April 26, 2006

May 1st for Immigrant Rights!

Thanks much to my brothers and sisters from south of the border, for re-introducing Americans to May Day.

At this time, many demonstrations and rallies are being planned for Monday May 1st, calling for justice for Latino immigrant workers. As many know, the new Immigrants Rights movement is also calling for a strike/spending boycott on May 1st. The purpose of the strike/boycott is to demonstrate Latino economic power in the USA.

In Salem, Oregon, a demonstration calling for justice for immigrant workers is scheduled for May Day, 1pm at the State Capitol Building. The demonstration is being organized by PCUN and CAUSA. For further information, or if you can help, please call 503-982-0234, ext 207 (Woodburn), or 503-763-1694 (Salem).

Even if you can't strike, avoid a purchase, or attend a demonstration, you can still wear a white shirt in support of justice!

Socialist Ecology?

I have a friend at work who's a pretty active environmentalist. She and I talk as we are able, and the conversations are generally good, even though the orientations we come out of are quite a bit different.

So, here's my friend Lorrie, a confirmed environmental activist. And here's me, a confirmed trade unionist and left socialist. On the surface, maybe we should be talking some radically different language, but we are not. We actually seem to be on the same page on where things are at, pretty much across the board.

I think I became an environmentalist last December. For years now, I've been sensitive to the notion that us humans are plundering of the environment and doing great damage in the process. Yet, until December, the environmental fight was somebody else's fight to my mind; my efforts were going someplace else.

Then comes a whole bunch of new data about polar ice melting. Every year for the last few years the ice gained during the polar winters has substantially not made up for the greater amount of ice that has melted over the summer. To prove this point, one has only to look at satellite photos of the northern polar ice cap over the last few years. The diminishing ice cap is obvious to anybody who isn't blind; not a shred of scientific interpretation is necessary.

I'm no scientist, yet even to me the implications seem obvious and frightening. If the polar ice caps melt, it seems likely to me that this melt-off will affect over-all ocean temperatures. Increasing ocean temperatures will lead to changes in ocean currents, which, in turn, will affect weather patterns, which in turn again, will lead to ecological changes where many plant and animal species will no longer be adapted to the location they currently inhabit. And, of course, such massive changes in climate, and by the way, maybe sea levels too, is going to affect subsistence strategies (i.e., finding and making food and shelter) used by my species, human beings, who might find out that they too are no longer adapted to this planet.

My December environmental wake-up call led to some further reading. For instance, it seems like the last time there were no polar ice caps was about 600,000 years ago, and indeed, there have not been polar ice caps for much of the Earth's history, as much of the Earth's history is a history that includes a "hot house" climate.

And then there's the timeline ... estimates suggest that the last 600,000 years of polar ice caps will be totally reversed in roughly 100 years; a pretty quick change when one talks about planetary change.

Today, my friend Lorrie, introduced me to the concepts of "global dimming", i.e., where the sunlight spectrum is increasingly blocked by greenhouse gases, and the notion of the "methane burp", where the oceans are no longer able to hold the greenhouse gases that so far have been absorbed by the oceans. The "burp", by the way, would be the oceans chemically dumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

All of this is pretty scary. But what'’s most scary is this:

We human beings are not dealing ... pure and simple.

I was talking to my 16-year-old daughter about this bit of looming environmental disaster. Her comment to me was this:

"Stop talking about this! All human beings are going to die off. I don't want to think about it. It's too scary."

My comment back went something along the lines of: "Hey, it's not inevitable that people and the planet will die off. It's not the environmental change, it's more like how us humans handle the environmental change that matters!"

Still, my daughter didn't want to think about it. Her reaction was the "deer in the headlights" effect, which seems to be how most people are reacting as evidence of big ecological changes amount.

So really, all of this does have a place on a socialist web site. To my mind, the common link between environmental disaster and the socialist view on things is the predatory economic structure and relationships that govern in most the world.

I suspect many people blank out in the environmental "headlights" because they know instinctively that the basis of most of our lives is the accumulation of "more" in the context of an ever increasing plethora of "things". Mix the "more" and "things" in with the notion that the consequences of "more/things" range towards global ecological disaster and no wonder people just blank out!

There is of course roughly 1% of the Earth's population who benefit a great deal from economic relationships that are exploitative of the Earth and most of the Earth's population ... plant, two-legged and four-legged. Unfortunately, this 1% of the population is also in charge of almost all of the world's governments. This meaning that the conversation about, and any solution to global ecological disaster will only considered if it is within a framework based on the continuation of high-tech, predatory and exploitative economic relationships.

The linkage comes down to this:

Unless us human beings are willing to engage in radical social, economic and political change, an environmental catastrophe is very likely to happen, and happen soon.

The major premise of a socialist form of social organization is that goods are produced based on what humans need and want, rather than what makes the greatest profit for the 1% who own the world's productive enterprises. Thus, the social model moves from relationships based on competition and the rights of the winner to a social model that stresses mutual cooperation and democratic control of an economy.

The 99% of the rest of us, and the rest of the Earth have a lot to gain through a democratic economy based on need rather than wealth for the few. If however, we do not learn this lesson fast enough, my daughter will likely see horrific changes in her lifetime. Her children might live in a world we now can hardly realize in its destruction.

April 19, 2006

More Thoughts on Socialism

On April 11th, Ethnicguy wrote a piece aimed at explaining what socialism is. In comment form, Rosemarys5th asked, to my mind the $64,000 question, ala': How do we interest people in an idea based on equality, social cooperation, and the betterment of all when the current social mores emphasize the egoistic and selfish approach to life?

So, for the last few days, I've been thinking about Rosemarys5th question. No easy answers have come to mind, but a thousand side commentaries and extraneous thoughts have. Thus, I've been asking myself when I am going to sit down and write all these little thoughts and commentaries down. Like maybe I'll sit down on Wednesday night, and just keep writing ... till ... like August or so.

To hell with that however! Instead, I'll just write the entries as thoughts occurs ... stream of consciousness or maybe stream of babble. At your risk, Rosemarys5th!

What Socialism Ain't

One premise to address right off is this:

Most, like 99% of the American population, have heard about the concept of socialism only from its critics and opponents. My personal introduction to socialism, like lots of folks, was as a kid in the context of the Cold War. Thus, the socialist "texts" used to introduce me to "socialism" were all written by people like J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI, ex-Pres Dick Nixon, John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill (who suggested that the Russian Revolution be "... strangled like a baby in the crib", among other things). The texts, in turn, were explained to me by a slew of public school teachers; the electric and paper press; my parents, Republicans ... The usual. Of course, nobody ever invited a member of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, or anybody who described themselves as independent socialists, to come and rebut what my teachers, mom and dad, and the media were saying.

The picture of socialism painted by teachers, mom and dad, and popular culture was this:

Socialism is a harsh social doctrine that subordinates the individual to a regimented society. This regimented socialist society, usually called "communist" in my youth, is a society that is dictatorial, punishes individual initiative, "brain-washes" its people so that all people think alike, and does all of this in the interests of a full belly for all.

So, enough ... just acknowledging the cultural bias that needs to be acknowledged if any real conversation about socialism is going to occur in the old USA.

The other thing that socialism is not, is some sort of a blueprint or grand plan for the New Society. I figure this is worth addressing only because it's been asked a zillion times, "So what would socialism do?", or, "What is the socialist plan?". As if there's a 100-page pamphlet that will solve all the problems of the world!

A Bare-Bones Definition:

To my mind, what socialism is, is a political and social philosophy that has arisen within the working class (broadest sense) in opposition to capitalist social relationships and social organization. As such, socialism looks for solutions to the problems capitalism creates for the working class by rejecting capitalism itself.

How's about that for a circular definition, eh!

Seriously however, look at it this way. Right now, as we look at the world broadly speaking, some of the things we hear the most are things like, "it's going to be a competitive world"; that "costs need to be cut". Over and over again, the TV logicians ask questions like, "how will America remain competitive in the 21st century? Or, "Is China beating out America to control the global economy?"

Or, how about the business page of the local paper that talks about how businesses need to control their labor costs, or whether companies can afford to pay a pension to retirees?

This is all real broad, but look at the above paragraph in terms of, what's in it for people who work for a living? If you think about it, chances are you might start thinking that of all the above headlines and subjects of concern, in the end, boil down to more sacrifices for most folks ... in the interests of the economy of course!

So, what does competitiveness mean; what does it entail? Over the last month in France, there have been street rebellions over a law meant to assist French economic competitiveness. The law amounted to the ability of employers to sack young workers without recourse. Competitiveness is increased, because employers can get rid of unwanted labor costs without cost. Who pays? Young workers, by giving up rights to a secure job.

Or how about good old Delphi, here in the USA?? Delphi, one of the major auto- parts manufacturers, is aiming to cut wages by about 65%, then lay off a few thousand workers. This is necessary in the interests of "competitiveness". What’s in it for the workers? Capitalism can often only answer ... Well, it's better than no job at all!" A debatable point if you ask me.

Same seems to go for the airlines as well. Airlines seem to be going to bankruptcy court time and time again ...to reduce labor costs ... in the interests of "competitiveness". What's in it though for the flying part of the working class? Cancelled pension, wage cuts, healthcare cuts, crew size reductions, longer hours ... You name it!

Or how about the new Immigrant Rights movement? In the end, I suspect, reforms coming from either of the two major parties, Republicans and Democrats, will be unsatisfactory largely because neither party is willing to reject the central role Latin Labor serves in providing cheap labor for the production of cheap food goods. Latino labor needs to be kept illegal so that farm wages can remain at sub-minimum wage. Thus, reforms will not solve the problem because the remedies are barred from altering the basic economic relationships.

The socialist approach however, looks at problems like those above from a different frame of reference. The common problem in all of the above, if you ask a socialist like me, is that the people who actually do the producing and make the things are, in the scheme of things not people, but little productive units who serve in a system aimed at producing profits. As little productive units, these people are put to work at the cheapest price; like any object, you want to buy it at the cheapest price. In order that profits might be made off what is bought, which is peoples' ability to produce things ... To work.

But all those little productive units are you, and me, the folks next door, about 80% of the western world's population. And we are progressively (that is about 90 odd percent of us in the world) doing worse and worse so that economic relationships can be more competitive (more made at less cost), which means in the end, more profitable for a very few.

So, rather than a grand plan, socialism is more like a set of pragmatic proposals and solutions that begin by going to the root of these problems, which is a social and economic organization that puts competitiveness and profits before peoples' well-being. This, by the way is what is meant by the word "radical ... Radical coming from the Latin word "radix", meaning "root".

As socialists, we tend to suggest solutions that put peoples' interests and well-being first and profits second. A major premise of the socialist point of view is that first and foremost economic and social relationships are there to serve people, rather than people being the servants of the economy as is de joure.

Stray Thoughts to Come??

All of the above babble however gets me no closer to Rosemarys5th's $64,000 question; that is, how do we talk about socialism in today's climate? So that, I figure, will be a further installment in babble. Another further installment is a rant and rave around "individualism"; a unique oxymoron in a mass-produced society. And well ...

April 15, 2006

Insulting the working class

I was asked recently to contribute to the dialogue discussing socialism and I intend to do that soon. But first I feel it necessary to discuss something else. That something is the blight called "Larry the Cable Guy." The April 14 edition of the Oregonian felt it necessary to write a cover story on him in the Arts & Entertainment section. What Larry the Cable Guy does is neither Art nor Entertainment.

When a comedian uses a Southern accent, amps up his stupidity, wraps himself in the American flag and claims they aren't political why are they always called a "Blue Collar" or "Working Class" comic? It's another example of right-wing media manipulation: Working class equals stupid.

"Comics" like Larry always talk about how much they love America and claim that "I'm not a political comic. I just want to make people laugh." This is itself a political statement. Anyone who questions our government cannot then be considered a "working class" comic? I claim that David Cross, Jeanine Garafolo and Mark Marin are blue collar comics. But their politics skew left and I suspect being Jewish keeps a couple of them off the "working class" list. And as Larry's fan base knows, a lot of those keeping the white man down are them New York City Jew Communists and uppity women.

I saw about ten minutes of Larry's "act" once a few years ago. I had heard of him and someone I knew had mentioned him. I was visiting family and watching TV one night with my sister-in-law. We came across Larry on Comedy Central and out of curiosity watched. We were both appalled. In ten minutes we heard enough to know the punchline to every joke since. By the time someone is 5 years old, the fart joke is pretty much mastered. Larry's catchphrase after a particularly crude or offensive joke is "Lord, I apologize fer that one there." As if he's just some dumb cracker who stumbled out of the manure pile and just cain't understand these high-falutin' city folk.

But ol' Larry knows exactly whom he's pandering to: Angry white men who believe that their way of life is threatened by the very groups Larry insults. But as the Oregonian so succinctly pointed out: "This is workingman's humor."

Again, equating working class with stupid. What's wrong with challenging an audience? Apparently workingman's humor is just fart jokes and making fun of them that are different. But the real danger with Larry and his ilk is that eventually those calling themselves "fans" aren't simply content with acting stupid. There comes a point when they take pride in being stupid and apathetic. At that point, those in power have these dimwits right where they want them. Anyone with the slightest hint of intellectual curiosity is now the enemy. These idiots don't want to get involved in anything political because that might involve some critical thinking and thus the status quo remains intact.

Now ol' Larry has branched out into the world of acting with a new film "Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector." Hmmm, Larry done got him a guv'mint job...For some reason people aren't lined up around the corner to see the movie, but I'm sure it will be remembered come Oscar night.

April 11, 2006

Socialism? What is this "Reds" stuff anyway?

This one is for you, Mary!

Leave it to a strong Union sister to bring me back to reality. At a union meeting today an active Union Steward told me that she saw this blog and had questions. Her main question was the most basic question for me - what is socialism? What does it mean?

Our sister remembers Khrushchev and the Cold War. If Americans think about this at all, these memories form part of the context in which we think about socialism. On the one hand our sister is thinking, "Well, if ethnicguy is interested in this then it might be okay." On the other hand, she's looking at blogs that don't answer her questions, asking her husband what he thinks and she's lost because the background we come from doesn't encourage much thinking and is anti-socialist. She's doing this after working in a stressful environment all day long and doing some heroic union work. Her heart is always in the right place.

So let's try to answer our sister's questions. Let's keep it simple.

Let's talk about "socialisms" because we have different forms of socialism to consider and different ideas on how to get from where we are now to a socialist society.

For me, socialism is about some basic questions of power. Now we have industry and wealth held in the hands of relatively few people and this wealth buys a great deal of political power and influence. Government is very much a creature of their making. Within government we see a trend by politicians of both parties and bureaucrats to hide how and why decisions are made, shrink or elimiinate services and make providing government services more of a business and one largely driven by their needs.

On the other hand, we have the majority of people who work for a living. We produce things, provide and administer services, do childcare or housework or we work in the shadow or illegal economies. If we're unemployed we're probably not working because we can't find work or because we're retired from working. Regardless of our specific occupation or role, we're workers.

We traditionally call the owners and administrators of wealth the ruling class or the bourgeoisie or capitalists - they own and control capital. We call the people who work or who are unemployed or retired from working the working class. Other terms - "elites" for the ruling class or "middle class" for workers, for instance - confuse the issues, though they do have a tremendous psychological pull on people in the US.

We think too much about these classes as groups and not enough about them as processes.

Hold on now because I'm about to get abstract for a minute.

We live in real time, in history. And over time the processes of lots of people becoming and being workers and other people becoming capitalists create classes. What's most important here is that this constantly recurs: people are constantly forming new relationships with others based on how they relate to the power they do or do not have. Workers use every means available to get more power over our lives and capitalists use every means available to keep and expand the power they have. It's called class struggle, but it's as much about events taking place in history and over time as it is about people in two different groups fighting one another. Most class struggle takes place between people who don't understand themselves as being in a particular social class - if they're workers they're fighting for a better life or a union contract or something more abstract and if they're capitalists they're fighting for market share or a profit margin or control of a market.

A worker sells her labor power - her ability to work - to the capitalist for a wage. That wage is the price of making her labor power available and capable in the labor market. She produces for the capitalist a certain number of objects; at a certain point she has produced enough to pay her wages and benefits and to provide for the upkeep of her workplace. But she keeps working. The rest of what she produces goes into the capitalist's pocket as profits. The capitalist is concerned with absolute dollars - how much something costs to produce, how much it sells for and what the bottom line is - but he is also concerned with maintaining a higher rate of profit over time and market share. There is a constant push for competitive advantage and "efficiency" in order to insure profits.

In government services the worker also sells her labor power for a wage. She sells it to an abstract entity called "government" but the result is essentially the same: she produces a certain amount that pays her way and for the upkeep of her agency and she keeps producing so that government agencies either make a profit or meet the mandates of the politicians. Most government services exist to insure that labor power and social order are maintained for capitalist production. Government services expand either when people demand and win more from government or when the capitalists feel threatened and have reason to believe that things are getting out of hand. Government services contract when the capitalists stop caring. She is competing with private and prison industries so she has to do more with less every day. "Efficiency" hangs over her head just as it does in private industry.

Some workers work but don't receive a salary. I'm thinking here of the women and men who raise kids and do housework, for instance. Their job is to create and maintain the next generation of workers. These workers receive a "social wage" in the sense that the wage worker who is providing for them is (in theory) making enough to support them or in the sense that there are tax deductions, welfare benefits and social programs available to support them. From the capitalist's point of view, the "social wage" is a barely necessary burden or an obstacle; it is one of the first things to get cut back on when capitalists want to redistribute wealth or increase the rate of profits.

Capitalists and industries and government services compete. The net effect of this competition over time is to increase profits, or the rate of profits, for some and to the disadvantage others. This competition generally creates more centralized forms of economic and political power. And this centralization of wealth and power, brought about as it is through competition, leads to disasters for some (like mass starvation in Africa) and the possibility of modern and more deadly depressions, recessions and wars. They're playing with fire and lives.

Looked at from my perspective, the capitalist or government agency director is actually picking the worker's pocket and the laws, courts and legislatures are there to insure that this happens in an orderly way and to add legitimacy to the theft. It's a kind of robbery dressed up as something else. The worker has little or no control over the type of work she does, the product or service she's creating or the goals of her work. The wealth she creates goes to someone else and gets used for purposes she has no direct control over. She can search for another job and hope for the best, steal back her time and energy in creative ways or work through a union to negotiate a higher price for her labor power and better benefits. The capitalists react badly to all of her possible choices and will work hard to scare her into submission if they have to. She will be lucky if she has enough to retire on, medical insurance, an education and good health - and it really is just a matter of luck.

This is capitalism.

Things could be different.

Workers who reject capitalism and see the need to unite and change things on the basis of workers' solidarity are called proletarians.

A society organized on a proletarian basis can make direct choices about what should be produced and how it should be produced and distributed. Production of goods and services does not need to be for profit; if profit is necessary, that wealth does not have to go into the hands of a capitalist or a corporation. Government services can be provided with maximum transparency and they do not have to compete with private and prison industries. Workers can be directly involved in decision-making, carrying out their decisions and evaluating what needs to be changed and then changing things. Solidarity can be a principle of life and existence which is proactive and works to govern all human relationships.

There are mechanisms for doing this and making it work. What if each workplace and region had elected councils of workers to plan production and distribution and these councils met by industry and service and regionally, nationally and internationally to coordinate with one another? What if people voted on prioritizing the kinds of goods and services they wanted as well as on their representatives? What if it was required that everyone work or be in school or in comfortable retirement or engaged in the arts or sciences either by law or by custom? What if solidarity became the law of the land?

Maybe that's too complicated. Maybe we could divide the economy into five distinct areas - cooperatively held enterprises and services, publicly owned enterprises and services, worker or union owned enterprises and services and privately held enterprises and services - and vote regularly on which sectors of the economy should get public subsidies, help with production and distribution, more favorable conditions for trade and training. The cooperatives would be owned by workers who took an interest in them. Publicly owned enterprises would be held in trust for the people. Worker or union owned enterprises would be owned and controlled by the people who worked in them. The capitalists could compete on a limited scale but it is unlikely that they could dominate society. The resources from each area of the economy could be pooled to educate and care for the young, care for the elderly and infirm, support the arts and sciences and clean up the environment and make peace.

What if our bottom line was fulfilling human needs and encouraging healthy human desires rather than profits?

What if managers and planners had to be elected and could be held accountable to all and removed from office? What if their work was abolished into tasks that every worker could do if they so chose?

This is an outline of some possible structures and goals of socialisms. Competition between corporations and between workers is abolished. Production exists to satisfy real human needs. The needs of society become the needs of each individual and all contribute through their creative labor to a common good. People are accountable to one another and build a common future based on their participation in regional or workplace councils, planning, education, arts and sciences, mass movements, political parties, religious institutions and mutual aid projects. Each area of endeavor exists to create a new definition of democracy and to balance other efforts so that workers hold power together and don't cede their power to another class.

My thinking here presupposes that workers have their own political parties and the political power we need to put these changes in place and make them last.

Some other ideas on how to proceed can be found at http://www.cpusa.org/article/articleview/644/1/8/ and http://www.cpusa.org/article/static/13/.

I hope that others will speak up here.

Two Demonstrations and a Flawed Democracy

Immigration Legalization rally Salem OR

I’ve participated in a couple of demonstrations over the past month. The first was the March 19 anti-war demonstration in Portland, marking the third year of the United States’ ongoing travesty in the Middle East. The second one I attended yesterday in Salem. This second was Salem’s contribution to the on-going wave of demonstrations on immigrant rights.

A lot of my political ruminations over the past month or so seems to be crystallizing around my impressions coming out of these demonstrations. For me, the thing about demonstrations is they seem to be a sort of social and political barometer around where folks are at on any given subject. I mean, how can they not be? You put hundreds, and maybe thousands, in the same small space at the same time, for basically the same reason… And well, you get lots of input.

At any rate, going back to March 19th:

Portland’s March 19 demonstration was attended by somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 folks. This was a big demonstration…. Probably the biggest in Portland since the initial actions in 2003 marking the early stages of George’s Iraq adventure. Yet this demonstration had none of the optimism of the first 2003 demonstrations. Indeed, if I can attribute a mood to this march, that mood would be… downright grim.

Then there was yesterday’s demonstration on immigrant rights!

I’m still digesting the experience. Most of the demonstration was in Spanish. Gringos were largely absent, as were the usual political types; individuals elected to office and organizations both left and mainstream liberal.

Digestion notwithstanding, this was one powerful demonstration! First, to have 10,000 to 25,000 demonstrating in Oregon’s extremely conservative and immigrant-hostile capitol city of Salem is almost beyond imagination! On top of that, the mood of this large group of overwhelmingly Mexican and Central American workers was one of power and optimism. “Si Se Puede” was everywhere, and folks meant it. The mood was infectious. Being a part of this action was some of the best social therapy I’ve had in a long time.

Si Se Puede!

On the other hand, March 19th was downright depressing. All that grimness seemed to come down to a palatable sense of defeat and frustration. After all, most of the attendees had been in the anti-war movement since its beginnings in 2003. The attendees, as a sort of informed group, had seen innumerable demonstrations involving hundreds of thousands of activists at any given time in most major cities around the world, come out in opposition to this war. Most of all, every poll taken in most every part of the world, including even the USA, shows this war to be overwhelming unpopular and without support.

Yet still, this war goes on with no end in sight. The governments of the world are far more interested in managing their relationships with each other than they are paying any heed to their peoples.


To my mind, both demonstrations have a lot to say about where we are at as political societies. The radically different “feels” of the two demonstrations seems to suggest some ideas around impacting the beast that is our world.

In a lot of ways, the tone of March 19th was a frank acknowledgement that we do not live in democracies. Call them what you will, managed societies (my favorite), oligarchies or plutocracies, but these societies are not response to the will and direction of their peoples. If indeed these societies were real and functioning democracies, the war in Iraq would not be happening; there is no popular support for this war anywhere.

That frankly depressing feeling of March 19this all the more depressing given other recent political transparencies. For instance, French voters have rejected the whole concept of a capital competitive united Europe, yet French youth and workers are now out in force taking street action in opposition to exactly that which they voted down less than a year ago.

The current French disenchantment with their rather deaf democracy is not an isolated trend either. Being willing to make grand generalizations, everywhere people seem to be more cognizant of a sense of being ignored and managed, while “the game” goes on as usual.

Yesterday, April 9th was a wonderful tonic to all that depression of March 19th. Still, I’m a little concerned as I look at the Immigrants’ Rights movement. My concern is that this militant, activist, and optimistic movement can be easily isolated and ignored while their issues are all but managed in the direction of political dead-ends by the powers that be. The objective weaknesses right now are a lack of social allies, the lack of political power that comes from immigrant status, and the personal vulnerability of its immigrant members.

Looking at both demonstrations together, a couple of things pop to mind:

First, many of us would do our mental health a world of good by simply acknowledging what we often know at heart; that our societies are not democratic societies. Increasingly, our societies are becoming more socially transparent. The rhetoric is wearing thin. It seems to be more and more obvious that the bottom line is we live in a society run by the top 1%, for the top 1%.

The benefit to our mental health is simply the understanding that the forces we are protesting against do not respect the boundaries of a real democracy as the word is commonly understood, and are pretty committed to using whatever tools and arguments it has, no matter how underhanded, in order to preserve their power.

The second thought that seems to be crystallizing in my mind is this notion that the war in the Middle East will not be resolved, immigrants will not find justice, workers, for that matter, will not find decent and easier lives, until we are all able to come together with the primary aim of fixing our flawed democracies.

P.S. April 9 photos courtesy of Alyssa Pinter

April 9, 2006

Immigrant Rights Rally In Salem

Crowd estimates from today's immigrant rights rally in Salem, Oregon are still coming in. The estimates vary from 5,000 to 25,000. The crowd was a loud and determined mix of youth and older people and families. People attending were overwhelmingly working-class and Hispanic. All of us who showed up as participants and activists should feel good for sticking it out through a rainstorm at the end of the rally which Maggie described to me as "movie-like."

The rally and march were not well organized, but that isn't what was most important about it. We filled the area directly in front of the State Capitol and easily three-quarters of the Capitol Mall and side areas. This dwarfs our opposition's efforts and helps to unite people around positive programs for legalization, solidarity with immigrant workers and for people- and worker-friendly legislation. We have so far been successful in pointing out the racism inherent in our opposition's arguments--xenophobia does indeed equal racism!

This was the largest demonstration I have seen in Salem and was one of the larger demonstrations I have been to in recent years. News reports from around the US are talking about equally large and meaningful demonstrations today in cities located in the heartland of the USA. Our rally follows a large and spirited immigrant rights rally and long march in Portland several weeks back and one of the larger antiwar demonstrations in Portland. We are seeing uneven progress in our efforts--the last antiwar demonstration felt more obligatory than productive--but today's rally helps to hold the course in our efforts to defeat Bush and build social solidarity.

A few people and organizations were AWOL today.

Where was our clergy? The masses of people in the streets today were certainly Roman Catholics and Spanish-speaking evangelical protestants. Banners of the Virgin of Guadalupe were very much in evidence. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese has worked very hard to do the right thing on this issue. Where were our clergy?

Where was labor? The masses of the people in the streets were workers and most were probably not union members. Today's rally far outstripped any recent union rally in Oregon in numbers and passion. There was a time when labor would have seen this as the place to be or as an organizing opportunity. We saw banners and tee-shirts from PCUN, staff and some members of SEIU Local 503 and one banner from an AFL-CIO union and that was it.

Right now I'm thanking God for Leslie Frane of SEIU Local 503 and Ramon Ramirez of PCUN for actually being leaders and living out their job descriptions. But where were other union leaders and staff? Where were the buses of union members?

Where were the gubernatorial candidates? Granted that many of the people at the rally may not have been voters, it is still true that they comprise an important part of an ethnic and class voting bloc that should not be ignored. And, anyway, it isn't asking too much to get inspirational candidates who will do the right thing once in while regardless of whether or not they pick up a few votes. This is the essence of leadership.

Where is the leadership and message needed to move the struggle forward? If even one-quarter or one-half of the 5,000-25,000 people in the streets today stayed out of work tomorrow--or, better, on Good Friday this week--the local economy here would feel it and more people might understand that immigrant labor builds and services much of this economy and rightfully demands respect. If we're not ready for such a big step, then it is fair to ask what is being done to get us ready.

Where were the ethnic and civil rights organizations? Have my beloved Italian-American people forgotten their history? Have the civil rights organizations forgotten what it is like to live with taxation without representation and the vote? The rally scheduled for tomorrow in Washington, D.C. will test our ability to remember and organize.

When I got into my car after the rally I heard the news that the American government is rapidly preparing to attack Iran. On one side of a growing social and political divide we have a relatively small number of people who want war and the kind of empire and neo-liberal treaties which create a downward push on wages, social benefits, environmental protections and government services. Opposite them, and sometimes barely coherent and very disorganized, are humanity, both as individual persons and as a social force with ethics of solidarity and desiring peace. Today 5,000-25,000 people made a choice, perhaps unconsciously, about what side we're on.

Now what?

April 6, 2006

Christianity and Socialism---Third Reflection

A reader has questioned my concept of the Trinity. For most socialists my arguments and our reader's objections may seem obscure. Let's raise the issue in a way which draws the necessary connections between the Trinitarian concept of God, liberation and socialism.

We have this passage from Genesis to begin with:

And God said: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.

It is significant that God is referred to first in the plural and that the first person is made in the image of, or with the stamp of, God. Clearly God is One because the reference becomes singular, but the distinction between the internal plurality and singularity of God cannot logically diminish God's identity as God.

God fully emerges as Father --- that is, as intimately linked to humanity through a relationship---in the New Testament. This discovery in all of its liberating aspects is the task of the people - a kind of historic liturgy. Until that task is comprehended or realized, we have Creator God, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God as Trinity. We should note at this point that the Holy Spirit has had, at least in some Christian traditions, a feminine identity as Wisdom. For early Christians the Trinity was not impersonal or abstract, but neither could they conceive of scrutinizing the Trinity or the inner relationships and energy which comprises the Godhead. Thought of in this way, faith becomes less institutionalized and more of a language (or even a dance) we have a part in.

The first person has both feminine and masculine characteristics, freedom, will, dignity, reason and at least the possibilities of eternal life and Theosis. Because we are made in the image of God, then, we may use these sacramental gifts and abilities to change and modify the environments for which we are responsible. We do not exist naturally and well as abstract individuals, though our individual identities are shaped and given by God and so must be as protected as any other sacrament, but we find our well-being and completion in others. Just as God has a creative identity and an inner and necessary relationship, so are we creators living in relationship with and to others.

The Trinity, then, is partly grasped in the account of creation, in God's own admission of His creative identity and work, in the comprehension of God as simultaneously male and female and beyond gendered identities, in the time and work of the people required to comprehend God as intimately related to us, in the liberating struggle to more fully realize this relationship and in all of the human praxis which reflects God.

I have already noted some relevant passages in Acts and Hebrews which speak to the creation of a classless society and which link the creation of such a society to salvation, to the liberating Christian project. We should back up from this and note that in Deuteronomy 15 the work of salvation is linked just as positively to liberation as it is in Acts and Hebrews. The sense of Deuteronomy 15:4-5 certainly is that through obedience to God poverty and class distinctions will be eliminated. What we are to actualize here is not an abstract commandment or good advice, but the internal relationships which give God both the simultaneous singularity and particular-ness of being three distinct Persons and also the solidarity of One Being. It is a call to action and not complacency.

Not returning to the poor what has been taken from them --- that is, not redistributing wealth --- is a sin against God here. Sin is the condition of alienation from God and from humanity and from oneself. Sin, then, is linked to one's chosen distance from God's attributes and identity. It is very much a matter of the teaching of Deuteronomy 15 resting on a "pluralistic" or Trinitarian God.

Deuteronomy 15 also expresses that there are limits to ownership and wealth. A salvific-political course of action is being developed here. And note that the two preceding chapters of Deuteronomy take up and dispose of the question of idolatry. The project of salvation moves forward as human beings come into our own, freed of superstition and the conditions of alienated labor.

The Beatitudes given to us in Luke bless the poor but explicitly curse the wealthy and the comfortable. Following this, we are again reminded by Christ of the intimate relationship established between God and humanity and accessible to all. Christ calls on us here not to imitate Him, but to act on His teaching; that is, to develop a liberating praxis. And even here we see a liberating Trinitarianism: in Luke 5 we read of Christ and the Power of the Lord (Holy Spirit) and in Luke 6 we see Father-God. The hungry are fed, diseases and conditions are cured, laws are turned on their heads, the apostolic community forms, the masses are aroused to action, the poor are blessed and the wealthy are cursed, a new law of unconditional love is established, solidarity is commanded and all of this personalized beyond obvious social dimensions. Were there not distinct identities of God at work these passages would clarify the point.

The commandment to love others as we love ourselves, or wish to be loved, is so often repeated that we miss the point. It carries in it the demand for a society without classes. We cannot love others and commit acts of injustice against them. We do not wish for ourselves a stacked social deck which condemns us to the conditions of alienated labor or unemployment and so we cannot love others and allow society to be so structured for them and for us.

This raises the question of what kind of socialism we envision. I hope that others will speak to this. For my part, I hope for a socialism which extends the liberating Trinitarian identity of God into society: the principles of workers' control (Creator) should be guaranteed by a transparent and institutionalized solidarity (Holy Spirit) with the possibility or Presence of "social Theosis" always at hand in society (Christ) in the form of liberating communities of faith. The three social forces should interact without one or the other taking precedence or pride of place over the others. The work of liberation, preparation for the Kingdom of God and the goal of "social Theosis" requires that production, distribution and administration be planned and prioritized so that the conditions of alienated labor and the marginalization of people disappear.

April 4, 2006

The Good Life

I happened to watch ABC News recently and I was struck by their coverage of the situation in France. After showing footage of the riots and the accompanying violence, the "journalist" began to discuss the reasons for the rioting. The French it seems "have become accustomed to the good life."
The French, you see, have a 35 hour workweek and get 5 weeks paid vacation a year. Apparently all the French do is sit around in cafes, smoking cigarettes and drinking wine. I think that's what the video meant to imply. These lousy French have had it too good for far too long! They dare to give their workers good benefits and job security.
The message from the American media was that the economic system in France was on the verge of collapse because of benefits, the security of knowing it was hard to lose a job and most important of all, because they were resisting allowing employers to fire anyone under 26 without cause.
That's what this debate is about - should an employer be allowed to fire a young worker during the first two years of his/her employment without cause? The answer seems simple to me: No.
In my opinion, this is a simple working class issue. The French who are protesting are standing up for the working class everywhere. In America, the media portray the French as wine-swilling, cheese eating layabouts who show up for work, punch a time card and then hit the outdoor cafe. Am I surprised by this portrayal? No, but I can't help but wonder how many Americans see these "news" reports, curse the French for their lazy ways and their newfound propensity for violence and don't give this matter a second thought. American workers should be asking themselves why not a 35 hour workweek here? What's wrong with 5 weeks paid vacation? Does my boss have a valid reason for firing me?
Vive le France!