Archive for January 2014

Eugene V. Debs: On The Mission Of The Socialist Party

January 31, 2014

In 1898, the Western Federation of Miners founded the Western Labor Union (WLU) for the purpose of building industrial unions among unskilled workers in the Western states of the United States. Four years later, in May of 1902, 3,000 miners affiliated with the Western Labor Union (WLU) met in convention in Denver, Colorado Debs Posingto consider their future. During the convention, Eugene V. Debs delivered a speech entitled “Mission of the Socialist Party.”

In the introduction to the speech, Debs said,

“In the present organization of society, character of government is determined by the political party it represents, and the party is simply the political expression of the economic interests of the class it represents. For example, the Republican Party is essentially the party of the large and successful capitalist class; the Democratic Party is that of the smaller, struggling and less successful capitalists ….”

“The only vital function of the present government is to keep the exploited class in subjection by their exploiters.”

Deb then tells the miners in assembly about the influence of the owning class.

“The owning class is necessarily the ruling class. It dictates legislation and in the case of doubt or controversy has it construed to its own interest.”

And, he speaks about class struggle.

“Centralization is paving the way to the new society that is evolving from the present competitive chaos. All capital, by the inexorable law of economic gravitation, will centralize in the hands of the few.”

Eventually, Debs says, “the dispossessed, propertyless class” will “dispossess the small possessing class in the name of the whole people.”

“To accomplish this, especially in the United States, where all men (and women should) have the ballot, political organization is an absolute necessity, and hence the organization of the Socialist Party to represent the interests of the working class.”

” … socialists rely upon the efficacy of the united class-conscious ballot to accomplish their end.”

Concluding his speech, Eugene V. Debs speaks to the miners about collective ownership.

“Economic freedom can result only from collective ownership …. ”

“Between private ownership and collective ownership there can be no compromise. As well seek to harmonize fire and water. One produces for profit, the other for use. One produces millionaires and mendicants, the other economic equals. One gives us palaces and hovels, robes and rags, the other will secure to every man and woman their full product of his or her toil, abolish class rule, wipe out class distinction, secure the peace of society, and make of this earth for the first time a habitable place.”

Ray Ginger, in The Bending Cross, his biography of Debs, writes that during the Western Labor Union convention, Debs “called upon the delegates to change their name to the American Labor Union, declare in favor of socialism, and begin a nation-wide campaign to organize industrial unions.” He goes on to report that “Every one of these proposals was adopted by the convention in an outburst of fervent enthusiasm.”

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After reading Debs’ speech at the Western Labor Union convention, I researched the convention and found a copy of a newspaper article that reported the Union’s decisions noted by Ginger.

Los Angeles Herald June 5, 1902

WESTERN LABOR UNION A Campaign in Favor of Socialism Will Be Opened

DENVER. June 4.—The Western Labor Union convention today adopted the name of the American Labor Union for the organization, so that its field can be extended throughout the country. The convention also decided to send organizers through the east for the purpose of building up the union and proselyting among people there in the cause of Socialism. It is hoped that they will be enabled to enroll on its membership list those members of the American Federation of Labor who have Socialistic tendencies. Although independent political action has been agreed upon, President Daniel McDonald said today that the new party would not make any nominations for at least another year. “The campaign which the labor union will carry on in regard to Socialism for the present will be educational.” said he. “Literature dealing with Socialist questions will be distributed and speakers sent throughout the east.” The convention of miners at a late hour indorsed Socialism by a vote of 230 to 73.

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You can read the full text of Debs’ “The Mission of the Socialist Party” here.

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OXFAM Briefing Paper: “Working For The Few – Political Capture And Economic Inequality”

January 26, 2014

Oxfam International is an organization that “works to find practical, innovative ways for people to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive.” Issues addressed by Oxfam include agriculture, education, indigenous and minority rights, and peace and security. Oxfam regularly publishes briefing papers on these issues and more.

On January 20 of this year, Oxfam published a briefing paper on economic inequality around the world. The briefing is entitled oxfamWorking For The Few – Political Capture and Economic Inequality. I learned of this briefing when one statistic presented in the paper – that the richest 85 people in the world own as much wealth as the 3.5 billion of the people who comprise the bottom half of the world’s population – continued to appear in political blogs and in Facebook comments.

I decided to read the report for myself. When I did, I was staggered by the Oxfam findings about economic inequality in the world.

The briefing begins by stating that …

” … the wealth of the world is divided in two: almost half going to the richest one percent; the other half to the remaining 99 percent. The World Economic Forum has identified this as a major risk to human progress. Extreme economic inequality and political capture are too often interdependent. Left unchecked, political institutions become undermined and governments overwhelmingly serve the interests of economic elites to the detriment of ordinary people. Extreme inequality is not inevitable, and it can be and must be reversed quickly.”

Oxfam then presents a number of facts that give it cause for concern about the extreme economic inequality that exists in the world. These facts should give you and me cause for concern as well.

  • Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population
  • The wealth of the one percent richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion. That’s 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population
  • The bottom half of the world’s population owns the same as the richest 86 people in the world
  • Seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years
  • In the United States, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer

The authors of the briefing paper write that, “This massive concentration of economic resources in the hands of fewer people presents a significant threat to inclusive political and economic systems.” This statement is expanded upon when they write,

” … that the preferences of wealthy Americans are overwhelmingly represented in their government, compared to those of the middle classes. By contrast, the preferences of the poorest people demonstrates no statistical impact on the voting patterns of their elected officials. If this trend continues, public policies will most likely reproduce the conditions that are worsening economic inequality and political marginalization.”

” … the influence of wealthy groups leads to imbalanced political rights and representation. The outcomes include the capture of legislative and regulatory decision-making functions by those powerful groups.”

“Wealth begets wealth, and once the political and institutional system is rigged in favor of an elite, the consolidation of their privileges cascades down through different mechanisms.”

With these realities in mind, Oxfam says that bold political solutions need to be taken to “curb the influence of wealth on politics.” If this not done, “governments will work for the interests of the rich, while economic and political inequalities continue to rise.”

In “Working For The Few”, Oxfam International makes a number of specific recommendations for the reversing of the devastating economic inequality that exists in the world today. These recommendation have been presented to the global political and business elites who recently gathered at Davos, Germany for the annual World Economic Forum.

Oxfam calls on the world’s political and business elites to:

  • Not dodge taxes in their respective countries or in countries where they invest and operate
  • Not use their wealth to seek political favors that undermine the democratic will of people
  • Support progressive taxation
  • Challenge governments to use their tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education, and social protection for citizens
  • Demand a living wage in all of the companies to own or control

Oxfam also shares a number of actions that have been implemented by developing and developed countries that have proven effective for reducing economic inequality. Four of these actions are:

  • Cracking down on financial secrecy and tax dodging
  • Investment n universal access to healthcare and education
  • Progressive taxation
  • Strengthening wage floors and worker rights

In conclusion, economic and income inequality has dramatically increased over the last three decades. The rich have gotten richer and the poor, poorer. This economic trend continues and it threatens the welfare of individuals and families and the stability of nations and world regions.

The facts and information contained in Oxfam’s  “Working For The Few” must be read with an open mind to the facts and a willingness, readiness, and commitment to do what is necessary to reverse the tragic growth of economic inequality in the world.

Immigration And The Right To Stay Home

January 24, 2014

With eleven to twelve million undocumented immigrants in the United States, immigration and comprehensive immigration reform is a major socio-economic-political issue confronting America.

The American people feel uncomfortable about how to personally relate to undocumented immigrants. Congress debates proposed immigration reform bills. Questions are raised about whether or not we have an obligation to care for, educate, and provide necessary services to undocumented immigrants in their moments of need.

David Bacon, labor organizer, immigrant rights advocate, and photo-journalist, has written an excellent book that addresses the reasons why people have to migrate and the inequality and exploitation they face when they do. Bacon is particularly concerned about the people and workers in and from Mexico. right to stay home

The book is entitled The Right To Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Immigration. It has been published by Beacon Press (2013).

I have begun reading The Right To Stay At Home and have just finished the first chapter, From Perote to Tar Hill. In this chapter, Bacon shares about farmers and family members from Veracruz, Mexico who have lost their homes, farms, and jobs and have migrated to find work in the Smithfield Foods meatpacking factory in Tar Hill, North Carolina. The chapter also contains information about the North American Free Trade Agreement and immigration enforcement in the United States.

Here are several quotes from the first chapter that speak about NAFTA’s force and impact on governments and people and its benefit to international corporations:

“The centrality of foreign investment in the Mexican economy creates a climate where transnational corporations with large investments can exercise coercive power over government agencies at all levels.”

“The penetration of capital led to the destruction of the traditional economy, especially in agriculture, and produced a huge labor reserve in Mexico. People had no alternative but to migrate. The system helps corporations make profit, which is relocated to the United States. And it produces displaced people, who are needed by the US economy.” (Juan Sandoval, National Institute of Anthropology and History, Mexico City)

” … rather than a free-trade agreement, NAFTA can be described as … a mechanism for the provision of cheap labor. Since NAFTA came into force, the migrant factory has exported {millions of} Mexicans to the United States.”

” … US immigration policy is largely shaped by the desire of US employers for labor …. ”

” … can’t people have a choice between immigration and staying home in healthy communities in their countries of origin? Or must displacement and migration be geared to supplying labor …. “

The North American Free Trade Agreement has been good for international corporations and the advancement of a global neo-liberal agenda, but bad for the people of Mexico.

MLK On Dreams, Integrity, Labor, And Capitalism

January 20, 2014

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let us remember that King stood, campaigned, and died for more than the civil rights of Black America. He stood for all of America as he opposed the war in Vietnam, supported labor and labor unions, and eventually spoke out against the American capitalist economic system.

Here are four photos and quotes of King to commemorate this day.

MLK and Dreams

MLK

MLK and Labor

MLK and Capitalism

Eugene V. Debs: On The American Two Party System

January 18, 2014

In 1900, Eugene V. Debs wrote an article entitled, “Outlook for Socialism in the United States.” It was published in the International Socialist Review in September of that year.

As Debs presents his thoughts about the future of socialism in the United States, he gives special Debs Portraitattention to the two-party political system in America. Regarding the Republican and Democratic Parties he writes …

“Needless is it for me to say to the thinking workingman that he has no choice between these two capitalist parties, that they are both pledged to the same system and that whether the one or the other succeeds, he will still remain the wage-working slave he is today.”

“As a rule, large capitalists are Republicans and small capitalists are Democrats, but workingmen must remember that they are all capitalists, and that the many small ones, like the fewer large ones, are all politically supporting their class interests, and this is always and everywhere the capitalist class.”

“The difference between the Republican and Democratic parties involve no issue, no principles in which the working class have any interest …. “

Debs concludes his article with an appeal to workingmen and women for their participation in a third political party, one comprised of and representing the working class of America, the Socialist Party of America.

“Between these parties socialists have no choice, no preference. They are one in their opposition to Socialism, that is to say, the emancipation of the working class from wage-slavery, and every workingman who has intelligence enough to understand the interest of his class and the nature of the struggle in which it is involved, will once and for all time sever his relations with them both; and recognizing the class-struggle which is being waged between the producing workers and non-producing capitalists, cast his lot with the class-conscious, revolutionary Socialist party, which is pledged to abolish the capitalist system, class-rule, and wage-slavery …. “

Today, there are many in the United States who feel the same way about the Republican and Democratic parties as Eugene V. Debs did in his day. We feel that the two parties that dominate our political system represent the corporate class in America and their global neo-liberal agenda that pursues profit at the expense of nations and people more than they do the working and middle class men and women of their states and districts. The parties are distant from and out of touch with the real-life, bread-and-butter issues that we contend with on a daily basis. It has recently been reported that more than half of the men and women who serve in the United States Congress are millionaires. They can not relate to or understand the plight of those who must work two and three part-time jobs in order to provide for their families and children.

The Republican and Democratic parties, and the politicians and candidates of these parties, receive -Labor-  Corporation Influencehuge financial contributions and legislative counsel from organizations and think tanks that would seek to, and do, influence political policy making and the crafting and passing of legislation at the state and federal levels. These legislative bills favor corporations and the financial elite. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is perhaps the most well-known “counseling” entity that assists legislators with the writing of “model” legislation. Republican dominated states – from Wisconsin to North Carolina – are assaulting voters, public unions, seeking to privatize everything from education to prisons, and slashing food stamps and unemployment insurance benefits for the hungry and out-of-work.

Yes, there is great concern, and rightfully so, about the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States and who they represent. Because of this concern and the seeming evidence that suggests that the American two-party system does not represent the American working people, we would agree with Eugene V. Debs that the time has come for a viable third party that will truly represent the working men and women of America and their working class values, needs, and vision for their families and lives.

Perhaps the time in now for a national working class political party.

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Read Eugene V. Debs’ “Outlook for Socialism in the United States” in its entirety.