Mohsen Abdelmoumen: Is there really a difference between the candidate Hillary Clinton and the candidate Bernie Sanders?
Michael Yates: They have much in common: career politicians, much similarity in foreign policy outlook (including support for the criminal Israeli state), tied to the Democratic Party, unable or unwilling to critique capitalism itself. However, there are real differences. Clinton is an active war criminal and has done a great deal of damage in the world, from being in league with her husband to end the system of aid to poor people and to greatly expand the prison population to wreaking havoc upon nations around the world. She is utterly beholden to the rich finance capitalists and their institutions and will continue to do their bidding if elected. And no wonder, they have made her and her husband extremely rich. And she will do just about anything to get elected. Sanders, on the other hand, is a man of principle, at least as far as supporting working people in the United States and steering clear of the big money interests. While he is no socialist, he supports social democratic programs that are anathema to Clinton, irrespective of the lies she tells on the campaign trail. Sander is one in a long line of populist politicians who appear on the scene from time to time in the United State. He is wildly popular among some groups, especially young people whose upward mobility has been severely and perhaps permanently blocked. He is, however, weak among black voters and only got concerned about them after his early appearances began to be disrupted by black activists. Still, while I am skeptical that he is building a political revolution, he is much better than Clinton. The problem will be in building upon what he favors and to radicalize whatever movement develops. There is a reason we say that the Democratic Party is the graveyard for nascent radical movements.
How do you explain the mediocrity which characterizes the debate of the American presidential election?
We have a society in which all major institutions that once supported community and solidarity have disappeared, destroyed by the neoliberal onslaught and by the utter failure of entities such as the labor movement to develop as independent and radical social elements. We are left with nearly all of us feeling that we had better look out for ourselves. This opens the door for the basest human instincts to flourish and those with power to play on these, manipulating us and driving us ever further apart. In such circumstances, fundamental questions about the nature of society cannot even be asked much less discussed and analyzed. In place of serious politics, we get the politics of spectacle and triviality, with even the news resembling reality television. The schooling system has become seriously debased, so that students learn almost nothing about history and the struggles of people for a better world. Make money, protect yourself from predators, don’t show weaknesses, and so forth. This is a country ripe for a Donald Trump, for authoritarian rule. Adding to the problem are endless wars, which foment and popularize violence of the worst kind. No wonder black youth continue to be murdered in our streets. No wonder there is hatred for foreigners, especially Muslims. There are those who oppose all of this, and they offer hope. But barbarism is well on its way here. And though the Bernie Sanders campaign has galvanized young persons, I doubt this will be enough to combat the virulent ignorance that defines politics, media, and so many other forces at work now. Democracy has become a dead letter. So mediocrity might be too generous a word to describe debate in the presidential election.
How do you explain that with the failure of the capitalist model, no worker framing force has been possible?
The failure of the labor movement dates back to the post Second World War period when business began its assault on the gains made during the New Deal of the Great Depression. The Cold War attack on « Reds » and everything they stood for—workers’ rights, civil rights, anti-imperialism—resonated in the most conservative labor unions and among opportunists in many of the new industrial unions. These forces joined the anti-communist crusade, ruthlessly purging their radical members and leaders. Then they made deals with employers, initiated a long period of « labor-management cooperation ». In order to make this work, they had to destroy rank-and-file movements in their own unions, to get rid of troublemakers. In short order, they began to mimic in their structures the very corporations that had once been their bitter enemies. And they became very junior members of the Democratic Party, thrown a few bones by liberal politicians. All of this alienated many members, who began to defect politically. Then when the « deal » struck with businesses no longer suited the corporate bosses, when growing global competition threatened profits, employers scrapped the « deal » and went on the attack. Bereft of principles and looking to save their own comfortable positions, labor leaders were unable and unwilling to fight back. The rest is history, so to speak. A gutted labor movement, with little power and a class enemy hungry for more concessions, more union defeats, and an end to working class resistance. Even the Bernie Sanders campaign will be unable to turn this state of affairs around. I am afraid that real class struggle is a long way off in the United States. Who even talks about it now? Sanders speaks of « revolution », but he has debased the meaning of this hallowed word. As he has also offered up a « socialism » that would have Marx and Engels spinning in their graves.
Do not you think that the revolutionary vision of Henry Giroux, one of my participants whose prolific writings are very rich, is essential at this moment?
Henry is a friend, and his work is badly in need of being widely read, discussed, and acted upon. Rather than answer this in detail, allow me to point you to the Foreword to Henry’s latest Monthly Review Press book, America’s Addiction to Terrorism, which I wrote. Here is the beginning of it:
« Henry Giroux is a phenomenon. He has written more than sixty books, authored hundreds of essays, won numerous awards, and been an outstanding teacher for nearly forty years. His influence on the field of critical pedagogy is without parallel, and he has made significant contributions to many other areas as well, including both cultural and media studies.
What distinguishes Giroux’s writing is a combination of lucid analysis and incisive and justifiably harsh criticism of the deterioration of the human condition under the onslaught of a savage modern-day capitalism. However, his examination of this savagery does not stop with a description of the vicious attacks on working people by corporations and their allies in government. Nor is it content to enumerate the economic, political, and social consequences of these assaults, such as the rise in poverty, stagnating wages, unconscionably high unemployment, deteriorating health, the astonishing increase in the prison population, and a general increase in material insecurity to name a few. Instead, he goes beyond these to interrogate the more subtle but no less devastating effects of neoliberal capitalism, and by implication capitalism itself, on our psyches and on our capacity to resist our growing immiseration. »
Here is a link to the Foreword, which has been published separately: http://monthlyreview.org/2016/01/01/on-henry-giroux/
The US Democratic Party cans it produce any radicality, especially from Bernie Sanders to whom one lends a radical vision?
No, it cannot. The Democratic is but the second party of capital. It sometimes offers a more humane face than does the Republican Party. But it is just as beholden to capital, especially the Finance Sector as is the Republican Party. And its policies hardly differ much from its supposed rival party. Both parties are aggressively pro-capitalist, nationalist, and imperialist, a trinity inimical to radical change. Bernie Sanders is running as a Democrat, despite his claim that he is a democratic socialist. No doubt he is doing this because this gives his ideas greater exposure than if he were running on a third party ticket. However, once he did this and once he said he would support the wretched Hillary Clinton if she gets the nomination, he showed that he doesn’t plan to break from the Democrats. I hope he eventually does, but if he does he loses his standing in the U.S. Senate. But in any event, the Democratic Party is immune to a radical transformation. It always has been and always will be. You can see what Sanders’ de facto position as a Democratic Party senator has done to his overall politics. He has become a lot less radical, and is now what we might call a decent social democrat. This is what the two-party monopoly on politics in the United States does to people within it. Endless compromises with your principles.
How do you explain that labor and student unions progressives allowed themselves to be seduced by a Democratic Senator, Member of the establishment?
Students want out from under onerous student debt, and Sanders has a decent position on this. In addition, better educated, mostly white students and recent graduates have seen their upward mobility blocked as the labor market has failed to produce enough high-quality, well-paying jobs. Sanders promises help for them, and they like this. No doubt, too, many young people are disenchanted with the current political system, which has failed them badly, and they jump at the opportunity to support someone who appears to understand their alienation and wants to do something about it. With labor, Sanders has a good record of supporting workers in their struggles against employers. As a friend of mine, labor journalist, activist, and long-time union staff person, Steve Early said, (http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/02/19/labor-the-left-sanders-an-interview-with-steve-early-and-rand-wilson/):
« Bernie has not only urged Vermonters to vote “yes” in union representation elections like CWA’s 1994 campaign among 1,500 telephone company call center workers, he would annually convene meetings of local labor activists to help them develop more successful union-building strategies. To stimulate new rank-and-file thinking, Sanders and his staff invited out-of-state labor speakers who were part of national efforts to revitalize organized labor; he himself became the only member of Congress ever to address a national Labor Notes conference—and donate money to Labor Notes too ». So, labor progressives see the Sanders’ campaign as the best way now to revitalize the labor movement by bringing together rank-and-file activists trying to democratize their unions and communities. There are reasons to be skeptical that all of this will lead in a truly radical, anti-capitalist direction. I will be hopeful when I begin to hear labor and student activists talk and write about the need to end mindless patriotism, nationalism, and imperialism, the need for worker and community control of production, an end to the debilitating division of labor in which most are confined to useless and mindless jobs, national planning, a direct attack on racism, and so much more.
US imperialism and its NATO allies are preparing to intervene in Libya as they intervened in Iraq, do you think that this intervention will be useful?
There are no U.S. and NATO interventions that are useful. First, they destroy countries, as the United States did in Iraq and many other nations. Then, when terrible things happen in the aftermath, they say they will continue to intervene or do so again to get things back on track again. An irony of ironies! The best thing the U.S. could do for the world is to let it a long period. Its record of destruction and mass murder is unparalleled in human history.
With what is happening in the world, imperialist wars and capitalist domination over bottom of systemic crisis, shouldn’t we read again Karl Marx and draw the conclusions?
Yes, of course we should. Capitalism still works much as Marx said it did. Workers are exploited, denied the full fruits of their labor, and most of us work to support the riches of a few. This happens in nearly every country in the world. Peasants continue to be dispossessed of their land. Huge reserve armies of labor exist worldwide. Imperialism is still a basic fact of life. Violence continues to ultimately underlie exploitation, everywhere. Bourgeois democracies seem to be the best we can do. The market still rules. Of course, Marx wrote at a certain point in time, and capitalism has continued to develop new and ever more insidious and devious ways to drag surplus from the masses of workers. The state has become more powerful and intrusive. International solidarity has been more or less blocked by nationalism in the rich nations. Capital’s hegemony seems more impervious to revolution that it did in Marx’s day. However, a reading of Capital, Volume 1, is still the best thing a person could do to grasp the nature of the system and the daunting task of overthrowing it. A good cure for liberal romanticism, that the system can be changed by electoral politics and gradual and piecemeal social democratic reforms.
In this world of darkness where reign the old capitalist demons and the imperialist Minotaur, didn’t we need the good old Marxist reading diagram to explain the current process of annihilation?
Yes, we do, M-C-C’-M’ is still the key, as is the labor theory of value. And of great importance, we need to see that Marx’s notion of alienation applies not just to human beings at work but to our relationship with nature. Marx was prescient concerning the rift between humans and the natural world that occurs and deepens with capitalism. Here, the works of Monthly Review editor John Bellamy Foster are of great importance and should be read and taken to heart by anyone who has begun to realize that capitalism is literally the death knell of the natural world. In addition, the daily degradation of human labor cannot be ended in capitalism, no matter how high wages are or how many social democratic reforms are made.
Do you have a book in preparation and what is the theme?
I don’t have a book in preparation, but I have just had one published, in February of this year. Its title is The Great Inequality, and it is published by Routledge. The book consists of a set of essays that examine the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of rapidly growing inequality of income and wealth in the United States and globally. I also interrogate various ways to end the scourge of the growing gap between the 1% and nearly everyone else. Here is the Amazon link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/Great-Inequality-Critical- Interventions/dp/1138183458/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1457301049&sr=1-1&keywords=the+great+inequality+michael+yates
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Michael Yates?
Michael Yates is an American writer, editor, and educator. He is currently Associate Editor of Monthly Reviewmagazine and Editorial Director of Monthly Review Press. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown where he taught economics and labor relations from 1969 until his retirement in 2001. He wrote several books, including: Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (editor), The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to Know (with Fred Magdoff, Monthly Review Press, 2009), In and Out of the Working Class (Arbeiter Ring, 2009), Cheap Motels and a Hotplate: an Economist’s Travelogue (Monthly Review Press, 2007), Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy (Monthly Review Press, 2002), Why Unions Matter (Monthly Review Press, 1998 and second edition, 2009), Longer Hours, Fewer Jobs (Monthly Review Press, 1994), and Power on the Job (South End Press, 1994). He has also published more than 150 articles and reviews in a wide variety of journals, magazines, and newspapers. His works have been translated into seventeen languages.
Published in American Herald Tribune, March 11, 2016: http://ahtribune.com/us/2016-election/651-clinton-an-active-war-criminal.html