Swans Commentary: Letters to the Editor - letter200



Letters to the Editor

(October 4, 2010)


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Much to Ruminate, and More to Think About: Gilles d'Aymery's The Economy Is Not Coming Back: Part I: A Short History of the Maelstrom

To the Editor:

There is much valuable in this essay, readers should print or place in a file and give themselves time to ruminate it.

Two additions:

The support for European recovery after WWII was not only to halt Communism in Europe, but the urgently felt need to prevent African, Asian, and Latin American poor people and intellectuals from going over to the Left in any form. Counter-insurgency mixed with military aid was the formula, and it was crucial that European governments, including social democratic governments, support this move. Also that their populations, far as possible, support a very gradual increase in racial equality in the U.S.

Second, more of a bibliographical note: Monthly Review analyses, over the past 50 years, have been and remain the best source for understanding the decline of the rate of profits (while the mass of profits increased) against the mass of defenses to hold the economic system together. If we grasp this, financialization -- nonproductive capital -- makes sense and so does the accelerating crises. We should not, however, forget the power of the system to squeeze profits out of other peoples, and the Americans who can be squeezed, too.

Paul Buhle
Madison, Wisconsin, USA - September 23, 2010


Historical Facts Again? Gilles d'Aymery's The Economy Is Not Coming Back: Part I: A Short History of the Maelstrom

To the Editor:

The author of the article wants to appear even-handed when describing the political-economic history of the past four decades, but, in truth, his Marxism is evident to anyone who carefully reads his words. In short, he vilified the rich (his target of choice), and gave a pass to the lazy class that depends on welfare to make ends meet.

What he consciously or not ignored is that without the rich the lazy class would have grown, and would grow, exponentially. Low taxes on the rich create jobs. High profits for the rich lower unemployment. These are yet other historical facts the author dismissed.

That so much knowledge is disregarded, replaced by left-wing drivel, is beyond comprehension.


Darrell Johnson
Tempe, Arizona - September 27, 2010
Gilles d'Aymery responds: Leaving the cheap rhetoric aside, there is no empirical evidence that low taxes create jobs and high profits lower the rate of unemployment. None. However, there is plenty empirical evidence that high unemployment bolsters profits (cf. current economic situation) and that demand, boosted by double-wage households and private borrowing, sustained employment, however poorly, for the past 30 years or so.

As to my "Marxism," a few friends who do think in the Marxist tradition would raise an eyebrow, wondering with a smile whether the reader has any understanding of Marxism -- and, certainly, he did not notice the note #3 in my article.

Thank you for continuing to read Swans.


The Limits of Electoral Politics: Beyond Voting (from the Bureau of Public Secrets)

To the Editor:

Roughly speaking we can distinguish five degrees of "government":

(1) Unrestricted freedom
(2) Direct democracy
(3) Delegate democracy
(4) Representative democracy
(5) Overt minority dictatorship

The present society oscillates between (4) and (5), i.e. between overt minority rule and covert minority rule camouflaged by a facade of token democracy. A liberated society would eliminate (4) and (5) and would progressively reduce the need for (2) and (3). . . .

In representative democracy people abdicate their power to elected officials. The candidates' stated policies are limited to a few vague generalities, and once they are elected there is little control over their actual decisions on hundreds of issues -- apart from the feeble threat of changing one's vote, a few years later, to some equally uncontrollable rival politician. Representatives are dependent on the wealthy for bribes and campaign contributions; they are subordinate to the owners of the mass media, who decide which issues get the publicity; and they are almost as ignorant and powerless as the general public regarding many important matters that are determined by unelected bureaucrats and independent secret agencies. Overt dictators may sometimes be overthrown, but the real rulers in "democratic" regimes, the tiny minority who own or control virtually everything, are never voted in and never voted out. Most people don't even know who they are. . . .

In itself, voting is of no great significance one way or the other (those who make a big deal about refusing to vote are only revealing their own fetishism). The problem is that it tends to lull people into relying on others to act for them, distracting them from more significant possibilities. A few people who take some creative initiative (think of the first civil rights sit-ins) may ultimately have a far greater effect than if they had put their energy into campaigning for lesser-evil politicians. At best, legislators rarely do more than what they have been forced to do by popular movements. A conservative regime under pressure from independent radical movements often concedes more than a liberal regime that knows it can count on radical support. (The Vietnam war, for example, was not ended by electing antiwar politicians, but because there was so much pressure from so many different directions that the prowar president Nixon was forced to withdraw.) If people invariably rally to lesser evils, all the rulers have to do in any situation that threatens their power is to conjure up a threat of some greater evil.

Even in the rare case when a "radical" politician has a realistic chance of winning an election, all the tedious campaign efforts of thousands of people may go down the drain in one day because of some trivial scandal discovered in his (or her) personal life, or because he inadvertently says something intelligent. If he manages to avoid these pitfalls and it looks like he might win, he tends to evade controversial issues for fear of antagonizing swing voters. If he actually gets elected he is almost never in a position to implement the reforms he has promised, except perhaps after years of wheeling and dealing with his new colleagues; which gives him a good excuse to see his first priority as making whatever compromises are necessary to keep himself in office indefinitely. Hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, he develops new interests and new tastes, which he justifies by telling himself that he deserves a few perks after all his years of working for good causes. Worst of all, if he does eventually manage to get a few "progressive" measures passed, this exceptional and usually trivial success is held up as evidence of the value of relying on electoral politics, luring many more people into wasting their energy on similar campaigns to come.

As one of the May 1968 graffiti put it, "It's painful to submit to our bosses; it's even more stupid to choose them!"

--Excerpts from Ken Knabb's The Joy of Revolution.
The complete text is online at http://www.bopsecrets.org/PS/joyrev.htm

* * *


My intention in circulating these observations is not to discourage you from voting or campaigning, but to encourage you to go further.

Two years ago, I wrote:

"Like many other people, I am delighted to see the Republicans collapsing into well-deserved ignominy, with the likelihood of the Democrats recapturing the presidency and increasing their majorities in Congress. Hopefully the latter will discontinue or at least mitigate some of the more insane policies of the current administration (some of which, such as climate change and ecological devastation, threaten to become irreversible). Beyond that, I do not expect the Democratic politicians to accomplish anything very significant. Most of them are just as corrupt and compromised as the Republicans. Even if a few of them are honest and well-intentioned, they are all loyal servants of the ruling economic system, and they all ultimately function as cogwheels in the murderous political machine that serves to defend that system."

I don't think I need to take back any of my words. The Democrats did indeed recapture the presidency and increase their majorities in Congress, but their accomplishments since then have been as pathetic as could be imagined. Some people will say that they are still better than the Republicans. But being better than a party of sociopathic demagogues and gullible ignoramuses is hardly much of an achievement. And being so lame that you risk getting defeated by such a party is an achievement of a wholly different order.

During the last two years we have seen the consequences of relying on political representatives to act for us. If the antiwar movement and other more or less progressive currents had put even a fraction of the immense amount of time and energy they invested in election campaigns into more directly radical agitation, the situation would be very different today. As a side effect, such agitation would actually have resulted in more liberals being elected. But more importantly, it would have shifted the momentum and the terrain of the struggle. The liberal politicians would have been under pressure to actually implement some significant changes (such as ending the wars and inaugurating free universal health care), which would have invigorated their base while putting the reactionary forces increasingly on the defensive. And that momentum shift might well have inspired even more radical actions and aspirations -- not just protesting against this or that particular outrage, but calling into question the whole absurd and anachronistic social system.

The side that takes the initiative usually wins because it defines the terms of the struggle. If we accept the system's own terms and confine ourselves to defensively reacting to each new mess produced by it, we will never overcome it. We have to keep resisting particular evils, but we also have to recognize that the system will keep generating new ones until we put an end to it.

By all means vote if you feel like it. But don't stop there. Real social change requires participation, not representation.

Ken Knabb
Berkeley, California, USA - October 1, 2010
Bureau of Public Secrets
"Making petrified conditions dance by singing them their own tune."


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Published October 4, 2010
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