How We Should Engage in the US Elections

6 09 2012

Elections in America are always contentious to the radical left. The vast majority of revolutionaries don’t view bourgeois elections as a legitimate avenue of struggle, so how we organize during them determines a lot. The views range from direct participation and campaigning in elections, like the International Socialist Organization did in 2000, 2004, and 2006 with the Green Party, to the Party for Socialism and Liberation running non-viable candidates, to the common “More Left Than Thou” boycott. But as Marxist-Leninists, we must examine our current material conditions scientifically to evaluate an appropriate strategy for engaging the masses in this election.

First, voting is not important. Change will not come from the ballot box no matter how hard we try. As we’ve seen over the past decade of attacks on the working class – from Republicans and Democrats alike – change can only come from the streets. Fantasies about having a viable third party like the Green Party or the Working Families Party have proven unattainable as the ruling class regularly unites people behind their two parties.

That said, we have to ask ourselves two questions:

1) Is there a material difference between Obama and Romney? And, 2) How should we engage the working class and oppressed nationalities during this election to help build a new revolutionary party.

Romney represents a far-right regressive agenda and Obama a center-right one. Objectively, it is true that a Romney presidency would be more harmful to working people and people of color, but Obama shouldn’t be seen as anything more than a watered-down version of this same regressive agenda.

The Rightist Error

To take this conclusion to its logical end would bring us to the “faux united front.”. The ideal that Marxist must have “unity against the ultra right” is laughable considering the current weakness of the left in America and the similarity between the two parties of the ruling class. This strategy identifies the sentiment of the masses – that Romney is worse than Obama – but it divorces itself from Marxism-Leninism by pushing a reformist and backwards agenda.

The beliefe that temporally uniting with the center-right Democratic Party in a so-called “united front against the ultra-right” starts from an ideologically bankrupt position and ends in willful bourgeois collaborationism. This is a gross misunderstanding of the united front, mass-line, and scientific socialism. It is also the line that the Communist Party USA has held for many years.

If we  are to engage the working class and oppressed nationalities during this election cycle we must not give false hope in the Democratic Party or to the bourgeois electoral process.

The Ultra-Leftist Error

But as scientific socialists, we also must not engage in ultra-leftism and risk leaving the masses behind us. As Mao said “from the masses to the masses,” we must engage the masses where they presently are; not where we wish them to be.

The fervor of the 2008 presidential election has diminished some. Currently, about 20% of people are not paying attention and college students are not expected turn out in the same numbers. But this should only be seen as a sign of disillusionment towards the process and not as a marker for revolutionary progress.

It might be useful to highlight the large scale disillusionment of  bourgeois elections on a small scale as it can radicalize some segments with advanced consciousness, but it does nothing for the masses who will begrudgingly vote for Obama and view any attacks on him as either support for Romney or just off-beat rantings. An ultra-leftist error here will lead to alienation among the masses.

Despite this seemingly widespread disillusionment the electoral process still matters to the vast majority of Americans. Even among these disgruntled citizens, revolution is not seen as a viable alternative.

Advancing the Mass Struggle

By engaging the working class and oppressed nationalities where they are, we must push a line that states that we have no choice in this election. The choices have been made for us, and we only get to select which version of anti-worker, anti-student, anti-immigrant, pro-war, etc. we want. On most issues, Obama is either the same as or marginally better than Romney, but the only way forward with our pro-worker, pro-student, pro-immigrant, anti-war, etc. agenda is to take to the streets via activism. The only changes that have been made for the benefit of working people and people of color have come through mass movements outside the electoral process.

This line allows the opportunity to engage the masses where they are, identify those people advanced enough to be radicalized to a revolutionary position, and advance the disgruntled and disillusioned intermediate towards activism for further radicalization.

There is no time for ultra-leftist or rightist errors. This crisis of capitalism will continue, and if we do not organize to build a revolutionary party of the masses, who will?


More but smaller posts

30 08 2012

Expect more smaller posts with some longer, better developed ones sprinkled randomly.

21 08 2012

I don’t agree with everything here but it is very interesting. I also think that if Russia was for intervention in Syria the West would not have taken up this story.

Radfem Hub

Please reblog this radical feminist analysis of the Pussy Riot controversy.

Recently there has been lots of noise around the arrest of three members of Pussy Riot, a Russian anarchist female punk band. The media almost unequivocally represented them as the modern heroines of our time, fighting for freedom, democracy, sexual liberation and peace against a dark and ruthless dictatorship (articles are to be found in the NYT, Le Monde. The Guardian, etc.) Feminist groups all over the Western world are sending links and petitions to “free pussy riot”, and demonstrations have even been organised in support of the group by big institutionalised organisations such as “Osez le féminisme” (dare to be a feminist).

Now while I support without ambiguity the liberation of Pussy Riot’s members, it’s worth pausing for a minute to ask ourselves, as radical feminists, what the political dynamics are…

View original post 1,458 more words

On the Libyan Conflict

11 06 2011

The conflict in Libya has grown out of control. NATO has gone beyond the scope of the security council resolution of 1973 that was passed to establish a no fly zone and protect civilians. They have attempted not only to assassinate Qadaffi but have also waged a war that has deliberately attacked civilian targets in government controlled territories resulting in over 700 civilian deaths.

The Wests’ disinterest in the true dynamics of the conflict, coupled with the use of the  propaganda model to distort and dichotomize the issue, has made a mockery of the anti-war movement. The nature of this conflict is rooted in numerous internal schisms based on tribal, religious, and political grounds.  The US and NATO have opportunistically supported one group in a multi-sided civil war.

An appreciation of the history of disinformation in Libya is critical in gaining an understanding of the conflict today.

A Short History of Disinformation

The only person that has been officially designated an enemy of the US longer than Moammar Qadaffi is Fidel Castro. As with Castro, the propaganda campaign against Qadaffi has been immense. This is mainly due to Libya’s use of its oil wealth to fund various far left and independence groups that the US government classifies  as “terrorists”.

The campaign started in 1981 when a newly elected Ronald Reagan convened a group to study the “Libyan problem” within months of being sworn-in as president. In retrospect, the strategy fit the administration’s efforts to increase military spending,  scapegoat the USSR, and create the oh-so-popular phantasmal “terrorist” classification.

One of the first propaganda pieces put forth by the Reagan administration was the false claim that Qadaffi had sent a 5 member hit squad to assassinate the president and anyone close to him.  There was an assassination attempt on Reagan’s life but it came from a lone, mentally ill man, not a well funded hit squad. Considering how close Hinckley came to assassinating the president a group of 5 well-trained assassins could have probably accomplished their mission,  if they had existed.

The hit squad claim was designed to stroke  fears of Libya and how it uses its vast oil wealth. This helped escalate a campaign of economic repression against the country starting with limits on US citizen travel to Libya in 1981 and culminating in an all out ban on imports and exports in 1986 (link).

The next big propaganda push came in 1986 with the disco bombing in Berlin that killed 2 US soldiers and one civilian. The US was so convinced that Qadaffi had orchestrated the attack that a mere 10 days after the bombing Reagan ordered the bombing of Libya in which 45 soldiers and 15 civilians where killed including Qadaffi’s 16 month old daughter. 158 medals where awarded for the bombing campaign. Responding to the report of Libyan civilian deaths, a Reagan official stated that as long as the Libyan people follow Qadaffi they must “accept the consequences”.

Whatever information the US had linking Qadaffi to the disco bombing wasn’t shared with German officials such as Manfred Ganshow, chief of the Berlin Staatsschutz. Six days after the US attack against Lybia started Ganshow stated that they didn’t have any solid information to pin the bombing to Qadaffi. A few months later, the German government concluded that if there was any country to blame it was Syria, not Libya. The US has kept to its line despite the 2001 conviction of 3 people with sentencing of 12-14 years (hardly a tough sentence for terrorism) in which the judge reasoned that there was no proof  Qadaffi had ordered the attack but that Libya did deserve some blame. As was known in ’86, the Qadaffi link to the bombing doesn’t go any further than the use of a Libyan diplomatic bag used by Syrians to carry out the attack, hardly reason enough to bomb the entire Libyan nation.

Talk of US sponsored propaganda in the 80’s might seem relegated to tin-foil hats if not for the leaked August 14, 1986 memo from Poindexter to President Reagan. The memo describes the US government’s intentions to feed disinformation about Libya to the media to stroke the flames of paranoia and drum up public support for military action and sanctions against Libya . Despite the memo’s revelations, the media continues to present the US government’s narrative without practicing their journalistic duty of questioning and investigating past misinformation.  This fact is currently exemplified  by the media’s willingness to blindly  follow the US government and NATO into Libya yet again in 2011.

Today’s Propaganda

Early on during the Libyan rebel uprising there were reports that the Libyan government had carried out air attacks against civilians. Russian satellites monitoring the area did not detect any air attacks, but this fact failed to gain the attention of the media. After reports of mass civilian deaths and the undeclared war against Qadaffi began, President Obama stated that if the US/NATO hadn’t stepped in there would have been a genocide. The need for this narrative is obvious since NATO can only legally intervene in a country to prevent a genocide (link).

A look at a time line of events in Libya show the protests here are of a distinct character from those that took place in Egypt and Tunisia. Despite the obvious differences, all three are continuously lumped together in order to give the impression that all of these protests are of a similar nature and as a way of distancing the US from its former strong allies: Egypt’s  Mubarak and Tunisia’s  Ben Ali. Despite the professed similarities, the distortion starts with the US response to each uprising. While the “worthy” Libyan victims need to be saved through military intervention,  the 846 “unworthy” Egyptians apparently didn’t need America’s help.

There have also been reports of mercenaries in Libya, although the finding by Human Rights Watch that didn’t find any, or at least not their widespread use of mercenaries went extremely under reported. Also not mentioned in the news are the members of the three black tribes in Libya that support Qadaffi. There have been many reports of racist beheading, lynchings, and rape of black African migrant workers and soldiers that are suspected of being mercenaries (Link 1, 2, 3). While the often dubious reports of mercenaries being present are widely circulated, the human rights violations by the rebel forces are hardly mentioned.

The purpose of the misinformation about mercenaries is to portray Qadaffi as a marginalized, mad-dog dictator waging war on his entire county and needing an external military to maintain control. The overwhelming lack of information about atrocities committed by the Libyan rebels is meant to cast the rebels as martyrs of freedom and democracy, worthy of US/NATO support. If the media presented an honest, objective view of the conflict the drum beat to war would be muted. Would the US/NATO citizens be so wholeheartedly supportive of an intervention in a civil war in which the waring factions compete militarily for control of the country? Maybe, but there’s a hell of a lot of questions they’d need answered first.

One of the latest pieces of propaganda to come out of Libya is that a child shown to be injured by a  NATO air strikes was actually injured in a car crash. This information is based off an anonymous note given to an anonymous foreign journalist and not independently verified. It could very well be true that this child is being used as a propaganda tool by Qadaffi, but the sloppy journalism points to the propaganda model.

The question not being asked by the media is,“why intervene in Libya and not elsewhere?”

Oil: The Lubricant of War

As with most things in the this region, oil is king. Leaked cables and a very public and tenuous relationship with the west give a rare, candid look into some of the possible financial incentives for war.

At the heart of Libyan oil is the National Oil Corporation. They control most of the oil reserves, although there are many International Oil Companies (IOC) that do business in Libya. Eni (30% owned by the Italian government) , is the largest IOC in Libya. Under Qadaffi’s Libya, France was a much smaller player and was mostly confined to the smaller Western oil fields. This is subject to change as the National Transition Council (NTC) redraws contracts. Gazprom (Russian owned) has been increasing their involvement in Libya over the past few years. It’s not coincidental that Russia and Italy where against the bombing of Libya while France and the US fully supported it. As always, those who would gain from destabilization support wars.

At the heart the oil grab is the increased Russian involvement over the past few years. Gazprom has used it’s strangle hold on European natural gas and oil supply/movement to punish Belarus, Georgia, and other European countries.

In 2008 Gazprom offered to buy all excess natural gas, invest in oil production, and build a pipeline from North Africa to Europe (link). In order to make this possible there had to be a deal between Eni and Gazprom. The US feared that  this would further strengthen Russia’s strategic control over Europe’s natural gas supply and movement (link). The need to break the Russian monopoly of the European market is one many reasons for regime change.

In January of 2009 Qadaffi announced that he was looking into nationalizing all the oil fields in Libya. He said that “Oil should be owned by the State at this time, so we could better control prices by the increase or decrease in production”. One month latter he announced his plan to directly distribute all oil revenue to the people of Libya while weeding out corruption. Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi, Ali Al-Mahmoudi and Farhat Omar Bin Guida, of the Central Bank where very critical of this move citing fears of “capital flight” (link).

In retrospect, much of the corruption of the government would not have been possible with such a transparent distribution of the countries wealth. Many of the high ranking officials that had siphoned off the profits for their own benefit would no longer be able to do so. This is one of the major reasons there was such large scale flight from the government in the early days of the upheaval.

When the measure went to a vote in the General Peoples Committee (Libya is run very similar to Cuba) 64 ministers voted for it and 251 voted to delay its implementation out of 468 members. The measure failed and has not been brought up again.

A Wikileaks cable from 2007 describes Libya as an “exceptionally difficult place to do business” and that “Libya features some of the smallest profit margins in the world for IOCs”.  One unnamed IOC is said to make the same profit from a neighboring country (most likely Tunisia) that is at ¼ their production in Libya. Another IOC claimed to have had profit sharing at 6.8%, something unheard of in oil production. The cable also mentions IOC’s frustration with laws passed by the “particularly powerful General People’s Committee” that have required a 2% “Stamp Tax” as well as requiring that one Libyan be added to the payroll for every foreign worker (meant to address the countries 20% unemployment rate). The cable also mentions that the IOC officials  “consistently hear expressions of disappointment from senior GOL [Government of Libya] officials that more U.S. firms have not rushed to enter Libya’s market…”.

The NTC has been shipping oil to Qatar, a  major participatory of bombing raids, since March and on June 8th the first shipments of Libyan oil reached US refineries. In order to accomplish the sell of oil to US refineries, the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department needed to write new policies, which it did in April.  Despite the deal for 1.2 million barrels of crude oil the US has yet to recognised the NTC.

The wikileaks cables and the attempt to nationalize all profits highlight the balancing the act between attracting foreign capital and guaranteeing control of the countries resources so Libyan people can maintain their high living standards. As iconic as Qadaffi is he is still not as powerful as the “particularly powerful General People’s Committee”. Nonetheless, having a man to direct propaganda against is the metronome of the drum beat to war.

The Man America Loves to Hate

Qadaffi’s been alleged to have supported (or is still supporting) the FARC (with questionable evidence), the IRA, Basque and Corsican separatist, anti-apartheid groups in South Africa, the Japanese Red Army, the Italian Red Brigades, the Germany’s Baader-Meinhof, the PFLP, various leftist Latin American groups, and essentially anyone else against the U.S’ interest (link). He was also implemented in the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II who we now know was solely perpetrated by Mehmet Ali Ağca, an ultra right-winger from Turkey. He also allegedly helped out El Rukin, a Muslim “gang”, reported  to have received weapons, training and orders from Libya. When members of El Rukin went to trial the courts ruled that there was no evidence of Libyan involvement, but this was widely under reported.

Essentially anything that the US government is against, it is reported that Qadaffi is for. Some of the times, like in the case of the PFLP, Basque separatist, and anti-Apartheid groups, it’s true. Often though his support is fabricated beyond the point of recognition to make a cause for to militarily/economically intervene.

The problem the West has with Qadaffi is not that he supported “terrorist” but that he supported the wrong side. If he had supported the Contras in Nicaragua, Muerte a Secuestradores in Colombia, or the colonialist government in South Africa he would have been seen as a partner.  But to support organizations like this would be against the principles Libya was founded on.

Libya has an office called “Maktab Tafsir al-Thawra” with the rough translation being “the Bureau to Export the Revolution”. This is a tenet of Libyan socialism found in he Green Book, something everyone should read if they truly want to understand this situation.

Despite the condemnations, sanctions, and attacks from the US because on Libyan support for “terrorism” the US government did (and still does) support terrorism for their own benefit. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (often grouped with al-Qaeda) was funded by Britain and the US in their assassination attempt of Qadaffi in the 1996. I’m sure they regret it as the LISG is the largest contributor to suicide bombers in Iraq according the a 2007 West Point Study (pdf). They are also big players in the current civil war and a few members sitting on the interim council.

The Tribal Factor

Libya has over 140 tribes (over 1000 if you include subgroups) but only 30 are really large enough to be important.  The vast majority of the population live around the coastal areas in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica but the majority of the oil reserves are in the less inhabited regions of Cyrenaica and Fezzan. The tribes of Tripolitania (West) and Cyrenaica (East) can trace their division to 11th century when the Banu Hilal (Tripolitania) and Banu Salim (Cyrenaica ) Arabs settled in these different regions.

One of the most important tribes in Libya is the Gadhafis which Qadaffi is a member of. They are made up of 6 sub-tribes and are heavily concentrated in Eastern Libya but also make up a sizable minority in Benghazi. This tribe is not historically significant as they’re relatively small but, do to political maneuvering since the 1969 coup, many Gadhafis are in prominent positions within the armed forces and government.

In order to maintain control of the country Qadaffi formed a long lasting alliance through the Gadhafis with the Warfallah and Magariha tribes, both of which are from Western Libya.

With over 1 million people, the Warfallah tribe is the largest tribe within Libya. They make up a sizable minority in Benghazi, the majority in Tripoli and are mainly centered in Wadi Warfallah and Bani Walid.  Warfallah was a strong ally of the Libyan government but members from the tribe sponsored a failed coup attempt in 1993 that helped lead to the 1997 “Charter of Honor” collective punishment law in which whole tribes can (and are) punished for actions of individuals.

The May 29 meeting of 100+ Warfallah leaders (from all 6 sub-tribes) highlights how split the tribe is. Many of the delegates, like their strongest leader Mansour Khalaf, are taking soft pro Qadaffi stances. Some Warfallah leaders want Qadaffi to step down but also reject the NTC based out of Benghazi. There is a loud (in the amount of press they get) sector of the Warfallah tribe that are hard-lined anti-Gadhafi and pro NTC. Mahmoud Jibril is from the Warfallah tribe and is currently leading the executive team of the NTC. He was appointed by Qadaffi in 2007 to head up the National Economic Development Board and is behind for much of the countries privatization and neo-liberalization policies. Although the Warfallah tribe denounced Gadafi in February their support is split between the sub-tribes and even within the sub-tribes.

The Magariha tribe is largest tribe in Fezzan and second largest in Libyia. Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi (AKA the Lockerbie bomber) is a prominent member of this tribe and Qadaffi has further secured their loyalty by orchestrating his release. In February it was reported that they supported the rebels but it is clear that not all tribal members do so as no high ranking Magariha officers have defected.

The Tarhuna Tribe (1/3 of Tripoli’s population) and the Zentan Tribe are from West Libya and are highly integrated into the military. Many civilians of this tribe where given weapons and training to aid in the resistance to an anticipated NATO ground invasion.

The Zuwaya tribe in Cyrenaica are not very large but geographically the most important. They sit on most of the large areas of oil production (Sarir, Messla and Aquila oil fields). They have sided with the rebels early in the uprising in threatening to shut off oil supply. The Libyan government gave them arms during the war with Chad over the Ouzou Strip in the 1980s (wikileaks cable). These are not very high tech or serious weapons but they have used them on the Toubou tribe whose territory they’ve been encroaching on (and stole from in the 1800’s).

The Toubou tribe (one of three black-Libyan tribes) has surprisingly joined Qadaffi loyalist forces. Although not large, many of them work on date farms and in the oil fields on lands they’ve been pushed out of. Bashir Salah Bashir is a Toubou that is in charge of Africa investment within the Qadaffi led government. Many Toubou have joined in the fighting and are being called “mercenaries” while many others have fled to Chad (the tribe overlaps with the boarder) and their return is uncertain under the new, stronger Zuwaya control. Although there is a history of grievances against the government of Qadaffi there is greater danger to them if the Toubou tribe gains more power.

The Tuareg tribe (another black-Libyan tribe) are nomadic and do not recognise national boarders. Qadaffi has helped fund their attempts to gain independence and/or political power in other North African countries. Although their culture has been horribly suppressed within Libya  by Qadaffi his son has aided them over the past few years. Some, citing repression from Qadaffi, have chosen to fight with the rebels while others believing in a reformed Libyan have chosen to fight with the government. Many of the Tuareg that are pro, anti, or neutral are being  accused of being mercenaries. There are reports that some Tuareg tribesmen are being recruited from outside Libya but their nomadic nature makes it imposable to say how many are native and how many are truly foreign.

Cyrenaica has been historically united (under Italian resistance and the following Monarchy of King Idris I) by the Harabi umbrella tribe with the most important member being the Obeidat tribe. The Obeidat Tribe is made up of 15 sub-tribes and gained influence after the failed 1993 coup in order to balance the power from the Warfallah tribe and others in the West. Because of this they gained some military personal and two high ranking defectors: Justice Minister Mustafa Mohamed Aboud Al Jeleil and the Interior Minister General Abdul Fatah Younis.

When Qadaffi took power he waned the power of the Harabi tribes in favor of the 3 large Western tribes mentioned above. What united Cyrenaica (aside from geographic location and isolation due to a desert) is Senussi Islam. About ⅓ of the population follow Senussi and are almost exclusively in Eastern Libya. Qadaffi has said that “no caliphate is necessary in order to discover the meaning of the Koran” and has advocated against Senussi teachings. During this uprising there has been a resurgence in various far-right Islamic tendencies (Wahhabi, Senussi, LIFG, ect) in the East with some hoping to use the Saudi Arabia model of Islamic governance.

The political marginalization of the East combined with the repression of far-right religious fervor has had the effect of weakening the regions power but also in unifying it.

A true gauge of tribal loyalty is next to impossible under the constant constraint of the propaganda model. During the July National Conference for Libyan Tribes meeting of 2,000 tribal leaders representing 850 tribes (and sub-tribes) a near unanimous call for the stopping of NATO bombing raids and a disarming of the rebels (link). It is unclear how representative the conference was of all Libyan tribes (especially those in the East) or how much authority they carry over their own tribe. As the propaganda model predicts, this meeting received little coverage but the April announcement of 61 tribal leaders calling for Quadfi removal received widespread coverage.

This tribal breakdown is dynamic and faulty at best. It’s useful in understanding how tribal allegiances can influence regional support but in the age of mass urbanization these allegiances hold less water. Many tribesmen are joining Qadaffi despite their leaders positions (with the same being true for the reverse) and about 15% of Libyans have no tribal allegiance.

The tribal factor is undoubtedly one of the  most important factors buy it is not the only one. The ability for Eastern Libya to unite under one ideology (conservative Islam, restoration of a monarchy, etc.), their control of the vast majority of the countries resources, and their ability to capitalize on various disaffected minorities within Libya alone cannot win this civil war alone. Support from NATO and it’s counterpart the Gulf Cooperation Council is needed if the NTC wishes take over Western Libya.

Who to Support

The ideal of a unified Libya seems out of the question for all but the current Qadaffi led government. Due to the tribal nature of Libya there is a real possibility is of the country being broken up into East and West. This would be desirable for the US/NATO military machine as they would find a new excuse to create bases along the boarder to protect the sovereignty of  Cyrenaica. There has already been talks of putting in an Israeli base on the Algerian boarder. This is shocking as the current Qadaffi led government has refused to even recognize Israel as a state. The only reason I can see for the rebels pandering so heavily to imperialist interests is to procure weapons and to ensure that NATO continues to act as its air force.

As this conflict continues to play out let us not forget that the dichotomization of opinions is the desired product of the propaganda model. We are to be either fully for Qadaffi or for the rebel led NTC, with any honest discussion being seen as reactionary. One side is always entirely evil while the other is a victim of its circumstances.

In order to pick sides in this civil war a clearer understanding is needed. Let us not project our ideals onto either side of this conflict. The rebels are not fighting against neoliberalism as was widely discussed on the left early in the uprising. Let us stay away from immaterial options such as the a phantasmal pro-socialist rebels. An honest look through the haze of propaganda reveals the grimy truth: this is a civil war based partly on tribal allegiances where one side, the East lead by the National Transition Council, is placating to the US/NATO in order to gain control over the West, lead by an aging champion of what the US considers far-left terrorism.

In Search of a Concise Explanation of Capitalism

24 05 2011

A few months ago I decided to give myself to a Marxist study of Capitalism for the purpose of being better able to explain its ills to friends, family, coworkers, and to people in general. Too many conversations have ended in me screaming “capitalism is just evil” at the top of my lungs in a crowded bar. That, or I get far too technical and obsess over the distinctions between use and exchange values (as a general rule, never try to explain TRPF on karaoke night).

This week I’ve just finished reading Das Kapital Volume I and watching David Harvey’s lectures to better prep myself on theory. And yes, Das Kapital is a long, boring book that uses antiquated language and is pretty redundant. It’s also well worth the read.

After reading the behemoth, a few other books by famous dead people and a couple more from not-so famous living people this is the most concise explanation of capitalism I came up with:

Capitalism is a historical system where workers, divorced from the means of production, must sell their labor for subsistence so that the upper classes may extract surplus value from their work.

Not really something we can fit on a t-shirt. Nonetheless, this statement incorporates 3 main attributes of capitalism that are critical to bringing people towards anti-capitalist beliefs.

1) Capitalism is a historic process.

Artistic depiction of the historical process of capitalism.

Artistic depiction of the historical process of capitalism.

We did not always have capitalism and the process that brought it to the forefront should be more widely know. The enclosing of the commons and the subsequent forcible divorce of peasants from their means of subsistence cannot be overly stressed. The succeeding passage of vagabond laws in which vagrancy was punished by brandings, beatings, and in some cases death highlight how unnatural the transformation from feudalism to capitalism was. Many people just wouldn’t accept a life in which they didn’t directly keep/sell what they produced.

This is a basic concept for most Marxists but fundamental to winning people over to alternative economic politics. Once it’s accepted that capitalism came about unnaturally we can start to discuss more just economic systems. This is also a great lead into a discussion on the need for accumulations of capital and its logical byproducts of imperialism and neo-liberal globalization.

2) Capitalism is based on the extraction of surplus value from exploited labor (i.e. labor theory of value [LTV]) through a wage system.

The banner “Workers Create All Wealth” might resonate with some but it seems like empty sloganeering to a lot of the population. LTV can be best explained through examples. Because America is more and more based on the service industry (an enviable result of mechanization according to Marx) I like to use the burger example.

Say you buy a burger for $4.00. What went into that price? The meat, buns, and other raw goods were purchased for $1.50; the electricity, water, rental, and other miscellaneous costs another $1.50; and the workers who produced the burger were paid $0.50 to an average of $7.00/hr each. This leaves $0.50 of profit for the burger going somewhere (Marx calls them the capitalist class). How was that $0.50 made?

Because the costs of machines, electricity, rent, etc. are at a relatively fixed price (constant capital) they cannot create this value. Also, because investment in start up capital only fronts the set-up costs it too cannot create value. The surplus vale (amount the burger is sold at minus the amount need to produce it) can only come from paying the worker less than s/he produced.

This revelation is intrinsic to a lot of the working class. It’s hard to force people to accept “innovation” or “investment” as the source of all wealth, and for good reason. Workers do indeed create all wealth.

Furthermore, due to LTV a wage system is needed. This is usually in the form a time-wage but it can also come as a piece rate system (paid based on number of items produced). The scheme is simple: buy labor from someone for, say 5 hours, and pay them enough to keep ‘em happy. The capitalist breaks even at 4 hours (that is, has covered all costs associated with selling burgers, hiring labor, etc.) and the last hour of work is solely for the capitalist’s profit.

This wage system is needed to obscure the true source of profit. Could you imagine what would happen if the burger maker stopped working after s/he had paid for his/herself?

3) Capitalism requires workers to be divorced from the means of production.

Social classes are fundamental for capitalism to function. Class differentiation starts by separating the majority of the population from ownership of the means of production; something that has been done historically through the closing of the commons and various repressive vagrancy laws.

If workers controlled the means of production they would not only own all the wealth they produced but also have a say in their exploitative conditions. Would 29 works have died in the Upper Big Branch mining disaster if they had a say in safety protocols? No, they would have never allowed their lives to be endangered by an endless search for profit.

What separates capitalism from other exploitative forms is the workers’ relation to the means of production. Under feudalism people owned most of what they produced. Everyone got screwed with having to pay tribute and didn’t own land but the vast majority still owned what they produced. Once liberated from serfdom the poor soon found a new lord under the bourgeoisie.

Craftsmen and small farmers became obsolete as a consequence of capitalism. Weavers, dye-makers, and any others had their knowledge centralized through the scientific revolution and then latter commodified through capitalism.

With the peasants having no access to land and the craftsmen having no “craft” the working class was born. The working class are people who have to sell their labor for a living (usually under the time-wage system) and have no control over the means of production. They create the wealth of nations and constitute their poor.


This is a short introduction into why capitalism sucks and is by no means meant to supplement  an actual study of capitalism. From here we can go to what better systems would look like and what needs to be done to get there. Leave a comment. Constructive criticism is welcomed.