Saturday, June 18, 2016

Corbyn and Sanders: Reformism and Social Imperialism

We don’t suppose Jeremy Corbyn had to pay much of a political price for the flap caused by former London mayor Ken Livingstone, but it does highlight the creepy racist thinking of British ruling class circles that even the Labour Party “left” has entered into.  Along with the anti-Jewish sentiments one finds under their carpet, the dirty open secret is how they support imperialist wars maintaining the “special relationship” between Britain and the U.S.A.  Many reformists in the U.S. point to the rise of Corbyn and liken this to the mass support for the Democrat Bernie Sanders. 

We think there is more identity here between these two than the Sanders supporters would want to acknowledge. These two are social imperialists.  What we mean by that is the generation of an illusion of championing a socialist “political revolution” by means of bourgeois electoral contests, while in fact supporting imperialist military, investment and political projects aimed expressly at crushing anti-imperialist revolts by workers and peasants overseas. We will discuss some of the economic theory supporting this political identity further below.

While the vanguard of the Mexican-American population, overwhelmingly working class, blocks and disrupts  Donald Trump’s ‘know-nothing’ rallies, the true “Carlton Cliquers” of the SWP seek to recruit Trump supporters, hawking their press and Pathfinder literature with ‘tables’ at Trump events. One variety of Barnesites-without-Barnes rallies to the reformist North Star e-magazine.  In its latest number, Louis Proyect retails a reformist wet-dream where Bernie Sanders can form an independent third party that runs for offices and presumably president in 2020 to effect their “political revolution.”[1] 

We can assume this means that Bernie’s politics will get a branding as “progressive” for some supporters and “socialist” for others. For unrepentant Barnesite-of-old Proyect, such a party would be all about defense of his own “middle class.”  Proyect dreams of the social imperialist past, the 1932-72 era spanning the New Deal to the end of the Bretton Woods Agreement.  We in the labor movement have had to deal with the pro-imperialist bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations from the Meany era down to the Trumka-Hillary crowd we are saddled with today.

They have uninterruptedly handed us the idealized vision of rising living standards without connection to the real world situation where U.S. imperialism is in decline and confronted with new rivals, economic and military, in the form of the China-Russia alliance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the BRICS project, and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB.)  These counters don’t weigh for Proyect, who is dreaming.  What matters is the belief in reform.  We say that lasting reforms cannot be won from imperialism in decline.  Not in Britain and not in the U.S.A.

Ranked alongside Proyect’s dream are the more serious offenders, the reformist economists who know what Marx said and wrote and still peddle a patch-up for capitalism or a socialism arrived at by parliamentary cleverness, legislative stealth or triangulations.  We see Richard Wolff saying the answer to capitalism’s ills are to be found in the Basque Mondragon experiment, in ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Programs), worker cooperatives and smoking a lot of pot on Fridays.

Wolff idealizes the New Deal.  Wolff does not tell you that the New Deal hid behind the wall of Smoot-Hawley tariffs and sold “recovery” until the real recovery came along with the war clouds and employment at producing “the Arsenal of Democracy”. But what Wolff does tell you is just as nationalist.  He calls for municipalities to invoke eminent domain against runaway employers who seek cheaper wages overseas. Lest you think this “Marxist” is suggesting seizing the means of production, a joke among Bernie supporters, Wolff supports burdening the tax-payers with buying out the fleeing bosses with ‘fair compensation.’[2]  We say thanks for nothing, Wolff.

Likewise, Professor Jack Rasmus of St. Mary’s College in Moraga, CA, wants to sell us reformed capitalism, contending just like the New Dealers that the cause of economic crisis is not the Law of Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall (TRPTF), but insufficient consumption by the masses.  We wonder what world is responsible for such an ivory-tower view, because all the masses we know spend everything they get and borrow every dollar they can to try to hold the line of their living standard at some level where they can reproduce themselves and house, clothe and feed their offspring.  The masses are consuming all they can and should their children wish to be educated for 21st Century employment, they have to incur colossal debt to pay for it.  Therefore the underconsumptionist view embraces an idealist picture where a $15 minimum wage will be a panacea if only it were adopted.

The Bernie crowd almost universally endorses the “Fight for $15” campaign.  We declare that a Living Wage is determined by the area standards of the labor movement in its struggle with Capital.  The “Fight for $15” is only the latest version of the Democrat Party promise to the ruling class to exclude many millions of U.S. workers from the American Dream with a new, revised, sub-living minimum wage.  Labor lieutenants of Capital, like the Trumka AFL-CIO bureaucracy, endorse the “Fight for $15” and underconsumptionism out of one side of their mouth, even while admitting that this is a sub-living wage, they admonish class struggle militant rank-and-filers that more is not achievable. 

This last part is what makes them valuable to the ruling class.  They support the “Fight for $15” exactly to forestall or prevent a fight for jobs for all at union wages. They lamely answer Marxist critics saying the proof of the impossibility of delivering more in the pay envelope is the existence of what are in fact ‘sweetheart’ contracts where union members make less than $15 per hour.  The union bureaucrats cynically pose as the heroes of these most oppressed workers; they will get them a big bump up to $15.  When?  Someday.[3]

The real record of reformism is a collapse into the Democratic Party leaderships’ arms every four years. The real record shows the “Fight for $15” takes no account of inflation during the years it will take to win and gain this wage and they have been calling for $15 since 2012 (in some places, before then.)  Furthermore, the bureaucracy is urging you with no subtlety to vote for the Democrat office-seekers who say they will give you the $15 in 2020 or 2022! 

Where union representation has been one of the demands of this movement, this has turned into a separate fight to no one but the reformists’ surprise, and where the workers have won a cost-of-living allowance, this was also won after another battle. No automatic applications of COLA’s to contracts appear in the Democrats’ national plans and no mention of any is to be found in the Administration’s new overtime law. We recall all the ‘Obama is our best bet’ verbiage of bureaucrats and reformists at the January, 2009 Workers Emergency Recovery Conference, and we have to ask, “How is that working out for you?  Do you think everybody has amnesia?”

You can be sure that the bureaucrats’ idealized vision of the 1930’s includes a big rise in dues checkoff dollars, but what this vision absolutely excludes is the truly mass organizing drives, general strikes and sit-down strikes and factory occupations which were the true history of the 1930’s.  The economic emancipation of the oppressed black and brown populations is not in fact on their agenda even as they promote black and brown “pro-labor” operatives of the Democratic Party. These will be future minions of a new Clinton administration that promises to be more aggressively imperialist.

Professor David Harvey gives Capital classes at New York University and is the darling of self-styled Marxists in and around the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Professor Harvey is the sophisticates’ underconsumptionist.  He uses Marx against Marx and derates the centrality of the Law of the TRPTF from Marx’s explanation of capitalist crises in Volume III of Capital.  Harvey doesn’t care if you become a Marxist, he says.  He just wants you to know what Marx wrote (i.e., according to him.)  The Law of the TRPTF has a fundamental existence irrespective of these self-styled opponents of Wall Street and in fact was the cause of the rise of the hedge funds that were the mechanism the capitalist bourgeoisie used to tank the U.S. and world economy for private profit in 2008.  Profit we may add from looting banks that were deemed by them and their political operatives to be “too big to fail.”  This put the public and in particular the tax-paying working people on the hook for debts upwards of $60 trillion. 

To expect lasting reforms that ameliorate the living conditions of the working class or even of Proyect’s beloved “middle class” from the political institutions who legalized this staggering robbery is certifiable self-delusion.  But that is the hope-for-the-best mantra of Bernie-ism which does nothing to acknowledge, never mind resist the slide toward inter-imperialist world war. Inter-imperialist world war and not consumer spending is the capitalists’ last resort for restoring the rate of profit.  World wars destroy capital, solving for a time the problem of non-productive capital, both fixed and variable, which is to say destruction of factories and people.  We should point out that inter-imperialist world war and the permanent arms economy were the signature events of the heyday they are pining for.

[1] The North Star,“Bernie Sanders announces plans for a new left party”, Louis Proyect
[2] Economic Update, “Economic Update: Worker Coops: Why and How”, Richard Wolff
[3] “A Workers Fight for a Living Wage? vs. a $15/hr Poverty Sub-Living Wage!”, Communist Workers Group – US

Reblogged from CWG-USA 

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