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The old joke has the farmer giving  confusing directions and then concluding, “No, I guess you can’t get there from here!”

I just read, on Peoples’ World, a pretty good explanation of anthropology, from primitive communism through slavery and barbarism to capitalism. Then there’s a nice projection about a much better stage of economic production called socialism.

Millions of Americans, and probably billions of people in the world, have had about all the capitalism they can stand and are ready for socialism. The Bernie campaign showed that clearly here at home. So folks are ready to move on to a better place, but the problem is trying to get the directions straight.

As I said in my last post, some people got discouraged and have already concluded, “You can’t get there from here.” I’m not one of those, but I do recognize that there are a lot of differences in opinion in just how socialism could be achieved.

Socialism from an Invading Army?

I received a note just yesterday from someone who said socialism won’t happen in the U.S. but will come in from elsewhere in the world. He didn’t say exactly how that was going to happen, but it’s possible that he thinks socialism will be established elsewhere and then they will send an invading army to bring it to America. When capitalists have their nervous fingers on nuclear weaponry, I kind of hope that’s not likely.

I think, at one time, a few people might have hoped that the Soviet Union would defeat the U.S. in war. I don’t think the Soviets ever thought that. I know I didn’t. I’m sure glad they didn’t try!

It’s not very hopeful, either, that Americans will come to admire some socialist society so much that they will want to emulate it. The best example I can think of is Cuba. Like any revolutionary society, they find themselves suffering mightily from the economic machinations of the capitalists who control the world’s economies. People might want socialism, but they darned sure don’t want to be poor if they don’t have to!

Socialism from elections?

I think a lot more Americans are hoping socialism will come about in an election.

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Socialist Eugene Victor Debs received a million votes while in prison for opposing WWI. Communists and socialists received fairly decent vote totals in the 1930s. They won some races in New York. Socialist groupings still run candidates, and one of them actually won a minor race a couple years ago in, was it Washington state?

Candidate Bernie Sanders wasn’t afraid of the word “socialism” in his campaign, and his millions of followers aren’t afraid of it either. I think they, some of them, believe they are going to reform the Democratic Party to the extent that it will actually break with capitalism and lead us to a better world. Wouldn’t that be nice? Whether they win that battle or not, everybody wins when we achieve more democracy.

I don’t think they are going to reform the Democratic Party, but bless them for trying. I do think that their efforts might someday result in a workers party, and that would be a tremendous step forward for the American people. It wouldn’t be socialism, but our electoral choices would be a lot better than they are now.

Socialism from Guerrilla Warfare?

In my day, a lot of young people were so taken with Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution that they thought we should pick up rifles and head for the mountains here in the U.S.. You really have to admire the brave  Fidelistas. I admire a lot of people in history, but I don’t think that copying them amounts to much of a plan. As far as I know, all the Americans in the mountains with guns right now aren’t on our side.

At one point the Black Panthers had guns, but they weren’t trying to overthrow anything with them. They were trying to provide decent protection for African American communities suffering from certain policemen and other criminals. Even that was mostly unsuccessful.

Socialism Through Unionism?

The Industrial Workers of the World thought they were going to achieve socialism by on-the-job organizing. Once all workers, or a sufficient number of workers, were organized, they could just sit down until capital capitulated. I admire that. I’m 100% for more unions and stronger unions. Actually, it seems kind of reasonable, but the IWW’s thinking has the same flaw as the other simple theories I’ve already mentioned. What flaw?

We Aren’t In This Game by Ourselves

There are people on the other side. Enemies. Smart people. Powerful people. Secret people, so secret that we hardly ever hear about them except every now and then when somebody writes a great book like Dark Money. We might call them “the 1%,” or “capital,” but the simplest designation is “the bosses.”

If they didn’t exist, or if they were stupid, or if they were impotent, any old strategy to achieve socialism would work just fine. But they’re not.

If we want to achieve lasting progress, we have to get really serious.

–Gene Lantz

Click here if you’re interested in more

In a casual discussion group I participate in, somebody asked, “Where are we in the swing of the historical pendulum? Are we close to revolution?”

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I didn’t try to answer at all, because I couldn’t deal with the way the question was framed. There is no “historical pendulum.” It’s common to believe that history just swings back and forth or goes around in circles, but it doesn’t. The general movement of history is forward and progressive. We aren’t savages any more, most of us, and we aren’t serfs nor slaves. Over the centuries, progress is being made.

But later, I wished I had answered the question, because my analysis may seem unusual to some people: Revolution in the United States and in most of the world may be just around the corner!

Doom and Gloom

OK, there are a lot of naysayers and former radicals among us today. The implosion of the Soviet Union hit hard. The rapid change in Eastern Europe devastated some folks, and the difficulties they’re having in Venezuela and Brazil today are squeezing the optimism away. Add to that the tremendous success that dark money has enjoyed in turning our American democracy backward during the last 4 decades. It’s enough to get some people down. Some people. But they aren’t taking the long view.

The Long View Looks Great!

What are the requirements for a qualitatively better society? A well informed and well organized public with leadership from among the workers. We have that, more than ever!

Nowadays, I am in awe of the millennials. They grew up understanding more about using new technology than I will ever learn. Technology extends their knowledge and their capabilities.

The millennials also grew up without all the anticommunism that crippled the thinking of my generation. When I was young, we were afraid to even look to the left, much less think in that direction. The Bernie campaign has made “capitalism” and “socialism” everyday words. People are thinking thoughts that used to be taboo.

Today’s young people have the entire world at their fingertips. Most of my generation would never have left home if it hadn’t been for the military draft.

Don’t Overlook the Unions

Unions are the organized sector of the working class. It’s true that there aren’t as many union members per capita as there were in 1957, but that’s misleading. One worker today is doing the work of 4 pre-war workers. And he/she is likely to be highly skilled and hard to replace. Workers are just as central to the progressive movement as they were in Russia in 1917 and every year since! Nobody else can stand up to the bosses eyeball to eyeball, but workers can!

Older people think that the 1960s and 1970s were the revolutionary times. Long hair and marijuana do not a revolution make! Ask them how much union support they enjoyed in their anti-war marches, their feminist causes, their environmental rallies, or anything they look back on with smug satisfaction of revolutionary activity. Unions barely participated in those days, but things have turned around now. It’s hard to find a street action that isn’t supported by AFL-CIO members. In fact, they originate a lot of them!

Furthermore, it is now possible for everybody to work with America’s unions. From 1947 to 1995, that was impossible. The unions in the post war years grew more and more isolated, but today they are reaching out with both arms!

Communications Are Already Revolutionized

There were a number of revolutions in the 20th century. They did it with clandestine meetings, secret leaflets, and a tiny few underground newspapers. One person might “spread the word” to a few dozen on a very good day. Today, we can reach thousands, maybe tens of thousands, without leaving home!

The possibilities are amazing!

–Gene Lantz

Click here if you’re interested in more such ideas

I just got a text from a friend asking for advice. He wants to know whether or not to spend more than he can afford to go to the Democratic Party national convention. He’s a big Bernie fan and Bernie says they should reform the Democratic Party. “Is that even possible?” I ask.

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Until the Bernie campaign made history this year, I had never even seriously considered any hope for the Democratic party. But Bernie has changed a lot of opinions this year, some of them dramatically. Even some of mine.

I am not going to question, in the immediate sense, that Bernie is right in his efforts. Every inch of democracy that we can squeeze out of this capitalist system is worth fighting for. If he can get the Democrats to change some of their rules in a positive direction, I’m all for it.

But, before we go all-out in trying to turn an existing political party into an instrument for fundamental change in America, we need to examine some of our words, including “political party” and “fundamental change.”

The working people will never make permanent improvements as long as the bosses are in power. That’s my guideline. “Fundamental change,” then, requires that the bosses not remain in power. Everything else may be worth fighting for, but it’s still temporary and will eventually have to be fought for again and again.

A “political party” is a committee that organizes, leads, and promotes the interests of a given class. Both the Republican and the Democratic Party promote the interests of the boss class. When they talk about reforming one or the other of them, they are only talking about various rules, not their basic commitment to continuing capitalism. Even Bernie might talk about “reining in” capitalism, but he doesn’t talk about overcoming it.

So, no. I don’t believe it’s worth major time and effort to try to reform the Democratic Party to achieve fundamental progress. What we actually need is a political party based on workers. We need a workers party like those in several other countries. Usually, they aren’t revolutionary organizations, but they are workers’ organizations. A workers party in the United States would be a great historical step forward.

It’s my opinion, expressed previously, that the Bernie Sanders movement could result in a workers party in America. I think we’re very close to it, but not if all our energies are turned into a hopeless effort to reform the Democratic Party.

I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m against the Democrats or even the Republicans. Workers have every interest in working with whoever will help us advance. We need to work with whatever situation we have. Anything less than that shows either a lack of commitment to the workers’ movement or ignorance of strategy and tactics.

–Gene Lantz

Click here if you’re interested in more such ideas

 

 

Organizing Gets Easier and Easier

I’m flattered when somebody introduces me as an organizer. They sometimes say I’m a “union organizer,” which is not actually true. A real union organizer is a paid professional with a strong background in labor law. I consider myself a “worker organizer.” But everybody is an organizer.

We organize every time we meet somebody for lunch. It’s all organizing. But what’s critical is organizing on the job.

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A Short History of Organizing, Starting with Slave Labor

Looking back through history, we can see that organizing was really hard to do when most work was done by slaves. Nat Turner, John Brown and Spartacus all found out how hard. They all failed, and were executed for trying. The only successful slave organizer I know of was Toussaint L’Ouverture in Haiti around 1800. The reason it was so difficult was probably because slaves were pretty much interchangeable. When one was worked to death, another could be easily substituted.

Serfs and sharecroppers, who mostly replaced slaves, were a little more organizable. I think that’s because they had to know a little bit more about their jobs and weren’t so easy to switch around. The Southern Tenant Farmers Union of the 1930s was one of the more successful efforts. I actually met H.L. Mitchell once. Their gigantic accomplishment was to fight racial barriers that have always made organizing in the American South so difficult. Even back in those days, there were a few small guilds of workers who could be organized because they had special skills and tools.

The Bosses Do Most of Our Organizing

Modern unions came about because of the industrial revolution. England was the first capitalist nation, the first to industrialize, and of course the first to have organized unions. In America, the first successful unions were people who made shoes. It wasn’t everybody in a shoe factory. It was only the most skilled workers. For the next couple of centuries, the more skilled workers tended to organize around their special skills and tools. We call that craft unionism, and it was the model for the American Federation of Labor (AF of L) during its century of dominating organized workers in America. In steel production, for example, the molders and machinists might be organized, but not the people shoveling coal and ore. In textile, the cutters would be organized but not the women doing the sewing.

Modern Industrial Organizing Finally Developed

Labor’s Giant Step (free book on Amazon) can trace its development to the beginning of the 20th century, when the Industrial Workers of the World set out to organize everybody who worked, skilled and unskilled, men or women, Black, Brown, or white. By then, industrialization had made just about every job in America into a somewhat skilled position. It was difficult to replace one worker with another. General education and training were involved. The IWW ran into a minor obstacle because the AF of L undermined them, but their major obstacle was the U.S. government. IWW’ers were arrested, deported, horsewhiped, and murdered.

The saying goes that you can kill revolutionaries but you can’t kill revolutionary ideas. So industrial unionism eventually triumphed when the AF of L started the Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) in 1935. Three years later, they thought better of it and expelled them, but by then the CIO was strong enough to survive and thrive on its own. After 1935, the biggest and most successful unions were those who organized “wall-to-wall,” everybody in a given industry from the most skilled computer operator to the lady sweeping the floors. AF of L unions adopted industrial organizing.

The best known pioneer and most successful union of the CIO was the auto workers. You can see why they organized so well, because auto manufacturing, more than most other work, was done by assembly line. If you could get three or four people on strike, you could shut down the line! Once again, the bosses had done most of what was necessary to organize workers!

Organizing Gets Easier and Easier

American industry became so well organized that the anti-worker bosses had to get the U.S. government to help them keep wages and benefits down by outsourcing the work to other countries. The same process of organizing is taking place in those other countries, so the bosses won’t benefit from outsourcing forever, but it works for them as an interim solution.

Meanwhile, Americans are better informed and more skillful than ever. The internet is making a qualitative jump in people’s access to information. It would be possible, in my estimation, to organize a national shutdown in only a few days. A worldwide shutdown could be organized in a matter of weeks. After that, everything is possible.

–Gene Lantz

Click here if you’re interested in more such ideas

Book Review

Billionaires Are Pulling America’s Strings

Mayer, Jane: Dark Money. The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Doubleday, New York, 2016.

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There’s a great quote at the beginning of this best-selling book:

“We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” –Louis Brandeis

This wonderful book solves a number of contemporary mysteries:

  • If Americans are better educated and better informed than ever, why have our political ideas lurched toward ignorance?
  • If we understand economics better than ever, why is wealth disparity so awful?
  • How can our commentators and professors afford to say patently ridiculous things without losing their livelihood?
  • If we all have to live on this planet, why are we polluting so much?

The answer is dark money. A carefully crafted network of billionaires has bought off politicians, economists, professors, and commentators and turned them into ventriloquists’ dummies who repeat and repeat and repeat the things that billionaires want said. They have gone beyond buying a few columnists and professors. They own think tanks, newspapers, information networks, Radio & TV networks, professors and entire faculties, individual politicians and entire state legislatures. Their effect on the federal government is substantial.

Their contributions to this underhanded scheme are more or less legal and even tax deductible!

The main architect of this secret and underhanded network is named Charles Koch. Many years ago, he took up his father’s interest in right wing organizations such as the John Birch Society. As the years passed, Koch and his billionaire co-conspirators became better and better at influencing legislation and public opinion. It’s all detailed in Jane Mayer’s book.

Although most of their maneuvers result directly in more money for themselves, the perpetrators generally claim to be ideologically motivated. The book’s author, in my opinion, gives them too much credit in this direction. She usually refers to them as “arch conservatives” or “libertarians.”

I wouldn’t characterize them so generously. If Benito Mussolini was correct when he defined “fascism” as simply “corporatism,” then “fascists” is the more accurate description of Koch and his cronies. Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels would be proud of them!

In that regard, they are not completely in step with the entire ruling class of America, which has so far not elected to rule through fascism. They still rely on the Republican and Democratic parties to keep our limited democracy working for them. The Koch network operates primarily through the Republican Party, but not completely. They maintain their independence and their “corporatism” fascist goals. It would be interesting to see if they completely try to take over the Republican Party, as seems to be their goal, or if they try to establish a formidable fascist party.

Whichever way they go, a united and well informed progressive movement is the solution to the threat they raise. This book goes a long way toward that solution.

–Gene Lantz

Pictured are today’s harvest of nails from the streets around my neighborhood. Actually, one of them turned out to be a bobby pin. I’ve been picking up nails since I was 10. Originally, I was looking for coins. I don’t know how many thousands of flat tires I’ve saved my neighbors over the years.

nails I picked up

OK, one of them is a bobby pin

Long ago, there was a religious TV show called “The Christophers.” Here’s their theme song:

“O if everyone would light just one little candle…

What a bright world this would be!”

Little Things Are Nice, but Big Things Matter

I don’t recommend going around doing nice little things. I wouldn’t even pick up the nails if I weren’t exercising to begin with. If you give $5 to a panhandler, does that mean it’s OK to support drone warfare? If you go to church on Sunday, can you rip off your employees all week?

Everybody’s heard the quote about giving a man a fish and teaching him to catch his own fish. Here’s a similar quote:

“When I feed the poor, they call me a saint.

When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”  — Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Recife, Brazil

Billionaires Do Charity

Billionaires believe in charity. They even donate to it, although proportionally much less than poor people do. Billionaires also believe in government handouts for the rich and austerity for the poor. It’s easy to get confused when we’re talking about little things.

Americans need a change. A big change, not just a little one. That’s what we should be working on.

–Gene Lantz

How do you decide whom to vote for? How do you decide anything? I’m reading postings that say “If Bernie isn’t the candidate, I will never vote for Hillary.” or “If my candidate doesn’t get the nomination, I’m not voting!” and things like that. How did they decide those things?

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How Do We Decide Anything?

Once, I was astounded when I was taking a class in business finance. The homework assignment was whether to buy factory machine A or machine B. It dumbfounded me. The astounding thing was when I found out how the decision was made in business. They figured cost, production, and expected life of each machine. Whichever one made the most money over a period of time was the right answer.

In other words, the decision was made based on the probable outcomes of the choices. If you support this person and he/she wins, what do you think will happen? If you support that person and he/she wins, what do you think will happen? If you support some other person and he/she doesn’t win, what do you think will happen?

It’s Not Whom You Love

It’s not a question of whom you love or whom you hate, who gives you the creeps and who makes you feel all sunny. None of the candidates are perfect, but you still have to make a decision. Your decision will have likely consequences, outcomes. Some of those outcomes are better than the others. That’s rational decision making.

Progress Comes from United Working People

The best political advice I ever got was “think of the class.” How will the working class fare under this or that political leader. And don’t try to convince yourself that the working class has no interest in elections. We have an interest in every arena of struggle, a big interest — and it’s usually the opposite of the bosses’ interest.

End of Sermon

Put your emotions aside, make a rational decision about what to do, then do it. Afterward, you can re-evaluate and do the same thing or something else. Whatever you decide, rationally.

–Gene Lantz