Thursday
Mar262015

Letters of April 8

Transit Workers Need Unity with Riders, Not Cops
The 3/25 CHALLENGE bus driver article exposes the fact that operators are charged for accidents that kill people while cops walk away from racist murders. This is hypocritical because when cops murder working-class youth, such as Akai Gurley in Brooklyn, the bosses label these incidents as accidents.
In 2013, 176 pedestrians were killed in traffic “accidents.” Now the Transport Workers Union (TWU) misleaders are equating bus drivers with cops by demanding that drivers — “just like cops” — should be exempt from charges in pedestrian deaths in traffic “accidents.” But bus operators who drive “often with faulty equipment” are completely different from the cops who murdered Gurley and Eric Garner. Racist cops who kill Black and Latin workers and youth are definitely “doing their jobs,” making their arrest quotas and terrorizing the working class. However, when transit workers are forced to “play by the bosses’ rules,” it means ignoring safety laws in the rulebook, safety that workers fought for and won after many workers and riders were killed.
The bosses’ exemption for cops means not charging them for racist murders. If bus drivers are forced to ignore safety laws in the rulebook leading to traffic “accidents,” it is the bosses who are guilty of these deaths, not the bus drivers.
Transit workers should not be looking for unity with cops — who are not part of the working class — but should be organizing to refuse to operate unsafe vehicles and drive at unsafe speeds in crowded streets just to keep to a schedule. Most transit workers killed and injured on the job were playing the bosses’ cross-cutting game of ignoring the rulebook to prevent being harassed by management. The only time the safety rules are enforced occur during rare rulebook slowdowns used by the sellout union to pressure the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
Older transit workers remember conductor Joe Carnegie and the Rank-and-File transit committee and their newsletter which fought for Black and Latin representation in the TWU. The Rank-and-File demanded that the Wall Street bondholders who created the MTA be responsible for all fare increases and to remove that issue from politics. The MTA however pitted the riding public against transit workers.
PLP should be organizing transit workers towards unity with the riding public like opposing the four percent fare hike on 3/22/15 which will increase the 40 percent New York City poverty rate of mostly Black and Latin workers. Demand that billionaire bondholders, real estate and department stores pay for the transit system, without which they wouldn’t make any profit. And PLP should unite with transit workers who resist the bosses and the TWU.
★ ★ ★ ★
CHALLENGE Readers Correct Political Error
I wrote a letter in the 2/11/15 issue of CHALLENGE that contained an important error.  I want to thank the authors of the two responding letters in the 2/25/15 and 3/11/15 issues, who both corrected my error.  I also want to apologize for my carelessness in making that misstatement.  Here is what I said:
First, [an article in the 1/24/15 issue of CHALLENGE] implies that whatever capitalism needs it has the ability to create.  While this is true of many ruling class policies, such as imperialist military efforts or racist and brutal police forces that are uncontrollable by the communities they patrol, unemployment is not a policy [my emphasis].  
With the help of the two responders, I now see that unemployment is indeed a policy of the ruling capitalist class, at least in part.  When unemployment gets too low (i.e., when too many workers have jobs), the Federal Reserve (the Fed), which is a government-appointed institution, is able to increase the unemployment rate deliberately through manipulation of interest rates and/or the money supply (monetary policy).  I missed that point.
However, just to clarify for other readers what has now become clarified for me, there were two independent points in my original letter.  The first point was that there are unintended outcomes of decisions made by individual capitalists, over which they have little or no control and that occur despite their wishes.  This point was affirmed by the two responders.  The second (erroneous) point was that unemployment is one of those unintended outcomes.  While the unemployment rate is still partly the unintended result of individual capitalist decisions, that rate can also be deliberately manipulated to some extent by the Fed, a capitalist institution.
It is vital that all of us understand the first point (i.e., there are outcomes over which the rulers have no control) and not let it get lost in the debate.  It is vital because it underscores the fact that the capitalist ruling class is not all-powerful.  That is, while it controls the state at every level, there are limits to its power.  We need to understand its total control over the state to know what we are up against and to avoid falling into the ruling-class-fostered myth that power lies in the hands of the “people.”  But at the same time we need to understand that there are limits to its control over our class, because if we think that together we are powerless to change this system, we are lost before we begin.  
Marx and Engels first noticed, and made the point a century and a half ago, that the state is wholly the instrument of ruling classes throughout the history of class-divided societies.  The rulers, on the other hand, push the myth that the state is neutral in the face of disputes between bosses and workers in order to hide their (the bosses’) control over it.  But Marx also made the point that, among other outcomes, the capitalists unintentionally create their own grave diggers in the form of the working class. For example, there are things that result from the very workings of capitalism that are against the interests of the capitalists.  Both aspects are vital for us to understand if we are to succeed in ridding ourselves of the most vicious and exploitative system in the history of the world.
Together, once millions are organized under communist leadership, the working class of the world will not only be able to challenge the capitalist classes for power, but we will also be able to ultimately succeed in this challenge.  The Soviet and Chinese revolutions of the 20th century gave a glimpse of this collective power of the working classes, even if inevitable errors led to their reversion to capitalism — for the time being.  Errors, like my own, are inevitable, but we often learn more from our errors than from our successes.
★ ★ ★ ★
Kingsman Secret Service: So Bad
I walked out of the film Kingsman: The Secret Service after 30 minutes, it was so bad.
The film is simply a marketing appendage for a video game. Every scene in the film resembles a scene from a game. At regular intervals there are scenes where the “hero” has to make a choice — evidently places where the player has to push a button.
There are continual in-your-face sequences that are bewildering and aggressive, like something out of the Guantanamo torture camp.
The ideology of the film is thoroughly fascistic, from the opening scenes, where an Afghan prisoner is tortured with death threats, to the scene where the “hero” is interrogated in a bare gray underground interrogation cell. There were other fascist scenes, such as when the “hero”‘s stepfather tortures him. The stepfather threatened to cut his throat with a meat cleaver to obtain information about the secret order, funded by the wealth of bourgeois and aristocratic World War I “martyrs” and dedicated to maintaining British imperialist  “peace and order.”
On top of all this, the “hero” is caught up in an Oedipus complex (“sanitized” by his wanting to kill his stepfather instead of his “martyred” biological father) in order to give the film emotional punch.
★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday
Mar122015

Letters of March 25

Profits Over Lives
I attended a co-worker’s funeral several months ago. It’s a very sad story because it may have been preventable. She went to an Emergency Room (ER) for abdominal pain and was sent home the same day. She returned the next day with trouble breathing, so she was put on a ventilator. She died the next day.
It was very shocking because it happened so fast. It is obvious that my co-worker should never have been sent home when she first went to the ER. Another co-worker said she experienced a similar event when her husband was complaining of abdominal pain, but tests in the ER did not show anything wrong. He was going to be sent home too.
My co-worker knew something was wrong with her husband and insisted on a CAT scan. The doctors made light of her suggestion, but ordered the scan in spite of their “better judgment.”  It turned out that his appendix was on the verge of bursting and he was scheduled for surgery on the same day. My co-worker had to go home to care for their children, and in the meantime, the operating room called her and informed her that they could not go ahead with the surgery because there was a problem with their insurance. Luckily my co-worker was able to correct a paper work error through Human Resources at work in time for her husband’s surgery. The surgeon told her after the surgery that it was the worst appendix he’d seen in thirty years of practice. My co-worker saved her husband’s life. Can you imagine the consequences if she had not insisted on her husband’s behalf?!
If you recall, one of the first people to be diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. was also sent home from an ER, only to return a few days later and eventually die. The practice of medicine is like all other institutions under capitalism. It’s a business that is more interested in saving money than lives. ERs are understaffed and overwhelmed. Waiting times are usually long and in trauma centers, traumas must be attended to first. In many hospitals, available beds are in short supply, due to cutbacks and cost-saving policies. Efficiency “experts” have advised hospitals to cut the number of beds and keep the remaining bed capacity full.
I once saw a former leader of PLP hold up a dollar bill and say that is what the ruling class worships. The dollar represents their God, he said. Communist revolution will sweep them away  into the dustbin of history.
★ ★ ★ ★
No Worker Privilege under Capitalism
I was happy to read the front-page article about the anti-racist university teach-in (3/11). However, I think the subject of identity politics and white skin and male privilege needs more amplification. I, at least, have become involved in some very heavy and lengthy discussions about this lately, especially with other white middle-class friends.
There is a very common perception that being less subject to racist or sexist discrimination gives one “privilege” in society. What is missing is the understanding that racism and sexism are consciously created in order to divide workers against one another. This is manifested by not just encouraging prejudice, but by making non-racist or non-sexist workers feel separate from their coworkers because they may suffer less immediate concrete attacks in terms of wages, services or police brutality.
If one lacks the understanding that these differences in treatment by the bosses are tools to hurt the working class as a whole, then a frequent response is to accept a measure of guilt for the bosses’ segregation and step back from multi-ethnic struggle or leadership. This is different from encouraging women or Blacks or immigrants to take leadership and making sure that whites and men can accept that leadership. But we must all participate together if we are to build bonds as a class and have the power to overthrow this system. We cannot adopt this guilt that is laid on us by those truly guilty of destroying the lives of millions around the world.
This issue also frequently arises when involved in international organizing, when workers from imperialist nations are discouraged from struggle over ideas emanating from oppressed nations. It’s as if the millions of workers in the wealthy countries were not suffering, nor had valuable experience in fighting capitalism. This form of nationalism elevates the ideas of the oppressed nationality to incontrovertible even if those ideas are based on ethnicity as opposed to class.
The history of the many failed “national liberation” movements of the last century to improve the lot of most workers is the sad consequence of this approach, which serves only to change the color or language of the local exploiters. There is no country in the world today where workers hold power, so no country where we do not have to fight the ruling class, be it imperialist or imperialist lackey. Workers of the world unite! Fight for your class, not the bosses’ flag!
★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday
Feb262015

Letters of March 11

Black Workers, with a Capital B

After considerable discussion within the CHALLENGE-DESAFIO collective, we have decided to change “black” to “Black” when referring to the designation assigned to individuals, communities, or populations of sub-Saharan African descent. The pseudo-scientific concept of “race” is the primary weapon used by the capitalist class to divide and exploit the working class. While racism is a brutal, daily reality for Black, Latin, and Asian workers, “race” is purely a social construct. It is a ruling-class fiction with no genetic basis.
Furthermore, the false choices that the bosses present to workers dictate how workers utilize upper-case and lower-case terms.  Most of the terms we use such as Latin, Asian, etc., were influenced by the bosses hold of state power. Not until the Party takes state power can we change words!
The lower-case “black” is defined in one of the bourgeoisie’s dictionaries as, “the opposite to white: colourless from the absence or complete absorption of light” (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 2002). Outer space is objectively black. Coal can be described as black, and also pots, kettles and a number of animals.
None of the hundreds of millions of Black people fit this definition. They come in a spectrum of shades and hues, but none are colorless. In the Western Hemisphere in particular, to be Black is to trace one’s family history to institutionalized slavery.
Our switch to the upper-case “Black,” in referring to “Black workers” or “Black students,” acknowledges the word’s social and political context, not its literal meaning. Decades ago, the upper-case “Black” was popularized by some anti-communist Black nationalist groups, along with the slogan of “Black Power.” We cannot allow the nationalists or any bourgeois group to decide how we use language. It is our job to fit words to describe science as we know it, and to our communist understanding of the world.

★ ★ ★ ★

ISIS Beheadings and U.S. Lynchings
Compare these two stories:  First, on video tape ISIS beheads a Japanese journalist, Kenji Goto, while it murders thousands in the Middle East, unfilmed. Second, thousands of racist whites travel hundreds of miles to watch and cheer while a Black man is suspended from a rope and at the same time slowly roasted over a fire for hours. ISIS is labeled “barbaric” by the U.S. media — and they are — but lynching was an everyday thing in the U.S. until the early 1900s, when lynching finally became a federal offense and the frequency of such unspeakable outrages fell off.
And while the frequency of lynchings did eventually diminish — despite the best efforts of liberal politicians like President Woodrow Wilson to prevent the passage of anti-lynching legislation — lynching has never died out completely, and the racist attitudes behind it persist and flourish among many white workers and others as a result of cop activity and the media. Many readers will recall the 1998 dragging of a 49-year-old Black man, James Byrd, Jr., for 3½  miles behind a pick-up truck by three white men in Texas, resulting in Byrd’s fatal decapitation. The leader of this atrocity, Lawrence Brewer, was affiliated with the Ku Klux Klan.
And all over the U.S., the KKK and other racist and fascist organizations are very much alive today, even though the growth of the KKK’s various wannabe chapters has been stalled significantly over the years by numerous PLP-led physical attacks by workers and students against occasional demonstrations and marches by these fascists. But virtually no one has ever paid at the hands of the law for participating in a lynching party, which says something about the U.S. criminal injustice system.
While ISIS resorts to videos, U.S. lynchers relied on live cheering crowds of hundreds or thousands. The racists also lynched many hundreds, if not thousands, of equally innocent white men and women who dared to side with their class brothers and sisters in one way or another and were called everything from “n___r lovers” to “race traitors.”  In fact, from 1882 to 1968 it is estimated that more than a quarter of some 4,000-plus lynching victims were white. See, for example, http://www.chesnuttarchive.org/classroom/lynchingstat.html.
And the new form of lynchings, of both Black and white workers, continues to this day in the form of daily murders by cops (estimated at some 1,000 per year, or 2-3 per day). Contrary to the claims of both conservative and liberal commentators, racism in the U.S. has not diminished. It has just changed its form – from slavery to Jim Crow to chain gangs to segregation to drug addiction to job discrimination to poverty to homelessness to mass incarceration to daily murders by cops.
The history of this legacy of slavery in the U.S. has been downplayed or completely omitted from textbooks and the media, which clears the way for hypocritical crocodile tears by U.S. politicians over current events in the Middle East. Those with sin — the capitalist class and their bought-and-paid-for elected and unelected officials — are among the first to cast stones. The slightest inkling of the indescribable horrors of U.S. lynchings, over the last few hundred years can be gained from a book of actual photos by James Allen, titled Without Sanctuary.
There are barbarisms and barbarisms, atrocities and atrocities. The profit motive trumps all other considerations for that class that is economically and politically powerful enough to run every country in the world today: the capitalists. They need to apply and encourage racist divisions within the working class mainly to retain their hold on power. As long as we remain under their “iron heel” we will continue to be subject to barbarisms and atrocities from all sides. Capitalism must die so that the world’s working class can live.
★ ★ ★ ★
Unemployment Is Capitalist Policy
The “Unemployment NOT Bosses’ Policy” letter (CHALLENGE, Feb. 11) makes the error of equating the anarchy of capitalist production with a ruling-class inability to control unemployment and subject it to the needs of capitalism. When U.S. bosses moved millions of jobs, factories and whole industries overseas for cheap labor and fewer safety restrictions, it was a planned policy to eliminate living-wage jobs and lower workers’ standard-of-living to be competitive with poverty wages and conditions overseas. Today many workers slave at two jobs and live in such poverty that other workers must support them with food stamps and other aid just to survive.
Over the last 30 years workers’ productivity and bosses’ profits have constantly increased while workers’ wages have remained stagnant, reducing them to poverty. The bosses have used union-busting campaigns, anti-labor legislation and cop violence against strikers to prevent workers from getting a share of the increased profits they (workers) had created. Of the world’s 35 most highly industrialized countries, the U.S. is the second highest with children in poverty (WBAI radio, 2/6/15). Many young workers unable to find jobs, afford college or health care were forced into the military and the so-called “poverty draft.” Through such policies planned and created by ruling-class power and control, poverty and unemployment have grown to assure profits and send workers to fight in bosses’ wars against their capitalist rivals.
Because U.S. rulers needed to prevent workers’ revolution during the 1930s Great Depression and wanted a share of World War II’s redivision of colonial profits, the U.S. planned an entrance into that war (see “Day of Deceit,” Robert B. Stinnett). Fourteen million unemployed workers suddenly all had “jobs” in the military and millions of women were suddenly employed in industry. After a short period of post-war reconstruction production, U.S. workers were forced back into the present planned poverty/unemployment capitalist policy because profits drive society. Full employment and a good life for all workers can only be assured with a communist planned society where workers’ needs drive society.
★ ★ ★ ★

 

Thursday
Feb122015

Letters of February 25

Fighting Fears and Slumlords
At first, when the idea of leading a discussion/workshop was introduced to my partner and myself, we were very hesitant about saying yes. I personally have problems with public speaking in every way, shape, or form. I usually start sweating and have sudden onsets of stomach aches. At times I even shut down and stop speaking — that’s how bad it would get. But something different happened the day of the workshop.
When we were leading it felt nervous at first. Then it really hit me that I’m in a room full of people who are supportive and generous; they won’t judge me whether I do a good or bad job leading. This made it easier. Everyone was so welcoming and the whole day I didn’t feel one inch of nervousness.
Leading the discussion went smooth! We all shared our opinions and feelings on portions of PLP’s Smash Racism pamphlet that stood out. When the workshop was over, we went over to the slumlord’s office and held a rally. Overall, I thought the rally was very touching and that it is extremely relevant to everything we talk about, from capitalism down to fascism.
I feel like we got mixed responses from the people who were walking around. I paid close attention to a lot of people’s facial expressions. Some were very supportive, while others looked confused. Some may have felt like we were intruding into their neighborhood; who knows. We felt that the day was very successful and if we continue to spread a message that change needs to happen, more people will join us. As more people become aware the better because their eyes will start to open towards the bigger picture.
★ ★ ★ ★
Racist Unemployment Built into Capitalism
[C]apitalistic accumulation itself … constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of workers … It is the absolute interest of every capitalist to press a given quantity of labor out of a smaller, rather than a greater number of labourers, if the cost is about the same … The more extended the scale of production, the stronger this motive (Capital, Karl Marx, Ch. 25, Section 3)
The comradely criticism voiced in a letter in CHALLENGE (1/28) raises an important question: Is unemployment an unintended consequence of the “independent” workings and decisions of many individual companies, each one trying to maximize its profits at the expense of the others? Is this phenomenon the result of “planned action on the [capitalist] class level”? Or is it the inevitable result of the inner workings of the capitalist system itself?
Karl Marx’s investigation of capitalism disclosed that capital is composed of two items — constant capital which is the “means of production” (factories, mines, tools, machinery) and variable capital which is the wages paid to “living labor power” (what each worker sells to a boss in order to live). The accumulation of capital requires more investment in labor power. Simply, bosses must keep paying wages in order to continue to profit from workers’ labor. However, Marx concluded that the long-term tendency in capitalism is for a larger share of profits to be reinvested in upgraded “means of production” and a smaller share reinvested in the wages paid to workers.
There are a number of reasons for this. As stated in the January 28 letter, the byword of capitalism is competition. Each individual boss accumulates capital (i.e., profits from workers’ labor). But each boss is also trying to snatch a greater share of the market for the items sold by his/her individual company. To gain an edge, one boss will introduce machinery or technology that the competition does not have. But soon after one boss makes that change, all the other bosses are forced to do the same in order to stay in business. Over time, a greater percentage of profits tends to get invested in more advanced equipment, requiring fewer workers.
On the other side of the equation, the bosses are constantly forcing workers to produce more for less money. This is done through layoffs of some workers, and speed-up, overtime and even wage-cuts for those remaining. This is a constant trend of capitalism at all times (the number of those applying for unemployment benefits in the U.S. in a typical week is rarely below 300,000). This process accelerates dramatically in periods of crisis.
(The latest Great Recession produced a true unemployment rate of 23 percent in the U.S., when including workers not counted by government statistics as unemployed: those who’ve given up looking for non-existent jobs; those working part-time because they can’t find full-time jobs; and those who’ve been unemployed for more than a year, among other uncounted factors, totaling nearly 30 million unemployed. See Shadowstats.com)
So, in the long run, a lesser percentage of profits is invested in wages, even if the average wage stays more or less the same.
As Marx pointed out, these trends result in the creation of an unemployed “reserve army of labor.” Further, the specter of unemployment “forces [those working] to submit to overwork and to subjugation under the dictates of capital.”
In the U.S. and elsewhere, because of racism, the unemployed are disproportionately Black and Latin. No matter whether the economy is in recession or recovery, the percentage of jobless Black workers tends to be double that of white workers. Latin workers’ unemployment is also higher than that of white workers.
During periods of “recovery” from crises, some, but not all, of the unemployed are rehired, frequently at lower wages and/or with worse working conditions. For example, in the U.S. auto industry some rehired workers now are paid $12-14 an hour in “non-core” jobs, one-half of previous rates (this is an industry where Black employment was decimated starting in the late 1970s). With each new crisis, the number of unemployed workers, hungry for any job at any wage, swells (see media stories since the 2008 crash where thousands of workers lined up to apply for very few jobs).
So, is racist unemployment a conscious “policy” of the capitalist class? Perhaps not in the same way that imperialist military action is. But the need for unemployment is built into the capitalist system itself. Capitalists, and the think tanks that serve their class, are conscious of this need, in the sense that they understand the need to lay off when profits are threatened. They further understand the role mass unemployment plays in keeping wages lower in industry. And frequently they use racism to pit the employed against the unemployed.
In short, while unemployment appears to be the “unintended” consequence of the business decisions of individual bosses, it is essential to the growth of profits for the capitalist class as a whole.
The union leaders’ call to “save the middle class,” now echoed by Obama, describes the time when a few more workers — mostly white — had some job security and the chance for a decent retirement. But they are still subject to the ravages of capitalist crises — mass unemployment and wage-cuts — as remaining members of the working class, and by no means are “middle class.”
Communists must fight racist unemployment tooth and nail now, while constantly pointing out that only communist revolution, which abolishes the bosses’ system of wage slavery and profits, will forever end its scourge.
★ ★ ★ ★

Thursday
Jan292015

Letters of February 11

CHALLENGE Chronicles
Our club has been back to the LA garment district four more times since our letter in the January 28 issue. So far our struggle to sell every issue on the same corner has been successful. Average sales have gone up and we’re collecting more money.
We are setting up meetings with two contacts. One donated $5 and said he had read CHALLENGE “many times” before. Perhaps most important, two workers in the mass organization we belong to have been participating with us. One was great at handing out the paper. He is improving in interacting with workers and requesting donations.
The other worker was timid at first about approaching people but when he saw that people were receptive, he turned into a tiger. When it was time to leave, he said, “Wait, I’m on a roll.” The two workers have also been meeting with our club and study group.
Unemployment NOT Bosses’ Policy             
The article in Jan. 14 issue of CHALLENGE, titled “Marchers hit Racist Understaffing, Welfare for Bosses,” says, “...capitalism needs unemployment in order to drive down wages, a necessary measure for any boss to stay competitive.”  I think there are two things wrong with that formulation, even though as a whole the article is excellent (as are almost all articles in CHALLENGE).
First, it implies that whatever capitalism needs it has the ability to create. While this is true of many ruling-class policies, such as imperialist military efforts or racist and brutal police forces that are uncontrollable by the communities they patrol, unemployment is not a policy.
The capitalist class, the active embodiment of capitalism, has no way of creating unemployment regardless of what it “needs.” Unemployment is an unintended aggregate result of the decisions of many competing capitalist firms, each trying to maximize its profits in the face of competition from other corporations in the same business, so as to prevent their going out of business. They have no more control over unemployment, a society-wide phenomenon, than they do over periodic recessions/depressions. Both unemployment and periodic recessions/depressions are the unintended result of a number of independent decisions at the individual corporation level and not the result of a planned action on the class level.
It is certainly true that unemployment is a net benefit to the capitalist class as a whole, as it weakens the workers’ ability to fight for higher wages and better working conditions. But net benefit is not the same as something that capitalism (read the ruling class as a whole) needs and therefore, by implication, deliberately creates. Yet the formulation in the quoted sentence implies that they can and do deliberately create it.
Second, the same sentence states that unemployment is “a necessary measure for any boss to stay competitive.”  This is simply not true, in my view. In order for bosses “to stay competitive” it is not necessary that unemployment exist at all. Even if unemployment did not sexist — an imaginable condition even though it is impossible in capitalist societies for other reasons — all competing capitalists would face the same condition and be helpless to do anything about it other than lay off or fire their own workers. It is only the relative advantage of some firms over others, and not a common condition faced by the entire class, that determines which ones stay competitive.  
Ferguson: Life Changing Experience
Being in ferguson has become a life changing experience for me. We fought hard and we will continue to fighter even harder with each day that passes us by. We fight for the working class and I had a handful of mixed emotions that reminded me of the hardest working person I knew, my father. He was a working class man who worked his hardest even after he discovered that he had cancer. I’m determined to fight back and fight just as hard as he did during his last days because to me fighting for the working class is fighting for my father.