Saturday, April 10, 2021

Helen Keller's Socialism: Review of 'Her Socialist Smile' | New Politics

Originally published in New Politics Vol. XVIII No. 2, Whole Number 70 (Winter 2021)

Her Socialist Smile
By: John Gianvito
Traveling Light, 2020.

“The seeds of socialism are being scattered far and wide, and the power does not exist in the world which can prevent their germination.”

—Helen Keller

“There is a pertinence and connection between [Helen’s politics and] our current historical moment (even one hundred years later). She has a lot of things to say to us. … She had belief in the power of the young to move us a few steps closer to the kind of world we’d like to live in. So I hope this film speaks to new generations of activists and gives them some nutrition for the good fight.”

—John Gianvito, Q & A with the director, Her Socialist Smile (2020)

A director would normally balk at the prospect of making a movie about an historical subject on whom there is an extreme dearth of extant audio or visual material. In fact, director John Gianvito did precisely that twenty years ago when he first began exploring the possibility of making a movie on the under-appreciated socialist politics of Helen Keller. Gianvito had originally discovered Keller’s radical political history within the writings of the influential “people’s historian,” Howard Zinn, about whom Gianvito would later make an award-winning documentary (Profit Motive and the Whispering Mind, 2007).

Unfortunately for Gianvito, the primary medium by which Keller (who was blind and deaf) communicated her voluminous thoughts was, of course, that of the written rather than aural or visual word. Additionally, much of Keller’s personal archive of photographic and recorded content was destroyed over the years in a series of tragedies (a house fire in 1946 and the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001).

Recently, however, Gianvito decided to revisit the project. The renewed popularity of socialist ideas following the 2008 global crisis of financial capitalism, the rise of the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements, the historic campaigns of Bernie Sanders within the Democratic Party primaries, and the meteoric growth of Democratic Socialists of America—all these signs pointed to a revivified relevance of socialism in the United States.

In this light, Gianvito adopted a different conception of the Keller vehicle. The scarcity of primary audio and visual source material was inescapable, Gianvito recognized; but perhaps this was quite metaphorically fitting for a subject who made use of neither the sense of sight nor sound.

The resultant, imaginative oeuvre is the documentary Her Socialist Smile (2020), which recently received a limited run through the 58th New York Film Festival (held entirely online this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic). The 1 hour, 33 minute movie is an interesting bricolage of white text against a black background; an eclectic selection of thematic music; scenes of nature in states of change and at rest; topical clips from newsreel and other secondary historical sources; professional narration and voice acting performed by Carolyn Forché; and the rare gem offering firsthand recordings and photographs of Keller speaking, writing, working, and playing.

All of this makes the documentary appear as an unlikely combination of worlds. With its text-on-screen format overlaid by musical and narrative accompaniment, one experiences the anachronistic universe of silent film; its interspersed shots of icicles melting in springtime or a slug making a herculean pilgrimage across the face of a boulder strike one as eminently modernist in form.

This latter aspect of the movie may not be quite so eagerly met by those whose primary attraction to the title stems from a desire to learn more about Keller’s socialist thought. There are odd stretches of long minutes in which on-screen bees pollinate flowers and flies buzz around an animal carcass. There is also an odd exception to form when the viewer is presented with the lone instance of political analysis, not by an interviewee discussing Keller’s politics, the various U.S. social movements of which she was a part, or the complexities of disability political theory in Keller’s time and now. Rather, the movie is given over to a four-minute clip of Noam Chomsky speaking at an event in 1989 on the ideological repercussions of the Cold War and the differences between the “opportunistic … Leninism” of the 1917 Bolshevik “coup” in Russia (an event which Keller, incidentally, viewed as a revolutionary beacon of socialist hope to the world) and the “mainstream Marxist movement” represented by the German Social-Democratic Party and the likes of Anton Pannekoek.

However, leaving aside questions of appropriate analyses of the social nature of Russia over the seventy-plus years between workers’ revolution and “the fall of Communism,” the central political content of Her Socialist Smile is both inspiring and edifying. Keller lived during the tumultuous years spanning 1880 to 1968; she identified as a socialist for sixty of those years, and was heavily involved in all of the major socialist and radical movements and organizations in the United States for roughly fifteen of those years, beginning in 1908 when she joined the Socialist Party.

Throughout this period she participated in protests for women’s equality and Black freedom. She organized in solidarity with workers strikes and anti-imperialist initiatives. She toured and gave speeches on behalf of the Socialist Party of America and the Industrial Workers of the World. She offered her prestige to movements affiliated with the American Communist Party. She supported the struggle against nuclear weapons and the anti-communism of Cold War McCarthyism. She wrote prolifically on the topic of social revolution, workers’ power, socialist strategy, the injuries of economic inequality, the violence and opposition to democracy of the capitalist class, the oppression of the disabled and the economically marginalized, and the hope of a society reimagined around the principle that “the welfare of each is bound up with the welfare of all.”

Gianvito provides us with a taste of this all—a taste of Keller’s political genius. There are certainly elements of the documentary that are wanting. For instance, Gianvito inexplicably leaves out any discussion of Keller’s association with the anti-colonial movements of the 1940s and 1950s; the concomitant Non-Aligned Movement, whose leading figures, such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Josip Tito, drew the keen interest of Keller; or the affection with which Keller regarded Henry Wallace’s 1948 Progressive Party campaign for U.S. president. Further, Gianvito’s documentary does not include any analysis of the politics of disability, which were of course integral to Keller’s lifework.

Nonetheless, Her Socialist Smile is a welcome contribution to the contemporary proliferation of socialist-educational materials. If the movie does nothing more than whet the audience’s appetite for more of Keller’s politics, and socialism in general, then it can be considered a great success.

Essential Workers: Class Struggle in the Time of Coronavirus | New Politics

by Keith Rosenthal and Brian Escobar

==


==

A newscast on SUR Peru Sunday showed residents of Lima at their windows clapping and thanking the masked sanitation workers loading bags of trash into a garbage truck. The screen read, “Coronavirus: Cleaning in Lima, Anonymous Heroes.” Residents knew whose labor they were counting on to stay safe from the pandemic and knew the risks the workers were taking.

With the coronavirus pandemic now spreading across the United States — and local and national government officials belatedly cobbling together a response — naked truths about contemporary American capitalism have been laid bare.

For one, the existing privatized, patchwork health care system in the United States relying on just-in-time supply chains is incompatible with the needs of a globally integrated, healthy society. It has also become painfully clear that we can no longer endure the lack of a comprehensive public welfare infrastructure in this country (e.g., universal paid sick leave, income assistance, etc.).

Other components of American capitalism that are being exposed are the class divide and the social relations which inform production and distribution. Usually obscured by exaltation of the rich and powerful of society, the shutdown of all “non-essential” services has rendered obvious the essentiality of a particular subgroup of the American population.

In just a short time, the stoppage of American business-as-usual is revealing that the nation fundamentally relies on this indispensable subgroup — or class — of people to carry out the work essential for society’s functioning. This class of people comprises those engaged in labor without which all other social, economic, and political activities would grind to a halt. Indeed, without the labor of these individuals, such emergency measures as social distancing, lockdowns, and widespread self-quarantining would be impossible to maintain.

Who is “Essential”?

The question of who counts as “essential” is proving to be ad hoc, inconsistent and contested. Multiple governmental bodies and private employers are treating different sets of workers as essential. Companies like GameStop instructed employees to tell any official who came to shut them down that they were essential workers (GameStop finally closed stores on March 21). Meanwhile, some Starbucks employees are petitioning the company to stop considering them essential so they can go home with paid leave. The concept also tends to reinforce the devaluation of domestic work, disproportionately done by women, despite it being necessary for society’s continuation.

From a working class standpoint, we can rightly observe that nurses, delivery drivers and grocery store workers are showing the world how essential their work is, whereas advertising execs and app developers can safely stay home without any real cost to ordinary people.

While the ‘frontline’ essential workers who remain on the job do not encompass the entire working class, they nonetheless clearly compose a core part of it. Though disproportionately underrepresented in the political bodies of government, undercompensated in their share of national income and wealth, and underprivileged in their access to the nation’s education, health, and social security resources, these workers — along with the rest of the working class — bear upon their shoulders the entire edifice of American society.

This section of the working class is made up of grocery store workers, food and delivery service workers, package and postal delivery workers, CVS and Walgreens workers, warehouse workers, sanitation workers, workers in the energy and telecom industries, farmworkers, childcare and personal care assistants, and of course emergency and medical service workers. This list is not exhaustive; but it starkly depicts the nature and scale of the labor which American capitalism rests upon, and even more so in times of crises.

Strip away the parasitical class of financial speculators and idle owners of corporate capital, the quasi-aristocratic families with immense dynastic wealth and power, the leisure class who can simply choose not to work and still live comfortably; strip away the pomp, circumstance, and chauvinism of the elites who comprise the ruling class of America, and you have lost nothing that is essential to the basic functioning of society.

Class Matters

What is the significance of pointing this out? First of all, it cuts through the veil of myth-making which has disguised the true nature of the world in which we live. Before the financial collapse of 2008 it was rare to hear a mainstream politician even mention the word “working class.” They spoke only of “saving the middle class” — a mantra which they repeated ad nauseam.

Sundry intellectuals and television news talking heads reinforced this paradigm, opining that even the notion of a working class was a Marxist anachronism in today’s postmodern American society. It was purported that the United States was a post-class technocracy, fluid and flat, and the populace was just one giant middle class sandwiched between two tiny and mildly bothersome populations of the very rich and the very poor. America was the suburbs and young urban professionals; the dishwashers and delivery drivers were a mere imaginary number in the equation.

Coronavirus is rattling the cage. As society “pauses” and relies on essential workers to get us through the crisis, we are forced to ask, for instance, why it is that those engaged in the basic, necessary work of our society are so often the most marginalized, maligned, underpaid, and disempowered?

Now we are beginning to hear grumbles from Wall Street and its political servants in government that the price — and they mean literal monetary price — of the current preventative economic standstill is simply too high. These corporate villains declare that they want all workers – “essential” or not — to return to work, regardless of the danger posed by the virus. They readily admit that ending social distancing will lead to countless unnecessary deaths. To the financial barons of the American stock exchange, a billion dollars in profit lost on the S&P 500 is far more important than a million human lives lost to an unflattened curve.

Essential Power

For now, it is the “essential” working class which remains on the front lines. The upshot, from the standpoint of class struggle, is that these workers now find themselves in a potentially pivotal position. With all of society resting upon their labors, the question is whether they will feel empowered by their newly visible importance and flex their collective muscles.

The alternative is that the humans who compose the ‘essential’ class will simply be ground down and sacrificed by the ruling class. This is being proven by the utter failure of bosses and governments to provide workers with adequate protective equipment, safety protocols, or hazard and sick pay

While the class itself and the labor it performs are indispensable to the functioning of society and to the profits of capitalists, the discrete human laborers, which the working class comprises, are deemed individually dispensable by the ruling class. Provided other human laborers are on the market and willing to take their place, the loss of a single set of hands is of no concern to the corporate owners. The work must go on, they insist, regardless of the cost in human lives. Thus, the only solution is for workers to collectively usurp control over the work itself.

Indeed, the mere threat of a strike or work slowdown on the part of essential workers at this moment could be sufficient to win major concessions from CEOs and governments. Across the country we’re already beginning to see ‘wildcat’ job actions and strikes planned by Amazon, city sanitation, and Instacart workers.

In short, the vulnerabilities of capitalism — both its abject failure to prepare for and contain the coronavirus, and its utter dependence on the labors of a class which it treats as little more than an expendable resource — means that it will be more possible than ever for America’s essential workers to fundamentally change the landscape of American class relations.

Witness the fact that some employers have already strategically offered certain limited concessions to workers, from one-time $300 cash bonuses ($100 for part-timers) to $1 an hour wage increases. Such scant boons, however, amount to a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to the cost of COVID-19 treatment.

Looking Deeper

Ultimately the crisis of the coronavirus, which is a crisis of capitalism from the virus’s origin to its spread, forces us to reflect upon the very way that work is organized throughout society.

Many people have taken to offering moving and heartfelt public commendations for the labor of essential workers amidst the crisis. Such praise is well earned for those who are soldiering on for the benefit of others despite hazardous conditions, like those Peruvian trash collectors. However, we would be remiss to ignore the insidious forms of economic intercourse that belie purely anodyne gestures of gratitude.

Labor in capitalist society is not a function of genuine free choice. Rather, the work people do is heavily determined by wealth, racial, gender, and other inequalities. Most Americans — perhaps apart from the middle and upper classes — don’t end up in the job they want in order to fulfill a dream, but the job they get in order to meet basic financial obligations; or, employers exploit their dreams to persuade them to work for little pay and grueling hours. That is, many workers in essential services industries enter or remain due to their financial vulnerability. It is not feasible for them to abruptly quit or stay home without pay; nor are they flush with access to a variety of different jobs.

Capitalism relies upon a form of coercion in which some humans are sufficiently more desperate than others so as to accept employment in hazardous conditions, for less pay, and with less job security. Especially in the absence of the basic protections afforded by unions, workers in essential sectors are often compelled to work entirely according to the whim and discretion of their employer.

There is a reason why wealthier people tend to avoid taking such essential jobs as sanitation work and grocery delivery. There is a reason why nurses tend to come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than hospital executives, and why those who clean the hospitals tend to be disproportionately of a darker complexion than either of the above.

What would it mean to organize the work of society differently? Is it possible to have an equitable, democratically planned, and socially owned structure of work and consumption? The prevailing economic system is one in which the owners of capital hold despotic sway over the productive nodes of the economy. Consequently, they also hold ruling sway over all decisions about work and production: what gets produced, how the work is done, who the work is done by and for, and the manner in which the work is compensated.

When socialists call for a society based on workers’ power, it is in subversion of the above regime. The majority who do the work for society to function should have a ruling share in the decision-making power over the vital political, economic, and social questions of that society. Further, the economic and living conditions of the working class should be secure, elevated, and liberated to a degree that is inversely proportional to how insecure, depressed, and circumscribed they are at present.

Present conditions in the U.S. remain far removed from such a socialist vision. We have a long struggle ahead of us, not only to survive and navigate the immediate pandemic crisis, but also to fight to fundamentally remake society itself.

For the moment, many workers in low-paying and vulnerable jobs are receiving the recognition and respect that they have long deserved. We must never allow that recognition to be lost again and we must fight to turn recognition into power, and power into transformation.

Let us use this opportunity to push for everything that essential workers and all people need to live dignified and healthy lives in the twenty-first century: A twenty-five dollar minimum wage with full benefits; grocery chains converted into co-ops with safety and health protections regulated by the workers; the mass expansion of occupant-run, affordable public housing; transforming the largest banks into a national utility so as to stabilize people’s finances and fund general human needs; nationalization of hospitals, and the implementation of universal social services such as Medicare for All, Public Power, and internet access.

As the subheading of a recent New York Times op-ed asserted, “Everyone’s a socialist in a pandemic.” We know humanity can do better than this and that the welfare of each is dependent upon the welfare of all. We should proudly project this vision and use the “essentiality” of our class to win the lasting and necessary changes we deserve.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The ruling class may not rule -- but the state always rules in the interest of the ruling class

Jacobin recently posted a fascinating thought-piece on the Marxist theory of the state. It is actually a reprint of an article originally published in 1977 by the radical sociologist Fred Block, titled, "The Ruling Class Does Not Rule." (https://jacobinmag.com/2020/04/ruling-class-capitalist-state-reform-theory).

The article posits an "unorthodox" Marxist analysis of the manner in which the state in capitalist society is always a product of the interaction between the existing economic classes and social forces of society. This is true regardless of the desired political content of the state managers -- be they of the right, the center, or the left.

In other words, as long as society is cleft into opposing classes, and as long as the means of production by and large remain in the hands of one of those classes (namely, the capitalist class), then the state will forever manifest as a bourgeois state -- the state of a capitalist society -- despite the conscious intentions of the major social actors. Or, as Marx puts it, the character of the state is determined by the nature of the existing struggle between the classes so that it appears to take on a form independent of the will of any of the major social actors; that is, the content of the state is formulated "behind their backs," as it were.

The conclusion? As long as there is a capital-owning class arrayed against a working class, the state of such a society will always be essentially capitalist in form and function. Only with the abolition of the classes themselves, through the total appropriation of the capitalist class by a universal working class (which in turn, as a matter of definition, loses the character of a "class" as such), will the state lose its class, i.e., capitalist, character, and become, first, a socialist workers' state, and ultimately, a universal state of simply "the people."

Consider, by way of comparison, a slave society. Any state which exists and abides alongside the existence of a slave-owning class arrayed against a class of slaves will always be essentially a state of slavery. It is only by pitting itself in open and total hostility to the master class, and then proceeding to abolish said master class by "appropriating" or liberating it of its ownership over the capital from which it derives its power and very existence (i.e., slaves, human beings), that the state can be said to completely lose its character as a state of slavery. This can be stated in tautological form thusly: The abolition of slavery is the absolute precondition for the abolition of a state of slavery (i.e., a state influenced by the existence of a slave-owning and enslaved class dialectic).

In sum, as regards the question of capitalism and the state, it means that any movement which seeks to use the state as an anti-capitalist instrument must simultaneously and minimally prepare to pit itself in direct and total belligerence against the capital-owning class (i.e., that class which privately owns the means of production). It must prepare its constituency and convince the working class of the imminent need to appropriate the capitalist class out of existence entirely. Anything less will inevitably end in naught but capitulation to the role of state manager of capitalism, i.e., managing the capitalist state; which is to say, managing the systemic exploitation and oppression of the working class by the capitalist class.

This is why the notion of a Socialist Party governing in a society which exists and abides alongside the existence of a capitalist class is simply a contradiction containing the seeds of its own undoing. Socialists cannot truly pursue a coherent and consistent socialist program while managing a capitalist state. To rephrase the above tautology, the precondition of a socialist state is the abolition of the contending classes of capitalist society. Any socialist party or movement which does not view its road to power as passing through this imminent conquest has, a priori, forfeited the pursuit of a socialist state.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

How a third party helped to abolish slavery in the U.S.

First published on August 10, 2016, at SocialistWorker.org.

===

Are third parties irresponsible "spoilers"? Or a necessary part of challenging a spoiled system? Keith Rosenthal and Alan Maass look back at history for some answers.

FOR MANY people, third-party politics in the contemporary U.S. is a nonstarter at best and downright irresponsible at worst.

One need only observe the torrent of invective currently being leveled against supporters of the Green Party's Jill Stein, who is running a left-wing third-party challenge against both the "lesser evil" Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the "greater evil" Republican Donald Trump.

The overlooked truth, however, is that third-party election efforts historically played an important part in advancing progressive causes in the U.S. The most obvious example is the abolition of slavery. It was arguably the single-most significant social advance in U.S. history--and it was catalyzed in part by third-party initiatives.

IN THE decades preceding the Civil War, the two ruling-class political parties that dominated the U.S. system were the Democrats and the Whigs.

The Democrats were the party of slavery. They were dominated by the Southern slave-owning master class and consistently advocated the expansion of slavery into newly organized Western states--every issue was viewed through the lens of what would defend and extend the institution of slavery. The Northern wing of the Democrats were built around urban political machines that depended on votes from working people, but the Southern slaveocracy called the shots within the party.

The Whigs were the second main party from 1833 onward, appealing primarily to the Northern ruling class that was becoming more powerful on the basis of industrial production. But while the Northern industrialists clashed with the Southern slave power over a range of political issues, from trade and tariffs to spending on infrastructure development, the Whigs stood for a "measured" policy of compromise and conciliation, prizing national unity above all else.

Probably the best-known national leader of the Whigs was Henry Clay--who was even known as the "Great Compromiser" for his role in brokering a series of legislative compromises that papered over the divisions between North and South.

On the all-important question of whether slavery should be legal in new Western territories as they became states, the Democrats were unreservedly in favor of the expansion of slavery, while the Whigs at most argued that the question of whether a state should be slave or free should be decided by popular vote.

Still, if you apply the logic of the current liberal scolders that anyone who questions a vote for Hillary Clinton is helping the Republicans, the Whigs would still represent the "lesser evil" compared to the Democrats.

But the most determined opponents of slavery in this era viewed the Whigs as one wing of a political system that was completely committed to upholding the institution of slavery.

In fact, abolitionist sentiment in the Northern states was sharpened most of all by the compromises negotiated by the Whigs to hold the North and South together. For example, the Compromise of 1850 curbed some of the South's ambitions for slavery's Western expansion, but the cost was a strengthened Fugitive Slave Act that essentially made the federal government responsible for capturing and transporting free Blacks to any Southerner who claimed to have owned them as slaves.

Far from viewing the Whigs as the "lesser evil," the dominant attitude among abolitionists in this era was to reject any participation in the U.S. political system. They believed that the Constitution itself was "infected with the pestilence of slavery," as the abolitionist agitator William Lloyd Garrison put it, and any involvement in politics would corrupt the participants and turn them into compromisers, too.

Gradually, though, some opponents of slavery--Frederick Douglass among them--started moving toward a different strategy. They wouldn't choose between the two evils, Democrats and Whigs, but would support independent parties committed to confronting the slave power more directly.

THE FIRST such challenge came in the 1840 presidential election, and the results were modest. Abolitionist James Birney, running as the candidate of the newly formed Liberty Party, won 0.3 percent of the popular vote.

Undeterred, Birney ran again for the Liberty Party ticket in 1844--this time with Douglass a vocal supporter. He won only 2.3 percent of the popular vote, but the contest between the Whig candidate, Henry Clay, and the Democratic candidate, James Polk, was very close. Polk won the popular vote by less than 40,000 votes.

Birney and the Liberty Party were accused of winning enough support in New York that would have otherwise to Clay to swing that state to Polk--and its 36 electoral votes at the time were the margin of victory for Polk in the Electoral College.

Did that make the abolitionists election "spoilers"? There's no doubt that James Polk was one of the most rabidly pro-slavery Democratic presidents. He launched the U.S. into the Mexican-American War on the strength of the slaveocracy's fantasy of annexing an entire nation's worth of territory where slavery would be legal. The justices he nominated to the Supreme Court were reliably pro-slavery, responsible for such obscenities as the Dred Scott decision in 1857.

But the Whigs, with their compromises, were just as responsible for admitting new slave states into the union. And the pro-slavery laws that the Supreme Court was upholding had been passed by Congress with support from the Whigs.

So those who wanted to see an end to slavery continued to support third party efforts that would actually challenge slavery--first the Free Soil Party formed in the wake of the 1844 election, and finally the Republican Party, founded in 1854.

The Republican Party, like the Free Soil Party before it, was firmly opposed to the expansion of slavery westward, but it didn't stand for abolition.

Much of the party leadership was more moderate than the abolitionists on the question of slavery itself. Their opposition to expansion of slavery was about challenging the power of the Southern ruling class, which, through its control of the federal government, pursued policies that hampered the development of Northern industry and agriculture.

The third party challenges over several decades contributed to a political crisis for the Whigs. By 1856, now running under the name American Party, they fell behind the Republicans in the presidential election, winning just 21 percent of the popular vote to the Republicans' 33 percent.

A more clearly anti-slavery third party had beaten the Whigs and taken its place in the two-party system. But many abolitionists were disappointed in what they saw as compromise and conciliation among Republicans, like their presidential nominee for the 1860 election, Abraham Lincoln.

As Frederick Douglass wrote:
The Republican Party...is opposed to the political power of slavery, rather than to slavery itself. It would arrest the spread of the slave system...and defeat all plans for giving slavery any further guarantee of permanence. This is very desirable, but it leaves the great work of abolishing slavery...still to be accomplished. The triumph of the Republican Party will only open the way for this great work.
Nevertheless, Douglass challenged abolitionists who called for boycotting the 1860 election to set aside their doubts. His argument was that a victory for Lincoln and the Republicans really would "open the way for this great work"--by putting the federal government in the hands of a party that would stop the expansion of slavery into new territories, and thereby fatally undermine the power of the South.

As Douglass wrote a few months before the election, "The slaveholders know that the day of their power is over when a Republican president is elected."

Douglass was exactly right. Lincoln won the 1860 election with a 39 percent plurality of the popular vote. The Democratic vote was split between two candidates, one representing the Southern wing of the party, and the other representing the Northern wing. Lincoln won easily in the Electoral College.

Before he had even taken the oath of office, the secession of Southern slave states from the union had begun. The slave power did indeed understand "that the day of their power is over when a Republican president is elected."

LINCOLN, OF course, didn't "free the slaves" by himself. Primary credit goes to the resistance of slaves themselves in carrying out countless revolts, escape plots, confrontations with "fugitive slave" catchers and building up the Underground Railroad.

Blacks in the North were, in turn, leaders of an abolitionist movement that began small, but grew in influence and political strength because of the determination of its supporters to accept no compromise in the struggle to end slavery.

And ultimately, the slave system was only demolished after a four-year-long Civil War--still the deadliest military conflict in U.S. history. Lincoln deserves credit as the commander-in-chief, but the North's victory depended on the sacrifice and commitment of the more than 2 million Union soldiers--10 percent of whom were Black by the war's end--and their families and communities.

Still, Lincoln and the Republicans were a part of the struggle that ended slavery. Their victory in 1860 was both a signal of the strong influence of abolitionist ideas after decades of organizing and a ripening of the deeper conflict between North and South past the point of no return.

Abolitionists were only one factor in the third-party challenges in the decade before the Civil War, but their understanding of what they were fighting for and how they should conduct the struggle holds lessons today. They understood that organizing a political challenge to slavery might mean temporarily tipping the balance in favor of the "greater evil" against the "lesser evil"--but that retreating in the face of this threat would only perpetuate the pro-slavery duopoly.

As the late socialist and veteran Green Party candidate Peter Camejo wrote of the Liberty Party in the 1840s:
[A]mazing as it may sound, the Liberty Party received some of its most hostile reception from people who claimed to oppose slavery, including some committed and active abolitionists. They attacked the new party because of what they perceived as a "spoiler" factor that could take votes from the Whigs, allowing the Democrats to win in close elections. 
The Liberty Party responded by saying it was a matter of principle not to vote for political parties that supported slavery. They dared to raise the idea that abolitionists should seek to win control of the U.S. government to abolish slavery.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

E-Book Release | "CAPITALISM AND DISABILITY: Essays by Marta Russell," ed., Keith Rosenthal

The electronic version of the new book I edited is now available for immediate download through the Haymarket Books website!

https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1303-capitalism-and-disability


Capitalism and Disability 
Selected Writings by Marta Russell 

Edited by Keith Rosenthal


This book comprises a collection of groundbreaking writings by Marta Russell on the nature of disability and oppression under capitalism. 

Spread out over many years and many different publications, the late author and activist Marta Russell wrote a number of groundbreaking and insightful essays on the nature of disability and oppression under capitalism. In this volume, Russell’s various essays are brought together in one place in order to provide a useful and expansive resource to those interested in better understanding the ways in which the modern phenomenon of disability is shaped by capitalist economic and social relations. The essays range in analysis from the theoretical to the topical, including but not limited to: the emergence of disability as a “human category” rooted in the rise of industrial capitalism and the transformation of the conditions of work, family, and society corresponding thereto; a critique of the shortcomings of a purely “civil rights approach” to addressing the persistence of disability oppression in the economic sphere, with a particular focus on the legacy of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; an examination of the changing position of disabled people within the overall system of capitalist production utilizing the Marxist economic concepts of the reserve army of the unemployed, the labor theory of value, and the exploitation of wage-labor; the effects of neoliberal capitalist policies on the living conditions and social position of disabled people as it pertains to welfare, income assistance, health care, and other social security programs; imperialism and war as a factor in the further oppression and immiseration of disabled people within the United States and globally; and the need to build unity against the divisive tendencies which hide the common economic interest shared between disabled people and the often highly-exploited direct care workers who provide services to the former.

https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/1303-capitalism-and-disability