Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ollman on Co-ops

Bertell Ollman on co-operatives, workers owned enterprises and market- Socialism

From here

There are different versions of market socialism. What makes them market societies is that buying and selling, however restricted, continue to go on for commodities and labor power and, in some versions, even capital. And money continues to mediate between people and what they want as under capitalism. What makes them socialist is that the capitalist class has been removed from its dominant position in society. In the more popular version, workers own and/or control their enterprises and collectively, or through the managers they elect, make the decisions now made by the capitalist owner and his manager. The capitalists, as a distinct class, are either abolished or, in cases where a small private sector remains, have their power severely restricted...

As co-owners of their enterprise, the workers, like any capitalist, will buy raw materials, hire labor, and sell finished goods. Though—except for managers—these activities won't take much of their time, the experiences they provide workers will be completely new. Selling their own labor power and especially buying commodities, on the other hand, will continue to take a lot of time and will offer many of the same experiences that workers have today. Furthermore, when the worker first applies for a job and is treated by the collective as an outsider, the fear and insecurity he will feel is all too familiar. The collective, after all, will only hire new people if it believes their work will increase its profit, or secure or improve its market share (ultimately reducible to profit). With this approach, the collective is unlikely to show more concern for the human needs, including the need for a job, of the unemployed and others in the community than businesses do under capitalism.

Even on the job, the interests of the individual worker and the interests of the collective do not coincide, for while he may wish to work shorter hours, at a reduced pace, etc., the collective may force him to work longer and faster so that it can keep up with the competition, still viewed as an impersonal power beyond human control. And, as in capitalist society, it is the owner of the enterprise whose interests predominate. The worker's desire to reorganize his job in function of his interests as a worker will carry little weight in comparison with the profit maximizing interests of the collective, backed as it is by the logic of the market. In which case, the worker's actual experience in selling his labor power, even where he is part of the collective that buys it (and whatever soothing label is used to hide the reality of this exchange), will not be very different from what it is now.

The political scientist, Robert Lane, studied a number of worker owned enterprises in capitalist society, and found that, while there was some increase in empowerment and in overall morale, this change did not produce the expected effect on the workers' quality of life or on their general satisfaction. What people actually do at work, their ability to use initiative and their own judgment, and how much of the process they control, turn out to have a much bigger effect on their satisfaction than simply acquiring a new status as co-owners in a context that doesn't allow for major changes in work conditions. "Marx was right", Lane concludes, "the market economy is unfavorable to worker priority [treating workers' needs first] ... because any costs devoted to improving work life in the competitive part of the economy make a firm vulnerable to reduced sales and profits because of the violation of the efficiency norm".12 There is no reason to believe that the situation in market socialism, where enterprises are owned by workers—even with considerable democratic control—but market relations continue to operate, would produce a very different result...

...The new relations of ownership do not affect the fact that it is individuals who will decide what to buy, and—like now—will compare goods on the basis of their price, and compete with others to get the best deal. They will constantly desire more money so that they can buy more, or have the power and status of someone who could. As now, they will worship money as something that gives them this power. And in order to be more effective in the competition for goods and money, they will develop an indifference for the human needs of others against whom they are competing. Coming out of all this, they will view having a lot of goods and money as success, as now—never thinking they have enough; money will retain its mystery; and the greed and indifference people display in their dealings with each other will continue to be misconstrued as human nature....

....The mystery surrounding money also gives no signs of disappearing under market socialism. Money, we will recall, only has the power to buy goods, because the workers who produced them have lost all connection to them. In capitalism, having produced a good conveys no right to use it, no matter how great the need; nor do workers have any say in who can; nor can they easily understand why this is the case. The context in which workers have lost control over whatever it is that their labor has transformed is hidden behind the apparent independence of the final product on the market and the power of money to acquire control over it. All this applies equally to capitalism and market socialism. Even if a case can be made that exploitation no longer exists under market socialism because workers, as co-owners of their enterprise, belong to the collective entity that retains the surplus (the alternative interpretation is that the collectivity exploits the individual workers), it is clear that alienated relations of labor would remain substantially intact and with them the mystification and deification of money. The modifying influence that one would expect to come from workers electing their own manager is more than offset by the regime of production for the market and its pitiless logic of profit maximization....

... Marx spoke of the cooperative factories of his day as turning "the associated laborers into their own capitalists".13 With their aim of maximizing profits, workers, as collective capitalists, are likely to behave very much like capitalists do today, i.e. producing what sells, producing for those who have the money to buy and ignoring the needs of those who don't, cutting corners on quality and safety whenever they can get away with it, creating needs for their products—or for more products, or for their brand of product—where they don't yet exist, and besting the competition in whatever ways the laws allow (and often in ways that they don't).....

To the extent that workers participate in these activities directly, or even indirectly, they will share in far more than the profits that typically go to a capitalist class. For by making workers into collective capitalists, market socialism has added capitalist alienation to their alienation as workers, while modifying the latter only slightly. Now, they too can experience the lopsided perceptions and twisted emotions, the worries and anxieties that derive from competing with other capitalists; they too can manipulate consumers and themselves as workers in quest of the highest possible profit; they too can develop a greed for money abstracted from all human purpose; and they too can turn a blind eye to the human needs of others. There is not much room here for acting as one's brother's keeper. Marx aptly characterized competition between capitalists as "avarice and war between the avaricious".14 The same description would apply to competition between workers as collective capitalists in market socialism....

 market socialists don't realize just how much of capitalism, of its practises and ways of thinking and feeling, and of its problems, are contained in its market relations, and, consequently, how much retaining a market, any market, will interfere with the building of socialism. Here, the fundamental error in their analysis is to identify capital with capitalists, the current embodiment of capital, and not see that capital, as a relation of production, can also be embodied in the state (as in state capitalism) or even in workers' cooperatives (as in market socialism). Capital is self-expanding wealth, wealth used not to satisfy wants but to create more wealth, satisfying wants only where this does so and developing new, artificial wants where it doesn't. What is decisive is its goal, and not who owns it. It is how capital functions in pursuit of this goal that gives our society most of its capitalist character and problems. The market, through which newly created wealth circulates allowing what initially takes the form of commodities to return to the owners of the means of production in the form of capital, is a more important feature of capitalism than is private ownership. Thus, ownership may be transferred to the state (as has occurred with nationalized industries in many countries) or to workers' cooperatives, but if the market remains essentially intact so, too, will most of the problems associated with capitalism. Market thinking, as we saw, is produced by people's experiences in any market without regard to who owns the values that are exchanged....

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Yet another book taking advantage of the dearth of  direct source material to define Jesus, known as the Christ, the man from Galilee. This time by Reza Aslan, a professor of creative writing with a background in religious studies in “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth”

It is a portrait of the political and social climate of Jesus’ day, 70 years or so after the conquest of Judea by Rome, an event that ended a century of Jewish self-rule. The Romans replaced the last in a series of Jewish client-kings with a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, when Jesus was in his 20s, but even Pilate ruled by working closely with the aristocratic priestly families that controlled the Temple in Jerusalem and thereby all of Jewish politics. This elite reaped great wealth from the sacrifices the faithful were required to offer in the Temple, as well as taxes and tributes. In the provinces, noble families used the tax and loan systems to seize and consolidate the lands of subsistence farmers. They also began to adopt the customs of the pagan occupiers.

The dispossessed migrated to cities in search of work or roamed the countryside causing trouble. Some of them, called “bandits” by the Romans, robbed the wealthy (who were often seen as impious) and rallied the poor and discontented. They invariably offered religious justifications for their activities; many claimed to be the messiah, the prophesied figure who would eject the foreigners, raise up the oppressed, punish the venal rich and restore the Jews to supremacy in their promised land.

The Zealots are characterized as “a strict adherence to the Torah and the Law, a refusal to serve any foreign master — to serve any human master at all — and an uncompromising devotion to the sovereignty of God,” just like “the prophets and heroes of old.” Although the Zealot Party would not exist for a few more decades, most insurrectionists of the time — including Jesus — could be rightly called zealots. They revered the Torah and honored its many rules and regulations. The most fanatical of such groups, such as the Sicarii, practiced a form of terrorism, attacking members of the Jewish ruling class, even assassinating the high priest within the precincts of the Temple itself, “shouting their slogan ‘No lord but God!’”

Jesus himself wasn’t such a “bandit,” he definitely fit the well-known type of apocalyptic Jewish holy man, so commonplace in the countryside.  Jesus is a provincial peasant turned roving preacher and insurrectionist, a “revolutionary Jewish nationalist” calling for the expulsion of Roman occupiers and the overthrow of a wealthy and corrupt Jewish priestly caste. Furthermore, once this overthrow was achieved, Jesus probably expected to become king, not as assumed an unworldly pacifist preaching a creed of universal love and forgiveness.  Jesus, was this “zealous Galilean peasant and Jewish nationalist who donned the mantle of the messiah and launched a foolhardy rebellion against the corrupt Temple priesthood and the vicious Roman occupation.”The parable of the Good Samaritan is less concerned with the Samaritan’s compassion than it is with the “baseness of the two priests” who passed by the injured man in the road before the Samaritan stopped to help him. It was a class critique as much as an exhortation to help one’s neighbors.

Jesus as the incarnation of God, a being who sacrificed his life to mystically redeem the souls of all mankind was largely the invention of Paul. Paul clashed with James, John and Peter, who led the core of Jesus’ following after his death. Theirs was a deeply Jewish community centered in Jerusalem, where it awaited its founder’s return and the restoration of God’s kingdom on earth. Paul instead opted to convert and minister to gentiles as well as Jews in Rome and beyond. In the year 70, the ferment in Palestine finally erupted in a full-fledged revolt and then Roman reprisals. Ultimately, the Temple, Jerusalem and the holy city’s occupants were destroyed, and with these the Jewish core of Jesus’ followers. By default, it was Paul’s version of Jesus’ teachings — Christianity — that survived, splintering off from Judaism and incorporating many ideas from Hellenistic philosophy.

The thing is, that with the passage of time, with the disappearance of several “gospels" and the redaction of so many biblical sayings in existing ones, we will never know but simply hazard a best guess.

From here

Friday, July 05, 2013

class struggle

Marx observed in 1865 that wage levels can only be "settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labour, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction."

Hal Draper later remarked, "To engage in class struggle it is not necessary to 'believe in' the class struggle any more than it is necessary to believe in Newton to fall from an airplane. There is no evidence that workers like to struggle any more than anyone else; the evidence is that capitalism compels and accustoms them to do so."

Unlike peasants in a capitalist society the proletariat as the most exploited class divorced from the means of production and therefore condemned to live by selling the only commodity they are left with, their bare hands, or their labour power to the owners of capital. Therefore they are the most revolutionary class. They are located in the most progressive sectors of the economy i.e. large-scale machine production in urban areas, and working together in large bodies under one roof. For that reason,  they are the most organised, the most disciplined and therefore the most revolutionary class in capitalist society. And as Karl Marx observed, having lost their property to the capitalists they have nothing to lose in the struggle but their chains. They see for themselves that they toil and live in deplorable conditions and yet they are the creators of the country's wealth which accumulates in the hands of a few rich people.  More than any other class, they are interested in the abolition of private property and exploitation of one person by another and the eventual collective ownership and management of the economy by workers' councils or soviets. This makes them the most revolutionary class once their class consciousness is awakened. Their class interests are irreconcilable with those of capitalism.

In a society of class antagonism there are basically two socially opposing types of people - the capitalist exploiter and the exploited working-person. This polarisation is sharper in advanced capitalist economies where the bourgeoisie regards the working class as an object for the extraction of  surplus value - the source of their profits. The workers are reduced to cogs in the machinery of capitalist production and denied of all rights. However, it is important to note that in a capitalist society the workers have actually accomplished a great deal. Due primarily to their efforts, massive productive forces have been  built up, which make it possible to create unprecedented  material and spiritual wealth for the benefit of all. The first condition, especially in advanced capitalist countries,  for building a society of equals in which the workers themselves become the aim and purpose of production has already been created.

Unions are important because of the centrality of the working class to the larger struggle for socialism. Karl Marx was the first socialist among his contemporaries to recognise this important role of the working-class and therefore trade unions, as the only leading force in the struggle for a socialist revolution. Utopian socialists before Marx had dismissed unions as irrelevant and some of them even opposed strike action. Marx understood the absolute importance at all times of organising this class to unite as a class against their capitalist enemy.

The trade unions are workers' front line of defense against their employers under capitalism. But as vehicles for struggle, they are also crucial to the future self-emancipation of the working class. But there is also a contradiction: unions both negotiate the terms of exploitation of workers under capitalism and also provide the vehicle for struggle that can prepare the working class for revolution. Capitalism forces workers into competition with each other-native vs. foreign born, skilled vs. unskilled, and so on-exploiting every opportunity to keep workers divided. Organising into unions, which present the opportunity for collective struggle against the employers, thereby reduces competition between workers. Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, "This organisation of the proletarians into a class, and consequently into a political party, is continually being upset again by the competition between the workers themselves. But it ever rises up again, stronger, firmer, mightier."

In the the US the number of strikes fell to their lowest point on record in 2009 and to the second lowest in 2010. These figures demonstrate the extent to which labour leaders have been unwilling to use labour's most effective weapon, the strike. Decades of concessionary bargaining-at first, claimed to be a temporary phenomenon-have made wage and benefit cuts routine aspects of union negotiations, thereby enabling the deterioration of working-class living standards. Conservative trade-union leaders are de facto agents of the employing class trying to hide behind the mask of trade-union neutrality in order to divert the workers from the path of class war onto a path of collaboration with the capitalist. Economics and politics are inseparably linked. In practice trade union neutrality amounts to supporting the bosses.

History has shown that the rate of union membership corresponds to the rise and decline in the level of class struggle. If the current balance of class forces can only be reversed through a revival of class struggle, then the key challenge facing union activists is how to transform their unions into fighting organisations. For Marxists, this necessarily entails, step by step, strengthening the fighting capacity of workers in general, and union workers in particular.

The working class must now conquer capitalism. And history has bestowed the role of conquering capitalist society squarely on the shoulders of the working class - they are the undisputed 'grave-diggers' of capitalism. It is therefore totally inconceivable that this class can be denied the right to intervene in politics to liberate themselves and society at large. Every social and political movement tending in that direction should be aided by the trade unions. Unions must be champions of the entire class and should not form themselves into corporate bodies only of their members, shutting out non members. It is their duty to help organise those who cannot organise themselves easily and protect the interests of the worst paid trades like agricultural workers. Experience  bears testimony to the fact that trade union involvement in broader struggles has a salutary or beneficial effect on the working class than being stuck in the narrow and parochial rut. The trade union movement must fight to bring the marginalised into the mainstream, and the weakest into more advantageous positions in society. By their action they must demonstrate that they are not using their organised strength only to guard their interests, but for all the downtrodden.

Today working class consciousness has to develop to a point where they are in the process of becoming "a class for-itself" i.e. a class consciousness working class which enables them to see their real class enemy as capitalism.

Adapted from here and here

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Libertarian Hell

An inconvenient truth for “libertarians” is that their ideology of a minimalist U.S. government grew out of the South’s institution of human bondage, i.e. the contractual right of a white person to own a black person, and from the desire of slaveholders to keep the federal government small so it could never abolish slavery.

That is why many “libertarian” icons – the likes of Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson and the later incarnation of James Madison – were slave owners who understood the link between the emergence of a strong national government and the threat to slavery.

Some “libertarians” get angry over anyone making this connection between their supposedly freedom-loving ideology and slavery, but it is historically undeniable. Any serious study of the U.S. Constitution, its ratification and its early implementation reveals intense Southern fears about the Constitution’s creation of a vibrant central government and its eventual implications on slavery.

More recently, “libertarian” political favorites, such as Ron and Rand Paul, have either opposed or criticized civil rights laws that, in their view, infringe on the rights of white businessmen to discriminate against blacks. And libertarian-oriented Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court and in legislatres across the country are gutting voting rights for black and brown Americans.

There is now another crisis facing “libertarianism” - global warming and climate change. The “libertarian” response to the overwhelming scientific consensus on this life-threatening reality has been either to deny the facts or to propose implausible “free market” solutions that would barely dent the crisis. Some dismiss the threat in mocking tones as some kind of “statist” conspiracy. The preferred “libertarian” position adopts the pretense that the release of carbon dioxide by human activity contributes little or nothing to climate change. Other “libertarians” accept the science but still can’t bring themselves to recognize that a coordinated government response is needed. Anti-government ideology trumps even the possible destruction of life on the planet.

The “libertarians” are further hampered in their thinking about global warming by the fact that many of their principal funders are major energy extractors – and it’s nearly impossible to get people to think rationally about a problem when their paychecks depend on them not doing so. Most notably the billionaire Koch Brothers who own Koch Industries, a giant oil and natural gas company, have lavished millions upon millions of dollars on “think tanks,” academic centers and Tea-Party-style activist groups to raise doubts about climate-change science and to deflect public demands for action.

The libertarian principal tenet of unregulated “free markets” has been discredited again and again, through market crashes, economic depressions and the foisting of dangerous products on customers. There is also the grander lie that “free markets” somehow can or will address broader societal needs when capitalism is really about how to maximize short-term profits regardless of the danger inflicted on the environment or individuals. There also are legitimate concerns that “libertarianism” would essentially ignore, such as how to care for the elderly, how to educate the population for today’s economic challenges, how to ameliorate the suffering of the poor, how to maintain an effective infrastructure, etc. For instance, the private sector can’t do transportation infrastructure very well. Thus, governments have to step in with spending for roads, rail, airports, etc. Capitalism also has little need for aging, worn-out or sick workers. So, the government is needed to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. The Affordable Care Act represented the government’s recognition that the profit motive behind private health insurance had failed millions of Americans, forcing them to overburden hospital emergency rooms and requiring some government intervention.

Full article here