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2005

The Utopian Vision of the Future (Then and Now): A Marxist Critique

Oscar Wilde said that any map that doesn’t have utopia on it is not worth looking at. There are few quotes I’ve cited as often or with as much pleasure as this one. Yet, there is something in the sweeping nature of the claim that has always left me unsatisfied. In examining utopian thinking, I will also try to distinguish what is valid and useful in Wilde’s claim from what is not… | more…

What is the Soul of Socialism?

At midnight on January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect. Years in the making, the treaty was designed to solidify the rule of capital over the lives of millions of people from Calgary to Guadalajara. It would smooth the way for capital investment across borders, while blunting labor and environmental laws and reducing the governments’ ability to tax and regulate businesses… | more…

The Soul of Socialism: Connecting with the People’s Values

“Theory becomes a material force,” wrote Karl Marx, “once it seizes the masses.” The obverse is also true: if theory does not “seize the masses,” it becomes impotent and irrelevant. Today, in the United States and many other countries, a socialist critique has been excluded from political and popular debate regarding critical economic and social problems. One reason for this is the domination of the mainstream media by corporations, but the existence of a capitalist propaganda mill does not absolve socialists for failing to translate their trenchant and sound observations about the existing social and political order into language that will resonate with the values of the readers or listeners who are the putative beneficiaries of any socialist transformation… | more…

A Note on the Death of Andre Gunder Frank (1929-2005)

I met André Gunder Frank and his wife Marta Fuentes in 1967. Our long conversation convinced us that we were intellectually on the same wavelength. “Modernization Theory,” then dominant, ascribed the “underdevelopment” of the Third World to the retarded and incomplete formation of its capitalist institutions. Marxist orthodoxy, as represented by the Communist Parties, presented its own version of this view and characterized Latin America as “semi-feudal.” Frank put forward a new and entirely different thesis: that from its very origins Latin America had been constructed within the framework of capitalist development as the periphery of the newly arising centers of Europe’s Atlantic seabord. For my part, I had undertaken to analyze the integration of Asia and Africa into the capitalist system in light of the requirements of “accumulation on a global scale,” a process that by its inner logic had to produce a polarization of wealth and power… | more…

Labor Movements: Is There Hope?

For the past thirty years, the class struggle has been a pretty one-sided affair, with capital delivering a severe beating to labor around the globe. When economic stagnation struck most of the world’s advanced capitalist economies, beginning in the mid-1970s, capital went on the offensive, quickly understanding that the best way to maintain and increase profit margins in a period of slow and sporadic economic growth was to cut labor costs. Governments and global lending agencies such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund began to implement policies that made workers increasingly insecure… | more…

The Legacy of the IWW

This year marks the centenary of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), American labor’s unique visionaries. It also marks the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the AFL-CIO, the result of the merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organization. Remarkably it is also the tenth anniversary of the change of the guard at the AFL-CIO. In 1995, John Sweeney and his “New Voice” team, expressing the rumblings of disillusionment with then-president and prominent Cold Warrior Lane Kirkland sweeping through the middle and upper ranks of the organization, drove the old guard from the highest offices. The concurrence of the three anniversaries may be more than a coincidence. To see why, let us go back and examine some recent labor history… | more…

Crisis in the U.S. Labor Movement: The Roads Not Taken

There is no disputing that these are tough times for the working class and its allies (all those oppressed by capitalism). The working class lacks a political party; social services to assist us with the inevitable problems we face have been eroded; and even our few precious institutions, especially unions, seem overwhelmed by the relentless attacks… | more…

Labor Needs a Radical Vision

For forty years, AFL-CIO leaders George Meany and Lane Kirkland saw unorganized workers as a threat when they saw them at all. They drove left-wing activists out of unions and threw the message of solidarity on the scrapheap. Labor’s dinosaurs treated unions as a business, representing members in exchange for dues, while ignoring the needs of workers as a whole. A decade ago new leaders were thrust into office in the AFL-CIO, a product of the crisis of falling union density, weakened political power, and a generation of angry labor activists demanding a change in direction. Those ten years have yielded important gains for unions. Big efforts were made to organize strawberry workers in Watsonville, California, asbestos workers in New York and New Jersey, poultry and meatpacking workers in the South, and health care workers throughout the country. Yet in only one year was the pace of organizing fast enough to keep union density from falling… | more…

Canadian Labor Today: Partial Successes, Real Challenges

It is undeniably true that the Canadian labor movement has been healthier than our neighbors to the south in the past twenty years. In many ways, Canadian unions represent a positive counterpoint to the crisis of labor in the United States.… Unions in key sectors such as auto led a two-decade-long struggle against concession bargaining and have so far prevented multi-tiered wage agreements. Public sector unions have linked the defense of public sector workers with relatively effective strategies of maintaining strong popular support for public medicine and social services.… But if you look below the surface today, all is not so rosy. The long-term effects of neoliberal inspired restructuring that began in the late 1970s have reshaped the environment of today’s Canadian economy. This has given new power to employers to demand concessions. Whether the threatened outcome is takeover by a U.S. corporation, the movement of investment out of the country, enhanced dependence upon transnational investment decisions, outsourcing, or bankruptcy protection, the logic of capitalist restructuring weighs heavily on the minds of workers.… | more…

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