Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

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.


September 24, 2016

Michael Ansara’s special pleading for Hillary Clinton

Filed under: corruption,parliamentary cretinism,student revolt,trade unions — louisproyect @ 7:16 pm

Michael Ansara

It makes perfect sense for Michael Ansara to be urging a vote for Hillary Clinton in Vox.com, the website launched by Ezra Klein in 2014. Klein is a 32-year old wunderkind who got started at the Washington Post, a newspaper to the right of the NY Times. Klein, who Doug Henwood once referred to as a “Neoliberal über-dweeb”, supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Like Hillary Clinton, he came to rue his decision but only because it went sour. As the dweeb put it:

I thought there was no way the Bush administration would neglect to plan for the obvious challenges of the aftermath. I turned on the war quickly when I saw how poorly and arrogantly it was being managed.

So who is this Ansara guy anyhow? Unlike Klein, he would seem to have some credibility as a radical, at least on the basis of how he describes himself in the Vox article:

I am a New England regional organizer for Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the largest New Left student organization spearheading the opposition to the war in Vietnam. Living in Cambridge, I swim in a river of others just as young and just as committed — committed to ending the war in Vietnam; committed to radical change for black Americans; committed to creating an American New Left, rooted in American realities and traditions. But in this year of 1968, what we most want is to end the seemingly endless war in Vietnam, a responsibility that rests uncomfortably on our too-young shoulders.

To begin with, you have to unpack the statement “the largest New Left student organization spearheading the opposition to the war in Vietnam”. By 1968, SDS had largely abandoned opposition to the war except for campus-based actions such as opposing military recruiters, etc. It did very good work on campus but it stood apart from the mass demonstrations being organized by a coalition consisting of the SWP, the CP and pacifists that it regarded as ineffective. SDS had organized the first antiwar demonstration in Washington in 1965, largely through the prodding of the SWP, but had become disappointed by the continuation of the war. It combined anti-imperialist rhetoric with adventurist tactics that mirrored the frustration of much of the student left. By 1971 SDS had fallen apart with the Weatherman faction going underground to carry out foolish terrorist attacks on “enemy” buildings as if a pipe bomb could halt the war in Vietnam.

While some New Leftists went off in an ultraleft direction, others pinned their hopes on “peace” candidates like Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy. In fact, the 1968 protests at the Democratic Party convention were designed to put pressure on the delegates to nominate such a candidate even if people like Dave Dellinger and Abby Hoffman were cagey about not putting it in exactly that way. Given the fact that the DP was still the party carrying out the war, it would have been inadvisable to give it carte blanche.

Referring to the 1968 elections, Michael Ansara is repentant for not supporting Hubert Humphrey:

We sit out the election. We organize street protests. We march. We mock. We do not organize young people to vote in one of the closest elections in American history. There are tens of thousands of young people looking to us for direction. We do not say, “Make history. Swing this election to Humphrey and show how powerful we as a group now are.” No, we say, “A plague on both your houses,” and walk away.

He depicts Richard Nixon as fomenting “a right-wing counter-reformation to hold power and warp American politics for most of the next four decades.”

Actually, Nixon looks pretty good in retrospect compared to Barack Obama. Keep in mind that Nixon was far more ambitious on environmental questions than Obama and directed all federal contractors to develop “an acceptable affirmative action program.” He also carried out an essentially Keynesian economic program that included a budget in 1970 based on “the high-employment standard”—ie, deficit spending.

Leaving aside the fiction that SDS organized street protests, Ansara likens SDS’s leftist opposition to the two-party system to those of us today who prefer Jill Stein to Hillary Clinton as he puts it:

The one irreducible fact of this bizarre election is this: The only way Donald Trump does not become president of the United States is if Hillary Clinton does. In any closely contested state, staying home or voting for a third-party candidate is, in its impact, a vote for Trump. It does not take a great leap of moral or political imagination to envision the damage a Trump presidency will bring to our nation and to the world.

Todd Gitlin

This business about how the left should have voted for Humphrey in 1968 is not new, especially coming from an SDS muckety-muck. Todd Gitlin, who was president of SDS from 1963 to 1964, argued this long before Trump reared his ugly head. In 2003, Todd Chretien took note of the Humphreymania in a review of Gitlin’s pompously titled “Letters to a Young Activist” in a CounterPunch review:

Playing fast and loose with the facts, Gitlin tells his young activist reader–who he prefers to call a “social entrepreneur”–that had the antiwar movement supported Democrat Hubert Humphrey (who personally helped escalate the war for the five previous years as Johnson’s vice president) for president in 1968, “he would have phased out the war.” Thus, the lesson is, if you don’t vote for the Democrats, you are morally responsible for Nixon and Pol Pot.

While not quite veering into the pro-war camp in 2003 like Ezra Klein, Gitlin came coquettishly close:

Hawks unquestionably have their arguments. Various pro-war cases deserve to be made, as does the point that they sometimes clash. If the administration makes these arguments shoddily, they still deserve to be made cogently somewhere.

I never met Michael Ansara but his name came up frequently in SWP meetings in 1970 when I arrived in Boston. Ansara was a leader of the SDS faction that was trying to ward off the Maoist Progressive Labor Party’s bid to take over the group that had already started to decline—mostly as a result of its abstinence from the antiwar movement.

After graduating Harvard in 1968, Ansara worked for SDS until the group split into three different Maoist sects, one led by PLP, the other by Mike Klonsky, and the last that still exists as a cult around Bob Avakian.

Like many others with a Harvard degree, Ansara was blessed by the doors that it opened for him. Eventually he started a citizen’s action group called Massachusetts Fair Share that was inspired by Nader’s Public Citizen. In 1983 auditors discovered that Fair Share had more than $1 million in debts, which led to Michael Ansara resigning in the face of criticism that he was responsible for its financial collapse.

That did not seem to faze Ansara who moved on to start a telemarketing firm called the Share Group that in a partnership with another money-raising firm called The November Group was hired by Ron Carey, a leader of the rank-and-file Teamsters group that Dan La Botz wrote a book about. Many people who were to become members of Solidarity were Carey’s most effective organizers.

The November Group was a part-owner of Ansara’s outfit. Its CEO was a sleazeball named Martin Davis, who made big money hiring out to big-time campaigns in the DP, including Clinton-Gore’s presidential campaign in 1992. Between 1992 and 1996 the November Group raked in $650,000 from the Teamster’s treasury. It also exercised influence on Carey to keep the nascent Labor Party at arm’s length.

All this worked to Ansara’s advantage. He also earned big fees and flattered himself into believing that his work had something to do with a renewed labor movement. The ability of some people to betray their youthful ideals in the name of upholding them is quite remarkable. One imagines that a Harvard education goes a long way toward helping the intellect get twisted into such knots.

In 1997, Ansara’s world collapsed after a Federal Grand Jury began investigating illegal kickbacks to Carey’s campaign for the Teamster presidency. Ansara’s wife Barbara Zack Quindel had donated $95,000 as part of a quid quo pro deal with the Share Group. The NY Times reported:

The teamsters paid the Share Group $48,587 last Oct. 22, and nine days later Ms. Arnold contributed $45,000 to the Carey campaign. The teamsters international paid the Share Group another $48,587 on Nov. 15, and Ms. Arnold donated an additional $50,000 11 days later.

Does any of this sound familiar? It should. It is the same kind of dodgy backroom deals that the Clinton Foundation thrives on.

In September of 1997 Martin Davis pleaded guilty to mail fraud, embezzling union funds and conspiracy to commit fraud while Ansara pleaded guilty to conspiracy. For each count, they faced up to five years in prison and possibly a $250,000 fine or twice what they made from the scheme.

Ansara eventually was sentenced to probation and forced to make restitution of $650,000. But the biggest damage was not to him but to the labor movement. Carey’s culpability allowed Jimmy Hoffa Jr. to regain the Teamster presidency and help tighten the bosses’ grip over the labor movement.

Labor leftist and journalist Steve Early summed up the sad state of affairs in “In these Times”:

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in New York are continuing a criminal investigation. Three Carey associates have already pleaded guilty and face heavy fines and jail time for mail fraud, conspiracy or embezzling union funds on Carey’s behalf. They are: his campaign manager, Jere Nash, a onetime leader of Mississippi Common Cause and consultant to the 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign; Martin Davis, a millionaire teamster political adviser, who also aided the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and brokered deals for the AFL-CIO’s Union Privilege credit card program, and Michael Ansara, a former community organizer and leader of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Harvard University in the late ’60s, who later became a “socially-responsible” businessman.

Other alleged participants in or casualties of this troika’s illicit scheming include the Teamsters’ political director William Hamilton, an alumnus of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and a former business associate of Ansara. Hamilton was forced to resign in July and now faces Teamster Independent Review 3card charges of aiding the diversion of dues money to Carey’s campaign—a matter that a federal grand jury in New York is also investigating. Ira Arlook, director of Citizen Action and another ex-SDSer, has run up more than $200,000 in legal bills defending his organization against possible criminal charges over its Teamster money-laundering role. The scandal so damaged the fund-raising ability of Citizen Action’s national organization that the group just closed its Washington, D.C., office and laid off 20 staffers.

The biggest potential losers, however, are Teamster members—particularly those who have worked for change in the union. In the face of beatings, black-listing, redbaiting and other obstacles to reform, Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU)—labor’s most durable and successful rank-and-file group—sacrificed and struggled for more than 20 years to eliminate corruption, gangsterism and sweetheart deals. The reformers’ efforts finally bore fruit six years ago with Carey’s victory in an election conducted as part of the settlement of a Justice Department lawsuit filed under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Working with TDU activists around the country and a minority of local officers, Carey has since put 75 troubled locals under trusteeship, cut waste, stepped up Teamster organizing, hired aggressive new staff and won significant bargaining victories like the recent United Parcel Service (UPS) strike.

August 30, 2016

Socialists and the electoral arena: in response to Sophia Burns

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,two-party system — louisproyect @ 3:56 pm

halstead boutelle

The first two paragraphs of Sophia Burns’s article struck a chord with me, especially the reference to mass demonstrations as a way of raising political consciousness and as an alternative to the dreary election cycles we endure every four years when the bourgeoisie gets to pick its next White House puppet. We may have the right to vote but not the right to decide policy. We pull the lever and they pull the strings. I learned that in 1965 with my first and last vote for a Democrat who had assured voters that “we are not about to send American boys 9 or 10,000 miles away from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”

Within two years I had joined the Socialist Workers Party and threw myself into building mass demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, a major focus of the group. What I did not expect was the near collapse of the movement in 1968 when the other groups and individuals associated with the National Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam essentially pulled out of street actions and put all their energy into electing Eugene McCarthy or Robert F. Kennedy. I became convinced that the antiwar movement was dead and doubted party leaders who said that activities would pick up after the elections when the war was certain to continue. As it turned out, they were right—one of the last times in fact. After the antiwar movement did come to an end because of the final victory of the Vietnamese themselves, the party went into a crisis of perspectives that finally led to its virtual extinction.

As it happens, the SWP ran its own campaign in 1968, with Fred Halstead and Paul Boutelle as presidential and vice presidential candidates. Like many other people who were expelled or resigned out of disagreements with the party’s misconceived “turn to industry”, Boutelle continued to be politically active as Kwame Somburu who received a dedication by Colin Jenkins in a July 13, 2016 North Star article as a scientific socialist, William F. Buckley-slayer, thorn in the side of “mental midgets,” lifelong advocate of “herstory,” mentor, and friend.

The Buckley reference was to an appearance that Halstead and Boutelle made on Firing Line that year in which they mopped the floor with the conservative bully. This appearance and every other one made by the two had narrowly defined purposes: to recruit members and to defend socialism to an audience that was usually beyond our reach. The electoral strategy was the same as every other “Leninist” group, including the Communist Party before it effectively became a wing of the Democratic Party during the New Deal.

read full article on North Star

July 14, 2016

Misusing German history to scare up votes for Hillary Clinton

Filed under: Fascism,Germany,parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 3:13 pm

Hermann Müller

Herman Müller: German SP head of state in 1928 and forerunner to the Clintons and Barack Obama

Over the last week or so, I have read two articles that offer a highly distorted version of events leading up to Hitler’s seizure of power that are put forward in order to help elect Hillary Clinton.

In “Can the Green Party Make a Course Correction?”, Ted Glick equates Jill Stein’s determination to run against both Clinton and Trump in every state with the German Communist Party’s “Third Period” turn. Referring to Jill Stein’s reference to Trump and Clinton on “Democracy Now” as being “equally terrible”, Glick linked her to the German CP’s refusal to unite with the Social Democrats against Hitler:

Jill’s words are an eerie echo of huge mistakes made by the German Communist Party in the 1930’s. Here is how Wikipedia describes what happened:

“The Communist Party of Germany (German: Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) was a major political party in Germany between 1918 and 1933. During the Weimar Republic period, the KPD usually polled between 10 and 15 percent of the vote and was represented in the Reichstag and in state parliaments. The party directed most of its attacks on the Social Democratic Party of Germany, which it considered its main opponent. Banned in Nazi Germany one day after Adolf Hitler emerged triumphant in the German elections in 1933, the KPD maintained an underground organization but suffered heavy losses.”

In Harold Meyerson’s “Bernie, Hillary, and the Ghost of Ernst Thalmann”, the same historical analogy is used to get out the vote for Clinton but this time directed more at disaffected Sanderistas than Green Party activists who Meyerson likely views as beyond hope:

In the last years of the Weimar Republic, the real menace to Germany, Thälmann argued, wasn’t the Nazis but the Communists’ center-left, and more successful, rival for the backing of German workers: the Social Democrats. The SDs, he said, were actually “social fascists,” never mind that they were a deeply democratic party without so much as a tinge of fascism in their theory and practice. But as the Communists’ rival for the support of the German working class, the SDs became the chief target of the Communists’ campaigns.

Thälmannism, then, is the inability (be it duplicitous, willful, fanatical, or just plain stupid) to distinguish between, on the one hand, a rival political tendency that has made the compromises inherent to governance and, on the other hand, fascism. And dispelling that inability is precisely what Bernie Sanders will be doing between now and November.

I’m neither equating Donald Trump with Hitler nor saying he’s fascist in the classic sense. Trump has no organized private army of thugs to attack and intimidate his rivals, as both Hitler and Mussolini did. But Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and nationalist appeals; his division of the nation into valorous and victimized native-born whites and menacing non-white interlopers; his constant employment of some Big Lies and many Little ones; and his scant regard for civil liberties make him the closest thing to a fascist of any major party presidential nominee in our history.

Yet a minority of Sanders’s supporters fail to grasp the threat that a Trump presidency poses to the nation—to immigrants, to minorities, to workers, and even to the left and to themselves. I doubt more than a handful will actually vote for Trump, but Jill Stein and even Gary Johnson will win some of the Sanders diehards’ votes (though for voters, moving from Medicare-for-All Sanders to Medicare-for-None Johnson requires either extraordinary ideological footwork or simple brain death). In states where the race between Clinton and Trump is close, however, a Sanders diehard’s vote for Stein or Johnson, or a refusal to vote at all, is in effect a vote for Trump.

Both Glick and Meyerson have long-standing ties to the left. Glick has been a member of the Green Party for 16 years and before that worked with a small group promoting an “inside-out” electoral strategy. In many ways, that is much worse than being strictly “inside” the Democratic Party because the brownie points Glick has accumulated over the years as some kind of “outsider” gives him the leverage he needs to subvert the genuine radicalism of a third party on the left. In 2004 Glick was part of a group of “Demogreens” who engineered the nomination of David Cobb as Green Party presidential candidate instead of Ralph Nader, who they feared would siphon votes away from John Kerry. Basically this is the same strategy Glick is pursuing today with Jill Stein being demonized as the equivalent of the berserk Stalinists of the “Third Period”.

Meyerson was active in the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee in the 1970s, a group better known as DSOC that would later on fuse with other groups to become the DSA. He is currently the vice-chair of the National Political Committee of the DSA and a contributor to liberal magazines both online and print.

Like Glick, Meyerson saw Ralph Nader’s campaign in 2004 as inimical to the interests of the Democratic Party although formulated in terms of defeating the horrible Republicans. Just as Glick argued in his article, Meyerson took Nader to task for not recognizing the differences between the two parties in “The American Prospect”, a liberal magazine he publishes. Referring to Nader’s appearance on “Meet the Press”, Meyerson took issue with his claim that the system was rigged:

He did, of course, assert that there were no very serious differences between the two parties, though host Tim Russert got him to concede that there were distinctions on such ephemera as judicial nominations, tax cuts, and environmental enforcement. The American government, Nader reiterated, was still a two-party duopoly.

So what does all this have to do with the rise of Adolph Hitler? The answer is nothing at all. Hitler is invoked as a kind of bogeyman to frighten liberals. He serves the same purpose as a warning from your parents when you were six years old. If you don’t brush your teeth, the bogeyman will get you. Now it is if you don’t vote for Hillary Clinton, der Führer Donald Trump will get you.

Unpacking and refuting such nonsense is dirty work but someone has to do it. To start with, it is necessary to put the German Socialists under the microscope to understand the historical context. If the German CP’s ultra-left position was a disaster, how else would you describe the social democracy’s failure to resist the Nazis? While there is no point in making an exact equation between the Democrats and the German social democracy (we should only be so lucky), it would have been incumbent on Meyerson and Glick to review its strategy especially since they are the American version of Weimar Republic reformists today.

Like the Democratic Party, the German Socialists cut deals with the opposition rightwing parties to stay in power. In effect, they were the Clinton and Obamas of their day. In 1928, the Socialists were part of a coalition government that allowed the SP Chancellor Hermann Müller to carry out what amounted to the same kind of sell-out policies that characterized Tony Blair and Bernard Hollande’s nominally working-class governments.

To give just one example, the SP’s campaign program included free school meals but when Müller’s rightwing coalition partners demanded that the free meals be abandoned in order to fund rearmament, Müller caved in.

Another example was his failure to tackle the horrible impact of the worldwide depression. When there was a crying need to pay benefits to the unemployed, whose numbers had reached 3 million, Müller was unable to persuade his rightwing partners to provide the necessary funding. Their answer was to cut taxes. If this sounds like exactly the nonsense we have been going through with the Clinton and Obama administrations (and a new go-round with Mrs. Clinton), you are exactly right. The German SP had zero interest in confronting the capitalist class. That task logically belonged to the Communists but the ultra-left lunacy mandated by Joseph Stalin made the party ineffective—or worse. When workers grew increasingly angry at SP ineptitude, it is no surprise that the most backward layers gravitated to Hitler.

The ineffectiveness of the Müller government led to a political crisis and its replacement by Heinrich Brüning’s Center Party. Brüning then rolled back all wage and salary increases as part of a Herbert Hoover type economic strategy. Needless to say, this led to only a deepening of the economic crisis and political turmoil. Eventually Brüning stepped down and allowed President Paul von Hindenburg to take over. And not long after he took over, he succumbed to Nazi pressure (like knocking down an open door) and allowed Hitler to become Chancellor.

Within the two years of Brüning and von Hindenburg rule, what was the role of the German SP? It should have been obvious that Nazi rule would have been a disaster for the German working class. Unlike the Salon.com clickbait articles about Trump the fascist, this was a genuine mass movement that had been at war with trade unionists and the left for the better part of a decade. Stormtroopers broke up meetings, attacked striking trade unionists and generally made it clear that if their party took over, the left would be annihilated. Indecisiveness in the face of such a mortal threat would be just as much of a failure as the “Third Period” but that is exactly what happened with the SP as Leon Trotsky pointed out in “What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat”, written in January 1932 on the eve of Hitler’s assumption of power.

In its New Year’s issue, the theoretical organ of the Social Democracy, Das Freie Wort (what a wretched sheet!), prints an article in which the policy of “toleration” is expounded in its highest sense. Hitler, it appears, can never come into power against the police and the Reichswehr. Now, according to the Constitution, the Reichswehr is under the command of the president of the Republic. Therefore fascism, it follows, is not dangerous so long as a president faithful to the Constitution remains at the head of the government. Brüning’s regime must be supported until the presidential elections, so that a constitutional president may then be elected through an alliance with the parliamentary bourgeoisie; and thus Hitler’s road to power will be blocked for another seven years. The above is, as given, the literal content of the article. A mass party, leading millions (toward socialism!) holds that the question as to which class will come to power in present-day Germany, which is shaken to its very foundations, depends not on the fighting strength of the German proletariat, not on the shock troops of fascism, not even on the personnel of the Reichswehr, but on whether the pure spirit of the Weimar Constitution (along with the required quantity of camphor and naphthalene) shall be installed in the presidential palace. But suppose the spirit of Weimar, in a certain situation, recognizes together with Bethmann-Hollweg, that “necessity knows no law”; what then? Or suppose the perishable substance of the spirit of Weimar falls asunder at the most untoward moment, despite the camphor and naphthalene, what then? And what if … but there is no end to such questions.

Now of course we are in a period hardly resembling the final days of the Weimar Republic. The good news is that a fascist takeover is highly unlikely since parliamentary democracy is more than adequate to keep the working class under control. The bad news, on the other hand, is that the left is so inconsequential and the trade unions so weak that there is no need for fascism.

But who knows? Another decade or so of declining wages and cop killings of Black people might precipitate the rise of a left party that has learned to avoid the reformist stupidity of the German SP and the suicidal ultra-leftism of the Stalinists. It is highly likely that people like Harold Meyerson and Ted Glick will be as hostile to it as they are to Jill Stein’s campaign today. Despite their foolishness, we should soldier on to final victory. The fate of humanity rests on it.


July 13, 2016

Adolph Reed: master of Marxism-Clintonism

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,two-party system — louisproyect @ 5:17 pm

Adolph Reed

Adolph Reed is an African-American political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, a prestigious Ivy League school, and a ubiquitous presence on the Internet left as a public intellectual. Along with Cornel West and Michelle Alexander, he has figured as a prominent Black intellectual supporter of the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Reed’s ideological profile is very much based on class orthodoxy bordering on workerism. To what extent his Marxism retains some of his early Trotskyist training is open to question. Reed was a member of the Atlanta Young Socialist Alliance in the late 60s and smart enough to drop out long before he was transformed into a loyal cult member like me.

That class orthodoxy leads him to embrace positions that echo Walter Benn Michaels, a Marxist academic who argues that race-based political demands divide the working class. For Reed, reparations for slavery fall into this category as he maintained in a Progressive article: “reparations talk is rooted in a different kind of politics, a politics of elite-brokerage and entreaty to the ruling class and its official conscience, the philanthropic foundations, for racial side-payments.” Like Michaels, Reed has a bit of a conspiracy-minded approach to such matters as if officers at the Ford Foundation were burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how to prevent Black people from reading “The 18th Brumaire” and building workers councils.

This kind of rock-ribbed class orthodoxy seems an odd match to Reed’s partiality to Hillary Clinton candidacies, even if on a lesser evil basis drawn from the Gus Hall playbook. In an April 28, 2008 Progressive article that starts off with the ostensibly insurrectionary-minded title of “Obama No”–a shot across Carl Davidson’s bow so to speak–, we learn that it could have just as easily been titled “Hillary Yes”:

I’m hardly a Clinton fan. I’m on record in last November’s issue as saying that I’d rather sit out the election entirely than vote for either her or Obama. At this point, though, I’ve decided that she’s the lesser evil in the Democratic race, for the following reasons: 1) Obama’s empty claims to being a candidate of progressive change and to embodying a “movement” that exists only as a brand will dissolve into disillusionment in either a failed campaign against McCain or an Obama Presidency that continues the politics he’s practiced his entire career; 2) his horribly opportunistic approach to the issues bearing on inequality—in which he tosses behaviorist rhetoric to the right and little more than calls to celebrate his success to blacks—stands to pollute debate about racial injustice whether he wins or loses the Presidency; 3) he can’t beat McCain in November.

I hate to say it but this sounds much more like what you’d read in a NY Times Op-Ed or an MSNBC panel discussion. Maybe Reed should have stuck around the Trotskyist movement for another 3 or 4 years to get a clearer focus on the two-party system. It might have damaged him psychologically but that’s a small price to pay for being less damaged ideologically.

Now, eight years later, Reed makes another pitch for Hillary Clinton in a July 7th radio interview on Doug Henwood’s “Behind the News”:

DH: The movement that has catalyzed with the Sanders campaign, how can we keep it from dissipating as November approaches. “Trump is so horrible, you know, hold your nose and vote for Hillary. etc.” There’s a great possibility for induced amnesia to set in. How do we fight that?

AR: What one does in November lies in a different dimension from the movement building concerns. From a pragmatic point of view there really is nothing else to do except to vote for Hillary. But that only becomes a big to-do if you have an exaggerated sense of the significance of your own vote anyway.

DH: People get so obsessed with something that takes five minutes to do in early November. It’s really remarkable.

AR: Absolutely. On some level it only comes down to a matter of taste and existential choice. I could vote for Gore in 2000. I lived in Connecticut and it was easy not to vote for Gore in 2000 and to vote for Ralph. I’d argue that this is a different moment and especially with Republican control of Congress-even if they lose the Senate which is a long shot . . . we’re going to be in the same position on the Wednesday after the election than we were on the Monday before the election. The real challenge is to try to disconnect the organizing from it being driven by the election cycle.

What was it that Molotov said to reporters after signing a non-aggression pact with the Nazis? Oh, I remember: “fascism is a matter of taste”. As far as existential choices are concerned, I would say that celibacy is an existential choice. Or assisted suicide. Or masturbating with a vacuum cleaner. That sort of thing, if you gather my drift.

But when Adolph Reed says that voting for a Democrat is a matter of taste or existential choice, who the hell is he kidding? The Democratic Party is about as much a challenge to class politics as the Constitutional Democrats (Cadets) were in Czarist Russia. Lenin wrote hundreds of thousands of words—maybe millions—arguing that the left would be violating its most basic principles by voting for the Cadets. Indeed, this was his main quarrel with the Menshevik faction of the Russian Social Democracy:

Briefly, the Cadets’ tactics may be formulated as follows: to ensure the support of the revolutionary people for the Cadet Party. By “support” they evidently mean such action by the revolutionary people as will, first, be entirely subordinated to the interests of the Cadet Party and carried out according to its instructions, etc.; and secondly, not be too resolute and aggressive, and above all, not be too drastic. The revolutionary people must not be independent, that is the first point; and it must not achieve final victory, it must not crush its enemy, that is point two. These are the tactics that, on the whole, will inevitably be pursued by the entire Cadet Party and by any Cadet Duma. And, of course, these tactics will be backed, defended and justified with the aid of the rich ideological stock-in-trade of “scientific” investigations, “philosophical” obscurities, political (or politicians’) banalities, “literary-critical” squealing (a la Berdayev), etc., etc.

The squealing Berdayev referred to immediately above, by the way, was Nicolai Berdayev, a Russian philosopher aligned with the Mensheviks and later on exiled from Russia in the infamous “philosopher’s ship” in 1922 that targeted men who were ideologically opposed to the revolution. In my view, this was one of the biggest mistakes of the Communists. When I was a freshman at Bard, Berdayev was very trendy, just like Kierkegaard. Their Christian Existentialism was just the sort of thing to appeal to 18 year olds suffering from Weltschmerz. Was this the kind of existential choice Adolph Reed had in mind? Perhaps so given the mood of disaffected Sanderistas.

April 18, 2016

Richard Seymour justifies voting for a Democrat

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 5:21 pm

Richard Seymour

Today on Facebook Richard Seymour continued writing on behalf of the Sanders campaign. It is clearly in line with the recent Salvage Magazine editorial that gave it very qualified support in an article mostly about how Donald Trump can conceivably lead a fascist takeover in the USA:

And if the choice for president were Sanders versus Trump? Then notwithstanding our remorseless suspicion of the Democratic Party, against which we remain implacably opposed and for which we would never campaign, if this UK quarterly could vote, Salvage would seriously consider doing so for Sanders.

Does urging a vote for Sanders in this fashion sound like something you might have heard from Gus Hall in 1964? You be the judge.

The Facebook post took aim at a Danny Katch article in the ISO newspaper opposing a vote for Sanders on the basis of principle that Seymour quoted. His answer to Katch follows. My response follows after that.

I have enthusiastically felt the Bern this past week, without ever questioning my decision to not vote for him (or Clinton) in the Democratic primary tomorrow. … I don’t vote for the Democratic Party (or the Republicans) as a matter of principle. … many leftists are throwing themselves into the Sanders campaign, often with the claim that this is the only time they’re ever going to vote for a Democrat…

There are a few distinct issues being incautiously elided here by Danny Katch. First of all, in principle, there are two potential chances to vote for Sanders. One is by joining the Democratic Party primary process. The other is by voting for him in a general election if and when he is the DP presidential candidate. Secondly, there is a crucial distinction between ‘campaigning for’ (phonebanking, leafleting, etc) and ‘voting for’ in terms of the level of involvement in the DP and in terms of the publicity of that involvement. So, let me put it like this:

  1. Let’s say that you don’t want to participate in the primary process, even if it’s an open primary. Let’s say that you definitely don’t want to campaign for a Democratic candidate, and get sucked into that machinery. But let’s say Sanders does in fact win the primary process (it’s against the odds, but who would be confident enough to rule it out on those grounds right now?). You’re faced with a choice, in November, of voting for either Sanders or Jill Stein. What are the prospects in each case? What difference would it make if Sanders won the election, as opposed to the difference it would make if Stein won 3% of the vote? How would each outcome affect the terrain on which socialists work? How would it affect the combativity and confidence of the working class? What sort of gains might the working class and oppressed make in each case? What sorts of losses? And how do we weigh those immediate gains/losses against (or in relation to, since they may not be mutually incompatible) the longer-term objectives of, say, achieving a political realignment? Or shall we gainsay these questions on the grounds of ‘principle’?
  2. Let’s say that you could cast a vote in the primary process, without doing any campaigning or otherwise compromising yourself. What would be the prospects for the left if Sanders won the nomination, as opposed to if Clinton won the nomination? What kinds of problems might the Democratic Party establishment face in each case? Would a win for Sanders exacerbate the crisis created for its establishment, its relative cohesion, its ideological framework, etc. already rendered acute by the campaign itself, or would that be more the case if Clinton won? And how to weigh this against the danger that participating in the process by voting would constitute a form of incipient cooptation, giving ground to the machine which will absorb and neutralise the movements (as and when the movements arise)? Or are these questions also foreclosed by ‘principle’?
  3. Since *when* was voting a ‘principle’ rather than a tactic? What is the point of elevating a good strategic insight (the fact that the DP is a capitalist party from which workers need to gain political independence) to an inflexible ‘principle’ (never voting Democrat) if it prevents one – as it must, of necessity, do, if you think about what turning voting into a ‘principle’ entails – from engaging with the concrete prospects?

Taking up these points one by one, it is difficult to answer rhetorical questions such as “What sort of gains might the working class and oppressed make in each case” or “Would a win for Sanders exacerbate the crisis created for its establishment, its relative cohesion, its ideological framework, etc. already rendered acute by the campaign itself, or would that be more the case if Clinton won?”

They are interesting questions but the more important matter is principle versus tactic with respect to voting for the Democrats. It is obvious that Seymour views it as a tactic. He asks when voting became a “principle”. Assuming that he meant to ask whether not voting for the Democrats became a principle, this is the important question rather than whether voting in itself is to be shunned. We can assume that Seymour understands that the ISO is not an anarchist group with a hardened belief in the superiority of direct action over voting.

It is also important to explore the question of whether a “good strategic insight” is different from having a principle about something. For example, we can all agree that not crossing a picket line is a principle (even though it was sorely tested when Albert Shanker’s teacher’s union organized a racist strike in 1968.)

What exactly is a principle, after all? If you look into Lenin’s writings before 1917, it is rife with references to principle in a context not that far from our own. The Constitutional Democrats (Cadets) were Russia’s version of the Democratic Party. Although some people like Mike Ely of the apparently moribund Kasama Project tried to make the case that Lenin did urge a vote for Cadets in exceptional circumstances (unsuccessfully in my view), the brunt of his articles was to draw clear class lines between parties of the democratic left (like the SR’s) and the bourgeois parties.

In fact, up until the Comintern’s Popular Front turn in 1934, the left never voted for bourgeois parties. Upton Sinclair ran as a Democrat for the office of governor of California that year, breaking with the Socialist Party. His son was so upset with him that the two nearly broke relations. Sinclair’s candidacy was not inspired by the CP, however. He simply had come to the conclusion that FDR represented something new just the way that some people regard Sanders’s campaign today.

If the same criteria that Seymour is applying to the Sanders campaign today were applied to the New Deal, logic would dictate that the CP and Upton Sinclair were correct to work within the Democratic Party. After all, if our goal is to vote for candidates who can provide “gains” for the working class and oppressed, there are tons of candidates in addition to FDR who can deliver the goods. This includes Chokwe Lumumba who was elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi or some remarkable liberal Democrats from New York like Bella Abzug or Ted Weiss. You can also throw Jerry Brown into the mix whose Presidential campaign announcement speech from 1992 was just as much an assault on the status quo as any made by Sanders:

The calamity which our forefathers feared most has, in our time, come to pass–an unholy alliance of private greed and corrupt politics. Our deteriorating economy, our collapsing political process, and our eroding system of common values, are the direct consequences of a few allowed to satisfy their appetites for greed and privilege.

While the net worth of the average American family declined, the Forbes 400 richest families in America saw their collective wealth increase by 300%! Did any other American families see their net worth triple? Even double?

However, the stunning gains by the very rich did not result from the success of hard work or as a reward earned by expanding the nation’s prosperity to the benefit of all.

The triumph of the forces of special privilege with its devastating consequences to the entire nation, was engineered with the complicity of Washington’s entrenched politicians, Democrat and Republican alike.

That is the whole point of politicians like Jerry Brown, Bernie Sanders, Jesse Jackson, Bella Abzug, Chokwe Lumumba et al. It is to hold out hope that the Democratic Party can be transformed. Understanding it in dialectical terms, these are politicians who by their very idealism tend to undercut the ideals they enunciate. There is no conspiracy to “sheepdog” the gullible. Rather we are dealing with a party that has always had a populist component. After all, the first Democratic Party president Andrew Jackson was a friend of the “common man” (even if the Cherokees were regarded as less than human.)

Let’s say for argument’s sake that “principles” are not involved, only what Seymour calls “good strategic advice”. From a strategic standpoint, the most urgent task facing the American left historically is to create a party of the left. Some people think that the Sanders campaign can serve as a launching pad for the left. However, this is certainly a vain hope. When Hillary Clinton gets the nomination, Sanders will endorse her just as most people now accept even if they are ardent Sanders supporters.

At the age of 74, it is highly unlikely that Sanders will embark on the rather daunting task of spearheading the creation of a new third party (one that I would certainly support if he did.) Sanders is not the politician he once was when he worked closely with radicals in Vermont to get elected Mayor of Burlington. For the past 10 years Sanders has functioned as a Democrat. In 2006, he ran for his first term as Senator from Vermont in the primary on the Democratic Party line, backed by Democratic Party leaders from inside and outside the state, including Charles Schumer who clearly opposed everything Sanders supposedly stood for. He must have seen something in Sanders that was not obvious to Richard Seymour. Once he won the primary, he declined the nomination, thus leaving no Democratic nominee on the ballot. This meant that no Democrat would appear on the general election ballot to split the vote.

There is something coy about how Sanders deals with political identification. His Senate website and press materials continue to label him as an “independent” while his presidential campaign website lists him as a “Democratic candidate.”

If you think that a new party can be spawned out of the DP by Sanders and his supporters like Tulsi Gabbard (his most prominent ally is dubious at best, having been a keynote speaker at a Christians for Israel conference), you might be tempted to look at such a process as having analogies with the birth of the Republican Party in 1854 when members of the Whig Party divided over the extension of slavery into new territory. As it happens, the Whig Party was being torn apart in a way that has little resemblance to the Democratic Party of today.

The Republican Party was the culmination of a long and arduous struggle against slavery that was prefigured by earlier and somewhat premature formations like the Free Soil Party. There was a constant assault on chattel slavery that became the new party’s “principle” so to speak. In 2016, if we were serious about the possibilities of a new left party emerging out of the DP, we have to consider the complete lack of evidence for opposition to wage slavery, the evil of our epoch that Bernie Sanders has never said word one about.

Although it is painful for some to consider, Sanders sees his role as decrying the abuses of capitalism, not abolishing the system. After his campaign is over, he will take a few weeks off and then return to what he does best–voting the right way in the Senate and making appearances on the Rachel Maddow show. Starting a radical party in the USA that we so badly need will involve a separate set of principles and a willingness to see the fight through to final victory that will have enemies from the get-go. When Nader ran in 2004, Democratic Party lawyers fought to rob him of ballot status everywhere. In conditions of extreme polarization, a burgeoning radical party will face serious repression. That is the reality of radical politics in a nation where capitalism has had its most successful reign since the 1600s. The Sanders campaign is a far cry from the battles we face down the road.

April 17, 2016

On being Trumped

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 12:43 am

(A guest post by Gary MacLennan, a retired communications professor, socialist activist, Marxism list veteran going back 20 years, and a very dear friend and comrade.)

Yesterday, piqued by my increasing (from a low base, mind you) interest in the US presidential elections, I decided to break a deep sworn vow and went on YouTube in search of Trump in his reality TV mode. I loathe reality tv and have sworn to go to my grave with the boast that I have never watched a Big Brother show, Master Chef, Australia’s Got Talent or a 60 Minutes episode.

But I yielded to temptation and searched for Trump and “you’re fired”. I came across a 7 minute compilation of the “best” of Donald Trump. Alas, words fail me here like they did when I tried so hard as a young man to become a poet and a novelist.

I had always imagined that Narcissus would be a pretty boy like in those old classical paintings, kneeling by the water side and languidly contemplating his own beauty. But no, here he was – ugly, red faced, bug eyed and it all topped with that hair-do.

This Narcissus was not drunk on beauty but on the the grossest and most arbitrary displays of his own power. “You’re fired” he would snarl and almost without exception they would whimper, apologize and slink out of the throne room. There were two exceptions. One of the contestants glared in deep hatred but said nothing. A young woman defied the Emperor and tried to defend her leader who was about to be fired. Trump’s wrath was almost incandescent.

Icarus plunged to earth when he got too near the sun, but these poor souls had gone down into Hades to become victims of the wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command.

I tried to work out what viewing the tape meant to me other than fill me with despair at the sad search for 13 minutes of fame that has so many in thrall. This post is, I suppose, part of that working out. As a teenager I remember being deeply puzzled and depressed by the Marabar Caves episode in Foster’s Passage to India. Mrs Moore goes into the caves and experiences some kind of nervous breakdown when the echo in the cave seems to say to her, ‘Everything exists, nothing has value’. Mrs Moore leaves India, decides not to write to her children and she then proceeds to die. Thank you Mr Foster! Watching the youtube tape I wondered if this would become my Marabar Caves moment?

I have, though, since read Vasant A. Shahane’s Zen Buddhist reading of the Marabar Caves incident. For him, Mrs Moore encounters the Void and comes to understand the essential meaningless of life. BTW I am not absolutely convinced by Shahane’s insistence that his reading is an optimistic one.

I can accept the proposition that all that Trump stands for – his wealth and power and vulgarity contain nothing of value. I can understand that for him to be strutting the airways is a sign of the almost absolute decay and decomposition of late capitalism. But I feel that what Trump represents must be actively resisted. It is necessary to be horrified at the spectacle of him doing dirt on life, but it is not sufficient. Instead of quietism and acceptance, we must stoke the fires of revolutionary resistance. it is necessary to say once more *encore un effort.*




February 11, 2016

Democracy, the Democratic Party, and superdelegates

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

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 2.53.01 PM

What the fuck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delegate State Group Candidate
Alma Adams[4] NC Representative Clinton
Pete Aguilar[5] CA Representative Clinton
Maggie Allen[6] ME Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jill Alper[7] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dennis Archer[7] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patrice Arent[8] UT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Brad Ashford[8] NE Representative Clinton
Jon M. Ausman[9] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Carrie Austin [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Shawn K. Bagley[11] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tammy Baldwin[12] WI Senator Clinton
Nick Balletto[13] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Karen Bass[14] CA Representative Clinton
Jan Bauer[15] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joyce Beatty[16] OH Representative Clinton
Xavier Becerra[17] CA Representative Clinton
Michael Bennet[18] CO Senator Clinton
Ami Bera[19] CA Representative Clinton
Bret Berlin[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeff Berman[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Don Beyer[22] VA Representative Clinton
Gus Bickford[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Erin Bilbray[24] NV Democratic National Committee Sanders
Stephen Bittel[25] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Bloomingdale[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Earl Blumenauer[27] OR Representative Clinton
Richard Blumenthal[28] CT Senator Clinton
Dean Boerste[29] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
James Boland[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Suzanne Bonamici[30] OR Representative Clinton
Anita Bonds[31] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cory Booker[32] NJ Senator Clinton
Madeleine Bordallo[18] GU Representative Clinton
Muriel Bowser[33] DC Gov. Clinton
Barbara Boxer[34] CA Senator Clinton
Carolyn Boyce[35] ID Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandra Brandt[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Christine Bremer Muggli[37] WI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Scott Brennan [38] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Doug Brooks[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Boyd Brown[40] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Corrine Brown[41] FL Representative Clinton
Sherrod Brown[42] OH Senator Clinton
Julia Brownley[43] CA Representative Clinton
Jocelyn Bucaro[44] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tonio Burgos[45] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cordelia Burks[46] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cheri Bustos[47] IL Representative Clinton
Laphonza Butler[4] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
G.K. Butterfield[48] NC Representative Clinton
MaryEva Candon[49] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maria Cantwell[50] WA Senator Clinton
Lois Capps[51] CA Representative Clinton
Michael Capuano[52] MA Representative Clinton
Tony Cardenas[53] CA Representative Clinton
Ben Cardin[54] MD Senator Clinton
Maria Cardona[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Carney[55] DE Representative Clinton
Tom Carper[55] DE Senator Clinton
André Carson[56] IN Representative Clinton
Karen Carter Peterson[57] LA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Matt Cartwright[58] PA Representative Clinton
Bob Casey, Jr.[59] PA Senator Clinton
Barbara Caspar Silperstein[45] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Cassidy[60] VT Democratic National Committee Sanders
Joaquín Castro[61] TX Representative Clinton
Mitchell Ceasar[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Judy Chu[62] CA Representative Clinton
David Cicilline[63] RI Representative Clinton
Katherine Clark[64] MA Representative Clinton
Yvette Clarke[65] NY Representative Clinton
William Lacy Clay, Jr.[66] MO Representative Clinton
Emanuel Cleaver[18] MO Representative Clinton
Alan Clendenin[67] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Clinton[68] NY DPL Clinton
Tony Coelho[26] DE Democratic National Committee Clinton
Larry Cohen[1] DC Democratic National Committee Sanders
Steve Cohen[69] TN Representative Clinton
Rickey Cole [70] MS Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sheila Comar[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gerry Connolly[72] VA Representative Clinton
John Conyers[73] MI Representative Clinton
Chris Coons[74] DE Senator Clinton
Jim Cooper[75] TN Representative Clinton
Maria Cordone[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jerry Costello [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeannette Council[76] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joe Courtney[77] CT Representative Clinton
Jeffrey David Cox[78] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joseph Crowley[79] NY Representative Clinton
Henry Cuellar[18] TX Representative Clinton
John Cullerton [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Elijah Cummings[80] MD Representative Clinton
Ana Cuprill[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jennifer Cunningham[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Andrew Cuomo[82] NY Gov. Clinton
Maria Cuomo Cole[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Melba Curls[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Currie[83] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joyce Cusack[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Danny Davis[18] IL Representative Clinton
Wendy Davis[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Dayton[17] MN Gov. Clinton
Howard Dean[85] VT DPL Clinton
Diana DeGette[86] CO Representative Clinton
John Delaney[18] MD Representative Clinton
Lizette Delgado Polanco[83] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rosa DeLauro[87] CT Representative Clinton
Suzan DelBene[88] WA Representative Clinton
Ted Deutch[18] FL Representative Clinton
Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nancy DiNardo[89] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Debbie Dingell[18] MI Representative Clinton
Arrington Dixon[49] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Kate Donaghue[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ronald Donatucci[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joe Donnelly[90] IN Senator Clinton
Joanne Dowdell[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tammy Duckworth[18] IL Representative Clinton
Dick Durbin[92] IL Senator Clinton
Jess Durfee[93] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maria Echaveste[94] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Donna Edwards[20] MD Representative Clinton
Joyce Elliott[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Keith Ellison[96] MN Representative Sanders
Eliot Engel[97] NY Representative Clinton
Akilah Ensley[98] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Reni Erdos[99] NJ Democratic National Committee Sanders
Anna Eshoo[5] CA Representative Clinton
Lily Eskelsen García[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Elizabeth Esty[100] CT Rep Clinton
Joe Falk[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Herman Farrell[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chaka Fattah[71] PA Representative Clinton
Dianne Feinstein[101] CA Senator Clinton
Rajiv Fernando [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Foster[18] IL Representative Clinton
Donald Fowler[102] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Earl Fowlkes[103] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lois Frankel[104] FL Representative Clinton
Isabel Framer[105] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Al Franken[106] MN Senator Clinton
Marcia Fudge[107] OH Representative Clinton
Kate Gallego[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ruben Gallego[109] AZ Representative Clinton
John Garamendi[110] CA Representative Clinton
Montserrat Garibay[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dick Gephardt[39] MO DPL Clinton
Penny Gerber[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Alice Germond[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Gierau[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Kirsten Gillibrand[28] NY Senator Clinton
Emily Giske[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Angel Gomez[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Barry Goodman[112] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Billi Gosh[39] VT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Al Green[113] TX Representative Clinton
Darlene Green[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gene Green[18] TX Representative Clinton
Amanda Green-Hawkins[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Vallena Greer [70] MS Democratic National Committee Clinton
Raúl Grijalva[114] AZ Representative Sanders
Marcel Groen[115] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Michael Gronstal[116] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stanley Grossman[117] DA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steve Grossman[23] MA DPL Clinton
Luis Gutiérrez[118] IL Representative Clinton
Debra Haaland[119] NM Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Halpern[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Janice Hahn[18] CA Representative Clinton
Mary Hales[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maggie Hassan[120] NH Gov. Clinton
Alcee Hastings[104] FL Representative Clinton
Denny Heck[88] WA Representative Clinton
Martin Heinrich[121] NM Senator Clinton
Heidi Heitkamp[12] ND Senator Clinton
Luis Heredia[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Hickenlooper[122] CO Gov. Clinton
Brian Higgins[43] NY Representative Clinton
Tony Hill[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rubén Hinojosa[43] TX Representative Clinton
Jim Himes[123] CT Representative Clinton
Mazie Hirono[19] HI Senator Clinton
Marge Hoffa[124] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Eleanor Holmes Norton[21] DC Representative Clinton
Danny Homan[125] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Honda[126] CA Representative Clinton
Steny Hoyer[18] MD Representative Clinton
Fred Hudson[127] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Alice Huffman[4] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jared Huffman[128] CA Representative Clinton
Harold Ickes[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Vince Insalaco[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jay Inslee[88] WA Gov. Clinton
Steve Israel[18] NY Representative Clinton
Troy Jackson[129] ME Democratic National Committee Sanders
Sheila Jackson Lee[18] TX Representative Clinton
Jay Jacobs[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Hakeem Jeffries[65] NY Representative Clinton
Eddie Bernice Johnson[18] TX Representative Clinton
Hank Johnson[130] GA Representative Clinton
Lacy Johnson[131] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Barbara Jones[119] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ray Jordan[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gale Jones Carson[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tim Kaine[133] VA Senator Clinton
Elaine Kamarck[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ron Kaminski[134] NE Democratic National Committee Clinton
William Keating[135] MA Representative Clinton
John Keller [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Randy Kelley[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Unzell Kelley[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Robin Kelly[137] IL Representative Clinton
Joseph P. Kennedy III[138] MA Representative Clinton
Ruben Kihuen[139] NV Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Kildee[18] MI Representative Clinton
Derek Kilmer[18] WA Representative Clinton
Paul G. Kirk[140] MA DPL Sanders
Ann Kirkpatrick[108] AZ Representative Clinton
Amy Klobuchar[141] MN Senator Clinton
Kaye Koonce[142] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sarah Kovner[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Caitlin Kraft-Buchman[143] DA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ann Kuster[144] NH Representative Clinton
Jim Langevin[145] RI Representative Clinton
Linda Langston[15] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rick Larsen[18] WA Representative Clinton
John B. Larson[100] CT Representative Clinton
Brenda Lawrence[146] MI Representative Clinton
Gerald Lawrence[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patrick Leahy[147] VT Senator Clinton
Sunita Leeds[148] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frank Leone[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cindy Lerner[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Levin[18] MI Representative Clinton
John Lewis[18] GA Representative Clinton
Yvette Lewis[149] MD Democratic National Committee O’Malley
Ted Lieu[19] CA Representative Clinton
John Litz[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dave Loebsack[150] IA Representative Clinton
Zoe Lofgren[151] CA Representative Clinton
Martha Love[152] WI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Myron Lowery[153] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nita Lowey[18] NY Representative Clinton
Michelle Lujan Grisham[18] NM Representative Clinton
Stephen F. Lynch[18] MA Representative Clinton
Mark Mallory[44] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Malloy[154] CT Gov. Clinton
Carolyn Maloney[155] NY Representative Clinton
Sean Patrick Maloney[18] NY Representative Clinton
Joe Manchin[156] WV Senator Clinton
Jack Markell[157] DE Gov. Clinton
Ed Markey[158] MA Senator Clinton
Ken Martin[159] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Trudy L. Mason[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Doris Matsui[18] CA Representative Clinton
Janet May[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jayne Mazzotti[160] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Terry McAuliffe[161] VA Gov. Clinton
Claire McCaskill[162] MO Senator Clinton
Jennifer McClellan[163][164] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Betty McCollum[165] MN Representative Clinton
Dustin McDaniel[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jim McDermott[18] WA Representative Clinton
Jim McGovern[166] MA Representative Clinton
Joseph McNamara[167] RI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jerry McNerney[5] CA Representative Clinton
Gregory W. Meeks[17] NY Representative Clinton
Shari Mellin[90] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Grace Meng[79] NY Representative Clinton
Barbara Mikulski[80] MD Senator Clinton
Breanne Miller[8] UT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nancy Mills[115] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stephanie Miner[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Walter Mondale[168] MN DPL Clinton
Gwen Moore[17] WI Representative Clinton
Minyon Moore[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bruce Morrison[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Seth Moulton[168] MA Representative Clinton
Dorothy Mrowka[169] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bob Mulholland[46] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chris Murphy[170] CT Senator Clinton
Patrick Murphy[171] FL Representative Clinton
Ian Murray[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patty Murray[172] WA Senator Clinton
Jerrold Nadler[173] NY Representative Clinton
Grace Napolitano[174] CA Representative Clinton
Katie Naranjo[175] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Neal[176] MA Representative Clinton
Bill Nelson[177] FL Senator Clinton
Jadine Nielsen[148] HI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jay Nixon[177] MO Gov. Clinton
Chad Nodland[178] ND Democratic National Committee Sanders
Rick Nolan[179] MN Representative Clinton
Michael Nutter[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
David O’Brien[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Blanca O’Leary[180] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Olsen[169] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Opstvedt[181] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
William Owen[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frank Pallone[182] NJ Representative Clinton
Bruce Palmer[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Pascrell[183] NJ Representative Clinton
Donald Payne, Jr.[184] NJ Representative Clinton
Gregory Pecoraro[149] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Christine Pelosi[126] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Carol Pensky[185] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ed Perlmutter[18] CO Representative Clinton
Gary Peters[186] MI Senator Clinton
Scott Peters[17] CA Representative Clinton
Pedro Pierluisi[187] PR Representative Clinton
Chellie Pingree[18] ME Representative Clinton
Redding Pitt[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stacey Plaskett[4] VI Representative Clinton
Jared Polis[18] CO Representative Clinton
Karen Pope-Onwukwe[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
DuBose Porter[188] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steven Powell [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
David Price[189] NC Representative Clinton
Carrie Pugh[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Querry[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Quigley[190] IL Representative Clinton
Jake Quinn[191] NC Democratic National Committee Sanders
Evie Rafalko McNulty[192] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gina Raimondo[193] RI Gov. Clinton
Andres Ramirez[139] NV Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rion Ramirez[194] WA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jack Reed[195] RI Senator Clinton
Kasim Reed[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steve Regenstreif[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ed Rendell[196] PA DPL Clinton
Rory Respicio[197] GU Democratic National Committee Clinton
Laura Ricketts [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dennis Rivera[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
José R. Rodríguez[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mannie Rodriguez[180] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Roy Romer[180] CO DPL Clinton
Carol Ronen[198] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ellen Rosenblum[199] OR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sally Rosser[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lucille Roybal-Allard[174] CA Representative Clinton
Charles Rangel[18] NY Representative Clinton
Chris Regan[200] WV Democratic National Committee Sanders
Kathleen Rice[18] NY Representative Clinton
Cedric Richmond[18] LA Representative Clinton
Raul Ruiz[187] CA Representative Clinton
Dutch Ruppersberger[20] MD Representative Clinton
Bobby Rush[201] IL Representative Clinton
Tim Ryan[18] OH Representative Clinton
Gregorio Sablan[202] MP Representative Clinton
Linda Sánchez[203] CA Representative Clinton
Loretta Sanchez[174] CA Representative Clinton
Raymond Sanchez[204] NM Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bernie Sanders[1] VT Senator Sanders
Keelan Sanders[70] MS Democratic National Committee Sanders
John Sarbanes[20] MD Representative Clinton
Lee Saunders[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Peggy Schaffer[6] ME Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jan Schakowsky[18] IL Representative Clinton
Brian Schatz[205] HI Senator Clinton
Adam Schiff[18] CA Representative Clinton
Kurt Schrader[75] OR Representative Clinton
Nancy Schumacher[206] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chuck Schumer[207] NY Senator Clinton
Bobby Scott[36] VA Representative Clinton
David Scott[17] GA Representative Clinton
José E. Serrano[208] NY Representative Clinton
Terri Sewell[17] AL Representative Clinton
Lottie Shackelford[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Billy Shaheen[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeanne Shaheen[18] NH Senator Clinton
Garry Shay[209] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Brad Sherman[210] CA Representative Clinton
Peter Shumlin[211] VT Gov. Clinton
Louise Slaughter[212] NY Representative Clinton
Leslie Small[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Adam Smith[213] WA Representative Clinton
Hilda Solis[214] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lenora Sorola-Pohlman[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jackie Speier[5] CA Representative Clinton
Dennis Speight[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Debbie Stabenow[215] MI Senator Clinton
Kathy Sullivan[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Eric Swalwell[216] CA Representative O’Malley
Susan Swecker[217] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gerry Sweeney[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Annette Taddeo[218] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Takai[205] HI Representative Clinton
Mark Takano[19] CA Representative Clinton
Allison Tant[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Marian Tasco[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bennie Thompson[219] MS Representative Clinton
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Krystal Thrailkill[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dina Titus[18] NV Representative Clinton
Paul Tonko[97] NY Representative Clinton
Niki Tsongas[220] MA Representative Clinton
Tom Udall[221] NM Senator Clinton
Chris Van Hollen[222] MD Representative Clinton
Marc Veasey[18] TX Representative Clinton
Filemon Vela, Jr.[223] TX Representative Clinton
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George Wallace[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tim Walz[159] MN Representative Clinton
Carolyn Warner[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
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Maxine Waters[53] CA Representative Clinton
Bonnie Watson Coleman[184] NJ Representative Clinton
Randi Weingarten[225] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
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Nikema Williams[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
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John Wisniewski[226] NJ Democratic National Committee Sanders
Tom Wolf[17] PA Gov. Clinton
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November 4, 2014

The Working Families Party in historical context

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism,third parties — louisproyect @ 6:37 pm

Screen shot 2014-11-04 at 11.20.04 AM

This looks like the ballot I just used an hour ago to vote for all the Green Party candidates. It is a bit confusing when you look at it since the other “third parties” are basically offering you a chance to vote for the Democrats (Working Family and Independence parties) or the Republicans (Conservative). This really gets into the whole question of political independence in the USA and what constitutes a third party, especially for radicals like us.

For the longest time I have been arguing for a third party to the left of the Democrats even when the candidate is not particularly radical. For example, I regard Bob La Follette’s presidential campaign as a Progressive Party candidate in 1924 as an important challenge to the two-party system even though La Follette was a life-long Republican. Same thing with Henry Wallace who also ran under the Progressive Party banner in 1948 even though he was a New Deal Democrat. In fact Wallace’s campaign was mostly about trying to salvage New Deal values as Truman was pushing the party to the right. As an analogy, if Bernie Sanders—a Democrat for all practical purposes despite his “socialist” pretensions—decided to run as an independent in 2015, I would urge a vote for him. So tight is the grip of the two party system on the American body politic that any breach could ultimately serve as a hole in the dike that the Dutch boy tried to plug. Our purpose as radicals is to make the hole even bigger. A third party headed up by the likes of Bernie Sanders would not lead to socialism but it would certainly create a space for the left to get a wider hearing just as is the case with a formation like Syriza in Greece.

So where does the Working Families Party fit into all this?

It is best to think of them in terms of the American Labor Party that was founded in 1936 in order to make a vote for FDR palatable to leftist workers who were instinctively suspicious of the Democratic Party. Socialist Party bureaucrats in the trade unions, especially the needle trades, founded it. Despite the animosity of the CP toward the SP, they saw the value of the ALP so much so that by the 1950s it was regarded as a CP front. Vito Marcantonio, who was widely regarded as a CP fellow traveler, was elected as a Congressman from East Harlem on the ALP ticket, for example. If the ALP had simply served the needs of the CP along these lines, it would have served a useful purpose but like the WFP that followed in its footsteps, it was mainly a vehicle for corralling votes for the DP.

Charles Post’s article in Against the Current magazine titled “The Popular Front: Rethinking CPUSA History” references one by Kenneth Waltzer in the Spring 1980 Radical History Review that is unfortunately behind a paywall. Titled “The Party and the Polling Place: American Communism and an American Labor Party in the 1930s”, it is a good introduction to the dodgy electoral politics of a nominally communist group trying to shore up the Democrats.

Indeed despite the pro-FDR politics of the SP, they also had sincere goals in launching an American counterpart to the British Labour Party. Keep in mind that the SP ran high-profile campaigns for Norman Thomas in the 1930s even though it was mostly part and parcel of an effort to “stop the reactionary Republicans”. For the CP, this was just a bit too radical as Waltzer points out:

Socialists criticized the ALP for failing to become an independent , federated, democratic labor party; they did not oppose La Guardia in 1937, but ran Norman Thomas for governor and held apart from membership until late 1938. Social Democrats, who enrolled in 1936, carped continually about the slow progress toward a labor party and the absence of internal party democracy. The Communists, however, made an objective of unity itself and composed a cheering section within the ALP. They neither pressed for special political results nor demanded progress toward in- dependence. ‘The building of the American Labor Party is a central task,’’ Israel Amter, the New York State Party chairman, instructed in late 1936. Party members and sympathizers enrolled in large numbers in the ALP clubs (or joined with the affiliated unions) and moderated their advocacy of independent politics and socialism.

The Communists enthusiastically supported La Guardia, whom they had opposed four years earlier; they backed Lehman and much of the Democratic slate in 1938. They gave uncritical allegiance to the slate of state officers selected by ALP leaders in the first ALP primary in 1938, and they criticized Socialists and Social Democrats who complained about ALP deals with the major parties.

Since the CP no longer has the muscle it once had, it was largely up to other people to get the WFP off the ground if it was to serve the purpose of providing a left flank for the DP.

The origins of the WFP can be traced to the New Party, another nominally “third party” created in the ALP template. Sometimes referred to as a “fusion” party, such formations are intended to provide a second, third or more spot on the ballot for the Republicans or Democrats. Daniel Cantor, a staffer on Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign, and Joel Rogers, a U. of Wisconsin law professor and a Nation Magazine editor, launched the party in 1992. Like many on the left, I had hoped that Jackson might form a Rainbow Party but he was too wedded to DP careerism to take such a risk. I suspect that Cantor was relieved when Jackson decided to stay within the fold. As far as Rogers is concerned, you know what Shakespeare said about killing all the Nation Magazine editors, right?

The base for the New Party was largely made up of ACORN chapters, the anti-poverty group that ran into trouble a while back after getting punked by ultrarightist James O’Keeffe.

Despite collaboration with the Greens in the 1990s, the New Party’s main ambition was to get progressive Democrats elected, at least those with such a reputation. The party endorsed Barack Obama in his campaign for Senator from Illinois in 1996, for example.

After the New Party ran out of gas, Cantor and Rogers decided to try a fusion-oriented party once again, this time as the Working Families Party.

Surprising as it may seem, Rogers has made sure to keep a conversation going with Marxists despite his obvious class collaborationist orientation. In the March-April 1995 New Left Review, he has a piece titled “How Divided Progressives Might Unite”, a title that might betray his true agenda in light of what Alexander Cockburn wrote about “pwogwessives”.

Mostly written as a complaint about liberalism’s failure and the Democratic Party’s march to the right, Rogers was demonstrating to NLR readers that he was “one of us”. After thousands of unobjectionable words about the need for empowering the poor, fighting for a cleaner environment etc., he finally gets down to brass tacks in a section on the need for the New Party, which is essentially the same case that Cantor and Rogers have made for the WFP:

The New Party is/does all these things. On the last, most vexing, issue, its general solution is only to run its own candidates for office on its ballot line where they have a serious chance of winning. Where they don’t, it generally does nothing, or informally endorses the better of the major candidates, or, where the law permits, formally endorses the major party candidate (the candidate willing, of course) on its own ballot line. At this early stage in the party’s development, thus taking the wasted-vote problem seriously drives our independent efforts down to the local level. We are not running people for President or senator—at least not yet!—but for city councils, county boards, water commissioner, school boards, the occasional state assembly seat. Only after having established ourselves at this local level will we try to move up the electoral greasy pole.

In other words, voting for a Democrat is a tactical question. Despite the appearance of this article in a hoary Marxist journal (that’s hoary as in old, not as in lifting up one’s skirts for a dollar), it breaks with the most fundamental question facing Marxists—the need for class independence.

Although Marx wrote these words more than a century ago, they hold up well:

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. The progress which the proletarian party will make by operating independently in this way is infinitely more important than the disadvantages resulting from the presence of a few reactionaries in the representative body. if the forces of democracy take decisive, terroristic action against the reaction from the very beginning, the reactionary influence in the election will already have been destroyed.

Karl Marx, Address of the Central Committee to the Communist League London, March 1850


November 3, 2014

“Socialist” Bernie Sanders funds scumbag Democratic Party campaigns

Filed under: parliamentary cretinism — louisproyect @ 4:39 pm

This is the final paragraph of an article in today’s Daily Beast titled “Bernie Sanders Is Showing Us the Socialist Way to Run for President”.

The Vermont senator has given out more than $200,000 through his two PACs, Friends of Bernie and Progressive Voters of America. The PVA, in turn, has donated tens of thousands of dollars to embattled red-state Democrats like Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.

When I saw the name Mary Landrieu, I nearly puked up the blueberry pancake that my sister-in-law had made me (her secret recipe includes a tablespoon of ricotta.) I am pretty familiar with the awful Landrieu but what about Begich and Hagan? Okay, let’s take a look at the three politicians that Bernie Sanders is funding.

Mark Begich

Compared to Sarah Palin and just about any Republican, Begich is a liberal but that is like saying that Mussolini was to the left of Hitler. In an April 4, 2013 McClatchy article on the former mayor of Anchorage who is now running to be reelected Senator, we learn:

In another breach of party protocol, Begich promotes expanded oil and natural gas drilling on federal lands, starting with opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration.

Begich also has strayed from Democratic dogma in voting multiple times against ending or reducing federal tax subsidies to oil and gas companies, helping to convince Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to drop such a move from the Nevadan’s budget proposal, and in voting for development of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas.

Sanders says he is opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline but I guess his opposition is a sometime thing. To be fair, his “socialism” is of the Scandinavian sort where you leave your principles at the front door.

Kay Hagan

As a North Carolina senator, Hagan is just as protective of her state’s capitalist prerogatives as Begich is of his. In her case, it is big tobacco that has to be defended. When the European Union mandated that cigarette packages labeling consists of at least 75 percent warnings that the contents were carcinogenic, she and other politicians read the Europeans the riot act as CounterPunch reported:

On June 7, 2013, it was reported that Senators McConnell and Burr along with Senator Rand Paul (R. Ky.) and Kay Hagan (D. N.C.) had written to the European Union warning of dire consequences should the Union adopt the regulations on cigarette packaging it was proposing. The Senators said the proposed regulations would violate international trade rules and adversely affect trade relations with the United States. It’s good they explained. Otherwise one might have thought it had to do with all the money the cigarette companies pay them in order to preserve their friendship.

As far as the odious Rand Paul is concerned, I can’t imagine that his ties to the tobacco bourgeoisie will ever make much difference to those on the left who are so googly-eyed over his neo-isolationism. Love is blind, I suppose.

Just in case Hagan runs short of cash for those fucking TV ads that are polluting the airwaves everywhere including NY, another “socialist” can be relied upon to chip in. Like Sanders, he is also partial to Landrieu:

[Michael] Bloomberg, who is separately spending $50 million to back pro-gun-control candidates, has already given to the Harry Reid-linked Senate Majority PAC, and is backing endangered Democratic Sens. Mark Udall in Colorado, Mary Landrieu in Louisiana and Kay Hagan in North Carolina, all of whom voted for background-check legislation.

Okay, I sort of understand it. It balances out. 10,000 victims of lung cancer versus 100 from guns. Is my math right?

Mary Landrieu

This is the one that really sticks in my craw. If you’ve the slightest interest in how big capital rules politics in the USA, you have to start with Louisiana. This is a politician who when it comes to the power of oil companies, she is even more deferential than Begich.

I could spend all day documenting this dreary record but this from the March 6, 2013 Guardian should suffice:

Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu calls on government to lift EPA ban on BP

Ban imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency last November prevents BP from securing sensitive federal contracts

A Lousiana senator has called on the US government to lift the ban that prevents BP from securing sensitive federal contracts, even as the state sues the oil firm for the environmental damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Mary Landrieu said the moratorium, imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last November, amounted to “double jeopardy”.

The 2010 oil spill is the subject of a sprawling civil law case being played out in New Orleans. Louisiana is among the five Gulf states affected by the spill who are suing BP, alongside the Justice Department and local businesses and individuals.

In a separate development, the EPA cited the company’s “lack of business integrity” following the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

Landrieu, a Democrat, told the Monroe News Star newspaper in Louisiana: “I’m furious and strongly opposed to the EPA’s authority for suspension and disbarment. I’m angry that this agency would put a business in a situation of what amounts to double jeopardy.”

Let me throw this in for good measure, an interesting contrast to Sanders frothing at the mouth over George W. Bush during his two terms:

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