The Organic Intellectual

If our greatest task is to liberate humanity, as Paulo Freire asserts, then it is absolutely essential that we create a culture of resistance from below that is able not only to counter, but transcend the limitations of the ruling culture imposed by above. Hopefully, The Organic Intellectual will help serve this purpose.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Nicaragua: A Neoliberal's Dream Part II


In 1984 the FSLN held onto power in a decisive electoral victory. By 1990, however, economic sanctions and brutal civil war had taken their toll. “Nicaragua's per capita income had fallen drastically and much of its infrastructure had been seriously damaged.”[1] So intense was this destruction that the country was left “on the edge of economic collapse, with astronomical foreign debt and a rate of inflation of more than three digits.”[2] The electoral defeat for the FSLN that brought the conservative Violeta Chamorro was less a show of support for neoliberal economic policy than the people hoping that relief from the corporate, first world economic onslaught would result from their voting in another direction. Since then, an ushering in of neoliberal economic reform has drastically altered Nicaraguan society.

The World Bank resumed lending in 1992 with the ascent of Chamorro to the presidency.[3] The first small agreement with the IMF was not reached until 1993, long after the downfall of the Sandinista revolution.[4] While the majority of the loans under the World Bank were processed through the International Development Association, its “low-cost lending arm” that provides loans ostensibly interest fee,[5] Nicaragua remained under burdensome debt. Even after the Orwellian termed “debt forgiveness,” a concept ridden with fallacy as most of Nicaragua’s debt is illegitimate, which cleared 87% of the country’s debt burden, huge payments were still being made.[6] For instance, from the projected figures given by the World Bank’s website, Nicaragua will pay nearly $233 million in debt repayment to the World Bank alone from the six-month span of September 2009 to March 2010. Of this, only $17.5 million, around 7%, is even applied to the principle. That means, despite being “interest free,” the rest of the payment goes towards the vaguely termed “charges.”[7] Furthermore, despite most of the debt being dropped, Nicaragua still remains in a precarious situation that will likely force it to borrow more simply to stay afloat.

Even more onerous than the debt are the crushing conditionalities that are strictly applied to loans from these institutions. These conditionalities have to be met in order to receive funding and are the main economic tools utilized to exploit third world nations. Some of the fundamental tenets include severely reducing the public sector’s role in society, forced privatization, and the tearing open of the country’s economy to foreign capital. In a plan outlined in 1998 by the IMF, Nicaragua was forced to undergo an intense series of cutbacks and privatization efforts to augment private power. Nicaragua’s Structural Adjustment Program (SAP) was intended to increase GDP by 5% annually by measures such as removing taxes on private businesses and large agribusiness, a freeze on public expenditure followed by a drastic decline (44% since 1990)[8], cutting over 3,000 public sector jobs in two years (not resulting from privatization of state enterprise, which essentially means many more would be cut), a reduction in social spending to be replaced with private charity, a partial privatization of the social security system, drastically reducing trade tariffs, monthly increases in consumer electricity costs, the possibility of regressive taxation in the form of Value-Added taxes, and a full scale plan “to privatize public utilities [state electrical company (ENEL), phone company (ENITEL), 80% of the state owned bank (BANADES), and others], the state oil distribution company, and the services of major ports.”[9]

By 2008, many of these measures had been accomplished. An IMF report for that year maintained that GDP growth had been 3.8% in 2007 and a consistent 2-4% before that. Over three-hundred state enterprises have been privatized since the early 1990’s.[10] It claimed that Nicaragua had fostered a “good business climate” where “Energy, infrastructure, agriculture, livestock, fishing, forestry, tourism, and free trade zones” were the main accomplishments. Meanwhile, strict controls on public wage increases were to be enforced, the poverty rate had remained virtually unchanged, and the social health indicators had increased only measly over the ten-year period.[11] These so-called “free trade zones,” or FTZs, mentioned above, have been purported to decrease unemployment and empower community members to stimulate the economy. The reality is quite different. “While the FTZs have been a major source of employment for women, they have not created jobs that can bring women out of poverty and contribute to their empowerment. On the contrary, management in these factories pays low wages, provides difficult working conditions, and tries to suppress the women’s labor rights.”[12]

The agroexport model so heavily pushed by foreign interests has failed the Nicaraguan people as well. “Until 2000, coffee had been Nicaragua's main foreign exchange earner…After years of World Bank pushing countries (especially Vietnam) to plant this cash crop, the coffee sector in Nicaragua, as elsewhere, has collapsed.”[13] Subsequently, massive migration from rural areas to urban areas has drastically increased the plight of the urban working class as they struggle to find jobs with decent wages or any employment at all. Over half of the working-age population suffers from underemployment and the significant majority of Nicaraguans survive on less than two dollars a day. The cost of a basic basket of goods has doubled since the 1990’s for families and the prices of water and electricity have increased fivefold while real wages have remained stagnant.[14] This has cultivated a dual-economy in Nicaragua where a small, wealthy elite maintain luxurious lifestyles while the majority are forced suffer in the squalors of poverty and deprivation. Even the former Sandinista, and current president Daniel Ortega, has renounced his past populism, swallowed up the SAP as his own, and stressed his commitment to respect private property, small, medium and large.”[15]

It is apparent, then, that Nicaragua provides the perfect model under which to examine the neoliberal paradigm. It is obvious that “free trade” has done very little for the people of Nicaragua other than increase their misery. The words of political analyst Noam Chomsky, as he dissects what is meant by the term “trade” in the economic world, are easily applicable to Nicaragua’s situation:
“What's called trade isn't trade in any serious sense of the term. Much of what's called trade is just internal transactions, inside a big corporation... by now it's estimated that about 40% of what's called world trade is internal to corporations. That means centrally-managed transactions run by a very visible hand with major market distortions of all kinds, sometimes called a system of corporate mercantilism, which is fairly accurate.”[16]
It is well understood by the people of Nicaragua that this system has done nothing for them. Wealthy, first world bankers and highly advanced multinational corporations, alongside a crooked domestic elite, have exploited the land, resources, and labor of Nicaragua.

Nicaragua’s situation is genuinely unique, of course, but the general problems it faces from the onslaught of neoliberalism can be almost universally applied to third world countries. Therefore, the predilection towards the free market must be countered. This may or may not happen, but it is absolutely essential that new forms of economic and human development are applied with the simultaneous dismantling of the existing model. A green-industrial mode of economic development could be particularly useful, especially in the regions that already have some infrastructure and industrial capability. However, one must be careful not to posit blind industrialism as the solution, especially given the drastic advance global warming has made and the advent of new technologies that could be utilized in Nicaragua’s situation. This would require important skills and training that would require greatly augmenting the educational structures in the country, something that may or may not push them, yet again, into reliance on predatory global powers. Therefore, dependency models of technological and industrial development offer some hope, but with possible consequences that would have to be addressed as they appear.

Participatory development, the utilization of limited technology and labor-intensive methods that traditional rural sectors are familiar with, could provide individual solutions in individual communities. It is not, however, a panacea for all of Nicaragua’s problems which extend far beyond how the agricultural sector is organized. While subsistence or small-excess farming methods may allow particular communities to maintain their style of living, it does not necessarily mean that the needs of the growing urban sectors will be met. Participatory development is, at most, a tactic to be applied to certain regions within a more comprehensive strategy. Any strategy that develops, however, ought to be organically constructed through the democratic participation of the Nicaraguan people, not through first world financiers, wealthy Nicaraguan oligarchs, or corrupt party officials.

Popular protests against privatization and pressure on local legislators have stalled some neoliberal offensives. Still, the projectory has been increasingly to the right in the past thirty years. This has only just changed with the vote for Ortega, who in the hearts and minds of the Nicaraguan people represented a shift away from the neoliberal economic model. It is clear, however, that he remains committed to the corporate world and private interests, not the masses.[17] If Nicaragua’s future is to be reversed from the bleak course it is currently traveling it will take a massive upsurge of popular fervor and democratic struggle. Democratic participation by the massive will prove the only antidote for an economic system that functions solely on profit and not on people. Those involved in working-class and rural struggles must transcend the limits of corporate capitalism and search for a new alternative. Participatory development and technological advancement, where appropriate, are absolutely essential if Nicaragua is to break free from the chains of their past. These methods may advance the potential for Nicaraguans to control, in a limited manner, their own destiny. Likewise, debt relief provided a rather paltry gesture towards reconciliation. The United States government owes the Nicaraguan people large-scale reparations and access to technological developments and social services the Nicaraguan state does not have the capacity to implement with its limited resources. Perhaps the words of Malcolm X are applicable here: “If you stick a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out three inches, that is not progress. Even if you pull it all the way out, that is not progress. Progress is healing the wound, and America hasn't even begun to pull out the knife.” America’s knife may be pulled out three inches with debt-relief, but there is still far more work to do. However, until the means of production are democratically controlled and society is organized around collective principles of existence poverty, hunger, and exploitation will remain an everyday occurrence in Nicaraguan society.

[1] Westen, “Ortega Wins Nicaraguan Elections: Where To Now?”
[2] Lanuza, “Nicaragua: Ecological Debt”
[3] “Chronology of the World Bank,” International Socialist Review
[4] “Nicaragua: History of Lending Arrangements,” International Monetary Fund, (2009);
[5]Nicaragua: Estimated Debt Service Payments,” World Bank (2009);,,PAGESIZE:10~menuPK:177680~pagePK:169643~piPK:169646~theSitePK:136917~COUNTRYCODE:NI,00.html?countrylist=NI
[6] Kimmo Lehtonen, “Most of Nicaragua’s Foreign Debt Canceled,” Kepa (2004);
[8] Solo, “Neo-liberal Nicaragua,”
[9] Michael Camdessus, “Nicaragua Letter of Intent and Memorandum on Economic Policies,” Internatinoal Monetary Fund (1998);
[10] Solo, “Neo-liberal Nicaragua,”
[11] Camdessus, “Nicaragua Letter of Intent and Memorandum”
[12] Rose-Marie Avin, “Free Trade Zones and Women I Nicaragua: Empowerment or Exploitation?” Working Capital for Community Needs, (2002);
[13] Solo, “Neo-liberal Nicaragua,”
[14] Ibid.
[15] Westen, “Ortega Wins Nicaraguan Elections: Where To Now?”
[16]; He further outlines this critique of neoliberalism when he applies it to the United States: “So let's take the United States. 200 years ago the comparative advantage of the United States was exporting fish and fur, and maybe cotton, thanks to slavery. If the U.S. had followed the principles that are dictated to the poor countries, we'd be a sparsely populated, pretty poor country, exporting primary resources. Instead, the United States violated all of the rules--the rules of the economists and the neo-liberal principles.” (
[17] When I traveled to Nicaragua in the summer of 2009, the people that I spoke to in the city of León about Ortega were often quite willing to point out his shifts to the right (being baptized Catholic and passing strong anti-abortion legislation, submitting to private business, etc.) and the fact that he owned multiple mansions as evidence of his being completely bought off.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Nicaragua: A Neoliberal's Dream Part I

         Nicaragua is small country of 5.9 million people[1] with a history of colonial exploitation, corporate imperialism, a lengthy U.S. sponsored dictatorship, multiple hurricanes, and a brutal civil war. Subsequently, it is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere aside from Haiti. Yet, economic indicators used by capitalists to measure growth have steadily increased. Since 2003 Gross Domestic Product has increased a modest but steady two to four percent annually.[2] Foreign direct investment has been augmented prodigiously, rising from $75 million in 1997 to $335 million a decade later. During the same period exports nearly doubled from 23% to 45% of the country’s total GDP.[3] Still, year after year Nicaraguans struggle endlessly to survive:  47% of the population live on less than $1 a day and 80% percent live on less than $2 a day, nearly 50% of the workforce is underemployed, one in ten people do not live past age forty, one in five do not have regular access to potable water, and a significant portion rely on the one billion dollars worth of remittances sent home from Nicaraguans living abroad.[4][5][6] These figures have, more or less, remained fixed since the neoliberal economic model was forced upon the country by institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in the early 1990’s. This chasm between economic growth and social indicators is staggering, but it is only perplexing when viewed with the framework constructed by bourgeois economists and financial elites.

If the economic situation in Nicaragua is analyzed with the assumption that the financiers and members of the capitalist class, who maintain hegemony over trade and lending institutions, serve the interests of the masses in the countries they loan too then, undoubtedly, the numbers are bewildering. If instead, this simple assumption is removed and replaced with the more obvious one that the financial elites serve their own interests, a more realistic, lucid analysis is possible. Political analyst and author Michael Parenti asserts that countries like Nicaragua are “getting poorer as there is more and more deregulation, more and more so-called free market, which is really monopoly market. It’s a free market if you got money. It’s a market that works for those who have money.”[7] The neoliberal economic model shoved down the throats of third world countries by the political and economic elites, both domestically and of the traditionally oppressive imperialist powers, has vastly augmented the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few while widening the gap between the rich and the poor.

Nicaragua is, perhaps, the most vivid example of this phenomenon in the western hemisphere. First world capitalists, utilizing the rhetoric of free markets and globalization, move in to extract resources, exploit cheap labor, and force their state-subsidized goods upon new markets while propping up the often blatantly corrupt domestic ruling class. Meanwhile, a sort of dual economy is established where the poor working class, by far the vast majority, are relegated to substandard living and struggle to meet basic needs while a small, financially secure sector of the population indulge in their ostentatious wealth. To understand Nicaragua’s particular situation, highly unique given the historical context, one must trace the current economic and political institutions to their origins.

The colonial tradition of Nicaragua facilitated the concentration of land in the in the hands of a small oligarchy. This process had largely been completed by the early twentieth century. As a key strategic access point to Latin America, U.S. imperial interests established military bases in the region, leading to a failed uprising led by Augusto Sandino from 1927 to 1933. Anatasio Somoza, a general at the time, was vigorously supported by the United States and killed Sandino on their behalf. Subsequently, the Somoza family remained the sole, dictatorial rulers of Nicaragua for over forty years.[8] Vehemently loyal to northern business interests, the Somozas further concentrated land and large sectors of the economy into the hands of family and friends. Nicaragua became home to foreign corporations and Somoza directed primary exports to wealthy nations. “The agroexport model was provided and financed by the State…The financial system assigned a major portion of its funding to the cultivation of exports” such as cotton and coffee.[9] This agroexport model, which forced Nicaragua into growing cash crops for exports to wealthy nations, placed in the country’s well-being on the precarious whims of the global market. While first-world nations, already highly advanced, utilized protectionist trade policies and their enormous industrial and technological power to maintain themselves, third world nations like Nicaragua were set upon a dangerous precipice on which they could fall at any moment. Obviously, this global arrangement served the interests of capital in the first world and provided enough kickbacks to the multifaceted, corrupted oligarchies in the third world that those benefiting could steadily rely upon their force to maintain hegemony.

Nicaragua provides the perfect paragon in which to analyze how dreadful this agroexport model truly was. In conjunction with a brutal dictatorship backed by the United States government and business interests, this economic model proved disastrous for the majority of the Nicaraguan people. As Magda Lanuza of Jubilee South reports, “The coffee latifundios were formed since the end of the XIX century with a history of expropriations and the destruction of a large area of moist forest.”[10] Coffee and cotton combined accounted nearly forty percent of exports by the 1970’s. The United Fruit Company of the United States, receiving large subsidies and cheap access to fertile land, furthered this monoculture, cash crop model by encouraging large scale deforestation for the planting of African Palms. “In 1972, people working for the production of [cotton] wealth obtained only 7.5% of the income from the sector while 4% of the population, the "patrones," received 60% of the income.”[11] By some estimates, Chiquita banana plantations caused four billion dollars worth of social and ecological harm through intense amounts of air, soil, and water pollution.[12]

The agroexport model was applied vigorously to the country’s Pacific coast while the Atlantic coast was “oriented toward the control of natural resources for export.” Large U.S. mining companies such as Rosario and Neptune Mining were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of miners and the poisoning of two major Nicaraguan rivers. The growth of mining cities galvanized the process of deforestation and forced the removal of indigenous inhabitants from their lands.[13] Inevitably, this importation of Northern agricultural capital lead to the destruction of the traditional, rural modes of living. Underemployment in the agricultural sector facilitated the movement of workers from rural communities into the cities where such massive influxes could be used to maintain low wages and dismantle any serious labor organizing. The Somoza dictatorship was granted various loans by international lending institutions to facilitate the building of infrastructure intended to facilitate the export model. Roads, bridges, buildings, and other things needed were built not in a manner conducive to human development but economic exploitation. To this day, agriculture, timber, and fishing constitute one-third of Nicaragua’s GDP.[14]

By the early 1960’s a subterranean revolt was brewing underneath the repressive dictatorship. After a major earthquake destroyed large sections of Nicaragua, including the capital of Managua, the Somoza regime misused state funds and failed to initiate any serious restoration projects. All legitimacy was lost in the eyes of the Nicaraguan masses. The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) was founded during this period and launched a guerilla war on the corrupt Somoza regime. By 1979 Somoza’s regime was crippled under the weight of popular resistance and the guerilla war. A general strike struck the final nail in the Somoza coffin and that year the FSLN came to power with Daniel Ortega at the helm.[15] The new, popular government nationalized the enormous Somoza holding, initiated popular land reform, and took over important social responsibilities such as reducing illiteracy, fighting poverty, and supplying electricity, clean water, and other services at affordable rates. Almost immediately the United States pressured the World Bank to cut off all loans to the new government in response to such popular measures.[16] 

Contrary to U.S. propaganda, the Sandinistas never claimed to be Marxists, nor did claim allegiance to the Soviet Union. They maintained a “pragmatic” platform with mix of revolutionary socialist rhetoric, populist reform, and concessions to bourgeois elements; it was not until after the U.S. sponsored the Contra war against the Sandinistas that they were pushed into the Soviet orbit. They intended to develop Nicaraguan society and reduce poverty through a fusion of the dependency and participatory development models. On the one hand, they made brief gestures towards the working class in order to stimulate industrial growth and reduce dependence upon the agroexport model. On the other hand, they were largely focused on land reform and developing a communal agricultural sector that allowed the peasants to work the land as they pleased.Within three years the Contra rebels, mostly remnants of Somoza’s notoriously brutal national guard unit, began a vicious war on the new government. They were heavily backed by Ronald Reagan and received significant support from the CIA. Thus, in the midst of the most popular revolution in Nicaraguan history the country was plunged back into civil war against an enemy backed by the most powerful nation on Earth. Instead of focusing on internal reform and democratic advancement the Sandinistas were forced to carry out yet another war, one that would have devastating effects. 

By 1988, the Contras had been given more than one billion dollars of support from the United States. Submarine oil ducts and petroleum deposits were specifically targeted to harm the Nicaraguan economy and cause major ecological damage. Prodigious sections of forest were destroyed as warfare ignited massive fires that rapidly spread. Thousands of mines were placed all throughout the country by Contra forces, one for every thirty-two inhabitants. These have significantly “reduced the production possibilities in communities due to constant danger.”[17] In all, over 50,000 people died during the Contra war against the popular Nicaraguan government. So serious was the offenses committed against the Nicaraguan people that in 1987 “the International Court of Justice ordered the US government to pay Nicaragua an indemnity of US$16 billion in compensation for the losses caused by its terrorism.” This ruling was bluntly ignored by the United States.[18]

[1] “Background Note: Nicaragua,” U.S. Department of State (August 2009);
[2] “Nicargua GDP – Real Growth Rate,” IndexMundi, (2007);
[3] “Nicaragua at a Glance,” World Bank Group, (2008);
[4] Fred Weston, “Ortega Wins Nicaraguan Elections: Where To Now?”, In Defence of Marxism (2006);
[5] C.I.A., “Nicaragua,” The World Fact Book (2009);
[6] Human Development Report, “2008 Statistical Update: Nicaragua,” HDR (2008);
[7] Michael Parenti quoted by Kim Peterson, “Toward An Equitable Economy,” Dissident Voice (2004);
[8] Westen, “Ortega Wins Nicaraguan Elections: Where To Now?”
[9] Magda Lanuza, “Nicaragua: Ecological Debt and the model of indebtedness, impoverishment, and predatory destruction,” Jubilee South;
[10] Lanuza, “Nicaragua: Ecological Debt”
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] “Background Note: Nicaragua,” U.S. Department of State (August 2009);
[15] Westen, “Ortega Wins Nicaraguan Elections: Where To Now?”
[16] “Chronology of the World Bank,” International Socialist Review (Issue 11, Spring 2000);
[17] Lanuza, “Nicaragua: Ecological Debt”
[18] Toni Solo, “Neo-liberal Nicaragua,” Global Policy Forum (2003);

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Reality of Jacobin Terror and the Subsequent Rise and Fall of the Directory

Often “The Terror” is treated by historians as the product of the deranged Jacobins, who, aspiring to dictatorial achievement hoped to purge themselves of all political enemies. Rather than appropriately considered within the context of France in the summer of 1973, the events of the Terror are abstracted from the existing material conditions. The Terror, however, is much better understood when analyzed within the matrix of the devastating famine hitting Paris that year, bread hoarders hoping to increase profits on the black market (Steel 199), massive coalition of hostile enemies along France’s borders, and counter-revolutionary royalists plotting to reinstitute the monarchy at home. The subsequent rise and fall of the more reactionary Directory are inextricably linked to the Terror and, indeed, grew out of it.

The Terror, more than anything, while manifesting itself in a rather disorganized and decentralized manner, was a general reflection of the atmosphere of Paris in 1973. In a relatively short amount of time, the government passed the “Law of Suspects” which essentially removed civil liberties in France while the new “Revolutionary Tribunal” was established and granted powers to allow rapid application of the guillotine (which, it must be mentioned, was a rather new and humane form of death in comparison to the old methods). It was intended, rather explicitly, to deal with all counter-revolutionary activity in hopes of suppressing Royalist plots to restore the monarchy. It quickly became utilized to target particular political personalities as well who were more or less radical than the Jacobin dominated government approved of.

This Terror, however, occurred within the context of France’s most tumultuous moments. Bread rations were extremely low and hoarders exacerbated the problem by hoarding grain in hopes of turning over a larger profit by keeping it off the market. On all sides France was surrounded by foreign armies: a British fleet was just off the coast of Marseilles, coalition forces were present along the Pyrenees and had already set foot in Flanders, and counter-revolutionary priests and nobles plotted rebellions in various provinces (Doyle 256). As the government had witnessed in September of 1792, the Parisian masses were not content with allowing Royalist plotters to go unpunished. For instance, when Montmarin, who had been plotting to help reestablish the monarchy, was caught and put on trial, the reactionary judge allowed to go free; such a reactionary court rulings stirred up tremendous anger amongst the common people who wished to preserve the society they fought so hard to rebuild. As E. Belfort Bax explains, “Moderatist and Girondist Assembly hesitated at making a few examples of even the most notorious of these plotters” and thus, Parisians took it upon themselves to administer ad hoc justice to those accused nobles and Royalists sitting in prison. When Danton began organizing soldiers to go to the front to meet the foreign armies, many exclaimed they would not go fight foreign enemies while living enemies right in Paris; thus, to effectively organize resistance to the European coalition, the Jacobin government had to reassure the people of France that they were not leaving plotters safe to rise up against a defenseless homeland when the men had gone off to fight (Bax).

Therefore, the Terror was intended not only to do away with counter-revolutionaries and grain-hoarders at home, it was also facilitated the ability to raise soldiers to fight off foreign invasion. Thousands were killed, and many were targeted not for counter-revolution or for hoarding, but for political reasons under rather tenuous claims propped up by the Law of Suspects. And although this fact alone provides no defense, it should be noted that the Terror claimed relatively few victims in comparison to other contemporary massacres enforced by more conservative heads of state in other nations (Doyle 259). The Jacobins, more concerned perhaps with this than with other domestic affairs, ultimately failed to address the social concerns much needed in 1973-4. While Doyle maintains that “by the spring of 1974 France was obviously making substantial progress towards a controlled economy,” (Doyle 265), they had not, and would not, implement the constitution of 1793 restoring civil liberties and rights to French citizens. Instead, the Terror would continue even after successful military victories and the elimination, in large part, of counter-revolutionaries at home. While the Jacobins helped assure bread rations to the people with the laws of maximum, they also eventually implemented the same laws against rises in wages, alienating themselves from the burgeoning proletariat. Similarly, they attacked political targets both to the right and the left, creating for themselves enemies on multiple fronts and, in short, laying the foundations for their own downfall.

Thus, the Jacobins isolated themselves from their social base, the sans-culottes, through reactionary economic policies and political terror. They also instituted a leveé en masse, essentially a draft, which further increased hostility among the peasant masses forced to leave their homes to fight. Moderates, not missing a step, quickly latched on to their chance to impose reactionary measures against the radical Jacobins; under the promulgation of “stability,” they drafted a new constitution which reflected the class interests of the prosperous bourgeoisie. It, like the constitution of 1791, rested on an relatively nominal social, but prodigious economic, basis and effectively meant that the government would function to perpetuate the rule of the new wealthy class. As Doyle notes, “Until the fall of Robespierre the poor had made considerable progress in the struggle” (Doyle 324), this was shattered by the reactionary economic policies begun by the Jacobins but instituted even more profoundly by the moderates. Coupled with the State’s bankruptcy and increased power, through new laws, to heavily tax the citizens, the Directory even managed to augment unpopularity among propertied groups it represented (Doyle 334).

However, after attempting to circumvent democratic institutions with laws such as the two-thirds law which would dictate that at least two-thirds of the writers of the new constitution to take seats in the legislature (Doyle 320) and ensuring that only a relatively small electorate could participate, the Directory still found themselves still showing poorly in elections. Their response was to simply trample over the electoral process, alienating themselves further from the democratic and republican sympathies of the majority. “Blatant steps were therefore taken to rig the outcome at every stage” as radical Jacobin influence shone through the electoral process (Doyle 336). They utilized the military to play a balancing act between conservative royalist forces and radical Jacobins, acting rather whimsically in their vacillation of repression towards one or the other and isolating both. Likewise, their lax economic policies and commitment to laissez-faire capitalism inspired serious disillusionment with the new government among the masses. The Directory effectively isolated themselves from the vast majority of the people while, at the same time, not garnering a large enough social base upon which they could fend off attack; thus, the doors were opened for Napoleon to enter the scene and skillfully manipulate the political situation.
Works Cited

Bax, E. Belfort, Jean-Paul Marat: The People’s Friend. (1900) Available from:; Internet.
Doyle, William. The Oxford History of the French Revolution. (Oxford University Press, 2002).
Steel, Mark. Vive La Revolucion: A Stand-Up History of the French Revolution. (Haymarket Books, 2003).

Monday, October 19, 2009

On Education Part Ten: Should We Embrace the Charter School Movement?

This mini-series "On Education" is a compiled list of short essays concerning theoretical approaches to classroom pedagogy and their broader implications upon us as educators and our students.

Read Past Contributions:
Part Eight: Middle Class Elitism and the Myth of the Super Teacher
Part Nine: Class and the Possibility to Transcend Race, Nationality, and Ethnic Identity 


The essence of any private entity, insofar as it exists within a capitalist political economy, is to function around a profit motive. Public institutions, on the other hand, despite their often deteriorated democratic structures and top-heavy bureaucratic management, provide some semblance of public ownership and popular control. American capitalism, especially in the age of globalization, has pursued drastic privatization efforts in nearly every area imaginable. Thus, very few industries or economic sectors remain within the public domain. The education of children remains a final frontier in privatization, in the domination of the market over democratic control and public ownership. According to some corporate analysts, “the education industry represents the largest market opportunity since health-care services were privatized during the 1970’s,” (Kozol) and corporate America plans to impinge upon this sector, slyly or with force. Charter schools are the manifestation of this privatization effort within the educational realm; they function to subvert the public school system, allowing corporate America to latch its lengthy tentacles onto the levers of power in order to manipulate and control young peoples’ educational experience while garnering a profit.

Charters are, essentially, “any school that is funded publicly but governed by institutions outside the public school system” which allows for “any group of people [a company, a non-governmental organization, a university, etc.] who write a charter can become autonomous from a public school board and control the budget, curriculum, and select the students in a school” (Knopp, p.36). Essentially, this means that anybody or any company, regardless of their knowledge or educational background, can dictate the educational environment in which children are taught. Charter schools, until recently a relatively marginal form of education, have sprung up rapidly in the both United States and around the world:

Today more than one million children attend some four thousand charter schools nationally.10 The Chicago Teachers Union has shrunk by 10 percent since the onset of Renaissance 2010, a program to break away one hundred schools from the Chicago Public School District. In Los Angeles 7 percent of children in public school, 45,000 students, attend charter schools.11 And that number is growing rapidly: in California, charter schools grew by 13.2 percent in 2006/07, increasing to 617 schools.12 Joel Klein, chancellor of schools in the New York public school system, has announced his intention that all of New York’s schools should be charters.13 Thirty percent of the students in Dayton, Ohio, attend charter schools.14 About 30 percent of the children in Washington, D.C., attend these schools, and 9 percent in Arizona. Georgia has sixty charter schools, double what it had in 2005. Florida has 334, and Texas 237.15  (Knopp, p. 38).

Often funded by right-wing foundations and endowments, such as the annual $50 million provided by Wal-Mart’s Walton Family Foundation (Klonsky and Klonsky, p.93), even many prominent liberals, such as President Barack Obama, vigorously promote the charter school agenda. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a 2006 study which postulated that called for replacing public schools with charter schools, “eliminating nearly all the powers of local school boards” and replacing their powers with a rubber-stamp ability to approve charters, “eliminating teacher pensions and slashing health benefits,” and “forcing all 10th graders to take a high school exit examination based on 12th grade skills, and terminating the education of those who failed” (Miller and Gerson). The charter movement merges seamlessly with the dominant, neoliberal ideological tendencies of the past three decades:

Charter schools fit the needs of the establishment perfectly. Education is still compulsory and paid for by the state. Children are still controlled while their parents are at work, and thus this is still supported by our regressive tax structure. And charter schools are excellent teachers of free-market, “personal responsibility” ideology. The American Dream is promised to all those who strive to pull themselves up by the bootstraps (Knopp, p.39).
Charter schools, then, work within the long-established framework of undemocratic and alienating social efficiency theory of education. With this advent, the possibility of a Wal-Mart educated America may become a reality in the not so distance future.

The impacts of charter schools on the public education system are diverse and multifaceted. Undoubtedly, public education within the United States has historically suffered from a lack of funding, an unequal distribution of resources, a lack of democratic control by the community, sluggish bureaucracy, and top-down decision making. Some within the educational establishment, even well-intentioned teachers and parents attracted to rhetoric of choice and innovation, argue that charters can reinvigorate the local school environment and empower historically marginalized communities. Some progressive journals such as Rethinking Schools have already shown they are open to the idea that charters may present a benevolent development over the decrepit public system. In the book published by Rethinking Schools, Keeping the Promise? The Debate Over Charter Schools, authors explain that the “question facing the charter school movement is whether it will fulfill its founding promise of reform that empowers the powerless, or whether it will become a vehicle to further enrich the powerful and stratify our schools” (Dingerson et al., xv). This idealistic vision, however, has already been answered. 

Eventually, even smaller charters formed on the basis of providing a progressive, engaging educational environment, such charters organized around principles of social justice, are eventually pried open by corporate money as they struggle to garner more resources for their children. Kozol explains:

In rare occasions, a charter school created by teachers in the public system and in collaboration with activist parents in the community have had at least short-term success… [but] They tend very quickly—even when they’re started by teachers with the best intentions—to enter into collaboration with the private sector (Kozol).

Thus, charter schools represent an individual, reactionary solution to a prodigious societal problem; they do very little of what they promise and, furthermore, they effectively close the dialogue on articulating organized, collective solutions which could drastically improve the public educational system for all children. Charter schools present a myriad of problems for educators who wish to democratize schooling and provide fair, equitable educational institutions for all students. No only do they brazenly swing open the door to mass privatization, charters fail to perform better than other schools, choose the students able to attend which decreases student and parent control and excludes undesirable children, provide even less autonomy than public schools, and they serve as a virulent offensive against teachers unions.

The profit motive, which drives the business world, has increasingly manifested itself as the impetus behind school reform. Charter schools can be either non-profit or for-profit institutions. Currently, around one-quarter of all charter schools function for a profit. However, even non-profit schools face the constant need to expand, secure more funds, and provide the cheapest services possible which ensure the greatest return. Thus, while for-profits are less pervasive, the effects of running charter schools on the business model (since non-profits rely upon cost-cutting as well in order to expand) are applicable to both categories. Knopp explains, “there is always an incentive to do things on the cheap—poorly maintained physical plant and equipment, low pay for teachers and other staff, and larger class sizes mean bigger rates of return” (Knopp, p. 40-1). Even if a charter declares itself non-profit, administration salaries can be extremely high and charters are capable of siphoning off some public funds to keep as profit. This, however, does not even include the common practice of “contracting out” non-profit charters. Often, “for-profit corporations create nonprofit foundations to obtain the charters, and then hire themselves to run the schools” (Klonsky and Klonsky, p. 108). Thus, within the realm of private education corruption abounds and profiteering reigns. As is common within a capitalist framework, sly executives regularly maneuver around the limited laws which attempt to limit the denigrating effects of the market on the public sphere.

Another common claim is that charters will outperform the public sector in terms of testing and student achievement. Ignoring the fact that charters are still tied to the rigid state curriculum and fundamentally flawed and biased standardized testing, these schools generally fail to meet the claim of providing a superior educational experience. A variety of studies have concluded charter schools either perform at the same level of public institutions or, in many cases, do worse. Math and reading scores, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, were generally lower in independent charter schools than their counterparts in the public realm (“Exploding the Charter School Myth”) Similarly, a 2005 study carried out by the Economic Policy Institute and the Teachers’ College at Columbia University entitled Charter School Dustup: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement, found that “socio-economically disadvantages Asian-origin and Latino students in charter schools had composite test scores (literacy, mathematics, science, and social studies) that were about 4 to 5 percent lower than their counterparts in public primary schools” (Conroy et al.). Knopp explains that “every state besides Arizona…found charter schools’ performance is no higher than that of public schools in every demographic category” (Knopp, p. 41). Like many other charter school assertions, the declaration of better grades does not match up with the hard statistics. This is not to say that charters cannot succeed, they can; however, it is usually when they are provided with extra money and more resources than public schools.

Even when charters can accurately maintain that they have better test scores, it is because they have the choice to cherry-pick what students they allow in the institution; thus, charters start with students who already have scored higher on standardized tests. The boards who run these schools “select for students with the most resourceful parents, the children who already have a head start in the race” (Knopp, p.42). Likewise, English language learners are often ostracized from these institutions since charters, “whether consciously or unconsciously, select for those students who are going to boost their test scores the most” (Knopp, p. 42). Many schools even “decry the ‘burdens’ of special education” and “frequently pronounce themselves not subject to IDEA [Individuals with Disabilities Education Act]” and do whatever they can to reject children with special needs (Stoneman). Lastly, charters can simply remove students, or parents, whom they dislike or struggle in the school. Parents and students lack the due process potentially available to them in the public school system.

Some charters utilize rhetoric of autonomy, grassroots control, and social justice to draw students traditionally marginalized by the public system. However, this façade of academic freedom does not truly exist since charters, like public schools, cannot evade the rigid standardization measurements put forth by the dominant testing agencies and state bureaucrats. In the same vein, charters remove parent and teacher control absolutely, as is clear in the case of Green Dot, the nonprofit organization that runs a dozen or so charters in Los Angeles, which explicitly exclaims “the Board maintains final authority over decisions regarding administrative decisions” (Knopp, p.42). Decisions over curriculum, clothing (such as uniforms), educational tactics, and methods of assessment all lie with the board who governs the schools, quite the opposite of the language of grassroots autonomy charters often evoke. Most charters even go so far as to not permit unions within their establishments. Leadership Academy in Los Angeles, which calls itself a social justice school, illuminates this concept lucidly:

[The Leadership Academy] encourages teachers to use lessons from movements for social change, and encourages students to attend antiwar demonstrations. The school recruits students who have been involved in community organizing and who are committed to progressive, antiracist pedagogy. The teachers learned a lesson in social justice, though, when they tried to win the right to representation and collective bargaining by affiliating to the California Teachers Association. Roger Lowenstein [the head of the academy] hired high-paid anti-union law firms to keep the union out… Lowenstein argued to the Public Employee Relations Board that it should have no role in overseeing the union election or investigating unfair labor practices because the Leadership Academy is “not a public school.” If he was referring to the decision-making process—rather than the source of funding, which is, of course, public—he is absolutely right. Teachers quickly found out that the school’s advocacy for struggle, protest, and collectively “speaking truth to power” rang hollow when it came to their right to organize themselves (Knopp, p. 43).

Thus, charters not only dictate the terms upon which children are educated, they present a direct attack upon teachers’ unions and the right to workplace organization. Within the larger, neoliberal context of the past three decades, this theme fits in rather flawlessly.

Charter schools do not represent a real solution to America’s endemic schooling predicament. Charters present a reactionary response to a failing educational system; they are tools of the rich who utilize them “used to dismantle the power of the teachers’ unions” while “siphoning public money into private hands” by “channeling tax money into the pockets of enterprising individuals” (Knopp, p.39). Despite the harmful effects of charters, they continue to creep into the public realm. In California, where tens of thousands of students attend overcrowded school buildings, legislation has been articulated that allows for charters to take over public space. In Chicago, Arnie Duncan has vehemently promoted charter schools, along with merit pay and massive militarization of the public school system, and closed many public schools and replaced them with private or military institutions (Ayers, “Child Soldiers” and Sharkey, “Military Out of Our Schools”). However, parents, teachers, students, and community members have actively fought back in various instances and, in same cases, won decisive victories of the charter schools. In California, after large-scale community protests, only sixteen of forty applications for co-location of charters in public space were accepted by the Los Angeles United School District (Knopp, p. 45). Similarly, in Puerto Rico teachers “struck for more than a week against the colonial government’s plans for education” which included the increased presence of charter schools on the island (Knopp, p.44). Therefore, it is apparent that a dedicated, organized campaign of education and activism is absolutely necessary to challenge the charter school movement. As recent victories show, collective effort can overpower corporate encroachment.

Teachers who truly desire autonomy, equality, and social justice must articulate a different platform for educational reform. First, they most argue that if the public school system was better funded, had more access to needed resources, was given more democratic control with curriculum, and not confined by culturally biased standardized tests which smother teacher creativity and stifle students ability to critically analyze and be engaged in school, then charter schools would not have any significant place in the discussion over reform. This abstraction, however, must be backed up with concrete action at the grassroots level.

Educators must involve themselves deeply within the struggle for more resources; an increase on corporate tax rates or a deflating of the military budget could provide the money so desperately needed to help fix the public system. An intense educational campaign must be waged against charters; this means teachers must be actively involved in their own unions and win over other educators to the idea. Educators should also welcome charter school teachers into teachers’ unions, but on the condition that they have all the fundamental rights of non-charter contracts. Lastly, teachers must fight every corporate incursion and charter friendly legislation that appears before them; “from the $3 billion testing industry accelerated under No Child Left Behind, to McGraw-Hill and its Reading First program pushed through by the Bush Administration,” every act corporate and military impingement in the public sphere must be challenged (Knopp, p.45-6). Without organized resistance, the America’s education will just be another example of the long line of privatization, from healthcare, to the prison industry, to the military. It is the place of educators, who honestly care for the quality of education provided to all students, to fight back against the newest wave of privatization and corporate infringement on the public domain.

Conroy, M., Jacobsen, R., Mishel, L., and Rothstein, R., The Charter School Dustup: Examining Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement (Washington: Economic Policy Institute, 2005).
Editorial, (August 27, 2006). Retrieved April 19, 2009 from New York Times:
Klonsky, M., and Klonsky, S., Small Schools: Public School Reform Meets the Ownership Society (New York: Routledge, 2008).
Knopp, S., (Nov-Dec 2008). “Charter Schools and the Attack on Public Education.” International Socialist Review 62, pg. 36-47. Also available from International Socialist Review Online:
Kozol, J., (August 2007). “The Big Enchilada.” Retried April 19, 2009 from Harper’s Magazine
Kozol, J., (Jan-Feb 2006). “Separate and Unequal: America’s Apartheid Schools.” Interview in International Socialist Review 45. Retrieved April 19, 2009 from International Socialist Review Online:
Miller, S., and Gerson, J., “The Corporate Surge Against Public Schools.” Retrieved April 19, 2009 from Scribd:
Quinn, T., Meiners, E., Ayers, B., (January 8, 2008). “Child Soldiers.” Retrived April 19, 2009 from Bill Ayers:
Sharkey, J., (October 14, 2008). “Get the Military Out of Our Schools.” Retrieved April 19, 2009 from Socialist Worker:
Stoneman, C. (Fall 1988). “New Battlegrounds.” Retrieved April 19, 2009, from Rethinking Schools: 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On the Question of Revolution Part II

The role of violence in revolution, however, has never been and cannot be formulated into a universal principle. A revolution can come in the form of a popularly supported military take over by a small vanguard (as in Cuba), through an enormous and bloody civil war (the U.S. Civil War) or through consistent struggle using strike tactics and workplace takeovers (halting production, the economy, etc.), culminating in a general strike with relatively little bloodshed (the Russian Revolution). However, the form of the revolution is largely determinant of what kind of society can or will be produced from the old society’s ashes. Likewise, the amount of the violence which occurs is largely dependent upon diverse variables, namely: the material conditions, the political atmosphere, the development in the consciousness of the participants, the numbers involved, etc. Generally, revolutionaries take a principled stand against violence, especially in the forms which manifest themselves through state power (war, police brutality, etc.), racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and other types of prejudice. Similarly, any sort of progressive revolutionary would not call for egregious or unnecessary violence. It would, however, be nearly impossible to find a revolution which was entirely bloodless; radical black civil rights leader Malcolm X succinctly outlines this point: “The French Revolution, what was it based on — the landless against the landlord. What was it for? Land! How did they get it? Bloodshed! There was no love lost, was no compromise, was no negotiation…You don’t have a revolution that doesn’t involve bloodshed.” Thus, to fully understand why and how violence becomes such an issue, the sources and initiators of the violence must be thoroughly analyzed.

For instance, assume that a revolution based on the socialist principles of the workers owning the means of production (factories, schools, offices, etc.) were to occur in the United States. If the workers managed to expropriate the work place, remove the top-down, tyrannical rule of the CEO and install democratic, grassroots institutions, one would have to be willfully ignorant of the lessons of history and class struggle to assume that the ruling class and the state would not forcefully impose itself upon the workers to regain control. One would be hard pressed to find an instance in history where power or privilege was given to the workers and citizens of society without a fight. The great abolitionist Frederick Douglas, in his most famous line, explains that “[p]ower concedes nothing without demand. It never has and never will.”

Thus, it is only sensible that when met with force the working class would have to respond, in defense of the gains made, with force. At the same time, any sensible working class movement would likely attempt to win over portions of the military and police forces (who, of course, largely consist of the working class, a useful contradiction under capitalism) the same way Russian revolutionaries won over soldiers and the Cossacks. It follows that the larger the portion won over to revolution, the less violence is needed to combat the state apparatus.

Some pacifists may contend that all violence should be avoided and is inexcusable. The same pacifist, then, would not accept the violence directed against the state as legitimate and thus, give tacit support to the state’s monopoly on force. The question of the violence of the slave master and the violence of the slave comes into play here; for a pacifist to condemn the violence of a slave breaking the chains of his bondage (which may include violence against the master) is to realistically support the institution of slavery, whether or not one chooses to morally accept it. In a revolutionary situation, it is almost certain that the need for violence will arise at some point to defend the achievements which have been won. Likewise, as history has proven repeatedly, it is extremely foolish for revolutionaries to allow the counterrevolutionary forces the time and resources needed to crush a nascent revolution.

The example of the Paris Commune of 1871 is didactic in this regard. After workers rose up and took control of the city during the Franco-Prussian War, they collectively organized into what some call the first “workers’ state.” The installation of participatory democracy, the separation of church and state, the right of women to vote, the abolition of rent and interest on loans, the postponement of debt, self-policing neighborhoods, and the right of workers to take over a business were some of the major gains made under the Commune. The ruling elites had escaped to Versailles during the war and, not intending the people of Paris to rise up and throw off the shackles of the old society, quickly began to prepare to take Paris back. Prussia, France’s mortal enemy only months previously, quickly released French prisoners of war to help take back the city; the ruling classes of every nation-state were quite terrified by this rapid development of working class power.

As Karl Marx points out, the communards made crucial mistakes by not attacking Versailles and crushing the counterrevolutionary forces which were amassing and, likewise, by failing to seize hold of the national bank immediately. These mistakes eventually caused the Paris Commune to fail as the army marched from Versailles (funded with the money retrieved from the national bank in Paris) and laid siege to the city; ultimately tens of thousands of revolutionary Parisians were killed and the Commune was crushed. Marx would later argue that the fatal mistake was attempting to simply adhere to the old state institutions (such as trying to borrow money from the national bank) rather than destroying the remnants of the previous society (the military, the old leaders, etc.). CLR James, tracing Marx’s argument, explains that “the capitalist army, the capitalist state, the capitalist bureaucracy, cannot be seized by the revolutionary proletariat and used for its own purposes. It had to be smashed completely and a new state organized, based upon the organization of the working class.” This example highlights the fact that the overwhelming use of violence comes from those who wish to stop the transformation of society. The counter-revolutionary forces, the ruling class and those working for it, will assuredly use any means within their grasp to maintain power; thus, it is apparent that revolutionaries cannot simply allow them to do so and, if necessary, must use force to stop them.

The last and possibly most important question concerning American Radicalism is “Can revolution happen in the United States?” The real question, however, should be asked in a slightly different manner: “Can revolution happen again in the United States?” It must not be forgotten that the American War of Independence was a revolutionary upheaval against a monarch which cast off the chains of colonialism. The Civil War tore the country apart and ultimately ended in the abolition of slavery, upon which the entire Southern economy was built. This question, so often pondered by those seeking radical change, is usually answered in the negative. Purported causes run the gamut but some of the common assertions for the inauspiciousness of revolution are as follows: the working class is bought off, the general apathy of the population makes it impossible, the seemingly impregnable military power of the United States government is to great an obstacle, and finally, the internal class structure has changed so dramatically that revolution in the dialectical materialist (socialist, Marxist, etc.) sense is infeasible.

The first three claims can be easily dismissed. “Political” and “economic” issues affect people every day and, whether or not they know it, they are engaged in them. Agree or disagree, their tax dollars fund imperialist wars. The conditions of their roads, schools, infrastructure, and social services are dependant upon political policy. Their employment (or lack thereof), wages, and benefits are inevitably tied up in the capitalist system. Since the late 1970’s until today, real wages for workers have decreased, median family incomes have only been maintained by dramatically increasing work hours and productivity, and some forty seven million Americans are without health insurance. Meanwhile, the wealthiest one percent of the population’s income has tripled, largely negating the idea that the working class has been “bought off” common in New Left radicalism of the 1970’s and even carrying over into today.

The very fact that the military is largely drawn from the working class and the poor is also essential to understanding the role that radicals should play in recruiting soldiers and military personal. One of the most percussive blows to U.S. imperialism was the resistance of G.I.s, many of them radicalized during the process, against the Vietnam war embodied in the mobilization of their collective power into the group Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) ; today, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) are spearheading the anti-war movement alongside radicals, socialists, and other progressives. Winning over soldiers and sections of the military is key to organizing against not only imperialism, but the current economic system. Thus, the material conditions of capitalism and the political structure are intricately woven into regular peoples’ daily lives. Furthering this concept, the American socialist Hal Draper points out:
"To engage in class struggle it is not necessary to ‘believe in' the class struggle any more than it is necessary to believe in Newton in order to fall from an airplane... The working class moves toward class struggle insofar as capitalism fails to satisfy its economic and social needs and aspirations, not insofar as it is told about struggle by Marxists. There is no evidence that workers like to struggle any more than anyone else; the evidence is that capitalism compels and accustoms them to do so."
Likewise, the notion that people are apathetic or careless is quite elitist. As seen in the recent presidential election, tens of millions of people become energized and mobilized in a fashion which has not been seen in decades and they successfully elected the first black president of a nation built on the terrible crime of slavery. It is apparent that when people feel they have some sense of power and control, imagined or real, they are more than willing to take their destiny into their own hands. As people win struggles (no matter how small) and gain confidence a sense of empowerment develops; Fred Hampton, Chicago chairman of the Black Panther Party, brutally murdered by the FBI in 1969, lucidly articulated this concept:
"[T]he masses belong to what you call the lower class, and when I talk about the masses, I'm talking about the white masses, I'm talking about the black masses, and the brown masses, and the yellow masses, too. We've got to face the fact that some people say you fight fire best with fire, but we say you put fire out best with water. We say you don't fight racism with racism. We're gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don't fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism…We ain't gonna fight no reactionary pigs who run up and down the street being reactionary; we're gonna organize and dedicate ourselves to revolutionary political power and teach ourselves the specific needs of resisting the power structure, arm ourselves, and we're gonna fight reactionary pigs with international proletarian revolution. That's what it has to be. The people have to have the power: it belongs to the people."
The need for interracial and “lower class” solidarity, active participation of the masses, centralized organization (to combat a very centralized power structure), and ultimately, revolution, are all clearly brought to the forefront in Hampton’s analysis.

The last claim, that the United States is now a “post-industrial” nation, articulated largely by post-modern, liberal intellectuals such as Daniel Bell, promotes the conception that due to the change of the class structure (from productive employment to the service section economy) in the United States any sort of workers’ revolution to challenge capitalism is not only irrelevant, but impossible. This ahistorical reading of the material conditions and the Marxist approach to struggle and the working class is flawed in many aspects. First, all workers are wage workers and are exposed to the same exploitation of their labor and the extraction of surplus value which, in turn, creates the capital for capitalism to function and profit to be realized; likewise, they workers still have their hands on the levers of power. Second, while the percentage of jobs in production have decreased relatively (to about 10% of the population, or thirty million workers), the productivity of workers has increased dramatically (up from $2.9 trillion in 1989 to $3.9 trillion in 2000 in manufacturing and up 155% in electronics during the same period) due to automation and labor saving technology. This means that the productive capacity of the United States now relies on a smaller group of workers or, simply, more power has been put into their (collective) hands. Thus, it takes a much smaller group of organized workers to collectively shut down production if some sort of general strike were to occur. Third, service sector workers make up the majority of the workforce; many of these jobs are highly exploitative, low wage positions (cashiers, retail salespersons, etc.) which post-Industrials misinterpret as a shift from industrialism or productive labor. This, however, stems from crucial misunderstanding of the service sectors critical tie to production. As Adam Turl notes, “the growth in services is not in opposition to industrial society but as a direct result of the needs of highly advanced—more productive—global lean production.” This means that service workers are able to exercise tremendous power over the system of production and distribution. To cite just one example, when the teachers in a city go on strike, the children who normally attend the schools in the area while their parents work must be cared for and many parents are forced to stay home which magnifies into broader economic implications. Every worker, directly industrial or in the service sector, fills an important niche which gives them a certain amount of power. Clearly, the implications of these facts cement the idea that the possibility of revolution (in the form of a general strike and workers’ seizing the means of production) to overthrow capitalism is still viable. More importantly, this revolution must come about by what Marx called the self-activity of the working class.

Huey P. Newton, leader of the Black Panther Party, in a debate with the arch-conservative intellectual William F. Buckley, asked him, had he been alive during the 1776 American Revolution “which side would you have been on?” Buckley answered that he “probably…would have been on the side of George Washington” but was not completely sure and, abstractly qualifying the answer in his normal fashion, claimed that he would have only participated if the revolution will go down in history as a “humane one.” Aside from the impossibility of Buckley’s qualification, he outlines how even the most wretched reactionary would have, at one point in time, supported revolution for what he saw as a just cause. His acceptance of revolution, therefore, is simultaneously an acceptance that revolution may act as the tool for those in pursuance of social transformation. It follows from this that given the tremendous inequality, the constantly expanding gap between rich and poor, the imperialist wars, and the host of other problems that identify American capitalism may be sufficient grounds for the demand of large scale change. As has been established, the only way to bring about such fundamental change is a revolution which smashes the current state and replaces it with democratic institutions that reach all realms of life, including the workplace; this process must come about by those who wield the power over production and distribution, the workers themselves. The question of revolution is the fundamental question that progressives and radicals must take up within the “post-industrial”, 21st century United States if they wish to see the immense changes needed to stop war, racism, poverty, environmental destruction and the other ills enervating humanity and the world.


- AFL-CIO, “Declining job quality: Here to stay?” AFL-CIO, Labor Day Report, 2004; available from; Internet.
- Bell, Daniel, The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, (United States: Basic Books, 1976).
- Cowie, Jefferson, Beyond the Ruins: The Meanings of Deindustrialization (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2003), introduction, iv-vi.
- D’Amato, Paul, “Reform Struggles and the Road to Revolution”, Socialist Worker, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Douglass, Frederick, Frederick Douglass, the Accurate “Without Struggle/No Freedom” Quote, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Feinstein, C. H., “Structural change in the developed countries in the 20th century,” Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Winter 1999).
- Geier, Joel, “1968: Year of Revolutionary Hope,” International Socialist Review 59 (May-June 2008): 52-55.
- Hampton, Fred, Power Anywhere Where There’s People, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Harman, Chris, “The Workers of the World,” International Socialism 96 (UK), Autumn 2002, accessed 6 Dec 2008:; available from; Internet.
- Harkin, Shaun, “The Case for Socialism”, Socialist Worker, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Hilliard, David and Weise, Donald, The Huey P. Newton Reader, (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002) 267.
- Iraq Veterans Against the War, About IVAW, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Is Marxism Utopian?, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- James, CLR, Karl Marx and the Paris Commune, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- King, Martin Luther Jr., The Southern Christian Leadership Conference Presidential Address, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Krauthammer, Charles, “Center-right America is bound to regret its leftward move”, Post-Gazette Now, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- “La Unidad Popular”, La Red de Icarito, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Luxemburg, Rosa, “Reform or Revolution,” Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1979) 77-78.
- Maass, Alan, The Case for Socialism, (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2004) 20.
- Maass, Alan, “The Case for Socialism” (page 10), International Socialist Organization Study Packet, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Marx, Karl, The Civil War in France, March-May 1871, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- National Coalition on Healthcare, Facts on Health Insurance Coverage, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Orwell, George, Homage to Catalonia (United States of America: Harcourt, Inc., 1980), 4-5.
- Oxley, Greg, The Paris Commune of 1871, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Parenti, Micheal, Against Empire, (San Francisco: City Light Books, 1995) 40.
- Russian History, Revolutionary Timeline 1905-1920, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Shawki, Ahmed, “Socialist Organization, Lessons of Past and Present,” International Socialist Review 50 (November-December 2006), accessed 6 Dec 2008: available from; Internet.
- Turl, Adam, “Is the U.S. Becoming Post-Industrial?,” International Socialist Review 52 (March-April 2007), accessed 6 Dec 2008: available from; Internet.
- Vietnam Veterans Against the War, VVAW: Where We Came From, Who We Are, accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.
- Wolfe, Sherry, “The Democrats and War: Not a Real Lesser Evil,” International Socialist Review 26 (November-December 2002), accessed 6 Dec 2008: available from; Internet.
- X, Malcolm, The Black Revolution Requires Bloodshed, audio recording accessed 6 Dec 2008; available from; Internet.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin
This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. For questions about this blog, please contact Derek Ide ( Anything on this blog may be used, circulated, disseminated, by readers in any setting except where profit it to be made from it. Feel free to use the work presented here in educational settings, activist work, etc. All I ask is that the blog be cited. I write for my own purposes. This writings presented here will be influenced by my background, occupation, and political affiliation or other experiences.

This blog accepts only a minor form of advertising, sponsorship, and paid insertions (which I am working on the arduous process of removing). The (basically zero) compensation received will never influence the content, topics or posts made in this blog. All advertising is in the form of advertisements (usually books or music) are specifically selected by the owner of this blog and by no other party. I am not compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog owners. I will only endorse products or services that I believe, based on my experience, are worthy of such endorsement.

Derek Ide 2011


Total Pageviews