President Trump’s targeted assassination-by-drone of Iran’s top commander, General Ghassem Soleimani, on January 3, 2020, vastly increased the risk of deadly military confrontation with Iran. Fortunately, Iran’s de-escalatory response in the form of missile attacks against US military bases in Iraq killed no US soldiers thereby allowing Trump to choose not to further escalate the confrontation. Predictably, however, a dominant narrative emerged quickly among the mainstream media talking heads and politicians from both parties, with a few exceptions, that amounted to a little more than cheerleading for a state-sponsored assassination of a senior foreign leader.
The congressional Democrats by and large only managed to raise procedural concerns about Trump’s decision. They objected to not having been informed in advance or to Trump not having garnered the approval of Congress for this action. Others, chastised the president for not having a long-term vision that would inform his actions after this particular operation was completed. Nearly everyone agreed that the operation was a tactical success. There was also a near unanimous agreement that Soleimani deserved to have been “taken out” violently, though some questioned the timing of this operation. One of the most nauseating aspect of it all was that all talking heads invariably began their remarks with what seemed to be the mandatory initial comment about how the murdered Iranian commander was responsible for the deaths of some 600 US soldiers in Iraq between 2003-2011.
Is it too much to want to hear someone, just for once, state the most obvious, elemental facts concerning this operation in the mass media?
What follows are the missing elemental truths as we see them: (i) the assassination of senior foreign leaders is a major international war crime, (ii) assassinating foreign leaders in a third country is a blatant violation of both the latter country’s sovereignty and of basic international law, (iii) armed resistance (in this case by the Iraqis and their allies) against occupying soldiers (in this case the US forces and their allies) is recognized by international law as a right belonging to the occupied – after all the US soldiers who died in those years were not killed in Detroit or New York but in Iraqi cities they had occupied militarily after waging an illegal war of aggression followed by a violent occupation that led to a million-plus excess violent Iraqi deaths and injuries, (iv) the targeted assassination of senior foreign military leaders lets the genie of high tech (drones) political assassination of senior foreign leaders loose, (v) the critical missing context is that Iran’s recent actions were a response to US policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran that has seriously harmed Iran’s economy and increased discontent among its public, rather than the US version of events that stresses it took action in response to Iran’s harmful intentions, and lastly (vi) this US action is selective and hypocritical, otherwise the US would have to violently take out other “malevolent” actors with plenty of blood on their hands, such as many US war planners in the many wars the US has waged in the region, Mohamed bin Salman in Saudi Arabia whose war on Yemen has been extraordinarily destructive, and senior Israeli leaders in charge of that country’s brutal colonization of the indigenous Palestinians, to name a few.
Staggering inequalities of income and wealth continue to mark the performance of late capitalism. Two measures give us a sense of the growing inequalities: (1) The worker productivity-pay gap: since 1979, worker productivity increased by 69.6% while worker pay increased by only 11.6% (a mere sixth of the rate of increase in productivity); (2) The CEO-to-typical worker compensation ratio: this ratio was 20:1 in 1965, 30:1 in 1978, 368:1 in 2000, and 278:1 in 2018. The CEO compensation grew by 1,007.5% from 1978 to 2018 while wages for the typical worker grew by just 11.9%. Note that these are averages which means that the ratios vary for different companies. So, for example, here are two obscene datum concerning the CEO-to-typical worker pay of two corporations: the Starbucks CEO made 1,671 times what the average Starbucks worker made in 2019; Walmart CEO made 1,076 times the typical Walmart worker in that same year. Put differently, the Starbucks CEO made in about 5 hours what the typical Starbucks worker made in one year; the Walmart CEO did so in about 8 hours.
Clearly, the ruling predatory oligarchs have been collecting the difference and enriching themselves beyond their wildest dreams. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett now own as much wealth as the bottom half of North Americans combined.
Instead of the promised “trickle-down economics,” one might say, the US workers have been experiencing a “stream-up economics” in which a predatory capitalist class takes a lion share of the wealth they create. Predictably, we are by now facing staggering levels of inequalities, a growing sense of alienation among a broad section of the public, and a dysfunctional form of politics coupled with rising authoritarianism.
Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 since 2009, representing nearly a 40% decline in purchasing power over a half century. A full-time worker making as much cannot even rent a single bedroom apartment in any US city. Though there are only 430,000 workers earning $7.25 an hour, a raise to at least $15 will positively impact 17 million workers.
Fighting for a living wage (at least for $15 an hour) is one way to begin confronting the aforementioned inequality trends in late capitalism. Of course, even this beginner step has been opposed by “conservatives” who argue that raising wages results in higher unemployment, inflation, and automation. Research shows, however, that the actual negative effects of higher wages in the many states, cities and localities that have already raised the minimum wage is negligible. By now, 29 states have raised the minimum wage of their workers. The opponents are uninformed or disingenuous.
Activists should push for living wages indexed to rising costs and labor productivity rates in order to lock-in their gains in the long-term and not see it erode with time as has happened in the past. They should require an automatic adjustment of the federal minimum wage to the average worker productivity rate. If the reader is not persuaded by this suggestion, perhaps the following can impress her: Had the federal minimum wage been tied to worker productivity since the late 1970s, it would by now have been around $21 an hour.
We think activists should also argue for a maximum cap on CEO compensation and limit the CEO-to-typical worker pay ratio to a reasonable level. The Mondragon experiment in Spain has kept the ratio of the highest paid to lowest paid workers to about 9:1. Mondragon is of course a federation of worker cooperatives and as such it would be a difficult if not impossible objective to impose its pay scale model on US corporations. But, is there any reason why activists in the US should not argue for a return to a 20:1 or 30:1 CEO-to-worker pay ratio reminiscent of the US corporate practices in 1965 and 1978 respectively?
Lastly, we favor development of worker-owned and operated enterprises. We understand that that is a difficult task and one that is a long-term goal. But, that is what economic democracy entails. Activists should push for policies that encourage democratization of workplaces every chance they get. But to get there, there would have to be a far greater level of class consciousness among the working people than exists today. Activists should take advantage of every opportunity to raise class consciousness among workers. Here is one suggestion as we indulge our editorial fantasy. Labor activists should argue for a reparation for labor. Workers have suffered through several decades of predatory capitalist assault on their working conditions and wages. What if labor organizers ask some labor-friendly economists to help them calculate what that loss and suffering has entailed? At the very least they could assess the loss of wages and income resulting from the divergence of pay and productivity trends over the past four decades. Activists could then hammer that figure into the public’s consciousness every chance they get. After all, without demanding the impossible we would inherit only a few crumbs of comfort in a dying planet.
We recommend the film The Report to our readers. The film does a fine job of exposing the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program on the basis of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation. It clearly shows how the Democratic Party politicians were a co-conspirator in these crimes which took place during George Bush Jr.’s administration. For example, the Obama administration did everything to stop the investigation, it even opposed the release of a heavily-redacted executive summary of the torture report; John Brennan, president Obama’s CIA chief, even tried to have Dan Jacobs, the chief Senate investigator, arrested.
President Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was not pleased with the film. After viewing it, he tweeted: “I watched “The Report.” Fiction. To be clear: the bad guys are not our intelligence warriors. The bad guys are the terrorists. To my former colleagues and all of the patriots at @CIA who have kept us safe since 9/11: America supports you, defends you and has your back. So do I.”
Well, we reserve some criticisms for The Report as well. But unlike Secretary Pompeo’s, we think the film is too kind to “our intelligence warriors.” For example, it does not provide a wider historical context for the practice of torture by the US. There is just one sentence in the film about the use of torture by the US in Vietnam and Latin America before 9/11. The fact is that since 1950, the US has developed a covert capacity to torture. It uses this capacity when or where it deems necessary globally. And when at times it has refrained from direct use of torture it has relied instead on sending the targeted individuals to allied countries that do torture.
Given this history, it is impossible not to conclude that those who run the intelligence apparatus and the White House, the likes of Pompeo himself, are sociopaths without any sense of guilt, remorse, or compassion for human suffering.
A new UN climate report has warned that present trends would lead to temperature increases of nearly 4°C by 2100, “bringing wide-ranging and destructive climate impacts.” The World Meteorological Organization has reported record-high concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Oxfam has reported that one person every two seconds is being forced from their home due to hurricanes, wildfires, cyclones, and other extreme weather, amounting to 200 million displaced since 2008. The new UN report says that we need to cut down global emissions by at least 55% in the next 10 years to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate disruption. The fundamental choice facing humanity today is ruination (business-as-usual and incrementalism) or revolution (the fundamental transformation of the way we live and relate to one another and to nature, in a short period of time remaining). In sum, only radical action, and soon, may avert the rapidly approaching planetary ecocide.
Left Turn welcomes the coming debate about socialism in the US in the aftermath of the rise of Sanders in the polls. Of course, this is a debate arriving only 70 years too late. And what is more, it will be carried out largely by the enemies of socialism and instant know-nothing “experts” who will fill the airwaves of the corporate media with false narratives reminiscent of the performance of the post-9/11 instant terrorism and Middle East “experts” who by and large lacked even an elementary familiarity with that region’s languages and cultures let alone its history and politics. Left Turn will publish articles in its coming issues in 2020 with the aim of explaining what we think socialism is and interrogating the false narratives that will inevitably be peddled by the corporate media and the dominant political class. Be that as it may, in what follows we present a brief foray into the different understandings of socialism and what we consider to be the most important distinction between socialism and democratic socialism, a label preferred by Senator Bernie Sanders to describe his politics. We identify three different understandings of socialism.
The first understanding corresponds to what is normally labeled democratic socialism. It is associated mainly with social democratic practices and politics of the kind that have produced strong social states (or welfare states) in the Scandinavian countries of northern Europe. By social states we have in mind states that exhibit a fundamental commitment to social welfare provisions for their population and where these provisions are not subject to sharp vicissitudes of electoral politics. Social states see the protection and provision of generous social welfare programs as central to their identity albeit still operating under capitalist economic framework.
The second understanding of socialism, state socialism, correlates more or less with the experiences of the “actually-existing-socialist-countries” in the 20th century. Here, the states often merged with the communist parties and together they coordinated socioeconomic activities from above and left very little space for political dissent. Markets were replaced with state coordination and private property was replaced with collectivized, state property.
The third understanding of socialist vision and practice, and the tradition within which we understand socialism, has two critical components. First, it emphasizes socialist economic democracy in workplaces — a critical missing element in the previous two understandings. We added “socialist” to “economic democracy” because the latter is often interpreted to mean workplaces with strong union representations of workers, a vision consistent with social democratic or democratic socialist practices and thoughts. A “socialist” economic democracy goes beyond capitalist relations of production. It is part of a transitioning away from capitalist mode of production altogether, though it too prefers a social state under capitalist framework over a naked form of capitalism (neoliberalism), if those were the only choices. The key to the transition is the transformation of work and workplaces, that is, of how people produce what they need in order to live a decent life. This understanding of socialism aims to radically reconstruct workplaces and relations therein on the basis of abolishing class exploitation and moving towards production on the basis of what Marx called unalienated labor. The best examples of socialist economic democracy are worker-community-owned and operated workplaces.
Lastly, this understanding of socialism regards the direct struggle against racism, patriarchy, the theft of nature, and the imperialist expropriation of land, labor, markets, and bodies of the colonized as integral to the struggle to supersede the global capitalist order and replace it with a democratic, cooperative, ecological, and egalitarian order..
Recent polling indicates that 70% of millennials would vote for a socialist compared to 36% of baby boomers. That is a welcome shift in perspectives and reflects ongoing intellectual and generational progress even though we are aware that many millenials confuse social democracy with socialism. The predatory ruling class, on the other hand, sees this shift in thinking and preference as another sign of a growing legitimation crisis the system faces. They are right, of course, but have no decent ideas on how to address, let alone manage, the crisis and keep their predatory global system of exploitation and expropriation going.
The New York Times quoted Hillary Clinton on Sanders, saying, among other things, that “Nobody Likes Him.” Well, we all know that millions of people do like Sanders, which makes her comment clearly false. So, what are we to make of her comment? Should we just dismiss it out of hand as lacking any relation to the real world? If we think of the word ‘nobody’ in the ordinary sense in which it is used, then we would be warranted to dismiss her comment. But, as often, many words acquire a technical meaning when employed in the political domain by officials. For example, when a politician says “national interest,” she means the narrow ‘special interest’ of the ruling class or a segment of it. So, if we understand Secretary Clinton’s use of the word ‘nobody’ in its technical sense, we would be able to see that she is indeed correct in her assessment. What is then the technical meaning of ‘nobody’ in the phrase “nobody likes him?” Well, it means that nobody that matters in establishment politics likes Sanders. And, that’s true as indicated by the panic exhibited by corporate Democrats in response to the rise of Bernie Sanders in polls in the primaries. So, beware of words with double meanings and the corruption of language by the powers-that-be.