Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 26, 2020

Marxist alternatives to Jacobin

Filed under: Jacobin,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 7:46 pm

I felt a real sense of loss after the ISO dissolved. Although political differences over Cuba and Venezuela (as well as old age) prevented me from joining, I highly valued their newspaper and magazine that consistently defended a class line on electoral politics. When I discovered that a significant layer of their membership had joined the DSA and become Bernie Sanders supporters, the sense of loss became keener. When long-time revolutionary socialist Paul Le Blanc began sounding indistinguishable from the Jacobin writers, who all sounded alike on Sanders for that matter, I began to look for alternatives. To some extent, the principled left positions could still be found in “Against the Current” and “New Politics”. As for “Against the Current”, it will most likely continue even after Solidarity folds. You can also rely on “New Politics” to have many years ahead of it.

The alternatives under consideration here, except for Left Voice and Spectre, are strictly online publications, thus making them accessible to people not willing to spend hard-earned money during a time of complete financial collapse. I have contributed to a couple of them (Left Voice, Regeneration) and encourage you to be generous when they request donations. So, without further ado:

Left Voice

This magazine first came to my attention when it began publishing truly brilliant critiques of the neo-Kautskyism promoted by Jacobin. It is put out by a small pre-party formation of mostly young people who identify with the Partido de los Trabajadores Socialistas in Argentina, a split from the Moreno current in Argentina.

I obviously have differences with them on the organizational questions, just as I did with the ISO, but I feel closer to them politically than I ever did with the ISO.

Some of the best arguments against work in the Democratic Party can be found in Left Voice, including Juan Cruz Ferre’s “If There Is to Be Any Future for the U.S. Left, We Must Break with Sanders and the Democrats”. I met Ferre, a CUNY dissertation student, once and was very impressed with his erudition. His Argentinian roots and erudition came into play in this article:

The role Sanders is now called to play for the 2020 elections is to infuse enthusiasm and young blood into Biden’s anemic campaign. The game is clear. You can almost hear Sanders telling Biden “I’ll be your left man, just give me something to show, go along with me.” The six joint policy working groups they formed at the moment Sanders endorsed Biden is an obvious example. What other purpose could these task forces have? Is Biden going to concede on Medicare for All, or any other policies that characterize Sanders’s campaign? Biden keeps repeating to this day that he opposes Medicare for All, and he isn’t budging on any other significant policy proposals, like tuition-free college, the cancellation of student debt, or the Green New Deal. Juan Domingo Perón, the bourgeois populist leader of Argentina, is credited with having said, “If you want something to get stalled, create a commission.”

Regeneration

This is the magazine of the Marxist Network that Philly Socialists helped to found in early 2019. Unlike people coming from a more traditional Marxist background, they eschew electoral politics altogether. Their activism involves a lot of mutual aid and experiments with “dual power”, a term that has a different meaning than found in the classical Marxist literature. Although my theoretical background is quite a bit different, I deeply respect their work.

Like Left Voice, Marxist center comrades are young. However, not exclusively so. In a recent article “Letter to the Socialists, Old and New” written by long-time activist and Marxist Center at-large member Chris Townsend, you’ll see why geezers like and Townsend are sympathetic to this new generation (or regeneration):

  1. Throw out once and for all your reverence for the old order, and dare to dream about what its replacement will look like. We want and deserve something new and better. Chattel slavery and subjugation were replaced by wage slavery, and we fight for freedom from this last slavery which holds a tight grip on billions of fellow workers worldwide. As socialists we are optimists. Our movement follows the high road of history.
  2. Spend time with the old Socialists and old Bolsheviks when you can, before they are gone; talk to them, get to know them, ask them questions and pull them into your work. Learn what can be learned from them, and insist that they support the movement fully, including financially. Many have led prosperous lives and they can – and should – be generous in their support of the new socialist generation. Ask them for the money and resources to fund the movement today; many have it.

I couldn’t have put it better.

International Socialism Project

This is essentially the leadership of the ISO that was overturned just before the group dissolved. You’ll recognize the names: Ahmed Shawki, Sharon Smith, Lance Selfa, and Paul D’Amato. I had mixed feelings about recommending this website because of the charges made against the ISO leadership that failed to respond to multiple rapes. The crisis led to its dissolution, just as the same dereliction of duty in the British SWP led to whole sale resignations. On the other hand, both the International Socialism Project and the British SWP continue to publish important material that Marxists would benefit from. For example, Paul D’Amato wrote an article titled “The struggle has moved far ‘Beyond Bernie’” that correctly exposes how the Sandernista enthusiasts at Jacobin have shifted toward support for Biden. Even if there are articles on Jacobin blasting Biden, there are still signs that it gives it benediction to a Biden vote as D’Amato writes:

Both Heideman and Sunkara’s pieces assure Democratic Party liberals that the DSA won’t get in the way of a Biden victory in November. Sunkara explains that “88 percent” of Sanders supporters voted for Hillary Clinton, and that he expects the same thing to happen in the fall. What this shows is that there isn’t an effective barrier between supporting Sanders and supporting Biden. Sunkara then explains how he thinks DSA fits into the picture:

The small but resurgent socialist movement in this country is developing a political approach that can speak to millions of alienated Americans. Like center-left liberals and progressives, during the coming presidential election and beyond we aim to defeat right-wing populism. The difference is that we refuse to do so on the centrist terms that we believe helped create it in the first place.

Spectre: a Marxist Journal

This seems to be a joint venture of ex-ISO’ers and long-time socialists, all of whom were fairly typical Jacobin contributors in the past, when Jacobin was more open to revolutionary socialists. Tithi Bhattacharya, an editorial board member, and managing editor Ashley Smith are both ex-ISOers. Also on the editorial board are Charles Post and David McNally, who have a long background in non-sectarian Marxist politics.

The articles in Spectre are first-rate. I particularly appreciated Kim Moody’s critique of the kind of class-reductionism that Jacobin favors, from Adolph Reed Jr. to Cedric Johnson. In the article, titled “The Roots of Racist Policing”, Moody focuses on articles written by Cedric Johnson in New Politics and Catalyst that contest the idea that race and racism is at the heart of mass incarceration. He adds that much of Johnson’s argument is drawn from James Forman, Jr.’s account of the role of Black communities and officials in supporting the escalation of “tough-on-crime” policies in the 1970s and a similar argument made by John Clegg and Adaner Usmani. (Clegg is an economist who argues that slavery held back the development of American capitalism; Usmani is an editorial board member of Catalyst, the theoretical magazine published by Jacobin.)

Moody points out that they base themselves on a one-sided interpretation of Foreman’s work:

Given the weight that Johnson gives to Forman’s arguments in diminishing the importance of race, it is worth quoting Forman’s own caveat to his readers:

But in focusing on the actions of black officials, I do not minimize the role of whites or racism in the development of mass incarceration. To the contrary: racism shaped the political, economic, and legal context in which the black community and its elected representatives made their choices.

I also recommend Kim Moody’s “Cedric Johnson and the Other Sixties’ Nostalgia” that appeared in New Politics. It pointed out how Johnson, like Adolph Reed Jr., base themselves on an uncritical view of Bayard Rustin and A. Phillip Randolph.

Tempest: a revolutionary socialist organizing project

No editors are identified in the “about” page, so it is a little difficult to determine the provenance of this, the newest of the Marxist alternatives to Jacobin. However, an article co-written by Ashley Smith and Charlie Post suggests that its lineage is in the cadre of writers who no longer appeared in Jacobin after its Sandernista mutation.

All I know about Tempest contributor Andy Sernatinger is that he is a member of DSA and a rank-and-file Teamster union member. Unlike most younger DSA members (I am guessing that Sernatinger has been around the block given the savvy displayed in “At a Crossroads: DSA in the COVID age”), he is much more capable of seeing its shortcomings. It has become apparent since March that it is ill-equipped to face up to the massive crisis we are facing, as Sernatinger displays so masterfully:

This political time crashed headlong into the George Floyd uprising. The revived Black Lives Matter movement operated on a very immediate, daily timing while DSA had built its infrastructure on a routinized weekly and monthly timing without mechanisms for rapid response. What’s more, the emphasis on electoral activity trained DSA members in a type of politics that was substantially different from militant protest, and organizationally left DSA without direction for the moment. DSA approached the semi-spontaneous uprising based on its previous experience with short-term demonstrations and ended up disoriented by the continuous actions confronting the state.

I would suggest bookmarking these websites to keep abreast of revolutionary journalism in a time when it is so badly needed.

11 Comments »

  1. Also terrific: https://rampantmag.com/ Everything, but in particular, this: https://rampantmag.com/2020/06/01/rebellion-is-the-gateway-to-our-future/

    Comment by Keith_Danner (@KeithDanner11) — August 26, 2020 @ 9:46 pm

  2. Thanks for the good word. A minor correction: Spectre absolutely appears in print too – in fact, it was conceived primarily as a print journal. For now it’s biannual. The first issue came out on May 1 and the second will be mailed out on November 7.

    Comment by Zach — August 26, 2020 @ 10:01 pm

  3. Is Solidarity are the verge of collapse as well? I would imagine that their internal division over the Democrats would presage a significant split.

    Comment by davidberger6799 — August 26, 2020 @ 10:43 pm

  4. The ISO dissolved itself precisely so it’s members could merge into the DSA and sponsor the Democrats openly.

    As Marx said, the sects can only exist when sects are historically justified.

    Solidarity, Spartacist League and even the SWP seem to be stuttering on their last steps.

    I recommend reading leftcom dot org

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — August 27, 2020 @ 1:42 pm

  5. Seems it more than old age Louis, you forgot a few other groups including Socialist Revolution the US section of the International Marxist Tendency who had 280 people at their online conference recently and are organized in dozens of cities and towns in the US. I hope you get better soon.

    https://socialistrevolution.org/national-marxist-school-2020-a-world-on-fire/

    Comment by Cort Youngen Greene — August 27, 2020 @ 2:29 pm

  6. Thank you Court Youngen Greene but the link you have posted is little more than a smug, self-congratulatory pat on the back for your own organisation. Not much evidence of a serious, which would mean a critical and more importantly self-critical, attitude to theory. No sense of any interrogation of received assumptions. With attitudes like this the remnants of the cultist Trotskyist left continue careering towards oblivion.

    Comment by Dale Jones — August 28, 2020 @ 9:11 pm

  7. Thanks Dale, I am surprised a scholar such as yourself doesn’t realize it was a report on a gathering during the pandemic times and the IMT is probably the most serious party in studying theory since it roots started back in the 1930’s. The life of the tendency is a complex development I think you are not aware of or care to study from your comments.

    Comment by Cort Greene (@rojo_rojitoCort) — August 29, 2020 @ 9:49 am

  8. Why isn’t Savage included?

    Comment by GiorgioLIC — August 29, 2020 @ 9:57 pm

  9. It was centered on American websites. I do subscribe to Salvage and really value it.

    https://salvage.zone/

    Comment by louisproyect — August 29, 2020 @ 10:16 pm

  10. IMT engaged in a prehistoric style “national question” debate over a decade ago and came out against Black Nationalism (not that we need their permission anyway). Thanks to a white friend I was privy to some documents of the internal discussion. Needless to say their understanding of Black Movement history was at best sophomoric–to be charitable. Their website has some good stuff on Venezuela and other South American countries (most certainly because of an adherence to Permanent Revolution) but their discussion on the US is garbage. Their articles on #BLM leaves one with the impression that they are not even talking to or about Black people at all. Even if they get anywhere, and I doubt they will, they will end up with a more militant sounding version of class reductionism. Anyway Left Voice, Spectre, and Regeneration look good thank you for bringing them to our attention. I don’t know exactly who they are but I have found some good stuff on cosmonaut.blog Also Louis, why do you leave out Black Agenda Report and Monthly Review?

    Comment by New Afrikan Socialist — August 31, 2020 @ 7:42 pm

  11. I was only covering websites that are fairly recent and that don’t have the high profile of Black Agenda Report and MR.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 31, 2020 @ 9:03 pm


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