Friday, March 14, 2014


It is Prison Friday here at Scission.  The thing with the American criminal injustice system is that it never, ever lets go.  You get your ass busted, maybe the charges get dismissed.  Maybe you are found innocent.  Maybe you serve your time.  The thing is, you ain't done yet.  I am not just talking about parole here, although that would be enough to talk about.  Even when all that is done, it ain't done.  They ain't done with your ass yet.  If you are not white, they really ain't done with you.  

Those of us with criminal records know all about the box.  What box, some of you ask?  I'm talking about the little box whenever you apply for a job, or certain other things, that sits right next to the words, "Have you ever been convicted of.... (other times it just asks if you have ever been arrested, screw whether or not you were convicted).  The box is sometimes followed by a space where you are given the "opportunity" to explain in further if your future not to be employer gives a flying hoot about your explanation.  What they are curious about is what the hell kind of  criminal are you anyway?

Again, though they ain't done, even the box itself isn't enough.

These days hardly anyone just relies of the box.  After all if you have any sense you will not check it.  Since if you do, you won't get hired.  If you don't and they find out you lied, what are they going to do...well, they will fire you, but if you never got hired to begin get the point.  Anyway, back to the what comes beyond the box, today most people run a computer background check on you.  It's easy and it's cheap and it's also often incorrect, and not in your favor.

They never let go.

It's why as nice an idea as the "ban the box" campaign is, it is not enough, not by far.
The following is from Prison Legal News.

Criminal Background Checks Criticized for Incorrect Data, Racial Discrimination

by Derek Gilna

A July 2013 study by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that widespread errors in FBI arrest data – which is increasingly relied upon by employers conducting criminal background checks – has reached alarming proportions. According to NELP staff attorney Madeline Neighly, the FBI records used for background checks “might be considered the gold standard, but these records are a mess.” 

Part of the problem stems from the fact that the FBI is processing almost 17 million criminal background checks annually, or six times more than a decade ago. NELP reported that as many as 50% of the records compiled by the FBI, which constitute the largest database of criminal records in the nation, may be inaccurate or incomplete – resulting in serious economic hardships, especially for minority job applicants.

One reason for the inaccuracies is that background checks are quick to include arrests and criminal charges but much slower to show dismissals, not-guilty findings, expungements, felonies reduced to misdemeanors and other dispositions of criminal proceedings. The FBI acts as a clearinghouse for state agencies that supply arrest and criminal record data, which is collected and incorporated into background checks disseminated to authorized third parties. 

Unfortunately, the FBI apparently lacks the resources to verify the accuracy of the data being supplied to potential employers, resulting in the undeserved rejection of many otherwise qualified job applicants.

Other problems with background checks are attributable to private companies that compile criminal record information from public databases, using software that often fails to distinguish between people with the same or similar names, or those who are victims of identity theft. [See: PLN, May 2013, p.34].

Further complicating the situation is the fact that applicants rejected due to inaccurate background records are disproportionately black or Hispanic, raising the possibility of racial discrimination. According to a 2010 report issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, in approximately half the states up to 40% of criminal records were missing final dispositions. Backlogs in updating this data varied from state to state, sometimes taking up to 18 months.

Although the FBI cautions in its background checks that job applicants should be provided an opportunity to challenge or correct their records, that does not always occur. Instead, the burden falls on the applicant to prove his or her innocence. When potential employees are given a copy of the faulty background information and a meaningful opportunity to challenge inaccuracies, they are often able to correct the errors.

One example of the ordeal faced by job applicants rejected due to incorrect criminal background data is the plight of seaport workers, who are required by the Transportation Security Administration to pass an FBI background check. More than 120,000 applications for seaport workers have been rejected since 2007, but applicants were successful in 94% of the cases where they filed appeals or sought waivers. 

As another example, the Department of Commerce’s 2010 census required the hiring of vast numbers of people, and 4 million job applications were received. Of those, a quarter were rejected as a result of FBI background checks. A lawsuit filed in April 2010 alleges that applicants had only a month to disprove the negative reports, which disproportionately discriminated against blacks and Hispanics. If certified, the class of eligible claimants is estimated to number over 850,000. The district court denied the Department of Commerce’s motion to dismiss on March 22, 2012, and the case remains pending. See: Houser v. Blank, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:10-cv-03105-FM.

In its July 2013 report, NELP advocated for a more equitable appeal process when incorrect information is included in criminal background checks, which would give rejected job applicants at least two months after they are apprised of the reason for the rejection to submit evidence to dispute faulty background information.

“[T]hese inaccuracies have a devastating impact on workers, especially workers of color who are disproportionately impacted by the criminal justice system. There is a solution to this problem that would immediately result in less job-loss and financial hardship: the FBI must ensure that records are accurate and complete prior to being released for employment and licensing decisions,” NELP concluded.

Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has grown concerned in recent years with possible racial discrimination due to the increased use of criminal background checks, and the agency issued new guidance to employers on that issue in April 2012. [See: PLN, June 2012, p.20]. Approximately 86% of employers use background checks during the hiring process, according to a 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against job applicants and employees on account of their race,” said EEOC Chairwoman Jacqueline A. Berrien. “Since issuing its first written policy guidance in the 1980s regarding the use of arrest and conviction records in employment decisions, the EEOC has advised employers that under certain circumstances, their use of that information to deny employment opportunities could be at odds with Title VII.”

In June 2013, the EEOC took legal action against two large companies – Dolgencorp LLC, the parent corporation of discount retailer Dollar General, and a BMW factory in South Carolina – due to their hiring practices. According to a lawsuit filed by the EEOC, Dollar General violated the civil rights of two job applicants – incorrectly stating that one had a felony conviction based on a background check, while denying employment to another applicant who had disclosed a six-year-old conviction. 

In another suit, the EEOC argued that BMW’s requirement that contract workers already employed at the company’s plant had to reapply for their jobs in 2008 resulted in a disproportionate percentage of minority employees being fired for failing background checks, absent individualized assessments. Both suits were brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. See: EEOC v. Dolgencorp LLC, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Ill.), Case No. 1:13-cv-04307 and EEOC v. BMW Manufacturing Co. LLC, U.S.D.C. (D. SC), Case No. 7:13-cv-01583-HMH-JDA.

Predictably the EEOC faced intense criticism from business interests, with some saying the agency was trying to protect “former criminals.” Todd McCracken, with the National Small Business Association, noted, “State and federal courts will allow potentially devastating tort lawsuits against businesses that hire felons who commit crimes at the workplace or in customers’ homes. Yet the EEOC is threatening to launch lawsuits if they do not hire those same felons.”

According to BMW spokesman Kenn Sparks, “BMW believes that it has complied with the letter and spirit of the law and will defend itself against the EEOC’s allegations of race discrimination.” Dollar General announced that its employment policies are “structured to foster a safe and healthy environment for its employees, its customers, and to protect its assets in a lawful, reasonable and nondiscriminatory manner.”

Yet when rejecting job applicants with criminal records, Dollar General and BMW appear to be working at cross-purposes. Given the nation’s enormous prison population and with around 637,000 prisoners being released each year, it is unwise on many levels to refuse to hire people who are otherwise qualified when employment is essential to help ex-offenders become law-abiding, tax-paying citizens.

Nine state Attorneys General sent a joint letter to the EEOC on July 24, 2013 in response to the agency’s lawsuits against Dollar General and BMW, protesting the EEOC’s enforcement actions related to criminal background checks. The Attorneys General called the suits “misguided and a quintessential example of gross federal overreach.”

Lawsuits alleging discrimination due to criminal background checks that disproportionately impact minorities are not easy wins, however, even for the EEOC. On August 9, 2013, a federal district court in Maryland ruled against the agency in a case similar to those filed against Dollar General and BMW, finding that an event-marketing firm, Freeman Co., did not discriminate against minority job applicants by conducting criminal background and credit checks during the hiring process. In dismissing the case, the court noted that the EEOC itself uses background checks. See: EEOC v. Freeman Co., U.S.D.C. (D. Md.), Case No. 8:09-cv-02573-RWT; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 112368.

In November 2013 the EEOC was sued by the State of Texas, which argued that the agency’s guidance related to criminal background checks limits “the prerogative of employers, including Texas, to exclude convicted felons from employment.” The EEOC filed a motion to dismiss on January 27, 2014, which remains pending. See: State of Texas v. EEOC, U.S.D.C. (N.D. Texas), Case No. 5:13-cv-00255-C.

Although there is some evidence that society’s view of former prisoners is becoming less punitive, the reality is that ex-offenders still have a very difficult time finding jobs that pay a living wage. A 2003 study by sociologist Devah Pager found that being a minority increased the negative impact of a criminal history, in that white job applicants with criminal records were more likely to be hired than black applicants with similar records. It is unlikely that much has changed over the past decade. 

The EEOC stated in its lawsuits against Dollar General and BMW that the companies used criminal background checks in a manner that had a “disparate impact” on minority job applicants, who are more likely to have criminal histories.

Yet barely mentioned in the studies related to background checks and criminal records, or in the EEOC’s enforcement actions, is the fact that the underlying reason for many of the problems related to ex-offenders finding employment is our nation’s policy of mass incarceration. Around 2.2 million people are incarcerated in prisons and jails at any given time; those released will all have criminal records and, thus, a paucity of job prospects.

According to a research study published in January 2014, 49% of black males, 44% of Hispanic males and 38% of white males are arrested by age 23, which can have a significant impact on their ability to find future employment.

“Criminal records that show up in [background] searches can impede employment, reduce access to housing, thwart admission to and financing for higher education and affect civic and volunteer activities such as voting or adoption. They also can damage personal and family relationships,” noted University of South Carolina criminology professor Robert Brame, the lead author of the study.

Enforcement actions by the EEOC, “Ban the Box” initiatives to remove criminal history questions from job applications, federal legislation – such as the Fairness and Accuracy in Criminal Background Checks Act introduced by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott in July 2013 – and increased awareness about the re-entry needs of released prisoners can help alleviate problems related to background checks and employment for ex-offenders. Ban the Box legislation has been enacted in ten states and dozens of cities, and some private employers, notably Target, no longer ask about criminal records on their job applications. [See: PLN, Sept. 2011, p.32].

But more is needed. Specifically, adding “prior incarceration status” to the list of protected classes – which include race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age and disability – that employers may not legally consider when hiring job applicants would go a long way to help level the employment playing field for ex-offenders. That, however, is a solution unlikely to happen anytime soon. 

Sources: “Wanted: Accurate FBI Background Checks for Employment,” National Employment Law Project (July 2013),,,,,,,, Wall Street Journal, 

Thursday, March 13, 2014


This will be short but not sweet, as I am trying to watch basketball, use my ipad, get this done, time running out in all directions.  

Notice how from the USA perspective terrorism only applies if something happens to it (or an ally), otherwise, it is something else entirely, but not terror.  Well, whatever, the old one person's terrorists is another's freedom fighter goes both ways.  We all know that.  What is significant about the post below is not so much that the USA is slow to notice Uyghur  terrorism when it comes to China, what is even bigger what it says about the support the USA has shown for this terrorists...and why.  

Gotta go folks...KU into overtime, unfortunately we don't have hardly any players left and those that are still around have four fouls...

By the way, don't forget about the power behind the curtain here called GLOBAL CAPITAL...

The following is from New Eastern Outlook.  


Saturday March 1, 2014′s horrific terror attack at China’s Kunming railroad station left 29 victims dead and over 100 wounded. The terrorist attack was the work of Uyghur separatists hailing from Western China’s Xinjiang province. The US would only condemn the attack as an act of terror after China accused Washington of applying double standards to its coverage and stance on the incident

 However, the US’ failure to initially condemn the attack as terrorism runs deeper than mere superficial double standards applied to a global competitor. The US is in fact driving the separatist movement in Xinjiang, encouraging violence and creating faux-human rights organizations to then condemn the predictable response of Chinese security forces. 

Indeed, first and foremost in backing the Xinjiang Uyghur separatists is the United States through the US State Department’s National Endowment for Democracy (NED). For China, the Western region referred to as “Xinjiang/East Turkistan” has its own webpage on NED’s site covering the various fronts funded by the US which include: 
International Uyghur Human Rights and Democracy Foundation$187,918
To advance the human rights of ethnic Uyghur women and children. The Foundation will maintain an English- and Uyghur-language website and advocate on the human rights situation of Uyghur women and children. 
International Uyghur PEN Club$45,000
To promote freedom of expression for Uyghurs. The International Uyghur PEN Club will maintain a website providing information about banned writings and the work and status of persecuted poets, historians, journalists, and others. Uyghur PEN will also conduct international advocacy campaigns on behalf of imprisoned writers. 
Uyghur American Association$280,000
To raise awareness of Uyghur human rights issues. UAA’s Uyghur Human Rights Project will research, document, and bring to international attention, independent and accurate information about human rights violations affecting the Turkic populations of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. 
World Uyghur Congress$185,000
To enhance the ability of Uyghur prodemocracy groups and leaders to implement effective human rights and democracy campaigns. The World Uyghur Congress will organize a conference for pro-democracy Uyghur groups and leaders on interethnic issues and conduct advocacy work on Uyghur human rights.
All of these NED-funded organizations openly advocate separatism from China,  not even recognizing China’s authority over the region to begin with – referring to it instead as “Chinese occupation.”  
Of the recent terror attack, the US-funded World Uyghur Congress would even attempt to justify it by claiming Chinese authorities have left the separatists with little other choice. The US State Department’s “Radio Free Asia” report titled, “China’s Kunming Train Station Violence Leaves 33 Dead,” reported:

World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in an emailed statement that there was “no justification for attacks on civilians” but added that discriminatory and repressive policies provoked “extreme measures” in response.

Just as the US has done in other nations it is fomenting political chaos and armed violence in such as Syria, it is attempting to steer clear of labeling the Xinjiang separatists as “terrorists” for as long as possible in order to sow the maximum amount of chaos at the cost of Chinese political stability.

All Part of the Plan 

The US’ support of the Xinjiang separatists is just one small cog in a much larger machine grinding toward the encirclement and containment of China, while maintaining American hegemony across the Asia Pacific, Central Asia, and beyond. The use of faux-human rights organizations to defend what is essentially a terrorist organization is a trick the US has repeated in Russia’s Caucasus region

This containment strategy is documented in the 2006 Strategic Studies Institute report “String of Pearls: Meeting the Challenge of China’s Rising Power across the Asian Littoral” where it outlines China’s efforts to secure its oil lifeline from the Middle East to its shores in the South China Sea as well as means by which the US can maintain American hegemony throughout the Indian and Pacific Ocean. The premise is that, should Western foreign policy fail to entice China into participating in the “international system” as responsible stakeholders (fall in line,) an increasingly confrontational posture must be taken to contain the rising nation.

This includes funding, arming, and backing terrorists and proxy regimes from Africa, across the Middle East, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and even within China’s territory itself. Documented support of these movements not only include Xinjiang separatists, but also militants and separatists in Baluchistan, Pakistan where the West seeks to disrupt a newly christened Chinese port and pipeline, as well as the machete wielding supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar’s Rakhine state - yet another site the Chinese hope to establish a logistical hub.
US aspirations to contain China through a network of proxies dates back even further than the SSI 2006 report. In US policy scribe Robert Kagan’s 1997 piece in the Weekly Standard titled, “What China Knows That We Don’t: The Case for a New Strategy of Containment, he states (emphasis added):

The Chinese leadership views the world today in much the same way Kaiser Wilhelm II did a century ago: The present world order serves the needs of the United States and its allies, which constructed it. And it is poorly suited to the needs of a Chinese dictatorship trying to maintain power at home and increase its clout abroad. Chinese leaders chafe at the constraints on them and worry that they must change the rules of the international system before the international system changes them. 
In truth, the debate over whether we should or should not contain China is a bit silly. We are already containing China – not always consciously and not entirely successfully, but enough to annoy Chinese leaders and be an obstacle to their ambitions.
Kagan would continue (emphasis added):

We should hold the line instead and work for political change in Beijing. That means strengthening our military capabilities in the region, improving our security ties with friends and allies, and making clear that we will respond, with force if necessary, when China uses military intimidation or aggression to achieve its regional ambitions.

It is clear that the writings of Kagan are not just simply his own personal thoughts in 1997, but reflect a policy that has since then been implemented vis-à-vis China. It is also clear that “with force” does not necessarily mean the mobilization of America’s conventional military assets, but also includes covert and proxy forces as seen more recently in Libya and Syria.

The horrific attack in Kunming China is not an isolated incident. It is a tentacle of America’s containment policy manifested as terrorism toward China briefly breaking the surface of murky geopolitical waters. For the rest of the world increasingly influenced and dependent on the sustainable and stable rise of China on the world stage, it is essential to understand the true nature of events playing out within China and along its peripheries. Failing to do so leaves us vulnerable to investing in false causes that will only further destabilize China, Asia, and the world – threatening our best interests while serving the machinations of Wall Street/Washington yet again.

Tony Cartalucci, Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook”

Wednesday, March 12, 2014



Can you imagine someone who wants the autograph of George Zimmerman?   Well, you may have heard that over the weekend Zimmerman appeared at a scaled-down version of the New Orlando Gun Show where he signed autographs.  A guy who guns down a black kid signing autographs.  “Zimmerman greeted people and autographed photos of him posing with his dog,” reported Orlando television station WESH.  Zimmerman said he decided to appear at the event to show his gratitude to everyone who stuck by him during the lengthy trial and meet his supporters in person. “The concept of being able to pay them back for what they did for me and seeing my supporters face to face was something I just couldn’t pass up,” he said, adding that he has no plans to keep a low profile in the aftermath of the immense media coverage the trial received.

A blogger at the Washington post asked the obvious:

Who are these people glorifying the killer of an unarmed teenager in one of the most racially polarized incidents in recent history? Why are these autograph hounds going out of their way to shake Zimmerman’s hand? What they could possibly say to him in those few moments is enough to make me fear for humanity’s soul. For if they say to Zimmerman what his most ardent supporters have said to me over the last two years it will offend your sense of decency. At least it should.

We have a serious problem when celebrity comes from the act of killing a teenage African American.  As Veronica S. writes at all Voice:

This is a killer whose only claim to fame is shooting a child dead after he provoked an altercation. Zimmerman shot him almost execution style—with a single bullet fired through Martin’s heart.

There is something depraved about Zimmerman smiling and shaking hands with his fans as he gave them a little piece of himself for posterity. There is something ghoulish about the people who wanted that little piece of posterity.

The sad things is we have seen all this before.  People who couldn't (or maybe even wouldn't) make it to a lynching, bought, collected and traded postcards with photos, comments, or depictions of such.  These postcards were made from photographs taken by those who attended lynchings.  The Chicago Tribune reports,

Most of these pictures are preserved on postcards, which often were sold door-to-door and sent to friends and relatives. "This is the barbecue we had last night," reads one message on the back of a photo of a burned body.

Think the trade in these postcards ended long ago, think again?  From the Star Tribune up in Minnesota:

 Tucked into a collection of Duluth memorabilia for sale at a Canal Park antique store is a souvenir of one of the most shameful incidents in the city's history: a postcard featuring images of the 1920 lynching of black circus workers Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Isaac McGhie.

The "lynching postcard" was part of a private collection of postcards, glass negatives and other Duluth memorabilia entrusted to local dealer Craig Lipinski for sale after the owner died, Lipinski said. He said he sold most of the other postcards on eBay, but that the lynching postcard ran afoul of the online auction site's "offensive material" policy that forbids listings that "graphically portray, glorify, or attempt to profit from human tragedy or suffering," including Nazi memorabilia and crime-scene photographs.

The Duluth postcard was listed for about a day before eBay suspended the sale, Lipinski said. In that time the card was bid up to almost $240, the price Lipinski decided to offer it for. It's been for sale at Father Time Antiques since late July, he said.

Father Time co-owner Penny Seehus agreed to display it in the store.

That is horrible enough.  Harvey Young writes of something that takes this crap even a step past the sick.  He points out that people at lynchings actually collected flesh and body parts.  I simply will not quote what he wrote about this, or duplicate the actual reports from the time.  They are simply too grotesque.

So should we really be surprised that there are actually human beings of some sort who want an autograph from George Zimmerman?

The following is from We Are Responsible Negroes.

George Zimmerman Autographs are the New Lynching


George Zimmerman signed autographs at the New Orlando Gun Show last weekend.

His claim to fame? Killing Trayvon Martin.

A question. What type of person would want George Zimmerman memorabilia? What type of person would want to endorse his stalking and murdering of an unarmed teenager whose "crime" was walking home and not being sufficiently submissive to a racist, gun toting, street vigilante?

Autographs are sought from celebrities. The man or woman on the corner; the local drunk; the town loser; or the anonymous median percentile average person is not a real "star". Nor does their signature or photo have any cache or quasi magical power as a type of totem or fetish which can be channeled by its owner.

Zimmerman's autograph is a way for his fans and public to idolize him.

Zimmerman's signed photo is also a way for his supporters to be closer to him, and to "own" part of his "success" and "power".

The autograph of George Zimmerman, a man who is "famous" only because he stalked, hunted, and killed an unarmed black teenager, is for those who seek it, a validation of their right to kill and murder at will those people that they deem to be the Other and somehow "less than". The South's hyper-masculine and racialized norms of honor both legitimate and sustain such logic.  

If one cannot be the hero who slays the dragon, at least he or she can touch the blood soaked sword or keep company with their idealized selves.

Consequently, for a particularly racist and pitiable part of the (white) American public, George Zimmerman is their knight and role-model because he sanitized, cleansed, and protected his community (read: castle) from an outside (black) invader.

Trayvon Martin's literal body--black and male--was deemed suspect and a threat by virtue of its existence in the white space policed by George Zimmerman, what was a racist police action legitimated by infamous "Stand Your Ground" laws.

The black body under Jim and Jane Crow was judged a threat in the same way. Sundown Towns and other types of de facto and de jure laws and customs served White Supremacy by controlling the movement, labor, and bodies of African-Americans across the United States. When African-Americans violated those norms of White authority and power they were subjected to lynchings and other types of extra-judicial punishment.

The spectacular lynching was a ritual that was designed to purge the white body politic of what it saw as the toxic, invasive, citizenship and presence of African-Americans. 

It is important to note how black Americans during Jim and Jane Crow were not killed in an efficient way such as by a bullet to the head or a knife to the throat: instead, they were tortured, dismembered, burned alive, and reduced to trinkets and prizes for the white crowds in attendance.

The recent TV show True Detective featured the satanic and ritualistic murders of girls and women. True Detective's violence was not new; it is a pale echo of the spectacular violence which was visited upon African-Americans for almost 100 years.

Lynching was a ceremony that reinforced the group position of whites over people of color. Because they were acts of group terrorism, lynchings also helped to create a cohesive and intact white community across widely divergent lines of class and property. 

Ultimately, lynching was a type of magic that used racial violence to give power to white people by ceremonially taking it away from African-Americans.

The lynching of thousands of African-Americans spawned a type of national popular culture. During the 19th to 20th centuries, lynching photographs and postcards were a way for white people across the United States to enjoy the power thatcame with their supposed total control over and intimidation of the African-American community.

In many ways, lynching photography was one of the country's first types of mass popular culture.

The vast majority of white Americans would never attend or participate in a spectacular lynching. But, they could buy a postcard or photo of such barbaric events as a way to reinforce their full allegiance to Whiteness, and membership in what was then a still expanding and evolving notion of the "white race".

The people who buy George Zimmerman's autographs and photos are contemporary heirs to a long tradition of White Supremacist violence against people of color in the United States. It is true that Trayvon Martin was not hung from a tree, forced to eat his own genitals in order to stop the torture, or burned alive before being physically dissected for souvenirs.

However, the idea of Trayvon Martin's murder, and the symbolic power of the black male body being vanquished and killed by someone such as George Zimmerman, holds a special place in the political imagination of the American Right-wing with its gun obsessions, neo Confederate politics, "black crime" fantasies of the "knockout game", Birtherism, and twin myths of "reverse racism" and "white oppression".

The defenders of George Zimmerman--and especially those who buy Zimmerman's "art" or autographs--are worshiping their hero and his "great" feat of vanquishing a "threatening" and "uppity" black person.

In the 19th and 20th centuries such racially resentful and bigoted white people would trade and traffic in lynching photography and postcards. In the age of social and digital media this same type of person, and those who identify with them, use the Internet and cable news to circulate their idealization and hero worship of men like George Zimmerman.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Well, my google fiber is out and i am using my ipad for this.  I really am not a fan of the ipad keypad, so I don't intend today to write much at all.  I also have screwed up the article posting I planned for below, so I am giving up and leaving you only with this little bit I wrote as the introduction for the vanished piece which is not below.

 While the media has mostly been focused elsewhere, the activity of the multitude in Bosnia has taken a back seat.  As reported by Gal Kirn on LeftEast:

The movement first emerged in the city of Tuzla on February 5 (click here for some videos of the actions). After a peaceful start, the tension with police escalated into violence and eventually theburning of the government (canton) building on February 7.

People were stunned, but encouraged by so many parallel protests. The government buildings in Mostar, Sarajevo and some other places also began burning. This time the political violence was not ethnically motivated, but opened up a space and deployed a strategy that targets the systemic violence of the dominant order. In one of the high points of the Tuzla protests, police officers dropped their shields and joined protesters in their public outcry.

For the first time in the history of BiH, mass protests traversed ethnic political lines and use a new political language that points to the issues of social justice, direct democracy      and political radicalism. Despite criminalization and immense pressure, thousands of people kept protesting in front of the government buildings, blocking the roads and coming together on different squares. The protesters consisted of marginalized youth, workers, unemployed, students, socialists, pensioners, war veterans — an increasingly colorful palette of social groups started participating and organizing.

Apart from the continuing protests on the streets and the anti-nationalist stance taken by protesters, what is perhaps the most fascinating and the most precious part of these political mobilizations is how quickly (few days after first uprising) protesters started building up popular institutions from below that are known as “plenums.”Plenums have a long history within the council (soviet) movement, and can be defined as a sort of general assembly. These had already been used in the region during the occupation of Croatian universities. In the current situation they empower citizens and articulate the political demands of protesters.

Now, I have also read reports that were not so impressed with these Plenums.  Some have said they have been dominated by this or that faction, and by intellectuals.  I am not in Bosnia, so I don't know. However, what is most significant is that increasingly wherever an uprising of the multitude does occur, almost from the get go Soviets, Plenums, Genreal Assemblies, Whatever are formed.  Such bodies,have p, of course, been the dominant form of self organization by working people for much longer, it is just that recently we seem to see new ones every week.  This means something.  I will leave it to you to ponder just what.

Monday, March 10, 2014


Today is theoretical Monday and I am turning to the Monthly Review for an interesting piece.  I have only read half of it myself so far, thus I will be forced to withhold judgement.  Whether you (or I) agree with everything the author writes is not for me the most important thing here.  What I like is the methodology.  I like the fact that here is an attempt to answer some questions on how to get from here to there.  I like the fact that this is not some doctrinaire piece, or something which is simply full of citations from Marx or Lenin.  This is a theoretical piece with practical advice and suggestions...almost praxis.  From what I have read so far there is much here to think about from whatever perspective of Marxism you hail (even if like me, you are not fond of socialism, but want to skip it and move right on to communism, even if like me you want to not seize the State, but smash it entirely).  

I also confess that this column has led me to personally explore the whole Bolivarian experiment more deeply then I have up to now.  Perhaps, I have been wrong (horror of horrors) and it is not all just a mush of populism.  

EDITORS NOTE:  Since the State exists because of the irreconcilable antagonism between the two classes, and since the the State must therefore always exist as an institutional form of class domination (ALWAYS), how can an existing State (whatever it calls itself) be of any interest to. or act in the interest of the multitude. How therefore could it be possible for the really existing State of Venezuela to build communism. It could not. It might build socialism, but never communism. The Stare must be SMASHED, not merely seized or transformed. The Ministry of Work (or any other part of the State) has to ultimately act in the interest of either the private or public/State capitalist or, shall we say, simply, the bourgeoise. Therein it seems to me lies a major contradiction within the Bolivian Revolution.

Proposing a Path to Socialism: Two Papers for Hugo Chávez
Michael A. Lebowitz worked between 2004 and 2010 as an adviser in Venezuela. HisContradictions of ‘Real Socialism’: The Conductor and the Conducted (2012) and The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (2010) are both available from Monthly Review Press.
It is now one year since the unfortunate death of Hugo Chávez on March 5, 2013. Shortly after, the editors ofMonthly Review quoted a letter from István Mészáros to John Bellamy Foster which described Chávez as “one of the greatest historical figures of our time” and “a deeply insightful revolutionary intellect” (“Notes from the Editors” in the May 2013 Monthly Review). Whether Chávez will be remembered over time this way, however, depends significantly on whether we build upon the foundations he began. As important as his vision and his deep understanding of the necessary path (so clearly demonstrated by his focus upon communal councils as the basis of a new socialist state—“the most vital revolutionary achievement in these years,” as the editors indicated) was Chávez’s ability to communicate both vision and theory in a clear and simple way to the masses. As demonstrated by Chávez’s articulation of the concept of “the elementary triangle of socialism,” that is what revolutionaries must learn to do.
Following Marta Harnecker’s long interview with Chávez (later published as Understanding the Venezuelan Revolution by Monthly Review Press), he asked her to come to Venezuela in 2003 to serve as his advisor and explained that he wanted someone around him who would not hesitate to criticize him. And that’s how we ended up in Venezuela. At the beginning of 2004, I became an adviser to the Minister of the Social Economy and, during that year, Marta and I became convinced that it would be important to create a center which could bring together foreign advisors who supported the Bolivarian Revolution. Accordingly, she proposed to Chávez that an institute be established for this purpose; he agreed, and, after we assembled people and found a home for the Institute (ultimately in the Ministry of Higher Education), the Centro Internacional Miranda (CIM) was formed in early 2006.
Since it was clear that Chávez would be re-elected in December and would be thinking seriously about directions for the new mandate, those of us involved in CIM decided to prepare a series of papers proposing initiatives which we felt could advance the process of building socialism in Venezuela. Although several of us engaged in these discussions, ultimately only three of the CIM directors (Marta Harnecker, Haiman El Troudi, and I) completed papers for transmission to Chávez in early December. In what follows, I include an excerpt from one paper I prepared plus a second paper subsequently developed in response to Chávez’s reaction to the first.1
Building New Productive Relations Now
Everyone understands that it is impossible to achieve the vision of socialism for the twenty-first century in one giant leap forward. It is not simply a matter of changing property ownership. This is the easiest part of building the new world. Far more difficult is changing productive relations, social relations in general, and attitudes and ideas.
To transform existing relations into the new productive relations, we need first of all to understand the nature of the existing relations. Only then can you identify the mechanisms by which the new relations can be introduced. At this time, there is a great variety of experiments and approaches to changing productive relations which are being pursued. There is no attempt to set out specific proposals here but only to provide the framework in which such changes should be explored in order to move toward socialist productive relations.
The first step is to understand the direction of change. The precise pace of transformation will depend upon the existing conditions, the conjuncture, and the correlation of forces (national and international).
A. Existing Productive Relations
It is essential not to confuse property relations with productive relations. For example, a state-owned firm could be (a) worker-managed and functioning in a market with the goal of maximizing income per worker (as in the self-managed enterprises in the former Yugoslavia), (b) a profit-maximizing state capitalist firm, or (c) what we call for our purpose here a “statist” firm—a productive unit directed by the state to achieve specific targets in terms, e.g., of output or revenue. Similarly, a cooperative may be focused upon maximizing the income of its members or solving local needs. And, in all these cases, there is always the possibility of managers and managerial elites directing the enterprises in their own personal interests because of the difficulties in, for example, the state or stockholders monitoring and sanctioning their activity (as occurred in the old PDVSA).2
1. Capitalist Productive Relations
We understand capitalist productive relations as those in which workers enter into a relationship with capitalists in which they surrender their ability to work (and their claim upon what they produce) to capitalists. What workers get from this transaction is a wage that provides for their maintenance; what capitalists get is the right to direct their employees in such a way as to profit from their ability to work, the right to own everything that workers produce, and the right to determine what is produced and how it is produced. These relations may take different forms—e.g., workers may have more or less control over the production process and they may receive a portion of their wage in the form of profit-sharing (which means that they share in the risks of the capitalist); however, characteristic of capitalist productive relations is (a) that everything is subordinated to the generation of profits and the accumulation of capital, and (b) the capitalist is working constantly to increase those profits however possible.
Thus, the system drives toward the greatest possible exploitation of workers and the greatest possible use of resources for which the capitalist does not have to pay (e.g., clean air and water); workers and society may succeed in winning some battles from time to time, but the logic of capital is always to attempt to undermine and reverse those victories sooner or later. And that is because the logic of capital is opposed to the logic of human development and human needs.
2. Cooperative Productive Relations
Cooperative relations exist where workers are associated in particular enterprises in their mutual interest as producers. Both in the case where workers are the owners of the means of production or where the means of production are owned by the state and entrusted to the collective of workers, the inherent logic of the cooperative as a separate unit is the same: maximize the income per member of the cooperative. Accordingly, characteristic of a cooperative is that it looks upon members of other cooperatives (and members of society as a whole) as either competitors or as potential sources of income as customers. The logic of the cooperative is the self-interest of the group; in this respect, taxation of the cooperative by the state, by reducing the net income of its members, appears as a burden contrary to the interests of the group.
Thus, the logic of the cooperative as such is not a focus upon human development and solidarity within society as a whole. The cooperative retains the self-orientation of the capitalist firm and may function atomistically in the market in the same way as capitalist firms. Nevertheless the differences between cooperatives and capitalist firms are immense. In the cooperative, workers do not surrender their ability to work or their right to determine how they will produce or their claim over what they produce. Rather, they combine or pool their capacities in their common interest and, instead of keeping their tacit knowledge to themselves and finding ways to minimize their work, the logic of the cooperative leads them to share their knowledge and their ability because they are the beneficiaries.
Precisely because of this collective interest and this conscious combination of activity, cooperatives build solidarity within the specific group and teach a lesson about the benefits of cooperation. At the same time, however, this orientation toward the interests of the specific group (and toward “group property”) is consistent with the exploitation of other workers (non-cooperative members) as wage-laborers and with actions in the interest of the group which are contrary to the interests of society. Nevertheless, the two-sided nature of relations within cooperatives suggests the potential of building new productive relations upon them.
3. Statist Productive Relations
Characteristic of statist relations is that enterprises are given specific directives by the state and are expected to fulfill these. Insofar as the goal of the state is to meet a specific output or revenue target or to maximize revenue for the state budget, the resources of the statist unit will be directed toward meeting this goal.3 Further, the counterpart of the directive or command given to the statist enterprise will be the directive or command transmitted withinthat enterprise; hierarchy is characteristic of the statist enterprise: orders are transmitted downward. Thus, democracy and worker decision-making are not characteristic; rather than the disruptions in state goal achievement that may result from the differing goals of workers, the preferred role of an organization of workers from the statist perspective is to mobilize human resources to meet the selected goal—i.e., to serve as a transmission belt for state directives. In this respect, from the perspective of workers the statist firm may be no different than the capitalist firm.
Similarly, insofar as meeting the chosen output or revenue targets is paramount, efficient use of resources (including the environment) may tend to be sacrificed in the interests of reaching those targets. Despite state goals which are formulated in the interests of society as a whole, the fact that specific directives are given to individual productive enterprises means that their efforts to achieve them may stimulate behavior which is in the interests of the particular enterprise rather than in that of the whole. Such a pattern is particularly likely where the income or career path of enterprise managers depends upon their success in meeting these assigned targets. In fact, the private interests of those managers may yield many anti-social effects with the result that the statist firms do not act in the interest of society as a whole. Where statist enterprise managers are not committed to the goals of the state and where their behavior is not easily monitored, the performance of those enterprises will appear incoherent because they reflect the presence of a different set of relations. The existence of managers with their own goals and the difficulty of monitoring them from above was characteristic of the enterprise in the former USSR.4
The logic of the statist enterprise, accordingly, is two-sided. While it potentially can be directed in the interests of society as a whole and is essentially oriented toward production of use-values rather than profits, in the absence of specific directives which stress the interests of workers and society as a whole, and the transparency which is a precondition for monitoring and empowering of workers and communities, the statist enterprise can be captured by particular interests.
B. Transforming Existing Productive Relations
The steps that must be taken to make a transition from existing relations to the new productive relations and the pace at which the changes can be made depends upon the starting point.
1. Transforming Statist Enterprises
Without question, the easiest transition can be made in the statist firm—it is already at the threshold of new productive relations. Unlike the explicit private interests in capitalist and cooperative productive relations, the statist firm already is in form the property of society as a whole and has as its explicit directive to act in the interests of society as a whole.
The path to transform the logic of statist enterprises, then, is to change the directives which they are given by the state. If the new productive relations which are to be built emphasize as a goal the full development of human potential and the creation of new socialist human beings, the nature of these institutions and the instructions given by the state must include the conditions necessary for the realization of this goal. With the development of workers councils and the growing orientation of their activity toward meeting the needs of communities (as expressed by those communities themselves) and with the transparency which allows waste, corruption, and bureaucratic self-interest to be challenged, statist enterprises increasingly can be characterized by socialist productive relations. This is not an easy process, of course, because the habits, traditions and common sense of both capitalist and statist firms is that decisions should be made at the top and transmitted downward; for this reason, success in this process depends upon the selection of managers who share the vision.
To the extent that the statist enterprise moves in the direction of new socialist relations emphasizing the full development of human capacity, it no longer can be evaluated by the measures of traditional capitalist accounting. State directives such as, for example, transformation of the workday to include education in the workplace, transitional phases in the development of worker participation, and improvement of environmental conditions are directives to invest in human development. Thus, rather than view the specific enterprises which follow such social policies as “uneconomic” or money-losing, those policies are social investments whose cost must be born by society as a whole.
2. Transforming Cooperatives
The transformation of cooperatives concerns not only those where the means of production are owned by a group of workers but also the case of state-owned enterprises which are self-managed and enterprises which are a combination of state and group ownership. Despite the difference in property ownership, common to all is that the prevailing logic is to maximize income per worker within the group.
Besides this group self-interest, however, this institution contains the essential ideas of cooperation and democracy—which are at the core of the new relations which must be built. The transition here, then, must take the form of encouraging the cooperative to move beyond its narrow self-orientation and to develop organic links to society.
A first step would be to develop links between groups of workers, i.e., members of differing cooperatives. With the establishment of a Council of Cooperatives in each community, it would be possible to explore the way in which these groups of workers could cooperate in activities rather than compete and, in general, to investigate ways in which cooperatives can integrate their activities directly without being separated by market transactions. Further, links could be established between the Councils of Cooperatives in each community and communal councils. With the support of the communal banks, the needs of local communities could be communicated to the organized cooperatives as a way of moving toward production for communal needs and purposes.
The process of transforming the productive relations of cooperatives, thus, is one of guiding them step-by-step beyond their own narrow interests into a focus upon the needs of communities. In other words, cooperatives are at another threshold of socialism for the twenty-first century. Both the statist enterprise and the cooperative have in common that they are not capitalist enterprises; rather, they are part of the social economy, which can “walk on two legs” on a path toward socialist productive relations.
However, there is nothing automatic about this process. The logic of capital can dominate both, and can turn both statist firms and cooperatives into complements and supports for capitalism. Being on the threshold of socialist productive relations does not mean you will ever cross that threshold.
3. Transforming Capitalist Enterprises
Capitalism is not at that threshold, and it will never be. The essence of capitalism is the exploitation of workers and the orientation toward profit at the expense of every human being and every human need. We can never use the logic of capital to build new social relations. Rather, it is necessary to go beyond capital and to subordinate its logic to the logic of the new society.
Part of the process of subordinating capitalism to a new social logic is by introducing the transparency necessary to monitor the activity of capitalist enterprises. With a new law on transparency, making the financial records (including records of transactions with other entities) of all business enterprises of a minimum size (e.g., over twenty-five workers) available to inspection by workers and tax officials, the information available for a democratic, participatory, and protagonistic society would be increased. Those enterprises unwilling to provide this information would be understood to be acting against the public interest and, thus, would be operated in a transparent way instead by the state or groups of workers.
A rupture of property rights in this way—i.e., nationalization by the state or a take-over by collectives of workers—is one of three ways to subordinate existing capitalist enterprises within a country. Certainly, this does remove these capitalist enterprises and the capitalist interests behind them as threats to a new socialist society. As noted earlier, however, changing property rights is not the same as developing new productive relations. At best, this only takes us to the threshold (in the form of statist firms and cooperatives) of those new relations. In fact, a private capitalist firm may simply be replaced by a state capitalist firm which exploits workers and destroys the environment—all in the interests of maximization of profits. Thus, while existing capitalist enterprises may be subordinated in this way, we have seen that more is needed to introduce new productive relations.
A second way to subordinate existing capitalist firms is by extracting and transferring the surpluses generated in those firms. Through taxes or prices (e.g., forms of “unequal exchange”), surpluses generated within these firms may be siphoned off to other sectors (e.g., new firms being created) or to the support of social programs—rather than realized as profits. A similar assault on the profitability of these enterprises could be through competition with state-owned firms or subsidized cooperatives. Certainly, such inroads upon the profits of capitalist firms will reduce their viability, and their subsequent absorption by the state or workers would likely follow in the public interest in order to maintain jobs and production.
Whereas the above cases involve an external assault on existing capitalist firms, a third approach to their subordination involves the invasion of an alien logic, the logic of new productive relations within those enterprises. The premise here is not that capitalism can be reformed or that it can change but, rather, that its orientation toward profit-maximization will be constrained by the existence of new requirements. For example, the existence of strict environmental standards compels the capitalist enterprise which wants to remain in operation to accept these as a cost of doing business and to continue, within this new constraint, to attempt to maximize profits. In the same way, government directives which require enterprises to transform the workday to include educational training, introduce specific forms of worker decision-making (such as workers councils), and devote a specific portion of resources to meet local community demands will impose costs upon these firms which would be still consistent with the logic of capital—the drive to maximize profits.
But, why would capitalist enterprises accept such imposed costs when they can go to other locations in the world where those particular costs are not present? They would do so if this were a condition to having access to scarce local resources, to credit from state banks, and to the market that state enterprises and the state offer. In other words, the state can use its leverage (where it wishes) to change the ground rules under which capitalist enterprises which are not footloose can do business with it.
Does this change them from being capitalist firms? Does it mean that they no longer exploit workers? Obviously not. Why, then, would a state which wishes to transform productive relations accept the continued existence of these capitalist firms? It would do so only if the limited economic and technical resources at its disposal make it rational for it to work for a period with capitalist firms constrained in this way.
The process of introducing these conditions (“socialist conditionality”), though, is the insertion of new, alien productive relations within the capitalist firm. The combination of state directives which enforce the development of workers councils (with increasing responsibilities) and a growing orientation toward meeting community needs makes the capitalist enterprise contested terrain. And, the struggle within these firms will continue: just as capitalist firms in this case will be constantly attempting to lessen and reduce the burden of “socialist conditionality,” the state—in cooperation with workers and communities—will be working to introduce into these enterprises further elements characteristic of the invading socialist society. In short, we are describing here a process of class struggle in which the goal of socialism for the twenty-first century is the complete replacement of the logic of capital by the logic of a new socialist society.
From Mészáros to Concrete Proposals For Transforming Venezuela
In the following week, Marta Harnecker received a call from Chávez in relation to our papers. He said, “Could Michael look at the paragraph from István Mészáros’s Beyond Capital where Mészáros described capitalism as an organic system of production, distribution and consumption, a system in which everything is connected? If everything is connected, how is it possible to change anything? So, ask Michael to indicate concrete proposals for change in this context.”
Frankly, I was blown away by the question, and my immediate reaction when she passed this message to me was—“What paragraph???” Happily, I had Mészáros’s book with me in Caracas, and so I searched for the paragraph in question. It was not easy, though, to isolate a single section because that is what the whole book is about—the necessity to go beyond all sides of capital if socialism is to be built. Ultimately, I concluded that the paragraph Chávez had in mind was in section 20.3.5 where Mészáros talks about “the inescapable dialectical relationship” between production, distribution, circulation, and consumption, stressing that “the capital relation is made up of many circuits, all intertwined and mutually reinforcing one another.” Here, then, was why Mészáros concluded that “it is inconceivable to achieve the socialist objectives without going beyond capital, i.e. without radically restructuring the totality of existing reproductive relations.”5 And, here was the problem that concerned Chávez and which now concerned me—what concrete measures were possible in this context? That led to the second of these papers for Chávez in December 2006.
Rereading István Mészáros’s Beyond Capital, I am very impressed by the way he goes to the heart of the new society that must be built. It is true that he draws very heavily upon Marx’s discussion in the Grundrisse (and I have often stressed this point); however, what is so remarkable is how sharply he hones Marx’s point. Especially significant is the way he stresses a “twofold tyrannical determination” in capital (to which the market socialist reformers in the USSR were oblivious)—(a) “the authoritarianism of the particular workshops,” and (b) “the tyranny of the totalizing market.”6
Precisely because this double tyranny is so clear for him, Mészáros is unequivocal in identifying as characteristic of the new socialist society that (a) control of production be “fully vested in the producing individuals themselves,” and (b) that “the social character of labour is asserted directly,” not after the fact. In other words, productive activity in this socialism is social not because we produce for each other through a market but because weconsciously produce for others. And, it is social not because we are directed to produce those things but because we ourselves as people within society choose to produce for those who need what we can provide.
Here is the core of this new socialism as Mészáros saw it—“the primacy of needs.”7 Our needs as members of society—both as producers and as consumers—are central. This is a society centred on a conscious exchange of activity for communal needs and communal purposes. It is a society of new, rich human beings who develop in the course of producing with others andfor others; these are people for whom the desire to possess and the associated need for money (the real need that capitalism produces, Marx noted) wither away. We are describing a new world in which we have our individual needs, needs for our own “all-round development,” but where we are not driven by material incentives to act. It is a world in which our activity is its own reward (and is, indeed, “life’s prime want”) because we affirm ourselves as conscious social beings through that activity, a world in which we produce use-values for others and produce ourselves as part of the human family.
But, obviously, those people do not drop from the sky. They are formed by every aspect of their lives. Not only their activity as producers but also in the spheres of distribution and consumption. In this complex dialectic of production-distribution-consumption, Mészáros stresses, no one part can stand alone—it is necessary radically to restructure the whole of these relations because capitalism is a “structure of society, in which all relations coexist simultaneously and support one another” (Marx). So, how can you make any real changes if you have to change all relations—and you cannot change them all simultaneously?
In the same way that capitalism developed. Capitalism developed through a process, a process of “subordinating all elements of society to itself” and by creating for itself the organs which it lacked. The new socialist society similarly must develop through a process of subordinating all the elements of capitalism and the logic of capital and by a process of inserting its own logic centred in human beings in its place. It proceeds by assembling the elements of a new dialectic of production-distribution-consumption.
Elements of the New Socialism
What are those elements? At the core of this new combination are three characteristics: (a) social ownership of the means of production which is a basis for (b) social production organized by workers in order to (c) satisfy communal needs and communal purposes. Let us consider each in its turn and their combination.
Social ownership of the means of production is critical because it is the only way to ensure that our communal, social productivity is directed to the free development of all rather than used to satisfy the private goals of capitalists, groups of individuals, or state bureaucrats. Social ownership, however, is not the same as state ownership. State property is consistent with state capitalist enterprises, hierarchical statist firms, or firms in which particular groups of workers (rather than society as a whole) capture the major benefits of this state property. Social ownership implies a profound democracy—one in which people function as subjects, both as producers and as members of society.
Production organized by workers builds new relations among producers—relations of cooperation and solidarity; it furthermore allows workers to end “the crippling of body and mind” and the loss of “every atom of freedom, both in bodily and in intellectual activity” (Marx) that comes from the separation of head and hand characteristic of capitalist production. As long as workers are prevented from developing their capacities by combining thinking and doing in the workplace, they remain alienated and fragmented human beings whose enjoyment consists in possessing and consuming things. Further, as long as this production is carried out for their private gain rather than that of society, they look upon others (and, indeed, each other) as means to their own ends and thus remain alienated, fragmented, and crippled. Social production, thus, is a condition for the full development of the producers.
Satisfaction of communal needs and purposes has as its necessary condition a means of identifying and communicating those needs and purposes. Thus, it requires the development of the democratic institutions at every level which can express the needs of society. Production reflects communal needs only with information and decisions which flow from the bottom up. However, in the absence of the transformation of society, the needs transmitted upward are the needs of people formed within capitalism—people who are “in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society” (Marx). Within the new socialist society, the “primacy of needs” is based not upon the individual right to consume things without limit but, rather, upon “the worker’s own need for development”—the needs of people in a society where the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. In a society like this where our productive activity for others is rewarding in itself and where there is all-round development of individuals, society can place upon its banner: to each according to one’s need for development.
As consideration of these three specific elements suggests, realization of each element depends upon the existence of the other two—precisely Mészáros’s point about the inseparability of this distribution-production-consumption complex. Without production for social needs, no real social property; without social property, no worker decision-making oriented toward society’s needs; without worker decision-making, no transformation of people and their needs. The presence of the defects inherited from the old society in any one element poisons the others. We return to the essential question: how is a transition possible when everything depends upon everything else?
Building Revolutionary Subjects
In order to identify the measures necessary to build this new socialist society, it is absolutely critical to understand Marx’s concept of “revolutionary practice”—the simultaneous changing of circumstances and human activity or self-change. To change a structure in which all relations coexist simultaneously and support one another, you have to do more than try to change a few elements in that structure; you must stress at all times the hub of all these relations—human beings as subjects and products of their own activity.
Every activity in which people engage forms them. Thus, there are two products of every activity—the changing of circumstance or things (e.g., in the production process) and the human product. This second side of production is easily forgotten when talking about structural changes; however, it was not forgotten in the emphasis of the Bolivarian Constitution upon practice and protagonism—in particular, the stress upon participation as “the necessary way of achieving the involvement to ensure their complete development, both individual and collective.”
What is the significance of recognizing this process of producing people explicitly? First, it helps us to understand why changes must occur in all spheres—every moment that people act within old relations is a process of reproducing old ideas and attitudes. Working under hierarchical relations, functioning without the ability to make decisions in the workplace and society, focusing upon self-interest rather than upon solidarity within society—these activities produce people on a daily basis; it is the reproduction of the conservatism of everyday life.
Recognizing this second side also directs us to focus upon the introduction of concrete measures which explicitly take into account the effect of those measures upon human development. Thus, for every step two questions must be asked: (1) how does this change circumstances, and (2) how does this help to produce revolutionary subjects and increase their capacities? There are often several ways to make changes, but the particular battles which will build this new socialism more certainly will be those which not only win new ground, but also produce an army capable of fighting new, successful battles.
Choosing Concrete Steps
When we focus upon human beings and their development, it is easy to see how the elements within the new dialectic of production-distribution-consumption are connected. The process is one of synergy—the effects of changes in the sphere of production will be felt in the spheres of distribution and consumption; thus, this whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Let us consider each of the elements in turn.
Producing for Communal Needs and Communal Purposes
The Bolivarian Revolution has taken a giant leap into the twenty-first century with the creation of the Communal Councils, an essential cell of socialism for the twenty-first century. The communal councils provide a means by which people can identify communal needs democratically and learn that they can do something about these by themselves as a community. In this respect, these new community organizations are a school of socialism—one in which there is simultaneously a changing of circumstance and the development of people, “both individual and collective.”
They are also a base upon which to build. As the councils begin to function successfully, they can take further steps in identifying the needs of the community—what are those needs (both individual and collective) and what are the local resources that can satisfy those needs? For example, the councils can conduct a census of the local cooperatives and other enterprises that could produce for local needs. Further, they could bring together workers and the community to discuss ways to produce for communal needs and purposes.
The communal councils in this respect are a paradigm for this process. Not only are they a vehicle for changing both circumstances and the protagonists themselves but they also move step by step to a deepening of the process. Inevitably, all councils will not develop at the same pace, so uniformity cannot be imposed; however, this unevenness provides an opportunity for more advanced communities to share their experiences (a process which helps to build solidarity among communities). Further, the transmission of their needs upward for participatory budgeting at higher levels is an essential part of the process of developing planning from below for communal needs and purposes.
Of course, not all decisions to satisfy social needs belong at the level of the neighborhood and community. The decisions to reject neoliberalism, to pursue endogenous development, to seek food sovereignty, to create new education and health programmes, to create a new transportation infrastructure, to build new socialist relations—these are decisions which must be made at the national level. So, where is the place for revolutionary practice, the simultaneous changing of circumstances and self-change, in such cases?
There is no automatic place for the protagonism of the people in such state decisions. Perhaps some day a new state which is based upon the communal councils will emerge, and perhaps at some point computers will permit instant referenda on a host of national issues. On such matters at this point, however, the participation from below that allows people to develop their capacities will only occur as the result of a political commitment, one which makes real the Constitution’s understanding that the sovereign people must become not only the object but also the subject of power.
In short, national-level decisions can all be made at the top, which is characteristic of both dictatorships and representative democracies, or there can be a dedicated search for mechanisms which incorporate people below so they not only can affect the nature of the decisions, but also recognize the decisions as theirs. The “parliament of the streets” is an obvious example of a mechanism which can incorporate people into the discussions of laws, improve the quality of information available for good decisions, and create an identification with these decisions. However, finding ways to institutionalize this process so that people view it as their right to participate (and punish National Assembly deputies who do not honor this right) is important both in empowering people and attacking bureaucracy and elitism.
National decisions on such matters as the sectors of the economy that should be expanded and the social investments that need to be made are most critical at a time when the rapid and dramatic transformation of the structure of the economy from an oil economy is desired. And, these decisions have the profoundest effect upon which needs of society can be satisfied in the present and future. The significance of such decisions is precisely why it is important that they be pursued transparently, that the information that people need to be able to understand the logic behind these proposals be circulated in a simple and clear way and that the proposed plans and directions be discussed in advance in assemblies of workers and communities.
Just as in the case of discussions in communal councils and the development of links between the community needs and local producers, the dissemination and discussion of information about nationwide needs and purposes will be important in mobilizing support and initiatives from below in communities and workplaces to meet the needs of society. Sometimes, too, it will prevent serious errors when national initiatives do not take into account local and regional impacts (especially their environmental effects). Thus, not only do these democratic processes disseminate information downward. They also are an essential means of transmitting information upward.
For goals identified at both the community and national levels, the greater the spread of information and discussions through which people take ownership of the decisions, the more likely that productive activity will occur to ensure the successful achievement of those goals (rather than out of self-interest); in this way, producing for communal needs and purposes emerges as common sense.
Social Production Organized by Workers
The preconditions for successful worker organization of production are dissemination of the information necessary to carry out the activity and the ability to use this information efficiently. Thus, transparency (“open books”) and worker education (through a transformation of the traditional workday to include education) should be introduced in state, private capitalist, and cooperative enterprises.
While some aspects of enterprise activity (such as production statistics and information about purchasing decisions) can be monitored by workers relatively easily, examination of financial data and evaluation of management proposals require the development of more skills. Thus, for an interim period, workers should have access to worker auditors and advisors who can serve on their behalf. These specialists could be part of the group of educators assigned to the enterprise or could be provided to the enterprise by the Ministry of Work or by a trade union or trade union federation.
The steps in which workers assume direction of the organization of production should be set out clearly in advance in each enterprise; these steps and the pace pursued will vary in accordance with the history, culture, and experience in each case. While individual cases will vary, one of the first areas where workers can demonstrate the benefits of worker decision-making is through the reorganization of production. With their knowledge of existing waste and inefficiency, workers should be able to improve productivity and reduce costs of production.
To encourage the efficient production of use-values and to deepen the development of social production, the gains from these worker initiatives should not accrue to the enterprise (especially in the case of private capitalist firms!). Rather, in principle, these benefits should be divided up among enterprise workers and the local community following discussions in worker assemblies and the direct coordination of worker representatives with local communal councils. The links between workers and community built upon this basis are then an important part of the creation of these new relations.
In general, the process by which worker decision-making advances in the enterprise should start from the bottom up. Beginning from worker veto over supervisors (on the logic that supervisors unacceptable to workers are inconsistent with any worker management), the degree of worker decision-making would grow on a step-by-step basis. Starting from a phase in which workers identify the profile of acceptable managers and begin discussions of production and investment proposals of managers, the development of knowledge and worker capacities through this process would proceed toward the goal in which workers (including the managers who represent them and society as a whole) organize social production for communal needs and purposes.8
Under ideal circumstances, the steps in this process will be determined through negotiation and agreement between workers and management of enterprises and will be filed with the Ministry of Work as a social contract. Where timely agreement is not possible, enterprise workers can bring the matter to the Ministry of Work for its action (and for referral to the National Assembly in the case of privately owned enterprises).
It should be pointed out that two characteristics often identified with co-management—worker election of top directors and worker ownership shares—play no role in the above discussion. Both measures contain within them the potential for old ideas and familiar patterns to penetrate into the new relations of worker management and to make them simply new forms of the old relations.
As in the case of representative democracy in the political sphere, worker election of enterprise directors has often served to create a separation between those directors and the people they presumably represent. The club of directors develops its own logic, which is one distinct from the interest of workers. In particular, within the contested terrain of capitalist firms, co-management in this form means cooptation—a means of incorporating workers into the project of capitalists. In contrast, the process described here in which workers organize production is one of protagonistic democracy in which workers’ power proceeds from the bottom up and does so for the purpose of serving communal needs.
Similarly, the idea that workers’ interests in enterprises (state-owned or private capitalist) should be secured by giving workers shares of ownership—whether those shares are individually held or owned by a cooperative—is a case where co-management can be deformed into self-oriented private ownership. Instead of workers functioning as socially conscious producers, expressing themselves as cooperating producers and members of society, they are transformed into owners whose principal interest is their own income (which means the economic success of their particular company). This is not the way to build social production—i.e., the exchange of activity based upon communal needs and purposes.
Social Ownership of the Means of Production
Social ownership of the means of production is often presented as a matter of ideology. However, in a society oriented toward “ensuring overall human development” and “developing the creative potential of every human being,” social ownership of the means of production is common sense.
The point of social ownership is to ensure that the accumulated products of the social brain and the social hand are subordinated to the full development of human beings rather than used for private purposes. If the private ownership of the means of production does not support the creation of food sovereignty, endogenous development, and investment that generates good jobs, then the interest of society is advanced by introducing social ownership in its place.
Similarly, if private owners are not prepared to be transparent, to introduce education into the workplace, to accept growing worker decision-making, and to direct their activity increasingly to satisfying communal needs and communal purposes, then they thereby declare that they rank the privileges and prerogatives of private ownership over ensuring overall human development. Where they refuse to support public policies oriented toward creating a society based upon the logic of the human being, they demonstrate that there is no alternative for such a society than social ownership of the means of production.
Thus, it is not the socialist project which excludes them—they exclude themselves by demonstrating that they are incompatible with the full development of human potential.
One month later, on his regular Sunday “teach-in” (Aló Presidente #264 on January 28, 2007), Chávez drew upon the concepts developed in this second paper and introduced (to my excitement as I watched!) what he called the “elementary triangle of socialism”: social property, social production, and satisfaction of social needs (by setting out three points on his desk and explaining each side).9 This was one of many examples of his unique ability to take complex theoretical concepts (most evident in his regular references to Mészáros’sBeyond Capital) and to communicate these to the masses of viewers without a theoretical background.10 With simple commonsense language, Chávez succeeded in grasping the minds of masses, and that was an essential aspect in the combination which was building a path to socialism in his (truncated) lifetime. If we can learn to do that, then Chávez no se va.
  1. An additional paper I prepared, “Year of Total Education” (stressing education within worker-managed enterprises, education through practice, and an educational television station) was expanded upon by Haiman El Troudi (subsequently Minister of Planning and currently Minister of Transport) to add political and ethical education, and this was an inspiration for the program “Moral y Luces” announced in 2007 by Chávez.
  2. In the period before Chávez, managers of the state-owned oil company (PDVSA) succeeded in performing the magical feat of ensuring that revenues of the firm disappeared from Venezuela (and thus as state revenues) and appeared instead on the books of subsidiaries such as off-shore refiners.
  3. In Venezuela, PDVSA was the obvious example of such a “statist” firm. Its revenue was critical for supporting, among other things, state programs such as the social missions.
  4. I subsequently explored the incoherence and dysfunction characteristic of “real socialism” in The Contradictions of ‘Real Socialism’: The Conductor and the Conducted (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012).
  5. István Mészáros, Beyond Capital (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1995), 823.
  6. Ibid, 974–75, 837.
  7. Ibid, 835.
  8. The idea of “profiles” and of the step-by-step emergence of full worker management was developed in the course of meetings in 2005 between the managers of CADAFE (the major state electrical firm at the time) and FETRAELEC (the electrical workers federation) where Marta Harnecker and I played the role of marriage counselors after a breakdown in the process of “co-management” within the firm. Both sides agreed to this proposal but after management consulted with the Ministry of Oil and Energy, all such discussions of worker management were ended (presumably because they were contrary to the policy of the ministry, whose minister was, and remains, also the president of PDVSA).
  9. A few days earlier, I had incorporated much of the above discussion of socialism as an organic system into a talk (subsequently published as “New Wings for Socialism,” Monthly Review 58, no. 11 [April 2007]: 34–41) at the launch of the Venezuelan edition of my Build it Now: Socialism for the 21st Century (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2006). But there was no mention of a socialist triangle there because that graphic image had yet to be invented by Chávez. Subsequently, though, I drew explicitly upon his concept of the socialist triangle as a way to represent socialism as an organic system—beginning with two books published in Venezuela in 2008 (El Camino al Desarrollo Humano: Capitalismo o Socialismo? and La logica del capital versus la logica del desarrollo humano) and in the essay “The Path to Human Development: Capitalism or Socialism?” (Monthly Review 60, no. 9 [February 2009]: 41–63). This was followed by The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development (New York: Monthly Review, 2010), where the socialist triangle served as the organizing theme.
  10. Some examples of his discussion of the socialist triangle were incorporated in the video, “Worker’s Control: Theory and Experiences,” which was based on a conference on October 26–27, 2007, organized by the Program on Human Development and Practice of Centro Internacional Miranda; available at