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!
★ ★ ★ ★
Profits Over Lives
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.
★ ★ ★ ★
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.
★ ★ ★ ★
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.
Harlem Forum & March Show Need for Communists
The protest in Harlem, NY on December 20, 2014 about Ferguson was great in my perspective not just because of the number of people who showed up but also because so many supported it, even those who were not part of the protest. I believe it is amazing that we get to rise together as communist revolutionaries and have our voices heard, the voices that are shut down by our capitalist system; that’s what protesting is all about.
★ ★ ★ ★
I absolutely loved the forum. I loved how people stepped up and talked about their experience with the protest in Ferguson. I also found the stories of the people who had lost a family member to a cop in Baltimore compelling because you could feel their pain and their hurt. My favorite part of the forum was the rally afterwards. I have never been out, walking around in the middle of the street with a group of people protesting. It was never something I participated in before and I am happy I had the opportunity to do it.
Wade in the Water
A young brother from Baltimore at the “Fight like Ferguson” meeting in Harlem on Dec. 20 led us in singing “one of the chants we use in Baltimore”:
I got a feeling
I got a feeling
Someone’s trying to hold us back
There ain’t gonna be no stuff
Chills ran down my spine as I realized the tune was the old spiritual “Wade in the Water,” which originally had both a religious meaning (the struggle of the newly baptized soul), and a political one (the struggle upward from slavery and racism).
Wade in the water
Wade in the water, children
Wade in the water
God’s gonna trouble the water
It became an anthem in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, and I sang it last a full 50 years ago in occupied Mississippi during the 1964 Freedom Summer. We northern volunteers sang it with the local people after a mass meeting in a vacant lot near a highway, as a police cordon carrying shotguns closed in on us and ordered us to disperse or be arrested.
Arrests would bankrupt the community or put their houses in hock, so we dispersed. But believe me, singing that song, it did not feel like we were dispersing or retreating. It was a battle cry, an unforgettable, unending battle cry. I will always hear “Wade in the Water” in the voices of those old Black freedom fighters of the South, urging us back — when we need urging — into the troubled waters of the movement.
The Black freedom struggle baptized me into the communist movement. I could barely believe that today I was hearing a version of this fighting music coming back at me, in a communist meeting, from a new Baltimore youth rebellion against police racism. The singer stood next to a young sister who told us her brother had been beaten to death by a dozen Baltimore cops after a car stop.
That summer in Mississippi also began with death, the police/Klan murder of three civil rights workers. Our struggle wades again and again in the water, in our own blood, but is carried beyond death by our music. Here is the chorus: sing it, remember it, give it the Baltimore words, give it new words, make it live another 50 years!
Anti-Racist March Builds Confidence
Recently, I was fortunate enough to participate in a massive protest in Foley Square, NY, which erupted after the racist cops who killed Eric Garner were not indicted. The outrage from my fellow New Yorkers, who are tired of the bosses’ fascism and tired of letting another kkkop go, manifested into a sea of untapped consciousness. Thousands upon thousands of people from all diverse backgrounds convened near City Hall, marching along Canal Street and completely shutting down the West Side Highway.
I’ve always felt some nervousness attending marches, often wondering about police interference to split up the crowd. However, seeing how huge this gathering was (and being part of it), gave me more confidence that the cops couldn’t stop us. And sure enough, they couldn’t stop us from taking over West Street and reaching the masses. The fight for our class is nowhere near finished, but it’s looking stronger every day.
My First College Conference
My trip from Boston to New York for the PLP College Conference was a new and exciting adventure for me. I was made aware of all the different problems and circumstances that people all over the world are dealing with. We had a rally in East Harlem, NY. During the demonstration, we were made aware of the problems and issues that could arise during a rally but I believe that my comrades and I were disciplined enough to not get out of control. As we were walking through the streets and chanting, there were people who came out of stores and shops and supported the cause and believed in what we were fighting for.
Of course the police showed up and tried to intimidate us by flashing their lights and getting on the bullhorn and telling us to move along. NYPD even thought they could ask one of my comrades what organization we were a part of. The rally “Workers and Students Unite” was such an amazing experience for me and was such an eye-opener. I can’t wait until the next rally.
CHALLENGE Distribution Chronicles: LA Garment District
Our PLP club has been distributing Challenge in the Los Angeles garment district each of the past four issues. We split the paper into English and Spanish parts and have averaged 90 copies per issue. We try to ask everyone for a donation, although some people go by so fast it’s difficult — and sometimes we are unnecessarily timid. Our plan is to continue the distribution at the same time and place until we can get to know and follow up with some of the workers who pass by regularly.
The following is a conversation with a man who took the paper for the first time.
M: What’s this about?
P: It’s a revolutionary communist newspaper.
M: What’s wrong with socialism, like in Germany?
P: Germany is a capitalist country with “socialized medicine” and laws about maternity and paternity leave, holidays for workers, and some job guarantees. We are talking about getting rid of capitalism and workers running the world.
M: Wow! That’s big.
P: You’re right.
M: You mean getting rid of money. People would have to cooperate — no more “me first.”
P: You’ve got it.
M: I’m going to lunch now. I’m going to read this over lunch.