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  1. Capitalism has never failed, even though its failure has been predicted for a 1 ½ centuries
  2. Capitalism is already on its way toward peaceful cooperation for the good of humanity

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Capitalists failed

Sincere socialists believe that the working class will place the world’s economy under democratic control at a juncture when two important conditions are met during the same period of time. The first is capitalism’s natural tendency to create its own great crises; the second is that capitalists create a working class that is informed, organized, and ready to take over.

In 1916, V.I. Lenin explained in his short book, “Imperialism,” that capitalists cannot cooperate across national borders, where each set of capitalists operates its respective armies. The First World War, followed quickly by the Second World War, seemed to validate his assertion. During WWI, Lenin’s prophecies came true in the case of Russia. The capitalists there were not able to govern and the Bolsheviks were ready and able to take over. To Lenin’s great disappointment, however, those two critical conditions were not met in other great industrialized nations.

Despite constant threats, World War III has still not happened. The long period between 1945 and the present, and especially the implosion of the Soviet Union, tends to argue for the first argument against revolution given above: capitalism has not failed. Or so they would say.

But capitalists destroyed tens of millions of young men and innumerable civilians in two world wars and interminable smaller wars. The United States is directly involved in at least three wars as this is written. Is this not failure?

Would it not be honest to say that capitalists failed, at least twice in world wars, or at least four times if one counts the Great Depression and the recent Great Recession? Would it not be honest to say that socialist revolution has failed because workers were not ready, rather than because capitalists did not fail?

Capitalists do not cooperate

Since World War II, the major industrial nations have not returned to the battlefield against each other. One reason, often given, is that they were reluctant to destroy the planet with nuclear weapons. The other reason, though, was that they couldn’t. After 1945, the United States had almost the only functioning factories in the world. The U.S. economy completely dominated the world’s prostrated bombing victims for at least 30 years. Militarily, the United States still reigns supreme.

During the years of U.S. domination, certain “international” organizations were put in place. The UN, NATO, SEATO, OAS, WTO, and WMF are examples of “international” organizations that were set up by the United States and operated for the good of the United States. Other nations were forced to go along. It may have looked like international cooperation, but it wasn’t. It was international domination, and that domination is now crumbling.

In the past week, the elected President of the United States has upset “world cooperation” with verbal attacks against other nations, trade wars, and undermining the World Trade Organization. America has begun to militarize space in clear violation of international law. Does that sound like cooperation?

Conclusion

The capitalists fail because they cannot do otherwise. Working families are being forced to educate themselves and fight back together. Two conditions are being met. Let us hope they come together in time!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. It’s podcast, too. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

We’ve been studying theories of social change:

  • Utopianism: We don’t have to do anything about effecting change. We will just live good lives and other people will start copying us. Beatniks, Hippies, Counterculturalists, early French socialists
  • Economism: Capitalism will inevitably fall of its own weight. All we can do is help it along with economic struggles such as union contract battles.
  • Populism: We’re all pretty much the same so all we have to do is get everybody together somehow. The main thing we need is great leaders to spark the revolution. Anarchists, terrorists
  • Syndicalism: We will organize everybody into one big union, then call a general strike and take over. IWW
  • Reformism: If we just keep improving our society, little by little, we’ll eventually make it perfect. We need to work in elections. Parliamentary cretinism. Capitalist liberalism.
  • Class struggle: Working families have enemies: our owners and employers, who must be overcome before lasting change can occur. We have to fight on the side of working families in all arenas and at all times.

If you have time to do some reading, I recommend the 60 pages from “Reform or Revolution” by Rosa Luxemburg. She argues that we must fight for immediate reforms while pushing for an ultimate class confrontation. She was arguing against a German Philosopher named Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein personified the category of “reformist.”

This same argument is the number one issue in our progressive movement today.

Luxemburg, Rosa, “Reform or Revolution,” included in ‘Rosa Luxemburg Speaks” edited by Mary Alice Waters, Pathfinder Press, New York 1970. Available at https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1900/reform-revolution/index.htm. A note of caution: All of the world’s revolutionary parties prior to 1917 called themselves “social democrats.” After the Russian revolution, the world movement split. See the great movie “Reds.”

The answer to the question posted in Luxemburg’s title is “both.” She says that revolutionaries must join the working class in every struggle. It is not because those struggles will lead to permanent and significant change, but because working families become strong, well organized, and well informed with each success. She says on page 36: “Between social reforms and revolution there exists for [revolutionaries] an indissoluble tie. The struggle for reforms is its means, the social revolution, its aim.”

More specifically, here is how she describes the ultimate goal (page 39): “The scientific basis of socialism rests, as is well known, on three principal results of capitalist development. First, on the growing anarchy of capitalist economy, leading inevitably to its ruin. Second, on the progressive socialization of the process of production, which creates the germs of the future social order. And third, on the increased organization and consciousness of the proletarian class, which constitutes the active factor in the coming revolution.” In simpler terms, she believes that everyday democratic struggles get working families ready to take over when capitalism inevitably goes into crisis.

 But, Luxemburg says, there is a completely different theory which can only lead to disaster. The main proponent of this other theory was the German philosopher Eduard Bernstein. Bernstein was a gradualist. He believed that the everyday struggles for democratic reforms were sufficient by themselves to bring revolutionary change. One good reform would build on another one until, pretty soon, we’d have perfected society. Because Bernstein believed that reforms were all we needed to do, she called him a “reformist.”

Most of “Reform or Revolution” is an argument against Bernstein and his co-thinkers of the time. As I reread it this year, though, I substituted the names of leading writers and organization of today, because they are still preaching that reforms are enough.

Luxemburg says on page 38: “According to Bernstein, a general decline of capitalism seems to be increasingly improbable…” I haven’t actually heard those exact words in today’s arguments, but I heard “socialism is not on the horizon” many times. It’s practically the same thing.

(Page 50) “Bernstein says, The [revolutionary party] must not direct its daily activity toward the conquest of power, but toward the betterment of the conditions of the working class within the existing order. It must not expect to institute socialism as a result of a political and social crisis, but should build socialism by means of the progressive extension of social control and the gradual application of the principles of cooperation. Bernstein himself sees nothing new in his theories.”  I don’t see anything new in today’s reformism either.

Bernstein’s followers say (page 50): “They hope to see a long succession of reforms in the future, all favoring the working class.” That’s reformism in a nutshell. A pipe dream!

As I read Luxemburg’s argument, I realized why reformism got such a big boost over the last few years. During the first decade of this century, relatively progressive leaders were elected in places like Tunisia, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, and the United States. When Bernie Sanders became a household name nationwide, it really looked like we could achieve permanent structural change just by voting. We could get good political leaders in the current election and even better ones in the next, or so we thought. I don’t know if anybody still thinks that, but that’s how it looked when Obama was in office.

Luxemburg continues about reformism on page 50: “He thinks that the expropriation of the means of production cannot possibly be effected as a single historic act. He therefore resorts to the theory of expropriation by stages.” After “socialism is not on the horizon,” I began to hear a lot more about stages, even though nobody ever explained which stage was which and how they knew.

On page 59: “We move here in a straight line toward the total abandonment of the class viewpoint.” In modern times, I heard that working families were just one of several important “core” groups. Like all good liberals, we should work for each of them equally, I heard.

Page 69: “Bernstein’s socialism is to be realized with the aid of these two instruments: labor unions – or as Bernstein himself characterizes them, economic democracy – and cooperatives. The first will suppress industrial profit; the second will do away with commercial profit.” She explains that unions are totally defensive, never offensive. She goes on to explain why ESOPs could never replace capitalism. Anybody who has ever been in one of today’s American unions know that they are defensive organizations. Lately, I’ve heard a lot about employees taking over enterprises and running them successfully. In real life, they tend to have a very short life, and anybody who thinks about it should realize that they will never overtake the mighty corporations that run the world today.

On page 76, Luxemburg sums up Mr Bernstein: “He who renounces the struggle for socialism renounces both the labor movement and democracy.”  I’ve seen that in action, just lately.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Choose your favorite coming disaster:

  • Environment
  • Economy
  • War
  • Democracy

Strangling and drowning

Speeches and articles about the environment tend toward dry statistics, but the facts of drought, famine, and flood are talking louder. It’s hard to ignore climate change when your house is washing away.

Environmentalists have always been with us. They range from the driest academics to the eco-terrorists. Their arguments often involve human health, endangerment of species, and the general disappearance of our way of living. Their message grows more relevant with every weather report.

Poverty and famine

The latest figures indicate that 8 men, 6 of them in the United States, hold more wealth than the poorest half of the world’s population. Rich men live 15 years longer. Inequality is rampant and growing. A few rich families enjoy untold luxuries while most children are underfed!

Contrary to what most economists tell us, the reason is deeper than what we can learn from a quick look at recent economics. Most of the analyses we see indicate that everything would be fine if we could just get back to the conditions in America in, say, 1955. Piketty debunks them.

Thomas Piketty’s collection of data shows clearly that the American situation around World War II was nothing normal. In fact, it was a complete exception to the rest of capitalist history. Except for that short period, inequality has always risen under capitalism. Piketty concludes not only that capitalism creates inequality, but that it always will.

Murder and genocide

Wealthy people protect and extend their wealth, just as they always have, with armed police and soldiers. No matter the prayers that we deliver and the songs that we sing, wars are caused by economic inequality. As inequality rises, so does the danger of war.

World War I and World War II, and all the little wars before, between, and since, were basically fought for economic advantage. The sole reason that World War III has not already started is the understanding that nuclear war will have losers but no winners. Even so, threats of nuclear belligerency have become so common that we barely notice them. And non-nuclear war takes up much more of our current history than peacetime.

Just because war is impossible doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

Isolation and political impotence

The majority of us, here in America we casually call ourselves the 99%, are increasingly dissatisfied with the suffering side of inequality. In several countries today, the “have nots” are revolting against the governments that protect the “haves.” Today’s news talks about Colombia, France, and Bolivia, but they could as easily have mentioned half a dozen other countries.

The solution, for our side, is to take democratic control over foreign relations, economies, and environmental concerns. The tiny majority of rich people now controlling all those essential areas would rather we didn’t. Their massive propaganda machines are working to that end. They are also going to great pains to strip us of the partial democracy that we have won over the ages. Voter-rolls are being purged, polls are being closed, unions attacked, and burdensome conditions are being put on our right to speak for ourselves.

Increasingly, the rich are relying directly on their police and soldiers. We rely on the only thing we have, people power, to blockade their four roads to hell.

All my facts and figures come from today’s news.

–Gene Lantz, November 27, 2019

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program at 9AM Central Time every Saturday. If you are curious about what I really think, please check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “Parasite,” Directed by Bong Joon-ho, 132 minutes

People who don’t appreciate important movies, who only go for the entertainment and distraction, may not like this one. Or at least they might not like this one if they don’t have time or just aren’t in the mood to look at something that matters. It’s long and in Korean with subtitles. For the rest of us, though, this one’s a keeper.

If you saw his “Snowpiercer” a few years ago, you already know that this writer/director is not afraid to take on important social issues in the most graphic way. In that one, the great unwashed poor were in a life-or-death struggle to get to the front of the train, where the rich people rode.

Arguably, the biggest social issue in the world today, Korea or anywhere else, is inequality.

It’s a story of two families, maybe two-and-a-half families, of great difference in income and wealth. One of them has a fancy house surrounded by thick trees to block out all view of anything but comfort. The other family is crammed into a sub-basement, mostly underground, where the only window looks up into a dismal alley where drunks come to piss and puke.

The plot unwinds meticulously as the families come together. The first half could be compared to one of Shakespeare’s comedies, where everybody thinks everybody is somebody else. But it’s hard to tell the story of shameful inequality in a comedy, isn’t it?

In a comfortable, easy-to-watch movie, good and bad are well delineated. There’s always somebody to like and, nearly always, somebody to hate. The ending is comfortable and pleasant with a musical fanfare and, if you’re fortunate, an extra little joke in the middle of the credits. “Parasite” isn’t one of those.

Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9AM central time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

It’s a peculiar thing for an activist to deliver such bad news, but there really aren’t any solutions for working people within our nation. Here’s why: If we won decent treatment for American working families , the cost of labor in the United States would go up. That’s exactly what the bosses keep telling us, but it’s true.

If the cost of labor went up in the United States, then the nation would suffer competitively with other nations. Eventually, the other nations would take over whatever goods and services we now offer to the world.

It’s a little bit easier to see in microcosm. Take, for example, the American auto industry. During the General Motors strike just concluded, management argued all the way through that they couldn’t afford to be less competitive with the transnational companies, like Nissan and Volkswagen, that are producing good cars in the United States for the United States market cheaper than General Motors. They claimed, I think, that they pay $10-$13 more per hour in unit labor costs.

Nobody really disputes that. It’s the handwriting on the wall. Eventually, those companies with the lower labor costs could drive General Motors out of business, unless we do something.

So it is in international affairs. The nations with the lowest labor costs tend to take over from those with higher costs. A lot of us would like to think that the Chinese economy has grown because of socialist planning, and maybe good planning had something to do with it, but I imagine that their unit labor costs deserve a lot of the credit. The same is true of the other rising Asian star, Vietnam.

As long as workers live in separate nations and compete with one another, then there will be pressure to drive down unit labor costs. That’s us, you and me, unit labor costs.

So there is no solution within the United States or within any of the competing nations.

That’s the bad news.

Want the Good News?

The good news is that our present idea of nation-states can be overcome with internationalism. Capitalist nation-states are fairly new in human history, and they can be overcome. The good news is that internationalism is making progress. Unionists allied with the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) recently held a big conference in Nepal. They went over the same kinds of problems that we might have discussed at an American trade union conference, but their solutions are different. Their solutions are internationalist.

More and more, we are seeing the AFL-CIO unite the progressive forces in the United States. They are also doing some good outreach in other countries. President Richard Trumka recently honored the leading Brazilian leader, Lula da Silva, even though he’s in prison. Tomorrow, American trade unionists are meeting with Mexicans in El Paso to discuss problems concerning immigration. Those are marvelous developments. They point the way forward. It’s what we need. It’s what we must have.

How Do We Get There?

Working families struggle at every level. Contract fights, elections, legislative battles, and whatever else comes up. Working families have a big stake in everything that happens, and they have to fight to get anything at all. More and more, we are seeing people fight for one another. It’s called solidarity, and it’s growing nicely.

The fights will continue and so will the solidarity. It will grow into international solidarity, too. Keep going, everybody, you’re doing great!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. They podcast it on knon.org. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review: “The Laundromat,” directed by Steven Soderbergh, 96 minutes

Some stories are too big, too complicated, and too world shaking to be covered in a single movie. The scope of the crimes revealed by an unknown whistleblower in the Panama Papers is more than one can comprehend in a single sitting.

Eleven million documents from the law firm of Mossack Fonseca showed how filthy and how rich some of the filthy rich are, and a little bit of how they hang on to their riches and filthiness without paying taxes. I would suggest two long-running TV shows: a drama about how it works and a series of legal proceedings to bring the thousands (millions?) of filthy culprits to justice.

But Director Soderbergh, bolstered by terrific film actors Meryl Streep, Gary Oldham, and Antonio Banderas, did what he could in one film. Faced with tragedy of this amazing extent, the only way to tell it in brief was with a comedy. Oldham and Banderas play the two lawyers, Streep plays one of their many victims.

“The Laundromat” calls attention to a great problem in our world of skyrocketing inequality, but it’s not really a good movie. That is, it’s not entertaining. It’s more of a moral sermonette. What happened, what is happening, is too big and too awful to be a good movie.

You can see it in theaters and on Netflix.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Yesterday, I met with a futurist researcher named Mike Courtney. He wanted to interview me, he said, for a paper he’s writing on “unions and automation.”

I gave Courtney fair warning. I told him that my views don’t represent anybody but me, but I have AN AWFUL LOT of opinions.


This futurist said that some automation is apparently “good,” but some of it is also “bad.” He wanted to try to find the line distinguishing “good” from “bad” automation. He figured a union man’s opinion would assist.

I told him that unions usually oppose automation, but we’re wrong when we do. As far as I can tell, unions either do nothing about automation or they try to negotiate with corporations to ease the pain when automation is inevitable. Good examples, I told him, were probably the Mine Workers and the Dock Workers on the Pacific Coast. I understand that both of them were decimated by automation, but not until after they had negotiated as good a deal as they thought possible. In my own local union, our Negotiating Committee Chairman once set up a “New Technology Committee” to try to advise negotiators what to do about automation. I consider that just about as good as any union does nowadays. At least they tried.

I could have told him that the machines I started running in 1978 replaced 16 conventional machines and, thus, 15 jobs. The machines that eventually replaced mine, as I retired, each replaced six of the ones I ran. Five more jobs lost to automation.

I did tell him what I did as an accountant. This was back before IBM introduced their 360 mainframe to take over jobs. I started a process of bill-paying that was all computerized. The machine compared what we thought we should pay with what the vendor was requesting. If they agreed, the bill was paid as soon as it was due. If they didn’t agree, then the accountant had to reconcile them and stick reconciliation data, positive or negative numbers, back into the machine. The machine just compared two sets of data and kicked out the ones needing reconciliation. I guess I would have seen the Accounting Department decimated if I hadn’t gotten bored and quit.

I think that Futurist Courtney was a little bit surprised when I insisted that unions were wrong to oppose automation. After all, I said, automation does what capitalism does best — lowering the unit price of the products we need or want.

The only problem with automation is how its benefit is allocated. Right now, all the benefit accrues to the capitalist in charge. Workers get nothing but layoff notices or, if they are lucky, they get to stay at work and do something even more mindless and boring than what they had before.

The automation genius of today is Jeff Bezos of Amazon. He has tens of thousands of employees worldwide. They do pitifully repetitious tasks and get paid very little. Besos, last I heard, makes $215,000,000 a day!

The solution to the problems that automation causes is not to oppose it. The solution is to grab some of the benefit. The way to do that is to shorten the working day every time productivity goes up. It’s the amount of wealth that an average worker produces in an average hour. Productivity is a statistic that the Bureau of Statistics gives out, I think, every quarter. It’s often around 2%.

Productivity aggregates, like a saving account aggregates. If you put the quarterly increases into a spreadsheet, you would see that an American worker today makes more than 4 times as much wealth in an hour than he/she did at the end of World War II. If the unions had known what they were doing, they would have demanded cuts in the working day so that they wouldn’t have lost 70% of their members, as they did.

The worst part about it, I told the futurist, is that union leaders figured this out long ago. From 1937 to 1947, the heyday of the Congress of Industrial Unions (CIO) they demanded “30 for 40 with no cut in pay” every time they negotiated a contract. It meant that workers should work only 30 hours a week but continue to get paid the same that they made in 40 hours.

My own CIO union, the Auto Workers, had resolutions for “30 for 40” in every convention up to 1957. Then it disappeared. If you asked union leaders today about cutting working hours, I don’t think they would know what you are talking about.

My friend Tom Berry knows. He does a forum in North Dallas every Saturday evening. And every Saturday evening he gets up and says that Americans should demand a 6-hour day. It works out mathematically, you see: instead of 3 8-hour shifts we would have 4 6-hour shifts. Unions would be bigger and periodic unemployment would be less of a problem.

There are other advantages, too. Some researchers think that shortening the working day, completely by itself and for no other reason, would increase hourly productivity. People would just do their jobs better.

Another advantage might be that people with more leisure time might create even better ways to improve our quality of life.

Historically, the fight for shorter hours defined our worldwide labor movement. Getting the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1935 was the best thing we ever did. It said that employers had to pay their blue-collar workers overtime if they worked us more than 40 hours in a week. That’s all it said, but it was great.

But shortening the working hours has passed completely out of our collective consciousness. Most of the workers in my union don’t even want shorter hours. They grab up all the overtime they can get, just to pay their bills. A major social change like shorter working hours just doesn’t seem real to them, and that’s the union’s fault. Automation is killing American labor, and we have no program to deal with it.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON Radio’s “Workers Beat” talk show at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. The podcast it on knon.org. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.