Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 2, 2020

Eric Blanc, Leo Panitch, and the Popular Front

Filed under: Biden,Fascism,Lenin,parliamentary cretinism,Popular Front,Spain — louisproyect @ 9:51 pm

Toward the end of the stellar Cosmonaut interview with August Nimtz on Lenin’s views about electoral politics, the principals try to relate it to the current day. They concur that there’s more than a whiff of Popular Front nostalgia in the air with support for Biden symbolizing the kind of class-collaborationism that Lenin spent his entire career opposing.

Just a day after listening to the podcast, I read an interview that probably would have had Lenin spinning in his tomb fast enough to supply electricity in Moscow for a year if a transformer had been attached to his toe. Eric Blanc, today’s leading exponent of neo-Kautskyism, interviewed Leo Panitch, a Canadian professor emeritus who has co-edited the prestigious Socialist Register journal since 1985.

Titled “How Can Socialists Help Stop Trump?”, the interview was Blanc’s attempt to get benediction from Panitch for supporting a vote for Biden. I have no idea what Blanc’s religious background is but Panitch is a Jew like me and in the world of Marxism amounting to something like a powerful rabbi. For orthodox Jews, there are always knotty problems on how to interpret Talmudic law. Can you push a baby stroller on the Sabbath, a young couple might ask the rabbi. Stroking his long white beard, he’d reply “Only within the eruv.” (The eruv is a rope strung around an orthodox Jewish neighborhood, where exceptions to strict Talmudic law are permitted.)

Like the young Jewish couple, Eric Blanc was asking for dispensation:

I would love to hear your take on the question of whether or not socialists should be voting and/or campaigning for Joe Biden.

For me, I’ve really had a hard time squaring the circle on this, because on the one hand, it seems clear to me that another Trump presidency would be a disaster for our side and, on the other hand, I don’t really clearly see how we can advocate a vote for Biden without going against the grain of our overall project of class formation, trying at all times to polarize and organize workers versus bosses. Maybe the best we can say is that this presidential moment is so exceptional that we should make an exception to our general socialist electoral strategy?

Going against the grain of our overall project, indeed. As a leading member of the DSA, Blanc was effectively ignoring the democratic decision at its last convention to only back Sanders. In the Nimtz interview, there’s a useful discussion of democratic centralism that reminds us of its original intent. It was to make sure that the Bolshevik parliamentarians complied with decisions made democratically by the rank-and-file. Afterward, Stalin ripped out the heart of democratic centralism and turned it into a formula for keeping the rank-and-file under his thumb. In the social democratic world, you didn’t have the same kind of repression. Socialist leaders were permitted to take whatever position they felt like, just as is the case with Eric Blanc’s support for Biden.

Panitch offers absolution in the form of a reference to the electoral formation that was hegemonic in the 1930s for the left:

For the time being, in every electoral cycle, you’ll face that dilemma. But right now, we are facing an increasingly dangerous development, which isn’t simply Trump, but also the explicitness and assertiveness of his supporters – his vanguard. And in this kind of moment, you do have to adopt a Popular Front position vis-à-vis the election.

That said, it doesn’t mean that you set aside or even need to apologize for taking this stance. To the contrary, it means you use the reasons you took that approach as a means to go on and organize the class as the Communists did in the 1930s under the Popular Front – more effectively actually than they were doing during their “Class Against Class” line in the beginning of the Depression. And the way you do that is to say, “look, the greatest danger of re-electing Trump is the closure of organizing space, the closure of political space” – which would significantly reduce our chances to do the class formation we need to.

It is highly revealing that Panitch sees the electoral choices adopted by the left as binary in nature. Either you used the “class against class” line of the CP or the Popular Front line that replaced it. The “class against class” line was a reference to Third Period Stalinism that helped Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. In the late 20s, the CP regarded the SP as “social fascists”, just as bad as the Nazis.

In 1931 the Nazis utilized a clause in the Weimar constitution to oust a coalition government in the state legislature of Prussia. Prussia was a Social Democratic stronghold.  The Communists at first opposed the referendum, but their opposition took a peculiar form. They demanded that the Social Democrats form a bloc with them at once. When the Social Democratic leaders refused, the Communists put their support behind the Nazi referendum, giving it a left cover by calling it a “red referendum”. They instructed the working class to vote for a Nazi referendum.  The referendum was defeated, but it was demoralizing to the German working-class to see Communists lining up with Nazis to drive the Social Democrats out of office.

A year later Hitler was in power and began rounding up Communists. This disaster forced the Kremlin to revise tactics. In May 1934, a Pravda article reversed Kremlin policy and urged cooperation between the SP and the CP. A year later, the reorientation was formalized at the Comintern Congress. The new policy was called the “The People’s Front Against Fascism and War”. It went further than the Pravda article. It endorsed electoral coalitions that included bourgeois parties as well. As long as they were antifascist, the Communists would unite with them in a government. The Second International was happy to join forces with the CP since they had been class-collaborationist all along. Indeed, it was their support for Paul Von Hindenburg, the Joe Biden of the Weimar Republic, that was responsible for Hitler becoming Der Fuhrer.

What’s absent from Panitch’s bird’s eye view of the period was acknowledgement of an alternative to both disastrous policies. In the early 20s, after a botched ultraleft attempt by the CP to take power in Germany, Lenin proposed a united front between the CP and the SP. He purloined this idea from Paul Levi whose proposals for such a policy effectively led to his ostracism in the German CP. When he took his complaints public, he was expelled with Lenin’s blessing—unfortunately.

Most of the Leninist left views the united front as a tactic that only allowed common actions between the two mass working-class parties, such as demonstrations. However, the Comintern also conceived of a workers and farmers government that while still ruling over capitalist property relations could begin moving forcefully to their overturn. Whatever the theory, a coalition government of the CP and SP in Germany in 1931 could have spared the lives of six million Jews and millions of other people enduring the barbarism of WWII. History dealt us a bad hand. Was the Popular Front an effective block against fascism, as Panitch unfortunately argues?

While this article is not the place to review the Popular Front in any detail, a few things are worth pointing out.

In Spain, a classic example of the Popular Front involving participation by two bourgeois parties, the government did not take steps to overturn capitalist property relations, largely because Stalin was trying to placate “antifascist” governments in France, the USA and England that would have objected.

After Franco began his counter-revolutionary war against the Spanish Republic, his army included Moroccan troops who resented the Popular Front’s refusal to grant their country national independence. George Padmore, an African-American Marxist who broke with the CP over the Comintern’s scuttling of support for colonized peoples in favor of alliances with liberal imperialist governments, wrote a scathing article titled “Why Moors Support Franco” in the May 20, 1938 New Leader that has some bearing on Joe Biden’s long-standing racist politics, especially his backing for the 1994 Crime Bill that led to the mass incarceration that has led to 34 percent of Blacks being behind bars in 2014 despite being 13 percent of the US population.

Why Moors Support Franco

Much has been written about the Moors in various sections of the Left-Wing Press in this and other countries. They have been called the “scum of the earth,” “black riff-raff,” “mercenaries,” and other such names.

It seems rather strange that the people who use these epithets conveniently forget that these unfortunate Africans are as much the victims of a social system as Europeans, who are forced by sheer economic necessity into the armed forces of the Capitalist States and used by the imperialists to shoot down unarmed and defenceless natives in the colonies in the name of “democracy” and “law and order.”

It is not the politically backward Moors who should be blamed for being used by the forces of reaction against the Spanish workers and peasants, but the leaders of the Popular Front, who, in attempting to continue the policy of Spanish Imperialism, made it possible for Franco to exploit the natives in the service of Fascism.

The British workers have much to learn from this tragic affair, which every revolutionary Socialist, regardless of race or nationality, must deplore.

No people have had to pay such a price for Empire as the Spanish workers. It should be a warning to the French and British workers whose ruling classes control the largest Empires.

Following the American war of 1898, Spain turned to Africa in the hope of recouping there the loss of her West Indian and Pacific colonies. But it was too late. Most of the Continent was already shared out. However, in 1912, France granted her a small strip of North-Eastern Morocco as a bribe for her support against Germany.

But it was not until after the World War that an attempt was made to establish control of the hinterland. In 1921, Abdel Krim organised a revolt of the Riffs against this penetration. The Spanish garrison at Anual was completely wiped out. The Riffs swept everything before them. The prestige of Spain suffered a terrible blow.

The Military High Command called for revenge. As a preliminary step, the military caste suppressed the Spanish constitution and set up a dictatorship under Primo de Rivera in 1923. Thus, in order to enslave the Moors, the yoke was first tightened around the necks of the Spaniards: which confirms what Lenin says, “No people oppressing other peoples can be free.”

In the following year Spain and France combined against the Moors. Abdel Krim surrendered in 1926 and was banished to Madagascar. In those days the Communist International, especially its French section, was in the vanguard of the struggle on behalf of the Riffs. Today not a voice is raised on behalf of Abdel Krim. But the Moors have not forgotten their valiant leader rotting on an island in the Indian Ocean.

Had the Popular Front Government, immediately it assumed office, issued decrees granting the colonial peoples economic and political reforms as a gesture towards self-government and appealed for their support against Franco, it would have been assured.

For the Moors have no particular ideological interest in Fascism. They, like most colonial peoples, are not concerned with the conflicting political conflicts going on in Europe. To them all whites are alike – a feeling which can hardly be otherwise when Labour and Popular Front Governments oppress and exploit them in the same way as Tory and other reactionary Capitalists. It is only the more politically advanced colonial workers who are able to make a distinction between the white oppressors and the white oppressed.

Not until the European workers’ movements, especially in countries with great empires like Britain and France show more solidarity in deeds and not words will this distrust and suspicion be removed.

Economic misery and starvation also made it possible for the Fascists to recruit natives. All of the most fertile regions of Morocco have been confiscated and given to Spanish colonists. The majority of the tribesmen eke out an existence tilling small lots of land in the most primitive fashion. Others are engaged in pastoral occupations. But they have no means of disposing of their livestock. Since Spain is the only market, preference is given to the Spanish settlers whenever there is a demand for cattle and eggs – the only two commodities exported. The result is that thousands of natives have drifted from their villages into the coastal settlements and towns, where they beg in the bazaars.

The industrial workers are engaged in the iron ore mines at Melilla, but their condition is hardly any better than the peasants. The average wage is about 6d. per day at the present rate of exchange!

With no industries to tax and a large army and bureaucracy to maintain, the Spanish authorities in Morocco endeavour to augment the annual subsidy provided by the home Government by saddling the natives with heavy taxes. Those unable to pay have their lands and cattle confiscated.

Commenting upon the economic situation, Senor Vicens, advisor to the Popular Front Government, in an interview with “Opportunity” (March, 1938), said that “Crops were very bad last year and the misery of the people has been terrible ever since. To many of them the war was a godsend: it meant an offer of work with a promise of pay.

“The first Moors brought into Spain for this war were already in the colonial military formations. They were regular soldiers, ordered by their commanding offers to serve in Spain. The chiefs and officers being Fascists, they were ordered out on the Fascist side.

“Though many of them had no particular desire to come to Spain at that time, they had no choice in the matter – any more than any other colonial troops have any choice as to when and where they are to fight.”

Asked to explain why the Popular Front Government failed to make some gesture of independence to the Moors, Senor Vicens replied:

“The Republicans would have granted autonomy to Morocco readily, long ago, except that France would not permit it. France was fearful of the effect on her adjoining African colonies. As soon as Morocco had become an independent State the French colonies would have demanded their liberation and independence. France was not ready to grant them this, and we were bound to France by a spirit of co-operation.”

It is the Spanish workers and peasants, on the one hand, and the Moors, on the other, who are paying with their lives for this treachery.

This is the price of Popular Front Government in Spain and in France! British workers beware!

October 27, 2020

Eric Blanc endorses Joe Biden

Filed under: DSA,Jacobin,Kautsky,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 9:52 pm


Eric Blanc

The first time I came across Eric Blanc’s writing was in 2016, when his article “Anti-imperial Marxism” was making the rounds. It was an important contribution, arguing that the “lesser nationalities” of the Czarist empire played a far more important role than had been acknowledged. Since I had been making the case for Ukrainian self-determination ever since the Euromaidan protests began in 2013, I was glad to see this:

While Iskra tended to assume that national consciousness and national movements would get weaker as capitalist development and proletarian struggle advanced, other Marxist currents believed that that the opposite would prove to be the case. Kelles-Krauz of the PPS argued in 1899 for the relevance of the fight for Ukrainian independence on the following grounds: “Economic evolution and the class struggle will give rise to—or revive—national sentiment, above all to the Ruthenians [Ukrainians], who will without a doubt create their own remarkable socialist movement.” Seeing the emergence of proletarian-separatist movements in the borderlands as key to the overthrow of tsarism, the PPS supported the Ukrainian socialist movement and advocated an independent Ukraine. When the Iskraist theoretical journal Zaria declared that it would be “strange” to demand political autonomy for “Little Russians” (Ukrainians) because they “do not need it,” the PPS replied that this was a “matter whose decision must be unconditionally left to the concerned nationalities themselves.”

Since most on the left equated Ukrainian national aspirations with fascism, it was reassuring to see at least one Marxist beside me, and a young one at that, willing to break with the consensus.

My first reaction to his next article on “Lessons from Finland’s 1917 revolution” was positive since it seemed to be in the same vein. Like Ukraine, Finland was under Czarist domination. I had no idea that Finland was part of the post-1917 revolutionary upsurge but was willing to take Blanc at his word:

Tsarism’s overthrow in February 1917 unleashed a revolutionary wave that immediately engulfed all of Russia. Perhaps the most exceptional of these insurgencies was the Finnish Revolution, which one scholar has called “Europe’s most clear-cut class war in the twentieth century.”

To my surprise, some Marxists found fault with his article, including one who I had a high regard for, namely Duncan Hart, a member of Socialist Alternative in Australia. In his critique of Blanc’s article, Hart takes issue with Blanc’s claim that the revolution led by Social Democrats “confirms the traditional view of revolution espoused by Karl Kautsky; through patient class-conscious organization and education, socialists won a majority in parliament, leading the Right to dissolve the institution, which in turn sparked a socialist-led revolution.” Hart saw the social democrats as putting a brake on the revolutionary process and thus helping to abort it.

I didn’t pay close attention either to Blanc’s article or to Hart’s rejoinder but the notion that, in Blanc’s words, the revolution confirmed “the traditional view of revolution espoused by Karl Kautsky” might have made me wonder where he was going politically. I only knew Kautsky’s writings as a didactic and fairly useful introduction to historical materialism but never considered him to be much of a revolutionary strategist, especially after 1917.

It soon became painfully clear to me that Blanc had become a disciple of Lars Lih, who has made a career out of scholarship that sought to prove that Kautsky was the ideological guiding light of the Russian revolution. This involved debunking the idea that the April Theses were a break with the traditional Bolshevik belief that a “revolutionary dictatorship” in Russia would prevail over capitalist property relations for an extended period.

Lih introduced these ideas in a 2011 article titled “The Ironic Triumph of Old Bolshevism: The Debates of April 1917 in Context” that appeared in Russian History, a peer-reviewed journal behind a JSTOR paywall. He followed up with a Jacobin article the same year titled “Questioning October” that sought to knock Leon Trotsky off his pedestal:

Back in the 1905–6 (the story goes), Leon Trotsky came up with his theory of permanent revolution and pronounced socialist revolution to be possible in backward Russia. Since his theory attacked the unimaginative dogmas of “Second International Marxism,” Trotsky was greeted with universal incomprehension. Fortunately, just in time, Lenin saw the light and caught up with Trotsky in April 1917. Together the two great leaders rearmed the Bolshevik Party, thus making the glorious October Revolution possible.

It took a couple of years following Blanc’s assertion that the Finnish revolution confirmed Kautsky’s Marxism to pen his own paean to Kautsky in Jacobin titled “Why Kautsky Was Right (and Why You Should Care)”. As someone who might have written something along these lines on behalf of Trotsky fifty years ago, it seemed strange to see the same type of hero worship. Kautsky wrote some useful articles but he never belonged on a pedestal, nor did Trotsky for that matter.

For Blanc, Kautsky was the ultimate antidote to the widespread belief in insurrection on the left:

Even at his most radical, Kautsky rejected the relevance of an insurrectionary strategy within capitalist democracies. His case was simple: the majority of workers in parliamentary countries would generally seek to use legal mass movements and the existing democratic channels to advance their interests. Technological advances, in any case, had made modern armies too strong to be overthrown through uprisings on the old nineteenth-century model of barricade street fighting. For these reasons, democratically elected governments had too much legitimacy among working people and too much armed strength for an insurrectionary approach to be realistic.

When I read this, I wondered how Blanc could have gone so wrong. Insurrectionary? I don’t recall the SWP ever using such a term and that was a group that was rife with ultraleft tendencies when I joined. Not long after reading his article, I pointed out that he had knocked down a straw man:

If this is not the stupidest thing I have read from a preeminent Marxist, I can’t imagine anything surpassing it. I am afraid that Blanc has Marx confused with Blanqui because what he describes above is Blanquism pure and simple. Louis Auguste Blanqui was a 19th century socialist who was a fearless opponent of both the bourgeoisie and the landed gentry but, unlike Marx, did not believe in mass action. He was an advocate of small, armed groups acting on behalf of the working class, a strategy that became known as Blanquism.

Insurrection is a loaded term, especially when applied to October, 1917. Keep in mind that there was zero barricade fighting in the weeks prior to the assault on the Winter Palace. Of course, the Mensheviks described the seizure of power as a coup since they considered the Constituent Assembly as the proper vehicle of working class struggle rather than the Soviets. Clearly, the logic of Blanc’s neo-Kautskyism would be to look back at the orientation to the Soviets rather than the Constituent Assembly as an act that legitimized the “old nineteenth century model of barricade street fighting”.

Although Eric Blanc has not written anything describing his ideological journey, I am generally under the impression that it follows this trajectory. As a red diaper baby, he joined Socialist Organizer, a tiny sect led by his father Alan Benjamin. From there he moved on to the ISO, but it is difficult to ascertain whether he was a member or a fellow traveler. He did write an article about Stalinism for them in 2017 but, other than that, there’s not much of a paper trail. What is apparent, however, is, if he was a member, he was certainly close to the faction that sought to dissolve the ISO and join the blissful caravan into the DSA.

It is as a DSA member and a regular Jacobin contributor that Blanc became a leading theorist of neo-Kautskyism, a bid to make the orientation to the Democratic Party consistent with Marxist orthodoxy. Even perhaps as an ISO member, Blanc argued in 2017  that a “dirty break” might be a useful tool to help build the revolutionary movement in the USA. This meant socialists using the Democratic Party ballot line as a clever trick to get a hearing and maybe even elected.

In “Why Kautsky Was Right (and Why You Should Care)”, Blanc connected the dots between Kautsky’s Marxism and the dirty break, linking “ballot line” to his earlier article:

First, moving away from dogmatic assumptions about the generalizability of the 1917 model should help socialists abandon other political dogmas, including on pressing issues such as how to build a Marxist current and whether it’s okay to ever use the Democratic Party ballot line. Though there are still many positive lessons to be learned from Bolshevism and the Russian Revolution, the era of building small groups each dedicated to defending their particular conception of Leninist continuity is thankfully over.

Once he immersed himself in the DSA political culture, the references to Kautsky began to disappear, especially in the heat of the Sanders campaign that had Blanc positively giddy with excitement. In October 2019, he wrote:

Political openings like this don’t arise very often — we need to seize the moment to rebuild working-class power by leaning on the Bernie campaign to elevate labor militancy and rebuild an organized socialist Left rooted in the multiracial working class.

Did it matter that Sanders was hardly an example of a “dirty break” or that his notion of socialism was bringing back the New Deal? Of course not. This was long before Sanders got clobbered in the South Carolina primary and it was easy for Jacobin and DSA to have rose-colored fantasies about a Sanders presidency.

Once Sanders was eliminated and became a fervent supporter of Biden, who he unaccountably described as the most progressive DP candidate since FDR, it was necessary for DSA/Jacobin leaders to reconcile their panic over a Trump re-election with the vote of the DSA convention to only support a Bernie Sanders candidacy. At the time of the convention, that prospect seemed realistic.

Now, just a week before the election, Blanc has joined the Biden club just like Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Barbara Ehrenreich and every other old fart that ever spoke at a Left Forum plenary session. This is the kind of “socialism” that is indistinguishable from the McGovern wing of the Democratic Party, except for the empty invocation of the term.

Blanc is a member of the Bread and Roses caucus of DSA that generally hews to Jacobin editorial talking points. He has co-authored a piece with Neal Meyer titled “This Time Is Different: Socialists and The Lesser Evil” that is identical to what you’d read in The Nation or any other liberal magazine. Since calling for a vote for Biden is so contrary not only to his past ortho-Marxist convictions but to his own caucus’s vote for a Sanders-only campaign for President, he and Meyer have to dig deep into the most obscure crevices of Bolshevik history:

And contrary to what some on the Left seem to assume, there is no timeless principle dictating that socialists can never lend critical support to a capitalist candidate. Even Lenin at times advocated that his comrades vote for liberals to prevent a far-right electoral victory, arguing in 1907 that “when a socialist really believes in a Black-Hundred danger and is sincerely combating it — he votes for the liberals without any bargaining.” Similarly, the Bolsheviks’ 1912 electoral strategy gave the green light to common lists and electoral agreements with liberals to prevent the election of right-wingers to the State Duma.

I’ve heard these arguments before but not from Blanc. Instead, they were voiced by Mike Ely, the founder of the now-defunct Kasama Project, an attempt to build something like Bob Avakian’s RCP but without the cult leadership. Ely, a Maoist, did not go around defending a vote for a DP candidate but maybe he had that in the back of his mind when he “corrected” me for insisting that Lenin never advocated voting for a capitalist party, particularly the Cadets.

This was my reply to Ely, who vanished into obscurity, 10 years ago:

Since many people who read and comment on Kasama have a “Marxist-Leninist” past, it is not surprising that one person asked “Didn’t Lenin talk about participation in legal elections too?” It should be understood that in such circles, Lenin’s imprimatur will count as much as the Pope’s for Catholics. It should also be understood that there is an unfortunate amalgam made during the entire discussion on Kasama between “electoral work” and supporting the Democrats. The two really have to be separated, in my opinion.

I tried to put Lenin’s position in context:

The peculiar condition was the continuing ability of the parties of the Second International and British Labour to draw working-class votes in the 1920s. Lenin advocated that the Comintern parties urge a vote for their candidates in order to get a hearing from such voters, understanding that once they got elected they would sell out–thus helping to persuade workers to join the CP. In any case, this had nothing to do with supporting bourgeois parties like the Democrats in the USA. For people who want to understand how Lenin regarded such parties, go to the Marxism Internet Archives and do a search on “Cadet” within Lenin. This, after all, was the major difference between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks: how to understand bourgeois liberalism. It is regrettable that a century after these debates took place, ostensible revolutionaries are dusting off Menshevik arguments.

This led Mike Ely to correct me: “actually there were situations in the Duma elections where the Bolsheviks would support Cadets against the Black hundreds.”

Now this was not the first time I heard such a claim. Back in November 2008, just around the time that Obama was in all his glory, one Marxmail subscriber cited an article by Lenin from 1912 that advocated blocs with “bourgeois democrats”. But he did not realize that Lenin was referring to the SR’s and not the Cadets.

When I asked Mike Ely to document his claim, he cited a book written by a Bolshevik deputy A.E. Badaev. Titled “Bolsheviks in the Tsarist Duma”, it seemed to support his claim:

The Bolsheviks thought it necessary to put up candidates in all workers’ curias and would not tolerate any agreements with other parties and groups, including the Menshevik-Liquidators. They also considered it necessary to put up candidates in the so-called “second curiae of city electors” (the first curiae consisted of large property owners and democratic candidates had no chance there at all) and in the elections in the villages, because of the great agitational value of the campaign. But in order to safeguard against the possible victory of reactionary candidates, the Bolsheviks permitted agreements respectively with the bourgeois democrats (Trudoviks, etc.) against the Liberals, and with the Liberals against the government parties during the second ballot for the election of electors in the city curias.

Well, that seemed pretty solid evidence for a Lenin who the Committees of Correspondence could love. A “practical” kind of guy who could urge a vote for the Obamas of his day against the really scary Black Hundreds, the Sarah Palins of Czarist Russia.

This was worth checking out. Although I don’t think it is very useful to base one’s politics in 2010 on what Lenin or A.E. Badaev wrote in 1912, as an amateur Lenin scholar I was curious to figure out what was going on. So I assiduously searched through Badaev’s book looking for more detail on the “agreements” between the Bolsheviks and the Cadets but could only come up with items like this that are hardly redolent of Carl Davidson’s popular front maneuvers:

Despite their failure on the question of chairman [a reference to an invitation from the Cadets to the left parties to support their nomination], within the next few days the Cadets made another attempt to draw the Social-Democratic faction into some agreement. They invited our fraction to a joint meeting of the “united opposition” to discuss certain bills which were being drafted by the Cadet fraction. In reply to this invitation the Social-Democratic fraction passed a resolution stating that they would undertake no joint work with the Cadets, that the Cadets were essentially counter-revolutionary and that no friendly relations were possible between them and the party of the working-class.

So I scratched my head and tried to figure out which Badaev was the true one, the one who Mike Ely cited or the one that comes across repeatedly throughout the rest of the book like an early version of Glenn Ford or Paul Street? It reminded me a bit of that old television show “To Tell the Truth”. Would the real A.M. Badaev please stand up?  I decided to reread the citation that Mike Ely found so convincing for the 12th time. Maybe there was something I was not getting.

Finally, I figured it out.

Badaev wrote:

with the Liberals against the government parties during the second ballot for the election of electors in the city curias.

The election of electors? What was an elector? I felt that this was the key to unraveling the mystery of Bolshevik “agreements” or blocs with the Cadets, the “bitter enemies” of the Black Hundreds in the same way that the Democrats are toward the Republicans. Ha-ha-ha.

You have to understand that the Czar set up a Duma on pretty much the same basis as our electoral college, in order to preempt the will of the people. You did not vote directly for Bolshevik, Trudovik, Black Hundred or Cadet candidates. Instead you had to vote for electors who came from four different “curiae”, or electoral groups: the landowners, urban middle class, peasants and workers. So the Bolsheviks came to an agreement with the Cadets not on a common electoral slate, but on who should be an elector. In some ways, this reminded me of all the flak that Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo got in 2008 when they used the ballot designation in some states that had belonged to a 3rd party that originated out of the Pat Buchanan campaign. You would have to be daft to accuse them of supporting Pat Buchanan’s politics, even though of course there were plenty of nuts who did, starting with the Demogreens, Eric Alterman et al.

Now I would be willing to be persuaded that Badaev was actually referring to political agreements between the Bolsheviks and the Cadets, but I would not hold my breath waiting–especially in light of the long and unambiguous record of Lenin’s hostility to the Cadets at all times and under all circumstances.

Although I don’t think it is very useful to base one’s electoral strategy on Lenin’s writings and prefer to understand our problems in terms of what Eugene V. Debs said (“I’d rather vote for something I want and not get it than vote for something I don’t want, and get it”), I do think that there are some similarities between the challenges Lenin faced and what we face today. In December 31, 1906, Lenin wrote an article titled “The Attitude of the Bourgeois Parties and of the Workers’ Party to the Duma Elections” that strikes me as sounding quite contemporary. Lenin wrote:

Hence, the whole of the Cadets’ election campaign is directed to frightening the masses with the Black-Hundred danger and the danger from the extreme Left parties, to adapting themselves to the philistinism, cowardice and flabbiness of the petty bourgeois and to persuading him that the Cadets are the safest, the most modest, the most moderate and the most well-behaved of people. Every day the Cadet papers ask their readers: Are you afraid, philistine? Rely on us! We are not going to frighten you, we are opposed to violence, we are obedient to the government; rely on us, and we shall do everything for you “as far as possible”! And behind the backs of the frightened philistines the Cadets resort to every trick to assure the government of their loyalty, to assure the Lefts of their love of liberty, to assure the Peaceful Renovators of their affinity with their party and their election forms.

No enlightenment of the masses, no agitation to rouse the masses, no exposition of consistent democratic slogans— only a haggling for seats behind the backs of the frightened philistines—such is the election campaign of all the parties of the liberal bourgeoisie, from the non-party people (of Tovarishch) to the Party of Democratic Reforms.

Substitute the words Democratic Party for Cadets and you pretty much get an idea of why there is non-stop and hysterical chatter about the Tea Party from MSNBC, the Nation Magazine, and all the other ideological heirs of the Cadets and their best friends on the left at that time, the Mensheviks whose spineless reformism is apparently alive and well.

September 11, 2020

Biden’s transition team: neoliberalism incarnate

Filed under: Biden,Counterpunch,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 1:04 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, SEPTEMBER 11, 2020

On September 5th, Joe Biden added four new members to his transition team, which was not really a team. It consisted only of Ted Kaufman, the 81-year old Democratic senator from Delaware. Considering Kaufman’s reputation as a deficit hawk and his advanced age, Biden had to cover his left flank and give the appearance of diversity.

Nobody would see his choices as going overboard. There’s only one new member who has the appearance of being progressive enough to get Bernie Sanders salivating: New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. She’s a Mexican-American that Daily Kos described as “the TYPE of VP candidate that could rally all of us together — progressives, mainstream Dems, working class, suburbanites, people of color, etc. — to take back our country.”

Joe Monahan, who blogs about New Mexico politics, was less impressed. In an article that had her hanging on her own petard, we learned of her disgust with Green New Deal type activists in the Democratic Party. “They’ve lost their minds. We’re the third-largest oil producer in the country. I’m going to get a benefit from that.” With fracking polluting the state’s water, a dubious benefit, Lujan blithely gave the green light to the oil and gas industry. The Santa Fe-New Mexican reported, “Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham told an energy conference Tuesday that her administration aims to work with oil and gas on key issues, a message that appeared to delight industry representatives.”  This must have recommended her to Biden, who said the following in a Pittsburgh speech, “I am not banning fracking. Let me say that again: I am not banning fracking. No matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”

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July 21, 2019

Reflections on the Samuel Farber/Todd Chretien exchange

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,two-party system — louisproyect @ 9:02 pm

Samuel Farber

Todd Chretien

On June 30, Samuel Farber wrote an article for Jacobin titled “What Revolutionary Socialism Means to Me” that was probably the first one I ever agreed with even if it predictably gave short shrift to Che Guevara as an “insurrectionist”.

In a section titled “The Democratic Party”, Farber defends independent class action—a principle shared by those from my generation who were trained either in James P. Cannon or Hal Draper’s politics. Farber was a member of Draper’s group and I was in Cannon’s. If I had an access to a time-machine, I’d probably travel back to 1967 and sign up with the Draperites. He cites Lance Selfa, an ex-ISOer who might have more trouble adapting to the new-found “democratic socialism” of other exer’s in light of what he has written, according to Farber:

As Lance Selfa shows in his book The Democrats: A Critical History, important sectors of capital contributed similar, if not higher, sums to the Democratic than to the Republican Party in the 2008 elections. Contributions to the Democratic Party included 45 percent of all the funds contributed to the election by agribusiness, 68 percent of all the election contributions from the communications and electronics sectors, 52 percent from defense, 55 percent from finance, insurance, and real estate, 54 percent from health, 74 percent from lawyers and lobbyists, and 55 percent from miscellaneous businesses.

After recapitulating key arguments why you should not support DP candidates (“lesser evilism”, lack of accountability, etc.), Farber turns to the Jacobin/DSA that has been irresistible to a number of ex-ISO’ers looking for a place where swimming upstream doesn’t go with the territory. In a section titled “The Dirty Break”, he refers to articles by Seth Ackerman and  by Eric Blanc’s that make the case for socialists running on the Democratic Party line in primaries. This ultra-sophisticated tactic is dubbed a “dirty break” as opposed to the “clean break” with the two-party system that moldy figs like me advocate. Farber is having none of that:

The main problem with this tactic is that it might end up unintentionally misleading voters who might feel manipulated unless they are explicitly informed that the “dirty break” candidates do not support, and in fact oppose, the Democratic Party as presently constituted. And the candidates pledge, in advance, that if elected they will not join the Democratic caucus and instead create a separate caucus. And that if they lose, they will not support a mainstream Democratic Party winner (a big problem with Bernie Sanders’s strategy of supporting mainstream Democrats who win the presidential and other primaries.) This approach would also have the virtue of preventing the cementing of illusions about the Democratic Party.

Todd Chretien is one of the ex-ISOers who has abandoned the independent class action perspective of both Farber and Selfa. Along with Paul Le Blanc, Chretien has become an enthusiastic Sandernista. In a July 6 Jacobin article titled “Revolutionary Socialists in the Democratic-Socialist Movement”, he tries to answer Farber.

He starts off by making a point heard from many ISO’ers just before they dissolved themselves. They were behind the curve: “But the reality is that the proponents of democratic socialism have grown proportionally stronger over the last few years because they have answered some key questions correctly; revolutionary socialists, meanwhile, have hesitated.” I don’t know about that. The DSA has grown because it was a magnet to tens of thousands of young people who voted for Bernie Sanders and who were much more ready to join a group that had an amorphous understanding of “socialism” rather than to hook up with a group that required a much bigger commitment and support for an ideology that was rooted in Lenin, Trotsky, Rosa Luxemburg, et al and all those other musty figures from the past who have never been on Chapo Trap House. That’s a bridge too far for an 24-year old kid forced to work in a Starbucks because his or her art history degree proved to be a waste of $100,000.

In response to Farber’s warning about the susceptibility of leftist DP elected officials to become corrupt or to shift to the right, Chretien offers up a non-sequitur:

But does knowing that Cyril Ramaphosa went from union leader to billionaire, or that the European left has hit an impasse, or that the Lenin-Kautsky debate deserves serious study answer the question of whether or not to vote for Sanders? Or whether or not to support Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib?

Probably not. In fact, the more relevant question is whether there is a class criterion that defines the Democratic Party. Keep in mind that until 1934, socialists always opposed the two capitalist parties as a matter of principle. After the Popular Front, all that changed. FDR was the Bernie Sanders of his day. The patrician politician convinced everybody on the left except the Trotskyists and Norman Thomas to get on board his bandwagon even though he rejected the idea of socialism. Perhaps that’s of little consequence given Sanders’s insistence that he wants to be the FDR of 2020. What does it matter if the word “socialism” is an empty signifier? As long as you are for government assistance, that’s good enough for democratic socialists. To give some oomph to the New Deal rebirth, all we need is to restore Communism in Russia and China. That would scare the bejeezus out of the Koch brothers and Jeff Bezos and get them to fund a Green New Deal, wouldn’t it?

In a mea culpa, Chretien writes:

In 2016, I believed that Sanders would be brought to heal [sic] by the DNC. Instead, he helped fuel the growth of the Democratic Socialists of America and, remarkably, played a role in giving teachers and others the confidence to strike. And recently AOC tweeted in support of one of the first political strikes in modern US history at Wayfair in solidarity with immigrant families caged in concentration camps.

Well, I’m glad that AOC tweeted in solidarity with immigrant families but has Todd forgotten what Sanders said about open borders? At a campaign even in April, someone criticized his open borders stance, to which he replied: “What we need is comprehensive immigration reform. If you open the borders, my God, there’s a lot of poverty in this world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world. And I don’t think that’s something that we can do at this point. Can’t do it. So that is not my position.”

Yeah, that’s not his problem. Fuck him and the horse he rode in on. If he had one percent of Eugene V. Debs’s radicalism, Sanders would have said something like this: “There already is open borders for American investors and American subversion. Hondurans are taking their lives in their hands to cross the border into the USA. Chiquita Banana stole land from the Honduran farmers and when they resisted, the Marines invaded Honduras 7 times between 1903 and 1924. If Honduras would be allowed to close its borders to Chiquita Banana and the Marines, then I’d understand closing our own. Until that happens, I’m for open borders.”

Chretien makes light of the kind of criticisms that would likely appear in the Spartacist newspaper rather than from a serious socialist, or even a half-serious gadfly like me:

AOC, Bernie, Chicago’s recently elected six socialist city council members, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and others are at this point confounding the revolutionary socialist expectation that they will fall prey to what Karl Marx referred to as “parliamentary cretinism” in short order.

In fact, they have functioned honorably. So did many Democrats over the years who had radical credentials, from Vito Marcantonio to Bella Abzug. This is not the issue. It is instead whether progressive politicians have anything to do with making a revolution in the USA. The implication of DSA-backed candidates “fighting the good fight” is that more is needed. More AOC; more Ilhan Omar… Okay, if that’s the goal, go right ahead but at least respect the right of others on the left to stick to Marxist principles. What Marx wrote in 1850 still makes sense to a lot of us:

Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers’ candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled.

 

July 13, 2019

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

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

Stanley Aronowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 22, 2019

A Jacobin/DSAer’s Red Herrings

Filed under: DSA,Jacobin,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 6:35 pm

A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important question, according to Wikipedia, which also states that the term was popularized in 1807 by English polemicist William Cobbett, who told a story of having used a kipper (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to divert hounds from chasing a hare. Cobbett was an early English radical who took up the cause of impoverished peasants falling prey to “rotten boroughs”, a form of gerrymandering that favored the rich. One imagines that red herrings were used widely in the interest of privilege back then but as a term it can now be used to describe any dodgy political argument such as those found in an article by Jacobin/DSAer Chris Maisano titled “Which Way to Socialism?

Maisano’s article appears on The Call, the website of the Bread and Roses Caucus whose make-up explains my use of the term “Jacobin/DSAer” to describe Maisano. In Doug Henwood’s New Republic article about the DSA, he describes the overlap between the DSA’s leading body and the magazine that serves as its informal theoretical magazine:

None of these outfits [working groups and caucuses] causes serious trouble for the larger trajectory of DSA organizing. However, one caucus in particular, formerly known as Momentum, then renamed Spring, and again renamed Bread and Roses, is the object of ire from outsiders.

The original core of the group consisted of the Jacobin generation of members, several of whom were part of a Left Caucus in the pre-surge DSA, who were looking to heat up the old organization’s tepid politics. There are six votes from the Bread and Roses caucus on DSA’s national political committee (NPC), effectively its board of directors, not quite a third of the total of 19, giving the caucus a serious, if not dominant, presence. Two of them are on the Jacobin masthead (Chris Maisano and Ella Mahony), and another prominent Bread and Roses member, Micah Uetricht, is the magazine’s managing editor. The strong presence on the NPC and the affiliation with Jacobin, the most influential publication on the American socialist left these days, gets people to talking about a sect with its own propaganda arm plotting to control the organization.

Funny how the term sect comes up. After reading Maisano’s article, with its predictable reference to Karl Kautsky’s infinite wisdom that Eric Blanc and Bhaskar Sunkara uphold as well, I mentioned on Facebook how it reminded me of an older political culture: “the Jacobin/DSA’ers…are as ideologically homogeneous as any Leninists I have ever run into. It is always the same stuff, citing Kautsky, etc. Groupthink basically.” This prompted someone to follow up:

Groupthink is a good description. My own perspective is maybe a bit skewed, being in Philly DSA, an extreme case, but it is the worst groupthink I have ever experienced on the left. In fact, it’s done more to turn me off of “socialism” than anything I have experienced in my life. The way these people rant about “horizontalists” and “anarcho-liberals” and “Occupy-ish”, etc., as a way to slander anyone who opposes them, is pathetic, and gives an indication of what they would be like if by some nightmare they got into a position of actual power.

Speaking of Philadelphia, it is necessary to point out that Maisano’s article is written as a rebuttal to Philly Socialist member Tim Horras’s article titled “Goodbye Revolution” on Regeneration, the website of the Marxist Center, a network of groups to the left of the DSA that I support. In a nutshell, Tim defends the classical Marxist understanding of the need for socialist revolution as encapsulated in Lenin’s “State and Revolution” and other works by Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg. I strongly urge you to read Tim’s article because it is an important statement that reflects a willingness of young revolutionaries to both swim against the reformist stream and avoid sectarianism.

Maisano hopes to trip Horras up by making the question of “armed struggle” a focus of his polemic. Horras writes:

Mass mobilizations, broad popular support, and the weapon of the general strike certainly ought to be tactics in the arsenal of any socialist movement. But in the face of the ruling class’s trump card — a full-blown military coup d’etat — it is likely even these powerful forces will prove insufficient without an armed and organized resistance.

For me, this is an elementary observation—at least if you are a Marxist. Lenin refers to the state as resting on “special bodies of armed men”, a term that he associates with Engels’s “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”. Keep in mind that the October 1917 revolution was made possible not by guerrilla warfare but by the wholesale defection of the army to the Bolsheviks. When a relatively small band of soldiers committed to the revolutionary cause overran the Winter Palace, there were fewer people killed than probably those who died that day in St. Petersburg because of traffic accidents. Basically, the task facing us is not preparing for armed struggle, which is implicit in the misguided attempts to form leftwing gun clubs by ultraleftists, but by building such a massive movement that soldiers will gravitate to it rather than to the capitalist state. At least that’s what I learned from the men and women who were Leon Trotsky’s comrades in the 1930s.

Despite the attempt by Maisano to introduce the red herring of ordinary citizens never having the capability of overcoming “huge innovations in technology, military tactics, and urban planning” that have “strengthened the hand of the state and its armed forces against any potential insurrection”, the real difference between the Jacobin/DSA and those who identify with Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky is not over insurrection but on revolution. Obviously, a “nuclear-armed national security state” is a frightening prospect but the goal is not to form militias that can take down an oncoming ICBM aimed at Brooklyn radicals. Instead the need is to create such a pole of attraction for socialism that the soldiers operating such devices will follow the example of Maryknoll nuns who sabotaged a building that stored enriched uranium in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

In a laughable attempt to bolster his case, Maisano cites Frederick Engels’s introduction to the 1895 edition of Karl Marx’s “Class Struggles in France”, a work that examines the growing importance of working-class mobilizations during 1848-1850 when it had not yet emerged as an independent political force. At first glance, Engels seems to be lining up with the Jacobin/DSA’ers:

But since then there have been very many more changes, and all in favor of the military. If the big towns have become considerably bigger, the armies have become bigger still. Paris and Berlin have, since 1848, grown less than fourfold, but their garrisons have grown more than that. By means of the railways, the garrisons can, in twenty-four hours, be more than doubled, and in forty-eight hours they can be increased to huge armies. The arming of this enormously increased number of troops has become incomparably more effective. In 1848 the smooth-bore percussion muzzle-loader, today the small-caliber magazine breech-loading rifle, which shoots four times as far, ten times as accurately and ten times as fast as the former. At that time the relatively ineffective round-shot and grape-shot of the artillery; today the percussion shells, of which one is sufficient to demolish the best barricade. At that time the pick-ax of the sapper for breaking through walls; today the dynamite cartridge.

By 1895, the year in which Engels’s introduction was written, the German working-class had achieved considerable political power through universal suffrage.

With this successful utilization of universal suffrage, an entirely new mode of proletarian struggle came into force, and this quickly developed further. It was found that the state institutions, in which the rule of the bourgeoisie is organized, offer still further opportunities for the working class to fight these very state institutions. They took part in elections to individual diets, to municipal councils and to industrial courts; they contested every post against the bourgeoisie in the occupation of which a sufficient part of the proletariat had its say. And so it happened that the bourgeoisie and the government came to be much more afraid of the legal than of the illegal action of the workers’ party, of the results of elections than of those of rebellion.

Against such a formidable mass movement, the kind of reactionary violence that was used in 1848 and then again in 1871 would be ineffective. Engels writes: “And there is only one means by which the steady rise of the socialist fighting forces in Germany could be momentarily halted, and even thrown back for some time: a clash on a big scale with the military, a bloodbath like that of 1871 in Paris. In the long run that would also be overcome. To shoot out of the world a party which numbers millions—all the magazine rifles of Europe and America are not enough for this.”

In other words, the goal is to increase working-class political power until it simply has the weight to withstand military counter-revolutionary offensives. There is an implicit assumption, of course. In such an event, it would be necessary for the masses to defend a workers state. It would not take the form of street barricades that would be ineffective against heavy artillery but by a section of the army taking up the cause of the working-class party. This, in fact, is exactly what happened in Russia when the Red Army was created to defend Soviet power. This has nothing to do with “insurrection”, however. It is simply the need for revolutionary self-defense that any truly socialist government will have to mount.

Engels’s main concern was overcoming what might be called Blanquism, a tendency for advanced revolutionary contingents to march far ahead of the masses, using direct action excessively. He wrote: “The time of surprise attacks, of revolutions carried through by small conscious minorities at the head of unconscious masses, is past.”

Needless to say, Engels did not anticipate the degree to which the growth of the German social democracy became a double-edged sword. By developing institutional power, it created a parliamentary and trade union bureaucracy that adapted to capitalist state power. In recommending the Swedish social democracy as a positive example in a recent review as opposed to the negative Venezuelan Chavista experiment, Bhaskar Sunkara apparently shows little comprehension of the hazards of parliamentary cretinism even if it does offer the kind of blandishments that softened up the German social democracy chieftains before WWI.

The other red herring in Maisano’s article flows from the first. If a mass revolutionary movement is not feasible because the capitalist class has nuclear weapons, etc., then the alternative is participating in elections. He cites Carmen Sirianni, the Morris Hillquit Professor of Labor and Social Thought at Brandeis University who argues that elections “have been the major national forums for representing class-wide political and economic interests of workers… there was no pristine proletarian public prior to parliament, and the working class did not have a prior existence as a national political class.”

He also cites Jeff Goodwin, an NYU Sociology professor, to make the same point: “no popular revolutionary movement, it bears emphasizing, has ever overthrown a consolidated democratic regime”.

And, finally, he cites Ralph Miliband who argues that the absence of a revolutionary leadership in parliamentary democracies in advanced capitalist countries, where Marx and Engels assumed would be the first to break with capitalism, is a function of the low level of class struggle:

There has been no such ‘fit’ between revolutionary organisation and leadership and the structures and circumstances of advanced capitalism and bourgeois democracy. Another way of saying this is that advanced capitalism and bourgeois democracy have produced a working class politics which has been non-insurrectionary and indeed anti-insurrectionary; and that this is the rock on which revolutionary organisation and politics have been broken.

I suppose his sons David and Ed are graphic examples of that “anti-insurrectionary” tendency.

But once again, the term “insurrectionary” is misplaced. It is no surprise that someone who is as confused over the difference between insurrection and revolution as Maisano would find Miliband’s words seductive.

In a way, the focus on how to seize power is an utter waste of time. As James P. Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism who had his own problems, once put it, the art of politics is knowing what to do next. What is the point of debating whether street-fighting, barricades and training to use an AK-47 is better than ringing doorbells for some Democrat or vice versa? In the USA today, there is very little support for the idea of abolishing capitalism even if 43 percent of Americans believe that socialism would be a good thing for the USA, according to a Gallup poll. If Cynthia Nixon could get away with calling herself a socialist, you have to believe that the word is an empty signifier that is likely indistinguishable from left-liberalism. Except for the fact that Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist and Elizabeth Warren calls herself a capitalist, there’s not a big difference between their programs—and even some evidence that she is to the left of him on some major questions.

The big question facing us now in terms of Cannon’s knowing what to do next is the Democratic Party. In 2016, the DSA supported Cynthia Nixon for governor of New York who was running as a Democrat rather than Howie Hawkins, who was the Green Party candidate and written off by the DSA for being “unelectable”. In an article for CounterPunch last Friday, Howie Hawkins summed up what this “democratic socialist” stood for:

The Democratic socialists and progressives seemed as starstruck as the corporate media, who smothered the “Sex and the City” star with coverage. Nixon was far from being a socialist or even a Sanderista. None of the socialists and progressives seemed to have checked the Federal Election Commission campaign finance records for Nixon, which show that Nixon gave the maximum allowable $2,700 donation to Hillary Clinton for her primary campaign against Bernie Sanders and also threw in another $5,000 to the Hillary Victory Fund and $2,300 to the Democratic National Committee, both of which infuriated the Sanders campaign for collaborating with each other against Sanders. It was no surprise when Nixon endorsed Cuomo after the primary.

There’s a good shot that Howie Hawkins will be the Green Party candidate for President in 2020 and just as good a shot that Bernie Sanders will not be the Democratic Party candidate. I plan to support him in every way possible because I believe that a radical alternative to the Democratic Party is necessary.

Despite the blizzard of words from Maisano about the placid bourgeois democracy we live under forcing us to back someone like Cynthia Nixon, the truth is that the foundations for class collaboration are disappearing rapidly during an ongoing economic recession that shows no sign of relenting. Economic insecurity will be combined with environmental destruction (forest fires, floods, undrinkable water, etc.) to create an opening for a genuine radical alternative to the existing system. I will close with the words written by Karl Marx that were included in the Green Party’s invitation to the DSA in 2016 to back Howie’s campaign that they rejected in favor of Nixon’s:

Even where there is no prospect of achieving their election the workers must put up their own candidates to preserve their independence, to gauge their own strength and to bring their revolutionary position and party standpoint to public attention. They must not be led astray by the empty phrases of the democrats, who will maintain that the workers’ candidates will split the democratic party and offer the forces of reaction the chance of victory. All such talk means, in the final analysis, that the proletariat is to be swindled.

 

April 29, 2019

Left Strategy for the 2020 Elections and Beyond: a critique

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 6:56 pm

Bill Fletcher Jr.

Carl Davidson

Long-time supporters of an “inside-outside” approach to the electoral shell-game that veers sharply to the inside, Bill Fletcher Jr. and Carl Davidson promote a “A Left Strategy for the 2020 Elections and Beyond” that has shown up on various websites including Truthout. While generally overlapping politically with the DSA/Jacobin wing of the left that has virtual hegemony today largely because of the fawning attention it receives from the capitalist press, the two are for the Democratic Party more on the basis of “lesser evilism” than their counterparts who believe rather incredibly that a Sandernista presidency would be the first step toward a socialist revolution in the USA.

They write:

The defeat of Donald Trump and the ejection of his right-wing and white supremacist populist bloc from the centers of political power is a tactical goal of some urgency not only for Democrats but also for leftists. The outcome of the upcoming election will have a direct effect on thwarting right-wing populism and the clear and present danger of incipient fascism and war.

Ever since I began voting in 1961, I have heard something like this from the Communist Party or the social democracy. Unless we elect LBJ, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern et al, the Republicans will take over and establish a fascist state. When Democrats are elected, however, they tend to create a backlash among voters suffering the ill-effects of neoliberalism that enables a Ronald Reagan or a Donald Trump victory. Then, the cycle begins all over again with each Republican victory ratcheting up the depravity.

Showing that they can invoke classical Marxism as effectively as Eric Blanc does with his ritual incantations of Kautsky’s pre-1910 writings, they base themselves on Gramsci’s distinction between “wars of position” and “wars of movement”. The first is understood as “mass campaigns” such as organizing the unorganized, or unionizing the South while the second means lining up votes for whoever the Democrats nominate.

Gramsci deals with these terms at length in the pages between 481 and 497 in Prison Notebooks that you can find here. Good luck in trying to apply this to the 2020 elections unless your imagination is as vivid as Fletcher and Davidson’s. For example, what in the world does this have to do with their article?

The war of position demands enormous sacrifices by infinite masses of people. So an unprecedented concentration of hegemony is necessary, and hence a more “interventionist” government, which will take the offensive more openly against the oppositionists and organise permanently the “impossibility” of internal disintegration—with controls of every kind, political, administrative, etc., reinforcement of the hegemonic “positions” of the dominant group, etc. All this indicates that we have entered a culminating phase in the political-historical situation, since in politics the “war of position”, once won, is decisive definitively. In politics, in other words, the war of manoeuvre subsists so long as it is a question of winning positions which are not decisive, so that all the resources of the State’s hegemony cannot be mobilised.

Suffice it to say that Gramsci’s articles have little to do with electoral opportunism even though Alexis Tsipras and his cohorts did their best to bend theories about “hegemony”, etc. to their will. While American capitalism is much more powerful than Greece’s, the likelihood of turning the state into a “democratic socialist” instrument is just about as precluded here. I suspect that Gramsci’s writings are being exploited as propaganda to transform the Democratic Party into something like Syriza, which is setting the political bar pretty low. Keep in mind that Davidson is a long-time leader of the Committees of Correspondence, a split from the CPUSA that sought to adapt Eurocommunism to the American landscape. You might even wonder if the Jacobin intellectuals are on the same wavelength. Two pinches of Gramsci and another two from Kautsky make for a tangy stew, just as long as you don’t put any of those bitter Leon Trotsky or V.I. Lenin spices into the pot.

Showing that they are not advocating robotic tasks like ringing doorbells for Sanders or whoever the Democrats nominate, they think big. Nothing less than targeting the heights of power in the longest, continuously-functioning bourgeois party on the planet:

Socialists shouldn’t work “within the Democratic party,” but with one of its clusters, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, especially its DSA/WFP/PDA left wing and its mass allies. The Progressive Caucus is by far the largest of the Democratic Caucuses, with numbers above 100 members (compared with the smaller New Democrats and Blue Dogs).

The goal would be to develop and expand the CPC, win over as many of the New Democrats as possible, and isolate the Blue Dogs if they can’t be budged. How could people on the left do so? By simply fighting for what people need, defined as those redistributionist and structural reforms that can unite a progressive majority of voters. Medicare for All is now a case in point, and the Green New Deal is becoming one. When connected with the base communities in the local congressional districts, the left could elect progressives until it becomes a solid majority among Democrats in the House.

I wonder what working with the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) really means. Right now, the only Senate member is Bernie Sanders. There are lots more in the House but very few of them are of the A O-C, Ilhan Omar variety. Most are run-of-the-mill Democrats like my representative Carolyn Maloney who referred to Comrade Omar as follows: “It is deeply disturbing to hear a colleague give credence to anti-Semitic tropes, especially from someone who means to stand for equality and acceptance for all peoples.” Then, there’s Pete DeFazio from Oregon who has called for massive increases in logging on public forests—not surprising given the power of the timber corporations in his home state. No matter how good a DeFazio is on questions of Medicare for all or LGBT rights, he can’t keep getting re-elected if he neglects to fill the pork barrel. In the same spirit, Bernie Sanders gave his blessing to keep the F-35s in Vermont. It was all about jobs, after all.

Even a diehard supporter of the Democratic Party like Norman Solomon could point out how unreliable an ally of the left the CPC was. In a CounterPunch article from 2013 titled “Progressive Caucus Folds”, he scolded the 75 percent of its members who refused to sign a letter that stated “we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits — including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

Speaking from the left side of their mouth, the authors hold out the possibility of a radical third party emerging in the future but only out of the bowels of the Democratic Party:

Some on the left have asked: Why doesn’t DSA just start a new party? The answer: because DSA and its close allies, objectively, are already helping to do so by growing the social-democratic bloc and giving it an organized and independent grassroots base in the working class and communities of the oppressed. But the work begins under the Democratic tent as a largely inside job. Once you get over 100,000 or even 200,000 new DSA members from the organizing and base-building of backing Sanders on the Democratic line, you’ve created at least one key component of the large bloc needed for a new First Party.

What happens to these wonderful plans if people like Joe Biden and Steny Hoyer move against those boring away from within the Democratic Party? Here’s what: “The Third Way types may try to throw us (and our close allies) out. Then the Dems will face the dilemma of transform or die, much as the imperiled Whig Party of 1860 was replaced by a new political formation — the only example of such a change in our history.” This is an analogy I’ve heard over the years from Carl Davidson that I gave up on debunking long ago. Lincoln’s Republican Party was product of profound class conflict between two wings of the capitalist class. By the time the USA was on the precipice of a Civil War, you had in effect a “dual power” situation with the North based in Washington, DC and the South based in the Confederate capital in Montgomery at first and then in Richmond. If you are trying to draw an analogy between the bourgeois revolution against slavery and the future socialist revolution, you must see it in class terms. The mounting assaults against working-class interests will inevitably lead to neighborhoods or entire cities forming their own self-sustaining institutions and defending them by force of arms. By then, parliamentary style elections will have outlived their usefulness. It will be the hour of the American socialist revolution. I understand that for most people used to the meaningless bourgeois election circus this will sound like science-fiction. Maybe so but history has a way of sharpening the contradictions that make all this very real.

 

 

 

November 24, 2016

Rand Wilson’s road to Damascus-like conversion to the Democratic Party

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,trade unions — louisproyect @ 6:01 pm

Rand Wilson

If I was a conspiracy theorist like many on the left, I’d suspect that the glowing tributes to the fresh-faced Marxism of Bhaskar Sunkara’s Jacobin Magazine in the bourgeois press are a calculated bid to keep radicals tied to the Democratic Party. Unlike the musty, grandfatherly Dissent Magazine that was tainted by the likes of Michael Walzer, Jacobin was graced by the brash hipster image of Sunkara who was clever enough not to hide the fact that the seed money for the magazine came from “hustling away, doing whatever: from selling marijuana to small-scale bootlegging”. Certainly, if you were in your early 20s and on the left, that was something you could identify with as opposed to the magazine that Woody Allen once described as being merged with Commentary in order to form a new one called Dysentary. Plus, it also helped to have flashy graphics. If you are going to sell people on the Democratic Party, it helps to have magazine covers that look like they were drawn by some Futurist living in Moscow in the early 20s.

If there was a conspiracy to keep the left tied to the Democratic Party, you might wonder if Bernie Sanders was part of it. What a perfect complement to the Jacobin, a musty, grandfatherly politician who was not part of the Dissent old guard. Or wasn’t he? Like Obama in 2008, Sanders was a Rorschach test that allowed you to see him in multiple ways. For Jacobin readers, he was the key to moving toward a socialist future in the USA. Of course, neither Sanders nor Sunkara really meant socialism in the way that Marx meant it. They really meant welfare-state capitalism after the fashion of FDR’s New Deal, an altogether utopian project given the American capitalist class’s ineluctable drive toward finding cheap labor overseas. The answer to Rust Belt desperation was not in electing a president who made empty promises to bring jobs back to the USA. It was in abolishing the capitalist system globally and creating one based on human need rather than private profit. You can bet that it burns my ass to see Sanders running around professing his love for Eugene V. Debs out of one corner of his mouth and urging a vote for Hillary Clinton out of the other.

Today on the Jacobin website today, you can read Labor Notes editor Dan DiMaggio’s interview with SEIU staff member Rand Wilson who was a convert to the Sanders political revolution. It is about as probing an interview as the kind that Charlie Rose conducts with Bill Gates or Nancy Pelosi.

DiMaggio has had a rather predictable trajectory trying to find himself after leaving Socialist Alternative in 2010. His first foray was into academia, entering NYU’s sociology department where Political Marxism is the reigning ideology. After I raised a ruckus over being heckled by NYU’s Vivek Chibber at a Historical Materialism conference, DiMaggio told me off on the Marxism list. How dare I tell such a highly regarded professor that he would regret it if he ever heckled me again? I guess anybody who has different expectations from a loudmouth like me hasn’t figured me out yet. Eventually DiMaggio sent me a note trying to smooth things over. As is always the case with me, I responded positively. Despite being an asshole, I really don’t hold grudges.

A few months ago, my wife asked me about DiMaggio having a kid, something she noticed on FB. I told her that was news to me and wondered how I hadn’t noticed that. The answer was that he had defriended me at one point, almost certainly because I was opposed to Sanders and the Democratic Party. In other words, I had run into the same crap I had run into when I “threatened” Chibber. If you are building a career out of the NYU sociology department or the “progressive” wing of the AFL-CIO, it is best not to be associated with riffraff like me. Running into situations like this, I am always reminded of Groucho Marx’s telegram to the Friar’s Club: “Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept people like me as a member”.

The interview is designed to get leftists to join the Democratic Party, just like Rand Wilson tells DiMaggio: “I joined the Democratic Party the day after Bernie announced, because I knew I wanted to go to the convention. You’ve got to be a member of the party to participate in its activities. So I joined, at sixty-two years old, for the first time.”

It must be said that Wilson was not exactly opposed to the Democratic Party in principle as are troglodyte Marxists like us. In 2006, he ran for State Auditor as the candidate of the Massachusetts Working Families Party. You are probably aware that the NY WFP endorsed Andrew Cuomo for Governor in 2014, a candidate who is as hostile to the working class as Hillary Clinton and one who probably has the inside track to be the DP candidate for President in 2020. If Trump decides not to run in 2020 and the Republican Candidate ends up being the alt-right’s Richard Spencer, you can bet that The Nation will beat the drums for Cuomo and lash out at any Green Party candidate who dares taking votes away from Cuomo.

Wilson contrasts being part of the “political revolution” with the time he spent in the Labor Party in the 90s. Like Seth Ackerman, Wilson saw it as a valiant but doomed venture mainly because it threatened to siphon votes away from progressive Democrats. When the Republicans were running a reactionary monster like (fill in the blanks), of course you had to rally around Dukakis, Gore, Kerry, Clinton… I always got a laugh out of how Ted Rall saw this logic:

Wilson puts it this way:

In the day-to-day life of the union, you’re expected to deliver for your members, and to do that, you’re going to have work with incumbent politicians, with Democratic Party politicians. Naturally they will expect you in turn to support them. So what are you supposed to do? Go off and support some third-party candidate who’s going to wreck their chances of winning? Supporting a minor party candidate because they’re perfect and inadvertently electing your worst enemy will certainly piss off your friends.

Sounding exactly like the Sanders campaign sheepherding tendencies diagnosed by Bruce Dixon, Wilson describes how he corralled a stray sheep who maybe had figured out that he was destined for the slaughterhouse:

But I know many people are disgusted with the party. I have a friend who’s worked at GE for many years, up in Lynn, Massachusetts, and before that, at a GE plant in Fitchburg. He’s a lifelong union guy, a working-class, gun-toting factory worker. He lives in a little town in Massachusetts called Westminster, and he’s the chair of the Democratic Party there. He was a big Bernie guy.

But after the primary, he was so disgusted with what happened to Bernie that I had to talk him off the cliff of quitting the Democratic Party. I said, “Don’t quit now! I’m just getting into it.” A few moths later, he says, “Okay, now I want to be part of taking over the Democratic Party. How are we going to do that?” I said, “Join Our Revolution.”

I assume that the “moths” referred to in the paragraph above is not a typo since being a radical in the Democratic Party is akin to eating insects.

The rest of the interview is as nauseating as what you have read so far and there is no point in commenting further on it.

There are some things that should be pointed out however. To start with, the SEIU, Wilson’s union, was led by Andrew Stern from 1995 to 2010. Stern was the figure most associated with “progressive” trade unionism over the past twenty years, just the kind that Jacobin orients to. He is now a senior fellow at Columbia University where he will be promoting progressive causes of the sort that he trashed when the SEIU organized a hostile takeover of a genuinely progressive union, the California Nurses Association/NNOC. For a good takedown of Stern and the officials who like Wilson are part of his machine, I recommend Steve Early’s Counterpunch article where he writes:

Opportunities for … career-advancing appointments abound in SEIU, to a degree unique in the labor movement. That’s because, under Stern, nearly 80 local unions have been put under headquarters trusteeships and/or re-organized with new leaders named by him, rather than elected by the members. (Due to its consolidation into huge, regional bodies, SEIU now has only 300 “locals” left.)

No wonder Wilson has become a registered Democrat. His training in the SEIU was ideally suited to the top-down, corporate-minded, business as usual, class-collaborationist dealings of the Democratic Party—the oldest continuously functioning capitalist party in the entire world.

 

November 10, 2016

Bob Buzzanco on the Trump victory

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 1:01 am

Bob Buzzanco is a leftist professor at the U. of Houston

Donald Trump was opposed, vigorously, by Wall Street, by the media, by the ruling class, by other mega-billionaires like Cuban, Buffett, Gates. And he won. In a very fucked-up and dysfunctional way, it means democracy won out. The people beat the oligarchy.

If only the left would have learned that years ago, that you had to confront the oligarchs, instead of lesser-of-evilism and “this is the most important election of our lives.” Fuck every Democrat who blamed Ralph Nader for the 2000 defeat. Fuck everyone who made Kerry and Clinton the nominees, in a system that was NEVER RIGGED but established that way. Fuck the self-described Socialists who masturbated about Bernie Sanders while working class people were putting their bodies on the line to stop KXL and fracking. Fuck all the NY intellectuals and Jacobinite boutique radicals whose political involvement consisted of snarky anti-Clinton tweets (that’s a challenge to come up with), rock-star blogs, and inside frat clique politics.

Looks like I might be able to buy a happy meal with my pension now. Fuck the Clintons, their foundation, their Goldman Sachs incestuous relationship, all that. And I weep for my peeps in Youngstown, Warren, and Niles who bought Trump’s line. They’ve been reamed up the ass by the Dems for so long that they voted for the devil they didn’t know. I personally know people who voted for Trump and if someone called them “deplorable” in front of me, they’d have to deal with some Sicilian “debate.”

She lost to Donald Trump. Think about that. She lost to essentially a game show host. I’d rather have Bob Fucking Barker as president.

(Edit: Scott Parkin has informed me that Bob Barker has good politics so I’m sorry to insult him. Drew Carey? Alex Trebek? The late Gene Rayburn?)

October 24, 2016

Tom Hayden (1939-2016): a political assessment

Filed under: obituary,parliamentary cretinism,student revolt,two-party system — louisproyect @ 11:31 pm

Tom Hayden

I knew nothing about Tom Hayden in 1967 except that he was an SDS leader. I developed a better understanding after reading an article he wrote in the New York Review of Books on August 24, 1967 titled “A Special Supplement: The Occupation of Newark” that reflected the editorial position of the journal at the time, one much further to the left than it is today although not nearly as radical as me back then or now for that matter.

That very week I had decided to join the SWP because the war in Vietnam and the racial oppression in Harlem I had seen working for the Department of Welfare pushed me over the edge. Hayden’s article is worth reading both for its reporting on the realities of Newark, a city that he and other SDS’ers had “colonized” in a kind of neo-Narodnik fashion, and as a gauge of this SDS elder’s thinking at the time:

This is not a time for radical illusions about “revolution.” Stagnancy and conservatism are essential facts of ghetto life. It is undoubtedly true that most Negroes desire the comforts and security that white people possess. There is little revolutionary consciousness or commitment to violence per se in the ghetto. Most of the people in the Newark ghetto were afraid, disorganized, and helpless when directly facing automatic weapons. But the actions of white America toward the ghetto are showing black people that they must prepare to fight back. The conditions are slowly being created for an American form of guerrilla warfare based in the slums. The riot represents a signal of this fundamental change.

In 1965 I had only the foggiest notion of what SDS stood for. I went directly from early 60s existential liberalism a la Camus directly to Trotskyism without passing go. There were SDS’ers at the New School where I was avoiding the draft by studying philosophy at the time but I had zero interest in joining the chapter there. It was only through contact with an SWP member over a two-year period that led me to break radically with my past.

Hayden eventually outgrew SDS and became a celebrity leftist like Jerry Rubin, Abby Hoffman, Benjamin Spock, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis et al. He, Herbert Aptheker and Staughton Lynd had traveled to North Vietnam in 1965 as guests of the government. From that point on he became identified with a wing of the antiwar movement that tended to waffle on the question of immediate withdrawal. Although the notion of traveling to Vietnam seemed quite radical at the time, the primary emphasis of Tom Hayden and his allies was to push for “peace” in Vietnam.

Divisions in the Democratic Party in 1968 were very much like those this year with Hubert Humphrey roughly equivalent to Hillary Clinton and Eugene McCarthy to Bernie Sanders. In the summer of 1968 Tom Hayden called upon young people to come to Chicago to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam and for Black liberation but the obvious subtext to the protests was to pressure the Democrats into nominating McCarthy.

When the cops attacked the protests, the press widely described the violence as a “riot” but in reality it was a police riot just like we see today in many of the Black Lives Matter protests. In the aftermath, Hayden, Bobby Seale, and six other leftists were arrested for conspiracy and incitement to riot. All the charges were eventually dropped.

After Nixon was elected, Hayden continued to press for a negotiated settlement even though his rhetoric made it sound like such a demand was in and of itself anti-imperialist. With Nixon all too willing to sit down with the Vietnamese while continuing to bomb all of Indochina, the call for Out Now seemed more urgent than ever.

In 1971 Hayden launched the Indochina Peace Campaign, a group that adopted lobbying rather than mass protests to end the war in Vietnam. In a Huffington Post article written on March 20th, 2007, Hayden described the period as one in which people like him were “recovering from the intense radicalism, sectarianism, militancy, and resistance to repression that occurred throughout the late 1960s.” A new approach was needed, one that foreshadowed Moveon.org and other pressure groups in and around the Democratic Party. Hayden wanted to turn the page on the 60s radical movement, even if there were some diehards that “opposed lobbying Congress and electoral politics for ideological reasons”. He added, “They believed in an escalation of radical tactics.”

You can get an idea of how Hayden thought about politics through his reference to “radical tactics”. Was he talking about the Weathermen? Was bombing a federal building “radical”? One suspects that the radicalism he was trying to put behind him was mass action independent of the Democratic Party, the sort of thing that would interfere with a budding career as a bourgeois politician.

While nobody would gainsay the right of the Vietnamese to use negotiations in pursuit of their ultimate goal of independence and national unification, Hayden’s tendency was to downplay the slogan of Out Now that the SWP advanced in the antiwar movement and to promote Negotiations Now, which dovetailed with the CPUSA’s orientation. Since the CP was deeply embedded in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party that had begun work by 1967 to Dump LBJ, Hayden and his allies did much to weaken the movement.

It wasn’t only the Trotskyists who got on Hayden’s case. I.F. Stone wrote an article for the NY Review on November 30, 1972 questioning the efficacy of the peace negotiations that were hailed by Hayden:

If such are the terms, why does Thieu balk at them and the other side insist that we sign? The answer I believe is that the Vietnam war has been bypassed by the detente among Washington, Peking, and Moscow. Peking has been promised US troop withdrawal from Taiwan once Southeast Asia is “stabilized.” Moscow is being bailed out of the worst food crisis in years by Nixon. Hanoi’s patrons are tired of the war, and each seems somewhat miffed by the much too independent Vietnamese. In short, Nixon can pretty much write his own terms and has. Mme Binh told a visitor during the period when these latest terms were being negotiated, “Every time we take a step forward, the United States takes a step backward and the same gap remains between us.” The terms disclosed on October 26 were the outcome of a tight squeeze on Hanoi.

I think Stone got this right basically.

On January 25th, 1973 Hayden answered Stone in a letter to the NY Review that opened by describing himself as “puzzled to find so many antiwar activists, especially intellectuals, expressing the cynicism summarized by I. F. Stone in your November 30 issue.”

In a way, Hayden was correct in saying that the Vietnamese were using the negotiations to their own end. By wresting concessions from the Nixon administration that allowed “Vietnamization” to unfold, the North Vietnamese were finally in a position to roll into the South and achieve what negotiations could never achieve: final victory.

However, in the long run the USA was victorious. By drawing China into the peace process, Nixon was able to lay the foundations for the dismantlement of the Maoist economy, which despite its bureaucratic distortions did exclude the kind of rapacious capitalism that the nation eventually succumbed to. It also achieved a partial victory in Vietnam as Chomsky pointed out:

Indochina at least survives; the US did not resort to nuclear weapons as it might well have done had the population remained docile and quiescent, as it was during the terror of the US-imposed regime in the South, or when Kennedy launched the direct US attack against the South in 1962. But the “lesson of Vietnam,” which was taught with extreme brutality and sadism, is that those who try to defend their independence from the Global Enforcer may pay a fearful cost. Many others have been subjected to similar lessons, in Central America as well.

In his trips to Indochina, Hayden got introduced to and eventually married Jane Fonda, a Hollywood superstar and leftist. Her deep pockets allowed him to launch a career as a Democratic politician. He was in the State Assembly and State Senate from 1982 to 1992 and helped to convince many people that social change could be achieved through electoral means.

From that point on, he became a conventional liberal that nobody could possibly mistake for a fiery radical. His most memorable performance in that capacity was initiating Progressives for Obama in 2008 alongside Barbara Ehrenreich, Bill Fletcher Jr. and Danny Glover. Appearing as an open letter in The Nation, it

We intend to join and engage with our brothers and sisters in the vast rainbow of social movements to come together in support of Obama’s unprecedented campaign and candidacy. Even though it is candidate-centered, there is no doubt that the campaign is a social movement, one greater than the candidate himself ever imagined.

This is pretty much the same kind of rhetoric that accompanied the Sanders campaign and about as believable.

But even the Sanders campaign was too far to the left for Hayden. In April 2016, he wrote an article in The Nation explaining why he called for a vote for Clinton rather than Sanders in the Democratic primary in California. Already stricken from the after effects of a stroke that would end his life yesterday at the age of 75, he sounds like a casualty of the reformist swamp. Although I will never would have achieved his fame and fortune or marry someone like Jane Fonda (I much prefer my feisty wife from Istanbul), I am glad to have never made my peace with bourgeois society.

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