Category Archives: socialism

Solidarity site on the Murfreesboro mosque protest

I’ve been writing about the Islamophobic protest against the planned mosque/Islamic center in my old hometown. This tells more about the counter-protest, whose rally actually dwarfed the original (concurrent) protest. It shows the role of World Outreach Church, where the organizers and most of the opposition appear to come from, something I’ve not known enough to talk about.

Be sure to read the comments at the end–lots of good info there too. Word to my comrade Jase Short.

Link here.


Horowitz versus Chomsky on the best way to get rid of a dictator

To harp on a theme, I hate those abuses of language which are just cute enough to be dangerous. The latest to come across my digital desk is from an old article in the Jewish World Review, authored by the slimy ex-socialist David Horowitz of FrontpageMag.

Horowitz chronicles an argument between himself and still-socialist sociology prof. Maurice Zeitlin. He sees a contradiction in Zeitlin’s being opposed to both Saddam Hussein and the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the US and others.

This phrase stuck in my gullet:

This cri de couer begs the most important question: What does it mean [for Zeitlin] to oppose Saddam Hussein’s “execrable regime” and at the same time to oppose the effort to change it?

Reread those last five words. I know Horowitz used to have better politics, but this comment is just fucking stupid. Yes, Zeitlin opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was certainly an effort to change the regime. But was it “the effort”? If Horowitz declines my advice that he take a pottery class, can I conclude that he opposes “the effort to improve himself,” rather than just this particular effort? Horowitz’s use of the definite article snakily suggests that Zeitlin rejects not just the invasion, but the very effort—that is, the idea of an effort being exerted at all—to change the regime.

Horowitz’s implication is doubtful in the highest. Zeitlin would not have opposed every imaginable effort to overthrow Saddam. Suppose Saddam had agreed to step down voluntarily. Let us further assume this was done according to some benign process which did not create a chaotic vacuum of power or other seriously bad outcomes. (Maybe S.H. converted to liberal democracy and had himself jailed—or something.) Surely, Zeitlin would not have excoriated Saddam for failing to remain in power. (Below, we will consider another scenario which he would have supported.)

Further, at any given time before 2003, there were other, actual “efforts” afoot to change the regime. (Indeed, the US intervened to crush a few of them.) Would Horowitz consider any of these, in their time, the effort to change the regime, requiring our support on pain of being numbered among Hussein’s apologists?

Add to this plurality of actual efforts any number of potential ones that might have been dreamed up: Suppose that in February of 2003, a crazy billionaire had dropped babies armed with pink umbrellas into Baghdad to fight the Republican Guard and topple the regime. Babies can’t fight with umbrellas, you say?—The billionaire has cast a spell which he feels strongly will allow them to. Surely this is an effort—somebody’s effort—to change the regime. Would it become the effort, then, demanding our allegiance?

In sum: Surely opposing some bad thing does commit to just any old “effort to change” it; just any solution someone can pull out of his ass doesn’t become a referendum on how authentically we oppose the thing needing changing.

The question is, rather: Is it a good effort, a sensible effort; one that can be reasonably assumed to (a) work, and (b) do so in a non-counterproductive way (that is, in a net sense of not creating so many bad, unintended outcomes that the overall outcome, even with the met goal, becomes bad). It should also (c) be better than other possible schemes to accomplish the same outcome.

The 2003 effort to remove Saddam has (a) “worked” in the meagre sense that it did remove him. But is has been (b)  counterproductive in the more important sense of exacerbating all of those factors that supposedly made removing him a good idea. I don’t want to take this space to make that point fully. Just to note:

*Instead of ending one WMD regime, the war has set two others (Iran and North Korea) in motion.

* The war created a jihadist enclave in the one place in the region where that threat had been completely pacified. As I have noted elsewhere, this was not the result of drawing in terrorists from other locations but of making new ones. Terrorist attacks against Westerners have spiked since the invasion. The balance of “our own” reports (Pentagon, State Dept., FBI, CIA, etc.) blame the War on Terror for this.

*The occupiers have killed and jailed far more innocents than Saddam. The Iraqi government remains a police state, complete with nightly curfews in the capital, bans on public assumbly, and the like. It has the worst human rights record in the region and is dollar for dollar its most corrupt.

*The war completed the process, begun with the sanctions, of bombing into the 3rd World what used to be the most technologically, economically and socially advanced nation in the Middle East. It is difficult to think of a welfare index which is not much, much, worse than before the war.

*Skilled human capital needed for reconstruction has fled en masse to the West with the middle class diaspora. The US has wrenched control of domestic oil away from Iraqis themselves toward “production sharing agreements” which get the oil flowing at the cost of redirecting its proceeds away from national development.

* * *

My main point is: (c) Was there another, a better option for removing Saddam? Will there be with the next guy? As Noam Chomsky has many times noted: Thug leaders who enjoy the support of the US are typically overthrown from within—at far less human cost than an outside force would inflict. Examples include Ceaucescu, Suharto, Marcos, Duvalier, Chun Doo Hwan, and Mobutu. In the case of Saddam, the US withdrew economic and diplomatic support on the eve of Gulf War and pinched Iraq with the severest sanctions regime in history. This course of action hurt precisely everyone in Iraq except the regime. It forced the population to cling to Saddam for survival, weakening the possibility for opposition currents to thrive. There is no reason to doubt the typical pattern would have held had the US taken a more “hands off” course.

Marxism (sort of) and “ethical” vegetarianism

[In what follows, I use “vegetarianism” to refer to veganism or vegetarianism.]

[In #3 in the final “Notes” section, I call the meat industry less “labor-intensive” than other industries. I don’t mean that the work is less difficult or “intense,” but that it employs fewer people. The work is quite taxing, I’m sure.]

Marxism (sort of) and “ethical vegetarianism”

I spent years as a vegan (eating no meat, no dairy, no eggs), motivated by ethical concern for animals. I was particularly militant about this. Like many who share it, I viewed my diet in terms of an informal boycott; I aimed to withhold monetary support from the meat industry, and to that (small) extent impair its ability to torture and kill animals.

I am no longer vegan (nor vegetarian), due in part to the influence of Marxist ideas upon my thinking. At the same time, however, I retain the belief that it is wrong to kill animals for food. (At least, at this stage in human social development, and in the part of the world in which I live.) And I retain this belief for all the reasons I ever held it to begin with.

The difference in my current thinking has to do with the connection between opposing the killing of animals, and being a vegetarian. I don’t think there is much of a connection, in fact. That is, the fact that it is wrong to kill animals does not mean one ought to be a vegetarian. It doesn’t even make vegetarianism a good idea.

Marxism and the moral mushiness of meat

How Marxism relates to this is in its wholesale indictment of production under capitalism. For Marxists and other socialists, how goods are produced—not any particular kind of good, but goods per se—is deeply problematic, always. Without repeating the arguments here, this is due to the kind of relationship direct producers (workers) bear to the owners that pay them to work, and to the fact that production is organized for profit and exchange rather than direct use; these features make the system necessarily undemocratic and exploitative, and contribute to economic crisis and instability, ecological destruction, and even war. These features “cut across” specific sectors and industries within the productive system; they are generic features of capitalist production as such.

In short, such a radical view removes the ability to say: “Believing that a particular industry is fundamentally problematic, one ought to boycott it”—because each industry fits that description, and we can’t boycott them all; we must consume something.

This applies especially to meat since it is not a luxury item which we might simply discard—as we might stop wearing “blood diamonds” or patronizing R-rated movies. For we were getting vital nutrition from that source, and must fill the dietary “hole” left by meat consumption with some other kind of food. And this will come from another deeply problematic industry.

As I discuss below, this does not mean there is no reason, nor even no ethical reason, to not eat meat—only that it removes the moral imperative to do so.

At least, it appears to. Vegetarians might respond that, even if all industries are bad, they aren’t equally bad. Perhaps we are obliged to boycott meat because it is the worst, or a particular reprehensible one.

One argument goes: Killing is worse than (merely) exploiting. So an industry which both exploits human beings and kills animals (i.e., the meat industry) is worse than one which only exploits humans.

But the reality is more complicated. Yes, killing seems worse than exploiting, all things being equal. But things may not be equal. It may not be the case that killing animals is worse than exploiting humans, or, if it sometimes is, that killing just any given number of animals is worse than exploiting just any given number of humans.

Terms for comparison: Not lives, but qualities of life

To clarify the issues at stake, it is helpful to get at what makes killing—any killing—wrong (when it is wrong). What makes killing wrong can only be that “life” has some value which killing destroys.[1] If this is so, we should be able to specify certain features which lend it this value. The obvious candidates are things like autonomy, richness of social relations, capacity for desire satisfaction, etc. These types of thing, or some combination of them, give value to life. And while the list is debatable, it is clear that, by any reasonable measure of what could give value to live, animals will possess some of these features—will have value—just as humans. That is, unless we cheat [2], we cannot construct a list of things possessed by all and only humans but no animals; if humans have value, then animals do.

It should also be clear that these features admit of varying degrees: One can have more or less richness in social relations, more or less autonomy, than another. If this is so, I contend, the animals killed for meat possess these features to a lesser degree than the adult humans exploited in every industry (including meat). Therefore, they have less value, and it is, though still tragic, less so when they are killed.

Two qualifications are in order:

(1) First, this is not a particularly “anti-animal” view. For it is also the case that some humans (say, infants) have less of these features—thus less value—than some animals (just as some animals have less value than other animals, and some humans less than other humans).

(2) Second, I admit the idea of some people being “worth less” than others is extremely distasteful. It would be unfortunate if the concept entered into everyday conversation. But this is not the same as saying the idea is false, or even particularly sinister. It is merely to say that not every being shares (or can share) the same quality of life. The idea does not, in the extreme case, license any kind of Hitlerian “eugenics”: Saying one can destroy a person because they are less valuable than another is like saying I can destroy your car because it is less valuable than mine. There is no principle of logic nor ethics that necessitates that only the absolutely most valuable entity be suffered to exist. The idea that we can “rank” beings according to value does not mean that it is ever right to kill any of them.

But it does complicate the question of whether one capitalist industry is worse than another. It means we are not are dealing with a simple case of “killing versus exploiting.” In comparing meat to other industries, we are comparing worse treatment of “lower valued” beings (animals) to better treatment of “higher valued” beings (adult humans). If human workers have more value than animals, it could be that they have so much more value that merely harming them is actually worse than killing animals.[3]

Other considerations

This still perversely simplifies the moral question. For one, exploitation among human beings is not equivalent across industries, either. There are degrees of intensity of exploitation: Some workers work harder, longer, and for less pay than others. And there are countless moral categories in play here beside just killing and harming in production: From the same Marxist view, the accumulation of capital (productive wealth) is the drive behind all of the system’s problems; as some industries are more profitable, and reinvest (re. accumulate, rather than spend) more profit, than others, they contribute more to this central dynamic. And this occurs after the production cycle rather than in it. Some non-meat industries may accumulate more, may be more volatile and unstable, may contribute more to global trade and the inequities abroad that follow it. All of this would have to be researched and accounted for in deciding the relative “badnesses” of various industries.

Further, there is no “meat industry” as such to be boycotted—not really. The “borders” between industries are mushy rather than firm. Industries buy from one another; aiding one aids the other. If there were no builders, there would be no henhouses, thus no chicken factory-farms. In this sense, the building industry is the chicken industry—and so forth. Buying anything stimulates a general economy which in turn enriches every industry within it. Opting out of meat in particular means more grains will be bought—enriching the same industry which provides cows and chickens and pigs with (the same) grains. The point is not that “everything is bad so we should not boycott anything”—but rather, it is unclear how we might identify and isolate “anything” to boycott it in the first place.

The poverty of “consumer politics” in general

These issues make it difficult if not impossible to establish that the meat industry is worse than any other. A second question is whether, even if it is worse, not eating meat does anything to affect this situation.

It is clear that if I raise an animal to eat, then change my mind and keep her for a companion, an animal is saved. If I quit hunting, that could save animals. But buying (or ceasing to buy) animals on the market is not analogous to this. In a market economy, we don’t normally “order up” live animals to be killed as we need them. There is no such clear, one-to-one correspondence between individual demand and supply. A gross number of animals are killed (or set aside to be killed) prior to and in anticipation of aggregate demand.

Indeed, as high numbers of “demanders” alter their preferences away from meat, this aggregate sum can, after a time, be altered. But this is a case of very broad trends responding to other broad trends. It is likely that a single person’s opting out of meat consumption saves literally not one animal from slaughter. Certainly, it is unclear how this could be proven if it were true.

Note also that overproduction is the norm here. Even if my going vegetarian lowered demand for meat, it is likely that simply fewer animals would be consumed—not fewer killed. Already-slaughtered animals would simply be “wasted.”

At best, not buying meat withholds, over time, a few dollars’ profit from that industry. This is not the stuff of moral imperatives; for a rather silly analogy, if I dropped a few dollars on the sidewalk, and Hitler picked it up to use in his campaign, I could not rationally be especially bothered. I could sleep securely knowing my “contribution” was symbolic rather than substantial.

Conclusion, Part I: The scope of good ideas is not exhausted by the scope of moral imperatives

Again, all of this argues that a moral imperative to vegetarianism does not (clearly) follow from the immorality of killing animals. It is not as straightforward, for instance, as the way in which the imperative not to poke people in the eye follows from the fact that it is wrong to poke people in the eye. Poking eyes is analogous to killing animals—not to buying meat from animals already killed.

But there are plenty of worthy projects—indeed, the vast uncountable majority of life’s projects—that aren’t imperatives. A thing needn’t be morally obligatory to be a perfectly good or helpful thing to do.

Two appealing “alternate” motivations for vegetarianism come to mind:

(1) Eating meat strikes me as a distasteful, ugly practice, and could be avoided on these “aesthetic” grounds alone. The same kind of reason would keep any parent from tearing a photograph of their children—though no actual children would be harmed in doing so.

(2) Given the wrongness of killing animals, refusing to eat them is a way to feel connected to them, to the whole world of sentient, morally deserving beings of which anyone reading this is a part. We needn’t be obliged to seek this feeling, but it is a healthy, desirable goal. It helps us whether it helps any animals—and we are important, too.

Conclusion, Part II: Consumer politics redux

Finally, what small practical or psychological benefit comes about from “ethical” vegetarianism must be balanced against the harm it could cause. Again, I’m speaking here as a Marxist—a socialist activist—and to others on the radical left for whom vegetarianism is appealing.

The chief political rival to revolutionary socialism is reformism—the idea that socialism, or at least a benign, democratic, peaceful, equitable world, can be generated by a gradual accumulation of small improvements to capitalism. And the most vulgar species of reformism is the notion that the, or a significant, way to bring about political or economic changes is through selective purchasing.

This view is not only false but dangerously misleading. I suspect that vegetarianism—being a particularly common and “visible” expression of consumer politics—confuses the hell out of the average worker or student who might be ripe for radical politics. It “sends a message” that not buying stuff is the way to get things done, the “natural,” proper expression of one’s opposition to social problems.

I can’t prove this, but I suspect it. If true, this confusion can only hinder the real activism that needs to be done—raising enough hell to scare the state into making concessions. If there were strong reasons to boycott meat in the first place, this might outweigh the potential “damage”; but, again, there aren’t.


[1] Here I am ignoring the possibility that beings have “rights” which make it wrong to kill them. No evidence has ever been adduced that such a thing as natural rights exist, and even if they do, that doesn’t negate my alternative analysis. “Rights” could theoretically exist right alongside those “features” which give life its value. Either or both could make it wrong to kill at the same time. It could be wrong to kill you because it violates your rights and because it destroys your value.

[2] Speciesists might say that “being human” is what gives value to life—to which we might reply, What is it about being human that gives life its value? What do humans possess that gives human life this value? It is circular reasoning to answer again: “The feature of being human.” Eventually, we have to get back to non-species-specific features.

[3] Note also that the meat industry is less labor-intensive than many other industries, so there are far more humans exploited in the latter than in the former. This increases the likelihood that meat production is not particularly bad. Consider: If there were an equal number of humans working in the meat industry as in any other industry, this would amount to a moral “wash”; as far as humans are concerned, at least, none would be worse than any other. So any industry which killed animals on top of this would indeed be the worse. But other industries have so many more humans than in meat production that only a small percentage are “washed out” in the comparison. We are not simply dealing with “higher value” beings harmed versus “lower value” beings killed—but rather a significant number of “higher value” beings harmed versus “lower value” killed.

Capitalism and “respect for individual rights”

So Some Communists Do Naughty Things

Apologists for capitalism—I’m thinking of the authors of The Black Book of Communism—like to advertise the superior human rights records of capitalist countries over those of the “really existing” socialisms.1 The idea is that this says something bad about socialism (relative to capitalism, at least).

But the record by itself cannot do this. One must go on to specify the mechanism inherent within socialism which discourages concern for human rights, or fosters abuses. Only this could tell us that the poor moral performance of these countries has something to do with the character of their economic systems, and not some other, “incidental” factor(s). For, yes, these countries were, at least on someone’s definition, “socialist”; but they were other things as well: scarce in material resources, victims of the active hostility of major powers, and lacking in a long tradition of political liberalism. Above all, they bore the memory and habits of a history of political despotism long, long predating socialism.

In this way, every entity, including “communist countries,” is a tangle of various properties. Any observer can go about, hirdy-girdy, pointing these features out; this does not amount to a causal explanation of the entity’s behavior. It does not tell us, that is, just which of these properties is “at fault.”

In other words, saying that communists hurt people is not to say that “communism” hurts people—any more than that some cooks or Methodists hurt people shows that “cookery” or “Methodism” is the culprit.

An Open Question

Strictly speaking, an economic system is one thing, and a political system, another. There is no reason why deprivatizing control of production should magically generate a benign politics. In theory capitalism and socialism are each compatible with a whole range of political colorations—from despotism to a very direct democracy. These characters are determined, in the end, by the will and ability of citizens to work for them, and to resist their opposites. They don’t flow automatically from some socialist or capitalist “essence.”

A Twist On the Argument: Individual Rights and the Development of Capitalism

But if communism is not predisposed to disregard rights, then perhaps capitalism is predisposed to respect them. Indeed, the English Civil Wars marked the beginning of talk of and care for what we might call “individual rights,” as well as a fair starting point for the emergence of capitalist production. Certainly, capitalism and the conceptual architecture of rights spread apace throughout Western Europe and North America, the former probably the vehicle for the latter.

So there is clearly a correlation, and perhaps even a natural enough “fit,” between the two. But this cannot substitute for an argument showing that capitalism needed the concept of individual rights, or that rights could never have developed in the absence of capitalism. But let us assume this (generously) for the sake of argument.

If capitalism somehow “selected for” or otherwise caused the development of concern for rights, it would be poor logic to conclude much in capitalism’s favor from this fact alone. For if capitalism needs rights, it hardly follows that rights need capitalism. It doesn’t even follow that capitalism is the system most effective at meeting or securing the things people have a right to. It is quite possible that concern for rights cannot be fully met under the very capitalism that created it—even that it can be met only some type of socialism.

Capitalism and Rights: Intimately Connected, But Not In A Way Pro-Capitalists Should Like To Admit

But things may be worse for capitalism still. Consider first all the examples of “good” things that are nonetheless indices of very “bad” ones: A father’s tenderness toward his children may spring from the death of their mother–perhaps it would never have developed otherwise. Lauding the newfound tenderness does not oblige us to celebrate its tragic cause. Second, consider those items that gain all of their value from being stopgaps against, or remedies for, otherwise “bad” ones: One might treasure a favorite bar as a “haven” away from loneliness and meaningless toil; more concretely, one is glad to have a strong metal door when it is all that separates her from a violent and uncertain outside. We can celebrate security doors and havens, sure enough. And certainly, havens and security measures would not have developed apart from those threats we need haven and security against. But those threats are not made good simply for causing their remedies.

To complete the analogy: It is difficult for we contemporary persons, trained to “naturally” see human labor as a commodity, like bricks or tea, to appreciate how alien this notion appeared at the dawn of capitalist social relations. This was compounded by a related idea: Under capitalism, there is a domain of human activity over which the State does not exercise very direct power—what Hegel called “civil society.” This domain includes family life, the arts, and work. It is the place where the most fundamental human desires and aspirations are dispatched and, hopefully, fulfilled. At the same time, where the dictates of the State leave off, the dictates of capital accumulation take over. This is the fundamental organizing principle of civil society to the extent that no activity or interest is permitted which does not facilitate (or at least permit) the imperative of capitalist growth. Human needs and aspirations are subordinate to this overarching imperative. (If humans stopped needing and aspiring to things, or needed things contrary to the interests of capital, capital would still need to expand itself—lest the whole system, civil society in tow, collapse into crisis.)

The new idea that human persons, as bearers of labor power, are fundamentally mere means to an end outside themselves, versus (in Kant’s terms) “ends-unto-themselves,” further blurred the line between people and objects; the threat to human dignity was evident. A philosophical justification was required, and the concept of rights provided it: The most fundamental rights—the “inalienable” ones of which our Constitution speaks—carve off an area of human activity into which the mandates of capital accumulation may not encroach.

(That there should be rights was not merely a conclusion from theoretical principles. They were inspired by the more egregious acts of violence and dislocation attending the birth of capitalism—which came, in Marx’s words, “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” It wasn’t a smooth and pretty process, for example, to separate self-sufficient peasants from the lands on which they long lived and farmed, and implore them to work in someone else’s factory, built on the site.)


Rights provide checks against the nasty consequences of capitalism. They correct what results when an organizing principle is made of of the view that humans are chiefly valuable for what can be got out of them. Rights are premised on the expectation that the system in its “natural” state ever-threatens to produce these. It is precisely because capitalism will not generate these protections on its own that they must be stuck on from outside.

In this way, capitalism enhances rights to just the extent that cancer “enhances” chemotherapy. The connection is real, but scores no “moral points” for the pro-capitalist.

* * *


1 I’m using the terms “socialism” and “communism” interchangeably here.


(1) It is far from clear that capitalism has a better human rights record than “actual socialism” anyhow. For example, millions of deaths from the AIDS epidemic in South Africa—where maybe a quarter of the population is infected—are directly attributable to capitalist competition: In 1997 the South African government passed a law permitting compulsory licensing of the AIDS cocktail produced by American pharmaceutical companies. (Compulsory licensing is a legal, commonly used practice allowing local companies to produce medications under patent by a foreign company. It is “compulsory” because the patent-holder does not have to consent, but they must be compensated with a licensing fee.) The law also allowed South Africa to purchase the drugs second-hand from countries who have already obtained them from the patent-holder at a lower-than-market cost.

These measures were the only way to make the pricey cocktail available to poor “third-worlders.” 39 pharmaceutical companies sued South Africa via TRIPS to force a repeal of the law. Then-VP Al Gore (yeah, fuck ‘im), pressured by the pharm lobby, threatened international sanctions if they didn’t comply. Eventually, world outcry forced Gore and the pharmaceuticals to renege, but not until a four-year holdup in the courts. (This speaks nothing of the deaths that came before 1997 all over Africa due to the high prices.)

In any case, there is a French-language Black Book of Capitalism in which the authors, using a methodology parallel to that of their “…Communism” counterparts, gauge the deaths of capitalism (due to imperial conquest, counter-socialist-revolutionary war, colonial repression, etc.) at 157 million—60 million more than those alleged by the authors of “….Communism.” (Again, nothing important follows from this comparison, but if it did….)

(2) Nor is it clear that “really existing socialist” countries, however they performed, were socialist. ‘A’ socialism requires a more-or-less socialist world: If we define socialism by the presence of socialist property relations, then a “socialist” country enmeshed in an international network of capitalist property relations in a sense still “has” capitalist property relations, thus is capitalist. These relations are “theirs” to the extent they must negotiate with them and are internally affected by them.

(3) Rights themselves are a specious concept. There is, frankly, no good theory yet adduced grounding the existence of “natural” rights. We can write laws that say you may not kill somebody, but this does not reflect any “right not to be killed” predating and standing apart from this. But this just furthers our point: If we like “rights,” we can artificially graft them onto socialism just as well as they were, in fact, artificially grafted onto capitalism. And while we’re at it, we are free to graft some rights that capitalism hasn’t seen fit to generate—like, as in Cuba, a right to a home, and the arts.

Socialism and altruism (or, the “human nature” argument against socialism)

[Response to reader.]

Kevin Baker writes:

How anyone can still support Marxism is beyond me. For Marxism to work, 95% or more of the population must be exceptionally altruistic – and the Bell curve simply doesn’t support that.

Assuming by “Marxism” Baker means some variety of socialism, the claim can be considered on two levels:

(a) Certainly, socialism should require no special degrees of “altruis[m]” to get going. This system will come into birth, if it does, for the same reason every other economic system has already come into birth—because people (in this case, workers) want stuff they don’t have.[1] Qualitatively speaking, nothing apart from the same basic parcel of incentives and emotions that impel workers to make labor strikes now will, nor need, come into play.

(b) Nor should people be required to be especially “nice” or charitable to one another in order to maintain a socialist distribution of wealth, once it is put into place. This, again, no more than our capitalist distribution of wealth rests primarily on the selfless generosity of people who would otherwise upset it: I might be a sweet and generous guy, but those qualities aren’t the reason I don’t take over the shop in which I work. Rather, it is because someone else has a title to it—a broadly recognized, binding, enforceable interest in it—which makes such behavior unfeasible under normal conditions.

To elaborate: Under socialism, workers will retain a real title to the big means of production—factories, productive land—that is every bit as solid as the title capitalists have to theirs now. (It will still be property, it just won’t be private property.¹) On the surface, this title, like all titles, amounts to a legal relationship, something I can point to when I call the cops on a usurper. But it is bound up with far more: Wealth distributions of any systemic “type” are maintained because they are also associated with distributions of real power which make alternatives—again, normally—impracticable. (The legal or quasi-legal framework—the “broadly recognized” aspect of the title—largely emerges to ratify these “deeper” realities.)

It would be just as impracticable under socialism as capitalism for one worker overtake his factory, cut the labor payroll, and start ordering around his former coworkers. Think about it. The workers are simply in a position to stop such a move which would be clearly not in their interest. (They could invoke the law and call the cops if they like, but if they chuckled and ignored the guy instead, he’s still not getting the factory.) Any feasible effort of this kind would require a grand counter-revolution on a scale that would be long seen coming and marshaled against. (A counter-revolution is a genuine possibility, of course, but again, this is a problem for any economic system, not somehow special to socialism. And none of it has a damned thing to do with “altruism.”)

In brief, the system is of a kind which just doesn’t facilitate such actions. But the constraints go deeper still: We might say: Not only is it hard to upset the egalitarian distribution of wealth, but the system is set up in such a way that makes it likely that there is such a thing to be upset in the first place. That is, once in place, socialism will bear its own new, real economic structures which in the normal, unreflective unfolding of economic life prejudice certain kinds of distributions over others, every bit as much as capitalist structures prejudice capitalist distributions and feudal structures prejudice feudal ones. (In an obvious sense, an economic system just is a network of constraints on alternatives to itself.) As “structural,” these tendencies maintain entirely apart from the personal desires (or, Mr. Baker, the moral inclinations) of individuals acting within these structures, or the legal framework set up to constrain these desires.

Like many of its critics, Mr. Baker seems of the view that socialism (“Marxism”) is fundamentally about equality in levels of personal consumption. While socialist views do tend to be highly correlated with concern for this kind of equality, that concern isn’t essential to socialism itself. We can readily imagine a socialism which generated differential wealth among its citizens just as well as capitalism, with a socialist citizenry lacking in political will to redistribute it equally, or perhaps even welcoming the discrepancies as part of a work-leisure tradeoff. (Conversely, we can conceive of a capitalism which massively—in theory, even perfectly—redistributes income in an egalitarian way.)

Granted, too, socialism would remove the most significant mechanism driving very severe and problematic inequality in the present system—namely, privatization of the returns on social investment; and so a more egalitarian distribution is probably inevitable under socialism. (That is, there will be less to redistribute in the first place, if that is the concern.) But socialists as socialists are not overly concerned with economic “equality” per se.

Rather, socialism is concerned with gross inequalities in one specific type of wealth: those factories, productive land, and other “big” means of producing consumer goods. This is more a matter of “what kind” of thing rather than “how much” of it. It is this privatized quality of production that allows capitalists—a minority social group—to direct social investment for everyone, and which makes the economy operate “naturally” in their basic favor no matter how they “direct” things. (These two factors are what Marx probably means when he speaks of a “ruling class” of capitalists.) The fact that there are a global multiplicity of private producers mandates that they compete with one another, and it is this dynamic which ultimately renders the rest of social reality subject to the imperatives of capital accumulation—something socialists see as having a deleterious effect on society. (This is not the place to argue the validity of these socialist concerns, but that, right or wrong, these concerns have, contra Baker, little to do with some people having more “stuff” than others.)

In any case, it is unclear how, under socialism (as under capitalism in its normal, working order), very obscene, problematic inequalities in any kind of wealth could occur in the absence of private ownership (or otherwise effective control) of the means of production. It is not even clear what, under socialism, one would do with great differential wealth if he had it: Very few people want, for example, 10,000 toothbrushes or pairs of shoes; and no market would exist for dreamy luxury items such as only grossly differential wealth can attain. Factories and large landholdings simply aren’t for sale, nor the raw materials to construct them from the ground up. (Nor are there financial markets in which to speculate about others’ property.) One couldn’t maintain a payroll of workers if labor isn’t a commodity, and private factories are of no use anyway when no market (as we know it) exists to profitably unload whatever is produced in it. Workers would have no interest in selling their means of production—assuming this were legal—as no individual or sub-group could accumulate enough wealth (at least matching the salaries of all the workers calculated through retirement) to make them a desirable offer. Even if the means of production were for sale, banks wouldn’t loan the sums of money needed to invest in or build them, nor loans of any amount for that purpose.

Not only, then, does a socialist organization of production soften the blow of inequality—assuming socialists should give a damn—but it makes it so that only distributions which are relatively egalitarian in the first place will be allowed to emerge. The system is inherently prejudiced toward these distributions in just the way that the capitalist system is prejudiced against them. Contra Baker, this tendency doesn’t depend on folksy generosity or massive and constant redistributive state interference in economic life. So something like the opposite of his conjecture is the case: It is not that socialism doesn’t “work” because people aren’t good; rather, its is that people need socialism—its structural constraints—because they are, indeed, capable of being so bad.


[1] Though not every title amounts to property; property is only one example of the general type.

[2] I mean “want stuff” in the broadest sense. My point is that such struggles are not fundamentally about ‘self-denial’ of anything. They are actions in the (perceived) interest of the actors themselves.

Appendix: On Altruism in General

Genuine altruism is inescapably immoral. There is no reason why discounting my own interests should be more morally wholesome than discounting someone else’s interests. For I am somebody, no less than they. Of course, there may be good reasons for self-denial in the service of others: I might be stronger and more capable of doing without or bearing the harder load. But “being me” is not the justification for this behavior; rather, it is “being the stronger person, who happens to be me.” This does not amount to genuine altruism, but rather economic use of resources. (If I am twice as strong as you, and carry twice as much, we just break even. Things “balance.”) And this decision would come after fair consideration of all interests affected—counting one’s own interests alongside those of the others, even if, precisely because of the consideration, it comes to be determined that it should be subordinated to some greater interest whose fulfillment is incompatible with that of our own.

Ron Paul redux: An incoherence of libertarianism

[Builds on previous Ron Paul blog here. (Link corrected.)]


Ron Paul argues that foreign “interventions” by the state, including ostensibly non-military ones like food-drops, are not only (a) ethically wrong—for one, they are coercive, violate “rights,” on multiple levels (if nothing else, on the American taxpayer)—but (b) they bear bad consequences for us and for the nations in whose affairs we “intervene,” or are just lame and inefficient at achieving stated goals.

The duality in his argument—his “principled” and “consequentialist” moods—shares the incoherence of libertarian and rights-based reasoning everywhere: This can be seen by asking, Just how do the two components relate? Either what is wrong just happens to lead to bad effects—in which case, it is most grand and sustained coincidence in human history—or there is some real mechanism at work within the social world which makes the wrong efforts work so poorly. If there is such a mechanism, Paul has not specified it, nor has any libertarian in the corpus of classical liberal writings from Locke to Krauthammer. Reasonable adults will assume that the “bad effects” argument is just a rationalization for the rights-based argument: “Yes, it is morally dead wrong to violate property rights (etc.) by foreign intervention and would remain so if heaven fell blazing to earth as a result of maintaining this principle; but hey, whew, gratefully, it so happens that respecting these rights is the best way to effect a pleasant world. If it weren’t, though, we’d still have to respect them.” How is one to believe such a counterintuitive thing?

Things are further complicated by Paul’s view that individuals and other non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) may “intervene” where the state should not. This includes private militias and assassins for quasi-military actions and private aid organizations for humanitarian relief. Again, for Paul, these actions are not only not wrong—they don’t violate rights—but they are more effective and less messy than state actions. But why in principle should this be the case? What property do state actions always possess, and actions by “lower” entities always lack, that accounts for their differential success? (And if there is none, how to be sure that the connection should hold in the future?)

For NGO’s are not in principle less coercive institutions than nation-states. This is why they need boards of directors and votes. Decisions are made against the will of some members. Supporters send in money before it is fully determined what will be funded with it—perhaps something the senders won’t like. Of course, Paul can argue that people freely join and fund these organizations and can leave if they want—but I may as well argue that people freely stay in the U.S. and pay taxes to the state and could leave if they want. Indeed, coercion is a necessary dimension of all human activity; every action burns up resources others could use and creates new facts which limit options for other activities.

This connects with Paul’s weird fetishism about national borders, undergirding his political isolationism. For example, he wishes to drop out of the UN and other international organizations on the grounds they “transfer power from our government to unelected foreign elites…threaten[ing] our independence as a nation.” First, again, it isn’t clear why “entangling alliances” and agreements of compromise must always be avoided on practical grounds by nation-states, while “lower” entities like individuals may do this at their own profit—as when people get married, contract for jobs, or, like Paul, join Congress. Second, this approach assumes a false dichotomy between self-determination and determination by others. We chose membership in the UN (and indeed, put considerable pressure on other states to join us). Like choosing to diet, or practice monogomy, the limitation to freedom here is a self-limitation. UN partnership is necessarily a “threat to our independence” only if every—that is, only if the very concept of—self-limitation is always a “threat.”

Also, why the privileging of the nation-state among political entities? Political “bodies” exist along a continuum scaling from the individual to the family, community, municipality, state, on up through the international. I may as well complain that the membership of Paul’s home state, Texas, in the U.S. federation “threatens its independence as a state.” Actually, Paul often makes arguments of this type, as when he invokes states’ rights (his phrase) on environmental regulation: As in, “The people of Texas do not need federal regulators determining our air standards.” Again, it is always possible that states just happen to always be better than nations at determining policy than nations—but why? And as far as “rights” to determine this, I may as well say the people of Austin don’t need “the people of Texas…setting their air standards.” The same type of confusion with “rights” is seen in Paul’s refusal to support divestment in Darfur, Sudan (H.R. 180) because it would represent undue coercion of American businesses (“forcing divestment on unwilling parties”). Again, for Paul there is no problem with the businesses themselves “forcing” a specific schedule and wage package on “unwilling workers,” indeed with all of the ways in which the nation-state already imposes upon American businesses which Paul does not object to.

In short, rights-based politics like Paul’s concentrate on who may act, prior to what constitutes a good action. This is not only counterintuitive but could never be acted upon consistently. This is compounded by the lack of any method of adjudicating the “rights” of various necessarily interactive political entities. This incoherence leads logically to a place where any kind of action whatsoever is licensed, as other—as yet unarticulated—political ends require: If we want to protect the personal property of individual Texans in a given case, we can cite their right to it. If we want to protect the business property of Texas capitalists in another case, we can cite their right to that, even though the activities this licenses may violate property rights of individual Texans—say, impinging on the quality of that column of air ascending from their property.¹


¹ Of course, some conceptions of rights allow for talk of sacrificing certain rights for other, stronger concerns. These conceptions make room for the feeling that we sometimes can’t implement a right because it would cause great suffering, or because it conflicts with some other right. But there is no evidence that Ron Paul subscribes to such a conception. He certainly never appeals to such a “trade-off” when making arguments (and he makes them often) about which entity has what right or what “freedom” to act in what way. He speaks as though it is just self-evident that Texans “have the right to” make environmental policy, and not the Federal government nor each Texan business in isolation. At other times, he presents it as self-evident that businesses “have a right to” do certain things, whatever ordinary Texans think about it; or that the Federal government “has the right to” do certain things, whatever Texan businesses, or, say, Lichtenstein, think about it. Certain of these actions affect—that is, coerce—these other bodies; thus, on a consistent view, trade-offs are being made. But Paul either (a) doesn’t believe trade-offs are at issue—i.e., he is inconsistent—or he (b) supposes that such a critical, linchpin element to the “theory” as the specifics of adjudicating all these conflicting rights is just understood. The latter assumption (b) is simply unwarranted, and it is so implausible that Paul could believe it that (a) is almost certainly the case.

An ironic kind of mandate: Why the loss of Chavez’ constitutional reforms means full-speed forward for the Revolution

[A grown-folks analysis. Better late than never.]


Initial Considerations

So the constitutional reforms proposed by President Chavez and the Venezuelan National Assembly failed to pass by referendum on Dec. 2. It is widely understood that the outcome was secured by widespread abstention by those who voted for Chavez in the last referendum. About as many detractors, for intents and purposes, voted “No” this time around, while Chavez supporters dropped out by nearly a few million.

This being said, nobody seriously denies that Chavez retains the basic support of a basic majority of Venezuelans, even beyond the abstaining contingent—or that a “No” vote means anything to the contrary. Presidential approval percentages far outstrip the razorslim margin of “Yes” over “No” voters. On the probabilistic assumption that the pro and anti-reformers will draw roughly equal percentages of their supporters to rallies, the Chavista base is many times greater than that of the opposition. Indeed, the CIA’s “Hayden memo”—more on this below—shows that the opposition assumed the reforms would pass and concentrated their efforts on post-vote destabilization, to discredit these and prime the ground for their reversal. (To minimize the “Yes” vote, they actually tagged their literature with the slogan, “Chavez, Yes, Reform, No!,” pretending to endorse the president they had ousted by coup, and the original constitution they suspended, back in 2002.) The same memo cites polls taken by US intelligence which indicate high majorities favoring the reforms.

In this light, the failure of the reforms is puzzling on its face. It is not what was expected by anyone. Thus, it stands as in need of special explanation as any other puzzling phenomenon. And like all hypotheses invoked to explain puzzling phenomena, the explanation is to a degree speculative.

The reform items have been at least hinted at by Chavez for many years, and are, arguably, logically continuous with those features of the Bolivarian revolution already enacted. They don’t represent some sharp, unpredictable character turn in “Chavismo,” nor is there evidence of wide disenchantment with the elements Chavismo has already yielded—quite the contrary. Pre-vote polling suggest the abstainers would have voted “No” had they been, say, forced to choose.

A Template for Analysis

But if (a) Venezuelans are mostly Chavistas, and (b) the ballot represents no serious break with (this) Chavismo, then: The respective “links” between these elements and the outcome they would be prima facie expected to yield have, in a sense, “artificially” broken down. That is, either the basic support of the majority failed to register “through” the forms of bourgeois procedural democratic forms, or the understanding by this “basic majority” of the balloted items—that is, of their own real, if implicit, support of these—failed to so register. (Or possibly both.) We can explore these aspects in turn.

(a) Limitations of the Electoral Form

It is possible that the extent to which Chavez “overplayed his hand” politically with the vote reflects his opting for the referendum format rather than any specific measures on it. Had the reform measures been left to the National Assembly—which is, in a real sense, forced to show up while “the people” aren’t; and which has, again, voted for measures of a spirit with those on the referendum; and which has itself been voted in by the same “contingent” to decide upon just such measures—they would pass nearly unanimously, and we would hear no howls of opposition to this outcome apart from the Americans and the domestic ruling-class mass media (who is always howling anyway).

Having voted Chavez in on a particular platform, and his having enacted prior reforms through avenues other than popular referendum, it is plausible voters were confused or unconvinced as to why they had to vote again for the balloted measures. In 2000, Chavez was extended “rule by decree” powers through an enabling act of the National Assembly; this he used to enact significant reforms. He still very much controls this body and could use it so again. Thus, it is plausible that voters were unclear as to why they had to vote again for the same sort of thing.

Relatedly, it may be that a significant number of Chavistas are not especially driven to turn out for votes in which Chavez’ presidential position is not immediately in question. By analogy, I might be very pressed to vote to continue my marriage, if the alternative is its dissolution, yet not so pressed to vote in favor of any particular action affecting our lives together—if the alternative is just that my wife and I will proceed to act upon the matter later, in some (possibly that same particular) way. I would trust we would decide the matter in a way consonant with the values “embodied” in the initial decision to marry; the condition of being married in the first place preempts the need to “pin down” the decision formally, in advance, along a timetable imposed from outside. Likewise, Chavistas may just expect Chavez to act in a way consonant with values already “embodied” in his election and past record. (Indeed, low voter turnout is historically the norm for all Venezuelan elections except for those deciding the president.)

I dare say it is easier to accept that these considerations were decisive than that millions of Venezuelans are happy with Chavist reforms but don’t want any more of them. But as yet, it remains (very) speculative and in any case insufficient to explain all of the abstention numbers.

(b) Referendum? What Referendum?

Exploring the second “link”—between the voters and their comprehension of the specific reforms—a fuller picture is yielded:

It is unclear, to paraphrase Chomsky in the wake of Bush’s reelection, that Chavez lost the referendum because it is not clear that any referendum actually took place—that is, if by “referendum“ is meant a forum in which people choose between options they grasp clearly, in concert with their own interests and values.¹

This was made possible by the sheer number of reforms on the ballot—33 at first, quickly ballooning to 69—and the typical dense legalese in which they were drafted. Voters had only a short time—a month—to digest and debate these. This was especially problematic as certain items were complicated and unfamiliar. For example, the “new geometry of power” named a plan to redistrict municipalities to decentralize power. These would have various, new and interrelated functions, including the right to create, by vote, still other various, new political entities—councils, communes, unions—and the right to join these with others of the same and different type. These reforms can be quite in the interests of the voting majority without being intuitively or readily apparent as such. Finally, the presentation of the reforms in two large “up or down” blocks meant that one had only to disagree with any single item to reject the whole thing.

Beyond its brevity, limitations in the “Yes” campaign compounded matters. The reform side—perhaps overconfident in light of their twelve straight electoral wins since 1998—failed to adequately articulate the content of the reforms to social layers beyond its Chavista core. To a degree this was unavoidable: A key role was naturally delegated to the PSUV, the new merger party formed out of all the old Bolivarian groups. The party is young and its organizational network, disunified and underdeveloped. The job of education and the inspirational “whip” fell largely to the president himself—who was either abroad or distracted with matters (such as the abortive negotiations for FARC hostages) not directly related to the vote.

Effectiveness in this arena was needed to counteract the disinformation campaign by the reform opposition. Virtually every private mass media organ set its considerable resources to this project, around the clock. Normally for-purchase airtime was made free to the opposition. It was widely “reported” that the reforms would allow the state to seize virtually anything as its own property—small businesses, houses, cars, animals, clock radios. A twin-page spread in Ultimas Noticias, contender for the biggest newspaper in Venezuela, added children to the list, charging the state would remove these from the home at two years of age to be raised in state boarding schools. As in the States, the proposal to remove term limits from the presidency—bringing Venezuela in line with most of the world’s formal democracies—was presented as a vote to crown Chavez “president for life.” Major newspapers ran falsified copies of the proposed reforms. The state neither received nor—for good or ill—demanded, “equal time” in these venues.

Unsurprisingly, the same US agencies that helped organize the failed presidential coup in 2002—the CIA, USAID, and the American embassy in Venezuela—had hand in all of this. (NED is not mentioned in the memo but has been funneling money to opposition groups throughout Chavez’ administration and remains in the mix.) Nor was this role limited to “information.” The aforementioned memo was addressed to CIA Director Michael Hayden by embassy leader Michael Steele. It describes a multi-faceted anti-reform campaign implicating these groups. Tactics range in varying levels from the deceitful to the illegal and—though mostly “outsourced”—violent. The memo comes in the middle of the plan’s implementation and recommends its final phase, called “Operation Pincer” (or “Pliers”). The program allots millions of American tax dollars to fund false reporting, attack ads and bogus polls to discredit the reforms and notably, the credibility of the election process itself. It cites success in organizing affluent and ultraleft-sectarian college students to physically attack government offices, election officials and pro-Chavez demonstrators—actions which in fact led to the deaths of a handful of reform supporters. “Pliers” culminates in plans for a second coup against Chavez, originating in the National Guard; this is presented as a contingency for “Yes” vote they were sure would (still) come, but remains on the table.

Note also the role of Fifth Column sabotage: The “new geometry” shifted various powers from regional ministers, mayors and governors, to unprofessional communal groups; this has inspired some of the former to defect, not wanted to cede or share authority. Likewise, sections of the “Chavist” federal bureaucracy, seeing their interests as tied to a “stable” state, have no interest in supporting anything perceived as too radical and resisted organizing.

(c) Economic Concerns: Decisive, As Always

Of course, the outcome we would “prima facie expect” in light of what we know of our voters’ politics, and the soundness of electoral forms to translate this into policy, is not the whole story. It is possible that the limitations described by (a) and (b) were “overwhelmed” by considerations entirely beside those matters.

Venezuelans in Chavez’ “natural base”—wage workers and peasants—are plagued by a serious shortage of staple foods, including milk and meat, and other commonplace consumer goods. They also suffer under high inflation, nearly 18% in so many months. This didn’t come from nowhere, but as a result of rising earnings for all classes of Venezuelans, which increased effective demand—in itself a key gain of previous Bolivarian reforms which could have stayed that way. While the state attempted to tame this dynamic with price controls, the response of large sections of the capitalist state—partly to lessen the impact of decreased profits, partly as a protest against the controls—has been to restrict supply: Producers of scarce goods tamped down on production while large retailers hoarded the stocks they already held. Venezuelan finance capitalists withheld investment or relocated it to foreign enterprises, or turned to “nonproductive” enterprises altogether like real estate or bond speculation. Large distributors—wholesale “middlemen” and direct retailers—bypassed the price controls by funneling to the burgeoning black market. (Chavez has thought that flooding the country with imports would help also—but imports, it appears, can be hoarded and funneled underground just as well as domestics.)

These strategies were not just the initiatives of individual capitalists but a very open, deliberate and key plank in the reform opposition strategy as organized by (among others) FEDECAMARAS, the Venezuelan Chamber(s) of Commerce. (This is essentially a union for big capitalists, and fiercely anti-Chavez—their own then-president replaced him as interim president during the ‘02 coup.) This has succeeded in demoralizing the populace—the goal of the opposition leaders who called for it—even while growing consumption levels maintain: It is not that so many Chavez sympathizers have grown hostile to Bolivarian reforms, but rather tend toward apathy and disillusionment as very real, admitted gains are (subsequently) neutralized by higher prices and scarcity. This is precisely the mood, historically speaking, that engenders electoral abstention rather than the outright rebellion of voting-against or -out.


Were economic considerations decisive to the vote? Certainly, all “sides” in the reform issue—Chavistas, the opposition, and the abstainers—credit it as such, whether they agree on (or admit) the root causes of the economic troubles. In brief, we have only to assume that this discontent has cut into the numbers of less “fired up” Chavistas in the miniscule proportion needed to account for “No’s” over “Yes’s”—a reasonable (if strictly unprovable) assumption. (The reforms missed because just 1.4% more voters negated than affirmed.)

To the extent that economic factors were decisive, the idea that the reforms failed because Chavez politically “overreached” or “moved too fast” in a revolutionary direction is backward. It is precisely because the expropriations [of capitalist land and factories] have been so halting and partial, and that Chavez has been content—or felt forced—to trust the good will of the capitalist class to maintain supply, that the shortage-inflation dynamic has been permitted. The ballot failure should not be interpreted as a call for braking, or deferring, the revolution, but for pressing it much further—immediately. This entails, minimally, large-scale expropriation in local agribusiness, as well as heavy state investment therein, to ensure supply, as well as state administration of food distribution to prevent hoarding, enforce price controls and close back-doors to the black market (which would itself probably require expropriations).

There is nothing here that hasn’t been done before under worse circumstances, and nothing which can’t be ultimately placed under popular oversight and direction. But it has to be done quickly, for all of the reasons, by analogy, that you cannot “skin a tiger paw by paw”: You have to “totalize” the project to overwhelm the possibility of a counter-productive reaction. Finally, it is in the sense that such a programme can be said to logically “fulfill” the reforms—or their “spirit,” as it were—that one can call the latest failure of partial reforms an ironic mandate for the same—or much, much more.


¹ I’m assuming here that the reforms were “in concert with the interests and values of the voting majority, or at least addressed their major stated concerns.” That universal free education, expansion of social security benefits, and reduction of the workweek to 36 hours (for same pay), are not a good bet makes sense only on neoclassical economic theories that no regular Venezuelans buy into, or the view that the other items on the ballot are such a bad bet that their negative prospects outweigh the benefits of the others. Again, this isn’t the main point, but an argument of the second type would probably cite the right of the executive to suspend elements of the constitution in times of national emergency. In brief, if the former reforms—or any other significant achievement—are worth making, they are worth defending, and such “national emergencies” have occurred in recent history and are brewing now, as the opposition runs calls for a new coup on national TV and sends cash to Colombian death squads to kidnap and murder union leaders.