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elections

I am not writing on how to win elections. I am writing on the role of elections within the larger purpose of making fundamental change. Among those with that purpose, I will consider three approaches to the political arena known as elections.

All three groups may agree more than they disagree. They all agree that the two major political parties operating in the United States are controlled by very wealthy owners and employers. They all agree that neither the “better” nor the “worse” candidate intends any fundamental change. They agree that fundamental change will never be on the ballot as long as the owners and employers control the election process.

  1. The first group abstains from elections, or they only participate when their own members are candidates. The Industrial Workers of the World were a good example. They believed that the bosses control the elections, the parties, and the candidates; consequently, the entire process was nothing but a diversion from the real struggles for change. Later variations on this approach make exceptions when their own members run for office because of the opportunities for proselytizing and organizing that elections afford. But even though they have limited participation in elections, they never believe that election outcomes make any difference.

As the election outcomes are a matter of indifference, these partial-abstainers tend to choose races and election opponents that represented ideas closest to their own. The followers of their opponents might be more likely to listen to, or even join, the “revolutionaries” in those races. While these “revolutionaries” may be very smug about their tactic, working families tend to see them as spoilers and wreckers, as in fact they are.

2) I think the second group in this discussion is the more dangerous of the two, because their “road to revolution” sounds easier. They see each election as an opportunity for gradual reforms that will eventually erode away the support of the wealthy bosses in charge. Such activists generally support the “better” candidate instead of the “worse” one, or the “better” party instead of the “worse” one. If that’s all there were to it, they would be relatively harmless. Their errors may not even be noticeable in general elections. But their actions in primary elections are a different matter.

Since they believe that the “better” political party – currently the Democrats – will eventually make revolutionary change, then the activists see their own role as finding and supporting the “more revolutionary” Democratic Party candidates in primary elections against the “less revolutionary” ones.

Excellent examples are active in elections today in the various groups that pursue the politics of Social Democrat Bernie Sanders. Like the “real revolutionaries” in the first group, they also choose to field candidates against those most like them. In those races, they are more likely of success. More importantly, every time they replace a “less revolutionary” candidate with a “more revolutionary” one, they believe they have moved the entire Democratic Party in the direction that they consider revolutionary.

The Bernie-ites take the Republican “Tea Party” movement as their example. Just as the “Tea Party” candidates defeated “less reactionary” primary candidates with “more reactionary” ones, and moved the Republican party in a reactionary direction, then one would think that a similar approach would make the Democratic Party more progressive and, eventually, revolutionary. The wealthy owners currently in charge will, apparently, not notice in time.

3) The third group does not participate in elections in order to manipulate the process. They support parties and candidates who will be of most benefit to working families, both in the long and in the short term. They do not tend to run primary challengers against the candidates most like them. In every race, primary or general, they choose the candidate most beneficial to working families. They do not disdain the electoral process, like the sectarians in the first group, nor do they commit to the “better” party against the “worse” one like the reformists in the second group. Their focus is on building the political power of working families in the election arena, just as they do in every other arena of political struggle.

Electoral politics is not nearly the only way that power is won and change is made. It may not even be the most important arena. It is certainly part, though, of the necessary process of building an effective coalition benefitting and led by working families. Such a coalition is the only possible remedy to wealthy owner control of our society.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on “Workers Beat” radio talk show on knon.org at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. On Wednesdays, they podcast the program and another “Workers Beat Extra” on Soundcloud.com. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

For some time, I have been hearing political radicals say that we must exploit the split in the ruling class. Is there really such a split? If there is, can progressives actually exploit it and get progressive results?

Who Are the Ruling Class?

We make a lot of mistakes on this simple concept. One is that we really don’t know what “class” means. It is a collection of people holding a common outlook because of their position in the economy. It’s the way that they accumulate money. We make an even bigger mistake when we consider the “ruling class” abstractly as an ideology. They aren’t an abstraction, they are certain people with names. Many of their names are listed every year in Forbes Magazine. It is not a big list.

We make another, possibly even more fatal, mistake when we assume that the ruling class has limited control. In America, they are virtually unchallenged in their control over the entire electoral system, both major political parties, all three federal branches of government, and nearly all state and local governments. A handful of American families control the economy as well as the government. They also control almost all information sources and use them to disguise or misrepresent their actual roles.

How Are They Divided?

The idea of a “split in the ruling class” is especially popularized today because of the growing polarity between the Democrats and the Republicans. Recently, because of the demagogue Trump, we have begun to associate one party with democracy and the other with totalitarianism. But the differences are essentially tactical and not at all fundamental to who runs what.

America never had, and does not have today, total democracy. Democracy, like everything else, is not static, but in a state of continuous change. In 1776, Americans had almost the same amount of democracy that Britains had created for themselves. Through struggle, Americans increased their levels of democracy fairly consistently until the late 1970s. From that point forward, a concerted effort from the ruling class has diminished democracy. If Donald Trump had succeeded in setting aside the 2020 elections, then democracy would have taken a drastic setback. The election of Joe Biden means that our American democracy may hold its own or move forward slightly, but it is not likely to be much.

The ruling class adopted its anti-democratic stance after the civil-rights and anti-war movements had threatened their control and at a time that their post-war international economic hegemony was challenged from abroad. From their point of view, American workers had to be harnessed more effectively than before, and certainly more effectively than their international competitors were harnessing their own workers. Democracy was an obstacle to be overcome. That economic situation was never rectified and cannot be rectified short of world war. The only thing that the American ruling class could do was out-compete other nations by driving down unit labor costs. “Unit labor costs,” to all effects, is how they think of the rest of the American population.

If the ruling class continues to be unchecked, they will continue to drive down unit labor costs and they will diminish democracy to do so. Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals, leftist or rightists, the ruling class will agree.

A split in the ruling class?

Perhaps over tactics and timing, but not over who controls what. A good lesson can be learned from the current arguments in Congress. The Democrats and Republicans are unable to agree on a COVID relief package. But, during the same period, they agreed by more than a 2/3 majority on gigantic military expenditures! Contrast the difference! The military bill goes directly to the immediate interests of the ruling class, the COVID-relief bill primarily affects only the rest of us – their unit labor costs.

Even the details of the COVID-relief bills being discussed tell us something about ruling class control. They would give a small amount in relief to the unemployed, small amounts for schools (private as well as public), substantial amounts to save the airline industry, some amounts for “small” business, and some amounts to keep state and local governments running.

Have you heard anything about job creation through infrastructure projects? Did you hear anything about simply buying the airlines and other failing corporations to run them for the public good? No, you haven’t and you won’t, because those are measures that actually do speak to the essential question of who runs what.

The bosses have some differences, but they’re only about “how” to run things, never about who runs them.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio talk show every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. We podcast it along with “Workers Beat Extra” on Wednesdays on Soundcloud.com. If you are interested in what I really think, check out my personal web site

Tomorrow, October 26, reaction will likely firm its grip over one of the three branches of American government. Assuming that the votes reported from November 3 favor Mr Biden but are sufficiently close, Mr Trump will begin maneuvers to have democracy set aside. The people will respond.

Democracy is growing less and less convenient for the people in power.

When it first began to spread to the working masses, around 1651, it worked out great for the rich. The new kind of workers, prematurely named “free labor,” was far superior to the slaves, serfs, and peons of before. The new merchants and manufacturers could employ “free labor” to run their complicated machinery. Slaves, serfs, or peons had been okay as long as plows and wheelbarrows were their highest technology, but intercontinental travel and high-level manufacturing needed workers who could be highly trained and organized.

If we wanted to talk “isms,” we would say that capitalism created “free labor” and increased democracy. But “isms” are a distraction. We are just talking about groups of people bound together by their common economic interests. The big group was “free labor,” but the smaller group of bosses was running things.

The “free labor” group believed, as all exploited people must believe, that they were part of an ageless and unchangeable system, for better or for worse. Through the generations, they studied and they toiled, they believed, for their own benefit and for the benefit of their children. Actually, the main beneficiaries were in the other group.

Democracy was a blessing to the working people and not entirely inconvenient for the bosses, as long as they still controlled the major economic levers. Workers could be allowed to vote for some of their representatives in government, but they were allowed very little say-so about major economic decisions or government policy. Decisions about war, in particular, had to be reserved for the elite.

Here in America, partial democracy had barely begun before it began to be challenged. Slavery became intolerable, not only to the slaves but to a significant part of the population. Landless workers wanted democracy. Women wanted to vote. People “of color” wanted freedom. Younger people insisted on a fair share. Everybody wanted more education for their children and independent news agencies sprang up everywhere.

The elite rulers found themselves with the Frankenstein dilemma. They had created and nurtured both “free labor” and its concomitant democracy, but both were getting out of control.

The changes were gradual over time. Ordinary people became better educated, more information sources became available, communications improved, organization opportunities grew. Democracy was ascending, and the tight grip of the ever-smaller group of big bosses was threatened.

Even though change is gradual, it is highlighted in certain events and periods. The Vietnam War was one of them. From the bosses’ point of view, the decision was a simple one: they were going to destroy their enemies and perpetuate their control, just as they were accustomed to doing. But democracy and the people began to interfere. When the civil rights movement joined hands with the anti-war demonstrators, even the bosses could see that change was coming.

Since then, education has exploded, information sources have multiplied, communication has headed for the stratosphere, and organizing opportunities are going through the roof. The people see democracy as more than a comfort. It is a necessity and must be extended!

Many of the bosses no longer see democracy as tolerable. It has to be fought. It has to die.

What Will Happen

What will happen, sooner or later, is what must happen. The immovable object and the irresistible force must confront one another. Progress and reaction cannot reconcile. A small group of secret rulers will not willingly cede control. Ascendant democracy for all cannot tolerate a small group of secret rulers. Progress and the people will prevail.

Book Review:

Smith, Page, “Trial By Fire. A People’s History of the Civil War and Reconstruction.” McGraw-Hill, NY, 1982. 995 pgs

Lincoln quote on labor

This is Volume 5 of Page’s series on history of America. There are a lot of facts in the book, but factual reporting is not his method. Mostly, he compiles diary entries from people on both sides of the period. He tries, that way, to reflect what people were thinking as the years passed.

It is particularly effective when we try to un-puzzle what happened during Reconstruction. Did it succeed or did it fail? Should they have even tried or would it be better to have left the Southerners to do what they wanted? Who were the good guys and who were the bad? What difference did it make at the time?

Nothing is clear-cut in political history. It’s all a matter of point of view and opinion. Reconstruction may have been a good idea at the end of the Civil War, but a lot of people were against it. As time wore on, fewer and fewer people in the North really cared. The Southerners were adamant, and they thought they could re-assert the same relationships they had before the war.

One reason that Southerners were so optimistic about re-asserting racist relationships is because President Johnson had 3 years to re-instate them after Lincoln’s death. If there’s a bad guy, I mean a really awful bad guy, it was Johnson.

If there’s a good guy, a really good guy, it was President Grant. When he assumed the presidency in 1868, he made a genuine effort to protect African American people and give them a chance to thrive. When his second term ran out, reconstruction was over. The Republicans just gave it up. The strongest of them were the abolitionists, who had pretty well died out by 1876.

Page’s account of Reconstruction is the bloodiest I have seen. Black people were murdered and raped all over the South all through the decades following the war. Some died fighting, but most of them were simply murdered. There were large massacres and small massacres, but the Southerners eventually prevailed and civil rights went from a hopeful era to very dark times that persist today.

—Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. We podcast it, and “Workers Beat Extra,” on Soundcloud. If you are curious as to what I really think, check out my personal web site

In October 1917, Vladimir Lenin was almost alone in calling for the Bolsheviks to take over Russia. Even after they succeeded, the arguments raged on, Menshevik against Bolshevik, revolutionary against liberal, and Social Democrat against Communist.

Lenin Statue in Seattle

Millions joined the revolutionary movement because the Bolsheviks succeeded. Millions left because of the Stalin-Hitler Pact. Millions joined because the Red Army defeated the fascists. Millions left because of the Khruschev revelations. Millions joined because of Cuba. Millions left when the Soviet Union imploded. All of them were misguided, and all of their arguments are irrelevant.

The Mensheviks and Social Democrats since 1917 have argued that the Bolshevik Revolution was bound to fail because they should have waited, no matter how long it might take, until they could be elected. Generations passed with the Social Democrats making the same arguments. When capitalism finally did bring down the Soviet Union in 1991, they changed to “I told you so!”

They weren’t really arguing history. The importance of the argument lies in the basic question of whether or not people, Americans for example, should engage in revolutionary struggle. Lenin and the Russian revolution are just metaphors in this fundamental disagreement. If one believes that the only proper way to change the world is by being elected, then Lenin is evil, Lenin is opportunist, and, most important, Lenin is wrong!

The metaphor may be gone, but the argument is still going on. If people want a better world, should they look for a revolutionary program or just a very good election campaign? It’s irrelevant.

It’s irrelevant, for one reason, because a revolutionary program would include a very good election campaign. Lenin knew that, and the Bolsheviks ran election campaigns every time it was permitted.

But it’s even more irrelevant because the situation in America today is far different from Russia in 1917. They didn’t have an almost completely educated populace. They didn’t have cell phones. They didn’t have the internet. They didn’t have worldwide information and communications.

We are misguided if we think that the tide of history is conclusively changed because of an individual or a passing event. The entire history of the human race shows that we get smarter and more capable of self-governance. Individuals don’t change that. Incidents don’t change it.

Even if revolutionaries conceded, because the Soviet Union lasted “only” 74 years, and said that the Bolsheviks should never have sought to break the power of the capitalists in Russia in 1917, so what? They weren’t us and we aren’t them! Today, each of us has an obligation to ourselves and to our species to think through what is needed and what we can do about it. Lenin can’t do it for us, and he couldn’t stop us if he wanted to. It’s up to us, now.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 Central Time. We podcast the radio show and other “Workers Beat Extra” commentaries on Soundcloud.com. If you are interested in what I really think, check out my personal web site

American union federations should not accept police associations as members.

Everyone knows that the American labor movement has diminished in size and influence since the mid 1950s. The pandemic, the economic crisis, and a hostile government are accelerating the erosion today. Two doors to labor’s revival are open to us:

  1. More of the kind of workplace organizing that we have always done or tried to do.
  2. Improving our connections with broader communities that can add to our negotiating and electoral clout

We have to pass through both of those doors, but one of them is endangered by our association with police unions. The broader community, the broader electorate, distrusts police unions and anybody associated with them. A leading civil rights activist in Dallas today commented on the possibility of allowing the Police Association to affiliate with the Dallas AFL-CIO. He said, “If they do, I will never have anything to do with them!” He meant what he said.

Oddly, a lot of the public argument seems to be about whether or not police unions are really unions. If a union is a group of people organized together to advance their aims and defend their members, then certainly the police associations are unions. No argument.

Using the same definition, though, a lot of other associations are also unions. They advance their aims and defend their members. The Chamber of Commerce, arguably labor’s worst enemy, meets the definition. The Business Roundtable is a union. So is the White Citizens’ Alliance. They are unions, but they are not on the side of working families — and neither are the police.

TOPSHOT – Police officers clash with protestors near the White House on June 1, 2020 as demonstrations against George Floyd’s death continue. – Police fired tear gas outside the White House late Sunday as anti-racism protestors again took to the streets to voice fury at police brutality, and major US cities were put under curfew to suppress rioting.With the Trump administration branding instigators of six nights of rioting as domestic terrorists, there were more confrontations between protestors and police and fresh outbreaks of looting. Local US leaders appealed to citizens to give constructive outlet to their rage over the death of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis, while night-time curfews were imposed in cities including Washington, Los Angeles and Houston. (Photo by Jose Luis Magana / AFP) / ALTERNATE CROP (Photo by JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Even the editors of the Dallas Morning News, historic enemies of working families, argue that police unions are reactionaries. The combined constituency groups of the AFL-CIO issued a statement that contains this:

“We demand local schools, colleges, universities, and all public institutions cut ties with the police.”

It is entirely possible, given the desperate financial situation of many actual unions, that members might want to affiliate with the police associations just for the money. They would argue that unions would benefit from additional workplace organizing; door number 1 above.

But door number 2, our hope of harnessing labor’s power along with the broad progressive community and electorate, would be swinging closed.

American labor should not affiliate with police associations.

–Gene Lantz

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

We’re seeing a lot of articles and op-eds about how old crazy stupid Donald Trump keeps making terrible blunders that could cost him the election. But what if they aren’t errors? What if they are part of a deliberate plan?

Recently, Trump sticks up for the Confederacy, threatens to call out the army against protesters, attacks protesters so he can pose for a photo-op, advocates undermining Social Security, refuses to wear a face mask,  moves his convention so Republicans can risk COVID at a mass meeting, calls a mass meeting in the city best known for mass lynching, and tries to ruin the Post Office. These are unpopular actions. The pundits say he’s ruining his chance for re-election in November.

I want to add that Trump is actively opposing vote-by-mail, but that particular dangerous and unpopular stance needs to be considered separately.

What if Mr Trump is not worried about the November elections because he and his filthy rich supporters intend to cancel them? Here in America and among Americans, cancelling a presidential election may sound incredible. But dictators do it all the time!

It’s never happened in America, you might protest, but lots of things that have never happened in America are happening since Mr Trump took office.

The State of Georgia just held an election, and the word used to describe it was “chaos!” An earlier election in Wisconsin was the same. People on our side think that this chaos is shameful and must be remedied. People on Trump’s side don’t think so at all. They think that bad election precedents may provide a pretext for postponing the November presidential race.

In many states, including mine, politicians have already set legal precedent for postponing elections. The one we’re about to have in July was originally set for April. What’s to keep the Trump forces from postponing the one in November? Assuming the COVID pandemic keeps getting worse, which it is and is being worsened by deliberate political decisions, then “postponing” the November elections may seem more palatable to some unthinking members of the electorate, and to ALL of the supporters of the candidates that are expected to lose!

If vote-by-mail is allowed, and if the Post Office has not been destroyed, then the pandemic wouldn’t even make a decent fig-leaf excuse for postponing the November election. The HEROES Act, passed in the house and stymied in the Senate, would save the Post Office. Rightwing lawsuits to bar vote-by-mail are making their way to the Supreme Court right now. What do you think will happen?

Around the world, more people are in motion today than at any time since the early 1970s. The flash point was the police murder of Mr George Floyd in Minneapolis. There are demonstrations all over the planet, and some of them are quite militant. But do they have a plan?

Police brutality is hardly the only issue. Planet-wide, we are in an economic downturn that looks to become worse than the Great Depression. Any chance of saving Earth from environmental disaster is ticking away. The fascists among us are overwhelming our democracy. We are dying everywhere of a pandemic that is not, whatever the politicians might say, under control. All hope of international cooperation seems destroyed by President Trump. World war may be imminent. To put it succinctly, the system is breaking down.

Answers, Anyone?

I seek answers. As a talk radio host, I get to listen to a lot of heartfelt complaints. I ask them, “What should we do? What is the solution?” But they don’t know.

Social media is full of the same. Unending complaints about the world we live in; almost no positive suggestions. To be sure, the electoral enthusiasts among us continue to ask people to vote. I certainly agree with them, but I wouldn’t want to stand in front of the angry throngs of America today and say that my sole answer to their swollen anger is “vote Democrat in 2020.” They have heard that many times before, and they aren’t buying it.

The radicals among us, on both sides of the spectrum, aren’t connecting. One gentleman called our talk show and said that we need to re-institute segregation. What an awful person, but at least he had a plan! The so-called leftists call in and say that we have to “fight imperialism” or “smash the state.”  They’re probably right, but those are long-term goals, not prescriptions for the here and now.

Labor Turns Away

Just about the best of the down-to-Earth solutions being posed has just slipped away from us. The AFL-CIO national labor federation had called for a “Day of Action” June 3 to win passage of the HEROES Act in Congress. The Act would greatly ameliorate the economic crisis. It would also help with the political crisis by providing more money for electoral reform. But, alas, just today, the national leadership postponed the Day of Action.

They sent out a statement that was very good, but didn’t really explain why they postponed their actions for June 3. It may well have been a result of last night’s attack on National AFL-CIO Headquarters in Washington DC. Windows were broken and a fire was set! We might assume that they believed that the June 3 Day of Action would invite more thuggery.

I absolutely loved the Tweet sent out by the President of the Central Labor Council in Sioux Falls, South Dakota: “It hurts to see damage being done to the @AFLCIO headquarters. But I believe it brings to light two facts: 1) The people did not recognize the building as the headquarters of a movement that fights for them 2) That is our fault.

In my opinion, the labor leadership made a major mistake. If labor is truly in solidarity with the anti-racists on the street, we should be on the street with them. Others are marching without condoning violence and looting, why shouldn’t we?

Another possibility is that the AFL-CIO does not want to risk being seen as anti-police because they generally welcome organized police associations into labor’s organizations. Some of us think that, too, is a mistake.

By calling off the Day of Action, our labor federation turns down the opportunity to lead the progressive movement in a positive direction. Our demand to pass the HEROES Act might not solve all of America’s problems, but it certainly goes in the right direction. Further, our demand had the distinction of being just about the only reasonable positive demand being proposed!

OUR FAILURE

Vandals vandalize, looters loot, and America’s great and powerful progressive movement continues milling around leaderless! That’s our failure.

–Gene Lantz

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

Some of the brothers and sisters on my side of the anti-capitalist fight have lately begun exhibiting some of the errors of anarchists, ultralefts, and middle class liberals. I’m hoping it’s a temporary diversion from the very good work we have seen since Bernie Sanders stirred up this giant activist movement in 2016.

The culmination of the mistakes is to disregard the interests of the working class by calling for people to abstain from voting in the 2020 elections. Some of the usual excuses are being given. Some say that they are focusing on street heat and mass action, as if they couldn’t possibly find time to engage in electoral activities while organizing picketing. Others say that they are casting “protest votes” for fringe parties, just to teach the Democrats a lesson, as if they expect the Democrats to learn from them. No matter the excuse being used, these brothers and sisters are mistakenly abandoning the electoral field when it is of desperate importance to workers.

Like nearly all political errors, these comes from not understanding the political situation. An incorrect assessment must lead to error. If one doesn’t see where we are, one can hardly prescribe the way forward.

Apparently, some of the good activists thought that Bernie Sanders and the movement he generated could actually transform the Democratic Party in 2020. Even if they allowed themselves such high hopes, they should have at least recognized that such a transformation was not a certainty.

The extreme level of disappointment that many Bernie supporters are feeling is understandable because they worked hard for the campaign. But it’s no excuse for abandoning the working class. The Bernie campaign, in 2016 and in 2020, was terrific for the working class. The advancement in working-class consciousness, understanding, and willingness to take action is excellent and is not qualitatively diminished by Sanders’ withdrawal from the race.

To let our emotions determine our political statements and actions is not a characteristic of serious revolutionaries. It’s something that anarchists might do, because they think they can jolt the world into transformation. It’s something that ultralefts might do because they don’t care about the outcome. It’s something that middle-class liberals might do because they live in the fuzzy world of pie-in-the-sky ideals.

Think of the class.

–Gene Lantz

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