Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 8, 2019

Left Voice impressions

Filed under: revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 5:12 pm

On Saturday night I descended from my mancave on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to make the trek out to Bushwick in Brooklyn to attend the launch of issue 4 of Left Voice magazine at a place called the Starr Bar, whose website states that “We Celebrate and Support Movements for Social Justice”. With Manhattan being stripped of anything resembling a left counter-culture, this one-hour trip on the subway was necessary.

I had found out about the event from my old friend James Hoff, who will be joining the editorial board of the magazine. James is a CUNY professor who is unlike most tenure-track professors. Whether or not his pro-adjunct activism can jeopardize his bid for tenure next year is a secondary consideration. Solidarity evidently trumps career, bless his heart. In my view (and his, obviously), the fight for a living wage in academia is one of the most important facing the labor movement today. Like the auto industry in the 1990s, a two-tier pay structure was adopted by the bosses and the union bureaucrats who were willing to keep entry-level workers underpaid as long as the older base of the UAW could be mollified. If there is anything the capitalist class has learned over the past 300 years, it is how to keep the exploited divided. Fortunately, there are some people on the left who understand the need for a united working class in order to defend its own interests and in the long run create a society in which workers rule.

Left Voice has been on my radar for a couple of years at least. A supporter of the magazine has been posting links to articles on Marxmail, most of which end up on Facebook as well. Like Jacobin and CounterPunch, it has both a website and a print edition. Issue 4 can be purchased here. It has the theme of “Beyond Resistance: a Left that Fights to Win” that the speakers at the event reinforced through their experiences in the labor movement. This was a spirited meeting with about 75 people in attendance, with only a handful over 50. (In the interests of transparency, this includes me.) It is clear that the website is intended to gather together supporters around the magazine who can then help launch a new organization. While I have no idea whether the ISO’s excellent analyses of American and international politics will continue after their newspaper has stopped publishing, I have no doubt that Left Voice will be around for the foreseeable future.

I just plunked down $6 for a digital subscription today and encourage my readers to follow suit since the articles take the same tack I have been banging away at for the longest time and especially since Jacobin has gone full-tilt neo-Kautskyite. Articles like “Revolution or Attrition: Reading Kautsky Between the Lines”, “From Debs to the DSA? Rescuing America’s Revolutionary Tradition”, “A Green New Deal Can’t Save Us. A Planned Economy Can” and “A Socialist Case Against Bernie 2020” couldn’t be more timely given the Jacobin/DSA megaphone. (The last two are not behind a paywall and can give you a good idea of what the magazine is about.)

To get a clear idea of the difference between Jacobin and Left Voice, you can see how they deal with City University of New York issues. Two of the speakers at the event were CUNY adjuncts who spoke about the 7K or Strike Struggle that James Hoff is active in. Once you get on a tenure track like James, it is tempting to keep a low profile. CUNY is a very liberal institution but that kind of liberalism doesn’t mesh easily with working class militancy.

The adjunct struggle is close to my heart since my wife started out as an adjunct before she got on a tenure track at Lehman College, where she faced an uphill struggle. If she had been denied tenure, she would have been plunged back into the adjunct world with dire consequences for us economically. In 2017, I reported on the CUNY adjunct struggle that was the subject of an HM panel discussion. To my surprise, the ISO had lined up with a caucus in the PSC (the professor’s business union) that tried to strike a middle ground between CUNY Struggle (the adjunct’s caucus) and the administration.

If the ISO had tried to straddle the class divide, the same thing could not be said about Jacobin that landed foursquare in the PSC bureaucracy’s lap. One of the two adjuncts who spoke at the event mentioned how Barbara Bowen, the president of the PSC, had been interviewed by Jacobin at the same time Left Voice was providing a platform for CUNY Struggle. On March 23rd, James Hoff penned an article on 7K or Strike that is exemplary labor reporting:

As PSC President Barbara Bowen said in a recent Jacobin interview: “Whether the PSC will need to take [a strike authorization vote] again depends on the assessment made by the bargaining team and the union’s leadership bodies. If the union reaches a point in the current campaign where a strike authorization could be necessary, we will have an open discussion and a vote in our largest leadership body, the Delegate Assembly.” In other words, don’t worry: the leadership will tell the members when they’re ready for a strike. This top-down approach has been one of the key weaknesses of labor unions since their inception.  Indeed, creating a strict line between “leadership” (tasked with making all of the decisions) and the “rank and file” (whom are supposed to patiently wait to be mobilized when told) is one of the primary ways that union bureaucrats maintain power and control expectations and thus one of the main ways that unions have been absorbed into the very systems of exploitation they were designed to struggle against.

Because Left Voice stands with the rank and file union members and not the union bureaucracy, we are reprinting the response to the leadership’s letter below. If you would like to read the original letter, you may find a copy on the PSC’s website.

The class divide between Jacobin and Left Voice could not be more obvious.

As I was writing this article, my PDF of issue 4 just arrived in my mailbox. The graphics are as snazzy as Jacobin’s and the articles are quintessentially anti-Jacobin—not in the sense of the landed gentry but much more in the spirit of the sans culottes. I hungrily turned to the article on Kautsky because I remain so riled up by Eric Blanc’s idiotic defense of neo-Kautskyism in Jacobin. This will give you a flavor of the kind of analysis you can read in Left Voice (reminder, it is behind a paywall):

What was Luxemburg’s answer to Kautsky’s claim that there was no need to push for a general strike because the situation was not revolutionary? That his response was abstract, because one cannot consider whether the revolutionary elements of the situation are advancing without considering the action of the Social Democracy it- self. And she was right. The elections finally came in 1912, and the Social Democratic Party did spectacularly well. It received the most votes, more than twice as many as the second-placed party, and it gained 110 seats (fewer than the number it would have gained if the distribution had been proportional). But shortly afterward, World War I broke out, and the enormous strength that the Social Democratic Party had gained in Parliament was of no use, because the party had shifted its center of gravity away from class struggle.

Left Voice is a journal and nascent left group that is part of a Trotskyist international based in Argentina. I had originally intended to offer some thoughts on the problematics of such an organizational form in this post but decided not to include it in this post because it requires both more research and some careful consideration of its dynamics. I will say this, this current is on the ascendancy unlike Trotskyism in the USA as the utter collapse of the SWP would indicate as well as the dissolution of the semi-Trotskyist ISO. In a couple of days I will be posting a follow-up that will reflect my careful (hopefully) assessment of the Left Voice’s international network.

 

6 Comments »

  1. Wow! Positive words for Morenoism! Never says never! (present tense intended). But, really this branch of Morenoism is the most interesting survivor of the destruction of the old Internationalist Workers League (Fourth International) following the death of Moreno, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the failure of the then flagship party in Argentina to lead the expected socialist revolution. All of this happened in the early 1990’s for those of you unfamiliar with the events. As a survivor who flew off of the then US fragment of the explosion, I have followed the trajectory of the pieces at a distance, but with interest and some sympathy. Thanks for the report, Lou. I too will subscribe to Left Voice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFqEucF7iWw

    Comment by Anthony boynton — April 8, 2019 @ 5:48 pm

  2. Starr Bar holds some interesting events. I heard the Der Linke Bundestag rep for Berlin speak there a few months ago. He was sponsored by the Rosa L Foundation here.

    Comment by HH — April 8, 2019 @ 6:28 pm

  3. If the American Left were less sectarian, and more open to working with people that they did not have 100 percent agreement with, we would be far better off politically. It is useless for Trot sectarians to castigate people for voting for the social democratic candidates of the Democratic Party when the Left here can’t get its act together enough to produce even a Canadian-style NDP.

    Yes, I know, we have the Green Party of the US with approximately 250,000 registered members nation-wide, which is one of the most “Red-Green” GPs on the planet. I have been a registered member for about 20 years, and many of us are openly identified as some kind of socialist. Yet, the GPUSs practically useless other than as a vehicle for running protest candidates for office every few years. It doesn’t even have a full-time, paid, professional National Office staff doing basic organizing.

    When the Left here actually builds a party that is a credible alternative, one that can actually elect an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, people will take this perspective more seriously. Until then, “Left Voice” writers such as Doug Enaa Greene are just farting in the wind…

    Kurt Hill
    Brooklyn, NY

    Comment by Kurt Hill — April 8, 2019 @ 6:33 pm

  4. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/07/psc-cuny-contract-adjuncts-tuition-union-strike/ – by Hoff

    https://jacobinmag.com/2018/07/nyc-public-sector-unions-wagner-janus – CUNY Struggle “$7K or strike” advocates

    I am, BTW, a long-time adjunct who advocates $7K-or-strike.

    Comment by jschulman — April 8, 2019 @ 7:37 pm

  5. Anthony Boynton, the PTS broke with Morenism in 1988. You can find their reasons on the English site of Estrstegias Internacional, their pre-La Izquierda Diario magazine.

    You can see an explanation of their differences here…

    http://www.ft-ci.org/Polemic-with-the-LIT-and-the-theorical-legacy-of-Nahuel-Moreno?lang=en

    Comment by Elena Zeledon — April 8, 2019 @ 8:49 pm

  6. Hi elena: The link you posted leads to a site that says it is under construction, but I found the original document in Spanish (which is from 1994, not 1988). I will read it. Here is the link for anyone else interested http://www.estrategiainternacional.org/Polemica-con-la-LIT-y-el-legado-de-Nahuel-Moreno?lang=es

    Comment by Anthony Boynton — April 8, 2019 @ 9:37 pm


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