The illegalization of kratom represents a blow from the capitalist state against individual freedom and a rational drug policy. The only sensible communist policy on drugs is full legalization and medical treatment for addiction.
It has recently been announced the recreational drug Kratom is going to be officially placed on schedule 1 of the controlled substances hierarchy of the DEA, right alongside heroin. Anyone familiar with Kratom knows that it isn’t hardcore stuff. While the drug does have addictive properties, it’s nothing compared to morphine and the like. Many opiate addicts use Kratom as a safe and legal substitute for opioids that’s easier to wean off of. Kratom doesn’t have the capacity to repress breathing like opioids do, so it is not a substance one can overdose on, much like marijuana. Yet as of September 30th, this plant is enough to get you a 5 year prison sentence just for possession. While the media panics about an opioid epidemic, a drug that is actually helping people quit opiates is being made illegal! The attitude of the the capitalist state is as paternalistic as ever: how dare you get high, how dare you use an over the counter painkiller that is effective. (Update: the attempted ban has failed as of now.)
The hypocrisy of the drug scheduling system established under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 warrants an article of it’s own. What is so galling about this system is the way it attempts to justify itself with scientific objectivity when it is in actuality blatantly unscientific. The act establishes 5 “schedules” or categories of drugs, with schedule 5 being the most benign and schedule 1 being the worst. The benchmarks for declaring a substance a schedule 1 drug are: high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and lack of a safe way to use the drug even under medical supervision. Having thus established a superficially objective way to categorize these drugs the federal government immediately went about ignoring it, placing drugs on this list based on the needs of politicians and unelected bureaucrats. The fact that marijuana is a schedule 1 drug (cocaine is schedule 2) tells you all you need to know about the scientific objectivity of this system. A growing scientific consensus, along with basic common sense, is showing that marijuana certainly does have medical uses and is safer to use than even many over the counter drugs.
Moreover the federal government does not simply ignore science which does not suite it’s political narrative, it actively prevents research which may yield inconvenient results. Research into the potential medical uses of marijuana were stymied for decades. The potential therapeutic uses of LSD or MDMA remain a mystery because of the difficulty in carrying out objective research. Now the potential use of kratom in treating opioid addiction will likely remain a matter of speculation since research into the subject will likely be made much more difficult. When it does allow studies to move forward it often only allows ones designed to yield a desired result. Several years ago there was a study purporting to show rats overdosing on THC. When one actually looked into the study however it showed the rats were injected with pure THC until they died. Leaving aside the ridiculous method of ingestion (nobody injects pure THC), scaled up for human consumption the amount of THC one would have to consume to OD was the equivalent of smoking a joint the size of a telephone pole in a day. If anything this shows the safety of the drug, but that’s not the picture the headlines painted. By stopping or manipulating scientific research into the potential benefits and real harms of drugs the government is not just being shady, it is endangering public health.
The ideal communist position for drugs is simple: legalize them. ALL of them. If you are truly against the drug war you shouldn’t make exception even for drugs you wouldn’t personally use. This is simply because no one deserves to be incarcerated for experimenting with their brain chemistry. Most banning of drugs in the USA has been associated with racialized moral panics. With opium and marijuana these substances were respectively associated with Chinese and Black Americans. Today moral panics about drugs are usually about “legal highs” like bath salts, drugs that would not be as popular if MDMA, methamphetamine and cocaine were legal.
Beyond moral panics, we should look at drugs rationally. Drugs no doubt have had bad effects on people’s lives, but this doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In capitalist society we live in a world where we must act as commodities on the marketplace, atomized individuals competing for subsistence. This is a world where our lives become structured around the pursuit of the abstract and intangible thing called “value” where the consequence of failing can be death for some. Life is stressful and the human psych is warped, we suffer from alienation. To deal with this some people turn to drugs, and some abuse them.
For those that abuse drugs, making them illegal doesn’t actually reduce the harm associated with that abuse. There is much literature on this topic, and it’s a point that’s been made enough to not have to repeat. You don’t have to be a communist to realize it makes more sense to treat addiction as a mental problem, not a moral failing where one must get a beating from the state for their transgressions.
Not only does making drugs illegal not only make them more harmful, it is also generally an anti-freedom stance. Fears of drugs are largely a result of misunderstandings and not scientific inquiry. As communists we aim for an emancipatory society, one based on the flourishing of human freedom through reason. We know that god will not punish us for sexual acts, and we also know that unsafe sex can have bad (even deadly) consequences. Through rationality we can express our capacities for pleasure, and drugs should be no different. If one wants to explore the highs and lows of drugs, it should an option open to them and be as a safe as possible.
The left doesn’t exactly have a perfect track record on this issue; for example there was support for Prohibition for amongst Socialist Party Members USA and IWW members. An argument for prohibition was that it would make workers more disciplined and less prone to domestic violence. Instead prohibition created a whole lumpen subculture of Cartels that was exceptionally patriarchal. “Real Socialist” states have failed to legalize drugs, which of course simply allowed for black markets to flourish more. On the other end, many “zones of autonomy” from the near civil war Italy experienced in the 70s became drug dens. Drugs can and do pose real problems. But the solutions are not illegalization, but rather simply making drugs openly accessible yet regulated for safety needs while making deeper social changes.
People abuse drugs, to escape the alienation of everyday life and its traumas. They also use them purely hedonistically and harmlessly. Sometimes this hedonism is simply an expression of the truly empty pleasures capitalist society has on offer. Sometimes it’s good for its own sake. We are aren’t moral puritans of any kind. Moral ‘decadence’ is a scare-word of the bourgeoisie who want to keep society regimented and orderly. The search for some kind of moral “order” in the USA is a thread as old as the republic itself. And it has been an excuse to take away individual freedoms of the populace. There is no “public health crisis” created by kratom but rather a regressive step in drug policy which ultimately punishes the proletariat the most.
Some would say communists should have nothing to say on this issue, that struggles at the point of production should be the point of focus, that issues related to politics not directly connected to this are a distraction. Often this is in the context of avoiding “dividing” workers by being a political partisan, sometimes it is simply a product of theoretical views of certain tendencies in marxism. Either way this economism tries to silence the talk of any form of political oppression than isn’t directly related to the workers struggle. Yet this is counter to the Marxist approach. Marxists fight not merely for economic demands but democratic demands that give more rights to oppressed groups and for more democracy and political freedom in society in general. Yet we fight for these demands as marxists, never failing to point out their class dimensions. As Lenin said:
“the Social-Democrat’s ideal should not be the trade union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat”
Communists should speak out against and fight against all forms of oppression and authoritarianism when possible, because ultimately we envision a world not simply where workers own their factories but one absent of exploitation and oppression. Marx believed that the proletariat was the class that would fight for communism because it was the class that held the interests of all humanity. By showing that the interests of labor are the interests of humanity, the communist party can lead the struggle for the future of the species itself.
But what exactly can we do about kratom at this point? Sadly at this point the answer is nothing, unless one has much hope in petitioning bourgeois politicians. What we can do as Communists is fight for democratic rights (“win the battle of democracy as” Marx said) when possible or at least when possible show we care about issues such as drug legalization or free speech. Perhaps less people would turn to the libertarian right if leftists had a better record on these issues. Today the right portrays itself as a force fighting against the foes of democracy for free speech, a terrain that cannot be left to the right. If the political right are the mere defenders of democracy then we have lost the battle for democracy, and the image of Communism as Stalinism will be unchallenged.
While we (the Communist League of Tampa) have yet to write a programme (we are hardly at that stage yet) I believe the legalization and regulation of all drugs should be part of the minimum programme as well as immediate release of all drug offenders. Could these demands be won under capitalism? It is possible, but either way communists shouldn’t be silent on them and should fight for them when they have the capacity to. This often mean supporting a referendum to legalize marijuana or using electoral reps to challenge drug laws. While we are a far way off from being a party, as a propaganda group we should make crystal clear what the rational and communist position on drugs is.