Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 18, 2017

The origins of the North Star

Filed under: North Star — louisproyect @ 5:39 pm

December 4, 2016

Mark Lause: Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory

Filed under: North Star,two-party system — louisproyect @ 12:35 am


Here we are, weeks after the 2016 election and Green candidate Jill Stein and her campaign committee are looming larger in the news than they ever did during the presidential race itself.   Her efforts to raise money for a formal recount in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania have gained regular national attention and involves much more money than the campaign itself had raised.  Proponents insist that this drive to win a recount in three pivotal states that turned the election against Hillary Clinton has nothing to do with cozying up to the Democrats and is about nothing less than the integrity of the electoral process itself.

However, much of the Green Party itself has thus far remained aloof, and prominent party figures have declared themselves against the effort.  (See Daniel Marans, “Jill Stein’s Recount Campaign Is Winning Her New Fame — And Losing Her The Green Party,” Huffington Post, December 1, 2016.)  Brandy Baker has drawn stark conclusions about it in “The Stein Campaign and the Fight for Green Party Independence,” Counterpunch, November 28, 2016.  Stein’s vice presidential running mate, Ajamu Baraka called the recount “a potentially dangerous move” that gave the public the impression that the Greens were “carrying the water for the Democrats.” (Eli Watkins, “Jill Stein’s running mate: ‘I’m not in favor of the recount'” CNN, November 30, 2016.)  Discerning conservatives have been delighted to see the candidate go one way and the party the other.  (Warner Todd Huston, “Green Party releases statement distancing itself from Jill Stein,” Bizpac Review, December 1, 2016.)  Nevertheless, the Democrats generally seem to follow the lead of President-elect Donald J. Trump in describing the recount project as the work of the Green Party.

Some backstory on this might be helpful.

The Origins

According to published accounts, the recount project began with John Bonifaz, a Boston attorney who has founded and/or officered a series of organizations around voting rights.   Although he reportedly voted Green once, he is a registered Democrat and has run for statewide office as a Democrat. (See his bio on Wiki  or on his Free Speech for People site.)  Almost as soon as the 2016 election was over, he raised the concerns of what he calls “the electoral integrity community” about the integrity of the elections based on what some cited as statistically anomalous “indicators” in the three states that Clinton had hoped to win but lost to Trump.  Bonifaz dutifully took those concerns to his party.  (See Gabriel Shermen, “Experts Urge Clinton Campaign to Challenge Election Results in 3 Swing States,” Daily Intelligencer, reposted New York Magazine.)

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November 7, 2016

Should the left try to take over the Democratic Party?

Filed under: North Star,two-party system — louisproyect @ 5:48 pm


Benjamin Kunkel

Should the left try to take over the Democratic Party? That question is answered affirmatively in Benjamin Kunkel’s Sweet ’16: Notes on the US Election that appeared in Salvage, a British journal launched by Richard Seymour and other well-known Marxists in July 2015. Meanwhile, Jacobin founder Bhaskar Sunkara and managing editor Nicole Aschoff, a lecturer in sociology at Johns Hopkins, make the case that Only Socialism Can Defeat Trumpism in The Nation, an article that might be more properly titled “Only a Reformed Democratic Party Can Defeat Trumpism”.

Despite the freshness of magazines like Salvage and Jacobin, there is something a bit musty about such advice. When you consider Kunkel’s role as a founder of the very smart and sassy n+1, you have all bases of Young Turk Marxist journals covered. Considering the hoary past of the Democratic Party hostile takeover strategy, you’d think that there would be an aversion to the Earl Browder shuffle from insurgent youth. But then again, Jacobin has always been friendly with Dissent Magazine, a proponent of working in the DP just as much as the CPUSA’s Political Affairs journal.

To some extent, this might have been expected given n+1, Salvage and Jacobin’s infatuation with the Sanders campaign. When Sanders turned out to be much more of a Democratic Party insider than an insurgent, many on the left were reconciled to fall into line behind him since “Trumpism” (whatever that is) was considered such a threat. Speaking with Marxist authority second to none, Adolph Reed wrote a provocatively titled piece Vote for the Lying Neoliberal Warmonger: It’s Important that probably had the effect of allowing the smart, young Marxists to support Hillary Clinton, the candidate of the oldest, continuously functioning capitalist party in the world. Reed was like a rabbi telling a Reform congregation that it was okay to eat shrimp.

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December 27, 2015

Venezuela, Greece and the prospects for a new left

Filed under: North Star — louisproyect @ 10:15 pm


After the Venezuelan elections, what is to be done?

After an extended period of relative quiescence in which the North Star editorial board has been continuing to assess the progress (or lack thereof) toward the creation of radical, nonsectarian formations on the left, we hope to begin publishing relevant content again. To some extent, this is an unavoidable task since the defeats in Greece and Venezuela of such parties has led to widespread discussion of whether they were oversold to begin with.

While the emphasis for people who believe in the North Star type approach has always been on organizational questions (what Lenin really meant, etc.), there is no avoiding the programmatic aspects of both Syriza and the Bolivarian revolution. In the first case you are dealing with a party that ostensibly refused to live up to its promises. With Venezuela, the issue might be one of whether the ruling party could have done anything to stay in power given the dire economic situation triggered by falling oil prices.

full: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=12407

May 23, 2015

North Star workshop at Left Forum

Filed under: Left Forum,North Star — louisproyect @ 3:08 pm

Screen shot 2015-05-23 at 11.06.52 AM

Those of you attending the Left Forum at John Jay College next weekend might want to check out a workshop titled “Toward a Mass Left Party” that was organized by Matt Hoke, a member of the North Star editorial board. It meets at 12pm on Sunday in room 1.124

The abstract for the workshop is as follows:

Since the economic crisis of 2008, nor since the contraction of Occupy Wall Street in 2011, no mass pole of attraction has arisen to address the suffering of working people in the USA. Meanwhile, new mass parties have spawned in Europe in quick and stormy expansions, while also facing contradictions and difficulties. In the US, a new attraction towards intertendency politics and electoral action has emerged as expressed by the Electoral Action Conference in Chicago, and certain groups are experimenting new tactics to directly engage people’s needs, whether the $15 movement, serve the people projects, or solidarity networks.

The chairperson for the session is Loren Anderson of the Philly Socialists who has provided technical support for North Star and other related projects

Participants include:

Louis Proyect

Affiliation: North Star founder & editor

Bio: Louis Proyect was a member of the North Star Network launched by Peter Camejo in the early 1980s, an experiment in regroupment around a nonsectarian outlook that inspired the current website. Louis also identifies with efforts by the Socialist Union of the 1950s that was led by Bert Cochran and Harry Braverman.

Abstract: Louis will be focusing on international developments in Syriza and Podemos.


Jim Brash

Affiliation: North Star & Green Party

Bio: Jim Brash has been a member of UFCW Local 1262 for 15 years, and is a green council member of the Green Party of New Jersey. He is also the green party candidate for New Jersey’s 26th Legislative District. Interests include studying American history, political theory, economics, religious philosphy, & miltary strategy.

Abstract: Jim will be mainly be talking about the nuts and bolts of his own electoral efforts.


Stephanie Altimari

Affiliation: Philly Socialists

Bio: Stephanie was an early member of Philly Socialists who has coordinated a wing of its serve the people project based around tutoring for English as a Second Language.

Abstract: Stephanie will be talking about the service model, solidarity networks, and the social network theory of building an organization.


February 4, 2015

Two Roads

Filed under: North Star — louisproyect @ 6:55 pm

Two Roads



This is the text of a speech delivered at Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA, in early November of 2014, days before grand juries in Missouri and New York refused to indict the killers of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively.

Two roads


When I was growing up, in the long-ago time of 1990s, I believed a number of things about how the world worked.

These ideas were held by everybody I met, echoed in the media, and by figures of authority in our society – everybody from politicians to college professors. Even critical and dissident voices basically accepted certain underlying premises of how our world worked, and how the future was going to shape up.

Allow me to present you with a snapshot of American ideology from ten or twenty years ago:

The world works like this: You go to college, earn a degree, and get a middle class job. You make $40,000 a year starting out, and earn more every year after that. You work 40 hours a week every year until you retire, just like your parents did. You will have kids of your own, and they will grow up to work 40 hours a week, as will their children, and so on and so forth.

The political system alternates between Democrats and Republicans, but these are mainly cosmetic differences, and don’t have lasting impacts on a fundamentally strong economy (the greatest in the world!) which will deliver more and more people into ever-broadening circles of prosperity. Sure, some bad things had happened in the past (slavery, Jim Crow, women’s oppression) but that was a very long time ago, and that sort of thing doesn’t happen any more (at least in America).

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January 15, 2015

North Star progress report

Filed under: North Star — louisproyect @ 10:19 pm

Screen shot 2015-01-15 at 5.44.52 PM

Just over two months ago I posted an article on the North Star website titled “A Relaunch of North Star” that was written in the hope that it could serve as a pole of attraction for those on the American left seeking a broad-based, anti-capitalist party along the lines of Syriza or Podemos. I am pleased to report that North Star has made some major strides toward that end over the past month or so.

To start with we have an editorial board that reflects both political and generational diversity. Matt Hoke and Curtis Hinson, two of the younger editors, have been involved in Occupy type organizing on the East Coast and West Coast respectively, while I and historian Mark Lause come out of the 60s radical movement. All of us are united on the need for a North Star that addresses the new movements that have come on the scene since the winding down of the Occupy movement. Furthermore, we have learned that the best use of North Star is not to attack those on the left who have a different conception of what is needed to advance the struggle but instead to offer proposals that reflect our own orientation. We also believe that bitterly contested international questions such as Syria are best left to other forums since the passions they generate will do little to help us navigate the class struggle in the USA.

With a four person editorial board united on a vision for what is needed, we hope to post new material on a biweekly basis. So far it is gratifying to see that we have received submissions from a broad range of activists who clearly see North Star as a sounding board for their political thinking.

Here are newly added items that reflect our orientation:

Scott Jay, “What is a Marxist Organization?” (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=12076)

Scott’s article stresses the need for members to have a material stake in the groups they belong to, a novel approach to the perennial “burn out” problem.

Matt Hoke, “American Podemos Part I: the Factors & Forces Behind Podemos” (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=12098); “American Podemos Part II: Factors & Forces in the USA” (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=12102)

An analysis of a party that holds great promise not only for Spain but for those of us in the USA seeking to unify the left.

Editors, “Call for February Submissions: Race & Police” (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=12085)

The lead paragraphs:

There is a wave of anger and outpouring of protest over the racial police killings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. As strategists, how do we help these disparate instances coordinate into a national force? What is the next step the movement needs to take to attain the justice it desires?

Would a united socialist intervention in the movement be possible? What would it look like? How would it happen? What would it call for?

We have received 3 submissions so far and invite others to submit something as well. Furthermore, if you have an idea for an article in the 2000 word range, get in touch with us at editors@thenorthstar.info. We’d love to hear from you.

Please bookmark http://www.thenorthstar.info/ and check in on it on a regular basis. We are confident that it will be worth your while.

December 13, 2014

Podemos on the rise

Filed under: North Star,Podemos — louisproyect @ 2:37 pm

These are the lead paragraphs of my article “Where Did Podemos Come From? Where is it Going?” that is timed to coincide with the relaunch of North Star,

This article provides some background on Podemos in Spain, a broad-based radical party that has been likened to Syriza in Greece and that like Syriza could very possibly become a ruling party in the not too distant future. It was written for the relaunch of North Star (http://www.thenorthstar.info/), a website that calls for the creation of a non-sectarian, broad-based anticapitalist party—in other words, an American Podemos.

For those of us in the United States who are working to create something equivalent, there are many lessons to be drawn even if there are sizable differences between the USA and Spain. But what they do have in common is key: a two-party system that has effectively maintained hegemonic control over politics.

Since an earlier article announcing the relaunch, progress has been made to put the website on a firm footing. We have an editorial board of four people all committed to the original mission, namely to publicize the need for a broad-based anti-capitalist movement in the terms articulated by Peter Camejo in the original North Star Network of the early 80s. It is a pity that Peter did not live long enough to see Pablo Iglesias in action. This young leader of Podemos shows a grasp of revolutionary politics that would impress anybody.

Podemos has prompted some rich analysis since its formation. I would like to call your attention to some other articles that get it right, as opposed to the standard sectarian dismissal. The first appeared in the December 11, 2014 edition of Open Democracy. Titled “Leaderless no more” (https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/paolo-gerbaudo/leaderless-no-more) and written by Paolo Gerbaudo, an academic and journalist who looks as young as Pablo Iglesias, it calls attention to the growing realization of young Occupy type activists that some degree of centralized coordination is necessary. He writes:

While many anarchists are no doubt grumbling at seeing many of their comrades supporting Iglesias, Tsipras, and other emerging leaders (is Russell Brand the UK’s farcical equivalent of Iglesias and Tsipras?), those hoping for radical political change in Europe and beyond have many good reasons to celebrate this development. This shift from “leaderlessness” to the rise of new political leaders fighting for the demands raised by the movements of the squares is a demonstration of the “wisdom of the crowd”, of the fact that social movements and their supporters are capable of learning from their mistakes and evolving accordingly. Yet, it is apparent that this return of strong “personalised leadership” within the leftwing also raises some serious political questions for activists.

I would also call your attention to a series of articles on Left Flank, an Australian website, titled “Understanding Podemos”. Luke Stobart, a PhD student based in Spain, is the author. The first two of three has already appeared.

In the first, subtitled “15-M & counter-politics” (http://left-flank.org/2014/11/05/explaining-podemos-1-15-m-counter-politics/), Stobart addresses the question of “anti-politics”, a term that resonates with the feeling of most Americans, who like the Spanish, have grown weary of a two-party system that favors the rich. He writes:

“Anti-politics” is not just a counter to the parties but to the institutions and organisations tied to both them and the state (what Gramsci called the “outer fortresses” of “the integral state”). Crucially for those interested in emancipatory politics, this includes the union bureaucracies. The contradiction between representing workers’ interests and containing their demands has always been present in mass trade unionism. However, Humphrys and Tietze have shown using the Australian example that from the beginning of neoliberalism the balance has shifted in the direction of the latter function. Indeed, in Australia the unions maintained an “Accord” with the Labor government while the latter restrained wages and brought in the first big neoliberal reforms. As a consequence, over the last three decades union coverage has decreased from over 50 per cent to just 17 per cent of workers.

As should be obvious from the above, Australia—like Spain and the USA—suffers from a two-party shell game.

In the second article in the series, subtitled “Radical Populism” (http://left-flank.org/2014/11/14/understanding-podemos-23-radical-populism/), Stobart links Podemos to the post-Marxist “radical democracy” theories of Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, a couple of academics who in my opinion are given more credit than they deserve, even if Podemos leaders are in the habit of quoting them.

Much of Stobart’s article dwells on the specifics of Spanish politics and the usefulness or lack thereof in Podemos’s strategy and tactics. I am hardly in a position to judge the merits of his analysis but will simply say that Podemos, whatever its failings on this or that, represents a huge step forward for the Spanish left and an inspiration for revolutionaries everywhere trying to transcend the sectarian limitations of the “Leninist” parties.

The fact that Podemos has reached millions of Spaniards while self-declared vanguard formations largely speak to those already “in the know” about Lenin and the Russian questions should tell us that we are on the brink of a new period in the class struggle, one in which the socialist movement will be rebuilt on 21st century realities. It is about time.


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