Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Is Van Jones a Communist?

(this is my response to the previous post)

Van Jones was recently appointed as a Green Jobs Advisor and cabinet member to the Obama Administration. Before this he was the leader of an organization called Green for All, which advocates that the government should allocate funds for renewable energy and energy efficiency to job training programs for poor folks, especially people of color. It has been suggested maybe even as job training for prisoners upon or before release. He advocates that we do this within the capitalist system, working with profit-making corporations, and has not emphasized equality of pay or worker participation in management of these projects.

Recently right-wingers have accused Van Jones of being a communist in order to have him removed from his position. Upon being questioned many times publicly Van Jones has clearly stated that he intends to work within the capitalist system. He only wants to guide federal dollars spent on energy projects to help poor folks. He is not advocating the overthrow of the capitalist system, just a gentler face. But underneath is Van Jones a socialist? If his goal is to simultaneously build a green economy and indirectly transfer wealth through good jobs to the poor and systemically underprivileged then that sounds a bit like socialism to me. Seizing state power and forcing centralized redistribution of wealth is only one tactic of purported socialism to the same end- people pooling and organizing their resources to take care of each other. This latter conceptualization is I think the heart of socialism, not some cruel, top-down, totalitarian, rationing state.

I am not sure what Van Jones privately believes, if he thinks free market capitalism as a way to structure an economy is sane or not. But I have a feeling his approach is mostly a tactic as a means to an end, indirectly shifting a little wealth and power to the poor. He would not have gotten to be cabinet member if he hadn’t made this compromise of publicly accepting the logic of capitalism. So in a way, I appreciate his smoothness in helping us making a transition towards a more equitable economy.

In the end though, it doesn’t help the anti-capitalist movement which aims to take economic power back from corporations and corrupt federal government and give it to the people, by making capitalism seem not so bad. After all, how bad could it be if it’s giving poor folks green jobs? The point is that we have to keep begging for these small changes rather than requiring that we be regularly at the decision-making table and having our communities in control of our economies. Work your butt off, ask twenty times, and maybe once you will get a yes if it won’t rock the boat too much. Then hope you’ll be able to hold onto that yes and not make too many compromises in the process.

In order to make long-term systemic change, we need to call capitalism out for what it really is- a system that inherently rewards profit over people and the planet and in the process of making that profit must exploit human and natural resources. Socialism as a paradigm rewards work first that benefits most people and at its best, works to heal nature, too. I think capitalist logic is incompatible with the world Van Jones wants to see. And I think he could go a step further in applying socialist principles of greater pay equality and worker/consumer management within these projects.

So I hope one day Van Jones will proudly someday call himself a socialist and tell it like it is- socialism is people taking care of people and the Earth and greater equality for all. Or we could just call it Green for All!

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