Critique of a Book Used by Many Psychologists and Psychiatrists to Oppress Patients, Part One

Introduction

This is the first of a five-part series of posts that criticize a book that serves to oppress individuals, whether they have mental health problems or not.

As I indicated in another post (A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Nine), I engaged in a partial critique of the book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns, M.D. (1999). This book is used by many psychologists and psychiatrists as a basis for the psychological technique called “mindfulness”–and with reason since Dr. Burns defines human problems independently of social context–quite convenient for the class of employers since the economic, social and political oppressive and exploitative contexts are thereby ignored–or rather suppressed.

The reason why I read the book was that I was required to see a psychologist as a condition of receiving disability benefits from the Manitoba Teachers Society (see A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Ten). Mr. Alan Slusky, a psychologist in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, recommended the book and, in fact, it was supposed to be part of my “therapy”–bibliotherapy. According to Wikipedia:

Bibliotherapy is a creative arts therapies modality that involves storytelling or the reading of specific texts with the purpose of healing. It uses an individual’s relationship to the content of books and poetry and other written words as therapy. Bibliotherapy is often combined with writing therapy.

I refer occasionally to John Dewey’s philosophy of science, which I will look at to some extent in the fourth post but especially in the last post of this series. I also refer occasionally to my dissertation. My doctoral dissertation compared the philosophies of human nature of John Dewey (an :American philosopher of education and author of, among other books, Human Nature and Social Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology, Democracy and Education and Logic: The Theory of Inquiry) and Paulo Freire (a Brazilian philosopher of education and author, among other books, of Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

Critique of the Contents of the Book

Let us now turn to the contents of the book and some of my criticisms.  I do not present my criticism in the order in which I wrote it since the initial points are fairly abstract (I leave those for the fourth and fifth posts in this series). My critical comments are usually either in square brackets or separate points  as a continuation of my comments: 

    1. p.xxx: “Depression is one of the worst forms of suffering because of the immense feelings of shame, worthlessness, hopelessness and demoralization. Depression can seem worse than terminal cancer, because most cancer patients feel loved and they have hope and self-esteem. Many depressed patients have told me, in fact, that they yearned for death and that they prayed every night that they would get cancer, so they could die in dignity without having to commit suicide.”

    2. P. 9: “In fact, depression is so widespread it is considered the common cold of psychiatric disturbances.” [Would that not be evidence of a social problem for a scientist? Would not even the lay person who is curious wonder why it is so common?]

    3. Page 10: Note: “The idea that thinking patterns can profoundly influence your moods has been described by a number of philosophers [why did he not name a few?] in the past 2500 years. More recently, the cognitive view of emotional disturbances has been explored in the writings of many psychiatrists and psychologists including Alfred Adler, Albert Ellis, Karen Horney, and Arnold Lazarus, to name just a few. A history of this movement has been described in Ellis, A., Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy.”

    4. Page 11: “2. Understanding: A clear understanding of why you get moody and what you can do to change your moods. You will learn what causes your powerful feelings; how to distinguish “normal” from “abnormal” emotions; and how to diagnose and assess the severity of your upsets.”

    5. Page 11: Self-control: You will learn how to apply safe and effective coping strategies that will make you feel better whenever you are upset. … As you apply it, your moods can come under greater voluntary control.

    6. Page 12: “The first principle of cognitive therapy is that all your moods are created by your “cognitions,” or thoughts. … You feel the way you do because of the thoughts that you are thinking in this moment. [One of the categories that he uses is “overgeneralization.” Here is a good example of overgeneralization. What is a thought? What is a feeling? What is the relationship between the two? Do feelings cause thoughts? What is the specific causal mechanism that leads from thoughts to feelings? What narrative structure, in conjunction with the descriptive structure? Furthermore, the “self” of human beings is constituted by a set of ways of acting, which are linked to how others act. Money. A set of habits is generally unconscious until a problem arises.] [Which came first? Thoughts or feelings in the process of evolution?]

    7. You create those feelings [feelings are products of the self—the environment plays no part for Burns. The subject of the action of creating feelings is “you”—apparently, you do not consist of feelings—they arise out of thin air. You are feelingless, and the feelings then are magically produced by something completely different from the feelings—thoughts.” Does Burns explain anywhere how people create feelings? Unlikely. This is mysticism, not science, or rather it is mysticism parading as science. How do thoughts “create” feelings? What is the difference between thoughts and feelings?] by the dialogue you are having with this book. [Presentation of the individual self as purely internal. There is no relation to an environment. Feelings are purely internal as are thoughts. But if both are purely internal, are they not the same in some way? This is idealist—and subjective idealism at that—by reducing the individual to purely internal processes. Anti-evolutionary.] [Burns is inferior to anything that Dewey has to offer. Burns assumes the “you” without inquiring into what he means by the “you” Does he mean the person or the body? The formation of the human person? If the “you” is itself a social process that has its focal point in an individual who becomes conscious of processes between the environment and the living being, then this “you” is itself a product and a cause. This one-sided reduction of the “you” to pure thought cannot begin to grasp the complexity of the nature of human beings. Burns does not even reflect on the use of his terms—a lack of critical thinking.]

    8. If “you” are a product of a social process, what then is the relation between the “individual” and the “social”? Burns does not even try to determine the relation since he reduces human nature to the isolated individual who is already formed—and assumes that this isolated individual is the point of departure.

    9. He assumes, in effect, that the human individual is a formed individual, and simply ignores the environmental conditions that contribute to the construction of the “you.”

    10. From Burns’ point of view, prehistoric people merely had to change their way of thinking and they would be like us.

    11. Is not the “you”—and thoughts and feelings—linked to the kind of society in which we live? Would Burns have the you that he does without the Gutenberg press?

    12. Your emotional reaction is generated not by the sentences you are reading but by the way you are thinking. Your thought actually creates the emotion. [creates? How? There is an organic aspect to all reactions, and that organic aspect, when grounded in the cns (central nervous system), can be called feeling. Feeling becomes emotion (something with an object attached to it. Feeling has organic roots and is quite independent of “thought.” Let us see whether this “scientist” explains how thought “creates ”emotion.”]Thought does not create emotion; it is a necessary condition for emotion to arise, but then so too is the environment. This person is an idealist and so too is his theory—despite the “scientific research” he claims. As for science, if thoughts “cause” feelings—in a real scientific sense and not in his pseudo-scientific conception of science, then he should be able to link up the “cause” with the “effect” in one narrative structure such that the beginning and the end form a history. See my dissertation.]

    13. The second principle is that when you are feeling depressed, your thoughts are dominated by a pervasive negativity.” Really? Such a generalization independent of context? His principle must be a physical principle since only physic-chemical principles are universal. Even if it were true—and? The implication is that “negativity” is an unreasonable or unjustifiable response to conditions. Such an assumption is unjustifiable. See the article on justifiable depression.] Social science that pretends to be universal is ideological—except for a few generalities that cannot grasp any definite, concrete relation (cannot exist independently of determinate, concrete relations).

    14. p. 13: “This feeling is absolutely illogical, but it seems so real that you have convinced yourself that your inadequacy will go on forever.” [Does this person live on this planet? There are many individuals who live in hopeless situations. How many children die each year throughout the world from malnutrition and starvation? Should their parents not be depressed? Has he ever experienced depression? This “scientist” becomes ever more pompous and lacks any depth of understanding of what people in this world experience.] [In any case, his statement that it is “absolutely illogical” is itself illogical. No rational scientist would make such a categorical statement independently of circumstances. [Watched a movie recently called “Guilty,” in French. The man was accused falsely of sexual abuse; he was imprisoned; his children were taken away from him (his children were his life); his wife eventually was let go, but she began seeing another man. His mother died while he was in prison. He stayed in prison for almost two years. Despite the recantation of the woman who accused him of sexual abuse, the judges condemned him to 18 months of probation. He tried to kill himself several times. Was it his negative thoughts that led to his depressed feelings? Was it the total situation? “Negative thoughts” may be a contributing determinant of depression, but to reduce depression to just this aspect is a fallacy—a fallacy of reducing a total process and situation to one event within the process or one aspect of it.]

    15. P.13: “The third principle is of substantial philosophical and therapeutic importance. Our research has documented that the negative thoughts which cause your emotional turmoil nearly always contain gross distortion. [Why the emphasis on “always.” Obviously because negative feelings have no real basis—always. But what happens if they do have a basis in reality, but that Burns and company have neglected to determine this in a scientific manner? Do they consider the context in which people live? That is to say, the environment? Or do they act like pre-evolutionary scientists and pretend that human beings are isolated monads, cut off from their environment?] [Who determines what constitutes gross distortions? Burns has such a grip on reality that he does not live in a distorted world? If capitalist society is by its very nature a distorted world, then what are the implications, psychologically?] Although these thoughts appear valid, you will learn that they are irrational or just plain wrong and that twisted thinking is a major cause of your suffering.” [If so many people have twisted thoughts—at the beginning, Burns claims that depression is like the common cold for psychiatrists since it is so prevalent a problem for them, then is not the educational system a possible cause for such twisted thinking? Is not education supposed to teach people how to think? See John Dewey, How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Education Process—the need for reflective thinking (not rationalism as usually defined as pure reason independently of context. Would it not be rational for a person who finds that depression is common to inquire into the conditions of its emergence? But Burns has the magic answer in his cap—negative thoughts. Why so many people have negative thoughts never enters his “scientific” mind, which seems to involve a curious lack of desire to inquire into anything that may contradict his theory. If schools contribute to the lack of a capacity to think, then individual solutions of “changing” thoughts will not do. Burns will have none of that, of course.] [It can be concluded that Burns’ theory ‘nearly always contain[s] great distortions.]

    16. : “Some of the major symptoms include… the conviction that external forces are controlling your mind or body….” [There are—necessarily—in a society characterized by commodity production—a lack of control over forces that determine our body and mind.]

Is Amnesty International a Progressive Organization?–or Is the Term “Progressive Organization” an Example of an Abstract Slogan of Social Democrats? Part One

Introduction

In an article posted on the Socialist Project’s website (https://socialistproject.ca/2021/12/swords-into-ploughshares/), Simon Black speaks to Sam Gindin, a social democrat or social reformer here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and author, along with the late Leo Panitch, of the book (2013) The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire. 

Mr. Black states the following: 

SB: Canadian arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been opposed by a range of civil society organizations, from Amnesty International to Oxfam. Collectively these organizations have also called for the federal government to work with trade unions representing workers in the arms industry to develop a plan that secures the livelihoods of those who would be impacted by the end of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. And in Labour Against the Arms Trade’s work with these organizations, we’ve always stressed the importance of centring this demand. Why is it important that mainstream, liberal human rights and humanitarian organizations are calling for a just transition for arms industry workers?

Mr. Gindin’s response? 

Progressive organizations like Oxfam and Amnesty [my emphasis] are right to see that this [challenge to profit priorities] is a challenge to capitalist power and capitalism itself and so can be a barrier to convincing people, particularly workers and communities where these arms are manufactured, like the LAVs in London, Ontario. But it’s the only honest – and possible – way forward. The message is not just that there are potential alternatives, but also that they could be introduced only if we could build the kind of social force that’s necessary to [implement them]. Sometimes people want to obscure the fact that our demands are radical, because they feel like [this reality will make it] harder to mobilize. [But] unless we can respect workers enough to address the reality and win them over, we’re left with a progressive demand that is in essence an abstract slogan.

I have already addressed the issue of whether Oxfam is a “progressive organization” in a previous post (Is Oxfam a “Progressive Organization?”–An Abstract Slogan (Rhetoric) of Social Democrats).

This concept of “progressive organizations”–without qualifications or analysis–sounds very much like “an abstract slogan.” Calling such organizations progressive without further ado fails to address the possible limitations of such organizations. It also sounds very much like the use of the term “radical” used by Mr. Gindin’s fellow social democrat, Herman Rosenfeld, who has used the term “radical” in a merely social-reformist or social-democratic sense (see my series of posts on the topic, such as What’s Left, Toronto? Part Two). 

Whether an organization is progressive or not should depend on not only what it fights against but also what it implicitly or explicitly accepts as legitimate. In the case of Amnesty International, as I will show below, it implicitly accepts as legitimate the power of employers to exploit and oppress workers. It does not say this, of course, but what it focuses on, what it does not criticize and some of its recommendations imply that existence of employers is legitimate.

In this post, I will provide a general critique of organizations dedicated specifically to human rights and then move to a critique of Amnesty International’s general position. In a subsequent post in this series, I will delve in more detail into AI’s position in relation to the world of work in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers. I will also look, briefly, at its shortcomings when it comes to the capitalist state in general and to police in particular.

General Considerations

The use of the term “progressive organizations” usually has a ring of truth about it among the left. Such organizations undoubtedly do some good. However, there are many social organizations that do some good sometimes, but at the same time harm workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers. Government agencies, such as the Winnipeg Child and Family Services, undoubtedly protect some children from abuse–but they themselves also harm other children in various ways (see for example  A Personal Example of the Oppressive Nature of  Public Welfare Services  or  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Seven: Complaint Against the Winnipeg Child and Family Services with the Manitoba Ombudsman). 

Doing some good is thus insufficient for determining whether an organization is “progressive.” Or is it that Oxfam and Amnesty International are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and that, as NGOs, they necessarily perform progressive functions? Such a view is, of course, dangerous. 

Consider, for example, a photo connected to the International Labour Organization and UNICEF (and indirectly to OXFAM). The photo–dishonestly–depicts a young girl apparently working as a shoe shiner in order to “sell” opposition to child labour. However, such a photo presents a very unlikely scenario since, firstly, shoeshining is predominantly a male occupation (including boys) and, secondly, the age of the girl would make it highly unlikely that such a person would ever engage in shoeshining in order to try to survive–her hands would be too small and weak to even engage in shoeshining. I quote Thomas  Offit (2008), Conquistadores de la Calle: Child street labor in Guatemala City, pages 19-22: 

Pictures also have served as a means of confusing if not outright misrepresenting the lives of child street laborers. Of course, the camera can lie, and photographers may not be aware of the uses that their employers will dedicate their pictures to, but the image presented in Figure 1.1 stands out in my mind as a photograph that communicates a great deal, little of which has to do with the lived reality of its subject. While I doubt that the authors of the books that utilize the photo intended to misrepresent their subjects, and likely believed that the photo provided visual representation for their well-meaning objectives, by misrepresenting the truth, the photo robs children of their agency as individuals performing meaningful valuable labor.

Figure 1.1 shows a picture from the book Combating Child Labour, an edited volume published in 1988 by the International Labour Organization that details the plight of child laborers in different industries in countries throughout the developing world (Bequele and Boyden 1988). Th e picture is presented with a caption that states “Child working at a street shoe-shining stand in Ecuador,” and also credits the photographer and the organization that provided the photo. Despite the ambiguity of the caption (is the child the shoeshiner and therefore the child laborer, or is she merely working there performing some other task?), the image presented does not equivocate. Of the six chapters in the book that discuss specific types of child labor in specific countries, neither Ecuador nor street labor is specifically addressed, yet the photo appears in the book as a means of accompanying the text. It is an excellent and provocative photo, showing a very young girl with a shock of hair and large eyes looking meekly up at the camera while supporting herself by grabbing onto the shoeshine bench, shoe polish at her side. On the edge of a frame is a cropped image of an unidentified seated adult, presumably a customer. One image and a few words convey to the reader the grave injustice of child labor. I was so struck by the photo when I first saw it that I posted it on the wall of my office as a means of inspiration during the grant-writing stage of my research.This photo was also reprinted in the book Child Labor by ex-UNICEF and Oxfam Education specialist Alec Fyfe (1989). Th e caption in this book reads only “Girl shoe-shining, Ecuador” and credits UNICEF as the source. Th e ambiguity concerning what job the girl is performing is resolved, and as shoeshiners are directly compensated for their labor by their customers, we know that the girl is a child laborer and not a child worker merely helping out a family member. In this photo, only the child and the shoeshine bench are visible; the older adult has been edited out of the picture.

Based on my experience, both versions of this photo are misleading, and the second borders on deliberate misrepresentation. In my two years of research in Guatemala, I never saw a girl or a woman shining shoes on the street. While this may be more common in Ecuador, it is rarely reported in the literature on the topic, and I believe it to be anomalous, as shoeshining in Latin America is a male-dominated street occupation. Second, it is also rare that a child as young as the girl pictured, regardless of sex, would be engaged in this task, as it demands a good deal of strength and dexterity that a child of her age would not be likely to possess. If a child her age were to be engaged in child labor, she would be far more likely to be selling newspapers near a family member or engaged in a less physically demanding task. Third, as anyone who has seen a street shoeshiner is likely to observe, the hands and forearms of anyone performing this job, child or adult, are covered with shoe polish even after one or two shines, and the girl in the photo shows no evidence of having shined shoes that day. She looks quite clean, especially considering the grime that surrounds her. Finally, as anyone who knows the intricacies of shoeshining can attest, the purported shoeshine girl is sitting on the customer’s side of the shoeshine bench! Th e sloping footrest that she holds is meant to be facing the shiner so that the toe of the customer is elevated to allow for easier access to the shoe. Based on this photo, it is far more likely that the adult whose image is cropped in the first photo and deliberately eliminated in the second is the shoeshiner, and the young girl, though sitting near him, is either a child street worker engaged in some other task, or simply a child accompanying an adult to work. Th is photo, reprinted here in its first version and many more times in similar volumes as a definitive image of the injustice of child labor, does not picture a child laborer!

Oxfam, the ILO and UNICEF undoubtedly do some good–but we should not assume that this is sufficient for labeling them “progressive organizations.”  Doing good can easily be coupled with doing harm. NGOs should hardly be exempt from criticism. 

A General Look at the Beginnings of the Human Rights Movement

It is interesting how Gindin, a professed socialist and Marxist, neglects to mention how a grassroots  movement for human rights really emerged only in the late 1960s and early 1970s–by stripping such movements of concern for social and economic rights. From Samuel Moyn (2018), Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World, pages 121-122: 

THE HUMAN RIGHTS revolution occurred almost ex nihilo in the 1970s. There had been talk and even treaty making in the United Nations since the 1940s, but it testified more to states colluding to protect one another. No serious move had ever been made to fulfill the organization’s promise in its charter to institutionalize not simply peace but justice too. The lone exception of the increasingly outcast state of South Africa aside, human rights rhetoric at the governmental level had remained stillborn, and no state had a visible human rights policy. That changed in a series of stages, above all as new social movements of the 1960s were winnowed down and those movements defined in terms of human rights burst into consciousness across the next decade. Amnesty International, the first high-profile human rights non-governmental organization in history, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977, the same year that the American president Jimmy Carter committed his country to a new human rights policy, in part to cleanse the stain of Vietnam from the national image.

Easily the most extraordinary fact about this human rights revolution, from the perspective of ideals about how to distribute the good things in life, is that, with some key exceptions, it unceremoniously purged attention to economic and social rights, to say nothing of a fuller-fledged commitment to distributive equality. It was a striking contrast to the spirit of social rights in the era of national welfare, when they were not only integral to human rights overall but linked to egalitarian idealism and outcomes at the national scale. Now, as if the promise of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) had never been about national welfare, it was remembered as a charter meant to save the individual from the state’s depredations of civil liberties rather than to empower the state to make individual flourishing and equality a reality.

Moyn certainly neglects increasing concerns for human rights before the 1970s, as Sarita Cargas (2016) argues, in “Questioning Samuel Moyn’s Revisionist History of Human Rights,” Human Rights Quarterly, Volume 38, Number 2, , page 425: 

This conclusion [that human rights was in public discourse] is finally supported by a review of how many articles in the New York Times referred to human rights. In 1930, sixty articles used the phrase, in 1940, eighty-one articles. But by 1948, 571 articles include it. In 1950, 495 articles use it but only 260 in 1955. But by 1968, the number of articles referring to human rights jumps to 625. This data means, on average, the reader of the New York Times would have read about human rights in one to three articles every single day from the late 1940s onward. This does not negate Moyn’s statement that “In 1977 the New York Times featured the phrase ‘human rights’ five times more frequently than in any prior year,”80 but it does disprove the assertion that no one had heard the phrase before Carter’s inaugural speech.

However, Sarita herself neglects the increasing grassroots nature of the movement for human rights. Furthermore, since she shows little concern for the issue of capitalism versus socialism (an issue which an academic leftist, Jeff Noonan, considers to be a dead-end–see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Nine: The Nature of Capitalism) she neglects how both Amnesty International and its close cousin, Human Rights Watch, emerged as substitutes for a socialist movement. From Moyn (2018), pages 122-123: 

… especially in the global north, Cold War assumptions had long since damaged the 1940s communion of civil and political with economic and social rights, through the sheer force of insistence and repetition. And then, the new visibility of human rights ideals occurred as activists, disillusioned about the failures of socialism, the violence socialist politics sparked, or both—including in socialism’s postcolonial forms—embraced their roles, conceiving of “human rights” as a morally pure form of activism that would not require the exaggerated hopes or depressing compromises of past utopias.

Graphic evidence of the turn away from socialism and the skepticism toward social rights comes from Peter Benenson and Aryeh Neier, the respective founders of the first prominent global non-governmental organization and of the major American one concerned with human rights across the period. Despite having stood as a candidate for the Labour Party several times in his earlier life, when Benenson founded Amnesty International in the 1960s, he explicitly understood it as an alternative to socialism and set in motion a pattern that led the group to confine its attention to a narrow focus on political imprisonment. It added torture to its bailiwick in the 1970s. and the death penalty in the 1980s, shifting to poverty only after the millennium. “Look on the Socialist Parties the world over, ye mighty, and despair,” Benenson explained to a correspondent in justification of his emphases. Part of the reason for his depression was his own serial losses in election campaigns, but he also admitted, in the Christian idiom that frequently crept into his work, that “the quest for an outward and visible Kingdom is mistaken.” For the founder, human rights activism was much more about saving the activist’s soul, rather than building social justice. 

American Aryeh Neier founded Human Rights Watch in the 1970s with an exclusionary attention to political violations in left-and right-wing regimes. Despite his early political awakening, thanks to the six-time socialist presidential candidate Norman Thomas, and his past as the president of the labor-affiliated Student League for Industrial Democracy (which later became Students for a Democratic Society), Neier nonetheless chose a class-free civil libertarianism as his definitive mode of politics. Given that the American Civil Liberties Union, over which he presided before co-founding Human Rights Watch, had ascended to prominence by departing from the class politics that originally birthed it, Neier’s Cold War stewardship of liberties and rights confined his attention to basics like free speech and a free press. Human Rights Watch functioned primarily to transfer such single-minded civil libertarianism abroad, with funding from foundation grants that singled out state repression rather than pursuing a more contentious social justice. Through the end of his career in the organization, Neier fought bitterly with anyone who tried to make room for distributive justice, including as a matter of social rights, tirelessly invoking the Cold War liberal Isaiah Berlin’s distinction between negative liberty and positive self-realization in his defense.

Human rights as an international grassroots movement emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s, and it arose and flourished shortly before neoliberalism arose. This is no coincidence. This does not mean that they are the same, but they are both hegemonic projects that inhibit a movement towards the abolition of a society characterized by the class power of employers and therefore the emergence of a socialist way of living. 

Human rights as usually presented via AI not only substitute the pursuit of human rights at the expense of the struggle for the elimination of the class power of employers and the associated economic, political and social forms of exploitation and oppression–that is to say, as a substitute for the struggle for socialism. Human rights organizations, despite their own sometimes detailed efforts to substantiate what they consider to be human rights abuses, often simply neglect to contextualize such abuses in the wider context of the class power of employers. 

From Christoph Henning 2005), Philosophy After Marx: 100 years of misreadings and the normative turn in political philosophy, pages 8-9: 

Marx has largely disappeared from the stage of philosophy since 1989: he has been
declared definitively dead by his critics. His place has been taken, within the sociophilosophical literature published in Germany since the 1990s, by the rise of normative principles. Discussions turned on whether the newly unified country required a new constitution, on how to conceptualise the hierarchy of norms within the ‘postnational constellation’ formed by the new nation state and the new Europe, on how human rights and ‘justice’ might be grounded philosophically, and such like. As rewarding as such normative reflections are, they cannot replace inquiries into the material base. When a normativistically restricted point of view takes the place of the former social theory,
super-normativism results.

Human rights organizations and individuals often justify their activities and views on the basis of an abstract respect for being human without linking this up with the general exploitative and oppressive structure of the capitalist economy and the capitalist state.  Indeed, human rights organizations display a decided lack of analysis of the socially determined material conditions of the production of human life characteristic of class society. In particular, advocates of human rights can consistently oppose violations of human rights and the continued existence of the exploitation and oppression of workers on a daily basis. From Samuel Moyn (2014), “A Powerless Companion: Human Rights in the Age of Neoliberalism,” in pages 147-169, Law and Contemporary Problems, Volume 77, page 149: 

although the record of capitalism in our time is highly mixed when it comes to the achievement and violation of basic human rights, its most serious victim is equality (of resources and opportunities alike) both in national and global settings—a value that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the international human rights movements following in its wake do not even set out to defend.

It must be said that it is debatable whether “its most serious victim is equality;” its most serious victim may well be freedom. That issue, however, will not be addressed here. 

It could be said, of course, that the human rights movement has provided some welcome gains in the area of protection from state oppression, such as the illegal detention of citizens, immigrants and migrants for political reasons–political prisoners. 

Let us look at Amnesty International (AI) and perhaps, in another post, another human rights institution called Human Rights Watch (HRW) in relation to two issues: the right to choose work freely and the supposed need for the police to secure our lives. The first issue will be addressed in this post and the second issue in a subsequent post. 

Amnesty International Does Not Contextualize Human Abuses

Naomi Klein, author of, among other works, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2008), has a comment included on the cover of Jim Stanford’s book Economics for Everyone: :

Stanford is that rare breed: the teacher who changed your life. He has written a book–both pragmatic and idealistic–with the power to change the world.

Given the inadequate nature of Mr. Stanford’s economics for a characterization of the kind of capitalist society in which we live (see for example Economics for Social Democrats–but Not for the Working Class, Part Two: Critique of the Social Democrat Jim Stanford’s Theory of Money, Part One), Ms. Klein’s comment indicates a lack of a critical attitude in that area. Nonetheless, she does display a more critical attitude towards Amnesty International than does Mr. Gindin. Ms. Klein has expressed the inadequate nature of Amnesty International in that AI does not enable people to grasp the social context within which human rights abuses occur. 

Klein has the following to say about AI from her bookpages 119-120: 

The narrow scope is most problematic in Amnesty International’s 1976 report on Argentina, a breakthrough account of the junta’s atrocities and worthy of its Nobel Prize. Yet for all its thoroughness, the report sheds no light on why the abuses were occurring. It asks the question “to what extent are the violations explicable or necessary” to establish “security”—which was the junta’s official rationale for the “dirty war.”14 After the evidence was examined, the report concludes that the threat posed by left-wing guerrillas was in no way commensurate with the level of repression used by the state.

But was there some other goal that made the violence “explicable or necessary”? Amnesty made no mention of it. In fact, in its ninety-two-page report, it made no mention that the junta was in the process of remaking the country along radically capitalist lines. It offered no comment on the deepening poverty or the dramatic reversal of programs to redistribute wealth, though these were the policy centerpieces of junta rule. It carefully lists all the junta laws and decrees that violated civil liberties but named none of the economic decrees that lowered wages and increased prices, thereby violating the right to food and shelter—also enshrined in the UN charter. If the junta’s revolutionary economic project had been even superficially examined, it would have been clear why such extraordinary repression was necessary, just as it would have explained why so many of Amnesty’s prisoners of conscience were peaceful trade unionists and social workers.

In another major omission, Amnesty presented the conflict as one restricted to the local military and the left-wing extremists. No other players are mentioned —not the U.S. government or the CIA; not local landowners; not multinational corporations. Without an examination of the larger plan to impose “pure” capitalism on Latin America, and the powerful interests behind that project, the acts of sadism documented in the report made no sense at all —they were just random, free-floating bad events, drifting in the political ether, to be condemned by all people of conscience but impossible to understand.

This suppression of social context is characteristic of the social-democratic or social-reformist left in general. This suppression assumed an internal form–self-suppression of criticisms of government and the class of employers because of internal repression (and such self-repression is understandable), but it is no excuse for suppressing it internationally. From pages 120-121: 

Every facet of the human rights movement was functioning under highly restricted circumstances, though for different reasons. Inside the affected countries, the first people to call attention to the terror were friends and relatives of the victims, but there were severe limits on what they could say. They didn’t talk about the political or economic agendas behind the disappearances because to do so was to risk being disappeared themselves. The most famous human rights activists to emerge under these dangerous circumstances were the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, known in Argentina as the Madres. At their weekly demonstrations outside the house of government in Buenos Aires, the Madres did not dare hold up protest signs —instead they clasped photographs of their missing children with the caption “Donde estan?” Where are they? In the place of chants, they circled silently, wearing white headscarves embroidered with their children’s names. Many of the Madres had strong political beliefs, but they were careful to present themselves as nothing more threatening to the regime than grieving mothers, desperate to know where their innocent children had been taken.*

* After the end of dictatorship, the Madres became some of the fiercest critics of the new
economic order in Argentina, as they still are today.

In Chile, the largest of the human rights groups was the Peace Committee, formed by opposition politicians, lawyers and Church leaders. These were lifelong political activists who knew that the attempt to stop torture and to free political prisoners was only one front in a much broader battle over who would have control of Chile’s wealth. But in order to avoid becoming the regime’s next victims, they dropped their usual old-left denunciations of the bourgeoisie and learned the new language of “universal human rights.” Scrubbed clean of references to the rich and the poor, the weak and strong, the North and the South, this way of explaining the world, so popular in North America and Europe, simply asserted that everyone has the right to a fair trial and to be free from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. It didn’t ask why, it just asserted that In the mixture of legalese and human interest that characterizes the human rights lexicon, they learned that their imprisoned companeros were actually prisoners of conscience whose right to freedom of thought and speech, protected under articles 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, had been violated.

For those living under dictatorship, the new language was essentially a code; just as musicians hid the political messages in their lyrics in sly metaphors, they were disguising their leftism in legalese—a way of engaging in politics without mentioning politics.*

*Note: Even with these precautions, human rights activists were not safe from the terror. Chile’s jails were filled with human rights lawyers, and in Argentina the junta sent one of its top torturers to infiltrate the Madres, posing as a grieving relative. In December 1977, the group was raided; twelve mothers were permanently disappeared, including the leader of the Madres, Azucena de Vicenti, along with two French nuns.

When I first went to Guatemala in 1980, it became evident that public discussion of anything political was dangerous. For example, when I started to discuss the political situation in Guatemala, one man in the plaza (town square) in Quetzaltenango (the second largest city in Guatemala) indicated that he would not discuss such things “here.”  

Yes, AI may do some good–but simultaneously, by excluding the social context, it does harm. 

If AI decontextualizes social events, how is that a progressive organization? Mr. Gindin claims that we do not need abstract slogans, and yet when referring to AI as a “progressive organization” he himself is engaged in producing an abstract slogan. 

Corporate Accountability

From Amnesty International’s website (most of the bold are my emphases, on which I will comment after the quote): 

OVERVIEW

Globalization has changed the world we live in. It presents new and complex challenges for the protection of human rights.

Economic players, especially multinational companies that operate across national borders, have gained unprecedented power and influence across the world.

Companies have an enormous impact on people’s lives and the communities in which they operate. Sometimes the impact is positive – jobs are created, new technology improves lives and investment in the community translates into real benefits for those who live there.

But Amnesty has exposed countless instances when corporations exploit weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation with devastating effect on people and communities.

There are few effective mechanisms at national or international level to prevent corporate human rights abuses or to hold companies to account. Amnesty is working to change this.

In Bodo Creek in Ogoniland, Nigeria, two oil spills (August/December 2008) destroyed thousands of livelihoods. Oil poured from faults in the Trans-Niger Pipeline for weeks, covering the area in a thick slick of oil. Amnesty and our partner, the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, worked with the community to get the oil company responsible – Shell – to clean up its mess and pay proper compensation. Finally in December 2014, the Bodo community won a long-awaited victory when Shell paid out an unprecedented £55million in compensation after legal action in the UK.

“We are thankful to all that have contributed in one way or another to the conclusion of this case such as the various NGOs, especially Amnesty International, who have come to our aid.” said Chief Sylvester Kogbara, Chairman of the Bodo Council of Chiefs and Elders.

Children outside the former Union Carbide facility in Bhopal, India. 1 December 2012. © Giles Clarke/Getty Images Reportage

THE PROBLEM

States have a responsibility to protect human rights. However, many are failing to do this, especially when it comes to company operations – whether because of lack of capacity, dependence on the company as an investor or outright corruption.

Injustice incorporated

Companies operating across borders are often involved in severe abuses, such as forced labour or forcibly relocating communities from their lands.

Unsurprisingly, abuses are particularly stark in the extractive sector, with companies racing against each other to mine scarce and valuable resources. Traditional livelihoods are destroyed as land is contaminated and water supplies polluted such as in Ogoniland, Nigeria. The impact can be particularly severe for Indigenous Peoples because their way of life and their identity is often closely related to their land.

Affected communities are frequently denied access to information about the impact of company operations. Meaning they are excluded from participating in decisions that affect their lives.

Although it is now widely accepted that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights, too many times profits are built on the back of human rights abuses. Despite laws in many countries that allow companies to be prosecuted, governments rarely even investigate corporate wrongdoing.

When communities’ attempt to get justice they are thwarted by ineffective legal systems, a lack of access to information, corruption and powerful state-corporate alliances. Worryingly, when the poor cannot secure justice, companies learn that they can exploit poverty without consequences.

WHAT AMNESTY IS CALLING FOR

• Prevention: all companies should be required by law to take steps to identify, prevent and address human rights abuses (known as due diligence).
• Accountability: companies must be held to account for abuses they commit.
• Remedy: people whose rights have been abused by companies must be able to access justice and effective remedy.
• Protect rights beyond borders: companies operate across borders, so the law must also operate across borders to protect people’s rights.

Average payment of $1,000 a person – for killing and poisoning the Bhopal community. What an insult. Get Union Carbide back in court. #Whereartdhow

THE ISSUE IN DETAIL

The accountability gap

Companies have lobbied governments to create international investment, trade and tax laws that protect corporate interests. But the same companies frequently argue against any development in international law and standards to protect human rights in the context of business operations.

Companies are taking advantage of weak regulatory systems, especially in developing countries, and it is often the poorest people who are most at risk of exploitation. Governments are obliged to protect people from human rights abuses, this includes abuses committed by companies. All companies must be regulated to prevent the pursuit of profit at the expense of human rights.

Bhopal’s 30 year fight for justice

It was once known as the City of Lakes. But Bhopal has since gone down in history as the site of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.

In 1984, a toxic gas leak in the central Indian city left more than 20,000 people dead and poisoned more than half a million. Thirty years later, that tragedy has turned into a human rights horror, with survivors and activists leading a relentless fight for justice.

The players in this battle have taken on mythical overtones — David and Goliath come to mind. On the one side are thousands of people who somehow survived the gas leak and are searching for truth, justice and compensation; on the other, the multinational corporations Union Carbide and Dow, along with the US and Indian governments who have effectively protected them.

The story of what happened in Bhopal, and the struggle that has endured for three decades, is best told by the people closest to it: the survivors and their supporters.

Sometimes the impact is positive – jobs are created, new technology improves lives and investment in the community translates into real benefits for those who live there.”

Given the economic dependence–economic coercion, really–of workers on employers for access to the use of the means by which they live (machines (including computers), buildings, raw material and auxiliary material), workers for the most part prefer to be employed (used and abused) rather than remaining unemployed. In this sense, investment by employers that lead to the creation of jobs (demand for workers) is positive. However, nowhere does Amnesty International imply that the resulting oppression and exploitation of workers on a regular basis is against human rights. The creation of jobs as “positive” necessarily goes hand in hand with the oppression and exploitation of workers in the context of the class power of employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital). In other words, Amnesty International in essence is an organization that criticizes companies and governments that deviate from some idealized capitalist economy and government. The ideal company would not employ (oppress and exploit) children (only adults).

At best, AI criticizes the need to work for particular employers who violate its definition of human rights rather than the need to work  for an employer. AI fails, in other words, to criticize the lack of right of workers and the community to have the right of access to use, collectively, the means necessary to produce (and reproduce) their own lives (for more on economic coercion, see the brief post Basic Income: A Critique of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty’s Stance ; see also the two posts on the issue of whether workers work for a particular employer or for the class of employers Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part One: A Limitation of Some Radical Left Critiques of Capitalist Relations of Production and Exchange (A.K.A. Capitalism) and Do Workers Work for a Particular Employer or for the Class of Employers? Part Two: Critique of Unions and the Social-Reformist or Social-Democratic Left). 

As it stands, AI does not intend to challenge the power of employers to coerce economically workers on a daily basis to work for them. This view is expressed in various ways in the above “Overview” quote: 

But Amnesty has exposed countless instances when corporations exploit weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation with devastating effect on people and communities.

Countless? If corporations continue to exist, they must exploit workers–whether unionized or not. This is how the system works. Workers, whether unionized or not, depend economically on employers, and they are oppressed and exploited by them (often to the detriment of their own health and welfare–and despite health and safety laws). (for examples of the calculation of the rate of exploitaiton, see among others The Rate of Exploitation of Workers at Magna International Inc., One of the Largest Private Employers in Toronto, Part One). 

AI, by referring to “weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation” imply that what is required is “strong and adequately enforced domestic regulation.” Of course, “strong and enforced domestic regulation” of working conditions is generally better than “weak and poorly enforced domestic regulation”–but the assumption is that such strong and enforced domestic regulation is–adequate. AI is, in effect, arguing for a refurbished welfare state that provides regulatory conditions for the operation of companies; it obviously does not seek to challenge the idea that working for any employer or corporation or company is legitimate or justified. 

There is further evidence of this attitude: 

Although it is now widely accepted that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights, too many times profits are built on the back of human rights abuses.

Are not profits built always through the exploitation of workers? How does Mr. Gindin explain the origin of profit if not from the exploitation of workers? If profits require human exploitation and oppression, and AI in effect is claiming that some profits are legitimate, then is not AI indirectly justifying the continued exploitation and oppression of billions of workers worldwide? 

As I pointed out above, AI normalizes daily exploitation and oppression of workers only in order to highlight deviations from this normal situation as “human rights abuses.” Exploiting and oppressing workers normally is, therefore, not a human rights issue for AI. 

Again: 

All companies must be regulated to prevent the pursuit of profit at the expense of human rights.

If all profit is derived from the exploitation and oppression of workers, then AI, if it were consistent, would call for the abolition of corporations and the establishment of a socialist society, where workers would control their own living conditions. Rather than advocating such a society, all AI does–like social democrats and social reformers–the “left” these days–is advocate “regulation.” The AI is a social-democratic organization. 

By calling AI a “progressive organization,” then Mr. Gindin is calling for a social-democratic world order–even if he is unaware of this. 

AI’s social-democratic identification of the problems with corporations correspond to its social-democratic solutions: 

WHAT AMNESTY IS CALLING FOR

• Prevention: all companies should be required by law to take steps to identify, prevent and address human rights abuses (known as due diligence).

Since companies necessarily exploit and oppress workers, AI should in effect call for companies to abolish themselves–since companies would have to ‘identity’ themselves as necessarily abusing humans by treating them as things to be used to obtain more and more profit. Of course, such a view would be wishful thinking. 

The same logic applies to “preventing” human rights abuses and “addressing” human rights abuses. Obviously, AI is a reformist organization that seeks to normalize exploitation and oppression and not abolish it. Why otherwise imply that companies somehow can escape from exploiting and oppressing workers?

If AI were to admit that workers were, as part of the nature of companies, exploited and oppressed, it would have to radically change its characterization of human rights. Its standard would not be a refurbished welfare state but a socialist society, with nothing short of the abolition of the class of employers as the standard. 

Conclusion

Is Amnesty International a progressive organization? If you are a social democrat or social reformer, you undoubtedly will think so. If, however, you consider the class power of employers to be illegitimate, you will not. That AI does some good does not mean that it is a progressive organization since it, ultimately, assumes the legitimacy of the class power of employers. The standard of such organizations, in other words, remains well within the bounds of capitalism. 

The social-democratic left here in Toronto, however, engage in political rhetoric when they call such organizations “progressive.” If such rhetoric is then called into question, the social-democratic left then accuse the critiques of, among other things, lacking in “self-criticism” and “humility,” or they resort to insults. 

I will let the reader draw her/his own conclusions about how the social-democratic left deal with criticisms of their own political rhetoric by quoting two social democrats or social reformers here in Toronto: Sam Gindin and Wayne Dealy. Ask yourself whether Mr. Gindin engages in his advice. As for Wayne Dealy, ask yourself what Mr. Dealy does to expose the real nature of the social world in which we live. 

Sam Gindin: (I quote from a previous post)

Which brings me back to the point that the problem is not [Wayne] Dealy [union director for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902] or Sean [Smith,  Unifor Local 2002 Co-Ordinator and Toronto Airport Workers Council (TAWC) activist”] or others but OUR Collective inability to provide them with an effective alternative politics…They can be criticized but only if we do so with humility and part of criticizing ourselves. [my emphasis] 

Wayne Dealy (I quote from a previous post the context and Dealy’s response): 

I had worked in a brewery for around four years in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I questioned this reference to a good (or decent) work and a fair contract. I did not try to attack the representative personally. I tried to address the issues.

I also pointed out that the striking workers did deserve our support–that it was a question of solidarity.

Wayne Dealy, who is a representative of a local Toronto union here, then intervened, stating the following:

Is this meant to be a serious intervention or are you taking the piss?

I expressed a point of view that was different–and was roundly insulted on a listserve.

I replied:

It is meant to be a serious intervention. If Wayne Dealy has something against the intervention–apart from emotional venting and insults-he is welcome to debate the issue.

Social democrats, unionists and others who consider themselves to be progressive often refer to good or decent jobs and fair contracts (deals). This is an assumption that is rarely questioned. Indeed, the tone of Wayne’s response is indicative of the lack of real concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in relation to employees as a class. In other words, Wayne’s response itself shows just how much the issue needs to be debated. That topic will start to be addressed at the next Toronto Labour Committee on March 9, from 7:00-9:00 at 31 Wellesley.

Fred Harris, Ph. D., philosophy of education, former brewery worker

I was too hopeful. No one from the listserve–including Sam Gindin–addressed the real issues of whether there is such a thing as good jobs or a fair contract.

Wayne Dealy replied:

Deepest apologies. Those fourteen words have been buried deep inside me for years and they could no longer be contained. I regret that you suffered so for their ill-timed appearance.

Apologies too for not showing more gratitude for the fact that you deigned to use Tracy’s call for picket-line support to explain to us in plain language how wage labour is exploitative. Sam, David, Tracy  et al, I hope you all were taking notes. All of us on this list are obviously and sorely in need of simple explanations of such things; fortunately Fred is here to fill that void.

On a more personal note, thanks to your second intervention, my consciousness has been raised even further: I now see the problem all along was my “lack of real concern over the issue of the power of employers as a class in relation to employees as a class”.

And the fact that you were able to suss me out from my fourteen ill-chosen words? Mind. Blown.

Thanks again, truly, for sharing your insights. This group is extremely fortunate to have a Promethean figure like yourself who so selflessly kept the ember of class analysis alive so that it could be shared with all us sinners.

Wayne.

p.s. If I had wanted to insult you I would have called you a condescending prick

Wayne G. Dealy
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Political Science

 
University of Toronto

 

 

Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part Four: Critique of the Idealization of Publicly Owned Infrastructure, Etc.

Introduction

This is the final post of a four-part series of posts. For the context of where the following fits into my participation and withdrawal from the organization Social Housing Green Deal, see the first part Exposing the Intolerance and Censorship of Social Democracy, Part One: The Working Class, Housing and the Police.

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

I sent the following email to Ms. Jessup at 816 a.m. (Toronto time), May 23, 2021, the same day that we were to have a general zoom meeting:

Hello Anna,
 
Attached are some questions I have about the Draft Action outline of the People’s Pandemic Shutdown. I would appreciate it if you would circultate it to others.
 
Thanks.
 
Fred

No one, as far as I am aware, ever discussed my questions and concerns. Such is the nature of the “progressive left” here in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (and undoubtedly in many other parts of the world).

The following is my inquiry and critique:

People’s Pandemic Shutdown

We Demand Everything

(Draft Action Outline)

Long Term Objective

Politically compel a wealth transfer, from police, military, and big business, into stabilizing, publicly owned infrastructure, capable of responsibly managing disease, and ensuring genuinely healthy and safe living conditions for all on Turtle Island.

Immediate Objective

Embolden communities in Tkaronto, with the moral imperative, to occupy public space, and interrupt commerce, to achieve this long term objective.

Build solidarity, by highlighting the connections among peoples’ struggles.

 

  1. Questions about “Long Term Objective”:

    a. To what are they referring when they speak of Turtle Island?

  2. What do they mean by “publicly owned infrastructure?” Current public infrastructure, such as schools and welfare services, are oppressive in many ways. Should the left be demanding the transfer of power to such oppressive structures? Or should it be demanding the simultaneous transfer to and restructuring of public infrastructure? Will this need to restructure oppressive publicly owned infrastructure be addressed?

  3. For safe living conditions for all, it would be necessary to abolish the power of employers, would it not? Is there any such demand in this document? Could such an objective be immediately achieved? Or would it require years if not decades of organization, discussion and critique?

Strategy

  • Meet with abolitionist and anti-capitalist allies to develop comprehensive demands and an outline of what our social infrastructure must look like.
  • Mutually supportive promotion of the event and of each others struggles
  • Emphasise our commitment to publicly gather, with distancing and masks, to get the infrastructure we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe.

Infrastructure/programs to Consider in our Demands

  • Health care
  • Long Term Care Homes
  • Public Education 
  • Harm Reduction 
  • Food Security
  • Social Housing
  • Disability support programs
  • Paid sick days 
  • Free Transit
  • Recreation, parks
  • Equity Based Social Work 

Questions for the “Strategy”:

  1. Who are these abolitionist allies? Anti-capitalist allies?

  2. Would not the formulation of comprehensive demands require a critique of current demands that not only fall short of comprehensive demands but include arguments or references to less comprehensive demands as fair or just, such as the phrase “$15 and Fairness?” Or “fair” contracts or collective agreements? Or “decent work” and other such phrases? Will the need to engage in critique of other, reformist positions form part of the discussion?

  3. “To get the infrastructure that we need, for all of us to be really and truly safe,” will require years and indeed decades of struggle, discussion and critique for all of us to be really and truly safe. For example, I was diagnosed twice with cancer (invasive bladder cancer, and then a few years later rectal cancer—with subsequent metastatic liver cancer). When I asked the doctor why I had cancer again despite taking measures (such as healthier eating habits), his response was: “Bad luck.” Furthermore, as the documentary “Pink Ribbons Inc.” indicates, funding for most cancer research focuses on treating cancers once they arise rather than preventing cancer in the first place. Safety at work and in the community requires us to take control over producing our lives—and that requires abolishing the class power of employers. Will that be addressed?

  4. Re Infrastructure/programs: How are these demands to be met unless we control our life process? And how are we to control our life process without abolitioning the class power of employers? Will such abolition be front and centre of the strategy?

  5. Re Health care: Is it really possible to care, not just technically, but socially and emotionally, for those in need of health care in a health-care system characterized by, on the one hand, a hierarchical division of labour of nurses’ aides, nurses and doctors and, on the other, budget restraints dictated by the overall need to ensure that there is a constant flow of profit and accumulation of capital? Furthermore, the health-care workers work for a wage. What implication does this have for providing, not health services, but health care? Will these issues be addressed?

  6. Re: Public education: Is it likely that there will be any proposal for abolishing grades or marks or notes that oppress children and adolescents? Will there be any proposal for restructuring the curriculum such that it becomes meaningful for most children and adolescents? For example, John Dewey proposed and put into practice a curriculum that centred on the common needs of most human needs—for food, clothing and shelter. Learning to read, write and to develop and understanding of science emerged through engagements with actually reproducing various forms of human lifestyles in history. In that school, there were also no grades, marks or notes. Assessment occurred, but it was for the purpose of aiding children and adolescents to improve the quality of their work and not to compare one student’s achievements with the achievements of other students.

    Or will such proposals for change merely be “add-ons” to existing oppressive public educational structures, such as those proposed by the Chicago Teachers’ Union in their document Schools Chicago’s Students Deserve?

  7. Re Social housing: As I pointed out in my email concerning 33 Gabian Way, when 23 police showed up, the situation involved social housing—which can be just as oppressive as market housing. Will the oppressive nature of such housing be addressed?

  8. Re: Paid sick days: This demand assumes the continued existence of a class of employers, does it not? It may function as a tactical demand, but it is hardly on the same level as abolitionist demands, which are strategic. Is there any indication—or will there be—that even if there are paid sick days, this will hardly be sufficient since workers as a class will still be exposed to dangers at work over which they have no or little control since it is the employers who have power over the purchase of equipment and the organization of work?

  9. Re: Equity-based social work: What does this mean? Can social work really be equity-based in the context of the class power of employers?

 

Workers’ Demands to Build Upon

  • Status for all workers
  • Paid sick days for all
  • Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all
  • Livable wage for all

Questions for “Workers’ Demands to Build Upon”

  1. Re: Genuinely safe and healthy working conditions for all: to achieve this objective would require the abolition of the class power of employers. If this is the case, will such a demand be raised? If so, does not such a demand oppose many among the left who seek only reform and not fundamental structural changes? Would it not be necessary to engage in criticism of those who seek only to reform the class structure rather than abolish it?

 

Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon

  • Cease all participation in illegal wars
  • Cease all monetary support to state governments known to commit war crimes or participate in illegal occupation, including Saudia Arabia and Israel

Questions for “Foreign Policy Demands to Build Upon”:

  1. Is there such a thing as a legal war? Why the reference to illegal at all? Why the reference to “law” at all? Does not the legal system oppress us in one way or another? Will this issue be raised and discussed?

  2. Re “illegal occupation”: Is there then such a thing as a legal occupation? Same questions as in 1.

 

Draft Itinerary for Day of Action (June Xth)

  • Defunding of oppressive corporations
  • Defunding oppressive police and military

1PM Toronto Police HQ 40 College Street

-Occupy the street, banners of connected struggles, chants

-Physically distant, masks

1:30PM Walk to Bay and College

-Occupy the intersection

-We Demand Everything: speakers connect the struggles and demands

Questions for “Draft Itinerary for Day of Action”:

  1. Re: “Defunding of oppressive corporations”: If all corporations are oppressive, then is the demand really the abolition of the existence of corporations? Or does the demand just mean: “Defund particular corporations that are particularly oppressive?” There is a world of difference between the two kinds of demand. Furthermore, what does it mean to “defund” a corporation? Nationalize it? But nationalization has hardly meant democratization. Nationalized corporations can be just as oppressive and exploitative as private corporations. ‘

  2. Re: “Defunding oppressive police and military”: Does that mean that all police and military are oppressive and should be defunded? Or just particularly oppressive forms of police and military structures? If all police and military are to be abolished—would that not require the abolition of the class power of employers as well since the main function of the police is to maintain the existing social order, with its class, patriarchal and racist structures, internally? And the military’s main function is, at a minimum, to maintain the existing social order externally? (and to extend the power of the government territoriality sometimes, if need be, in order to maintain social order)? Will such a demand be forthcoming? If so, will there be simultaneous critiques of those who seek merely to reform the class power of employers but not abolish such power since those who seek only reforms themselves would oppose such an abolitionist stance?

The meeting was supposed to be at 3:00 p.m. I expected, as usual, an email zoom link to be sent before the meeting started. I did not receive any such email.

I waited until 4:38, at which time I sent the following email to Miss Jessup:

Frederick Harris
Sun 2021-05-23 4:38 PM
To:

  •  Anna Jessup
 
Hello Anna,
 
I will no longer be attending the zoom meetings.
 
Fred
 

I did not think about looking on the organization’s Facebook page since the custom since February was for Ms. Jessup to send the zoom link by email.

I was curious. Was this just a mistake in not informing me that the zoom link would be on the Facebook page? I did look at the Facebook page–and then saw that the meeting was still being held–from 3:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.–a double session. I was not informed about the change in zoom link location, and I was not informed about the substantial extension in the length of the zoom meeting? Why was that? There started to exist evidence that this was a conscious effort to exclude me from participating:

Screenshot (6)

Political Implications

The social-democratic or reformist left are a clique; they refuse to engage in serious inquiry about the demands they raise. If there is such criticism, they refuse to consider them, and they may even resort to censorship in order to avoid reconsidering their approach.

Reimagining the Same-Old-Same-Old: Lakeshore School Division’s Reforms as an Example of School Rhetoric, Part Two: The Bias of Educational Research

In the last post on this topic (Reimagining the Same-Old-Same-Old: Lakeshore School Division’s Reforms as an Example of School Rhetoric, Part One)  , I looked at the school rhetoric that surrounded school change in a particular school division in Manitoba, Canada: Lakeshore School Division, by looking at the different phases of the “reform process” of school change in the school change project “Reimagine Lakeshore.” This post will look, critically, at some of the rhetoric involved in publications surrounding this reform process.

Jacqueline Kirk and Michael Nantais wrote an article titled “Reimagine Lakeshore: A School Division Change Initiative for the Twenty-First Century”  (in pages 317-342, Educating for the 21st Century:  Perspectives, Policies and Practices from Around the World, Suzanne Choo, Deb Sawch,
Alison Villanueva and Ruth Vinz,  Editors).The authors are hardly uninterested researchers. They themselves participated in the Reimagine Lakeshore project. From page 337:

A key part of the Reimagine process was the use of action research. Each year,
schools, teams of teachers, and individuals could apply for funding to pursue an
innovation in one of three pathways. Two university researchers, the authors, supported these projects.

The authors assume, throughout their review of the process, that the modern school system only needs to be reformed–not restructured in a radical manner to meet the learning needs of children and adolescents by integrating their nature as both  living beings and as intellectual/spirital beings (which is what The Dewey School in Chicago tried to do between 1896 and 1904). They assume, in other words, that children’s and adolescents’ learning needs are mainly symbolic and academic (see “Is the Teaching of Symbolic Learning in the School System Educational?” in the Publications and Writings section of this blog, found on the home page, for a critique of this view).

This lack of critical distance from the modern school system is reflected in their persistent positive evaluation of the project. They use the noun “excitement” several times in describing the reaction of the employees in the Division to the project. From page 334:

Data analysis indicated a high level of engagement and excitement [my emphasis] throughout the school division, particularly in the first phases of the Reimagine process. While direct involvement of teachers and administrators in the process was voluntary [my emphasis], approximately 67 % of survey respondents at the end of the second year (61 % response rate) indicated medium to high levels of participation, and only 11 % reported no participation.

As I argued in my last post, “Teachers are employees and thus subject to the economic pressure and influence of their employer.” The authors simply accept the claim that “direct involvement … in the process was voluntary.” What would happen if most teachers did not participate in the process? Did some teachers feel coerced economically or socially in any way to participate due to their situation as employees? The authors are blind to such a question. They assume throughout that participation was voluntary merely because it was declared to be voluntary.

This lack of critical distance can be seen in other things they wrote. For example, from page 336:

Much of the excitement across the division seemed to arise from the culture of trust
and risk-taking that was encouraged and nurtured.

Again, how trust can really emerge in the context of being an employee, on the one hand, and the employer on the other (represented by principals and superintendent) is beyond me. It is as if the economic power of the employer simply did not exist. Such a view, however, is consistent with the indoctrination typical in Canadian schools (see, for example, A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees).

As for risk-taking, the following is supposed to express an environment of risk-taking. From page 331:

The school division supported the plans with necessary resources and freedom to
experiment without the fear of failure. This support was exemplified when a school
trustee stood and stated, “The board is behind you. We want you to try some things
in your classrooms; if those don’t work, try some other things. It’s OK to fail.”

Firstly, merely saying that failure is acceptable can hardly compensate for the economic power that an employer actually holds. Teachers know that. experiments were to occur always within the confines of the power of the employers over their heads. Secondly, even if teachers felt that they could experiment, the experiment was always defined in terms of the modern school system. The following is thus pure rhetoric. From page 336:

One focus group participant explained that the division gives them “permission to think outside of the box, permission to try new things, to fail forward, to take chances and to take risks . . . I think that’s really powerful.”

To think outside the box–within the boxes called the modern school system and the curriculum–such is the limits of “risk taking” and “permission to fail.” The process was rigged from the beginning. That some teachers fell for the rhetoric is probably true, as the quote above shows, but this does not change the fact that it is school rhetoric that hides the reality of the limited changes possible in “Reimagine Lakeshore.”

The authors refer to several researchers in justifying their views. Let us take a look at one of their references: Michael Fullan. Mr. Fullan has written several works on educational change and school leadership. His arguments are couched in terms of the modern school system, with proposed changes being merely modifications of the modern school system–like “Reimagine Lakeshore.” Since some of the schools in Lakeshore School Division (such as Ashern Central School) are similar to urban inner-city schools (with parents whose income is relatively lower than the average), the criticism of Fullan’s approach by Pedro Noguera, in his article titled “A critical response to Michael Fullan’s ‘The future of educational change: system thinkers in action,'” Journal of Educational Change, Volume 7, is appropriate. From pages 130-131:

… by neglecting to discuss context, and by that I mean the reality of social and racial inequality in the US (or for that matter Canada and the UK) and its effects on school performance, Fullan inadvertently contributes to the narrow, de-contextualized, ‘‘blame-the-victim,’’ thinking that characterizes much of the scholarship and policy in the field of education. In the field of education, generalizing about what schools or educational leaders should do to promote successful practices and higher levels of achievement, simply does not work given the ‘‘savage inequalities’’ (Kozol 1991) that characterize American education.

At the most fundamental level, the educational leaders in impoverished areas must
figure out how to get those who serve their students—teachers, principals, secretaries and custodians, to treat them and their parents with dignity and respect. This is an especially great challenge because in American society, the institutions that serve poor people are rarely known for quality service.

Mr. Noguera’s own approach is itself, of course, limited since he refers to school bureaucrats as educational leaders–as if they were not part of the problem. Nonetheless, he does recognize that neglect of consideration of the social and economic conditions of most students and their parents is typical of school reform.

Fullan in turn criticizes Noquer’s own critique: Michael Fullan, “Reply to Noguera, Datnow and Stoll, Jan 2006,” Journal of Educational Change, Volume 7. Mr. Fullan’s response to Mr. Noguera’s critique is hardly adequate. From page137:

I have two main disagreements with how Noguera positions his argument. First, he
assumes that my eight elements of sustainability are only conceptual. What could he have thought I meant by the ‘‘in action’’ part of ‘‘System thinkers in action?’’ From where did he think I derived the main elements? In fact, these elements of sustainability consist of conclusions from my own and others’ work on the very problems Noguera brings to the fore. All eight, starting with the first, moral purpose, are devoted to matters, strategies, actions focusing on raising the bar and closing the gap in student achievement. The majority of the work involves working with schools in disadvantaged circumstances, and none of it is distant research let alone abstract theorizing. It all concerns working in partnerships with schools, districts, and states ‘‘to cause’’ improvements relative to the very issues highlighted by Noguera. I can see how he might have been misled and frustrated by the broad strokes in my paper, and I should have used some concrete examples (see Fullan, 2006), but to interpret what I said as merely theoretical misses the action-basis of my message.

There are many problems with this response. Firstly, the claim that Mr. Fullan’s model for school change is grounded in real schools that existed in “disadvantaged circumstances” in order to “raise the bar” and “close the gap in student achievement,” as already noted, merely assumes that “non-disadvantaged” schools form the standard for judging whether the reformed schools have ‘raised the bar” and “closed the gap in student achievement.” In other words, Mr. Fullan accepts the present modern school system as adequate for meeting the learning needs of students. This is hardly the case.

Secondly, is there proof that students from schools in disadvantaged areas, even with such school changes, can actually “raise the bar” to the level of the assumed “non-disadvantaged” schools and “close the gap in student achievement?” Thirdly, even if that were the case, there would still be competition between graduates for jobs on the market for workers–and the market for workers would sort them out according to the needs of employers, with some being assigned lower positions within a hierarchy of workers. Fourthly, even if there were not a hierarchy of positions, graduates as workers would still be used as things by employers (see The Money Circuit of Capital).

Mr. Fullan also pulls the old trick out of his hat of arguing that it is necessary to offer solutions to identified problems rather than just criticism. From pages 137-138:

The second problem I have concerns Noguera’s failure to offer any solutions or even
lines of solutions to the critical issues he identifies. He devotes several paragraphs to a series of tough questions, such as, ‘‘In communities like Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles and Buffalo what should schools do to meet the needs of the children they serve? What type of reading program should the vast number of inexperienced and uncredentialled teachers in Los Angeles employ?’’ and so on. There are few people in the field who are more relevant to these topics than Pedro Noguera, but if you really want to be relevant, do not just ask the questions, start providing ideas relevant to action. I know Noguera is actually engaged in such action as his great book City Schools and the American Dream (2003) attests to; I just wish he had provided some of this wisdom to the issues at hand in this exchange.

Identifying problems forms part of any necessary solution–they are not separate. Indeed, the proper formulation of a problem goes a long way towards its solution, as John Dewey, a major American philosopher of education, noted (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, page 108):

It is a familiar and significant saying that a problem well put is half-solved. To find out what the problem and problems are which a problematic situation presents to be inquired into, is to be well along in inquiry. To mistake the problem involved is to cause subsequent inquiry to be irrelevant or to go astray. Without a problem, there is blind groping in the dark. The way in which the problem is conceived decides what specific suggestions are entertained and which are dismissed; what data are selected and which rejected; it is the criterion for relevancy and irrelevancy of hypotheses and conceptual structures.

Furthermore, conceiving solutions to problems in schools that are defined in abstraction from the problem of the existence of a market for workers and the existence of a class of employers–as Mr. Fullan evidently does–is to limit solutions to window-dressing. Systemic change in the modern school system, if needed as a solution, is excluded from the start. Solutions to problems are to sought that coincide with conditions that reflect the modern school system.

Ms. Kirk and Mr. Mantais,  in conjunction with Ayodeji Osiname,  (M.Ed. Candidate, Brandon University), Janet Martell (Superintendent, Lakeshore School Division) and Leanne Peters (Assistant Superintendent, Lakeshore School Division) presented at the 43rd Annual Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE) Conference (2015) in Ottawa. The title of their presentation is: ” Reimagine Lakeshore: A Reflective Analysis of a School Division Change Initiative.” It is the same school rhetoric as analyzed in part one, so there is no point in referring further to it.

In the Manitoba Association of School Superintendents MASS Journal (Fall 2013), pages 12-15, Ms. Martell and Ms. Peters published an article on Reimagine Lakeshore titled “Excitement, Energy and Enthusiasm: Lakeshore School Division and the Process of Change.” The article is full of school rhetoric, such as “Teachers from all 10 schools in Lakeshore volunteered to work with their colleagues to imagine a different kind of classroom, with different ways to learn and to teach,” or the following (page 12):

The Challenge

In late December 2012, I l[Ms. Martell] aid down a challenge to all of our teachers, “By September 2014 we have to be doing something radically different [my emphasis] in each and every one of our classrooms. We are no longer serving the needs of our current student population.”

Obviously, their definition of “something radically different” is rather conservative. I take it that the reader will be able to determine whether the actual Reimagine Lakeshore was “something radically different” or not.

The authors provide one additional detail that is worth noting (page 13):

One of the key components of the Learning Vision has been reading comprehension.
In order to make this a reality, all teachers received professional development and support from literacy consultants in teaching reading comprehension  strategies to students. The division developed a Standard Reading Assessment (SRA) that is administered to students twice per year to track levels of comprehension and to determine areas for direct teaching. Although this presented considerable challenges, it became instrumental in shifting teachers’ thinking from the idea that teaching reading is the job of the language arts teacher to the idea that all teachers who put text in front of students are teachers of reading.

Learning to read in various disciplines is of course useful, but the focus on learning to read rather than learning about life in general and human life in particular, with reading as a means to that end, reflects what I called in one article the fetishism for literacy.

I will leave this school rhetoric for now. Students, as living human beings, deserve much, much more than this school rhetoric: they deserve the best that this society can offer all children–but that requires a radical change in social and economic conditions that are governed by a class of employers. In conjunction with such change, school changes will proceed to repair the division between human beings as living beings and human beings as spiritual and intellectual beings. That is the real radical challenge of our times–not the pseudo-challenges thrown up by school bureaucrats.

One final point: Social democrats and social reformers underestimate the extent to which it is necessary to incorporate constant criticism of such rhetoric in various domains. They thus underestimate the importance of an ideological battle not just in universities but in the community and in the workplace. The ruling class ideologues, on the other hand, persistently engage in ideological endeavours to achieve their goals. Reimagine Lakeshore is one such endeavour. Where were the social democrats? They were nowhere to be found.

Reimagining the Same-Old-Same-Old: Lakeshore School Division’s Reforms as an Example of School Rhetoric, Part One

The following is a critical look at the reforms proposed and implemented in Lakeshore School Division, in the province of Manitoba (I worked for this Division as a French teacher from 2008 until 2012). Such reforms illustrate the extent to which school rhetoric is rampant in schools these days. You would not, however, know it if you read social-democratic or social reformist articles–most of the authors talk about defending “public education this” and “public education that” without ever engaging into inquiry about the adequacy of such public education.

On December 9, 2014, in EdCan Network, Leanne Peters, Janet Martell and Sheila Giesbrecht published an article titled “Re-imagine Lakeshore: Design, Education and Systems Change” (see https://www.edcan.ca/articles/re-imagine-lakeshore/). At the time, Leanne Peters was assistant superintendent of Lakeshore School Division, Janet Martell was the superintendent and Sheila Giesbrecht was Student Success Consultant, Manitoba Education. In essence, they were all unelected (appointed) school bureaucrats.

It is full of school rhetoric that the left should criticize.

School Rhetoric of Representatives of a Public Employer

In December 2012, Superintendent Janet Martell laid out a challenge to the school division. She told staff and board that “we were no longer meeting the needs of the students in our classrooms and we need to do something dramatically different.” Teachers were working hard and they wanted the best for the students, but we just weren’t having success.

School Rhetoric, or Putting Words into Teachers’ Mouths: Ignoring the Employee Status of Teachers

The teachers agreed and we embarked on the process of “Re-imagine Lakeshore.”

Teachers are employees and thus subject to the economic pressure and influence of their employer. Did they really “agree” with this, or did they comply with this assessment? If people are coerced economically, is their “agreement” really agreement? (See my post   “Capitalism needs economic coercion for its job market to function” (Ontario Coalition Against Poverty: OCAP)  for the view that employees are economically coerced. See also Employers as Dictators, Part One).

The Re-imagine Lakeshore process was designed to examine current practice and imagine new ways to improve practice. The division collaborated with one of our co-authors, Dr. Sheila Giesbrecht of Manitoba Education, who laid out a design-based school improvement process to help guide Lakeshore’s work. Teachers listened with extreme interest as the design process unfolded.

What evidence that the teachers listened with “extreme interest?” Ms. Martell provides no evidence We are supposed to just believe–on faith–that such extreme interest existed.

Phase 1: Understand (December 2012 – January 2013)

To begin this work, teachers came together to understand their divisional context.

As employees, teachers “come together” by means of an external contractual process of employment, with the unity of the workers not being due to their coming together and willing a common goal, but through the will of the employer defining the goal independently of them. From Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1, page 451:

They [the workers] enter into relations with the capitalist [or public employer], but not with each other. Their co-operation only begins with the labour process, but by then they have ceased to belong to themselves. On entering the labour process they are incorporated into capital [or the public employer]. As co-operators, as members of a working organism, they merely form a particular mode of existence of capital [or a public employer]. Hence the productive power developed by the worker socially is the productive power of capital [or public employer].

Belonging to a union may modify this situation (depending on the unity of the workers in their wills to achieve common  objectives or goal), but it does not by any means radically change such a situation. For instance, Lakeshore Teachers’ Association, the union for the teachers, pursued certain goals (such as obtaining two paid personal days in their collective agreement), but the establishment of the general goals of Lakeshore School Division does not form part of the voluntary deliberative process of the teachers and other workers.

One specific goal–defined by the school bureaucracy and not by teachers and other workers–was evidently the integration of computer technology into teaching practices:

Teachers responded to surveys about their ability to integrate technology into their lessons and provided data around the teaching strategies they regularly employed in their classrooms.

Who determined that the integration of technology was vital (really meaning “computers”–as if technology and computers were synonymous)? Further, did the teachers voluntarily provide data? If they provided no data, would they face any negative consequences?

One general goal of Lakeshore School Division is “student success.” What does Ms.Martell mean by success? We await with enthusiasm what that may be.

School Rhetoric of Success Defined According to Quantitative Graduation Rates–Nothing Else

Teachers worked through their school and catchment area data, graduation rates.

It is, of course, necessary to determine the present situation if you are going to specify the problem and offer relevant solutions. However, we see here an implicit assumption of what “success” means–graduation rates. Presumably, if all students graduated, then there would be substantial success. If they all graduated within four years (grades 9 to 12), then there would be 100 percent success, presumably.

We can compare such a goal with the goal of having every individual student developing their potentialities in diverse ways (physical, emotional, aesthetic (capacity to enjoy art), artistic (capacity to produce art), kinesthetic, mathematical, scientific, empathetic and so forth) to the maximum of their abilities. From John Dewey (1916/2004), Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, pages 186-187:

If what was said earlier about originality of thought seemed overstrained, demanding more of education than the capacities of average human nature permit, the difficulty is that we lie under the incubus of a superstition. We have set up the notion of mind at large, of intellectual method that is the same for all. Then we regard individuals as differing in the quantity of mind with which they are charged. Ordinary persons are then expected to be ordinary. Only the exceptional are allowed to have originality. The measure of difference between the average student and the genius is a measure of
the absence of originality in the former. But this notion of mind in general is a fiction. How one person’s abilities compare in quantity with those of another is none of the teacher’s business. It is irrelevant to his work. What is required is that every individual shall have opportunities to employ his own powers in activities that have meaning. Mind, individual method, originality (these are convertible terms) signify the quality of purposive or directed action. If we act upon this conviction, we shall secure more originality even by the conventional standard than now develops. Imposing an alleged uniform general method upon everybody breeds mediocrity in all but the very exceptional. And measuring originality by deviation from the mass breeds eccentricity in them. Thus we stifle the distinctive quality of the many, and save in rare instances (like, say, that of Darwin) infect the rare genius with an unwholesome quality.

Graduation rates are quantitative in the first instance and, in addition, are quantitative in a second instance since in order for a student to graduate, the student must have–comparatively–received a passing (quantitative) grade. For a critique of the assessment of students according to grades or marks, see  The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services.

The power to define “student success” is hidden by the use of apparently scientific words, such as “explore”:

They explored divisional successes and examined ways in which the teachers modeled exemplary practice. Finally, the community responded to a student success survey and helped to further define the “successful student” and the “successful school.” Teachers, administrators, students and the community collaborated to develop common understanding around the character of Lakeshore School Division.

Exploration requires the freedom to explore–to search, think and define problems freely. Being employees, where is there evidence that teachers freely explored issues? Further, who defined “divisional successes?” If the school bureaucracy define it in one way and teachers in another way, how is the conflict resolved?

Who defined what “student success is?” And how? There is the claim that “teachers, administrators, students and the community collaborated to develop common understanding”–but under the dictatorship, of course, of the school bureaucracy, which represents the employer. Participation is hardly equal among the different “partners” (for the idea that employers are dictators, see  Employers as Dictators, Part One).

Defining Success at the Micro Level But Ignoring Problems at the Macro Level

Phase 2: Problemate (February – March 2013)

During the second phase, teachers worked to describe the specific challenges faced within their school. Using the narrative and quantitative data collected during the Understand Phase, schools created a “problemate statement” to define what they wanted to improve within their own school. For example, one school’s statement was: “To raise the bar and close the gap for every child.” The process of understanding and creating a problem statement was difficult. Developing a problem statement meant that both successes and challenges had to be faced head-on. Schools continued to dig deeper during this phase and were challenged to work with open mindsets. Each school worked to create a focused design challenge that they wished to address through this school improvement process.

There are undoubtedly always problems that any school will face that are unique to that school: hence “teachers worked to describe the specific challenges faced within their school.” However, are such problems to be solved by a school, or must larger social structures be changed to address certain problems? For example, Ashern Central School can be characterized as similar to many inner-city schools in Winnipeg: the level of income of many parents is limited. Defining improvement in any school is purely reformist and will never address many of the problems in schools–ranging from an alienating curriculum that focuses on “academic learning” at the expense of the lived bodily experience of many students–to defining success purely in terms of “graduation rates” that involves quantitative measurement of “success” through grading practices (marks or grades).

Phase 3: Ideate (April – June 2013)

During the third phase teachers worked to develop new ways of approaching the design challenges they developed in the second phase. Working in cross-divisional cohorts, they identified 14 common themes and challenges based on the schools’ problem statements. These included technology integration, instructional strategies, whole student approaches, relationships, parental involvement, and facilities. Teachers gathered on their own time to conduct research, share ideas and look at ways to enhance their own and divisional practices. During this phase teachers worked to extend their professional knowledge base, skills and ideas. They also worked to explore new ideas and strategies.

It is interesting that there is no mention of the curriculum being a common problem (for a critique of the oppressive nature of school curriculums, see The Expansion of Public Services Versus a Basic Income, Part Two: How the Social-democratic Left Ignore the Oppressive Nature of Public Services: Part One: Oppressive Educational Services). It is probably assumed as something fixed over which teachers have no control. They thus probably focused on problems that they could immediately control at the micro level. Their own activity was already likely delimited to defining and searching for problems as defined by the school hierarchy (bureaucracy). That the school system might itself be a problem never arises here, of course.

As for teachers meeting on their own time–probably true–teachers do work a lot, in general. However, some of this is due to the nature of the work–and some due to implicit hierarchical pressure to do so. It is difficult to separate what is freely done outside school time and what is done out of fear of retaliation by management. See the above section “School Rhetoric, or Putting Words into Teachers’ Mouths: Ignoring the Employee Status of Teachers.”

School Rhetoric and Educational Research

During this time, Lakeshore School Division became part of Brandon University’s VOICES Project and with that came additional support and funding to expand Lakeshore’s school improvement work. Several teachers participated with learning tours and additional professional learning around the 14 themes. Teachers shared their new understandings both informally and formally across the division. Prior to this process, this level of research and conversation had been unseen. One teacher remarked, “I haven’t read so much educational research since I graduated from university years ago!” The cultural shift was deepening.

The reference to “educational research” expresses a lack of critical thinking. Most educational research, assumes that the present school system constitutes the standard. It goes around in circles by engaging in educational research while assuming that its object of analysis is the only possible one (with minor changes only possible). Such an approach is of course conservative. As I wrote in one publication (see in the Publications and Writings section of this blog, on the homepage, “A Deweyan Review of the Chicago Teachers’ Union Publication The Schools Chicago Students Deserve: Research-Based Proposals to Strengthen Elementary and Secondary Education in the Chicago Public Schools (2012):

The basis of the research—both the document itself and the sources used–however, is the present school system, so the structure of the present school system constitutes the standard for determining what good education is. Since the modern school system emphasizes academics, research based on that system is bound to do so as well—in a vicious circle. The research, based on a school system that emphasizes academics to the exclusion of the human body (or the latter as an afterthought or add on), then reinforces a school system that emphasizes academics to the exclusion of the human body and so forth. There is really no alternative vision to the present school system but merely a variation on an old theme despite the good intention of being critical.

For further criticism of educational research, see the post  Much Educational Research Assumes the Legitimacy of the Current School Structure.

There is a lesson to be drawn from the above: the social democrats or the social reformers underestimate vastly the extent to which future workers (students) are indoctrinated into accepting the present social system. There is so much rhetoric thrown around in schools (and elsewhere, such as social-service agencies and organizations) that there is little wonder that workers become cynical of the possibility for real change. And what do social democrats do? They, for the most part, remain silent–rather than engaging in constant critique of such rhetoric. Or they themselves participate in such rhetoric by referring to “social justice in schools,” “fair contracts,” “decent work,”  and so forth.

Let us now look at Phase 4:

Phase 4: Experiment (September 2013 – June 2014)

During the fourth phase of the process, Lakeshore teachers and administrators focused on trying out some of the skills and strategies they had explored during the Ideate Phase. This involved enhancing existing practices and innovating and trying new approaches. Experiments included using class iPad sets within various settings, developing interdisciplinary classrooms, reimagining learning spaces, experimenting with flipped classrooms and developing project-based approaches. One of the most powerful moments in the process came when trustee Jim Cooper stood up in front of the teachers and said, “The board is behind you. We want you to try some things in your classrooms; if those don’t work, try some other things. It’s OK to fail.” This attitude of openness and acceptance allowed teachers to imagine, innovate and experiment with new educational strategies and ideas. The divisional culture shifted to allow teachers to adopt new mindsets around what it means to teach and learn.

Experiments involved using a particular form of computer technology in various contexts–but evidently within the framework of the existing bias of a curriculum focused on literacy and numeracy at the elementary level and academic learning at the junior and senior high-school levels. As I wrote in my article “Is the Teaching of Symbolic
Learning in the School System Educational?” (in the Publications and Writings section of this blog, found on the home page):

Evidently, then, symbolic learning forms the core of the modern school curriculum at the elementary level and continues to form a central aspect in middle and high school curricula with their emphasis on academic learning.

Experiments also involved using interdisciplinary classrooms. Presumably, such subjects as language arts and social studies could be combined–as was the case for English language arts and social studies in grade 9. However, as I have pointed out in another post, the Canadian social studies curriculum is biased and indoctrinates students by not teaching them how and why employers exist (see, for example,  A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees). Combining curricula will not change this fact. Nor will it change the focus on academic learning and symbolic learning.

“Reimagine Lakeshore” was really not very innovative. It was a top-down initiated process that lacked any real critical thinking. Its reimagination–was to imagine a rehashed school system that merely modifies a few “variables” (such as integrating a few subjects within a predominately symbolic and academic curriculum that itself is biased).

A critical look at this “reimagining process” will continue in a second post by looking at some “analyses” of this process as well as one source that such analyses rely on to justify their views.

Much Educational Research Assumes the Legitimacy of the Current School Structure

When we read educational research, what is striking is how certain common assumptions run through such research. In particular, there is the assumption–hidden from view–that the curriculum or content and organization of studies taught at school–is sacred.

For example, in a short paper written by Jon Young and Brian O’Leary, “Public Funding for Education in Manitoba,” (August 31, 2017), and published by the social-reformist organization Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), they argue that we should not create a two-tier public school system, where some schools receive an unjustified amount of resources relative to other schools due, on the one hand, to increased expenses for field trips, the need for student ownership of computer technology and so forth and, on the other, to unequal funds arising through increased dependence on, for example, fundraising within economically unequal communities and unequal property taxes across school divisions. Differences in revenue from property taxes across school divisions can be as high as a 4 to 1 ratio per student.

One solution has been to shift funding from the local school board level to provincial and territorial funding (provinces and territories are the next largest administrative political unit in Canada) and coupling this with an equity formula to allow for different needs across. The problem with this solution is that it eliminates the democratic accountability that school boards provide by linking professional concerns in schools to the wider public interest, participation and accountability. Indeed, public schools presuppose democratic accountability (page 1):

 At the heart of this in Manitoba has been the commitment to public schooling as a public good – the belief that a strong public school system is the cornerstone of a democratic society that promotes well-being and citizenship for all – and not simply a private good, or commodity that can be differentially purchased by individual consumers. Everything flows from this. Public schooling as a public good involves the commitment to: public funding – that the full costs of public schooling are shared fairly across all sectors of society; public access and equity – that all students should have the opportunity to benefit fully from high quality schooling regardless of geographic location, local economic factors, or family circumstances; and, public participation and accountability – that decisions about public schooling are made in a democratic manner, which in Manitoba has meant a level of local autonomy, including taxing authority, for locally elected school boards.

Young and O’Leary then propose a compromise solution: 80 percent provincial funding and 20 percent funding from local property taxes; this combination would be linked to “a more robust provincial equalization formula” (page 3).

They then imply that this or any other model must involve focusing the expenditure of money on where it most matters: teaching and teachers. This view sounds progressive since school is supposed to exist for student learning: (page 3):

… that the most effective use of resources are those directed to the improvement
of teaching. This is echoed by the highly influential Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development (OECD) that concluded:

The quality of a school cannot exceed the quality of its teachers and principals…. PISA results show that among countries and economics whose per capita GDP is more that USD 20,000 high performing school systems tend to pay more to teachers relative to their national income per capita (OECD, 2013, p. 26)

Any discussion of money and funding need to be broadly cast as about resources and making resources matter – with teachers as our most valuable resource.

Teaching and pedagogy certainly matter in schools, but the authors are silent about the influence of the curriculum (the overt curriculum, or the structure or organization and content of studies) on student learning. This silence is typical of many discussions on schools and education.

Given that the modern Canadian history curriculum indoctrinates students by means of its silences concerning the nature and origin of the employer-employee relation (see the series, beginning with A Case of Silent Indoctrination, Part One: The Manitoba History Curricula and Its Lack of History of Employers and Employees), teachers can have all the resources they like, but it is unlikely that they will overcome such indoctrination since it is built into the school system.

Furthermore, the bias in the curriculum towards academics over vocational aspects of the curriculum follows the same pattern: it is built into the present curriculum. John Dewey long ago questioned the democratic nature of such a biased curriculum. From (Neil Hopkins (2018)., “Dewey, Democracy and Education, and the School Curriculum,” Education 3-13: International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education, Volume 46, number 4, pages 433-440), pages 437-438:

A critical area where Dewey’s Democracy and Education [Dewey’s main book on his philosophy of education] challenged contemporary assumptions on the curriculum was the idea that children and knowledge could be categorised as ‘academic’ and ‘vocational’. Such divisions have straitjacketed British education for the last 150 years, both institutionally (e.g. grammar and second modern schools; sixth-forms and FE colleges) and in terms of qualifications (e.g. O Level/CSE; A Level/BTEC). These divisions have often replicated class divisions within society-at-large to the extent that schools have often been seen as the nurseries of inequality and social injustice.

Dewey attacked the academic/vocational divide in terms of both knowledge and education. As a philosophical pragmatist, he was skeptical of purely abstract knowledge, stating that ‘the separation of “mind” from direct occupation with things throws emphasis on things at the expense of relations or connections’ (Dewey 2007, 109). These relations and connections are vital – once mind is separated from body, we lose the vital thread that ties ideas with standard notions of reality. Knowledge is an interaction of key concepts with the world as we know it. It is this sense of application and practicality that distinguishes Dewey’s work from some of his contemporaries. He was critical of

intellectualism [where] [p]ractice was not so much so much subordinated to knowledge as treated as a kind of tag-end or aftermath of knowledge. The educational result was only to confirm the exclusion of active pursuits  from school, save that they might be brought in for purely utilitarian ends – the acquisition by drill of certain habits. (Dewey 2007, 197)

This separation of intellect and practice, mind and body is often mirrored within the education system itself…

To this extent, education replicates and prepares children for the division of labour that exists within a capitalist society. This state of affairs deeply concerned Dewey in two ways. Firstly, as I have alluded to above, the partition of learning into academic and vocational gives a false depiction of how knowledge is conceptualised and transmitted. Secondly, the use of academic and vocational routes for students does not allow each to develop their faculties to the fullest extent.

This lack of critical distance from the present school system, with its biased curriculum structure,  is characteristic of much educational research. There are schools that have tried to overcome this bias. The University Laboratory School (also known as the Dewey School) in Chicago between 1896 and 1904. In this curriculum, the focus was on the common needs of most human beings for food, clothing and shelter throughout history. The children reproduced, intellectually, socially and on a miniature scale, different historical epochs (such as fishing, hunting, agriculture and industrial). Reading, writing and arithmetic were functions of the human life process and not the center of learning as they now are in elementary schools.

A more recent approach is Kingsholm Primary School in Gloucester, England (page 439):

Kingsholm Primary made a strategic decision to move from a subject-based to a thematic curriculum to meet the perceived needs of the pupils at the school. The curriculum has been envisaged as a set of interconnecting circles to incorporate aspects of the child’s world, specific themes/curriculum areas, the geographical location and what the school has termed ‘the wider curriculum’.

One particular theme that was concentrated on in the video was ‘Earth and Beyond’. This was a Year 5 and 6 project that uses the idea of space to explore different elements of the primary curriculum. The theme included transforming the learning environment itself alongside work on the creation of a space poem using ‘word stones’ and a collaborative dance interpreting the concept of space in the form of bodily movement (as well as other activities).

It has to be acknowledged that such examples already build upon the excellent work on themes and projects undertaken by schools throughout England. These examples offer interesting opportunities to challenge the academic/vocational divide in the school curriculum. It allows children to see and create the connections between different aspects of knowledge so that concepts and their application become concrete. As we have already seen, this dynamic between concept and application was important in Dewey’s theory of knowledge. However, such innovations are likely to be easier to undertake in Early Years and Key Stage 1 – the requirements of programmes of study in Key Stage 2 and beyond make such thematic work more challenging (although not necessarily impossible). It will be interesting to see if the development of academies and free schools that can operate outside the parameters of the National Curriculum will lead to radical curriculum experiments in primary and secondary schools. For Dewey, such curricular innovation needed to take [the] statement below as its starting point:

In just the degree in which connections are established between what happens to a person and what he [sic] does in response, and between what he does to his [sic] environment and what it does in response to him, his acts and the things about him acquire meaning. He learns to understand both himself [sic] and the world of men [sic] and things. (Dewey 2007, 202)

Not only do Young and O’Leary neglect the importance of the curriculum, they also neglect the importance of marks and competition between students as an aspect that generates inequality. This situation contrasts with a more democratic form of schooling, one that attempts to avoid competition among students by eliminating marks altogether. Again, there were no marks used to evaluate students in the University Laboratory School (the Dewey School). A more recent example is from the 1950s: St. George-in-the-
East Secondary Modern School in Stepney, East London, with a much more democratic school structure (page 436):

Alongside this democratic decision-making structure were what Fielding terms as ‘existential frameworks for democratic living’ (‘Our Pattern’). These include values and principles that underpin the work of the school. As part of ‘Our Pattern’, a far-reaching set of beliefs and attitudes were formulated within the school body:

No streaming/setting→heterogeneous, sometimes mixed-age grouping
No punishment→restorative response
No competition→emulation
No marks or prizes→communal recognition
(Taken from Fielding 2007, 550)

The idealization of the modern public school system, by neglecting  the divided curriculum and the fetish for marks and competition, is typical of social democrats and social reformers. The call for the expansion of public services (without inquiring into the nature and adequacy of such public services) is also typical of the social-democratic left.

This lack of critical distancing from modern social reality by the social-democratic left feeds into the emergence of the far right and strengthens the right in general. Many working-class adults have experienced the modern public school system as in many ways oppressive. The social-democratic left, by failing to acknowledge such experiences, aid in reproducing the oppression characterized by the academic/vocational divide and the oppression of the assignment and competition of marks.

Should not the radical left distance itself from modern oppressive social reality and critically expose such oppression and possible, more radical alternatives?

How to Aim for Socialism Without Aiming for It, or The Nature of the Social-Democratic or Social-Reformist Left

The above title is a take on a scene in the movie Enter the Dragon, where Bruce Lee says: “My style is the art of fighting without fighting.” See the end of this post for a description. 

This is a more colloquial or informal way of expressing my point about the need to include the goal or the aim in present actions if we are going to go beyond a society characterized by a class of employers (capitalism) and live a socialist life (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three). It does so by briefly looking at what I mean and then looking at a concrete example of this by a self-declared socialist feminist, Sue Ferguson (or what she calls a social-reproduction feminist).

To start with a conclusion: aiming for a socialist society is just that–incorporating the goal, consciously, of overcoming the class power of employers, including the economic, political and social relations and structures connected to that power and the creation of a society free of class relations and relations of oppression.

Social democrats and reformers (including self-proclaimed Marxists who practically do the same thing), on the other hand, believe (even if they are not conscious of this belief) that it is possible to achieve a socialist society without aiming for it.

The movie Rocky III illustrates what I mean. Rocky Balboa (played by Sylvester Stallone), who had lost his title of world heavyweight champion to James “Clubber” Lang (played by Mr. T), was being trained by former heavy-weight boxing champion Apollo Creed (played by Carl Weathers, who won the first match against Balboa in the first movie and lost in the second movie). (There are undoubtedly racist overtones in the movie–see  Siobhan Carter’s  master’s thesis  Projecting a White Savior, the Body, and Policy).

At one point in his training, Rocky said that he would train later. Apollo answers: “There is no tomorrow.” The basis idea is that if you want to accomplish anything in life, you had better not procrastinate–putting off tomorrow what needs to be done today. Social democrats (and the radical left here in Toronto) act like Rocky Balboa did before Apollo Creed criticized him–they believe that socialism can arise in some distant future without explicitly incorporating the aim in the present, just as Balboa believed that he could regain the heavyweight title without incorporating that goal into his present actions. In other words, he believed that he could engage in procrastination.

The social-democratic or reformist left do the same thing. They shift the fight for socialism to some distant future and content themselves with fighting for reforms that fail to challenge the class structure. Their socialism is always pushed into the future as an ought that never meets the present conditions and circumstances; future and present (and past conditions) are severed. 

They may indeed achieve social reforms–as they have in the past, but the claim that they are aiming for socialism is untrue–as was Rocky Balboa’s efforts at training to regain the heavyweight championship of the world until Apollo Creed criticized him.

The social-democratic left (and, practically, much of the radical left here in Toronto and undoubtedly elsewhere) consider that it is impossible to aim for socialism by incorporating it into our daily lives. They believe in magic; an aim can be realized without the aim organizing our activities in the present. 

John Dewey, one of the greatest philosophers of education, saw the distinction clearly in relation to schools. Most of those reading this post merely have to reflect on their own experiences in schools and how schools have often severed their interest in the present and forced an external future upon them. As Dewey noted, in chapter five of one of his two major works in the philosophy of education, Democracy and Education (2004), pages 58-59):

Chapter 5

Preparation, Unfolding, and Formal Discipline

Education as Preparation

We have laid it down that the educative process is a continuous process of growth, having as its aim at every stage an added capacity of growth. This conception contrasts sharply with other ideas which have influenced practice. By making the contrast explicit, the meaning of the conception will be brought more clearly to light. The first contrast is with the idea that education is a process of preparation or getting ready. What is to be prepared for is, of course, the responsibilities and privileges of adult life. Children are not regarded as social members in full and regular standing. They are looked upon as candidates; they are placed on the waiting list. The conception is only carried a little farther when the life of adults is considered as not having meaning on its own account, but as a preparatory probation for “another life”. The idea is but another form of the notion of the negative and privative character of growth already criticized; hence we shall not repeat the criticisms, but pass on to the evil consequences which flow from putting education on this basis.

In the first place, it involves loss of impetus. Motive power is not utilized. Children proverbially live in the present; that is not only a fact not to be evaded, but it is an excellence. The future just as future lacks urgency and body. To get ready for something, one knows not what nor why, is to throw away the leverage that exists, and to seek for motive power in a vague chance. Under such circumstances, there is, in the second place, a premium put on shilly-shallying and procrastination. The future prepared for is a long way off; plenty of time will intervene before it becomes a present. Why be in a hurry about getting ready for it?

We have already seen this severance of the future struggle for socialism and the present struggle for socialism by Herman Rosenfeld, a self-styled Marxist who refers vaguely to socialism a hundred years from now (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three and, more generally, Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations). The focus on reforms above all else and the denigration of the need for incorporating an explicit aim in the present of abolishing the class of employers and the associated economic, political and social relations will at best lead to capitalism with a human face–and not its abolition. 

There are two typical tendencies that express this attitude of severing the present from the future and the future from the present. Treating reforms as if they were, in themselves, somehow leading to a socialist society is a typical trick among the left; they treat the future (socialist society) as already present rather than the present being in need of radical reconstruction. The second tendency denigrates the need for aiming explicitly or consciously at radical transformation of class, economic, political and social structure in the present (which in effect is a revolution–although I believe that politically it is a waste of time to call for revolution–as the sectarian radical left frequently do

The treatment of the present as if it were already the future via current experiences and reforms is reflected by Sue Ferguson, a self-proclaimed socialist, who claims the following  (Women and Work: An Interview with Sue Ferguson):

As I argue in Women and Work, social reproduction feminism provides a strategic focus and direction that avoids the contradictions of equality feminism. Because, in this view, oppression is built into the very ways we reproduce ourselves, overcoming oppression requires reorganizing the processes and institutions of life-making. This cannot happen in boardrooms or by electing more women into state office. It can happen only when people are encouraged to mobilize with others to resist the priorities of the current social reproduction regime, and learn together how to reorganize and take collective, responsible control of the resources of life-making. And in a small way, this is what education worker strikes do: they assert the need for and possibility of expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources, of deploying them in ways that prioritize meeting human needs [my emphasis]. 

Do “education worker strikes” really “assert the need for and possibility of expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources, of deploying them in ways that prioritize meeting human needs?” Perhaps they do–“in a small way”–but that is not the same as aiming for “expanding and democratizing our life-making powers and resources” at more than a local level. That teachers who go out on strike may well aim to improve their working lives and the lives of their students is not in question. The issue is whether the aim of such actions is of the same nature as aiming for a socialist society. I deny that such is the case in most cases since there is no explicit aim to overcome a society characterized by the class of employers; improvements in working lives and lives of children does not necessarily involve aiming for a socialist society.

By claiming “in a small way,” that education workers somehow, is the same as the “democratizing our life-making powers and resources” is a social-democratic trick. It equates reformist changes at the local level with radical changes in  social structures and relations.

This social-democratic trick is reiterated in her book (she goes by Susan in the book), Women and Work: Feminism, Labour, and Social Reproduction, pages 135-136:

That is, strikes do not have to be exercises in revolutionary commons to model alternative ways of organizing life-making. The potential to unleash creative energies and ideas about how to build a better world and engender social bonds to counter the alienation and isolation of capitalist subjectivity is inherent in the very act of organizing with others to improve control over the conditions of work and life. Perhaps the most vivid recent example of this come from the 2018 wave of education worker strikes to hit the United States. Eric Blanc’s interviews with more than a hundred people involved in the West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma strike movements lead him to conclude that strikers were “profoundly transformed” [my emphasis] by their participation. They connected in new ways with co-workers they had barely known and had little in common with culturally and ideologically; they strategized, waved placards, shared meals, chanted, sang, and camped out on the state legislative grounds together; they jointly endured moments of disappointment, debate and defeat, and even bigger moments of celebration. And they connected in new ways with the communities they worked in as passersby honked and waved in support, as strangers identifying them by their distinctive red T-shirts approached them in grocery stores to thank them for their job action, and as students and parents stood on their lines and rallied in support. In the words of Arizona teacher Noah Karvelis, interviewed by Blanc:

Since the strike, there’s a definite sense of solidarity that wasn’t there before. When you go into school and see all of your coworkers in red, it’s like they’re saying, “I’m with you, I got you.” It’s hard to even sum up that feeling. You used to go in to school, do your thing, and go home. Now if there’s a struggle, we go do something about it because we’re in it together. It’s not just that there are a lot more personal friendships—we saw that we had power.

Such solidarity did not magically appear. It had to be built. The strikers were divided by all the usual social cleavages. Not all teachers were in the union and most were white. They differed in political allegiance, religious affiliation, and income (in West Virginia bus drivers, cafeteria cooks, custodians, and other support staff walked out as well). Moreover, as social reproductive workers in the public sector, the walkout risked creating a wedge between themselves and the community they served. Rather than deny these divisions, organizers and strikers consciously addressed them—figuring out imaginative ways of addressing needs and drawing people in: bilingual signs and chants, GoFundMe sites to help lower-income strikers make ends meet, soliciting food donations, and delivering care packages for families who otherwise rely on school lunches. As Kate Doyle Griffiths observes, strikers temporarily and partially reorganized the relations of social reproductive labour “on the basis of workers control for the benefit of the wider working class” while also fostering solidarity with community members. And although strikers did not generally politicize around racial issues, Blanc notes, they were self-consciously inclusive and won the support of the majority black and brown student base and their families through their calls for increased school funding and (in Arizona) opposition to cuts to Medicaid and services for those with disabilities.37 These are not-so-small and incredibly important examples of how strikers organize new ways of life-making, ways that defy the alienating, individualizing experiences of everyday life under capitalism.

Of course, such struggles and organizing should be supported, and they do indeed form a possible bridge between the conscious aim of struggling in the present for a socialist society and the creation of such a future society. However, let us not idealize them. They are not necessarily expressions of a conscious aim to overcome the class power of employers. As I have shown elsewhere (see for example The West-Virginia Teachers’ Strike and a Socialist Movement  and   Review of Jane McAlevey’s “A Collective Bargain: Unions, Organizing, and the Fight for Democracy”: Two Steps Backward and One Step Forward, Part One), such movements do not necessarily involve such an aim. By equating such struggles with the conscious aim to overcome such class power, social democrats in effect claim that we should not struggle to aim for such a goal in the present by, among other things, criticizing the limitations of the aims of such strikes and movements.

To not question whether there has indeed been “profound transformations” is to be blind to the force of habit in working-class and community behaviour. Not just decades but centuries of indoctrination, of exploitation, subordination and oppression are not going to magically be transformed through such efforts. To overcome such situations will take years if not decades of internal struggle in order for a conscious movement aiming to overcome the class power of employers to arise in the present and not vanish because of superficial adherence to “social justice” and similar general terms. The present leftist movement must aim for a socialist society in diverse domains and integrate such domains in as coherent a fashion as possible.

The other tendency of splitting the present from the future and the future from the present by denigrating the need for radical transformation of economic, political and social structures. frequently by casting the term “revolution” in a purely negative light. As I noted above, I do agree that using the term “revolution” is a waste of time politically; workers and community members will likely look upon such talk as akin to religion. Nonetheless, their attitude of avoiding the term “revolution” often leads to reformism by being unable to offer anything other than reform and more reform–as if many reforms will not be absorbed by the capitalist economic, political and social structure. The class power of employers and the capitalist state have many resources to engage in reformist politics if there is sufficient organization and power to threaten the power of the class of employers.

I have referred to Jeffrey Noonan’s opposition to “revolution”–but he has little to offer but more reforms within the present class structure (see The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Four: The Myth of Creating Socialist Spaces). Another example is the article written by Richard Sandbrook and posted on the Toronto-based Socialist Project website (Racism, Class Solidarity and Systemic Change). Here is what he claims:

Non-Reformist Reformism

But what strategy would horizontal unity serve? Any viable strategy would be gradualist. Compromises would need to be made to build a majority coalition in a (quasi)democratic process. But gradualism does not signify mere reformism or cosmetic changes. The widespread disaffection and the challenge posed by invigorated populist-nativists demand genuine structural changes. Policies to de-commodify labour, money, health care, knowledge, and education; to democratize the economy by promoting cooperative production; and to deepen political democracy must be pressed at the local, national and, eventually, global level. But there would not be a “big bang”, in which society is irrevocably transformed; instead, we would have non-reformist reformism.

The problem with the above view is that Mr. Sandbrook does not discuss how such reformism in the present can be prevented from leading–as it so often has in the past–to incorporation into the class structure and to the continued control of our lives by a class of employers. I seriously now question the real intent of those who claim that they aim for a socialist society and yet not only accept compromises that need to be accepted because of the present limited power but freeze such compromises into an ideology of the left (such as the terms “fair contract,” “fair or free collective bargaining,” “fair wages,” “decent work,” or the pairing of the term “Fairness” with the movement for the fight of a minimum wage of $15.

Mr. Sandbrook appears to see the need for avoiding both reformism characteristic of the social-democratic left and the sectarianism of the radical left:

If this is the only viable and morally justifiable path, the progressive movements would need to steer clear of two pitfalls that have ensnared earlier experiments: Third-Wayism and revolutionism. The first represents compromise to the point of co-optation, leading to renewed hegemony; the second, an unwillingness to compromise in order to preserve the ideal, leading to irrelevance.

Avoiding Two Pitfalls

The Third Way, as it developed in the early 1990s, reflected the attitude “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” …

The lesson is clear. Reformism that, in the longer term, reinforces the hegemony of neoliberalism and plutocracy is self-defeating. When times get hard, voters dessert “socialist” parties that lack an alternative vision.

The opposite pitfall is a purist approach that, positing a narrow choice between capitalism and socialism (or “barbarism or socialism”), refuses to compromise with the former. In the academy, this approach is often associated with a scholasticism that is strong on abstract theorization but weak in developing concepts with any popular appeal. The purists are also prone to an irritating smugness, as though moral superiority is more important than winning power.

Starkly casting the alternatives as binary is problematical for two reasons. It strikes many people as unrealistic. How, for example, do we totally transform society and economy to replace markets with participatory planning at all levels? And secondly, it essentializes capitalism. The latter comes in a myriad of forms. If its essence is private ownership and free labour, there are many degrees.

Capitalisms are not all the same. The Anglo-American model differs from the Scandinavian model, which differs from Chinese authoritarian state capitalism. The Keynesian accord introduced what many have called the golden age of capitalism, which neoliberalism ended. A gradualist program of decommodification, democratization, and equal freedom is a voyage that begins within capitalism; however, we may not even be aware of the precise point at which we traverse the boundary.

There are indeed variations in the kind of capitalism, and some forms are definitely preferable to other forms. This hardly addresses the issue of how any “gradualist” approach is going to maintain the aim of eliminating the general class power of employers over our lives in the present without being co-opted. (The Scandinavian model is, in any case, itself in retreat because of general changes in capitalist class structures and the idealization of such models in the past and present). Mr. Sandbrook does not address what workers and community members who live in any form of capitalism (as depicted in The Money Circuit of Capital, for example), are supposed to do to overcome the general nature of capital. Or is the general nature of capital somehow just or fair?

Decommodification, for example. of health services, does not mean that those who fight for such decommodication or those who implement it or those who use such decommodified services aim to achieve a socialist society. (See A Basic Income Versus the Expansion of Public Services? Part One: Critique of the Social-democratic Idea that the Expansion of Public Services is Socialist). Decommodification or the conversion from gaining access to commodities (including services) by means of purchase and sale to direct access or use without the mediation of purchase and sale may or may not express the aim of achieving a socialist society.

My experiences in Toronto and elsewhere is that we need to aim consciously and persistently in the present for radical changes in various domains (with the focus on the work relations dominated by a class of employers). We indeed will have to make compromises because we lack the necessary power to do otherwise–but that also should form part of our own consciousness–and not the acceptance of such compromises through such social-democratic phrases as “decent work” or “fair contracts.” To achieve such deep-seated consciousness and aim will require years if not decades of internal struggle within working-class communities and workplaces.

We need to use the aim for a future socialist society in the present to realize such a future society while all the time modifying specific goals within that general aim based on current conditions and circumstances.

As I indicated at the beginning, the title of this post is a take on a statement made by Bruce Lee in the movie Enter the Dragon. The following is a description of the scene by Brian Freer: 

There is a scene in the 1973 kung fu classic “Enter the Dragon” where a man (Peter Archer, who plays Parsons] walks around a boat bullying passengers. When the man accosts Bruce Lee by throwing air strikes near his face, Lee unflinchingly looks at him and replies, “don’t waste yourself.”

“What’s your style?” the bullying man asks.

“The art of fighting without fighting,” says Lee.

“Show me some of it.”

Lee tries to walk off, but the bullying man insists he show him what the “art of fighting without fighting” looks like. Since the boat was crowded, Lee suggests that they take a dingy to a nearby beach for more space. As the bully boards the dingy, Lee releases slack from the rope, watching the dingy with the bully inside drift away. Lee then releases the rope to the bully’s onetime victims who laugh heartily as the dingy takes on water from the crashing waves.

Although this isn’t the most exhilarating fight scene in “Enter the Dragon,” it is clearly the most complete victory in the film. Lee uses wit to overcome his opponent without ever raising his fists. He is without fear and clear of mind. The bullying man wanted to fight so badly that he was willing to ride a dingy to a remote island to do so.

Freer then philosophizes: 

There are many reasons to fight. It’s deep within our nature. And yes, sometimes we have no choice. Ideologues tell us the world is a scary place. They attempt to influence our interpretation of the world to reinforce our fears. And fear is the real bully in the boat. You see, Bruce Lee’s character mastered his fear. He liberated his mind from it. Fear is a tarp that covers our understanding. It stifles our self-control. You have to look it right in the eye, because when you must finally resort to violence, you’ve clearly run out of ideas.

I take something different from the scene. Firstly, Lee did not directly engage in a fight with the bully at the time, but enabled those who were bullied to hold the power to let go of the rope attached to the dinghy. 

Freer fails to ask, however, the following obvious question: What happened to Lee and the bully once they landed? Would not the bully try to fight Lee? The art of fighting without fighting might have been a short-term tactic, but the goal of avoiding a fight might not have been achieved. The fight might have occurred on the island where they landed. The aim of avoiding a fight was put off to a not-so-distant future. The aim was perhaps to, avoid a fight under existing conditions of riding the boat.

Freer simply ignores this aspect. Lee would undoubtedly have known that there would exist the possibility of a fight in the near-future. Or perhaps Lee would  hope that, having arrived on the island, the rules of the tournament would convince Parsons to not engage in a fight?  We could speculate forever, of course.

In the case of the social-democratic left, the art of aiming for socialism without aiming for it, ignore the need to aim explicitly for a socialist society–a society without classes. The social-democratic or social-reformist left do not aim to achieve a classless society but rather a humanized capitalist society. Their view, explicitly or explicitly, is that aiming for such a society is idealist or utopian at present (and will, practically, forever, be the case). 

Socialism, Part Nine: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education

This is a continuation of a previous post.

In a previous post, I pointed out that Mr. Gindin claimed that the expansion of educational services would involve scarcity and therefore would require external or extrinsic motivation of some sort. (Mr,. Gindin is head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) union.

Let us look at part of a previous quote from Mr. Gindin’s writing on socialism:

Furthermore, the calculation of scarcity can in particular not ignore leisure, with leisure representing the “realm of freedom.” Even if we produced enough of what we wanted, as long as some of that labor isn’t completely voluntary but instrumental, then effective scarcity of either labor time or the good/service remains. Workers may even like their jobs and see them as a source of creative expression and satisfaction, but as long as they’d periodically prefer to not show up or leave early, some further inducement is needed to offset the sacrifice of providing those labor hours. That inducement is a measure of the persistence of effective scarcity. And once scarcity is acknowledged as an inherent and essentially permanent frame in the restructuring of society, the question of structured incentives becomes paramount. This is not just a matter of motivating adequate hours of work, but of affecting its intensity and quality, and influencing where that work is best applied (i.e., determining society’s overall division of labor).

Mr. Gindin’s use of “scarcity” is meant to show that he is being realistic. He claims the following:

Scarcity — the need to make choices between alternative uses of labor time and resources — is unlikely to end outside of utopian fantasies because popular demands, even when transformed into collective/socialist demands, are remarkably elastic: they can continue to grow. Think especially of better health care, more and richer education,

Mr. Gindin prides himself on being realistic (his reference to “utopian fantasies” is meant to show this). In reality, he is a most conservative “socialist” (really a social democrat) who operates in terms of the capitalist economy and its social institutions.

He converts the relation between necessity and freedom in a socialist society into a false relation of mutual exclusivity. Thus, for him in the educational sphere an expansion of educational services necessarily leads to a diminution of resources in other areas. If, however, freedom and necessity are united and reinforce each other in the educational sphere and in other spheres (an internal relation of freedom to necessity), there need not arise such a diminution since human activity in other areas will, in turn, be enriched.

Mr. Gindin does not explore how educational institutions may change under a socialist system and how this might effect the relationship between necessity and freedom both in work and outside work.

John Dewey, an American philosopher of education, certainly did not believe that education excluded either necessity or freedom. Operating between 1896 and 1904 in Chicago, the University Laboratory School (commonly known as the Dewey School) used the common needs or common necessities of most of humanity for food, clothing and shelter as the point of development for children’s physical, intellectual, emotional, ethical and aesthetic development. By having children try to produce food, clothing and shelter in various historical epochs through the occupations associated with these needs, Dewey hoped to bridge the gap between intellectual and physical life that deeply divided American capitalist society.

Children started with purposes that they understood (the need or necessity for food, clothing and shelter) and were to come to understand the natural and social roots of varying the means for satisfying such common needs or common necessities.

Of course, the need for food and shelter (and, in most environments, the need for clothing), are given by the natural conditions of humans as living beings. They did not choose these conditions. However, through varying the means used by diverse historical societies, children can gradually come to learn about the potentialities of the natural world in diverse geographical areas and the diverse means by which human beings have come to produce their own lives. They learn increasingly how to control their own basic lives by experiencing diverse environments and diverse means by which to address problems associated with the satisfaction of the basic needs or necessities.

What of the learning of science? Does learning how to produce our basic necessities exclude the learning of science? Is there some sort of opposition between learning how to produce such basic necessities and the need to make choices about the learning of science? Does learning how to produce basic necessities in various environments involve a waste of time since the time could be spent learning about science? Mr. Gindin, with his false dichotomy of identifying the need to make choices with scarcity, would probably consider it necessary to choose between the learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science.

Dewey, however, did not believe that learning how to produce the basic necessities and learning science were mutually exclusive. Human beings naturally focus on ends since they are living beings; means are secondary to the ends of life. Dewey repeats in a number of works his contention that human beings naturally are more concerned with ends than with means: “For men are customarily more concerned with the consequences, the “ends” or fruits of activity, than with the operations by means of which they are instituted” (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry, 1938/1986, page 253). However, consideration of means is just as essential to the life process.

If intelligent action (which is what education needs to develop) involves the coordination and means and ends, then education needs to have children learn to shift from their concern or interest or natural proclivity towards ends to a concern with the conditions for the creation of those  ends and the coordination of the two.

Through engagement with the occupations linked to basic needs or necessities, the child gradually becomes conscious of the steps  required a as well as the material means necessary for the basic ends to be achieved. A shift in attitude gradually emerges, as means and their perfection become more important—but always-in relation to the end to be achieved.

The shifts from ends to means and their eventual coordinate relation can lead to the habit of ensuring that the ends desired are placed in the broader context of the means
required to achieve them, and the choice of means to achieve ends be placed in the wider context of the total process of their impact on oneself and others.

A shift from concern from ends to means as a temporary end in itself can thus form the basis for the development of science.

Analytic categories characteristic of the diverse sciences are to emerge gradually. For
instance, the study of chemistry emerged from the process of cooking as well as from the metallurgical processes associated with the basic occupations. Similarly, physics emerged from the processes of production and use of tools.

The basic occupations  provide a bridge between common-sense inquiry and scientific inquiry. Without such a bridge, science would remain vague and would likely be resisted. Moreover, hose who do tend towards an interest in scientific work as such would likely become remote from the concerns of the common person, and would fail to understand how science is, ultimately, instrumental to-the human life process.

On the other hand-, the common, person could fail to appreciate how science can enrich her life and how it does affect her life in the modern epoch. For instance, Dewey mentions how metallurgical operations performed by human beings to transform metals into something useful resulted in the identification of about half a dozen metals (Logic: The Theory of Inquiry). By abstracting from the immediate relation between human beings and substances of the Earth, science has enabled human beings to identify over 60 metals. Through scientific inquiry, differentiation of metals and their diverse uses have expanded substantially in a relatively short period of time. The common person needs to understand the, need, (or scientific inquiry in relation to the limitations of common-sense inquiry as the scientist needs to understand that scientific inquiry may be an end for her but instrumental for many people.

The point of this is to show that the allocation of resources to the expansion of educational services need not entail some sort of “scarcity” merely because the allocation of resources to schools entails the non-allocation of resources in other areas. The allocation of resources in one area can result in the transformation of individuals into individuals with expanded horizons. The expansion of horizon can, in turn, lead to enhancement of experiences in other areas in a qualitative feedback loop that enhances the totality of live experiences.

As long as the resources allocated to schools involve the enrichment of both the living and social nature of human beings in a coherent fashion (taking into account both their nature as living beings and as social beings), the allocation of resources need not involve some sort of limit to other social activities; the necessity of producing food, clothing and shelter can lead to an expanded horizon and thereby to enhanced freedom.

Schools, if they contribute to the growth of children, would form one of many institutions that would contribute to the qualitative enhancement of our lives as individuals and as social individuals in a unique way.

An analogy may help. Look at your own body. You need your own kidneys in order to clean your blood of impurities and excrete them in the form of urine.  The energy allocated to this function limits the energy that can be allocated to your other organs. However, your other organs should not have all your energy allocated to them; there must be a balance between the allocation of your total energy to the diverse organs and their functions, with some organs requiring more energy, others less, depending on a number of circumstances (level of current activity, age, gender and so forth). Merely because each organ has a limited amount of energy and resources allocated to it does not mean that there is some sort of “scarcity” of energy and resources. Your freedom to move about in an effective–and graceful–manner depends on the varying allocation of resources and energy to diverse parts of the body.

If schools develop individuals who can appreciate the continuity (and difference) between their common-sense experiences and scientific experience, the resources allocated to it will feed back into other institutions in a coherent fashion.

Furthermore, individual children will gradually discover what unique contributions they can make to others, and they will come to appreciate the unique contributions of others to their lives.

This process of receiving something unique from others and contributing something unique to others defines the nature of true individuality. True individuality means the impossibility of substitution of function. Individuality is not only unique existentially—all existences are unique–but also functionally; structure and function meld into each other. Means and ends become one unique event that persists as unique in its actualization.

Modern human relations need to “capture” individual variations since modern human nature can advance only through such variations. These variations are unique. From John Dewey, Democracy and Education (1916/2004, page 96):

… he [Plato) had no perception of’ the uniqueness of individuals. … There being no recognition that each individual constitutes his own class, there could be no recognition of the infinite diversity of active tendencies and combinations of tendencies of which an individual is capable.

Plato also did not recognize that stability or harmony could arise through unique changes. From Democracy and Education, page 97:

But it is true that lacking the perception of the uniqueness of every individual, his incommensurability with others, and consequently not recognizing that a society might change and yet be stable, his [Plato’s] doctrine of limited powers and classes came in net effect to the idea of the subordination of individuality.

The emergence of distinct .or unique individuals arises from the process of acting
within a social environment; individuality is an achievement and not a presupposition. From John Dewey (1922), Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology, page 84:

This fact is accentuated and made fundamental by the fact of infancy— the fact
that each human being begins life completely dependent upon others. The net outcome accordingly is that what can be called distinctively individual in behavior
and mind is not, contrary to traditional theory, an original datum.

The development of a unique function and the reception of unique functions from others constitutes an essential element of freedom, and the development of such unique functions can only arise in conjunction with the realm of necessity and not apart from it. From Jan Kandiyali (2017), pages 833-839, “Marx on the Compatibility of Freedom and Necessity: A Reply to David James,”  European Journal of Philosophy, volume 25, page 837:

The key point is that Marx is describing a communist society as one in which individuals achieve self‐realization through labour—by helping others to satisfy their needs. Thus, … Marx claims that in non‐alienated production, I would enjoy an individual expression of life during production and in knowing my personality to be manifest in the product I create. However, … Marx emphasizes how my production satisfies another’s need, and how that production for another contributes to my own, as well as the other’s, self‐realization. Thus, when you consume my product, I experience the enjoyment of knowing that my activity has satisfied your need. Because I have satisfied your need, you recognize me as the ‘completion’ of your essential nature. And finally, because I recognize that you appreciate my production for you, my cognizance of your appreciation completes my self‐realization.

What I want to emphasize is that this account of self‐realization through labour that meets the needs of others, labour that characterizes production in a communist society, involves a distinctive conception of the relationship between freedom and necessity. According to this conception, freedom is not merely compatible with necessity. Rather, the necessity of labour is part of the explanation for why labour is a free and self‐realizing activity. For it is only in labour that ‘I would have the direct enjoyment both of being conscious of having satisfied a human need’, and it is only when I have satisfied another’s need that I can be recognized as completing another’s ‘essential nature’.

Mr. Gindin, with his talk of scarcity, has a mechanical conception of human nature and of human relations. It is a conception which splits human beings into beings of necessity (beings of nature) and beings of freedom (social beings).

This mechanical conception if human nature and human relations is shared by his colleague, Herman Rosenfeld (see Reform Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations). There seems to be a pattern emerging here: social democrats or social reformers view other people and human relations as external to each other–like ping pong balls rather than living and breathing beings with the capacity to engage in conscious and organized self-change.

Mr. Gindin also has a mechanical view of the relation of art in a socialist society since it, too, is restricted by “scarcity.” A critical analysis of such a view will be posted in the future.

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 Versus Abolition of the Police, Part Five: More Philosophical Considerations

This is the fifth and perhaps the last post in a five-part series on the issue of the reform of the police versus its abolition. (I came across an article on unions and the police (not police unions) and may write a post on that still). It is more theoretical than the first four posts since it deals with references to philosophies that try to link the present to the future and the future to the present in a much more general way. The issue has general significance for a socialist strategy.

The context of this post is explained thus (from the previous posts):

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

I also quoted Mr. Rosenfeld in a previous post:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda.

It is my contention that Mr. Rosenfeld has a mechanical or external conception of the relation between the present and the future, as well as the relation between the future and the present. This mechanical or external conception is characteristic of all reformist socialists. It is, in other words, a pattern that is consistent with what I called a bad aim in the previous post. By contrast, the abolitionist stance incorporates the future in the present and the present in the future. This internal purpose or aim is characteristic of the more profound philosophies in the past.

The linking of the present to the future in an internal way goes back at least to Aristotle, perhaps the greatest ancient Greek philosopher. From Alfredo Ferrarin (2004), Hegel and Aristotle, pages 21-22 :

But, Aristotle asks, does not a physician cure himself? When such a phrase is used we must indicate that what we actually mean is that the physician heals himself qua [as] patient, not qua [as] physician. Here the doctor is an active principle of change in another thing or in the same qua [as] other. The distinction of respects is crucial, and such examples can be multiplied. Yet Met. Θ 8 [reference to Aristotle’s work Metaphysics] proves that this does not extinguish the question. This “active principle of change,” dunamis, must mean generally “every active principle of change and rest. Nature . . . is an active principle of change but not in another thing but in the thing itself qua [as[ itself” (1049b 5–10). So there do seem to be cases in which agent and patient are the same, and in which different respects cannot be distinguished. Such cases still have to do with becoming, but with a highly qualified notion of becoming. If I use a tool, say, a saw to cut a piece of wood, here agent, means, and patient fall asunder [apart]; but in the case of a living being, agent and patient are identical; the animal acts on itself qua [as] itself. Such cases have to do with a peculiar kind of activity, an activity in which the end and the agent are the same; but in such cases the idea of a self-actualization of sorts, a becoming that is not external to the patient because it is effected by and directed to itself, is central.

Life is constituted by self-movement and self-change; change in this case is the same as self-change and is different from mechanical or external change. External or mechanical change does indeed occur, but there is no identity of the beginning, the means and the end or result.

Aristotle views internal ends to be very distinct from external ends (pages 23-24):

Activities are ranked according to whether their ultimate end is internal to the agent or outside of the agent. The end of production is the product, an object external to the producer; here the activity is instrumental to the usage, so that the ship captain’s expertise and knowledge of the form and end is architectonic and directive for the ship builder’s art. In action, by contrast, producer and user are the same, for good action is the end (Eth.nic. VI 2, 1139b 3–4; 5, 1140b 7), [reference to Aristotle’s work Nichomachean Ethics] and action has no end outside itself (Pol. VII 3, 1325b
15 ff.) [reference to Aristotle’s work Politics]. An end that is chosen for its own sake is a complete and perfect end in an absolute sense (haplôs, Eth.nic. I 5, 1097a 30). This praxis or action is a complete activity (Met. Θ 6, 1048b 18 ff.), which gives a determinate meaning to individual existence.

The importance of the incorporation of life–and its internal purposefulness–for philosophy is also seen later. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, incorporated purpose into his philosophy in what is called his third critique Critique of Judgement (the first two were Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason). Kant’s incorporation of internal purposiveness into his philosophy was itself incorporated into the philosophy of another German philosopher, G.W.F. Hegel. From Karen Ng (2020), Hegel’s Concept of Life: Self-Consciousness, Freedom, Logic, pages 5-6:

In order to provide a systematic account of the concept of life, this study will defend three interrelated claims. The first is that the core tenets of Hegel’s philosophy, and particularly those that concern his concept of the Concept, center on the purposiveness theme, inherited from Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790).5 In the third Critique, a text that is considered by many to be the key for the development of post- Kantian philosophy,6 Kant introduced the problem of nature’s purposiveness in connection with an investigation into the powers of judgment, essentially arguing that a principle of nature’s purposiveness is the condition for the non- arbitrary operation of judgment in its pursuit of empirical knowledge.7 As part of his investigation, Kant introduces an idea that I argue is central for the development of Hegel’s concept of the Concept— namely, the notion of internal purposiveness manifest in the self- organizing form of an organism or natural purpose (Naturzweck). The idea of internal purposiveness is the Kantian ancestor and model for Hegel’s concept of the Concept, and Hegel repeatedly attests to its importance, claiming that “reason is purposive activity,” and more emphatically, that internal purposiveness is “Kant’s great service to philosophy” (PhG ¶22/ 3:26; WL 654/ 6:440).8 [Reference to Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit]. Although the details of Kant’s own account are, to be sure, much disputed, what is indisputable is Hegel’s unequivocal endorsement of Kant’s conception of internal purposiveness and his insistence that it plays a positive, constitutive role with respect to the activities of reason and thought.

Let us now listen to Mr. Rosenfeld:

It is one thing to envision what a future socialist and decolonized society might look like in 100 years and strive to move in that direction. But to talk as if the necessary political and social conditions of such a society exist at this moment is to fly in the face of reality. And, once again, it takes the struggle to transform or democratize these institutions off the agenda. Further, considering what it would take for a socialist government to challenge capital and bring in critical transformations of the state and the economy, policing would certainly have to change, but it would have to play a role in dealing with those who organize to oppose these changes.

If a socialist society involves the abolition of the police as a separate power, then that end, if it is to be internal to present activity, must function to organize our activities in the present towards that end. Otherwise, the reference to striving “to move in that direction” involves an external purpose that has no function in the present. It is a mere “ought” that will never arrive since it always pushed into the future rather than linked to the present.

The German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel criticized the ought typical of this point of view. From The Encyclopedia Logic (originally published in 1830; new publication 1991), page 30:

However, the severing of actuality from the Idea is particularly dear to 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”?

Hegel also saw clearly that, theoretically, this ought is really an aim that is designed to never be reached; he called such an aim the “bad infinite.” Mr. Rosenfeld’s socialist society (100 years from now) is like the (bad) infinite that lies beyond the finite world in which we live. From G.W.F. Hegel, The Science of Logic (originally published in 1812/1816 , new publication in 2010), page 111:

When, therefore, the understanding, elevating itself above this finite world, rises to what is the highest for it, to the infinite, the finite world remains for it as something on this side here, and, thus posited only above the finite, the infinite is separated from the finite and, for the same reason, the finite from the infinite: each is placed in a different location, the finite as existence here, and the infinite, although the being-in-itself of the finite, there as a beyond, at a nebulous, inaccessible distance outside which there stands, enduring, the finite.

Another interesting aspect of Mr. Rosenfeld’s article is the arrogance expressed in the article towards more radical views. Mr. Rosenfeld characterizes explicitly more radical views as “ridiculous” and “sloganeering”:

Calling for the abolition of the police force sounds ridiculous to most people because it is. Radical sloganeering is no substitute for engaging with the complexities and requirements of serious left strategies for change.

Mr. Rosenfeld shows explicitly his real contempt for workers and others who are, directly or indirectly, oppressed by a separate police force–for that is the issue, not his ridiculous characterization of the problem. His “reformist sloganeering” is also ridiculous since he provides an external model of how we are to move from where we are now to where we want to go–by offering us an external model of aims.

Mr. Rosenfeld also explicitly expresses his contempt for workers and others who are, directly or indirectly, oppressed by a separate police force in the title of his article: “Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking” [my emphasis]. Mr. Rosenfeld, apparently, does not even understand what intelligent thinking involves. Among other things, it involves linking means to ends, and ends to means, in an internal fashion. From John Dewey (1938), The Logic of Inquiry, pages 9-10:

Reasonableness or rationality is, according to the position here taken, as well as in its ordinary usage, an affair of the relation of means and consequences. In framing ends-in-view, it is unreasonable to set up those which have no connection with available means and without reference to the obstacles standing in the way of attaining the end. It is reasonable to search for and select the means that will, with the maximum probability, yield the consequences which are intended. It is highly unreasonable to employ as means, materials and processes which would be found, if they were examined, to be such that they produce consequences which are different from the intended end; so different that they
preclude its attainment. Rationality as an abstract conception is precisely the generalized idea of the means-consequence relation as such.

Mr. Rosenfeld, by using a model of thought that is characterized by an external relation between means and ends, necessarily engages in unintelligent or irrational thinking. He then accuses anyone who disagrees with his model of sloppy thinking.

It is interesting that Mr. Rosenfeld had the opportunity to comment on some of my views on the police in a couple of posts (see Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part One  and   Socialism, Police and the Government or State, Part Two). The first one was posted on August 30, 2020, and the second one on February 21, 2020. On May 29, 2020, Mr. Rosenfeld made the following comment on the article I posted (see Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Three): “Well, I’ve finally had enough.” He unsubscribed from my blog. I guess this is the expression of the democratic nature of of the social-reformist left–a lack of debate and discussion. The accusations of “being ridiculous” and engaging in “sloppy thinking” also express the democratic nature of the social-reformist left.

This does not mean that the police can immediately be abolished (any more than can the enemy in any war)–but it does mean that we need to begin to organize for the purposes of abolishing the police (just as, in any war, we need to begin immediately to organize to engage in battle and–to win the war)–and calling for such abolition. Mr. Rosenfeld forever will push the abolition of the police into the future–like all social-democratic reformists. Mr. Rosenfeld’s means do not correspond to his end, and his end does not correspond to his means. He engages in irrational thinking.

As I will show in another post (while criticizing Sam Gindin’s views (a political colleague of Mr. Rosenfeld here in Toronto and joint author of a book, with Leo Panitch, on globalization), the issue of an external purpose versus an internal purpose is relevant for determining or characterizing the nature of socialist society and socialist relations.

John Dewey, perhaps the greatest philosopher of education, incorporated the life process–and internal purposiveness–into his own philosophy. He has this to say about the present and its relation to the future (and to the past): will leave him to provide the last word philosophically on this topic. From Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), pages 238-239:

For the purposes of a particular inquiry, the to and from in question may be intelligently located at any chosen date and place. But it is evident that the limitation is relative to the purpose and problem of the inquiry; it is not inherent in the course of ongoing events. The present state of affairs is in some respect the present limit-to-which; but it is itself a moving limit. As historical, it is becoming something which a future historian may take as a limit ab quo[from which, as in a beginning] in a temporal continuum.

That which is now past was once a living present, just as the now living present is already in course of becoming the past of another present. There is no history except in terms of movement toward some outcome, something taken as an issue, whether it be the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, Negro Slavery in the United States, the Polish Question, the Industrial Revolution or Land Tenure. The selection of outcome, of what is taken as the close, determines the selection and organization of subject-matter, due critical control being exercised, of course, with respect to the authenticity of evidential data. But the selection of the end or outcome marks an interest and the interest reaches into the future. It is a sign that the issue is not closed; that the close in question is not existentially final. The urgency of the social problems which are now developing out of the forces of industrial production and distribution is the source of a new interest in history from the economic point of view.

There is accordingly, a double process. On the one hand,  changes going on in the present, giving a new turn to social problems, throw the significance of what happened in the past into a new perspective. They set new issues from the standpoint of which to rewrite the story of the past. On the other hand, as
judgment of the significance of past events is changed, we gain new instruments for estimating the force of present conditions as potentialities of the future. Intelligent understanding of past history is to some extent a lever for moving the present into a certain kind of future. No historic present is a mere redistribution, by means of permutations and combinations, of the elements of the past. Men are engaged neither in mechanical transposition of the conditions they have inherited, nor yet in simply preparing for something to come after. They have their own problems to solve; their own adaptations to make. They face the future, but for the sake of the present, not of the future. In using what has come to them as an inheritance from the past they are compelled to modify it to meet their own needs, and this process creates a new present in which the process continues. History cannot escape its own process. It will, therefore, always be rewritten. As the new present arises, the past is the past of a different present. Judgment in which emphasis falls upon the historic or temporal phase of redetermination of unsettled situations is thus a culminating evidence that judgment is not a bare enunciation of what already exists but is itself an existential requalification. That the requalifications that are made from time to time are subject to the conditions that all authentic inquiry has to meet goes without saying.

Present problems include the oppressive, racist and deadly power of a separate group called the police that preserve the existing class power of employers as well as the systemic racism that has accompanied it in various countries. Socialist relations between people would not require such an oppressive, racist and deadly power. To link the future in the present, and the present in the future, by proposing the abolition of the police, is to think and to act intelligently.

It is not sloppy thinking to incorporate internal purposefulness  into our actions; it is intelligent thinking. Some of the greatest philosophers have incorporated such a view into their own philosophies.

What do you now think of Mr. Rosenfeld’s title of his article: “Reform and Transform: Police Abolitionism and Sloppy Thinking”?

Supplement

One of the good things about blogs is that you can return to a post and add to it (or change something)–unlike emails. 

Mr. Rosenfeld, in another article that addresses the implications of a possible victory of Trump or Biden  (https://canadiandimension.com/articles/view/us-election-what-could-it-mean-for-canada-and-the-canadian-left).  He briefly refers to the police and his continued advocacy for the their reform rather than their abolition–without argument: 

Of course, the push from below includes the movements in cities across the US demanding radical reforms of the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice, and directly attacking systemic racism, as well as the on-the-ground movements against fossil fuels and pipelines.

He fails to refer to “the movements in cities across the US demanding” the abolition of the police due to “the repressive apparatuses represented by policing and criminal justice.” 

This neglect and indeed probable conscious omission of references to more radical demands–what do you think it expresses?