Remembering the Centennial of the German Revolution

Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg on a 1949 Stamp issued by the German Democratic Republic

By Ben M

(Remarks given at November General Meeting for the Boston Democratic Socialists of America)

This month we commemorate not just the ending of World War One, but also the revolution that brought about that peace. A week ago, the 11th, marked the centennial of the signing of the armistice that ended 4 and a half years of unmitigated carnage and destruction. Nearly 10 million soldiers died in the Great War, as well as millions more civilians, all essentially for nothing. There was no great cause, no great meaning to their sacrifice, just the callous interests of empires and capitalists re-carving the world. Trenches, bombing of civilians, mustard gas, tanks, genocide, and artillery barrages characterized this the great meat grinder that they thought to call the Great War. And those aforementioned capitalists and imperialists had every intention to continue the carnage till nothing remained of Europe but ruins if it weren’t for what Trotsky would call, “the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny.”1

Last year there was a lot of talk and discussion about the centennial of the Russian Revolution, we here in Boston DSA had some reading groups and discussions ourselves. One of the many features of that event was it took a revolution, technically two revolutions, to pull Russia out of World War One. Truth be told it wasn’t the best of exits, Soviet Russia would be made to suffer for its willingness to obtain peace at any price, but it set the stage.

For in all of the mainstream articles and talk this past week about the centennial of the end of World War One, a particular fact is often absent. It wasn’t the diplomats, politicians, kings, presidents, emperors, generals, admirals, or well-meaning liberal journalists that finally ended the war. It was the soldiers, sailors, and workers of Germany who ended it by throwing down their weapons and refusing to die anymore for the Kaiser. In doing so, to quote Chris Harmen, “the Prussian monarchy had reigned for hundreds of years. It ruled the whole of Germany for half a century. Now it collapsed in a few short days and hardly a shot was fired in its defense.”2

So I am not going to give a quick play by play run down to the end of the Prussian Monarchy and World War One, and the start of the German Revolution 100 years ago this month:

In the weeks prior to the revolution, socialist and communist (technically the Independent Social-Democrats and the proto Spartacus League, respectively) had been agitating and even preparing for an uprising to bring to the end the war and empire. But it was at the German naval base in Kiel on November 3rd where 20,000 sailors refused to fight any longer for a pointless war that couldn’t be won. The German Navy, which had largely stayed out of the war till now with the exception of the U-Boats, decided it was time to go down fighting. Literally, the admiralty thought it was best to send the fleet out to certain death at this stage, going down in the blaze of glory, which, interestingly enough, would involve no admirals getting killed. The sailors thought this was a terrible idea and mutinied in the 10s of thousands.

The sailors and dock workers quickly formed elected councils of soldiers, sailors, and workers to plan the revolt. Socialists and Communist joined the movement. With the fear of reprisals, again they were all mutineers at this point, the only choice was to spread the revolt and by November 7th sailors were travelling along the railways freeing prisoners and recruiting more soldiers and workers to the cause.

The City of Bremen fell to the council of workers, sailors, and soldiers on the 9th, Kiel on the 7th, the provincial capital of Bavaria also on the 7th, City of Efrut on the 8th. To quote Pierre Broue, “The news from every part of Germany on the night of 8-9 November confirmed it: here the sailors and there the soldiers organized demonstrations, whilst workers came out on strike. Workers and soldiers councils were elected. The prisons were attacked and opened. The red flag, emblem of world revolution, floated over the public buildings.”3

On the November 9th revolution came to Berlin. To quote E.O Volkmann, “the day Marx and his friend desired all their lives had come at last. The Revolution was on the march in the capital of the empire. The firm tread, in step, of the workers battalions echoed in the streets.”4

Some army officers tried to organize resistance at the universities, libraries, and the Reichstag building, but they were all swept aside by the crowds without firing a shot.

At the Imperial Palace, now taken over by the crowd, Karl Liebknecht, the revolutionary socialist who was a parliament member but was sent to jail and then the front, spoke from the balcony to the crowd, proclaiming a German Socialist Republic. He said; “The rule of capitalism, which turned Europe into a cemetary, is henceforward broke. We now have to strain out strength to construct the workers and soldiers government and new proletarian state, a state of peace, joy, and freedom for our German brothers and our brothers throughout the whole world.”5

But at that same moment, just a 27-minute walk according to google maps away at the Reichstag building, the moderate and pro-war socialist Friedrich Ebert had just reluctantly proclaimed the “German Republic.” Not a socialist or workers republic, just a regular republic.

This contradiction, between the vision of a workers socialist republic, and a more moderate “normal” republic, would battle for the soul of Germany for the next five years through multiple mass strikes, aborted revolutions, attempted coups, and more. In the end it would culminate not with a republic of any form, but the rise of Nazi totalitarianism.

But that is a longer story. Regardless, on November 10th the Kaiser had already abdicated and was in exile in the Netherlands, on the 11th World War One was over. It took all of a week from the first mutiny to bring the whole war and the whole war making edifice down.

For those who want to read more on this subject I would suggest:

And with that I will give the last words to Rosa Luxemburg: “The great criminals of this fearful unchained chaos – the ruling classes – are not able to control their own creation. The beast of capital that conjured up the hell of the world war is incapable of banishing it, of restoring real order, of insuring bread and work, peace and civilization, justice and liberty, to tortured humanity. What is being prepared by the ruling classes as peace and justice is only a new work of brutal force from which the hydra of oppression, hatred and fresh bloody wars raises its thousand heads. Socialism alone is in a position to complete the great work of permanent peace, to heal the thousand wounds from which humanity is bleeding, to transform the plains of Europe, trampled down by the passage of the apocryphal horseman of war, into blossoming gardens, to awaken all the physical and moral energies of humanity, and to replace hatred and dissension with internal solidarity, harmony, and respect for every human being.”

What Socialists Can Learn from Community Lawyers

By Edward P

Thursday, Nov 8th, 2018, in a classroom at Harvard’s Wasserstein Hall, the Harvard chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG)1 hosted a “Law for the People” event on the Housing crisis gripping the Boston area. The panel speakers, all NLG members, were Jeff Feuer and Lee Goldstein of Goldstein & Feuer, and Nadine Cohen of Greater Boston Legal Services. Jeff and Lee are also both involved with City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU) and have provided legal workshops to CLVU members as well as legal services to tenants and activists.

The panel discussion seemed mostly pitched to law students. They discussed how one can make a career in providing community legal services and how legal education pushes people away from that path towards big law and government. The panelists all offered students at the event to do clinical work2 with them. However, there were a few points that were applicable in a broader context.

The Housing Crisis Disproportionately Affects Women

Jeff began his talk by breaking down the statistics of the housing crisis in Boston. Renters are the poorest and most racially diverse segment of Boston’s population. Over 40,000 renter households have incomes less than $32,000 a year — about half the area’s median income — and most of those household receive no state subsidies for their housing. Over half of such renting households are Black, Latinx, or Asian.This economic precarity puts poor renters at constant risk of displacement. And this burden falls doubly hard on women tenants according to Nadine.

Nadine pointed out that sex discrimination in housing has often been overlooked in US law. It took years, after laws prohibiting racial  discrimination, for Federal Housing discrimination laws to include sex as a protected class. Women are also more likely to be evicted than men –  women are evicted at 18% higher rates because they are less to likely to strike deals with the landlord, or because a landlord finds having children at a property undesirable, or because women as a class are paid less than men for the same work.

Sex discrimination also includes problems beyond refusals to rent. According to Nadine, one in ten poor women reported having a landlord or maintenance worker demand sex as a quid pro quo for rent relief or required maintenance on their rented units. Other women face sexual assault or harassment from landlords or other housing providers.

Being the victim of domestic violence can also lead to a woman’s eviction. While states like Massachusetts prohibit evictions because a tenant called police or other reported domestic violence, landlords often use police responses as a pretext to evict tenants regardless of the law.

Around the US, the housing crisis profoundly affects poor women as a group. Any work done around it needs to recognize that this crisis is largely a crisis affecting women.

Working in Contradictory Spaces

Lee opened his pitch for a career  in community law practice by discussing what he saw as the characteristics of community lawyering – being part of the community, aware of the context, having an agreement with the community, viewing works holistically, listening to clients, acting as a connection between the community and client, and encouraging non-lawyers to act as legal advocates. Lee noted that some of those are not so different from what one would be doing at a big law firm — simply substitute community for corporation. The difference, Lee said, was in three things:1) not being neutral, 2) developing a distinct legal persona, and 3) understanding you’re working in contradictions.

This point on contradictions was the most important. Lee talked about the law not being neutral. It’s part of the systems of social reproduction that perpetuate inequality and that have led to the current housing crisis. In order for it to be useful as a tool a social reproduction, the law sometimes has to deliver fair outcomes to people it would otherwise aid in disenfranchising. As an example, during his talk, Jeff pointed out that the US Supreme Court, in Lindsey v Normet, ruled that USians enjoy no right to housing.

So a lawyer, who is working towards broad social change, has to understand that working within a system of social reproduction existing in contradiction with attempting to dismantle that system. All of us, who are working towards broad social change, exist in that same kind of contradiction. Capitalism is an inescapable totalitarian system, and everyone’s lives are bound up in its system of reproduction.

However, people who are privileged by these system — not just lawyers, but tech workers, academics, media personalities, politicians — must reckon with the fundamental contradiction between how their skills interact with the system and the goal of changing the system when they attempt to use their skills for movement. Without this reckoning, we will inevitably end up reinforcing capitalist social reproduction rather than overturning it.

We Must Be Led By the Movement

The resolution to these contradictions, according to Jeff, was to allow yourself to be led by the movement and by putting your skills at the service of the community. The place for lawyers in the housing struggle is to give support where and when they are invited by a community.

Jeff and Lee’s relationship with CLVU largely follows this model. Lee discussed how it was important to use the law to help tenants stay in their homes by using any technicality to get evictions thrown out or to force a landlord to deal with maintenance issue. However, as Jeff talked about, winning the fight because a landlord or police officer didn’t fill out a form correctly might not be the point. You can have the most airtight, brilliant legal argument to help someone, a tenant or a person arrested in a direct action, but it may not address the goals of the movement.

Instead the appearance in court can be an opportunity to advance the movement’s points to get its belief and arguments out to the public. In that case your ego as lawyer — your desire to prove your legal mind or protect your winning record — must take a backseat to the needs of the movement. You have to put yourself fully in service to the people you’re working for.

Likewise, when you’re in a space where community are discussing how to respond to issues facing them, you, as a lawyer, may know some sound legal strategy that can help fix the issues, and you should share your expertise. However, it’s not your place to insist that your expertise gives you insight into the only solution to the problem. People working together for their community’s interests are capable of immense creatively. We shouldn’t narrow our possibilities based on our understand of capitalist systems.

This fits with our understanding of our tasks as socialists. As Huey P. Netwon put it in his 1968 interview with The Movement, our goal is “…a people’s revolution with the end goal being the people in power.” Socialism is the people in power — not lawyers, coders, politicians, or union bureaucrats. Those us of us that have the privilege of working within and understanding the various systems that support and reinforce capitalist rule cannot win socialism through use of those skills alone. We have to use those skills to serve the people, not to advance our own position in the movement.

Psychology for Socialists, Part 3: Know your enemy.

by Jonathan K

“Psychology for Socialists” is a multi-part series designed to introduce people to findings and theories in Psychology that are relevant to socialism and activism. The things I will be presenting aren’t exclusively relevant to those topics. In fact, they apply to almost every facet of our lives. What I will be doing is presenting them in relation to the work we do as socialists.

Let me start with a couple of disclaimers. The first disclaimer is that findings in psychology are (almost) never absolute. We can capture general patterns or describe the most likely behaviors or reactions, but there will always be exceptions. So, for everything I’m about to describe, remember that it doesn’t apply to everyone or every situation. The second disclaimer is that psychology is an imperfect science. One way Psychology is imperfect is that, like many sciences right now, it is struggling with a replicability crisis. The findings I will present will be ones I have confidence in, or I will be clear that they are still unsettled. However, even for the ones I have confidence in, the ideas behind them could be overturned at some point in the future.

In another sense Psychology is imperfect because, like many sciences, it has suffered from a lack of diverse perspectives, and more than other sciences it has suffered from a lack of diverse data. Many of the findings I will be discussing are based on studies of mostly upper-middle-class and mostly white college students, and conducted by mostly white researchers (though somewhat less overwhelmingly cis-male than other fields). In the last two decades the field has become more aware of this and made efforts to self-correct, but it will take some time for us to be confident that these findings apply to all of humanity.

In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I focused on ourselves and our organization, and how we could do our work better. Now I’m going to turn to less pleasant topics: Knowing the threats to our organization. The topics I’m going to cover are going to do double-duty. As it turns out, some of the psychological phenomena that are likely to tear our organization apart are closely related to the propaganda engines of the fascist right. The tools that fascists use to stoke fear, sow division, and demand obedience are taking advantage of aspects of the human mind that, without any malicious intent or really any control at all, can shatter friendships, schism organizations, and lead to types of toxic behavior we see in leftist organizations.

First, I’ll discuss intergroup conflict, which is definitely the greatest threat to DSA of any topic I’ve discussed in this series. Then I’ll discuss the strange phenomenon of “loss aversion”, and the dangers of authority and conformism. Each of these appears most obviously in fascist messaging and practice, but also has some relevance within DSA, mostly as lessons of what to avoid.

I. Intergroup conflict

Both historically and in the present, fascism depends deeply on defining an “other”, making it a feared enemy, and demanding obedience in order to destroy it. This should not be news to any of you. It also shouldn’t be surprising to many of you that much of DSA’s internal strife comes from the exact same features of the human mind.

Humanity is, for whatever reason, extremely good at breaking the world down into “us” and “them.” It seems to be a nearly universal tendency.

When this happens, the consequences are very predictable. You will treat “us”, in technical terms your “in-group”, very well. You will be more generous, more trusting, and generally think of in-group members more as individual people with thoughts, feelings, and diverse opinions. For someone in another group, an “out-group”, you will do pretty much the exact opposite: Giving less, being less sympathetic towards out-group members, and thinking of out-group members as being “all the same,”1 both in the form of stereotypes and ascribing the opinions or actions of one member of the group to the group as a whole.

The most extreme and visible form of these group effects is bigotry. However, notice that there are many different forms of bigotry that use completely different ways of defining in-groups and out-groups, some of which seem to be built on largely cultural constructs (for example: race, religion, national origin) rather than any kind of objective or intrinsic trait. This hints at the bigger problem: Humans can make in-groups and out-groups out of anything, no matter how trivial, and once those groups have formed any trivial disagreement can become a major conflict.

One of the classic demonstrations of this is Muzafer Sherif’s “Robbers Cave” experiment. This was an experiment conducted in 1950 with 20 white middle-class assumed-male 12-year-olds in the US. It took place at a summer camp named Robbers Cave. The children didn’t know each other, and before they arrived, they were randomly assigned to one of two groups, neither group knowing that the other even existed. The groups were allowed to pick their own names (they chose the “Eagles” and the “Rattlers”). For the first week, they did cooperative team-building exercises, and again, neither group knew that the other group existed. Then, in the second week, they were told that the other group existed, and the two groups were put into light competition with each other. Immediately, they started throwing insults (including some extremely racist language), fighting, raiding each others’ cabins, and basically putting on the best imitation of war that 20 twelve-year-old boys at a summer camp could produce. (The third week was spent breaking these groups down and trying to undo this hostility.)

The basic conclusion is that you can get all the behaviors of bigotry and hostility with any arbitrary grouping. Nobody has done a study exactly like this since Sherif (for a number of reasons), and because of the extremely narrow sample it’s more of a good example than a revolutionary insight into human nature, but psychologists have found similar effects pretty much everywhere in the world (though some studies report less out-group hostility in certain cultures). Even without the self-defined identity and cooperative team-building (which really strongly build up group identity), you can get versions of the same in-group/out-group effects just by giving people different color t-shirts. This is described as a “minimal group”, a grouping defined by exactly one completely arbitrary trait. Minimal groups still give you pretty strong in-group and out-group effects. If you want a quick summary of the entire literature, this comic pretty much nails it.

Fascist propaganda constantly exploits this feature of human nature. They actually use a kind of triple-whammy to make these effects terrifyingly strong. First, they clearly define an in-group and an out-group, from emphasizing white cis-male flag-waving “American” identity, to defining out-groups by whatever terms happen to be convenient for their purposes at the time (“blacks”, “illegals”, “the libs”). Second, they push the idea that the in-group is in competition with the out-group(s) (“stealing our jobs”, “threatening our way of life”). Third, they use the language of disgust. I could write a whole separate article on the dangers of disgust, but the short version is that disgust is an incredibly visceral and foundational human emotion that has moral weight. If something is disgusting people will treat it as immoral. However, with a few exceptions, what is disgusting varies between cultures2, and you can deliberately make something (or someone) disgusting without too much difficulty. Furthermore, if you want to bring about widespread hostility and even outright genocide, the fastest way to get people on board is to make the out-group disgusting. The Nazis famously described the Jews as being “smelly” or “dirty” in children’s books. Currently, in the US, you see the same language constantly leveled against marginalized racial, sexual, and economic groups from the right-wing media.

In organizations like DSA, these intergroup conflicts take a different form. First of all, people typically call it sectarianism. Second of all, everything else is exactly the same.

We define a lot of little in-groups in DSA, caucuses, working groups, etc. Most of the time it’s not an issue, but the moment there is even the tiniest amount of competition or disagreement that can be framed in terms of groups, things get ugly very quickly. This problem ties back to things that I discussed in my last article, most notably attribution and saving face. People are more likely to make dispositional attributions about out-groups (“that’s just how they are”).

Again, that only makes the problem worse: it’s much harder to assume good intentions in someone who is from an out-group, and easier to assume good intentions in someone who is in your in-group. In some cases this works in our favor. It’s how DSA as a whole holds together, at least in theory. But, when group identities within DSA come into play, and those identities become stronger than the broader group identity of being in DSA, we have trouble working together. You also save face on behalf of other members of your group, which can turn an individual disagreement or simply a mistake into a group-wide conflict.

Avoiding this kind of sectarian conflict isn’t easy. There’s a lot more that I could say about the intergroup conflicts that have arisen in Boston DSA alone over the last couple of years, but that’s a whole separate article unto itself. Even so, there are a few things we can do that will stop intergroup conflict from damaging our work.

One thing you may have noticed is that group identity is flexible and multi-faceted. Everyone belongs to many different groups at once. When it comes to group conflict, the issue is typically which of those group identities is highlighted at any given time. The effects of even a temporary group identity can be quite dramatic. Creating a minimal group with t-shirts can temporarily override racist biases, at least towards people wearing the same color of t-shirt. Marx and his successors understood this to a degree, highlighting the identity of the working class over and above any other group identity. In terms of how to counteract this aspect of right-wing propaganda, the approach is clear: make people conscious of their class identity, and who that class is really in competition with.

For conflicts within DSA, we have a convenient pre-made unifying group in DSA itself. Highlighting our shared membership and shared goals over other labels will support more respectful discussion and productive interactions. To be clear, I don’t think we need to disband the caucuses, and I do think they serve a positive purpose for their own members. That said, we must be extremely vigilant that we avoid framing any discussion as pitting one group against another.

Our best defense against this is to think of each other as comrades first and above all. It sounds cheesy, but it’s simply the truth. If you think about people in terms of their caucus or their working group or some other subdivision in DSA, you will be more likely to think of them as an individual, and not treat them as an “other.” Conversely, when you go to present ideas that are your own ideas, make clear that you are presenting them as an individual rather than as a member of any group to which you belong. If a disclaimer is not provided, we should make a habit of asking whether something is an individual position or a group or caucus position. There is nothing to be gained from ambiguity, and people will assume hostility given the chance.

II. Loss aversion

Exactly one psychologist has ever won a Nobel Memorial Prize, and his name is Daniel Kahneman. He won the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics for a simple insight that mainstream economists found revolutionary: People are irrational, and they are irrational in predictable and quantifiable ways.

One of the phenomena that Kahneman discovered is called “loss aversion”, and it is brutally simple: say someone offers you a mug for sale, and asks you to estimate what you’d pay for it. Let’s say $3.50. Then, later, someone gives you a mug, you own it, it is yours. Now someone asks how much they would have to pay you for you to give them that mug. Most people will say about $7.

That’s loss aversion in its simplest form: You value something roughly twice as much if you think of it as yours. That’s without changing anything about what the thing is, what it can do, how it looks, whatever. As soon as you think of it as belonging to you, you value it more. It is a deeply irrational bias.

Loss aversion shows up in all kinds of interesting forms. People will take bigger risks to acquire something than they will to risk losing it. There’s an intuitive way to think about this: You might be willing to buy a lottery ticket with a one in millions chance of giving you a billion dollars, but if you had a billion dollars, you’d never take a risk on something that had a one in millions chance of letting you keep it. That’s an extreme example, but the basic idea works anywhere. The entire idea of “opportunity cost,” the price of not doing something, is an attempt to employ the power of loss aversion to things that we would typically think of as gains, because loss aversion motivates people so strongly.

A lot of right-wing messaging uses loss aversion to drive up various forms of bigotry. As I mentioned in the last section, one of the classic anti-immigrant arguments of the right is “they’ll take our jobs”. Note that this message always uses the verb “take.” That’s because it implies that you will lose something. If you look at any right-wing propaganda, you’ll find something phrased in terms of “loss,” and that’s explicitly to make people treat the group “taking” something as the enemy, and valuing whatever it is they might “lose.”

Loss aversion also plays a big role in right-wing economic messaging too. The right has successfully framed taxation as “taking” something that would otherwise belong to you. They frame social programs as “taking your tax dollars” and giving them to someone else, and try to give you a sense of ownership over money that was never yours to begin with. It works, too. People are less willing to pay taxes when it feels like a loss.

Even within DSA loss aversion will sometimes rear its head. Any time any action is framed as taking something away, there is resistance to it. It’s a tried and true way to spin up opposition to anything, and we should be careful to ask when something is truly a loss, and when it’s just being framed that way. Listen carefully next time a contentious issue comes up for debate, and you will likely hear someone suggest it’s losing something or taking something away from the organization, resources, character, whatever. That’s not because they’re being disingenuous, by the way. More likely than not it’s an honest assessment of how they view the issue, and why they feel strongly about it. It’s just that whether something is a loss or not can often be a matter of perspective or opinion rather than an objective fact.

The upside of loss aversion is that it means that some gains for economic justice are almost impossible to reverse once implemented. The Affordable Care Act might have been unpopular when it first showed up, but the first whisper that you might “lose” your health insurance and public opinion almost completely flipped. In any country that has universal healthcare, trying to undo it is politically implausible without extreme antidemocratic efforts. The few places that have some form of universal basic income? Same deal. It’s a fight to create a Universal Basic Income system anywhere that doesn’t have it, but anywhere that has UBI will fight tooth and nail against anyone who tries to take it away.

In terms of counteracting right-wing messaging, there are a few ways to approach the problem. As far as I know, you can’t beat loss aversion outright, there’s no way to “turn it off” that anyone has published. Psychologists have some ideas about when it doesn’t show up, but no generally applicable way to use that information.

One strategy is to use loss aversion in our own messaging, whenever we can. Yes, it’s a propaganda technique, but it’s one that preys on how people subjectively value things rather than changing an objective truth. If you can honestly frame something in terms of a loss, that’s no less accurate than framing it as a gain, and it will resonate more with people. Another area to look for chances to use it is in policy proposals. That article I linked earlier found that a tax structure that deducts money before people ever see it and is guaranteed to give a refund is much more welcome, and creates much more compliance, than one in which people have to pay more out of their pockets when they’re doing their annual taxes. Keep that in mind if we ever find ourselves in a position to make policy.

For internal discussions, the primary resource that we have to lose is decision-making power or the work we have invested into various projects. These each take different forms. Decision-making power is the most obvious: if we are faced with a proposal that would reduce our ability to influence the decisions our chapter or working group or organization makes, our first impulse will be to push back on it. At first glance it might sound like I’m talking about things that are simply anti-democratic, in which case the loss aversion is good, but it’s more complicated than that.

Think of it from the perspective of the members of any DSA chapter prior to summer 2016. The members at that time were used to accounting for huge percentages of any vote. If your general meeting needs only ten attendees to make quorum, each person accounts for a full 10% of the decision-making power of the entire chapter. Then, the chapters grew to have hundreds of members, and any general meeting that made quorum now needed to have triple-digit attendance, and each person in attendance accounts for less than 1% of the decision-making power. That’s a form of loss. In some chapters (thankfully not so much in Boston) we saw leadership committees that were increasingly reluctant to cede power to their membership, partly because of that loss of power.

More generally, we need to recognize in ourselves when our reaction to something is governed by our own loss aversion, and ask whether that reaction is appropriate or not. To create a socialist world, we’re all going to end up giving up something. We have to be willing to look at ourselves and ask what we’re really willing to lose, and when the time comes to lose it, we must be ready for how strongly we will want to resist it.

III. Authority and conformism

Following World War II, psychology as a field turned a lot of attention to figuring out how the civilians of Nazi Germany could become servants of fascism and commit some of history’s greatest atrocities, and most of all whether humans in general could be driven to the same extremes. By the 1960s, the answer was clearly that it wasn’t a unique occurrence. The Nazis had exploited some very straightforward features of the human psyche that could be found anywhere. Any country in the world can fall under the sway of a fascist regime. Some of the tools required I’ve already covered, but when it comes to fascism there are two other necessary pieces: The psychological power of authority and conformity.

Psychology is such a new and rapidly developing field (compared to other sciences at least) that it’s relatively rare to find work from the mid-20th century that holds up today. However, two studies in particular have held up, and are guaranteed to show up in every introductory course: Milgram’s work on authority, and Asch’s work on conformity.

The Milgram Experiments are so (in)famous that the wikipedia entry for them is actually a reasonable source. The setup was simple: The participants — middle-class white people from New Haven — came into the lab and were told they would be doing a task with another subject. The other subject was actually what’s called a “confederate,” an actor employed by the experimenter. The subject would be reading math problems to the confederate, who would be in a different room and could only be heard via intercom, and the subject would deliver progressively stronger electric shocks every time the confederate made a mistake. The subject got to experience a low-level version of this shock themselves, and it was quite painful.

During the experiment, the confederate would make several pre-arranged mistakes, and make increasing noises of agony with the increasing power of the shock (they were acting; the confederate was never actually shocked, but the participant didn’t know that until after the experiment ended). Eventually the confederate would mention having a heart condition, then plead for mercy, and eventually just go silent. If the subject asked to stop, an experimenter in their room, wearing a white lab coat and holding a clipboard, would first say “Please continue.” The second time the subject asked to stop, they would say “The experiment requires that you continue.” The third time they asked, “It is absolutely essential that you continue.” The fourth, “You have no other choice, you must go on.” If, at that point, the subject insisted on stopping, the experiment would stop.

Only 14 of 40 subjects insisted. The rest continued to the end.3

The point of Milgram’s experiments was that authority, manifested as a white lab coat and direct commands, is an incredibly powerful thing. Almost two-thirds of that group  were willing to apparently kill someone, just because they were told to do so by a man in a white lab coat holding nothing more threatening than a clipboard.

The power of authority is a necessary tool of fascism and authoritarianism. There are no limits on what someone with absolute power can get others to do even without explicit threats. Note that it isn’t just authority to some great leader, either. The Milgram result works on a very small scale, with a very specific and narrow kind of authority. Police take advantage of this all the time. Their threat comes in part from force, in part from the law, and mostly from the simple fact that their uniform represents both. A police officer can order someone to do almost anything, and merely because it’s coming from someone with a particular uniform, they’ll often do it.

DSA’s structure is resistant to developing this kind of authoritarian power within itself because of the primary authority of the membership to collectively overrule its leadership at any time. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not at risk. The Danny Fetonte incident was a close call with authoritarian power, specifically in the context of the Austin chapter in which he effectively single-handedly took over a general meeting, but also, to a degree, the NPC. The management of the DSA weekly blog recently got shuffled around because of a similar episode involving a member of the NPC. It takes some effort to contradict someone yelling orders in any context, and not everyone is willing to do it.

It is something we must always be vigilant against. Never obey a command simply because it is a command.

In fighting the power of authority in the broader world, it’s important to know what does and does not work. Follow-up studies found that seeing someone else defy authority actually doesn’t make people more likely to defy it themselves, even if there are no consequences for doing so. However, people who feel more agency in themselves, and people who feel more empathy towards others, are both more likely to resist orders to hurt someone else. It’s not easy to make people feel more agency or more empathy, but DSA actually excels at it. We emphasize doing things to make the world a better place, and we emphasize comradeship and compassion. That’s actually one of the big reasons I joined DSA: It really has the tools to stand up to the effects of authoritarianism.

The other half of fascist power is conformity, and again there is an experiment that has stood the test of time and is so famous that wikipedia is a reasonable source. Solomon Asch, in 1950, put a bunch of white middle-class men in a room. Only one of them was a subject. The rest were confederates. The group was asked to do a task in which they matched line lengths: they were given a sample line, and asked to say which of three other lines matched it. On one of the trials, every confederate in the group favored an obviously wrong answer. About a third of the time, the subject would go along with the group.

There’s an important upside in Asch’s work: Two-thirds of the time, people were willing to defy the group. Simple, objective facts are not that easy to distort. However, 75% of his participants did conform at least once. That’s more of a problem. These are obviously extreme and Orwellian examples, but the power of conformity is far stronger for things that are not objective facts.

Authoritarian regimes rely heavily on conformity to induce obedience without even needing to use the power of authority, and again this is not a surprise to anyone. Combating it is usually a matter of being the voice of dissent. If there is no unified opinion within whatever you see as your group, then it’s easier to defy a majority view. If everyone who dissents is removed from your group, conformity becomes harder to resist. The modern GOP is a nearly perfect case study of this: Inasmuch as there were ever “moderate” republicans in our lifetime, they were chased out in favor of a homogeneous whole that marches in lockstep with the directives of a sole leader.

For DSA, what this means is that debate is good, differences of opinion (discussed respectfully) are good, and we should make sure we continue to be a multi-tendency organization. That’s not to say that consensus is bad, by any stretch, but there is a difference between having some clear points of unity and enforcing a conformity of opinion from our members (which certain other socialist organizations do explicitly). The ability to support internal debate keeps us from falling into the trap Asch found: We will not change objective facts to conform for its own sake, and we should make sure that never happens.

IV. Conclusions and reflections

That brings us to the end of Psychology for Socialists, for now. In these three articles, I’ve tried to give a simple introduction to some ideas that I think are truly essential to our work. The goal of this, more than anything, was to make all of us more aware of the nature of our own minds, the biases that we are prone to, and the mistakes we can make as a result. There’s so much more I could have talked about, and maybe I will at some point in the future. The human mind is a complex piece of work and psychology as a science is still in its infancy. However, the nature of democracy is that in order to succeed it must understand how people think, both as individuals and in general. Without that, democratic socialism will suffer the same fate as Esperanto: A nice idea, but implemented in a human-incompatible way.

No More Pinkwashing – Capitalism and Cancer

By Nafis H

The month of October has been designated as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To celebrate such an occasion, hundreds of men and women will walk or run to raise money for more research, talk about their or their relatives’ harrowing brushes with this disease, share courageous stories of breast cancer survivors on social media, and maybe even resolve to live a healthier lifestyle like signing up for SoulCycle, or getting on a detox program followed by a juice cleanse.

The narrative that has been constructed around breast cancer is one of individualism, one where the disease “is a consequence of personal rather than societal failings”. The scientific evidence presented to uphold this narrative is one of reductionism and determinism – we are told that cancers are caused by aberrations in our DNA and these aberrations are mostly due to our “bad luck.” The treatments for this disease, arising from chemical agents used during World War I, increasingly rely upon targeted destructive measures upon one’s body, and are described using military vernacular such as “magic bullets” and “battlespace vision”. The prices of cancer treatments keep increasing at a faster rate in the US compared to any other country, without significantly increasing patient quality of life or overall survival.The scientists and physicians are complicit in this endeavor – the academic field is rife with fraud, irreproducible data, researchers raking in money and not disclosing financial ties with biotech startups, and physicians making recommendations to the FDA oncology advisory council without needing to disclose their relationship to companies that do not yet have a drug on the market.

The bourgeois government has encouraged public-private partnerships since the 1980s with the introduction of the Bayh-Dole Act, the FDA’s Critical Path Initiative in 2004, and more recently the Cancer Moonshot Initiative in 2016. Over the years, more and more money has been allocated to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), especially following the publication of the human genome sequence, which is believed to hold the secrets to curing all diseases, not just breast cancer.

However, this privatization has worsened the situation. As evidence shows, privatization has provided perverse incentives for researchers, and ultimately, created the current chaos that reigns in cancer research today. The current state of research shows an ailing system with spawning of predatory journals, transparency issues in established medical journals, sham conferences, plethora of reproducibility issues in basic research, corruption among scientists and abuse of public funds for personal gains. This reflects the “quantity over quality” approach where scientific trainees (graduate students & postdoctoral scholars) are often exploited in a tight budget climate.

Not that more money had resulted in better research — when NIH’s budget doubled between 1997–2003, the growth was mainly observed in ancillary markets such as reagent companies, expansion of universities, and number of NIH contractors. Although there exists a host of scientific literature on the environmental causes of breast and other cancers, only 15% of NCI’s budget in 2008-09 was dedicated to studying such causes rather than focusing on individual genes. In the meantime, independent scientists are fighting uphill battles to get chemicals, such as Bisphenol A that have shown to cause breast cancer in laboratory rodents, off the market. The regulatory agencies and government policies favor the evidence presented by the manufacturing companies and ignore the myriads of evidence that independent scientists have provided. This has also allowed profiteering entities to continue exploiting vulnerable populations, while building social capital by sponsoring biomedical research.

The neoliberalization of cancer has also pushed for creating niche markets that are aided by non-profits. The mantra “early detection saves lives” has successfully brainwashed the public into believing that it actually prevents cancer deaths effectively — in one study, 68% women thought that mammography lowers their risk of getting breast cancer, 62% were convinced that screening decreased the rate of breast cancer by half, and 75% thought 10 years of screening would prevent 10 breast cancer deaths per 1000 women. Unfortunately, this mantra has allowed non-profits such as Susan Komen Foundation to balloon, with less and less of the raised money going to supporting actual research and more into maintaining the foundation itself.

The burdens of breast cancer, and the neoliberal approaches to fight it, falls disproportionately on people of color in the US – African-Americans have the highest mortality from breast and other cancers, and native Hawaiians have the highest mortality from breast cancer in the US across all ethnicities. These disparities were originally attributed to a lack of diagnosis and the cancer being at a more advanced stage at the time of diagnosis in these non-white populations.

However, adjustment for stage of cancer at diagnosis did not solve the discrepancies observed. Even as mammography screening for breast cancer became equivalent nationally among Black and white women of all ages, these disparities persisted. This has been supported by epidemiology studies that suggest that disparities in outcome by race/ethnicity have not improved over time. In fact, between 1975–2000, disparity in death rates from all cancers combined between Black and white, men and women, increased.

While much of the blame was put on the differences in biology between races/ethnicities (e.g. — Black women have a higher risk of developing a more aggressive form of breast cancer), it appeared that the racial gap in outcomes was prominent among breast cancers with good prognosis (hormone-receptor positive, multiple treatments available). This essentially led to the conclusion that “biological factors cannot explain all of the racial disparity in morbidity and mortality.

While socioeconomic status (SES) has been put forward to explain such disparities, again it cannot be understood without a framework of historical racism in this country. In fact, as the prominent public health scholar David R. Williams states, “race is an antecedent to and determinant of SES.” The fact that non-white populations experience greater poverty just shows the success of discriminatory policies in the US. The 2010 U.S. Census found that Black populations are living in poorer quality housing, have higher exposures to toxins and pollutants in residential and occupational settings, and have less access to healthy food and quality healthcare — conditions that are cancer risk factors, or as more eloquently put by Dr. Samuel Brodar, NCI Director (1991), “poverty is a carcinogen.” Consider that Black women are 4–5x more likely to experience treatment delays and less likely to receive cancer-directed therapy for breast cancer, even when they have similar tumors to those in white women. Black and Hispanic women suffer more often from inadequate pain management; between 90–91, data from outpatient centers that treated predominantly minority patients show that these patients were 3x more likely to have inadequate pain management compared to patients seen elsewhere. When compared with the findings that patients across ethnicities, when treated equally regardless of SES, have equal outcomes, the rampant racism present in healthcare becomes very clear.

Cancer is a deadly disease – there is no doubt about it. Just as capitalism alienates the individual from the environment, reductionism alienates the disease from the body it manifests, essentially “other”-izing it and pitting the patient against their own body. This alienation promotes individualism through the language of “survivorship,” where the victim has beaten their own body into submission using “potent chemical weapons.” The “War on Cancer” is waged not in laboratories, but on the bodies of patients undergoing surgery, radiation treatment and chemotherapy. There is nothing to “win” here – one cannot fight their own physical manifestation of their existence and expect to achieve victory. But the popular narrative of “winning over cancer”, shaped by an imperialist, capitalist government, the pharmaceutical companies and neoliberal non-profits, distorts one’s perception of cancer treatment and their own body.

None of this is to say that we should give up on trying to prevent and/or treat cancer. In order to do so, however, we need to radically revise how we understand cancer and how we can best prevent it. Consider that the biggest curb in cancer mortality in the US was achieved by public health measures such as tobacco control – why isn’t there more money in prevention of other cancers through public health measures? Why aren’t we stemming the endless flow of chemicals and pesticides into our environment that have shown to cause breast and other cancers? Why are we so focused on studying the intrinsic factors that supposedly cause cancer when research shows 85% of cancer incidence risk can be explained by extrinsic factors?

Ultimately, all of this points to the fact that the “War on Cancer” cannot be won unless the racist and capitalist system is dismantled. Sociologist Catherin Bliss notes that “the relationship between scientific knowledge and state power has been dialectical” and public policies govern the course of scientific research. We cannot expect a capitalist government to instate policies that will hold corporations accountable for poisoning our environment, or to regulate drug prices to make treatment available for all and to end racism in healthcare. We cannot allow the pinkwashing of corporations, which burden vulnerable populations with both physical and financial toxicity. Awareness about breast cancer should be a priority; however, awareness will not achieve anything unless it is framed in the context of how capitalism propagates this terrifying disease.

Collective Reflections on the Boston Housing Struggle

By Edward P

On Thursday, September 6th, 2018, the Boston DSA Housing Working Group (HWG) and the Political Education Working Group (PEWG) held a discussion about housing strategy in Boston DSA at the Democracy Center in Cambridge. The goal of the meeting was to talk about how to organize around housing issues to further the anti-capitalist cause.

The Story So Far

The event began with the HWG co-chairs Rose L and Mike L talking about the 13-month history of the working group. The HWG has, to this point, mainly coordinated canvasses of tenants in buildings identified as being likely to organize with City Life/Vida Urbana (CLVU). CLVU is a 45-year old organization that began as a socialist feminist collective that consciously reshaped itself into a movement-oriented non-profit in order to better serve their base in Jamaica Plain and East Boston.

Their relationship with CLVU started small — just sending people to regular weekend canvasses. As they earned the trust of CLVU’s long-time organizers, the HWG was able to operate more and more independently, planning an anti-eviction canvas based on public court records and attempting to organize tenants in the Seaverns-Brown building after tenants were hit with a large rent increase.

But neither of those efforts has been an unqualified success. Organizing around anti-eviction is difficult when cases are geographically spread out, and gaps and delays in the court records sometimes meant canvassers were arriving too late to help people. Likewise, with the Seaverns-Brown building, while HWG members made great progress in getting people to move towards creating a tenant union, they had arrived too late to get people together before the large rent raises hit.

Next Steps and Differing Visions

After the presentation from the co-chairs, the meeting attendees went around the room to the introduce themselves and talk about why they were there. The introductions were followed by a  breakout session of small groups and then a full group discussion.

A few major points of contention emerged across these discussions, such as how should the DSA handle its relationship to CLVU? Several attendees expressed concern that Boston DSA was not attempting to build something independent of another organization, citing Philly Socialists and their Philly Tenants Union project as an example of how a socialist organization could use tenant organizing for “base-building”. Others pointed out the necessary work CLVU did to help keep people most threatened in their homes and speculated on our ability to be similarly successful at helping people in need.

Some attendees also argued for concrete policy proposals the HWG could pursue. Members of Socialist Alternative were on hand to talk about the work they had done with Boston City Councillors to try to get more non-profits to pay into the Payment In Lieu Of Tax (PILOT) program. PILOT asks otherwise tax-exempt organizations, such as universities, to pay part of the property taxes they would have otherwise paid. Others talked about Somerville’s low home ownership rate (34.7% vs 64.2% as the national average) and if socialist policies could change that especially policies encouraging cooperative home-ownership.

Other people talked about the need for housing organizing to have a revolutionary perspective. One member made the point that any program must be focused on “serving the people”. For them that meant going directly to people who are hurt by the capitalist system and organizing around their needs. Others elaborated on this idea an argument for why we have to build independent power, saying an important question for the group was whether DSA should be serving as a source of canvassers for other organizations or building something of their own.

What can we do?

Throughout the discussion, members kept coming back to one question in particular — not what should we do, but what can we do? What are our capabilities? In the absence of any kind of national campaign from DSA, we’re relying on ourselves and what we can learn from history and work others have done to figure out an effective organizing strategy around housing issues.

This discussion lead to some practical thoughts about what a housing program would need, whether it was organized independently or not and whatever its political goals were. First, it needed to make realistic promises; we can’t talk about how great socialism is and make commitments we don’t have the ability to keep. Second, it needs to based on building community and solidarity. We have to be able to meet and talk to people repeatedly, share food, and get to know each other. Finally, any program needs to be flexible; we have to be able to constantly re-evaluate what we’re doing in order to find what works.

Self-Reflection and Moving Forward

While the different arguments presented at the meeting, independent work vs coalition work, working for reforms vs serving the people, seemed to represent opposites, the actual discussion, and general feeling of camaraderie and respect at the event, helped show that wasn’t the case.

Any program needs to take into account the practical lessons learned by the HWG over the last 13 months of organizing. It needs to find ways of organizing people around their needs, immediate ones like eviction defense and longer term ones like housing cooperatives. It can both work with established coalition partners and work toward independent power.

Most of all, events like this are important to developing any kind of program. As socialists, we have to engage in constant experimentation and revaluation of our methods on the road to finding a practice that moves the balance of power toward working people. When we meet together and discuss what is and isn’t working about our practice and debate ways forward, we’re engaging in the critical work of finding that way forward.

¡Viva Allende! ¡Viva La Revolución Bolivariana!

Union Members demonstrating for Allende

By the Political Education Editorial Committee

On this day in 1973, the Chilean Military, with the support and assistance of the US Government, overthrew Salvador Allende, the democratically-elected Marxist president of Chile.

Declassified documents show how US intelligence agencies had been plotting against Allende even before the 1970 election that brought him into power, including identifying and cultivating a relationship with General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet, the contemporary object of hero-worship by fascist groups of the U.S. alt-right, was responsible for the torture of over 30,000 Chileans and the execution of thousands according to a Chilean government report.

President Allende’s moves to nationalize Chile’s copper mining industry, to reform agrarian land ownership, and to maintain close contacts with revolutionary Cuba caused the US to move to restrict Chile’s access to international credit and foreign aid, leading to an economic crisis. This crisis created the conditions that would lead to Pinochet’s coup against President Allende on September 11, 1973.

In the months following the coup, 320 people were summarily executed by Pinochet’s forces with the knowledge of US intelligence agencies. None of the US leaders, including President Nixon, who ordered the CIA to foster an overthrow of Allende, President Ford, and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, would ever be held accountable for their crimes against the Chilean people.

Image of Salvador Allende from a 1973 Soviet Stamp
Image of Salvador Allende from a 1973 Soviet Stamp

The imperialist policies that led to the tragedy of the Pinochet regime continue to the present. The Trump administration has recently had meetings with members of the Venezuelan military who oppose President Nicolas Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution and has issued threats to the International Criminal Court over attempts to hold the U.S. and Israeli governments responsible for war crimes.

Socialists must understand that imperialism — the domination of other nations in the interest of the U.S. bourgeoisie — is a necessary component of capitalism, and all efforts by the U.S. government to interfere in the self-determination of other nations must be opposed.

Ultimately, the only way to ensure the peaceful existence and cooperation of all nations is worker-control of the state and the means of economic production.

Presented below is President Allende’s final speech delivered at 9:10AM, shortly before his death:

My friends,

Surely this will be the last opportunity for me to address you. The Air Force has bombed the towers of Radio Portales and Radio Corporación.

My words do not have bitterness but disappointment. May they be a moral punishment for those who have betrayed their oath: soldiers of Chile, titular commanders in chief, Admiral Merino, who has designated himself Commander of the Navy, and Mr. Mendoza, the despicable general who only yesterday pledged his fidelity and loyalty to the Government, and who also has appointed himself Chief of the Carabineros [national police].

Given these facts, the only thing left for me is to say to workers: I am not going to resign!

Placed in a historic transition, I will pay for loyalty to the people with my life. And I say to them that I am certain that the seed which we have planted in the good conscience of thousands and thousands of Chileans will not be shriveled forever.

They have strength and will be able to dominate us, but social processes can be arrested neither by crime nor force. History is ours, and people make history.

Workers of my country: I want to thank you for the loyalty that you always had, the confidence that you deposited in a man who was only an interpreter of great yearnings for justice, who gave his word that he would respect the Constitution and the law and did just that. At this definitive moment, the last moment when I can address you, I wish you to take advantage of the lesson: foreign capital, imperialism, together with the reaction, created the climate in which the Armed Forces broke their tradition, the tradition taught by General Schneider and reaffirmed by Commander Araya, victims of the same social sector which will today be in their homes hoping, with foreign assistance, to retake power to continue defending their profits and their privileges.

I address, above all, the modest woman of our land, the campesina who believed in us, the worker who labored more, the mother who knew our concern for children. I address professionals of Chile, patriotic professionals, those who days ago continued working against the sedition sponsored by professional associations, class-based associations that also defended the advantages which a capitalist society grants to a few.  

I address the youth, those who sang and gave us their joy and their spirit of struggle. I address the man of Chile, the worker, the farmer, the intellectual, those who will be persecuted, because in our country fascism has been already present for many hours — in terrorist attacks, blowing up the bridges, cutting the railroad tracks, destroying the oil and gas pipelines, in the face of the silence of those who had the obligation to protect them.  They were committed.

History will judge them.

Surely Radio Magallanes will be silenced, and the calm metal instrument of my voice will no longer reach you. It does not matter. You will continue hearing it. I will always be next to you. At least my memory will be that of a man of dignity who was loyal to [inaudible] the workers.

The people must defend themselves, but they must not sacrifice themselves. The people must not let themselves be destroyed or riddled with bullets, but they cannot be humiliated either.

Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Go forward knowing that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again where free men will walk to build a better society.

Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!

These are my last words, and I am certain that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am certain that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that will punish felony, cowardice, and treason.

Santiago de Chile, 11 September 1973

Only We Can Save Ourselves

A Boston DSA members marshal's at last year's counter-protests rally

By Edward P

“And there’s hope because we are going to save ourselves.” That was the message Sarah — a member of Boston Feminists for Liberation (BFL), delivered as part of a panel discussion and town hall on anti-fascism in Boston on August 15th, in the lead up to the rally to counter-protest fascists in Boston on August 18th.

Organized by a coalition of groups dedicated to anti-fascism and chaired by Boston DSA’s own Peter B, the panelists, Chip Berlet, who researches the far-right, Martin Hanson, of Black Lives Matter Boston (BLM), Sarah, Kitty Pryde from Boston DSA, and Michael Fiorentino of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) spoke to a crowd of between 60 and 70 people in the basement of the Arlington Street Church. The panelists discussed the rise of organized fascist groups in the US, why we have to disrupt their organizing, the current tasks of the anti-fascist movement, and how we win in the long run.

Who Are We Fighting?

According to panelist Michael, Trump was a trojan horse into the mainstream for fascist groups. His candidacy and subsequent presidency gave them space within the political conversation to operate openly. In Boston, the far-right has coalesced around Boston Free Speech (BFS) and Resist Marxism (RM). Both groups paint themselves as being “moderates,” but that only seems to mean they have swapped Nazi Germany iconography for memes about Pinochet, according to Kitty. Despite the way they attempt to portray themselves to outsiders and the media, they are still definitely fascists.

The panelists pointed out the links between RM and other far right groups, including Patriot Prayer who held a violent rally in Portland on August 4th. Michael pointed out members of RM were among the heavily armored fascists at that rally.

Kitty spoke about how fascist groups love to ‘disavow’ other far-right groups when these other groups are caught engaging in outright violence or using extreme rhetoric. They seem to believe it’s a magic word that dissociates them from whatever behaviour or action the media has focused on. There are still deep ties between RM, BFS, and the organizers of the Unite the Right (UTR) rally where Heather Heyer was murdered. Kitty talked about how a UTR organizer spoke at RM’s first rally in New York.

Finally, as Martin reminded us, the far-right is not so far right in the course of American politics. Groups like the Klu Klux Klan have been around for decades, always present at the edges. Fascism was, for black people, also expressed in a variety of mainstream, pro-white institutions. For Martin, the police and prison system represent another kind of fascism. “The police officer putting a finger on the trigger of their gun as they talked to me is militant,” he said.

Why Must We Oppose Them?

To figure out why we must oppose the far-right, we have to think about why they are holding these rallies. Panelist Sarah discussed how these rallies were organizing opportunities for fascist groups. The rallies allowed them to meet each other and network as well as build camaraderie and shared sense of identity.

Chip talked about how the fascist narrative feeds into more mainstream right-wing politics. Right-wing populism is a form of scapegoating, blaming some “other” for the ills of society, and fascist rhetoric gives mainstream right-wingers targets for their scapegoating.

Michael pointed out that all of us turning out last August put a huge break on their movement’s momentum. After tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Boston, a whole swath of Islamophobic rallies were cancelled around the country. RM’s demonstrations have been consistently smaller, but, as he put it, it’s better to facedown 12 to 20 fascists than a couple hundred heavily armed ones like we saw in Portland.

Sarah also said that we can’t just ignore them. Fascist aren’t just fascists when they’re in the streets. They’re the people who go home and abuse women. They’re they people who gay bash. So if we can’t stand up to them now when they’re most obvious, where else can we stand up to them?

What Can We Do Right Now?

All of the panelists emphasized that it’s important to turn out on Saturday. Sarah mentioned telling all your neighbors and bringing 10 other friends with you. Chip talked about building the broadest possible coalition to the oppose fascists. We shouldn’t limit it just to people whose politics we agree absolutely with. In terms of talking to people, Chip spoke about asking people questions and really just letting them talk. Lots of people are distressed about the rise of overt fascism, but organizers need to start by building a connection to someone else before asking them to turn out. Martin spoke on the necessity of using different tactics to oppose fascists and said we should be ready to fight them in any way we can.

In terms of logistics for the weekend, Peter — the event’s chair — talked about the the large number of marshals and medics who have committed to help keep the counter-protest as secure as they can. In response to an audience question, he talked about showing up and leaving with a buddy because fascists have previously ambushed people as they go to and from counter-protests. He also said that if you didn’t have someone to go with, you could reach out to any of the sponsoring organizations, and they would help find someone to go with you.

How Do We Win?

Martin talked about how we could not defeat fascism without building an entirely new world. Fascism is ingrained in institutions like the police and prison system and until they are destroyed, we will never be entirely free from its threat. Martin talked about building new systems of solidarity and economic justice as a path to a new society and emphasized — in response to an audience question — that we need to educate ourselves about economics and how the world really works in order to talk about new systems with people and demonstrate how nonsensical fascist ideology is.

Sarah similarly talked about how a world without fascists is a world without police, prisons, or rape and we have to have hope it is possible. She had that hope because, as she put it, “we are going to save ourselves.” She spoke about taking anti-fascism out of just organizer spaces like the one we were in and getting community members involved. It is possible, she said, because we saw thousands of people turn up last August, to the Fight Supremacy counter protest, to say, “Fuck No.”

Come out on Saturday

Opposing fascism is part of our duty as people dedicated to acting in solidarity with the oppressed of the world, wherever they are. If you are able, please come out this Saturday to remember the life of Heather Heyer and tell the Boston Fascists, “Fuck No” again.

I’m a Postal Worker. Bernie’s Plan Won’t Save Us.

Green mailbox. The old green mailbox on the wall with big shadow.

By A Rural Carrier Comrade

I work as a Rural Carrier Associate (RCA) with the United States Postal Service. RCAs (and our city counterpart, City Carrier Associate, CCAs) are casually known in the service as “subs” because our main purpose is to cover a regular carrier’s days off. We learn multiple routes, work on-call, and rack up to 60 hours a week.

In this job, I experience more unpredictable scheduling than my time in the food industry; the physical exertion and hours rival my past farm labor; and management practices are more exploitative than my past private sector jobs. Ten-hour days are normal, twelve-hour days are common.

I was thrilled to get the job initially. A union job with decent pay and actual benefits providing a valuable public service sounded like the perfect solution to my unending series of alienating service jobs. The reality is I’m unable to make plans or appointments for my life outside work. I look at the schedule every day before I leave, hoping no one penciled in my name in an empty slot when I wasn’t looking. Every inch I drive and step I take is monitored by a tracking scanner. I’m told to behave as though I’m “always on camera, because you probably are.”

And I’m still in my trial period—which is 90 worked days or a year, whichever comes first—which limits my benefits and exposes me to abuse by supervisors. Without the same protections as regular carriers, I have to answer every call, work every shift asked, and be terrified of calling out sick or requesting a day off. I feel like a hostage.

So when I hear Senator Bernie Sanders’ new plan to fight privatization of the USPS doesn’t include a plan to save postal workers—I know it’s bullshit.

In Bernie’s letter to Steve Mnuchin outlining his proposal to reform the postal service, he bemoans the “slower mail delivery” and proposes restoration of speedier practices as one of his solutions. Meanwhile, postal workers are working six days a week or more, often 10-12 hours a day, just to barely manage their workload. Our supervisors already demand faster and faster delivery while parcel volume steadily climbs upward. Another sub said our postmaster recently told her, “You’re supposed to be getting faster, not slower.” She had just returned to work after treatment for a life-threatening illness.

One of my city comrades detailed his experience with the inhumane demands of postal service employment in his “Letter from a Red Letter Carrier,” including a story about how one woman had to sleep overnight in the office with her young child because of the outrageous hours. He also writes about the physical toll of the demands for speed:

The number one rule for CCAs was, ‘don’t get hurt.’ You may not read about it in the news, but USPS is number one for non-fatal work injuries, mainly from trips and falls…They work carriers to the bone, which drives them to work unsafely, which leads to injuries, but they then fire the carriers for ‘injuring themselves,’ in order to not pay compensation!

The USPS contract with Amazon accelerated the deterioration of working conditions. The USPS added a seventh day—aptly branded as “Amazon Sundays”—which was made possible by the introduction of a new position. Assistant Rural Carriers (ARCs) are non-career employees hired specifically to deliver Prime packages on Sundays and holidays. Without caps on days worked in a row in our union contracts, city and rural subs are often forced to join them. We could potentially work two weeks, a month, several months, without a day off.

It wasn’t always like this, my older coworkers tell me. “I used to love this job, before Amazon.”

We’re expected to be grateful to Jeff Bezos for saving our jobs and our salaries from the irrelevance brought on by digital communication. Unsurprisingly, some workers are grateful—capitalism has crushed the capacity of many wage laborers to collectively organize for creative demands by purposefully limiting our time and energy. We are dehumanized, driven to physical and psychological exhaustion, until imagination is replaced by the tired choice between irrelevance and a broken back.

Another component of Bernie’s plan for the postal service is the introduction of public banking services and, in a real stroke of innovation, gift wrapping. His letter is filled with references to “business,” “revenue,” and the need to “become more entrepreneurial.” This, all the while criticizing those who would wish to privatize the postal service.

But we are, essentially, private. The profit motive has already degraded what could be a public service, and adding new products or services will not save it.

Politicians in both parties talk about the USPS as though it’s a public entity struggling for relevance against private forces, but this is a misleading characterization of the entire distribution industry. The USPS is as completely dependent on private companies, as private companies are on the postal service. We have a contract with Amazon; we pay Fedex to fly our packages; and the USPS provides the “last leg” of delivery for many UPS parcels. As in other industries, the rhetoric of competition is a facade for the inextricable business interests of capitalists.

The postal service also has no federal funding. It is funded through postage and other services, not taxes, and is therefore private by any practical definition.

Politicians do not want to secure the future of a public service as much as they want to privatize it in a neoliberal, cynical fashion. Without challenging the unspoken, bipartisan agreement to withhold public funds, the “public” aspect of the USPS will further deteriorate. Without collective investment and subsidization, and truly democratic accountability to workers and the public, the postal service will continue struggling to maintain relevance within a volatile market.

The postal service, and postal workers’ conditions, will not improve through progressives’ continued fetishization of the service as a symbol of a well-functioning government. Even leftists are known to cry, “It’s the most popular government agency!” in defense of social democracy as a concept. But this service was built on the backs of exploited labor and capitalist practices, so adding duties without eliminating the existing pressures of profit is a temporary patch on a crumbling foundation.

Bernie is correct in his assessment that the right-wing plan to fully privatize the USPS would “devastate rural communities,” and that policies like the pension-funding mandate have obliterated the USPS budget. But instead of gift wrapping our way to the top of the distribution market, we need to opt out of the competition entirely.

Postal workers themselves must acknowledge the collective power we have to create a humane, public service. We need to revitalize the militancy of our union and challenge contracts that bargain for pensions but ignore the working conditions of RCAs and CCAs. We should make radical demands of our employer and state. Those demands should include federal funding — which would make the capitulation to Jeff Bezos unnecessary —, an end to constructed staffing shortages, predictable scheduling, a return to fewer delivery days, and a renaissance of the 19th century demand for real weekends.

USPS unions also need to join in solidarity with our co-workers in Amazon, UPS, and FedEx who experience similar (or worse) working conditions.

Our hands deliver medication, food, rent, and paychecks. Those same hands can stop cooperating with capitalist distribution systems if the ruling class, on both sides of the aisle, try to write our future without us.

You need to get in touch with your comrades and fellow workers and to become conscious of your interests, your powers and your possibilities as a class. You need to know that you belong to the great majority of mankind. You need to know that as long as you are ignorant, as long as you are indifferent, as long as you are apathetic, unorganized and content, you will remain exactly where you are. You will be exploited; you will be degraded…You will get just enough for your slavish toil to keep you in working order, and you will be looked down upon with scorn and contempt by the very parasites that live and luxuriate out of your sweat and unpaid labor.

(Eugene V. Debs, The Canton, Ohio Speech)

 

Electoralism Won’t Shift the Overton Window On Socialism: Art Will

*This contains minor spoilers for “Sorry to Bother You”

By Jibran M

The Democratic Socialists of America are currently at a curious cross-roads. As membership numbers swell along with nominally socialist politicians such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez gets mainstream attention, what role should DSA play in endorsing, running, and electing candidates? As Kim Moody has already argued at length, “The specter of the past that haunts DSA, however, remains the Democratic Party.” As a socialist, and as an anti-capitalist, I fervently believe that we must revolutionize politics from below. Socialists must prioritize building power amongst the working class; not by endorsing the power structures that inspired our action in the first place.

As any cursory search on Twitter can tell you: a big reason people are excited about these mainstream candidates endorsing socialist policies (but equivocating on socialism itself) is that it “mainstreams” socialist ideals and shifts the “overton window,” that is, the window of discourse that is perceived as palatable within the public sphere, towards a more palatable socialism. Although it might seem cool that “socialism” is getting air-time on the likes of CNN, is the working class truly in possession of the discourse? Proselytizing socialism requires our collective attention. We must seize the means of the production of those ideas themselves.

Leftist ideals can and should permeate not through the mouths of elected officials that are easily bullied by bourgeois machinery, but through empowering the discourse itself through revolutionary art and culture.

Paul Klee: <i>Angelus Novus</i>, 1920
Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus, a favorite of German Marxist, Walter Benjamin and the subject of his 1940 essay, “Theses on the Concept of History

While we cannot create an objective science of art, we can discuss how art can be a vehicle for ideology; it is therefore subject to its own scientific critique. French Marxist Philosopher, Louis Althusser once argued, “all ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects.” If we are to define art as an artist’s representation of an idea (their subject) then we can follow that we are the subject of an ideology, which the bourgeois has spread through art and propaganda. For centuries, the elite have interpellated their subjects with their own ideology. From ideology that justifies the continued imprisonment of Palestinians, to memes that legitimize atrocities towards “illegal” immigrants, the elite materialize ideology - through the power they wield - to maintain authority. In fact, bourgeois philosophy and art itself continues to live through denying the status of any alternative:

The real question is not whether Marx, Engels and Lenin are or are not real philosophers, whether their philosophical statements are formally irreproachable, whether they do or do not make foolish statements about Kant’s ‘thing-in-itself’, whether their materialism is or is not pre-critical, etc. For all these questions are and always have been posed inside a certain practice of philosophy. The real question bears precisely on this traditional practice which Lenin brings back into question by proposing a quite different practice of philosophy.

This different practice contains something like a promise or outline of an objective knowledge of philosophy’s mode of being. A knowledge of philosophy as a Holzweg der Holzwege. But the last thing philosophers and philosophy can bear, the intolerable, is perhaps precisely the idea of this knowledge. What philosophy cannot bear is the idea of a theory (i.e. of an objective knowledge) of philosophy capable of changing its traditional practice. Such a theory may be fatal for philosophy, since it lives by its denegation (emphasis mine).

Louis Althusser, 1971 – Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays

In other words, the denial of status of Marxist thought is crucial for the survival of the ruling class. Elite capitalists sees their own world view as universal. Things that are accepted as universal - such as the Earth being a sphere - are beyond partisan reproach and ultimately, beyond scientific analysis. Unlike the dimensions of the Earth, ideology isn’t objective. Because of this, any attempt to meaningfully critique a bourgeois ideology is met with ridicule and sometimes, violence.

How often have we seen films such as Mission Impossible: Fall Out, that glorify the exploits of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)? What about documentaries such as Ken Burns’ Civil War that attempts to rehabilitate Robert E. Lee’s reputation from someone who had virulent views toward black people to a kindly, conflicted war hero? If you dug really deep into my own Tumblr archives, you could see that even I admired Lee thanks to what I saw in the Ken Burns documentary at the highly impressionable age of 18.

It’s clear that the bourgeois has been able to permeate its ideology through art and culture. However, if art is a vehicle for ideology, and if we are subject to the ideology embedded in the art we consume, the bourgeois are only in control of that vehicle for the moment. But, if socialists can engage in their own promulgation of truly revolutionary art, then there lies hope to truly shift the “Overton Window” into a more favorable direction.

We’ve already seen success with this through the smashing success of self-avowed communist, Boots Riley’s groundbreaking work, Sorry to Bother You. It is absolutely crucial that political movements have their own signifiers. And, as Briahna Gray stated so succinctly for The Intercept, “The connection between art and a political movement is what makes Sorry to Bother You feel revolutionary.”

Riley, in an interview for Vulture, discussed how his entire movie “deals with performance.” This is painfully evident in a pivotal scene where a white audience yells at the protagonist, Cassius Green (played by the remarkable Lakeith Stanfield) to “Rap! Rap! Rap! Rap! Rap!” as the CEO of the richest company in the world glares at him.

What Riley is trying to highlight with this scene is that in America, we are subtly coerced through philosophy, through ideology, and through art to perform for the benefit of those in power.

Sorry to Bother You – with its critical and commercial success – gives people an opportunity (just look at the people Boots Riley is retweeting), to perform anti-capitalism. Through a medium such as blockbuster art, Boots Riley has equipped people with a framework to discuss the everyday societal ills reinforced by capitalism such as isolation from our loved ones thanks to professional stress, the tension between solidarity with our colleagues and striving for our own individual success, and the fact that maybe we can, in fact,  strive for fair wages for all.

Sorry to Bother You, hopefully, is but a small yet deliberate ripple. As socialists, and as good comrades, we must do our best to champion - whether it be through RTs on Twitter or through Patreon support - art from our peers that is beyond culturally significant, but revolutionary.

Mass Movements aren’t built through personalities but they are built through symbols. Revolution is not built by milquetoast platitudes such as “all men are brothers!” but through forceful memes. Here’s one you might be familiar with, “Workers of the world, unite!”

On Aug 4th, the Bangladesh government tried to kill children for demanding road safety and justice.

Students Protest in Bangladesh. One student is shirtless with "We want Justice" written on his chest.

By Nafis H

Updated, Aug 6 2018, 3 pm EST: The violent repression has continued for the last 48 hours and over 200 student protesters and journalists have been injured by the police and the govt’s thugs. The censorship over social media is still in full effect and prominent photojournalist Shahidul Alam has been arrested under the new ICT law for speaking to Al Jazeera. While some international news agencies have covered the violence, the stories are mostly incomplete. Some of the links in this post have become invalid, so new links have been added at the bottom. To stay updated follow here — Reddit Live Thread on Bangladesh/Dhaka Protests, Reddit megathread compiling events and news articles

For the past 6 days, Bangladesh has been rocked by protests that no one had imagined. In a country where school students are actively kept away from politics, high school students came out to protest the killings of two classmates by reckless driving. This is only one in a countless string of roadside “accidents” that have warranted no implementation of law whatsoever. At least 2,417 people have been killed in road accidents this year, and the numbers have been climbing over the years. The outrage was further fueled by snide comments made by the minister Shajahan Khan, who also happens to be the president of the road transport workers’ union and is related to the owner of Jabal-e-Noor transport company whose bus was responsible for the killings. School students, aged between 14–19, have joined in the protest across the country and put out a 9-point plan and demanded immediate implementation. A new road transport act is being drafted and will be brought to table soon, but as any Bangladeshi knows, the problem lies with the implementation.

In the last 6 days, these young people have also taken it upon themselves to implement traffic law that officials never bother to enforce— checking driving licenses, vehicle registrations, creating emergency lanes for ambulances (a novelty since the liberation of the country), and even fixing broken roads. However, what really garnered the support of the general public was that the youth had the gall to try hold politicianspolice and even the militaryaccountable under the law, entities that in Bangladesh consider themselves above it. These groups of people have routinely flouted any law to line their pockets and secure their power, and have perpetuated the rule of corruption that threatens to tear the fabric of Bangladeshi society.

Of course, such due process carried out by children is a slap to the face of the authoritarian ruling regime of the country. In the last 48 hours, peaceful protesters and journalists have been beaten up by police, and unsurprisingly, the members of Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL)Jubo League and Sromik League, wings of the ruling Awami League party. However, it is today that most horrifying events have taken place and are currently taking place as I write this. So far, 115 have been reported to be injured, student protesters have been shot at, and journalists and citizens who have tried to take photos and videos of the incidents have been harassed and assaulted, especially women, and their phones or cameras have been broken or snatched by BCL thugs. The majority of reports of these incidents have been circulated on Facebook, and some reports have been published in online news portals. However, there has been little coverage on the mainstream TV media of such protests; moreover, BCL members even shut down Channel 24’s live coverage of the incidents.

The government has not taken kindly to such civic action, and there have been talk about taking a harder line to quell such protests. This authoritarian regime has a track record of media blackout, police brutality aided by the government’s thugs (BCL), secret killings by its paramilitary forces and other human rights violations to protect its status quo. They have also tried to shut down social media sites, especially Facebook, in the past to suppress protests, and have routinely blamed the opposition parties for any movement that destabilizes their hold on power. Currently, the mobile internet connectivity in Dhaka has been shut down and there are fears that Facebook (12) and broadband internet will be shut down as well.

The politics of smaller countries in the Global South are generally understudied and not covered well in the West, within the left as well, and Bangladesh falls into this category. Given that this is the case, internationalizing the local politics and giving it a platform outside Bangladesh can potentially go a long way in changing the state of affairs. Developing a preliminary understanding of current events also creates more space for the left to understand how to best stand in solidarity with the left and the working classes of Bangladesh. Hence, I ask that you share news of this horrific attempt made by an authoritarian regime to destroy the future of its own country, all to preserve their hold on power.

Testimonials found on Facebook regarding today’s horrific incidents —

A protester describes abduction of his female friend on the streets.

Female student testifies about being harassed.

Injured student protester in hospital speaks on what transpired.

Student protester hiding in a hospital describes how students were attacked and are now being given refuge in the hospital.

Female journalist harassed on the streets

Witness reports of attack on student protesters — 12345678910

Videos of protests and attacks on protesters on Aug 5 and 6–1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Further Readings —

From Quota Reform to Kishor Bidroho for Road Safety: Social Movements for Justice and Rule of Law

Teenagers bring parts of Bangladesh to a halt with bus death protests

Bangladesh: Mass student protests after deadly road accident

Bangladesh students attacked during Dhaka protest

Bangladesh wants Justice

Anatomy of the student protests in Bangladesh