Boom and Bust – the Capitalist Curse

by Barry Weisleder

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is basking in the reflected ‘glory’ of the Canadian economy. The GDP is up. Unemployment is down. Housing starts are on an upswing. However, before popping a champagne cork, consider the following. The growth in exports is weak. Trade is in deficit territory. Wage improvements are the slowest since 1998. In fact, the past 40 years have seen a virtual wage freeze, except for the top 1 per cent of the people, each of whom makes more money in a day than most workers do in a year.

In order to pay their bills, millions of working people go into debt. This is encouraged by low interest rates, and by a selfish desire to eat and sleep under a warm roof. More about debt in a moment, but first…

Do the ups and downs of the so-called free enterprise economy seem like a merry-go-round (except for the merry part)? Well, that’s due to the very nature of the market economy. Despite the fact that giant monopolies dominate it, the system is chaotic, unplanned and quite irrational. It puts human needs at the bottom of the list, well below profit, the so-called bottom line. For proof, just look at how bankrupt firms, like Enron, Stelco, Target and Sears, treat their retired workers.

Capitalism is characterized by generalized commodity production. That means production for profit, not for use. When sales of goods and services slow down, assembly lines slow, or grind to a halt, and workers are laid off. Is that because there is no work to be done? No. It’s because too many commodities were produced to generate high profits. Viola! An overproduction crisis occurs. Often, it involves the overproduction of useless things. Bombs, not homes. Industries are periodically over-capacity. Machines sit idle. Workers’ incomes decline, many to the point of impoverishment and desperation.

Over-production crises are a mainstay of capitalism. The decline in the rate of profit is also a feature of the system. It results from the growing reliance of capitalism on machines, increasingly on robots. The rate of exploitation of labour can be increased. But machines cannot be squeezed to produce more surplus value (profit).

The threat of workers’ revolution prompted some 20th century liberals to propose ‘solutions’ to these deep-seated problems. One experiment, proposed by British economist John Maynard Keynes, seemed to work for a while. Government expenditure (based on tax revenues, deficit spending, and some money-printing) created public projects, social services and jobs. But a by-product of such currency creation, deficits and public spending is inflation. Inflation can quickly get out of control. Eventually debt mushrooms, and becomes bad debt. Then the bubble bursts. Remember 2007–2008? Of course, the government comes to the rescue… to the aid of the biggest banks and corporations – not to the rescue of heavily indebted workers.
Is there any ‘conventional’ way out of the boom-bust syndrome, given the physical limits of global resources and the world market?

Yes. But it’s very risky and very bloody. Imperialist war destroys the competition. It also kills millions of people and devastates the natural environment. Conquest by war lays the basis for a new round of capital accumulation and production for profit. This works like a charm for the ruling rich if wages and benefits are slashed as a result of the smashing of workers’ parties and labour unions by fascism and war.

Some countries, due to exceptional circumstances, can avoid one or another aspect of the destruction. But no capitalist country can escape the booms and the busts, the very temporary nature of the ‘solutions’, and the persistent social misery of poverty and injustice.
There is only one way out of this mess, that is, in the interests of the working class and the dispossessed. Break the stranglehold of monopoly capitalism! To do that it is necessary for working people to take hold of the commanding heights of the economy (not the corner grocery store or barber shop, but the big banks, mines, mills and factories) and run it according to a democratically decided plan. The notion, entertained by some liberals and social democrats, that capitalism can be ‘regulated’ to be in harmony with nature, and to put an end to periodic crises, is pure illusion. Nationalization of a few large firms (with or without compensation, with or without workers’ and community control), will not be sufficient to break, permanently, the dynamic of private capital accumulation and the anarchic organization of production. Only public ownership and a planned economy can replace the waste and brutality of capitalism with a cooperative commonwealth.

Canada is not presently on the verge of an economic transformation. But that day is surely coming as capitalism continues to wreak havoc on people and the environment. Radical change will be hastened as socialists step up efforts to explain the necessity and viability of it. Hopefully, the transformation will occur before catastrophic climate change makes political action a tragically belated, academic exercise. As Rosa Luxemburg famously observed, “Socialism or barbarism” is the choice facing humanity.

 

Democratic – the NDP’s middle name, eh?

by Elizabeth Byce

Is the New Democratic Party democratic? Compared to the Liberal and Conservative parties, it is. The policies of the parties of Bay Street are set by their leaders, not by members. Their conventions are just a showcase for party big wigs and a playground for trial balloons. Whatever else happens, the interests of the rich prevail.

The NDP, on the other hand, is a working class party, based on the unions. Its purpose is to fight for the needs of the vast majority, against the evils of capitalism. Its policy is decided by working class delegates at large party conventions. There should be ample discussion, and the policies are to be implemented, supposedly. But is that really what happens?

My experience is that very little debate on policy occurs at convention. Decades ago, most of the time at NDP conventions was devoted to policy debate. But in recent years, less than 25 per cent of the time is spent that way. Worse, very few radical, or even slightly controversial resolutions make it to the floor. Even worse is the fact that progressive policies that are adopted are often quietly buried.

I can think of three examples: Canada get out of NATO, abolish the GST, and demand public ownership of the energy resource sector.

A controversial issue today is Palestine and the campaign known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the racist Israeli state.

Before the October 19, 2015 federal election, the NDP leader blocked nomination bids or removed locally nominated candidates for the crime of just mentioning Palestine, or for quoting Amnesty International data on the crimes Israel committed against the people of Gaza.

But the majority of New Democrats support self-determination for the Palestinian people; they even back the BDS campaign as a peaceful tool in the quest for a little justice in the Middle East. That’s why Palestine is such a big issue in the NDP today – which brings us back to the issue of internal democracy.

The NDP badly needs a democratic revolution. What would that look like? It would be much less costly to become a convention delegate. Most of the time at convention would be devoted to policy debate, which would make for more time to deal with resolutions submitted by grassroots bodies, including progressive and socialist policies. The party brass would be stopped from obstructing or removing locally nominated candidates for political reasons. Party electoral campaigns would not just reflect, they would highlight the most progressive policies adopted by the ranks at convention.

Resolutions circulated by the NDP Socialist Caucus that aim to make those changes are in the convention resolutions book now, submitted by many NDP district associations, unions and youth clubs. It’s time for a change, don’t you think? Join the democratic revolution.

Illustration: economist.com

 

On eve of NDP federal convention: Policy, not Image, should be Focus of Leader

by Barry Weisleder

The honeymoon was over in record time. The business press that blatantly boosted Jagmeet Singh over his lackluster NDP leadership rivals turned away from him within weeks of his October 1, 2017 triumph. A burst of unfair media criticism quickly gave way to a studied disinterest. Singh was unjustly singled out for comment on the Air India bombing – which occurred when he was six years old. He was chided for not immediately seeking a seat in Parliament. And then, the NDP did very poorly in the six by-elections held on December 11. It now sits at a mere 17 per cent in opinion polls.

Singh gave a stirring speech to the B.C. NDP convention, but later dodged the Site C Dam decision. He has been nearly mute on a rising wave of issues including the future of NAFTA, the rebellion against electoral fraud in Honduras, Trump’s affront to Palestine on the status of Jerusalem, and Washington’s supply of lethal weapons to the reactionary regime in Kiev. Even on tax evasion by the rich and powerful, including by Liberal Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Singh has been out-hustled by Tories Andrew Scheer and Pierre Poilievre.

The problem now is not image, or timing, or electoral tactics. It is political. It is the lack of bold policies, and the absence of direct action.

Recall that Jagmeet Singh was the most conservative of the four aspirants who ran the last lap of the leadership race. The political up-side of his win was his positivity and pride as an articulate, equity-seeking racial minority person.
The thirty-eight year old turbaned Sikh lawyer from Brampton is the first Person of Colour to head a major Canadian political party. The significance of this was evident, long before the Terry Milewski CBC interview, when he was confronted by a racist woman in Peel who absurdly berated him for being a Muslim. Singh countered by simply repeating the words “We love you. We support you.” Bourgeois pundits lapped it up. The truth is that racism and incipient fascism must be countered by stressing the need for working class unity against the system that breeds racism, and by initiating mass actions to crush the racists. But to establishment politicos, that’s not ‘cool.’

Singh handily defeated his opponents for the NDP leadership by skillfully recruiting from his extensive social network. His election represented a doubling down on the party’s shift to the centre, to glamour politics, to trying to beat the Liberals at their game. Snazzy three-piece tailored suits, and his news conference engagement to an attractive South Asian woman, have failed to out-dazzle Justin Trudeau’s ‘sunny ways’, his super-selfie persona. It is simply a losing proposition for the NDP to compete with Justin in a glamour gambit when the NDP base, the working class, needs system change that will not result from another personality contest. This is especially true when the political right wing, including the Liberal government, is moving ever more stridently against democratic rights, to condone criminal tax avoidance, to tighten the grip of imperialism on the world, and to put profit before the environment.

Sadly, the most left wing candidate for leader, Niki Ashton MP, squandered the opportunity to present a bold socialist policy platform, to integrate grassroots socialist activists into her campaign, and to turn it into a vehicle for mass action against capitalist austerity. She steered away from the radical path of British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Jagmeet Singh, former Ontario NDP Deputy Leader, appointed leadership opponent and Quebec MP Guy Caron to be NDP House Leader until the 2019 election. Charlie Angus, who was praised by the Toronto Star for having “the most nuanced position on pipelines and energy projects”, is left out in the cold. Does this mean Singh will oppose pipelines, and fight for public ownership and for a rapid Green energy transition away from carbon dependency?

Maybe. But it would take enormous pressure from below to move him in that direction. Remember,Singh initially favoured the Energy East pipeline, then backed down under pressure from Niki Ashton and others.

When he last ran for public office, he initially opposed LGBTQI-positive sex education in Brampton schools. As an Ontario MPP he fully backed Leader Andrea Horwath’s failed 2014 Ontario election campaign opposing tax increases on corporations and the rich (a policy not unlike Tom Mulcair’s ‘Balanced budget, No matter what). As Horwath’s Consumer Affairs Critics, Singh did nothing to advocate public auto insurance, a longstanding Ontario NDP policy championed by beloved NDP MPPs Mel Swart and Peter Kormos.

During the 2017 federal leadership race Singh stunned members when he came out against universality in seniors’ benefits. He infamously toured Israel hosted by Zionist organizations, and he was backed by the openly pro-imperialist NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Helene Laverdiere. On post-secondary school fees and student debt he has been vague.

On the positive side, Singh has a visionary position on illegal drugs. He wants to de-criminalize all drugs and invest in the treatment of substance abuse as a health issue.

However, he never uses the word “socialist” to describe himself; he proposes only minimal changes to tax law; and offers not a word about striving for democratic control of the economy. He is silent on internal party affairs, particularly the need for greater democracy.

So, what is to be done? Party and labour leftists should press Singh sharply on Pharma-care, dental care, free post-secondary education, steep taxation of corporations and the super-rich, for BDS against Israeli apartheid and Canada Out of NATO, and for public ownership, particularly in the areas of energy, banking, telecommunications and transportation. We need a commitment to respect the local NDP candidate nomination process and for the Leader to actively campaign for the policies adopted at convention.

Instead of trying to revive a short-lived honeymoon for the new leader, working class activists need to set a militant tone at the February 2018 NDP federal convention. This should be done by advancing socialist policies and by demanding that Singh lead the fight for a Workers’ Agenda. He can do it, if we unite to demand it.

 

Rebel Films Victoria Series

Rebel Films Victoria Series

Spring 2018

  • Films, commentaries and discussion
  • Everyone is welcome! PWYC or free
  • Events begin at 6:30 pm. Films begin at 7 pm
  • Location: Kirk Hall, 680 Courtney Street, Victoria


Thursday, March 15, 6:30 pm

Winnipeg General Strike 1919
Film and discussion. Comments by Gary Porter, Socialist Action.


Thursday, March 22, 6:30 pm

Globalization, labour migration and myths of free trade
Economist Anwar Shaikh, New School, NYC. Comments by independent marxist Marv Gandall


Thursday, March 29, 6:30 pm

What do we do about the legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada
A film presentation by Justice Murray SInclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission of Canada, comments by Janet Pilkey, Tsawout First Nation.


Thursday, April 5, 6:30 pm

From Tsar to Lenin
A film made in 1935 and narrated by Max Eastman. Comments based on an earlier presentation by Barry Weisleder, Socialist Action.


Series sponsored by Socialist Action Victoria.

Phone: (250) 589–3650
Website: http://www.socialistaction.ca

Solidarity with the Workers of Iran rally

Despite the frigid temperatures and biting wind, there was a very good turn out to the Solidarity with the Workers of Iran rally in Toronto on Saturday, January 6th 2018, Socialist Action joined over 100 like minded people rallying in support of the mass protests that have taken place across Iran since late December 2017.

The protests began in the city of Mashhad and quickly spread across the county to many other cities, including Teharn. The protests have been organized from the ground up by working and oppressed people peacefully speaking out against poverty, unemployment, violence, and the daily indignities and injustices imposed by the Islamic Republic.

Iran is a country with over 80 million people, yet despite immense natural resources and wealth, over 70 percent of the population live in poverty. Corruption, huge concentrations of wealth by the few and vast inequalities define Iran today. At the time of writing, we are hearing reports of protesters being injured, killed, and arrested by Iranian security forces.

Socialist Action stands in solidarity with the brave protesters and we express our disgust with the brutal neo-liberal capitalist regime of Iran. We also stand opposed to economic sanctions and any attempts by Canada, the U.S. and its allies to pursue war with Iran. Socialist Action also strongly opposes and condemns any interference by Western governments, Israel, and the reactionary, nationalist and pro-monarchy forces.

A leading Socialist Action member addressed the crowd and warned about right-wing forces taking over what has, up until now, been a popular uprising. He called on progressive forces in Canada and elsewhere to stand in solidarity with the working class and poor people of Iran. He also stressed the need to build revolutionary parties around the world.

Socialist Action supports the workers demands of Bread, Jobs and Freedom and demands that Western imperialism keep out of Iran!

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