To the New Left Forum
As these words are being written [April 2009], the G20 meeting is taking place in the world’s second major banking city (London), and U.S. president Barack Obama has arrived with a retinue not seen since an imperial king visited his dominions in the hinterlands, to impress upon the rabble the power and splendor of Empire.
But, as always, looks can be deceiving, for the true princes wear no diadems, and sport no trains. They are the princes of Capital, and as Marx has aptly observed, they occupy the “commanding heights” of economic power, and thus, the political leaders meet to kiss their rings, in private and in silence.
But, for the last five months or so, those “commanding heights” don’t seem so commanding any more.
As banks crumble overnight, and as long-term businesses and firms dissolve; as foreclosures gather speed, and unemployment rises like a thermometer in hell, capital’s place hasn’t seemed this insecure in several lifetimes.
If we lived in a world ruled by logic and reason, it would appear that this should be the time of left ascendancy, when socialist ideas stormed the barricades of capital, sending their stone idols crashing to the earth.
Yet, this is hardly our reality.
Why, we wonder?
It seems to me that some fundamentals need recounting here, as they’ve been no doubt through days of your panel and workshop meetings.
Capital is like a vampire; it has many faces and many lives.
In the last several decades, we’ve seen the erection of so-called think tanks, the well-capitalized repositories of court scholars, whose jobs it is to defend capitalist ideas and promote all manner of retrograde, anti-social and indeed, repressive ideas. Because of their wealth and influence, they have ready access to the mikes of media, and are thus able to amplify their volume and influence, and achieve the status of ubiquitous expert—on all matters, big and small. Figures such as these proved pivotal in the 2001 and 2002 selling of the Iraq War, and their voices peppered the aural universe like wallpaper, with claims that now seem quite ridiculous: “Americans will be greeted like liberators,” “They’ll toss flowers at our feet,” “A garden of democracy will spring from our efforts,” and the like.
Now, of course, this was bull-manure, but the point is, it doesn’t matter. They’re back. Many are out of government, yet thanks to billions socked into the think tanks, they are a kind of shadow government, who still are able to bum rush the mike, now as think-tankers, immune from failure, for they have lifetime sinecures from capital.
Not surprisingly, there is no left counterpoint (as far as I know).
In part, I think, because the left doesn’t possess the right’s resources, or alternatively, such resources aren’t utilized in this fashion.
Thus, at a time when capital has come under serious question, few are the voices primed to offer any mass alternative, or if present, (as in this conference) how does it reach a mass audience? Or does it?
We just saw a general election several months ago in which one party repeatedly tried to accuse the other of being “socialist.” Of course, to a forum such as this, that’s hardly a slur; but didn’t you wish that the candidate really was a socialist?
Of course, if he were, he could hardly have enjoyed the corporate largesse that made his candidacy possible (not to mention the support of the party apparatus).
But, ultimately, it matters little what’s at top, as long as folks at the bottom are mobilized and organized and militant in defense of their class and social interests.
In a nutshell, there is no alternative to social movements.
People should be crowding the streets in protest of the present economic situation, when bankers get hundreds of billions in public monies, and people get foreclosure notices, as well as lay-off slips, amid the terror of homelessness.
But, as [Friedrich] Engels opined in the introduction to Marx’s, The Civil War in France (1871), “[T]he state is nothing else than a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed no less so in the democratic republic than in the monarchy.”
In the Communist Manifesto, (150 anniversary edition (1998: Kerr Publishing) Marx reminds us that “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing...the whole bourgeoisie”. That is, a democratic state is but an instrument of the bourgeoisie—nothing more, nothing less.
Seen from this light, why should they not squander public wealth for private ends? Are they not tools of private wealth and influence?
Social movements, movements of the masses of the people, break those links by forcing them to serve public needs with public resources—and to at least give a better show of serving their interests.
We live in an era where wars are waged in the name of democracy, yet few institutions are as profoundly undemocratic as financial ones.
The wealthy, in fact, the architects of economic ruin and failure, are [seen as] inherently worthy of multi-billion dollar bailouts—while the poor and unemployed deserve, at best, our sympathy; and at worst; our contempt.
Those ways of thinking taint and poison our consciousness, and influence not only our thinking, but foreclose avenues of alternative resolutions.
All around us, in the failing businesses, the joblessness, and the foreclosures which gave rise to homelessness, are proofs of capitalism’s crises, which are growing as we speak.
This is the essence of the business cycle—boom and bust; bust and boom—wars in defense of corporate greed and industrial acquisition.
More for the millionaires and billionaires—nothing for the many.
What social condition could be better for our purposes?
What more is needed to show that the present status quo is a recipe for more failure?
This is a great opportunity that may not come again for generations—let us not waste it.
Let us organize our movements with an eye towards the seriousness of the hour.
For we live in an hour not seen since the 1930s, in a time when politicians owe their offices to the very forces of speculative capitalism that wrought this epic disaster, and thus are loath to go against their paymasters, even in a time of crisis.
The epicenters of this economic earthquake are in New York and London, where the mortgage-trading scams originated and matured into new ways of creating great wealth.
And in the capitals of both economic empires, the elected leaders, American President Barack Obama, and British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, fear the claim that they are socialists, and are thus hesitant to exert more than symbolic dominance over the banks that have demonstrated their inability to manage their own assets, not to mention the wealth of nations.
Now is the time to organize, to expand our movements, to protest in our strength and our diversity, for if history teaches us anything, if the left fails to organize, the right will do so.
I don’t say this lightly, but as a result of my reading of a set of lectures delivered by the brilliant Marxist historian and revolutionary organizer, C.L.R. James, in Trinidad, during the summer of 1960. These were collected years later in Modern Politics (1973). James, speaking to Trinidad Public Library’s Adult Education Program, discussed the pivotal turning point facing Germany in 1931-32. It was a period, he explained, in which the future of Europe would be decided. Here now, a direct quote from James:
The German Communists got instruction from Moscow to let Hitler come into power. These things are very difficult to say to an audience that is not familiar with the material and cannot go to town tomorrow morning and buy books. I have brought here my own book, written in 1937. I have 52 pages (the Chairman will corroborate) on Germany in those days, and the title of the chapter is, “After Hitler Our Turn.” That was the slogan of the German Communist Party in Germany from 1930-1931 right up to the time that Hitler came into power in 1933. Let him come in. He will be a failure, and then we will make the revolution. They were the specific instructions of Stalin.
My point here?
If the Left fails to organize, the Right will do so.
We are all at a critical turning point in American and world history.
What happens next may depend on our efforts.
—PrisonRadio.org, April 1, 2009