Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 15, 2019

Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:32 pm

via Ye Cannot Swerve Me: Moby-Dick and Climate Change

July 13, 2019

Stanley Aronowitz: the father of the “dirty break”?

Filed under: DSA,electoral strategy,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 6:49 pm

Stanley Aronowitz

Just a few days ago, I got a copy of “The Lesser Evil”, a Pathfinder book that has the debate between Peter Camejo and Michael Harrington that unfortunately never got posted online, mostly because of the tight control the SWP has over its “intellectual property”. While browsing through the book, I noticed that there was also a debate between cult leader Jack Barnes and Stanley Aronowitz from 1965 over the same questions.

I was startled to see how close Aronowitz’s tactical support for running in Democratic Party primaries was to the Jacobin and DSA articles of today. Aronowitz, unlike Harrington, was a serious Marxist thinker who was 32 at the time, not that far in age from Bhaskar Sunkara, Eric Blanc and all the other Jacobin/DSA theorists who favor a “dirty break”. Indeed, after reading Aronowitz’s answers to questions from the floor at a conference held on October 30, 1965, you almost feel that nothing much has changed.

Simply put, the dirty break was a term coined by Eric Blanc for socialists running in Democratic Party primaries as opposed to the “clean break” that people like me advocate, ie., running independently of the two capitalist parties. Blanc’s Jacobin article on the dirty break is here.

Aronowitz was speaking on behalf of the Committee for Independent Political Action, a group that he helped to found with Jimmy Weinstein, the publisher of “In These Times” that has been the informal voice of the DSA, long before Jacobin. The two men were closely linked to SDS and saw CIPA as a sister project of the New Left’s rapidly growing student-based movement. It is no exaggeration to state that SDS was the DSA of its day, its growth fueled by the Vietnam antiwar movement. If you study SDS history, you’ll learn that it backed LBJ for President in 1964, raising the slogan “Part of the Way with LBJ”. When LBJ began escalating the war, the New Left rejected the Democratic Party but never really theorized the question of independent political action. Its most notable achievement was building the Peace and Freedom Party that achieved ballot status in California and attracted widespread grass roots support. It succumbed, however, to sectarian disruption in latter years that it was ill-prepared to fend off. Below you can read a transcript of the Q&A with Aronowitz with my commentary in italics as well.

QUESTION: I want to ask a question about the concrete tactics that Stanley proposed. I understand that Stanley is one of the signers of a statement or proposal for a local New York political organization in one of the congressional districts. I was talking to Jimmy Weinstein the other night, who is also a signer, I believe, and he said that you intended to take part in the Democratic primary as a functional operation. I just wondered if you would comment on that and explain why you want to do that.

ARONOWITZ: First, it is not a proposal for a party, it is a proposal for a political committee. It’s called the Committee for Independent Political Action, and it exists. The idea of the committee is, as Barnes so correctly said, to build a movement around a program and not to build a movement around a constituency. That is, not to say we want to win people in this community, therefore we are going to have a program. In this sense it differs from the Communist Party, but not from the Socialist Party from 1900 to 1920, because they had a program: it was called socialism. [Aronowitz fails to mention the frequent denunciations of the Republican and Democratic Party parties by Eugene V. Debs. Today, you get countless tributes paid to Debs from Sandernistas, including Sanders himself, but they all sidestep what Debs said: “The Republican and Democratic parties, or, to be more exact, the Republican-Democratic party, represent the capitalist class in the class struggle. They are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles.”]

Our program is what we consider to be the central reason that we are an independent and radical political movement. The program is that the cold war and its Vietnams are what set the tone and pace for all other questions in this country, that the racism that is inherent in our society and in our foreign policy not only limits what kind of domestic issues we can have, what kind of domestic struggles we can carry on—because you can’t get any money for anything, including a poverty program—but it also determines the fact that there can be no political democracy in this country as long as the inheritors of the corporate system are in control of our policies. And that is stated openly and publicly.

Now the reason we raise the idea of possibly running in the Democratic primary—and we are not wedded to the idea—is because we regard the form as being a practical question, just as politicians from radical political organizations work in the antiwar movement, even in liberal movements sometimes. All you need is 1,000 signatures and you can enter the Democratic primary. Now in New York City, where most people participate in electoral politics through the primary and not through the general election, we see that it might be possible to run in the primary and then go on and run in the general election.

This is analogous to the view that the Freedom Democratic Party took in Mississippi. That is, the political question in Mississippi was not whether you ran in the Democratic primary, whether you called yourself Democratic or not, but what your program was. Whether you were opposed to the racists in Mississippi or not. [The Freedom Democratic Party got royally screwed at the 1964 Convention when New Deal stalwarts LBJ and Hubert Humphrey refused to seat them. To beat Goldwater, the Democrats saw the Dixiecrat delegations being seated as crucial to their “electability”. It is this tradition that Joe Biden is keeping up.]

The thing that we want to prevent is setting a sterile limit on the number of arenas that we can participate in. To a large degree, the Republican and Democratic parties in this country represent the same class. And yet they are arenas in which all kinds of opposition can take place, because they are not parties that nominate at the convention. Before Carmine DeSapio made the Democratic primary an open primary, there was no question that third party politics was the only way in which independent politics could be played in this country. Now we are saying that we need an independent political movement that will evolve into a third party. We will attack the Democratic Party, we will attack the Johnson administration, but we will at the same time not shut the door to what we consider to be a meaningful forum. [Very dialectical.] We think that there is a possibility of entering a primary in order to educate people. It’s like revolutionaries entering elections because they want to educate people; they don’t necessarily believe they are going to win in the elections, or that elections are the way in which people can gain power, but they believe that there is a possibility that there will be people who will listen through such a forum.

We are not calling ourselves the Reform Democratic Party Club, we are not going to run for party leadership within the Democratic Party; we are going to run, whether the reformers run or not. We have another problem which determines that: We want to put reform Democrats who are radicals programmatically on the spot. We want to tell them: You run in the Democratic Party because you thought that the Democratic Party, and its reform movement, which is a liberal coalition, was the only place where you could function. We will not invite into our political association activists who do not agree with our program. Here is a place where you can get active, here is a place where you fight out your program, not within an internal, narrow, sectarian group of Reform Democrats, where you lose every time, but within your own political association. If we can, we hope that we will utilize this educational forum to talk to radicals within the reform movement to pull them out, or at least to exercise them in their own consciousness about what they are doing. The process by which people are moved is not in terms of setting up, in an abstract sense, a political campaign or a political party, but in terms of the real struggles that people have participated in.

ARONOWITZ (responding to Barnes on the same question above): I would like to correct a couple of ideas that you have about it. We deliberately proceeded on the basis that we had to have a real ideological basis for activists to come in. Not civil rights, not peace, not minimum issues, but we had to have a statement. When you sign “I’m interested in joining CIPA” here, you get back this statement which, I think, pretty much explains where we are at.

It begins: “Most Americans have been cut off and excluded from the process of making the basic decisions that affect their lives. Partisan politics in the United States operates to sustain and extend the immediate and long-range interests of a relative handful of giant corporations and their institutional supporters, but the material and strategic interests and commitments of these corporations and their leaders, and the social values that flow from these interests, differ essentially from those of the poor, the workers, and most middle class Americans. In the determination of both domestic and foreign policy concern with the protection and extension of private property and profits takes priority over the personal and social needs of ordinary people. Domination of American politics by giant corporations has brought the United States to international crisis and to the organization of our lives around the ideological, political and material necessities of the cold war.”

That’s what we mean by independent politics. What we mean is that the political questions that we raise are not the kind of questions that could ever be raised in the reform movement of the Democratic Party or within the Johnson wing of the Democratic Party, by Buckley, by Bayard Rustin, or others, because we have made a political judgment about American politics which relates to the whole question of who controls.

[In fact, those questions were being raised loudly by DP candidates within a year or so as the “peace candidates” became the counterpart of the “democratic socialist” candidates of today. At least one Jacobin author sees the direct connection. Read “Bernie and the Search for New Politics” by Adam Hilton and you will see the connection. Referring to the McGovern-inspired “New Politics” movement inside the Democratic Party, Hilton writes: “By thinking institutionally and conceiving the Democratic Party as a terrain of struggle, it is evident that engagement with that party (or actors inside it) will sometimes be a valuable strategic move, depending on the particular political moment.”] 

Now the reason we regard the whole question of the Democratic Party, in New York City—not in Minnesota, Wisconsin, or any other place necessarily—as a tactical question is because of the history of political struggles in New York City. The reform movement of the Democratic Party is not an arena in which we can really develop a radical politics. And so we cut people off from that. There were many people who were involved in the California Democratic clubs who learned a lesson out of their experience—real sensuous, concrete experiences. [Sensuous? You mean like silk pajamas?] And so they went into organizations like the VDC [Vietnam Day Committee]. And we built a radicalism. Tom Hayden, Todd Gitlin, Paul Potter, Paul Booth—every last one of the organizers of SDS, which is the real key organization of the antiwar movement, began in liberal study groups of the National Student Association.

The real problem is not whether Tom and the other people in SDS have rejected or accepted the Democratic Party as an arena of political action. We know they are radicals. And the reason we know they are radicals is because SDS organized the best goddamned march on the Vietnam issue, which is the crux of the whole question of politics in this country today, and nobody else organized it. [In fact, the SWP was critical in getting that demonstration off the ground. The SDS leadership was wilting under the pressure of the League for Industrial Democracy and the Trots helped stiffen their back.] And what made them organize it was the fact that they had gone through a process of political experience. Not a process of liberalism reinforced by liberalism, which is the old SP-CP pattern. Not that kind of situation, but where they began to recognize where control was.

When Paul Potter got up at the SDS march and said it is the corporations that are the enemy, and we have to name the enemy in this country, that was the most important, primary precondition for politics, that was the content, that was the principle, that was the dividing line. The dividing line is not where you choose your forum—the Democratic Party is a temporary, transient kind of tactical situation because it is a place which has permitted participation of different positions.

The Democratic Party primary says that we have to get 350 signatures in an assembly district and 1,500 signatures in a congressional district to get on the ballot. It does not tell us what to say, how to say it, or how to mobilize. And it’s not really the center of our movement. The center of our movement is to organize and educate around this concept. But not to organize and educate depending upon the TV and the radio and the press to give us publicity. Instead, to educate on the basis of canvassing, house-by-house canvassing and community organizing around the rent strikes.

How many radicals who have good programs have been involved in the rent strikes? I have. I have been with eighteen tenants at different times down to Mayor Wagner’s office, and all we were able to do was to get rid of Mayor Wagner, by our activity of the boycott and the sit-ins in the rent strikes.

We have never been able to develop any kind of political position that has been meaningful to tenants, that has been meaningful to workers. Now I think that the problem is how you find those forums to talk to people, not to talk to them in the way of finding the minimum common denominator, that’s not the problem, but to find the forums where you will be listened to, where you will have a forum, and if that forum happens to be within the Democratic primary—and not in the Democratic Party because the Democratic Party means you run in a party election, we are not going to run in any party elections—this primary gives us one forum. Then we go on and we run in November independently. [Jimmy Weinstein did end up running as an independent but that was the last hurrah of CIPA, largely made irrelevant by the peace candidates of the Democratic Party on both a national and local basis.] By the way, Governor Rockefeller has given us a way of doing this beautifully. He says that we are now going to have a Democratic primary in June and a general election in November. That means that if we run in June we have one chance of getting before people a program, an educational program. We ain’t going to win, don’t kid yourself, and we are not going to invite reformers into the political movement either. But then we can go ahead and get our independent petitions for the general election signed. And this is not an unusual practice.

The point is that we are ready to discuss what tactic is proper at any one time. And if we determine as a result of a serious discussion that we should not go into the Democratic primary, we will not go into the Democratic primary, because we are not wedded to the coalition concept. And when we say in this statement that coalitions are secondary, we don’t mean the coalition question as raised by Rustin, we mean coalitions with the Socialist Workers Party and coalitions with the Communist Party—that is a secondary question to our common need to go out and build a radical constituency, a radical base for a program.

I’m prepared to vote for any radical socialist candidate that runs for office. And I think that those candidates should be run. What I’m trying to do is not to develop radical politics on the old bases which divide the left. I’m for a coalition of the left. A coalition which is based on a program. And if we can discuss the question of tactics we will discuss the question of tactics. But if you get hung up on the question of whether you are in the Democratic primary, and not the Democratic Party, then I think you effectively exclude your-self from the opportunity of developing a radical program that has any meaning.

QUESTION: This is a brief question to Mr. Aronowitz, which can be answered briefly. While you are telling people what the ruling class’s role is and all of the things that they are against, and while you are running a candidate in the nineteenth congressional district, who do you tell them to vote for in the main elections?

ARONOWITZ: We are not Democrats asking people to support the Democratic ticket. We are not going to enter into a coalition with Mayor Wagner or with Abraham Beame. We would not enter into a coalition with [Congressman William F.] Ryan unless we saw that he was prepared to accept our position. We are not looking for that kind of electoral coalition. What we hope to have happen, very frankly, is not that this community organizing thing will be confined to this.

What we expect, or we hope, is that other people will take it up. Look at the seventh congressional district in Berkeley, where Jeffrey Cohelan is the best liberal Democrat that you can find, outside of a guy like Phil Burton, if you take issues. I understand that the antiwar movement is preparing to run against Phil Burton. Well, that has been the direct inspiration of the kind of movement that we’ve started here. What we hope to emerge is a confluence of a lot of local movements that experiment, that don’t have any real solid answers.

I wish I had this surety that Jack Barnes has and that some people have about where the direction is. We have to experiment, we have to grope. The only thing we have is our ideology. With that, there is no compromise. Maybe it’s a difference in experience. But we’re clear, I think it’s fairly clear what we mean. We mean that if you accept the view that the priorities of this country are developed out of the cold war context, that we have to end that context, by ending neocolonialism and American imperialism, then you belong in this movement. Therefore we are not reform, because reform believes that you work in coalitions around electoral alliances that do not understand the central question.

Now there is another difference. And I’ll just make that very brief. The difference is the old concept of the united front that was developed by the CP and the SP in the thirties and a new concept of what a united front could be now. In this country the application by a number of radicals of the idea of united action was that we organize for Roosevelt, and Jack did a brilliant job on that. [I have no idea what Aronowitz is talking about here. In the 1930s, the CP started out as sectarian mad dogs and then did a 180 degree turn backing Roosevelt as part of the implementation of the Popular Front in the USA. The SP had nothing to do with the SP except in united actions to support strikers in Flint, for example. When Aronowitz refers to “united action” for Roosevelt, which certainly did not include the SP that ran Norman Thomas against him consistently, you can only conclude that he is referring to the Popular Front, although erroneously.] I think that the only way we can prevent thousands of students and thousands of other people from falling back into the trap of organizing for lesser evils is if we develop a political alternative that is meaningful to them. And we think that this kind of thing can be meaningful to them, not because of the primary but because most of our concepts arise out of experience.

QUESTION: Mr. Aronowitz, in the Democratic primaries only registered Democrats can vote. In the Republican primaries only registered Republicans vote. I understand that you are going to go into the primary in order to convince the registered Democrats that you are against the Democrats. Do you exclude going into the Republican primaries to convince the Republicans that you are against the Republicans? And do you think this is an effective way of boring from within these parties to organize an independent party?

ARONOWITZ: Well, we’re back to the old saw. We are not going into the Democratic Party, we are going into the Democratic primary. You don’t see the difference, but there is a difference, and the difference is evident to anybody who knows about the operations of the Democratic Party. [I am sure that Eric Blank knows the difference. This is the dirty break.]

For one thing the situation in New York City is the following, and we’ve done a little study. More than 90 percent of Negroes and Puerto Ricans and workers happen to be registered Democrats or registered Liberals; there is only 10 percent of that group in the population that happens to be registered Republican, and that’s one factor. We are not looking at what party we are going into, we are looking at where the constituency is.

The second thing is, that the real vote that takes place, and the way in which politics operates in this city is that the big battles, what most people worry about, in terms of where the politics is, have been within the Democratic primary in the nineteenth congressional district. I know the nineteenth congressional district; in this district, the Republican gets 28 percent or 29 or sometimes 30 percent of the vote. Therefore, where the people vote significantly, where they make choices, is not in the general election. They tend to make choices in the Democratic primary. That’s where the action is, that’s where all the pressure and all of the activity and all of the debate takes place, in the nineteenth congressional district. [All the activity and all the debate? Are you kidding? Voting is a passive act. You watch a TV commercial or get a phone call from your union or church telling you who to vote for on election day. (This is pre-Internet days, remember. He makes it sound like the St. Petersburg Soviet, for chrissake.]

What we are going to say, if we go into that primary, not that party, is that neither of these men has anything to say about the problems of the people of this district that is different from what the administration has been promulgating. What we are going to say is that our needs in this district can only be met if we accept a whole different idea.

The point is that we expect that when other movements around the country develop a serious national political movement, the whole idea of going into the Democratic primary will become unnecessary, because then we’ll have a national program and a national movement that is able to project a real national struggle. We are not in that position now. We are in a position of starting locally because we think that it is not possible to do it on a mass basis nationally. [By 1967, CIPA was history. The tsunami of antiwar activism swept it away. Something tells me that before long, Sandernism will also be swept away by working-class activism. All we will need at that point is a political instrument that can help maximize its impact.]

July 12, 2019

Long Gone Wild; Sea of Shadows

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 9:38 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 12, 2019

Two new documentaries share by pure coincidence the threat to sea mammals posed by venal Chinese consumerism.

“Long Gone Wild”, which is available across all VOD platforms on July 16th, picks up where “Blackfish” left off. Made in 2013, “Blackfish” exposed the cruel exploitation of orcas at SeaWorld, where they were confined to unnatural, prison-like conditions and forced to perform circus-type tricks until the 12,500-pound Tilikum began to take vengeance on two of his trainers and a hapless trespasser. “Long Gone Wild” demonstrates that while SeaWorld made significant concessions to activists and scientists, it has continued to explore ways in which the killer whale can be commodified. Ironically, the nomenclature “killer whale” seems inappropriate since it is profit-seeking that is the real killer, especially as China has become the new SeaWorld colossus with Russia supplying most of the kidnapped creatures for big money.

“Sea of Shadows”, which opens at The Landmark at 57 West and Quad Cinema in New York today, concerns the vaquita, the smallest porpoise in existence. It is poised on the edge of extinction largely as collateral damage created once again by China. It turns out that the swimming bladder of the totoaba, a member of the drum family, is prized by Chinese for its medicinal properties and that can command $40,000 on the black market just like rhinoceros horns and other animal organs taken from animals at the top of the food chain. The fisherman of San Felipe, a seacoast village in Baja California, have begun using gillnets to snare the totoaba but the vaquitas are caught as well. Except for a small minority of fishermen in the village who disavow such wasteful practices, the rest are willing to break the law as part of cartel run by local gangsters and their Chinese middle-men.

Continue reading

The Sweet Requiem

Filed under: Film,Tibet — louisproyect @ 9:24 pm

Opening today at the IFC Center in New York is “The Sweet Requiem”, a narrative film co-directed by Tenzing Sonam and Ritu Sarin, who are Tibetan husband and wife living in the USA. Sonam wrote a screenplay that can be described as a cri de coeur of the Tibetan exile community. According to the press notes, the film was inspired by an incident in September 2006 on the 3.6 mile high Nangpa-La Pass between Tibet-Nepal border when Chinese border guards opened fire on a group of fleeing Tibetans, leaving dead a 17-year-old nun.

For Sonam and Sarin, it raised a number of questions: Who were these escapees and what was their journey like? Why, after nearly 50 years of Chinese occupation, were Tibetans still risking their lives to escape to India? And why were so many of them children?

This incident was dramatized as the story of Dolkar, who was part of a small group of Tibetans we see in the opening scenes of the film trudging through deep snow in the Himalayas. Out of nowhere, we hear a rifle shot and the man at the head of the group falling down, mortally wounded.

Among the survivors is Dolkar, who has lost her father during the same assault. She was a young child making the journey but now lives in New Delhi as a 26-year old enjoying urban life. She takes lessons in Bollywood dance techniques, hangs out with fellow exiles, and makes a modest living working in a threading salon. Notwithstanding her normal existence, she is constantly reminded of what she left behind. Recent videos of self-immolations in Tibet jar her into the feelings of loss and sadness that many Tibetan exiles feel, including the nanny who lives down the hall from me in my high-rise. The press notes reveal a staggering number of suicides by self-immolation, numbering 153 since 2009. By comparison, this would amount to 15,000 if Tibet had the same population as the USA.

The film is divided into Dolkar’s current life in New Delhi with frequent flashbacks to the trek across the Himalayas. Past and present are conjoined when Gompo, the leader of the band, shows up in New Delhi and is welcomed into the exile community as an activist. Only Dolkar recognizes him as the guide who abandoned the group years ago, thus leaving the others to their own devices. If he is tarnished by this selfish act, he is compromised even further when Dolkar discovers that he has been meeting with Tibetans working as Chinese spies on the exile community. Gompo has been an agent himself but hoped to make a clean break with his colonizers after becoming an exile. He learns that making personal choices in harmony with his political and religious beliefs does not come easy, especially when you belong to an oppressed nation of just over 3 million souls fighting for independence against an oppressor nation of 1.3 billion.

The film went to extraordinary lengths to recreate the trek that Dolkar and her fellow Tibetans took across the snow-covered mountains. Shot in the Indian Himalayan region of Ladakh at altitudes of over 15,000 feet (4500 meters) in sub-zero temperatures, two crew-members developed altitude sickness and were unable to continue.

Twelve years ago I reviewed a film called “The Angry Monk” that is a portrait of Gendun Choephel (1903-1951), a legendary figure in Tibet, who was opposed to both the religious elite and to forced Chinese assimilation. The documentary is an excellent introduction to Tibetan culture and politics that I recommend highly and that fortunately can be seen here: https://www.snagfilms.com/films/title/angry_monk “The Angry Monk” interviews a number of Tibet’s leading anti-colonial intellectuals like Jamyang Norbu who provided insights into the character of one of the most determined struggles of the past half-century. No matter the obsession of some in the West about Tibetan spirituality, the main dynamic is one of self-determination, a right that socialists supported in Lenin’s day and that is often forgotten when the topic of Tibet comes up on the left. Here is Norbu on what Tibetans are fighting for:

Q: How does the West see Tibet?

A: I think, primarily the West sees Tibet, to some extent, as a fantasy land, as a Shangri La. Of course, this is a kind of stereotype that has existed in the Western kind of perception for a very long time, even before the movie “Lost Horizon,” the movie was made. Initially, the perception came from ideas of medieval Europe that they had of … … (inaudible), the Christian king who lived behind the mountains of Gog and Magog, and who would come maybe to make the whole of Asia a Christian country.

Because maybe people in medieval times heard of Tibet and a lot of liturgical practices in Tibet, religious rites and ceremonies, resembled the Roman Catholic ones.

Q: Tibet is suddenly very chic in America. Why is that?

A: There’s a kind of New Age perception of Tibet, which is fed to some extent quite deliberately by propagandists for Tibet, many New Age type Buddhists, Tibetan Buddhists. And, also subscribed gradually by Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama and a lot of prominent Lamas. The idea that this even materialist west will be saved by the spiritualism of the Tibetan Buddhists. It’s total nonsense.

Tibetans are in no position to save anyone, least of all themselves in the first place.

But, this is the kind of idea that’s being subscribed by a lot of New Age type people. This is the problem that Tibetans face, because their issues and the tragedy of Tibet has not being taken seriously. Primarily, it’s very fuzzy; it’s sort of a feel good issue, rather than a stark, ugly reality.

You have the Palestinian problem. Now, whether you like the Palestinians–and I’m sure a lot people in the West don’t like them—- but you give them the respect that their condition is real.

A lot of people love Tibetans in the West, tremendous sympathy, but it’s a very fuzzy kind of sympathy, because it never touches on the reality. It doesn’t touch on the reality that the Tibetan people are disappearing, they’re being wiped out.

You look at even supportive friends of Tibet like Galen …. Have you seen his calendars? It just says everything is wonderful. Tibet is wonderful. The culture is wonderful. The land is wonderful. It does not touch on the tragedy that people are actually being wiped off the face of the earth and their culture is being wiped out. That is not touched; it’s considered in bad taste.

July 10, 2019

Gray Zone versus the deep state, regime change, Trotskyite devils

Filed under: conspiracism,mechanical anti-imperialism — louisproyect @ 7:03 pm

On their Gray Zone website, Max Blumenthal and his mini-me Ben Norton (aka Ned Borton) have just come out with a 5,600 word diatribe against the Socialism 2019 Conference in Chicago. Most people still tethered to the planet would understand that the main political questions raised by the DSA/ex-ISO conference was whether support for Democratic Party candidates is tactically permissible. Instead, the two geniuses were playing Vishinsky-like prosecuting attorneys making the case that “Socialism is now apparently brought to you by the US State Department”.

They dug up every connection that conference speakers had to inside-the-beltway NGOs and government agencies like the NED to read the DSA and ex-ISOers out of the radical movement. One would think that these two nitwits would put more energy into helping the left put together a conference that did not have such nefarious ties. I can recommend some left groups that are as unsullied as them: Workers World, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Socialist Equality Party, the Spartacist League and Socialist Action. These five groups have never been implicated in smoke-filled room deals with officials of the Deep State, to be sure. In fact, if all of them got together to stage a Communism 2019 Conference, they wouldn’t need to line up a Hyatt hotel. A church basement would do just fine.

To turn NED funding, or any kind of aid from other such bodies, into a litmus test as to a group’s leftist credentials is problematic since it turns the nation-state into the unit of analysis rather than the social class.

For example, they excoriate the China Labour Bulletin for taking money from the NED but do not say anything about what it stands for. If you go to their website, you’ll find articles, for example, on coal mine safety in China that contains such data:

The Daping coal mine in Zhengzhou, Henan province, where 148 people died in a gas explosion on 20 October 2004, had been inspected and approved for an annual production capacity of 900,000 tonnes. In 2003, the mine produced 1.32 million tonnes of coal, and from January to September 2004 it had already produced 960,000 tonnes. Similarly, the Sunjiawan coal mine in Liaoning province, where a gas explosion killed at least 214 miners on 14 February 2005, had been approved for a production capacity of 900,000 tonnes, but its actual output in 2004 was 1.48 million tonnes. The Shenlong coal mine in Fukang county, Xinjiang province, where 83 miners died in a gas explosion on 11 July 2005, had a safe production capacity of only 30,000 tonnes, but during the first half of 2005 alone it had already produced almost 180,000 tonnes of coal.

You will find absolutely nothing about “regime change” in the CLB. It is simply one of the few outlets Chinese workers have for making their case. If the NED provides funding for their work, there is no stigma as long as the money comes with no-strings-attached.

The truth is that the NED and similar bodies from George Soros’s Open Foundation to Human Rights Watch will always try to take advantage of protests in every corner of the world in order to influence them. Why would anybody expect anything different? To be consistent, you’d have to condemn the student movement in Egypt in 2011 in the same way you condemn CLB. In fact, Global Research—Gray Zone’s closest relative—did exactly that. Tony Cartalucci put it this way in an article titled “The US Engineered “Arab Spring”: The NGO Raids in Egypt”:

It is hardly a speculative theory then, that the uprisings were part of an immense geopolitical campaign conceived in the West and carried out through its proxies with the assistance of disingenuous organizations including NED, NDI, IRI, and Freedom House and the stable of NGOs they maintain throughout the world. Preparations for the “Arab Spring” began not as unrest had already begun, but years before the first “fist” was raised, and within seminar rooms in D.C. and New York, US-funded training facilities in Serbia, and camps held in neighboring countries, not within the Arab World itself.

In 2008, Egyptian activists from the now infamous April 6 movement were in New York City for the inaugural Alliance of Youth Movements (AYM) summit, also known as Movements.org. There, they received training, networking opportunities, and support from AYM’s various corporate and US governmental sponsors, including the US State Department itself. The AYM 2008 summit report states that the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, James Glassman attended, as did Jared Cohen who sits on the policy planning staff of the Office of the Secretary of State. Six other State Department staff members and advisers would also attend the summit along with an immense list of corporate, media, and institutional representatives.

Can you tell the difference between Tony Cartalucci and the Gray Zone? I can’t.

Much venom is sprayed at Anand Gopal and Dan La Botz for the same kinds of reasons. Gopal is an acclaimed journalist who has made repeated trips to Syria from Turkey without Baathist approval. As with other reporters who refuse to write propaganda for the dictatorship, he had to find other ways to interview Syrians. He would crawl beneath a barbed wire fence on the border and follow painted rocks that were placed there by villagers, allowing him to avoid land mines. In a talk on Syria recently, Gopal argued that part of the explanation for the failure of the revolution was that the leadership were small proprietors in the local governments of rebel-controlled territory that insisted on preserving private property relations. If this book is nearly as good as his book on Afghanistan that was a Pulitzer prize runner up, it should gain widespread attention. Meanwhile, Blumenthal’s reporting on Syria is the same as Vanessa Beeley’s, just regime propaganda. At least Beeley went to Syria, even if was limited to 4-star hotels and tea parties with the dictator. Can you imagine Sidney Blumenthal’s golden boy crawling under barbed wire fences and walking through an obstacle course of land mines to get a story? I can’t.

The attacks on Dan La Botz are just as apolitical. I am opposed to La Botz’s special pleading for the reactionary student movement in Nicaragua but I wouldn’t dream of smearing him as a State Department tool. This kind of attack has roots in Stalin’s demonization of his opponents who were supposedly trying to overthrow socialism in the USSR because both they and the capitalist media described him as a ruthless dictator. Trotsky had a different motivation than Winston Churchill even if Stalin made an amalgam between the two. When Stalin bonded with Churchill, the symbol of British colonialism then became a paragon of democracy. Those twists and turns were studied by the two ex-opponents of Assad, to be sure.

In channeling Stalin, Norton and Blumenthal make sure to use the word “Trotskyite” throughout, a term that is a dead giveaway for politics that have largely died out after the collapse of the USSR and the transformation of the CPs into Eurocommunist type parties, except for the KKE in Greece that is cut from the same cloth as Gray Zone.

Looking back at the history of the radical movement, you will find many attempts to take advantage of imperialist rivalry. For Blumenthal and Norton, the only imperialist powers in the world are those in the West. They clearly see China and Russia as anti-imperialist states even though the subjugation of the Uyghurs and Syrians would have been denounced by Lenin as imperialist. I am not sure where Gray Zone gets most of its ideas nowadays but it sounds like they may have been plagiarizing Enver Hoxha.

If Uyghurs and Syrians have to pass their litmus test, it would mean suicide since the world is divided into two major geopolitical blocs. For all of their ranting against the White Helmets for receiving funding from the West, you would be hard-pressed to see how else they could have otherwise assembled a first responder team that has saved thousands of lives. The implication from Gray Zone is that rescuing people from bombed out buildings is the first step in invading Syria and that bombing hospitals is warranted in rebel-controlled territory to preempt sharia law.

Fortunately, people like Roger Casement and others trying to exploit the differences between Anglo-American and German imperialism didn’t take Gray Zone type advice, not that anybody would be that stupid to offer it it in the early 20th century..

Who could blame Irish freedom fighter Roger Casement for trying to strike deals with Kaiser Wilhelm to get weapons to liberate his people? During a period of inter-imperialist rivalries, it was not considered a betrayal of socialist principles to look for such opportunities. In MN Roy’s case,  an Indian Marxist who sought weapons from the Kaiser, there was the added dimension of his writing the theses on national liberation adopted by the Comintern. How could you cozy up with imperialists and then write such classic statements of Marxist policy? The answer: easy unless you are moralizing twits like Norton and Blumenthal.

This is not to speak of V.I. Lenin’s stance with respect to the same bogeymen. In “To the Finland Station”, Edmund Wilson describes the uneasy feelings that some of his comrades had that were by no means as disgusting as Gray Zone’s attack on Socialism 2019:

In the train that left the morning of April 8 there were thirty Russian exiles, including not a single Menshevik. They were accompanied by the Swiss socialist Platten, who made himself responsible for the trip, and the Polish socialist Radek. Some of the best of the comrades had been horrified by the indiscretion of Lenin in resorting to the aid of the Germans and making the trip through an enemy country. They came to the station and besieged the travelers, begging them not to go. Lenin got into the train without replying a word.

Even after Hitler took power, some nationalists continued in the same vein, the most notable among them Subhas Chandra Bose who relied on both German and Japanese support for an army that could liberate India. Despite this marriage of convenience, Bose was politically on the left and an admirer of the USSR. Indeed, Stalin’s nonaggression pact with Hitler served his policy aims well as indicated by his 1941 Kabul Thesis written just before he travelled to Germany to consult with the Nazis:

Thus we see pseudo-Leftists who through sheer cowardice avoid a conflict with Imperialism and argue in self-defence that Mr. Winston Churchill (whom we know to be the arch-Imperialist) is the greatest revolutionary going. It has become a fashion with these pseudo-Leftists to call the British Government a revolutionary force because it is fighting the Nazis and Fascists. But they conveniently forget the imperialist character of Britain’s war and also the fact that the greatest revolutionary force in the world, the Soviet Union, has entered into a solemn pact with the Nazi Government.

While some sought advantage by aligning with the axis, others found the allies more amenable to their broader goals. While he would eventually find himself locked in a deadly struggle with American imperialism, Ho Chi Minh had no problem connecting with the OSS during WWII as recounted by William Duiker in his 2000 biography “Ho Chi Minh: a Life”:

While Ho Chi Minh was in Paise attempting to revitalize the Dong Minh Hoi, a U.S. military intelligence officer arrived in Kunming to join the OSS unit there. Captain Archimedes “Al” Patti had served in the European Theater until January 1944, when he was transferred to Washington, D.C., and appointed to the Indochina desk at OSS headquarters. A man of considerable swagger and self-confidence, Patti brought to his task a strong sense of history and an abiding distrust of the French and their legacy in colonial areas. It was from the files in Washington, D.C. that he first became aware of the activities of the Vietminh Front and its mysterious leader, Ho Chi Minh.

The next day, Patti arrived at Debao airport, just north of Jingxi, and after consultation with local AGAS representatives, drove into Jingxi, where he met a Vietminh contact at a local restaurant and was driven to see Ho Chi Minh in a small village about six miles out of town. After delicately feeling out his visitor about his identity and political views, Ho described conditions inside Indochina and pointed out that his movement could provide much useful assistance and information to the Allies if it were in possession of modern weapons, ammunition, and means of communication. At the moment, Ho conceded that the movement was dependent upon a limited amount of equipment captured from the enemy. Patti avoided any commitment, but promised to explore the matter. By his own account, Patti was elated.

Right now, the biggest question facing the left is class independence, something clearly of little importance to Ben Norton who is a big Tulsi Gabbard fan. In this interview, he is positively glowing about her political growth even though she had “odious” views in the past.

Trying to stake out a position that will stand out in a crowded “anti-imperialist” left will be tough for Norton and Blumenthal. You can read the same sort of thing in Consortium News, Moon of Alabama, Mint Press, Off-Guardian, 21st Century Wire, DissidentVoice, Information Clearing House, et al. To separate themselves from the pack, my advice to the two careerists is to find some sugar daddy that can throw some money their way. Ron Unz of UNZ Review not only has deep pockets but lots of sympathy for their tilt toward Russia and Syria. That is, if you can put up with his neo-Nazism.

July 9, 2019

Amber A’Lee Frost and Anna Khachiyan: the two dingbats who bonded with Spiked Online

Filed under: imbecile trolls — louisproyect @ 8:14 pm

Anna Khachiyan (l) and Amber A’Lee Frost

On the Fourth of July, Amber A’Lee Frost and Anna Khachiyan, who are part of the Brookyn hipster Sandernista milieu, allowed themselves to be interviewed by Spiked Online as representatives of the “anti-woke” left. Despite the fact that the Koch-funded Spiked is hostile to the left, interviewer Fraser Myers lobbed softball questions at them that were softer than the kind Charlie Rose used to lob at Bill Gates or George Soros. How and why such seemingly clashing worldviews can converge is something worth examining. It might be said that contrarianism is shared across the board but there’s more to it than that.

First a word or two about Frost and Khachiyan. Frost was a FB friend a while back but I can’t remember much about her social media profile. She is a free-lance journalist who has written for some very good magazines, including Baffler. She also contributed an essay to a Rosa Luxemburg collection in 2013. But for most people, she is best known for being part of the Chapo Trap House crew that is commonly referred to as the “dirt-bag” left, a term coined by Frost herself. In one of six articles Frost has written for Current Affairs, she defended the use of vulgarity because it is “a tool for fighting the powerful”. She even has a kind word for Trump whose vulgarity “is appealing precisely because it exposes political truths,” something I admit is lost on me.

I had never heard of Anna Khachiyan before this interview. It turns out that she, like the Chapo people, is best known as a podcaster. She calls hers Red Scare, where she describes herself and fellow Russian immigrant Dasha Nekrasova as “bohemian layabouts”. Like Chapo Trap House, the two women love to laugh at their own jokes, a habit I find almost as annoying as those CNN commercials for prescription medicine that list all the terrible side-effects to watch out for. Last October, “The Cut” reported on a Brooklyn show where fans got a chance to meet their idols. This will give you an idea of what interests these “anti-woke” women:

The women onstage, all striking, were more Sevigny-goes-Hollywood, with leather miniskirts and Catholic schoolgirl provocation-gear and tiny sunglasses. After discussing their newfound addiction to Brandy Melville, a fast-fashion retailer for teens where Nekrasova had shopped for the show, the group moved on to a game: neoliberal disaster or crypto-fascist catastrophe? They debated: was SoulCycle neolib for its conflation of self-improvement with the outlay of cash? Or was there something more fascistic in the cult-leader instructor having her way with a room full of people pumping earnestly on bikes in darkness? Was Beyoncé, with her clothing line, a classic neoliberal opportunist, or, with her utter control over institutions like Vogue, a crypto-fascist? The intended lesson of the game, revealed swiftly, was that the two labels often were interchangeable. The subtext, revealed by the casual facility with which the hosts discussed the cultural products they professed to dislike, is that it’s all inescapable, no matter how mockable.

I guess I am showing my age by admitting that I have no idea what SoulCycle is and have never heard Beyoncé sing a song, not even once. I must confess, however, that I do have a fondness for Pete Seeger and Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” even if that brands me indelibly as a moldy fig.

Myers begins his interview by bemoaning “identity politics”:

The left is in crisis across the West. It is out of power in most countries and out of touch with its historical working-class base. Class politics has given way to identity politics. And noble causes like anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-discrimination have congealed into a stifling morass of political correctness and competitive victimhood.

So funny to hear a member of Frank Furedi’s gang fretting over the decline of “class politics”. Spiked has received $300,000 from the Koch brothers in exchange for articles denying climate change, supporting GMO and other rightwing causes but now is taking up the cause of the working class? Give me a fucking break.

Frost told Myers that “The majority of people are not woke. Why would we dismiss the majority of people as hopelessly reactionary?” I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. The only politician who have said things like that are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. When Obama said “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations,” was that a typical “woke left” attitude? Or Hillary Clinton’s dismissal of Trump voters as “deplorables”? Since the two women don’t define exactly what the “woke left” consists of, you can’t really decide whether they have a case or not. When I hear the word “woke”, I think of the Sandernista left. When Sanders went on Fox News to defend his program, that hardly sounded like someone who dismissed the majority of people as “hopelessly reactionary”.

As it happens, they hoist Bernie Sanders on their shoulders as one of their own “anti-woke” crusaders. Frost stated:

“The biggest divide in American society is class and that’s it. I’m a class-first person”, she tells me. “You’re hearing in the election how much we need to elect a woman or we need to elect a woman of colour. But the most left-wing candidate is an old, white, heterosexual man [Bernie Sanders] and I want him to win… I’m a Bernie bro. I was a Bernie bro in 2016 and I am now.”

This is what it boils down to: voting for Bernie Sanders on a class basis? For Marxists, the term class has a different meaning. It is not based on income but on the relationship to the means of production. Bernie Sanders is opposed to “runaway capitalism” and the “billionaire class” but he is not for abolishing the class relationships that define American society. In the 1950s, the income tax in the USA was about as egalitarian as anybody on the left could dream of—even “socialistic” given the campaign programs of Sanders and other DSA-backed candidates. But what you never hear from them are speeches that challenge the right of a capitalist to own an automobile, steel, or retail chain. While everybody can appreciate Bernie Sanders confronting Walmart’s bosses at a stockholders meeting, his proposals went no further than to put workers on the company’s board and a minimum wage raise. Of course, we understand that Sanders only became a Senator by soft-pedaling what might be called “communist” demands but that leaves open the question of what it means to be a socialist today. Sanders answered that by saying it means creating a new New Deal, as if that is either possible or desirable. It took FDR’s entry into WWII to life the USA out of the Great Depression, not WPA projects clearing brush or building roads to do that.

Frost is so determined to characterize the “woke left” as anti-working class that she once again makes a statement without backing it up: “The self-identified left are very sceptical of the populist stuff. Look at their takes on the yellow vests: ‘They’re all fascists!’ They’re probably just fucking French people – and who can tell the difference?”

Really? I have no idea what she is talking about. The left has been universally behind the Yellow Vests, even accepting the possibility that there are nativist elements in its midst. All you have to do is search CounterPunch or Jacobin for “Yellow Vests” and if you can find one article that claims “they are all fascists”, I will donate $100 to Red Scare. Then again, maybe Frost had a different “left” in mind. Like the Washington Post or MSNBC but even there you won’t find anything so crude. Perhaps the tendency for these two women to be shock jocks in the Chapo Trap House leads them to project their own vulgarity into the left in a Freudian sense.

Probably to curry favor with Spiked, Khachiyan demonstrates a contrarianism that is positively blood-curdling:

The conversation turns back to Bret Easton Ellis, a critic of what he calls snowflake culture, who is frequently accused of being a reactionary. “A lot of artists either don’t have any politics or their politics are retarded”, says Khachiyan. “His whole virtue as a writer is being a great stylist and a great narrator who retains plausible deniability. American Psycho has references to killing homeless black people, calling Asians ‘slant eyes’. And a lot of these woke SJW people sincerely think he’s a racist because he describes the condition… Artists are sometimes unassailable… The whole impulse to peg someone for what they are now is bizarre.”

I don’t know. Maybe he was just being “literary” in American Psycho but when he says that the film Black Panther was a sop to Hollywood’s “diversity push”, I do have a feeling that he just doesn’t care much for Black people.

Among the most disgusting aspects of this interview is what was said about Lena Dunham, a celebrity I cannot stand myself:

Khachiyan tells me about an event she was at with Roupenian recently. (‘Hands down one of the most inarticulate, scatter-brained speakers – but the woman can write!’) Lena Dunham was meant to speak, she says, but didn’t show up because “she cooked up a fake illness”. “It was around the time she had her uterus removed”, she says. Frost adds that lots of American women are “voluntary removing their reproductive organs”. “Nobody is talking about this. It’s a middle-class, very elite phenomenon, where they’re like, ‘I have menstrual problems, I’m going to remove my womb’. Lena Dunham wrote a whole fucking essay about it.”

As is typical of these two, there is no evidence provided that there are lots of American women who are “voluntary removing their reproductive organs”. What kind bullshit is this? My wife just had surgery to remove some fibroids and we were both grateful that a hysterectomy was not necessary.

In Dunham’s “fucking essay”, which characteristically is not linked to in the article, she states that her hysterectomy was a last-ditch decision to avoid the pain she suffered during menstrual cycles due to endometriosis, a “painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus”, according to the Mayo Clinic. Dunham describes how this affected her:

I wake up surrounded by family and doctors eager to tell me I was right. My uterus is worse than anyone could have imagined. It’s the Chinatown Chanel purse of nightmares, full of both subtle and glaring flaws. In addition to endometrial disease, an odd humplike protrusion, and a septum running down the middle, I have had retrograde bleeding, a.k.a. my period running in reverse, so that my stomach is full of blood. My ovary has settled in on the muscles around the sacral nerves in my back that allow us to walk. Let’s please not even talk about my uterine lining. The only beautiful detail is that the organ—which is meant to be shaped like a lightbulb—was shaped like a heart. Back in my room I hurt in surprising places: my shoulder, my hip, my ankle bone.

What amazes me is that these two dingbats evidently read this essay and were unmoved by this account. They should rot in hell.

July 6, 2019

My latest chess victory

Filed under: chess — louisproyect @ 12:40 am

I’m nothing but a patzer but tonight I absolutely demolished the Chess game that comes with my high-powered Macbook Pro. What’s unusual is that I did not have to take back a single move. You’ll hear me and my wife discussing the weather as the game unfolds.

July 5, 2019

Bisbee ’17

Filed under: Counterpunch,Ecology,Film — louisproyect @ 4:06 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, JULY 5, 2019

For those who missed the chance to see “Bisbee ‘17” last year because you lived in places where it was not being shown or because, like me, you simply let it slip by, there is very good news. This documentary about an IWW-led strike of copper miners in the company town of Bisbee, Arizona was recently added to Amazon, iTunes, and other VOD services. It is a story very relevant to the period we are living in today. When workers went on strike for higher wages and better working conditions in July 1917, a posse organized by the bosses at Phelps-Dodge and the local authorities rounded up the strikers and deported them to Hermanas, New Mexico in railroad cattle cars, just like Jews being sent to Auschwitz. Once the 1,300 miners arrived in New Mexico, they were housed in tents originally intended for use by Mexican refugees, who took refuge in the USA in order to avoid the Mexican army’s scorched earth tactics against Pancho Villa. As should be obvious, not much has changed since 1917.

Continue reading

July 3, 2019

John Molyneux, Hal Draper and the organizational question

Filed under: British SWP,Lenin,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 6:45 pm

John Molyneux

In the July 1, 2019 edition of International Socialism, a quarterly journal of the SWP in Britain, there is a nearly 9,000 word article by John Molyneux titled “In Defense of Party Building” that defends “Leninist” norms by taking apart an article by David McNally that was posted to the ISO website as it was going through the process of dissolution. I have the impression that Molyneux’s article was meant to dissuade ISOers from building a non-sectarian network such as Revolutionary Socialism in the 21st Century that was formed by ex-SWPers who had left the sect in droves after a rape cover-up.

Since the ISO was going through the same kind of paroxysms as the SWP, the English group that spawned it, Molyneux likely expected a similar non-sectarian experiment in the USA. Instead, the ex-ISOers, at least those that I have been exposed to, have attached themselves to the DSA and the Sanders campaign with the same kind of zeal they used to exhibit in defense of state capitalism. Unlike the USA, Britain has a Labour Party that many on the left, including RS21 members, have become active in. It is unfortunate that within the Jacobin/DSA/ex-ISO milieu, there is a mistaken idea that Sanders has something in common with Corbyn. While it is true that both are social democrats, the Democratic Party is not a social democratic party. It is instead the world’s longest-functioning capitalist party and a graveyard for radicals trying to make a home within its bowels.

Molyneux takes issue with David McNally’s article “The Period, the Party and the Next Left” that was originally a letter written to the ISO in 2009, when the group was virtually unchallenged on the US left. Essentially, McNally urges a course that I have been advocating since I hooked up with Peter Camejo’s North Star in the early 80s. McNally draws from Hal Draper’s writings but Peter Camejo’s articles such as “Against Sectarianism” were influenced much more by the Central American left, particularly the FSLN. While Camejo remains my main influence, I have also drawn from Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman’s attempt to develop a non-sectarian approach in the 1950s that is still very relevant, especially Cochran’s May 1954 “Our Orientation”:

We approach all these strata, however, in the spirit of Marx’s Communist Manifesto which proclaimed that the revolutionists had no interests separate and apart from the working class, that we are not a special sect, cult, or church, which seeks to draw people out of the broad currents into its backwater, but rather as American Marxists, we seek to join with others in advancing the existing struggles to a higher stage and on a broader front. We are convinced that out of these struggles and experiences, even before big mass forces take to the field, Left currents will arise with which we shall be able to cooperate and fuse; that the American Marxist tendency, as a stronger formation than at present, will thus be able to discharge its role as a left wing in the big movement—as part and parcel of the struggle to create the mass revolutionary party in the United States. That is our perspective.

Just compare that to Hal Draper and you’ll see how a one-time Shachtmanite drew the same kind of conclusions:

The sect establishes itself on a HIGH level (far above that of the working class) and on a thin base which is ideologically selective (usually necessarily outside working class). Its working-class character is claimed on the basis of its aspiration and orientation, not its composition or its life. It then sets out to haul the working class up to its level, or calls on the working class to climb up the grade. From behind its organizational walls, it sends out scouting parties to contact the working class, and missionaries to convert two here and three there. It sees itself becoming, one day, a mass revolutionary party by a process of accretion; or by eventual unity with two or three other sects; or perhaps by some process of entry.

Marx, on the other, saw the vanguard elements as avoiding above all the creation of organizational walls between themselves and the class-in-motion. The task was not to lift up two workers here and three there to the level of the Full Program (let alone two students here and three intellectuals there!) but to go after the levers that could get the class, or sections or the class, moving as a mass onto higher levels of action and politics.

When I first got wind of the ISO’s decision to dissolve, I had high hopes that some would take McNally’s advice from 2009 about dropping the “Leninist” crap. After expressing this on FB, somebody clued me in that it didn’t work for McNally who had tried to start something based on Draper’s ideas in Canada but it folded, just as Cochran and Braverman’s Socialist Union had folded in 1959. Since such efforts are far more modest that those that are typical of “vanguard” formations, it is difficult to see them as if it were the Titanic crashing into an iceberg or the Hindenburg blowing up–apt metaphors for the SWP, both American and British.

For Molyneux, the failure of McNally or Bert Cochran to build a mass revolutionary party was vindication of his own approach, which boiled down to Zinovievism. This schematic version of Lenin’s party was always capable of consolidating a group of 1 to 2,000 members—or even more, as was the case with the British SWP until the rape crisis. What Molyneux obviously does not understand is that such groups have been around since the 1930s and fail to do very much for the simple reason that they operate under a glass ceiling. History teaches us that groups like the British SWP or the American SWP that I belonged to can consolidate around a fully articulated “program” that a zealous membership defends like Jehovah’s Witnesses but that are never embraced by the masses. For argument’s sake, as compelling as the ideas of Tony Cliff are, they can never be the foundation of a revolutionary movement since they are operate in such a narrow spectrum ideologically.

Molyneux regards much of McNally’s critique of sectarianism as based on straw-men. For example, he denies that the SWP ever believed that it was “the custodian of the authentic revolutionary tradition”, a typical sectarian nostrum. He writes:

A revolutionary Marxist organisation—group or party—will obviously try, as best it can, to embody the “authentic revolutionary tradition”, but this is entirely different from imagining that it is the “custodian” of that tradition as if it could somehow be copyrighted or deposited in the group’s bank account.

He misses the point. We are not talking about revolutionary traditions but ideology. The British SWP has made Tony Cliff’s state capitalist theory a litmus test that sets it apart from its rivals on the left. This means, for example, publishing Mike Gonzalez articles on Cuba that would make most people on the left balk at the idea of ever becoming a member. In a way, it is a reverse litmus test since it puts an obstacle in the way of convincing many radicalizing people to join. For those on the left who have not already been indoctrinated into Cliff-think, they would likely find the notion of Fidel Castro building capitalism rather nutty. Whatever the merit of such ideas, I think it is important to debate out questions such as the class nature of Cuba but only in the back pages of a theoretical journal open to a diversity of opinion.

To elevate the question of whether Che Guevara was a Stalinist to the same level as whether to support Brexit demonstrates an inability to keep your eyes on the prize. In reality, this state capitalism stuff is just a way to distinguish the SWP brand from other left groups, like detergents or soft drink advertisements. As Peter Camejo told me back in the early 80s, we have to put historical and international questions on the back burner. I should add that even when there are sharp differences on something like Syria or Ukraine, this does not mean that should be split questions. I have no problem defending my ideas on Syria in CounterPunch even though there are articles that defend Assad. Back in 1992, the National Guardian, the American radical newsweekly that no connection to the British newspaper, opened its back pages to contending analyses of the war in Bosnia. This is a model that can certainly work if we keep our eyes on the prize.

Referencing the British SWP’s various party-building experiments since its inception that ranged from its work in the Socialist Alliance to its creation of small branches that might facilitate more rapid growth, Molyneux scoffs at the idea that it was a “one-trick pony”. He writes:

Cliff in particular was always very conscious of the fact that the IS/SWP and any other would-be mass revolutionary workers’ party would have repeatedly to transform itself, its methods of work, its structures etc, in interaction with the working class in struggle, in order to get anywhere near its goal.

That might be true but what exactly was its goal other than becoming a mass Leninist party? Tony Cliff came out of Leon Trotsky’s Fourth International and absorbed all of the subterfuges that his followers perfected in pursuit of Zinovievist goals. For example, if you read James P. Cannon’s “History of American Trotskyism”, you’ll find out that he carried out an “entryist” tactic in the Socialist Party inspired by Trotsky’s “French Turn”. Other party-building tactics in later years had nothing in common with that but all of these tactics were subordinated to the goal of becoming hegemonic on the left. Cliff carried out the same kind of maneuvers himself, even taking part in an entryist project in the Labour Party of the sort that his contemporary Ted Grant carried out for decades. In my view, all such tactics are a sectarian mistake and should be abandoned once and for all.

Molyneux’s article concludes with comparisons between the SWP and other groups on the left, as well as Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, that never considers the possibility that the Zinovievist principles that he and Ted Grant or James P. Cannon were operating on entailed completely different understandings of how to build a vanguard party:

I want to stress that I’m not citing these examples to criticise the CWI, the SWP or the ISO (still less to suggest that if everybody had adopted the correct model all errors would have been avoided). Indeed, I would say it is literally impossible to engage in party building for any length of time without falling victim, in one way or another, to these opposing pressures. The Bolshevik Party itself, let us remember, was sectarian in its initial response to the Soviets in 1905, ultra-left over participation in the Duma in 1906-7 and opportunist in the first phase of the revolution in 1917. Simply getting bigger, while obviously desirable, is not in itself a protection as it may well increase the pressure of reformism. Staying small and “pure” is not a solution since the “purity” increases the likelihood of the sect mentality taking over.

He also assumes that Lenin’s “democratic centralism” operated on the same basis as the SWP:

In fact democratic centralism, though not a guarantee or panacea (there isn’t one), is the best available method of ensuring party leaders are subject to democratic control. This does not mean that in all stages of an organisation’s development and in all conditions democratic centralism should be applied in the same way. Organisational forms have to change according to changing circumstances.

He doesn’t seem to grasp the sharp differences between the Bolsheviks and all these other groups led by Tony Cliff, Peter Taaffe, Alan Woods, et al over democratic centralism. The Bolsheviks applied democratic centralism to action rather than ideas. For example, a Bolshevik deputy in the duma was expected to vote on the basis of what the party membership mandated. Also, when a strike was approved by Lenin’s party, its trade union membership was expected to throw themselves into carrying out the strike. In Zinovievist groups, it applies just as much to ideas as it does to action. It was strictly enforced in the American SWP, especially in the 1980s when it was determined to get rid of all the older cadres that still adhered to Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution. Telling someone at a Militant Labor Forum that an article in the Militant supporting Lenin’s “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry” was a mistake could get you expelled, even if you had been in the party for 30 years. This kind of thing actually happened.

In Lenin’s party, debates were carried out in public. In fact there were numerous Bolshevik newspapers, all with their own independent editorial boards that saw things their own way and wrote about them with their own perspective. Not only that, the Bolsheviks occasionally put out newspapers jointly with their supposedly worst enemies, the Mensheviks. One such newspaper was Severny Golos (Voice of the North) that called for a general strike and insurrection in 1905. Around that time the Bolsheviks were grappling with the significance of 1905. Nachalo, an official Bolshevik paper, called for a dictatorship of the proletariat while another paper Novaya Zhizn advocated a democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry. Now we all understand that such doctrinal differences have led to numerous splits in the Trotskyist movement, but back in the good old days it did not seem to bother Lenin very much who wrote, “But have not disagreements of this kind been observed at every socialist party in Europe.”

If public disagreements of this sort were standard in Lenin’s day, imagine how impossible it is today to keep debates bottled up internally as is the customary practice of groups like the SWP. The internal documents of the ISO and the British SWP during pre-convention always get circulated on the Internet. Maybe the only way to implement the kind of strict democratic centralism of yore is to do what the SWP did in one pre-convention discussion that involved some questions under hot dispute when I was a new, young member. They handed out numbered print copies at the beginning of the meeting and collected them at the end of the meeting. Any copy that was missing would be tracked down and that was that.

All of these measures were designed to keep the prying eyes of the rest of the left from seeing our top secrets. It was a kind of behavior that made no sense in a bourgeois democracy where conventions were frequently hosts of sharp debates over race, war, and other questions that deeply affected the citizenry. What’s needed now more than ever is transparency and accountability. Who knows? Maybe if these principles had guided the ISO and the SWP, those rape cases would have not led to wholesale defection and dissolution. Of course, the question of why groups committed to woman’s liberation were prone to sexual assaults in the first place remains unanswered.

July 2, 2019

Butting in to Bhaskar Sunkara’s debate with a Trotskyist

Filed under: Jacobin,social democracy — louisproyect @ 9:26 pm

Debates between DSA’ers and Trotskyists are few and far between, especially today when Trotskyist groups are gnats compared to the elephantine DSA. Once upon a time, long before the Sandernista left reconstituted itself as the DSA, these debates were more frequent because the relationship of forces was different. The SWP, which is a micro-gnat today, was once the largest group on the left and anxious to defend its ideas against all comers. Although I hate to see even a single penny go to this grotesque cult today, Pathfinder’s collection of 3 debates titled “The Lesser Evil?: Debates on the Democratic Party and Independent Working-Class Politics” is only sixteen dollars and would be useful reading today. It contains Peter Camejo’s legendary standoff with DSA founding father Michael Harrington in 1976, cult leader Jack Barnes’s with Stanley Aronowitz in 1965, and George Breitman’s with Carl Haessler in 1959. While the DSA did not exist in 1965 or 1959, social democracy did.

Aronowitz was a leader along with James Weinstein, the late publisher of “In These Times”, of the Committee for Independent Political Action that was a forerunner of the DSA strategy. A NLR article on the Rainbow Coalition will indicate that this strategy has been around for a long time:

In 1965, a group of white socialists in New York City created the Committee for Independent Political Action, which attempted to advance an anti-Vietnam war agenda within the Democratic Party primary elections. Radical trade unionist Stanley Aronowitz viewed the strategy as a means for ‘an independent political movement’ to attack the Democratic Party, as well as to ‘evolve into a third party.’ Revolutionaries who entered the Democratic Party could ‘put reform Democrats who are radicals programmatically on the spot’, while educating a mass audience.

As for Haessler, he was 72 at the time he debated George Breitman and had probably shifted to the right, keeping pace with other SP members who were thoroughgoing anti-Communists in 1959. To his credit, he went to prison for opposing WWI and was closer to Eugene V. Debs than he was to Victor Berger, the sewer socialist he dubbed an “old fogey”.

While Bhaskar Sunkara has largely been identified with Michael Harrington and Karl Kautsky, I would see him much more as in the tradition of Stanley Aronowitz who was one of CUNY’s best-known Marxist professors. He helped to get the Socialist Scholars Conference going in the 1960s and restarted it in 1981 as a DSA-backed enterprise.

Like Sunkara, Aronowitz was a very nimble defender of social democratic politics and had momentum on his side in the 1970s when a number of Democratic Party elected officials joined the DSA, especially African-Americans. The disgusting McCarthyite KeyWiki website provides a list of DSA elected officials from 1990 that includes 19 men and women including Congressmen Ron Dellums and Major Owens, NYC Mayor David Dinkins, and Ruth Messinger, the Manhattan Borough President. It was not uncommon for leftists to take jobs with these elected officials. For example, Lars Lih worked for Ron Dellums as Ron Ashford did for Major Owens. Ashford was a member of CISPES in New York, where I got to know him, as well as a member of the Communist Workers Party that made the tragic mistake of getting into an armed confrontation with the KKK in North Carolina.

More recently, there have been two debates between leading DSAers and people coming from a Trotskyist tradition. Back in April, there was a conference in NYC co-sponsored by Jacobin and HM that included a debate between Charles Post and Eric Blanc. Unfortunately, there was no video recording but you can read my capsule summary here.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been watching a debate between Bhaskar Sunkara and James Peterson, the editor of Socialist Revolution that can be seen above. Peterson, like Post, repeats the standard arguments for independent class action that they learned in the Trotskyist movement. Post was a former member of the SWP and Peterson belongs to the American section of the IMT, a British Trotskyist International led by Alan Woods that never gained nearly as high a profile as its rival Socialist Alternative. Probably, the decision of Peterson’s group to call itself the International Marxist Tendency has quite a bit to do with its modest presence.

Actually, I was far more interested in what Sunkara had to say since he has never really replied to his critics on the left, least of all a skunk like me. When he was 16 years old (or something like that), he was on the Marxism list but never promoted social democratic politics except in his farewell address to the subscribers:

I’ll be in the DSA, in the cesspool of the Democratic Party, in the mainstream unions, where the working people are, until you comrades can prove me wrong and build a viable alternative for working people and then I’ll apologize and happily join you.

Unlike Eric Blanc, Sunkara is not much of a theorist. I’ll be getting around to his “Socialist Manifesto” but as far as I know, most of his statements are rather anodyne op-ed type pieces in the bourgeois press, including a regular column in the Guardian where he offers up this kind of wisdom:

I’ve been wrong about this once before, but I’d bet that whoever the Democratic nominee is in 2020, they’ll be able to defeat Trump. That’s all the more reason to go with the most viable progressive candidate – someone committed to change and with the knowledge and willingness to do battle with the big business interests that want to hear none of it.

At the very least, this acknowledges that Sanders is a “progressive candidate” rather than the boilerplate description of him as a socialist, a label that is getting harder and harder to justify given how he has clothed himself in New Deal garments.

Early on in the debate, Peterson defends the distinction between socialism and communism that in reality never appeared in Marx’s writings, as Michael Lebowitz points out. For Peterson (and many other Marxists, including Lenin—I would add), socialism is identified with the dictatorship of the proletariat—a state in which the workers rule. After socialism has become a world system and completed the task of wiping out all traces of capitalist property relations, money will no longer be needed and the state will begin to dissolve until communism is achieved, a purely classless society that will have a lot in common with utopian literature of the past. Frankly, I’ll be glad if we even get to those conditions that Trotskyists used to call a workers state with bureaucratic deformations given the descent into hell of the past decade or so.

Sunkara views this distinction between socialism and communism as baseless. There will always be a need for a state, in his view. He puts it this way. “Let’s say that you want to build a bridge and I want to build a tunnel. How do we mediate that without a state?” To start off, I remain mystified by any attempts by the left to grapple with the problem of future socialist societies whether it is the boneheaded Fully Automatic Luxury Communism or the thoughtful attempt by Sam Gindin to say “What socialism will look like”.

I try to imagine why a state would be necessary to decide for example whether a tunnel or a bridge should be built. The implication of Sunkara’s example is that markets would solve these problems rather than planning. Keep in mind that this is what Vivek Chibber, the editor of Catalyst magazine, has already said:

What is more challenging is the issue of economic planning. We have to start with the observation that the expectation of a centrally planned economy simply replacing the market has no empirical foundation. We can want planning to work, but we have no evidence that it can. Every attempt to put it in place for more than short durations has met with failure.

In a society of millions of people, billions if you conceive of communism as a world system, planning will be essential if for no other reason to utilize resources intelligently. Scientific planning, in fact, is the only way to avoid the Sixth Extinction whatever the Jacobin/Catalyst hustlers believe. If scientists getting together to figure out how to preserve old-growth forests while still supplying the wood needed for chairs and desks is the same thing as cops arresting environmentalists sitting in to protect redwood trees, then the differences between social democrats and Marxists is deeper than anybody could have ever imagined.

Moving right along, Sunkara and Peterson wrangled over the question of “bourgeois democracy”. At 18:00 in the video, Sunkara expresses disagreement with the idea that democracy was a gain of bourgeois revolutions, as put forward by Peterson who was simply expressing the idea scattered throughout Kautsky’s writings. He wonders why the bourgeoisie should get credit for the very thing they violently opposed. He says that from 1848, the bourgeoisie opposed “democratization”. Of course, there is a problem in the way he formulated this. Marxists don’t use a term like “democratization” that is class neutral. That is why they refer to bourgeois democracy. For example, the American civil war produced bourgeois democracy. It ended chattel slavery and allowed Blacks to become free wage laborers. Even if Jim Crow forced them into second-class citizenship, they still had the right to move wherever they wanted, including New York and Chicago where they could get jobs making Ford automobiles and vote for the Democratic Party that was largely responsible for Jim Crow. This is a contradiction that largely escaped Sunkara, whose grasp of dialectics is about as deep as mine is of particle physics.

The final 30 minutes or so of their debate revolves around the Democratic Party that Sunkara referred to as a cesspool above. In accord with Eric Blanc’s article on “the dirty break”, he explains that it is okay to “use” the primary ballot to raise all sorts of hell as a socialist candidate more likely to get air time than we used to when we ran people like Peter Camejo for President. If this was all there was to the tactic, I’d take the Jacobin publishing empire-builder a bit more seriously. However, these campaigns by Sanders, A. O-C, et al are not about socialist propaganda. They are serious attempts to get elected and seen so by Jacobin and the DSA, so much so that A. O-C told CNN that she “look[s] forward to… us rallying behind all Democratic nominees, including the governor, to make sure that he wins in November.” That was Andrew Cuomo, the politician who represents everything that is filthy about the Democratic Party. It is no different than Sanders urging a vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016. My guess is that whoever runs against Trump next year, Sanders will certainly endorse whoever the Democrats nominate, even Joe Biden. That will be a contradiction for Bhaskar Sunkara to unravel—speaking dialectically.

 

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