The Commonwealth Network: A Theory And Model For Political Production

One of the fundamental problems preventing the American left from growing is a lack of political-economic infrastructure.

This has been one of the premises that Douglas and I have organized our writing about labor around. Be it a call for a second assault against the bosses in the South or an idea to defragment the labor movement and finish off the last vestiges of craft unionism in the US, we have sought to suggest actions that build working class power sustainably. While it is easy to propose strategies of disruptive protests, it is far harder to actually implement those ideas. Disruptive protests faces down brutal violence from the police, which frequently causes job loss and eviction through the arrest of those brave enough to participate.

And this is before we say anything about the basic miseries of life under the current system. Affording medical care, shelter, food, and other necessities is increasingly difficult as the prices of these basic fundamentals of life go up and wages do not. The life of the working class has grown increasingly tenuous, dependent on low-wage work for predatory employers like McDonald’s and Walmart that provide their workers little opportunity to live lives of dignity and security.

At the same time, the model of collective bargaining through exclusive representation has broken down beyond repair. The strike has been defanged through bad legal precedent. Attempts to revive its use have seen some success at shifting public policy but not in building power over the long term. There are some good proposals out there to address the glaring problems with labor law, but any push to fix this iniquity in law will require a system of political logistics to back it up.

Any political approach that is going to be successful in this environment will have to meet the material needs of the working class and encourage the expansion of working class power. The good news is that the seeds of such an approach already exist.

Kia Ora! A critical assessment of Jacindamania

(This is a guest post by Olivier Jutel, lecturer of journalism at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. You can find him on Twitter at @OJutel.)

For those looking for an escape from Trump’s America, New Zealand appears to be a choice destination to ride out the catastrophe, with historic achievements like the first welfare state, a robust anti-nuclear movement successfully staring down the United States, and the Waitangi tribunal that monitors the government’s progress on keeping its obligations to the Maori.

Yet, fantasies born out of one’s own political desperation do not tend to hold up well under scrutiny.

It is telling that misanthropist billionaire vampire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel became a citizen of New Zealand, indulging in equal parts his Lord Of The Rings fantasies and bunker style apocalypticism. The role New Zealand plays in the dreams of the rich was recently captured in a Forbes column featuring cataclysmic projections of sea level rises and land reclamation. The author states, “New Zealand will grow in size…will quickly become the glory land, and ultimately become one of the safest areas in the entire world.”

uture map of Australia and New Zealand by Gordon Scallion
Hey, I wonder if Glenn Beck has been advising his followers to buy farmland in New Zealand?

Who Are You Actually Fighting For?

I was a teenager when I first felt this shiver so deep that it made my blood run cold.

I still remember his face, and what he told me after I grabbed his hands as forcefully as I could, and moved them away from my breasts. “What, are you a lesbian?”, he laughed. His friends smirked as a rage quickly swelled up inside me. Yet all I could muster was a balled up fist, and clenched teeth. I would fight myself each day for months, asking why I hadn’t been brave enough to excise every tooth from his face. I’d go through these same battles as I grew older, and one day I realised that all the harassment, and violent assaults began dictating not only how I behaved but what I thought of myself and my humanity.

There is no way to describe what it feels like to know that once the totality of what you’ve endured leaves your lips you’ll be forever changed in someone else’s eyes, even those of your loved ones, and comrades. It is now out in the world, and the consequences are beyond your control.

A Statement In Solidarity With George Ciccariello-Maher

Sometimes, the takes are such drool-dribbling nonsense that it is hard to craft a response. But for the likes of Zaid Jilani — and in defense of Dr. George Ciccariello-Maher — it is worth the effort to try.

Jilani’s piece is a mess from beginning to end. From claiming that it was a student who gave up their seat in first-class to a soldier — it was, in fact, an older businessman — to the notion that George’s call for “the spirit of John Brown to visit upon North Charleston” was a call for “vigilante mass murder”, the piece is a masterclass in lacking basic reading comprehension.

(This is to say nothing of the citations Jilani uses from websites like The College Fix, which has both structural and financial ties to Betsy DeVos and her coterie of right-wing anti-public education causes.)

Lies, Damn Lies, and Fake News

The first thing you notice about the newly-launched Free Telegraph is its politics. But then, with headlines like, “Vice President Mike Pence To Campaign For GOP Gubernatorial Nominee Ed Gillespie In Virginia”, and. “Leaked Memo Shows Rhode Island Dem Gov Gina Raimondo More Focused On PR Than Leading The State”, it does not particularly stand out from the panoply of conservative news media that has populated the internet in the era birthed by the Drudge Report and whelped by Fox News.

No different, that is, except for one thing: the site is funded by the Republican Governors Association, a 527 organization — so named after the section of the tax code that governs its existence — dedicated to the promotion and election of Republican gubernatorial candidates across the United States. This might not have been much of a problem, except that the website did not initially list its affiliation, only making it visible once it became clear that the Associated Press was going to run a story about the site’s true origins.

Such a story might seem strange, but the war over what constitutes “news” or “newsworthiness” is one that has raged for years.

Between Ta-Nehisi Coates And Us

Something I have always said about Ronald Reagan is that his “greatness” depended largely on the haplessness of his opponents. Whether it was a fading Gov. Pat Brown, whom Reagan defeated in a nearly one million vote landslide in the 1966 California gubernatorial election, or former Vice President Walter Mondale, whose 1984 annihilation by Reagan is unlikely to be repeated by any presidential candidate, the Gipper had a talent for drawing the weakest opponents as he blazed his path through American political history.

If the incoherent balderdash that the New York Times published from Thomas Chatterton Williams is any indication, Ta-Nehisi Coates has much of the same kind of luck.

Williams places his piece within the German concept of sonderweg, the notion that the German people traveled a particular path on the road from a collection of nation-states to the democracy that it would eventually become. While this was seen as a positive thing prior to World War I — in that Germany did not experience the kinds of sociopolitical upheavals that, say, characterized France’s transition from monarchy to republic to empire and back again — the rise and fall of the Third Reich transformed this historiography into a profoundly negative inquiry with a simple question: what prompted Germany’s turn towards fascism? It is hard to disagree that such a discussion casts a pall over German life as a whole since the war, as the debates around the rise of far-right formations such as PEGIDA and the Alternative For Germany party continue to  show.

Williams argues that Coates is at the helm of such a push in the United States, except that the all-encompassing issue is white supremacy. It is from here, however, that Williams’s argument goes terribly awry.

Really, Ralph, You Don’t Have To Do This

Democrats never learn, do they?

Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam is running for governor of Virginia. The same Virginia that white supremacists descended on for their mini-version of the Nuremberg rallies, and the same Virginia that Heather Heyer gave her life defending from the same. Donald Trump’s response to the rally and Heyer’s death was to state that there was violence “on many sides” and to condemn the efforts to remove Confederate monuments.

After all of that, though, Ralph Northam still believes that Trump is someone that can be “worked with”.

When Democrats don’t compete, Roy Moore is the result

It was difficult to fend off a fit of laughter reading Ben Jacobs’s wrap-up of the Alabama Republican primary for the U.S. Senate special election coming up this December:

Moore is as sui generis a product of the Yellowhammer State as white barbecue sauce and Bear Bryant.

Let’s start off with a couple of glaring mistakes here.

The Yellowhammer State might be Alabama’s official state nickname — as five seconds on Wikipedia will tell you — but no one really calls it that. The state’s license plates have had “Heart of Dixie” emblazoned across them since 1954. The signs welcoming you to the state’s borders used to say “Welcome to Alabama, The Beautiful,” but now read a simpler, more widely known message. Furthermore, the famed white barbecue sauce is mainly served at ‘que joints in the far north central part of the state, centered around Decatur and Huntsville. As it is, you would be hard-pressed to find white sauce at Dreamland or Archibald’s in Tuscaloosa, or Lannie’s in Selma.

(White sauce is also terrible, but I am digressing.)

Democracy Is More Than A Ballot Every Two Years

….and do other stuff, too.

There is a common sense about democracy in the United States.

We elect people to government. By and large, we allow them to do their work. If we like their work, we re-elect them. If we do not like their work, we sometimes get angry, but that anger is mostly confined to the ballot box every two to four years. The power and agency afforded to one in this system is largely based on class: the wealthy are sought out for consult and decision-making, while the working class is almost entirely shut out of such channels of power completely.

This common sense complicates the everlasting tensions between the Left and the electoral process.

On one hand, the crafting of this two-party system is not natural, and is the product of a long line of decisions taken by the privileged and powerful to limit the acceptable realm of solutions to the problems plaguing our society. Barriers such as onerous signature requirements and the lack of alternative electoral options — such as fusion voting or proportional representation — means the choice that one is presented with on their November ballot often constitutes shades of the same. As such, socialists are right in denouncing the American political process as a kind of sham: democracy for the bosses and authoritarianism for the worker.

Yet national mythologies and common senses are rarely formed without at least some acquiescence from the working class, and it is no different with the electoral process. The truth of the matter is that, for now, the ballot box is the way that a plurality of the working class marks their political preferences. Because of this, socialists cannot afford to completely dismiss the electoral process, lest we be out-of-touch with the class that we seek to elevate, liberate, and emancipate.

So then, what is to be done?

Theft As Redistribution In A Time of Crisis

(Editors’ Note: It is our profound pleasure to announce that Roqayah Chamseddine has decided to join The South Lawn as a co-editor and writer to Douglas and Bryan. There’s other big changes in the offing so keep your eyes peeled!)

In parts of Texas, floods have overwhelmed entire streets to the point that houses are seemingly bobbing in gushing streams. An estimated 450,000 people, at the very least, will be needing some form of disaster assistance after Harvey made landfall —touching down twice near the Texas-Louisiana border. The destruction of dozens of small cities has been catastrophic, with the governor of Texas estimating the costs to be somewhere around $180 billion. Homeowners are also scrambling to find a way to deal with rebuilding their lives, and coming to terms with the agonising reality that their policies likely won’t cover damages. In addition, an overlooked result of Harvey has been a climbing death toll, which currently stands at 45. The hurricane has unleashed hell on countless families, and yet focus has once again shifted to the media’s most prized and sensationalist concern: looting.

In the midst of what can best be described as a small apocalypse, ABC News anchor Tom Llamas reported looters to the police and then notified Twitter—because there can be no frenzied public reproach without the spectacle. The response to Llamas was quick and tempestuous, but unyielding execration from a few good people isn’t nearly enough to rid the world of this pitiless attitude of those who so intensely hate the poor. Too many people are quick to froth at the mouth at the very thought of someone stealing; a loaf of bread, a half-empty till, a television screen. As 50 inches of rainwater drowned out streets and highways people still managed to feign concern for grocery stores that would soon be littered with rotted products.

Poverty is a sentence, and much of society would rather the poor serve out their terms with little noise—do not beg, do not take, and do not entertain the idea of making demands for more than whatever pittance the State will offer you. It’s no wonder then that even with a torrential hell playing out in the background that people are aroused by the images of armed men guarding convenience stores from looters. The racialized caricature of the modern-day thief, pictured carrying a television screen, and sneakers, stealing from little ol’ Mom n’ Pop, is an ever-present image. It’s a picture of chaos; of shattered glass, and fire; of a hyper-militarized police response that drowns out streets with pepper spray. Hell for the upper class isn’t a world in which the poor are forced into living under bridges, but one in which the poor take, and demand more than charity with as much zeal and intensity as the rich steal from the working class. Hell isn’t the water rising, but the doors of a convenience store being forced open, and people running out with arms full of food.