Monday, April 11, 2011

The sole proprietor as yardstick for class struggle

The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.

Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production, and abolish the wage system.

----- Preamble of the Industrial Workers of the World

History has not exactly sustained the premise that the working class and the employing class have nothing in common. The working class and the employing class are each collections of fractious individuals who, for a variety of motives, are all over the political map, and seldom agree as a whole on much of anything.

But there is antagonism built into the relationship of employer to employee. There is no better way to identify why, than to examine the very different situation of an individual sole proprietor, who owns their own business and does all the work to make the business prosper.

"My own business"

If a sole proprietor decides that growing the business requires putting in extra hours, they and their family personally suffer the costs of that decision. The same individual and family reap the benefits, in the form of increased business from increasingly loyal customers impressed with the ever-increasing quality of the product or service the business delivers.

If a sole proprietor takes time off, there is no "paid vacation." Either the business owner shuts down the business for a time, foregoing the revenue that could have been made, or, hires at her or his own expense a temporary employee to keep the business open and operating. If the owner takes no vacation, they personally pay the social and emotional price of disappointing the family, or of sending the family off on vacation while remaining at home to work.

If the business fails, the proprietor, and their family, are the ones who pay the price. The proprietor made the decisions, and lives with the consequences of their own decisions.

At the end of a long life building a business, making sacrifices in the short term to prosper in the long term, the sole proprietor can look forward to a well provided-for retirement, either selling the business for a lump sum, providing a nice nest egg, or turning it over to a successor in return for monthly payments.

The employer and employee divide up the costs and benefits in a very different way.

Wage Slavery

In the absence of labor protection laws or a union contracts, if an employer decides that an employee at will should work extra hours, the employer reaps the benefits, but the employee and the employee's family pay the costs. If an employee is ill, or their child is sick, and the employer insists they must come to work, the employer reaps the benefits of attendance, but the employee's health, or family life, suffer the pains which are the price of showing up for work.

In the absence of a pension plan, an employee receives only their weekly or bi-weekly paycheck. One of the effects of "market forces" is that this paycheck allows little for savings, being just enough to pay living expenses, paycheck to paycheck. Employers do not, unless strict laws or powerful unions require it, set aside a portion of the revenue from an enterprise to insure that EVERYONE who makes the company's prosperity possible is provided for in their old age.

If the stockholders and managers made bad decisions, not only do they lose, but a substantial work force which had no part in making disastrous choices is out of work.

It is entirely understandable human nature that a business owner would put the business first. They are not suffering the pains that their employee(s) suffer. It is equally understandable human nature that an employee would resent the high-handed behavior of the boss.

Thus, in any enterprise where the functions of owner and manager, are divorced from worker and employee, the result is class struggle. It is as natural as breathing. Costs and benefits fall differently on each class of persons. This, and this alone, all members of a given class share in common.

Failures of socialist construction

One of the failures of socialist construction to date, starting with the Soviet Union, but including India, Tanzania, and many other socialist experiments, is the fact that state administrators in practice feel the pressures of managers, but not the pressures of employees. A sole proprieter personally feels and pays all the prices, and reaps all the rewards. The manager of a socialized state enterprise does not, any more than the manager of a private capitalist enterprise.

Alternatives such as worker self-management or cooperatives are unsteady, because most of the working class, most of the time, don't really want to be bothered with devoting time and effort to administration.

The reason there is leadership in trade unions is that the number of people with ambition to lead and skill at organizing is only a minority of the total union membership. The reason there is political conflict within unions is that the number of people with ambition to lead and skill at organizing is somewhat greater than the total number of leadership positions available.

All ideologies are either utopian abstractions or blatant hypocrisy. The most rabid advocates of the "free market" party line (yes, it IS a party line) are first in line for government subsidies, loan guarantees and tax credits. Likewise, the working class hero who lives only to sacrifice for their brothers, a sterling champion of justice, is a figment of intellectual daydreaming.

Working class heroes

There are working class heroes, but like everyone, they act on motives. They may be high-minded enough to rise with the ranks, not from the ranks, but they do want to rise. Union officers who are on call 24/7, and work sixty to eighty hour weeks, sooner or later desire to be reasonably well paid for it.

Progress is seldom achieved by reasonable men and women sitting down to work out reasonable solutions. Progress more often emerges from the clash of opposing forces, each motivated to get the best deal for themselves. But a stable, lasting solution, one that isn't undone then redone every time a political balance shifts, requires some thought.

More important, it requires some real attention to the over-used slogan "People before profit." A sole proprietor absolutely needs to profit from their labor, and their investment of capital to improve the productivity of their labor. But it is all theirs. It is all done for their own person and their own family.

The purpose of economic activity is to provide for human life. The purpose of human life is not to provide a motive power for economic activity, as an abstract good in itself. If the working class as a body cannot literally take control of the means of production, then a rebalancing of the costs and benefits of production is the minimum necessary concession to the reality of class struggle.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rewriting history: the middle east in 1947 and 1967

An anonymous comment on a previous article, What Really Happened in Palestine has posed the question, what would you have done in 1947?

I'm not sure I can answer that, but let me start by working backward from 1967. I can't blame anyone for not recognizing, in the heat of the moment in 1967, what seems evident now with 20 / 20 hindsight, from a comfortable desktop in mid-America. But the last half century could have worked out so much better.

In 1967, there was no question that Israel was under attack from at least three nations, backed by the resources of at least a few more. Israel moved pre-emptively, but only when it was blatantly obvious that armies were mobilizing for all out war in Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel won, hands down. It was the last time in history when Israel could credibly present itself as a scrappy underdog acting in pure self-defense.

Among the territories Israel militarily occupied were the Gaza strip, illegally seized by Egypt in 1948, and the west bank of the Jordan River, illegally seized by the Hashemite monarchy of Jordan in 1948. Both territories had been part of the British Mandate of Palestine, and therefore, if not part of Israel, should have been the land of an indpendent Arab state in Palestine. That's what the UN resolution to partition the mandate had directed.

So, Israel could, at that moment in 1967, have proclaimed itself the liberator of an independent Arab Palestine, in conformance with the UN resolution, from illegal occupation by neighboring kingdoms. The national socialist Arab successors to some of those monarchies would have howled, infiltrated saboteurs, etc. of course. But, if a truly independent self-government had been rapidly developed behind the protection of the victorious Israeli army, the feudal monarchies and national socialist republics might have had to move on to some other pretext for demagoguery.

A Talmudic scholar who fought in the 1967 war, and now lives in America, has suggested that Israel should have outright annexed the entire territory. His personal experience was that Arab civilians told him they were looking forward to Israeli citizenship, after experiencing the Hashemite monarchy and its minions. That would have raised howls of protest at the UN. But, if Israel moved quickly, dissolved the stinking refugee camps, moved the population onto available land or into available industrial work, when feasible even returned traditional family homesteads (where that did not displace people who had been improving the land for themelves for over 20 years), it might have drained the abcess of "resistance" politics.

Either solution would have been better than the stalemate of the last forty-four years, keeping "Palestinians" in limbo, breeding various forms of protest and terror.

Could anything better have been done in 1947? The British had no will at all to do this, but if control had passed to a power that did, it would have been good to delay partition, keeping the entity of Palestine intact. It would also have been good to develop a highly trained military strike force to exterminate the Grand Mufti's most loyal forces, especially the Nazi-trained legions (and kill the Nazi refugee trainers), then either remove or isolate the man himself. Balance would have required taking out the Stern Gang also, and possibly the Irgun.

Then, a period of testing out what worked, slowly and painfully, might have involved dividing the territory into rather small political units of at least five varieties. In places where Jewish Kibbutzim and Arab villages led by Muktars had been getting along, combine them into regional cantons, leaving local self-government unimpaired, with cooperation only on larger projects, like water and irrigation. Were there such valleys? Leon Uris wrote about that in different ways, in Exodus and The Hajj. Absent the Grand Mufti and his allies, either one could have been worked with.

There would also have been overwhelmingly Arab areas, to be left alone and excluded from Jewish settlement, and overwhelmingly Jewish areas, to be administered as such, and open to additional Jewish settlement. There would be some area where various populations were intermixed, and happy to be so. And there would have been vacant lands, which would be designated for development by people from various adjacent areas. Some, but not all, would have been available for Jewish settlement.

Major cities and religious shrines would have had to be handled to provide general access, if that could be done while preserving public order and security. Hard work? Yes. Impossible? Maybe not. The British didn't care to even try. It would have been worth pointing out that, when the mosque on the Temple Mount was built, the rashidun caliphs went to great lengths to assemble as many pieces of the Second Temple as they could find, on the site where the Romans smashed the entire complex, and incorporated them reverently into the walls of the mosque.

In ten or twenty years time, decisions could have been made to partition the territory into two, or three, independent states, or a federation with a common national defense policy. All this assumes that British mishandling set off a racial and religious war that didn't need to happen at all.

Or, perhaps it was inevitable. If enough Arabs were willing to kill all Jews, and all Arabs who didn't join in the campaign, if enough Jews were willing to kill Arabs indiscriminately, then perhaps open bloodletting to set boundaries was unavoidable, however sad. In that case, the next opportunity would have been 1967.

Friday, April 08, 2011

What really happened in Palestine / Israel

If the plain facts surrounding Jewish settlement in the Holy Land were set forth, it would dispel the most blatant self-serving claims of those who chant "From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free." It would also dispel the convoluted claims put forth in response by American Zionists and their confused Christian cohorts.

Accordingly, a brief summary is hereby set forth. In response to coherent questions, I will fill in relevant source material as needed.

When the European Jews active in the Zionist movement first began settling in the Holy Land, they arrived by permission of the government of the Ottoman Empire. At one time, the Ottoman Turks had struck fear into the heart of Europe, conquering Constantinople (thereafter, Istanbul), ruling most of the Balkans, barely stopped at the gates of Vienna in the 17th century. But, by the late 19th century, the empire was known as the sick old man of Europe, heavily dependent on German technical and military assistance, which eventually brought it into World War I as one of the Central Powers.

Why did the Ottoman Sultans, successors (however remote) to the Caliphs who had once ruled Bagdhad, choose to permit Jewish immigration? Jews had lived in the empire for its entire history, and some had held high office, including Admiral of the Ottoman navy. The Abassid caliphate in Bagdhad had also nurtured a prosperous Jewish population.

There was a fair amount of unused land. Educated Jews from Europe brought badly needed technical expertise, and the empire could only be a little richer for it. Local feudal landowners sold them land nobody else wanted, next to impossible to work. The Jews who came were mostly some kind of socialist - the more bourgeois Jews cheerfully stayed in Europe to build their fortunes. Those who came to Ottoman lands built their little kibbutzim, and found ways to grow a good crop. A nation or a political entity they were not. But, in a land where every Arab village was ruled more by its own Muktar than by the distant Sultan, Jewish villages too found plenty of autonomy.

During World War I, an enterprising British officer named T.E. Lawrence, later glamorized as "Lawrence of Arabia," agitated a number of Arab tribal leaders and princelings to wage war, more or less under his direction, against the Ottomans. It was a cheap investment by the British Empire, and paid reasonably good dividends.

The Arabs generally hated the Turks, would just as soon be relieved of taxes to the Sultan, and had no hestitation about fighting fellow-Muslims. The Arabs who ruled Mecca and Medina, cheefully fought the empire built by those who had moved out of the Arabian peninsula, now ruled by the descendants of hired mercenaries from central Asia. This tied up some Ottoman forces and resources, and cost the Sultan most of the territory from Arabia and Egypt north to Damascus.

After the war ended, the British came in as imperial masters, rather than grateful allies, treating the Arab leaders with insulting paternalism. The Ottoman Empire was no more. Mustafa Kemal Attaturk invented a Turkish national identity on what land he could hang onto. The British invited the French to join them in sharing the spoils. Of course Britain and France couldn't simply annex the land, as both had done in Africa.

They had just snookered the USA into saving their butts from the German Wehrmacht by calling their fight "a war for democracy" so that "small nations might be free." (No Irish need apply, but they did anyway, in their own war for a small nation to be free). There was now a League of Nations, which could grant "mandates" to administer lands whose people were deemed unready for self-government.

So, the British Mandate of Palestine came to include the territory within which a number of Jewish settlements were interspersed with a number of older Arab communities, some Christian, some Muslims of various branches, including Sunni, Shia, Druze, Sufi, etc. There were even a few Jewish communities which had been there since Roman times.

For reasons related to British home politics, and the exigencies of war in Europe, a letter had been written on 2 Nov 1917 by Arthur James Lord Balfour, summarizing discussions in the British cabinet, to the effect that,

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. "

However, the British establishment generally looked down their noses at Jews, particularly those who had not become thoroughly British, and actual policy in the Mandate did not live up to that commitment for very long. It may be presumed that the Balfour Declaration was not communicated to the forces organized by Lawrence.

There was, naturally and unnaturally, some friction over the matter with the Arabic-speaking population within the boundaries of the Mandate. Naturally, introduction of a new population almost always produces some friction with long-settled inhabitants of any land. In the USA, this has occured with waves of Irish, German, Polish, Italian, east European, and Jewish immigration, to name only a few. It is rumored that the Pequot, the Passamaquody and the Powhattan confederacy had some objections to English settlement also.

Unnaturally, there was a deliberate effort by feudal lords of various ranks and claims to preserve their faithful, illiterate peasant retainers from contamination by the technical expertise, literacy, and other blessings the Jewish kibbutzim had to offer, which might distract loyal subjects from obedience to the will and whim of their masters.

The immigrant Jews, after all, were European in culture. The Jews who left in various waves of the Diaspora dressed, spoke, and ate very much as the non-Jewish Aramaic-speaking population they left behind. There is a reason that salaam and shalom sound so much alike. But the Jews who came in the 19th and 20th century had a very different culture, acquired in exile. The many Jewish communities in Arabic lands had no desire to pull up stakes and head to Palestine until after 1948.

Throughout human history, on all continents except Antarctica, the most effective way to make an oppressed underclass accomplices in their own subjugation is to inflame passions for some irrational reason against the object which threatens to offer some small degree of liberation and enlightenment. Thus, a series of organized and incited riots in 1929 were set in motion by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini.

Religious fanaticism is generally in the covert service of politics, even when convenient rhetoric suggests otherwise. After a series of mob actions which left 83 Jews dead, and communities in Hebron and elsewhere, which predated the Zionist movement, chased out, Jewish communities developed the rather natural idea that they needed an effective mechanism for self-defense, and a defined, defensible territory.

The British authorities, although eventually motivated to kill some Arabs, just to show who was in charge, had shown no particular concern for saving Jews. Jewish defense organizations were persecuted by British authorities, who also restricted further Jewish immigration.

This was a time when Britain and the United States imposed an international embargo on arms to combatants in the Spanish Civil War - which meant Germany and Italy armed Franco's fascists, while everyone else scrupulously honored the embargo by refusing to sell arms to the elected government of the Republic. In Palestine, the British similarly confiscated Jewish arsenals, quite aware that they were unable or unwilling to prevent the Mufti and neighboring kingdoms from acquiring much larger arsenals.

Then Adolf Hitler perpetrated his "final solution" of "the Jewish question," and those who survived it were in large numbers motivated to leave Europe for the Holy Land.

That brought in several times as many Jews, more than anyone, Jewish, Arab or British, had ever anticipated before. It raised tensions considerably. In some respects, this was not unlike many other migration in human history. One powerful tribe overwhelms another, which flees, taking what land they need from whoever happens to be in the way. The Chinese chased out the Hsiung Nu, and a hundred years later, the Huns came thundering into Europe.

But in 1945, half the world had a sense of guilt about the Jewish population of Europe, and rightly so. The Arabs did not, and with occasional exceptions, like the Grand Mufti, who spent WW II in Berlin, most Arabs had no reason to feel responsible. They had neither been military allies of Germany, nor gassing thousands of Jews a day and burning them in crematoria. It was a choice between a semi-socialist democracy with high literacy standards and extremely equal rights for women, vs. a collection of feudal despots.

The net result was a UN plan for partition of the British Mandate of Palestine into Jewish and Arab territories. Partition was a popular solution to ethnic friction during that decade. Britain tried it in India. The result was one or two million civilians dead, a Pakistani state that today would have Muhammed Ali Jinnah spinning in his grave, and more Muslims living in India than Pakistan, most of them better off too, although occasional pogroms by Hindu nationalists remain a hazard.

Jewish and Arab settlements were scattered in patterns that denied anyone defensible borders, but the UN hadn't considered that there might be fighting. This was supposed to be an amicable administrative solution. The British, embarrassed by the UN vote, threw a temper tantrum, said if they weren't in charge any more they didn't care what happened, but continued to confiscate Jewish arsenals.

There was fighting, and the indefensible borders were far more to the Jewish settlements' disadvantage, since there were several Arab armies preparing to march in. The Jewish forces won the 1948 war for the oldest reason in the world: they were fighting for their lives, the Arab armies were only fighting for their dinner.

Who were the Arab forces? The Grand Mufti was one, but only one. A lot of feudal lords wanted to be some kind of top dog or king of the hill. The corrupt Egyptian monarchy, under Farouk, sent in an army, as did the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, some forces from Iraq, and some freebooting mercenaries.

A word about the Hashemite monarchy. At the time of Lawrence's exploits against the Ottomans, the Hashemites were lodged in the western Arabian peninsula, the Hejaz,ruling Mecca and Medina. They were at least distantly descended from the Banu Hashim, a sub-clan of the Quraysh, who had ruled Mecca in the days of idolatry.

Muhammed died of pleurisy within a couple of years after the capitulation of Mecca to his Muslim army, and the more senior branches of the Quraysh saw that this Muslim movement was going places, so they immediately took control. The Banu Hashim did not produce any of his successors, or caliphs in Arabic. Many remained in Arabia, while the Ummayads went forth to consolidate the new Caliphate, and were eventually supplanted by the Abbasids.

After WW I, a rival monarch from further east, one Ibn Saud, chased the Hashemites out of the Hejaz, in 1922, with British acquiescence. Thus, Saudi Arabia was born. The Hashemites fled north, arriving in what are now Jordan and Iraq, to announce "We've come to be your leader."

The British facilitated both moves, with Feisal on the throne of Iraq, Abdullah in what was then called TransJordan. The last Hashemite king of Iraq, the young Feisal Jr., was killed during a coup d'etat in 1958 led by Karim Qasim, who was overthrown by the Ba'ath Party in 1963, eventually leading to the presidency of one Hussein al-Takriti, who grandiosly retitled himself "Saddam Hussein."

Meantime, in Jordan, King Abdullah apparently thought the Jews would make useful subjects, once he established military control and expanded his kingdom. The Jews had other plans, and in any case, the Grand Mufti was eager to literally drive them all into the sea. When general war breaks out, as it did in 1948, the borders established in the course of the fighting generally supercede those previously drawn by diplomacy.

When the dust cleared, the borders of Israel were markedly different than previously drawn. A UN diplomat named Ralph Bunche worked out an armistice, and everyone settled down in seething hostility to wait for the next war. There were some Arab residents remaining in Israel, but they had been transformed by partition from equals to an ethnic and religious minority in what had indeed been their own land.

There were a large number of Arabs, Christian as well as Muslim, who had been displaced. Many had been told to get out of the way by various Arab armies. When the Jews were defeated, they could go back home. The Jews were not defeated, and weren't about to accept a mass of people who would include infiltration of hostile forces back into their newly won defense perimeter. Arab countries declined to absort the displaced population, scrupulously herding them into refugee camps, where they were to remain "until Palestine is liberated."

As intended by the Arab feudal despots, the refugee camps became permanent breeding grounds for warriors against Israel. When modernizing army officers overthrew King Farouk, they might have said, that stupid old king dragged us into this pointless war with Israel. Let's focus on building Egypt. Instead, Gamal Abdal Nasser said, we officers fought honorably but the corrupt monarchy kept us from defeating the Jews, and kept his nation focused on the futile task. Jordan and Iraq sort of went along, as did Syria.

Jewish communities in North Africa and Mesopotamia, resident since Roman times or before, suddenly found themselves viewed as a fifth column, because Israel, the new Jewish State, had become The Enemy. It wasn't exactly their idea - it was a minority of European Jews who had started the Zionist movement. The position of Arabic Jews was not unlike that of North American communists, who thought they were fighting for the liberation of the working class, and had not anticipated that the Soviet Union would become the primay military rival of the United States in 1946, thus casting communists as potential spies.

Israel was built by disciplined socialists in the European tradition, but it was now inundated with conservative polygamous patriarchal North African Jews, and conservative religiously observant Orthodox eastern European Jews. It's politics changed over thirty years or so. It won wars in 1967 and 1973, again because Israel was fighting for its life, while various Arabic armies were fighting for their dinner. But it ceased to be the underdog.

Israel came to possess many of the qualifications of an oppressor. It had a large, well-equipped army, an entrenched officer corps, a semi-covert alliance with the Republic of South Africa in development of military hardware. After 1967, Jews who felt entitled to do so began settling in what had been the West Bank of the Jordan River valley, annexed by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1948, although by the terms of the UN partition, it should have been the independent Arab portion of the former British mandate of Palestine.

The various nongovernmental forces that sustained themselves by making occasional terror attacks on Israel generally claimed some sort of leftist or pseudo-communist rhetoric. One, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, even aimed to overthrow the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan, but that hope was crushed by the military action known as Black September. With the kind of rhetorical flourish typical of this arena of conflict, the organization known as "Black September" specialized in attacks in Israel, not on the monarchy.

During the 1980s and 1990s, as the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China both lost prestige, and the U.S. committed itself to supporting Salafist Islam against the splintered communist parties of Afghanistan, the conflicts surrounding Israel took on a religious tinge, and emerged in the early 21st century appropriating the banner of Islam.

In fact, this created a wholly different confrontation, having little in common with the earlier Palestinian causes. One difference is that the enemy has much more become "the Jews" rather than "the Zionist entity." Hoary incidents from ancient history have been dredged up as symbols, like the minor skirmish in the Arabian desert around Khaybar, fought for mainly political and economic reasons.

Thus, the entire conflict has become a muddle mess. Anyone with any sense at all, Arab, European, African, or Asian, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, or atheist, should be motivated to step back, take a deep breath, and ask "What in the name of God are we doing?"

Israel needs to turn loose the West Bank, let Arabic leadership develop a functional economy, while of course keeping an alert military force on its borders. If that is a success, people in Gaza will get rid of Hamas - which they only elected because the kleptocratic PLO factions were so burdensome.

Hezb-i-ul-Lah in Lebanon will wither away when it no longer has a cause to rally around. Yeah, yeah, Nasrallah, but Israel is still there, and everyone in Palestine is taking vacations by the seashore, and we have better things to do. The theocracy in Tehran can rail all it wants, it doesn't have a border with Israel. Ironically, Pakistan will probably become the world center of terror in the name of Islam. Blame that one on the British too.

When world history is rewritten one more time, Jews and Muslims and Hindus, Arabs and Israelis, should all be able to agree on this: blame it all on the British. What stupid, pig-headed, muddled colonial bunglers they were. Even when they turned loose of their empire, they managed to do it in way that killed millions of civilians in pointless wars that lasted more than half a century. Now, let's get on with living.