Why Socialism is a big deal

Alan Maass reports from Chicago on the record-breaking turnout at Socialism 2017.

A plenary session crowd at Socialism 2017 (John Snowden)

A plenary session crowd at Socialism 2017 (John Snowden)

SOME 2,000 people packed into a convention center on Chicago’s Near South Side last weekend for the four days of Socialism 2017, an annual gathering for political discussion, debate and entertainment.

This was by far the biggest Socialism conference ever, one-third larger than last year, and one of the biggest national gatherings of the radical left in the new Trump era.

As usual, there were a dozen sessions or more to choose from in each time slot–around 160 in all–covering a dizzying range of topics: from building emergency response networks for defending immigrant workers, to the latest developments in struggles in Europe, to the history of the Marxist tradition, to celebrations of artistic and cultural figures.

It was a super-sized version of past conferences, but that wasn’t the only difference. This year, there was a greater sense of urgency and purpose than ever before.

Damian Smith of Washington, D.C., said he had missed the previous two or three Socialism conferences. “But then something happened on November 8 at around 11:45 at night,” he said, “and I realized that I had to go this year. It matters a lot what happens here.”

How to take the ideas discussed at Socialism and make them relevant back home in the local resistance struggles of the Trump era–that was on the minds of people throughout the four days.

“This was my first time being here, and it was absolutely incredible,” said Lindsay Cesar of Greensboro, North Carolina. “I feel like I came in full of ideas I couldn’t quite articulate, and now I feel way better equipped. I feel inspired to talk to other people and groups in the area and convey our politics to them, so we can come together more.”

Socialism 2017 was host to some truly special events. Comedian Hari Kondabolu brought down the house late Friday night with a set that went on three times longer than expected. Nation columnist Dave Zirin moderated a generations-spanning discussion on athletes and activism. Author and actor Wallace Shawn introduced his new book Night Thoughtsin a conversation with Haymarket Books’ Anthony Arnove.

But there were special ideas and insights coming out of all the discussions. “I was watching someone talk about a political question that they had been working through over a period of years, about their understanding of postmodernism,” Damian Smith remembered. “And right there, they were able to come to a conclusion about it in this discussion. I realized I was seeing someone’s whole political trajectory in a few minutes–that’s something that happens at this conference.”

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AT A packed plenary session on the first night of the conference, author and Princeton University professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor spoke on racism and the resistance to Trump. It was a speech she was supposed to give Seattle a month before, but had to cancel after receiving dozens of death threats after a Fox News slander campaign.

“We will not win just because we believe that our side is right,” Taylor told the rapt crowd. “We have to know what it is we are fighting for, and we have to openly debate and strategize our way forward. And most of all, we have to be involved in protests and demonstrations and building social movements to win concessions from the political and economic establishment.”

Taylor was a participant in another highlight for many Socialism attendees–two sessions honoring the 40th anniversary of the Combahee River Collective, an organization of Black women that broke new ground in the struggle against oppression.

Two members of the collective, Barbara Smith and Demita Frazier, gave their own accounts of the experience, and authors such as Sharon Smith and Barbara Ransby, who have been inspired by the Combahee collective, joined them onstage.

Of course, there was one revolutionary anniversary that was at the forefront of everyone’s minds–this is the centennial year of the Russian Revolution of 1917. There were close to a dozen sessions specifically devoted to the revolution, though its history ran through many more.

That’s a fitting tribute to the continuing relevance of the revolution, as Elizabeth Terzakis explained in an inspiring presentation at the final plenary session of the conference.

“The Russian Revolution is crucial for us to study because it shows us the working class in movement,” Terzakis said, “so that we can see what it is, what it is capable of and why it is the only force with both the desire and the positioning to not only achieve self-emancipation but to liberate all of humanity in the process.”

Socialism couldn’t forget another lesser-known anniversary: This year, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), a co-sponsor of Socialism, turned 40 years young. Paul D’Amato, editor of the International Socialist Review, packed his session on the history and politics of the ISO full of insights on how socialists organize.

In fact, Socialism 2017 was the latest in a series of summer educational events that the ISO has been sponsoring since the very first of those 40 years, as Bill Roberts, a founding member of the ISO, remembered:

In the early days, our summer schools were at church camps. For the first one in 1977–in Germantown, Ohio, at a Methodist camp–we had maybe 100 or 150 people. From then on, through the 1980s, we might get up to 300 people.

But when you get 2,000 people this year, it’s a different feeling. In the earlier days, we were hanging onto the ideas with small groups of people. We had great events, and they kept people going. But I think this gives you an idea that there’s something else bigger than us.

More than a few attendees this year were coming back to the annual conference for the first time in some years.

Keith Danner, from Southern California, had the same reaction as pretty much everyone who attended a previous Socialism: “It’s so much bigger.”

But Danner also reflected on some of the qualitative differences–for example, the participation of more people of color and an intense focus on the anti-racist struggle. “And,” he said, “you can see the reflection of the struggle for trans rights in a way that was never here before.”

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ONE REASON for the larger size of the Socialism conference was expanding participation from around the U.S. left. Jacobin magazine was a co-sponsor this year, coordinating a series of meetings. A number of Democratic Socialists of America members made the trip to Chicago for the four days.

As always, there was an impressive array of international speakers to bring a global perspective to the discussions. Author Neil Davidson communicated the excitement of left-wing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s triumphant showing in the June election in the UK. Two members of Greece’s Internationalist Workers Left provided updates on the struggle that rattled Europe’s bosses a few years ago.

Meanwhile, Haymarket Books–a project of Socialism sponsor, the Center for Economic Research and Social Change–brought a semi trailer’s worth of books for conference participants to covet and take home. The top seller this year was Haymarket’s first title to crack the New York Times best-seller list: Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need.

Every aspect of the project of building a bigger, broader and better left was on display at Socialism. The socialist left in the U.S. has made advances in the past year and a half, but we need to make more, and we need more people to do it. “You say you’re not a joiner?” said ISR associate editor Ahmed Shawki at one plenary session. “Too bad–become one.”

That session on “Build the Left, Fight the Right: Why We Need a Socialist Alternative”–with a huge audience packed into a room the size of a football field–set out the high stakes of the struggle in the Trump era, but also the hope for an alternative. Jen Roesch of the ISO brought the electrifying meeting to a close with a call to take action:

Let’s be clear: We need a real alternative. We need fights over any number of pressing issues…We need to fight anywhere and everywhere that our side faces attacks. But Naomi Klein is right: No is not enough…

Such an alternative is not measured in election cycles, and neither is the social devastation, the economic immiseration, the attempt to strip ordinary people of their basic dignity. This long pre-dates Trump–it even predates the latest round of crisis that began in 2008. These are built into the system of capitalism itself and any alternative has to address itself to that fact.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/07/12/why-socialism-was-a-big-deal

Ohio politician proposes letting overdose victims die

The policy of “social murder” behind the US health care debate

By Barry Grey
5 July 2017

At a June 20 meeting of the Middletown, Ohio City Council, Dan Picard, a council member, offered a novel proposal to contain surging costs associated with a worsening epidemic of opioid overdoses in the town. Like cities across the United States, this southwestern Ohio town of some 49,000 people is being ravaged by the explosive spread of drug addiction linked to opioid pain killers. This year it has already recorded nearly 600 overdoses, more than in all of 2016.

Picard, who is not planning to run for reelection, proposed that the City Council adopt a “three strikes” policy, under which those who make use of emergency services two times to deal with an overdose will be denied help the third time. As he told the Washington Post, “When we get a call, the [emergency services] dispatcher will ask who is the person who has overdosed. And if it’s someone who has already been provided services twice, we’ll advise them that we’re not going to provide further services—and we will not send out an ambulance.”

Defending his proposal, Picard said, “I want to send a message to the world that you don’t want to come to Middletown to overdose… We need to put a fear about overdosing in Middletown.”

This call for what amounts to state-sanctioned murder evoked an angry response from the public in Middletown and wherever else people became aware of it. Numerous health care organizations and advocacy groups involved in dealing with the drug abuse epidemic denounced Picard and his proposal.

Alexis Pleus, the founder of Truth Pharm, a nonprofit that seeks to raise awareness of the issues surrounding substance abuse, did not mince words in an open letter to Picard: “To suggest that you withhold emergency medical response to overdose patients is manslaughter at best and premeditated murder at worst.”

Most of the American population, however, never learned of the incident. This is because the establishment media, fixated on its campaign against Russia and saber-rattling against North Korea, China, Iran and Syria, along with the political warfare in Washington between the Trump administration and its ruling class opponents, did not widely report the story.

There are other political reasons for the downplaying of the story by the corporate-controlled media. Picard’s brazen suggestion that drug abuse victims be allowed to die comes uncomfortably close to lifting the lid on a basic policy question underlying the current official debate on health care “reform.”

Behind the proposals in the Republicans’ bills to cut costs and boost profits by gutting Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor, and lifting the current requirement that insurance companies cover certain “essential benefits,” lies a deliberate and calculated effort to reduce life expectancy for working people overall and send many of the old, infirm and mentally or socially disabled to an early grave.

The effort, moreover, is bipartisan. The Democrats are pleading for negotiations on a “compromise” bill to “fix” Obamacare, a euphemism for incorporating the demands of the insurance monopolies for even higher premiums, copays and deductibles and fewer restrictions on their ability to gouge the public. Obamacare itself is a mechanism for cutting costs for corporations and the government, weakening the system of employer-provided health insurance and rationing access to health care on a more openly class basis. The Republican plans build on Obamacare to accelerate the health care counterrevolution it initiated.

The corporations, banks and hedge funds that are pushing health care “reform” and the politicians and policy experts who are doing their bidding are well aware that many thousands will die needlessly as a result of the measures being proposed. Medicaid, slated to be cut under the Republican bills by some $800 billion over ten years and terminated as an open-ended entitlement program with guaranteed benefits, provides about 80 percent of funding to treat drug abuse, which overwhelmingly affects working class and poor people.

In 2015, some 1.35 million low-income Americans had an opioid use disorder. As it is, only 25 percent of those people get treated in a year.

Last year some 60,000 people in the US died from drug overdoses, 60 percent of them from opioids. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. There is no starker barometer of the failure of the capitalist system and the descent of broad masses of the population into conditions of desperate social crisis.

Of the 22 million people who will lose medical coverage under the Senate health care bill, Medicaid cuts will account for 15 million of them. Moreover, both the House and Senate bills allow insurance companies to drop coverage of care for mental health and substance abuse, among other basic services.

Can there be any doubt that many will die as a result of these cuts? Lynn Cooper, director of the Drug and Alcohol Division at Pennsylvania’s Rehabilitation and Community Providers Association, told National Public Radio last month: “It is a death epidemic all over the country. The loss of Medicaid expansion will be like the bottom dropping out for thousands of Pennsylvania citizens and their families.”

The impact is so self-evident, and public opposition so pervasive, that government officials are obliged to resort to the most brazen lying when defending their proposals. Typical was the performance of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, a notorious and longstanding opponent of basic social program such as Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, in an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. Of the Republican plan to dismantle Medicaid, he said, “We want to make certain that Medicaid is a program that can survive.”

While claiming to be committed to addressing the opioid epidemic, he declared, “We don’t need to be throwing money” at the crisis.

Ruling class strategists speak more frankly on specialized think tank web sites meant for corporate and state officials and their academic advisers. In 2013, the WSWS drew attention to two policy papers published by the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) on the negative consequences for American imperialism and the national security apparatus of lengthening life spans for ordinary people resulting from advances in medical science and treatment and government health programs.

As the CSIS experts explained, the human and social achievement of better health and longer life for many millions of Americans spells disaster for the American ruling class and the capitalist system. The authors of the studies insisted that action had to be taken to deal with the “crisis,” including increasing the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security to force the “young elderly,” those aged 60-69, to forgo retirement and keep working.

One of the papers, titled “The Budget Crisis and the Civil-Military Challenge to National Security Spending,” was written by Anthony H. Cordesman, a longtime CSIS strategist who acts as a consultant for the US State and Defense departments. Denouncing the siphoning of money away from the military to pay for medical care for the elderly, Cordesman wrote, “The US does not face any foreign threat as serious as its failure to come to grips with… the rise in the cost of entitlement spending.”

Behind such discussion papers are systematic studies and actuarial tables calculating the likely effectiveness in shortening life expectancy for workers—a process that is already underway—of various proposals to “reform” the health care system.

In his immortal 1845 work The Condition of the Working Class in England, Friedrich Engels accurately characterized as “social murder” the horrific conditions imposed on workers by the capitalist class, which “placed hundreds of proletarians in such as position that they inevitably meet a too early and unnatural death…”

The present crisis-ridden and bankrupt state of American and world capitalism is once again bringing to the fore the incompatibility of the profit system and the rule of a financial aristocracy with the satisfaction of human needs such as health and longevity. The health care counterrevolution in the US is a case of “social murder” at the hands of the capitalist class.

 

WSWS

The emerging class struggle over health care in the US

29 June 2017

Following the announcement on Tuesday that the Republicans would be putting off a Senate vote on their health care bill until after the July 4 congressional recess, the Democrats and Republicans continued their stage-managed debate over measures that will have devastating consequences for millions of Americans.

The media’s presentation of a bitter feud over the direction of health care policy is a political fiction. The newspapers and television networks report on the statements of one or another lawmaker and his or her attitude to the plan recently unveiled by Senate Republicans as if this will have any real impact on the trajectory of ruling class policy.

The more decisive verdict was delivered on Tuesday by Wall Street, which saw its biggest one-day drop in six weeks after Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put off a Senate vote this week. The message was clear: the corporate and financial elite wants its money, and it wants it now. The health care measure includes a $700 billion tax cut for the rich—a down payment on the money to be freed up by depriving the elderly and poor of their health and even their lives.

The American ruling class is engaged in a form of social arson no less criminal or deadly than the policies that led to the Grenfell Tower fire in London.

McConnell responded on Wednesday by promising that a new version of the bill will be ready by Friday for a vote sometime in July.

Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senate Minority Leader from New York, reacted to the summons of the market by reiterating his call for a “bipartisan” solution, a mantra repeated by virtually all congressional Democrats. “Democrats are genuinely interested in finding a place where our two parties can come together on health care,” Schumer said. That Schumer gets more campaign money from the hedge funds and banks than any other senator, Democratic or Republican, is sufficient to demonstrate what type of child will issue from such a union.

Schumer did not comment on the apparent contradiction between his claims to be fundamentally opposed to the Republican plan and his calls for a bipartisan compromise. His position exposes the fact that the two sides share a basic agenda.

The Democrats assert that they want to “fix” Obamacare. What does this mean? They are not talking about expanding coverage to include the 28 million still without insurance under the Democratic plan, or increasing the inadequate subsidies, decreasing absurdly high deductibles and copays, and preventing the insurance companies from raising premiums. “Fixing” Obamacare is a euphemism for incorporating the demands of the insurance industry for even fewer restraints on their profit-making and tighter eligibility requirements for consumers.

The public has seen this type of political theater countless times, and the outcome has invariably been the same. The Republicans set the marker as far to the right as possible and the Democratic “opposition” results in a deal to impose new and more drastic cuts to health care and other social programs. The most significant and fraudulent of these dog-and-pony shows was the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, itself.

The Republican proposal is not in fact a “repeal” of Obamacare. It incorporates the structures set up by the Democratic measure, such as the exchanges for purchasing policies from private insurers, designed to more fully subordinate the health care system to the capitalist market and encourage the demise of employer-sponsored health coverage, placing individual workers even more at the mercy of the insurance giants.

The central purpose of Obamacare is to shift costs from corporations and the state to the working class, with health care increasingly rationed on a class basis.

The so-called “health insurance” that many people now have under Obamacare is, in effect, a transfer of funds to the giant insurance companies. Deductibles for lower-priced “bronze” plans now average more than $6,000 for an individual and more than $12,000 for a family. Deductibles for so-called “silver” plans (which make up 70 percent of the market) are on average more than $3,000 for individuals. In other words, after paying hundreds of dollars a month for health insurance, workers must pay thousands more before they begin to receive any benefits.

Corporations have been systematically cutting or eliminating coverage, encouraged by Obamacare’s coming tax on more “generous” employer-provided health care plans. More than 80 percent of employer-based plans now have an annual deductible ($1,478 on average, up 2.5 times since 2006). In countless contract disputes throughout the country, health care cuts are a central demand of the companies, invariably accepted and forced through by the trade unions.

The subsidized purchase of private insurance under Obamacare has created the framework—a voucher system—for dismantling what remains of government-provided health care. The American ruling class is setting its sights on the bedrock health care programs of the late 1960s—first Medicaid, the already grossly underfunded state-federal health insurance program for the poor, which will be effectively dismantled by the Republican bill, then Medicare, the health care program for the elderly. Behind these health care programs lies Social Security, the federal pension program wrenched from the ruling class through the explosive class struggles of the 1930s.

The hypocritical criticisms of the Republican plan by the Democrats and the various middle-class organizations that orbit the Democratic Party not only cover up for the reactionary character of Obamacare, they completely ignore the central issue: capitalism.

There is no solution to the massive health care crisis that does not take on the domination of health care by giant pharmaceutical and insurance companies, which operate under the ever-present whip of Wall Street and its demands for higher profits and dividends. These giant corporations must be expropriated and the wealth of the financial aristocracy seized to finance emergency measures to address the health care crisis and establish a system of universal health care, guaranteed as a basic social right.

Whatever tactical differences the Democrats have with the Trump administration on health care are entirely subordinate to their basic objective: escalating US military aggression in the Middle East and internationally. The hysterical Democratic campaign over alleged Russian hacking and Trump collusion with Moscow has as its central aim forcing a shift in administration policy toward a more rapid and comprehensive expansion of the US war for regime-change in Syria and a more aggressive policy toward Russia.

But as the Democrats well know, military escalation abroad is inextricably bound up with the intensification of austerity and class war at home.

In asserting its right to health care, the working class cannot allow itself to be drawn behind any section of the political establishment. It must proceed with its own methods—those of class struggle. The health care counterrevolution is generating enormous opposition, which is beginning to emerge in innumerable forms. Millions confront conditions that spell death or disaster for themselves, their parents and their children.

As the WSWS wrote earlier this month, “The interaction of objective conditions of crisis, both within the United States and internationally, and the radicalization of mass social consciousness will find expression in the eruption of class struggle. The decades-long suppression of the class struggle by the trade union bureaucracy, the Democratic Party and the affluent sponsors of various forms of identity politics is coming to an end. The social counterrevolution of the ruling elites is about to encounter an upsurge of the American working class.”

Emerging struggles against all of the deplorable conditions of life under capitalism—the destruction of health care, declining wages, unemployment, brutal working conditions, the attack on public education, mass indebtedness, the witch-hunting of immigrants—must be brought together in a common political fight against the Trump administration and both big business parties, based on a socialist and internationalist program.

Joseph Kishore

WSWS

 

How Privatization Could Spell the End of Democracy

ECONOMY
Between Trump and tech, never before have so many powerful people been so intent on transforming government into a business.

Brands: Amazon, Yelp, Uber, Hillary
Photo Credit: Jewish Journal

It’s a hot day in New York City. You’re thirsty, but your water bottle is empty. So you walk into a store and place your bottle in a machine. You activate the machine with an app on your phone, and it fills your bottle with tap water. Now you are no longer thirsty.

This is the future envisioned by the founders of a startup called Reefill. If the premise sounds oddly familiar, that’s because it is: Reefill has reinvented the water fountain as a Bluetooth-enabled subscription service. Customers pay $1.99 a month for the privilege of using its machines, located at participating businesses around Manhattan.

Predictably, the company has already come in for its fair share of ridicule. In Slate, Henry Grabar called it “tap water in a suit”. But while Reefill is a particularly cartoonish example, its basic business model is a popular one within tech. The playbook is simple: take a public service and build a private, app-powered version of it.

he most obvious examples are Uber and Lyft, which aspire not merely to eliminate the taxi industry, but to replace public transportation. They’re slowly succeeding: municipalities around America are now subsidizing ride-hailing fares instead of running public buses. And earlier this year, Lyft began offering a fixed-route, flat-rate service called Lyft Shuttle in Chicago and San Francisco – an aggressive bid to poach more riders from public transit.

These companies wouldn’t have customers if better public alternatives existed. It can be hard to find a water fountain in Manhattan, and public transit in American cities ranges from mediocre to nonexistent. But solving these problems by ceding them to the private sector ensures that public services will continue to deteriorate until they disappear.

Decades of defunding and outsourcing have already pushed public services to the brink. Now, fortified with piles of investor cash and the smartphone, tech companies are trying to finish them off.

Proponents of privatization believe this is a good thing. For years, they have advanced the argument that business will always perform a given task better than government, whether it’s running buses or schools, supplying healthcare or housing. The public sector is sclerotic, wasteful and undisciplined by the profit motive. The private sector is dynamic, innovative and, above all, efficient.

This belief has become common sense in political life. It is widely shared by the country’s elite, and has guided much policymaking over the past several decades. But like most of our governing myths, it collapses on closer inspection.

No word is invoked more frequently or more fervently by apostles of privatization than efficiency. Yet this is a strange basis on which to build their case, given the fact that public services are often more efficient than private ones. Take healthcare. The United States has one of the least efficient systems on the planet: we spend more money on healthcare than anyone else, and in return we receive some of the worst health outcomes in the west. Not coincidentally, we also have the most privatized healthcare system in the advanced world. By contrast, the UK spends a fraction of what we do and achieves far better results. It also happens to provision healthcare as a public service. Somehow, the absence of the profit motive has not produced an epidemic of inefficiency in British healthcare. Meanwhile, we pay nearly $10,000 per capita and a staggering 17% of our GDP to achieve a life expectancy somewhere between that of Costa Rica and Cuba.

A profit-driven system doesn’t mean we get more for our money – it means someone gets to make more money off of us. The healthcare industry posts record profits and rewards its chief executives with the highest salaries in the country. It takes a peculiar frame of mind to see this arrangement as anything resembling efficient.

Attacking public services on the grounds of efficiency isn’t just incorrect, however – it’s beside the point. Decades of neoliberalism have corroded our capacity to think in non-economic terms. We’ve been taught that all fields of human life should be organized as markets, and that government should be run like a business. This ideology has found its perverse culmination in the figure of Donald Trump, a celebrity billionaire with no prior political experience who catapulted himself into the White House by invoking his expertise as an businessman. The premise of Trump’s campaign was that America didn’t need a president – it needed a CEO.

Nowhere is the neoliberal faith embodied by Trump more deeply felt than in Silicon Valley. Tech entrepreneurs work tirelessly to turn more of our lives into markets and devote enormous resources towards “disrupting” government by privatizing its functions. Perhaps this is why, despite Silicon Valley’s veneer of liberal cosmopolitanism, it has a certain affinity for the president. On Monday, Trump met with top executives from Apple, Amazon, Google and other major tech firms to explore how to “unleash the creativity of the private sector to provide citizen services”, in the words of Jared Kushner. Between Trump and tech, never before have so many powerful people been so intent on transforming government into a business.

But government isn’t a business; it’s a different kind of machine. At its worst, it can be repressive and corrupt and autocratic. At its best, it can be an invaluable tool for developing and sustaining a democratic society. Among other things, this includes ensuring that everyone receives the resources they need to exercise the freedoms on which democracy depends. When we privatize public services, we don’t just risk replacing them with less efficient alternatives – we risk damaging democracy itself.

If this seems like a stretch, that’s because pundits and politicians have spent decades defining the idea of democracy downwards. It has come to mean little more than holding elections every few years. But this is the absolute minimum of democracy’s meaning. Its Greek root translates to “rule of the people” – not rule by certain people, such as the rich (plutocracy) or the priests (theocracy), but by all people. Democracy describes a way of organizing society in which the whole of the people determine how society should be organized.

What does this have to do with buses or schools or hospitals or houses? In a democracy, everyone gets to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. But that’s impossible if people don’t have access to the goods they need to survive – if they’re hungry or homeless or sick. And the reality is that when goods are rationed by the market, fewer people have access to them. Markets are places of winners and losers. You don’t get what you need – you get what you can afford.

By contrast, public services offer a more equitable way to satisfy basic needs. By taking things off the market, government can democratize access to the resources that people rely on to lead reasonably dignified lives. Those resources can be offered cheap or free, funded by progressive taxation. They can also be managed by publicly accountable institutions led by elected officials, or subject to more direct mechanisms of popular control.

These ideas are considered wildly radical in American politics. Yet other places around the world have implemented them with great success. When Oxfam surveyed more than 100 countries, they discovered that public services significantly reduce economic inequality. They shrink the distance between rich and poor by lowering the cost of living. They empower working people by making their survival less dependent on their bosses and landlords and creditors. Perhaps most importantly, they entitle citizens to a share of society’s wealth and a say over how it’s used.

But where will the money come from? This is the perennial question, posed whenever someone suggests raising the welfare state above a whisper. Fortunately, it has a simple answer. The United States is the richest country in the history of the world. It is so rich, in fact, that its richest people can afford to pour billions of dollars into a company such as Uber, which loses billions of dollars each year, in the hopes of getting just a little bit richer. In the face of such extravagance, diverting a modest portion of the prosperity we produce in common toward services that benefit everyone shouldn’t be controversial. It’s a small price to pay for making democracy mean more than a hollow slogan, or a sick joke.

Concentration of poverty in New York City neighborhoods on the rise

By Philip Guelpa
27 June 2017

Despite being elected on a campaign slogan invoking “Tale of Two Cities,” pledging to fight the extreme economic inequality in New York City, the mayoralty of self-styled progressive Democrat Bill de Blasio has presided over a marked increase in poverty and a continuing rise in the cost of housing. Far from lessening the divide between the two “cities,” which has been growing for decades, the segregation, both economic and geographic, between the city’s wealthy elite and the working class, has only intensified.

The rate of poverty and the concentration of poor people living in impoverished neighborhoods in New York City have both risen dramatically in recent years. These are the findings of a newly released study by the Furman Center at New York University— State of New York Citys Housing and Neighborhoods in 2016. During the period from 2011 to 2015, 1.7 million city residents were classified as living below the official poverty line, set at the absurdly low level of $24,036 annually for a family of four. This represents 20.6 percent of the population, up from 19.1 percent in the 2006-2010 time span. Other, more realistic studies have shown that nearly two thirds of the city’s population suffer from some form of economic distress. Thirty percent of the city’s children are officially poor.

The gap between rich and poor continues to widen. The percentages of New Yorkers at the upper and lower ends of the income range grew, while those in the middle shrank. Between 2000 and 2015, households earning less than $40,000 per year increased by nearly three percentage points; those earning more than $100,000 grew by about one percentage point, but the ones in between shrank from 36 to 33 percent. Clearly, those in the middle are predominantly falling into poverty.

According to the Furman Center study, the geographic concentration of people living in areas of extreme poverty, neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of the residents are officially classified as poor, had fallen somewhat since 2000, when it was 25.4 percent, to 19.4 percent in 2006-2010. This increased markedly, to 23.5 percent, from 2011 through 2015—a period of supposed recovery from the financial meltdown of 2008-2009. These are only the most acute examples. Nearly 45 percent of the city’s population live in areas of either high or extreme poverty (30-40 percent of the residents below the poverty line, respectively). Neighborhoods encompassing 16.5 percent of the city’s population, 1.4 million people, experienced a 10 percent increase in the rate of poverty, the study found.

Living conditions in these poor neighborhoods are appalling. In extreme poverty areas, serious housing code violations were registered at five times the city average and the employment rate was 20 percentage points lower.

Of the five New York City boroughs, the Bronx has the highest percentage of neighborhoods experiencing high or extreme poverty—52.6 percent.

One of the processes driving the increase in poverty is revealed by the report’s finding that the employment rate for the city as a whole increased by 2.4 percentage points between 2005 and 2015. Thus, while a slightly higher percentage of the population is working, the real value of their income is decreasing.

The Furman Center also found that as poverty is increasing, rents are continuing to climb, creating unbearable living conditions for a large portion of the city’s population. These are related phenomena. As the overall cost of housing continues to rise, relatively better off people are forced to move to poorer neighborhoods in search of more affordable rents. This, in turn, prompts landlords to raise rents in those areas, impacting existing low-income residents.

As an example, the study describes the case of East Harlem, a predominantly working class neighborhood in northern Manhattan. In 2000, the poverty rate was 37.1 of the population. It is now 37.5—again based on the absurdly low official poverty line. However, the number of residents with annual incomes of more than $100,000 has risen by more than 4 percent. Thus, while the overall percentage of people living in poverty is increasing, the economic spread between rich and poor is widening.

Simultaneously, rents in East Harlem are increasing at a rapid rate, with the monthly median rising $120 between 2015 and 2016 alone, putting extreme pressure on the already economically stressed residents.

Citywide, between 2005 and 2015, median gross rent increased 18.3 percent, while median household income for renters increased just 6.6 percent.

The acute lack of affordable housing is driving large numbers of people onto the streets. Between 2006 and 2016, the number of city residents spending the night in homeless shelters increased by 87 percent, to about 61,000.

The situation is not new, but is becoming ever more severe. Despite fluctuations, the general trend of increasing poverty and lack of affordable housing has been continuing for decades, but has accelerated in recent years as the global economic crisis intensifies.

The extreme economic inequality that exists in New York City is starkly illustrated by the fact that while nearly two thirds of the population experience some form of economic distress, with over a third living in deep poverty, New York has the second highest GDP of all cities in the world. And yet, despite this huge amount of wealth that could be used to address the crises of poverty and lack of affordable housing, the living conditions for the city’s working class continue to deteriorate.

These statistics and many more presented in the Furman Center report starkly illustrate the utter failure to address the huge economic disparity between the city’s rich and poor by both Republican and Democratic administrations. The two parties, regardless of who lives in Gracie Mansion (the official mayoral residence) or who controls the City Council, are the representatives of the city’s financial and corporate elite.

All of the myriad programs that have over the years been presented allegedly to combat poverty, the lack of affordable housing, and resulting homelessness have been predicated on the need to maximize the wealth of the ruling elite. These programs have utterly failed to improve the former, while definitely facilitating the latter. Indeed, conditions for the mass of the population have only gotten worse.

In just one of many examples, there was a sharp decline in the issuance of permits for construction of new housing units in 2016, following the failure to renew the 421-a tax incentive program. That program, while greatly benefiting developers and large landlords, had done nothing to reduce the critical lack of affordable housing.

The working class of New York is rapidly approaching the breaking point. Mass revolt against increasingly unlivable conditions may erupt at any time. The anger and frustration find no expression within the present political establishment. What is required is the building of a party that fights for a socialist program to expropriate the vast wealth of the city’s elite and employ it to benefit the great majority of the population.

WSWS

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Hey Bernie! Welcome to the millionaire’s club!

By Tom Hall
13 June 2017

Personal finance disclosure forms submitted by Bernie Sanders, and widely reported in the media, reveal that Sanders’ income was more than $1 million last year. This figure includes both his $174,000 annual salary as a senator and $858,750 from book royalties, including a nearly $800,000 advance for a book, Our Revolution, about his 2016 presidential primary campaign.

The threshold for the wealthiest 1 percent by annual income in the United States is $389,436, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Sanders’ income would put him somewhere in the top one-fifth of one percent, according to US Census data.

The wealth of the average US senator and representative has skyrocketed in recent years, earning Congress a reputation as a “millionaire’s club.” In 2014, the average personal wealth across both houses of Congress surpassed $1 million for the first time in history, with the median net worth of the Senate surging from $2.5 to $2.7 million.

However, few members of Congress are able to amass as much wealth in a single year as Bernie Sanders did last year. Opensecrets.org shows that Sanders’ book royalties alone would been the third-highest outside income in the Senate in 2014, the last year for which the site has figures. At $1.2 million, first place that year went to fellow “progressive” Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who parlayed her brief tenure as a rubber-stamp banking regulator during Obama’s first term into a Senate seat.

We at the WSWS would like to tell Sanders: welcome to the millionaire’s club!

Opensecrets.org’s records show that, for years, you have been forced to subsist on income levels at or around the threshold of the top 1 percent, in the low-to-mid six figures. This, no doubt, is what you had in mind during a primary debate last year when you described yourself as “one of the poorer members of the United States Senate.”

But 2016 was a turning point in your career. The $1 million payday you received last year is payment for services rendered during your intervention in last year’s Democratic primaries. Your fraudulent claims to be leading a “political revolution” against the “billionaire class” were designed to corral popular anger and promote illusions in the Democratic Party, one of the two parties of the American corporate-financial aristocracy, as a party representing the interests of working people.

And while you attracted considerable interest from left-leaning workers and young people with your false claims to be a socialist, you rejected basic socialist measures such as the nationalization of key industries, endorsed American imperialism’s wars of conquest, and defended a truculent nationalism which pitted American workers against their brothers and sisters internationally.

Your intervention was all the more crucial as the Democratic Party was preparing to nominate Hillary Clinton, who was widely and deservedly hated as a stooge of Wall Street and the military. You threw your support to her in the Democratic National Convention and presented her candidacy as a continuation of your so-called “political revolution.” You declared that electing Clinton was an urgent necessity to defeat Trump, in spite of the fact that her pro-war, anti-working class agenda was no less reactionary than Trump’s.

But your work was not yet done. When this produced a debacle for the Democrats in the November election, you were elevated to a more responsible position within the Democratic political hierarchy, working closely with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, whose election campaigns have received tens of millions of dollars in funding from Wall Street. You crossed the country stumping for Democrats with the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee, former Obama cabinet member Tom Perez.

You have even emerged as a de facto leader of a wing of the Democratic Party concerned that the party’s focus on the right-wing campaign over Russia against Trump at the expense of posturing over social issues could open the door to the emergence of a mass popular movement outside the control of the Democrats, a potential threat to capitalism. Nevertheless, you have supported the Democrats’ unsubstantiated accusations of Russian collusion with Trump, which are designed to force a confrontation with the world’s second largest nuclear power.

In your campaign to corral social opposition behind the Democrats, you have received the crucial aid of the middle class, pseudo-left organizations which function as satellites of the Democratic Party. They all presented as good coin your calls for a “political revolution” and either endorsed your candidacy, as in the case of Socialist Alternative and the Democratic Socialists of America, or, like the International Socialist Organization, issued mildly worded tactical criticisms of your decision to run as a Democrat rather than continuing the charade of running statewide in Vermont as an “independent.” As with your own campaign, their goal was to prevent the emergence of a genuine socialist movement within the working class capable of challenging American capitalism. Many of them made the trek to Chicago this weekend to hear you speak at the People’s Summit, an annual gathering of what passes for the Democratic Party’s “left.”

The pseudo-left is also being handsomely rewarded for their services to capitalism. Last year, the Ford Foundation announced that it was donating $100 million to Black Lives Matter; it has since cashed in through such investments as a “black debit card” and other projects promoting black capitalism.

Last year’s million, you have reason to hope, will be the first of many. Given the explosive character of the political and economic conditions in the United States, and the broad hostility workers feel towards both the Trump administration and his Democratic opponents, the ruling class will very likely continue to value your political services.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/13/sand-j13.html

The Great Unraveling: The crisis of the post-war geopolitical order

2 June 2017

Less than a week after US President Donald Trump returned to the United States from his overseas tour of the Middle East and Europe, it is clear that a shift in world politics with vast implications is underway. Global relationships and institutions that for decades set the framework for international economy and public life are rapidly unraveling.

The rising threat of trade war and the resurgence of the military ambitions of all the imperialist powers are signs of the advanced state of collapse of the international institutions created after the United States emerged from World War II as the dominant imperialist power.

This collapse is the product of processes that have matured over decades. In 1991, when the Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union deprived the NATO alliance of a common enemy, tensions between the imperialist powers were already surging. As US strategists declared a “unipolar moment,” in which the disappearance of the Soviet Union eliminated any immediate military rival, they aimed to use this military advantage to counterbalance the declining economic position of the United States.

A 1992 Pentagon strategy paper asserted that Washington had to convince “potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture,” and to “discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political and economic order.”

A quarter century later, this policy has failed. It led to a series of imperialist wars and interventions by the NATO powers, led by the United States, that shattered Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and other countries. While costing millions of lives, destroying entire societies, and creating the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, these acts of militarism have produced debacles and failed to reverse US imperialism’s fortunes. Now, a new stage of the crisis has been reached: The United States’ imperialist rivals are preparing direct, far-reaching challenges to US imperialism’s global primacy.

Trump’s attempts at the G7 and NATO summits to secure better economic terms for the United States from Europe have backfired. He had blamed the Europeans for “not paying what they should be paying” for military spending in the NATO alliance, and denounced Germany as “terrible,” adding, “We will stop” German car exports to the US. Europe’s response was not sympathy and financial aid, however, but a series of actions indicating that the continental European powers are preparing for a political and military break with America.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking at a Munich beer tent rally Sunday, referred to both Trump’s performance at the summits and Britain’s vote to exit the European Union (EU): “The times when we could fully rely on others are to some extent over—I experienced that in the last few days. We Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands.” Going forward, she added, “we have to fight for our own future ourselves.”

Events in Europe over the past week confirmed that Merkel’s statement reflected a deep crisis in the NATO military alliance founded in 1949 between America and Europe. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel declared that under Trump, Washington had cast itself outside the “Western community of values.” He added that this signaled “a shift in global power relations.”

Then newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron, a close ally of Berlin, invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to a high-profile summit at Versailles. Standing next to Putin in a joint press conference, Macron criticized all the main US-EU foreign interventions in recent years. He called for an end to the conflict in Ukraine provoked by the 2014 US- and German-backed coup in Kiev, called for closer economic and intelligence cooperation with Russia and even floated the possibility of re-opening France’s embassy in Damascus, Syria.

Also this week, a new EU military headquarters in Brussels went into operation. Britain, which had blocked it in line with US fears that the EU would become a rival to NATO, could no longer veto it due to its exit from the EU.

Among US foreign policy strategists, it is widely acknowledged that these events mark a historic setback for Washington. “Every American administration since 1945 has tried to work closely with Germany and NATO,” Jacob Heilbrunn wrote in The National Interest, but America under Trump is “pushing Merkel to create a German superpower.”

Heilbrunn added, “Now that France has elected Emanuel Macron president, Merkel is moving to fashion a Franco-German axis that will pursue a common economic and military path. This will signal a significant diminution in American prestige and influence abroad. Imagine, for example, that Merkel decided to defy Trump’s push for sanctions and isolating Iran by establishing trade ties with North Korea, including selling it weapons.”

These tensions are not simply the product of the extreme nationalist policies of the current occupant of the White House, however. Indeed, as the Democratic Party relentlessly demonizes Russia and accuses it of subverting American democracy, it is ever clearer that a victory of Hillary Clinton in last year’s US presidential election would not have resolved the conflicts with Europe. Rather, the tensions are rooted in deep contradictions between the interests of the major imperialist powers, which twice in the last century led to world war.

This is underscored by the escalating rivalries between the imperialist powers in Asia. Last month, as China inaugurated its so-called Belt and Road Initiative—designed to build a web of energy and transport infrastructure integrating China, the Middle East, and Europe—Washington was reduced to a role on the sidelines, as China and the EU developed their ties. The response of Japan and India, Washington’s allies in its “pivot to Asia” aimed at isolating China, is not, however, fundamentally friendlier to US imperialist interests than that of the EU powers.

Last week, Tokyo and New Delhi released a “vision document” for an “Asia Africa Growth Corridor,” aiming to present an alternative to China’s Belt and Road that would develop India as a production-chain hub and military counterweight to China. The goal of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his supporters in the ultra-nationalist Nippon Kaigi organization is not only to outstrip China, but also to rearm Japan and supplant America as Asia’s dominant power.

Abe, whose government is pushing aggressively for the elimination of the constitutional ban on Japanese overseas wars imposed after its defeat in World War II, has repeatedly declared that an Indo-Japanese alliance has “the most potential” of any “in the world.”

The events surrounding Trump’s trip to Europe reflect a crisis not only of American imperialism, but of the entire world capitalist system. None of Washington’s rivals—neither the EU, despised at home for its austerity policies, nor the economically moribund, right-wing regime in Japan, nor the post-Maoist capitalist oligarchy in China—offer a progressive alternative.

Anyone who asserted that a coalition of these powers will emerge to stabilize world capitalism, and block the emergence of large-scale trade war and military conflict, would be placing heavy bets against history. As Trump demands trade war against Germany, Berlin and Tokyo re-militarize their foreign policy, and a new French president comes to power who supports restoring the draft, everything indicates that the ruling elites are tobogganing eyes closed towards a new global conflagration on the same—or an even greater—scale as the world wars of the last century.

The force that will emerge as the alternative to the collapse of bourgeois politics is the international working class. It is being driven into action by intolerable conditions of life, mass unemployment, and social misery after decades of austerity and war. And as corporations like Amazon and Apple, with vast workforces spread over dozens of countries, predominate in a globalized world economy, the working class is increasingly conscious of its character as an international class, whose interests are fundamentally separate and opposed to those of the financial aristocracies that rule in every country.

The collapse of international capitalist relations goes hand in hand with the discrediting of the various social democratic and liberal parties and trade union bureaucracies that emerged to contain the class struggle in the post-World War II era. The surprise vote for Brexit, the election of Trump and the disintegration of France’s two-party system in the recent presidential election testify to the collapse of the old ruling establishments. A global eruption of the class struggle is being prepared.

The crisis that has emerged has vindicated the International Committee of the Fourth International’s (ICFI) insistence that the Stalinists’ dissolution of the Soviet Union did not signify the end of the struggle of the international working class for socialism. Capitalism had not overcome the fundamental conflicts identified by the great Marxists of the 20th century—the contradictions between global economy and the nation-state system, and between socialized economic production and the private appropriation of profit—that led to war and to social revolution.

The way forward for the working class is revolutionary struggle on an internationalist and socialist program in the tradition of the October Revolution a century ago. Workers cannot support the militarist policies of any of the contending imperialist powers. The necessary response to the deepening crisis of global capitalism is the unification of the working class in struggle against imperialism through the building of a world socialist anti-war movement.

Alex Lantier

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/02/pers-j02.html