Socialism

Working People Have No Country

by Matt Stannard
January 3, 2020

Try this early and often–in every conversation about the administration’s war-drive against Iran, every discussion online and offline. Say:

“You and I have more in common with an Iraqi or Iranian militia grunt than with Donald Trump.”

. . . and simply: “Working people have no country.”

If your concern is beating this administration, and thus restoring the legitimacy of things like U.S. military hegemony, then this strategy and this blog aren’t for you. If your concern is to use the present political moment as an opportunity to strike at one of the root causes of this administration’s existence, the kind of world where mobbed up landlords become world leaders, then understanding our commonalities with Iranians is more than just liberal cosmopolitanism.

The warrant for “working people have no country” as an anti-war slogan is that if we see ourselves as beings in a common material class, and have adopted cooperative economic praxis, it won’t make sense to go to war with one another–at least where the interests of the majority are concerned.

There’s a large body of work on this, and it would be counterproductive for me to recommend that one read too much of it before diving right into direct political engagement. In reviewing the topic, I wanted to center on a singular explanatory text, and not necessarily a “Marxist” one, explaining why Marx and Engels were concerned that working people struggling for socialism or communism would center the ruling class in their own countries as the first oppositional force needing overthrow, and would view the working class as an international class.

So I tracked down Evan Luard’s Basic Texts in International Relations, in which Luard devotes an informative overview, “Class Consciousness as a Restraint on War” to the issue of why shared working class consciousness rejects war between states.

Part of the working class’s motivation for rejecting their own governments’ war drives is that the aspiration of working class political power includes eliminating those drives. “Once they had acquired power,” Luard puts it, “they would cease to have any interest in a war against any other state where the people had taken power. War would then, like the state itself, wither away.” Wither away because “the state” is based on antagonisms, war is a flare-up of such antagonisms. Luard points out that 50 years after the Manifesto Karl Kautsky, in a more utopian tone, wrote that workers would recognize the interdependence of their needs and the common conditions of their existence. In one form or another, most socialists adhere to that belief.

But I think it’s obvious, and probably necessary, to point out that we don’t need to view these beliefs as subscriptions to inexorable, mystical axioms. There might still be conflict. There might still be bloodshed. You can think this because you think humans are just inherently that way, or you can predict that the antagonisms of previous orders take a long time to exorcise and may never completely go away, or whatever. You don’t have to accept these premises as anything other than general prediction of tendencies. And you don’t have to believe that overcoming class will cause all other differences to be erased, synthesized, dissipated, or otherwise minimized. You can simply believe, as more and more people do, that capitalism and material hierarchy make it much, much harder to solve the conflicts that accompany those differences and conditions.

Class politics– emphasizing our shared materiality and shared security needs, using that shared materiality as a way of faithfully and vulnerably working through and dwelling in our other differences–can inform our anti-war politics, and connect our opposition to war to our larger ecological and economic justice agenda.

And, in many ways, most of us already recognize that our ethical obligations to each other transcend national origin. If the breakdown of such consciousness today can be discerned by opposition to the current administration’s actually existing fascism on immigration. Granted, it’s not a magic 8-ball on working class internationalism, but most Americans want more immigration and diversity, not less. Recently, political researcher Stanley Greenburg described how this administration has hastened the crystalization of such attitudes:

Pew asked whether immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” or “are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” The proportion embracing immigration jumped from 53% in 2015 to 62% this year. Trump sent troops to the border, warned of an America exposed without a wall and ran ads showing illegal immigrants who murdered innocent Americans, and yes, he made immigration the most important reason to vote against the Democrats in the off-year elections. His party lost the House in a 53%-45% landslide last year and has lost the battle of public opinion on immigration by much more than that.

This is an example of the various accelerations we currently live, whether we want to admit it or not–and at least some of this consciousness will survive even if trumpism does not. On immigration, as on climate and healthcare and, I ultimately suspect, on warmaking, a large cross section of America is turning sharply socialist, almost leapfrogging over more moderate-liberal analogs, and while it’s not the same as storming the palace, it points to what could turn out to be a massive fucking anti-war movement, assuming the administration treats the current war drive as a traditional war drive.

At least as important as magnitude will be motivation. Mass movements don’t often stop wars from starting, but mass opposition to those wars energizes class politics. We have an opportunity to make the slogan “working people have no country,” and the careful and powerful analysis behind it, central to our argument against this war and all wars, and in so doing, invite more people into socialist politics.

Uttering and explaining the slogan will help win people over. It will cause some other people to yell back “yes we do have countries” and invoke their fatherland myths–and it’s useful to know who those people are too.

Matt Stannard is operations director of Solidarity House Cooperative and produces content on cooperative economics and law.

Obama is wrong: We shouldn’t “chill out” about the primaries

by Yana Ludwig

December 13, 2019

It’s been a couple weeks now, but I’m still thinking about Barack Obama’s request for everyone to “chill out” about differences between presidential candidates. It is just the latest in a long series of “Vote Blue No Matter Who” sentiments to get far more air time than Bernie Sanders record breaking 4 million donations. It’s not only annoying: I believe it is damaging our democracy. 

The better message would be: Vote smart in the primaries because that’s where we are deciding what really matters.

Both major political parties in the US are in epic battles for the souls of their party right now. Many people have deep frustrations with being told to be loyal to a party whose current leadership simply doesn’t share our values. It feels for many like the “choice” we have in November isn’t nearly as much of a choice as we want… or see the world needing. 

It’s easy to see that from the left, in part because only a thin slice of those currently holding office share our most core beliefs. We can see that the line should be drawn, not along formal party lines, but along economic analysis lines: not between Democrats and Republicans, but between neoliberal capitalism (AKA business as usual in the US) and eco-socialism (of which Bernie Sanders’ and AOC’s version of the Green New Deal is our closest example in national political dialogue right now). 

Neoliberal capitalism is maintains that everything should be privatized and that access to those private goods and services should be determined by your ability to compete well enough in a dog eat dog economy. It’s a “good fight” writ cruel and petty. Neoliberals are enthusiastic about everything from education and spirituality to technology and entertainment to (formerly) public lands and insulin all coming with price tags that only some can pay. 

Neoliberalism is built-in means testing for everything we need to survive. Poor people are consistently judged unworthy, complete with implied moral failings, because to be a successful economic producer is the primary indicator of being a good person. Except most of us are failing, and that should tell us more about the test itself than the people being tested.

Among neoliberalism’s tools that spill into politics is the practice of attaching status to your ability to acquire things. Both parties seem to crave wealthy people’s approval, attention and resources, and it is a rare candidate who resists this in a genuine way and centers their attention and policy proposals firmly on the masses.

Socialists resist the whole neoliberal paradigm. Socialism is about democratizing the economy; giving everyone not just “access” (which has become the buzzword among neoliberals who want to appear more left than they actually are on healthcare) but an economy structured around workers actually deriving full benefit from their own labor. It says that a public sector is good, not because of some excessive love of “big government” but because when we take cut-throat profiteering out of the equation, everyone has a genuinely fair shot at getting their needs met.

Socialism says that there should not be whole industries designed to be gatekeepers to Life (because healthcare is a right), Liberty (because freedom from unjust persecution and imprisonment is a right) and the Pursuit of Happiness (because education is also a right). Neoliberalism is fine with someone making money off of you and your “basic” rights. In that way, it fundamentally undermines those rights to the point that they are no longer basic in truth. Socialism demands that we de-privatize healthcare, the prison system and education (among other things) because without doing that, our American core values are just words on paper.

There was a fascinating recent article about my home, Wyoming, and the internal crackdown happening within the state’s Republican party. The far right has taken over state leadership in the party, rewritten the platform in the Trump’s and Cheney’s ugliest image, and is now punishing county party leadership who are not toeing the line strongly enough. It’s nasty and epic, and reading that article made it clear to me that Republicans are also struggling with what their party is all about. 

Obama is friendlier for sure, but he represents a similarly ugly push to get in line.

It’s important for Republicans right now to be asking if they prefer Trump’s world or, say, Romney’s, just as it is for Democrats to be paying close attention to the differences between a Sanders presidency and a Biden presidency. Unless we have a candidate who is not a neoliberal on the ballot in November, we are ceding critical ground to the economic paradigm that led us to this moment of resurgent fascism in America, and to the climate crisis that threatens us all. 

The differences are that big and that important.

So my exhortation here is simple: Do. Not. Chill. Out. The primaries are like the semi-finals of a national championship, and whether your team makes it to the finals and has a shot at some actual political power matters to the fate of our people and planet. We are writing the story right now. We have not two but four critical, and markedly different, options in front of us. Choose well.

Yana Ludwig is the author of Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption, a member of Solidarity Collective and Democratic Socialists of America, and a candidate for U.S. Senate from Wyoming.