Monday, June 30, 2014

The Hobby Lobby ruling is an excellent example of why

People should control institutions, not institutions people. If we're going to have some alternative to lots of mom and pop stores of this sort, i.e. if chains like this are going to exist, they're going to have to honor the rights of the workers who are employed there, as well as the will of society as a whole.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Following up on the previous post, ultimately, people have to be educated for direct democracy

Because, in my opinion, just putting people into a situation where they suddenly have the ability to deliberate on the execution of every aspect of policy does not work. I'm far, far, from being against the principle of democracy in general. Instead, it's some of the excesses that are proposed in various anarchist circles about how society itself should be structured that I have a problem with. 

Robert Michels, political parties, and bureaucracy

I can't vouch for his later writings on this, but it's somewhat sad that Michels' work on political parties is sometimes looked at as approving on Corporatism. The book is a look at organization in the political parties of Europe in order to try to figure out what makes certain ones successful and which ones fail, and Michels comes to the conclusion that the ones that succeed are the ones that have a higher degree of formalization, paid members, and a nascent bureaucratic structure.

Michels argument about the inadequacy of very decentralized groups to get much done, and the necessity of at least some sort of super-structure that includes a bureaucratic system in it can also be applied to economics as whole. While it's appealing to pretend that all the things that we have these days can be produced by small businesses, that isn't the truth.

To effectively provide for all the things that we're used to, there needs to be extensive organization and coordination, and this requires some type of bureaucratic apparatus. Which is not to say that there should be an ultra-hierarchical top down structure with no countervailing aspects to it.

In my eyes, large scale economic organization is a fact of life, and the only choice we really have in the matter is whether to bring it under social control or to have it control us. I would much rather have big corporations, and those who make up the commanding heights of industry, be nationalized, with their profits going back to the benefit of society as a whole.

This stage in capitalism was foreseen by Marx as being the logical end towards which things were tending.

The questions that Michels brings up also cuts to the heart of the debate about how participatory a participatory democracy can really be. Michels' study points to a hard reality where although participation by large amounts of people is promoted, it's only partially successful. Instead, the work in political organizations, as he saw them, constantly devolved back on to a smaller group of people who were consistently prepared to do it.  In the system of the German Social Democratic Party, this was not a problem in that these folks were eventually made professional employees of the organization and they went on to really effect change. In the other parties that Michels studied, however, that were more decentralized, it was, in that they couldn't just go out and do their thing but had to go through a largely apathetic series of local bodies that were attended by people who were lackluster about doing anything themselves.

What Michels describes as the oligarchical tendency in society was not in this writing of his something that he rejoiced in, but a grim fact that he had come to after being an activist in the radical syndicalist arena for a while. Fundamentally, it would be great if the decentralized notion of things could actually function, but at some point you have to choose between actually accomplishing things in the world and paying lip service to increasingly unproductive process. Faced with this, Michels choose accomplishing things, even if it was not done in a way that went beyond normal democratic accountability and went instead into realms of ultra-participation, where something positive becomes a reducto-ad absurdam.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Dead Kennedys and class consciousness, a critique

Because I've seen quite a bit of it. The DKs are, or were, unique in that they actually talked about rich people and rich kids...however, the funny thing is that in my experience the people who have been most impressed with the DKs perspective, and have taken it most to heart haven't actually been people from working class backgrounds but those from middle class ones, who have become activists or some such. I think there's a very good reason for this, and it has to do with Jello Biafra's class origin itself.

Biafra didn't come from a working class background but was the kid of two librarians working for the University of Colorado at Boulder. Presumably, they at least had bachelor's degrees, and they exposed him to a lot of sophisticated culture more typical of the middle class than the working class. His perspective was shaped by seeing rich kids come to the University of Colarado while his parents as staff at the University didn't do as well. This is quite different than the experience of most working class people.

The United States is extremely class segregated, and although the situation might be different in smaller communities, in general working class people don't really see the rich and the powerful close up. They're there, out there, somewhere, but live in worlds miles away, or in the next county. They're represented possibly by parent's bosses, or their own, but even then these people may just be the employees of the owners, of the truly rich, who remain absent and not rarely seen.

Because of this, although there may be class resentment on the part of working class folks, it isn't shaped by as much detail as is reflected in the songs of the DKs. Biafra and company document the foibles minutely, and besides special cases like kids who grow up in university towns, the only other people who see these folks as up close and personal, and who cultivate a resentment towards them, aren't workers but members of the middle class itself.

Working folks aren't the only ones who resent the rich. They're also resented by middle class people who have solid middle class values, who don't really care about workers or the working class at all, but who instead resent the fact that there's this stratum of folks above them who have more privileges than they do. It seems that many of the middle class fans of the Dead Kennedys are children of these people, who have seen the rich up close and personal, and resented them not because at any time in their lives they wanted for anything, but because they don't have as much money as them. This is quite different.

Surely, the parents of some of these folks are working quite hard to join the ranks of the very people whom they resent. The problem isn't money itself, potentially, just that they don't have it yet and they want it. The kids take a different approach, and see their class consciousness raised again, not by the fact that as children of business owners or lawyers they ever wanted for anything, but because in relation to the rich they had to do some sort of token job, or had to contribute money to their parents buying them a car instead of them paying for all of it.

This is not class resentment so much as greed resentment, resentment not from the perspective of oppression but from the perspective of upwardly mobile professionals who believe that those above them, who have things that they want, don't deserve them, and that they do.


Tuesday, June 03, 2014

The Jackals have come out, re: Bergdahl

I would hope that this would be a moment similar to that where, when accusing the Army of being part of a Communist conspiracy, one of the Senators in the House Un-American Activities Committee responded to McCarthy by saying "Have you no shame?".

This guy was a member of the armed forces held captive by the Taliban for five years, the last American held captive by them, and instead of celebrating his release, the Right, especially the Tea Party has objected to his release and accused him of being a deserter. The Tea Party, and the Republican Party, don't "support the troops", they support their own policies, and if throwing the troops under the wheels of partisanship furthers their war with Obama they're more than willing to do it.

Capital and individual effort, or Marx vs. the Marxists

Because the notion of a specific class determinism, while present in Marx's philosophy may not be nearly as important as some make it out to be. Social mobility is a factor in society, whether people like to admit it or not, with people regularly changing their lives for the better. Class, then, is not destiny, and this cuts both ways, with those on the bottom going up and those on the top going down.

What intervenes in society is not the literal circumstance that someone was born into but the force of capital itself. Society is stratified into those who work on the side of capital, and who benefit from it, and those who work for capital, and who are shut out of its benefits. This presents an implicit class system that exists despite social mobility, and that impedes, though it does not stop, the social mobility of individuals. There's a tendency for people who are born into circumstances where their family are beneficiaries from capital to maintain that status, and for those born into the other side to face extra obstacles in rising above their situation, yet these are still tendencies, not written in stone.

However, even if we lived in a world where social mobility was perfect, where people's status in society would be completely determined by their own talents and efforts or lack thereof, there'd still be the force of capital changing things, because it's not dependent on individuals but on the accumulation of money by large businesses distorting the system. Large business is the key here, as the often cited reality of small businesses coming and going, competing with each other, is less a collective factor that distorts the system than the influence of large businesses that have many resources.

Even with perfect social mobility, the winners would win more than the losers, because capital would still distort the benefits and disabilities that people in society would receive.

Additionally, the development of large businesses can't be reversed. The idealization of a world that has returned to small businesses purely is a fantasy. The development of capital itself is, in a sense, natural. The question, though, is who controls that capital. Is it in the hands of private entities, who use its power to enrich themselves and to push for a stratified society, or is it in the hands of the public at large, where instead of benefitting private power its benefits are shared by society at large and thereby work against a stratified system?

Capital, in a sense, can work against the natural tendency that it possesses if it's controlled by society in general as opposed to private hands.