The Need to Make Way for Renewal

Human Beings Are Not Things to Be Dealt with Using Police Powers

Rolf Gerstenberger

The following is based on the presentation delivered by Rolf Gerstenberger at a meeting held by the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) on July 27-28, 2022 in Gatineau, Quebec. Rolf is president of the party.

Workers around the world are contending with worsening living and working conditions. They are also conscious of the broad attacks on rights and on the human and natural environment. While narrow private interests have reaped billions of dollars, all of it wealth produced by the workers, the workers face impoverishment, insecurity and unending attacks on what belongs to them by right.

The use of force against the resistance struggles of the people is increasing. This includes many struggles by Indigenous peoples, migrants, health care workers, education workers and others in all sectors of the economy. Nonetheless, what stands out are the just claims on society in the form of demands and solutions the people are raising -- and the reality that they are not listened to because they lack the power to ensure problems are solved in their interest.

The absence of political power is immediate and increasingly seen by the workers as an issue which is urgent. On all major issues people somewhere on planet earth have come forward with solutions. What to do about most issues is known or knowable. This is the case on matters related to war and peace, or how to protect Mother Earth, or how to deal with growing impoverishment, shrinking wages due to inflation, issues of inequality, discrimination, state-attacks and human rights concerns. 

Today, in the 21st century, how to provide such problems with solutions is not the main problem facing humankind. Despite this, ruling elites spend oodles of money on conferences, meetings, reports and consultations of various kinds to promote pay-the-rich schemes and to silence the voice of those who have the solutions required. The people have no say. This is the problem which requires a solution.

Today, in Canada and many other countries, legislatures are dysfunctional. To the extent that they ever addressed matters the people are concerned about, this is no longer happening. Working people have their own experience of being silenced, ignored, even discarded, and can provide daily examples. Across the country the Party is encouraging workers to speak in their own name about the problems they face and what they are doing about them or what they think can be done about them.

Workers know what is needed but they lack mechanisms, whether in their places of work or in public spaces, to deliberate on the issues of concern to themselves, their communities, sectors of the economy and society itself, as well as the world around us. Everyone is contending with the problem of working together to deliberate on matters of concern and provide the problems we face with solutions.

It is also the case that wherever one looks, for ruling elites, human beings are things to be dealt with using police powers. It has gone beyond treating human beings as things. Today, human beings are without rights or any consideration. The modern view which favours the peoples of the world is that human beings have rights simply because they are human. The ruling elite works to eliminate this modern view no matter what the cost. Instead, the point of view prevails that people are things, to be disposed of at the whim of those with the power to do so.

A prime example of this is the recent ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court attacking the rights of women. It considers that women are things and if they object they can be disposed of with either criminalization or, in some cases, death. If we were to accept that women can be discarded in this manner, so too everyone else can be discarded.

The blatant way this has been done also reflects the reality that, in general, the rulers are consolidating governments of police powers. Such governments are not based on law and are not concerned with legitimacy, only with retaining power for the ruling elites.

In a situation where the rulers are more and more desperate, unable to solve any problem and faced with one failure after another while the peoples are more and more angry and increasingly conscious of the need for change that favours their interests, this reality of humans considered to be things and dealt with using police powers becomes ever more devastating.

Considering human beings to be things also means they can be moved around and discarded, like machinery, like property. The U.S. and countries such as Britain, Canada and others have a history of enslavement, hundreds of years where human beings were property -- owned, killed, their children taken away, women raped and used as machines producing more human "things," and so forth. This direction of the rulers to have humans as things is not new, but rather a return to the Old. The rulers of these countries are incapable of moving forward because they refuse to meet the needs of modern times for people's empowerment. Going backward, striving to keep control through these old means, and destroying whatever cannot be controlled is what characterizes the ruling elites today. As many have concluded, they are unfit to rule and no longer have legitimacy to do so. The collective consciousness emerging among the people is that the people themselves must become the rulers, they must hold political power and are the decisive force in achieving this aim.

Reliance on constitutions, or dysfunctional governments, or executives like prime ministers or presidents -- who are the main ones imposing police powers -- will not solve problems and indeed will further exacerbate them. This can be seen in part with the current manoeuvres by the ruling circles. In Britain conditions are such that a party leader can resign as party leader, yet still remain Prime Minister, as Boris Johnson did. This is contrary to existing norms for parliamentary government where it is the leader of the party in power who becomes Prime Minister. But, in the so-called rules-based international order the U.S., Britain, Canada and other countries are imposing, they make up the rules and change them as they go.

In the Ontario election, voter turnout was very low. This is an expression of people's rejection of existing governance, yet Ford can claim a majority of seats and say he has an uncontested mandate. Or in the U.S., despite people considering the Supreme Court and Congress illegitimate and self-serving, the police powers used against women and health care providers stand.

All of these actions by governments have not only increased conflicts among the ruling factions, but also the anger of the people about the current set-up. It is not an accident that the many demonstrations across the U.S. against the attack on women's health care include mothers and daughters and granddaughters, with the mothers having fought for the rights now being attacked. There is consciousness that relying on the old methods will not suffice. The same can be said of the many struggles here in Canada, by railway workers, healthcare and education workers and many others.

In the U.S. the Democrats had years of opportunities to put abortion rights into law, such as when Obama passed his Obamacare Act dealing with health care. They did not. Efforts to now make some politicians look good against their adversaries come the November 2022 mid-term elections are seen as self-serving. 

What it shows is that in the eyes of the people, elections no longer serve to sort out conflicts nor to maintain illusions of democracy. Indeed, many are concerned that elections, especially in the U.S., will further intensify conditions of civil war and efforts to divide the people, pitting them against each other to block them from advancing their battles for peace, justice, and democracy. This then spills over into Canada with the same factions in action here. So too in Britain, France and other countries, elections no longer serve to preserve constitutional orders which are no longer on par with the needs of the times.

In taking up deliberations and providing solutions to the problems at hand, it is important to look at the conditions and conflicts from our own vantage point, one that is to our advantage. It is necessary to take the world as is and look at what is being revealed by the existing ensemble of human relations. That is, we are looking at the whole of relations of humans and humans and humans and nature, all the institutions, all the many and varied and entangled relations, everything dealing with humans and nature.

At present, as people are already experiencing, these relations are revealing the absence of political power for the working class and people and the need to resolve this problem in favour of the people who must organize to vest political power in themselves. Guidelines of how to do this already exist. For example, Marx recognized that people are born to society and enter into indispensable relations independent of individual will. Whether slave master or slave, people are born to society. Rules, institutions and arrangements develop after that. He also pointed out that social relations are only one aspect of the relations which exist. The ensemble of relations people enter into are all the relations, functions, institutions and arrangements, including those beyond class relations. It is the whole in its entirety.

The relations that exist come from the massive human productive powers that exist and are independent of individual will. In other words, the conditions and circumstances exist independent of every one of us. They are necessary, which means there is necessity and also that it incorporates all the possibilities of what we, as individuals and collectives, are going to do with that situation -- with our will, our interests which comprise the basis for political power.

When the capitalists make a claim to control those relations, it means they are also making a claim that they can control what is independent of their will and block us from exercising our will. Our reality then is that we all exist in conditions of slavery, blocked from exercising our will, which is a fundamental contradiction in society.

In speaking about power, it must be stressed that power must be whole and integral, which means that there can be no separation of powers. To be integral means that every aspect is essential, necessary to complete the whole. While the rulers claim there is a separation of powers -- executive, legislative and judicial -- in fact this is a division of labour; it is the one power authorizing different functions. The notion of a separation is meant to divert people into thinking one or the other "power" can assist, if only there were better people in command. As conditions make clear, that is not the case.

In the U.S. neither Congress nor the Office of the President nor the courts can be relied on to block the increasing concentration of power in the executive and the use of police powers against the people. So too in Canada. The Courts are a police power unto themselves as is the Prime Minister and his office and cabinet, while the parliaments are increasingly dysfunctional as far as decision-making goes. Far from separation of powers, the political power of the ruling classes remains whole and indivisible and the problem the rulers are contending with is the factional wars being waged to control it.

Marx brought out the history of class struggle and private property and also emphasized that there is a distinctive feature of bourgeois society, which is that the whole of society increasingly splits into two. In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels point out: "Society as a whole is more and more splitting into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other -- Bourgeoisie and Proletariat."

Several points are significant here. It is important to keep in mind that when speaking of the whole of society, the whole is integral to itself. There is not an external force at work engineering this split. The contradiction develops within the whole. There is a simplicity that develops. Marx is not referring to the social relations which exist, nor is he saying that it is an issue of society becoming more complex, which diverts our attention from the whole of society and that it is splitting into two.

By recognizing that the problem and solutions are integral to the whole itself and it is that whole that must be addressed, one can contend with all kinds of frauds which are promoted. One such fraud concerns elections, such as saying that the problem is not the existing undemocratic institutions, but some foreign power interfering to achieve a certain electoral outcome. And so too, propaganda about the source of danger to national security, economic instability, climate change, violence, discrimination, inequality and the like.

When speaking of power, it is necessary to recognize that supreme power is also whole and integral and that one cannot talk about that without seeing that it is based on the antagonistic contradiction within society as a whole.

What is it that splits? It is not workers and capitalists as such that split, because they were never together, but two classes which remain entangled in the whole. It is not two different worlds or two camps directly facing each other, for the same reason -- they remain entangled in the whole. It is the alien human productive powers created by humans that are out of their control. Our problem today is not the existence of these massive powers, but rather that the working class and people do not control them for the benefit of humanity.

Attention needs to be put on the whole of society, which needs to be transformed into a new whole, a whole of human society fit for the human species. That is the problem before us, a new whole, not a recycling of the old, not another civil society with "better people" and "better policies," but a whole of human society fit for humans as a species.

Workers, their independent politics, their world outlook, are decisive in creating this new whole. They are not only the producers and most numerous, but they are also the ones closest to the vast human productive powers. Their duty is to revolt against being mere producers, to become the holders of political power. They must use their agency to empower themselves and empower the people, to govern and take the decisions which affect their lives.

The conditions make it necessary to continue efforts to defend rights -- as is occurring through demonstrations, strikes, union drives, petitions, protests, propaganda and agitations which put forward demands to governments at all levels. It is also necessary to take these struggles further through organizing for people's empowerment. It is critical to solve this problem of the lack of political power by ourselves creating mechanisms and institutions for the political deliberations which are needed and for broadly disseminating our own views, experience, and solutions.

Political gatherings to exchange views are one form for this, as are virtual and other meetings to exchange experiences. Extending the use and dissemination of our own party and non party press, radio programs, podcasts, videos and other such means, as well as joining in to strengthen projects we are developing are all ways to engage in bringing modern definitions and new forms into being which activate the human factor/social consciousness required at this historical conjuncture to empower the people.

This article was published in
Volume 52 Number 10 - October 2022

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