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A Democratic Socialist Perspective
(Articles submitted to the FREE PRESS four times yearly will appear here.) 



* The Iraq War - Continued ------------------------------
* A Democratic Socialist Perspective on Marx ------------
* Campaign Finance and Taxpayer Protection ------------

by Connie Hammond
by John Wallace
by Rick Wilhelm

The Iraq War, Continued….by Connie Hammond - July, 2003

The invasion of Iraq – a country severely weakened by 12 ½ years of genocidal sanctions and disarmed by the U.N. at the insistence of the attackers – was not a war.  It was a war crime.  It appears now that the real problem wasn’t bad intelligence, but rather the “misrepresentation” of intelligence on weapons of mass destruction to the U.S. public and the rest of the world.  (Washington Post, June 7, 2003)  In the rush to implement the vision of total world domination by U.S. military force rooted in the “Defense Planning Guidance” written by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in 1992, a constant barrage of lies about connections to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction were hurled at the United Nations and at the U.S. public through the corporation-controlled media to justify an illegal “preventive” war. 

We knew that the war was not about connections to terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and that it had nothing to do with democracy in Iraq.  It had everything to do regime change that would enable the U.S. and Great Britain to control the vast oil resources of the region and establish empire to control the region.  Those of us who didn’t believe the lies (The U.N., Europe, most of the rest of the world, and millions of people worldwide) have been dismissed as “irrelevant.”  Shortly following the invasion, U.N. Resolution 1483 ended the economic sanctions on Iraq and gave the U.S. and U.K. broad control over Iraq’s oil, government, and development.

Bush claimed we needed to “disarm” Iraq because it posed a threat to its neighbors.  Now that Iraq is under occupation by U.S. and British troops, Bush is threatening Iraq’s neighbors and the desperate search for weapons of mass destruction frantically continues.  The complicity of the occupiers in the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein was reaffirmed when mobile biological warfare production units found in Iraq turned out to “very likely be” equipment for the production of hydrogen to fill artillery balloons – a system originally sold to Saddam by Britain in 1987.  (The Guardian, June 15, 2003)

Our members of congress, on the other hand, bought the story promoted by the Axis of Evil Doers (Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld) and passed the legislation authorizing a U.S. preemptive unilateral invasion of Iraq.  They abrogated their responsibility to represent us after congressional hearings that featured those “who were for the war and those who were not so for the war.” (Personal Communication, Joseph Biden’s office)  They didn’t hear the voice of Phyllis Bennis telling them that they had no right under international law to invade Iraq on spec.  Scott Ritter was not permitted to testify that the U.N. weapons inspectors had fundamentally disarmed Iraq by 1998 (including the means of production of weapons of mass destruction).  Now, the Senate Intelligence Committee (Mike DeWine is a member) is preparing to hold a closed investigation into the pre-war intelligence that they will make public only if  “they think it is warranted.”   Can we trust them to do this? 

The humanitarian situation in Iraq has worsened by all reports.  More than 300,000 Iraqi children risk death from acute malnutrition, twice as many as before the U.S. invasion (Reuters 5/14/03).  The number of children in Iraq suffering from diarrhea and related diseases has risen dramatically (2.5 times higher) compared to last year (Unicef, May, 2003).  There were 88 confirmed cases of cholera in Basra alone, mostly among children.  Three deaths resulted from the outbreak.  Another recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme stressed the need for urgent measures to restore the water supply and sanitation systems, conduct assessment of sites contaminated by depleted uranium weapons and distribute guidelines to both military and civilian personnel, and to the general public, on how to minimize the risk of exposure. 

The Iraqi people cannot be liberated as long as their county is occupied by foreign powers.  In fact, democracy has been banned in Iraq by the senior U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, who issued a proclamation outlawing any “gatherings, pronouncements or publications” that call for the return of the Ba’ath party – or for opposition to the U.S. occupation -- so much for basic freedoms of speech and assembly.  (The Guardian, June 16, 2003)

The vicious cycle of violence that characterizes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is being duplicated now as the Iraqi people suffer under the U.S. and U.K. occupation of their land.  The failure of the occupation to liberate the people of Iraq is evidenced by incidences of lethal force against civilian demonstrators in Falluja.  Between 16 and 20 civilians (including children) were killed and more than 78 were wounded by U.S. troops.  Amnesty International has called on U.S. authorities to “establish a thorough, independent and public investigation into these killings” due to “very real concerns that the U.S. forces may have used excessive force.”  You can find a complete copy of Amnesty International’s report “Iraq:  Responsibilities of the Occupying Powers” posted on their website. 

DSCO was a co-sponsor of the May 10th Columbus Rally for Peace and many of the members of our local have made it a priority to stand up for peace at local rallies and events.   DSCO is an organization that is strongly committed to the struggle for economic justice.   Frank Llewellyn, National Director of DSA, stated “the struggle against US militarism abroad is also a fight against the neo-liberal economic policies of gutting the public sector, redistributing income and wealth to the rich, and deregulating the global economy.  In DSA's daily work in the anti-war movement, we must calmly put forth our commitment to building a mainstream peace movement that can speak to ordinary Americans who do not already concur with our alternative vision. Only by doing so, can we help build a anti-war movement that can bring about the "regime change" at home necessary to constructing a truly global, post-Cold War international community.”  (March 17, 2003, http://www.dsausa.org)

The most important thing for the peace community now is to remember the people of Iraq and continue our struggle for justice.  We can transform our moral outrage at the war into efforts to bring about a real liberation of Iraq and a restoration of democracy to our own country.  We can unite to oppose the occupations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine) and any extension of the “war on terrorism” to Syria, Iran, Korea or other parts of the world.   We can continue demand a halt to the vicious cycle of violence by demonstrating with Women in Black (every Friday from 5:30-6:30 PM at 15th and High).   Other anti-war demonstrations continuing throughout Columbus need our support (see www.cpanews.org for the locations and times).  We can support one of the many NGOs working in Iraq to alleviate the immediate crisis (American Friends Service Committee, Doctors without Borders, Oxfam America, Unicef, Mennonite Central Committee, Church World Service, and Unicef – to name a few).  If you have not already done so, please join me in signing the Education for Peace in Iraq’s CITIZENS' HUMANITARIAN PLEDGE (http://epic-usa.org/signon.php) to hold our country accountable!   

Keep the faith!!

Connie Hammond

Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio


A Democratic Socialist Perspective on Marx
by John Wallace
March 14, 2003

Now that the Soviet guardians of orthodox Marxism have fallen, we are free to take Karl Marx for the political economist he was and not as a god or idol. In fact, Soviet orthodoxy did not draw on the humanistic philosopher Marx.

Marx himself gives support to those who link democracy with socialism. He of course did talk about the dictatorship of the proletariat, which contained a vision of overturning the current social order where a few dominate the many. This also resulted in a "vanguard," directing the way for the proletariat, and these leaders became a ruling elite in the Soviet bloc that along the way forgot much of Marx's vision and merely sought to maintain itself in power. However, he stated, "We do not assert that the attainment of this end [political supremacy of the workers] requires identical means." For example, Marx alluded to the possibility that in the United States socialism might be achieved democratically. These many years later, neither socialism nor even any real economic democracy is not yet present in our nation. We who claim to follow Marx seek to make this a reality.

As I look at Marx, the fundamental principle that stands out is the fetishism of commodities. I learned this in 1980 through a group active in the struggle for liberation in Central America, which focused on Marx in this way. They witnessed not only the bad fruit (poverty and related problems) of capitalism in Latin America, they also saw a fundamental problem with capitalism. Let us begin the road to the fetishism of commodities by looking at alienation.

Marx's essay entitled "Alienated Labor" offers an analysis of a building block of the market system:

1. Workers use their own labor to make a product, which is not theirs, but belongs to the owner of the business. The owner takes the product from the worker and sells it on the market. Workers are separated and thus alienated from the work of their hands.

2. This produces alienation from one's own humanity, because one's labor is not an end in itself. That is, work is no longer meaningful in itself; it is only important because workers receive wages. For Marx work is an essential part of what it means to be human. In our own day we know that identity is indeed shaped by one's work.

3. The competition of businesses that produce the same product produces alienation from one another. Workers are separated by which company they work for. Instead of claiming the unity of human beings doing similar work, workers see each other as competitors. Although unionization across industries has lessened this problem, few workers today are able to belong to a union.

Alienation is a common description of attitudes in modern times. The rebellion that emerged from the 50's and 60's can be seen as the result of alienation in other forms. The civil rights movement arose from the alienation caused by racism. This emerged first in response to southern segregation and went deeper to oppose the entrenched racism of the whole system. The alienation from American authority resulted from the hypocrisy of the war in Vietnam became for some a thorough alienation from the consumerist individualism of American culture and produced the counter-culture. In the midst of these movements, the feminist movement arose to challenge the patriarchy wreaking havoc in the forms of racism and militarism and struck at the heart of human relationships in raising the alienation between men and women. Gays and lesbians, whose repression has been manifested in so many ugly and violent ways, experience yet another form of alienation.

Hiding beneath the various forms of alienation is the fetishism of commodities, which in our capitalist society adds another level to further distort the other forms of alienation. Fundamental to Marx's work in his magnum opus Capital (Das Kapital), the fetishism of commodities describes the human world turned upside down as the economic process takes over responsibility for human interactions. Marx explains this comes about, and then offers an answer of how to put people before profits.

First, an object is produced by human labor because it satisfies a human need (or want). This object is useful. It is a use-value. It is transferred to another who desires its use-value. It becomes important to the seller and buyer for its exchange-value. This exchange turns the humanly produced product into a commodity. A product of labor may be useful, but the reason sufficient to produce it is not its use-value. Rather it is the exchange-value, its nature as a commodity. The value of exchange then becomes a quantity in relation to other commodities, which is most clearly measured in terms of money, the ultimate equivalent. Marx has an almost surreal description of a table coming to life.

"The form of wood, for instance, is altered, by making a table out of it. Yet, for all that, the table continues to be that common, every-day thing, wood. But, so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground, but, in relation to all other commodities, it stands on its head, and evolves out of its wooden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than "table-turning" ever was. "[Capital, vol. 1 (International Publishers: New York, 1967) p.71]

Put in more ordinary language commodity fetishism creates material relations between persons and social relations between things. People don't relate to one another directly, but indirectly through their products. When prices rise or workers are laid off, business people tell us that the market did it. The market takes on the appearance of immutable natural law and businesspeople deny the responsibility their decisions have made. Instead responsibility, a human quality, is attributed to the market. A modern theorist describes it this way,

"They [Commodities] seem to exhibit human behavior. The location of their moves is the market, especially the stock exchange. There commodities rise and fall, gain and lose ground, have victories and suffer, spin upward and fall. Among them appear enmities and friendships; there are mergers and commitments. And many conflicts arise among them. ...The economic world of business is not inhabited by human beings, but by commodities. The commodities take action, and human beings run after them." ["The Economic Roots of Idolatry" by Franz Hinkelammert in The Idols of Death and the God of Life (Orbis Books: Maryknoll, N.Y., 1983, pp. 168-169).]

Even worse than attributing responsibility to the market is asserting that conditions are a fact of nature, as if they are God-given. We tell poor people we are sorry they cannot afford to live, we can't help it because the market dictates that there must be poor people. In our rich nation we act as if the market matters more than people do. This is seen quite clearly in the area of basic human needs such as food, shelter, education, work and especially health care. In the U.S. money runs our health care system, and without money care is inadequate. Preventative care is almost nonexistent for those without health insurance, but if you can pay then the most trivial elective surgery becomes possible. It is a matter of money, not need. When responsibility for human beings is given over to an inanimate object like the market, we call it idolatry. Marx calls it the "fetishism of commodities." This is as foolish as worshiping any statue. Thus Marx follows the prophets in the Judeo-Christian tradition to attack idolatry, because it harms human beings both materially and in the form of alienation from their true interests.

To overcome this problem, we can begin by questioning the market. Laisse faire is long gone, but we have modern freemarket-ers who see human intervention as a problem, under the fiction that the market is not a human construction. However, we do not have to accept that some must be poor or that the rich must be unfettered. The rich are not benign but make decisions about the use of their money; will they amass it, will they buy art, give to charity, invest in industry or work for peace and justice? They make decisions that effect people and they need to be held accountable. We need to make these power relations transparent and change the system that allows them to decide who lives and who dies. Is not the life and death of people more important than the financial figures of the wealthy?

Marx sees that fetishism can be overcome in the Association of Free People, "Freedom in this field can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature. [Marx Engels Reader, ed. Robert Tucker (W.W. Norton & Co. Inc: New York, 1972 p. 320, from "On the Realm of Necessity and the Realm of Freedom" in Capital (Vol. 3)]

When we see that the market depends on the relations between the activities and decisions of the owners, managers, and the workers "and are not disguised under the shape of social relations between the products of labour," (Capital, p. 77) then we can begin to move away from the idolatry of the market and take responsibility for the economic structures of our society. We can begin to move toward seeing the production of the economy as something that should benefit all of us and not for a few, that will work better for all of us, if we are part of democratic decision making. True democracy will only come when we have economic democracy.

Join us in the Democratic Socialists of Central Ohio (DSCO), as we study socialist history and involve ourselves in current struggles. We meet at 7:00 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at OSU's Northwood Building at 2231 N. High St. For more information please contact Reg Dyck: rdyck@capital.edu or Simone Morgen: smorgen@juno.com. The Free Press and DSCO join together to honor community activists May 2 for our annual Awards Dinner.  For more information on Socialist thought and Marxism, see the Marxists Internet Archive at:  http://www.marxists.org/index.htm


Campaign Finance and Taxpayer Protection Please see related information and links on  News  Page

By Rick Wilhelm

" I would rather err on the side of being too generous."

That is what Columbus City Councilman Richard Sensenbrenner said in 1999. He wasn’t talking about generosity to help the less fortunate or the working people of Columbus. City Council had just approved tax abatements totaling $3 million for the Brewery district. It was pointed out by opponents that the area was not blighted, and would be developed anyhow, without any tax abatements. That is when Mr. Sensenbrenner made the statement quoted above. Coincidentally, the beneficiaries of the abatements, Casto Development and Schottenstein, are among the biggest political campaign contributors. Combined, they gave more than $112,000 from 1998 through 2000 to Columbus City Council members and Mayors Coleman and Lashutka. Capital Square Ltd., a business subsidiary of Dispatch publishing, was a partner with Schottenstein in the Brewery district deal. Over $53 million in tax abatements were approved from 1998 to 2000 for companies that contributed to political campaigns. The political campaigns of the public officials that granted the abatements.

Big Contributors

Of all the money that council members, and Mayors Coleman and Lashutka, received in campaign contributions during the three-year period, only 15 percent came from individual donations of less than 500 dollars. Government at all levels has become ever more corrupt, ever more dependent upon, and beholden to, wealthy special interests. Those interests are most always corporate.

Pay-To-Play

Progressives know that in our system, access to government and to elected officials is bought and paid for by campaign contributions. Most people who take even a rudimentary interest in politics know this, regardless of their political leanings. Any democracy that values freedom as an ideal should be accessible at the grassroots level, by all of its citizens. Campaign finance reform has become a major tool in that effort. Comprehensive campaign finance laws that limit contributions will help over time, as long as they are well written, provide for penalties, and include reporting guidelines.

Conflicts-of-Interest

But it is rare, if ever, that Campaign Finance initiatives contain conflict-of-interest provisions. Of the 48 tax abatements granted by the city from 1998 to 2000, almost half were to entities that contributed to Columbus City Council members or the two Mayors. If you include money from those entities that received TIFs, (Tax-Increment Financing) "Economic Development Subsidies," and unbid contracts, the vast majority of campaign funds come from those doing business with the city.

A typical campaign Finance law will not prevent elected officials from gaining campaign advantage from those who receive public benefit. As a matter of fact, such practices might increase, since contribution limits would be imposed. Elected officials may well grant even more abatements, TIFS, "Economic Development Subsidies," and unbid contracts in an effort to maintain their coffers with more numerous, albeit smaller, contributions.

So what can be done?

Fortunately a group in California, called The Oaks project, has been confronting this problem and has been successful in getting Taxpayer Protection ordinances passed in several cities, including San Francisco and Santa Monica. These laws forbid public officials from receiving campaign advantage from entities they voted to grant public benefits to.

A draft of a Campaign Finance proposal has been produced in Columbus. It is based on the Cincinnati ordinance that recently was enacted. It also includes many of the Taxpayer Protection provisions of the Oaks Project. It limits political contributions, sets reporting requirements, (including those of independent expenditures), and provides penalties for failure to report and for exceeding contribution limits. It also would create a Columbus Election Committee to administer the law. Public officials who voted to approve a tax abatement, TIF, "Economic Development Subsidy," or an unbid contract would be prohibited from accepting any campaign advantage or offers of employment from any companies or entities that received them for a period of one year after leaving office, or five years while still holding public office. Campaign advantage would mean money or any personal benefit. Honorariums would be permitted if they were for no more than one hundred dollars. A prominent and highly regarded attorney is analyzing the document. In this proposal we declare:

-----The use or disposition of public assets are often tainted by conflicts of interest among local public officials entrusted with their management and control. Such assets should be distributed strictly on the merits for the benefit of the public, and irrespective of the separate personal or financial interests of involved public officials. We find that public decisions made regarding the granting of tax abatements, TIFS, "economic development subsidies," and unbid contracts and business arrangements have often been made with the expectation of, and subsequent receipt of, private benefits from those so assisted to involved elected public officials. ------

Will this ever become law?

Frankly, it won’t be easy. City Council asked the electorate to pass a charter amendment several years back, but the law only gave Council the power to enact campaign finance limits, not the citizens. This would take a citizen-led Charter amendment petition to enact without Council support. Even the proposals of their own council-appointed panel have not been instituted in spite of its recommendations. Change is never easy, especially when so many roadblocks are erected to prevent change. But as more organizations support this, it becomes more likely that someone on council will be persuaded to introduce it.

This proposal, named the Campaign Finance and Taxpayer Protection Ordinance, for the City of Columbus, Ohio, would also provide for electronic filing, so anyone could find out what candidates received and from what entity. Campaign donation limits, by the way, are standard at the state and federal level, but the city of Columbus has no limits. It is time the public officials who grant public benefits are less generous to big campaign donors and more generous to the school children of Columbus, who are deprived of the funds that would be paid by those granted the public benefits.

This would not prohibit Tax Abatements and other tax handouts to business interests. It would address the conflict-of-interest concerning them, to make sure any benefits granted are not due to campaign influence.

If you would like to know more about the proposal, please contact rwilhelm2@msn.com

To read text of proposal:  (go to)

If you would like to know more about the Democratic Socialists of America, please contact Reg Dyck: rdyck@capital.edu  or Simone Morgen: smorgen@juno.com

In Solidarity,
Rick Wilhelm                                                                                            [ Top of Page]