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

Introduction

This is a continuation of a previous post (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), which critically analyses Simran Dhunna’s and David Bush’s article that criticizes moves towards a universal basic income (see https://springmag.ca/against-the-market-we-can-do-better-than-basic-income).

In the previous post in this series, I argued against considering the expansion of free public services as socialist and for supporting the struggle for such free public services while simultaneously criticizing the limitations of such a struggle. The expansion of free public services in no way is the same as the beginning of a socialist society.

In this post, I expand on the limitations of the view that free public services amount to a socialist society by looking at the provision of such free public services from the side of the people who receive or use such services.

General Considerations: An Illegitimate Assumption 

Dhunna and Bush make the following claim about their aims:

But those committed to principled class struggle should strive for the decommodification of public services. Compared with universal basic income, universal basic services cost less, meaningfully improve the material realities of working class and oppressed people, and affirm the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure. That’s our bread and butter.

They assume what they must prove: that there is an identity between “publicly owned infrastructure” and “publicly operated infrastructure.” What does “publicly operated infrastructure” mean? It must mean–operated by the government or state. They imply that the shift from private to public ownership somehow entails democratic control over “publicly owned infrastructure.” Publicly owned infrastructure is supposed to magically become operated–by the public–or operated democratically? They provide no evidence that the mere shift of services provided by the private sector to the public sector or the government somehow involves democratic control over the government.

In my previous post in this series, I acknowledged the positive side of state services that do not involve the user in having to pay personally or directly for such services in; in Canada, the classic example is free and universal basic health care. I have had cancer twice now (invasive bladder cancer diagnosed in 2009 and rectal cancer, diagnosed in 2015 (with metastatic liver cancer diagnosed in 2017). I certainly appreciate the fact that I did not, personally and directly, have to pay for health services connected to both the diagnosis and the removal and elimination of the cancer through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.

The social-democratic left, however, do not focus on the negative side of such services to any great extent; alternatively, when they acknowledge it, they usually refer to the cliche of working “in and against the state.” The fact is that they mainly work within the state and pay lip service to working against the state.

Dhunna and Bush do not even acknowledge how their reforms will involve both positive and negative aspects–contradictions. Such services often simultaneously enable and alienate those who receive their services. From Adrian Little (1998), Post-Industrial Socialism: Towards a New Politics of Welfare, page 38:

As such it [the welfare state] cannot necessarily be regarded as an egalitarian institution because, as Baker suggests, ‘the present welfare state is a compromise which serves many interests. It helps people in need, but it also helps to keep them in their place. It is a system of support but also of control.’ In short, Baker argues that ‘the welfare state is designed for an unequal society’ (Baker
1987:10).

An enhanced welfare state is certainly preferable to a welfare state stripped of protections–but it is still a welfare state that presupposes that workers are to work for a class of employers–and that those who receive services from the welfare state are to be controlled to a greater or less extent in one way or another. Dhunna’s and Bush’s neglect of the issue of control over work and their focus on free public services ignore the negative side of public welfare in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers and the associated general economic, political and social structures.

As Primož Krašovec argues (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=25&v=T6HIhwVmgh4&feature=emb_title), the left’s idealization of the public sector–as if it were a haven of democracy–hardly provides an accurate picture of the nature of public sector work. Although the Canadian public sector is more heavily unionized than the private sector, to assume that higher unionization means democracy and control over our lives is just that–an assumption that requires justification.

Mr. Krasovec asks why some people–other than the rich–support neoliberal policies. His answer is that such neoliberal policies do address–unlike the social-democratic policies–some concerns of the ordinary worker about the public sector–such as the bureaucratic, neo-feudalist status of the state in the public education system. Both students and workers do not like these rigid hierarchical structures. Neoliberal policies may indeed be misleading about the efficacy of market policies in destroying these hierarchies if they are introduced into the public sector, but they nevertheless touch a real concern of workers and students.

This applies not only to public education but also to state administration in other public services. We cannot pretend that long lines at the doctor’s office do not happen, or that superficial treatment does not occur, or that bureaucratic incompetence does not arise–because people experience them every day in their dealings with these institutions. To fail to recognize these experiences and not to take them into account when formulating policy is to feed into the neoliberal backlash.

This idealization of the public sector will unlikely convince many who have experienced the negative aspect of public services since it does not correspond to their own experiences.

I mentioned above that I have been diagnosed with cancer twice (and diagnosed with metastatic cancer once). Given free public health care, as I said, I certainly appreciate the free treatment that I received. However, when we look at the wider context, the treatment also has negative aspects. As I argued in another post: (see Class Harmonies in Health Care? The Social-Democratic Way):

Today, though, many social determinants are largely ignored in favour of focusing on caring for those already sick. Consider breast cancer. It arises in many instances from environmental conditions, and yet most money is allocated to caring for those already inflicted with the disease rather than with preventing it from arising in the first place. From Faye Linda Wachs (2007), (pages 929-931), “Review. Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy. By Samantha King,” in Gender & Society, volume 21, number 6 (December), pages 930-931:

Recent studies reveal that simply removing known carcinogens from products and our environment could prevent thousands of cases annually (Brody et al. 2007). However, funding for such research is limited, while the monies for identifying and curing existing cases is the focus of most efforts. Indeed, many of the companies that fund survivorship continue to use known car cinogens in their products. King points to the fact that despite increased awareness, rates of breast cancer have increased from 1 in 22 in the 1940s to 1 in 7 in 2004. Even if one considers women’s increasing longevity, this still indicates an increase in the prevalence of breast cancer. Moreover, structural factors that affect risk and survivorship, such as socioeconomic status, remain woefully understudied.

Other experiences with the bureaucracy also tends to alienate the public from the public sector. Humiliation of the unemployed by office workers occurs, for example, and to not acknowledge such facts as a problem is to feed into the neoliberal ideology. So too does invasive surveillance of mothers by state bureaucrats. So too does humiliation of residents in public housing.

Nowhere do Ms. Dhunna and Mr. Bush acknowledge relations of domination and subordination in the public sector. Such experiences also alienate the public from the public sector. Mr. Krasnovic, by contrast, argues that it is necessary for the left to engage in a critique of the public sector in order to acknowledge the real problems that real people experience in relation to state institutions and state inequalities. It is necessary for the left to acknowledge these problems if they are to address neoliberalism and how it feeds off of the daily experiences of people in relation to the state.

Nowhere do the writers really address the nature of the problem of “the market.” despite the title of their article. On the assumption, though, that they oppose in fact the exploitation and oppression of workers in the private sector (a big assumption since many social democrats merely pay lip service to opposing exploitation and oppression since they really have no intention of aiming for the beginning of a movement towards the abolition in the present but rather push such a goal to the vague future–see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three–as Mr. Krasovec points out, it is hypocritical to criticize exploitation and oppression of private sector workers while not doing so in the public sector. Mr. Krasovec, like me, does not believe that any just society can arise as long as the capitalist state exists.

General Oppressive Structures and Relations in Public Services 

Dhunna’s proposal for expanded public services would be different from present-day life, but not that different–as John Baker (1987) notes in his Arguing for Equality, pages 9-10:

Equality and the welfare state

For nearly a century, equality has been linked with the idea of the ‘welfare state’: income support for the elderly, unemployed and disabled; publicly provided education for all, with a trend in the direction of comprehensive, mixed-ability schooling; a free, comprehensive health service, at least for the worst off; public housing for people on low incomes; and a variety of social services for people with special needs. Would an egalitarian society mean more of the same? Since the welfare state does stand for more equality than ‘free market’ alternatives offered by its opponents, there are certainly good reasons for supporting and defending it. But there are two major reasons why an egalitarian society might turn out to be very different.

First of all is the issue of democratic control. The present welfare state is a compromise which suits many interests. It helps people in need, but it also helps to keep them in their place. It is a system of support but also of control. In some areas, particularly in housing, users and providers of public services are starting to cooperate in making the system more democratic, but there’s a long way to go. Too much of the system still runs on the belief that the bureaucrats know best and that consumers should be grateful for whatever they’re given.

The second reason is that the welfare state is designed for an unequal society. Many of its policies and problems would be transformed by more equality. For instance, there’s a lot of argument in education over how to promote equality of opportunity in an unequal society. There are bitter conflicts over the use of limited funds, with parents fighting over the means to protect their children’s futures. Schooling is seen as a major cause of achievement in adult life, and since all children are in competition for advancement there is no limit to the demand for educational resources. Even a good school could be better, making a crucial difference to children’s educational success. No wonder there are disputes over private schooling, mixed-ability classes, examination systems, busing! In an egalitarian society, there would still be disagreements over the best ways to ensure that every person had the opportunity to develop their ability in a satisfying and fulfilling way and over how to use our resources — disagreements that it would be impossible to sort out now. But there wouldn’t be conflict over access to privilege; the penalty for ‘failure’ wouldn’t be poverty; there wouldn’t be a contrast between inner city ghettos and middle class suburbs.

Undoubtedly the welfare state provides some of the materials for the social institutions of an egalitarian society, as well as a great deal of experience in providing for people’s needs. But it would be wrong to imagine that an equal society would just be a bigger welfare state. It would be in many ways a different society altogether.

Or, as Wolfgang Streeck (2016) argues, the building of protective layers over top of the capitalist economy seeks a different form or variety of capitalism–and not its dismantling. From How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System:

Fred Block’s notion of an ‘always embedded’ capitalism subject to a ‘primacy of politics’ radiates an optimism that conspicuously resembles what European social democrats have for a long time made themselves believe: that socialism, as defined above, could be had, preserved and surreptitiously expanded on top of a capitalist economy-cum-society, by serving its inexorably growing functional need for collective governance. Looking back at the past four decades, however, we see a sustained process of institutional transformation, slow but irresistible and driven, not by democratic politics but by the dynamic logic of capitalist development, that has effectively destroyed most if not all of the political safeguards whose establishment had been the very condition for capitalism being allowed to return after the disasters of the first half of the twentieth century. That logic, and the reorganization – or disorganization – of social life that it dictated, culminates today in the dual crisis of the global financial as well as the national democratic state system. Decades of ‘reform’ aimed at meeting the ever more aggressive demands of capitalist markets have only exacerbated the capitalist wear and tear on the social fabric, often with the connivance of blackmailed states and governments, including social-democratic ones. Is this experience really compatible with a theory that considers ‘market society’ to be at the disposition of politics? Or does it not rather speak for attributing to capitalism as a social action system a life, a logic, a power and a dynamism of its own, on which social-democratic post-war politics as usual has more and more lost its grip? If one comes to conclude, as I have, that it is the latter that is the more realistic perspective, is it then still responsible to invest one’s time and energy in developing responsible ideas as to how responsible governments may repair ‘the system’ or turn one variety of capitalism’ into another? Or would it not be much more constructive to be less constructive – to cease looking for better varieties of capitalism and instead begin seriously to think about alternatives to it?

This post does try to focus on some of the negative sides of public services in the context of a society dominated by a class of employers.

Oppressive Public Educational Services

Grades or Marks in Schools

Another problem with their article is that they assume that public or state or government services need only be expanded rather than fundamentally or qualitatively altered (something they share with Sam Gindin, former research director for the large national union Canadian Auto Workers (now Unifor) and the academic leftist Jeff Noonan (see, for example, The Poverty of Academic Leftism, Part Seven: The Idealization of the Nation State or the National Government and Nationalization in the Wake of the Coronavirus Pandemic, Part Two). In the area of education, for example, they simply advocate free access to university.

The school system, of which the university is a part, is simply not considered. For example, are not grades (marks) an oppressive feature of the modern school system (including universities)? Do they not function to sort the “intelligent” from the “less intelligent?” Of course, assessment of some kind must occur, but all assessment could be in the form of feedback for improvement (formative assessment) and not in any form of quantitative assessment. As I wrote in an article (see in my Publications and Writings section, “Dewey and Assessment: Opposition to the Modern School System):

A few years ago, I was the chair of the local Equity and Social Justice Committee of a teacher’s association. I sent off articles and some of my thoughts to the Equity and Social Justice Ning (a kind of blog) of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society. At a school where I worked in Manitoba, I also placed the same articles and my own thoughts in binders in the staff lounge for the staff to read. At one point, I argued that there was a conflict between grades and teacher feedback (usually in the form of written or verbal comments) that is supposed to improve teaching and learning. My own experience in receiving both teacher feedback and grades was such that I almost always looked at the grade first and only then (if at all) looked at the teacher’s comments afterward. I doubt that my experience is unique.

At a meeting with Janet Martell, the superintendent of Lakeshore School Division, and the principal of Ashern Central School, where I worked, Ms. Martell stated that she considered my argument about the contradiction of grades and teacher feedback via formative assessment to be faulty and would address it later during the meeting. She never did.

Grades, or what in educational circles is called summative assessment, is characterized by the following. From Shujon Mazumder (2020). “Critical Education: Increasing Student Achievement through Formative Assessments.” The Organizational Improvement Plan at Western University, 149. Retrieved from https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/oip/149, pages 10-11: 

According to Frey (2014), the defining characteristics of summative assessments include:
• Assessing student learning at the end of a period of instruction.
• Is typically very formal with defined test-taking rules and scoring procedures.
• Its main purpose is to determine grades. (p. 91)
Summative assessments view students as receptacles of information, and learning is measured by how well they can restate facts and knowledge given to them by their teachers.

The typical summative procedure of grading proceeds as follows page 11): 

Table 1
Traditional Sequence of Activities in Student Assessment Cycle

1. Students are given instructions and advice about how to approach the assessment.
2. Students may undertake developmental, formative assessment to gain some feedback on their progress in this area of learning, before submitting their formally assessed (that is, summative) work.
3. Students prepare for their summative assessment, either individually or in collaboration with peers (where the latter is permitted and required).
4. Students undertake the assessment (e.g. write the essay; complete\the group project; give the presentation; sit the exam).
5. Students submit the assessment to the assessors, who are already experts in the field.
6. Students await feedback on the assessment.
7. Feedback and/or marks are made available.
8. Students may or may not access the feedback on their work. Students may or may not assimilate the feedback and actively use it to inform future approaches to learning and assessment.

How many reading this post have experienced the oppressive nature of grades–which is counterproductive to real learning? How many can identify with the following comments on the experience of grading in schools (dated February 11, 2018):

Grades: An Oppressive System In Education

Reading The Case Against Grades brought up a TON of emotions for me this week. Some of the emotions this pieced evoked from me were anger, frustration rage and even a bit of embarrassment. I’m not embarrassed for my present self, but embarrassed for my younger self, the me 10-15 years ago who wasn’t among her high-achieving peers in the classroom. I went to school in a county, on a particular side of the county where high grade marks and straight A’s were an expectation of almost everyone. As hard as I tried, I wasn’t one of those students. I excelled in my elective classes like music/choir classes, home economics/teen living and sociology but could never seem to master’s subjects like physics, geometry and chemistry. It was embarrassing to receive my test scores and they sometimes were significantly lower than my peers.

In The Case Against Grades, Kohn mentions that several of the effects of grading are that grades tend to diminish what students are learning, grades create a preference for the easiest possible task and that grades tend to reduce the quality of students thinking. All of these statements resonate with me on a personal level. … Essentially, students are not taught to think at all. Grades are a way of inhibiting students learning. If students do not receive good grades, they are thought of as less than adequate and labeled as “problem” children when, in fact, many of those labels could not be further from the truth.

The oppressive nature of grades is similar in many ways to what I referred to in an earlier post about external or bad aims (which are oppressive) (see Reform Versus Abolition of Police, Part Three). Internal or good aims link our goals to what we are doing now and the means available to us by organizing present activities and means; they link the future with the present and the present with the future in a logical and coherent manner. External or bad aims, by contrast, involve a disconnect between means and ends. In the case of grades, the goal is to obtain the highest grade possible, and there is no intrinsic connection between that goal and the organization of present activities and means as internally related to each other. Such an external aim as obtaining the highest grades often leads to focusing on satisfying the teacher rather than the specific nature of problems–and hence diminishes the power of children and adolescents to address the problems that arise in the process of living.

Alfred Kohn (see link above) has this to say about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in relation to grades:

Motivation:  While it’s true that many students, after a few years of traditional schooling, could be described as motivated by grades, what counts is the nature of their motivation.  Extrinsic motivation, which includes a desire to get better grades, is not only different from, but often undermines, intrinsic motivation, a desire to learn for its own sake (Kohn 1999a).  Many assessment specialists talk about motivation as though it were a single entity — and their recommended practices just put a finer gloss on a system of rewards and punishments that leads students to chase marks and become less interested in the learning itself.  If nourishing their desire to learn is a primary goal for us, then grading is problematic by its very nature.

I mentioned above another form of assessment–formative assessment. This form of assessment is supposed to provide feedback to students without quantifying it–it is more qualitative and narrative. However, as Alfred Kohn notes, when it is linked to summative assessment, it performs a subordinate role and thus is still linked to an oppressive practice. From Kohn (see the link above):

It’s not enough to add narrative reports.  “When comments and grades coexist, the comments are written to justify the grade” (Wilson, 2009, p. 60).  Teachers report that students, for their part, often just turn to the grade and ignore the comment, but “when there’s only a comment, they read it,” says high school English teacher Jim Drier.  Moreover, research suggests that the harmful impact of grades on creativity is no less (and possibly even more) potent when a narrative accompanies them.  Narratives are helpful only in the absence of grades (Butler, 1988; Pulfrey et al., 2011).

Unsurprisingly, given the title of this blog, it would be better to aim for the abolition of grades in order to facilitate internal or intrinsic learning and to abolish the oppressive nature of grades and external or extrinsic learning. What is needed is only formative assessment or narrative (and personal interviews and personal forms of assessment).

For those who are parents, it should be obvious that you never quantify your assessment of your child’s or adolescent’s performance; you provide verbal feedback mostly in order to guide the child or adolescent. 

The Oppressive Curriculum, or the Oppressive Program of Studies

In addition to the oppressive nature of grades for some students, there is the question of the adequacy of current curriculum structure and content to address the learning needs of children and adolescents. As I argued in another post (see Much Educational Research Assumes the Legitimacy of the Current School Structure), most educational research assumes that the current educational system is the standard, with only variations (reforms) around this standard conceivable (similar to the social-democratic or reformist left).

The expansion of public services such as education is then conceived only in terms of–more of what is essentially the same. For an alternative (socialist) educational system, which does not foresee a mere expansion of existing educational services but a major restructuring of the curriculum in order to contribute to the abolition of the separation of manual and intellectual labour and life, see Socialism, Part Ten: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education ).

The imposition of grades as external motivators then permits the creation of a curriculum that involves the learning of many irrelevant things that have little to do with addressing present problems and interests. This in turn leads to the weighing down of the mind by unused and irrelevant facts, leading to the dulling of interest and the wonder of children in the world around them. From Katherine Mayhew and Anna Edwards (1936), The Dewey School: The Laboratory School of the University of Chicago, 1896-1903, pages 21-22: 

“He must learn by experience” is an old adage too little heeded by modern methods of schooling. Too often these methods take for granted that there is a short cut to learning, and that knowledge apart from its use has meaning for the developing mind. The memorizing of such knowledge has come to be a large part of present-day education, with the result that great masses of young lives have been denied the thrill of experimental living, of finding the way for themselves, of discovery, of invention, of creation. The fine aspiring tendril of childhood’s native curiosity, like the waving tip of a growing vine, seeks the how and why of doing its intellectual food. It is early stunted in many children. The strong urge to investigate, present in every individual, is often crushed by the memorizing of great masses of information useless to him, or the learning of skills that he is told may be useful to him in the far-away future, the sometime, and the somewhere. Only those in whom the urge to know will not be denied break away into new trails by virtue of individual and experimental effort, and when directed in the use of the scientific method, climb to the highest peaks of living; the majority travel a wide made-easy
way of schooling into a dead level of mediocrity.

Are not most schools public? If so, then they must fall under Dhunna’s and Bush’s idealized view of public services: schools, as public institutions, “affirm the power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure.” Quite to the contrary. Public schools ‘affirm the oppressive power of publicly owned and operated infrastructure.’ Merely because citizens do not pay for such services does not mean that oppression does not form part of such services–as long as there is a class of employers, along with the associated economic, political and social structures of such power.

Dhunna’s and Bush’s idealization of public services is typical of the social-democratic left. As I noted above, Mr. Sam Gindin, former research director of the former Canadian Auto Workers union (now Unifor, the largest private-sector union in Canada) merely views a socialist society as an expansion of public services rather than the abolition of oppressive structures in such services. He has this to say about public services in a socialist society:

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

Conclusion

There is little recognition of how “the public sector” can be oppressive. Referring to social services, such as “education” as if schools  and the school system were identical to non-oppressive services leads not only to the perpetuation of oppressive conditions but also to members of the working class becoming right-wing since such left-wing rhetoric fails to capture and express their experiences in this world. The social-democratic left, by idealizing the public sector, contribute to the right-wing backlash that has been raging for more than four decades. 

Dhunnah’s and Bush’s solution–expanded public services in the form of free education that do not involve the purchase of such services–does not solve the problem of an oppressive situation. Their critique of the principle of universal basic income, therefore, loses some of its legitimacy. 

In future posts, I may refer to the other side of the coin in education–not from the side of children and adolescents but from the side of those who work in schools, including teachers and custodians. Or perhaps health services (although I have already referred to some problems with the health sector (see Health Care: Socialist versus Capitalist Nationalization)–and therefore may not. Since most readers of this blog have provided little feedback or discussion, I will write on topics as I see fit–unless there is more feedback and discussion. 

However, I will definitely address in another post the criticisms of basic income that Dhunna and Bush offer–such as they are. 

Socialism, Part Ten: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Four: Art

This is the conclusion of a series of previous posts on the subject.

In a previous post, I criticized Mr. Gindin’s claim that the expansion of educational services would involve scarcity and therefore would require external or extrinsic motivation of some sort. (Mr,. Gindin is (or was) head of the Toronto Labour Committee and former research director for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) (now Unifor) union. See Socialism, Part Ten: Inadequate Conception of the Nature of Freedom and Necessity, or Free Time and Necessary Time, Part Three: Education.

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. However, just as Mr. Gindin does not criticize the particular form of education in modern society, he does not consider the limitations of the particular form of art in modern society. He writes 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 … the expansion of art and of cultural spaces — all of which require labor time and generally also complementary material goods. That is, they demand choices.

Mr. Gindin seems to consider the “expansion of art and cultural spaces” in purely quantitative terms. The existing “art and cultural spaces” are supposed to be “expanded” rather than qualitatively transformed. Given the specific class nature of modern society dominated by a class of employers and the general class nature of human history after the agricultural revolution, the view that art and culture needs mere expansion rather than qualitative transformation reflects an impoverished view of the nature of socialist society. If socialist society is characterized by the abolition of classes, and classes involve exploitation and oppression, then the nature and development of art and culture should accordingly change qualitatively.

The issue can be approached from different angles. One issue is the question of the form of art (something which Mr. Gindin does not even adddress). John Dewey’s philosophy of art can aid us in understanding the limitations of Mr. Gindin’s characterization of “scarcity” and art in a socialist society.

Dewey points out that the form of modern art is isolated from common human experience. It is this isolated form itself that prevents a proper understanding of the nature of art as a refined development of common-sense human experience. From John Dewey (1934), Art as Experience , pages 3-4:

BY ONE of the ironic perversities that often attend the course of affairs, the existence of the works of art upon which formation of an esthetic theory depends has become an obstruction to theory about them. For one reason, these works are products that exist externally and physically. In common conception, the work of art is often identified with the building, book, painting, or statue in its existence apart from human experience. Since the actual work of art is what the product does with and in experience, the result is not favorable to understanding. In addition, the very perfection of some of these products, the prestige they possess because of a long history of unquestioned admiration, creates conventions that get in the way of fresh insight. When an art product once attains classic status, it somehow becomes isolated from the human conditions under which it was brought into being and from the human consequences it engenders in actual life experience.

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which esthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association with the materials and aims of every other form of human effort, undergoing, and achievement. A primary task is thus imposed upon one who undertakes to write upon the philosophy of the fine arts. This task is to restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognized to constitute experience. Mountain peaks do not float unsupported; they do not even just rest upon the earth. They are the earth in one of its manifest operations. It is the business of those who are concerned with the theory of the earth, geographers and geologists, to make this fact evident in its various implications., The theorist who would deal philosophically with fine art has a like task to accomplish.

If one is willing to grant this position, even if only by way of temporary experiment, he will see that there follows a conclusion at first sight surprising. In order to understand the meaning of artistic products, we have to forget them for a time, to turn aside from them and have recourse to the ordinary forces and conditions of experience that we do not usually regard as esthetic. We must arrive at the theory of art by means of a detour. For theory is concerned with understanding, insight, not without exclamations of admiration, and stimulation of that emotional out burst often called appreciation. It is quite possible to enjoy flowers in their colored form and delicate fragrance without knowing any thing about plants theoretically. But if one sets out to understand the flowering of plants, he is committed to finding out something about the interactions of soil, air, water and sunlight that condition the growth of plants.

The isolation of art from ordinary human experience distorts an understanding of the nature of art. Such a distortion is like a mirror, in which we only see the reflection offered to us and not the background material (and social) conditions for the mirror to function as a mirror. From Thomas Nail (2020), Marx in Motion: A New Materialist Marxism, page 149-150:

A mirror is something that reflects almost all the light that it receives within a certain limited frame. A mirror, however, also actively changes the light it receives and limits the range of light returned based on the limits of its frame. The danger of the mirror, as the myth of Narcissus reminds
us, is mistaking the mirror for nothing other than the image it reflects. The mirror is thus a tricky kind of object because it so easily conceals its own quality, use- value, or sensuous materiality: the frame, the tain (silver backing), as well as the agency of light itself. Narcissus dies because he mistakes the sensuous agency of nature (water, light, air) as nothing other than himself.

The isolation of art in a socialist society from the rest of human experience would proceed to break down as the power of the class of employers was superseded and as the objectified power of workers is abolished and the human life process comes under the workers’ and the diverse communities’ control.

Mr. Gindin simply ignores any qualitative transformation of art and culture and refers to the (quantitative) expansion of arts and culture–as if the integration of the domain of art with other domains of life would not in itself involve “an expansion of art and culture.” Mr. Gindin fails to see that the modern art form itself expresses oppressive conditions, where art is relegated to an isolated activity by a relative minority. He succumbs to the ideology of the mirror, seeing only the reflected form of the alienated art form as a permanent form that merely requires–“mechanical” elements rather than organic elements that grow from the common source of human daily life experience.

Art in modern capitalist society would undergo a qualitative change–it would be freed of the exploitative and oppressive conditions that give rise to it as something separate and divorced from everyday living and working. From Piotr Hoffmann (1982), The Anatomy of Idealism: Passivity and Activity in Kant, Hegel and Marx, page 98:

In effect, since human labor is guided by conception and imagination, the Marxian “architect” from Capital is always capable of embodying in the material an original vision of things; he can tear
the veil of banality and commonplace which stifles the potential of our sensibility. Needless to say, according to Marx this aesthetic potential of human senses must be stifled and repressed under the prevailing conditions of commodity production and of alienation of labor in general. 54 But it is the same conditions – the increasing sophistication of the labor-process – which both create the new potential of human senses and needs and repress its emerging claims and requirements. Indeed the whole process of labor, such as we know it in its past and present form, has that double, paradoxical function: at the same time that it creates those new and higher qualities of human life it also represses them by creating a mode of human intercourse which prevents their realization. “Certainly, labor obtains its measure from outside, through the aim to be attained and the obstacles to be overcome in attaining it. But [ …] this overcoming of obstacles is in itself a liberating activity [ …] the external aims become stripped of the semblance of merely external natural urgencies, and become posited as aims which the individual himself posits – hence as self-realization,
objectification of the subject, hence real freedom, whose action is, precisely, labor. ” It is in Grundrisse, not in Pans Manuscnpts, that Marx writes these words. His intention couldn’t be clearer: labor is not only a response to need and dependency upon external objects, but a truly creative
and (as Marx put it) “liberating” process through which man gives a higher form to his life-activity, a form where his senses, needs and tastes become refined and stripped of their crude utilitarian functions.

In societies before the emergence of capitalism, art was not as divorced from daily life as it is now. Art forms were closely related to utility and daily living, with art expressing more, initially, an assumed magical function related to survival than some sort of separate form expressing emotion and aesthetic refinement. From Arnold Hauser (1951), The Social History of Art, Volume 1: From Prehistoric Times to the Middle Ages, page 3:

When the Palaeolithic artist painted an animal on the rock, he produced a real animal. For him the world of fiction and pictures, the sphere of art and mere imitation, was not yet a special province of its own, different and separate from empirical reality; he did not as yet confront the two different spheres, but saw in one the direct, undifferentiated continuation of the other. He will have had the same attitude to art as Lévy- Bruhl’s Sioux Red Indian, who said of a research worker whom he saw preparing sketches: ‘I know that this man has put many of our bisons into his book. I was there when he did it, and since then we have had no bisons.’ The conception of this sphere of art as a direct continuation of ordinary reality never disappears completely despite the later predominance of a conception of art as something opposed to reality.

Later on, emotional expression and aesthetic concerns emerged with the development of agriculture. Here art and aesthetics (the appreciation of art from the side of consumption) now became somewhat divorced from daily life–with the emergence of class society. Religious rite took the place of magic. However, even then the degree of separation of art from daily life characteristic of modern capitalist society, with art appearing to be a separate realm from the realm of human life and its self-reproduction, was much less. In feudal society, for example, production and consumption were not as separated since they were still closely linked to daily life and utility. Page 93:

‘Urban economy’ in the sense of Buecher’s theory of economic stages signifies, in contrast to the earlier production for own use, a production for the customer, that is, of goods that are not consumed in, the economic unit in which they are produced. It is distinguished from the following stage of ‘national economy’ in that exchange of goods still takes the ‘direct’ form—i.e. the goods go direct from the producing to the consuming unit, production as a rule not being for stock or the free market, but to the direct order of definite customers personally acquainted with the producer. We are thus at the first stage of the separation of production from consumption, but still far removed from the completely abstract method of modern production by which goods have to pass through a whole series of hands before they reach the consumer. This difference of principle between the medieval ‘town economy’ and the modern ‘national economy’ still remains, even when we pass from Buecher’s ‘ideal type’ of town economy to the actual historical facts; for although pure production to order never existed by itself, the relationship between the tradesman and consumer in the Middle Ages was far closer than nowadays; the producer was not yet faced with a completely unknown and indefinite market as he was later. These characteristics of the ‘urban’ way of production showed themselves in medieval art in a greater independence of the artist, on the one hand, as compared with the artist of Romanesque times, but, on the other hand, in a complete absence of that modern
phenomenon, the unappreciated artist working in a total vacuum of estrangement from the public and remoteness from actuality.

The abolition of classes in a socialist society, undoubtedly, would revolutionize the relation between art and daily life–just as the agricultural revolution and the emergence of class societies also revolutionized the relation between art and daily life. The abolition of classes would mean that even in work relations there would be the possibility of expressing ourselves without exploitation and oppression preventing us from doing so. The relation between freedom and necessity would change accordingly. There would be a qualitative change in the nature of art as it became integrated into the daily lives of individuals–but this time on a higher, more refined plane than earlier.

Mr. Gindin, though, just sees “an expansion of art”–undoubtedly in purely quantitative terms. He has an impoverished view of the nature of a socialist society and the relation between freedom and necessity in a socialist society.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toward an Alternative

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

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

But let us proceed:

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

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

Let us continue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frustration and Persistence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Jobs Oshawa Lives On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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