About antonjohannsen

All I want to do is live communism and spread anarchy.

Debs: The Last Presidential Candidate Worth Voting For

Bernie Sanders’ attempts to appeal to the legacy of a true class militant like Eugene Debs are laughable and pathetic, writes Anton Johannsen. 

Jeb? DEBS!

Jeb? DEBS!

I’m an anarchist. I’m a communist, too. Don’t worry. I’ve read my Marx, and I keep the faith. I know the differences between a socialist, an anarchist and a communist, or the supposed ones anyhow. I know that Albert Parsons felt he had exhausted Chicago’s corrupt and ensnaring local system of political governance, and this drove him toward political anarchism. I know that nothing short of revolution can deal with the antagonisms inherent in capitalism. This and many other historical lessons have made me very skeptical of electoralism.

But I always said I would vote for Eugene V. Debs. A founding member of both the IWW, and the Socialist Party of America, Debs was born in Indiana in 1854. He got work in younger years in rail car painting, and as he began a local political life in the Democratic party, also became a member of the existing Railway unions.

By the 1890’s he helped form one of the first examples of industrial unionism, the American Railway Union. Shortly thereafter, he took up leadership of the Pullman Strike, and was arrested on charges of interfering with the U.S. Post (as the railcars produced by Pullman were meant to carry mail).

While in jail for this for 6 months, Debs read Kautsky, Marx, and other socialist authors and became enamored with the ideas.

“…I began to read and think and dissect the anatomy of the system in which workingmen, however organized, could be shattered and battered and splintered at a single stroke. The writings of Bellamy and Blatchford early appealed to me. The Cooperative Commonwealth of Gronlund also impressed me, but the writings of Kautsky were so clear and conclusive that I readily grasped, not merely his argument, but also caught the spirit of his socialist utterance – and I thank him and all who helped me out of darkness into light.”

By 1897 he began to openly advocate for socialism, and work to develop a socialist party.

Pullman Railway Workers Confront Illinois National Guard

Pullman Railway Workers Confront Illinois National Guard

The Debs of this period actually quite embodied the conservative, anti-immigrant politics of the Democratic party of the time. He regarded immigration as a burden on the American worker, who would be in competition with low-wage workers. However, as Debs himself latter reflected that during the Pullman Strike he was “…baptized in socialism in the roar of conflict.” Before reading Marx, the ARU and Debs were faced with uniting Railway workers who had been historically divided by craft unions that had no qualms scabbing on each-other. This practical task is that to which Deb refers, along with the brutal putting down of the strike by the National Guard, Federal Troops, and Grover Cleveland, the Democratic President. As a result of these experiences Debs would move away from his anti-immigrant, pro-Democratic Party stance.

Further, Debs’ development makes the cynical, ignorant, self-interested ideology of Bernie Sanders and his “socialist” advocates so strikingly clear. Unlike Sanders’ xenophobic line on immigration, or trade with China, torn straight from the failed ideology of AFL-CIO bureaucrats, Debs refused to support any proposal to limit immigration while running for President:

“Having just read the majority report of the Committee on Immigration. It is utterly unsocialistic, reactionary and in truth outrageous, and I hope you will oppose with all your power. The plea that certain races are to be excluded because of tactical expediency would be entirely consistent in a bourgeois convention of self-seekers, but should have no place in a proletariat gathering under the auspices of an international movement that is calling on the oppressed and exploited workers of all the world to unite for their emancipation. . . .

Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority.

Let us stand squarely on our revolutionary, working class principles and make our fight openly and uncompromisingly against all our enemies, adopting no cowardly tactics and holding out no false hopes, and our movement will then inspire the faith, arouse the spirit, and develop the fibre that will prevail against the world.”

Later, in 1916, the SPA’s central committee drafted the National Program to accompany Debs run for President. Instead of the usual party convention used to draft a program, the SPA decided to save funds and have it drafted by the more conservative executive committee, and then put it to referendum. Debs suggestions embody clearly three principles from which so many “socialists” have strayed far from these days:

First: The class struggle should be more clearly and specifically stated and more emphatically declared…
Second: The platform should declare in positive and unequivocal terms in favor of revolutionary economic organization, and state the reason for it. (Here is referring to, for example, the IWW)…
Third: I am opposed with every drop in my veins to the two declarations in favor of war. If these are permitted to stand the party might as well declare openly in favor of militarism…”

The second two reasons are the most important for us today. Since the failure of the Bolshevik revolution, most “socialists” have been bouncing around the globe trying to support third-world bonapartist dictators and nationalist uprising. Aside from integrating emerging capitalist countries into the foreign policy designs of the USSR, this terrible digression demoralized the world working class, and at every turn impeded a basic socialist principle: Capitalism is served in it’s inevitable and intermittent crises by recourse to bloody, destructive and terrifying war; civil war, guerilla war, imperialist competition, coup d’etats. If the working class is to be anything like an organized force to combat capital, it must abandon it’s mythological national heritages, and stand for the world.

I would vote Debs because he was relentless in his critique of the corrupt, reformist, craft-oriented AFL. The second argument, that socialists ought to support not reformist, bureaucratic unions, but fighting, ideologically socialist, or class unions is certainly one of the most unpopular ideas of today. There is no shortage of preening, “secret” communists who “go where the workers are”, those 7-8% that still are in “unions” to pursue William Fosters grand strategy of “boring from within” (and it sure is BORING!). This isn’t to say workers in those places ought not to fight tooth and nail to put communist revolution on the agenda. Indeed it is to say they must do so purely on an understanding that capitalism cannot dispense with class struggle, that the only hope for humanity is that workers dispense with capitalism, by winning the class war!

Cheap, dime-a-dozen politicians trying to reinvigorate the base of a war-mongering, dyed-in-the-wool capitalist racket like the Democratic Party might occasionally appeal to some vague notion of Debs. Debs himself, however, was unequivocal, uncompromising, and a true working class leader.

Eugene Debs Speaking

A final example: Debs spent the years leading up to US involvement in WWI railing against “preparedness” as promulgated by militarists and industrialists. When the war came, Debs continued to condemn it. Doing what any real socialist ought to, he encouraged draft dodging and resistance on the part of working people everywhere. For this, he was charged with sedition, and sentenced to 10 years in prison as well as being “disenfranchised for life.” Debs spoke in his defense during the trial:

“Your honor, I have stated in this court that I am opposed to the form of our present government; that I am opposed to the social system in which we live; that I believe in the change of both but by perfectly peaceable and orderly means….

I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and factories; I am thinking of the women who, for a paltry wage, are compelled to work out their lives; of the little children who, in this system, are robbed of their childhood, and in their early, tender years, are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon, and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the machines while they themselves are being starved body and soul….

Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own. When the mariner, sailing over tropic seas, looks for relief from his weary watch, he turns his eyes toward the Southern Cross, burning luridly above the tempest-vexed ocean. As the midnight approaches the Southern Cross begins to bend, and the whirling worlds change their places, and with starry finger-points the Almighty marks the passage of Time upon the dial of the universe; and though no bell may beat the glad tidings, the look-out knows that the midnight is passing– that relief and rest are close at hand. Let the people take heart and hope everywhere, for the cross is bending, midnight is passing, and joy cometh with the morning.”

While in prison, Eugene Debs ran for President another time. He was not a scheming politician. He was not lapdog to the Democrats and their moneyed-masters. He was a socialist, committed indefatigably to the millions of workers of the world, not only in the U.S., but everywhere because a socialist has no country. 

Debs Convict for PresidentTrue, Debs like many socialist of the period had a tendency to paper over deep and long running racial tensions that fractured U.S. society. Then again at times he could be exceedingly lucid:

“As a social party we receive the Negro and all other races upon absolutely equal terms. We are the party of the working class, the whole working class, and we will not suffer ourselves to be divided by any specious appeal to race prejudice; and if we should be coaxed or driven from the straight road we will be lost in the wilderness and ought to perish there, for we shall no longer be a Socialist party….

There never was any social inferiority that was not the shrivelled fruit of economic inequality. The Negro, given economic freedom, will not ask the white man any social favors; and the burning question of “social equality” will disappear like mist before the sunrise.

I have said and say again that, properly speaking, there is no Negro question outside of the labor question—the working class struggle. Our position as Socialists and as a party is perfectly plain. We have simply to say: “The class struggle is colorless.” The capitalists, white, black and other shades, are on one side and the workers, white, black and all other colors, on the other side….”

What seems like a genuine thrust for equality, was likely hamstrung by taking races as given, instead of seeing racism as the social process by which racist relations are “objectified” in race. It is certainly true that there is no intrinsic difference between people of different races, but there are pernicious and complex social relations which often take cover in the guise of flesh.  Neverless it seems to me that Debs, in many of his principles, has plenty to offer socialists of today.

If you want a career politician like Bernie Sanders to “broker” a better deal for “American Workers” with the capitalist class, at the expense of struggling workers in Mexico, Korea, China, etc. then go for it. And in 4 years or so all the pensions and benefits, paltry as they are, that are granted to you for shirking your own class, will be wiped out by another capitalist crisis. Trumka, Sanders, Clinton, will all come back around to pander to you and tell you how hard they’re working to harmonize the interests of labor and capital yet again.

I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next Debs.

“I am not a capitalist soldier; I am a proletarian revolutionist. I do not belong to the regular army of the plutocracy, but to the irregular army of the people. I refuse to obey any command to fight from the ruling class, but I will not wait to be commanded to fight for the working class. I am opposed to every war but one; I am for that war with heart and soul, and that is the world-wide war of social revolution. In that war I am prepared to fight in any way the ruling class may make necessary, even to the barricades.” – Eugene V. Debs

Works Referenced or otherwise worth reading:
Class Unionism
The Negro Question in the Class Struggle
John Brown America’s Greatest Hero
A Letter from Debs on Immigration
On the Proposed National Platform
Canton Ohio Anti-War Speech
Statement to the Court 1918

Advertisements

Riots, Race and Capitalism

Appeals to “community” in the face of anti-police riots in Baltimore and elsewhere ignore the inherent class contradictions at the root of these conflicts.

baltimore-riots

Law and order and the sanctity of property: these are the rallying cries of those who would crush the outburst in Baltimore, just as in Ferguson, or L.A. In response to what cannot be understood, the capitalist press, and all the forces of capitalist society are marshaled against what can only be represented as an irrational and almost weather-like phenomenon. Local newsmen report on the temperament of ‘the crowd’ from the only place where such an assessment can be made: the ground. And on the ground, one imperative is stressed: safety.

Safety for who? In Baltimore, over the past four years more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. Victims include a 15-year-old boy riding a dirt bike, a 26-year-old pregnant accountant who had witnessed a beating, a 50-year-old woman selling church raffle tickets, a 65-year-old church deacon rolling a cigarette and an 87-year-old grandmother aiding her wounded grandson.

Here we cannot avoid race and class. ‘The crowd’ in Baltimore, as in Ferguson, is made up of working class people, mostly black and Latino. The councilmen, the NGO-presidents, the statesmen and the property owners are not being gunned down by thugs in uniform. And those same capitalist-sycophants turn out in droves to bemoan the reckless behavior of protesters. There are two essential sides to the same pacifying coin: Capitalist Disgust, and Pacifist Condemnation. The capitalist disgust tends to simply reject the people engaged in rioting whole cloth as thugs, criminals, gangsters, violent, always holding up the sanctity of property. The pacifying agents of “the community” work to prop up the abstract humanity of protesters (They are not thugs! They are our children!) while simultaneously being unable to genuinely support “their children” against capitalism.

The failure here is partly in taking the “black community” as such. Instead of recognizing the dividing role played by classes, those who would engage protesters do so along the lines of representing “the community” (which in this case is composed primarily of property owners) in the name of “black unity.” In order to represent the black community (and to whom are they representing the black community?), would-be “leaders” must, before anything else, declare the sanctity of property over life. The old capitalist tradition of stamping out human life for the rights of property holders is alive and well.

Think about it: Monday April 27, after having planned something of a protest over the weekend prior, students were pre-empted by police in an attempt to disperse them. The method the police applied? By many accounts they were stopping buses, snatching off students and teachers and forcing them to walk home, after being dumped out of schools early. Surrounded and hounded by cops, the students fought back, as can be seen from various videos online.

As the protesters continued, they ransacked a CVS and a 7-11. And the capitalists want to tell you that they are thugs, they are criminals, savages, animals. Bullshit. They were making good on the promise all too often spit out by leftist sycophants: No justice, no peace. Your property isn’t worth shit. Facing their unfreedom, in the form of pigs decked out in blue and black with shinning badges and trigger-happy hooves, the Baltimore kids revolted. In the ensuing days we can’t be mislead by the potential arrest of officers responsible for Freddie’s death, or any “community” spectacle, invoking the need for “peace” between working class youth and cops.

As communists we ought to:
1. Find ways to practically support young working class people in revolt. Help them avoid police capture, help them with legal defense. This will be difficult from afar, which is why it is still necessary for national level fraternization between communist groups.
2. Support the formation of working class elements in Baltimore and elsewhere in practical struggle against white supremacy in the form of police brutality, job discrimination, and more. This means working to build solidarity among diverse elements of the class, encouraging education on race and capitalism, and building a direct action movement centered on concrete demands. This means aiding in the development of effective tactics and strategy. We don’t have all the answers. But engaging with working class elements on those terms is the first step to finding solutions.
3. Cops are not workers. They are wage-earners who’ve joined the other team. Somebody who seeks to daily crack the skull of the working class, to break the hands of some hungry soul stealing a slurpee is no friend of the working class. Workers need to defend themselves against this menace. With black workers being the most targeted by police in the United States, all workers have a stake in supporting them to fight back and avoid police brutality.

Thoughts on Organizing Today

Anton Johannsen weighs in on what working class organization will have to accomplish and what it may look like in 21st century capitalism. 

The geographical and compositional shifts in corporate governance and accumulation have shifted the terrain under workers’ feet. Capital is concentrated in “multinational” corporations, while sites of accumulation are spread across the globe. In the U.S., more workers are engaged in the provision of services than ever before. A rough look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics for Tampa-St.Pete-Clearwater indicates that in the top 10 specific types of employment by number of people employed, 262,264 out of 281,074 workers are employed in non-production “service” work. Now this is a very rough estimate, but gets at the fact that most of this work is not in the field of “production” which is characteristically regarded as manufacturing and shipping. Most of this work is in the field of services, production having been so thoroughly automated and made redundant of labor, or where it is unable to do so, been shipped off to places where wages are kept low. We could also ask, what percentage of these workers in fast food, retail, hospital work etc., are employed by national or multinational corporations?

Why is this important? What makes a worker a worker? What is class? Is it your distinct position in the reproduction of society? This has some attractiveness to it. It’s structural so it seems to explain how we all fit in together. But it is limited. Capitalism continually revolutionizes the means of production, which are not limited to the technical organization of energy and materials, but also the social organization of labor within the process of production. Technological change necessitates and is predisposed toward a change in the organization of the working process. The assembly line, the standardized shipping container, their implementation was a means to changing the organization of the production process, eliminating the amount of labor necessary to do certain tasks, inaugurating speed ups, lay-offs, and new positions at work. In other words, the changing of the production process, changes our positions in the reproduction of daily life. Well, what other quality can we find in class?

“Proletarian” classically refers to the “ones who produce offspring” in Roman society. The ones who hold no property, but their children. The ones who labor for a wage. It is this, in part, that is key. Fast food workers do a meaningless job. There will be no Starbucks after the revolution, HALLELUJAH! Does it produce value? Is it “productive” in that technical sense of producing surplus value? Or does it form part of the circulation-cost of the commodity coffee, the work of making it available to be realized? Does this matter? If what is important about workers is their condition as wage-workers, dependent on wages for survival, are they not as much a part of the commodity society, and a part of the process of accumulation, either in value-production, or value-realization? Perhaps this is a meaningless digression. But one point here is that, alongside the “surplus population” of much discussion nowadays, service workers as proletarian purely by being made available to work in exchange for necessities, is often up for grabs. They may not work in a “linchpin” industry like warehousing or shipping, manufacture of steel, or ball bearings, but they are proletarians, workers. They’re united in their lot as owners of labor-power with no recourse to living, short of sale of this labor-power.

It should be noted that both of these ways of looking at class are important. Obviously cops are paid a wage, and obviously it is a paltry one compared with capitalists. But their position is the general enforcement of property relations and the first line of response against workers in revolt, as well as mediating general social conflict. What is increasingly clear is that many a working position can be eliminated and shifted around, with the base condition of wage-earning remaining intact.

This points to a few other problems. Service jobs, with the exception maybe of offices and hospitals, are characterized by centralized capital and decentralized sites of work. This poses challenges for directly influencing a company’s income as a strategy for attack (striking). Alongside this, the company can marshal enormous resources in it’s defense politically, ideologically. It would be necessary to not only unite workers across an employer in a major city/region, but across both employers within an industry and within employers across industries. Now, the IWW has had considerable success in one-city organizing against large employers like Jimmy Johns and Starbucks; they’ve wrenched considerable concessions from them and gotten workers fired for organizing re-instated, but this has been through a combination of work stoppages and public pressure, the latter being key. Large centralized capital, especially that provides a service, generally has a big stake in the reliability, trustworthiness and honesty of those providing it. This is a leverage point communists ought to utilize, but it is simply one among many, that has to be oriented toward organizing the class our primary goal. I don’t mean to suggest that this has escaped the view of the Starbucks Union organizers, but more that the conditions which they’ve worked hard against, have been difficult to route: How do we get workers together and encourage them to fight back? How do we meaningfully secure workers against retaliation, not by over-reliance on the near-useless NLRB and lawyers, but by virtue, of our own action? This seems to point to the need to cast a wider organizational net.

An example; some production in grocery stores and fast food chains might be contracted out, but a lot of it might also be done internally. Warehousing and shipping might also be done internally. This would seem to point toward the necessity of supply-chain organizing. But even this is the same narrow view of worker organizing often historically pushed by union movements, even the I.W.W. They typically, for better or for worse, take as their jurisdictional or organizational unit, the dividing lines laid by capital. This can be a strength, where organizational unity around shared demands makes sense, and allows for the effective cultivation of identity and power. But it’s weakness is that it is not class unity. Centralized capital and decentralized workplaces seems like it points toward the need for One Big Union or, a political organization of struggle rooted firmly in the class as a class. On the one hand, workers in one grocery chain in a city might have differing demands about wages and hours than those of another chain, or even those of another department within their chain. But where they have unity is in their class position, and it is asserting unity around the needs of the class that communists must focus on. Surely, developing power in a particular chain or industry can be itself a tactic for developing communist militants and organization.

Class organizing can be seen in the AWO in the 1910’s I.W.W. and the KAPD-AAUD in Germany. Unfortunately, these organizations and a lot of their conditions are far from us, and what can be gleaned from their failures are perhaps only principles and maybe a few intriguing uses of “form.” How do conditions today, mirror conditions that those organizations attempted to deal with? It would seem that the AWO responded to conditions more similar to our own, what with a diverse array of direct employers, and a vast, turnover-heavy workforce of various types of skill and employment, and a geographical, class-oriented form of organizing, vs. “industrial organizing” favored by Haywood and the eventual CIO.

Organizing based on class and geography; neighborhood and city, region and state, nation, would help us to also be open about our politics. We aren’t just interested in a union of Starbucks workers, or fast food workers, but of workers. We limit ourselves geographically for applicability. But this too could run into similar jurisdictional problems to the lines laid by capital if we’re not vigilant in general toward the fact that the geography of work changes in response to class struggle.

But we find ourselves in a bind that doesn’t much make sense; how do we get workers, who are of a “practical” mind now (Yes I’d like higher wages, but I don’t want to lose my job!) interested in fighting for a moral vision that is exactly discounted by what they express now? Developing a response to this is difficult. In the general sense, organizing workers against employers is founded partly on direct gains, and partly on moralistic/ideological development. Workers don’t simply fight for better conditions, but to also for “what is right”. If “moral” makes you trigger happy, we could call this an “ideological” vision, or “level of political development.” (these are not all the same, but we’ll save the nuance for another time!). What we’re doing in our group is in some ways a response to this. We are centered around a reading group that discusses politics and history openly. There is a common saying from the Left-Trotskyist union tradition that goes along the lines of “Action precedes consciousness” which might more aptly be stated as “Action that I approve of, precedes consciousness that I approve of.” For many people, the focus is to get people on board with a particular demand, or action. It is suggested that through this activity workers will see the light and start thinking more clearly about relations of power at work. They will then be more open to radical politics. This thinking tends, in part, to reinforce ideas about “the permanent campaign” and activism. “Just get out their and organize! There will be opportunities to learn and educate in the process!” This is obviously somewhat of a caricature. Never the less, the idea lends itself to this style of thinking and can be seen played out in various Trotskyist, Anarcho-Syndicalist and other efforts at organizing. Instead, we ought to recognize that action takes place along a developing consciousness, and that while action and consciousness are often contradictory, the development of consciousness or political ideas, is itself a social undertaking. Again, this is why reading groups can be beneficial. They won’t be the draw for most workers interested in socialism generally, but they can help us develop a core group of people with varying interests and backgrounds toward organizing more sociable and educational events; classes, lectures, film screenings, workshops.

IWW campaigns in the past 20 or so years have varied in their application of communist/anarchist politics openly. This problem goes beyond this group, however, and some of the campaigns have had success at recruiting militants. Some, not so much, and in general the various campaigns have failed specifically in the field of sustaining a presence at any one workplace-geographical unit. Instead, there has been the proliferation of General Membership Branches, which are purely geographical units within the organization that act as hubs for workers in various industries, as well as hubs for the development of political expression and discourse. This is, in my view, a positive development. It indicates a response to the conditions faced workers that has some measure of sustainability and involves conscious and open efforts at political development. Through organizing of book tours, organizers/workers from other countries, summits, and Organizer Trainings, the IWW has committed itself to a lot of these tasks, generally based on the level of organization reached in particular GMBs. There is still a mix of activism, no-politics-in-the-union confusion, and general uneven development. But there are also writing projects, research projects, and inspiring attempts at experimental organizing, and uneven development is a general organizational problem, not very particular to the IWW.

As for the titular question – How Do We Organize Today? Well, in some ways we see it already happening; geographically, in groups loosely united over a general political “program” or set of guiding principles, toward better education and experiments at wrenching demands from capitalists and building power. Some things to look out for are the shifting geographical organization of work, and ways of getting workers together in a neighborhood or city, and fighting for wider demands. Do we make demands on municipalities, without engaging in electoralism? Finding that transition from workplace or landlord defensive struggle and wider struggle is key – maybe it doesn’t exist yet, but we’re living history, and it demands our thoughtful intervention.

Neoliberalism – A Useful Category?

Here’s a response to Donald Parkinson’s piece ‘What is our current historical era and how did we get here?’ from comrade Anton Johannsen. 

Donald Parkinson outlines some solid points for understanding where we’re at dealing with capitalism. I’d like to highlight some of these points, and provide some complication.

What is neoliberalism? Parkinson is correct that it is by many considered to coalesce around the 1973 financial crisis and a general policy shift from Keyensian political strategies toward strategies that favored the increasing financial nature of the U.S. economy. Management of social problems like inflation, housing prices, and so on, were deemed too complicated and messy for government to reasonably arbitrate, and over time, especially as business growth in the U.S. began to slow and incomes began to stagnate for the working and “middle” classes (if not outright decline) government mismanagement became the dominant political ideology. In general this took up with a set of ideas about government and business, that had been seeded over the 30 or so years prior to 1973, in addition to conditions that allowed businesses to route unions, riots and upsurges of workers.

The decisions that set up the kinds of urban crises that rocked places like Detroit, Chicago, and other cities in the 60’s, and also paved the way for capital to outmaneuver even the reformist union movement that existed, were not made by free market ideologues. They were made by corporate executives in the 40’s and 50’s dealing with an extremely militant, albeit reformist union movement, as well as politicians in the U.S. South, and nation more generally. They were exacerbated by housing conditions in major manufacturing cities like Detroit, including white flight, as well as informal racism that permeated union structures like the UAW and gave us the DRUM and other groups.

Aspects of “neoliberalization” were in swing smack-dab in the middle of the “Keynesian Golden Age” in the U.S. as steel and auto manufactures in places like Michigan and Ohio sought to move their plants to the U.S. south, and the passage of Taft-Hartley, in the 40’s. By the 60’s they were moving out of places like Wooster, Ohio to places like South Carolina, to pay workers way less than the union wages. This is critical to understanding the interaction between race, labor, and the north and south in the U.S. not only in the 40’s but leading to the 60s and 70s and today. It can show how struggles by workers shape the movement of capital, and how a divided class movement (or lack of class movement) can hurt workers severely. Thomas Sugrue’s Origins of the Urban Crisis, points this out, from the intro:

“The cities of America’s industrial heartland were the bellwethers of
economic change. The rusting of the Rust Belt began neither with the much touted
stagflation and oil crisis of the 1970s, nor with the rise of global
economic competition and the influx of car or steel imports. It began, unheralded,
in the 1950s. As pundits celebrated America’s economic growth and
unprecedented prosperity, America’s midwestern and northeastern cities
lost hundreds of thousands of entry-level manufacturing jobs. In the industrial
belt that extended from New England across New York, Pennsylvania,
and West Virginia, through the Midwest to the banks of the Mississippi,
major companies reduced work forces, speeded up production, and required
more overtime work. The manufacturing industries that formed the
bedrock of the American economy, including textiles, electrical appliances,
motor vehicles, and military hardware, automated production and relocated
plants in suburban and rural areas, and increasingly in the low-wage labor
markets of underdeveloped regions like the American South and the Caribbean.
The restructuring of the economy proceeded with the full support
and encouragement of the American government. Federal highway construction
and military spending facilitated and fueled industrial growth in
nonurban areas.″

Why does this matter? Well, perhaps most importantly for political movements that today like to pin all our political and social evils on free market “radicals” and runaway financialization, this indicates that the needs of American manufacturing business ran directly counter to the interests of the workers with whom they were united in a social partnership. Indeed as Sugrue argues, social planners of the period, especially in the South, were all to eager to receive fleeing capital. This is important for communists, as it is useful information to help workers today understand a period of American history that is heavily mythologized by liberals and the left. The cry for a return of U.S. jobs, and a social partnership characterized labor’s dying gasps in the 70’s and 80’s. It also laid the material foundations for future defeats, and helped situate business in a position to orient public discourse around it’s interests.

If the policies that characterize the neoliberal period, capital flight, the further automation of jobs, and the slashing of wages and benefits, are found in the preceding period, how do we mark the useful delineation? Is it that in the 50’s workers were able to still win a fight against Ford, GM, or Chrystler? Is it that wages were still growing? Is ‘neoliberal’ just a word, then, that means ‘losing working class’?

And more, what is the structure of work today? Not just in production but in services/consumption as well? A rough look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics for Tampa-St.Pete-Clearwater indicates that the top 10 specific types of employment are: Retail Salespersons – 44,860; Customer Service Reps – 40,160; Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers, Including Fast Food – 32,240 ; Waitstaff-29,450; Cashiers – 27,820; Registered Nurses – 25,180; Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical and Executive – 24,840; Office Clerks, General – 20,570; Laborers and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand – 18,810; Stock Clerks and Order Fillers – 17,100; the combined of all being 281,074 workers. Now this is a very rough estimate, but gets at the fact that most of this work is not in the field of “production” which is characteristically regarded as manufacturing and shipping. Most of this work is in the field of services, production having been so thoroughly automated and made redundant of labor, or where it is unable to do so, been shipped off to places where wages are kept low.

As Parkinson points out, this corresponds with geographical trends in capital concentration that enables the decentralization of sites of accumulation, or the “McDonaldization” of wage-labor exploitation. This, more than ever, points toward the need of working class organization, as a class. This does not equal the need for a “party” as any organization can have a political platform, and with electoralism being a dead end, the “party” functions as dead rhetoric. Instead, ought we to organize geographically as many groups already do? (Here I’m thinking of various Anarchist groups, IWW GMB’s, Solnets, and political groups like Philly Socialists, Unity and Struggle, etc.)

True, there are other aspects of the ‘neoliberal’ period that theorists highlight. One is the increasing financialization of the economy. As Krippner points out:

“…in 2001, financial sector profits had rocketed up to represent more than 40 percent of total profits in the US economy. This figure, although striking, actually underestimates the importance of financial activites in the US economy, as nonfinancial firms too have become increasingly dependent on financial revenues as supplement to – or at times substitute for – earnings from traditional productive activities.”

Finance is a means for these entities to widen their income, and regulate production/consumption cycles of product. As far as consumer credit is concerned, it is a development that has it’s roots even earlier in the 20th century at Chrystler and Ford, with the absorbing of loan sharking, the development of revolving credit and the grocery and department store industries.

To what extent is the ideology of neoliberalism, and it’s command over the discussion of policies, the result of changes in the process of production, accumulation and realization of value, that shifted and changed especially during and after WWII? Why do the kinds of policies in the U.S. and other “global north” economies that call to mind “enclosures” and “primitive accumulation”? Why does theorization of the neoliberal period by leftists, commit so many of them to the project of defending types of labor and social management not anti-thetical to capitalism, just capitalism as it works now? Perhaps the answer, in part, is that the familiar forms and terrains of struggle are those from 60 years ago, even though the world we live in now is the one where those exact types of organizing were routed by capitalism. Does this gloss over changes in what is actually possible? What should we look for in subjectivities that are now emerging from changes in capitalist accumulation? These are the kinds of questions that need answering as our group moves forward.