In 1944 Woody Guthrie first performed his song This Land is Your Land. Guthrie wrote this song as an alternative to Irving Berlin’s song God Bless America. Guthrie lived with working people and frequently saw many who didn’t have enough food to eat. He argued: “I stood wondering if God blessed America for me.”
The original lyrics for This Land is Your Land included the words, “There was a big wall that tried to stop me. The sign was painted ‘Private Property.’” These words illustrate that Guthrie fully understood that the land in this country did not belong to the people.
In the year 1848 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote another famous piece of literature titled, The Communist Manifesto. This manifesto concludes with the words, “Workers have nothing to loose but their chains. They have the world to win. Workers of the world unite.”
Nothing to loose but our chains?
Today, there are workers who own homes and cars and might argue with this statement. There are also workers who had jobs and provided for their families. Then, corporations eliminated these jobs and left the workers with essentially nothing. This happened to me more than once.
In the year 2008 the financial system had a near collapse. The government postponed this catastrophe by using literally trillions of dollars to purchase loans that banks gave up on. The government chose to cover up this operation by using the innocuous term quantitative easing to describe it. This is why the argument of Marx and Engels that, “workers have nothing to loose but your chains,” continues to be relevant.
We might also ask the question: Why did Marx and Engels argue that we have nothing to loose but our “chains?” Clearly, we aren’t chained to our jobs the way slaves wore chains on the plantations or slave labor camps. However, I believe we are chained to corporate power through what might be called invisible chains.
We all need to follow the rules as laid out by corporations. They tell us what to do, when to do it, and how it needs to be done. Clearly, we are free not to follow their orders, but then we can loose jobs and join the ranks of the unemployed who might not have enough food to eat. These are the invisible chains Marx and Engels wanted us to discard.
Why do we need to take control of our communities?
Understanding this argument, we might ask another question. What would it mean to take control of our communities? In order to even think about this idea, I believe we need to think about establishing a completely different kind of government. Why is this necessary?
Today corporations spend hundreds of billions of dollars every year in an attempt to convince us that a particular product is the best. They call this advertising. With all this investment, we might think that the quality of commodities is the primary concern of corporations. We know this is not true. The law actually requires corporate officers to make the drive to maximize profits their primary concern. These CEO’s could loose their jobs for failure to generate a sufficient profit.
While government officials argue that their first priority is to serve the people, they don’t mention which people they serve. Literally all government policy is designed to serve the interests of corporations. Government regulations usually are about squeezing out small corporations to make way for the big ones.
What is community control?
So, what am I talking about when I refer to true community control? First, we need to establish a government where human needs are the priority over profits. While this might appear to be unrealistic, given the current political climate, we might consider a few facts.
The most important consideration is the fact that working people, throughout the world, have a long history of struggle. The United States became a nation because of a political revolution. In order to abolish slavery there was a second revolution called The Civil War. There have been political movements that advanced the interests of labor, women, black people, immigrants, Native Americans, as well as movements against wars.
We might also consider something that the universities in this country don’t teach. The laws of the capitalist system drive the economy towards a complete collapse.
Anyone with Internet access can Google the question: How much money is invested in derivatives? The latest answer that I’ve seen was $1.2 quadrillion. A quadrillion is a thousand trillion. Derivatives have no real value and are basically bets on the future of the economy. It is only a matter of time before these funds won’t be worth the paper they are printed on.
So, given the facts that the economy will collapse and working people have the capacity to transform the world, there is a real possibility that we can become a part of an international movement aimed at gaining control of our communities.
First, a workers government would advance a discussion aimed at determining the kind of world we want to live in. This might mean that in the cities we might change from auto to rail transport. We know that rail transport is much more fuel-efficient. We know that a rail transportation system wouldn’t be subject to traffic jams, or parking issues, and we know that rail can be made much safer than auto. In fact, if someone wanted to have a drink on their way home, taking the train wouldn’t endanger anyone’s life.
If we organized society to make human needs the top priority, we wouldn’t need insurance companies, or banks, or advertising agencies, or corporate lawyers, or corporations. This would mean that we wouldn’t need to work as many hours to purchase the things we need and want.
I think it is worth thinking about what it would mean to have true control over the places where we work. Jobs would provide the things we need working fewer hours. We would elect leaders and the job of a boss would be eliminated. We would democratically decide all the conditions we work in. We would coordinate this work with all the enterprises in the world.
The idea of closing down a factory so a corporation would have better profits would only be mentioned in history courses. Everyone would not only have the right to a job, but also the lifetime rights to; education, health care, a decent place to live, transportation, communication, clothes, food, as well as exposure to cultural activities. The only reason why these rights might appear to be unrealistic is that we live in a capitalist system where the fruits of our labor go to a tiny minority.
Imagine what it would mean if all enterprises did their best to work in harmony with the environment. The cities would be transformed into gardens with trees everywhere. Enterprises would manufacture commodities that would be recycled eliminating the need for enormous amounts of garbage. Homes would be properly insulated. This would eliminate the need for substantial amounts of electrical power.
However, the biggest change would be in the way we think. Today, we go to work every day to provide for ourselves and our family. A workers government would make it their top priority to insure that the needs of literally everyone would be guaranteed. This would mean that the motivation for working would be about making the world a better place for everyone. This change in consciousness will be the foundation of how the world can be transformed.
Today the nation of Cuba doesn’t have many of the conveniences we have in this country. However, every Cuban has the right to a lifetime of health care and education. Cuban health care workers and educators have travelled the world to educate and care for people who have been deprived of these human necessities. So, we can see that this kind of transformation in consciousness has already happened on an island of eleven million people.
Malcolm X understood that Black people in the United States have the potential to become a part of an international movement aimed at gaining real control of communities where they live. This is only one reason why his speeches continue to be inspiring.
Understanding what real community control would be gives us insight to the idea that none of the candidates in the Democratic, Republican, or Green Parties advocate for a workers government. 240 years of history in this country gives us ample evidence that capitalism will not be reformed to meet the needs of the majority of the population.
Today nearly a billion people in the world do not have enough food to eat. The United Nations estimates that every day 30,000 children die of preventable diseases. The United States has more people living in prison than any other country in the world. Wars have needlessly decimated entire nations murdering millions.
Working people have the capacity to transform this world. Yes, we can make this a world devoid of hunger, poverty, discrimination, as well as alienation. With all the capitalist propaganda we’re continually exposed to, we need to remember that an injury to one is an injury to all. There is no contradiction in supporting the rights of labor, Black people, women, Latinos, Indians, gays, or immigrants.
As Malcolm X once said: “Either we will all be free or no one will be free.”