Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 30, 2017

Peter Camejo on fascism and ultraleftism

Filed under: Fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 1:05 am

Then you started hearing them all talk about imminent fascism. The underground papers discovered that there were concentration camp sites in this country, and that some of them were being cleaned up and gotten ready. They would say to each other, “See you next year in the concentration camps.” This was a very common attitude, because they couldn’t see any force around that was protecting their civil liberties.

Then what they began to develop was the thesis that civil liberties, elections, courts, all bourgeois democratic forms, are a gigantic put-on, a fantastic manipulation. That it is all a ruling class trick. So, these people concluded that the elections and civil liberties are unreal, and the people who run the country could call them off tomorrow. Elections and civil liberties, they said, “have nothing to do with reality”.

Then came the instant fascism theory. We are about to have fascism any moment now. But this is a very confusing theory. Somehow the rallies and demonstrations continue year after year. They don’t put us in the concentration camps.

This theory is actually a mixture of deep cynicism, thinking that the ruling class is all-powerful, but it always is combined with a last hope that maybe they aren’t completely bad. Maybe there is still someone who will listen.

Sometimes a liberal becomes frustrated not getting the ear of the ruling class, and he concludes that he’ has been using the wrong tactics. So he adopts a lot of radical rhetoric. He says this ruling class is apparently so thickheaded that what we’ve got to do is really let loose a temper tantrum to get its attention. The politicians won’t listen to peaceful things, but if we go out and break windows then Kennedy will say, “Oh, I guess there is a problem in this society. I didn’t realize it when they were just demonstrating peacefully. I thought everything was OK because they were in the system, but now they’re going outside the system, they’re breaking windows, so we’ve got to hold back.”

These liberal-ultraleftists think that’s what moves the ruling class. Actually they come close to a correct theory when they say that if people start leaving the system the ruling class will respond. But they don’t believe that the masses can be won. They think it is enough for them to leave the system themselves, small groups of people carrying out direct confrontations.

For example, let me quote a thing from the New York Times that illustrates how this type of idea develops. A girl from Kent, after the killings there, was asked what she thought could be done about Cambodia and what she thought about the use of violence. This was a person who is just radicalizing, a liberal, just beginning to oppose the war.

She says, “I’m really dead set against violence. That’s also a copout. But it’s the only way to get the government’s attention. What you’re doing is drawing their attention to you, by using the same methods they use. I’m really against that. It’s horrible that the only way you can get people to listen is to have four kids killed. There was really no blow-up over Cambodia until four kids were killed. You can have all the peace marches that were peaceful and quiet, and everyone would pat you on the back and say ‘good little kids’, but nobody would do anything.”

Now, what’s in her mind? She doesn’t see any independent, mass force that’s standing in the way of the ruling class. She’s looking at the ruling class and asking, “Are we affecting them or not? Are they being responsive?” And if not, maybe the way to get them to pay attention is to go out and break some windows and use violence. It’s a very natural conclusion when you don’t understand that there’s a class struggle, a class relationship of forces.

Having given up on the masses, the ultraleft super-revolutionaries are really trying to influence the ruling class. A classical example of this unity between the liberal and the ultraleft approach was the Chicago demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic Party convention. The leaders of the demonstration came from the National Mobilization Committee. They were revolutionary. Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Dave Dellinger and Rennie Davis were on hand, and their rhetoric was as radical as you can get.

But while the “militant” demonstrations were in process, Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis were apparently closeted with McCarthy’s supporters working out an agreement to help McCarthy.

According to an article in the Jan. 22, 1970 Washington Post, “[Sam] Brown [Vietnam Moratorium Coordinator] said [Tom] Hayden suggested … that if McCarthy appeared to have a good chance by Monday or Tuesday — and if that chance might be hampered by public activity [demonstrations] — then we could meet to decide whether to go ahead with the public activity.” Hayden has never denied this account.

Another example of this type of ultraleftism was a full-page ad which appeared in the New York Times on June 7. It was placed by the New Mobe and signed by guess who? Rennie Davis, Dave Dellinger, et al. This ad announces in big letters at the top of the page: “It’s 11:59.” 11:59 to what? It’s 11:59 to 1984. Fascism is due in one minute.

This is another thing that these ultraleft-upside-down-liberals have: the panic button. Since they don’t see any countervailing force, they think at any moment the whole country could just go BANG! At any moment the ruling class can make a move to the right, and they don’t see any way to stop it, so they throw in the towel, they just panic. The ad says: “If you’re reading this — don’t kid yourself any longer. Big Brother is making his list. And you’re on it. Can we stop 1984? It’s 11:59 p.m. now. The clock is ticking loudly. What in hell are we going to do about it?”

Well, what solution do these ultralefts have? What do they project should be done to stop imminent fascism? In this ad they have a five-point program.

full: https://www.marxists.org/archive/camejo/1970/ultraleftismormassaction.htm

August 29, 2017

A boom market in antifasplaining

Filed under: anti-fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 5:26 pm

Mark Bray: a hot commodity in the antifa marketplace

Almost every month a new antifa book or feature article comes out written by some young professor. As night follows day, publishing houses love to sell books and magazines love to sell articles. Luckily for them, there seems to be no topic more marketable right now. A lot of it has to do with the Trump presidency that many pundits considered to be the second coming of Adolph Hitler or Benito Mussolini. When it turned out that Trump was thwarted repeatedly, especially over immigration and Obamacare, and that leading Republicans began to disavow him, it hardly made sense to act as if it was 1933 all over again. Although I have little in common with Stanfield Smith politically, he made essential points in a March 21, 2017 CounterPunch article titled “First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump”:

Little over two weeks in power, the Brownshirts had been handed the license to bully, beat, even kill leftists and Jews. In contrast, the two week old Trump presidency found its first anti-Muslim executive order blocked by a judge.

Three weeks in power, 50,000 Brownshirts were made part of the police. They began unauthorized arrests, broke into public building and homes and made nightly raids to seize anti-Hitler opponents. Those seized were typically put in newly set up “camps.”

This has not stopped professors from churning out books that make it sound as if we faced a similar threat. This can only be done, of course, by ignoring crucial historical differences. In the German elections of 1928, the Socialist Party received 9,152,979 votes, which at 29.8% was the highest number of any party. Meanwhile, its rivals in the Communist Party received the fourth highest vote total–3,264,793, which was 10.6%. If the two parties had been able to unite, there never would have been a Third Reich nor World War Two. For that matter, the USSR would have continued until now, with likely a more enlightened leadership. As it happened, the SP ruled Germany in about the same way that Obama ruled the USA while the CP was criminally ultraleft—supporting a Nazi referendum in 1931 to dissolve the SP-dominated parliament in Prussia. I would only say that if the American left can’t get its shit together when the big battles begin, the results will be even more catastrophic.

Are we anywhere near the DSA and Bob Avakian’s RCP—the closest thing to the insanely ultraleft German CP today—getting the vote of over 40 percent of Americans? That was the situation facing the German bourgeoisie in 1928, not the low ebb of the class struggle in the USA that despite the brief “resistance” hiccup in the immediate wake of the Trump inauguration has remained on life support.

You wouldn’t have a clue that this was the state of America today reading the febrile accounts of the junior professors who are getting even more attention than Bhaskar Sunkara.

My first encounter with these antifasplainers was on Facebook, where many of them spread their gospel. Ex-FB friend Alexander Reid Ross is a geography professor at Portland State University, a city where ultraleftism was hegemonic. I hadn’t paid much attention to his posts until after Charlottesville, when they began to strike me as pure antifa nonsense. Ross had written a book for AK Press titled “Against the Fascist Creep”, a natural outlet since AK Press is to anarchism what Haymarket, Monthly Review or Verso are to Marxism.

Ross gave an interview to It’s Going Down, the voice of the antifa movement, where he splained what “creeping fascism” meant. He stated that he decided to write the book after people on the left began to say things like “white people deserve their own place because people of color are naturally inclined towards one another.” This included “some of the left wing issue based movements where Marxists were more prevalent.” Funny, I never ran into anybody like that on Marxmail but then again maybe they are just lurking. Or maybe they don’t exist. I suppose all this is splained in Ross’s book but somehow the motivation to spend money on it is lacking.

Ross tells his interviewer that he is a fan of NYC Antifa. Do these people really exist? I have never heard a single word about them doing anything here but then again there’s not much in the way of fascism here as well. Mostly NYC is like Weimar Berlin but without the class struggle. I’d prefer some class struggle but then again I’d prefer the dictatorship of the proletariat.

He concludes by stroking the ego of the website that has interviewed him, stating that It’s Going Down “picked up a lot of slack in terms of analyzing Trump, analyzing the alt-right, and actually using intelligence to shut them down.” Intelligence? I thought it was smacking the fascists with big sticks like in a Punch and Judy show that they were pushing.

Moving right along, we next meet Max Haiven, the Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice at Lakehead University in Northwest Ontario.

Haiven has a rather startling article in today’s Truthout titled “What the Abolition of the British Slave Trade Can Teach Us About Free Speech”. Since I had done a fair amount of research on this topic when reviewing a biopic about William Wilberforce, I was curious to see what Haiven had to say.

Looking back at the debates that took place in Parliament about abolition, Haiven tells his readers that abolitionists must have been sickened by the “civil discourse of the men who had themselves murdered and raped other human beings whom they claimed to own.” Who could blame them if they decided to bar the doors and set Parliament on fire?

With this as a premise, Haiven asks why we should allow fascists and white supremacists to speak in public. People like Noam Chomsky, Robert McChesney and Chris Hedges who defend that right are likened to the parliamentarians that should have been burned alive. It is too bad that this snot-nosed bastard doesn’t have the guts to name names.

Haiven reminds us that “Enslaved Africans abolished slavery through rebellion, riots, subversion and conspiracy”. Yes, who would be opposed to that? But the notion that a self-appointed anarchist vanguard (more arrogant than any Leninist vanguard) has anything in common with Quilombo, Nat Turner or John Brown for that matter is an insult to history. That a joker like Haiven can maneuver his way to the top of left academia in Canada is just another symptom of the malaise of higher education where such people can be taken seriously.

Finally, we arrive at the apex of antifasplaining. Mark Bray, an associated visiting professor at Dartmouth (a rather tenuous position), has come out with a book titled “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook”. That book has made him the go-to guy on antifa. He has been interviewed or profiled on Meet the Press, NBC News, NPR, the Washington Post, The Guardian and The New Yorker magazine. Wow!

I thought the New Yorker magazine article was quite useful in showing how close punching Nazis and the passing laws against them are in Bray’s eyes:

The book’s later chapters, such as “Five Historical Lessons for Anti-Fascists” and “ ‘So Much for the Tolerant Left!’: ‘No Platform’ and Free Speech,” which are adapted from essays published elsewhere, are more focussed and persuasive. Here Bray explicitly deals with the philosophical and practical problems of Antifa: violence versus nonviolence; mass movements versus militancy; choosing targets and changing tactics. Bray concedes that the practice of disrupting Fascist rallies and events could be construed as a violation of the right to free speech and assembly—but he contends that such protections are meant to prevent the government from arresting citizens, not to prevent citizens from disrupting one another’s speech. Speech is already curtailed in the U.S. by laws related to “obscenity, incitement to violence, copyright infringement, press censorship during wartime,” and “restrictions for the incarcerated,” Bray points out. Why not add one more restriction—curtailing hate speech—as many European democracies do? [emphasis added]

Perhaps the visiting Dartmouth professor is not aware that in 2015, France’s highest court upheld the criminal conviction of 12 pro-Palestinian activists for breaking laws against hate speech. They had worn t-shirts with the words “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel.” The judges ruled that this would violate a law that banned “discrimination, hatred or violence toward a person or group of people on grounds of their origin, their belonging or their not belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a certain religion.” Twelve pro-Palestinian activists had to pay a collective fine of $14,500.

Despite the massive popularity of antifa right now among the more soft-headed elements of the left, there is one journal with a fairly impressive academic pedigree that has called out the bullshit of Mark Bray and company. I am referring to Current Affairs, the new magazine founded by Harvard PhD student Nathan J. Robinson.

In an August 20 article titled “Thinking Strategically About Free Speech And Violence”, Robinson calls attention to the lack of long-term strategic thinking among antifa activists who prioritize if not fetishize tactics. Robinson writes:

This lack of focus on long-term strategy and concrete consequences is dangerous. If one concludes, say, that “Nazis do not deserve rights” but has not carefully examined whether taking away Nazis’ rights will help or hurt the Nazi cause, it might turn out that the seemingly justified course of action and the “most likely to stop the Nazis” course of action do not coincide.

Turning his attention to Mark Bray, Robinson questions the remarks he made to Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press”: “Historically, we can see that Nazism and fascism was not stopped by polite dialogue and reasoned debate, it had to be stopped by force. And unfortunately, self-defense is necessitated in the context we’re seeing today.” Robinson writes that there are a number of unanswered questions posed by Bray’s analysis, such as “What do you mean by ‘self-defense’? Does that mean that if protesters are physically attacked by neo-Nazis they can fight back, or that physical attacks on neo-Nazis are themselves an act of self-defense?”

That, of course, is the most important question. Anybody who consults It’s Going Down, as I do after downing some Kaopectate, understands that there are no clear lines drawn between self-defense and offense. In the 1930s and 40s, socialists formed workers militias to defend trade union headquarters and even went so far as to build massive picket lines in front of theaters where people like Gerald L.K. Smith were going to appear. However, those actions were carried out by men who were democratically chosen by the trade union rank-and-file who were in a fight for survival. To conflate this with the adventurism of masked youth accountable to nobody except themselves is a travesty.

In an earlier article titled “How to Write About Nazis”, Amber A’Lee Frost argued along the same lines. Basically, she warns against writing articles that serve the propaganda aims of people like Richard Spencer by exaggerating their importance. She takes a Guardian reporter to task:

Don’t: take a righteous or panicked tone—this drums up sensationalism and sublimates reality to pathos. For example, after Charlottesville, a Guardian reporter wrote that it had “[become] clear that a surging far right has created the rudiments of an organised, effective street-fighting force.” This, however, is not necessarily true. The fact is, we don’t know just how organized the far right are; information like that would require the sort of serious investigative journalism that is sorely lacking at the moment. But we do know that the (inaccurate) image of roving bands of violent Nazi street gangs will haunt readers’ imaginations. One has to be very, very careful before coming to these conclusions.

This reporter became incensed and demanded a retraction from Current Affairs. Nathan J. Robinson’s reply was written yesterday and is a real jewel. Titled “Why We Don’t Like Hysterical Journalists”, it takes apart all those antifasplainers who have a vested interest in making the alt-right appear much more threatening than it really is. The entire article is a must-read as this excerpt would indicate:

Frost’s original article singled out the phrase “organized, effective street fighting force.” The reason this is a misleading phrase to use is that there is nothing resembling an organized, effective Nazi street fighting force in the contemporary United States. If you don’t believe me, go and look outside. Go and wander the streets of every city in America and look for Nazis. Unless you happen to show up at one of the rare times at which white supremacists are holding some (usually pitifully small) rally, what you will see is… nothing. Where’s the street-fighting force? The problem is that Wilson is extrapolating from what happened in Charlottesville one weekend (which required assembling far-right groups from all over the country, since their individual local numbers are so tiny) to draw sweeping conclusions about the United States a whole. He is committing a logical error, which is to take a highly unrepresentative incident as the sign of a broader trend. It’s exactly what journalists usually do, and it turns people stupid and makes them pay much more attention to lurid but uncommon harms than to ongoing and more widespread but less sensational harms.

Where’s the street-fighting force? That’s a good question. I have been in the largest city in the USA since 1991 and I have not seen a single fascist demonstration of any significance. This is a city with a massive immigrant community that has not suffered any of the violent xenophobic raids so common across Europe. In fact, the biggest threat to the immigrant community is the legally sanctioned ICE raids that these antifa numskulls have no answer for, just as they have no answer for fracking, union-busting, racial profiling, evictions or any other social ill that late capitalism is imposing on our city and our country.



August 20, 2017

Boston and Vancouver, models for the anti-fascist struggle

Filed under: anarchism,Fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

One of the difficulties I faced in writing about antifa adventurism was the lack of a positive example. Someone derided me for referring to the struggle with the KKK that I and other socialists were involved with in Houston in the early 70s. What a moldy fig I was. Didn’t I know that punching Richard Spencer in the face was the way to stop fascism?

Fortunately for me and fortunately for the need of the movement, two demonstrations epitomize exactly the approach I have been advocating. I consider them enormous successes and hope that a national movement can emerge that adopts their strategy and tactics.

Yesterday 40,000 protestors converged on Boston Commons to show their opposition to a “Free Speech” rally at the same location. As you probably know, people like Milo Yiannopoulos and his ultraright supporters have cynically been trying to get sympathy because of the bans on his appearances or attempts by small groups of antifa activists to shut them down. His freedoms are being denied, you see. Poor thing gets his chance to make his case before millions on the Bill Maher show after the antifa idiots throw a tantrum at Berkeley.

I don’t have much use for the pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League but they have a useful report about the people who organized the event that they characterize as “alt-lite”, meaning people who do not use white supremacy language but vilify feminists, immigrants and Muslims.

They like to straddle the fence. For example, there’s an outfit called The Proud Boys that is led by Gavin McInnes, which calls for “Reinstating a Spirit of Western chauvinism” but dubbed the Charlottesville event as “racist”, plus the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” organizer Jason Kessler is a member.

Last Monday, McInnes announced that he was dropping out of the event, as would Cassandra Fairbanks, a former reporter for Sputnik. In the aftermath of Charlottesville, some of these types were getting cold feet. Angelus Invictus, a member of the military wing of the Proud Boys, announced that he was no longer going to speak.

Another featured speaker was Based Stickman, who was charged with a felony at a protest in California carrying his eponymous weapon of choice at a fascist protest. He was to be followed by Shiva Ayyadurai, an Indian-born American scientist who claims that he invented e-mail. Just by coincidence I heard him being interviewed this morning on the radio. Mostly he was defending himself from critics who consider him a fraud rather than expressing any political views. Ayyadural is running as a Republican to unseat Elizabeth Warren, making nativism a key plank. Naturally, he has been a guest on Infowars.

Apparently, the Free Speech rally fell apart a short time after it began. Scheduled from noon to 2pm, it was all over by 12:50. Probably a combination of the toxic fumes left over from Charlottesville plus the immense build-up to the counter-protest a few days before Saturday aborted the event.

Even if there wasn’t much to protest, the appearance of 40,000 disciplined and serious protestors was a major shot in the arm to a burgeoning movement. For background on the organizers on this event, who shared a socialist rather than an anarchist background, I recommend an article on The Uptake (http://theuptake.org/2017/08/19/how-boston-counter-protesters-organized-against-free-speech-rally/). It was a coalition of ANSWER Coalition and the DSA, plus a group called The Coalition To Organize And Mobilize Boston Against Trump (COMBAT) that I know nothing about. I have no way of proving this but I suspect that the DSA’s high profile helped to turn out the numbers. Good for them.

Apparently some antifa idiots tried to stage a melee as the event was winding down but they were largely ignored, thank goodness.

The same thing happened in Vancouver. An anti-Muslim rally called at City Hall drew a couple of dozen people while 4,000 counter-protestors ringed the building. As was the case in Boston, ultraleftists were marginalized.

For a full report on the action, see http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/anti-immigration-rally-at-vancouver-city-hall. As was the case in Boston as well, the fascist rally was stillborn:

At the peak of the counter-protest at around 2 p.m., when organizers from the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam Canada and the Cultural Action Party of Canada had been expected to speak out against federal immigration policy, about 4,000 people surrounded city hall, according to a police estimate.

The anti-Islam rally organizers were nowhere to be found.

This week Noam Chomsky denounced antifa activists in an interview with the rightwing Washington Examiner, a sign once again of declining judgment. If you wanted to criticize ultraleftism, it would have been much better to do it on ZNet or any of the other publications that worship at his feet. Chomsky told them, “”As for Antifa, it’s a minuscule fringe of the Left, just as its predecessors were. It’s a major gift to the Right, including the militant Right, who are exuberant.”

Stung by Chomsky’s criticism, there was the customary anonymous answer to him on Libcom, an anarchist website that along with the It’s Going Down website constitute the “punch a Nazi in the face” faction of the left.

Titled “6 reasons why Chomsky is wrong about antifa” (http://libcom.org/blog/6-reasons-why-chomsky-wrong-about-antifa-18082017), the first reason struck my eye since it referred to antifa’s predecessors being more significant that Chomsky believed and as well a party I once belonged to, I wondered how in the world they could equate their adventurism with how Trotskyists dealt with the Silver Shirt fascist movement in Minneapolis. Libcom wrote:

In Europe, they are the Red Warriors of Paris or the Revolutionary Front in Sweden. And in North America they were the Teamsters who formed a defense guard against the Silver Shirts in the 1930s, or Anti-Racist Action who took on Klansmen and the National Socialist Movement from the 1980s until very recently.

They link to an excerpt from Farrell Dobbs’s book “Teamster Politics” that is very useful in understanding how fascism was resisted in the 1930s. As even the anarchists are forced to admit, Dobbs took Leon Trotsky’s advice and formed a defense guard. As the name implied, this was an armed detachment made up of working class veterans of WWI who were charged with defending union headquarters from attack. Dobbs is quoted:

It became known immediately that Zachary’s main theme had been to call for a vigilante attack on the headquarters of Local 544….This situation called for prompt countermeasures. So Local 544, acting with its customary decisiveness, answered the threat by organizing a union defense guard during August 1938….

In the 1930s, the CIO organized defense guards during strikes all across the USA. Mostly, they used clubs or tire irons but were not above using guns if the occasion called for it. This is a far cry from today when groups like Redneck Revolt fetishize weapons as if groups led by Richard Spencer or his co-thinkers were being backed by the big bourgeoisie as was the case in the Little Steel strike when the CEO of Bethlehem Steel et al hired and armed thugs with machine guns and hand grenades.

When the leader of the Silver Shirts was scheduled to speak in St. Paul, the Teamsters sent 300 members of the defense guard to confront him. The sight of this contingent was enough to call off the meeting. Would the Teamsters have used their weapons on the people at the meeting? Of course not. That would have allowed the cops to arrest them all and break the union.

It is important to understand the context for all this. Four years before the confrontation, there was a general strike in the Twin Cities. In an article for Jacobin, Canadian historian Bryan Palmer described the assault on working people there:

The mayor backed a vindictive police force led by a chief determined to crush the workers and willing to execute strikers and strike supporters in the street if necessary. “You have shotguns, and you know how to use them,” Police Chief Johannes instructed his officers in July 1934.

A picket captain described the police carnage in one infamous battle, memorialized as “Bloody Friday”: “They just went wild. Actually they shot at anybody that moved. … they kept on shooting until all the pickets had either hid or got shelter somewhere. Oh, they meant business.” Novelist Meredel Le Sueur’s account was more gruesomely lyrical: “[T]he cops opened fire.. . . men were lying crying in the street with blood spurting from the myriad wounds buckshots make. Turning instinctively for cover they were shot in the back.. . . Not a picket was armed with so much as a toothpick.”

Two workers died on “Bloody Friday”: Henry Ness, a striker, riddled with buckshot, succumbed to his wounds almost immediately. John Bellor, an unemployed strike supporter also critically injured in the battle died, days later. Forty thousand lined the streets and marched in Ness’s funeral procession.

Many years ago when I was in the SWP, comrades used to speak about the ultraleftists of those days. They said that if you mistake the first month of a pregnancy with the ninth, you are likely to end up with a abortion. With the raw youth of the antifa movement making the same kinds of mistakes as the Weathermen in 1971, you might even say that they are mistaking the first week of the pregnancy with the last.

There are no class battles taking place today that have the slightest resemblance to those of the 1930s. Back then, combat between the workers and the class enemy was a deadly serious business. And also back then, men assigned to work in defense guards or flying battalions in militant strikes were democratically elected by trade unions and were usually members of the Communist Party or other radical groups well known to those whose class interests they were defending.

Today, we have antifa people who are only known to each other. Nobody votes to have them turn a peaceful march into a battleground. Libcom and It’s Going Down feature articles written by people cloaked in anonymity. Many of their members show up at protests with their faces covered. This is not the kind of movement we need. I hope that some of them will learn from the success of the Boston and Vancouver protests since they foreshadow the kind of movement that we need. It is hard for people to reverse themselves politically but when you are as young as them, there is hope.

August 15, 2017

Antifa and the perils of adventurism

Filed under: black bloc idiots,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 5:47 pm

Antifascist demonstrators (one apparently wearing a “Fly Emirates” shirt) waiting outside Emancipation Park in Charlottesville on Saturday. GETTY IMAGES

Ever since the Seattle WTO protests of 1999, I have observed a dynamic at work that can best be described as “adventurism”. It accepts that peaceful protests might be of some use but the real action involves physical confrontations with the police or ultraright that is far more dramatic and likely to make the front pages of the bourgeois media. During the Vietnam antiwar movement, it was not uncommon for TV networks to make skirmishes between ultraleftists and American-flag toting “patriots” on the perimeter of massive demonstrations the lead story on the evening news. Back then, the demonstrations were highly disciplined affairs with parade marshals from the UAW and other major trade unions keeping things moving in an orderly fashion. Ultraleftists feeling constrained by the marshals would refer to them as “peace police”.

Since 1999, “diversity of tactics” has prevailed. Nonviolent protestors can do their thing while the black bloc or antifa—the latest manifestation of adventurism—can do theirs. If tear gas and billy clubs cannot discriminate between the two groups, so what? All you need to do is retreat from the fray, suffering nothing more than irritated eyes or some bruises.

However, there are alarming signs that the stakes are becoming much higher. On May Day this year, Puerto Ricans took to the streets massively in order to show their opposition to the austerity forced upon the country that made it effectively the Greece of the Caribbean. As reported by Ed Morales in The Nation, “worker and student groups, faculty members, a feminist contingent, street artists, and an increasingly politicized middle class—coming from different points around the city converged at the Milla de Oro (Golden Mile) in the Hato Rey business district.” He described the protest as “massive and peaceful…an almost festive atmosphere”. But as the event was coming to an end, black bloc types began throwing rocks at the main headquarters of Banco Popular, the island’s largest bank, breaking windows in a time-dishonored stunt.

The police used this as an excuse to begin wading into peaceful protestors, firing tear gas and using billy clubs on the crowd. TV news that night led, of course, with footage of the black bloc running amok as tear gas dispersed the crowds. Ricardo Rosselló, the rightwing Governor of Puerto Rico, held a press conference to denounce the May Day action, lumping the adventurists in with the peaceful protestors.

That set the agenda for Banco Popular to punish the movement as a whole. It filed a lawsuit claiming damages against 42 plaintiffs, including community organizations and labor unions. Were the masked rock-throwing adventurists agent provocateurs working for the cops? While some probably were, the more likely explanation is a deep-seated belief by politically raw youth that breaking windows and fighting the cops is revolutionary.

Taking advantage of a movement put on the defensive, Rosselló signed legislation that will increase criminal penalties against demonstrators who wear masks. He also made it a crime to obstruct construction sites (up to three years in prison), a measure designed to curtail union protests, as well as approving fines of up to $30,000 for interfering with tourist activities. Interference would likely include the closure of an access road to the airport that occurred on May Day, as well as obstructing access to or functions in health or government offices or learning institutions.

Nice work, adventurists.

As bad as the outcome was in Puerto Rico, it looked like the damage could be even much greater in the mother country for people caught up in the chaos that took place on Inauguration Day, once again sparked by black bloc adventurism.

On the morning of January 20th, when Donald Trump was set to be inaugurated, a large group of protesters dressed in black and faces covered ran wild through Washington, smashing windows just like their pals in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Once again, the cops threw out a very broad net that included more than two hundred people being arrested, most of whom apparently had nothing to do with property destruction. They were charged with felony rioting, facing 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Reporters Alexi Wood and Aaron Cantu, who were also swept up in the mass arrests, face even harsher punishments. Wood was charged with five felony property destruction charges and three felony rioting charges. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to 70 years in prison as would Cantu who was faced with similar charges.

Nice work, adventurists.

Turning now to Charlottesville, it is obvious to me that if the protests had been disciplined and under the control of marshals such as was the norm during the Vietnam antiwar movement, there would have been much less of a chance that James Fields would have been able to drive his Dodge Challenger into a crowd, killing a young woman and injuring 19 others.

The antifa contingent came to the city with the intent of turning it into a battle between the fascists and their own street fighters in the same way that it “intervened” at the Berkeley protest against Milo Yiannopoulos. Fortunately, nobody was killed or injured at Berkeley but the protest lacked political clarity.

The same cannot be said about his appearance at the University of Washington in Seattle on Inauguration Day. During a melee between the black bloc and cops outside the hall where Yiannopolous was speaking, IWW member Josh Dukes was shot by Elizabeth Hokoana, a Trump supporter. Her husband Marc was arrested with her as an accomplice. Dukes has lost his gall bladder, half his colon and is left with a severely damaged liver.

If you want to keep tabs of the adventurists who are unaccountable to anybody outside of their ranks, you need to consult the “It’s Going Down” website. There you can read an assessment of the Charlottesville events by an anonymous author, which is typical of the lack of accountability that exists in this milieu. Titled “Charlottesville and the Rise of Fascism in the USA: What We Need to Do”, it is certainly not what one would call an exercise in false modesty.

They credit their window-breaking adventures with inspiring judges to block Muslim bans and motivating government officials to leak information to the press. Gosh, where would we be without them? The boys refer dismissively to nonviolent protestors: “Likewise, it won’t help to gather in churches, as some did in Charlottesville last night, congratulating ourselves on how nonviolent we are while fascists patrol the streets. Last night, when the church locked its doors, many were trapped outside, dramatically outnumbered. This kind of behavior is also complicity.” What ingrates. Cornel West credits them (rather hyperbolically) as saving his life while they charge him as being complicit with white supremacy. It is no wonder that the antifa cult has no concept of broad unity that is so urgently needed today. If you are not ready to get your teeth knocked out by a KKK member in a Rugby-like confrontation, then get lost.

The author does manage to call for unity but the words ring as hollow as Trump’s follow-up statement on Charlottesville: “As in our efforts against the Trump administration, we can’t take on fascism alone. We have to make sure that we are part of a much broader movement, yet that our efforts are not diluted or reduced to some lowest common denominator.” And what does he expect of us? “We need people to put up posters; we need people to hand out handbills”. Is this idiot for real? The antifa wants us to do grunt work while we have absolutely no voice in their decision-making? On their worst day, the worst Leninist sect did not have such arrogance.

There is an implicit ideological assumption in the antifa movement that is worth bringing to the surface and critiquing. In a way, they share the Communist Party’s long-standing obsession with “fascism” that surfaces in every election campaign. They called on people to vote for Hubert Humphrey against Nixon in order to “stop fascism” just as antifa calls on people to get their bones broke or worse taking on fascists who look forward to such confrontation since it gets covered in the bourgeois press that otherwise would have little interest in people like Richard Spencer. Reporting about violence increases newspaper sales and TV ratings.

The enemy is not fascism as much as it is capitalism that exploits the working class according to democratic and civilized norms that would never be associated with the swastika or other fascist regalia. How do I know? Just read the NY Times op-ed page that screams bloody murder about Trump but gave Obama and Hillary Clinton a free pass. It was, after all, Democratic Party indifference to the suffering of the majority of Americans that led to the current crisis.

In a way, the American antifa movement suffers the same kind of political myopia as the original movement in postwar Germany, where Socialists and Communists tried to root out the residual Nazism left behind in the German state. This history is detailed in a Jacobin article titled “The Lost History of Antifa” written by contributing editor Loren Balhorn who is a member of Die Linke.

Antifa groups totaled in the thousands, made up of older industrial workers who managed to elude the Gestapo. They were primarily focused on identifying and bringing to justice Nazis in the same way that Jewish Nazi hunters like Simon Wiesenthal did.

They also fought for social change with Stuttgart being a center of working class resistance to postwar austerity. In 1948 there was anger over drastic price rises that triggered a general strike that in which 79 percent of the workforce took part and that spread beyond Stuttgart.

Ultimately, the antifa movement was unable to transform a country that was undergoing massive economic changes orchestrated by the victorious USA. Balhorn cites Albercht Lein throughout his article. Lein was the author of “Antifaschistische Aktion”, a 1978 book that offers an explanation of why the original movement faded from the scene.

Essentially, the movement was focused almost exclusively on tracking down Nazis and failed to develop a strategy for changing German society. In a way, the CP and SP returned to the status quo ante in the new Germany with both parties following its own narrow interests, particularly in the trade unions. The SP was keen on sustaining the alliance with the USA, which promised a return to capitalist normalcy and even prosperity while the CP saw itself—as always—serving the interests of the Soviet Union.

It even reverted back to its sectarian pre-Popular Front period as Balhorn points out:

Following a brief period of participation in postwar provisional governments, however, the Allies sidelined the KPD, and the party soon returned to its ultra-leftist line. It sealed its political irrelevance in 1951 with the passage of “Thesis 37,” a position paper on labor strategy riddled with anti–Social Democratic and anti-trade-union slurs. The motion, passed at the party conference, obligated all KPD members to obey party decisions above and against trade union directives if necessary. This move obliterated Communist support in the factories veritably overnight and relegated the party to society’s fringes. It failed to re-enter parliament in the 1953 elections and was banned by the West German government outright in 1956.

The same kind of divisions between the SP and CP in Germany in the 1920s were responsible for Hitler coming to power, not an unwillingness to engage in punch-ups as I have heard on Facebook. If the SP and the CP had combined forces, they would have been able to elect someone other than Paul von Hindenburg, the rightist who turned over the power to Hitler. And given the right strategy, even making a socialist revolution. They did have the support of the working class unlike the tiny sects of today.

As a small, self-appointed savior of the America people, the antifa milieu has neither the massive support that the German antifa movement had nor little grasp of the tasks that face us. Right now it is the cops, not Richard Spencer, that is killing Black people with impunity. All across the country, fracking and other forms of environmental despoliation will be on the rise under Donald Trump. This requires a powerful mass movement to confront, not small-scale skirmishes. We are dealing with frightening confrontations over North Korea that cry out for a new anti-nuclear movement, not stupid, childish window-breaking.

I doubt that anybody involved with window-breaking, fist-fighting idiocy is capable of rising to the occasion but I urge people who have been seduced by their fake militancy in the same way that they got a kick out of the viral Richard Spencer getting punched video to wise up. We are in for some stormy battles and intelligence is needed much more than empty bravado.

February 5, 2017

The black bloc in 1969

Filed under: ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 8:17 pm

In an online book titled “The Black Bloc Papers”, David Van Deusen of the Green Mountain Anarchist Collective makes clear that the Weathermen were the forefathers of the people who staged a riot at Berkeley:

The Black Bloc can trace its historical roots all the way back to when- and wherever people comprising an oppressed class or group militantly rose up against their oppressors. Elements of the particular tactics of the Bloc were previously utilized by the Weather faction of Students for a Democratic Society (the SDS) in North America during the “Days of Rage” in 1969.


January 31, 2017

Don’t take your guns to town

Filed under: Fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 6:35 pm

After writing a CounterPunch article last Friday on the black bloc and Richard Spencer getting suckered punched, I thought I had said everything that needed to be said about counterproductive ultraleft tactics but an article by Eric Ruder in the ISO newspaper convinced me otherwise.

Titled “How we made Montana Nazis back down”, Ruder explains how the left organized against a January 17th march in honor of James Earl Ray, the racist who assassinated Martin Luther King Jr., that was to be held in Whitefish, Montana where Richard Spencer lives part-time and that was a project of Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the openly neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website.

The neo-Nazis called off their march for a variety of reasons but primarily because they realized that there was massive opposition in rural Montana and particularly within the town of Whitefish itself that despite its “red state” aura had been mobilizing against such groups for a long time.

I urge you to read Ruder’s entire article but want to call attention to something I found pretty disturbing:

Montana is an open-carry state. Consequently, when antifascist forces started talking about armed direct action, it created a real sense of panic. As I repeatedly explained to them in long-distance midnight calls, these antifascists had not laid any groundwork in introducing, much less, explaining themselves or their tactics. I could easily envision a confrontation between armed Nazis on one side and armed non-local anarchists on the other. Obviously, that would have been an unbelievable disaster in every respect.

The last time there was a confrontation between armed leftists and armed ultrarightists in the USA, the results were an “unbelievable disaster”. I am very glad that Eric and the ISO were on the spot to defend a mass action perspective and persuade the anarchist comrades to avoid such tactics.

In fact, it was not anarchists that came out on the losing end of a past confrontation. The victims were self-described Marxists of the Communist Workers Party—a Maoist sect that was founded in 1973 as the Asian Study Group by Jerry Tung, a former member of the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). When I was a member of CISPES in the early 80s, I worked alongside an African-American CWPer named Ron Ashford who frankly admitted that they had made a terrible mistake by bring guns to an anti-Klan rally in Greensboro, North Carolina in 1979.

Another Maoist group named the Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson Collective that I know nothing about wrote an analysis of what went wrong that I urge you to read on the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line  (ie. Maoist) section of the Marxism Internet Archives.

On November 3, 1979 members of the Workers Viewpoint Organization, the name of the group at the time, had gathered near a predominantly Black housing project for a “Death to the Klan” rally. At 11:20 a caravan of cars and trucks filled with Klan members came driving by slowly. As the vehicles passed by, CWP members began beating them with sticks obviously spoiling for a fight. The Amilcar Cabral/Paul Robeson article described what happened next:

Meanwhile the Klansmen and Nazis pile out of their cars; some of them wave handguns in the air and then begin shooting into the milling crowd of demonstrators. Other Klansmen get rifles and shotguns from the van and the trunk of a car and begin firing into the crowd. A few WVO members have small handguns. While the onlookers, press and some WVO members have taken cover by this time, a number of WVO members make no attempt to take cover even though they are heavily outgunned. The Klan is able to fire repeatedly into this group of WVO members with high powered rifles and shotguns at distances of several yards or less.

Four CWP members died that day, and another a few days later. Others were wounded. Meanwhile, the police arrested two CWP’ers for inciting to riot and interfering with the police.

The CWP chose tactics just as inappropriate to the struggle in the period leading up to this disaster. On July 8th, the Klan, which was trying to build up a following in this part of North Carolina after the fashion of the alt-right in Whitefish, was showing the pro-KKK film “Birth of a Nation” in China Grove, a town not far from Greensboro. The Maoists launched a surprise attack on the screening and sent the Klan scattering. Afterwards, the CWP’ers returned triumphantly to their cars, got their guns, and marched up and down the streets of the small town.

Bob Avakian’s RCP cult-sect was operating in the area as well, competing with Tung’s group for who could come up with more adventurist tactics. When four of their members showed up to confront 50 or more KKK’ers at a library exhibit about the Klan in nearby Winston-Salem, the cops narrowly prevented another massacre. The people who went on to form the Cabral/Robeson collective had been in the RCP at the time. The library confrontation made them decide to leave the group after witnessing “the utter degeneration of the RCP into a band of ultra-left idiots”, something that led them to decide that “the struggle we had been waging to correct its line from the inside for almost a year was hopeless.”

In March, 1979 the CWP began building a “Death to the Klan” conference in Greensboro by passing out this leaflet. Get their proclamation about being opposed to both non-violence and racism, as if the two were equally evil? Sheer madness:

We are against Non-Violence and Racism and for Armed Self-Defense. We should beat the hell out of the Klan wherever we find them! These Dogs have no right to exist! The Klan has no support among the people, only hatred and disgust. In China Grove, the People, helped by the Workers Viewpoint Organization, drove the scum Klansmen into a building and burned their Confederate Flag before their eyes.

Summing up the Greensboro massacre, the Cabral/Robeson Collective wrote words that should be uppermost in the mind of anybody foolish enough to consider emulating the November 3rd disaster:

November 3rd and the sequence of events leading up to it was an exercise in “left” adventurist suicide. Entranced by their fantasies of themselves as revolutionary heroes, the WVO engaged in a wild escapade that was just as successful in achieving their own murders as if they had set out with that purpose in mind. In fact, many people in the Black community as well as the press have raised the possibility that the WVO leadership did have in mind achieving the murder of some of their members either in order to gain publicity or because some of the leaders were police agents.

While I am the last person to urge following Lenin’s party in a dogmatic fashion, it is useful to consider how they dealt with the Black Hundreds, which arguably was the very first fascist organization of the 20th century. This Czarist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic and clerical party was very much in the mold of Italian and German fascism even if it made no effort to adopt “national socialist” rhetoric. They had a militia called the Yellow Shirts that anticipated the Brown and Black shirts of Italy and Germany.

It should be noted, by the way, that the Black Hundreds were vehemently anti-Ukrainian and were just as prone to breaking up meetings of Ukrainian cultural associations as in organizing pogroms against the Jews. It is no coincidence that a newly formed Black Hundreds group exists in Eastern Ukraine, holding rallies that denounce Jews and call for the reestablishment of the Czarist Empire.

Is there any indication that the Russian Social Democracy, either the Bolshevik or Menshevik factions, ever formed militias to take on the Yellow Shirts in the way that the CWP took on the KKK? I invite you to check the Marxist Internet Archives, where you will find nearly zero evidence of that. The Russian Social Democracy fought the Black Hundreds politically in the same way that the good people of Whitefish, Montana took on the alt-right except when the objective conditions had ripened to the point of open revolutionary struggle. In 1905, which was a dress rehearsal for 1917, the socialists of Borisoglebsk circulated a leaflet that stated it was: “starting a subscription for the organisation of armed self-defence, and invites all those whose sympathies do not lie with the government and the Black Hundreds to help in the organisation of self-defence groups with money and arms.”

Of course, those who are operating under the illusion that 2017 USA is similar to Russia in 1905 might try the same approach. However, if you can’t tell the difference between the first month and the ninth month of a pregnancy, you are likely to end up with an abortion.

Speaking of yellow, black and brown shirts, we had a group in the USA during the 1930s that was called the Silver Shirts in homage to the fascist groups that preceded it.

In chapter eleven of “Teamster Politics”, SWP leader Farrell Dobbs recounts “How the Silver Shirts Lost Their Shrine in Minneapolis”. It is the story of how the Trotskyist-led Local 544 of the Teamsters union defended itself successfully from a fascist expedition into the city. Elements of the Twin Cities ruling-class, alarmed over the growth of industrial unionism in the city, called in Silver Shirt organizer Roy Zachary. Zachary hosted two closed door meetings on July 29 and August 2 of 1938. Teamster “moles” discovered that Zachary intended to launch a vigilante attack against Local 544 headquarters. They also discovered that Zachary planned to work with one F.L. Taylor to set up an “Associated Council of Independent Unions”, a union-busting operation. Taylor had ties to a vigilante outfit called the “Minnesota Minute Men”.

Local 544 took serious measures to defend itself. It formed a union defense guard in August 1938 open to any active union member. Many of the people who joined had military experience, including Ray Rainbolt the elected commander of the guard. Rank-and-filers were former sharpshooters, machine gunners and tank operators in the US Army. The guard also included one former German officer with WWI experience. While the guard itself did not purchase arms except for target practice, nearly every member had hunting rifles at home that they could use in the circumstance of a Silver Shirt attack.

Events reached a climax when Pelley came to speak at a rally in the wealthy section of Minneapolis.

Ray Rainbolt organized a large contingent of defense guard members to pay a visit to Calhoun Hall where Pelley was to make his appearance. The powerful sight of disciplined but determined unionists persuaded the audience to go home and Pelley to cancel his speech.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the defense guard members had left their guns at home.

May 6, 2015

Alex Callinicos: propagandist

Filed under: British SWP,Greece,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 5:55 pm

One of the bad habits of the “Leninist” press is its tendency to adopt the journalistic standards of the bourgeois press but putting it at the service of a tacitly leftist agenda. Ultimately it rests on a cherry-picking technique that both Time Magazine and Pravda were famous for. In Time Magazine, you would gather that the USSR was a misery-laden concentration camp and from Pravda you would think that the masses of America were groaning under the weight of capitalist oppression in the 1950s when the economy was rising to new heights and American society was basking in relative contentment. The word for this, of course, is propaganda.

To some extent, the left assumes that cherry-picking is not such a problem because the information it is providing is supposed to balance what you read in the bourgeois press. However, it does become a problem when it serves an ideological agenda that undermines our credibility. For example, there is little doubt that the USSR was making great strides in the 1930s but if you ignored Stakhanovitism, for example, you were functioning as a propagandist rather than a Marxist analyst.

Needless to say, the propagandist impulse is strongest when you belong to a “Leninist” party. When I was a member of the SWP, I would not dare admit in a public gathering that Cuba ever did anything wrong. Now that I am no longer a propagandist, I have no problem calling attention to the fact that Cuba has often compromised its socialist principles when confronted by the need to adapt to foreign policy exigencies that might determine the country’s economic survival. For example, because of the PRI’s nationalist origins that had not been completely extinguished, Mexico stood up for Cuban sovereignty at OAS gatherings. This certainly must have persuaded the Cuban leadership not to attack the Mexican government in 1968 when it was gunning down students in Mexico City.

In a classic example of propaganda, Alex Callinicos has been cherry-picking news reports on SYRIZA to make it look as much as possible like PASOK, the social democratic party that ruled Greece along neoliberal lines after the fashion of British Labour or the French SP. This means that anything that cuts across this ideological agenda has to be either minimized or completely sidestepped.

The most recent example of this is an article titled “Has Syriza reached its moment of truth?” When I read such articles, I wonder whether Callinicos is plagiarizing WSWS.org or the other way around.

The brunt of Callinicos’s attack on SYRIZA is directed at a meeting that Alexis Tsipras had in Cyprus with Egypt’s General al-Sisi, a sign apparently of Tsipra’s going over to the dark side. I would be loath to turn al-Sisi into some kind of litmus test for the left in light of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist’s role in the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013.

On July 5, 2013 the Revolutionary Socialists issued a statement hailing the overthrow of Morsi, describing it as having a significance that “surpasses any participation by old regime remnants, or the apparent support of the army and police.” Really?

A month later, the comrades woke up to reality: “But we have to put the events of today in their context, which is the use of the military to smash up workers’ strikes. We also see the appointment of new provincial governors, largely drawn from the ranks of the remnants of the old regime, the police and generals.”

I should add that some on the left were all too anxious to read the RS out of the movement because they made a mistake in July 2013. “At every stage, the RS sought to subordinate the working class to one or another section of the Egyptian bourgeoisie, in order to block it from developing its own political leadership and organising a conscious political struggle against capitalism and imperialism.”

You can probably figure out who wrote these words, right? It was WSWS.org, the same outfit whose attacks on SYRIZA today are virtually indistinguishable from Callinicos’s.

Once you get past the hysteria over Tsipras meeting with al-Sisi, you discover that it was Cyprus that was the main beneficiary of an economic deal with Egypt, not Greece, as the article cited by Callinicos indicates:

For Nicosia [the capital of Cyprus], energy cooperation with Cairo is a major component of the talks. Egypt has expressed interest in securing natural gas from Cyprus’ Aphrodite offshore field.

Cyprus and Egypt have already signed an EEZ delineation agreement in the hydrocarbon-rich eastern Mediterranean.

In December 2013 the two countries also concluded a treaty on the joint exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves on the median line between the two countries’ respective EEZs.

What is expected from Greece? To avoid joint economic ventures with Egypt because al-Sisis murdered Muslim Brotherhood members? What kind of litmus test is this for countries trying to survive in a capitalist world? Does Callinicos have any idea of how the USSR, even before it became “state capitalist”, reacted to the death of CP leaders in Turkey?

E.H. Carr’s description of these events is essential. He states that Mustafa Kemal decided to eliminate the Communist Party in Turkey that had been constituted as the Green Apple for its ties to a militia called the Green Army primarily made up of peasants that was a contingent of the Kemalist armed forces. On January 6, 1921, the Green Army was brought to heel and its leaders fled to Greece. Kemal next turned his attention to the Green Apple. Carr writes:

Suphi [the CP leader] was seized by unknown agents at Erzerum, and on January 28, 1921, together with sixteen other leading Turkish communists, thrown into the sea off Trebizond — the traditional Turkish method of discreet execution. It was some time before their fate was discovered. [Soviet leader] Chicherin is said to have addressed enquiries about them to the Kemalist government and to have received the reply that they might have succumbed to an accident at sea. But this unfortunate affair was not allowed to affect the broader considerations on which the growing amity between Kemal and Moscow was founded. For the first, though not for the last, time it was demonstrated that governments could deal drastically with their national communist parties without forfeiting the goodwill of the Soviet Government, if that were earned on other grounds.

Now I am not one to advocate this kind of realpolitik but would only say that based on a universal code of conduct, SYRIZA is far less guilty than the Bolshevik leaders Callinicos is so anxious to apotheosize.

Finally we are led to believe that SYRIZA has become part of the “war on terror” because the Cyprus meeting came out with a statement “to jointly combat terrorism and violent extremism for the sake of security in the eastern Mediterranean.” In doing so, it has simply joined the amen chorus at a thousand other leftist websites, including the one I write for. But given all of the difficulties facing Greece, the last thing I expect to see is the Greek military intervening in Iraq or Syria. The only reason this red herring appeared in Callinicos’s article was to tarnish SYRIZA’s reputation, which after all is based on resistance to austerity and not joint exploration of oil fields in the Mediterranean with Egypt. In fact, this article that appears in today’s Financial Times is a much better indicator of SYRIZA’s mettle than all the crap that Callinicos has written:

Financial Times, 5/6/2015
Greece overturns civil service reforms
by Kerin Hope in Athens

The Greek parliament has approved a law proposed by the leftwing Syriza­led government overturning civil service reforms by the previous government aimed at streamlining the country’s inefficient public sector.

The legislation, which was passed on Tuesday night, called for the rehiring of about 13,000 civil servants whose jobs were cut in an overhaul of the public administration agreed with bailout lenders. It also eliminated annual evaluations for civil servants and promotions based on merit.

Giorgos Katrougalos, the leftwing Syriza­led government’s deputy minister for administrative reform, called the measures “a Band­Aid to repair the most extreme injustices and restore legality to the system”.

“This is not our last word, it’s the first step of [administrative] reforms we’re going to make that won’t be neoliberal but will have a social aspect,” he said, without giving details of how his plans to increase the public sector payroll would be financed.

The government rejected claims by opposition lawmakers that the legislation violated the terms of Greece’s current €172bn bailout which requires the country’s government to agree economic measures with creditors before presenting them to parliament. “We aren’t going to consult the institutions [the EU, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund], we don’t have to, we’re a sovereign state,” Nikos Voutsis, the powerful interior minister, told parliament.

The municipal police force, which was disbanded 18 months ago, will be revived and several thousand caretakers at state schools, known as “guards”, are to be rehired.

Almost 600 women cleaners sacked by the finance ministry as a cost­cutting measure are expected to get their jobs back next month. The cleaners, who worked at tax offices around the country, have staged a round­the­clock sit­in for the past 12 months, occupying a stretch of pavement close to the finance ministry building in central Athens after they filed a collective lawsuit claiming unfair dismissal.

“I have a great feeling of satisfaction now that our campaign has succeeded,” said Anna Chrysikopoulou, a tax office cleaner who said she spent several nights a week at the sit­in sleeping in a tent. Mr Katrougalos, a lawyer who specialises in labour disputes, has become a controversial figure in the government.

He was accused soon after his appointment to the cabinet in January of conflict of interest over his involvement in cases of unfair dismissal brought by school guards. Mr Katrougalos denied the allegation, saying other partners in his law firm were representing the school guards. Government officials at the time defended Mr Katrougalos’s appointment on the grounds that his legal specialisation qualified him for the position.

June 26, 2014

Left Forum 2014: panel on post-Chavez Venezuela

Filed under: Left Forum,ultraleftism,Venezuela — louisproyect @ 2:14 pm

This is the fourth in a series of videos I made at the recently concluded Left Forum. I apologize in advance for a brief presence of my bald pate toward the middle of the event for about 10 minutes, which thankfully did not interfere with the audio. A fellow videographer tipped me off about this intrusion and I promise it won’t happen again.

Since the panel included Steve Ellner, I was especially motivated to cover this event. For my money, Steve is the sharpest analyst of Venezuela politics. Period. During the Q&A I commented that despite the fact that I fully supported the process in Venezuela, it seemed appropriate at this point to stop referring to it as “21st century socialism” since there is little likelihood that it will ever lead to the abolition of capitalism. It amounts to a Keynesian type economic program that is committed to the welfare of the masses, something that is inspiring in its own right. Unfortunately, Steve’s reply was not recorded but he made the point that nobody in Venezuela, either on the right or the left, feels that Venezuela is socialist. But what is equally important is the growth of working class institutions of economic and political power that will ultimately clash with capitalist power. This is what explains the sharp clashes in Venezuela now, a focus of the panel presentations that were on a uniformly high level.

This prompts me to say a few words about an article by Chris Gilbert, an American now teaching at a Venezuelan university, that appeared on Counterpunch yesterday. Like many others, particularly among the “Leninists” in the ISO, Gilbert expresses impatience with the Bolivarian process so much so that he invokes the Russian Narodniks as an example of the sort of thing that is necessary in Latin America, including Venezuela.

I am sure that Chris means well but he is a bit confused about the history of our movement, especially when he writes about Marx’s disgust with those who promoted reformism in his name:

Marx himself thought differently. While growing increasingly exasperated by the German Social Democratic party and its ambition to plod (and pact) itself toward a peaceful victory through the tireless accumulation of forces, he found a breath of fresh air in the character of Russian pistol-bearing narodniks whom he called “terrorists.” These folks knew how to live with brio and die with dignity. They had a revolutionary ethic and thought creatively. They read and studied Marx but did not take him to be the last word. Perhaps the twentieth-century figure most like them is the young Fidel Castro.

To start with, Marx was not unhappy with the German party contesting in elections and in other open and legal arenas but with the influence of LaSalle’s ideology on a wing of the party that reflected an opportunist tendency to adapt to the Junkers welfare state taking shape under Bismarck. There is not the slightest hint that Marx proposed “the propaganda of the deed” in Germany. His main goal was to reorient the German party for the need to struggle uncompromisingly against the bourgeois parties until the conquest of power was posed.

Gilbert links to Teodor Shanin’s “Late Marx and the Russian Road” but Shanin’s book based on an analysis of Marx’s letters to the Russian populists has zero to do with shooting Czarist officials. Instead it is an embrace of the idea that the precapitalist peasant communes could form the basis of a revolutionary government that could be the first step in a European-wide proletarian revolution. Marx explained that his focus on Britain’s economic history that proceeded from feudalism to capitalism as a basis for the socialist stage was not a universal template. He thought that the capitalist stage could be skipped entirely.

Chris seems to grasp this to a certain degree when he wrote:

 The narodniks of the People’s Will Party used violence because they did not see history as a linear universal progression in which all must follow the same route. They felt that the Russian people were sitting on potential socialism and socialist potentialities. The violence was the means to release these potentialities.

However, the Narodniks did not use violence in order to skip the capitalist stage. Instead, they did so as a way of inspiring the masses to take revolutionary action. Marx’s thinking was entirely different. He believed that socialists should be part of the mass movement, pushing it to revolutionary conclusions. In contrast, the Narodniks operated in small conspiratorial circles and had little interest in organizing strikes or running for the Duma. In fact it was their very elitist method that led to their legal party becoming a reformist obstacle to socialism—the Social Revolutionary Party of Alexander Kerensky. Terrorism and electoral opportunism went hand in hand.

Chris is fed up with the Latin American left that bases itself on Lenin’s critique of ultraleftism, directed against the immature Communist Parties that were trying to emulate the Bolsheviks. While I have no use for those who cite Lenin’s pamphlet to justify support for bourgeois candidates, it remains a good corrective to boneheaded tactics that isolate the left.

But it would be useful to remind ourselves of what Lenin had to say about the Narodniks, who had little to do with Fidel Castro who ran as an Ortodoxo candidate and who was active in the student movement. Even after he took up arms, the July 26th Movement used every opening afforded it under the Batista dictatorship to mobilize the masses, including repeated attempts to build general strikes through the trade union movement that required reaching out to the CP that had supported Batista in the 1930s and 40s.

For Lenin’s views on the Narodniks, I recommend a look at the 1902 article, aptly titled “Revolutionary Adventurism”:

The Social-Democrats will always warn against adventurism and ruthlessly expose illusions which inevitably end in complete disappointment. We must bear in mind that a revolutionary party is worthy of its name only when it guides in deed the movement of a revolutionary class. We must bear in mind that any popular movement assumes an infinite variety of forms, is constantly developing new forms and discarding the old, and effecting modifications or new   combinations of old and new forms. It is our duty to participate actively in this process of working out means and methods of struggle. When the students’ movement became sharper, we began to call on the workers to come to the aid of the students without taking it upon our selves to forecast the forms of the demonstrations, without promising that they would result in an immediate transference of strength, in lighting up the mind, or a special elusiveness. When the demonstrations became consolidated, we began to call for their organisation and for the arming of the masses, and put forward the task of preparing a popular uprising. Without in the least denying violence and terrorism in principle, we demanded work for the preparation of such forms of violence as were calculated to bring about the direct participation of the masses and which guaranteed that participation. We do not close our eyes to the difficulties of this task, but will work at it steadfastly and persistently, undeterred by the objections that this is a matter of the “vague and distant future.”

That has far more in common with Fidel Castro’s July 26th Movement than the Narodniks of Lenin’s day or sad attempts to emulate them now.


June 29, 2013

Dianne Feinstein joins the staff of the Militant newspaper

Filed under: sectarianism,Trotskyism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 11:22 pm

But there is no push for Big Brother repression. Spying by the propertied rulers isn’t currently directed against the entire population, nor is it primarily aimed today at working-class militants. The data-mining programs Snowden leaked details on are aimed at Islamist-jihadist terrorists.

full: http://www.themilitant.com/2013/7726/772653.html

From 2006, before the SWP became unmoored from the planet earth:

Today, as before, the main targets of the FBI, NSA, and other “homeland security” cops are the unions, Black rights fighters, and other opponents of government policies. The billionaire families that rule the United States through the government and their twin parties—the Democrats and Republicans—know their profit system has entered today a turbulent period of economic depression and wars. They know that in the coming years they must resort to rougher methods against workers and farmers, who will resist the effects of this social crisis. At the same time, they do not face the explosive political conditions of the 1960s and ’70s, generated by the Black rights and related struggles, that imposed restraints on their political police operations.

full: http://www.themilitant.com/2006/7003/700320.html


December 6, 2011

German autonomen: morality police

Filed under: autonomism,black bloc idiots,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 7:56 pm

(Second in the series of posts on the black bloc. The first is here: https://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/11/15/shining-a-light-on-the-black-bloc-part-1-italian-autonomism/)

Although clearly influenced by Italian autonomia, the German autonomen differed in two major respects. First of all, it made much less of an attempt to link itself with the Marxist tradition, even something as heterodox as Toni Negri’s “refusal to work” brand. Secondly, it was much more of a “scene” or a life-style and more particularly a kind of blend of the punk sensibility with ultraleft militancy—sort of half Sid Vicious and half Mark Rudd circa 1970. A rather unappealing mixture in my view.

The other major difference, of course, between the Italians and the Germans is that the latter group gave birth to the black bloc tactic that has become fairly ritualized ever since its introduction in the early 80s. The tactic had always been around in one form or another since the late 70s at least but it took German ingenuity to effectively patent it.

Ironically, it was the German cops who first coined the term referring to the “Schwarzer Block” in a raid in Frankfurt on July 28, 1981 against squatters and other “subversives”. The cops did not view the schwarzer block as a tactic, but as a group even if was ill-defined. In fact it was so ill-defined that charges were eventually dropped against those arrested.

But as pointed out earlier, the tactic predated its naming by the cops and its enshrinement as a permanent tactic by the autonomen. In the late 70s, a wing of the radical movement donned helmets, masks and black clothing when they went out to fight neo-Nazis and the cops. It should be mentioned at this point that such activists had little use for exploiting peaceful demonstrations. There was such a deep hatred toward the German state in this period that the black bloc tactic could summon thousands of activists into battle. Only a few years earlier the Red Army Faction, led by Baader and Meinhof, could count on support that the American Weather Underground could only fantasize about. Fully one out of four Germans supported their activities and one out of ten said they would hide an RAF member from the cops.

Despite his proud identification with autonomism, Georgy Katsiaficas’s treatment of the German movement is decidedly ambivalent in “The Subversion of Politics”. He views the widespread choice of black as a “style” preference rather than an indication of any kind of deep ideological affinity with anarchism:

The black leather jackets worn by many people at demonstrations and the black flags carried by worn by many people at demonstrations and the black flags carried by others signalled less an ideological anarchism than a style of dress and behavior — symbols of a way of life which made contempt for the established institutions and their U.S. “protectors” into a virtue on an equal footing with disdain for the “socialist” governments in Eastern Europe. Black became the color of the political void — of the withdrawal of allegiance to parties, governments and nations.

In a manner somewhat reminiscent of the clash between “mods” and “rockers” in Britain a decade or so earlier, the German left became a battleground between the punkish black leather favoring Mollis (those who threw Molotov cocktails) and the more laid-back hippy types called Müslis, after the breakfast cereal.

The primary arena for struggle by the “molli” faction was defending squats. In places such as the Kreuzberg neighborhood of West Berlin, thousands of empty apartments and stores had become occupied by the autonomen and turned into both places to live and cultural centers embodying their values. On a much smaller scale the same thing happened in the Lower East Side of Manhattan around the same time.

Serving as morality police in Kreuzberg, autonomen activists punished any and all violators of the group ethos as Katsiaficas points out:

In response, autonomous groups seeking to preserve the independence and character of their neighborhoods intensified their attacks on yuppie entrepreneurs, leading to a widespread perception of the Autonomen as little more than neighborhood mafias (Kiezmafia). Seeking to create a “dead zone for speculators and yuppie-pigs,” groups waged a concerted campaign against gentrification in Kreuzberg. They vandalized upscale restaurants catering to professionals — in some cases throwing excrement inside — torched luxury automobiles costing in excess of $40,000, and repeatedly damaged businesses they deemed undesirable.

They were also as set in their ways about culture as the Taliban. When a small theater called Sputnik decided to show the film “Terror 2000”, a low-budget anti-Nazi satire, a group of activists sprayed the projectionist with teargas, and used butyric acid to destroy a copy of the film, which they considered “sexist and racist.” Afterward, they threatened to return and “destroy everything” if the movie was ever screened again.

Katsiaficas is rather mealy-mouthed when it comes to this incident, writing “I find it difficult to fault completely those who attack neo-Nazis and films like Terror 2000 in which gratuitous violence and sexual objectification reproduce within the movement the very values which it opposes.”

I wonder how he would react if some hard-core Albanian Maoists took it upon themselves to visit Dr. Katsiaficas’s office and spray him with teargas because they objected to his autonomist deviations. In general, I don’t think it is very useful for leftists to use violence to suppress ideas they find objectionable.

Apparently, the Kreuzberg autonomists had a big thing about “politically incorrect” movies. In a “Letter from Europe” devoted to the Kreuzberg scene that appears in the November 28, 1988 New Yorker Magazine, Jane Mayer reports on another incident:

The Eiszelt is a little theatre on the Zeughofstrasse that shows underground movies , and last spring it was showing a movie called “Fingered,” directed by a Lydia Lunch, which some Kreuzbergers considered pornographic and some sexist and some violent—although apparently not too pornographic or sexist or violent to have shown a few weeks earlier at a theater in town. Twelve masked men and women broke into the Eiszeit during the movie’s run to deal with “Fingered”. They destroyed the projector, and the film in the projector (which turned out to be some other movie), and then they emptied the cash register and fled.

Supposedly the cash receipts were funneled to either a lesbian feminist or anti-imperialist group, but nobody knew which one.

Mayer goes into considerable depth describing the events leading up to the excrement attack on the “upscale” restaurant mentioned in passing by Katsiaficas. You might get the impression from his use of this word that it was one of those joints reviewed in the NY Times with the $200 per person tasting menu. In actuality, the restaurant—called Maxwell—had much more in common with the sort of places opened up in Park Slope by a husband-and-wife team.

In the case of Maxwell, the husband was Hartmut Bitomsky whose values were decidedly opposed to the Style section of the NY Times. His wife Brigitte loved to cook and decided to open a place on the Oranienstrasse, a main drag in Kreuzberg where autonomist values had to be followed to the letter. Not long after Maxwell opened, the Bitomsky’s discovered that they were on a hit-list. They didn’t have to worry about their lives, but their right to open a restaurant was being decided by the morality police.

Twenty years before the Bitomsky’s opened Maxwell, Hartmut was occupying in protest the German Film and Television Academy in West Berlin which he and seventeen other students renamed the Dziga Vertov Academy in honor of the Soviet documentary filmmaker. He was expelled for his efforts.

That did not prevent him from becoming a major figure in the left film world. He wrote what Mayer described as a book of “Marxist aesthetics” on film that was titled “The Redness of the Red in Technicolor” and began making decidedly uncommercial films in Berlin. Becoming obsessed with “German images” like forests, superhighways and blond braids, he reworked them into a film critique of Nazi totalitarianism. His best known work is “B-52”, a documentary on the bomber that the NY Times reviewer described as follows:

”B-52” has grimly detailed accounts of other broken-arrow accidents in Greenland and Spain. A tour guide talks about the Spanish one while showing off a portion of a bombshell at a museum, and a civilian investigator is seen still checking water samples in Goldsboro for signs of nuclear contamination more than 30 years later, mentioning ”a small piece of a nuclear weapon they were unable to recover.” There are horrific stories about the bomber’s use in Vietnam by veterans of that conflict. When Mr. Bitomsky isn’t being glib and uses his interviews to subtly tear down the wall of propaganda about the plane’s efficacy, ”B-52” is absorbing and clear.

None of the black leather clad morality enforcers cared about any of that. All they knew is that Maxwell typified the Schicki-Micki threat to Kreuzberg, a term that means Mickey Mouse chic. It can be likened to “gentrification” in New York and particularly the “yuppie” threat to the Lower East Side in the 1980s that the local counterparts resented even though they never threatened to drive any restaurants out of the neighborhood. In fact, I was friendly with a French chef named Bernard Leroy, who opened a restaurant on Avenue C, the Lower East Side’s equivalent of Oranienstrasse. (He also had a show on WBAI at the time, when it was still very listenable if not compelling radio.) In 1988, the very year that Mayer filed her report, the NY Times reviewed Bernard’s restaurant:

Slum chic may be the next fad in French bistros, what with the success of Bellevues, the Gallic diner on a tawdry block of Ninth Avenue near 37th Street, and now Bernard Organic French Cuisine, at Ninth Street and Avenue C, a scary, drug-plagued neighborhood that makes the Port Authority Bus Terminal’s environs look like Scarsdale.

The creation of the 31-year-old French-born Bernard Leroy, the year-old restaurant is packed nightly, testimony to the resoluteness of trend-seeking Manhattan diners. Mr. Leroy says he uses organic produce and meats ”as much as possible,” doing most of his shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket. He worked at restaurants in France before moving to New York 10 years ago and taking jobs at the caterer Glorious Food, the SoHo Charcuterie and La Petite Ferme. He chose the Avenue C location because, quite simply, ”I could afford it,” he said.

I believe that most local denizens welcomed Bernard into the neighborhood. Maybe that’s a function of their not having been indoctrinated into proper autonomist values. As far as I can remember, they were also big fans of Lydia Lunch, a resident of the neighborhood, as well.

Brigitte Bitomsky’s sole intention in opening Maxwell was to allow people to eat healthy food, like crisp vegetables and fresh fish with interesting spices, an offense in some eyes equal to nuclear power or gang rapes. The restaurant had one room with seven wooden tables and thirty wooden chairs, simple enough. Their mistake, however, probably was using linen tablecloths and napkins, which surely betrayed support for American imperialism.

They opened for business on Christmas of 1985.

In the summer of 1986, the Bitomsky’s figured out that they had become the “enemy”. After furious fighting between the cops and the “mollis” on May Day and in ensuing months, things had become polarized between the hard core left in Kreuzberg and just about everybody else. On one side you had the autonomen in black leather, on the other side you had people who drove SUV’s, Ronald Reagan, the neo-Nazis and Brigitte Bitomsky’s restaurant. People would stop Hartmut on the street and ask him about the ratio between wages and profits in the restaurant, or its “infrastructure”.

Late one night when there were only four customers in the restaurant, nineteen men and women clad in black leather and wearing Doc Martens stormed into the restaurant, started throwing beer cans and turning over furniture. The Bitomsky’s first reaction was to think that they were dealing with neo-Nazis. Some people who ran a soup kitchen down the street told them that they had been victims of the Redskins, a hard-core autonomist gang. They were advised to offer them payoffs, just as if they were characters in “The Sopranos”.

The Redskins came back on Sunday and instructed the Bitomsky’s that they were going to stand trial. They were denounced by an autonomist Vishinsky who demanded to know: “What are you doing in Kreuzberg? You are destroying the infrastructure of Kreuzberg”. Yes, the poached tilapia was certainly a threat to humanity.

Brigitte told Mayer what happened next:

It was hot, and August, and we had only four customers—plus Hartmut, sitting by the door, waiting, and, of course, the whole world watching. But they took us by surprise when they came. You see, we were watching for motorcycles and boots and bomber jackets, and this time it was different. There were only three of them, to begin with. Three men with dark sunglasses and woolen caps pulled low on their foreheads—and carrying buckets. Three men carrying three buckets full of shit and emptied the shit in my restaurant and then they vanished. At that moment, it was all over. We cleaned up and closed the restaurant for good. Who would ever want to eat at Maxwell again?

I will conclude with Kastiaficas’s insightful take on the blind alley that this movement had marched into. Keep in mind that he is one of the foremost defenders of autonomism in the academy, along with John Holloway.

No matter how heroic its members, the existence of an oppositional movement does not necessarily mean that a new psychological structure has emerged which stands in contrast to the unconscious structures of the old social order. By themselves, combativeness and a constant willingness to fight, are not revolutionary attributes — indeed, they are probably the opposite. Even at a moment when the Autonomen were the only public force in Germany directly to oppose the fascist wave of violence which swept across the country in 1992, fights broke out among those who went to Hoyerswerda to stop the pogrom. Internal dangers are all the more real since there are elements to the Autonomen containing within them the seeds of aggression and destruction. “Punk rules,” once a popular slogan, has counterparts today in equally absurd ideas: “Germany-all downhill now” and “Fire and Flames.” The pure nihilism present to some degree in the movement is expressed in a variety of ways. Indications like the combat boots and black leather jackets worn by many militants can be disregarded as superficial, but equally obvious characteristics of the scene merit attention: a scathing anti-intellectualism, an overt and often unchallenged “male” process of events, and random violent clashes among members of the scene. To put it mildly, the movement often fails to establish peaceful and supportive community, and it also contains a dose of German national pride. Both the Greens and the Autonomen have been widely criticized for focusing too much on the German movement’s needs and not enough on the international movement. On these levels, they have not broken with some of the worst dimensions of their cultural tradition.

When you keep in mind that these are the very people who are widely regarded as the inventors of the black bloc tactic, some deep thinking about its role in mass protests has to take place.

In a series of posts to follow, I will take a close look at what happened in Seattle in 1999 and other landmark battles involving the black bloc.

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