Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police

Introduction

From around February 20 until May 23, 2021 I belonged to an organization in Toronto called Social Housing Green Deal. The organization came to my attention when one of my friends on Facebook invited me to join.

The reason why I joined is that it is involved in a movement for defunding (if not abolishing) the police. I thought that perhaps I could participate in such an organization and contribute by expressing my own point of view. I was wrong.

The following outlines how I actually started participating in the organization and how such participation led to the practical censorship of my views through both actual censorship and the possible manipulation of protocols used for general meetings.

My conclusions about the efforts of this group, at least in relation to defunding the police (and abolishing it) is: it will not be very effective. Its characteristic lack of critical spirit will result in an incapacity to determine what really is required to defund and abolish the police. Its lack of willingness to critically analyze other organizations’ statements will undoubtedly contribute to that incapacity. Finally, its probable use of control over protocols to silence others expresses as well an incapacity to engage in self-criticism–a basic condition for any political advance.

I wish I were wrong, but given their collapse of strategy into tactics and their lack of a critical spirit–my prediction will probably come true. In May 2022, it will be interesting to see whether the social-democratic left has managed to defund the police to any great extent in Toronto. I doubt it.

I believe that Meursault, the protagonist of the existential writer Albert Camus, in his book “L’Etranger (The Outsider in English) sums up my conclusions concerning this organization:

 J’avais eu raison, j’avais encore raison, j’avais toujours raison. [I had been right, I will still right, I was always right.

It is necessary to critique the social-democratic left from the outside since they will try to take measures to stifle dissent from their dogmas. I will elaborate on this assertion in a future post. 

Joining the Group

To join the group, it was necessary to answer why you wanted to join. Anna Jessup is the moderator and administrator. Ms. Jessup asked the following question on February 17, 2021:

Hi Frederick.  Before I add you to our group tell me a bit about yourself.  What made you want to join?
 
Anna

Here is how I responded on February 18, 2021:

Hello Anna,
 
  1. We have met before–at ETTO, I believe, and at Black Creek Community Farm, where, unfortunately, a list of things to be done were itemized but, as far as I know, nothing came of it.
  2. The question, perhaps, is meant to ensure that right-wing people do not attend.
  3. To answer the question properly would involve much personal information and history, and I am uninclined to share that at this time.
  4. I could, as well, ask what the purpose of the group is; I am somewhat reluctant to get involved in organizations that are purely reformist in nature.
  5. To be more specific: Why do I want to “participate?” Because the police are a central feature of a society dominated by a class of employers. They are central to the reproduction of a social order that treats human beings as things to be used by employers.
  6. I have a blog (the abolitonary.ca–although I do not think it is accessible only via that URL, but you made try if interested.) I have posted five posts with the title “Reform versus the Abolition of Police,” and I argue for the abolition of police.
  7. I will be posting a sixth post on Friday concerning the relation between police and unions (not police unions), where I use an article that tries to show that unions function to protect workers by limiting their exploitation (defensive mechanism) but simultaneously function as ideological organizations to integrate workers into the class system of employers.
  8. James Wilt, in Canadian Dimension, argued for the abolition of police whereas Herman Rosenfeld argued for their “transformation.” I criticize severely Mr. Rosenfeld’s view, arguing that his claim that Mr. Wilt engages in sloppy thinking in fact applies to him.
  9. I will be drafting a critique of Harry Kopyto’s critique of Mr. Rosenfeld’s claim that the police can somehow be reformed–and then concedes way too much by claiming that Mr. Rosenfeld is however correct to argue for “reforms” “in the meantime.” This is a social-democratic trick of putting off forever the aim of abolishing the police. Of course, the police cannot be abolished all at once, but the aim of such abolition should always be present–and accepting reforms for the moment when there is insufficient power but always pressing for the abolition of the police. 
  10. My purpose of “participating” in the zoom conference is really to listen–nothing more, for now (perhaps I can learn some things). I have experienced insults from “the left” here in Toronto–“condescending prick” from Wayne Dealy, executive director of CUPE 3902, and “insane” from Errol Young, of JFAAP. I am undoubtedly considered by some among the left as “sectarian”–but they do not seem to want to engage in any kind of debate on my blog concerning issues that I have raised. 
  11. I self-identify as a Marxist.

    Fred Harris

Ms. Jessup responded as follows, on February 20, 2021:

Yes Fred, I remember you.  I respect your Marxist analysis and certainly wish to apply such an analysis to on-the-ground work. 
 
One complication I ran into with our previous work, was that your posts ignited more discussion than I had the time or resources to moderate.  
 
Are you willing to avoid debate on this google group, and simply use it as a way to receive information about upcoming meetings and events?
 
Anna

I responded on the same day as follows:

Hello Anna,
 
I was going to participate at least to a  minimum degree at first, but given the email, I will not even do that. I will limit myself to listening and taking notes.
 
Fred

Being Drawn into Participation 

 
The same day I received the following message: 
 
The link to the meeting will come to you by email a few minutes before 3PM today.
Hope to see you all there.
 
Anna
The important point in the above message is that the zoom “link to the meeting will come to you by email before 3PM.” This is relevant for what happened on May 23, 2021.
 
On February 21, 2021, I wrote the following: 
 
Hello Anna,
 
I am copying below part of a post from my blog that may be relevant to the discussion yesterday–namely, the creation of protective teams, which I believe is a better approach than relying on pressuring council members to vote for defunding the police (until there is sufficient power on the ground).
 
Feel free to use part or all of it–or not.
 
Fred
What I sent Anna was a large part of the post on alternatives to policing (see  Reform versus Abolition of Police, Part Four: Possible Alternatives). 
 
Ms. Jessup’s response was: 
 
Wow, what a great read.
 
I will post it if that’s alright.  I’ll cut out the criticism of Herman as I don’t want to make my friends defensive. 
 
I will post it on our Facebook group. 
 
Very glad I read this.  Thank you.
Ms. Jessup then sent a quest to have what I wrote put up on the organization’s website–which it was.
 
Being drawn into the organization, I started sending recommendations for reading, and in the process expressed some of my own views. On March 10, 2021, for example, I sent the following:
Hello Anna,
 
Attached is another open text document file, this time relating the police to the emergence and maintenance of capitalism. It is, as I indicate in the text, a series of short comments followed by many quotes from the book by Mark Neocleous (2000), The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power.  I will be posting this in the future on my blog. Again, feel free to do anything you want with part or all of it or anything at all.
 
Fred

Ms. Jessup’s response on March 11, 2021:

Thank you!

On April 3, 2021, I sent the following, along with the documents:

Hello Ana,
 
I am attaching two items. The first is a document recommended by SURJ  [Showing Up for Racial Justice] that I received recently, “Building the World We Want: A Roadmap to Police Free Futures,” assembled by Robyn Maynard, graphics by Sahra Soudi. In the document, there is much about defunding the police (much less about its abolition), and very little about the kind of society that the police protect. It is my view that unless the two are connected, it is highly unlikely that the police will be defunded/abolished on a permanent basis since, as I tried to show in the quotes from the book by Mark Neocleus (The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power) and my short comments, the emergence of the modern police and the emergence of a society dominated by a class of employers went hand in hand. 

Hence, the second document is from my blog, quoting from Elizabeth Anderson’s book on the nature of employment relationship: what, in effect, the police protect, is a dictatorship.

Feel free to edit it any way you want.
 
Fred
Ms. Jessup, on April 5, 2021, responded (edited to omit personal information that I should respect): 
Thank you so much.  I’ll need time before I can get to it … But it is very nice to get an email about something positive!
The second document is from my blog:  Employers as Dictators, Part One.
 
On April 6, 2021, Ms. Jessup added: 
 
Good reading.  Thank you.  I have added the Maynard piece to our group’s resource folder.
 
Out of curiosity, in your piece, which I enjoyed, why did you characterize totalitarian aspects of our society as communist rather than simply as totalitarian?
To which I responded on the same day:
 
Hello Anna,
 
To answer your question concerning communist vs. totalitarian: It was not I but Elizabeth Anderson who made a parallel between the dictatorship at work and a communist dictatorship.
 
I believe it was an astute tactic on her part. Many Americans undoubtedly still equate the former Soviet dictatorship with communism. To make a parallel with this former dictatorship may shock many Americans (and undoubtedly many Canadians and Europeans), but it also resonates with their experiences at work. It may thereby create an opening–by creating a contradiction in the readers’ point of view–for discussing the issue of just how democratic the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, England, etc. are. Such discussions are sadly lacking in the labour movement in general and the union movement in particular.

 On my blog, I have systematically tried to exhibit the dictatorial nature of employers even in unionized settings via the implicit or explicit management rights that employers have. I have also tried to expose how unions not only fail to address the dictatorial power of employers but serve, through their rhetoric of “fair contracts” and the like, as ideologues of employers. For example, I searched for the expression “fair contract,” “fair deal,” and similar expressions on the Net for CUPE–the largest union in Canada. I quoted 10 different CUPE sources using such ideological rhetoric.

I will be posting, in the future, a similar post on the second largest union in Canada, this time in the private sector, Unifor. 
On April 6, 2021, I received an email indicating that we would have a zoom meeting the following day (April 7), with a zoom link (so that we could video conference). It was to be at 7:30 p.m. rather than the usual 3:00 p.m.: 
 
At that meeting, the eviction of a father with his children was discussed, with twenty-three police cars showing up in Toronto.  I suggested that we need to try to connect this incident with larger issues (the micro with the macro). Ms. Jessup suggested that I do that. I stated that I would do that if someone else would jointly work on it since I lacked the specific details. There was silence.
 
As a consequence, I decided to draft something on my own that would connect up the micro with the macro, starting with the micro and linking it up with wider and wider issues. I did some research to familiarize myself with some writings on the subject of housing as well as to gain a more concrete understanding of the specific incident.
 
As a result, I wrote to Ms. Jessup, on April 15, 2021, I sent the following to her, with the subject heading “Write up: A Critical Analysis of the Life Situation of the Working Class in Relation to Housing and the Police—and What To Do About It.” 
 
Hello Anna,
 
Attached is a draft on some thoughts about the relationship between left-wing activism and the situation of the working class and what can be done about it–by linking short-term problems with long-term goals. 
 
If you or anyone else has any criticisms or suggestions, feel free to make them. I am all ears.
 
Fred
The draft follows. It is quite long (13 pages in draft form). The last part I copied from the page from this blog The Money Circuit of Capital, so I will omit that part. 
 

A Critical Analysis of the Life Situation of the Working Class in Relation to Housing and the Police—and What To Do About It

Introduction

I have been accused, among union circles, of being condescending. However, if by condescending is meant questioning actions that do not lead to goals that I believe are worth pursuing, then I admit to be condescending.

Some may consider the following to be academic. However, I have had some experience with activism. For example, in the early 1980s, when I worked at a brewery in Calgary, I refused an order by supervisors and justified my refusal by stating that I had nothing but contempt for capitalists and their representatives. I was sent home on two consecutive nights. When the union president and the bottling manager met to discuss the issue, the bottling manager stated: “Do you know what that Marxist son of a bitch said?” We workers won this particular battle—the order was cancelled. That, of course, did not mean that we had won the war.

I would appreciate criticisms and suggestions for improvement in what follows, both in terms of accuracy and in terms of arguments.

Immediate Incident as an Occasion for Grassroots Activism

On Good Friday, April 2, 2021, 23 police cruisers showed up at 33 Gabian Way, which is a 19-story building owned by Vila Gaspar Corte Real Inc., or Villa Gaspar Corte Real Non-Profit Housing Inc. (there is some inconsistency in spelling the company).

The building is a combination of rental and social housing, built in 1993. There are 248 residential units. Apparently, the building is linked to Project Esperance, which is a non-profit registered charity. It services 111 units of from one- to three-bedroom units. Rents are geared to income.

According to the police, there were so many police present in order to remove a large number of protesters. The facts speak otherwise.

There were indeed protesters; they were protesting the eviction of Alex, a father of a one-year old and a six-year child. Alex had made arrangements with the landlord to pay rent arrears by March 29. Alex had managed to obtain the money to pay the rent, but a sheriff’s officer showed up to evict him on April 2, without warning. He left the apartment with his two children, but he returned to obtain his possessions. The police showed up and forced their way into the apartment.

The police denied that they were there to enforce the eviction—but if that were the case, why did they force their way into the apartment? Furthermore, one police officer claimed that the police had a court order for eviction and that they were there to evict Alex.

Due to the resistance of neighbours and supporters, Alex was not evicted.

This incident has several aspects to it. Firstly, immediate organized resistance to those with power and wealth can be effective in the short-term. Secondly, when there are supporters for those who are to be evicted, it is likely that the police will show up—in force.

Thirdly, and something that was not emphasized in references to the incident, it is sheriff’s who have the legal right to evict a tenant (with the assistance of police if the sheriff believes there will be trouble), and they need not inform the tenant when they are coming, as the website Steps to Justice: Your Guide to Law In Ontario points out (https://stepstojustice.ca/questions/housing-law/what-happens-if-theres-eviction-order-and-i-dont-move):

After the Landlord and Tenant Board makes an order to evict a tenant, a court official called the Sheriff is in charge of enforcing or carrying out the order.

If you have not moved out by the date the eviction order says you must move, the Sheriff can make you leave and let your landlord change the locks.

Only the Sheriff is allowed to physically evict you

The law does not let your landlord, a private bailiff, or a security guard physically evict you or lock you out. Only the Sheriff can do this. The police can’t evict you either but the Sheriff can ask the police for help if the Sheriff thinks there might be violence.

You can get evicted at any time of year

Many tenants believe that the law does not allow evictions in the winter. That is not true. The Sheriff can enforce eviction orders at any time of year.

The Sheriff does not have to tell you when they are coming to evict you

If you have an eviction order against you, the Sheriff could come to change your locks on any weekday after the date the Board ordered you to move out.”

The issue of the power of sheriffs to evict links up to the more general issue of the modern property system and the aims of those who engage in resistance to evictions (and other forms of resistance involving law-enforcement officers).

Fourthly: What was the aim of the supporters and neighbours? To prevent the eviction, evidently. It worked. It is a short-term victory, however. There will be other evictions, and other evictions, and other evictions. This issue can be looked at from a number of angles.

Strategy and Tactics

The left here in Toronto and elsewhere frequently collapse strategy and tactics, in effect advocating only tactics. This leads nowhere except the perpetuation of the problems and the constant need to resist and to struggle—without any realistic hope of resolving the conditions which constantly generate the problem. This does not mean that reforms should be thrown out of the window. It does mean, however, that activism that stays at the level of tactics will never address the more profound causes of the immediate problems. Robert Knox (2012) addresses this problem in his article titled “Strategy and Tactics.” in pages 193-229, The Finnish Yearbook of International Law, Volume 21, writes, p. 205:

only tactical interventions occur, which are then branded as strategic interventions, foreclosing the possibility of an actual strategic intervention.”

What is the difference between strategic interventions and tactical interventions? The difference has been specified in terms of war as follows (pages 197-198):

Carl von Clausewitz, one of the most influential exponents of modern military theory, defined strategy as:

[T]he use of the engagement to attain the object of the war … It must therefore give an aim to the whole military action. Its aim must be in accord with the object of the war. In other words, strategy develops the plan of the war, and to the aforesaid aim links the series of acts which are to lead to it; that is, it plans the separate campaigns and arranges the engagements to be fought in each of them.

Strategy is – in essence – how it is that one would fight and win a war: connecting the various individual battles together so as to achieve this broader objective. In contradistinction to this is tactics, which is concerned with smaller and shorter term matters. Tactics are concerned with how to win the individual battles and engagements of which the war is composed.

If we wish to translate this metaphor into more general terms, we might say that strategy concerns the manner in which we achieve and eventually fulfil our long term aims or objectives, whereas tactics concerns the methods through which we achieve our shorter term aims or objectives. The obvious conclusion here, and one that will be important to bear in mind throughout this article, is that when we talk of ‘pragmatism’ or ‘effectiveness’ it need not be referring to only the immediate situation. As will be explored more fully below, any tactical intervention will also have strategic consequences. This means that when thinking about effectiveness, it is necessary to understand the inherent relation between strategy and tactics. In so doing, the distinction allows us to consider how effective particular (seemingly ‘short term’) interventions might be in the longer term.

If evictions are going to be stopped permanently, then immediate forms of resistance and immediate actions need to be linked to that goal—not just to incidents of crisis as they arise.

Nothing Fails Like Success

This is a take on the title of chapter one of Jeremy Reiman’s and Paul Leighton (2017), in The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice; that title is “Nothing Succeeds Like Failure.” They argue that the police and prisons fail to reduce crime rates and, in their failure, perpetuate their own need or existence. Page 45:

“Failure is, after all, in the eye of the beholder. Here lies the key to understanding our failing criminal justices ystem: The failure of policies and institutions can serve vested interests and thus amount to success for them!

If we look at the system as “wanting” to reduce crime, it is an abysmal failure that we cannot understand. If we look at it as not wanting to reduce crime, it’s a howling success, and all we need to understand is why the goal of the criminal justice system is to fail to reduce crime. If we can understand this, then the system’s “failure,” as well as its obstinate refusal to implement the policies that could remedy that “failure,” becomes perfectly understandable. In other words, we can make more sense out of criminal justice policy by assuming that its goal is to maintain crime than by assuming that its goal is to reduce crime!”

Leftist activism, similarly, but from the opposite end, by succeeding in short-term tactics, perpetuates its own constant need to engage in activism—activism for activism’s sake. It may make those who engage in such activism feel useful, but it fails to address the need to incorporate a strategic approach into activism. If activism succeeded in eliminating the need for activism, it would eliminate itself. This is one reason why strategy is collapsed into tactics—it permanently perpetuates the need for activism. Its short-term successes guarantee the continued need to engage in—short-term tactics.

The Bad Infinite

We can give this problem a philosophical turn. G.W.F. Hegel, a German philosopher, criticized the theoretical equivalent of this view in the following terms of the “bad infinite”–an infinite that never reaches an end (from The Encyclopaedia Logic, page 150:

“A limit is set, it is exceeded, then there is another limit, and so on without end. So we have nothing here but a superficial alternation, which stays forever within the sphere of the finite. If we suppose that we can liberate ourselves from the finite by stepping out into that infinitude, this is in fact only a liberation through flight. And the person who flees is not yet free, for in fleeing, he is still determined by the very thing from which he is fleeing. So if people then add that the infinite cannot be attained, what they say is quite correct….”

The bad infinite never reaches any end since it presupposes the general context that generates the particular or specific problems will continue to exist. To go beyond the bad infinite requires questioning that context—and hence developing a strategy designed to specify the problem at the general level while simultaneously addressing more immediate problems in such a way that successes feed into the resolution of the problem at the more general level.

Housing and Capitalism

Houses and housing form a central aspect of capitalist society. This has been noticed since the World Economic Crisis of 2007-2008. Wolfgang Streeck (2016), in his book How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System, argues that there have been four crises of democratic capitalism since the last world war:

“With the crash of privatized Keynesianism in 2008, the crisis of postwar democratic capitalism entered its fourth and latest stage, after the successive eras of inflation, public deficits and private indebtedness (Figure 2.5). With the global financial system poised to disintegrate, nation states sought to restore economic confidence by socializing the bad loans licensed in compensation for fiscal consolidation. Together with the fiscal expansion necessary to prevent a breakdown of the ‘real economy’, this resulted in a dramatic new increase in public deficits and public debt – a development that, it may be noted, was not at all due to frivolous overspending by opportunistic politicians or misconceived public institutions….”

Monetary instability (inflation), unemployment, public deficit spending and indebtedness followed by a shift to private indebtedness and deregulation of credit (and austerity measures) led to a bubble in housing prices and to speculative credit extended to those unlikely to be able to pay for mortgages once interest rates rose or they became unemployed. Of course, the crash of 2007-2008 increased public debt several fold and the pandemic has done the same.

Housing, Capitalism and the Police

Brendan Beck and Adam Goldstein (2017), in their article “Governing Through Police? Housing Market Reliance, Welfare Retrenchment, and Police Budgeting in an Era of Declining Crime, argue somewhat differently from Reiman and Leighton—though both arguments may complement each other.

They note, like Reiman and Leighton do, that crime rates have generally declined since the 1990s. On the other hand, police budgets have generally blossomed. They explain this general increase in municipal police budgets because of the increased centrality of real estate in the city economy. Page 1183:

“One key puzzle is why penal state growth continued unabated long after crime levels peaked in the early 1990s. We focus on local policing and consider the relationship between growing city-level law enforcement expenditures and two shifts: first, the move toward an economy increasingly organized around residential real estate; and second, city-level welfare retrenchment. We argue that increasing economic reliance on housing price appreciation during the late 1990s and the 2000s heightened demand for expanded law enforcement even as actual risks of crime victimization fell. At the same time, cities increasingly addressed social problems through criminal justice—rather than social service—capacities.

As homes became a vehicle for workers to not only live but also to obtain some security with rising house prices, their interests in maintaining the price of the house increased. This interest has spilled over into support for policing efforts (however ineffective) that contribute to the maintenance of the prices of housing and land. This spillover, in turn, has racist implications since concentrations of coloured and minorities are perceived by homeowners as threats to property prices—but there is counterevidence that in the case of the Latino population there is no such perceived threat. Page 1186:

Thus, the threat theory hypothesizes that investment in police forces (per capita force size and/or expenditure) will be positively associated with racial minorities’ share of the local population, net of crime rates. Studies have consistently found support for this hypothesis (e.g., Carmichael and Kent 2014; Jacobs and Carmichael 2001; Kent and Jacobs 2005; McCarty, Ren, and Zhao 2012; Sever 2003; Vargas and McHarris 2017). In fact, the percentage of black residents typically appears as one of the single most significant predictors in models of city police strength. However, recent studies find no evidence of a similar positive association between the percentage of Latino residents and police strength, neither cross-sectionally nor longitudinally (Holmes et al. 2008; Zhao, Ren, and Lovrich 2010).”

On the other hand, it is necessary also to consider competition between workers in working for an employer:

Two different studies, King and Wheelock (2007) and Stults and Baumer (2007), use geocoded survey data to probe the mechanisms underlying racial threat effects. Both found that the observed association between the percent of black residents and police size is driven substantially by whites’ perceived economicthreats in the labor market and in social service provision. Racial threat is driven to a lesser extent by whites’ fears of crime victimization (Stults and Baumer 2007).”

However, their study seems to use the threat of falling residential prices as a proxy or for economic threat. Page 1187:

In examining the use of police as a means of governing housing markets, we also consider how the ethno-racial makeup of cities might have interacted with shifting forms of economic threat. As we elaborate below, as urban economies came to be based more and more around real estate, perceived economic threats (and the racialized fears on which they draw) increasingly took the form of concerns about protecting housing prices. Previous research, using the Gini coefficient to measure economic threat, finds a positive effect on police department size (Carmichael and Kent 2014). We use measures of more specific economic threats: those around housing.

They mention other factors that influence the growth of police budgets, such as the structure of municipal politics (the degree to which it is subject to partisan politics), whether it is a mayoral election year and the previous year’s budget.

The Financialization of the Housing Market

Beck and Goldstein argue that, as crime rates declined in the 1990s, there was a simultaneous financialization of the housing industry. This compensated, at least in part, for the stagnation in wages and salaries. Page 1188:

Between 1992 and 2005, the median home price doubled and the amount of outstanding mortgage debt tripled (Census Bureau 2012; Federal Reserve Board 2016). Wages were stagnant during this time, but the proliferation of home equity loan instruments allowed homeowners to utilize their houses as income streams, making homeownerseconomic livelihoods predicated increasingly on continual housing price growth (Davis 2010). Home equity extraction made up 10 percent of householdsincome nationally and as much as 15 percent in places like California and Florida (Greenspan and Kennedy 2007; Irwin 2006). Home value was important for homeowners and for regional economies.

Homeowners, especially in the present, where heightened prices for homes takes up some of the slack for limited wage and salary increases, tend to support the police more than renters:

“Given linkages in popular narratives between crime rates and residential property values, we suspect that part of the explanation for continual expansion of policing can be found in the increasingly central role of housing markets in the economy, and politicians’ responsiveness to homeowners’ concerns about protecting property prices. As Simon has theorized, “the more a person’s future economic security depends on the value of his or her home, rather than earning capacity, the more we might expect this person to focus on factors like crime that could damage the value of the home” (2010, 195). Past research has shown that homeowners are more satisfied with and supportive of police than are renters (Reisig and Parks 2000; Schuck, Rosenbaum, and Hawkins 2008).

The shift from homes being a place primarily to live in and have a private life to a form of equity involves not just support for measures to reduce crime but other measures to ensure that the “public area” of the surrounding neighbourhood be protected from potential threats of disorder and not just crime:

Economists have long documented the negative effects of reported crime levels on housing prices, and this effect was especially pronounced during the 1990s (Hellman and Naroff 1979; Pope and Pope 2012; Schwartz, Susin, and Voicu 2003). The deleterious impact of crime on property values represents a salient social fact within the residential real estate field, one that is ubiquitously repeated in popular media and on real estate websites. Indeed, the reorientation toward real estate heightened the importance of guarding against not only crime, but also disorder, lifestyle nuisances, loitering, and anything else that might threaten property values. The salience of such economic fears may help explain the fact that the same exact majority of GSS respondents (57 percent) supported spending more public money on law enforcement in 2006 as they did in 1990, when crime rates were 50 percent higher.3 Even safe-feeling homeowners might have supported expanded policing to protect home values.”

It was no longer actual crime (however defined by the status quo) but the threat or possibility of disorder and crime that became a concern. Pages 1188-1189:

“…policing strategies that had police respond to perceived disorder, the expanded role for police went hand in hand with an expansion in the justificatory logics and motives to rationalize continued growth. For instance, a 2010 Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services report aimed at the law enforcement community argues that police agencies should reconceptualize their role and refocus their energies on combating fear of crime (rather than crime) because—among other things—it undermines residential property values (Cordner 2010).

At the same time, as governments retrenched on welfare services, the police were called upon to address problems normally handled by such services. The expansion of police services and the retrenchment of welfare services, however, should not lead the left to idealize welfare services. Welfare services have been oppressive in various ways such as supervising personal lives to ensuring that those who receive assistance are the “deserving poor.”

Furthermore, as the incident at 33 Gabian Way demonstrates, public housing can be quite oppressive. Evictions can occur in just as brutal fashion as in private housing. The left should not idealize the public sector—which they often do.

Housing, Police and the Working Class

The use of houses as equity among the working class has led to a split within the class in terms of immediate material interests. From Michael Berry, Housing Provision and Class Relations under Capitalism: Some Implications of Recent Marxist Class Analysis, pages 109-121, Housing Studies, Volume 1, Issue 2, pages 115-116:

Income differences are, as has been argued, also internalised within classes. In the case of the working class, for example, higher paid workers in primary jobs are doubly advantaged; they enjoy both higher and more secure wages and a higher probability of: (a) gaining access to owner-occupation; and (b) securing high capital gains from domestic property ownership. Conversely, workers in the secondary job market and those relegated to the reserve army of unemployed are more likely to be denied access to home ownership, or, if allowed access, concentrated in housing submarkets where property values remain relatively stable. Tenancy therefore evolves as a residual tenure category in a dual sense; not only can land supporting rental housing often be converted to more profitable non-residential uses, it evolves as ‘housing of last resort’ for less privileged sections of the working and nonworking population whose low incomes place strict limits on the rental returns to landlords, both factors leading to a degree of underprovision and homelessness.

In summary, working class disunity, associated with unequal access to and benefits from home ownership, and its political expression through various forms of struggle, is part of a wider system of inequality and exploitation. Both forms of advantage to higher paid workers privileged position in the workplace, over and against the immediate interests of other workers. depend on their being able to maintain their privileged position in the workplace, over and against the immediate interests of other workers.

Bad Infinity Again, or the Labour of Sisyphus—Unless We Begin to Link Strategy and Tactics

The upshot of all this is that unless activists begin to linking the immediate issues to larger issues, it is highly likely that they will achieve only fleeting success. The split in the working class means that there will be substantial resistance by a substantial section of the population to efforts to defund the police or to abolish it unless measures are taken to address the wider concerns and issues.

How to Link Strategy and Tactics

How can this be done? One possibility is to divide those who do have relatively secure positions, with relatively well-paid jobs (frequently the unionized sector) into two or three age groups as well as dividing each group into homeowners and those who do not own homes (condos, townshomes, houses, life leases or other forms of home ownership).

Those who are nearing retirement are unlikely to want to threaten their own security, both in terms of their pensions and in terms of their home ownership (for the importance of security for identifying working-class consciousness, see Marc Mulholland (2010), ‘Its Patrimony, its Unique Wealth!’ Labour-Power, Working Class Consciousness and Crises: An Outline Consideration. Pages 375-417, In Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory, Volume 38, Issue 3—although I believe he fails to include other aspects that motivate workers, such as the fight for their freedom and justice). Older workers also do not also have a whole life ahead of them to work for an employer. It is likely that only if their livelihood were threatened in some way (such as redefining the age of retirement) would they be prone to engage in serious battles with the aim of changing the economic and political structure. Older unionized workers would more likely support the police and less likely support a movement for defunding the police or in abolishing the police (empirical studies are needed here. Are there any?)

Some middle-aged workers, on the other hand, may still have to pay off their mortgage and still have to subordinate their will to the power of an employer for some time; others, of course, may approach older unionized workers in having a secure life. Some middle-aged workers may thus be more prone to oppose the police whereas others may be more prone to support them. It all depends on their life circumstances.

Younger unionized workers may have inherited housing from their parents, so they may be more prone to support the police. On the other hand, they more likely have a lifetime of having to work for an employer (although some may aspire to owning their own businesses, of course). These workers may be more susceptible to opposing police funding and the existence of the police because of their life situation.

To combat some of the unionized workers’ tendency to support the police, it would be necessary to show them the nature of their situation for the foreseeable future and to criticize alternative views that present their lives as somehow being fair. On the one hand, it would be necessary to show that their life working for an employer in hopes of owning a home entails a substantial part of their lives being used as means for employers’ ends over which they have little control. On the other hand, it would be necessary to criticize union rhetoric that presents collective bargaining and collective agreements as somehow fair.

To provide such criticisms, it is necessary to show that workers are used as means for other person’s ends. To that end, I reproduce the page on my blog on the money circuit of capital (it is fairly detailed, but it is necessary in order to oppose the rosy picture presented by union and business rhetoric about the future life of workers—especially younger workers) (if anyone has alternative means for exposing the limitations of union rhetoric, feel free to criticize this writing, including what follows, or if they can simplify it in any way).

… 

Conclusion: Using All Opportunities for Criticizing the Treatment of Human Beings as Means for Other People’s Ends

If a movement for defunding the police is to gain ground, it is necessary to use every opportunity that arises to criticize the economic and political structure in the wider sense and not just engage in activist actions at the micro level. The micro (where tactical decisions must be made) and the macro (where strategic decisions must be made) need to be linked constantly. How to do that is the central question.

In the movement for a fight for $15, for example, for whatever reason, the fight in Canada (not in the United States) has been paired with the concept of “fairness.” This provides the more radical left with an opportunity to challenge such rhetoric.

The same could be same with union rhetoric. For example, I compiled a list of 10 statements by CUPE on the fairness of collective agreements, put them up on my blog and queried how collective agreements, which limit the power of employers (and hence are, generally, better than no collective agreements) are somehow fair.

I would like to hear from others on how to link strategy and tactics together in the case of defunding the police and abolishing the police. Alternatively, I would be interested in reading arguments that short-term tactics can solve long-term problems.

The Silence of the Social-Democratic Left 

On April 18, 2021, I received an email indicating another meeting was to take place on April 24 at 3:00 p.m.  However, on April 24 the meeting was postponed until the following week. I received an email on April 29, which contained a zoom link for the Sunday, May 2 meeting. 
 
I was already feeling frustrated by any lack of response to what I considered to be a request by Ms. Jessup as administrator and monitor of the organization for a linking of micro and macro issues. Ms. Jessup’s silence–and the possible lack of circulation of the draft that I had written to other members of the previous zoom meetings–seemed to indicate that my draft work may have been censored. I had agreed at the beginning of joining this organization not to participate in its meetings, and then I was invited to participate, which I did by drafting something that tried to link up issues on the ground with more general issues–only to be met with–silence and possible censorship. 
 
I wanted to place the issue on the agenda (it was not on the agenda), but I also wanted to avoid clashing with Ms. Jessup, so I did not say anything about it at the May 2 meeting. However, I did draft something else that was more immediately relevant to the meeting: On the agenda, there were two motions for support of statements made by other organizations; I made some comments on these statements. One was a statement made by an organization in Toronto called Justice for Immigrant Workers (J4MW). I sent it to Ms. Jessup on May 1, 2021. 
 
Ms. Jessup’s reply:
Great.  Looking forward to seeing you Sunday
I also sent her some comments on another motion for support of the statement made by “Suppress the Virus Now Coalition.” 
 
Since this post is already quite long, I will post the two drafts  in future posts and conclude this series by including my final writing to this group, on the People’s Pandemic Shutdown.
 
I will merely repeat what I wrote near the beginning of this post: The reason why I joined is that it is involved in a movement for defunding (if not abolishing) the police. I thought that perhaps I could participate in such an organization and contribute by expressing my own point of view. I was wrong.
 
My conclusions about the efforts of this group, at least in relation to defunding the police (and abolishing it) is: it will not be very effective. Its characteristic lack of critical spirit will result in an incapacity to determine what really is required to defund and abolish the police. Its lack of willingness to critically analyze other organizations’ statements will undoubtedly contribute to that incapacity. Finally, its probable use of control over protocols to silence others expresses as well an incapacity to engage in self-criticism–a basic condition for any political advance.
 
I wish I were wrong–even partial defunding of the police would improve our lives, but given the dogmatism of the social-democratic left and their lack of a critical spirit–my prediction will probably come true. In May 2022, it will be interesting to see whether the social-democratic left has managed to defund the police to any great extent in Toronto.
 
I believe that Meursault, the protagonist of the existential writer Albert Camus, in his book “L’Etranger (The Outsider in English) sums up my conclusions concerning this organization: 

J’avais eu raison, j’avais encore raison, j’avais toujours raison. [I had been right, I will still right, I was always right.

It is necessary to critique the social-democratic left from the outside since they will try to take measures to stifle dissent from their dogmas. 

Socialism and Central Planning: Mr. Gindin’s Analysis of The Political Situation of Workers in General, Part One

The following is a two-part series on Bill Resnick’s interview with Sam Gindin, in accordance with the two-part presentation of the interview. I put my summary of Mr. Gindin’s talk in italics; my comments are in regular print. I also use italics when quoting others.

One of Mr. Gindin’s key criticisms of both GM and the union that represented the workers at Oshawa is that GM promised jobs if the union would make concessions. The union made concessions–and GM reneged on the deal and eliminated the jobs. The union did not adequately respond to the repeated down scaling of the workforce but only succeeded in “managing” the down scaling.

Mr. Gindin then argues that an adequate union response requires thinking beyond GM since GM cannot solve this problem. Being militant in bargaining may get you some things, but jobs are not something that bargaining can guarantee. Retaining jobs involves a larger issue and is political. Ultimately, you are arguing on the company’s terms since it holds the trump card of maintaining the facilities open or closing shop.

Let us stop there. There is an implicit critique of the whole union model that has existed in Canada since 1944, when the federal government obliged employers to recognize unions of workers’ choice. If collective  bargaining cannot guarantee jobs, then should not Mr. Gindin criticize the union rhetoric of “fair contracts,”  “economic justice,” and “fairness” (all stock-in-trade phrases of the left here in Toronto)? And yet when the opportunity arose of criticizing the pairing of a struggle for $15 an hour minimum wage (and needed employment law reforms) with the concept of “fairness,” Mr. Gindin remained silent. Why is that? Mr. Gindin claimed that we should be humble, and yet is it not the height of arrogance on his part to presume that such pairing is unimportant? I found the equation of $15 an hour minimum wage with the concept of “fairness” to be politically conservative, and Mr. Gindin’s silence over the matter to be an example of the repeated pandering after popular opinion rather than a needed ideological struggle over what is indeed fair and not fair in our society.

How does Mr. Gindin suppose people operate? If they personally find that something is fair, and no one even addresses the issue, they eventually become cynical and reduce their activities to self-interest. Why bother, they ask themselves? Nothing will change. After all, the so-called progressives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, think that if I work for a minimum wage of $15, have a few extra rights at work, then everything is fine–it is fair. And yet I have to drag myself out of bed to go to work that is largely determined by others. I have to accept the daily abuse experienced at work if not directly and personally by having a supervisor criticize me but indirectly and impersonally by having my work procedures, work load and so forth determined beforehand by others.  I then have to struggle to return home either by standing in packed subway cars and buses or driving  a car during rush hour to get home and find some kind of relaxation by either partying or watching TV. The rhetoric of fairness feeds into the development of a cynical attitude since most people that the lives they lead in various ways is not fair. To bullshit them by using such words and various phrases does them a great disservice.

What of workers covered by collective agreements? Mr. Gindin is silent on this score. It is not just a question of the impotence of unions to stop employers from closing shop, but he only refers to the impossibility of collective bargaining addressing the issue of jobs. Collective bargaining, however, more generally cannot address the issue of jobs because collective bargaining presupposes the legitimacy of management rights. Why does Mr. Gindin not explicitly criticize the rhetoric surrounding collective bargaining and collective agreements in general? Is this not necessary if we are to overcome the limitations of the union movement? But if criticizing the rhetoric surrounding collective bargaining and collective agreements is necessary in order to free us of the illusion of the fairness of unionized work environments, and if freeing ourselves of such an illusion is a necessary condition for fighting for a socialist society, then a socialist would engage in such criticism.

If, however, doing what is necessary to achieve a socialist society is to abandon our illusions concerning what is fair, and Mr. Gindin refuses to do what is necessary, is he not engaging in unrealistic actions? If questioning the limitations of collective bargaining and collective agreements forms a necessary component of a socialist movement, and Mr. Gindin refuses to engage in such criticism, then how effective will Mr. Gindin’s actions be in the long run?

Where is the humbleness in Mr. Gindin’s actions?

The second point is that we have to deal with the larger issue of economic reconstructing because the present system is not working for the benefit of working people. Workers are no longer getting security or decent wages. The larger issue is how do you deal with economic reconstructing generally and not just GM.

Yes, there is a larger issue, but economic reconstruction is not the only thing that is involved. Mr. Gindin talks a lot about class, but surely a socialist society would involve the abolition of a class society–a radical qualitative change in our lives.  Mr. Gindin, being a “realist,” ignores this dimension of the problem. Economic reconstruction has existed in the past; capitalist emerged through economic (and political and social) reconstruction. However, in a socialist society, the reconstruction would involve the abolition of classes–and Mr. Gindin ignores the radical qualitative change in such reconstruction.

The third point is that radical demands that go beyond GM must be able to connect to the larger community and gain its support by addressing some of its needs. Mr.Gindin then asserts that the obvious issue that connects the two is the environment.

It is hardly obvious to me. As I argued in another post (The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One), the focus on climate change is presently a fad (Bill Resnick refers to climate change often enough, outlining a possible apocalyptic life). Not that environmental problems are unreal; however, if people are unmotivated to face the power of employers as a class despite the daily experience of oppression and exploitation, why does Mr. Gindin think the issue of environmental problems will somehow motivate them and have lasting power?

Let us look at the concept of “environment” for a moment. The philosopher John Dewey analyzed the nature of the environment, and it is not something which is somehow “external” to living beings (from Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, pages 33-34):

There is, of course, a natural world that exists independently of the organism, but this world is environment only as it enters directly and indirectly into life-functions. The organism is itself a part of the larger natural world and exists as organism only in active connections with its environment.

The natural world is an environment only in relation to the life process. From John Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, pages 12-13:

In brief, the environment consists of those conditions that promote or hinder, stimulate or inhibit, the characteristic activities of a living being. Water is the environment of a fish because it is necessary to the fish’s activities—to its life. The north pole is a significant element in the environment of an arctic explorer, whether he succeeds in reaching it or not, because it defines his activities, makes them what they distinctively are. Just because life signifies not bare passive existence (supposing there is such a thing), but a way of acting environment or medium signifies what enters into this activity as a sustaining or frustrating condition.

The environment is not something external to workers but forms the conditions within which they live both biologically and socially. Some environmental conditions are distant, others close at hand physically. Such an environment in the case of human beings is also social since we are a species that depend on each other (grounded in the relatively long period before an infant can become a productive member of the world).

What are the environmental conditions that will most likely and immediately grip the interests of workers and community members? The priority should be developing opposition to the power of employers as a class, and community issues should be linked to that issue–such as housing, health, education, social services, the police and the oppressive forms in which such community services are provided. and, yes, the environment in a wider sense, but only in conjunction with the other issues. The view that the “environment” is something independent of us is nonsense. The environment as an isolated area of our lives will  unlikely have lasting power to engage workers and community members interests; it must be linked to these more immediate interests if it is to have lasting power rather than be just a fad.

He then summarizes these three points: the left must address the problem of the corporations not solving our problems, of how to deal with economic (and political) restructuring) and how to address the first two in relation to problems associated with the environment. Unions must thus become something other than what they have been since they have lost focus and direction under the sway of globalization and neoliberalism. Mr. Gindin, however, refers to the private-sector unions and leaves open the question of the nature and efficacy of public-sector unions.

I have already addressed the issues above-except Mr. Gindin’s backhanded idealization of public services and public-sector unions. This should come as no surprise. Mr. Gindin’s conception of socialism involves an expansion of public services via nationalization–as if the current form of public services did not require thorough reconstruction due to their oppressive nature. See my brief criticism The Contradictions of Social Democracy: Mr. Gindin’s Musings on the Closure of GM’s Oshawa Plant  and a more in-depth criticism of nationalization (and, indirectly, the idealization of public services) in the post The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two; see also The Money Circuit of Capital ).

Mr. Gindin then outlines his alternative plan. We should take over the GM plant, put it under public ownership and converting the plant and having the now unemployed workers use their diverse skills in the assembly facilities, the paint shop, the stamp shop and coordinating it with components plants in the surrounding area.

Such a plan needs to be linked to the environment for at least two reasons. In the first place, Mr. Gindin implies, the problem of the environment is urgent and needs to be addressed now. In the second place, the planned alternative facility should not face the constraints placed on it by competition from other capitalists in China and other parts of the world.

The appeal to the urgency of problems associated with the “environment” reminds me of some Marxists’ appeal to the urgency of transitioning to socialism because of the inevitable breakdown of capitalism. This hype about the urgency of environmental problems is unlikely to grip the interests of most workers and community members; they have more pressing immediate problems, like getting to work on time, enduring their work life without suffering too much humiliation, finding some meaning in their work life, going home and not suffering further problems.

It does make sense to seek areas of  production where competition is limited in order to prevent competition from leading to cuts in wages, benefits and deteriorating working conditions.

To kill two birds with one stone, it is necessary to engage in planning, and this planning requires not only the state becoming engaged in the process but in a more aggressive state that improves environmental standards by obliging people to move away from an economy based on fossil fuels. Furthermore, the state could also function as consumer by purchasing electrical vehicles. In addition, the state could use some of what it purchases for the expansion of public transport, thereby reducing the use of private vehicles and decreasing dependence on fossil fuels. Mr. Gindin calls the state planning to this end democratic planning. Democratic planning is impossible if key economic decisions are made by private companies.

I am dealing with Mr. Gindin’s inadequate treatment of socialism in other posts (see,  for example, Socialism, Part Nine: Market Socialism as an Initially Necessary but Inadequate Social Model). In relation to democratic planning, though, I will add that the idea that the total planning of society is to arise through the state was not an idea proposed by Marx: the state may own the means of production in the sense of preventing private individuals from denying workers to collectively use them, but the control over those means of production would be in the hand of workers themselves and not the state. From Rob Bryer, Accounting for History in Marx’s Capital: The Missing Link, page 277:

The section rejects the dominant interpretation that he advocated central planning. Marx’s mature concept of socialism abolishes markets for capital and labor power, but the section argues it requires competitive markets for products and services, cooperative enterprises, and accounting to hold enterprise management accountable to workers, and workers accountable to society.

(Bryer’s view of socialism has its own limitations in that he sees that Marx distinguished a socialist society that emerges from capitalism and a society that maintains itself on its own basis, but he then eternalizes markets.)

Mr. Gindin is an advocate of central planning, as is evident from the following:

Environmental change involves radical change since it involves change throughout society–including both production and consumption. We need to begin to create the capacity to convert to an environmentally friendly economy in every community by creating from research centers (peopled by young engineers) that inquire into what capacities, skills and equipment we currently have and what we are going to need to make the transition to an environmentally friendly economy. At the same time, the state needs to restructure the economy through, for example, raising environmental standards that require such environmentally friendly restructuring.

Mr. Gindin then contends that for this to work, several components must work together: planning, decentralisation and calling into question the private power of employers.

He then returns to the issue of environmental problems and the large-scale nature of the problem and the urgency of the problem. The problem cannot be addressed through the fragmented market nor can it be addressed through general phrases about the environmental crisis; if we stay at that level, workers will simply ignore the issue since they lack control over their lives and cannot address the issue when it is posed in general terms.

He then argues that since planning is required, it is necessary to control what you are planning. This involves changing property relations at work, which requires real struggle with workers to oppose the closing of plants not just in Oshawa but in many other communities.

Mr. Gindin admits that for now there is no base for such an approach; it would be necessary to organize for such an end. He also points out that the modern state is a capitalist state, which manages discontent by controlling and managing labour; the capitalist state has not developed planning capacities. What is required is a transformation of the capitalist state so that the state can plan democratically.

He argues that the capitalist market is failing in various ways in meeting our needs, from security to equality, environment and a rich personal life. Business is very vulnerable in these areas since it does not really meet these needs.

We need to develop the capacities of the working class to represent these needs, and it will not be easy. The working class must be reconstructed into a social force with the confidence to address these needs.

Mr. Gindin then claims that, during the Second World War, planning did indeed occur within the state, but the planning was performed mainly by businessmen becoming state officials. With the end of the war, they exited the state because they did not want the state to become autonomous. To be sure, the state has developed the capacity for planning in various departments, but it has not developed the capacity to engage in overall planning at the national level during normal periods (not exceptional periods, like wartime). Furthermore, the state does not know how to plan democratically. It is necessary to transform the state, and that will not be easy.

There are several problems with the above. Firstly, the reference to “decentralisation” is left hanging in the air. Where does decentralisation come into play in Mr. Gindin’s view of the nature of socialism. It remains a mystery. Secondly, it is not only necessary to call in question the private power of employers but the public power of state employers over employees. Thirdly, he talks about how workers need to oppose the closing of factories in various communities. Since the police protect the right of employers to close factories, Mr. Gindin should have indicated some kind of strategy about how to deal with the violent means used to protect the closing of factories and workplaces. Fourthly, even if he did propose such a strategy, it would probably involve workers having to jeopardize, if not their lives, at least their livelihood as the capitalist state through the courts fined them or threw them in jail. Would Mr. Gindin engage in such needed opposition personally? Fifthly, Mr. Gindin merely repeats the well-worn idea that central planning is socialist. This is hardly so. A common plan need not be a central plan formulated by some separate entity called the state. From Bryer, page 283:

Second, while Marx often wrote, for example in Volume 1 of Capital, that socialism would function according to a “definite social plan” (1976a, 171), there are two meanings of the word “plan” we need to keep separate. The dominant interpretation is that by “plan” Marx meant, “A table or programme indicating the relations of some set of objects,” “a detailed formulation of a plan of action,” in his case a production and consumption program or plan of action for society.3 The chapter, however, argues he meant a “scheme,” “of arrangement” or “of action,” a “Method, way of proceeding,” “a method for achieving an end,’ a way of organizing society. As Jossa (2005, 11) puts it, “while Marx and Engels certainly conceived of the plan as an antidote to the anarchical nature of the capitalistic market, they were thinking of a plan for abolishing the production of commodities and so not based on the law of value,” a scheme or way of organizing society for abolishing value.

Marx’s way of organizing socialist society, his concept of its relations of production, the chapter argues, is not the supervision or action controls implied by the central planning interpretation, but results control by workers.

Mr. Gindin’s reference to the state (which is not to wither away according to Mr. Gindin but is to expand) and implied central planning, on the one hand, and a democratic state, on the other, contradict each other. Marx, by contrast, was more consistent:

For Lavoie (1985) the ‘procedure’ or ‘process’ must be central planning. However, Marx and Engels consistently argued for a democratically elected and accountable workers’ state, for control by workers, which is what they meant by their occasional uses of ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ not ‘dictatorship of the Party’ or their leaders (Draper 1986). Against Lassalle’s fetishism of the state, the theoretical side of his pervasive authoritarianism” (Draper 1986, 304), as Marx put it, “freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it” (1989, 94), that is, in making the state fully accountable to workers. To provide the economic basis for democracy on Day 1 of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat,’ to transcend capitalism’s profit and loss system of accounting control that Marx had explained in Capital (Bryer 2017), it implements a system of cooperative enterprise and social accounts, not central planning, a conclusion that Engels accepted, and Lenin eventually drew (see Bryer 2019a).

It is workers who will have to learn how to coordinate their own work and not the state as a separate entity. That such a learning process may take years or decades does not mean that the principle should be abandoned since coordination by workers (and communities) must begin from the beginning. With the elimination of capital markets and a market for workers, worker cooperatives (and community organizations) could emerge and serve as the learning organizations for such planning. From Bryer, page 277:

Fourth, the chapter analyses Marx’s criticisms of the draft Programme of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany, the Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875). …  He re-emphasized his long-standing vision of socialism based on a universal system of worker cooperatives that, transcending capitalist accounting control, must be accountable to workers and society for the production of value on Day 1.

Planning can emerge inductively through a federation of cooperatives, as Bryer argues (page 276):

To make this change the proletarian state takes all means of production into its hands, thereby abolishing the capital market, and abolishes the market for labor power, replacing ‘free’ wage workers with free social agents by replacing joint stock companies with a universal system of worker cooperatives, accountable to their worker-shareholders and to society.

It is through this “inductive” process rather than the “deductive” (top-down) process of planning that workers and the community will at last begin to control their own life process–and not through some form of central plan divorced from the workers and the community. Mr. Gindin may claim that he agrees with this, but his argument implies the divorce of the planning process from those who experience the consequences of this process–hence, his claim, in another writing, that the state is not to wither away but to expand.

I will continue in another post with critical commentary on the second part of the interview of Mr. Gindin. I suspect, though, that it will probably contain the similar arguments as above.

Reform or Abolition of the Police, Part One

In at least two posts, I will explore the issue of reforming the police versus its abolition. Conveniently, there are a couple of articles that address the issue.

Mr. Rosenfeld, a self-declared radical and Marxist living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, in an article published in the social-democratic magazine Canadian Dimension on April 20, 2020, Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking), responded to another article published on April 12 in the same magazine, written by James Wilt,  Abolishing the police is the only reasonable response to Winnipeg Police killings. Wilt argues that the police cannot be reformed but must be abolished since their function is essentially repressive, and that essential function is sufficient for demanding its abolition:

Unlike what many liberals claim, police cannot be reformed with better training, oversight, or diversity. Nor can police violence be eliminated by following the victim-blaming advice from (mostly) white social media users like “improved parenting” or “better decision-making.” Both of these supposed solutions reflect deeply naive and ahistorical understandings of what it is that police do—and how police actively harm communities, especially those of Indigenous peoples and racialized minorities.

The left’s response to the police killings of Eishia Hudson and Jason Collins must be to recommit to the only just solution: abolishing the police and reallocating the massive resources currently committed to policing to measures that actually keep our communities safe, like housing, harm reduction, strong public services, non-carceral crisis response, food security, income supports, returning land to Indigenous peoples by acknowledging existing sovereignty, and a whole lot more. At the root of this demand is resistance to the call for a “better balance” of policing and social services. On the contrary, policing must be dispensed with entirely.

Mr. Rosenfeld argues against abolition. Mr. Rosenfeld, however, not only argues against abolition; he finds the idea of the abolition of the police absurd–as his subtitle says. Indeed, Mr. Rosenfeld’s subtitle: “Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking,” reflects the hostility that I faced here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, when I questioned the ideology of “fair contracts,” “fair wages,” and “decent work” expressed by some trade unionists and social democrats.

I will try to show, in at least two posts if not more, that Mr. Rosenfeld’s view that the proposal of the abolition of the police is not absurd and that the proposal of the reform of the police as the rational solution–is absurd.

But let us first listen to Mr. Rosenfeld:

Having heard some of the younger activists with whom I work in the free transit movement muse about getting rid of the police force, I often found that most were not really serious about it as an immediate demand but were expressing their vision of how we might do things differently in an imagined future [my emphasis]. There are other activists, many of whom are passionate defenders of the rights of the homeless, the poorest and those most targeted by the system and its repressive apparatus, who argue that police budgets need to be radically trimmed in order to pay for the kinds of social programs and services that could contribute to addressing some of the most glaring forms of inequality and injustice. Few of them seriously demand the complete elimination of policing, but some do.

The issue of the reform of the police versus its abolition has become a focal point of controversy  since the murder of George Floyd has now come to light. Mr. Rosenfeld’s social-democratic casual dismissal of the abolition of police has been challenged practically as millions protested against the police throughout the world. Mr. Rosenfeld’s claim that the proposal that the abolition of the police involves sloppy thinking has been practically refuted as some who protested did propose abolishing the police.

Indeed, even before the mass protests against the murder of George Floyd, there have arisen movements for the abolition of the police in the light of systemic racism among the police. Why does Mr. Rosenfeld not refer to such movements?

For example, Meghan McDowell and Luis Fernandez published an article in 2018 about the movement for police abolition, titled “Disband, Disempower, and Disarm’: Amplifying the Theory and Practice of Police Abolition,” in the journal Criminal Criminology: 

In July of 2016, the popular Fox News program “Kelly File,” hosted by conservative T.V. personality Megan Kelly, held a town hall style forum to discuss race and law enforcement. The forum brought together what Fox News considers a diverse cross-section of the U.S. public: former FBI agents, retired NYPD officers, conservative Black pastors, community organizers, and “regular” Americans whose views spanned the ideological spectrum. The recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of law enforcement, uprisings in Ferguson, Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Charlotte in the past year, and Micah Johnson’s targeted assassination of five Dallas police officers earlier in July, not only formed the backdrop for the conversation, but also set the conditions of possibility for such a conversation to air on a mainstream media outlet in the first place.

At one point the conversation turned toward an indictment of the Black Lives Matter
(BLM) movement. Many forum attendees began to condemn BLM, reiterating racial tropes [a figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression] about Black-on-Black crime and “personal responsibility.” In a clip that has now gone viral, Jessica Disu, a Chicago-based community organizer and artist, tried to reframe the conversation: “Here’s a solution,” Disu interjected with conviction, “we need to abolish the police.” The Chicago Reader, a weekly alternative newspaper, described the ensuing reactions  to Disu’s comment:

“Abolish the police?” came [host Megan] Kelly’s incredulous response, as a clamor of boos and protests rose from the forum. “Demilitarize the police, disarm the police,” Disu pushed on, undeterred by the yelling. “We need to come up with community solutions for transformative justice. Can we all agree that a loss of a life is tragic?” [Disu] asked the forum, attempting to explain her vision. “Who’s gonna protect the community if we abolish the police?” Kelly asked, a this-must-be-a-joke smile spreading across her face. “The police in this country began as a slave patrol,” Disu managed to squeeze in before being engulfed by the noise.

I suppose Mr. Rosenfeld would also consider Disu’s view of the need  for abolishing the police to be “sloppy thinking” and “absurd.” Mr. Rosenfeld shares the same view–and attitude-towards the abolishing of the police as do those who defend the status quo. Not a very good beginning for a person who considers himself to be “a 70 year-old Marxist and democratic socialist.”

McDoowell and Fernandez continue:

In her call for police abolition, on Fox News no less, Disu challenged the hegemonic idea that the police are an inevitable fixture in society, and moreover, that the police are analogous to community safety. Disu’s presence on a national mainstream talk show illustrates that crises are also opportunities (Gilmore 2007). The uprisings, and corresponding organizing that expanded alongside or formed as a result of the rebellions, enabled Disu, and others, to publicly challenge law enforcement’s right to exist. That is, activist and movement organizers had already been pushing toward police abolition, but the difference is that this time there was an audience more willing to accept the challenge. In this article, we examine abolitionist claims aimed at law enforcement institutions in the aftermath of Ferguson and other subsequent rebellions. [In Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown Jr. was murdered by the policeman Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014].

Mr. Rosenfeld’s evidently lacks a  concern with researching the issue in at least a preliminary manner.

McDowell and Fernandez note that the movement towards the abolition of the police gained ground after the Ferguson murder:

Under the headline “the problem”, the anonymous collective For a World Without the Police (2016) argues, “The police force was created to repress the growing numbers of poor people that accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism, while on plantations and in agricultural colonies, [the police] formed in response to the threat of slave revolt.” Their analysis outlines the core functions of policing under racial capitalism [my emphasis]: protect the property of the capitalist class; maintain stable conditions for capital accumulation; and defend against any threats to these unequal conditions of rule (For a World Without Police 2016; see also Williams 2015; Whitehouse 2014). [see the website For a World Without Police].

The police undoubtedly has other functions, but its core function is to maintain the power of employers as a class so that they can continue to use human beings as means for obtaining more and more money (see  The Money Circuit of Capital).

The abolitionist movement against the police, as McDowell and Fernandez indicate,  involves the slogan “disband, disempower and disarm the police”:

The call for police abolition gained national traction soon after the 2014 Ferguson rebellion and is encapsulated by the slogan: “disband, disempower, and disarm the police!”8 This is more than a slogan however. The over-arching strategy is to eliminate the institution of policing, while disarmament and disempowerment are two inter-related tactics used to achieve this goal (Vitale 2017).

The recent call for defunding the police, therefore, can express a reformist position or an abolitionist position. The reformist position does not aim to “disband” the police but rather only to decrease funding for the police and, often, increase funding for social programs. The following question posed by Mr. Rosenfeld expresses this reformist view:

Shouldn’t that institution be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one?

The abolitionist stance, by contrast, sees defunding (disempowering and disarming) as means to the end of abolishing the police institution altogether–along with a society characterized by the dominance of a class of employers. Social reformers like Mr. Rosenfeld, on the other hand, at best see disempowering and disarming as ends in themselves–while preserving the existence of the police as a repressive institution and hence preserving its core function.

Historically, the abolitionist movement has a long history that was not restricted to the abolition of the police. The idea of abolition includes the movement for the abolition of slavery in the United States and elsewhere, the abolition of child labour, the abolition of prisons and the abolition of capitalism.

In relation to capitalism, I first became aware of the idea of proposing the abolition of prisons when I read Thomas Mathiesen’s works The Politics of Abolition and Law, Society and Political action: Towards a Strategy Under Late Capitalism. Mathiesen argues that the capitalist state has become particularly adept at co-opting or neutralizing more radical movements so that it is necessary to emphasis the abolition of structures rather than their reform in order not to contribute to the continuation of repressive structures. From page 73:

In the fourth place, we have seen that legislation which breaks with dominating interests, legislation which in this sense is radical, is easily shaped in such a way during the legislative process that the final legislation does not after all break significantly with dominating interests, as the examples from political practice of trimming, stripping down, the creation of pseudo alternatives, and co-optive co-operation, show.

I have referred, in another post, to the whittling down of the criminalization of employer actions following the murder of the Westray miners in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1992 (see  Working for an Employer May Be Dangerous to Your Health, Part Three). Co-optation is a real danger for the left–and Mr. Rosenfeld minimizes the power of the capitalist state to co-opt movements through reforms. This minimization of the danger of co-optation can be seen from the following:

In reality, though, bourgeois democratic institutions are not simply a façade for a bloody and murderous dictatorship over the poor and colonized. Yes, there are instances of state acts of murder and even terrorism. The liberal democratic state and institutions facilitate private capital accumulation and are structured in ways which seek to repress, diffuse and co-opt alternative political and social movements, but these are mediated by the necessities of legitimating capitalism [my emphasis] The relative power, political ideology and organization of the working class and colonized Indigenous peoples also affect the character of liberal democracy (and in the subordinate strata, there are forms of class differences and other contradictions that also matter). We don’t live in a fascist dictatorship.”’

I will address in another post Mr. Rosenfeld’s trivialization of the brutality and terrorism of the American government in other countries (“instances” makes it look like American murder and terrorism is an isolated event).

Let us limit ourselves to the question of the relevance of Mr. Rosenfeld’s reference to the need for the capitalist state to legitimate the rule of  employers over the daily working lives at work. He separates the diffusion and co-optation of alternative political and social movements from the need for “legitimating capitalism.” However, one of the major ways of “legitimating capitalism” is through diffusing and co-opting alternative political and social movements.

Mathiesen saw this danger to which Mr. Rosenfeld is blind. He calls the state absorbent when it has a refined capacity for neutralizing radical and revolutionary movements and demands. Mathiesen calls being co-opted “being defined in” and being shuffled to the side as irrelevant extremists “being defined out.” He calls “finished” the impossibility of contributing to the overcoming of the economic, political and social structures that characterize the dominance of the class of employers. Page 252:

The strongly absorbent late capitalist society has in fact managed, by the process of defining in, to absorb large parts of the Left into political work of a structure maintaining kind, while at the same time, through the process of defining out, it has managed to neutralize the remaining part of the Left as so-called extremists. By an interchange of the forces which define in and define out, on the one hand, and internal organizational reactions to these forces on the other, the parties of the Left have to a large degree either become ossified organizations which are defined in, or ossified organizations which are defined out. In any case they are, in our sense, finished.

Mr. Rosenfeld, however, fails to distinguish between reforms that form part of a movement to abolish a social institution and specific social relations and reforms that emerge as co-opted and that do not lead to questioning the oppressive and exploitative social institutions and social relations characteristic of the society in which we live.

Thus, Mr. Rosenfeld accuses Mr. Wilt of advocating immediate revolution–as if that is the only alternative:

Is he saying that reforms do not matter and that short of an immediate social revolution, nothing can change?

Abolitionists will take any reform that improves the lives of working-class communities–but there is a condition attached to such a view. Reforms that limit the capacities of workers and community members to think and act critically to oppressive and exploitative social relations and social institutions, without any positive change, are regressive. But most reforms can be simultaneously defended and criticized if some aspects are positive, while other aspects are regressive., such as the movement for a $15 minimum wage, which in Canada is coupled with the concept of fairness. Let us indeed fight for a minimum wage of $15 an hour (and other reforms associated with the movement, such as paid sick leave), but we should never link such a movement with the idea that there is “fairness: in receiving the minimum wage and other needed reforms. Coupling the fight for a minimum wage of $15 with “fairness” freezes the movement–rather than indicating that the achievement of the $15 minimum wage is a temporary resting place (given the balance of class power) that is inherently unfair since the wage system is itself inherently unfair and needs to be abolished. No “minimum wage” that involves the need for workers to work for employers is fair–and the idea of coupling the fight for the $15 minimum wage with the idea of “fairness” must be criticized constantly if any gained reforms are to go beyond contributing to the maintenance of the power of the class of employers.

Thus, Mr. Rosenfeld did not raise any objection to the pairing of a fight for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour with the term “fairness.” I have raised that issue often enough on this blog, and Mr. Rosenfeld had ample opportunity to criticize my position–but he chose not to do so. Why is that? I certainly support an increase in the minimum wage and other “reforms,” but they should never limit the capacities of workers and community members in their critical questioning of the system characterized by the class of employers.

Mr. Rosenfeld creates a straw person when he asks whether there should be reform or immediate revolution. Calling for abolition does not mean immediate revolution: it means making explicit the need to aim for abolition of an oppressive or exploitative institution from the very beginning. If we do not have the power–for now–to abolish a repressive or exploitative situation, that does not mean that we should not aim to do so  when we have more power. It also does not mean that we should reject all reforms out of hand merely because we cannot, for the moment, abolish the repressive or exploitative institution or social structure.

A further, personal example. I worked as a bilingual library technician at the District Resource Center for School District No. 57 in Prince George, British Columbia, Canada,from 1990-1992 (before I moved to Winnipeg). We had a collective agreement between support staff and the district that was coming up for negotiations. I volunteered to be part of the negotiating team because I wanted to learn about the process first hand (I was also the union steward for the board office). We bargained in the usual way, with a small group of union negotiators engaging in demands in the context of meetings with the negotiating team of the employer.

When our bargaining team was ready to present the results of negotiations to the members, I volunteered to draft the list of demands that we had made in a two-column set of papers, with an x beside the demands that we did not get and a check beside the ones that we did get. The union business manager was obliged to read this out during a public ratification meeting (she, however, noted that my presentation was very negative). When she sent out the ballots for voting to those who were not able to attend (School District No. 57 is a large school district geographically), she only sent out the demands that we obtained. The agreement was ratified.

The point is that I wanted to demonstrate the limitations of collective bargaining (and the corresponding collective agreement) while not rejecting any changes in the collective agreement. Furthermore, the demonstration of the limitation of reforms–or the politics of exposure as Mathiesen calls it–forms an essential element of the politics of abolition. From The Politics of Abolition Revisited, page 143:

Here lies the significance of the exposing or unmasking policy which the
above-mentioned sequence of events illustrates. Let me repeat: By unmasking
the ideology and the myths with which the penal system disguises itself – for
example through political work of the kind described here – a necessary basis
for the abolition of unnecessary and dangerous systems of control is created. The
example illustrates the struggle involved in such a work of exposure. The system
continually tries to adopt new disguises. We must continually try to unveil them.

Given the predominance of social democrats or social reformers–among the left here in Toronto–my prediction is that, unfortunately, the movement for the abolition of the police will be overshadowed by the movement for merely defunding the police. This will, in turn, result in further watering down of such a movement to a form acceptable to economic and political conditions dominated by the class of employers.

However, at least we can expose the limitations of the political position of the social-democratic left or the social-reformist left so that, when further murders by the police arise, we can point out the limitations of their political position and prepare the way for a more adequate politics–a politics of abolition.

I will continue the issue of reform versus abolition of the police in another, later post.

The Contradictions of Social Democracy: Mr. Gindin’s Musings on the Closure of GM’s Oshawa Plant

The following is a critique of an article written by Sam Gindin before the coronavirus pandemic emerged. It is relevant to the current situation because of the current call for public ownership as a solution to the problems that we face.

Mr. Gindin published an article on February 3, 2020, titled Realizing ‘Just Transitions’: The Struggle for Plant Conversion at GM Oshawa. Here Mr. Gindin attempts to criticize, on the one hand, what happened at GM Oshawa (elimination of around 2200 direct jobs when GM closed the auto plant), and on the other to suggest what should be done to prevent such a situation to arise in the future. However, his own social-democratic position, with its implicit assumption of not challenging the power of the class of employers, shines through in the article.

Mr. Gindin claims that GM’s decision to close, among other plants, the GM Oshawa plant left the recently elected Conservative government of Doug Ford “red-faced”:

The response of the federal government, which had used the preservation of jobs to justify giving GM billions in public funds during the financial crisis, was a tepid ‘disappointment’. The provincial government, which had been plastering the province with the slogan ‘Ontario is open for business’ was left red-faced when, as its billboards were going up, GM announced the closing of one of the largest workplaces in the province.

Where is there evidence that the Ford government was embarrassed at all? The idea of “open for business” includes the idea that, in the competitive struggle for survival, corporations will sometimes close down. The obverse side of “open for business” is–“closed for business.” Corporations are free to decide to open and close doors as they see fit–such is the nature of neoliberalism. Or is that not so?

Mr. Gindin then criticizes Ms. Dias, head of Unifor (which represented the workers at GM Oshawa):

Nor did the autoworkers’ union, Unifor, escape its own share of discomfort. Less than two years earlier, its leadership had negotiated lower wages and pensions at GM for new (essentially younger) workers in spite of those workers doing exactly the same job as those beside them. This betrayal of union solidarity was sold to the members as a victory because of its promised retention of jobs. When the closure exposed the job ‘guarantees’ as a sham, the national president reacted with predictable bluster and launched a public relations campaign to shame the corporation into reversing its decision.

Undoubtedly, Mr. Dias would have preferred for the plant not to close. To prevent such an action, Mr. Dias negotiated a collective agreement that involved “lower wages and pensions at GM for new (essentially younger) workers in spite of those workers doing exactly the same job as those beside them.” Mr. Gindin objects to such a negotiated agreement on the basis of “union solidarity.” The principle of union solidarity, it would seem, involves attempting to have all union members who are doing the same job to be treated in the same way. (Note that Mr. Gindin does not refer to “labour solidarity” or “worker solidarity” but “union solidarity.” Mr. Gindin is a friend of–unions. As I argued in another post, he is too close to unions to adequately criticize them. But that just as an aside).

Mr. Gindin then refers to how this “betrayal to union solidarity was sold to the members of a victory because of its promised retention of jobs.” It is of course possible to criticize Mr. Dias and others for sacrificing some workers in exchange for an impossibly guaranteed retention of jobs. However, Mr. Gindin does not explicitly question the power of employers to make decisions that involve closing down plants. Such power forms part of management rights and is often embodied in a management rights clause, implicitly if not explicitly. Why does Mr. Gindin not criticize this fundamental right?

And why does he not criticize the attempt by many unions to “sell” negotiated collective agreements on the basis of “fairness,” “decent work” and so forth? He certainly criticizes Mr. Dias’ attempt to “sell” the betrayal to union solidarity” in relation to the creation of a two-tiered collective agreement–but he nowhere criticizes the implicit or explicit acceptance of unions and negotiating committees to the legitimacy of collective agreements. Union reps often “sell” negotiated collective agreements that need to be ratified to their members by referring to them as “fair contracts”

“We have been trying to negotiate a fair contract for seven months,” said James Nugent, the bargaining team’s chief spokesperson [for CUPE Local 3902, or the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902]. “We’ve been fighting for better learning conditions for our students and better working conditions for our members. Last night, our members sent us back to the bargaining table to keep fighting for those things, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Union reps often try to “sell” this ideology of “fair contracts” to their members. Why does not Mr. Gindin criticize this ideology and not just the ideology of two-tiered contracts? What happens if a collective agreement does not have a two-tiered provision? Does that then make it a “fair contract?” Mr. Gindin is silent over the issue–as are union reps. Why this silence?

Mr. Gindin then has a section that outlines an alternative:

Toward an Alternative

A small group of rank and file Oshawa workers and retirees understood that far more was needed; both logic and history suggested that appealing to GM to rethink their cold calculations was naïve. They joined with other community allies, including the Durham Labour Council and supporters from the Toronto-based Socialist Project, to establish Green Jobs Oshawa. Its mandate was to explore and organize around other possibilities for the Oshawa facility.

A problem already arises. I am ignorant of the specific nature of the Durham Labour Council, but the Toronto and York Region Labour Council does not call into question the legitimacy of the power of employers as a class; rather, it presupposes such legitimacy (John CartWright, president of the Council, refers to “economic justice”–implicitly referring to collective agreements. See my post  Ontario Looks Right–With Some Help From the “Left” ). I have criticized  as well some of the views expressed by the Steering Committee of the Socialist Project (see The Socialist Project’s Critique of Doug Ford’s Attack on Local Democracy Falls Short).

But let us proceed:

Four perspectives drove their ambitious proposal. First, GM was the problem, not the solution.

Yes, GM is a problem and not the solution–but it is not just GM that is the problem but the power of employers as a class, of which GM is only one example. Defining the problem only in terms of a particular employer is a typical social-democratic trick of focusing on one “bad” employer rather than the class of employers. Already, looking at alternatives seems limited.

Let us continue:

Second, expecting to compete in the market with China, Mexico or plants in the American south was no answer. It would only reproduce past pressures on wages and working conditions, past insecurities and past failures. Third, any alternative would need to introduce a product with special social significance. And fourth, the issue was not just jobs but retaining Canada’s manufacturing capacities.

Seeking an alternative product that would prevent competition with other workers in the same kind of market is certainly to be preferred. As for “a product with special social significance,” this issue is connected to the following:

The Oshawa facility could then be converted to assembling fleets of electric vehicles. The sale of these vehicles was to depend not on market competition, but a social plan based on direct government purchases of the products the government had invested in. The fleet vehicles involved would range from electric post office vans (as recommended earlier by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers) to hydro-electric vans, newly designed school buses, ambulances and police cars. With that base, the plant could also produce electric cars for individual consumers and, depending on how much space remained available, add other environmentally-related products.

The government would provide the bulk of demand for the output, with individual consumers making up any needed demand so that the Oshawa facility could be fully utilized (GM had identified under-utilization of the capacity of the plant as a major reason for its closing).

The government as the major consumer would also be the major owner:

In line with this outlook, Green Jobs Oshawa called on the federal government – or the municipal government with substantial financial and technical support from the feds – to take over the land and equipment idled by GM.

The government would then become both the employer and the major consumer. This solution may certainly have retained the jobs–but would not have changed the use of workers as things by government. Merely because the government is the employer does not prevent workers from being exploited and oppressed (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Why did Green Jobs Oshawa not call on the government to take over the plant while concentrating decision-making power over the plant with the workers who worked there? Why did it not call into question the power of employers to make decisions at all that can affect the lives of many workers and the community–investment decisions? Why not use the GM shut down as an example of the dictatorial power of employers? Why this focus on the government as the saviour rather than the workers and the community?

Green Jobs Oshawa, rather, tried to evade this central issue:

The message was that jobs, the environment, and the industrial capacities for conversion and restructuring are inseparable. From that perspective, saving Oshawa was not an end point but a beginning and an example to build on.

Jobs, the environment and the industrial capacities for conversion are not just inseparable. To adequately address them, it is necessary to address the power of employers as a class, the infinite movement of capital (see  The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One) and the social and political structures that go with them.

The next section of the article is titled “Frustration and Persistence.” Mr. Gindin outlines what he believes is the cause of workers’ skepticism concerning such an alternative:

Frustration and Persistence

Green Jobs Oshawa developed a website, distributed leaflets to workers, held educationals and public forums in Oshawa and Toronto, organized petitions, commissioned a widely respected professional feasibility study confirming its case, received sympathetic attention in the press and gave numerous media interviews. Yet the committee couldn’t generate the necessary level of support, starting with the workers themselves.

The workers in Oshawa were frustrated and angry, but anger doesn’t necessarily translate into activism. Having experienced the steady drip-drip decline of the Oshawa complex, having recently suffered demoralizing defeats after defeats in bargaining, and now seeing the final end of vehicle assembly in the city, workers had shifted to survival mode. In that state of mind, most workers, it seemed, had simply stopped even thinking about possibilities. Nor was it unusual for workers to guard against hope creeping into their consciousness; risking the pain of once more seeing hopes dashed made even hope something to willfully avoid.

Though workers contacted by Green Jobs Oshawa generally considered the proposals on conversion as sensible, this was trumped by their skepticism of ‘sensible’ driving economic and political decisions. Critical here was the role of the union. As frustrated as workers were with the union, they still looked to its structures and resources for leadership, especially given the radical nature of the alternative proposed. But with both the national and local leadership not interested in and even hostile to an alternative, it was no surprise that workers were lukewarm to committing to a fight for a long-shot alternative.

Important here, as well, were the limits of the environmental movement. Environmentalists have most impressively raised public awareness of the looming environmental catastrophe. Yet they have been far less successful in getting the mass of working people on side. Two inter-related problems stand out. First, the promise of a ‘just transition’ is well-meaning but unconvincing to workers; workers rightly ask how such a commitment could be met in a society driven by competition and private profits. Second, with the environmental movement generally absent from workers struggles, developing ‘awareness’ could only go so far.

Workers have been indoctrinated from school to accept the power of employers to make decisions over their lives (as I show in a series of posts on indoctrination in schools via the silence of the Canadian history curriculum over the historical emergence of employers and employees. See, for example,  Co-optation of Students at School Through We Day, Or School Indoctrination, Part One). Various organizations and activities reinforce such indoctrination (union ideology of “fair contracts,” “decent work,” social organizations that deal with oppressing people in various ways (child and family services, social assistance, collection agencies, courts and the like). To counteract such indoctrination, it would be necessary to engage systematically in a critique of such indoctrination–but Mr. Gindin does not believe that such a systematic and engaged critique is necessary (otherwise, he would have engaged in such criticism when the opportunity presented itself in relation to pairing the fight for a minimum wage of $15 an hour with the idea of “fairness”).

The skeptical attitude of workers in relation to their own capacities for controlling their lives in the face of multiple forms of indoctrination and oppression is understandable, but Mr. Gindin ignores such indoctrination and oppression in practice.

The final section is called “Green Jobs Oshawa Lives On.” Mr. Gindin states what he thinks has and has not been accomplished in the Green Jobs Oshawa” campaign and what should be done:

Green Jobs Oshawa Lives On

Measured by its ability to keep the Oshawa facility humming, Green Jobs Oshawa was not successful; today, no more vehicles are being assembled in Oshawa. But measured by their work in placing a vital but largely ignored issue on the agenda – the steady loss of the productive capacity we will need to reconstitute the environment – brings a more encouraging conclusion.

Though the Oshawa facility is now quiet, the battle to revive it, with all its noise and productive bustle, continues. The facility still has waiting assembly lines, a body shop, a paint shop, and 10 million square feet of space. In Oshawa and nearby, there is no shortage of workers anxious to apply their too often underestimated skills, suppliers with flexible tooling capacities, and young engineers leaving university anxious to apply their knowledge to developing socially useful products. Green Jobs Oshawa continues to send out material and speak at events, making connections and spreading the urgent discussion of possibilities.

Workers – with the support of their union leadership where possible, on their own if that leadership is not sympathetic – should be setting up committees to consider the future of their workplaces and holding meetings to discuss the plant occupations, nationalizations and conversions in other cities facing major manufacturing shutdowns.

The Canadian Labour Congress should be supporting and coordinating such initiatives with its own research and also joining with the environmental movement to take the initiatives further. A significant step would be to lobby for a National Conversion Agency with the authority and financial and technical resources to intervene when plant closures occur or seem imminent.

Provincial federations of labour could focus on the environmental particularities of their own regions as, for example, the Alberta Federation of Labour has started to do in addressing how the inevitable transition away from oil could be economically and socially managed. This could include lobbying to establish local tech-enviro centers populated by the hundreds of young engineers mentioned above. Alongside coming up with possibilities for local conversion and development, they could contribute to spreading understanding to the community of what we face and what needs to be done.

For private sector workers, the crucial fact is that environmental pressures will require transforming everything about how we live, work, travel, and use our leisure time. Such a massive and unprecedented undertaking (the conversions entering and exiting World War II come closest) can, if done right, mean not a loss of jobs but a shortage of workers trying to meet society’s ‘regular’ needs and the demands of environmental reconstruction.

As for the public sector, the growing acceptance that environmental limits translate into limiting individual consumption in the developed countries leads to a greater emphasis on collective consumption. We are on the cusp of having to urgently redefine what we mean by ‘abundance’ and to place greater value on retrieving our time, leisure, social services (health, education), collective goods (public transit, libraries), and public spaces (sports, music, arts, parks) – a reorientation, that is, to the expansion of the public sector and public sector jobs.

Finally, for environmentalists, truly addressing the scale of what must be done means moving from a vague anti-capitalism to an aggressive – and confident – call for democratic planning and its corollary of fundamentally challenging corporate property rights. And addressing how to implement such policies, requires bringing the mass of workers on side to both the environmental necessities and to the overcoming of capitalism. This can only begin with actively supporting the defensive struggles of workers with the goal of linking them, as Green Jobs Oshawa has tried to do, to those larger issues of conversion and democratic planning in the shaping of the world to come.

In short, the issue is not simply a matter of bringing the environmental movement and the labour movement together; each must be transformed if the sum is to be more than the currently limited parts. The environmental movement must raise itself to a new level by concretely engaging the working class, and the labour movement must escape what, for it, has become an existential crisis. The threats and opportunities of the environmental crisis offer a chance for labour revival, but only if this incorporates a renewed approach to organizing, struggle, radical politics, and the maximization of informed membership participation. •

Mr. Gindin follows the British Labour Party, in its Manifesto, by jumping on the bandwagon of environmentalism–rather than focusing on criticizing the power of employers as a class (which would involve criticizing union ideology of “fair contracts,” “decent work,” “fair collective bargaining,” and the like) , first, and then linking that issue to environmental issues (see my post  The British Labour Party’s 2019 Manifesto: More Social Democracy and More Social Reformism, Part One). Mr. Gindin only near the end of this section does Mr. Gindin address this issue:

Finally, for environmentalists, truly addressing the scale of what must be done means moving from a vague anti-capitalism to an aggressive – and confident – call for democratic planning and its corollary of fundamentally challenging corporate property rights.

But earlier, Mr. Gindin claims the following is the key issue:

But measured by their work in placing a vital but largely ignored issue on the agenda – the steady loss of the productive capacity we will need to reconstitute the environment

The deindustrialization of the advanced capitalist countries–is that really more important than another issue that has been “largely ignored”–the power of employers as a class? Which should the left focus on? And if we focus on the power of employers as a class, should we not criticize the ideology of many unions, which often try to sell the results of collective bargaining as a “fair contract?”

Frankly, Mr. Gindin’s approach fails to see the need for a rigorous and persistent struggle against those who justify collective agreements with such phrases. The same applies to other social movements who refer to “fairness” and the like. We need to use every opportunity to oppose such indoctrination.

Mr.Gindin, however, argues only for the positive side in the following:

Workers – with the support of their union leadership where possible, on their own if that leadership is not sympathetic – should be setting up committees to consider the future of their workplaces and holding meetings to discuss the plant occupations, nationalizations and conversions in other cities facing major manufacturing shutdowns.

To set up committees that are more than paper committees, it would be necessary to deal with the limitations of unions, collective bargaining and collective agreements while recognizing that collective agreements do provide some real protection for workers. If workers merely set up committees without engaging seriously in debate over the pros and cons of collective bargaining and collective agreements, then such committees will likely be isolated from the needs and interests of workers.

It is interesting that Mr. Gindin engages in abstract moralizing when referring to what the Canadian Labour Congress (an organization of affiliated unions that represent over three million Canadian workers) ‘ought or should do’:

The Canadian Labour Congress should be supporting and coordinating such initiatives with its own research and also joining with the environmental movement to take the initiatives further.

Another inadequacy of Mr. Gindin’s approach can also be seen from the above quote. Hegel, a German philosopher, saw through such empty phrases as “ought to” or “should” long ago (from the Encyclopedia Logic, page 30):

… the understanding, which regards its dreams (L e., its abstractions) as something genuine, and is puffed up about the “ought” that it likes to prescribe, especially in the political field-as if the world had had to wait for it, in order to learn how it ought to be, but is not. If the world were the way it ought to be, what then would become of the pedantic wisdom of the understanding’s “ought to be”?

This does not mean that we should not engage in wishing for what ought to be, but that what ought to be should be grounded in what is the case. What is the nature of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)? Is it realistic to believe that the CLC would ‘support and coordinate’ such initiatives? See my criticism of the position of the president of the CLC, Hassan Yussuff, in The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process.  Would it not be better to engage in criticism of the CLC–what it is, how it operates and so forth?

There are other problems with this last section. Reference to “democratic planning” clashes with the call for the government (a capitalist government) to operate as employer. How is there democratic planning when the government is the employer? This is to idealize the government and the public sector. This idealization also is expressed in the following:

As for the public sector, the growing acceptance that environmental limits translate into limiting individual consumption in the developed countries leads to a greater emphasis on collective consumption. We are on the cusp of having to urgently redefine what we mean by ‘abundance’ and to place greater value on retrieving our time, leisure, social services (health, education), collective goods (public transit, libraries), and public spaces (sports, music, arts, parks) – a reorientation, that is, to the expansion of the public sector and public sector jobs.

This uncritical reference to the “public sector”–as if working for the government were somehow not subject to exploitation and oppression–is typical of social democrats. So too is Mr. Gindin’s one-sided reference to challenging “corporate property rights” without challenging the power of the state as a capitalist state, on the one hand, and as an employer, on the other. Again, see the money circuit of capital link above for a critique of this view.

What’s Left, Toronto? Part Two

As I indicated in an earlier post, on September 19, 2018, several leftist activists gave a talk about what was to be done in the city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The talks were posted on the Socialist Project website on October 7, 2018 (What’s Left, Toronto? Radical Alternatives for the City Election). As I indicated in my earlier post,  over the next few months, I will be analyzing some or all of the talks from a Marxian perspective.

The first talk is by Dan Karasik, an activist in the movement for the fight for $15. He claims that the goal now is to hold on to the gains that have been made through the passing of Bill 148 (reform of employment law, which introduced a number of employment laws beneficial to unorganized workers and increased the minimum wage to $14 an hour as of January 1, 2018 and was scheduled to increase as of January 1, 2019). In the short term, such a goal is of course realistic; organized opposition to the class of employers will not occur overnight.

However, Dan likely overestimates, like much of the social-reformist left, the immediate potentiality for radicalizing sections of the working class in terms of the immediate conditions prior to an election. He claims that a radicalization of working-class politics can occur because of the elections. Alternatively, his definition of radical politics is social-reformist and is radical only in relation to Doug Ford’s immediate political position. Both likely share similar positions concerning the necessity of the class of employers (see my earlier post about a social reformist who claims that the fight for $15 is indeed fair, Social-Reformist Leftist Activists Share Assumptions with the Right).

Dan argues that Doug Ford is a populist who was elected the premier of Ontario, Canada, in June 2018 in part to represent “the people,” with a substantial part of the people, according to Dan, expecting Doug Ford to maintain the provisions set out in Bill 148. With the Ontario Chamber of Commerce calling on the Ontario government to completely repeal the Bill, the mood among the social-reformist left has shifted from being celebratory to a mood characterized by a mood characterized by increasing jitters Nevertheless, there is now a space for radicalization since the fight for $15 and what Dan still calls “fairness” potentially has done is to open up a struggle amongst racialized and gendered sections of the working class since minimum wage jobs in Toronto are predominantly filled by racialized and gendered members of the working class–should Ford ultimately decide to follow the recommendations of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce.

Although there may indeed may be some space for organizing along these lines, Dan at no time indicated what he meant by radical politics. Somehow the false promise of Doug Ford to represent “the people” is to magically transform racialized and gendered working-class members into radicals.

Dan never gets around to indicating what he means by “radical politics,” let alone “radical working-class politics.” Since he never does question pairing the term “Fight for $15” with the term “fairness,” his radical politics probably is defined entirely within the limits of the social-reformist left’s definition of radical politics–social reforms that in no way question the power of employers as a class. The questioning of such power is implicitly “off the agenda.”  See several of my posts for criticisms of the positions of politics of the social-reformist left.

Dan briefly referred to the situation of capital and labour in Toronto–without stating anything further. What is the situation of capital and labour in Toronto? When I was a member of the Toronto Labour Committee (with Sam Gindin, Herman Rosenfeld and Paul Gray practically being the leaders), I proposed  a class analysis of Toronto (but indicated that I did not really know how to go about doing that–although I was willing to learn–I was involved in another project in gathering data pertaining to the ruling class analysis in Toronto, but it could not really be considered directly related to the ruling class, but perhaps to the class of self-employed and small to middle-sized employers–but that would have required more refined tools than those used). The response was–silence.

So, what is the situation of capital and labour in Toronto? You would not be able to tell at all from anything Dan had to say. (Perhaps someone can refer me to recent articles and books on the subject? I would definitely appreciate it.)

In general, Dan’s talk refers to a radical politics, but it really contains very little in the way of specifying what that may mean. The audience is left to “fill in” what that may mean. Since the moderator already filled in part of it by referring to “decent work,” (see an earlier post), it is highly probable that Dan’s radical politics really means more of the same social-reformist politics that has been circulating since the employer class went on the offensive in the 1970s. In essence, this radicalism wants to return to a renewed welfare state, with social housing, enhanced unemployment benefits, improved welfare benefits, reductions in austerity, reformed employment laws and so forth. Such a politics, however, has no intention, though, of questioning the legitimacy of the power of employers to dictate to workers. That is not on the agenda.

It certainly was not mentioned by Dan at all. Such is the radical space left untouched in the first talk in the series.

What’s left, Toronto? So far, social-reformism and the acceptance of the power of employers as a class.

 

What’s Left, Toronto? Part One

On September 19, 2018, several leftist activists gave a talk about what was to be done in the city of Toronto. It was posted on the Socialist Project website on October 7, 2018 (What’s Left, Toronto? Radical Alternatives for the City Election) Over the next few months, I will be analyzing some or all of the talks from a Marxian perspective.

Before looking at the diverse talks, though, I will reiterate in this post a point that I have already addressed in some other posts since the moderator of the talks, Herman Rosenfeld, brought the issue up again. He mentions “decent, secure jobs with decent pay.” Why any self-declared socialist feels compelled to declare, at this stage of capitalism, to pair the term “decent” with “jobs” and “decent” with “pay” other than fear of alienating his social-reformist allies or due to opportunism is beyond me.

Working for an employer by human beings is indecent–period. The justification for such a view is given in   The Money Circuit of Capital.  The same could be said of pay. Human beings are used as things when working for employers–whether they receive high or low pay, and whether they have a secure or precarious job.

Of course, it would be better to have secure jobs than precarious jobs, and it would of course be better to receive more pay than less pay. To deny that would be foolish. But to use such terms as “decent” is itself absurd when there is a claim to be “radical.” This is not radical–it is social reformism–and nothing more. The implication is that somehow the good life can be achieved within the limits of a society characterized by domination by a class of employers.

For instance, it is likely that the radical left has remained silent while Pam Frache, an organizer for the Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto who has been involved in the fight for the $15 minimum wage and other reforms of employment law, has recently stated the following in reaction to Doug Ford’s legislative attack on Bill 148, which provides for various employment law reforms, including the proposed minimum wage of $15 an hour as of January 1, 2019 in Ontario, a province in Canada:

“The law is the law, and as it stands, nearly 2 million workers are scheduled to get a raise in 11 weeks,” says Pam Frache, Coordinator of Fight for $15 & Fairness Campaign. “Every single day we encounter people who tell us they voted for Premier Ford because they thought his promise to be ‘for the people’ meant standing up to corporate elites, like Galen Weston and Rocco Rossi. Repealing Bill 148 now would be a slap in the face of many workers who voted for Premier Ford,” she added.

The law is the law? Really? Does that mean that the working class is supposed to respect the law? Does that mean that Pam Frache proposes that all workers subject to collective agreements follow orders according to management rights (see  Management Rights, Part One: Private Sector Collective Agreement, British Columbia,   Management Rights, Part Two: Public Sector Collective Agreement, OntarioManagement (Employer) Rights, Part Three: Public Sector Collective Agreement, ManitobaManagement Rights, Part Four: Private Sector Collective Agreement, Ontario) and agree to being treated as things to be used? That they should respect the law?

There are ways of defending workers’ power through law without defending law as such. For example, it could have been said that Bill 148 limits the power of employers to exploit and oppress workers and permits workers some increased freedom and should therefore be defended not because it is law as such but because precisely of what it permits. To claim that “The law is the law” ties workers to employers’ power and is hardly in the interest of the working class since the legal system is geared towards the power of employers as a class. The same reasoning could be used to defend signing a collective agreement (but union reps sometimes idealize union agreements by referring, as did Pam Frache, to the sanctity of the law: “The law is the law,” after all–as if human beings are supposed to exist for the laws and laws are not supposed to exist for human beings.)

The radical left had the opportunity to question Pam Frache’s ideology at a forum on $15 and “Fairness.” She was a member of the audience and had her hand raised and was acknowledged by the chair of the forum, Sean Smith. Pam spoke for perhaps 10 minutes. I raised my hand perhaps four time to ask a question about pairing the fight for $15 with the term “fairness”–and was not acknowledged. However, Herman was present in the audience  (as was Sam Gindin), and he did not raise the issue.

Already, one wonders what is indeed left in Toronto when the moderator introduces such reformist rhetoric into his introduction. On the eve of the Toronto elections, the Toronto “left” are already proving themselves to be afraid to question social-reformist rhetoric.

Next month, I will look at one of the talks in the series.