From the January-February 2022 issue of News & Letters
LABOR: TEACHERS FACE POLITICIAN BOSSES
Nationwide, teachers are under a renewed attack as the false idea gains traction that if schools are open the economy will recover. In Georgia and elsewhere, it is now illegal for schools to enact mask mandates. In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a law enabling school districts to impress into substitute teaching any staff member who holds a high school diploma. My first thought was: will they be given a substitute’s pay on top of their regular wage? When I was teaching, I had great respect for school support staff. Most of them cared about the students and developed relationships with them that supported what we teachers were able to do. Many teachers oppose the law on the grounds that these staff people are not professionally trained. Hopefully they realize that: 1. Teachers are not the only ones who can educate a child; and 2. This kind of law opens the door for reducing pay for certified teachers. For this they can thank teachers’ unions, which too often did not fight for the working conditions of school support staff.
Despite Omicron, cities, states and school administrators are determined to keep the schools open at all costs. On Jan. 5 at 11 PM the Chicago Teachers Union voted a work stoppage until Jan. 18 to allow time for testing and data collection. Chicago Public Schools had told parents to get children tested, and return the results by Jan. 6, but didn’t give out tests. Their disorganization and lack of communication to the teachers and parents was appalling! A reporter visited a test kit drop box that had not been collected—test kits were overflowing and surrounding the boxes on the ground in below freezing temperatures. There wasn’t even a backup plan to give children laptops. It’s heartbreaking.
LABOR: AUTOMATION AND THE NEW HUMANISM
“Automation and the New Humanism” (Nov.-Dec. 2021 N&L) was startling. Automation requires another way of thinking. The visible proletariat are moved from one country to another. That section of the population is smaller in the U.S. but larger in the Third World. It becomes apparent that the worker has no country. In 1948 unionized musicians were resisting the mechanical reproduction of music, which was a boon, but jobs were lost. If the musicians’ union had addressed that new phase of capitalism, the machine, things might have been different. Machines still dominate our lives. Marxist-Humanism is the only part of the Left that gets it.
I am participating in an online Marxist-Humanist study group on Marx’s Capital. Already, when discussing concrete and abstract labor in Chapter 1, the question of where is the working class at the present moment was raised—especially in light of many defeats in class struggles. This may shed light on a deep problem in much of the Left focusing on questions of unequal distribution and the market rather than Marx’s insistence on focusing on capitalist production. So it was timely to read the recent From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya column with its discussion of “Automation and the New Humanism” (Nov.-Dec. 2021 N&L). Her emphasis on workers thinking their own thoughts if we are willing to listen, seems right on target for today, when ideas from below are so often just ignored. Her pointing to the unity of the Abolitionists and Marx as a crucial moment before and during the Civil War speaks to today. Capitalism’s voracious appetite for surplus value (and with it profits), has turned so much of society into “proletarians,” that specific causes and movements seen as separate turn out to have much in common. Class and race dimensions are not in isolation from one another but in human liberation struggles can unite forcefully if the Idea of freedom is the energizing principle.
SOCIALISM, STATISM AND PHILOSOPHY
I read Franklin Dmitryev’s Reader’s View in the July-Aug. 2021 N&L. I happen to know Bhaskar Sunkara and many of the other editors and writers for Jacobin. To be clear, I’m to the left of Bhaskar and often disagree with him. [As Dmitryev stated], Jacobin does not receive a dime from any business interests, let alone the nuclear industry. As recently as two years ago, Bhaskar worked a part-time job and took a meager salary. I think the statement that Jacobin believes that “the answers to all problems center on technology, technocrats and the state” is a misunderstanding of their politics. The Jacobin staff are all Marxists, albeit of the more reformist variety. I often disagree with Jacobin, but to their credit they are non-sectarian and often publish views to their Left. Whatever the various real flaws of Jacobin, no other publication in my lifetime has introduced so many to Marxism. It is my most sincere hope that more people discover N&L and Raya Dunayevskaya.
I just have to respond to Franklin Dmitryev’s “Excerpts from the Introduction to the new pamphlet on ‘What Is Socialism?’: Marx’s Humanism, Marxist-Humanism and Socialism“ (March-April 2021 N&L). First I want to say that the article stood out above all others because it addresses foundational problems we face in today’s society. One of the core issues in the article highlights how the labor class sees statism as the enemy. This is relevant because it addresses the major difference between state-capitalism (often confused with socialism) and a true to form people’s socialism. A people’s socialism would never concede their freedom to a state that has more power than the people it governs. That is contrary to socialism and in my belief that is Stalinism, not socialism. That is what we have today. State-capitalism, a government that is not for the people but for monetary inflation—and, yes, that is the enemy of humanism.
FAKE ‘RIGHT TO LIFE’
I’m angry at the so-called “right to life” movement. It’s time for a major reality check for those claiming to be fighting for the rights of the “unborn.” Every day 10,000 children worldwide die horribly painful deaths from starvation. With each passing day our planet is approaching the point where the massive starvation of children will become epidemic because of global warming and the breakdown of the world’s agriculture. The continuing spread of nuclear weapons and tensions between the world’s superpowers threaten all children on this earth—born, unborn, and ever to be born—with ultimate death from nuclear war. Where are the concern and protests against these impending catastrophes from those so opposed to abortion? It’s time for the “right to life” movement to return to the real world from their “holier-than-thou” conservative Christian idealism.
In Detroit, more and more people are begging for help in response to evictions. One woman moved to a new apartment, but is not staying there because it is rat-infested. The landlord threatened to take her remaining possessions and rent it to someone else. Because of COVID-19 the court holds closed sessions and no one without a direct connection to the trial can participate. As a result, the proceedings are not public.
AGRIBUSINESS vs. PLANET
“U.S.’s distorted agriculture“ (online only) is true—and so much more. The consolidation of land into large agribusiness holdings and loss of sustainable family farming to large corporations. This and federal benefits skewed to large farms had led to Black farmers disproportionately losing their land. Then we could talk about farming practices: lack of genetic diversity in cloned crops can make entire fields susceptible to the same insect and disease pests. Pests evolve resistance to chemical pesticides, and chemical fertilizers do not provide everything needed to create healthy, resilient soils. The short-term search for profit leads to long-term wastelands. The dustbowls in the Midwest during the 1930s should be studied today.
Susan Van Gelder
I enjoyed especially the reporting (Sept.-Oct. 2021 N&L) on how the “invasion” of the country of Afghanistan by both Russia and the U.S. benefited the warlords that did control the ancient country, and basically still do. Despite claims to the contrary, the U.S. never goes into a country to “liberate” poor people, farmers, or women. It goes in because of some economic advantage—usually oil or mineral resources. When I was a prisoner at the State of Corruptarado’s Kit Carson facility, we had a horticulture teacher who before taking the prison teaching job had applied to the CIA for an analyst job. As part of his application he had to do a research report on a world hotspot. He chose Afghanistan. He found that the country has large deposits of copper and lithium and that the U.S. was there to protect the Chinese workers who were building the railroad into China where the mined ore would be processed.
Cañon City, Col.
TAIWAN FACES CHINA AND U.S.
Love the article “China’s and U.S.’s imperial maneuvers” (Nov.-Dec. 2021 N&L). The Taiwanese people for years now have not seen themselves as Chinese but as Taiwanese. This shows with not only electing the progressive party’s candidate Tsai Ing-wen three terms in a row but also the surveys and polls show only about 15% of Taiwanese citizens consider themselves Chinese. This whole show of power is just another example of the overgrowing state-capitalist threat from not only China but the U.S., which is becoming more authoritarian every day. I hope that more human beings resist this whirlpool of capital accumulation and fight back.
I am very grateful Rev. Desmond Tutu lived and I was shocked at his death, although he lived a long, meaningful life that benefited many. Rev. Tutu was a proponent of human rights, including being an anti-racist who helped defeat apartheid in South Africa, and an ally to LGBTQ+ people. Though he did not see South Africa transform into a country completely free from oppression, including from racism and classism, he is an inspiration to me and, I hope, to many in the world.
WITH THE MIGRANT CARAVAN
Thank you for the in-person report about immigration in Mexico. (See “With the migrant caravan in Mexico,” online only.) It’s so disheartening that there is this historical change toward migrants over the decades. I had hopes for López Obrador, but I saw immediately after he was elected president of Mexico how quickly he gave in to the U.S.
U.S. vs. PALESTINIANS
Regarding “Solidarity with Palestinians needed as state powers scheme,” July-Aug. 2021 N&L, I do not completely agree with Gerry Emmett’s analysis. Emmett did not specifically name the U.S. as the principal supporter of Israel’s horrible oppression of the Palestinian people. He called attention to Israel’s connection with the capitalists of Russia, China and India. But it is the U.S. capitalists who are the most committed group supporting Israel’s unending violence toward the Palestinians. It was President Trump who backed even greater reactionary forces and actions in Israel. I hope N&L will consider this in determining the next article devoted to ending the occupation of the Palestinians and preventing more violence in this terrible and chronic conflict.