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World history meets my lungs

John Bell

March 18, 2018

Human beings are cooperative, sharing and caring beings. It is our nature to work together, to solve problems and share solutions with our peers. That is how we progressed over the long, slow yet brilliant development of our species.

Somewhere along the line we learned to encourage some types of plant to grow, and domesticated some animals. Societies appeared which meant we were making more than we needed for immediate use, and could plan and save. Unfortunately it also meant the development of a class to first administer the surplus, then to own it. Different periods of history had different class arrangements, but always there was a working majority and a minority defending its power with forces of armed men.

And our side has its mutual support and solidarity to console it. And we resist when we can. And over time from our midst comes a new idea about how to organize labour to be more efficient. A new elite emerges, and we support it as our champion. The new power butts against the old and revolution occurs.  Society lurches ahead, and the elite that was our champion reveals itself as our exploiter or master.

This doesn’t mean we are just on a Ferris wheel. The contradiction at the heart of feudalism differs from that buried deep in capitalism. So the revolutionary movement of history offers not despair, but hope because we can learn its lessons for our own self-advance and self -defence. And we labour, we look after each other as we can and we resist as we must. And the next time we make revolution we won’t rely on champions, we’ll do it ourselves.

Which brings me to the point: me and my lungs.

Here I write, recovering from a double lung transplant, grateful for the amazing skills and research that has given me a new life. This is the very best that our society has to offer, and I am one of literally handfuls of individuals lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to enjoy it. Thank you capitalism.

And all I can think about are the naked contradictions that parade before me every minute I am here.

Let me explain. The care, kindness, effort, and expertise of workers like nurses is phenomenal. Of course they are compensated, but most of them go beyond that because they care. And they are burning out because hospital administrators are paid big bonuses to find “efficiencies.” Instead of being on full time jobs with predictable schedules, many are on contracts, working brutal long shifts, overtime to fill gaps, and crazy quilt schedules. I see these forces grind against each other every day in here.  Thanks capitalism.

As I said, I am beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time. As government cuts back support for health care (to give tax breaks to corporations to put in off-shore accounts, perhaps?) the super-rich step forward to show how generous they are. Here I am in a building endowed by a gold mining and resource extraction billionaire. His name is huge over the door. Peter Munk and Barrick Gold are responsible for brutal working conditions around the world; for propping up right-wing, anti-democratic regimes; and for relying on bodies of armed men to extract huge profits.

I cannot be unaware of the sweat and blood of those that produced the wealth that resulted in the “miracle” of my care and treatment. It is not guilt I am talking about here, but my responsibility to look beyond the surface of this system, to find and expose its essence. And doing that, committing myself to fighting for change.

To do that I have the tools I found in Marxism. Things like a class perspective which must always be in mind. Things like a historical perspective. Most important, a confidence that the working class holds the power of emancipation, of self-organization and ultimately revolutionary change. As Marx wrote, when capitalists organized workers in a new way, they created their own gravediggers.

The capitalist system is not in a good way. The post-war social contract (good jobs, decent futures, comfortable pensions) is all but gone. So too is the privatization/austerity regime brought in since Thatcher and Reagan. The privatized services have been shown to be less efficient. So called Public Private Partnerships are falling apart, leaving us holding the bag. Capitalism, the system that has to constantly expand or die, has reached the limits of sustainability.

So we see the system flail around for ways to keep profits up: the “gig economy,” robots, moving into the increasingly few places on the globe where wages are low. But none of it works without workers, and as soon as workers are assembled they begin to organize to improve their lot.

The gap between the oligarchs–the 1%–and the rest of us would make the pharaohs blush. But they sit on their hoards not knowing what to do next.

And our side is moving. Fights for fair minimum wages, college instructors striking in Britain and Ontario, American workers in “right to work” states like West Virginia striking and winning, millions of school kids marching for gun control and against the corporate ownership of their government.

It isn’t all good. In Europe there are troubling signs of success of the far right. If we do not organize to counter it, fascists can capture our discontent and turn it into a barbarous form of capitalism. Racism is the key for them, so standing up for immigrants and refugees is vital for us.

I have been doing socialist politics for over 30 years, through ups and downs. And now I feel something in the wind. A new generation of workers who have nothing to lose but struggle. A divided and visibly confused ruling class. Socialism and Marxism becoming common among workers and students (and the accompanying red baiting we come to expect).

And capitalism has given me new lungs and new life to breathe that wind. It has re-created this gravedigger. I can’t wait to be recovered enough to rejoin my comrades in the struggle, knowing that handfuls of well-organized socialists can make all the difference in the coming struggles. And I invite you to grab your gravedigging shovel and join me in making change.

Register today for the conference Join the Resistance: Marxism 2018, April 27-28 in Toronto.



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