Tornado Terror and Capitalist Calamity

Images of the destruction caused by the recent onslaught of violent tornadoes resembles that of the victims of American imperialism, completely levelled by bombs and explosions. The similarity continues, the victims of the ruin being composed of the poorest and most dejected from society.

Bombing raids, missile attacks, and destruction as a result of war is a clear act of violence that is easily visible. When it comes to natural disasters, nature is called the perpetrator. The death and debris is the result of an unfortunate accident instead of deliberate killing. This is how capitalist society rationalizes its effects. The terror from the sky in both cases are manufactured catastrophes from the capitalist shop of horrors.

April 25-28, 2011

April saw the greatest monthly record for tornadoes in the United States, with over 875 reported. The previous record for any month was 542. The tornado outbreak that marched across the South between April 25 and April 28 was the deadliest in almost a century, claiming over 322 lives, 237 in Alabama alone.1

Over 330 tornadoes touched down during those three days, including 3 that ranked a five on the Enhanced Fujita scale, the most powerful of tornadoes.2 The storms made their arrival in Arkansas and traveled eastward, with catastrophic damage being dealt in Mississippi, then to Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and dissipating around Kentucky.

Starting from February 1 and ending May 24, over 519 people this year have died in tornado “accidents.” The circumstances of 297 of these deaths are considered “unknown”, meaning the information on whether the death occurred in a house, a mobile home, outside, or a vehicle hasn’t been determined. However, of the 222 known deaths, 55% of these occurred in a mobile home.3

Tragedy in Joplin

Less than one month after the calamity that raged through the Deep South, another natural “accident” occurred in the small town of Joplin, Missouri on May 22. An EF5 tornado hit the town and surrounding area at 5:41 PM. The storm came and went in less than 20 minutes, but not without bringing with it the lives of over 134 people and leaving the town in a state of complete disrepair. The Joplin tornado is the deadliest single tornado since 1947.4

Whole neighborhoods flattened, businesses destroyed, power outages, communication cut, and people trapped under an avalanche of rubble. The screaming winds drowned out the screams of its victims.

Warning: Capitalist Disaster Area

When we see death, destruction, and disaster, capitalists and other assorted fat pockets see a public relations opportunity. Barack Obama and other politicians strike poses on top of the debris of some poor sucker’s home and tell the film crew how they have never seen destruction like this ever before. The evening news is filled with reports of communities coming together and giving a helping hand, white-black and poor-rich getting over their differences to help one another. Even Walmart donated a hefty sum of a monumental $1 million (the rich do care).

However, something different about a tornado strike or hurricanes in comparison to other disasters. Wildfires, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, avalanches… are easily exploited by the bosses and their media spokesmen. The exception that proves the rule would be Hurricane Katrina. Hurricanes come and go, causing “minimal” damage and death. However, “when the levees broke” every charlatan sprouted microphones from their hands and gave their outrage over this public policy “failure.” Some of the more despicable characters blamed it on the New Orleans residents who were so stupid as to not completely evacuate from the city weeks prior, how exactly they were to evacuate and where they would have gone is not answered (nor is it meant to be).

Katrina and the aforementioned disasters are blamed on human error, whether it is by public officials or the victims of the tragedy. This does not lead to a better understanding on why such disasters occurred after a survey of the “solutions” offered by the bosses. Increase federal funding for disaster relief, pump up investment into new Life Saving Technology™, or for the environmentally conscious, purchase recycled goods and use public transport to reduce your carbon footprint.

Tornadoes are something different. The violent winds are personified into conscious beings, who go on rampages and live on destruction. The kind of damage a tornado might inflict can’t be known till it touches ground and its path is anyone’s guess. Tornadoes are seen as something so outside of human control, that the damage and death is viewed as a given. Images on the television of homes and communities being completely flattened maybe tragic, but nothing unexpected.

The effects of natural disasters are dependent on the social arrangements in which people carry on their lives. Tornadoes are no exception.

Torn from the Same Cloth

One similarity that is noticed is the victims of tornadoes are overwhelmingly the most victimized of capitalist society. The average per capita income of the populations of the most devastated areas of the recent surge of tornado activity is $16,958.5

As mentioned previously, the majority of the known victims lived in mobile homes. It is no great discovery to point out that mobile homes are in greater danger of being destroyed than other structures, even by weak EF-0 tornadoes

What is not asked is why are so many people living in mobile homes, and why in areas that are susceptible to destruction? Reformers see the problem being in the poor quality of the design of the home, thus the solution is to build better quality homes or sell shelters. Others may advocate raising the living standards of the victims, so they can eventually move to better areas. These solutions obviously miss the point, because there is a complete lack of understanding of the social dynamics at play.

Mobile homes are of obvious poor quality and poor design. Why? The only way we can understand is to understand how this is a predictable and necessary consequence of the capitalist mode of production.

Tornado activity is most frequent in the southern United States. The South has historically and remains less developed industrially as the northern United States. An exception to this is the “industrialization of agriculture”, which has thrown many people out of work, depresses the wages of farm work (which is often done by immigrants who are exploited even further by threat of blackmail), and absorbs large amounts of natural wealth such as land and water (the South often experiences “droughts” and public officials urge conservation, which means making sure enough water is available for agribusiness).

A large industrial reserve army exists in the South, and there is little sign they will be called to service any time soon. Their poverty and poor living conditions are imposed upon by the capitalist system. Sometimes, they are referred to by the classist slur “white trash”, which reflects the material reality that capitalism has tossed them out and has no more use for them.

The povertised residents of the rural South encounter other issues that are specific to capitalist production and class society. The clear conflict between “town and country” is exposed in the infrastructure found in rural communities, especially poor rural communities. Roads are few, those that do exist are often in disrepair. Mobile home communities, colloquially known as “trailer parks”, brings together people close together in high concentrations. In case of a tornado or storm, electrical infrastructure can be damaged and made completely inoperable, preventing warnings from reaching the residents. Plumbing and communication can also be rendered useless. Houses turn into coffins.

The rise of the mobile home occurred during the post war boom. Mobile homes, an industrially manufactured commodity, began to be advertised as a cheap alternative to traditional housing, though not as permanent. Even while capitalism was undergoing a new phase of accumulation, the opportunity to depress living conditions was still exploited at every chance. Mobile homes were primarily first used as a temporary solution to deflate pressure on housing demands for workers moving to new areas for employment (and used for this purpose today by Israeli settlers in the West Bank). At the end of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the size of mobile homes began to increase to the point they were no longer “mobile.” The term “manufactured home” is now the “proper” way to refer to them. The increase in size with the corresponding loss in mobility was the first stage in turning mobile homes into permanent housing.

The statistics referenced only cover deaths; they do not make mention of damage. The lowest ranking of tornadoes, an EF-0, is enough to take a mobile home off of its foundation and cause serious damage. It is not an extravagant leap to say that the damage and destruction done to people living in mobile homes (as well as cheap, cookie cutter crafted traditional houses) is far more extensive.

The reality that mobile homes are frequently destroyed or damaged is openly acknowledged by the industries that sell them. An interest group for the manufactured housing industry, the Manufactured Housing Institute, states bluntly on their website:

While many like to joke that ‘mobile homes attract tornadoes,’ there is no meteorological or scientific basis to thinking that that theory. (sic) In fact, the explanation for the reports of damage to manufactured homes from tornadoes is quite simple: manufactured housing is largely found in rural and suburban areas where tornadoes are most likely to occur.”6

I think I recall somebody in the past referring to the conscious effort on the part of capitalists for the destruction of objectified labor as the “murder of the dead.” I also remember the example he gave was of automobile industries designing cars that break down in a few years time, for the purpose of selling new ones. There is little point in selling commodities that will fulfill the consumer’s use for a lifetime if your purpose is the reinvestment of surplus value into new and expanded capital, which requires a constant market and constant selling. However, unlike the automobile example, this process involves a murder of the living.

Capitalism is the Culprit

Capitalism cannot offer an answer to the question on how to curb the effects of natural disasters; it cannot even pose the question. Death and destruction caused by tornadoes and other natural disasters have more to do with social relations than weather patterns (not to deny that social relations have an effect on the weather, as the pumping of greenhouse gases into the ozone is without a doubt behind the recent rash of violent weather). Social relations in capitalism are not arranged to the needs and concerns of the people in society, but to the needs of capital and its cancer like growth. Only a society that can properly ask how this can be solved, will it be solved.

– RS

 3″Annual Fatal Tornado Summaries.” Storm Prediction Center. <http://www.spc.noaa.gov/climo/torn/fataltorn.html&gt;.

4″2011 Tornado Information.” NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. <http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/2011_tornado_information.html&gt;

5Joplin, MI – Lawrence County, AL – Faulkner County, AR – Monroe County, MS – Dekalb County, AL – Marion County, AL – Franklin County, AL – Tuscaloosa County, AL – Ringold, Georgia – Hamilton County, TN – Bradley County, TN – Cullman County, AL

6″Frequently Asked Questions.” Manufactured Housing Institute, Modular Homes, Communities, Housing Industry Trade Association. <http://www.manufacturedhousing.org/lib/showtemp_detail.asp?id=231&gt;.

Leaflet – Capital must be seized by the horns

The Reasons for the Cuts

The root of the cuts, not only in Georgia, but in Wisconsin, the UK, Greece, Italy and around the world, is planted in the soil of the present economic crisis. The decrease in tax revenue facing national and local governments are being paid for by assaults on our living standards.

Crisis is Inherent in Capitalism

From World War II to 1970, when American capitalism was booming, the working class was able to win some crumbs from the capitalist class. However, since the crisis of the 1970s (which we are still in), the capitalist class, through their weapon called the state, have been taking away these hard fought concessions in order to protect capitalist profits and the system of class oppression as a whole. What the ruling class giveth, they can taketh away.

What is Class? Why is it Important?

The struggle against the cuts are squared exactly on the class terrain. Class does not mean income level, but relations to the means of production. Every government the world over protects the wealth and property of the capitalist class through laws enforced by violence. Their existence depends on the exploitation of the wage-laborer. The worker is the real source of society’s riches, who produces the world’s wealth but has no claim on it.

Democrats and Unions: United Against the Working Class

The Democratic Party and the union apparatus are obstacles – not vehicles – to class resistance. The Democrats signed off on the cuts in the state legislature, and they will do it again. Similar attacks on the working class are underway in the liberal bastions of California and New York. The Democrats will try to redirect our rage into an election campaign in order to placate our anger and hope we forget (which they have always done). The Democratic Party stands lockstep with the Republicans in oppressing the workers. There can be no democracy if one strata of society exploits another for their own existence.

What about unions? Aren’t they for the workers? Nothing could be further from the truth. The union serves as a mediator between the worker and the boss. The union apparatus stands with the bosses in order to protect the capitalist system, as is what happened in Wisconsin. In order to struggle as a class, we must go beyond the union form and organize our own class organs.

Unite as Students? Or as a Class?

We are not an “alliance” of students or a part of any “student movement.” Students form a mass composed of contradictory elements with opposing interests. Wealthy students or those who come from capitalist families don’t suffer in the same way we do. They have a stake in protecting the capitalist system; they are on the side of the ruling order.

Only the united working class, the proletariat, can transform the world into something better. Not by stitching patches on the present system, but uprooting it entirely. Whether you are from a working class home or you work to pay for your studies, you are a member of the class that is historically destined to change the world.

We, the working class students, have to organize ourselves as workers and workers only in order to advance a political class line. We must defend the interests of workers wherever they may be, be it in the university or the factory, locally or internationally. Capital must be seized by the horns.

Prisoners of Capital Fight Back!

December 9th, 2010 saw the start of the largest prison strike in the history of the United States. The strike was organized by the prisoners, where they made contact through illegally acquired cell phones (sold to the prisoners by underpaid and corrupt prison guards). While the strike appears to have died down, there is still a strong willingness to continue the struggle. The strike action took place in at least six different prisons. (1) The strikers organized across racial lines, amazing considering the racial strife within American prisons, often encouraged and protected by prison guards so the race-based gangs can dish out punishment and maintain order so they don’t have to. The transcendence of race in favor of a unifying class identity is one of the largest obstacles that hinder the American working class. Most importantly (and most frightening to the bourgeoisie) was a unifying set of demands that recognize a common class interest. (2) Unsurprisingly, the strike has been totally ignored by the bourgeois press.

When it is discussed, it is framed around how to best end the possession of cell phones by prisoners (a January 3rd 2011 article on the Los Angeles Times website prominently features a picture of Charles Manson).

There have been reports of physical abuse by prison guards during the non-violent strike, as well as solitary confinement. Correction authorities have been transferring strikers to other prisons in an attempt to hurt morale. One inmate, interviewed by the website Black Agenda Report, asserts the class character of the strike and the attempts to stifle it:

They want to break up the unity we have here. We have the Crips and the Bloods, we have the Muslims, we have the head Mexicans, and we have the Aryans all with a peaceful understanding, all on common ground. We all want to be paid for our work, and we all want education in here. There’s people in here who can’t even read… They’re trying to provoke people to violence in here, but we’re not letting that happen. We just want our human rights (3).

 

Prisons: Instruments of Capitalism

We are told that prison is a place reserved for the most hardened of criminals, people who are too dangerous to live amongst society. After a fair trial, a guilty verdict sends the convicted to a far away place where he or she can’t harm anyone. Thus, prison is necessary for public safety.

However, even a cursory observation of the data blows this justification out of the water. A look at the incarceration rate from the past couple of decades speaks for itself. Up until the beginning of the 1980s, the incarceration rate remained largely the same (with whites making up the majority of the prison population, and blacks and latinos making up one-third). Since the 1980s, the number of prisoners has skyrocketed — increasing over 450%.

The United States, the world capitol of capital, has the honor of having the most people behind bars (both in raw numbers and adjusted for population). (4) Did Americans one day collectively decide to start behaving criminally and reckless? That goes beyond idealism and into the fantasy realm to think we have become more immoral and criminal as a society. Using the marxist method, we can pull the cloak off prisons to reveal their true purpose as an instrument of capital.

The targeted enforcement of the War on Drugs on poor communities, especial the inner city, has a giant share of the blame. Also, the introduction of mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenses and petty theft, keeping prisoners behind bars for longer. We are still left with the question, why the need for such draconian measures? What is the root cause? The root, which blossomed into the increased ghettoization of ethnic urban communities, the drop and stagnation of real wages, the skyrocketing of corporate profits, and the flight of industry to “third world” nations was the capitalist response to the fiscal crises of the 1970s. All the aforementioned effects (which causes social alienation, where drug abuse plants its seeds) had to be dealt with.

The trickle-up economics of the 1980s was creating more poor (along with drastic cuts in social welfare) and more unemployed. These measures had a drastic negative impact on the working class as a whole. The bourgeoisie, with their instruments of social control, went with warehousing of the decommissioned soldiers of the industrial reserve army.

Prison is a tool of capitalism to manage the effects it unleashes upon society.

Prison still serves this function in the present day. The use of unpaid prison labor, both by the state and contracted private business, form a wage-depressing mass that offsets potential for wage growth. The lack of educational opportunities and skill training in prison guarantees a return to prison and its slavery (often the only programs available are for religious ministry).

Reformist Cheerleaders are in the Service of Capitalism

https://i1.wp.com/www.leftcom.org/files/images/2011-01-15-incarcerated-americans-chart.preview.png

This struggle must spread to be of any success. In Ohio, a few prisoners have gone on hunger strike to demand better living conditions. There isn’t any evidence that this was organized with the knowledge of the Georgia prison strike, but it is proof that the struggle maybe at a tipping point with the potential of more militant action.

However, a collection of familiar faces have attached themselves to the strike movement in an attempt to narrow its scope and retard its growth. Former Black Panthers now in “progressive” parties for a gentle capitalism like the Green Party, the NAACP, the Nation of Islam, and advocates for prison “reform” have leant their support and approval to the strike.

These groups, no matter how hard they try to posture themselves as “radical”, will do nothing except weaken the opportunity for this action to grow and spread. As already mentioned, their intentions are to narrow the scope of the strike by removing its class character. For example: Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther who is now a Green Party activist, attached herself to the strike right at the beginning and has been speaking on behalf of the striking prisoners to all media that will cover the story. She is “outraged” that her calls to the Congressional Black Caucus (an effort to remove the strike off the class terrain) have fallen on deaf ears.

Each of the reformist groups have different ways to stymie the growth of the strike. The main threat is to stop talking about class but focus entirely on racial politics. Make no mistake, the “justice” system is inherently racist, but it is communists who have the facts and analysis that can effectively combat racism. Racism is inseparably linked to class in that it prevents the working class from struggling together, which would strengthen their power as a whole. Racism not only divides the working class, but it subjugates a section of the workforce as well. It impossible to talk meaningfully about race without talking about class. These groups will focus on identity politics that has not gone forward a single step in ending systemic racism, precisely due to its reformist nature. They will not only avoid but actively suppress support for a common identity that not only unifies but is a vehicle to change the world: working class identity.

Another threat is the pleas and demands of the prisoners being used by prison “reform” advocates to rally in favour of changing their conditions through law. These groups, along with those who tow the line of old racial politics, miss a very important aspect that we have gone through at length.

The conditions within prison, and prison itself, are creatures birthed by capitalism. Prison is the bourgeoisie’s way of managing capitalism’s contradictions on society. It isn’t an aberration in the system, it is the system’s way of handling it’s problems.

The prison system is dialectically linked to the capitalism, and we will see no change unless we fight against this rotten mode of production.

What these tactics do is separate the strike action from having any connection to the wider working class movement. These reformist elements will only hold it back from spreading and connecting it to the struggle against bourgeois domination.

It isn’t because they don’t know any better, but rather they are deliberately protecting capitalist society. Calling for “humane” imprisonment is like calling for “humane” pillaging or “humane” slavery. These groups are in the service of defending the interests of the bourgeoisie.

Conclusion

Almost totally ignored in the mainstream media, the Georgia prisoner’s strike has no doubt frightened the bourgeoisie, and they are doing everything they can to prevent it from spreading. Most scary to the bourgeoisie, and most important to communists, is that the prisoners were united in a common class identity, fighting for their basic class interests. Rather than being a “spontaneous” uprising, the prisoners themselves organized the strike well in advance and planned to the best of their restricted abilities.

It is important to study the lessons learned from this strike, and important to remember that the prison system is a normal aspect of our decrepit capitalist society.

RS

(1) Baldwin, Hancock, Hays, Macon, Smith and Telfair State Prisons.

(2) The demands are as follows: A living wage, educational opportunity, decent health care, an end to cruel and unusual punishment, decent living conditions, nutritious meals, self-improvement and skills training exercises, access to families, and just parole decisions.

(3) Dixon, Bruce A. GA Prisoner Strike Continues a Second Day, Corporate Media Mostly Ignores Them, Corrections Officials Decline Comment. blackagendareport.com

(4) Drugs: The Other Global War. Revolutionary Perspectives 55

In the beginning was the deed!

Often when we explain our program (to abolish the current state of things) those listening to us have doubts about the likelihood of our success, especially considering our current lack of power and numbers. Many say: you’re right, but.. how will you manage to succeed? Others: Sure! When the hour of revolution strikes I’ll be in touch …

This is the reaction when we try explain who we are. We commonly get labelled as visionaries, utopians, dreamers. This doesn’t discourage us. In fact, we know that the dominant ideas are always ideas of the ruling classes.

Like most who want to change the current state of things we too can fall into error. Our mistake is to believe that we can progress through force of argument, with the clarity of our speeches, or through an intense cultural battle. This has been true for almost all past revolutionaries. And no wonder! Surely good expression is an important and indispensable aspect of militancy. But we mustn’t fall into the culturalist trap. This isn’t our battlefield. It would be very misleading to believe that our programme is so convincing that we only need to make people more aware of it. We are not Jesuits!

We realize that political maturity is a process that doesn’t just happen through the simple means of information, notions and ideas. It happens above all through struggle and confrontation.

Many dazzled by the internet and other new instruments, think that in order to make people understand things they have first to be well informed. There is no question that newspapers, television and media don’t do their work properly.  To put it bluntly they work for the bosses. What we don’t like is the inappropriate conclusion that: the beginning is information!

We believe that even though we lack quality information, what is more likely to be absent is curiosity, and an interest in class issues. This is not useless talk! Most say that “people don’t give a shit about anything, they are only interested in gossip and sport”. Actually most importantly from our personal experience as revolutionary militants – but also by studying the history of class struggle – is that people are interested in class issues once they recognize their real needs. In particular, we believe that these needs, apart from family and social conditions, and personal projection, can develop naturally once you start to struggle. A fight whether small and brief, or more or less politicized, stimulates political intelligence. The first thing that matters is experience and facing real problems.

Only a strong-minded minority can overcome the tale of disenchantment and obstacles that follow any defeat: and therefore criticize past experiences. Too many that participated in past massive struggles have been politically wasted. This because they inherit and put forward the same useless forms and structure for years.

The point is that struggle must also be well led through appropriate class bodies independent of capitalist interests. Only we have something new to say about struggle: since we are the only that have completely different proposals. No one has a practical program for class recomposition and real guidelines for proletarian youth.

Where we find political steriliity, where we find disinterest and inertia… we see also social illness, alienation, and repressed rage.  The crisis is deepening as is barbarism, war, and slavery. These issues mostly involve a working class, that hardly seems conscious of it’s condition and opportunity. This shouldn’t surprise us since the struggle is yet to start.

Our role as young internationalists has to be first of all that of the conscious proletarian that feels the need to struggle. We have to start to fight, agitate and prepare for struggle in order to develop real class struggle, to overcome studentism for example. We ought to start building territorial proletarian organisms for the class independent of politicians and unions. Only struggle through these bodies will develop the need for information and, more importantly, communist education!

This doesn’t imply that we ought to opportunistically present ourselves as struggle bodies to other political organizations: we are still an internationalist youth organization with a clear and irreducible political platform. We haven’t even mentioned the creation of inter-groups or arranged fusions around a list of words not supported by a real project and method. We only mean to say that our battlefield isn’t evangelism (propaganda?) but struggle.

The only training ground for militants of the Revolutionary Party is the class struggle, and the exercise of class struggle. A communist interest for theory and study in depth is a product of real problems: there is no revolutionary theory that doesn’t serve revolutionary praxis.

Rosa Luxemburg used to say “in the beginning was the deed”1.

MA (Rome)

1 Speech about program” (1919). We quote Rosa Luxemburg’s arguments against Kautsky around “proletarian socialist education”.