Sunday, October 10, 2010

Letter to My Congressman

July 25, 2010

Congressman Lamar Smith
2409 Rayburn Building
House Office Building
Washington DC 20515

Dear Congressman Smith:

I am in receipt of your latest re-election rag. Gee, it’s funny how you only send out those legislative updates right around election time. Second one in about a month.

I too share your concern about excessive government spending, but I see you certainly have no problem with sending out your re-election newsletter at government expense.

I also see where you and your buddies in Congress also have no qualms about spending government money for your pet junkets. $604,000 for bottled water in 9 months? Might I suggest that cuts in government spending start right there in Congress? How about a salary cut for all the pigs at the trough? If you are serious about cutting spending, let’s see some more real action and a lot less bull.

Want to cut spending? How about reeling in those insurance companies that are soaking up all that health care money? How about ending those subsidies to the oil companies? How about cutting some of the pork from the so-called “Defense” Budget? One billion dollars for a battleship that still won’t float? Surely you must realize that you are being played by some big corporate type here. Or maybe you are part of the problem?

So, if you are going to Talk the Talk, maybe you should Walk the Walk.


Steve Rossignol

What to Do About Big Oil? Nationalize 'Em!

by Steve Rossignol and Billy Wharton

If there is one lesson to be learned from the massive British Petroleum Oil
Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it is that Big Oil has no conscience when it
comes to killing workers and raping the environment in their quest for
profits. In the case of BP, even overlooking the diabolical role they played
in the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh [sp?] Government in
Iran in 1953, the petrolem giant has ignored safety regulations, manipulated
federal regulators, and possibly even had a hand in the parole of convicted
Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in order to curry an oil contract
with Libya.

Civilized nations do not allow their citizens to act in this manner. Why do
we allow corporate giants to do so? The time has come for us to put aside
our dark fears and loudly start saying that dirty word dreaded by Tea
Baggers everywhere: Nationalization.

Once an integral plank of socialist platforms everywhere, the concept of
"nationalization" lost grace in the Seventies in favor of less offensive
terminology, like "socialization" or "workers' control" or some such. The
connection to any sort of state-owned or state-controlled economy was a
boogeyman with which no one dared be associated. All that free-market
stuff, you know. But the reality of government regulation in the so-called
free market is that regulation usually comes as a result of massive
corporate abuse which finally prompts the government to act.

Well, times change, but the oil industry hasn’t. All we have to do is a
look at the latest corporate abuser of the natural world, BP. The outrages
have become such that mere regulation is no longer effective in curtaillling
the abuses of the industry. We need to do more to lasso in the oil industry.

Nationalization (or whatever we choose to call iit) will no doubt raise the
hackles of so-called "free market" folks. But what about that free market?
Guess what. There ain't no such unicorn. When the oil industry cartel can
whimsically escalate gasoline and heating oil prices at will, grant obscene
bonuses to executives at tax-payer expense, generate record profits with
the help of massive government subsidies, manipulate energy futures on the
stock market, fail to build new refineries in order to keep gas prices up,
and flagrantly violate federal regulations, it is time to face the very
real fact that the oil companies are thumbing their noses at the American
people. There is no "free enterprise" here. And the added myth that the
"industry will regulate itself", as we have been told for decades, makes me
rather want to believe in the Tooth Fairy. Polluting companies like BP just
don’t “do” cleanup – there is no profit in it. I could go on and on about
the cardinal sins of these energy giants, but I do not think that there is
much doubt or disagreement about their greed and disregard for the national
good. There is a certain arrogance coming from the petroleum boardrooms
which seems to be saying, "Oh, yeah? What are you going to do about it?"

After all, when the Federal Trade Commission under George W. Bush permitted
mergers which allowed the largest oil companies to get even larger
(ExxonMobil, Conoco-Phillips, Texaco-Shell, BP-Amoco, Valero-Shamrock etc.),
it was rather clear that the stranglehold grip of Oil on America would only
get tighter. It's like a macabre family reunion of John D. Rockefeller's
Standard Oil. The basic lesson of history is that there was a good reason
why Standard Oil was busted up. While certainly no panacea, an immediate
plan of nationalization, perhaps administered congressionally, will reel in
all of the petroleum giants.

Nationalize 'em. That's what I think we should do about it. We as a nation
need to let them know that we are in charge.

There are many good reasons to nationalize the energy industry. Instead of
having Big Coal compete with Big Oil and Big Nuclear, and all of them trying
to strangle alternative energy like wind and solar, we could have a
comprehensive energy policy which would reduce the dependence on Big Foreign
Oil and fossil fuels altogether, all the while graduating towards renewable
energy sources. We would be able to regulate gasoline and heating oil
prices; we would be able to equally distribute supplies nationwide; we would
be able to reduce gasoline prices at the pumps. We would be able to increase
fuel effiiency standards; we would ensure the construction of new refinery
capacity. We would be able to sustain viable employment in the energy
industry, especially with new construction oriented to more energy effecient
and alternative sources. We would further ensure the safety and health of
our working people; and we would make sure that there would be no more Deep
Well drilling accidents in the Gulf of Mexico. It might even get us out of
that oil war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and keep us from getting into another
oil war in Iran or Venezuela.

Basically, we would be able to regulate and ensure supply, distribution,
production, importation and work towards efficient energy consumption.

Obviously there are plenty of details to be worked out, but the main thing
is to recognize that unless there is some sort of immediate central
oversight over the oil cartels, there will be nothing but more problems in
the economy, in the environment and in the survival of most Americans and
the world.

So call it what you want--nationalization, socialization, whatever, but
recognize that it needs to be done. When they are done wiping off those
oil-soaked pelicans in the Gulf, nationalization might not seem like such a
dirty word.

Guest Post: Fromm’s Socialist Program, Written in 1959 or 1960

Many academic scholars and many socialists may not know that Erich Fromm, perhaps the most famous social psychologist of the 20th Century, was a Marxist, writing “Let Man Prevail: A Socialist Manifesto and Program.” He wrote it for the Socialist Party (SP-SDF) in 1960. Here is some background. Of course, some of this may come as a surprise to those who have fallen for a caricature of Fromm: Wasn’t he once an early scientific leader of the Frankfurt School but later a disconnected “flake” praising Buddha, Jesus, Marx and Socrates, all as exemplars of some “art of loving”? But the caricature is a slander. Actually Fromm was always a science-minded, clear-headed organizer -- a socialist humanist and an organizer -- at least that is my Erich Fromm.
The Manifesto/Program was not adopted by the SP-SDF, although the party reprinted it at least three times in the 1960s. It was written roughly during the time Fromm was writing his classic Marx’s Concept of Man, and he was on the National Committee of the SP at the time.

With SANE already founded, partially named after Fromm’s earlier book, The Sane Society, there was an intense blip of public resistance to the 1950s “dog days” of hiding from McCarthyism. This new public resistance/peace movement worked in combination with the emerging civil rights movement: Coretta Scott King, for example, was also a founder of SANE. SANE began openly opposing the bomb shelter scam, a mass delusion that after nuclear explosions some of us could survive hiding underground and emerge later to start the world over. [My dad, incidentally, went to jail in 1961 for protesting bomb shelters – making front page of the Tacoma, Washington daily paper.] This is the period in which Fromm wrote his Manifesto/Program.

Let me briefly elaborate this peace movement aspect of Fromm’s work. In the 1950s, America was hardly a freely thinking society. There was McCarthy in Washington, and every state legislature had a little McCarthy to match him. There were witch-hunts in universities, and as we all know, Hollywood had a red scare where many progressive artists, like Charlie Chaplin, left the country or quit the industry. There was an arms race, brinkmanship, and glorification of big bombers and big bombs. There was “ethnic cleansing” against Mexican Americans in 1954 (The Government’s “Operation Wetback”), and southern states ferociously defended Jim Crow segregation. Because this was such a chilling time for social critics, it should not be underestimated how important a new open peace movement was in the late 1950s. (This was culturally a long time before the widely accepted 1965 to 1972 peace movement.) But by 1960, SANE was holding numerous rallies with some Hollywood figures coming out of Hollywood’s political seclusion: Marylyn Monroe, Arthur Miller, Harry Belafonte, and Ossie Davis; and other prominent figures were emerging to face the insanity of the arms race: Dr. Benjamin Spock, Walter Reuther, Pablo Casals, Bertrand Russell, Albert Schweitzer, and Norman Thomas emerging to speak together.) Of course the late 1950s was also still a dangerous time, with the FBI nuts, with Bobby Kennedy’s witch hunts against unions, and with state-level investigating committees against subversives, and with the John Birch Society and other rightist and racist groups skulking. So SANE becoming public was important psychologically, challenging the bizarre mentality of fleeing into the ground as a form of insanity.

Because the Communist Party was a shell of its previous self and was trying to recover from its semi-underground status during the McCarthy period, and because it was trying to digest the shocking “revelations” about Stalin in the 1956 Soviet Congress and the rebellions in the East Bloc, they had been reduced to hoping desperately (and fruitlessly, for the most part) to be accepted by the Democratic Party. The Trotskyists had done poorly in the 1950s too -- the term “dog days “ comes from James Cannon and was originally used to refer to a period in the 1920s -- and there were deep splits in Trotskyist ranks. Fromm was on the national committee of the merged Socialist Party-Social Democratic Federation, which had also had a difficult time and was looking for ways to regroup, and he had already been in correspondence (at least 50 letters in his lifetime), which lasted to his death, with Raya Dunayevskaya, founder of the still-active-today News and Letters left group, whose newspaper’s editor was a black auto worker.

I think what Fromm was trying to do with his new Manifesto/Program, which he hoped would be discussed in unions and left groups, was to provide a rallying cry to all leftists to come out of the 1950’s hole and to try something different than repeating the ineffectual “party-building” (“recruitment”) and sectarian proclivities of their recent past. He was hoping the left could work together to involve masses in socialist planning discussions, with discussions on educational reform, critiques of bureaucracy, etc. (Fromm reissued this basic proposal later, in 1968, as Toward a Revolution of Hope, with an explicit warning that voting Democrat or Republican in 1968 would not be a step in the right direction. (Fromm co-signed a statement with Herbert Marcuse and others that year criticizing dependence on the Democratic Party.) Revolution of Hope included a little clip-out page in the back of the book to mail back to him if workers or others would be willing to work with him to form a new network of “clubs.”

Marx’s Concept of Man in 1961 is the companion piece to the Manifesto/Program and is one of Fromm’s greatest achievements, spreading the word about the “early Marx” and locating Marx in a philosophical tradition that Fromm and Dunayevskaya were each calling Humanism. The “early” Marx, with his talk about “alienation” and our separation from our “species being,” was not accepted well by the old left. The Communist Party was going through one of its intense anti-intellectual phases, burrowing into trade union practice and focusing on telling the workers how money is being taken right out of their mouths and hands by the capitalists every day. You don’t need to know some humanist tradition of thought to get the workers angry about that, they figured. But still Fromm had immense influence, among second-level academic and church layers and the peace movement. Fromm had an impact internationally too, being one of the few people quoted in Paulo Freire’s Latin American classic, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And Fromm was the organizer of a momentous international symposium, creating the book Socialist Humanism, with East Bloc intellectuals in 1965; in the book, he contributed an article as did Dunayevskaya and Norman Thomas.

Fromm, from his 1960 Program/Manifesto to the 1965 Socialist Humanism Symposium, provided a powerful critique of Western “democracy” removed from its humanist “spiritual” roots, from the Renaissance to the Abolitionists. “Democracy” had been reduced to stale and oppressive rituals of rigged slates. And Manifesto/Program provided an implied critique of East Bloc “socialism” and of the left’s destructive bureaucratic cant about “party loyalty,” and its attachment to simple “trade union solidarity” -- I’ll scratch your back if you remember to scratch mine and “buy American” -- and offered an implied criticism of intellectual “service” to the cause matching worker production.
Fromm’s Manifesto/Program is reprinted in a later book by Fromm, Disobedience.
[A longer version of this piece by Nick Braune was presented at the 2008 Radical Philosophy Conference in San Francisco.]