Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 25, 2011

Another Bard professor proffers bad advice to OWS

Filed under: bard college,Occupy Wall Street,philosophy — louisproyect @ 6:57 pm

Steven Mazie

Another Bard professor has chimed in with the “damning with faint praise” stance of Roger Berkowitz that I dealt with in a post titled “Bard Professors attack Occupy Wall Street“. This time it is Steven Mazie, a political science professor, who has a web-only NY Times op-ed titled “Rawls on Wall Street“.

Like Berkowitz, Mazie frets over the hatred that the protesters have toward the rich:

Despite providing a remarkable venue for what Al Gore called a “primal scream of democracy,” Occupy Wall Street is leveraged too heavily on the rhetoric of rage rather than reciprocity. Rawls would argue that Occupy is fully justified in its criticism of the political and economic structures that propagate massive concentrations of wealth; he saw the “basic structure” of society as the “primary subject of justice.” But Rawls would lament the tendency of the “99 percent” to misdirect their energies into hatred of individuals in the 1 percent. He would have them save their hostility for the policies and institutions that have permitted only the wealthiest to enjoy significant gains from the past two decades of economic growth.

Whenever I read this kind of sanctimonious nonsense, I feel like I have wandered into Charles Dickens’s “A Tale of Two Cities” by mistake, with its images of Madame LaFarge knitting away furiously. Of course, when you stop and think about it, there’s not much difference between John Rawls and Charles Dickens. This kind of 19th century moralism is a lot easier to take when you are reading a good story like “A Christmas Carol” but when served up by a political science professor as advice to people who haven’t worked in five years or so and who have lost their homes, it is pretty objectionable.

John Rawls was a perfectly decent man, who despite his British-style Victorian-era pieties was actually an American born in Baltimore in 1921. In 1971 he came out with “A Theory of Justice” that made the case for liberalism at the very moment its reputation was in tatters after six years of imperialist slaughter in Vietnam. The book was typically “philosophical” in its abstraction-sodden prose. Four years earlier I decided to drop out of the graduate philosophy program at the New School and join the Trotskyist movement because philosophy in general—and ethics in particular—was so out of touch with what was going in the world. I had no idea who John Rawls was at the time but had heard more or less the same song and dance from Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Practical Reason”.

For that matter, I had read “Sermon on the Mount” when I was a religion major at Bard College. From the very day homo sapiens began to organize itself into tribes, wise elders understood the need for ethical behavior. You did not need to read John Rawls to understand that we should strive for social justice. The problem was that so many Princeton graduates who had probably studied with Rawls there had gone on to work on Wall Street or with the CIA, where the do-good philosophy they learned from him was conveniently ignored.

As a Rawls disciple, Mazie has applied a tepid meliorism to Israel-Palestinian relations, arguing that Israeli Palestinians deserve better civil rights type treatment without once considering the possibility that a state based on ethnic cleansing can never truly be just. One supposes that this is the kind of advocacy for Palestinian rights that won’t lead to a Joel Kovel type termination.

Mazie’s op-ed piece makes sure that its readers understand that Rawls is a horse of a different color than Karl Marx:

Rawls’s boldest claim — that inequality in society is only justified if its least well-off members fare better than they would under any other scheme — could provide a lodestar for the protests. Rawls was no Marxist: this “difference principle” acknowledges that a productive, free society will be home to at least some degree of inequality. But the principle insists that if the rich get richer while wages and social capital of the poor and middle class are stagnant or falling, there is something seriously wrong.

This idea is built on the premise that in a just society, citizens should be understood as free and equal participants in a system of social cooperation. Some individuals may be more motivated and harder working, and thus can legitimately expect greater rewards for their efforts. But everyone deserves the same bundle of individual rights and liberties, and everyone is entitled to “fair equality of opportunity,” including access to a decent education and a genuine chance of success in pursuing one’s life plans.

I am not sure how some pundits came to the conclusion that John Rawls was one of the greatest philosophers in the 20th century based on such banalities. At any rate, that there is “something seriously wrong” can hardly be redressed by moral appeals. It will take force, something that is out of the range of possibilities for liberalism unless of course it is deployed against those impudent Third World countries that believe that “a genuine chance of success” is only possible by seizing the means of production and instituting an economy based on human need rather than private profit—heaven forefend.

I have only dealt with Rawls in the past indirectly through a commentary on analytical Marxists who felt compelled for some ungodly reason to engage with him on his own turf.

G.A. Cohen was one of them:

Cohen … feels the need to defend the socialist project from the challenge presented by bourgeois political and ethical philosophy. Liberals like John Rawls and conservatives like Robert Nozick have written a number of books that attempt to defend just societies and the forms of political action necessary to achieve them. They also have a great deal of credence in the academic circles Cohen travels in.

Cohen wants to make socialism appear as a rational choice in the face of their challenges but he ends up conceding much too much to them. The worst concession is that he conceives of political action as the role of the individual rather than classes. While he does not share Elster’s outright hostility to the notion of classes, the overall tendency in Cohen’s work is to wrestle with issues of the class struggle as they appear in the guise of moral dilemmas to individuals.

For example, in chapter 12 of “History, Labor and Freedom” he takes up the question, “Are Disadvantaged Workers who Take Hazardous Jobs Forced to Take Hazardous Jobs.” What a peculiar subject for an “orthodox” Marxist to be tackling. One would think that Cohen would have had much more interest in class struggle type issues in 1988 when the book was written. Issues such as the approaching civil war in Yugoslavia do not seem to engage his interest.

Most of the chapter is an involved with consideration of the choices before an “imaginary worker in an imaginary situation.” He is one of the 7,000 unemployed people in the town of Hazelton, Pennsylvania (population 33,000), to which the Beryllium Corporation came in 1956, offering hazardous jobs.” “Our worker, whom I shall call John, took one. He was confronted with a choice between employment and health, and he chose the former. Was he forced to take the health-endangering job? did he, in taking it, contract freely?”

Of course the question of the “contractual” basis of justice lies at the heart of John Rawls’ liberalism and one could write at length about how preposterous this notion is and how pointless it is to engage Rawls’ thinking on his own terms.

I will rather conclude with several obvious conclusions. To begin with, the study of individuals and their moral problems is not the subject-matter of Marxism. Marxism studies classes. A proper use of a Marxist’s time would be to study actual rather than imaginary workers in identical situations. It would be useful to explore how capitalism tends to threaten the job safety of the working-class even in the expansionary period of 1956 or 1997 for that matter. It would then consider how the ruling-class parties share in the creation of a legal fabric that allows such plants to be kept going. It would conclude with recommendations about how to abolish such oppressive conditions. This is not to be found in Cohen’s work.

John Roemer was another:

“Egalitarian Perspectives” is a collection of John Roemer’s articles from the years 1981 and 1992. We learn in the introduction that Roemer made a pilgrimage to G.A. Cohen in 1981, like Luke Skywalker to the Jeddi Master, where he learned “the range of questions addressed by modern political philosophy.” The visit emboldened the young acolyte to launch an assault against classical Marxism’s “wrong-headed” surplus value approach to exploitation. Roemer knew what Marx “really meant,” and this was captured by his own property-relations theory.

Roemer states that the purpose of the book is to answer the question of “what egalitarians seek to equalize.” Those who are trailblazers on this question are Richard Arneson, G.A. Cohen, Ronald Dworkin, Amartya Sen and John Rawls. If some of you are scratching your heads trying to recall where you last heard these names, trust me that it was not at a trade union conference or a rally for political prisoners. The topic of “egalitarianism” within this circle of professional philosophers is an entirely abstract matter. They chat about it in the same dry and intellectual way that aesthetic philosophers discuss “beauty”.

This collection of thinkers treat question of “egalitarianism” as a subject within the rarefied world of Anglophone political philosophy. It arises out of a debate between disciples of the utilitarian John Stuart Mill on one side and John Rawls on the other, who proposes a “primary goods” theory of justice. A just society according to Rawls is one in which society maximizes the “primary goods” of the worst off members. Roemer enters the fray by trying to adapt Marxist solutions to the problem of “distributive justice.” In essence he is trying to blend liberal and socialist themes. From liberalism he appropriates the concern with welfare, from Marxism he hopes to find a theory that will reveal the underlying economic forces that explain inequality. Somewhere along the line Roemer drops the connection with Marxism, as tenuous as it is.

There is precious little in Roemer’s book that has any relation to the sorts of topics that preoccupy Marxists. Mostly it can be found in the section “Socially necessary exploitation and historical materialism.” Roemer’s definition of exploitation in this section is as follows: “were a coalition able to preserve the same incentive structure, and, by withdrawing with its per capita share of produced assets thereby improve the lot of its members, then it is capitalistically exploited in the current allocation.”

Yeah, I know. This is virtually impossible to understand at first glance. I have been knocking my head against Roemer’s shitty prose for a couple of weeks now, so I think I can provide a translation. He is saying that if a group of workers dropped out of capitalist society and improved their situation, then the situation they dropped out of was exploitative. Now you may ask yourself why I chose the words “dropped out.” Does this mean the same as Timothy Leary’s “Turn on, tune in and drop out”?

Yes, it does and this is exactly what Roemer is talking about in so many words:

Assuming capitalist property relations were necessary to bring about accumulation and technical innovation in the early period of capitalism, then the coalition which has withdrawn will soon fall behind the capitalist society because of the incentives to innovate. Even the proletarians under capitalism will eventually enjoy an income-leisure bundle superior to the bundle of independent utopian socialists who have retired into the hills with their share of the capital, assuming enough of the benefits of increased productivity pass down to the proletarians, as has historically been the case.

Translation from the Roemer-ese: When some workers “drop out” of bourgeois society and go to Vermont with their tools and set up a commune like a bunch of lazy grasshoppers, they will eventually fall behind the industrious ant workers who remain in bourgeois society, and who keep their hair short and drive their cars to their factory job each day where foremen yell in their face and where assembly lines keep speeding up and where they keep losing fingers… The criteria for Roemer is not lost fingers or alienation, it is the bundle of goods you can take home. (What was John Roemer doing in 1967 anyhow? Somebody should have slipped him some acid.)

In terms of Marxism and morality, I can still remember how bowled over I was back in 1967 or so after reading “Their Morals and Ours” by Leon Trotsky. Compared to John Rawls’s weak tea, these are the words to live and die by:

Whoever does not care to return to Moses, Christ or Mohammed; whoever is not satisfied with eclectic hodge-podges must acknowledge that morality is a product of social development; that there is nothing invariable about it; that it serves social interests; that these interests are contradictory; that morality more than any other form of ideology has a class character.

But do not elementary moral precepts exist, worked out in the development of mankind as an integral element necessary for the life of every collective body? Undoubtedly such precepts exist but the extent of their action is extremely limited and unstable. Norms “obligatory upon all” become the less forceful the sharper the character assumed by the class struggle. The highest pitch of the class struggle is civil war which explodes into mid-air all moral ties between the hostile classes.

Under “normal” conditions a normal” man observes the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill!” But if he murders under exceptional conditions for self-defense, the judge condones his action. If he falls victim to a murderer, the court will kill the murderer. The necessity of the court’s action, as that of the self-defense, flows from antagonistic interests. In so far as the state is concerned, in peaceful times it limits itself to individual cases of legalized murder so that in time of war it may transform the “obligatory’ commandment, “Thou shalt not kill! into its opposite. The most “humane” governments, which in peaceful times “detest” war, proclaim during war that the highest duty of their armies is the extermination of the greatest possible number of people.

The so-called “generally recognized” moral precepts in essence preserve an algebraic, that is, an indeterminate character. They merely express the fact that man, in his individual conduct, is bound by certain common norms that flow from his being a member of society. The highest generalization of these norms is the “categorical imperative” of Kant. But in spite of the fact that it occupies a high position upon the philosophic Olympus this imperative does not embody anything categoric because it embodies nothing concrete. It is a shell without content.

This vacuity in the norms obligatory upon all arises from the fact that in all decisive questions people feel their class membership considerably more profoundly and more directly than their membership in “society”. The norms of “obligatory” morality are in reality charged with class, that is, antagonistic content. The moral norm becomes the more categoric the less it is “obligatory” upon all. The solidarity of workers, especially of strikers or barricade fighters, is incomparably more “categoric” than human solidarity in general.

The bourgeoisie, which far surpasses the proletariat in the completeness and irreconcilability of its class consciousness, is vitally interested in imposing its moral philosophy upon the exploited masses. It is exactly for this purpose that the concrete norms of the bourgeois catechism are concealed under moral abstractions patronized by religion, philosophy, or that hybrid which is called “common sense”. The appeal to abstract norms is not a disinterested philosophic mistake but a necessary element in the mechanics of class deception. The exposure of this deceit which retains the tradition of thousands of years is the first duty of a proletarian revolutionist.


  1. Trotsky’s text is simply one of the best analyses of morality ever written. Not only is it useful in debunking the vapid moralism of liberals, but it also is a good antidote to the postmodern/Nietzschean amoralists.

    Comment by J.C. — October 25, 2011 @ 8:05 pm

  2. Oddly enough I have run into a few people at OWS who are not happy about the 1% / 99% dichotomy because it is “too antagonistic”, too us against them, etc., although they are very open to debating this out and see themselves as part of the movement.

    Comment by Binh — October 25, 2011 @ 8:24 pm

  3. “too antagonistic” can mean so many different critiques. We tend to imagine we understand what people are saying based on code words. But unless we know who’s talking, this can mean anything.

    It could mean, for example:

    1. I don’t feel good about conflict. We should find a way to work all together, including with the owners of Goldman sachs.
    2. I’m a marxist, and the focus should be overturning the social structures, not sterile moral outrage against individual capitalists.
    3. A conciliatory message takes the high ground a makes it hard to demonize or “other” us in the media. So it’s better to present a peaceful, positive and uniting message (just as the worst class warriors of the 1% are doing every day).
    4. It’s not the rich people’s fault. It’s just some bad apples. We are not against capitalism.
    5. The unity of the statistical artifact of our income bracket, the 99%, is the product of a a dehumanizing economic system. we should “be the change we want to be” and not what we are assigned to be.

    etc. etc. So yes, I think the 99% is a very good message. But critiques of excessive “antagonism” needed to be understood for what exactly they mean. There’s more than one way to be wrong (or right).

    Comment by Evildoer — October 25, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

  4. PS. I think that we are throwing the baby with the bath water when we understand “morality” as a choice between “amoralism” and “Bourgeois” Kantianism.

    I’m with McIntyre on this. Ethics, in a modified but primarily Aristotelian sense, that is in a sense of becoming virtuous (capable of acting in the world in the right way) through praxis, must be an absolutely essential revolutionary concern. It is a lot more fundamental than whether one uses consensus or majority voting. The role of Academic discussions of ethics is often to make ethics smell funny.

    Comment by Evildoer — October 25, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

  5. Off Topic – Another example of what’s wrong with local government at the state level in America.

    State Rep. Timothy Larson, a Democrat from the East Hartford district in Connecticut, is proposing legislation that would take effect next year, to change the date of Halloween to fall on the last weekend of October so it’s less stressful for children by not falling on a school night.

    Earth to Rep. Larson, Connecticut has sky high unemployment, crime in Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport and Norwalk, poor economic outlook and record numbers of homeless and hungry residents statewide.

    To put Halloween at the top of the legislative bills up for debate shows that this elected official’s priorities are in another solar system.

    There are BIGGER issues to worry about like jobs Mr. Larson.

    And this is what my taxes are paying for.

    Another insane moment brought to you by the state capitol in Connecticut.

    Comment by Deborah Jeffries — October 25, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

  6. Ever see a movie so impressive that you just had to immediately watch it again?

    At 16, in 1977, 10 years after Lou was bowled over, I read for the first time “Their Morals and Ours: http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1938/morals/morals.htm
    and it changed my life forever.

    I’m glad he’s incorporated it into the end of this (rather long) article for it behooves all young people getting involved with the OWS movement to get their heads around the fact that: “The appeal to abstract norms is not a disinterested philosophic mistake but a necessary element in the mechanics of class deception. The exposure of this deceit which retains the tradition of thousands of years is the first duty of a proletarian revolutionist.”

    Make no mistake about it. The OWS movement is the embryo of an international proletarian revolution that’s not soon likely to become a mere asterisk in the history of Marxism (which after all is first & foremost simply the history of the oppressed, exploited & downtrodden that wouldn’t otherwise be documented if the ruling class held ultimate sway.)

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 26, 2011 @ 1:10 am

  7. 500 Alameda Co. police, mobilized from many departments around the Bay Area, sneak attack Occupy Oakland tonite around 8PM. Local corporate media and police chief lying like crazy as usual. Still lots of people on the street.

    Meanwhile Obama attends a $5000/plate fundraiser in SF the same day.

    Why are they afraid of OWS?

    Comment by Matt — October 26, 2011 @ 4:33 am

  8. @3: Mostly it was #1 and #3. One guy said his family is in the 1% and that not all of the 1% are Wall Street types, CEOs, or people who are directly responsible for the mess. He went to a bunch of working groups to try to get them to modify or change the slogan with zero success. The other person was a college student attending Wesleyan in Connecticut (he and his friends came down at 4 a.m. on the fly when word got out about the attempted eviction). He and one of his friends felt that some of the slogans were too simplistic, particularly the notion that deficits could be fixed overnight simply by ending the wars (Libya and Iraq are both about over now anyway) and taxing the rich. He had a lot of illusions about the 1% ability or willingness to self-reform, we had a sharp, friendly debate. I probably didn’t win him over but maybe I planted a seed in his mind.

    Comment by Binh — October 26, 2011 @ 1:03 pm

  9. Binh:

    I know you don’t need convincing but I’d have told that cat that….

    Arguing the slogans are too simplistic (End The Wars!) (Tax the Rich!) (We are the 99%!) (This Is What Democracy Looks Like!) is akin to arguing that OWS ought to immediately formulate demands.

    Part of the OWS success has been precisely because of the simplistic slogans and not being pigeonholed into a set of demands.

    In fact deficits could be fixed overnight by stopping the 2 billion a week squandered in Afghanistan and slashing the 15 billion a week the Pentagon spends as wastefully as a Newt Gingrich in a Tiffany’s — nevermind taxing corporations and the 1% more fairly.

    How hard would it be to implement a $1 per transaction tax everytime some wall street schmuck trades a derivative or swaps a credit default or sells a junk bond or unloads a stock? That’s probably another couple billion a month from an industry that wouldn’t even notice it.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 26, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

  10. Actually Karl I think comes from a total misunderstanding of what slogans are for. They are simplistic by design and necessarily so. I’m not sure where the two people I spoke to stand on the question of demands. The demands fetish is something the Marxist left has in common with the bourgeois pundits. Both want to categorize this thing into readily understandable talking points/familiar jargon. Reality is more complex and sometimes it hurts your head to think about the contradictions involved. I’ve learned so much in the last month.

    Comment by Binh — October 26, 2011 @ 5:17 pm

  11. I agree Binh but I’d argue that the Marxist left, after 30 years of failures, has done a pretty good job overall of acquiescing to the anarchistic sensibilities of the OWS movement, refraining from pushing for demands (albeit their initial impulses were to do just that) whereas the liberal punditry still pushes for articulation of demands, which is only natural since the only movements they really understand are bowel movements.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 26, 2011 @ 7:57 pm

  12. “[T]he Marxist left … has done a pretty good job overall of acquiescing to the anarchistic sensibilities of the OWS movement…” Examples? Most of what I have seen indicates the opposite.

    Comment by Binh — October 27, 2011 @ 3:21 am

  13. As far as I can tell none of the left that’s been active organizing the anti Gulf War movements since 1991 (Bush 1 through Bush 2) have been criticizing OWS for lack of written demands.

    Any other leftists organizations are long ago irrelevant tiny sects that don’t even count.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 27, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

  14. “Nevertheless, there is a question that must be tackled by all participants in the movement: Can the “no demands” approach sustain and develop a movement that’s rapidly spreading across the U.S.? … So while the creativity, flair and visibility of the occupation movement has been crucial to spreading the struggle, a lot of patient and systematic organizing is necessary, too–as any Egyptian or Greek activist will tell you. For the occupation movement in the U.S. to maximize its potential, it needs to clearly focus on the issues of the day, such as demanding a government-funded jobs program and defending the public sector from cuts.”

    “WHILE OCCUPY Wall Street has succeeded in drawing attention to the greed and power of Wall Street, the action has also had problems that are clear to many participants. The most notable is the lack of demands or other messaging to explain the goals of the occupation and protests. This is largely due to an influential group within Occupy Wall Street that sees the occupation as prefiguring a future society– and that argues against raising any demands because that would only legitimize the existing power structure. Although it seems to be a minority, so far, this group has been able to block any call for demands or a statement. However, that may change as some activists are pushing for the occupation to issue a statement of demands and/or goals.”

    Of course they changed their tune once reality set in:

    “The enemies of the Occupy movement–and even some of its self-proclaimed friends–sneer at activists for their supposed lack of demands. That misses the point.” – S.W., http://socialistworker.org/2011/10/19/promise-occupy

    DSA has also been going on about demands.

    Comment by Binh — October 27, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

  15. All I see is citations from socialist worker. That’s not very worrisome IMO.

    DSA, being at best “left liberal” doesn’t count as “Marxist” for lots of reasons, especially since they voted for Obama, that is, they became part of the problem when they endorsed a vote of confidence to somebody who clearly is a creature of the banks, having sold his soul to those devils a decade ago when he sided with the credit card companies in revamping bankruptcy laws in their favor.

    There’s probably a dozen Marxist groups to the left of the DSA that by & large have remained neutral on the question of formulation of demands, despite their initial instincts (mine included) to start immediately formulating them.

    I think they figure that in light of most all of their failures to organize anything meaningful, as well as the fact that nothing succeeds like success, then why not just participate within the General Assembly construct & keep their criticisms to themselves and maybe learn something with the hope that reformist creep doesn’t derail the thing into another vote for Obama in 2012.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 27, 2011 @ 7:45 pm

  16. > 15.All I see is citations from socialist worker. That’s not very worrisome IMO.

    > DSA, being at best “left liberal” doesn’t count as “Marxist” for lots of reasons, especially since they voted for Obama

    That could also pretty much apply to the ISO as well:


    “THE SWEEPING victory of Barack Obama in the presidential elections is a transformative event in U.S. politics, as an African American takes the highest office in a country built on slavery…”

    By the same logic one could argue that the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, or of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in the Bush administrations, were all “transformative events” of some kind or other. There is some truth to that. At one time it would have been unthinkable for a black man to be a member of the Supreme Court. But what you have to notice about Democratic tailwaggers like the ISO is that they only bring forward such arguments when it plays to the favor of the Democrats. If Herman Cain should be elected President in the next year or so then that, too, will be a “transformative event” every bit as much as Obama’s election was. But I doubt the ISO will attempt to make such an argument.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — October 27, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

  17. Patrick, the same article states this:

    Obama’s economic team shows no inclination toward such changes. While some pro-labor liberal economists like Jared Bernstein are counted among Obama’s economic advisers, Obama relies much more on establishment figures like former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and former Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volcker–both with long track records of favoring big business at workers’ expense.

    The same “realism” dominates Obama’s foreign policy team. Attacked by both Hillary Clinton and John McCain for his inexperience in foreign policy, Obama surrounded himself with former secretaries of state, ex-CIA officials, generals and academics committed to an imperialist U.S. foreign policy. The style will change–more cultivation of allies, more international agreements–but the substance will not.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 27, 2011 @ 11:10 pm

  18. Right Pat. Call me Manichean but I just don’t count left organizations as “Marxist” that advocate voting for the democratic party, with its origins rooted in slavery, the party that prosecuted every major war (where the other side shot back) in the 20th century.

    I wasn’t aware that the ISO advocated a vote for Obama but if that’s true it means their publication could only contribute to proletarian revolution about as much as the Nation magazine does.

    In some article recently Lou posted an excerpt from a speech that Marx & Engels gave to a workers’ organization (in England I think?) and they made clear that workers were never to vote for bourgeois candidates but to run their own.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 27, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

  19. The ISO has repeatedly made up a “progressivist” content to the Obama administration. Really what irks me is not so much that someone might see something about the election of the first black President, but that such arguments are so clearly used in a way that tilts towards Democrats. I could appreciate the argument that the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court represented a victory of the Civil Rights Movement. If Herman Cain should be elected in November of either next year or of 2016 then I will appreciate the argument that this is a historical moment brought about by Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and others less well known.


    “In short, the scale of the problems and questions the U.S. faces–not just economically, but in the areas of foreign policy and more–is driving Obama toward a different agenda.

    “But the exact shape of that agenda will be determined by how much pressure he feels from below.”

    To the extent that such statements are actually true, they are simply truisms which could apply to any administration, whether Republican or Democrat. Yes, there have been times in history when “pressure from below” has brought concessions from both ruling class parties. No, such concessions are not likely to come today from either party when the falling rate of profit has created a crisis of capitalism. So what was that “different agenda” that Obama was being “driven towards” again? Someone help me remember.

    Comment by PatrickSMcNally — October 28, 2011 @ 12:14 am

  20. Patrick, the ISO was the backbone of the Nader-Camejo campaign. That is their politics, not supporting Democrats. Just because they use a word “transformative”, it does not mean that they backed Obama. You sound like the WSWS.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 28, 2011 @ 12:20 am

  21. Pat. I never personally followed too closely what the ISO was up to since the collapse of the Soviets being immersed more into the big antiGulfwar demos the WWP largely organized but I do remember my father following them closely and he was rather impressed with them not only politically but also by the fact that they were by far the most youthful of the active Marxist orgs. So if you’re implying their line in 2008 was explicitly to back Obama, that’s a big deal, putting them only a smidgeon to the left of the DSA, which is almost unthinkable, although we did attend around 1992 an ISO organized speaking engagement of ex-CIA Agent Philip Agee at Loyola University in Chicago and were flabbergasted that Agee’s essential conclusion was that the only hope for the left was voting for Clinton!

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 28, 2011 @ 1:59 am

  22. The ISO is my point of reference since I was a member and then a supporter for over a decade, plus they are the self-proclaimed largest socialist group on the American left with branches in 40 cities or so, so what they say and do does have an impact on this movement, for better or worse. Richard Seymour, Doug Henwood, and other prominent Marxists have been going on about the demands thing for a while now as well.

    Comment by Binh — October 28, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

  23. Since only the ISO (whose criticisms are waning) and 2 individuals like Seymour & Henwood (whose prominence is debatable) are frustrated about no demands from OWS then my original point is validated.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — October 28, 2011 @ 9:56 pm

  24. ^- I can live with that. PSL is doing some stuff with the people of color working group. I don’t follow them closely but maybe I should.

    Comment by Binh — November 1, 2011 @ 2:15 am

  25. Lou & Binh. Perhaps a good starting point for a debate article for your new joint venture NorthStar/OWS site with which I’m sure you’ll find lots of eager contributors here, begins with Trotsky’s noton that genuine fascism that typical democrats fear is unthinkable in the neo-libreral epoch without a working class movement powerful enough to challenge the status quo.

    The fact is that OWS has challenged that status quo and therefore it’s no surprise that this neo-imperialist police state reaches far & wide to suspend habeus corpus by assassinating whom it sees fit, nevermind torture, renditions, and all the other paranoid gobbeldkygook with which it justifies Draconian measures.

    The point is when the Bolsheviks in general and Trotsky in particular warned about 2 great classes deciding the outcome of humankind he largely meant the 99% vs. the 1%.

    So the next intellectual debate should be in my view one about the SOPA internet copyright bill coming up vis-a-vis all the other recent corporate restrictions to civil society. It should be directed in the light of reaffirming where Marxists stand on the kinds of civil liberties that are rapidly being quashed and kaiboshed by the prison industrial complex that Uncle Sam has sold his soul to.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — January 20, 2012 @ 2:39 am

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