularly raises the issue of the need for the left to be more involved wwith the union movement. And when I raised the issue of the decline in levels of union density it wasn’t to celebrate the fact but to point to it as one of the major causes of the weakness of the left.
Even the odd “hair shirt” among us would agree that the distribution of income in the US is skewed and would support redistribution in favour of the working class.
But there’s still a discussion to be had about the way in which capitalism has manipulated people’s preferences in favour of individual goods (which earn profit for capital) against collective goods – which are more important in improving working class lives in the long run.
Brian.

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Gregory A. Butler April 5, 2013 at 11:10 am

The desire for individual goods isn’t “manipulated by capitalism” – it’ has existed since as long as human society has.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with working class people wanting nice things – houses, cars, phones, computers, clothes, makeup, food, ect.

We built all this stuff, the rich (and middle class folks like you) have these things, why not us?

We really don’t want upper class folks like you patronizingly telling us what’s “more important in improving working class lives in the long run”.

We want our bread and we want our roses (and our cars, and iPads, and clothes, and furniture, ect)

We want the collective goods too, and we’ll have them.

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Richard Estes April 5, 2013 at 11:26 am

unfortunately, we are talking past each other here

the reality is that the collective social world created by anarchists, Marxists and social democrats in the early 20th Century, or by trade unions in the postwar period, no longer exists

collective social life was an inextricably aspect of a collective political project

so, now, the challenge is how to organize a collective, radical politics, when so many aspects of our personal and family lives, lives which used to be lived within the close bonds of a union, a community and its related social activities, have been privatized and interiorized

I personally think that it is difficult, if not impossible, which is why I emphasize the need to recuperate those collective values and relationships a as a precondition to a mass left political effort

how that indicates a hostility towards organizing workers around the basis of improving their pay, their benefits and their work conditions is beyond me

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Gregory A. Butler April 7, 2013 at 9:50 am

Richard,

It sounds like you have a fantasy of what American working class life was like in some golden age, you have a fantasy of how we live now and you want us to go from living your fantasy of how bad we live now and go back to your fantasy of our golden age.

Like all nostalgia, it’s pretty divorced from actual historical reality.

The working class still live in communities, now as we did then. Our communities are segregated by race, now as then (back then de jure since 1965 de facto).

In the poor working class communities – like West Harlem, a poor working class Latino ghetto in New York City’s borough of Manhattan, where I live – we still do have a collective social life.

You’ll see workers and poor people sitting on the stoop (the porch of an apartment building), hanging out in the park drinking beer, barbecuing, playing volleyball or having a game of dominoes when it’s warm, hanging out in the fast food joints when it’s cold, or going to each other’s apartments.

That type of collective social life is common among the poor and the lower paid sections of the working class pretty much everywhere I’ve ever been in this country.

To add to that, we now have technological wonders like facebook, twitter and SMS messaging so we can carry on that communal social life virtually when we’re at work or on the go.

Among White white collar workers and skilled workers in suburbia there’s a similar collective social life, built around organized youth sports (little league, pop warner football, girls soccer) – where the parents come together to support their children’s sports efforts. There is a similar culture of communal socialization built around commuter bars that exists among White male white collar and skilled workers who live in suburbia but work in major cities. There’s a similar suburban variant of that bar culture at working class bars in the suburbs that happens in the evening and on weekends.

That segment of the working class also uses facebook, twitter and SMS messaging to reinforce those real world social ties virtually.

So actually, working class social life is quite communal.

Maybe things are different among college professors – i really wouldn’t know, I’m just describing what I see around me every day, at work and where I live.

So no, social life doesn’t look like it did in the 19th century when working men used to go out to the all-male union meeting and then went to the all-male bar to get drunk and avoid their wives, who they hated but were totally dependent on, since most men couldn’t cook, do laundry or mend clothe back in those days.

Back in those days, before TV and cell phones, life was boring, men spent a lot of time drunk and a lot of them used to beat their wives.

I think your nostalgia for that era is kind of stupid, considering what life was really like back then – and I didn’t even get into the whole Jim Crow segregation piece, which made life miserable for my mother and my grandparents back then.

Nostalgia is remembering yesterday’s prices but forgetting yesterday’s wages – it’s foolish enough among non political folks, especially comical among the left.

Back then life was good if you were a White male with a good job – it sucked if you were a woman, or Black, or Latino, or Asian, or a gay person of any race or either gender, or if you were poor.

Wifebeating was legal, so was gay bashing – lynching of Black men wasn’t technically legal, but it was tolerated by the police.

Back in those good old days, memorialized in TV series like Mad Men – White males with at least some money could say and do whatever they wanted, and everybody else couldn’t.

So yeah, spare me the trip down memory lane.

Right now, with racial, sexual orientation and gender equality at an all time high and the wonders of the internet at our disposal, is my “good old days” – far better than any previous time in American history.

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Arthur April 7, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Whining about the good old days has always been the hallmark of reactionaries.

Its natural for progressive radicals to emphasize how bad things are rather than how much worse they used to be, in contrast to smug conservatives who emphasize how much better things are to avoid noticing how much better they could be.

But reactionary opponents of capitalism mouthing militantly anti-capitalist whining have been tolerated for so long as “fellow leftists” that the pseudo-left has become dominant and the popular conception of what it means to be a left wing activist is basically to be a reactionary misfit always saying things have gone from bad to worse and yearning for the good old days.

The blacker the picture painted of how bad things are getting the more leftist one is supposed to be. The basic role of the left sects is to convince people, both in theory and by demonstration through futile activities that stamp out any enthusiasm for struggle, that poliical action for progress is hopeless.Its now got to the point of explicitly opposing progress as such.

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Aaron Aarons April 13, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Arthur Dent writes:

the popular conception of what it means to be a left wing activist is basically to be a reactionary misfit always saying things have gone from bad to worse and yearning for the good old days

The first thing that should stand out about this to anybody who is a subversive and not a reformist is the use of the word ‘misfit’, however qualified, as a term of opprobrium. I’m not necessarily proud of being a ‘misfit’ any more than I am proud of being right-handed or having brown eyes, but any enemy of the existing order should be glad that there are ‘misfits’ in this world, especially among people who, thanks to their skills, background, education, etc., might otherwise be using their abilities in service of the ruling class. (Two of the members of my high school math team went on to work for the U.S. Air Force during the war against Vietnam! Unlike me, they apparently weren’t ‘misfits’.)

As a misfit who believes in a nuanced analysis of reality, I would not say that “things” in general “have gone from bad to worse”. Nor would I say the opposite. In fact, there is no objective measure that could validate any such judgment. How, for example, do you balance the material comforts, such as they may be, of the literal or political descendants of the European colonists of North America with the non-existence of any descendants at all of most of the tens of millions of humans who lived here 500 years ago?

Even in a more narrow area of conflicting gains and losses, how do you evaluate the changes in the condition of the South African working class since 1990? How do you balance the end of formal racial discrimination with the worsening of their material conditions and their partial demobilization as a revolutionary social force?

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Richard Estes April 9, 2013 at 11:35 am

Gregory: First off, you are assuming a lot of things about me that I did not say in the article. I merely said that there has been a degeneration of collective activity and collective values as compared to the recent past. You obviously disagree, but I did not express nostalgia about it and understand the pervasiveness of racism, sexism and homophobia during that time.

In fact, I grew up in a working class family, my mother and stepfather were both members of the International Typographical Union in the 1960s and 1960s, so I am well aware of what it was like. My mother told me a number of stories about the sexism that she encountered when trying to get her union card in the late 1950s.

They worked in newspapers prior to computerization (“hot type” instead of “cold type”), and traveled around the country to find work as newspapers downsized in the late 1960s and early 1970s. My mother worked in the composing room and my stepfather was a machinist. We eventually ended up in Sacramento and survived the mid-1970s downturn which was harsh, harsher than people now recall. My stepfather eventually went back to school and worked as a stationary engineer with the county until he retired.

So, I don’t fantasize about the past, but things have obviously changed. Social media and the Internet have created an illusory world of choice that is quite appealing to many people, including millions of workers, and this world is noteworthy for its implicit libertarian ideology. Of course, they can serve collective purposes as well, but, so far, they have played an essential role in the accumulation of capital and they implicitly propagandize in support of a privatized world.

Hence, the problems that Occupy encountered in its use of social media where activists had difficulty dealing with the fact that Ustream and Twitter operate as a communications platform and entertainment simultaneously. Given the central role of social media in capital accumulation and, as noted by Joe Vaughn, in surveillance, leftists should utilize it with care, and perpetually evaluate their relationship with it.

Lastly, as for this:

“Right now, with racial, sexual orientation and gender equality at an all time high and the wonders of the internet at our disposal, is my “good old days” – far better than any previous time in American history.”

Yes, they are part of a great, essential transformation of American social life, but, running parallel to it is the fact that income inequality is accelerating, lower income and lower middle income wages have declined since the late 1960s, with middle income wages stagnant.

Meanwhile, education is being made horrifically expensive through an ongoing privatization, while millions have been foreclosed out of their homes. Furthermore, one can question the extent of the improvement in racial equality, the public schools have become more and more segregated in the last couple of decades, with schools serving low income people and people of color being closed in order to make them available to for-profit charter schools. It is happening right now in Sacramento, Chicago and Atlanta, and probably a lot of other places as well.

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Aaron Aarons April 11, 2013 at 1:53 am

In other words, the bad old days have been replaced by bad new days. Interestingly, the things that have most obviously gotten better, like gay rights and the right of middle and upper strata of women and racial minorities to participate more fully in society, are things that have not challenged in any way the prerogatives of capital.

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David Berger April 3, 2013 at 12:52 pm

RICHARD ESTES: It brings to mind Baudrillard’s statement that the May ’68 protests were neutralized once they were broadcast over French national television to the cities of the provinces.

DAVID BERGER: Considering that (1) French television was on strike for most of May-June; (2) there were major manifestations of May-June away from Paris, this is bullshit.

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Richard Estes April 5, 2013 at 11:14 am

and, your point is . . . . what exactly?

or, to be more precise, how, if at all, are you trying to engage with what I wrote here?

your comments in response to my article have been consistently aggressive, dismissive and condescending, even when I have tried to reasonably address what you have said

how that promotes dialogue and understanding on the left is hard for me to discern

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David Berger April 5, 2013 at 11:34 am

RICHARD ESTES: and, your point is . . . . what exactly?

DAVID BERGER: My point is that Baudrillard is full of shit about May-June 1968. And so I wonder why you give him such attention.

RICHARD ESTES: or, to be more precise, how, if at all, are you trying to engage with what I wrote here?

DAVID BERGER: I am engaging with what you wrote by stating that, basically, you are wrong on your basic assumptions about the working class. It’s a negative engagement, if you will, because I find very little positive about it.

RICHARD ESTES: your comments in response to my article have been consistently aggressive, dismissive and condescending, even when I have tried to reasonably address what you have said

DAVID BERGER: My basic text is the Communist Manifesto, not How to Win Friends and Influence People. In my arrogant opinion, your article warrants a fairly heavy hand. Remarks like, “Why was Occupy primarily a convergence of marginalized peoples with tangential labor involvement?” I wonder if the Occupy you are talking about is the one I was/am involved with.

how that promotes dialogue and understanding on the left is hard for me to discern

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Brian S. April 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm

I’m not sure about the context of this quote. But Baudrillard was a participant in May-June 68, a supporter of the “Group of 22 March” in Paris Nanterre, and associated with Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

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Pham Binh April 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm

He and others who consistently engage in those behaviors are generally not worth engaging except on an occasional, case-by-case basis. They are simply not worth the time and effort.

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Gregory A. Butler April 5, 2013 at 8:00 am

I suppose these workers, bourgeoisified as they are to live on $ 7.75 an hour in New York City,are “consumerists” too – and we should oppose their crass and vulgar demand for $ 15 an hour (you know these gluttons will only spend that money on luxuries like bread and similac – what a bunch of greedheads!)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/apr/04/new-york-fast-food-strike

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Richard Estes April 5, 2013 at 11:18 am

please explain the thought process that leads you to believe that what I have said in this article would lead to your conclusion that we should oppose demands for greater compensation and benefits

because, I have not written anything to suggest it, that’s solely your creation

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Gregory A. Butler April 5, 2013 at 11:21 am

You kept going on about how the biggest problem of the American working class is our “consumerism”.

I found that offensive and out of touch with reality.

I still do.

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Richard Estes April 5, 2013 at 11:30 am

well, the problem is, quite frankly, that you are offending yourself

I didn’t write or say what you are attributing to me

I said something quite different, which I have repeated here many times

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Gregory A. Butler April 7, 2013 at 9:33 am

Nope, I’m reacting to your idea that the biggest problem with political work among the American working class is our “consumerism”.

It isn’t.

Our biggest problem is the failure of the trade union leadership and the left to lead us.

We have bad leaders and that’s what’s hobbled us.

We do have other issues – the racism of the entire White population of this country, from the richest to the poorest, being the biggest one- but “consumerism” isn’t one of them.

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Richard Estes April 7, 2013 at 11:54 am

“I think the correct formulation is: 1) the concept that the working class is educated through their experiences at the point of production is correct, but insufficient as a means to conceive of their unity as a class.”

I agree with this, but the problem is that the privatization of spheres of life that used to be public have serious consequences in this regard. It is an essential aspect of neoliberalism, one of its more effective methods of propagandizing, persuading people that the private provision of goods and services is superior to the the public one, and it undermines collective forms of organization as a result.

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Arthur April 5, 2013 at 11:47 am

This “anti-consumerist” stuff doesn’t necessarily come from people who are more comfortably off.

But it does come from a world outlook that is fundamentally antithetical to left wing politics.

In particular it is absolutely central to Marxism that capitalism is a fetter hindering development of the prouctive forces. The opposite view, that capitalism is providing ordinary people with “too much” is certainly helpful to the ruling class and reflects domination of their views.

But it isn’t some personal flaw of the people espousing it. This muck, has been dominant in “anti-capitalist” circles for so long now that people are actually quite unfamiliar with opposing views. It gets drummed in ceaselessly together with “green” and malthusian stuff about the planet being doomed. Typically advocates feel that they expressing some sort of militantl hostility to capialism when they denounce it for consumerism.

Fighting this is an essential part of creating conditions for a left again. But that fight needs to be at the level of ideas rather than accusations against individuals.

Also part of that fight includes acknowledging that living standards HAVE risen under capitalism and explcitly affirming that is a good thing and that we insist on more of it than they can deliver. Claims that real wages only go down are both obviously false and demobilizing.

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Gregory A. Butler April 6, 2013 at 11:14 am

Real wages did rise under American capitalism from the 1860s to the 1970s. They’ve been falling ever since – the bourgeoisie’s own statistics confirm that.

You are right about the Malthusianism that is the dominant ideology of most of the far left these days – especially the middle class left. With the latter group, it dovetails nicely with the natural middle class tendency to find speaking about money in mixed company to be crass and vulgar, a view common throughout the American middle classes, regardless of politics.

We do need to fight against that and to struggle for the traditional socialist view that our goal is to increase production by removing the limits that capitalism imposes on the productive forces (I like to call it “smokestack socialism”).

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Aaron Aarons April 7, 2013 at 1:41 am

“[…] the natural middle class tendency to find speaking about money in mixed company to be crass and vulgar, a view common throughout the American middle classes, regardless of politics.”

This has certainly not been my experience, going back to my early childhood when war-time rationing was in effect. Then again, I grew up in a Jewish, largely skilled-worker and small-merchant, milieu, and, thanks to my blind, orthodox, rich-but-spartan uncle, knew how to understand the stock market reports (but not the social reality behind them) before I was 10. Perhaps those who grew up among middle-class Protestants or Catholics had a different experience.

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Gregory A. Butler April 7, 2013 at 9:31 am

I grew up among working class Irish Americans and African Americans, so what I know of middle class life is second hand.

However, the middle class professionals I’ve been around – of all races and all different varieties of Caucasian (Jewish, Irish, Italian ect) have all shared a common disdain for discussing money in public.

Also skilled workers aren’t middle class – they’re workers.

I know, I’m a skilled tradesman myself, I’m a union carpenter.

While many of the upper layers of skilled workers have relatives or spouses who are small business owners, they are still workers with a lot in common with other workers.

Also, small merchants aren’t the same as middle class professionals – when I said “middle class” I was referring to the white collar professional middle classes, not small merchants.

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Aaron Aarons April 7, 2013 at 1:59 am

Since Arthur Dent (né Albert Langer) insists on posting under only his rather common first name, you might not easily learn that he was and is a fervent supporter of both U.S.-led imperialist wars against Iraq. In fact, he generally finds ways to support the very imperialism that makes (or at least made) possible the high levels of resource consumption in the United States, Canada, Western Europe and his country, Australia.

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Alan L. Maki April 5, 2013 at 12:23 pm

A good book to further this discussion:

The New Radicalism, Anarchist or Marxist? by Gil Green

http://www.amazon.com/The-new-radicalism-anarchist-Marxist/dp/071780321X

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Alan L. Maki April 5, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Something to mull over:

First Nations, Environmentalists oppose HudBay Minerals’ Reed Lake Mine

http://paulsgraham.ca/2013/04/05/first-nations-environmentalists-oppose-hudbay-minerals-reed-lake-mine/

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Matt April 5, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Well, I’m late to this, but:

“the Marxist conception of a working class educated and unified through their common experiences in the industrial workplace is no longer credible.”

I think the correct formulation is: 1) the concept that the working class is educated through their experiences at the point of production is correct, but insufficient as a means to conceive of their unity as a class.

The first silly leap was to translate “insufficiency” into “not credible”.

“In short, there is no longer a proletariat with a historical agency capable of transforming the capitalist system.”

The second silly leap was to this generalization from the first. “In short” it doesn’t logically follow at all. The whole task *is* the development of that proletariat as a class for itself.

This is ironic given the part of the title of this article that attracted me: “The politics of Consumption”. For it is true that Marxism has not adequately theorized what I call “non-productive” (for capital) “consumption”, specifically, that non-productive consumption involved in the reproduction of labor power and that has as its value representation the wage. For the purposes of the analysis of capital, Marx stated that “this (area) was safely left to the workers themselves”, but in fact it is not safe at all for capitalism to leave this area to exclusive management by consuming worker households. Especially as this area is replete with non-commodity labor processes such as house- or neighborhood work. After all precisely because it exists outside of the spheres of capitalist production as a whole, it is a potential zone of the relative autonomy of the working class under capitalism and therefore the key lever for overturning this system- indeed it is the *only possible* zone of that potential for autonomous action and self-organization – the definition of “the class for itself” – that could give depth of force to workplace organization.

And it is for that reason that the capitalists of the 20th century had to invade this zone, either through the extrusion of their own consumer-directed productions or through state intervention, encompassing it therefore within capitalist *accumulation*, if not production. And it is precisely for this same reason that it is no coincidence that all the key battleground areas of the class struggle today concentrate in this area in the form of the struggles over housing provision, health care, education and transportation – precisely the areas Occupy “occupied” itself with.

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Aaron Aarons April 7, 2013 at 5:04 am

I think what it boils down to is that the capitalists are continuing their attack on any means of proletarian survival that does not depend on selling one’s labor — or, if you prefer, ‘labor power’. When the only demand the capitalists face is for ‘jobs’ — ‘green’, ‘fuschia’, ‘mauve’ or whatever, they will know that they have completely defeated resistance to their domination.

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Gregory A. Butler April 7, 2013 at 9:27 am

Aaron – when all you have to sell is your labor power, demands for jobs are pretty damned important. That’s kind of the definition of being a proletarian, and the fact that you scoff at our demand for jobs is kind of astonishing.

What SHOULD we be asking for then, if you have a problem with us demanding jobs?

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Richard Estes April 7, 2013 at 11:50 am

just to be clear, in case it has been lost in the thread, I have no problem with demanding jobs, better wages, better benefits and better working conditions

I wrote this article with the purpose of highlighting the consequences of the increased private provision, as opposed to the public provision, of goods and services as they relate to all areas of our life

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Aaron Aarons April 9, 2013 at 2:14 am

The problem, from a revolutionary anti-capitalist point of view, is how to come up with agitation and propaganda, including specific demands, that, while recognizing the situation facing unemployed workers in the here-and-now, does not contribute to reinforcing the idea that sale of one’s labor power should be a requirement for a human being to obtain the necessities of life. I have many thoughts on this matter, but that will have to wait for another post, since I barely have enough energy left to walk the dog before I have to sleep.

A merry Margaret Thatcher funeral to all, and to all a good night!

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Arthur April 9, 2013 at 5:21 am

“an undistinguished, clichéd slasher film”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_All_a_Goodnight

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Aaron Aarons April 9, 2013 at 11:40 am

While I am certainly against, in most cases, violence against women, I would certainly have made an exception for the likes of Margaret Thatcher. OTOH, there have been many more men than women whose killings I would have celebrated.

I generally don’t like explicit film or video violence and could not imagine watching a slasher film. Violence is sometimes politically necessary and/or desirable, but I wouldn’t trust anybody who enjoys it, just as I wouldn’t trust anybody who enjoys killing non-human animals.

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Brian S. April 7, 2013 at 7:20 am

@Matt. An interesting comment and its good to see someone putting the issue of consumption into a concrete frame of reference and, in particular, linking it to the issue of domestic (re) production. (I’m not so keen on this Hegelian-tinged “class for itself” stuff- too abstract for my taste, but that’s another discussion).
But I would have thought that one of the striking features of modern capitalism is the extent to which it has successfully penetrated the sphere of domestic production: the household has become quite capital intensive (white goods, brown goods, and now various multi-colour goods); and we have the capitalisation of another sector of domestic labour via the “diy” industry, and the colonisation of “free time” via leisure goods. A process which has had major implications for labour supply, through the facilitation of
But I think this is separate from issues of “housing provision, health care, education and transportation” which have always (for the most part) lain within the sphere of state/public provision.

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Brian S. April 7, 2013 at 7:23 am

correction to above:
A process which has had major implications for labour supply, through the facilitation of” – should have been followed by “…the expanded role of women in the labour market”

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A student of Meszaros April 7, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Arthur commented on Occupy and the Politics of Consumption.

in response to Gregory A. Butler:

(…)

Whining about the good old days has always been the hallmark of reactionaries.

Its natural for progressive radicals to emphasize how bad things are rather than how much worse they used to be, in contrast to smug conservatives who emphasize how much better things are to avoid noticing how much better they could be.

But reactionary opponents of capitalism mouthing militantly anti-capitalist whining have been tolerated for so long as “fellow leftists” that the pseudo-left has become dominant and the popular conception of what it means to be a left wing activist is basically to be a reactionary misfit always saying things have gone from bad to worse and yearning for the good old days.

The blacker the picture painted of how bad things are getting the more leftist one is supposed to be. The basic role of the left sects is to convince people, both in theory and by demonstration through futile activities that stamp out any enthusiasm for struggle, that poliical action for progress is hopeless.Its now got to the point of explicitly opposing progress as such.

______________________

Arthur’s remarks make good sense.

How to put this?

For too many years left comment has been of this ‘sky is falling’ variety, including ‘there’s no left left’. Those of us who have done so have now long since made this statement and are learning the etiology; certainly (from my experience) this is beginning to be picked up and internalized by now by those on the liberal and even the right side of the political spectrum.

And now, rather than focus so much on organizing as the Baedecker on the so-called left where Occupy has been, time is overdue for the left to place primary effort in breaking it all down, examining and recognizing/summarizing/disseminating, historically and dialectically, the nature and trajectory of capital as it’s lived by different people in different regions and circumstances, how it affects the dominant plurality, where the system is weakest in failing to meet basic human need and where it is most oppressive in subjugating human aspirations for sustenance and growth – and therefore, where emphasis can most appropriately be placed in resisting and overcoming. This, along with the essential examination of the major divisions among those who rule, among those who are ruled, and inter se, where therefore vulnerabilities and possibilities lie, also will assist in a major way in the theory and practice of constructive, transitional action.

As a student of Meszaros, may I suggest from my perspective starting by reading Meszaros as a vital aid? And especially and of course, for those who haven’t or aren’t, reading Marx. Also, in bringing the abstract closer to the concrete, Panitch and Gindin’s The Making of Global Capitalism, and Prashad’s The Darker Nations. And then to the specifics.

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A student of Meszaros April 14, 2013 at 12:52 am

Aaron Aarons commented on Occupy and the Politics of Consumption.

in response to Alan L. Maki:

The “peak” of the labor movement’s power came with bringing forward the “Full Employment Act of 1945″ after which Wall Street mounted a massive campaign of repression which included the Taft-Hartley Act various other repressive pieces of legislation culminating in the Communist Control Act. Check out the “Full Employment Act of 1945″ and the transcript […]

Sorry, but repression of the left and of organized labor in the U.S. has been far less than in most countries of the world. And, since the capitalists will always resort to repression when they find it necessary or beneficial, explaining the political and economic weakness of the left and of organized labor, or of the working class in general, as a result of such repression is useless in pointing a way out of the impasse.
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Union membership has steadily decreased from roughly 35 percent of the labor force in 1954, to 11.3 percent now – a mere 6.6 percent in the private sector. And the major attack on government employee benefits now well under way is reducing that figure, as federal, state and municipal employees and payrolls are downsized. In addition, the unions are now the conduit for declining wages and benefits in the US. Case in point: non-union Toyota is trying hard to reduce wage rates to $14 an hour from the $26 an hour that they have been paying. It develops that they are trying to remain competitive with the American car makers, whose unions, since the bail-out agreement reached with the US government and the industry, have negotiated their members’ wages to as low as $14 an hour; so who wants to join a union under these circumstances? Major rethinking is way overdue.

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Zhang Wang April 14, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Wow, an out and out abandonment of class struggle and the working class — on the front page no less! Of course most of the middle class left actually holds the same view, but they usually try to couch it in ideological terms at least (in order to let people alien to the working class like David North, Bob Avakian, Jack Barnes, etc take the lead). This is actually refreshing.

Okay so you and your folks hang around with the disgruntled graduate students and independent film makers and leave working class struggle to proletarian militants like Greg and we’ll be golden (as long as this middle class “permanent underdevelopment” Pol Potist line about keeping most of the population impoverished to “save the world” doesn’t catch hold).

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Aaron Aarons April 24, 2013 at 3:06 pm

So, Zhang Wang, we should “leave working class struggle to proletarian militants like Greg and we’ll be golden”. Are you referring to the same Greg who wrote above:

Where are the leftists like you?

Why aren’t you trying to organize and lead us?

No struggle happens without organization.

What we have here is a Crisis of Leadership

Time for you and your comrades to step up to the plate

So you and Greg take opposite extreme positions regarding the role of non-working-class leftists in, or in relation to, the struggles of workers in the U.S.. Maybe the two of you should confer on what message you actually want to send to the rest of us.

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Aaron Aarons April 26, 2013 at 1:35 am

Interesting that ‘Zhang Wang’ and Gregory A. Butler not only have similar politics but use the slang expression, ‘[to be] golden’, in similar ways. I wonder if this is actually a case of multiple personality disorder rather than imitation.

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