Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 14, 2017

New Communists? A reply to Jacobin Magazine

Filed under: Jacobin,Lenin,Russian Revolution,two-party system — louisproyect @ 6:03 pm

Adaner Usmani

Connor Kilpatrick

In the latest issue of Jacobin devoted to commentary on the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, there’s an article co-written by Adaner Usmani, a postdoctoral fellow at the Watson Institute of Brown University, and Jacobin editor Conner Kilpatrick titled “The New Communists” that basically urges the left to put that revolution stuff behind us or, more exactly, the far left, which I most certainly belong to as an “unrepentant Marxist”. The two young political scientists advise: “And yet the far left today embraces the Soviet obsession like a vampire hunter wields garlic. The problem is that garlic repels far more than just monsters — it makes you stink.”

Although Jacobin prides itself on being stylistically polished, I am not sure whether the words “embraces the Soviet obsession” is in keeping with its lofty aspirations. What does it mean to embrace an obsession, which almost sounds like obsessing over an obsession? If I were editing the smart magazine with its even smarter graphics, I might have changed that to “embraces the memory of the Soviet Union” or better yet to drop all the circumlocutions about “new communism” and simply say “And yet the far left today embraces Marxism like a vampire hunter wields garlic” because buried beneath all the clever prose is an agenda that might have not sat well with Jacobin subscribers. In keeping with the vampire-hunting analogy, the true goal of Usmani and Kilpatrick is to plunge a wooden stake into the heart of Marxism.

Since the article is behind a paywall, I will quote more liberally from the article than I do ordinarily in posts to this blog. So please forgive me in advance. To understand the dodgy approach of the authors, you have to begin with the fact that the word Marxism appears only 3 times in the article and only as a referent to states that have little to do with Marxist politics. For example, they write:

At its peak, some variation of the USSR’s flag flew over 20 percent of the Earth’s habitable landmass. But while McDonald’s has now spread to over 120 countries, today only three of the four ruling Communist parties left fly the hammer and sickle. Of the five nations that claim Marxism-Leninism, the hammer and sickle appears on the state flags of none. Once the symbol of the struggle for a better world, today the hammer and sickle is a sign of little more than single-party sclerosis.

But what does it mean to claim “Marxism-Leninism”? Is the presence of a hammer and sickle supposed to be some kind of genealogical marker indicating that the carrier has something to do with Karl Marx’s ideas? Missing from the article is any engagement with Stalin’s legacy, a dictator who made the hammer and sickle a symptom of sclerosis at least 85 years ago. The only reference to Stalin in the article is this:

Counterfactuals have become the stuff of lifelong sectarian debates for the socialist left: “if only Germany had gone the right way, if only Lenin had lived, if only Stalin had been isolated, if only, if only . . .” In almost every instance of mass revolt they find the Bolshevik’s October — Germany in 1918–20, France in 1968, Egypt in 2011, and everything in between — revolutions made mere “revolutionary rehearsals” by conniving bureaucrats or naive cadre.

This is quite a mouthful. Although it would take far too many words to unpack the sophistry embedded in this paragraph, suffice it to say that the mass revolt in France nearly 50 years ago came to an end because the French Communist Party had the numbers and the influence in the working class to break the back of the resistance and help Charles De Gaulle restore order. It is not a question of being “naïve”. Rather, it is one of being too small. It is also one of being disunited. In 1968, France’s far left was divided into many Trotskyist and Maoist sects. If it had learned to overcome its differences and constitute a united revolutionary front, it would have been much more difficult for the CP and the Gaullists to seize control. If there is one thing that Jacobin can contribute to now, it is serving as a catalyst for left revolutionary unity. Unfortunately, it appears to be far more interested in functioning as the ideological mouthpiece of the Sanders wing of the Democratic Party.

Usmani and Kilpatrick want to cleanse the left of its self-righteous sectarians who insist on ideological purity:

At its worst, in this crowd, isolation is proof of revolutionary virtue, rather than political calamity. Particularly in a country like ours, the politics of “Yay revolution! Boo reform!” has led to a rhetorical arms race in which the most virtuous, maximalist positions are the most progressive.

I wonder if the two understand how Marxists have used the term “maximalist” in the past. Generally (and most certainly prevalent in Maoist circles), this is the outlook of groups like Avakian’s RCP or the Spartacist League that are in the habit of reminding their readers that socialism is the answer to whatever problem confronts the working class. Maximalism tended to appear in its purist form on May Day demonstrations years ago, when CP-led parades would carry banners calling for a Communist America.

If the authors were more forthright and less bent on fighting straw men, they would simply come out and say that they are sick and tired of people making work inside the Democratic Party a litmus test. The far left is not really opposed to reforms as might be indicated by Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant’s tireless advocacy of a $15 minimum wage. Speaking as a former member of another Trotskyist group, I have no memory of ever saying anything like “Yay, revolution”. I do confess to joining the rest of the comrades in singing “The Internationale” but that was in another country, and besides the wench is dead.

The real divide is not over the need for reforms but how to fight for them. It has become clear that DSA’ers have begun to identify with the “sewer socialism” of elected Socialist Party members such as Victor Berger as illustrated by the election of DSA members in Somerville, Massachusetts. An article in CommonWealth made the comparison:

Somerville now has an opportunity to build a new kind of 21st century sewer socialism: getting the basics right while attending to the core distributional questions of municipal governance. The election showed that Somerville voters want to see their aldermen focus on issues of legislative policy. This is, of course, their primary task. The informal alliance of Our Revolution and the Democratic Socialists of America in Somerville has coalesced around the politics of development: affordable housing and the rights of tenants, workers, and immigrants.

What’s missing from the CommonWealth article and 9 out 10 written about the Somerville election is the fact that the DSA’ers ran on the Democratic Party ticket. In Victor Berger’s day, this never happened. Upton Sinclair’s 1934 End Poverty In California (EPIC) gubernatorial run marked the first time an SP’er ever ran as a Democrat. So upsetting was this to SP members that his own son broke ties with him.

Perhaps I have a different idea of what kind of reforms are needed. While one understands completely why someone running for alderman in Somerville might want to make an issue out of garbage collection, my idea of a reform would be something much more like what I was involved with in 1970, when I lived not far from Somerville. We tragically unhip Trotskyists got behind the Shea Bill, sponsored by state legislator James Shea. Jr. that authorized Massachusetts residents to refuse combat duty in wars Congress has not declared. It also instructed Massachusetts Attorney General Robert Quinn to defend and assist servicemen who refused to fight on such grounds.

Furthermore, whenever the Trotskyists got involved with any reform, whether for antiwar demands or abortion rights, it always stressed mass action such as rallies, petition drives, etc. If there is anything worth preserving from the long-lost Russian Revolution, it is the need for what we used to call “proletarian methods of struggle”. At the risk of sounding like a moldy fig, let me quote from Trotsky’s Transitional Program: “Self-reliance and proletarian methods of struggle. Only the workers themselves, organized to make full use of their massive numbers and social weight, can solve their problems. No wing of the ruling class is our ally. Strikes and other forms of mass action, which demonstrate the power of the workers’ movement in life, are the most effective.”

Usmani and Kilpatrick are anxious to remind us that even the Communists were “practical-minded” just like them:

The uncomfortable truth for both liberals and die-hard revolutionaries is that whenever and wherever Western Communist parties were strongest, it was because they were the most effective reformers, not revolutionaries. They won when they bested the social democrats at their own stated aims. It was not starry-eyed dreaming but everyday material victories that led 1.5 million people to attend Italian Communist Party leader Enrico Berlinguer’s 1984 funeral. The flip side of this fact is that in the pre–World War II period, European Communism was feeble and ineffective — with the telling exception of the French Communist Party during the Popular Front and the Spanish one during the Civil War.

When I read this, I spit the coffee out of my mouth that I was drinking. This is most shocking statement in the entire article. So, if in the rest of Europe Communism was “feeble and ineffective”, we can at least look back at the Spanish Civil War as an exception to that rule? Are these two brilliant political scientists for real? The goddamned Communist Party was one of the main reasons Franco triumphed. Unlike France in 1968, this was not just a victory of the right facilitated by the CP’s hegemony. In Spain, it was a victory made possible by the CP’s willingness to murder revolutionaries, including Andres Nin. Nin and many others on the left were trying to overthrow capitalism, while the CP was dead-set on keeping the capitalist Spanish Republic intact even if that meant opposing worker control of the telephone building in Barcelona. When the largely anarchist workers refused to surrender, the CP-led security forces laid siege to the building, which provoked a general uprising. As might be obvious from what is going on in Spain today, Catalans were not only seeking national independence but also class independence. It was the CP’s “effective” control over the Popular Front that gave them the power to tame the unruly Catalan working class. Surely, Usmani and Kilpatrick are aware of this history. Why they would apply Stalinist varnish to it is a mystery.

Following the above citation, the authors get down to brass tacks:

The unprecedented success of Bernie Sanders’s run and his enduring popularity should have been a wake-up call to much of Leftworld: the country is ready for working-class politics, and even for the s-word, as long as we talk about it in everyday, tangible terms.

If you click the link in the paragraph above, you are directed to an interview with Adolph Reed from the August 8, 2016 Jacobin. If Usmani and Kilpatrick were half as open about their beliefs as Reed, the debate on the left that this article has provoked already on Facebook would have a lot more clarity. We have to assume that they agree with Reed who says:

Some who are eager to pronounce the campaign a failure are motivated by other ideological objectives. For example, Trotskyists and others who fetishize association with Democrats as the greatest sin in politics want to argue that Sanders would have been more successful if he’d run as an independent.

That’s a delusional position. In the first place, an independent candidacy outside the Democrat and Republican primaries would have received no attention at all to this point, which means we’d have wasted the last year, and almost none of the unions or other entities would have endorsed it.

Left out of these considerations is the big question about class independence. Until the CP’s Popular Front turn, Marxists never backed bourgeois parties. Maybe the irritation that Jacobin (at this point, we can probably assume that the article expresses the editorial board’s thinking) feels over the Russian Revolution is its connection to Lenin’s obdurate refusal to bloc with or vote for capitalist parties, which in Czarist Russia meant the Constitutional Democrats (Cadets). This is not the Lenin they want to have anything to do with.

Today, the relevant Lenin is not Lenin the indefatigable revolutionary, but Lenin the disconsolate strategist — the man who in 1920 chastised Communists “to convince the backward elements, to work among them, and not to fence themselves off from them with artificial and childishly ‘Left’ slogans.”

What astonishing disregard for Lenin’s views. They are quoting “’Ultraleftism’: an Infantile Disorder”, which most people remember as a qualified endorsement of voting for Labour Party candidates (even if the qualification is along the lines of supporting them like a rope supports a hanging man.) So, if you are enthusiastic about Jeremy Corbyn and view Bernie Sanders as the American Corbyn, why not? Maybe it fudges over important theoretical questions to liken the Democrats to Labour but let’s put that aside momentarily. It is far more important to take another look at what Lenin actually said.

He is mostly trying to wean young CP leaders off of the ultraleftism that sounds a lot like the “yay, revolution” straw man Usmani and Kilpatrick were tilting at, especially Sylvia Pankhurst who wrote “The Communist Party must not compromise. . . . The Communist Party must keep its doctrine pure, and its independence of reformism inviolate, its mission is to lead the way, without stopping or turning, by the direct road to the communist revolution.”

Lenin’s advice to Pankhurst and other impatient young revolutionaries is not anything like that of Usmani and Kilpatrick’s despite their predictable exploitation of a stance that mimics his like a funhouse mirror. There is nothing about becoming the leftwing of the Labour Party or that would sanction what DSA is doing today running as Democrats and stumping for Bernie Sanders’s next bid for President.

In my opinion, the British Communists should unite their four parties and groups (all very weak, and some of them very, very weak) into a single Communist Party on the basis of the principles of the Third International and of obligatory participation in parliament. The Communist Party should propose the following “compromise” election agreement to the Hendersons and Snowdens: let us jointly fight against the alliance between Lloyd George and the Conservatives; let us share parliamentary seats in proportion to the number of workers’ votes polled for the Labour Party and for the Communist Party (not in elections, but in a special ballot), and let us retain complete freedom of agitation, propaganda and political activity. Of course, without this latter condition, we cannot agree to a bloc, for that would be treachery; the British Communists must demand and get complete freedom to expose the Hendersons and the Snowdens in the same way as (for fifteen years—1903–17) the Russian Bolsheviks demanded and got it in respect of the Russian Hendersons and Snowdens, i.e., the Mensheviks.

I don’t mind particularly that Jacobin has decided to breathe new life into the Fabian Society, which evidently is more to their liking than Bolshevism. I suspect that most young people today are waiting with bated breath for the next big confrontation with capitalism as occurred during the Occupy movement and will have little interest in ringing doorbells for some Democrat, DSA member or not.

I only wish that if they are going to recruit V.I. Lenin to their sorry project, they’d at least respect what he actually wrote rather than jamming words into his mouth. He deserves better.

UPDATE:

In a comment below, Dave Grosser denied that Ben Ewen-Campen ran as a Democrat. I guess this was photoshopped or something.

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 6.45.43 PM

23 Comments »

  1. I encounter a good article from a contributor to Jacobin now and again through Twitter. But it seems to be a publication that exists primarily for the purpose of creating a safe, mainstream middle class “socialism”. I don’t attribute much of a role for it in regard to the coming struggles ahead.

    Comment by Richard Estes — December 14, 2017 @ 6:21 pm

  2. I’m surprised you were civil in your response to Usmani and Kilpatrick, Louis. Those two calculating propagandists for The System and themselves don’t deserve it. I would have thought their glib, conservative, self-serving ignorance would have set you off.

    But I have a real question that needs real responses: Just where and what is the “far left” in the Benighted States? I’m not aware of anything going on that points through (reform) and away from (revolution) capitalism. Revolutionary reforms are needed. From what I know of Kshama Swant, she’s just another Bernie Sanders capitalist welfare stater.

    Comment by Joe Barnwell — December 14, 2017 @ 7:12 pm

  3. I would like to post your article to my Facebook page, as I think your perspective is one that needs to be heard by all lefties whether DSA’ers or independent Marxists and socialists. But I didn’t want to post it without your permission.

    Comment by Mickey Gallagher — December 14, 2017 @ 7:16 pm

  4. I have two much-loved, chronically indigent nieces who–despite decades of struggle within the contracting horizons of modern capitalism–are incapable of thinking outside the multiply nested boxes of capitalist ideology. They just can’t understand why I’m not excited about Joe Biden running for president. Don’t I just love Joe Biden? One of them once said to me with quiet conviction, “I’m a capitalist.” When I asked how much capital she has, I got an indignant sputter in reply. How could I ask such a question? For them the answer to every dilemma posed by their own alienation and marginalization is to love art and support the Democrats.

    We are up against a very hard rock with this stuff. If it were possible to truckle with Democrats and not capitulate to the folk religion of capitalist ideology, I might be for it, depending on the individual circumstances–but the grooves of American thinking are so deeply etched into the roadways of our politics that you simply can’t travel any distance on them without falling into the ruts. Everything reinforces this.

    I disagreed recently with someone who said the goal of the left should be to smash the bourgeois parties. But I certainly think that an important goal should be to smash bourgeois ideology–that is the fetishized, commoditized fragmenting “common sense” that infects the wits of the Republic like the common cold and constrains people’s thinking on a level that most of them seem unable to conceptualize.

    When supposedly advanced “organs” like Jacobin begin by giving up everything that differentiates capitalist ideological orthodoxy and the resulting false consciousness from revolutionary thought, they are announcing that radical change is neither possible nor desirable.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 14, 2017 @ 8:26 pm

  5. I would like to post your article to my Facebook page, as I think your perspective is one that needs to be heard by all lefties whether DSA’ers or independent Marxists and socialists. But I didn’t want to post it without your permission.

    Go ahead.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 14, 2017 @ 8:39 pm

  6. “What’s missing from the CommonWealth article and 9 out 10 written about the Somerville election is the fact that the DSA’ers ran on the Democratic Party ticket. ”
    Sorry but this is not accurate–Somerville elections are non-partisan. They didn’t run on any party ticket. They did run as part of an Our Revolution slate.

    Comment by Dave Grosser — December 14, 2017 @ 10:43 pm

  7. And look at the following much longer (apparently meant to be definitive) article by Jacobin founding editor and publisher Bhaskar Sunkara (“The Few Who Won: How Should We Understand the October Revolution and Its Tragic Aftermath) who gives an account of the development of Stalinism conflating Stalin’s national communist dictatorial rule with Lenin’s revolutionary socialist strategic work thereby dismissing Lenin and revolutionary socialism. After graciously forgiving the Bolsheviks for blowing it, Sunkara’s concluding sentence is “What is less forgiveable is that a model built from errors and excesses, forged in the worst of conditions, came to dominate a left living in an unrecognizable world.”

    Comment by Dayne Goodwin — December 14, 2017 @ 11:41 pm

  8. Sorry but this is not accurate–Somerville elections are non-partisan. They didn’t run on any party ticket. They did run as part of an Our Revolution slate.

    That may be true but his campaign literature identified him as a Democrat unless you think that the update to my article was photoshopped or something.

    Comment by louisproyect — December 14, 2017 @ 11:51 pm

  9. It’s his positions on militarization and empire that disqualify Bernie Sanders as someone socialists might seriously consider supporting, because no matter how progressive his positions on health care, education and regulating Wall Street may be, it’s doubtful he could deliver the goods without simultaneously ending all these perpetual wars. Advocating that along with, say, his proposing to nationalize banks, and yes, it then It might be argued that even though he was running as a democrat, theLeft should support him, the reason being that his leading the Democratic Party that far leftward, would jumpstart a mass movement towards socialism.

    Comment by Jacobo — December 15, 2017 @ 4:51 am

  10. re: Jacobo, what wars? according to Kilpatrick and Ulmani “we live in the most peaceful period in recorded history” and re: Grosser, elections in Somerville are apparently like most “nonpartisan” local elections around the U.S., political parties aren’t listed on ballot but candidates campaign w/ tacit or explicit party identification, if they’re successful they may take the next step up the capitalist political system hierarchy by running in partisan elections

    Comment by Dayne Goodwin — December 15, 2017 @ 5:34 am

  11. Jacobin rules. Especially today where there is hardly any atrractive socialist media. Go DSA too! If you put half the time you put into criticizing a tiny socialist magazine in a world of capitalist hell, into a unionizing drive in your neighborhood, you’d probably start an anarcho communist society. Sincerely with love, Boston Wobbly. Iwwtruckers1@gmail.com

    Comment by Trucker — December 15, 2017 @ 12:52 pm

  12. If you put half the time you put into criticizing a tiny socialist magazine in a world of capitalist hell, into a unionizing drive in your neighborhood, you’d probably start an anarcho communist society.

    A tiny socialist magazine? You mean the one that has been hailed in the Washington Post, the NY Times and the New Yorker magazine?

    Comment by louisproyect — December 15, 2017 @ 1:12 pm

  13. I was very disappointed in Jacobin’s “Red Century” issue. I was hoping for a critical Marxist evaluation of the legacy of the Russian Revolution, representing a range of theoretical perspectives. Instead, I got a helping of warmed-over Cold War liberalism that wouldn’t have been out of place in a CIA-funded anti-communist “left” journal in the 1960s. What was the deal with Seth Ackerman’s hit piece on Henry Wallace? Besides the fact that Henry Wallace’s connection to the Russian Revolution is pretty weak, and besides the questionable editorial choice of focusing several pages on a minor U.S. Presidential candidate while devoting almost no space to the legacy of the Russian Revolution in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, it doesn’t seem that denouncing Henry Wallace as “someone whose mind was so open that his brain fell out” takes a lot of political courage in Trump’s America. Having seen the collection of historical essays that Jacobin and marxists.org put together for the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, I was expecting better. An intelligent, critical, Marxist analysis of 1917 and the 20th century communist movement — one that is free from sectrian prejudices — is neccessary for the 21st century left. Unfortunately, this didn’t even come close.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — December 15, 2017 @ 3:31 pm

  14. Good article. I’m a long time Somerville MA resident. I think J.T. Scott is a DSA’er who ran as an independent for Ward 2. I believe you’re correct about Ewen-Campen, I don’t know much about him but he’s a bit of mystery since he hasn’t been active in Union United, the frontline grass-roots group doing the hard work organizing & confronting the $2 billion gentrification development in Union Sq.

    Comment by Rick Tudor — December 15, 2017 @ 3:58 pm

  15. Re Bernie Sanders’s jumpstarting a socialist movement. I can almost see something in this, since S. was there at the same time the “s” word became marginally more acceptable in politics and may deserve some of the credit for this, though it was Occupy that shattered the taboo on talking in public about social inequality.

    But the Democratic Party? On geardagum as the Beowulf poet might say, FDR took drastic measures to head off a powerful labor movement and a significant Communist Party at the ruling-class garden gate. A long lifetime later, following the exposure of Stalin’s crimes and the breathtaking rise to power of neoliberalism among other things, the powerful labor movement and associated phenomena of Roosevelt’s day are effectively extinct. The powerful FBI and other national police and security forces–and the permanent imperialist military establishment–that are the greater part of the Roosevelt legacy remain intact.

    Amid all this there is now , however “counterfactually” as Jacobin’s two mansplaining asswipes might say, the received and completely fictitious notion an “acceptable” left could exist that fits comfortably into the Dem. P. Even if he wished to do so–and what does he really want anyway?–Sanders could not maintain his current stance and not be swamped by the cry for “compromise” that assails his already compromised positions on the issues. To start a leftwing movement within the amorphous blob of the Democratic Party assures that you will be jerked rightward to neoliberalism the moment you set foot on the path to genuine political power.

    Sanders has tried to maintain his standing as an independent socialist who joins forces with the Ds when it suits him strategically–a not unintelligent idea that acknowledges the amorphousness and permeability of the American political party’s surface structures. It’s most amusing to hear the more overtly reactionary Democrats whining that Sanders is “not a real Democrat” as if such a thing actually existed. But the political surface structures are to the vast subterranean tangle of exclusive and often invisible connections to ruling-class power as the fruiting bodies of fungi compared with the massive, sustaining underground tangle of fibers that one never sees, but that comprises by far the greater part of the organism’s functionality.

    Ginning up committees to elect and getting on a ballot, even in a primary election for local office–as difficult and demanding of “compromise” as this is in most places–are schoolroom exercises compared with gaining the access to and exercise of power that is the essence of being a successful Democratic (or Republican) politician.

    Even if all one wishes to accomplish is another New Deal–and why on earth accept that limitation and what would that mean exactly?–this could not take place without a movement–or probably a coalition of intransigently far-left movements–outside the DP and necessarily antagonistic to it. These would be among other things movements that one could actually join and that–unlike the Democratic or Republican parties–could take strong action as necessary on important matters (inside or outside the legal and established limits of political action) and provide a measure of counsel and mutual aid in the face of repression.

    It’s useful that Sanders exists and continues to say “socialist.” But that fact is the limit of what can be accomplished by the Sanders maneuver, however ingenious it may seem, without disciplined alternative forces distinct from the Democratic Party and uncompromising in critical opposition to bourgeois ideology in all its forms. If such forces are reborn and survive the hellstorm that will surely be unleashed against them, why stop farcically short of victory with another doomed Democratic compromise?

    Comment by ` — December 16, 2017 @ 3:21 pm

  16. Previous comment mine–“‘” is a typo.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 16, 2017 @ 3:31 pm

  17. Re: Bernie Sanders jumpstarting a socialist movement

    Yes, there’d have to be a socialist takeover of the democratic party for this to happen. Impossible? Perhaps, but since the tea-partiers were able to push the Repub. party way way rightward, why not a Sanders led leftist movement capturing the Dem. party; assuming, of course, that he’d go with a program that included, as starters, ending these damn wars, demilitarization, bringing the troops home & nationalizing banks, along with the Medicare for all & tuition-free education pre-K thru graduate school that he already advocates. Of course the party establishment would oppose this, but with a mass movement supporting him & a socialist friendly Congress as well, it’d be heave-ho for the old guard.

    Comment by jacobo — December 16, 2017 @ 8:01 pm

  18. Why not a Sanders movement capturing the dems …

    Not a worthy goal for a socialist, IMHO. If it happens, the result will be a compromise intended, in the words of Robert Reich, to “save capitalism.” And even that will only be possible if there are forces outside the DP and deeply opposed to the actual power structure that cannot be intimidated or bought off.

    A mild political pendulum swing away from the disaster of Trumpism is fairly likely at this point, though how much of the damage done can be undone is open to question. Socialists IMHO should be pushing and agitating for much more, something that can only come with a genuinely revolutionary transformation of social relations across the board.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 16, 2017 @ 9:15 pm

  19. “Perhaps, but since the tea-partiers were able to push the Repub. party way way rightward, why not a Sanders led leftist movement capturing the Dem. party; assuming, of course, that he’d go with a program that included, as starters, ending these damn wars, demilitarization, bringing the troops home & nationalizing banks, along with the Medicare for all & tuition-free education pre-K thru graduate school that he already advocates.”

    But there is no reason to believe that Sanders would support a program of this kind.

    Comment by Richard Estes — December 18, 2017 @ 6:23 am

  20. Bernie Sanders identifying himself as a “socialist” when his politics are closer to New Deal liberalism — and, indeed, Republicans identifying Barack Obama as a “socialist” although his politics are significantly to the right of New Deal liberalism — has led to an identification of the term “socialism” with the idea that the state should take at least some degree of responsibility for the material well-being of its inhabitants. Until neoliberalism swept the world, this was part of the social contract of every type of state, even the most oppressive ones; the most hated tyrants of the ancient world still distributed grain in times of famine.

    While campaigning for President, Sanders defined public libraries, fire departments, and police departments as “socialist institutions.” Of course, all three of of these things existed even in Pinochet’s Chile. Furthermore, I doubt most socialists would define the policemen who murdered Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, et al as “socialists,” or even as members of a “socialist institution.” So although the Sanders campaign played an important role in getting the “s-word” back into common circulation, most Sanders supporters have little real understanding of what “socialism” actually means. This is why many of them harbor illusions about winning “back” the Democratic Party, as though there were ever a time when the Democratic Party represented the interests of the working class. Clearly, there never was such a time — but even Richard J. Daley’s Democratic machine had to provide some level of basic services to working-class constituents (albeit in a racially and ethnically stratified way) in order to maintain its legitimacy, while Rahm Emanuel is free to focus on providing favors for his donors without so much as the pretense of giving a shit about anyone else.

    Having been a Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic convention — a stage-managed absurdity held in a stadium named after one of the most predatory banks in the U.S. — I can say with certainty that there is not a snowball’s chance in hell of the Sanders movement capturing the Democratic Party, even if it never moves past identifying “socialism” with the post-war liberal social contract. I also don’t think Louis is right that “most young people today are waiting with bated breath for the next big confrontation with capitalism,” as much as I wish that were true. I do think that the Sanders campaign tapped into widespread discontent with the neoliberal order, and created an opening for left ideas. And I agree with Farans Kalosar that this opening can only be seized by “disciplined alternative forces distinct from the Democratic Party and uncompromising in critical opposition to bourgeois ideology in all its forms.” The “inside-outside” strategy advocated by Sunkara et al clearly doesn’t work. Unfortunately, the various Marxist sects, such as the one Louis belonged to, are so tiny, irrelevant, and out of touch with reality that they have long since forfeited any claim to be “disciplined alternative forces.” If anyone can point me in the direction of any credible such forces, I will most sincerely appreciate it.

    Comment by Dave Palmer — December 18, 2017 @ 8:29 am

  21. Not much to add to Palmer’s post except that Bernie Sanders–and I’m not a partisan–to the extent that he had any shred of left legitimacy had this because he began at least nominally outside the Democratic Party (long history of civil rights/antiwar activism, etc.) and at least made gestures in the direction of remaining independent of it.

    Sanders tried to position himself as coming from outside the DP and always having one foot outside it. Louis rightly claims this is not sufficient, but if the pseudo-left follows the contemptuous orders of these two bossy little creeps, the nominal independence bit will blow away like the fig-leaf it has certainly become.

    The Democratic party, in their vision, is not only open to political conquest (it isn’t), but by implication at least can constitute a sufficient organizational base for socialism. This is obvious nonsense.

    These two seem portray themselves as supporters of “My Revolution” but in effect stand well to the right even of their nominal hero, Sanders. This is the doubling-down on “compromise” that has characterized the endless rightward creep of the DP over the decades, which these two are perpetuating, and which, unfortunately, is inevitable in the My Revolution model.

    I pass over the contradiction in suggesting as these two seem to do that all the nameless “communists” are simultaneously a dangerous, baying mob and an intrinsically powerless fringe element. Nobody I’m aware of says “yay” and “boo”–only these two provocateurs and the schoolchildren whose mentality they exemplify in uttering their Hillary-Clinton-like playground taunts.

    Too much on this but Jesus it’s infuriating–and frightening.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — December 20, 2017 @ 12:09 pm

  22. Just a reminder that Sanders is pushing 80. Trying to build a movement around him, aka Our Revolution, is maybe not such a great a idea.

    Comment by Bill — December 21, 2017 @ 8:33 am


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