By the Editorial Board
At the height of the extreme winter storm that hit the country this past week, the Old State abandoned those suffering through power blackouts, the widespread loss of water, and the heavy cold that set in for days, all of which killed dozens of Texans and others across the country. These deaths should not be laid at the feet of nature, but are on the hands of the monopoly capitalist rulers of the United States, who can only flail from crisis to crisis while imposing further suffering on the workers they exploit on a daily basis. Only after the worst is over, after the people survive through their own determination and creativity, do the old society and its defenders roll in to provide ‘aid’ in its various forms, in order to pretend they were there to help the whole time and pacify the people.
The rush of the ruling class to enter in force only after the most intense moments of the winter storm has nothing to do with attending to the needs of the people. Friedrich Engels summed up ruling-class charity concisely, explaining, “The bourgeoisie assumes a hypocritical, boundless philanthropy, but only when its own interests require it.” The failure of the state during and after this past storm requires charity in response, knowing it is in the interests of maintaining the facade of concern for the people; to keep workers alive just enough to continue engaging in production, and in the long-term interest of staving off justified rebellion.
In this era of imperialism’s continual decay, a form of aid which has become prominent is the relief efforts carried out by monopoly capitalists and their bedfellows, through their corporations, NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and small businesses. This strategy is applied as much in Houston as it is in Haiti. The monopoly media has gone out of its way to praise these efforts, promoting the surge of food and water distributions, and highlighting examples of corporations and business owners whose “generosity” they sanctify and put on a pedestal in front of all those who survived the storm with nothing.
The monopoly media outlet the New York Times has weighed in to glorify H-E-B, a Texas-based grocery chain with a history of stepping in as an alternative form of resource management during extreme weather. This is formalized through coordination with a capitalist government that is happy to allow private interests to openly act in place of the state. The Times article centers a quote that refers to H-E-B as the “moral center of Texas.” This is nothing but the morality of the bosses, the capitalists who portray themselves as the benevolent caretakers of the people whom they believe are unable to care for themselves. It is also a morality in which all the collective products of society are to be privatized and should be restricted and controlled, even in the most dire times of need.
H-E-B is no servant of the people—it is a massive corporation employing thousands of employees on subsistence wages, many of whom must work multiple jobs to make ends meet. The founding owners of H-E-B, the Butt Family, have an estimated net worth of $17.8 billion while its low-level employees have starting wages of $9 an hour. H-E-B recently acquired Favor, a food delivery app service which is part of the gig economy notorious for mistreating workers. Yet the monopoly media shoves the fact in people’s faces that H-E-B will be distributing $1 million to food banks, a pittance to H-E-B’s owners. The media has also promoted instances of what should be common sense, such as allowing customers to leave a store with free bags of groceries when the power went out. These goods were already produced by workers—it is no act of generosity to allow the working class to take what they already made, especially when starvation looms.
The bourgeois acts of generosity in crises are nothing but advertisements, calculated sunk costs that businesses know will pay off later. In Houston, a well-known business owner, “Mattress Mack” (Jim McIngvale), opened up his furniture showroom to displaced people, who slept in the pristine model beds, which “Mack” made sure to inform the news would be sold at a discounted price later. Another brilliant capitalist solution to crisis—have a used furniture blowout sale!
Capitalist overproduction means that in times of ‘normalcy,’ unsold goods are left on shelves and food is allowed to rot, kept from those in need. Poverty and starvation are a commonplace, acceptable, and enforced condition, but when a ‘natural disaster’ hits, capitalists are willing to part with some of these goods and earn praise for doing what should be done at all times. All of this can only be solved long-term by destroying the root of this mismanagement: private property. Socialist revolution will put the reins of the economy and society in the hands of the proletariat, who actually make the world work.
On the other end of the spectrum of bourgeois charity are false conceptions of ‘mutual aid.’ Genuine mutual aid is not necessarily wrong—it can be a necessary tool when led by proletarian politics and in service of revolution, but what has been popularized as ‘mutual aid’ in recent times must be dissected and understood as anything but mutual, and yet another means of smoothing over the failures of imperialism. The surge of charity rebranded as ‘mutual aid’ directly correlates to this era of imperialist decay, where the bourgeois state is even more incapable of addressing the needs of the people than at any time before.
There are sincere people swept into this wave of ‘mutual aid,’ but we cannot ignore the politics which dominate it, particularly those ideas propagated as mutual aid by anarchists and revisionists. Any aid that is not organized in the interests of conquering power in order to build the New State only serves the bourgeoisie. This includes the NGOs, churches, and private businesses, as well as charity led by reformists, anarchists, and revisionists, who have their own inconsistent mishmash of so-called solutions. The anarchists deny the need of the workers’ state to defend the gains of revolution while the revisionists dance around revolution altogether, and neither acknowledges the need for a People’s Army, which does more than serve the people with goods and production but serves the people by carrying out revolutionary violence to overthrow the Old State.
Furthermore, governments are already seeking to establish stronger relationships with these ‘mutual aid’ groups to formalize their role as the firefighters for the routine blazes started by bourgeois mismanagement. In Austin, city council member Natasha Harper-Madison has expressed the need for a community liaison with the groups that have popped up, directly referencing ‘mutual aid.’ The bourgeoisie has seen the value of the rebranded charity now masquerading as mutual aid and will readily convert them into apparatuses of the NGO charity complex while the anarchists and so-called socialists running them will say they are independent.
The charity workers posing as revolutionaries speak of ‘community’ or ‘democratic’ control, but when we speak of community or democratic control, we mean truly independent of the imperialist state. Let the people take the goods, the water, the resources that roll in after a storm, and distribute them themselves, without interference and without praising the criminals who created the crisis to begin with. The NGOs want the people to shut up and be grateful, so they don’t upset their ruling-class funders. The revisionists and anarchists for their part avoid contending with the class nature of the bourgeois charity projects they prop up directly by participating in or promoting them, or by indirectly aiding the bourgeoisie with their own cobbled-together charities which ameliorate some conditions while avoiding taking up the question of power in any real way. The revisionists obscure and distort socialist revolution and Marxism, while the anarchists deny the need for a transitional workers’ state altogether!
True community control of goods and real mutual aid strengthen the people’s capacity to fight and manage their own affairs prior to the overthrow of capitalism, because without a socialist revolution, we will only continue begging for water jugs handed out by the capitalists after storms, rather than controlling these necessities in the first place. In the words of the Communist Party of Peru, “only the Revolution can truly address the rights of the people.”
Aside from the promotion of empty charity, revisionists, from the PSL to the DSA, have weighed in to say that giving ‘public’ or ‘democratic’ control over the energy companies who plunged the people into blackouts is the solution. This is another opportunist deception and path towards justifying their electoralism, to say that through simply changing the managers at the head of the bourgeois state, or its policies, we can achieve socialism. It also neglects the fact that there is already a dysfunctional “public body,” the Public Utilities Commission, that ostensibly oversees these energy companies. They propose to make this more ‘public’ by electing their ‘socialist’ candidates, whom they imagine will get the energy monopolies to hand things over and simply make the US state the owner of the energy resources, while making no fundamental change to the imperialist economic system at its base.
People’s Committees must arise to manage the affairs of the people independent of the bourgeois state. These become the administrative bodies of the New State which will be conquered and won through People’s War. Socialist revolution will only come through the violent overthrow of the existing order, and only then will the resources, wealth, and means of production be put in the hands of those who create these things in the first place: the proletariat, the workers who are exploited under capitalism at all times, independent of so-called ‘natural disasters.’
In an imperialist country, one should not seek to rehabilitate members of the bourgeoisie based on their acts of calculated charity but must always be organizing the fight to defeat them. The bourgeois interests are entirely built on exploitation, whether or not they are willing to share a small sliver of the wealth they have exploited from the working class in the face of extreme circumstances, when it suits their interests of keeping workers alive long enough to keep working and reproduce. The fact that it takes prolonged blackouts, lack of water, and every other breakdown in human civilization in order to compel some parts of the bourgeoisie to give some things away is as clear a message as any that they do so out of fear and self-interest, not out of care for the people. We should not praise them for their appearance of generosity when they reduce us all to beggary.
Each time nature rolls in with extreme conditions, it is the same: this supposed “greatest nation on earth” is exposed for its failures, and its mask of invincibility falls. With all its wealth, resources, and military might, it cannot and will not attend to basic needs, and instead calls in their firefighters: the NGOs, the philanthropists, and reformists (anarchists and revisionists alike), who avoid the question of war against the existing order, a People’s War which is the only path to securing the new society led by workers and which truly serves the people. Let the working class take all the ‘aid’ that the bourgeois state willingly or unwillingly parts with, strengthen their forces, and bring down the existing order so that they may manage their own affairs.
Conquering these rights is part of the struggle for political power and the New State. The People’s War will be marked by pitched battles and the winning of remunerations from the current ruling class, who will be forced to concede basic needs and more until their ultimate defeat.
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