Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 15, 2016

Who is Gareth Stedman Jones and why is he saying such stupid things about Marx?

Filed under: Academia,liberalism,workers — louisproyect @ 6:00 pm

Gareth Stedman Jones

Gareth Stedman Jones is a 73-year-old professor of history at the University of London who was educated at St. Paul’s and Oxford. This, plus a brief infatuation with Marxism in the 1960s, was just the ticket for landing a seat on the editorial board of New Left Review where many editors and contributors over the years share the same kind of background.

In a 2012 interview, Jones described his eventual breach with the far left, especially its Trotskyist component, as a result of being put off by the idea of a “revolutionary Europe”. Instead he realized that unlike his erstwhile comrades, he really was a “crypto-Fabian”.

For most people who have a youthful fling with radical politics, this is something easy enough to put behind them. I am acquainted, for example, with a man who was my YSA organizer in NY in 1968. He dropped out of the movement about 5 years later, moved out to California, and started a very profitable company that sold and installed industrial carpeting in office buildings. When I visited his ranch about 15 years ago, the last thing he was interested in was politics. He much preferred to drink cognac, smoke cigars and talk about the horses he was breeding.

In my view, that man does a lot less harm than Gareth Stedman Jones who has carved out a very successful career at elite British universities, including Cambridge, teaching young people all about working class history and what’s wrong with Marxism. On his webpage at the U. of London, he names his PhD students including one Kate Connelly, whose dissertation is on “Marx, Engels and the Urban Poor”. As is commonly understood, dissertation students make sure to hold views in sync with their adviser so we can assume that she will disorient her future students in the same way Jones disoriented her.

One of the most ironic contradictions of Marxism is that some of its most diehard critics speak in the name of Marxism. With the intellectual clout they might gain from serving on the NLR editorial board and having written a rafter of books with titles like “Outcast London”, a 1971 Verso book that was an exercise in E.P. Thompson “history from below”, people such as Gareth Stedman Jones can speak out of both sides of his mouth. He is for the working class in a charitable Dickensian fashion but against it becoming the ruling class.

In his latest exercise in undermining Marx while praising him, Jones just came out with a 768-page book titled “Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion” that has been reviewed in the Guardian and the Financial Times. Writing for the Guardian, Oliver Bullough states that “Stedman Jones eventually comes to the conclusion that the pioneers of 20th-century socialism would have found Marx’s true dreams incomprehensible, since they were formed in a pre-1848 world that would have had little if any relevance to them.”

In a nutshell, Jones argues that the 20th and 21st century Marxist understanding of socialism is influenced much more by Engels than Marx. Bullough explains: “Stedman Jones argues that much of what we now think of as Marxism – and, thus, much of what went on to inspire socialist and communist parties – was the creation of Engels, who codified Marx’s theories after his death, thus making them palatable for people unable or unwilling to wade through his dense texts.”

The idea that Engels was somehow to blame for the bastardization of Marxism and even partially responsible for the Stalinist travesties of “dialectical materialism” is part of the arsenal of people like Gareth Stedman Jones, even though there is little basis for this.

Mark Mazower, a Columbia University professor, wrote the FT review titled “The value of Karl Marx’s 19th century thinking in today’s world”. As I have noted in the past, the FT has published a number of articles, especially during the depth of the 2008 financial crisis, arguing for the relevance of Karl Marx even if his call for the abolition of capitalism was all wet.

Relying on Mazower’s reading of Jones, we are expected to believe that Marx neglected to deal with the problem of state power:

At the same time he continued his voluminous reading, in particular of Ludwig Feuerbach, a critic of Hegel and the thinker who did most to point Marx towards the idea of man as an alienated being who thrived best as part of a larger collective. It was this conception that allowed Marx to imagine the future as one great human society, and to relegate to an entirely unimportant position the state itself, which had been so potent in Hegel’s thought. One consequence of this downplaying of the state was that Marx developed his entire critique of capitalism with almost no reference to the role of the state: the upshot was that after 1917, when his Russian followers found themselves running the government of a very large country, they had a free hand to invent a role for the bureaucracy and ended up creating a polity in which the state played a greater role than ever before or since.

Speaking of neglect, it is obvious to me that Jones failed to take into account one of Karl Marx’s most important writings on the state—“The Civil War in France”—that was the basis for Lenin’s “State and Revolution”. I understand that Gareth Stedman Jones has more awards than Heineken beer but if he can’t make the connection between Marx and Lenin on the theory of the workers state, then he has no business teaching about Marx. But then again, the people who hired him for his various august positions saw this inability to make such a connection essential to training the future leaders of bourgeois society who might dismiss Marxism while wisely praising Marx as an important 19th century thinker.

In 2002 Penguin came out with a version of “The Communist Manifesto” with a 185-page introduction by Jones, three times the length of the Manifesto. Among the spurious points made in the introduction is that the manifesto and much of 19th century socialism was a quasi-religion. This, of course, is another key talking point against Marxism that I personally first heard in junior high school back in 1958 or so. It was “the god that failed”, a “secular religion” that replaced heaven with the communist ideal. This is a rather banal interpretation and exactly what you would expect from someone like Gareth Stedman Jones.

In a shrewd review of Jones’s packaging of The Communist Manifesto for the New Left Review, Jacob Stevens wrote:

Stedman Jones’s organizing thesis—that Marxism is another form of religion—is, of course, one of the oldest tropes of Cold War literature, predating even the equation of communism and fascism as two sides of the totalitarian coin. During the thirties, Waldemar Gurian and Eric Voegelin argued that Marxism and Nazism caricatured the fundamental patterns of religious belief, diagnosing the resulting immanentist heresies as by-products of secularization in a decadent world, fuelled by Enlightenment myths of social transformation. After World War Two, Jules Monnerot’s Sociology of Communism (1949) explained that Bolshevism was a ‘religious sect of world conquerors’ that should be viewed as a ‘twentieth-century Islam’. Raymond Aron’s Opium of the Intellectuals (1955) offered a fully fleshed-out analogy with Christianity: the ‘sacred history which Marxism extracts from the penumbra of plain facts’ offers a messianic role for the Party.

For Jones the last important work of Marx was “The German Ideology”. Apparently everything went downhill afterwards. Perhaps Jones might have done less harm if he had simply focused on social history and not written counter-revolutionary drivel. This part of his legacy might have inspired another of his dissertation students to have chosen a topic like “Carnivals in Greater London, 1890-1914: Locality, Leisure and Voluntary Action on the Metropolitan Periphery”, one that thankfully will not carry his adviser’s ideological baggage.

Then again, that might be problematic given Jones’s attempt to purge class from the history of the Chartist movement. Once again doing his best to obfuscate revolutionary history, he claims that it was liberalism rather than socialism that fueled the growth of this movement. Crypto-Fabian indeed.

In 1983, Jones came out with a book titled “Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History 1832-1982” that included a chapter titled “Rethinking Chartism”. It turned language into a fulcrum of analysis rather than class dynamics. The speeches and articles of Chartist leaders that reflected a commitment to traditional values of bourgeois democracy were taken at face value by Jones whose words reflected the baleful influence of post-structuralism:

What both ‘experience’ and ‘consciousness’ conceal – at least as their usage has evolved among historians- is the problematic character of language itself. Both concepts imply that language is a simple medium through which ‘experience’ finds expression- a romantic conception of language in which what is at the beginning inner and particular struggles to outward expression and, having done so, finds itself recognized in the answering experience of others, and hence sees itself to be part of a shared experience. It is in some such way that ‘experience’ can be conceived cumulatively to result in class consciousness. What this approach cannot acknowledge is all the criticism which has been levelled at it since the broader significance of Saussure’s work was understood – the materiality of language itself, the impossibility of simply referring it back to some primal anterior reality, ‘social being’, the impossibility of abstracting experience from the language which structures its articulation. In areas other than history, such criticisms are by now well known and do not need elaboration. But historians – and social historians in particular – have either been unaware or, when aware, extremely resistant to the implications of this approach for their own practice, and this has been so most of all perhaps when it touches such a central topic as class.

So interesting to see how Gareth Stedman Jones is inclined to draw upon intellectual traditions hostile to Marxism in an effort to simultaneously speak for the left while undermining it. If the essay on the Chartists was filled with intellectual hijinks like this, the next chapter “Why is the Labour Party Such a Mess?” was refreshingly straightforward even if the ideas were just as repugnant. It seems that the solution to the Labour Party’s problems in post-Thatcher England was to ditch the “homogeneous proletarian estate whose sectional political interest is encompassed by trade unions.”

In 2004, Jones wrote an op-ed piece for the Guardian titled “Tony Blair needs a big idea. Adam Smith can provide it”. It is a totally ahistorical think piece that abstracts Adam Smith from his contemporary context and urges readers to appreciate that Smith’s “original reputation was that of a progressive whose work provided the foundation of the radical critique of aristocratic monopoly and of the bellicose state that protected it.” He adds, “But an accurate account of this period shows that the pursuit of equality can be conceived in terms quite other than those of socialism.”

What that has to do with the 21st century when capitalism had become so decadent that it was capable of fomenting two world wars is anybody’s guess. It seems that despite his formidable reputation as a historian, Jones’s grasp of history is rather weak. Adam Smith was an enemy of state monopolies like the East India Company. How would that exactly translate into Labour Party policy? In the late 18th century, Britain was on the verge of an industrial revolution that combined with its overseas empire could turn it into the wealthiest nation in the world. Adam Smith was the prophet of that trend. But in 2004 England was deep into deindustrialization that both Labour and Conservative politicians were either enthusiastic about or reconciled to. One supposes that Gareth Stedman Jones lacked the intellectual and political insights to grasp this.

I am sure that none of my readers would waste $35 on his worthless book but for those with a morbid curiosity I would urge you to read an interview with him that is a transcript of a 2005 PBS show called “Heaven On Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism” that was hosted by Ben Wattenberg, an obnoxious neoconservative. As should be obvious from the title of the program, Jones must have jumped at the opportunity to chat with Wattenberg since they agreed that socialism was a kind of religion.

It is a pile of shit from beginning to end but reached the deepest level of shittiness when Wattenberg posed the question: “Did the writings of Lenin change people’s ideas about Socialism?” Jones replies:

Well, it absolutely moves the center of gravity from the idea that socialism is something which is going to come through the development of capitalism at its highest point, something which all socialists have believed before 1914 to the idea that building socialism in the primitive country, ninety-percent of whose population were peasants and so on, the point from which he had to redefine socialism.

Lenin tries to do so by his famous arguments that capitalism is as strong as its weakest link, and pre-revolutionary Russia has presented it as being the weakest link. So really he cuts through this whole argument about whether there are enough workers as a proportion of the population to produce a viable socialist society. Clearly, there weren’t and the Soviets learned to their costs. I mean, the forces of real socialism were thin in the country and much, therefore, was done by brute force. And of course it changed the image of socialism ever afterwards to that of being a very top-heavy, authoritarian, ruthless state machine, which was if anything, the opposite of what people would have thought socialism was meant to be in the mid-nineteenth century.

So the forces of real socialism were thin in the country and much, therefore, was done by brute force. Very interesting. Speaking of brute force, does Jones have any idea of what kind of brute force was deployed against Russia in 1918 when 21 invading armies sought to destroy the socialist experiment?

About 8 million people lost their lives during the Russian Civil War. Wikipedia also indicates the crushing of the industrial infrastructure:

Estimates say that the war cost the Soviet Russia around 50 billion rubles or $35,000,000,000.00 in today’s price. Production of industrial goods fell to very low level. For example, The Soviet Union was producing only 5 % of the cotton, and only 2 % of the iron ore, compared to the production of 1913. Generally, the production had fallen to 20% of the production of 1913.

The counter-revolutionary war had the intended effect even if “socialism” survived. The loss of Bolshevik cadre led to the rise of Stalinism, and after that the rise of fascism since the working class in Europe lacked the revolutionary leadership that could have blocked the victory of both Hitler and Franco.

As Perry Anderson pointed out in “Considerations on Western Marxism”, it was such terrible defeats that led to a retreat from revolutionary socialism among a class of intellectuals who, anticipating Gareth Stedman Jones, began to criticize Marxism from within the academy. The only thing that will reverse this trend is a new upsurge of the working class that will inevitably be produced by the irrationality of the capitalist system. Even though Gareth Stedman Jones disparages The Communist Manifesto, it is worth quoting on this point:

The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.

June 7, 2016

All the Way

Filed under: african-american,liberalism,racism — louisproyect @ 7:51 pm

Currently being featured on HBO, “All the Way” derives its title from LBJ’s 1964 campaign slogan “All the Way with LBJ”. That year SDS urged a vote for Johnson but under the slogan “Part of the Way with LBJ”. For some former SDS’ers like Carl Davidson, you can expect the slogan to be dusted off and used once again for Hillary Clinton with Donald Trump being the scariest Republican candidate since Barry Goldwater—or was it Ronald Reagan, I can’t remember.

The movie is an adaptation of a three-hour play by Robert Schenkkan starring Bryan Cranston as LBJ that ran on Broadway in 2013. The NY Times faulted it for including too many characters to receive full development in such a short time so you can imagine how much worse the problem is when the play is reduced to a 132-minute teleplay.

“All the Way” received a Tony award for best play in 2014 but that’s setting the bar fairly low given the competition on Broaday. Probably most people went to see it because it starred Bryan Cranston. Nowadays big-name TV and Hollywood movie stars are often recruited for such roles to boost ticket sales. The HBO film was directed by Jay Roach, who directed the very fine film “Trumbo” that also starred Bryan Cranston. Since I loved “Trumbo”, I approached “All the Way” with an open mind even though I couldn’t help but feel that it would be an effort to salvage LBJ’s reputation, especially since it covers the period prior to the major escalation of the war in Vietnam and the ghetto uprisings that left LBJ’s legacy a pile of smoldering rubble.

Like “Selma”, a central part of the drama consists of LBJ and MLK Jr. butting heads over civil rights legislation, especially the need for one protecting voting rights. Unlike “Selma”, however, there is much more focus on the white racist opposition to this and any other reforms from southern Democrats like Georgia Senator Richard Russell, who is played by veteran actor Frank Langella. Russell was very close to Johnson who had him over for dinner many times in their 20-year friendship that came to an end over the 1964 Civil Rights bill that banned Jim Crow practices but fell short of guaranteeing voting rights.

As you might expect, a film could be more expansive in some ways even if it had to be curtailed in length from the play. All the action in the play took place in the oval office but the film shows debates taking place in the Senate over the proposed legislation. It is entirely possible that the words that came out of one racist politician’s mouth were written by Schenkkan, but you can’t exclude them actually being heard on the Senate floor. In arguing against the bill, he says that it would not allow a podiatrist to exclude someone who had smelly feet. It is the same kind of argument being used by bakers who refuse to serve gay wedding ceremonies and from essentially the same voting bloc except now they are Republicans rather than Democrats like Richard Russell.

My only exposure to Schenkkan’s work in the past was the screenplay he wrote for Graham Greene’s “The Quiet American” back in 2002 that I found lacking:

Robert Schenkkan, one of the screenwriters, told the Boston Globe in February that he wanted to make Pyle [the eponymous character–a CIA agent] more believable and more sympathetic. Since he is also involved with terror bombings that are blamed on the communists, this requires a certain amount of literary license. Brendan Fraser [playing Pyle] added, “He couldn’t be capable of doing the awful things he does do. We had to show him some respect, to make him credible as someone who could take care of himself and have language skills.” Ultimately this doctoring of Greene’s prose yields an OSS agent who might be mistaken for a character on “Friends”. With his dog and baseball cap, this Pyle seems more like a frat boy than a killer.

As it turns out, “All the Way” flunks the Indochina acid test just as badly as this misuse of Greene’s novel set in Vietnam during the 1950s. Although most of it is concerned with civil rights, there is one scene that deals with the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and rather badly at that. LBJ is depicted as being preoccupied by the murder of Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney since it might cast a pall over the Democratic Party convention. When Robert McNamara comes into the oval office to apprise him of an unverified attack on an American destroyer by Vietnamese patrol boats, LBJ’s initial reaction is to let it slide. When McNamara tells him that his rival Barry Goldwater has been leaking news of the bogus attack to the press and warning that the administration was soft on Communism, LBJ caves in and authorizes air strikes.

Is it credible to believe that Barry Goldwater’s campaign speeches was what led to the Gulf of Tonkin resolution and the horrors that would last for nearly another decade? Not if you have read the Pentagon Papers. The USA had intended to destroy the revolution taking place in South Vietnam long before Goldwater was a candidate. A war with the North was essential in order to cut off the NLF’s supply lines. The Gulf of Tonkin incident was manufactured in order to give the White House cover for launching a genocidal war that it has never fully atoned for or honored the need for reparations to the Vietnamese. It probably would have been better for Schenkkan to stick to the civil rights struggle rather than introducing a false account of American history, especially since the play was supposed to be historically accurate.

The most interesting and dramatically effective segment involves the failed attempt by the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to be seated at the 1964 convention. Led by Fannie Lou Hamer (played effectively by Aisha Hines), it pits LBJ against the civil rights activists who thought the delegation was the true voice of the DP rather than the bigots who were now seated. In effect, they were the Bernie Sanders of their day.

The MFDP was backed initially by Hubert Humphrey but since LBJ feared a walkout of all the Southern racist delegations if the MFDP was seated, he pressured Humphrey to withdraw his support. As was generally the case with LBJ, he offered material incentives to those he was pressuring–in this case the VP nomination. In order to close the deal with Humphrey and the liberal wing of the DP that backed the MFDP, LBJ gets Walter Reuther on the phone and orders him to lean on Humphrey, which he does. To give some credit to Schenkkan where credit is due, he makes Reuther look like a rat.

In one of the more dramatic scenes, we see MLK Jr. outside the convention cajoling the younger and more militant Black activists to settle for a token two-delegate observer status so as to preserve “party unity”. You don’t want the evil Goldwater to be president, do you? In essence, this is how the DP operated back then and operates today as Bernie Sanders and his supporters will learn this summer.

“All the Way” should be seen as an introduction to some important historical events even if it has to be taken with a wheelbarrow of salt. Bryan Cranston, as always, turns in an impressive performance. If it motivates you to read some serious historical accounts of the period like Robert Caro’s “The Years of Lyndon Johnson” or Taylor Branch’s “Parting the Waters : America in the King Years 1954-63”, then it will have served a useful purpose.

The biggest problem, however, is that it might leave you with the impression that LBJ is now undervalued by the left, especially since he was the architect of the Great Society and two major pieces of civil rights legislation. Nostalgia for LBJ can be seen in certain quarters, especially Salon Magazine that wrote about “Lessons from All the Way: 3 big takeaways from LBJ’s victories that progressives can’t afford to ignore”:

Yet even though millions of liberals tuned in on Friday night to see Bryan Cranston’s portrayal of LBJ, polls continue to show that our era’s Johnson is in danger of losing to our era’s Goldwater because many progressives — who largely backed Clinton’s rival, Bernie Sanders, for the Democratic nomination — are unwilling to support her in the general election. This is where “All the Way” specifically, and Johnson’s story in general, offers three instructive lessons.

“This ain’t about principles, it’s about votes. That’s the problem with you liberals — you don’t know how to fight! You wanna get something done in the real world, Hubert, you’re gonna have to get your hands wet.”

To really gauge LBJ’s role in American history, you have to have a more inclusive time-span than the one presented in “All the Way” that is bounded by JFK’s assassination and a victory party at LBJ’s ranch after the votes have finally been tallied making him the new president.

As a sign of how “we can overcome”, the voting rights bill of 1965 that is a cornerstone of both “Selma” and “All the Way” was enacted just five days before the Watts riots, the largest in American history. It was one thing for the Blacks to press for voting rights and another for them to throw Molotov Cocktails. LBJ’s reaction to earlier urban uprisings had been from a law and order perspective and now he would confront them as he confronted the Vietnamese peasants: with iron and blood.

The liberals he assigned to report on native restlessness were hardly distinguishable from the Southern racists. Harry McPherson, who was the White House counsel under LBJ, toured Bedford Stuyvesant and reported back to his boss:

[And] Bedford-Stuyvesant . . . is the home of what Marx called the lumpen-proletariat,'” an “incredibly depressing” cityscape with “every tenth car—as in Harlem—a Cadillac Eldorado, Buick Riviera, or Chrysler, double-parked before a busted decaying house.” He offered a few po-litical impressions (“I am coming to believe that 95% of the Negro leaders in this country are West Indian”), but mostly stories of the sort that the Kennedys had ridiculed Johnson for telling. “A statue, in the park of a public housing project, of Lincoln—seated, with his hand around the shoulder of a Negro boy,” he wrote. “There is a lot of modern playground equipment in the park, but when we were there, the kids weren’t playing on the equipment; they were climbing all over the statue. It almost seemed as if they were trying to lift Lincoln’s other hand and put it on their shoulders. The statue’s bronze is worn to a light brown by thousands of children’s hands. It is the statue of a father—a powerful figure for kids without one at home.”

(From Kenneth O’Reilly’s indispensable “Nixon’s Piano”)

When the Kerner Commission prepared a report that blamed social and economic conditions for the riots, LBJ would have none of it and even refused to invite the authors to meet with him at the White House. What was wrong with these ingrates was his reaction. After all, the Great White Father had bestowed the Great Society upon them.

A rival commission investigating the riots was headed by Arkansas Senator John McClellan, a typical racist who sought answers in law enforcement rather than redressing social conditions. His target was the OEO, a key part of the War on Poverty that many on the right viewed as instigating the riots even though only 16 of its employees were ever arrested during an uprising. For the most part, the OEO representatives in the Black community served as the eyes and ears of the government and could hardly be mistaken for H. Rap Brown or Stokely Carmichael.

I will conclude with O’Reilly’s summation of the relationship between LBJ and McClellan’s McCarthyite investigation of poverty workers:

The riots also hardened Johnson’s soul. He embraced McClellan’s notion that subversives and criminals had instigated the riots, and “having earned recognition as the country’s preeminent civil libertarian” now seemed oddly determined “to become its chief of police” (McPherson’s words). Desperately trying to hold the Democratic party’s voting bloc together, the president dismissed the ghetto riots as the product of Marxist-Leninists, Trotskyites, Maoists. And he did so while trying to contain the growing conservative critique of his administration’s policies. Edwin Willis, the Louisiana Democrat who chaired HUAC, reminded him of how effective old Republican party tactics might be in the present. “Just like some years ago the Republicans made a dent in the Democratic column on the false issue that Democrats were ‘soft’ on Communism, so I regret to say that in my opinion they will try to portray Democrats in general, and you in particular, as being ‘soft’ on law enforcement and respect for law and order.”

 

February 11, 2016

Democracy, the Democratic Party, and superdelegates

Filed under: democracy,electoral strategy,liberalism,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 7:56 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 2.53.01 PM

What the fuck?

Although I plan to vote for Jill Stein, I sympathize with his supporters who are repelled by the underhanded tactics of Hillary Clinton and her mouthpieces. Besides the constant barrage of propaganda from the likes of Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman, there are institutional barriers to him becoming the DP candidate for president, especially the “superdelegates” who are free to vote for Clinton even if she loses a primary as was the case with New Hampshire. Despite being in a dead heat with Clinton in Iowa (and on the losing side arguably through fraud orchestrated by her minions) and having won in New Hampshire, the delegate count is 394 delegates for Clinton, both super and earned through the ballot and only 42 for Sanders.

The superdelegates for Clinton are a kind of rogue’s gallery for the DP (which I suppose is a kind of redundancy.) Like Andrew Cuomo, the CNN reporter, and his brother Mario who is the neoliberal dirtbag governor of NY state. Historically the superdelegates were a reaction to the hiccup of democracy that emerged in the DP during the 1960s radicalization. In 1968 the DP convention nominated Hubert Humphrey for president even though the delegate count for Robert F. Kennedy was 393.5 and 258 for Eugene McCarthy. The combined total for the two antiwar (sort of, anyhow) candidates was 651.3 while Humphrey had 561.5. With Kennedy’s death, the only fair outcome would have been a McCarthy nomination but LBJ pulled strings to make Humphrey the nominee.

With outrage against the proceedings exacerbated by the continuing war, party bosses decided to introduce a bit more democracy to placate the masses. A commission headed by Senator George McGovern and Representative Donald Fraser recommended that party bosses be curtailed of their power and that restrictions on voter registration be lifted. All this threatened the corporate domination of the party so a new commission headed by North Carolina (you were expecting Massachusetts maybe?) governor Jim Hunt drafted the superdelegate rules.

There’s a useful history of the superdelegate system on CounterPunch by Eva Liddell. Written in 2008, it has the benefit of sizing up Barack Obama correctly:

During the Reagan years when the Democratic party propped up a presidency reminiscent of its current antics in the George W. Bush years, the Democratic party elites bestowed upon themselves five hundred and fifty “super-delegates.” They announced it was imperative to alter the rules to “make it easier for the party to consolidate around front-running candidates.” Meaning that it would make it a lot easier for party leaders and the party’s money backers to rally around the candidate of their choice putting all the resources of the party behind him, to beat out insurgents and foist the guy they owned onto the voting public.

The surprise ascendancy of Barack Obama, interestingly backed by the old Carter hand Brzezinski along with numerous financial backers, has him facing competition from another party insider, Hillary Clinton, along with her own big money people. The super-delegates are finding themselves in the position of having to pick one or the other candidate in what might be an internecine falling out among thieves which only aggrandizes their own power within the party as the two candidates are made supplicants for their votes while promising them rewards.

Delegate State Group Candidate
Alma Adams[4] NC Representative Clinton
Pete Aguilar[5] CA Representative Clinton
Maggie Allen[6] ME Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jill Alper[7] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dennis Archer[7] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patrice Arent[8] UT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Brad Ashford[8] NE Representative Clinton
Jon M. Ausman[9] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Carrie Austin [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Shawn K. Bagley[11] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tammy Baldwin[12] WI Senator Clinton
Nick Balletto[13] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Karen Bass[14] CA Representative Clinton
Jan Bauer[15] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joyce Beatty[16] OH Representative Clinton
Xavier Becerra[17] CA Representative Clinton
Michael Bennet[18] CO Senator Clinton
Ami Bera[19] CA Representative Clinton
Bret Berlin[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeff Berman[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Don Beyer[22] VA Representative Clinton
Gus Bickford[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Erin Bilbray[24] NV Democratic National Committee Sanders
Stephen Bittel[25] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Bloomingdale[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Earl Blumenauer[27] OR Representative Clinton
Richard Blumenthal[28] CT Senator Clinton
Dean Boerste[29] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
James Boland[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Suzanne Bonamici[30] OR Representative Clinton
Anita Bonds[31] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cory Booker[32] NJ Senator Clinton
Madeleine Bordallo[18] GU Representative Clinton
Muriel Bowser[33] DC Gov. Clinton
Barbara Boxer[34] CA Senator Clinton
Carolyn Boyce[35] ID Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandra Brandt[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Christine Bremer Muggli[37] WI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Scott Brennan [38] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Doug Brooks[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Boyd Brown[40] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Corrine Brown[41] FL Representative Clinton
Sherrod Brown[42] OH Senator Clinton
Julia Brownley[43] CA Representative Clinton
Jocelyn Bucaro[44] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tonio Burgos[45] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cordelia Burks[46] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cheri Bustos[47] IL Representative Clinton
Laphonza Butler[4] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
G.K. Butterfield[48] NC Representative Clinton
MaryEva Candon[49] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maria Cantwell[50] WA Senator Clinton
Lois Capps[51] CA Representative Clinton
Michael Capuano[52] MA Representative Clinton
Tony Cardenas[53] CA Representative Clinton
Ben Cardin[54] MD Senator Clinton
Maria Cardona[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Carney[55] DE Representative Clinton
Tom Carper[55] DE Senator Clinton
André Carson[56] IN Representative Clinton
Karen Carter Peterson[57] LA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Matt Cartwright[58] PA Representative Clinton
Bob Casey, Jr.[59] PA Senator Clinton
Barbara Caspar Silperstein[45] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Cassidy[60] VT Democratic National Committee Sanders
Joaquín Castro[61] TX Representative Clinton
Mitchell Ceasar[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Judy Chu[62] CA Representative Clinton
David Cicilline[63] RI Representative Clinton
Katherine Clark[64] MA Representative Clinton
Yvette Clarke[65] NY Representative Clinton
William Lacy Clay, Jr.[66] MO Representative Clinton
Emanuel Cleaver[18] MO Representative Clinton
Alan Clendenin[67] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Clinton[68] NY DPL Clinton
Tony Coelho[26] DE Democratic National Committee Clinton
Larry Cohen[1] DC Democratic National Committee Sanders
Steve Cohen[69] TN Representative Clinton
Rickey Cole [70] MS Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sheila Comar[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gerry Connolly[72] VA Representative Clinton
John Conyers[73] MI Representative Clinton
Chris Coons[74] DE Senator Clinton
Jim Cooper[75] TN Representative Clinton
Maria Cordone[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jerry Costello [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeannette Council[76] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joe Courtney[77] CT Representative Clinton
Jeffrey David Cox[78] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joseph Crowley[79] NY Representative Clinton
Henry Cuellar[18] TX Representative Clinton
John Cullerton [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Elijah Cummings[80] MD Representative Clinton
Ana Cuprill[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jennifer Cunningham[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Andrew Cuomo[82] NY Gov. Clinton
Maria Cuomo Cole[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Melba Curls[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Currie[83] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joyce Cusack[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Danny Davis[18] IL Representative Clinton
Wendy Davis[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Dayton[17] MN Gov. Clinton
Howard Dean[85] VT DPL Clinton
Diana DeGette[86] CO Representative Clinton
John Delaney[18] MD Representative Clinton
Lizette Delgado Polanco[83] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rosa DeLauro[87] CT Representative Clinton
Suzan DelBene[88] WA Representative Clinton
Ted Deutch[18] FL Representative Clinton
Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nancy DiNardo[89] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Debbie Dingell[18] MI Representative Clinton
Arrington Dixon[49] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Kate Donaghue[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ronald Donatucci[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joe Donnelly[90] IN Senator Clinton
Joanne Dowdell[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tammy Duckworth[18] IL Representative Clinton
Dick Durbin[92] IL Senator Clinton
Jess Durfee[93] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maria Echaveste[94] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Donna Edwards[20] MD Representative Clinton
Joyce Elliott[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Keith Ellison[96] MN Representative Sanders
Eliot Engel[97] NY Representative Clinton
Akilah Ensley[98] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Reni Erdos[99] NJ Democratic National Committee Sanders
Anna Eshoo[5] CA Representative Clinton
Lily Eskelsen García[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Elizabeth Esty[100] CT Rep Clinton
Joe Falk[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Herman Farrell[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chaka Fattah[71] PA Representative Clinton
Dianne Feinstein[101] CA Senator Clinton
Rajiv Fernando [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Foster[18] IL Representative Clinton
Donald Fowler[102] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Earl Fowlkes[103] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lois Frankel[104] FL Representative Clinton
Isabel Framer[105] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Al Franken[106] MN Senator Clinton
Marcia Fudge[107] OH Representative Clinton
Kate Gallego[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ruben Gallego[109] AZ Representative Clinton
John Garamendi[110] CA Representative Clinton
Montserrat Garibay[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dick Gephardt[39] MO DPL Clinton
Penny Gerber[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Alice Germond[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Gierau[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Kirsten Gillibrand[28] NY Senator Clinton
Emily Giske[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Angel Gomez[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Barry Goodman[112] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Billi Gosh[39] VT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Al Green[113] TX Representative Clinton
Darlene Green[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gene Green[18] TX Representative Clinton
Amanda Green-Hawkins[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Vallena Greer [70] MS Democratic National Committee Clinton
Raúl Grijalva[114] AZ Representative Sanders
Marcel Groen[115] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Michael Gronstal[116] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stanley Grossman[117] DA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steve Grossman[23] MA DPL Clinton
Luis Gutiérrez[118] IL Representative Clinton
Debra Haaland[119] NM Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Halpern[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Janice Hahn[18] CA Representative Clinton
Mary Hales[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maggie Hassan[120] NH Gov. Clinton
Alcee Hastings[104] FL Representative Clinton
Denny Heck[88] WA Representative Clinton
Martin Heinrich[121] NM Senator Clinton
Heidi Heitkamp[12] ND Senator Clinton
Luis Heredia[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Hickenlooper[122] CO Gov. Clinton
Brian Higgins[43] NY Representative Clinton
Tony Hill[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rubén Hinojosa[43] TX Representative Clinton
Jim Himes[123] CT Representative Clinton
Mazie Hirono[19] HI Senator Clinton
Marge Hoffa[124] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Eleanor Holmes Norton[21] DC Representative Clinton
Danny Homan[125] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Honda[126] CA Representative Clinton
Steny Hoyer[18] MD Representative Clinton
Fred Hudson[127] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Alice Huffman[4] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jared Huffman[128] CA Representative Clinton
Harold Ickes[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Vince Insalaco[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jay Inslee[88] WA Gov. Clinton
Steve Israel[18] NY Representative Clinton
Troy Jackson[129] ME Democratic National Committee Sanders
Sheila Jackson Lee[18] TX Representative Clinton
Jay Jacobs[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Hakeem Jeffries[65] NY Representative Clinton
Eddie Bernice Johnson[18] TX Representative Clinton
Hank Johnson[130] GA Representative Clinton
Lacy Johnson[131] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Barbara Jones[119] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ray Jordan[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gale Jones Carson[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tim Kaine[133] VA Senator Clinton
Elaine Kamarck[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ron Kaminski[134] NE Democratic National Committee Clinton
William Keating[135] MA Representative Clinton
John Keller [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Randy Kelley[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Unzell Kelley[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Robin Kelly[137] IL Representative Clinton
Joseph P. Kennedy III[138] MA Representative Clinton
Ruben Kihuen[139] NV Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Kildee[18] MI Representative Clinton
Derek Kilmer[18] WA Representative Clinton
Paul G. Kirk[140] MA DPL Sanders
Ann Kirkpatrick[108] AZ Representative Clinton
Amy Klobuchar[141] MN Senator Clinton
Kaye Koonce[142] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sarah Kovner[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Caitlin Kraft-Buchman[143] DA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ann Kuster[144] NH Representative Clinton
Jim Langevin[145] RI Representative Clinton
Linda Langston[15] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rick Larsen[18] WA Representative Clinton
John B. Larson[100] CT Representative Clinton
Brenda Lawrence[146] MI Representative Clinton
Gerald Lawrence[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patrick Leahy[147] VT Senator Clinton
Sunita Leeds[148] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frank Leone[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cindy Lerner[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Levin[18] MI Representative Clinton
John Lewis[18] GA Representative Clinton
Yvette Lewis[149] MD Democratic National Committee O’Malley
Ted Lieu[19] CA Representative Clinton
John Litz[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dave Loebsack[150] IA Representative Clinton
Zoe Lofgren[151] CA Representative Clinton
Martha Love[152] WI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Myron Lowery[153] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nita Lowey[18] NY Representative Clinton
Michelle Lujan Grisham[18] NM Representative Clinton
Stephen F. Lynch[18] MA Representative Clinton
Mark Mallory[44] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Malloy[154] CT Gov. Clinton
Carolyn Maloney[155] NY Representative Clinton
Sean Patrick Maloney[18] NY Representative Clinton
Joe Manchin[156] WV Senator Clinton
Jack Markell[157] DE Gov. Clinton
Ed Markey[158] MA Senator Clinton
Ken Martin[159] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Trudy L. Mason[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Doris Matsui[18] CA Representative Clinton
Janet May[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jayne Mazzotti[160] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Terry McAuliffe[161] VA Gov. Clinton
Claire McCaskill[162] MO Senator Clinton
Jennifer McClellan[163][164] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Betty McCollum[165] MN Representative Clinton
Dustin McDaniel[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jim McDermott[18] WA Representative Clinton
Jim McGovern[166] MA Representative Clinton
Joseph McNamara[167] RI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jerry McNerney[5] CA Representative Clinton
Gregory W. Meeks[17] NY Representative Clinton
Shari Mellin[90] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Grace Meng[79] NY Representative Clinton
Barbara Mikulski[80] MD Senator Clinton
Breanne Miller[8] UT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nancy Mills[115] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stephanie Miner[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Walter Mondale[168] MN DPL Clinton
Gwen Moore[17] WI Representative Clinton
Minyon Moore[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bruce Morrison[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Seth Moulton[168] MA Representative Clinton
Dorothy Mrowka[169] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bob Mulholland[46] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chris Murphy[170] CT Senator Clinton
Patrick Murphy[171] FL Representative Clinton
Ian Murray[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patty Murray[172] WA Senator Clinton
Jerrold Nadler[173] NY Representative Clinton
Grace Napolitano[174] CA Representative Clinton
Katie Naranjo[175] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Neal[176] MA Representative Clinton
Bill Nelson[177] FL Senator Clinton
Jadine Nielsen[148] HI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jay Nixon[177] MO Gov. Clinton
Chad Nodland[178] ND Democratic National Committee Sanders
Rick Nolan[179] MN Representative Clinton
Michael Nutter[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
David O’Brien[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Blanca O’Leary[180] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Olsen[169] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Opstvedt[181] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
William Owen[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frank Pallone[182] NJ Representative Clinton
Bruce Palmer[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Pascrell[183] NJ Representative Clinton
Donald Payne, Jr.[184] NJ Representative Clinton
Gregory Pecoraro[149] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Christine Pelosi[126] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Carol Pensky[185] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ed Perlmutter[18] CO Representative Clinton
Gary Peters[186] MI Senator Clinton
Scott Peters[17] CA Representative Clinton
Pedro Pierluisi[187] PR Representative Clinton
Chellie Pingree[18] ME Representative Clinton
Redding Pitt[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stacey Plaskett[4] VI Representative Clinton
Jared Polis[18] CO Representative Clinton
Karen Pope-Onwukwe[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
DuBose Porter[188] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steven Powell [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
David Price[189] NC Representative Clinton
Carrie Pugh[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Querry[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Quigley[190] IL Representative Clinton
Jake Quinn[191] NC Democratic National Committee Sanders
Evie Rafalko McNulty[192] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gina Raimondo[193] RI Gov. Clinton
Andres Ramirez[139] NV Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rion Ramirez[194] WA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jack Reed[195] RI Senator Clinton
Kasim Reed[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steve Regenstreif[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ed Rendell[196] PA DPL Clinton
Rory Respicio[197] GU Democratic National Committee Clinton
Laura Ricketts [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dennis Rivera[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
José R. Rodríguez[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mannie Rodriguez[180] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Roy Romer[180] CO DPL Clinton
Carol Ronen[198] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ellen Rosenblum[199] OR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sally Rosser[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lucille Roybal-Allard[174] CA Representative Clinton
Charles Rangel[18] NY Representative Clinton
Chris Regan[200] WV Democratic National Committee Sanders
Kathleen Rice[18] NY Representative Clinton
Cedric Richmond[18] LA Representative Clinton
Raul Ruiz[187] CA Representative Clinton
Dutch Ruppersberger[20] MD Representative Clinton
Bobby Rush[201] IL Representative Clinton
Tim Ryan[18] OH Representative Clinton
Gregorio Sablan[202] MP Representative Clinton
Linda Sánchez[203] CA Representative Clinton
Loretta Sanchez[174] CA Representative Clinton
Raymond Sanchez[204] NM Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bernie Sanders[1] VT Senator Sanders
Keelan Sanders[70] MS Democratic National Committee Sanders
John Sarbanes[20] MD Representative Clinton
Lee Saunders[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Peggy Schaffer[6] ME Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jan Schakowsky[18] IL Representative Clinton
Brian Schatz[205] HI Senator Clinton
Adam Schiff[18] CA Representative Clinton
Kurt Schrader[75] OR Representative Clinton
Nancy Schumacher[206] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chuck Schumer[207] NY Senator Clinton
Bobby Scott[36] VA Representative Clinton
David Scott[17] GA Representative Clinton
José E. Serrano[208] NY Representative Clinton
Terri Sewell[17] AL Representative Clinton
Lottie Shackelford[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Billy Shaheen[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeanne Shaheen[18] NH Senator Clinton
Garry Shay[209] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Brad Sherman[210] CA Representative Clinton
Peter Shumlin[211] VT Gov. Clinton
Louise Slaughter[212] NY Representative Clinton
Leslie Small[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Adam Smith[213] WA Representative Clinton
Hilda Solis[214] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lenora Sorola-Pohlman[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jackie Speier[5] CA Representative Clinton
Dennis Speight[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Debbie Stabenow[215] MI Senator Clinton
Kathy Sullivan[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Eric Swalwell[216] CA Representative O’Malley
Susan Swecker[217] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gerry Sweeney[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Annette Taddeo[218] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Takai[205] HI Representative Clinton
Mark Takano[19] CA Representative Clinton
Allison Tant[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Marian Tasco[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bennie Thompson[219] MS Representative Clinton
Mike Thompson[43] CA Representative Clinton
Krystal Thrailkill[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dina Titus[18] NV Representative Clinton
Paul Tonko[97] NY Representative Clinton
Niki Tsongas[220] MA Representative Clinton
Tom Udall[221] NM Senator Clinton
Chris Van Hollen[222] MD Representative Clinton
Marc Veasey[18] TX Representative Clinton
Filemon Vela, Jr.[223] TX Representative Clinton
Nydia Velázquez[18] NY Representative Clinton
Brian Wahby[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
George Wallace[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tim Walz[159] MN Representative Clinton
Carolyn Warner[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Warner[224] VA Senator Clinton
Maxine Waters[53] CA Representative Clinton
Bonnie Watson Coleman[184] NJ Representative Clinton
Randi Weingarten[225] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Royce West[175] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sheldon Whitehouse[18] RI Senator Clinton
David Wilhelm[44] OH DPL Clinton
Alan Williams[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nikema Williams[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frederica Wilson[104] FL Representative Clinton
Sylvia Wilson[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Wisniewski[226] NJ Democratic National Committee Sanders
Tom Wolf[17] PA Gov. Clinton
David Worley[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ron Wyden[227] OR Senator Clinton
Rosalind Wyman[228] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Karen Yarbrough[160] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Yarmuth[229] KY Representative Clinton
Laurence Zakson[230] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patricia Zieg[134] NE Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rob Zimmerman[231] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton

 

September 5, 2015

Bernie Sanders is consistent

Filed under: liberalism,Sweden — louisproyect @ 2:20 pm

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC NEWS)

(Off-camera) You’re asking for a lot of shakeup. Is it really possible for someone who calls themselves a socialist to be elected president of the United States?

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (IND) (VERMONT)

Well, so long as we know what democratic socialism is. If we know that in countries in Scandinavia, like Denmark, Norway, they are very democratic countries. Obviously, their vote of turnout is a lot higher than it is in the United States. In those countries, health care is the right of all people. In those countries, college education, graduate school is free. In those countries, retirement benefits, childcare are stronger than the United States of America. And in those countries, by and large, government works for ordinary people in the middle class rather than, as is the case right now in our country, for the billionaire class.

* * * *

Gen. John F. Campbell during a ceremony in Kabul on Dec. 28, 2014, which signified the end the NATO-led combat mission in Afghanistan. But offensive operations continue to the present. Credit Shah Marai/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two European allies of the United States have been directly participating in so-called kill decisions against insurgents in Afghanistan despite rules prohibiting them from doing so, according to two senior Western officials with knowledge of the operations.

The accusations concern airstrikes, mostly by drones, that American officials have justified as part of a lasting counterterrorism mission agreed to with the Afghan government. However, some of the strikes have come under question as being far more aggressive than the security deal allows for.

The two countries said to be improperly involved in approving strike decisions — Germany, a NATO member of the coalition in Afghanistan, and Sweden, which is not a member of NATO — as well as a spokesman for the American-led military coalition all denied that anyone other than the United States military had been involved in targeting insurgents

* * * *

Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 10.18.32 AM

March 1, 2015

Stephen Colbert, the modern court jester

Filed under: comedy,liberalism — louisproyect @ 5:36 pm

Episode one of season 3 of “House of Cards” finds Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) ensconced in the White House ready to focus on policy rather than killing the foes who had been obstacles to his rise to power.

In the video clip below, we see his chief henchman Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly), who is recovering from the brain damage wrought by a brick to the head by one of those foes who escaped with her life, watching his boss on the Colbert Report. While one can never figure out what the real intention of screenwriter Beau Willimon was, it might be besides the point since the net effect is to demonstrate the ineffectuality of Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert satire, a toothless affair that hearkens back to the historical mission of court jesters in medieval times—namely to serve as lapdogs whose bark is worse than their bite. Wikipedia, quoting the Royal Shakespeare Company, states: “Regarded as pets or mascots, they served not simply to amuse but to criticise their master or mistress and their guests. Queen Elizabeth (reigned 1558–1603) is said to have rebuked one of her fools for being insufficiently severe with her.”

In the video, Underwood is there to defend his new program that is called America Works—Amworks for short and hence the butt of Colbert’s joke about Amway. Now the interesting thing is how Colbert does not hone in on the real intent of Amworks, which is to slash “entitlements”, an agenda that Democratic Party presidents have been committed to since Carter was president. Colbert makes the axis of his satire Underwood’s unpopularity rather than the substance of a nominally liberal president. One can hardly imagine Colbert having the guts to drill Obama on cuts to food stamps if he can’t even put Frank Underwood on the spot. Furthermore, if someone as ruthless as Frank Underwood would go on the Colbert Report, how much of a threat could Colbert be? It was “House of Cards” stating, either intentionally or unintentionally, that such shows are just as inside-the-beltway as “Meet the Press”.

When a rightwing politician is on the Colbert show, Colbert’s satire has a bit more sting but only in the same way that Rachel Maddow exhibits. The idea is to lambaste the bad Republicans so that the Democrats can go on about the business of enacting policies that are “good for America”.

It makes perfect sense that Colbert is David Letterman’s eventual replacement. The Letterman show is a place where politicians can be gently kidded. The show will certainly give Colbert a bigger audience than he ever had on cable TV but to what effect? Did the man ever have any serious commitment to social change? That is open to question.

Even when Colbert supposedly went for the jugular, as was supposedly the case in his hosting the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2006, there was not much evidence that President Bush would find some reason to do to him what Vladimir Putin might have done to gadfly Boris Nemtsov, who was shot 7 times yesterday near the Kremlin. Here’s how the NY Observer reported on Bush’s reaction to Colbert later on that evening:

Stephen Colbert was asked, just after the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on April 29, how the President and First Lady received his evening’s routine. He launched into an account of the pre-party they hosted before the dinner, the highlight of which was his opportunity to introduce one of his right-wing brothers to the President. The brother then turned to the Comedy Central star and said, “You’re the family martyr.”

Right, but how did Mr. Bush react, you know, after the performance? “Oh, he was very gracious,” Mr. Colbert said. He clasped a stranger’s elbow in a Bush impersonation and said, in a C.E.O.-style drawl, “Nice job.”

I recommend a look at Steve Almond’s article in the Baffler titled “The Jokes on You”. It is the most skillful analysis of how Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert function:

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are not just parodies of news shows. They also include interview segments. And it is here that Stewart, at least occasionally, sheds his greasepaint and red rubber nose. With the help of his research department, he is even capable of exposing lightweight frauds such as Jim Cramer.

More often, though, his interviews are cozy affairs, promotional vehicles for whatever commodity his guest happens to be pimping. He’s not interested in visitors who might interrogate the hegemonic dogmas of corporate capitalism. On the contrary, his green room is often stocked with Fox News regulars. Neocon apologist Bill Kristol has appeared on the show a record eleven times since 2003. Mike Huckabee has visited seven times, Newt Gingrich, Chris Wallace, and Ed Gillespie five times, and so on and so forth on down the dismal demagogic food chain: Lou Dobbs, Ron Paul, Michael Steele, Juan Williams, Ralph Reed, Dick Armey. Stewart, who is nothing if not courteous, allows each of these con men to speak his piece. He pokes fun at the more obvious lines of bullshit. The audience chortles. Now for a message from our sponsors.

Colbert’s interviews are even more trivializing. While he occasionally welcomes figures from outside the corporate zoo, his brash persona demands that he interrupt and confound them. If they try to match wits with him, they get schooled. If they play it straight, they get steamrolled. The underlying dynamic of Colbert’s show, after all, is that he never loses an argument. The only acceptable forms of outrage reside in his smug denial of any narrative that questions American supremacy.

In this sense, Colbert the pundit can been seen as a postmodern incarnation of the country’s first comic archetype, the “Yankee” (a designation that was then a national, rather than regional, term). As described by Constance Rourke in her 1931 survey, American Humor: A Study of the National Character, the Yankee is a gangly figure, sly and uneducated, who specializes in tall tales and practical jokes. Unlike Stewart, whose humor clearly arises from the Jewish tradition of outsider social commentary, Colbert plays the consummate insider, a cartoon patriot suitable for export. But Colbert’s mock punditry reinforces a dismissive view of actual corporate demagogues. Bill “Papa Bear” O’Reilly and his ilk come off as laughable curmudgeons, best mocked rather than rebutted, even as they steer our common discourse away from sensible policy and toward toxic forms of grievance.

And Colbert’s own flag-fellating routine often bends toward unintended sincerity. His visit to Iraq in June 2009 amounted to a weeklong infomercial for the U.S. military. It kicked off with a segment in which black ops abduct Colbert from his makeup room and transport him to a TV stage set in Baghdad, which turns out to be one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces. Colbert is a brilliant improvisational comedian, adept at puncturing the vanities of his persona in the same way Bob Hope once did. (Colbert even brandished a golf club for his opening monologue in Baghdad, an homage to Hope, a frequent USO entertainer.) Still, there’s something unsettling about seeing America’s recent legacy of extraordinary rendition mined for laughs.

Colbert’s first guest, General Ray Odierno, commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, was treated to questions such as, “What’s happening here that’s not being reported that you think people back home should know about?” The hulking general then gave the host a buzz cut, as a crowd of several hundred uniformed soldiers roared.

Colbert himself acknowledged his reverence for the troops in interviews leading up to his visit. (“Sometimes my character and I agree.”) So it wasn’t exactly shocking that the shows themselves were full of reflexive sanctification of the military. Soldiers, by Colbert’s reckoning, aren’t moral actors who choose to brandish weapons, but paragons of manly virtue whose sole function is to carry out their orders—in this case “bringing democracy” to a hellish Arab backwater. This is an utterly authoritarian mindset.

September 28, 2014

When the Nation Magazine grew weary of Reconstruction

Filed under: african-american,liberalism,slavery — louisproyect @ 5:53 pm

A few days ago I had been consulting Douglas Blackmon’s “Slavery by Another Name”, a very fine history of post-Civil War forced labor, as part of a long-term research project to rebut Charles Post’s thesis on slavery as “precapitalist” when I came across a revealing reference to the Nation Magazine. As I have pointed out in the past, the magazine was a primary source of arguments on behalf of winding down Reconstruction. I had completely forgotten about the passage but was reminded of it today when a Facebook thread on Eric Alterman’s opposition to BDS prompted the query why the magazine puts up with him. In my view, the Nation has been problematic from its inception, lurching from abolitionism to articles attacking moves to make the KKK illegal. For a fuller discussion, I’d refer you to a piece I wrote in 2003: http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/american_left/tainted_nation.htm

Douglas Blackmon:

A new national white consensus began to coalesce against African Americans with shocking force and speed. The general white public, the national leadership of the Republican Party, and the federal government on every level were arriving at the conclusion that African-Americans did not merit citizenship and that their freedom was not able enough to justify the conflicts they engendered among whites. A growing body of whites across the nation concluded that blacks were not worth the cost of imposing a racial morality that few in any region genuinely shared. As early as 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union army of liberation, conceded to members of his cabinet that the Fifteenth Amendment, giving freed slaves the right to vote, had been a mistake: “It had done the Negro no good, and had been a hindrance to the South, and by no means a political advantage to the North.” “The long controversy over the black man seems to have reached a finality,” wrote the Chicago Tribune, approvingly. Added The Nation: “The Negro will disappear from the field of national politics. Henceforth, the nation, as a nation, will have nothing more to do with him.” That the parent had once sacrificed enormously to rescue the less favored child only made its abandonment deeply more bitter.

August 5, 2014

Rick Perlstein accused of plagiarism

Filed under: conservatism,liberalism,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 3:47 pm

Rick Perlstein

Last Sunday the NY Times Book Review section featured Frank Rich’s glowing review of Rick Perlstein’s “The Invisible Bridge” on the front page, a sure sign that you have made it. The bridge in the title is a reference to the period between 1973 and 1976, when the Republican Party was transitioning from Gerald Ford (who was far to the left of Barack Obama) to Ronald Reagan.

Now only two days later Perlstein is embroiled in a plagiarism controversy that pits him against Craig Shirley, the author of the 2004 “The Reagan Revolution”. Once again, from the NY Times:

In two letters to Mr. Perlstein’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, Mr. Shirley’s lawyer, Chris Ashby, cited 19 instances of duplicated language and inadequate attribution, and demanded $25 million in damages, a public apology, revised digital editions and the destruction of all physical copies of the book. Mr. Shirley said he has since tallied close to 50 instances where his work was used without credit.

The basic line of defense by Simon and Shuster, Perlstein’s publisher, is that he only paraphrased Shirley; moreover, he cited Shirley 125 times in the books’ endnotes that departing from tradition appears only on Perlstein’s website and not in print. This observation from Frank Rich might indicate the source of Perlstein’s problems: “Perlstein is an obsessive researcher who often relies (and fully credits) the writers who did the investigative spade work before him. He doesn’t break news.”

They claim that putting the endnotes online was designed to keep the book’s length within reasonable limits. Even now, it is 856 pages long. Perlstein says, ““My notion is that people will read this book with their iPhones open.” I must confess that there is about as much possibility that I will buy this book as an IPhone. Frank Rich writes:

True to form, Perlstein doesn’t condescend to this conservative icon but seeks to understand him. He does as good a job as anyone at working through the psychological and intellectual puzzles attending a charismatic public figure whose own family often found the private man opaque.

Seeking to understand Reagan? Working through the intellectual puzzles? Really? I’d think there’s about as much of a challenge there as analyzing a Hallmark greeting card.

This is Perlstein’s 3rd book on the rise of modern conservatism. His first was on the Young Americans for Freedom, a group I belonged to briefly in high school mostly as a way of annoying my classmates who were all for JFK. My cousin Louis R. (we were both named after our grandfather) and I formed a chapter that like other YAF chapters supported Goldwater rather than Nixon in 1960. My cousin remained conservative over the years while I bolted from the conservative ranks in 1961 as a Bard freshman when I learned that all the cool kids were liberals. Peer pressure also seems to work in reducing crack addiction as well, they say.

Perstein interviewed Doug Henwood and me for the first book titled “Before the Storm”. Doug went through a brief conservative stint at Yale where I assume that being on the right was more acceptable than at Bard, the “little red whorehouse on the Hudson” as Walter Winchell put it. I succumbed to peer pressure while Doug succumbed to the objective reality that capitalism sucked.

I met Perlstein once around 15 years ago when he had started writing “Before the Storm” through Scott McLemee who I was friendly with at the time. He struck me as a very bright but cynical young man, not the sort that would have made the mistake of getting involved with revolutionary politics.

I generally don’t pay much attention to what Perlstein writes since it falls more in the category of MSNBC/Salon.com punditry than the articles I differ with on the hard left. What is the point, after all, of slamming MSNBC for not covering Israel’s brutality in Gaza? (Then again, they are covering it after a fashion.)

I did have a go at him ten years ago after he wrote an exceedingly longwinded article for the Boston Review titled “How Can the Democrats Win?”, a question that he answered: “it must tend to the work of economic equality.” Maybe if Perlstein had spent some time in a revolutionary movement like McLemee, he would have understood what a utopian notion that was. Economic inequality has deepened under successive Democratic Party administrations. That is not a function of them hating the poor or not worrying enough about losing votes. It is a function of the iron laws of capital accumulation. Less time reading Karl Rove and more time reading Karl Mark would have helped Perlstein understand that.

My reply to Perlstein, which can be read in full here, offered an alternative reading of American history, one that tried to put the Democratic Party into context:

Turning now to your recommendations to the Democratic Party leadership:

Any marketing executive will tell you that you can’t build a brand out of stuff the people say they don’t want. And what do Americans say they want? According to the pollsters, exactly what the Democratic Party was once famous for giving them: economic populism.

All I can say is that this not quite the Democratic Party I am familiar with, at least in broad historical terms. Keep in mind that the Democratic Party was originally the party of the Southern Bourbons. While Arthur Schlesinger Jr. portrays Andrew Jackson as some kind of plebian democrat, he owned slaves and saw his role as promoting the interest of the same class he belonged to. The Republican Party emerged as a revolutionary opposition to the Democrats and only withdrew from the task of uprooting racial supremacy in the South when Northern liberals, particularly those grouped around Godkin’s Nation Magazine, persuaded party bosses that they were encouraging developments in the USA that might turn out like the Paris Commune. David Montgomery details all this in “The Death of Reconstruction”.

I myself stumbled across this sordid tale while preparing a critical review of the Nation around the time that Hitchens had become a turncoat and Marc Cooper was perfecting his own redbaiting skills. I learned that hostility to radicalism was not an invention of Katrina vanden Heuvel, but something rooted in the magazine’s hoary past. On December 5th 1867, the Nation wrote:

It must now be confessed those who were of this way of thinking [namely that the Radical Republicans were going too far], and they were many, have proved to be not very far wrong. It is not yet too late for the majority in Congress to retrace its steps and turn to serious things. The work before it is to bring the South back to the Union on the basis-of equal rights, and not to punish the President or provide farms for negroes or remodel the American Government.

After the “great compromise” that ended Reconstruction, challenges to the big bourgeoisie were mounted not from within the Republican or Democratic Parties but from 3rd party efforts like the Populists. Then, as today, efforts were mounted to either co-opt or destroy these movements. If you compare the programs of the Democratic and Republican Parties from the period of the end of Reconstruction to FDR’s election as a *balanced budget* realist, you’ll find about as much to choose between as George W. Bush and John Kerry. (I must say that for all your eagerness to assert that “beating George W. Bush at the ballot box in November…is imperative to the future health of the United States”, you don’t seem at all that interested in explaining why. That is, unless you think that “staying the course” in Iraq is part of that future health. But what can I say, I am one of those unrepentant 1960s radicals who never would have voted for Humphrey, to the everlasting dismay of Todd Gitlin I suppose.)

After FDR’s election, New Deal legislation was enacted not because he was a populist or even wanted to win elections. Change came because workers sat-in at factories, marched on Washington and generally raised hell. I guess you might say that that describes my attitude in general. I am for raising the more hell the better.

From what I can gather, the charges against Perlstein are bogus just as they were against Chris Hedges. Craig Shirley is not happy that his book is being cited against his hero Reagan. That was the same kind of vendetta mounted by the New Republic against Hedges, who they regarded—rightly—as an enemy of the DLC politics they package under new ownership.

In terms of his latest book, I doubt that I will ever read it, especially since given the time to read an 850 page book, there are tomes on the history of Ukraine and at least a dozen others that take precedence. But I will offer some brief thoughts on how to understand the march to the right that preoccupies Perlstein.

Referring to traumas that began taking place as the Vietnam War wound down, Perlstein writes “One of my favorites, lost to everyday historical memory, was the near doubling of meat prices in the spring of 1973, when the president’s consumer advisor went on TV and informed viewers that “liver, kidney, brains, and heart can be made into gourmet meals with seasoning, imagination, and more cooking time.” I remember this vividly since I organized a Militant Forum in Houston for the housewives who were involved in the local meat boycott. The Supreme Court had decided to legalize abortion in January 1973 and a ceasefire had been signed that same month, even though the Vietnam War would continue until the North Vietnam liberated Saigon. The winding down of the woman’s liberation movement, at least the part of it that was fighting for abortion rights, and the antiwar movement left the SWP in a confused and rudderless state. We had assumed that the sixties radicalization would continue unabated until the workers would enter the fray with their heavy battalions.

That is not the way things turned out. Instead of responding to objective reality, the SWP flailed around looking for the next new thing that would lead to increasing its influence and size. At the time, it struck me that the meat boycott had very limited possibilities but who was I to tell the Emperor that he was naked?

It took me nearly 10 years to figure out where the SWP had gone wrong. If its leader Jack Barnes had broken with sectarianism and moved toward a more open and transparent party-building approach that would have resulted in a different kind of left, it is very likely that the march to the right would have been slowed down considerably and that the ruling class rather than the left would have been on the defensive.

I am not exactly sure when I wrote this, but it was my attempt to go back to nearly the beginning of “The Invisible Bridge” to propose a different way of organizing the left. Nobody can be sure if it would have made a decisive difference but we know now that the “Marxism-Leninism” of the SWP and its Maoist competition led to a total collapse of the left that has resulted largely in an unchallenged two-party assault on the American people and third world societies across the planet.

The Speech that Jack Barnes Should Have Given in 1974

Comrades, 1974 is a year which in some ways marks the end of an era. The recent victory of the Vietnamese people against imperialism and of women seeking the right to safe and legal abortion are culminations of a decade of struggle. That struggle has proved decisive in increasing both the size and influence of the Trotskyist movement as our cadre threw their energy into building the antiwar and feminist movements. Now that we are close to 2,000 in number and have branches in every major city in the US, it is necessary to take stock of our role within the left and our prospects for the future.

In this report I want to lay out some radical new departures for the party that take into account both our growing influence and the changing political framework. Since they represent such a change from the way we have seen ourselves historically, I am not asking that we take a vote at this convention but urge all branches to convene special discussions throughout the year until the next convention when a vote will be taken. I am also proposing in line with the spirit of this new orientation that non-party individuals and organizations be invited to participate in them.

A) THE TRADE UNION MOVEMENT

While our political work of the 1960s was a necessary “detour” from the historical main highway of the socialist movement, it is high time that we began to reorient ourselves. There are increasing signs that the labor movement is beginning to reject the class collaborationist practices of the Meany years. For example, just 4 short years ago in 1970, various Teamsters locals rejected a contract settlement agreed to by their president Frank Fitzsimmons and the trucking industry. They expected a $3.00 per hour raise but the contract settled for only $1.10. The rank and file went out on a wildcat strike that Fitzsimmons and the mainstream press denounced. Fitzsimmons probably had the student revolt on his mind, since he claimed that “Communists” were behind the teamster wild-cat strike. Nobody took this sort of red-baiting to heart anymore. The burly truck-drivers involved in the strike were the unlikeliest “Communists” one could imagine. The trucking industry prevailed upon President Richard Nixon to intercede in the strike at the beginning of May, but the student rebellion against the invasion of Cambodia intervened. The antiwar movement and the war itself had stretched the US military thin. National guardsmen who had been protecting scab truck- drivers occupied the Kent State campuses where they shot five students protesting the war. In clear defiance of the stereotype of American workers, wildcat strikers in Los Angeles regarded student antiwar protesters as allies and invited them to join teamster picket lines. The wildcat strikes eventually wound down, but angry rank and file teamsters started the first national reform organization called Teamsters United Rank and File (TURF).

It is very important for every branch to investigate opportunities such as these and to invite comrades to look into the possibility of taking jobs in those industries where such political opportunities exist. What will not happen, however, is a general turn toward industry that many small Marxist groups made in the 1960s in an effort to purify themselves. Our work in the trade unions is not an attempt to “cleanse” the party but rather to participate in the class struggle which takes many different forms. We are quite sure that when comrades who have begun to do this kind of exciting work and report back to the branches that we will see others anxious to join in.

B) THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT

We simply have to stop observing this movement from the sidelines. There is a tendency on the left to judge it by the traditional middle-class organizations such as the Audubon Club. There are already signs of a radicalization among many of the younger activists who believe that capitalism is at the root of air and water pollution, etc. Since the father of the modern environmental movement is an outspoken Marxist, there is no reason why we should feel like outsiders. Our cadre have to join the various groups that are springing up everywhere and pitch in to build them, just as we built the antiwar and feminist groups. If activists have problems with the record of socialism on the environment based on the mixed record of the USSR, we have to explain that there were alternatives. We should point to initiatives in the early Soviet Union when Lenin endorsed vast nature preserves on a scale never seen in industrialized societies before. In general we have to be the best builders of a new ecosocialist movement and not succumb to the sort of sectarian sneering that characterizes other left groups who regard green activists as the enemy.

C) THE ANTI-IMPERIALIST MOVEMENT

This will strike many comrades as controversial, but I want to propose that we probably were mistaken when stood apart from all the various pro-NLF committees that were doing material aid and educational work. We characterized them as ultraleft, whereas in reality those activists who decided to actually identify with the Vietnamese liberation movement were exactly the kind that we want to hook up with. In the United States today there are thousands of activists organized in committees around the country who are campaigning on a similar basis for freedom for the Portuguese colonies in Africa, against neo-colonialism in Latin America, etc. Nearly all of them are Marxist. Their goals and ours are identical. While we have had a tendency to look down our noses at them because many of the insurgencies they were supporting were not Trotskyist, we have to get over that. For us to continue to regard the revolutionary movement in a Manichean fashion where the Trotskyists are the good forces and everybody else is evil is an obstacle not only to our own growth, but the success of the revolutionary movement overall. This leads me to the next point.

D) RELATIONS WITH THE REST OF THE LEFT

One of the things I hope never to hear again in our ranks is the reference to other socialists as our “opponents”. Let’s reflect on what that kind of terminology means. It says two things, both of which are equally harmful. On one hand, it means that they are our enemies on a permanent basis. When you categorize another left group in this fashion, it eliminates the possibility that they can change. This obviously is not Marxist, since no political group–including ourselves–is immune from objective conditions. Groups can shift to the left or to the right, depending on the relationship of class forces. The SWP emerged out of a merger with other left-moving forces during the 1930s and we should be open to that possibility today.

The other thing that this reflects is that somehow the SWP is like a small business that competes for market share with other small businesses, except that we are selling revolution rather than air conditioners or aluminum siding. We have to get that idea out of our heads. We are all struggling for the same goal, which is to change American society. We only disagree on the best way to achieve that.

Unfortunately we have tended to exaggerate our differences with other small groups in such a way as to suggest we had a different product. This goes back for many years as indicated in this quote from a James P. Cannon speech to the SWP convention nearly 25 years ago. “We are monopolists in the field of politics. We can’t stand any competition. We can tolerate no rivals. The working class, to make the revolution can do it only through one party and one program. This is the lesson of the Russian Revolution. That is the lesson of all history since the October Revolution. Isn’t that a fact? This is why we are out to destroy every single party in the field that makes any pretense of being a working-class revolutionary party. Ours is the only correct program that can lead to revolution. Everything else is deception, treachery We are monopolists in politics and we operate like monopolists.”

Comrades, we have to conduct an open and sharp struggle against this kind of attitude. The differences between the SWP and many other left groups is not that great and we have to figure out ways to work with them on a much more cooperative basis. For example, La Raza Unida Party in Texas shares many of our assumptions about the 2-party system and they are open to socialist ideas, largely through the influence of the left-wing of the party which has been increasingly friendly to the Cuban Revolution. We should think about the possibilities of co-sponsoring meetings with them around the question of Chicano Liberation and socialism. The same thing would be true of the Puerto Rican Independence movement in the United States, which shares with us a positive attitude toward the Cuban revolution. In terms of the Marxist movement per se, we have to find ways to work more closely with the activists around the Guardian newspaper. While many of them continue to have Maoist prejudices, there are others who have been friendly to our work in the antiwar movement. The idea is to open discussion and a sure way to cut discussion off is to regard them as “opponents”. Our only true opponents are in Washington, DC.

This new sense of openness to other groups on the left has organizational consequences that I will now outline.

E) REDEFINING OUR ORGANIZATIONAL PRINCIPLES

Much of our understanding of “democratic centralism” has been shaped by James P. Cannon’s writings. Although the notion of 500 to 1500 people united ideologically around a homogenous program has a lot to recommend itself, it can only go so far in building a revolutionary party. This was Cannon’s contribution. He showed how a small band of cadre dedicated to Trotsky’s critique of Stalin could emerge as a serious force on the American left.

Although this will sound like heresy to most of you, I want to propose that Cannon’s writings are a roadblock to further growth, especially in a period when Stalinism is not a hegemonic force. In reality, Lenin’s goal was to unite Russian Marxism, which existed in scattered circles. Our goal should be identical. Despite our commitment to Trotsky’s theories, we are not interested in constructing a mass Trotskyist movement. That would be self-defeating. Many people who are committed to Marxism are not necessarily committed to Trotsky’s analysis of the Spanish Civil War, WWII, etc. We should take the same attitude that Lenin took toward the Russian left at the turn of the century. We should serve as a catalyst for uniting Marxists on a national basis.

Are we afraid to function in a common organization with Castroists, partisans of the Chinese Revolution, independent Marxists of one sort or another? Not at all. We should not put a barrier in the way of unity with the tens of thousands of Marxists in the United States, many who hold leading positions in the trade union and other mass movements. The only unity that interests us is the broad unity of the working people and their allies around class struggle principles. Our disagreements over historical and international questions can be worked out in a leisurely fashion in the party press. In fact we would encourage public debates over how to interpret such questions in our press, since they can make us even more attractive to people investigating which group to join. It is natural that you would want to join a group with a lively internal life.

This question of ‘democratic centralism’ has to be thoroughly reviewed. Although the Militant will be running a series of articles on “Lenin in Context” this year, which explores the ways in which this term was understood by the Bolsheviks and then transformed by his epigones, we can state with some assuredness right now that it was intended to govern the actions of party members and not their thoughts. The Bolshevik Party, once it voted on a strike, demonstration, etc., expected party members to function under the discipline of the party to build such actions. It never intended to discipline party members to defend the same political analysis in public. We know, for example, that there are different interpretations of Vietnamese Communism in our party. We should not expect party members to keep their views secret if they are in the minority. This is not only unnatural–it leads to cult thinking.

F) CONCLUSION

As many of these proposals seem radically different from the principles we’ve operated on in the past, I want to make sure that all disagreements–especially from older cadre who worked side by side with James P. Cannon–are given proper consideration. The last thing we want is to railroad the party into accepting this new orientation. Since a revolution can only be made by the conscious intervention of the exploited and oppressed masses into the historical process, its party must encourage the greatest expression of conscious political decision-making. There are no shortcuts to a revolution. And there are no shortcuts to building a revolutionary party.

February 1, 2014

The Hannah Arendt industry

Filed under: Academia,imperialism/globalization,liberalism — louisproyect @ 9:53 pm

Hannah Arendt

During the discussion period following the screening of Margarethe Von Trotta’s “Hannah Arendt” at the New School for Social Research, I took the mike to explain why Arendt’s theories were inadequate to explain genocide. If war crimes, up to and including ethnic cleansing or extermination, were spawned by totalitarianism, what do we make of Thomas Jefferson’s statement that if the American Indians got in the way of nation-building, they should be exterminated? For that matter, what does it say about the New School that its former President—Bob Kerrey—was a war criminal in Vietnam? (Around midnight on Feb. 25, 1969, Kerrey and his men killed at least 13 unarmed women and children.) At this point, Von Trotta and Jerome Kuhn—the head of the New School’s Hannah Arendt Center—began fidgeting in their seats and wearing frowns. Who was this asshole ruining their lovefest? But when I stated that if the USA ever lost a war the way that Hitler did, maybe the Samantha Powers of our world would find themselves in the defendant’s seat just like Eichmann, that was too much for them. They both started speaking over me at once. I caught Von Trotta saying that “this has nothing to do with my film” but of course it absolutely did.

Before the audience was allowed to offer comments, Kuhn spent a good fifteen minutes stroking the egos of the director, her leading actress Barbara Sukowa, and the screenwriter, one Pamela Katz. Von Trotta’s film has become part of a touring dog-and-pony show meant to convince audiences that Hannah Arendt is “one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century”, as the New School website puts it.

Although I had high regard for Von Trotta’s film, especially for its fairly accurate portrayal of Heinrich Blucher (Mr. Hannah Arendt), who was my professor at Bard College as an undergrad, and Hans Jonas, her long-time friend and an ardent Zionist who was also my professor at the New School philosophy department, I was put off by her reply to a question posed by Kuhn as to why she made the film. She said that when she was younger and part of the German radical movement, it was understandable why she would make a film about Rosa Luxemburg but after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, it was Hannah Arendt who had much more to say about the state of the world—especially knowing what was really happening in the East.

Von Trotta, like the French ex-Maoists, apparently had a Damascene conversion somewhere along the line. I don’t know whose decision it was to include Samantha Power on this daylong celebration of the 80th anniversary of the New School University in Exile or whether in fact it was linked to the film screening, but I strongly suspect that the two events were linked—at least implicitly. Power was speaking at 8pm on “Protecting Scholars and the Right to Free Inquiry”, along with George Rupp, who was my boss at Columbia University before Lee Bollinger replaced him, and Jonathan Fanton, former chair of Human Rights Watch and former president of The New School.

Anybody who has been following Samantha Power’s sordid career would know that she styles herself as a latter-day Hannah Arendt. She wrote the introduction to the latest edition of “Origins of Totalitarianism” and a self-serving April 29, 2004 NY Review article that recruited the dead philosopher for two of Power’s “humanitarian intervention” crusades—the one that took place in Kosovo and one that she wished had taken place in Rwanda.

The article also likens Hamas to “totalitarian movements” like the Nazis, an Orwellian exercise that staggers the imagination. Gerald Kaufman, a British Labor MP and a long-time Zionist, was far more accurate when he stated:

The spokeswoman for the Israeli army, Major Leibovich, was asked about the Israeli killing of, at that time, 800 Palestinians. The total is now 1,000. She replied instantly that ‘500 of them were militants’. That was the reply of a Nazi. I suppose the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants.

While Power did not bring up the subject of Iraq in her NY Review article, it is worth mentioning what she thought of the invasion of Iraq during the halcyon days when Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld were trumpeting the victory of democracy in the Middle East. This is from a profile on Power in the April 14, 2003 LA Times that coincided with the publication of her “The Problem From Hell”:

“That’s what’s so great about the fall of Saddam Hussein. Now we can actually put our money and power where our might has been so far. We can demonstrate what we have claimed all along, that this war is about them,” she said, referring to the Iraqi people.

“The hard work is just beginning, in Iraq and also in restoring U.S. credibility as a global actor. I hope the book provides the spirit in which that can be done.”

Did it ever occur to Power that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, unjust and immoral? How does someone putting herself forward as a moral exemplar end up sounding like a White House operative? I guess that Pecksniffian declarations of moral responsibility are a smart career move especially if it goes hand-in-hand with a lust for bombing the impudent natives.

To cover its expenses, the Hannah Arendt Center at the New School relies on generous contributions from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. As anybody familiar with American history can tell you, the academy has been nourished from the beginning by the blood of slaves and working people. Leland Stanford was a robber baron, as was Andrew Carnegie. Andrew W. Mellon’s father was financier to the Carnegie steel company and sonny boy took over the Mellon banks after he died. As Secretary of the Treasury, he advised Hoover to “liquidate labor…liquidate farmers…it will drain the rottenness out of the system” at the very time he was cheating on his income taxes and urging a cut in rates for the 1920s version of the one percent. As Balzac said in the epigraph to “Pere Goriot”: “Behind every great fortune there is a crime”. The Andrew W. Mellon foundation understands why it is important to fund the Hannah Arendt Center since in a period beginning to approximate the Great Depression in terms of longevity, our current economic crisis is causing young people to question the capitalist system. Who better to warn them against “going too far” than a Hannah Arendt, an icon of the Cold War alongside Albert Camus? At least if that version of Hannah Arendt remains unchallenged.

It makes sense that Bard College would have its own Hannah Arendt Center since the president of the college is also committed to the bulldozer expansionism under a humanist camouflage of its New School colleagues. Using millions from currency speculator George Soros’s deep pockets instead of the Mellon fortune, it promotes Arendt’s reputation near and far and allows its director Roger Berkowitz to pontificate on a full-time basis. In a remarkable essay titled “Assassinating Justly: Reflections on Justice and Revenge in the Osama Bin Laden Killing”, Berkowitz claims that “few today question the United States’ right to kill – or at least severely punish – Osama bin Laden” and that it was “wrong for human rights activists to critique the raid as being unjustified”. Really? What would then prevent some Pakistanis from forming a death squad and coming to Washington to wreak vengeance for the 330 drone strikes that have left over 2000 people dead? Of course, this would be considered an act of savagery since it is the USA that is hegemonic rather than Pakistan.

As a member of the National Security Council, Samantha Power took part in deliberations that led to the deaths of these Pakistanis. Why is this considered ethical behavior and that of the Taliban or Hamas unethical? Clearly, we are dealing with a double standard. If there truly were international law, Obama and his underlings would be serving long prison terms for crimes against humanity. And maybe there would be shorter jail terms for their intellectual prostitutes like Roger Berkowitz. (I suppose I should find another word besides prostitute since that after all is an honorable profession by comparison.)

I am not the only person who has figured out what the Hannah Arendt industry is up to. There’s an article by Brooklyn College professor Corey Robin titled “Dragon Slayers” that appeared in the January 4, 2007 London Review of Books that is excellent. (It is behind a paywall but I will be happy to send you a copy on request.)

The article is based on reviews of these three books:

  • Why Arendt Matters by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl
  • Hannah Arendt: The Jewish Writings edited by Jerome Kohn and Ron Feldman
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt

Robin takes exception to Young-Bruehl’s attempt to put radical Islam and the Bush White House on the same plane: “the Republican and Islamist push to submit the private sphere to public scrutiny”, etc. As opposed to such an abstraction, he points out that jihadists are fueled by anger over Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

Although it is not mentioned in the review, Young-Bruehl has targeted the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela as inimical to human freedom. I wrote about her trip there back in 2007 and noted that she held a meeting with the students at Simon Bolivar University where she had “an intense conversation about why Hannah Arendt had distrusted revolutions that try to solve problems of social injustice without first achieving a stable, constitutional republic.” Yes, that’s what we need to do—distrust revolutions that try to solve problems of social injustice, especially since it might piss off the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and George Soros.

This pretty much sums up Robin’s approach:

Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that the centenary of Arendt’s birth should have devolved into a recitation of the familiar. Once a week, it seems, some pundit will trot out her theory of totalitarianism, dutifully extending it, as her followers did during the Cold War, to America’s enemies: al-Qaida, Saddam, Iran. Arendt’s academic chorus continues to swell, sounding the most elusive notes of her least political texts while ignoring her prescient remarks about Zionism and imperialism. Academic careers are built on interpretations of her work, and careerism, as Arendt noted in her book on Eichmann, is seldom conducive to thinking.

Robin’s reference to the “academic chorus” and “careerism” hit home. Although I never met Hannah Arendt, I got to know her husband Heinrich Blucher and her close friend Hans Jonas fairly well. What you can say about them all is that they stood on their principles. Try as hard as I may, I could not see any of them running a Hannah Arendt Center dedicated to building a cult around a dead philosopher. They were far too thorny in their beliefs to become a cog in the academic bureaucracy.

I guess in some ways it was what I learned from Blucher and Jonas that made me into the person I am today. Although Blucher renounced the Marxism of his youth, he asked me to read and write about Karl Marx’s “Communist Manifesto” in 1963. It was the first time I read a thinker who had been likened to Adolph Hitler during the depths of the Cold War. I also value the education I got from Hans Jonas who would go on to become a foundational thinker for the German Green Movement through essays like “The Outcry of Mute Things” that ends:

The latest revelation—from no Mount Sinai, from no Mount of the Sermon, from no Bo (tree of Buddha)—is the outcry of mute things themselves that we must heed by curbing our powers over creation, lest we perish together on a wasteland of what was creation.

Those are the values I live by, no matter the use that some people try to make of the generation of German exiles who deserve better than being turned into philosophers of the predator drones.

May 23, 2013

Bhaskar Sunkara’s vain hopes

Filed under: liberalism,revolutionary organizing — louisproyect @ 3:32 pm

Bhaskar Sunkara

In the latest Nation Magazine there’s a remarkable article by Jacobin publisher Bhaskar Sunkara that performs a tightrope act that bashes the hoary voice of American liberalism even as it provides it a safety net.

If nothing else, it is a relief to see the awful Melissa Harris-Perry reprimanded for trying to perform a tightrope act of her own as she staked out a position in between the Chicago teachers and Rahm Emanuel, writing at the time of the strike that children were victims of a struggle “between the leaders and teachers who are supposed to have their best interests at heart but who seem willing to allow this generation to be lost.”

I seldom watch MSNBC nowadays but was appalled to see Comrade Harris-Perry advise her viewers a few days ago that the scandals bubbling up around Obama were simply Republican plots to turn minor peccadilloes into Watergate type offenses. It was literally no different than hearing from the White House press secretary.

The main thrust of Sunkara’s article is to rebuild the kind of coalition that FDR’s New Deal symbolized as a partnership between liberals and radicals:

Which is to say that the left needs a plan—a plan that must incorporate more moderate allies. American radicalism has had a complex and at times contradictory association with liberalism. At the peak of the socialist movement, leftists fed off liberal victories. Radicals, in turn, have added coherence and punch to every key liberal struggle and advance of the past century. Such a mutually beneficial alliance could be in the works again. The first step is to smash the existing liberal coalition and rebuild it on a radically different basis.

What’s missing from this proposal is a sober assessment of the class forces that made New Deal partnerships between the Democrats and radicals possible. Just as the power of the industrial capitalists of the North made a coalition of Republican Party radicals and moderates possible when the Nation was launched as an abolitionist magazine, the New Deal rested on the basis that FDR’s economic program was good for the same bourgeoisie. Consider the make-up of the NRA (the national recovery administration, not the mouth-breathing gun fetishists) at its outset. Hugh Johnson, an adviser to Bernard Baruch who apparently admired Mussolini’s corporatist policies that made the trains run on time, was its first administrator. In 1932 it was in the class interests of the big bourgeoisie to have an “activist” President even if many of its most powerful players had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the fold.

After the recovery of Japan and Germany in the post-WWII period, the prospects for American industry became problematic. Some sectors remained vibrant (computers, farm equipment, finance) while others went down the tubes (auto, steel, textiles). While it is difficult to generalize about the future of American capitalism—a task that I will leave to contributors to Socialist Register—it does seem troubling that Obama counted Ronald Reagan as an inspirational figure. Considering his obvious bid to carve a big hole in two of the major gains of the New Deal and Great Society—Social Security and Medicare—one has to wonder what good is left in the Democratic Party. No matter how many complaints you hear from a John Conyers or a Nation Magazine editorial for that matter, it is doubtful that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party will serve as a speed bump in this mad race to return to the days of McKinley—not to speak of what is really necessary, a spike strip.

Bhaskar points to the gathering forces that might serve as foot soldiers in a campaign to return the Democratic Party to its truly liberal roots:

The present context on the socialist left is one of institutional disarray but critical vibrancy, not unlike the moment that fueled leftist milieus in the early 1960s, when journals like Studies on the Left anticipated the upsurges that were soon to come, but groups like the Socialist Party of America were in terminal decline. Current literary journals like n+1 have taken a turn toward the political through engagement with Occupy Wall Street, while radical thinkers like Vivek Chibber, Doug Henwood and Kathi Weeks are finding broad new audiences for their work. A younger cohort is emerging as well. This generation of Marxist intellectuals is resurrecting debates about the reduction of working time, exploring the significance of new forms of labor, and arguing about the ways a democratic society would harness technological advance to universal material benefit, while avoiding ecological ruin.

As I have the dubious distinction of being old enough to remember the period described above as an active participant, there are dimensions that are missing in Bhaskar’s bird’s eye view of history. To start with, the early 60s owed more to the civil rights movement than journals like Studies on the Left. I first became aware of the left through my girlfriend Elizabeth in 1965 who was the leader of CORE at Bard College. With thousands of young people going South to fight Jim Crow, it was possible for those not quite so committed to feel that history was moving in a progressive direction. Essentially the civil rights movement was a class movement. That being the case, what is the equivalent today? Al Sharpton, reputed to be an FBI snitch, defending Obama’s every reactionary initiative on MSNBC?

It is also important to keep in mind that SDS was a project that grew out of the League for Industrial Democracy, a group founded in 1905 by Upton Sinclair, Jack London and other Debs era figures. In the early 60s the AFL-CIO was solidly behind the Student League for Industrial Democracy, the forerunner of SDS. The labor movement of the early 60s also lent its institutional muscle to the civil rights movement.

Even if this AFL-CIO was capable of fostering the growth of movements that would constitute the shock troops of the 60s radicalization, it was creating the foundations of its own demise through its partnership with the big bourgeoisie. With George McGovern’s loss to Nixon in 1972, the party of the “left” would become transformed into what amounted to Republican Party lite. Every single Democratic candidate since McGovern has run on a program that either explicitly or implicitly targets the very foundations of the New Deal. In effect, the transformation of the Democratic Party mirrors that of the Republican Party in 1877 when it concluded a deal with the Democrats to dump Reconstruction.

If all this sounds bleak, I must apologize. But I believe that the left has to proceed on the basis of an honest assessment of the objective conditions not rosy-hued self-deception. The Occupy movement gave us a sense of new directions in American politics and more surprises might be in store down the road. Our biggest mistake at this point would be to attempt to breathe new life into the maggot-ridden remains of American liberalism as represented through the Democratic Party whose chief leader has shamelessly defended his right to murder American citizens without offering proof of their crimes and who assembles committees on “entitlements” that are run by Peter Peterson’s acolytes. Enough is enough.

April 14, 2013

Statistical survey

Filed under: liberalism,media — louisproyect @ 3:30 pm

Number of times that the term “predator drones” has appeared on an MSNBC show in the last 6 months: 6

Number of times that the term “gun control” has appeared on an MSNBC show in the last 6 months: 373

Number of times that the term “chained cpi” has appeared on an MSNBC show in the last 6 months: 43

Number of times that the term “tea party” has appeared on an MSNBC show in the last 6 months: 404

(Based on a search of Nexis.)

 

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