Taking Possession of Vacant Housing and Protecting the Environment from Profits: The Need to Consider Both Process and Product or Result

A person on Facebook posted the following relating to the problem of accessible housing:

Isabella Gamk shared a post.

Thought the group would like this
May be an image of car and road

Isabella Gamk
“Housing Shortage”? This is not that old of a building and could be fixed up. This building has been shuttered to make room for a condo. There are many such buildings in Toronto. In Canada there 1.3 million empty homes in Canada, many just sitting vacant waiting to be turned into condos. They never talk about this when they say they need to build more homes.

Fred Harris

But to turn them into homes–would it not require an attack on the principle of the sanctity of private property on a massive scale? And would not that require an organized mass struggle? And why stop there? What of the means of production used to construct houses? Why not convert them into common property of all?
well we are on a planet with finite resources. Perhaps we should leave some of those resources for future generations and civilizations.
Fred Harris

Which resources? The cranes, drills used to construct the houses? These are supposed to be left untouched–in the name of “future generations?” If we leave these means of production to employers–we in fact leave a process that constantly strips the natural world of what future generations will need. Employers who own drills, cranes, etc. purchase or rent them with the goal of obtaining more money–profit. But profit at the end of the process is just–money–and not more money. So they need to reinvest again–and again–and again.
To end the rape of the earth, it is necessary to end the rule of the class of employers.
Unless you have an alternative diagnosis of the problem of the rape of the earth and how to stop it. I am all ears.

Now, I am hardly objecting to the goal of trying to take over vacant homes in order to address the serious problem of a lack of adequate housing in Canada and elsewhere. If a movement to seriously aim for that goal were ignited and grew, it could form the point of departure for pointing to solutions that go beyond a society dominated by a class of employers.

To find out more about Ms. Gamk, I looked on the Net. I did listen to an interview with her, dated September 28, 2019 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TFZOhVXcmf4&list=LL).

Ms. Gamk is the founder of POOF–Protecting ODSP OW Funding. ODSP is the Ontario Disability Support Program and OW is Ontario Works (social assistance). She has had a number of health issues in her life, including cocaine addiction, HIV and glaucoma, among other issues.

She receives ODSP, but she points out that ODSP covers $497 for rent and welfare will cover $390. She argues that these need to be doubled–immediately–and then within six months it needs to brought up to average market rent. She argues that even if you double the amount from ODSP, it is $994, but a bachelor suite rents out now between $1100 and $1500; this means that those who receive ODSP would still have to dip into money destined for basic needs was $662 prior to last fall’s 1.5 percent increase–it increased to $672. This is inadequate to survive. Many are now relying on food banks and community meals to eat. Even the NDP, which stated that it would increase rent allowances by 27 percent over three years, would be insufficient, leading to homelessness. Ninety-five percent of the people on the streets receive ODSP or OW.

To double the rates, people would freak because they would be afraid that it would be necessary to raise taxes substantially. But they could tax the corporations and stop giving them incentives, etc. to them.

She also argues that many on the streets want to have a job, but they are stuck because of their homeless circumstances. Furthermore, although there are a number of vacant units for the Toronto Community Housing Corporation, which provides subsidized housing; many of these units are inhabitable due to the large repair bill that TCHC has–without sufficient funding to provide such repairs. She had to wait 20 years to gain access to a unit with TCHC, but even then repairs are often shoddy because of a lack of money and there are often cockroaches and bed bugs. But the homeless will still have to wait 10 to 20 years to gain access to TCHC units. This is wrong.

TCHC, or Toronto Housing, is charging $139 for rent for those who receive ODSP or OW. Why is not John Tory, the mayor of Toronto, increasing the rent to $390 (as allowed for those who receive OW, which is funded by the province) in order for Toronto Housing to receive increased funds to repair the buildings and units? The argument that it is $139 for low-income workers is invalid. The minimum wage, now being $14 an hour works out to $1,750 for a four-week month. That person making $1,750 can surely afford $390 for rent.

She has organized protest rallies, created. distributed and emailed flyers for the rallies. She joined ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now); their logo is on her flyers. She had already been a member of OCAP–the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty). OCAP in particular did not support POOF; they never put POOF’s events on their pages; they never helped distribute flyers; they didn’t help with anything.

OCAP pulled out in part because she opposed affordable, subsidized housing based on the level of income because she believes such housing keeps people in poverty; she also opposes shelters for the same reason; furthermore, she opposes homeless people having the right to live in stairwells whereas OCAP believes they should have the right to do so. ACORN and POOF are fighting to clean up the buildings; OCAP does not care about the buildings or the tenants in the building; they care only about the homeless–but only to the extent that they want to keep them in shelters. POOF, on the other hand, is demanding more money for ODSP and OW recipients.

Another reason why OCAP opposes POOF is because Isabella does not consider sex work to be a job like any other job. If you do it because you want to, then that is fine. However, if you do it because you are in poverty and need to do it in order to obtain money, then it is not right.

Once you are in such a system, it is difficult to move anywhere else except within the system–which leads to the perpetuation of poverty. Furthermore, it is difficult to move within the system even if you have problems with neighbours–whether due to noise or harassment. In addition, if you want to move outside of Toronto Housing, with the inadequate level of rent money that ODSP and OW recipients receive, they cannot afford to move anywhere else except within the Toronto Housing system.

Her solution would be to scrap Toronto Housing and bring ODSP and OW rates for rent to average market rent, and low-income families should receive a rent-subsidy cheque so they could afford average-market rents.  Furthermore, if Toronto Housing is still to exist, land owned by that organization should be used exclusively, she implies, for Toronto Housing units rather than to build condo units as is happening now.

The interviewer, Michael Masurkevitch, implied that we could fund such a system by taking away some of the income of CEOs and distributing it to the lower-income people and homeless in order to achieve a balance.

Ms. Gamk argued that this is true since she implied that the use of high-end or very expensive cars in public these days (which was not the case in earlier times) provides evidence of the availability of money and hence the possibility of taxing the rich to a greater extent.

Given the more recent advocacy for taking over vacant homes on Facebook–as the quotes at the beginning indicate–it would seem that Ms. Gamk now advocates more radical measures in order to address the issue of the lack of housing in Toronto and in Canada. However, it is unclear whether she advocates taking over the vacant homes with compensation or without compensation. I should have asked her that in order to clarify the situation.

However, there are a number of points that can be made.

  1. Focusing on the seizure of existing housing stock (a social product of various workers) without considering the processes that produce such housing stock is one-sided. They are two sides of the same coin. The initiator of the above Facebook post, Isabella Gamk, may not have thought about this before, but when I pointed it out, she shifted her attention (in effect ignoring the connection between process and product) to the issue of finite resources on Earth.
  2. However, when I pointed out that the kind of society in which we live necessarily involves a tendency towards the infinite exhaustion of resources, Ms. Gamk did not respond. Now, this lack of response can be interpreted in various ways. Perhaps she would reconsider her position–and respond later. However, there is no such response from her despite three days having passed. Or she considers my response incomprehensible. If so, she should have asked for clarification–which she did not. Or she chose to simply ignore my response and ignore the need to connect up the fact of limited resources on this planet and the tendential infinite process characterized by an economy–which contradicts the finite nature of the world on which and through which we live.Given the fact that Ms. Gamk did not respond, I choose to interpret her silence as an indication of her failure to connect up the result of diminishing resources on this planet with this tendential process (which I have briefly indicated on my blog on the page The Money Circuit of Capital; I also tend to believe that she probably fails to link up the  result of homes being empty and not being used despite a lack of adequate housing here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with the process of producing those homes.

Her reference to treating sex work as a job as being okay if the person wants to do it but not okay if they are in poverty and have to do it in order to obtain money to live fails to address using the same logic to all jobs that involve working for an employer. She probably means by poverty a certain level of income; the use of this category to determine whether a person lives in poverty or not is shared by the social-democratic or social-reformist left. The use of level of income as the prime factor in defining what constitutes poverty certainly has its place in terms of level of consumption and the quality of life outside work; I too have had a lack of money to the extent that I had to apply for and receive social assistance temporarily. I also remember trying to find enough pennies in the apartment (when they existed) in order to be able to go to McDonalds to buy the relatively cheap coffee and muffin combination.

Nonetheless, Ms. Gamk obviously accepts the market standard since she advocates such a standard for ODSP and OW recipients receiving the market rate. Of course, advocating increased rates for such recipients is legitimate, but we should question the adequacy of such a standard. We should also question whether people who work for an employer do so out of their own free will or whether they do so out of need to obtain money–even if their wage or salary is considered by some as relatively high. If we question that, then we can redefine what poverty means–a definition that is broader than the definition of poverty according to level of income. I quoted such a definition in another post (“Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP)). From Geoffrey Kay, The Economic Theory of the Working Class. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1979, pages 2-3:

The absolute poverty of the working class is visibly present in the conditions of work where everything the worker touches belongs to another. The means of production he uses, that is, the machines, buildings, materials, etc. all belong to the employer, who also owns the output. The only thing the worker owns is his capacity to work, and his economic welfare depends upon his being able to sell this at the best possible price. In the course of this [the twentieth) century, particularly during the period of the post-war boom, this price measured in terms of the commodities it can purchase, the real wage, has risen to unprecedented heights, at least in the advanced industrial countries of the west.

As a result of this and the maintenance of full or near full employment backed up by social welfare, the working class has enjoyed greater prosperity and security than at any time in history. In these circumstances it appears strange to talk of absolute poverty, and the old socialist claim that the working class has nothing to lose but its chains seems and archaic relic of the past when the working class did indeed live in dire poverty. Yet the fact remains that the working class today has no greater economic autonomy than its forbears a hundred years ago.

Consider the situation of a contemporary worker who loses his job. This has happened to several million workers in the industrialized world since the long boom faltered in 1973 not counting the other millions of young people who have never found jobs at all. Many of the workers who have recently suffered unemployment for the first time, earned wages that allowed them to enjoy all the trappings of ‘affluency’—decent housing, cars, television, refrigerators and so on. But the loss of the job puts the standard of living immediately in jeopardy, particularly if unemployment lasts for anything more than a few weeks. In the unlikely event of a working class family having a large private income, its initial response to unemployment is to cut back spending on marginal items, and attempt to maintain its lifestyle intact in the hope that new work will be found shortly. As the period of unemployment lengthens, it begins to eat into savings, but this does not hold out much hope.

Working class savings are notoriously low, and often take the form of insurance policies that can only be cashed in at a considerable loss. If the family decides to sell of its consumer durables, apart from reducing its standard of living immediately, it will invariably make further losses as second-hand prices are always far below prices for new articles. Moreover, many working class purchases are financial by hire purchase where the interest element makes the actual price higher than the market price, and the family that sells off relatively new times bought in this way often finds that, far from releasing cash, it lands itself in further debt. Working class affluence is entirely dependent upon wages: remove these—i.e., unemployment—and the absolute poverty of its social situation shows through very quickly. In the nineteenth century unemployment meant immediate destitution; the modern worker is clearly much better off than his forbears—for him and his family poverty is a few weeks, maybe even a few months away.

As Marx also wrote, in relation to prostitution not in its usual, particularized, sense but in a general sense (from Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft), page 153–a draft written between 1857 and 1858, which forms the basis for the writing of Capital, volume one of which was published in 1867)

(The exchangeability of all products, activities and relations with a third, objective entity [money] which can be re-exchanged for everything without distinction – that is, the development of exchange values (and of money relations) is identical with universal venality, corruption. Universal prostitution appears as a necessary phase in the development of the social character of personal talents, capacities, abilities, activities. More politely expressed : the universal relation of utility and use. The equation of the incompatible, as Shakespeare nicely defined money.

I invite Ms. Gamk and any others to broaden their definition of poverty to include most workers who need to work for an employer in order to obtain the money they need to live (some workers, such as managers, may be excluded since their function is to exploit and oppress workers–even if they too need to work for an employer).

The major problem with Ms. Gamk’s approach has to do with focusing on issues of distribution of already produced commodities rather than their production. For once I agree with Sam Gindin (although this should be center-stage and the focus for criticism of all social-democratic or reformist organizations). He writes ( https://socialistproject.ca/2022/04/inflation-reframing-the-narrative/):

But we need to be sober about an inevitable ceiling on redistributive policies. If we don’t also address the democratization of production – if we don’t also redistribute economic power, capital’s control over production and investment will leave it with the capacity to undermine or sabotage alternative priorities and redistribution goals.

We can put controls on house prices, but developers can refrain from building more houses or build the kinds of housing society needs. We can put controls on gas prices, but this won’t address the issue of a planned phase-out of the oil industry and investment in renewables. We can set drug prices, but the drug companies will still decide which kinds of illnesses they should focus on to maximize their profits. And we can’t control the price of food or adequately subsidize food as needed without a radical rethinking of food production.

As the struggle over distribution comes up against such impasses and causes new crises, the crucial lesson to internalize is not to retreat from our goals. It is to organize to go further.

However, Mr. Gindin then elaborates a little by what he means by “going further”:

and pose public ownership and planning in key sectors – not just for ideological reasons but also as a practical matter of self-defence and meeting critical social needs.

If he means by “public ownership” the mere nationalization of industries without a thorough restructuring, then my earlier criticism of “public ownership” also applies to his proposal (see, for example, my criticism in  A Critical Look at The Socialist Project’s Pamphlet on Green Jobs Oshawa).

Public ownership hardly is identical to democratic control of the workplace by workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers.

I will leave the issue there.

Of course, part of the problem may be the way in which I responded to her post. If others have suggestions about how I can improve my communication skills, feel free to comment. I am always open to improvement in my communication skills. Or perhaps my logic is faulty. If so, please provide counterarguments.

Academic Narrow-mindedness: A Reason for Starting a Blog, Part Three

This is a continuation of a previous post.

Before I started this blog, I had sent an article critical of the implied concept of “free collective bargaining.” The article was rejected for publication. Given that the reasons for rejecting the article seemed absurd, I decided to skip the academic process and post directly my views. This seemed all the more necessary since the journal that rejected my article is called Critical Education.

Since I believe in the politics of exposure (exposing the real nature of social processes and not the rhetoric of such processes), I thought it would be appropriate to post my proposed article, the criticisms of my article by the reviewers and my commentary on their criticisms.

The proposed article is found in the Publications and Writings link on my blog, entitled “Critique of Collective Bargaining Models in Canada.” (There is a slight difference between the article submitted to Critical Education and the one found at the link: the article submitted to Critical Education contains an abstract, which I include below, and the title of the proposed article was changed to: “A Critique of an Implicit Model of Collective Bargaining: The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Strike and a Fair Contract.”

Abstract

This paper looks at Brian Forbes’ presentation of the recent Nova Scotia teachers’ strike in order to analyze critically the nature of collective bargaining in a capitalist context. Forbes shows the underhanded nature of the McNeil government’s supposed negotiations, but he implies (like many trade unionists) that collective bargaining, in its normal form, results in a fair contract. The paper argues against this view. It does so in two ways. Firstly, it looks at Jane McAlevey’s alternative method of collective bargaining. Secondly, it looks at the limitations of her method in terms of the capitalist economic structure—especially as am exploitative and oppressive structure that transforms workers into means for others’ ends. A humanist view, by contrast, requires that human beings need to be treated as ends in themselves in a democratic fashion at work. Such a view, however, is rarely discussed precisely because the rhetoric of a fair (collective) contract in the context of the collective power of employers prevents such discussion from occurring.

Key words: teachers, collective bargaining, capitalism, exploitation, oppression, strikes, justice, fairness, Nova Scotia, Jane McAlevey

The decision to reject the article, the short version of the third review (there is a long version of the third review, but I will not post that–it would be tedious to reply to all of reviewer C’s comments) as well as  my comments on the third review.

We have reached a decision regarding your submission to Critical Education,
“A Critique of an implicit model of collective bargaining: The Nova Scotia
teachers’ strike and a fair contract”.
Our decision is to: Decline submission.

Three external reviewers supplied reports (see below); I have also attached
the file with the marginal comments of Reviewer C.

All three reviewers see potential in the manuscript and each recommends
major revisions are necessary before the manuscript is ready for
publication. The comments are the reviewers are quite detailed, but in short
I believe it’s fair to say they all agreed that further theorizing and
deepened/more sustained analysis of events are necessary.

I hope you find the feedback from the readers helpful as continue to work on
this project.

Yours truly,

E Wayne Ross
Co-Editor, Critical Education
University of British Columbia
wayne.ross@ubc.ca

Reviewer C begins his comments as follows:

Reviewer C:

“Please see the uploaded document for my complete review of the manuscript. Review of manuscript: “A Critique of an Implicit Model of Collective Bargaining: The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Strike and a Fair Contract”

The manuscript has potential; however, it requires major rewriting. The present manuscript lacks a clear focus and coherence. The author implies that the focus of the paper is the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike and Brian Forbes’ perspective about collective bargaining in relation to that struggle. However, there is very little content in the article that addresses the NS teachers’ struggle, the collective bargaining process, or the ‘collective agreement’ that was the outcome.”

The academic did not even understand the point of the article. I hardly implied “that the focus of the paper is the Nova Scotia teachers’ strike and Brian Forbes’ perspective about collective bargaining in relation to that struggle.” The focus of the article is on Brian Forbes’ perspective on collective bargaining in general as illustrated by his implied view of the fairness of collective bargaining in the case of bargaining and the breach of that form of what he considers fair collective bargaining by the Nova Scotia government.

The Nova Scotia teachers’ strike was an occasion to critically analyze a general perspective on collective bargaining by a former head of the Nova Scotia teachers’ union. This perspective, in turn, is illustrative of many trade-union representatives in Canada, such as Tracy McMaster, president of Greater Toronto Area Council (GTAC), to which are affiliated 35 local unions of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)), who referred to “decent work” and “fair wages” as something realizable in an employment relationship.

To be fair to the reviewer, in his long review, he does at one point correctly identify the point of my article: I wrote, on page 23:

Free collective bargaining cannot remedy the basic problem of treating human beings as means or things for others’ purposes

He wrote:

This seems to be the central thesis. Why not present this early as the focus the paper?

Part of what I was trying to do was indeed to show that collective bargaining and collective agreements cannot remedy this situation. However, since trade union representatives often claim that a contract is fair (even if they do not explicitly state it), my purpose was to criticize this implicit assumption. As I said near the beginning of the article:

The purpose of this article, though, is not to review the articles in the journal. Rather, it is to point out and criticize the hidden standard that is uncritically assumed by most of the authors of articles in the journal.

The reviewer fails to consider the need to criticize explicitly such hidden standards:

Indeed, only a paragraph is quoted in the words of Brian Forbes and the quote does not say what the author says it does. Forbes states that negotiating a contract with the full participation of the negotiating teams of both parties, instead of through backroom deals, would be an approach more likely to result in an agreement that both sides could live with. He was speaking about the process of collective bargaining, but the author claims that Forbes is referring to the outcomes of the process—the contents of the agreement. There is no evidence that this is the case.

This too is inaccurate. I explicitly state that the purpose of the article:

The purpose of this summary, however, is to provide the background for a critique of the implicit assumption by Forbes (and many of the other authors of the spring/summer edition) that the typical model of collective bargaining and the corresponding collective agreements constitute something that is fair or just to the members of the contract.

Process (collective bargaining) and product (the collective agreement) are both seen as limited, with the inadequacies of the process being reflected or expressed in the inadequacies of the product.

But let us look at my quote of Brian Forbes, or rather both what I wrote before the quote, the quote itself, and what I wrote immediately after the quote.

What I wrote before the quote:

The first question to ask is: Who is Brian Forbes? The brief biography at the end of the article provides a summary: “… a retired teacher. He taught for 30 years in Amherst and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia before serving as President of the Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union from 2000 to 2004” (2017, 29). The second question to ask is: What standard or criterion does he use to criticize what happened in Nova Scotia? A quote in the Herald News (Gorman, 27 November 2015) indicates what that standard is:

My quote of Brian Forbes’ statement:

What we suggest would be a reasonable way out is that the union … would say to the government, ‘There’s a lot of opposition to what has been presented to the members and very well may not pass and we should go back to the table, engage in proper collective bargaining, give the process time to work, discuss the issues that you said you want to discuss and try to arrive at something that we can both live with,’” said Forbes’.

What I wrote after the above quote:

The implication is that bargaining should occur through the bargaining teams ([quote of Brian Forbes’ statement] ‘engage in proper collective bargaining’). Further evidence of what Forbes believes is a legitimate or fair collective bargaining process is his statement in an information release from the South Shore District School Board, dated April 28 2003, when Forbes was president of the NSTU:

NSTU President Brian Forbes said, ‘The negotiations were conducted in a very professional manner, the resulting agreement was achieved in a timely fashion and teachers are satisfied with the results. I believe this agreement will not only benefit the South Shore District School Board and its teachers but, most importantly, the students.”

Indeed, the reviewer is correct to point out that Mr. Forbes is referring to the process of collective bargaining:

 Forbes states that negotiating a contract with the full participation of the negotiating teams of both parties, instead of through backroom deals, would be an approach more likely to result in an agreement that both sides could live with.

Forbes, unlike the reviewer, is not only referring to the process, but is implying that the process of collective bargaining in general leads to results that are fair. How else could “both sides live with it?” If one of the sides does not believe the agreement is fair, why would they comply with the provisions (except due to a consciousness of being forced to comply with the collective agreement)? Forbes , when he was president of the NSTU, links “the professional nature of the collective bargaining process” to the agreement being realized “in a timely fashion” and to teachers being “satisfied with the results.” Process and product are united. If the process is tainted (as it was in the case of the McNeil government), then the product will be tainted as well. Mr. Forbes does not explicitly state this, but it can be inferred from what he wrote. Such a connection between “free collective bargaining” and “fair contracts” (product) is constantly made by trade union reps either implicitly or explicitly.

The reviewer continues:

The preamble masks the real focus of the article, which is (apparently) a critique of the industrial model of labour-management relations and, in particular, a critique of business unionism within that model. At certain points, the manuscript becomes a critique of capitalism.

I explicitly stated, in the second paragraph, the following:

The purpose of this article, though, is not to review the articles in the journal. Rather, it is to point out and criticize the hidden standard that is uncritically assumed by most of the authors of articles in the journal.

That hidden standard, as I attempt to show, is the legitimacy or fairness of both collective bargaining as process and product—which is a legitimization of capitalism and the power of employers as a class.

The critique is hardly just of “business unionism”–but of unionism as an ideology that the left and the labour movement never questions.

The reviewer continues:

The problem is not only lack of clarity about the central argument, but the way in which the manuscript rambles and sometimes goes off on tangents that seem unrelated to the argument. Concepts and theories are not clearly presented (e.g., McAlevey’s ideas) and that leaves the reader floundering while trying to identify and understand the author’s argument.

Since the reviewer’s critique both distorts the nature of article and fails to understand the argument, I will leave it up to the reader to determine whether “the manuscript rambles….”

The reviewer continues:

Some of the claims made in the manuscript are not well supported. For example, the author claims that union leaders represent the voice of employers, not the voice of union members.

I never implied that. Unions are often contradictory, with elements that oppose particular employers in diverse ways. However, they generally accept the power of employers as a class, and that acceptance is expressed in diverse manners.

The reviewer continues:

I think he means to say that if a union operates under a business unionism model, the union leaders’ perspective about the labour-management relationship is likely to be skewed in favour of management’s interests.

This way of putting it is itself likely to be interpreted in a skewed manner. “Management’s interests” is often tied to a particular interest (this particular employer and this particular management structure). Unions have to deal with this particular structure, but my focus is on management’s interests as class interests and their representation of the power of employers as a class—and the ideology that expresses such interests—such as the so-called legitimacy of collective agreements.

The reviewer continues:

If the argument is that the NSTU operates according to business unionism, then this should be stated and supported with evidence. Making a generalization to all unions is wild and unjustifiable.

Hardly. Various posts on this blog express the hostility of unions (whether “business unions” or “social unions”) to my views.

Another example is the author’s assumption that all workers belong to a single class—a Marxist argument that has criticized and long-since debunked. It presents an overly simplistic representation of modern day capitalism.

This view that all workers belong to a single class as having been debunked is written from a purely academic point of view, of course. What would this academic do when faced with workers in the private sector and in the public sector—if s/he aimed to oppose the power of employers as a class?

Initially, as Geofrrey Kay and James Mott imply in their work: Political Order and the Law of Labour, those who work for an employer can be considered as part of the working class since they are economically dependent on a wage. The elimination of certain wage workers from consideration of the working class organizationally can then proceed; for example, one of the major functions of the police is to protect private property in general and capitalist private property; organizationally, they oppress the working class and cannot be considered part of it. Another group are managers. Some have the objective or material function of coordinating work, but this coordination is overlaid by their function to exploit and oppress workers.

In the private sector, part of their work makes pulls them towards the working class and part towards the class of employers; some of their work contributes to the production of surplus value and part of it to the extraction of surplus value.  In the public sector, bureaucratic and financial pressures also function to have managers pressure workers to work more intensely. Organizationally and partially objectively, they are not part of the working class.

I recommend to the author that he focus his paper on problematizing the taken-for-granted assumptions about collective bargaining, especially in the public sector, and especially in an era when governments have decided to use their legislative power to legislate so-called ‘collective agreements.’

The point of the essay is to question the legitimacy of collective agreements even if the best-case scenario of respect for the process of collective bargaining and respect for its product, the collective agreement. To introduce the issue of back-to-work legislation would only cloud the main issue. The critique fails to understand the target of my criticism.

The reviewer continues:

If the argument is that the industrial model of labour-management relations does not (and possibly never did) work well for teachers and other workers, then focus on that.

Again, the argument is that no collective-bargaining process as such has definite limitations—limitations which the social-reformist left do not recognize or discuss. This academic’s own failure to understand the point of the essay illustrates this.

The NSTU case might be an example of the dysfunction of the arrangement but would not be the central focus of the manuscript. I recommend that the author read Tangled Hierarchies by Joseph Shedd and Samuel Bacharach to gain background information about the settlement between teachers and their employers that happened decades ago and what its implications are.

Any reference may be relevant. I will read this when I have the time. However, I will undoubtedly draw different conclusions than this academic if I do read it.

The reviewer continues:

Finally, if the present system of labour-management relations does not work, what does the author think should replace it? If the author believes that workers should have agency or control over their working lives, what would that look like?

To require this in an essay is absurd. One of the first things to do is to criticize the existing situation. What will replace this system is a related issue, but it can hardly be divorced from the definition of the problem. In other words, solutions are functions of problem definition.

The reviewer continues:

“What would be the pros and cons of such a model and for whom?”

What a stupid way of looking at the world—as if it were a question of listing the pros and cons and checking them off. For workers who work for an employer, being treated as a thing is the con; all other pros can hardly compensate for this treatment of human beings as things. Perhaps this academic would do well to consider whether her/his question would be appropriate in the context of the master/slave relation. Imagine if an academic asked the following question about slavery: “What are the pros and cons of such a model and for whom?”

As for what it would look like, I have specified that in posts what an alternative might look like (see for instance Socialism, Part One: What It May Look Like) but such a discussion would require much more space than that allotted by the journal, as I indicate in a previous post.

I suspect that one of the ways in which academic reviewers limit the publications of those with whom they disagree is by this method: the author, they claim, should have included such and such—whereas journals generally impose strict limitations on the length of journals.

The author needs to take into consideration that the public sector involves many stakeholders, not just employers and employees.

Firstly, who are these “stakeholders?” The concept of “public sector” independently of the employer-employee relation has no meaning in a capitalist context.

Secondly, in her/his detailed comments, s/he mentions “social justice for children, social justice for taxpayers, social justice for society.” The author simply assumes that the status quo will continue to exist.

In a society without employers, the tax structure would be very different (if taxes would exist at all)–a subject for debate). In a society without employers, the school structure would be very different, with a far greater integration of physical and intellectual activities than exist at present—the abolition of the division of labour between physical and intellectual (and artistic and aesthetic) activities. In a society without employers, society would be very, very different.

“How do we achieve social justice in a complex system? And social justice for whom? Should the rights of workers trump the rights of others?”

That of course would be up for negotiations, but workers are the “front-line” class who face employers directly. Other groups, as Tony Smith implies (Globalisation: A Systematic Marxian Approach) would definitely have their interests represented in a socialist society (which I have outlined in other posts), but the leverage for eliminating the class of employers and the social structures corresponding to their power must come from somewhere, and workers, being the front-line class which both positively faces the power of employers and negatively can oppose that power through their organization, are key. However, this is not the concern of this undoubtedly social-reformist leftist.

The reviewer continues: 

I recommend that the manuscript be rewritten and resubmitted for review. I have attached the manuscript with more detailed feedback.

Since I refused to rewrite according to the criticisms of these academics (undoubtedly some of the writing could have been improved—as can all writings), I decided to eliminate these “middle-(wo)men” and start my own blog. It is obvious that most so-called leftist academics lack a critical attitude towards the society in which we live. I naively expected more from a journal with the title Critical Education. What is meant by “critical” in the title is critical according to social-reformist criteria.

I should have been wiser; when attending university, when the professor was sympathetic to my views, I generally obtained better grades; when they opposed my views, I received worse grades. I also had my experience as a Marxist father to go by (see for example A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and its Representatives, Part One).

Although workers’ experiences are hardly the last word, they should also form an essential part or any “Critical Education”–but the reviewers of my article obviously consider their academic backgrounds to be superior to anything workers’ experience on a daily basis at work–even in unionized settings subject to collective bargaining and collective agreements.

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

In a previous post, I pointed out how Professor Noonan idealized the nation state. This post will expand on this view by showing that Professor Noonan’s proposal to nationalize  the economy by means of the modern state does the same thing–idealizes the modern state.

Professor Noonan makes the following claim:

The alternative is to use this crisis as a basis of legitimacy for the state– under the control of democratic political forces acting in our shared life-interest– to assume control over the productive basis of society and re-orient production to serving life-needs. Nationalization can prefigure democratic socialization, and democratic socialization can re-focus economic life on collective work to provide each and all that which we really need, and freeing our time for the– real-life, multidimensional– experiences, actions, and interactions that make life worth fighting for, protecting, and living.

The call for nationalization of industry by means of the modern state has been typical of many leftists for at least a century and a half. Marx, before, during and a couple of years after the 1848 revolutions, called for the centralization or the appropriation of the conditions of life (factories and other productive facilities, banks, utilities and so forth) by the modern state. Ironically, Professor Noonan, who considers that his view is superior to the Leninist view of the modern state, follows in Leninist footsteps. From Paul Thomas (1994), Alien Politics: Marxist State Theory Retrieved (New York: Routledge), pages ix-x:

Since the 1960s, fierce but turgid [pretentious or windy or laboured or strained] have raged among scholars about Marxist state theory. Participants in these debates were in some respects bitterly opposed. Yet they tended, by and large, to agree on one basic assumption: that the state, or the state as Marx thought of it, is class determined or shaped by the play of class forces outside its boundaries. Disagreements duly proceeded about what this ruling class theory means. (It might mean, for instance, that the state is the instrument of the capitalist class, or that it is an agency structurally tied to ruling class interests or imperatives.) But the theory, in the main, was itself accepted–accepted, in my view, rather too readily and uncritically.

But what did its acceptance involve? It involved, in practice, the often impatient conflation or running-together of understandings of the state that are, in principle, separable: that of the state as being class-determined, and that of the state as an “object,” an instrument, a “finished thing” that is capable of being “seized” and turned to good account once it is seized by the right hands. Theorists–among them Marx himself, for a while, as well as Lenin–can be seen to be given to such impatience under the impress of revolutionary urgency.

But by now, such impatience can be seen to have invited dangerous illusions about what can be accomplished by seizing the state. Seizure of the state can be seen, for that matter, as a dangerous illusion in its own right.

The modern state, as a separate institution, is itself characteristic of the nature of a society dominated by a class of employers and is hardly something external to it. From Thomas, page x:

Because common action and democratic potential find no place in civil society, these are alienated and represented away from its orbit.  Common action and collective concern, which in civil society are subsumed beneath self-assertion and the play of competing self-interests, are fused and concentrated at the level of the state, which arrogates them to itself.

The modern state is similar in some respects to modern money. Modern money emerges as a monopolizer by being the only social object that is immediately exchangeable. The modern state is a monopolizer of the so-called public sphere by being the only social object that immediately constitutes political subjects (citizens). From Geoffrey Kay and James Mott (1982), Political Order and the Law of Labour, page 6:

The political nature of money is evident in its appearance —it always bears the head of the prince, or some other emblem of state. On the side of subjectivity the same applies: just as money is immediately exchangeable as a universal object whose credentials do not have to be chocked, so every individual is accepted at face value as a persona bona fide. Money is accepted because it is a universal objcct on account of its being political: the individual is universally recognised because he is a political subject – a citizen.

Just as money is a production relation despite being external to the production process, so too is the modern state a production relation despite being external to the production process.

The call for nationalization and state centralization independently of working-class consciousness of its own general interests may be merely the expression of the immediate interests of workers under specific circumstances without leading anywhere except the absorption of such nationalization into the folds of the capitalist system itself; in other words, such nationalization may be co-opted by the modern state and by certain sections of the class of employers.

Isabelle Garo (2000), Marx: Une Critique de la Philosophie  argues that Marx did oppose, at least later in life, state centralization as a socialist measure (I give my rather freely translated version, followed by the original French. If anyone has a better translation, feel free to make a comment), pages 233-234:

Marx insists on the fact that the Commune [the Paris Commune, an organization that arose in 1871 in the face of, on the one hand, the defeat of France by Prussia during the Prussian-French war and, on the other, the attempt by the French class of employers to take away the arms held by the National Guard in Paris] aims in the first place the emancipation of work. It is the established unity between political tasks and economic organization, “the political form finally found that permitted the realization of the economic emancipation of work.” From this point of view, the idea of a separated political instance is indeed an illusion that masks the functional subordination of the State to the mode of production to its criteria and to its needs. The overthrow of this logic is not the temporary reuse of the State, followed by its suppression: as functional representation, it [the State] concentrates in itself the nature and contradictions of the economic and social formation in general. The withering away of the State is a radical redefinition of politics, its reappropriation by the associated producers as an instance of democratic decision-making and rationalization of a production that cannot possess in itself its own ends. Said in another way, the valorization of value [the increase of money for the sake of the increase of money by way of using human beings and their conditions of life as means to that end–see The Money Circuit of Capital)  and its absurd spiral must cede place to the redefinition of social and individual activity. Political representation, modified in its definition, is turned upside down in its function: far from being a means for dispossession that makes universal suffrage the right to designate who are to be our  “masters,” is the occasion of a specifically political action precisely because it concerns local tasks of organization.

Marx insiste sur le fait que la Commune vise en premier lieu l’émancipation du travail. Elle est l’unité instaurée entre tâches politiques et organisation économique,
« la forme politique enfin trouvée qui permettait de réaliser l’émancipation économique du travail79». De ce point de vue, l’idée d’une instance politique séparée est bien une illusion qui masque la subordination fonctionnelle de l’État au mode de production à ses critères et à ses urgences. Le renversement de cette logique n’est pas la réutilisation momentanée de l’État, suivie de sa suppression: en tant que représentation fonctionnelle, il concentre en lui la nature et les contradictions de la formation économique et sociale dans son ensemble. Le dépérissement de l’État est une redéfinition radicale de la politique, sa réappropriation par les producteurs associés comme instance de décision démocratique et de rationalisation d’une production qui ne saurait posséder en elle même ses propres finalités. Autrement dit, la valorisation de la valeur et sa spirale absurde doivent céder la place à la redéfinition de l’activité sociale et individuelle. La représentation politique, modifiée dans sa définition, est retournée dans sa fonction : loin d’être le moyen d’une
dépossession qui fait du suffrage universel le droit de désigner ses «maîtres3», elle est l’occasion d’une action spécifiquement politique, précisément parce qu’elle
concerne des tâches locales d’organisation.

This does not mean that there would be merely local cooperatives; there could be a federation of cooperatives that united not just economic functions but political functions, under the rule of the producers and the local communities and, at the same time, connected to each other in a cooperative national structure initially (see  the description of a possible scenario in the series Socialism, for example,  Socialism, Part Six: What It May Look Like, or Visions of a Better Kind of Society Without Employers). Universal suffrage would be preserved and control of the executive (state personnel, election of the judicature and other changes in the nature of the state would be required. From Richard Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels: Classical Marxism, 1850-1895, volume 2, page 133:

By way of contrast Marx emphasized that “nothing could be more foreign to the spirit of the Commune than to supersede universal suffrage by hierarchic investiture.”18 Not only were judges to be elected but, most of all, administrators at all levels. Marx had always made executive power his prime concern and set forth its radical democratization as the foremost political objective of any popular movement. Thus in the First Draft he declared that the Communards had adapted universal suffrage “to its real purposes” when they used it to choose “their own functionaries of administration and initiation.”19 Such functionaries and indeed all the elected public servants of the Commune would also work under much closer control by their electors, because of the additional safeguards encountered but infrequently in bourgeois democracies–…the right of recall, and open executive proceedings with subsequently published transcripts. Marx had no patience with any institutional devices, checks, or balances whose purpose was to curtail popular influence; he favored a maximum of mass participation in and control over all branches of government. “Freedom,” he would write four years later, perhaps thinking of the Paris Commune, “consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it, and today, too, the forms of state are more or less free to the extent that they restrict the ‘freedom of the state.”’20 Just as bourgeois democracy could be judged much freer, by this yardstick, than Bonapartist despotism, so the Commune could be judged much freer than bourgeois democracy.

Professor Noonan’s implicit assumption that nationalization is somehow socialist definitely needs to be criticized. From Hunt, volume 2, pages 226-227:

Marx made it clear that such leisure included at least the following: (1) time to be idle (rest, etc.); (2) time for artistic endeavor; and (3) time for scientific pursuits. Most science was done in leisure time during Marx’s day, including the social “science” he did himself. A continuing development of scientific knowledge would have obvious return benefits in rationalizing the processes of production. The growth of leisure time in general would produce a more knowledgeable and versatile work force: “Free time- which is both idle time and time for higher activity- has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as this different subject. ” 34 Marx’s last commentary on these matters is to be found in the Critique of the Gotha Program, written in 1875, a decade after the third volume of Capital. Here we find the striking passage which confirms that the radical vision of The German Ideology remained consistent in Marx’s mind to the end-under communism work will be attractive (“life’s prime want”), and the division of labor will be totally overcome:

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly- only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.

For Marx and Engels, then, communism was never equated simply with nationalization of the means of production. From beginning to end, their writings stress the transcendence of the division of labor as integral to the classless society. It was not some queer, extraneous, or easily discardable part of their system of ideas. It was the division of labor, after all, that first created private property- not vice versa- along with social classes, the state, the antagonism between the sexes, alienated labor, and the separation of town and country. If the dividing of labor was original sin, its Aufhebung [its elimination and the simultaneous nurturing of the positive aspects that have emerged on its basis–such as increased productivity of labour] alone would mark the redemption of mankind. Nationalization of the means of production, in and of itself, overcomes none of the aforementioned evils, but only enhances the power of the state, making it a single giant monopoly corporation. Later generations of Marx’s followers, Communists and social democrats alike, increasingly misunderstood, trivialized, or simply forgot this aspect of the masters’ teaching, surrounded as they were by a world in which occupational specialization gained ground every day in every sphere, quite regardless whether the local economic system was communist, socialist, or capitalist. The relentless dividing of labor tasks seemed as inevitable as death and taxes. Only quite recently have some radicals begun to reconsider this whole issue seriously.

If we inquire where Marx got the idea of transcending the division of labor, at one level it appears to be his reinterpretation of the general liberal call for “the free development of the individual personality,” especially in its specifically German incarnation as the ideal of Bildung [education in the widest sense]– maximum cultivation of the talents of the individual, especially the “higher” faculties and sensibilities, into a well-proportioned whole. Marx reinterpreted this ideal first by reminding the liberals that the free development of the individual personality does not occur on a desert island: “Only within the community has each individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; hence personal freedom becomes possible only within the community.” But mainly he democratized the liberal ideal which had always tacitly presupposed the existence of “lower orders” to look after the “lower” needs of each free personality. By transcending the division of labor in society at large, “the genuine and free development
of individuals ceases to be a mere phrase. ” In the renowned words of the Manifesto, “the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. ” 38 Of course the Bildung ideal itself was based on Renaissance models and above all on the Greek ideal of personal well-roundedness, suggesting once again the extent of Marx’s underlying debt to the values of classical antiquity [ancient Greece and Rome].

This does not mean that there may be no role for parliamentary institutions in some form. Universal suffrage and some form of central national institution would probably be necessary, and nationalization of key industries may make some sense–but in order for universal suffrage to be an expression of working-class democracy, the working-class itself would have to engage, consciously, in opposing the class of employers. From Hunt, volume 2, page 70:

In 1852 Marx wrote of universal suffrage, as Engels had done so often before, as the very touchstone of proletarian victory in Britain:

Universal Suffrage is the equivalent for political power for the working class of England, where the proletariat forms the large majority of the population, where, in a long, though underground civil war, it has gained a clear consciousness of its position as a class [my emphasis], and where even the rural districts know no longer any peasants, but only landlords, industrial capitalists (farmers) and hired laborers. The carrying of Universal Suffrage in England would, therefore, be a far more socialistic measure than anything which has been honored with that name on the Continent. Its inevitable result, here, is the political supremacy of the working class.

It is possible that a dual movement of the working class, becoming conscious of itself as a class, could institute nationalization of key industries while simultaneously engaging in the restructuring of the modern state to link political and economic change that expresses its own interests.

Such a situation, though, requires that the working-class becomes conscious of itself as a class. Professor Noonan provides no evidence that this is the case. In fact, part of the purpose of this blog is to demonstrate in many ways that this is not the case–ranging from the silent indoctrination that working-class students receive for at least 12 years in schools (see, for example,  A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees) to the claim by the social-democratic left that there is such a thing, within an economic, political and social system characterized by the class of employers, as “fairness, a “fair share” or “fair contract” for workers (see, for example, The Canadian Labour Congress’s Idealization of the Collective-Bargaining Process.

What is ironic in Professor Noonan’s position is that he accuses some leftists of being Leninists, which he implies is out-of-date. I had a debate–if you can call it that–some time ago. In his reply, he stated:

“I think we need to forget about revolution/reform as a fundamental and meaningful political difference today and start to think about working out a common agenda of structural change that can take us from where we are to a democratic life-economy (where we need to be) The social-reformist left has problems, but the ‘revolutionary’ left suffers from the problem of not existing as in any sense a meaningful political force, and has no model (save archaic Leninist ideas) about how to build. If nineteenth and early twentieth century ideas about revolution were going to work they would have worked 100 years ago. Historical materialism requires new political thinking in new times. The organizational forms that will attract and unify people have yet to be found. Most times I worry they never will be.

Professor Noonan, as a self-proclaimed member of the social-reformist or social-democratic left, has more in common with the Leninist view of the modern state than he realizes. (I leave it open whether Lenin in theory advocated a centralized socialist state. Thomas argues that he did whereas Kay and Mott seem more sympathetic to his views of the modern state.)

Instead of preparing the working-class for real control over its own lives by criticizing the inadequacies of the modern state, Professor Noonan engages in utopian fantasies about the magical world of nationalization.

The immediate question is what can workers and their representatives do to prevent the capitalist state from obliging them to return to work for employers when it is still unsafe to do so. The next question is, once the coronavirus pandemic recedes, what can be done to prevent a rush by the class of employers and the modern state or modern government–a purely political state that arises with the ripping of the conditions of life of workers from the control of the workers themselves–from foisting payment of the crisis on the backs of workers, the unemployed, immigrants and the disabled. These diverse groups of civil society, if they are to resist this and to win more than just temporary gains, need to begin to organize for the overthrow of the alienated, exploitative, oppressive and coercive state or government, along with the alienated, exploitative, oppressive and coercive class of employers–a movement which Professor Noonan considers to be outdated. After all, the magic words “democratic” and “nationalization” take the place of real democracy, with a class conscious working-class explicitly fighting to end the alien power of the modern state and the alien power of the class of employers.

The claim that the nation state can “override capitalist market forces” fetishizes the nation state by treating the nation state as somehow external to those market forces. But how does the nation state override market forces? By, force? The nation state as a focal point of political power is hardly independent of capitalist market forces. Just as money  is money only because commodities do not have the capacity of being exchangeable in their immediate form, so the nation state has the power that it does because citizens do not have the capacity to represent their own interests except in an alienated form, via the alienated state, a state that is representative in an atomized fashion that dissolves class relations into the homogenous situation of being a “citizen.”

Professor Noonan makes the further following claim:

As powerful as capital is, it has proven no match for the virus, on the one hand, and state power, on the other. The danger, of course, is that the state is currently acting under emergency powers, but will revert to its standard function of enframing and protecting capital, if we let it. The alternative is to use this crisis as a basis of legitimacy for the state– under the control of democratic political forces acting in our shared life-interest– to assume control over the productive basis of society and re-orient production to serving life-needs.

Professor Noonan’s analysis is rather vague. Firstly, Professor Noonan does not specify how “capital … has proven no match for state power.” Perhaps he means closing borders to non-citizens and non-permanent residents. Such a situation, however, has existed for a long time, and control of “foreigners” became more systematic with the emergence of passports (which did not exist in any systematic way for some time despite the existence of the capitalist state and a class of employers)–and such a move is hardly independent of the power of capital or of employers; passports are a means of control over workers throughout the world (see an earlier post What’s Left, Toronto? Part Six).

to achieve their goals (in the case of private corporations, profit, and in the case of government organizations, their mission statement and the overall operations of government). If employees start dying on mass, the interests of employers are jeopardized. Professor Noonan simply ignores this basic fact of “capitalism.”