Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

December 12, 2012

Was Che Guevara a Stalinist?

Filed under: cuba,Latin America,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 11:33 pm

Spain Rodriguez and Che Guevara

Working my way at a leisurely pace through Sam Farber’s egregiously wrongheaded “Cuba Since the Revolution of 1959”, I came across this remarkable comparison between Joseph Stalin’s foreign policy and Che’s:

The second major source of Cuba’s foreign policy was the independent Communist perspective of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who according to his biographers was a self-described admirer of Stalin even after Khrushchev’s revelation of the Russian leader’s crimes in 1956. Guevara was an ally of the old Cuba Communists from 1957 to 1960, a decisive period during which the key divisions about the kind of society that would be built in Cuba were made. But after 1960, Guevara’s views and practices began to differ from those of the USSR and the old Cuban Communists on matters of domestic and foreign policy. The Soviet Union and the old Cuban Communists were supporting the “right-wing Popular Front approaches, which as I earlier indicated, were initially developed in the mid-thirties by the Soviet Union and the Communist Parties involving alliances with forces to their right including the “progressive bourgeoisie.” Guevara’s approach was more similar, although not identical, to the far more intransigent and aggressive policies that Stalin adopted during other periods.

I really don’t want to make this article any longer than it has to be so I will not take apart all the factual and analytical errors contained in this excerpt but limit myself to Farber’s observation about Guevara adopting a policy “more similar” to the “the far more intransigent and aggressive policies that Stalin adopted during other periods.” They say that very observant Muslims can be identified by the appearance of a bruise-like marking on their forehead developed through a lifetime of prayer. I sometimes worry that I will develop the same kind of mark through slapping my forehead from reading such Farber howlers. What in god’s name is this professor emeritus talking about? Stalin’s “aggressive” policies? If this is a reference to the “third period”, then aggressive is hardly the operative term. Instead, imbecilic ultraleftism might obtain. There was nothing “aggressive” about the policy of lumping together National Socialism and “social fascism” (in other words, the German Social Democracy).

An obvious obligation for a scholar writing about Che’s foreign policy would be to examine the Organization of Afro-Asian Solidarity, the Tricontinental, or Organization of Latin American Solidarity (OLAS), three groups that reflected both Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s foreign policy outlook. In a 1967 message to the Tricontinental, Guevara said the following:

America, a forgotten continent in the last liberation struggles, is now beginning to make itself heard through the Tricontinental and, in the voice of the vanguard of its peoples, the Cuban Revolution, will today have a task of much greater relevance: creating a Second or a Third Vietnam, or the Second and Third Vietnam of the world.

What in the world does this have to do with Joseph Stalin’s foreign policy (a wonkish term that I only use  to remain consistent with Farber’s Cubanology)? Most people at the time, including members of the Fourth International, recognized this call as a return to the proletarian internationalism of Leon Trotsky (as well as Marx, Engels, and Rosa Luxemburg) even if the practical application of it in Bolivia was poorly thought through.

If you go to the index of Farber’s book, you will find no reference to the Organization of Afro-Asian Solidarity, the Tricontinental, or Organization of Latin American Solidarity (OLAS). As a rule of thumb, anything that inconveniences his ideological agenda gets swept under the rug. Furthermore, despite all his efforts to tarnish Che Guevara as a Stalinist, there is evidence that Farber found the Cuban Communist Party (called the Popular Socialist Party, the PSP) much more “Marxist” than the movement led by Castro and Guevara.

Ironically, although at the beginning of 1959 the PSP was neither popular nor prestigious and Fidel Castro and his Twenty-sixth-of-July movement were monopolizing mass support, the results of the revolutionary process would prove to be much closer to the PSP program than to any other Cuban political group or party.

Last but not least, the PSP was the only significant political force in Cuba that claimed to be socialist or Marxist and therefore stressed the importance of a systematic ideology and program as the basis for the development of strategy and tactics. Its ideology and program were tools used to win ideological support from radicalized Cubans seeking a systematic explanation of the country’s situation. This aspect of the PSP is even more noticeable when contrasted with the antitheoretical and antiprogrammatic stance of the Twenty-sixth-of-July movement.

“The Cuban Communists in the Early Stages of the Cuban Revolution: Revolutionaries or Reformists?”, Latin American Research Review, Vol. 18, No. 1 (1983), pp. 59-83

I want to call your attention to the use of the terms “program” and “ideology” in the excerpt above. They are a dead giveaway that the author is in the throes of what Marxists call idealism. This is not the idealism of boy scouts but of Plato. It is a philosophy that held sway until the mid-19th century when Marx appropriated materialism as a weapon in the class struggle. For Sam Farber the “positions” of the PSP matter much more than its role in the Cuban class struggle as a conservative enemy of the “putschism” of the young rebels. The irony in all this is that Farber got his political training in Max Shachtman’s YPSL, a group that when he joined in 1961 still had some Trotskyist blood flowing in its increasingly hardening arteries.

In September 2011 Jacobin Magazine published an article by James Bloodworth titled “The Cult of Che” that repeats the slander about Che’s Stalinism.

It was here [in Guatemala after Arbenz was overthrown] that Guevara, in his own words, became a communist, or more specifically, a believer in the quasi-religious doctrine of Stalinism: “At which moment I left the path of reason and took on something akin to faith I can’t tell you even approximately because the path was very long and with a lot of backward steps. ”Jorge Castañeda, in Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara, describes how Che, writing to his aunt back in Argentina, had “sworn before a picture of our old, much lamented comrade Stalin that I will not rest until I see these capitalist octopuses annihilated,” signing-off his letters as “Stalin II.”

I have a totally different interpretation of Che’s letter to his aunt. If you were a serious Stalinist in the 1950s, the last thing you would be talking about is seeing “capitalist octopuses annihilated.” The Communist Parties of Latin America were like those everywhere else in the world, committed to class-collaboration. In fact, it was a desire to see these octopuses (do you think that this was the inspiration for Matt Taibbi’s “vampire squid”?) annihilated that drew Che Guevara into the arms of the July 26th Movement despite its failure to adhere to the programmatic points of the PSP. (Now what was it that Karl Marx wrote in a letter to Bracke? Oh, I remember: “Every step of real movement is more important than a dozen programmes.”)

Frankly, I would advise the Jacobin Magazine comrades to think twice about publishing articles by people who have given interviews to Norm Geras, the scabrous British professor emeritus and arch-Islamophobe—as James Bloodworth did in June 2012. I am generally not disposed to applying litmus tests, a hallmark of the Trotskyist movement, but if I were, high up on my list would be Norman Geras’s blog. Getting his approval is the kiss of death.

When asked by Geras what he was reading at the time, Bloodworth responded, “Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I’m quite embarrassed that I haven’t read this already.” One suspects that if Bloodworth had been asked to name his favorite blog, he might have answered Pam Geller’s “Atlas Shrugged.”

Geras’s last question was: If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? Bloodworth replied: “Christopher Hitchens, Che Guevara, Alexander Solzhenitsyn.” If I was sufficiently motivated to do a follow-up with Bloodworth, I might have asked if Che Guevara was going to be the main course or dessert.

As an antidote to these sorts of noxious efflorescence, I can’t recommend Spain Rodriquez’s “Che: a graphic biography” highly enough. Published by Verso in 2008 (edited by the good Paul Buhle), it was sitting on my shelf for the past four years as one in a collection of books I had promised to review.

Spain Rodriguez’s death last week was just the impetus I needed to read the book and pull together some thoughts. For those who knew as little about Spain as I did, there’s an obit by Paul Buhle that should make it obvious why he would have developed a working relationship with the artist:

The whole comix artistic crowd moved to San Francisco around 1970, joining Robert Crumb and a few others already there, part of the acid-rock, post–Summer of Love setting. Underground comix, replicating the old kids-comics format but now in black and white, grew up alongside the underground press, whose reprinting of comix created the market for the books. Crumb was the artist whose work sold the best, in the hundreds of thousands, but Spain was widely regarded as the most political. He was heavily influenced by the most bohemian of the EC comics world, wild man Wallace Wood, whose sci-fi adventures depicted civilizations recovering from atomic war and whose Mad Comics stories assaulted the 1950s commercialization of popular culture. Wood’s dames were also extremely sexy, too overtly sexy for the diluted satire of the later Mad Magazine.

Trashman: Agent of the Sixth International was Rodriguez’s signature saga in these early years, serialized in underground papers, comix anthologies, and eventually collected in comic book form as Subvert Comics. These revolutionaries took revenge on a truly evil American ruling class in assorted ways, many of them violent, but they also had fun and sex, and were subject to many self-satirizing gags, in the process. By the middle 1970s, his work had broadened into more social and historical themes, often with class, sex, and violence highlighting his points. Histories of revolutions and anti-fascist actions (and all their complexities) inspired some of his closest reading of real events, but he had no fixed point on the left-wing scale. He admired and drew about anti-Bolshevist anarchist leader Nestor Makhno also anti-Stalinist Spanish anarchist Durruti, but he also drew about Red Army members facing death fighting the Germans, and so on. (Several of these pieces are now reprinted in Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, an anthology from that 1980s series, just published by PM Press.)

I would argue that if Paul had an affinity for Spain, Spain obviously had one for Che who in many ways was the same kind of eclectic rebel. If Che signed a letter to his aunt “Stalin II”, this by no means precluded him carrying around Leon Trotsky’s “History of the Russian Revolution” (a gift from Regis Debray) in his knapsack in the Bolivian countryside.

And quite frankly, there is a dotted line between Paul and me and through him, Spain and Che as well. Not long after I had decompressed from 11 years of membership in the Socialist Workers Party, I began to draw away from the sorts of “litmus tests” that people like Farber and Bloodworth were wont to impose. Some fifteen years ago or so I became good cyberfriends with Mark Jones, a Briton who was about as pro-Stalin as you can get. He was even brassy enough to defend Stalin’s purge of the Red Army officers’ corps, a position that by the 1960s was only popular among Hoxhaite circles. But it was our shared belief in the need to confront the environmental crisis that made us political allies. The other stuff was secondary.

Turning now to Spain’s book, the conclusion that you will be left with is that Che Guevara was a man of deep principle whose hatred of injustice guided his every step.

che_spain

This page from early in the book is drawn from “The Motorcycle Diary”. It gives you both a flavor of Spain’s amazing graphic capabilities as well as his insight into what made Che Guevara tick. In the top right Che says farewell to a miner and his wife who he met on his way through Chile. He says, “Even if communists are a danger to ‘decent life’ it seems like the natural longing for something better, a protest against persistent hunger.” That says it all, a protest against persistent hunger.

Despite all attempts to either demonize or sanctify Che Guevara, he was simply a product of his generation. Seeing the exploited and oppressed with his own eyes, either on his father’s plantation or “on the road” in Latin America served as a categorical imperative: you must help make the socialist revolution.

Che Guevara called himself “Stalin II” not because he had conducted a meticulous study of the writings of Leon Trotsky versus Joseph Stalin and decided that the ideas of the latter were more correct. The powerful historical momentum that begun just ten years earlier when the Red Army wiped fascism off the face of the earth was the decisive factor. So was the colonial revolution that was to turn the Congo, Algeria and Vietnam into a maelstrom. Che was not a “Stalinist”. He was simply a servant of history.

One of Karl Marx’s most frequently citations is from the 18th Brumaire:

Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.

The problem with people like Farber and Bloodworth is that they are not interested in historical context. Everything takes place in a vacuum that has more in common with a graduate school political science seminar than the beating heart of the class struggle. Che Guevara arrived at his ideas in the same way that millions of young radicals did in the immediate post-WWII era. That period of history came to an end a long time ago. For the radicals of today we have the obligation to identify the progressive historical forces today that are gathering momentum today and help midwife them to victory. About the best thing you can say about Che is that he rose to the occasion. Let us not succumb to the easy temptation in a period of deep reaction to treat him as our enemy. While no revolutionary leader should be mythologized, the martyrdom of Che Guevara was something that should be respected by each and every one of us no matter our ideology.

The Associated Press Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Bolivian President Pays Tribute to Guevara
By CARLOS VALDEZ

LA PAZ, Bolivia — President Evo Morales celebrated the birthday of Che Guevara Wednesday, the first time a top Bolivian leader has paid tribute to the revolutionary who was executed in the Andean nation four decades ago.

Surrounded by Cuban and Venezuelan officials, Morales observed the 78th anniversary of Guevara’s birth, using the occasion to praise his close allies President Fidel Castro of Cuba and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Guevara, an Argentine, launched an armed revolt in 1966 to bring communism to Bolivia after helping lead the 1959 Cuban Revolution that ousted dictator Fulgencio Batista and thrust Castro into power.

He waged a guerrilla insurgency for 13 months in Bolivia but was captured and executed by the Bolivian army at age 39.

Morales flew in a helicopter loaned by Venezuela to the small town of La Higuera– the site of Guevara’s execution– 480 miles southeast of La Paz.

Local children and nearby residents blew out a birthday cake with 78 candles representing how old Guevara would be if were alive.

He said in a speech that a decade ago he had a dream that there would be other Cubas in Latin America.

“I wasn’t wrong,” he said. “Now we do have another commander, colleague Chavez.” He also praised Castro’s Cuba, and he said both leader have shown they unafraid of “the empire,” a reference to the United States.

Since taking office in January, Morales has forged close alliances with Cuba and Venezuela, which have flooded Bolivia –South America’s poorest country– with aid.

Morales thanked Venezuela and Cuba for their aid and said he would make Castro a cake for his next birthday made of coca — the leaf from which cocaine is derived.

The coca leaf has traditional and legal uses in Bolivia although the U.S. has long backed its eradication.

October 2, 2012

Roman Malinovsky biography: part one

Filed under: Malinovsky — louisproyect @ 4:45 pm

Roman Malinovsky

Not long after the Richard Aoki controversy erupted, I got a note from John Plant, a long-time editor of the very fine British journal Revolutionary History, reminding me of a suggestion he had made to the Marxism list that preceded Marxmail. During the course of a flame war in which accusations of being a police agent were being hurled back and forth (ah, the bad old days of Marxism on the Internet), he urged that Ralph Carter Elwood’s short biography of Roman Malinovsky be consulted. Malinovsky was the Bolshevik deputy in the Duma and highly regarded by Lenin. Even after the revolutionaries arrested him, Lenin continued to insist that he did more good than harm.

I thought that this biography was worth scanning and posting, so today begins part one—the prologue and chapter one. If anybody needs information on the footnotes, please check with me privately at lnp3@panix.com.

Roman Malinovsky: A life without a cause
Oriental Research Partners
Newtonville, Mass. 1977

PROLOGUE

In the late afternoon of 8 May 19141 R.V. Malinovsky, the leader of the Bolshevik fraction in the Fourth State Duma, walked into the office of M. V. Rodzianko and abruptly handed in his resignation to the Duma chairman. That evening, armed with a foreign passport and a revolver, he disappeared abroad without giving any explanation for his unexpected action. In doing so, he precipitated the greatest political crisis the Bolsheviks were to face between January 1910 and the July Days of 1917. Not only was Malinovsky the leading Bolshevik in the Duma, he was also a member of V. I. Lenin’s Central Committee, the head of the Committee’s Russian Bureau, its representative-designate to the International Socialist Bureau, and the party’s watchdog on police penetration into revolutionary ranks. Next to G. E. Zinoviev and L. B. Kamenev, he was Lenin’s closest political confidant between 1912 and 1914, his frequent visitor in Galicia, and his travelling companion on several trips to western Europe. Malinovsky’s principal loyalty, however, was not to Lenin but rather to the tsarist secret police to whom he supplied information on all aspects of party life. Rumors of Malinovsky’s dual employment, which had circulated privately as early as 1910, appeared in the Menshevik and right-wing press after his disappearance in 1914 as well as in the Duma chambers during the war.

While acknowledging that Malinovsky’s unauthorized resignation had “put him outside the ranks of organized Marxists,” Lenin nevertheless chose to defend the “political honesty” of his colleague and to attack his Menshevik detractors on the basis of information given before a mock tribunal in 19142 even though these actions cost him the support of less credulous Bolsheviks and called his own honesty   into   question.  Less than five weeks before  the February Revolution, the Bolshevik leader rehabilitated Malinovsky on the pages of Sotsial-demokrat for services rendered the party’s cause during the war.3 It was thus with no little embarrassment that he and Zinoviev acknowledged their mistaken judgment before the Extraordinary Investi-gatory Commission of the Provisional Government which in May and June of 1917 presented the Russian public with incontrovertible evidence of Malinovsky’s provocation. The final act of this strange drama was played out in October 1918 when Malinovsky returned voluntarily to Soviet Russia, requested that he be tried for his past conduct, and was duly executed in the early hours of 6 November.

The story of Roman Malinovsky is not new. It dominated the Social Democratic press in May and June 19144 and it received considerable attention again when the tsarist police archives were opened in 1917.5 Vladimir Burtsev, the self-appointed socialist counter-espionage specialist before the revolution, told varying accounts of Malinovsky’s career on at least nine occasions in the Russian and emigre press during and after the war.6 Bertram Wolfe, using Burtsev and the Investigatory Commission as his chief sources, made the story accessible to English readers in 19457 and Grigorii Aronson reviewed much of the evidence in 1962.8 Recently David Anin has given cursory attention to Malinovsky’s curious relations with Lenin.9 These accounts, however, err occasionally in detail and differ considerably in interpretation. Moreover, many of the most intriguing questions, both of a personal and a political nature, remain inconclusively answered. What was Malinovsky’s family and educational background? What were the circumstances which led him to become an agent provocateur? Why did Lenin place so much confidence in him in 1912 and defend him so strenuously in 1914? Why did the Russian secret police (the “Okhrana”) choose to fire their most successful agent in 1914? Why did Malinovsky return voluntarily to Russia in 1918? Can some of the answers to these questions be found in the recent assertion1 ° that Malinovsky was allegedly a double agent working in the first instance and with Lenin’s prior knowledge for the Bolsheviks rather than the police and then found expendable after the revolution? Quite obviously these answers are of considerable significance to anyone seeking to understand the psychology of a provocateur and the modus operandi of the Russian secret police. They also cast interesting light on the Bolsheviks success in surpassing their Menshevik rivals and in intensifying unrest in Russia on the eve of the war. Above all, an elucidation of Lenin’s relationship with Malinovsky provides valuable clues as to the personality and motives of the first Soviet leader as well as of his one-time protege.

Despite four formal investigations into the “Malinovsky Affair,” much of the crucial evidence needed to answer these questions is not and probably never will be available. The records of Lenin’s 1914 tribunal, which supposedly ran “many hundreds of pages” and which he promised to publish,11 were left behind in Galicia when the war broke out and presumably lost.12 The work of the Mensheviks’ “Commission of Inquiry” formed on the eve of the war was soon overtaken by greater events and is known only through a four-page police report of its deliberations.13 Much of the hastily collected material from police archives and the testimony of former tsarist officials presented to the Provisional Government’s Extraordinary Investigatory Commission in 1917 is incomplete, self-protective or contradictory. Lenin’s own testimony, as well as that of Zinoviev, has never been printed in full 14 and several key witnesses were not called before the Commission. And finally, only the charges against Malinovsky, a resume of his alleged confession, and the prosecutor’s concluding speech to the High Revolutionary Tribunal which condemned the provocateur to death in 1918 have been published by the Soviet authorities. 15

Nevertheless, largely overlooked sources of information also exist which complement the sketchy reports of these investigations and cast interesting light on the rise and fall of Roman Malinovsky. The journals of the Metalworkers Union16 provide otherwise unobtainable details about his rise to prominence in St. Petersburg before 1910. The pages of the contemporary party press,17 which initially whetted my appetite for Malinovsky, contain the fullest picture of his fall from power in 1914. In recent years the Hoover Institution has made available the vast holdings of the Paris office of the Okhrana which is a rich lode for nuggets of information concerning Russian police operations in general.18 Hoover moreover houses the papers of the late B.I. Nicolaevsky, the biographer of the great spy Evno Azef, who also was deeply interested in Malinovsky19 And even Soviet scholars, who for more than forty years sought to ignore the inherent problems of Lenin’s close relationship with a police agent, have shown a new interest in Malinovsky. Concerned that their Western counterparts, “skilled in the falsification of the history of the CPSU, have popularized the mendacious version that the Bolsheviks knew about Malinovsky’s police activities” before 1917, 20 Soviet authorities have allowed the publication for the first time of a number of Lenin’s letters 21 as well as a few secondary accounts dealing with the affair.22

The following biography then is a re-examination of Malinovsky’s life and times in light of these newspaper reports, archival collections, and recent Soviet scholarship. It is left to the reader to decide whether I, like Lenin, have in any way “rehabilitated” Russia’s “greatest agent provocateur since Azef.”23 It is hoped that at least his background, motives and talents as well as his abundant weaknesses will be made more comprehensible.

CHAPTER ONE

“TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY”

Roman Vatslavovich Malinovsky was born in the village of Gladova in Plock Guberniia of Russian Poland on 18 March 1876. His parents were Polish by nationality, Roman Catholic by religion, and peasants by occupation. Or so it seems to the historian culling through the records of a century ago. Unfortunately, these basic facts about Malinovsky’s origins, like so much else concerning the first thirty years of his life, are in dispute. This confusion was in part caused by Malinovsky himself who, in an attempt to hide unattractive aspects of his past or to improve upon his humble origins, altered on occasion his biographical data to suit the circumstances.1

That he was Polish, there is no doubt. Many observers in later years commented on the fact that he spoke with a Polish accent and wrote Russian with a disdain for the usual rules of spelling and grammar.2 On at least two occasions, when his Russian house of cards was collapsing around him, he sought safety and obscurity in familiar Polish cities. His nationality, however, never affected his political outlook and he never championed Polish causes. Nor did his religion have a lasting impact since, as an adult, he professed to be a militant atheist. This creed, which might have been appropriate for a confirmed Marxist, did not sit well with his staunchly Roman Catholic wife Stefania. According to one account, it put her under “great emotional stress” even to the point of attempting suicide.3

Malinovsky was later to claim that his parents were in fact szlachta-members of the Polish landed gentry—rather than poor peasants.4 Even Pravda, commenting on his election to the Duma in 1912, noted that he came from a “comparatively prosperous Polish family.”5 If this assertion were indeed true (it is in fact contradicted by all Duma, police and Soviet biographical notes on Malinovsky6), then he was the black sheep of the family and one who did not follow the usual educational, vocational and social paths of the gentry. Malinovsky was closer to the truth when he appealed to the class consciousness of his Soviet jurors in 1918 by asserting that he was orphaned at an early age by the death of his peasant parents and thus spent much of his youth wandering from place to place? Like many of this era before the advent of vaccines, he was struck during childhood by smallpox which left his face badly scarred and gave him a rather fierce visage. As an orphan, his education was limited to what he could pick up in the various houses in which he lived. Forced to earn a livelihood, he became a tinker, a jack of all trades who earned what he could where he could without possessing any particular skill. For several years he worked in Germany and then returned to Poland where he finally became a tailor’s apprentice.

Such an existence was not easy and Malinovsky, who was never very scrupulous about where he obtained his funds, sometimes resorted to theft to supplement his income. On one occasion, as he later admitted, he and several friends broke into a house and stole some food and a small amount of money.8 These activities in due course came to the attention of the police and in 1894, 1896 and again in 1899 he had to answer for his actions in court.9 Almost all Western historians maintain that he was also found guilty of rape, attempted rape or “abuse of a minor” during this period. The only confirmation of this charge in contemporary or police accounts, however, is Lenin’s testimony in 1917 that Malinovsky felt in 1914 he “could no longer hide his personal history” and had thus left the Duma. “This personal history was connected with a woman’s honor and took place long before his marriage.”10 This story, which perhaps was itself a figment of Malinovsky’s fertile imagination so as to hide his common crimes from Lenin, was picked up by a Russian emigr6 during the 1930’s and transformed into a case of rape and made part of the Malinovsky legend.11

For his more ordinary crimes Malinovsky was sentenced to three years imprisonment in 1899. Upon completing his term in 1902 and in an attempt to start a new life, he enlisted in the Izmailovsky Guards Regiment. But to do so he had to use an assumed name and a relative’s passport.12   It is this attempt to wipe out his questionable past which undoubtedly explains the differences often encountered in the date and place of Malinovsky’s birth as well as in some of the facts of his early years. Details about his military service are singularly lacking other than that he rose to the rank of lance corporal and volunteered for Far Eastern duty during the Russo-Japanese War.13

In 1906 Malinovsky showed up as a civilian in St. Petersburg. He was out-of-work but it was reassuring to him that few people in the Russian capital knew of his Polish past. St. Petersburg was then a city in turmoil. The revolution of the preceding year, while ultimately unsuccessful, had badly shaken the economic and political establishment of old Russia. Reluctantly and only under pressure of revolutionary events, the tsar had had to approve the convening of Russia’s first parliament or Duma and to permit the formation of trade unions to protect the economic interests of the industrial workers. Even though he eventually made his name inside the Duma, it was the latter concession which first offered Roman Malinovsky a chance to display his manifold talents.

After some hunting, he finally found a job as a lathe operator at the Langenzipen Factory. His real interests, however, lay in helping to unionize the steelworkers in the capital. These workers, employed at large industrial plants such as the Putilov Works and the Lessner Factory, had a reputation of being the most politically conscious and militant of the Petersburg proletariat. They had reason to be: their hours of work were long, their pay was low, their living conditions were unsanitary and working conditions unsafe. These men who were often embittered, lonely and dis¬illusioned ex-peasants — had been active in the great general strike of October 1905 and were to play a crucial role in the revolutions of 1917. The group which unified them was the Metalworkers Union which had grown up spontaneously and illegally in 1905.

Malinovsky soon found himself on the workers committee at Langenzipen and on 30 April 1906 was delegated to attend the constituent meeting of the city-wide union. By mid¬summer he had become the secretary of the union’s Petersburg raion (district) section where “he quickly familiarized himself with the tasks at hand, worked his way up and soon entered the central Directorate” of the Metalworkers Union.14 There he showed himself to be “a capable and forceful worker . . . with the power to gain the confidence of the workers.”15 Early in 1907 he was elected secretary of the sixteen-man Directorate, one of the two most important positions in the entire union and one which brought with it a monthly salary of 50 rubles plus expenses.16 As full-time secretary of the Directorate, it was his job “to support relations with all raions, to be in charge of the protocols of the Directorate and [meetings of] the all-city council of delegates, and to make reports on the activity of the Directorate.”17 He also served on the union’s financial, organizational and judicial commissions and for a short time took over the onerous job of union treasurer after five other men had declined the position.18

Almost all who came into contact with Malinovsky during these years were impressed by his enthusiasm and capacity for hard work. “His energy, seemingly, was inexhaustible. With the same fervor he took over the responsibility of leading strikes and the tedious work of building the [trade union] organization. One day he would hurry to a distant raion to attend a delegates council, the day following he would take part in a discussion of a commission of the Directorate on some detailed organizational plan.”19 “Malinovsky was the soul of the union,” wrote one former Menshevik, “and did much to develop and strengthen the union. To a remarkable degree the union was obliged to him for its solidarity and the growth of its central apparatus. Under his leadership, the first cadre of young union workers was trained.”20

Malinovsky even tried his hand at journalism. For a while during 1906 and 1907 he was on the editorial board of the union’s bi-weekly organ, Rabochii po metallu, and he helped to organize a short-lived national trade union journal, Vestnik professional’nogo dvizheniia.21 It is difficult to gauge either the quantity or the quality of his writing since most of his articles appeared unsigned.22 One editorial colleague noted, however, that “his stories weren’t all that bad” even though they showed distinct signs of his Polish origins.23

In 1908 Malinovsky began to expand his activities outside the Metalworkers Union. He became an active member of the “Commission on Workers’ Questions” set up by the Social Democratic fraction in the Third Duma to prepare draft labor legislation24 and he represented his union at the First Congress of Cooperative Institutions in Moscow. In April 1909 he served in the same capacity at the First Congress of Factory Doctors. By then his abilities were sufficiently recognized that he was named to the presidium of the workers delegation and nominated for the chairmanship of the delegation.25 He also delivered reports at the congress on “Medical Help in St. Petersburg Factories” and “Insurance for Invalids and the Elderly.”26 “He made a strong impression even on those [delegates] not of his own political persuasion with his oratorical skill and also with his solid preparation. He was the first of the trade unionists to study the insurance problem and had circumstances been different he probably would have become one of the leading ‘practicals’ in this area.”27

But by 1909 the situation within the Metalworkers Union was deteriorating rapidly. Much of the blame rested with the government which sought to curtail the rights it had been forced to grant four years earlier. The “period of Stolypinist reaction,” as Stalinist historians christened the era from mid-1907 to 1912, witnessed the repression of all forms of worker organizations. Membership in the Metal-workers Union, which had once stood at more than 11,300, declined to less than 3,700 by the second half of 1909 and only a sixth of these paid their dues.28 Total income, Malinovsky reported on 27 September, was down by 40 per cent from a year previous.29 Metalworkers participated in only fifteen strikes between 1908 and 1910 and only one of these was even partially successful.30 May Day went unobserved and the union’s journal, which had already been suppressed four times by the authorities, now came out only once a month. Worker apathy inevitably increased as the union became less visible and more inactive.

This decline cannot be attributed to Malinovsky. He continued to work as hard as ever and, by personal example, served as a strong counterforce to the apathy of others.31 But inside the Directorate relations had become strained. Embezzlement complicated an already difficult financial situation.32 Malinovsky was accused of trying to undermine the chairman of the union, A.O. Iatsynevich, for factional reasons and of forcing many of the intelligentsia out of leading positions.33 His colleagues, while respecting his organizational abilities, did not choose to form close personal relationships with him. It seemed to some that he was too vain, too ambitious, too quick to lose his temper when decisions went against him.34 There also were complaints that he was too extravagant; indeed, Malinovsky had to borrow 60 rubles from the union in October 1909 to pay personal expenses.35 These personality differences, which had not seemed important during the heady days of expansion, now were magnified as disillusionment and reaction set in.

On 15 November 1909 the police resolved these internal problems and perhaps changed the course of Malinovsky’s career by arresting him and eleven other worker delegates attending a preparatory meeting prior to the Temperance Congress in St. Petersburg. For the next two months he was held in jail and then released but forbidden to live in the capital city. Malinovsky attended his last meeting of the Metalworkers Directorate in late January 1910 at which time he asked to be relieved of all his offices.36 After three formative and important years as union secretary, his departure went unnoted by either the executive or its journal. The workers at a Petersburg raion meeting, however, applauded when he appeared on their stage for the last time.37

The next two years represented the doldrums of Malinovsky’s life when he drifted about trying to decide in which direction to proceed. For good reason he did not return to his native Poland after being exiled from St. Petersburg but went instead to Moscow. “In Moscow,” as one Menshevik correspondent later recalled, “Malinovsky’s activities were of necessity narrowed down.”38 One suspects that he probably tried to pick up where he had left off in the capital — as a metalworker and trade union activist. Jobs, however, were hard to find in 1910, especially for someone who was politically suspect, and in all likelihood Malinovsky joined the growing ranks of Moscow’s unemployed. Nor could he find a salaried position in the trade union apparatus since the few remaining associations were in even worse shape than those in St. Petersburg.39 For a time he was involved in the cooperative movement but here too administrative restrictions and economic depression did not give a man of Malinovsky’s energy and enthusiasm much freedom of action. While he helped to plan the Second Congress of Factory Doctors and chaired the Social Democratic delegation to it, this relative inactivity in Moscow must have been a psychological letdown as well as an economic hardship for Malinovsky after three years of power and prestige and a steady income inside the Metalworkers Union. It seemed that his promising life as a respected “practical” was at an end.

Another direction in which he might have turned was toward active involvement in the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. The RSDRP always had had room for a man of Malinovsky’s organizational talents and drive. Local party secretaries, who usually were in short supply, in normal times drew a salary of 25 rubles for full-time party work. Malinovsky, moreover, had become a valuable political commodity. “Everyone knew,” wrote Lenin, “that with his political background and talents Malinovsky could have played an important role in any political group.”40

Malinovsky had in fact been involved with “political groups” for some time prior to 1910 but precisely when, with whom and to what extent is unclear. The Provisional Government claimed in 1917 that he had first been attracted to “progressive workers circles” in 1901-1902, i.e., at the time he was released from prison.4′ Whether these “progressive circles” were made up of Polish revolutionaries, as one emigre biographer has claimed,42 or of Russian Social Democrats as Pravda asserted43 is uncertain and in either case his political involvement as a soldier was probably minimal.44 Lenin has dated Malinovsky’s active association with Social Democracy from 1906 but he fails to mention whether he was then a Menshevik or a Bolshevik.45 Zinoviev, who was in St. Petersburg at this time, and Krylenko, who prosecuted Malinovsky for the Bolsheviks in 1918, both claim that he was initially a Menshevik.46 The Mensheviks, on the other hand, maintain that before 1910 “he was a Bolshevik by conviction.”47 Most of those associated with him in the Metalworkers Union support the Menshevik assertion. Bulkin-Semenov, for instance, remembered that Malinovsky was “attracted to Bolshevism under the direct influence” of his fellow union leader and future President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Kalinin. Together they supposedly kept the union from “going the way of opportunism” and counteracted the Menshevik tendencies of chairman Iatsynevich.48

Malinovsky himself claimed in 1918 that while he was a Social Democrat during his St. Petersburg period, “he did not have sufficient contact with [party] politics and did not enter a factional circle” before 1910.49 This is probably closest to the truth. Many Social Democrats, especially those in trade unions, abhorred emigre factional politics and sought to maintain a non-factional posture and a unified party organization in the face of schismatic attempts from abroad. Malinovsky reflected this when he spoke out in support of trade union unity in 1908 after some emigre Bolsheviks sought to gain special representation within the Directorate of the Metalworkers Union and again in 1909 when they sought to split the workers delegation to the First Congress of Factory Doctors.50

Malinovsky continued to exist with a foot in both factional camps after he arrived in Moscow.51 He impressed many party members with whom he came into contact. Cecilia Bobrovskaya, a Bolshevik activist in Moscow, remembered him as a “very intelligent, very experienced metalworker, with a good command of language, able to debate; a man of strong temperament, perhaps a little too self-confident, but nevertheless a man who could not fail to attract attention; a commanding personality in all respects.”52 Another person Malinovsky impressed was V. P. Nogin, a member of the party’s Central Committee. Nogin, who as a ‘conciliator’ Bolshevik sought to unite the various underground factions, was in Moscow trying to reconstruct the Russian Bureau of the Central Committee along the unitary lines suggested by the January 1910 Plenum.53 He had worked with Malinovsky at the Congress of Cooperative Institutions in 1908 and obviously felt that the latter’s non-factional approach and demonstrated leadership abilities well qualified him for responsible party work. In normal times this might have been with the Moscow Committee but during the years of reaction the Committee and most of its subordinate bodies were virtually non-existent.54 Nogin therefore skipped a stage   in the usual path of party development by proposing in April 1910 that Malinovsky be coopted directly to the Russian Bureau.55 Before this could happen, however, both Nogin and Malinovsky were arrested.

A year and a half later, in November 1911, another influential Moscow Bolshevik, Vera Lobova, went one step further in suggesting that Malinovsky be elected to the new all-Bolshevik Central Committee which Lenin proposed to create at the forthcoming Prague Conference.56 The Bolshevik leader, who had not yet met Malinovsky but knew of “his reputation for being one of the leading activists in the workers movement, the [former] secretary of the Metalworkers Union, about whom even Menshevik circles spoke well,”57 promptly issued instructions that this promising worker be sent posthaste as a delegate to his Conference.58 By then, however, it was too late for Malinovsky to become a true professional revolutionary. He had in the meantime found another, rather different, career.

Some nineteen months earlier, on 13 May 1910, Malinovsky had been arrested while walking down a street in Moscow. Even though his room was searched without finding incriminating evidence, he was taken to police headquarters to be charged with having engaged in revolutionary activity. During the course of his interrogation, which went on well into the next morning, gendarme officer V. G. Ivanov reminded him of his criminal past and suggested in passing that he might well find regular employment through collaboration with the police more attractive than hard labor in a prison camp. Malinovsky was receptive but asked to speak with P. P. Zavarzin, the head of the Moscow Okhrana section, who spelled out the details: his freedom and a salary of 100 rubles a month in return for being a secret agent of the Okhrana.59

The deal was indeed tempting. Malinovsky, who had developed some expensive tastes, had a wife and two children to support; he in all likelihood was unemployed; and he had been unable to find a suitable administrative position in either the debilitated trade union or the equally weak party apparatus in Moscow. Nothing in his past would indicate that he was a man of principle or that he had scruples about the sources of his income. And while he was a member of the party, he had no particular commitment to the schismatic policies of Russian Social Democracy. Moreover, Malinovsky was an opportunist. In the immediate aftermath of 1905, trade unionism seemed to offer a future and he had enjoyed the prerogatives which his secretarial position had offered. Now trade unionism was in decay, reaction had apparently triumphed. Perhaps its defenders could offer a new future. Zavarzin concluded, after Malinovsky had bought his freedom, that “adventurism, financial considerations and vainglory” had all played a part in his decision.60

The mere fact that Malinovsky knew enough about police operations to ask to see Zavarzin raises the question of whether he was a stranger to the Okhrana. Quite possibly he was not, but again the evidence is inconclusive. While the Soviet government in 1918 did not officially charge Malinovsky with acts of provocation before 1910, his prosecutor accused him of volunteering information to the St. Petersburg Okhrana about unrest in the Izmailovsky Regiment some eight years earlier.61 According to press reports of police testimony before the Extraordinary Commission in 1917, this association was renewed in 1907 when the Okhrana began to receive odd tips by telephone or by letter from a worker identified as “Ernest.”62 For this they allegedly paid 25 to 50 rubles depending on its value. Malinovsky’s wife later confirmed that her husband had been approached by the police while in St. Petersburg63 and both his prosecutor in 1918 as well as most Western historians since then have accepted the fact that he was a casual informer before 1910.64 It should be noted, however, that this particular police testimony was not repeated in the extensive stenographic reports of the Investigatory Commission; indeed, it seems to be contradicted.65 Moreover, Malinovsky’s former colleagues in the Metalworkers Union, writing in the 1920’s after the files had been opened and when there was no need to defend his reputation, maintain that his police work began only after he involuntarily left the union.66

Be that as it may, when Malinovsky finally emerged from his Moscow jail on 23 May 1910, he carried with him the police code name of “Portnoi” (“Tailor”). This was a reminder of a past which he could not escape. After having been a tinker and a tailor, a soldier and a steelworker, he at last had found his calling as a spy. “There was one factor which made Malinovsky many times more dangerous than other provocateurs,” concludes one recent Soviet historian, and that is “he was endowed with outstanding ability.”67

December 20, 2011

Vaclav Havel and the struggle for socialism in Czechoslovakia

Filed under: Czechoslovakia,democracy,Stalinism — louisproyect @ 5:12 pm

Somehow I find the unctuous outpouring over Vaclav Havel far more off-putting than anything said about Christopher Hitchens. With Hitchens, you at least got the impression that he enjoyed being a prick. With Havel, you got the same kind of overpowering sanctimoniousness you get with religious figures. Keeping that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Havel was close to the Dalai Lama, another snake-oil salesman.

To understand Havel, you have to go back to the beginning of Czech socialism that is a bit more complicated than is usually portrayed in the bourgeois press. While the general consensus among the anti-Stalinist left is that Eastern Europe was turned into “satellite states” of the USSR after WWII, Czech reality is far more complex.

After British imperialism decided to sell out Czechoslovakia through Neville Chamberlain’s infamous deal, respect for the Western “democracies” declined precipitously and admiration for the USSR grew rapidly. Under Nazi occupation, the CP underground fought heroically as well. Unlike the situation in France, this occupation was unimaginably brutal resulting in the death of up to 55,000 Czechs in concentration camps or through execution. Last August I reviewed Protektor, a very good film dramatizing the assassination of Reinhold Heydrich and the repression that followed. Now available from Netflix, the film captures the period well.

So it is no surprise that Edvard Benes, the left social democrat Prime Minister who was ousted by the Communists in 1948, amounted to a “friend of the Soviet Union”. In a 1943 visit to the USSR, Benes found himself “amazed at the tremendous progress that he found and saw in it confirmation of his belief that the Soviet system, having successfully withstood the difficult test of a massive invasion, was now passing through a gradual transformation to a liberalized form of socialism.” In a nutshell, Benes can be compared politically to fellow travelers of the USSR found in the USA during the New Deal.

Additionally, Czechoslovakia had the largest indigenous Communist movement anywhere in Europe before WWII. In free parliamentary elections held on May 26, 1946, the CP won 38 percent of the vote nationwide and the Social Democrats received an additional 13 percent. So we are not exactly talking about socialism imposed at the point of a bayonet.

While signing a decree to nationalize land and factories, Benes also sought to placate the west as a buttress against Soviet power. He didn’t understand that a rising anticommunist mood in Washington would effectively preclude this. Benes was perceived as being too friendly to the USSR and too radical. Hence the decision by Secretary of State James Byrnes to annul a $50 million credit to Czechoslovakia in 1945. Even after a poor harvest in 1947, the US Embassy in Prague maintained a policy of “no food and no loans” to Czechoslovakia. In essence, the country would either have to align itself with the United States or the Soviet Union.

The model of a restive population seeking to break the chains of socialism and opening the doors to multinational corporations has little to do with Czech realities. In fact, the first open revolt against the Stalinist bureaucracy was mounted in the name of “socialism with a human face”.

In the late 60s, the opposition to Soviet-style repression was not inspired by Hayek or Ayn Rand. The students and intellectuals who provided an informal vanguard were more likely to be readers of Ernest Mandel or Herbert Marcuse. In Yugoslavia, students occupied the universities raising the banner of “For a Red University”. In Czechoslovakia, the slogan was not quite so bold but it certainly expressed a desire to create a system that retained popular control over the economy.

Under Alexander Dubcek, there was a Prague Spring in 1968 that was very much in sync with the student movements of the West. In 1967 a group of writers, including Milan Kundera, threw their support behind members of the Communist Party who were ready to challenge the old way of doing things. In April of 1968, Dubcek announced an Action Programme that would have transformed the country. Politically, it stressed democratic rights of the sort that were once understood as consistent with socialism. Economically, it advocated a more market-driven approach not that different from what existed during the NEP.

Ironically, when Fidel Castro made his speech in 1968 describing Russian intervention as a necessary evil to stamp out an imperialist plot, the very “liberal” measures he was condemning in Czechoslovakia were exactly the same that he and his brother would be pursuing today.

Despite widespread support for socialism early on, the ruling CP did everything it could to dampen the people’s spirit. Even when other Eastern European CP’s were loosening their grip after Stalin’s death, the Czechoslovak CP stuck to its hidebound ways. It was committed economically and culturally to the worst abuses of the Stalin era. As is usually the case, the intelligentsia was the first segment of the population to grow restive.

Another film is useful in understanding the vise-like grip with which the CP held society captive, namely Costa-Gravas’s “The Confession” which dramatizes the Slansky trial of 1952. Rudolf Slansky was a Jewish CP’er who was put on trial for thought crimes in the same manner as the Moscow trials of the 1930s. Charged as “Trotskyist-Zionist-Titoist-bourgeois nationalist traitors, spies, and saboteurs, enemies of the Czechoslovak nation, of its People’s Democratic order, and of Socialism”, Slansky and other victims of Stalinist injustice were executed.

The purpose of these trials was exactly the same as it was under Stalin, to cower the population into silence. Even the intelligentsia, especially the writers who would later on rebel against such madness, was pressured into supporting the regime. Dusan Hamsik, a leader of of Writer’s Union that was in the vanguard of the Prague Spring, wrote: “In those days it was the writers themselves who were their own best censors; the few who thought differently never offered their words for publication — indeed never committed them to paper in most cases. For it was unthinkable that any discordant voice should raise itself.”

A bit of a thaw took place in 1962, largely as a result of economic difficulties. As is so often the case, when a Stalinist government finds it difficult to deliver the goods, it will ease up a bit in order to allow the population to blow off steam. But to make sure that his subjects did not go too far, the dictator Novotny warned:

We will not allow this decadent capitalist culture to be propagated in our society, and we will not allow the socialist system, won in hard struggles, to be attacked in various ambiguous terms in the television and often also in the theatre … we need criticism … but let no one dare touch our Communist Party, its program, or our socialist system. This must be sacred, and it must stay sacred for all … the Party maintains the right to direct cultural activity, the same as it directs and manages the entire life of the country.

Novotny was also deeply concerned about the decadent cultural influences that the West was having on Czechoslovak youth, sounding very much like the preachers denouncing Elvis in the USA: “all right, let them dance, but we will not permit these modern dances to degenerate into vulgarisms and thus actually cultivate dark lusts in our people.”

Unlike any other country in Eastern Europe, the Czech intelligentsia was disproportionately represented in the CP. This meant that when the reform-oriented faction in the party led by Dubcek sought to renovate the system, the program was a mixture of political liberalization that everybody could support and economic measures geared to the market. The working class embraced the former and held an open mind about the latter.

In December 2008, Andy Kilmister wrote an article for International Viewpoint, the magazine of the Mandelista Fourth International, titled “The `Prague Spring’ and the `Prague Autumn’” that is a must-read for understanding what happened.  It reveals that although the workers might have been sitting on the fence in the economic debate between Novotny supporters and the new government, they swung sharply against the Soviet invasion in a revolutionary manner:

Between 1 October and the end of 1968, 260 further workers councils were created, with the trade unions playing a leading role in initiating this development 17. In January 1969 a national meeting in Plzeň of councils and preparatory committees representing 890,000 employees (over a sixth of the workers in the country) took place and `thereafter, the workers’ movement sheltered the political left as the ČKD-Vysočany plant had sheltered the secret August congress’.

The agreement with the metal workers on 19 December was followed by agreements in January 1969 between the students and construction workers, mineralogical, geological and gas workers and print workers and later by collaboration with power-station workers, designer and civil engineers, lumber workers and railway workers. Galia Golan reports that `by and large these alliances held throughout 1968-9 though they were much criticized (and feared) by the conservatives in the regime. In concrete terms, they led to the formation of worker-student action committees which coordinated efforts designed to salvage what was possible of the post-January policies’. Petr Cerny describes `Prague radicals who, for a brief moment, achieved what the western left had only dreamed of in 1968: a worker-student alliance’.

While the most famous Czechoslovak writers were solidly behind the Dubcek initiatives, including Milan Kundera and Jeri Pelikan, one decided that he had no interest in reforming socialism. The whole system had to go as the NY Times obituary on Vaclav Havel makes clear:

Mr. Havel, a child of bourgeois privilege whose family lost its wealth when the Communists came to power in 1948, first became active in the Writers Union in Czechoslovakia in the mid-1960s, when his chief target was not Communism so much as it was the “reform Communism” that many were seeking.

During the Prague Spring of 1968, the brief period when reform Communists, led by Mr. Dubcek, believed that “socialism with a human face” was possible, Mr. Havel argued that Communism could never be tamed.

Moving ahead to 1989, when Stalinism entered its death-knell, Czechoslovakia was given the opportunity to pick up where the Prague Spring had left off, not having to worry about Soviet tanks. Among the politicians deemed suitable for leading a new society, Dubcek and Havel stood out—representing two different solutions to the problems that had faced for decades.

In a review of John Keane’s critical biography of Vaclav Havel, a biography that Slavoj Zizek used as a peg to attack Havel’s legacy in the London Review, Laura Secor wrote:

In 1989, five years after Havel’s release, popular demonstrations brought down the Czechoslovak government. Dubcek, Keane contends, was the obvious choice for the country’s transitional presidency — but Havel manipulated Dubcek into stepping aside, by promising to support him in the upcoming free elections. According to Keane, Havel broke that promise, betraying Dubcek and retaining the presidency for himself. Not long afterward, Czechoslovakia split.

Once in power, Havel set about the task to dismantle Czech socialism and create a new state according to the formulas established in George Soros’s Open Society Foundation and elsewhere. A section from Michael Parenti’s “Blackshirts and Reds” has been circulating widely on the Internet, including my posting to the Marxism mailing list. Written not long after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, it knocks Havel off his pedestal rather deftly:

Havel called for efforts to preserve the Christian family in the Christian nation. Presenting himself as a man of peace and stating that he would never sell arms to oppressive regimes, he sold weapons to the Philippines and the fascist regime in Thailand. In June 1994, General Pinochet, the man who butchered Chilean democracy, was reported to be arms shopping in Czechoslovakia–with no audible objections from Havel.

Havel joined wholeheartedly in George Bush’s Gulf War, an enterprise that killed over 100,000 Iraqi civilians. In 1991, along with other Eastern European pro-capitalist leaders, Havel voted with the United States to condemn human rights violations in Cuba. But he has never uttered a word of condemnation of rights violations in El Salvador, Colombia, Indonesia, or any other U.S. client state.

In 1992, while president of Czechoslovakia, Havel, the great democrat, demanded that parliament be suspended and he be allowed to rule by edict, the better to ram through free-market “reforms.” That same year, he signed a law that made the advocacy of communism a felony with a penalty of up to eight years imprisonment. He claimed the Czech constitution required him to sign it. In fact, as he knew, the law violated the Charter of Human Rights which is incorporated into the Czech constitution. In any case, it did not require his signature to become law. In 1995, he supported and signed another undemocratic law barring communists and former communists from employment in public agencies.

Now I have no way of knowing what Parenti would have been saying about the Prague Spring in 1968, but I strongly suspect that he would have agreed with Fidel Castro. For the section of the left that believes that the Soviet intervention was a “necessary evil”, there’s actually a strong affinity with liberals who have urged a vote for Gore, Kerry and Obama in recent elections. If the choice is between someone like Obama and Newt Gingrich, you have to vote for Obama. Along the same lines, a Czechoslovakia under Dubcek might have led down the slippery road to what it would become under Havel so it was necessary to back the Soviet invasion.

The possibility that an alternative to both liberalizing technocrats and open supporters of Western imperialism does not really exist in the mind of someone like a Michael Parenti or many who think this way, like Alexander Cockburn or Michel Chossudovsky. The drama in a place like Iran or Libya is always between two players, and no possibility exists for the masses to make history on their own terms.

This is the terrible political legacy that 70 years of Stalinism has left us. After WWII, a powerful constellation of nominally socialist states existed around the world, either conforming to the Soviet model or to some Bonapartist variant best expressed by Nasser’s Egypt. In such states, the authoritarianism was necessary—we were led to understand—because political freedoms would open the door to CIA subversion. It was never considered that such repression was mainly designed to enforce class distinctions that were the same in spirit or in substance like those in capitalist societies.

Social inequalities and repression of the sort symbolized by Novotny or Qaddafi’s show trials were rationalized as blemishes in a system that was historically “progressive”. When the disgruntled masses took it upon themselves to resist their rulers, the “anti-imperialist” left took the side of the rulers if there was the slightest hint of Western support. Given the realities of geopolitics, it was almost impossible to find a situation in which the CIA was not intervening. In Egypt, the contradictions were most acute as the West backed the Tahrir Square protesters and the Mubarak regime simultaneously.

If there was ever a time to break with this “lesser evil” mentality, it is now. With the deepening crisis of world capitalism, an urgent task confronts us. A revolutionary movement has to be built worldwide that makes no concessions to the paternal rule of a Qaddafi or a Novotny. There will always be the possibility that in a revolt against such rulers, things might not follow a straight and narrow path toward socialist victory but deferring to the status quo in the name of “anti-imperialism” is unacceptable.

Arise ye pris’ners of starvation
Arise ye wretched of the earth
For justice thunders condemnation
A better world’s in birth!
No more tradition’s chains shall bind us
Arise, ye slaves, no more in thrall;
The earth shall rise on new foundations
We have been naught we shall be all.

August 31, 2011

A nightmare on the brains of the living

Filed under: Libya — louisproyect @ 7:09 pm

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

–Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire”

By now it has become clear that there are four different perspectives on the left about Libya:

1. Qaddafi as heroic anti-imperialist: Found at Counterpunch, MRZine, and Global Research, this perspective relies heavily on falsification such as the claim that NATO invaded because Qaddafi opposed AFRICOM. My emphasis has been to debunk these claims even though this led to me being accused of supporting NATO. One supposes the only way to avoid such false accusations is to follow the bullshit party line of the brain-dead “anti-imperialist” left. No thanks.

2. The rebels were good guys until NATO got involved: This is the analysis put forward by the ISO in the USA and the SWP in Britain. I was sympathetic to this analysis but came to reject it during the Berber offensive in Western Libya. As someone who despises the oppression of national minorities, I began to realize that there was more to the revolt than puppets whose strings were being pulled by NATO.

3. My own analysis: this should be obvious from the comment above.

4. Gilbert Achcar: Achcar defended NATO’s no-fly zone. As a long-time opponent of imperialist interventions, I could not abide by this although I found much of Achcar’s analysis on the money. Despite his being vilified by members of the Counterpunch tendency, I don’t regard him in the same light as the Paul Bermans and Kenan Makiyas of the world. I would tend to regard his position as falling into the category of a legitimate mistake made by revolutionary in much the same way I regarded some comrades’ support for the KLA.

UPDATE: I just got email from Achcar complaining that I misrepresented him. Instead of trying to characterize his views, I will simply quote his March 25 Znet article and let my readers draw their own conclusions:

Can anyone claiming to belong to the left just ignore a popular movement’s plea for protection, even by means of imperialist bandit-cops, when the type of protection requested is not one through which control over their country could be exerted? Certainly not, by my understanding of the left. No real progressive could just ignore the uprising’s request for protection — unless, as is too frequent among the Western left, they just ignore the circumstances and the imminent threat of mass slaughter, paying attention to the whole situation only once their own government got involved, thus setting off their (normally healthy, I should add) reflex of opposing the involvement. In every situation when anti-imperialists opposed Western-led military interventions using massacre prevention as their rationale, they pointed to alternatives showing that the Western governments’ choice of resorting to force only stemmed from imperialist designs.

In the absence of any other plausible solution, it was just morally and politically wrong for anyone on the left to oppose the no-fly zone; or in other words, to oppose the uprising’s request for a no-fly zone. And it remains morally and politically wrong to demand the lifting of the no-fly zone — unless Gaddafi is no longer able to use his air force. Short of that, lifting the no-fly zone would mean a victory for Gaddafi, who would then resume using his planes and crush the uprising even more ferociously than what he was prepared to do beforehand. On the other hand, we should definitely demand that bombings stop after Gaddafi’s air means have been neutralized. We should demand clarity on what air potential is left with Gaddafi, and, if any is still at his disposal, what it takes to neutralize it. And we should oppose NATO turning into a full participant of the ground war beyond the initial blows to Gaddafi’s armor needed to halt his troops’ offensive against rebel cities in the Western province — even were the insurgents to invite NATO’s participation or welcome it.

The question of rebel racism tends to reveal how the different perspectives line up against each other. For Counterpunch’s sorry gaggle of Qaddafi apologists, racism only became a problem in February 2011. When Qaddafi’s troops lost control in Benghazi, there was an outbreak of racist pogroms—an unheard of phenomenon in enlightened Libya. For them, it was like Union troops being withdrawn from Dixie at the end of Reconstruction.

The British SWP’s Richard Seymour wrote a piece for the Guardian’s “Comments are Free” calling attention to the rebel attacks on African workers that acknowledged the racism that existed in Libya historically:

How did it come to this? A spectacular revolution, speaking the language of democracy and showing tremendous courage in the face of brutal repression, has been disgraced. Racism did not begin with the rebellion – Gaddafi’s regime exploited 2 million migrant workers while discriminating against them – but it has suffused the rebels’ hatred of the violently authoritarian regime they have just replaced.

This is certainly a step upward from Counterpunch’s coverage of Libya, but then again nearly anything would be.

Despite his impressive Marxist credentials, Richard betrays a certain sense of fatalism in describing all the bad things going on Libya, from racist attacks on Africans to joining hands with NATO:

An explanation for this can be found in the weaknesses of the revolt itself. The upsurge beginning on 17 February hinged on an alliance between middle class human rights activists and the working classes in eastern cities such as Benghazi. Rather than wilting under repression, the rebellion spread to new towns and cities. Elements of the regime, seeing the writing on the wall, began to defect. Military leaders, politicians and sections of business and academia sided with the rebels.

But the trouble was that the movement was almost emerging from nowhere. Unlike in Egypt, where a decade of activism and labour insurgency had cultivated networks of activists and trade unionists capable of outfoxing the dictatorship, Libya was not permitted a minimal space for civil society opposition. As a result, there was no institutional structure able to express this movement, no independent trade union movement, and certainly little in the way of an organised left. Into this space stepped those who had the greatest resources – the former regime notables, businessmen and professionals, as well as exiles. It was they who formed the National Transitional Council (NTC).

When I read this, I can’t help but think of the Faust legend. In exchange for immortality, Faust sells his soul to the devil. At the end of Goethe’s play, the devil comes to collect on his debt and leads Faust down to the fiery pits of hell. For the rebels, another such punishment awaits them but it is not Hades—it is ending up like Iraq and Afghanistan. If they don’t like it, too bad. That’s what happens when you make a pact with the devil.

Some people have trouble with this deterministic scenario. When the ISO published an article following Richard’s analysis (either intentionally or unintentionally), an Arab leftist wrote in:

But that the rebellion benefited from NATO support in its insurgency still doesn’t mean that the rebellion has lost its way or is a stooge of imperialism. The overwhelming thrust of the rebellion has been paid for by a determined struggle of the Libyan people, who sacrificed perhaps as much as tens of thousands of lives for their freedom. The thought that they would allow the fruits of their rebellion to be so easily snapped up by an ex-regime, pro-West alliance, is unlikely, premature and excessively cynical.

Here lies the main fault of the article: The Arab Spring is about human agency and popular will, which cannot so easily be put back in the bottle–and certainly not by an opportunistic section of the opposition in cahoots with the Western governments and Big Oil.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THOSE WHO will determine the fate of Libya are the people themselves, and particularly the fighting forces on the ground, most of whom have correctly focused on fighting the regime, rather than flirting with Western diplomats. The balance of power between these different elements of the opposition remains to be disclosed, though it is premature to select the winner now.

While this should not be seen as an excuse for rebel racism, there really has to be much more attention paid to the background of such ugliness. To start with, the presence of sub-Saharan workers in Libya has to be understood in the same light as the bracero program in the USA that brought Mexicans in to pick fruits during WWII because of a labor shortage. Qaddafi did exactly the same thing. In 2000, well over 20 percent of the workforce consisted of immigrant labor—mostly from sub-Saharan Africa.

After judging that the supply now exceeded the demand, the Libyan authorities began to crack down on “illegals” just as has been occurring in the USA. They also collaborated closely with Berlusconi who complained of the same problem. From 2003 to 2005 Libya threw 145,000 undocumented workers out of the country, an accomplishment that President Obama would probably envy.

All throughout this period, the Libyan cops were following extrajudicial procedures just like those in Arizona. When human rights groups complained, the Libyan government defended itself by saying that immigrants enjoyed the same rights as its citizens. Wow, that must have come as some relief.

It should be mentioned that Qaddafi launched his bracero program using pan-African rhetoric.

Cheap labor was being imported because he believed in African unity. Anti-foreigner sentiment grew in Libya despite Qaddafi’s lip-service to fraternalism. It should be noted that all of Qaddafi’s fans who point to his racially enlightened views have probably not spent much time looking at his Green Book, the fount of all his wisdom. On page 30 you can read this:

Black people are now in a very backward social situation, but such backwardness works to bring about their numerical superiority because their low standard of living has shielded them from methods of birth control and family planning. Also, their old social traditions place no limit on marriages, leading to their accelerated growth. The population of other races has decreased because of birth control, restrictions on marriage, and constant occupation in work, unlike the Blacks, who tend to be less obsessive about work in a climate which is continuously hot.

Didn’t Jimmy the Greek get fired for saying things like this?

Given the precarious state of immigrant labor in Libya, it should be no surprise that pogroms were unleashed starting in 2000. That year, on September 17, the BBC reported:

The Libyan General People’s Congress has instituted new security measures across the country.

Correspondents say they are believed to be in response to clashes reported to have taken place between Libyans and African expatriates in the town of Zawiya, west of Tripoli.

The Sudanese independent daily newspaper Akhbar al-Yom reported 50 people were killed in clashes between Libyans and nationals of Sudan and Chad.

In a statement the Congress said it had ordered the authorities to stem the hiring of foreigners by the private sector.

Immigrants from neighbouring Arab and African countries have been lured to oil and gas-rich Libya in search of work.

Earlier Sudan asked Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to intervene to try to contain the situation.

The Sudanese Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Foreign Minister Mustafa Ismail had made telephone calls to a number of Libyan officials.

Considering the social milieu that the rebels came out of, it is no surprise that they did not arise above it. In a parallel universe other Libyans might have eschewed armed resistance and spent months and months building civil society but one cannot be guaranteed that Qaddafi would have not crushed the movement. Unlike Egypt or Syria, the totalitarian grip of the great leader was far more like what was seen in Eastern Europe. He brooked no opposition in the country and efforts to discuss the country’s real problems—including racism—were nipped in the bud.

Given the brutality of the rebels, it is understandable why some would want to wash their hands of them. I can’t blame Richard Seymour for expressing his disgust. Of course, on the other hand, the Counterpunch apologists for Qaddafi deserve a spot in hell alongside Faust’s for their brazen lies about “enlightened” racial policies in the good old days.

I cannot help but think of the Soviet Red Army that saved humanity by pushing Hitler’s army back into Europe and breaking the Nazi war machine once and for all. In his article Trotskyists and the Resistance in World War Two, Ernest Mandel wrote:

…there was a just war of national defence of the Soviet Union, a workers state, against an imperialist power. The fact that the Soviet leadership allied itself not only in a military way – which was absolutely justified – but also politically with the Western imperialists in no way changed the just nature of that war. The war of the Soviet workers and peasants, of the Soviet peoples and the Soviet state, to defend the Soviet Union against German imperialism was a just war from any Marxist-Leninist point of view. In that war we were 100 per cent for the victory of one camp, without any reservations or question marks. We were for absolute victory of the Soviet people against the murderous robbers of German imperialism.

No matter how just that war was, how could any leftist support the troops who were capable of carrying out atrocities that dwarf any occurring in Libya today? In a May 1, 2002 article titled ‘They raped every German female from eight to 80’, Antony Beevor wrote:

“Red Army soldiers don’t believe in ‘individual liaisons’ with German women,” wrote the playwright Zakhar Agranenko in his diary when serving as an officer of marine infantry in East Prussia. “Nine, ten, twelve men at a time – they rape them on a collective basis.”

The Soviet armies advancing into East Prussia in January 1945, in huge, long columns, were an extraordinary mixture of modern and medieval: tank troops in padded black helmets, Cossack cavalrymen on shaggy mounts with loot strapped to the saddle, lend-lease Studebakers and Dodges towing light field guns, and then a second echelon in horse-drawn carts. The variety of character among the soldiers was almost as great as that of their military equipment. There were freebooters who drank and raped quite shamelessly, and there were idealistic, austere communists and members of the intelligentsia appalled by such behaviour.

Beria and Stalin, back in Moscow, knew perfectly well what was going on from a number of detailed reports. One stated that “many Germans declare that all German women in East Prussia who stayed behind were raped by Red Army soldiers”. Numerous examples of gang rape were given – “girls under 18 and old women included”.

Marshal Rokossovsky issued order No 006 in an attempt to direct “the feelings of hatred at fighting the enemy on the battlefield.” It appears to have had little effect. There were also a few arbitrary attempts to exert authority. The commander of one rifle division is said to have “personally shot a lieutenant who was lining up a group of his men before a German woman spreadeagled on the ground”. But either officers were involved themselves, or the lack of discipline made it too dangerous to restore order over drunken soldiers armed with submachine guns.

Calls to avenge the Motherland, violated by the Wehrmacht’s invasion, had given the idea that almost any cruelty would be allowed. Even many young women soldiers and medical staff in the Red Army did not appear to disapprove. “Our soldiers’ behaviour towards Germans, particularly German women, is absolutely correct!” said a 21-year-old from Agranenko’s reconnaissance detachment. A number seemed to find it amusing. Several German women recorded how Soviet servicewomen watched and laughed when they were raped. But some women were deeply shaken by what they witnessed in Germany. Natalya Gesse, a close friend of the scientist Andrei Sakharov, had observed the Red Army in action in 1945 as a Soviet war correspondent. “The Russian soldiers were raping every German female from eight to eighty,” she recounted later. “It was an army of rapists.”

Now of course everybody (except die-hard Stalinists) understand that the Kremlin was socialist in name only at this point and that such cruelty was perhaps to be expected. But does this negate the progressive character of the war against Hitler?

If we measure the rebel conduct in Libya or the Red Army’s in 1945 against those that were found in the Red Army in 1919 or in the Oriente Province in 1959, there is little doubt that they will fall short. But on the other hand, a good case can be made that they were all part of the upward march of humanity against oppression. Sometimes history will throw you a curve ball. It is best to keep your eye on the ball and figure out a way to move from our unhappy status today and toward a better future. In my view, the left in the West has to figure out a way to relate to the rebels in Libya who decided to risk their lives fighting against a torture state that was armed to the teeth by the very imperialists who now decided to change horses in midstream. This is especially true since there are ominous signs that the imperialists have about as much interest in armed militias challenging the prerogatives of the TNC as they would toward any such formation in the Middle East. The agenda of the West is to rapidly disarm the rebels and figure out a way to impose Qaddafi-ism without Qaddafi. This is something that the citizen-soldiers of Libya would resist to the death and we have to figure out a way to offer solidarity, even if we can’t abide by their racist treatment of African workers. This may not seem easy, but we have no other choice.

August 9, 2011

Barry Sheppard comments on Alan Wald article

Filed under: Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 11:41 pm

In the July/August issue of Against the Current there is an article by Alan Wald titled “SWP Memories, A Winter’s Tale.” The article purports to be a review of Peter Camejo’s memoir North Star and a book by Leslie Evans, Outsider’s Reverie. But it is not a review of either, except in the most superficial sense.

ATC has yet to review Peter Camejo’s important memoir. It should do so, but I for one am not holding my breath awaiting such a real review. This is because the main editors of ATC hate the SWP of “The Sixties,” while Camejo embraces it. I did write a review of Peter’s book, and am appending it below. Evan’s book is not worth reviewing, as it is full of errors and arguments to buttress his conversion to an opponent of Marxism and an adherent of mysticism and Zionism.

The thrust of Wald’s article is to present his view of what went wrong with the SWP. I welcome his contribution and hope that others will also present their views on this important topic. My own views are contained in my political memoir about my time in the SWP, from 1960 through 1988. The first volume of my memoir covers the period of 1960-1973, “The Sixties,” and has been published. My second volume will cover 1973 through 1988 and will be published this autumn.

Here I only want to take up a central theme in Wald’s article, his largely positive view of a small minority that developed in the SWP in 1971, called the Proletarian Orientation Tendency. This tendency arose in opposition to the SWP majority’s position that the social movements of “The Sixties” – including the antiwar movement, the civil rights movement, the student movement, Black and Chicano nationalism, the women’s and gay movements and so forth were not “petty bourgeois” diversions from the struggle of the working class, but were part of the workers’ struggle which the workers’ movement and parties should champion. The majority’s views were codified in a resolution that was adopted by the SWP at its 1971 convention.

The minority presented its views in opposition to the majority’s in its resolution, “For a Proletarian Orientation,” which was soundly rejected by the SWP convention after a long and voluminous discussion both written and oral in the SWP branches.

Wald is light on presenting the POT position. He doesn’t discuss the main points of the POT resolution. I will do so here.

“For a Proletarian Orientation” spends three pages attacking Ernest Mandel’s important work in the 1950s and 1960s analyzing the big changes that took place in the composition of the working class internationally. It attacks the SWP for adopting Mandel’s analysis, a charge that was accurate. We did support Mandel’s analysis, as did the great majority of the Fourth International, but not Alan Wald and the POT he was part of.

The FAPO attack on Mandel is too long to quote here, but a few excerpts will give a feel for it:

“However, in the last several years Ernest Mandel has developed a theory which challenges these basic Marxist definitions [of the working class]. And the SWP leadership has neither criticized Mandel’s assertions nor analyzed the implications have for the strategy of the revolutionary party. In fact, our party has been following the logic of Mandel’s position without admitting it.”

As I’ve said, we did admit it.

“It is the implications of his analysis with regard to party strategy that Mandel fails to discuss, yet it is these implications that are the most dangerous part of his analysis. The logic of his position is clear. First, of his new ‘producers of surplus value’ – ‘laboratory assistants, scientific researchers, inventors, technologists, planners, project engineers, draftsmen, etc.,’ he asserts: ‘[They] can only enhance the impact of the working class and revolutionary organizations because they equip them with the knowledge that is indispensable for a relentless critique of bourgeois society, and even more for the successful taking over the means of production by the associated producers…’. Mandel is siding with the crassest anti-working-class petty bourgeois hacks who maintain that the workers are incapable of running the economy.”

“Mandel has an even softer spot for in his heart for the intelligencia-to-be, the students. He tells us that ‘…the student revolt can become a real vanguard of the working class as a whole, triggering a powerful revolutionary upsurge as it did this May [1968] in France.’ “ I note that all the POT leaders came from the student movement.

Having demolished Mandel, and revised the facts of what occurred in the greatest general strike in history up to then in France in 1968, the intrepid authors of FAPO turned their powerful minds to the charge that the SWP turned its back on the working class beginning in 1957.

They have long quotes from the struggle in 1953 which resulted in a major split in the SWP. At that time the leaders of the minority in the SWP included Bert Cochran and Mike Bartell (Milt Zaslow).

Their resolution states, under the headline “The SWP and the Tactical Turn, 1957-64” the following:

“As we have shown, the party majority fought the Cochran-Bartell ‘greener pastures’ scheme in 1953. Yet in the period from 1957-64, the SWP eventually came to accept the Bartell position on ’greener pastures’ without open acknowledgement of it….The period from 1957 to 1959 was called the ‘regroupment period.’ During these years the party’s main public activity was working with CPers, ex-CPers, and Bartell. This work centered around running a ‘united socialist election campaign’ to oppose the capitalist parties. In doing this the party hoped to attract and recruit ex-CPers and their fellow travelers who were shaken by the 20th Congress revelations [by then Soviet premier Khrushchev of Stalin’s crimes].

“Immediately after the Khrushchev revelations came the civil rights movement, the Cuban revolution, the anti-HUAC demonstrations, the Student Peace Unions, and so on. All of these presented the party with opportunities to intervene, propagandize, and recruit. All of these social movements, because they were mainly petty bourgeois in composition, led the party deeper and deeper into a petty bourgeois milieu.”

I’m not here going to refute FAPO, but I just can’t help noting that the millions of African Americans who were mobilized in the fight to abolish Jim Crow, these Black workers and sharecroppers, are dismissed as “petty bourgeois”! As are the largely working class ex-members of the CP.

Under the headline, “The SWP and Greener Pastures, 1965-71” our FAPO leaders, themselves fresh from the student movement, write, “By 1965, the party leadership no longer considered our basic task to be rooting ourselves in the working class….Instead, we were told, are told now, that the recruitment of students is the building of a bridge to the working class.” They quote, disapprovingly, of the SWP’s political resolution adopted in 1965, which stated that “Because of the exceptional opportunities [read ‘greener pastures’] open to us in the student movement a top priority must be given to this sphere of work.” The insert in brackets was by the FAPO authors.

They attack the student movement and anti-Vietnam-war movement as “petty bourgeois,” as well as the independent women’s movement. They leave out that these movements were objectively on the side of the world working class.

Who drafted this SWP resolution in 1965? Why none other than that famous petty bourgeois Farrell Dobbs! Dobbs is the real target of FAPO. Dobbs became the SWP National Secretary in 1953, and the party soon after began to go to hell according to FAPO. Wald leaves the impression that the POT’s main targets were Jack Barnes, myself, Mary-Alice Waters, Betsy Stone, Peter Camejo, Gus Horowitz, Caroline Lund, Doug Jenness, etc. etc. But the POT implied it was Farrell and the other leaders in 1957, which included James P. Cannon, Tom Kerry, Joe Hanson, Myra and Murry Weiss, and many other famous petty bourgeois who first led the SWP astray. We younger ones (who joined in 1959 and later) just took over where they left off on the road to perdition.

FAPO also takes to task Joe Hansen, George Breitman, Frank Lovell and others because they pointed to the opportunities among youth. It also attacks the SWP’s support of Black and Chicano nationalism, and an independent women’s movement. The only real work in support of Blacks, Chicanos and women is only in and through the trade unions, FAPO asserts. In one of the ironies of history, Jack Barnes in the 1980s adopted this same position, a fact I document in my second volume.

FAPO represented a current in the student movement at the time, especially the national leaders of the disintegrating Students for a Democratic Society, which rejected the social movements of “The Sixties” in favor of a crude “Marxism” that looked only to the struggles of the workers “at the point pf production.” To project it as a possible savior of the SWP is ridiculous.

 

“North Star – A Memoir” by Peter Camejo, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2010

By Barry Sheppard

This book by Peter Camejo, who was an important figure in the radicalization of “The Sixties” and beyond, up to his untimely death in 2008, should be read by veterans of the socialist movement and wider social causes. It also should be read by new activists thirsty for understanding of previous struggles in order to better equip themselves for present and future battles.

Also, the book is a good read. The first chapter is set in 1979, out of chronological order from the rest of the book. It explains how the CIA attempted to get Peter arrested in Columbia, on a leg of a speaking tour in South America. If he had been imprisoned there it is possible that he would have been “disappeared.” Without giving away the story, Peter escaped this fate through an unlikely intervention, quite a tale in itself.

As Peter explains, the two of us met each other in college, collaborated and then joined the Socialist Workers Party at the same meeting in Boston in November 1959. I was 22 and Peter 20. We became leaders of the party’s associated youth group, the Young Socialist Alliance. In 1960 and 1961 a dispute over the Cuban Revolution broke out in the SWP and YSA. The majority in both groups supported the Revolution and its leadership (with criticisms). Peter and I supported the majority position, and became its primary spokespersons in the YSA. As a result, I became the national chairman and Peter the national secretary of the YSA and we moved to New York. Soon, along with others from a new generation, we joined with people from older generations in the leadership of the SWP.

Peter left the SWP in 1981. After that he remained active in promoting various attempts to rebuild the American left culminating in his running as the Green Party candidate for governor of California in 2002 and 2003, and then as independent candidate Ralph Nader’s running mate in the Presidential elections of 2004.

His experiences as a leader of the YSA and SWP, and his subsequent activities, form a major part of his memoir. In this review I will concentrate on this aspect of his memoir. There are three political threads that run through the book. One is that social change comes about through the action of masses of people. Related is the theme that attempts to circumvent mass action by the activities of small groups engaging in what they think of as “exemplary” actions of a few are an obstacle to social change. Two variants of this viewpoint are ultraleftism and sectarian abstention. The third theme is the need to break from the stranglehold of the parties of “money” as Peter puts it, the Democrats and Republicans.

Peter’s experiences as a leader in the anti-Vietnam-War movement are vividly portrayed. One is his speaking before a crowd of 100,000 on the Boston Common as a spokesperson of the Student Mobilization Committee Against the War in Vietnam as part of the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium. There is a gripping account from a political opponent from the Democratic Party describing how Peter was by far the best received speaker of the day. In fact, Peter was the best public speaker of our generation in the SWP and YSA, and, I think, of the youth radicalization as a whole.

Peter had moved from New York to Berkeley, California in late 1965, at the request of the SWP and YSA. The San Francisco Bay Area had become a center of the new student movement, and the University of California at Berkeley especially so. Peter enrolled in the University, and quickly rose as a leader of the antiwar movement and the student movement in general there.

He outlines three different perspectives that emerged in the antiwar movement. One was that the movement should orient toward the Democratic Party. The Communist Party put forward this perspective, but also would endorse mass actions especially during periods between elections. Another was associated with the national leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society, who, while calling for the first massive action in 1965, had subsequently turned their backs on mass action and increasingly championed small vanguard actions and then minority violence. The third approach, which we supported, was to further mass actions in the streets independent of both capitalist parties.

To do this, we focused on building broad antiwar formations around the “single issue” of opposition to the war. All, regardless of their political views on other questions, were welcome to join. Within such coalitions, Peter explains, we argued for taking an “Out Now!” position, calling for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. It took some years before “Out Now!” became the widely accepted goal of antiwar demonstrations.

Another key point we raised was non-exclusion. While independent of the Democrats and Republicans, we argued, the antiwar movement would welcome politicians from those parties who were against the war, on the principle that the movement had to be non-exclusionary. In practice, there were very few such politicians. It was on this basis that the large antiwar demonstrations that reached into the hundreds of thousands were organized.

An aspect of our approach was to build antiwar committees both locally and nationally by putting decision making in the hands of the activists themselves. Votes would be taken by the assembled activists after open debate. Most often our mass action perspective would carry the day, which led many others with opposing perspectives to charge that we had mechanical majorities of our own members at such meetings. But we never became anywhere near that large, although we did grow substantially during this period. Our arguments simply made sense to the majority of antiwar activists. This approach also raised the self-confidence of the participants, who became more dedicated to building the mass actions as a result.

Peter concludes that the SWP played a crucial and positive role in the antiwar movement. Peter himself was an important part of that effort.

There is a riveting chapter on what became known as “the battle of Telegraph Avenue.” This street abutted the Cal campus. In May-June 1968 there was a massive student-worker uprising in France which galvanized the world. Our young French cothinkers played an important part in these events. We organized support meetings and picket demonstrations in solidarity. In Berkeley, Peter met with other campus leaders to organize a big meeting on Telegraph Avenue. The SWP and YSA reached out to involve other organizations, but Peter was recognized as the main leader of the event.

The rally was set for June 28. The Berkeley City Council voted down the organizers’ request to shut down a short stretch of the Avenue next to the campus for the event. So there was agreement that the participants would stay on the sidewalks. Monitors were stationed to help keep the crowd on the sidewalks. But then the police attacked.

The students fought back as best they could. The next days and nights were marked by increased police violence, all of the city of Berkeley was placed on nighttime curfew, and mass meetings of the young people who fought against these violations of their rights to free speech and assembly. Finally, the city backed down and allowed the rally to proceed on Telegraph Avenue on July 4.

Peter’s account of how this victory was won makes for exciting reading, but more important are the lessons to be drawn. There was a big difference between the physical showdown between the mass of student protesters and the cops, and the actions of violence even bombings carried out by small groups believing they were “sparking” the mass movement. In contrast to such futile “offensive” actions, the protesters of Telegraph Avenue were defending their fundamental rights. All of their decisions were made at mass meetings after open debate. Their most important decision was to defy the city authorities by going forward to hold a rally on July 4, come what may. They knew that this could mean a violent confrontation with the police. They had already suffered casualties, and understood what this could mean. It was this resolve that forced the City Council to back down.

An important aspect of the leadership of the SWP and YSA and Peter himself was to reach out to the citizens of Berkeley, the fight for public opinion. Initially, this was against the students. But through careful tactics aimed at bringing the truth of the situation to the public, that the city authorities were trampling on rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, the mood in the city swung over to support them. The over-reaction of the police, by attacking bystanders and even people in their homes, was a factor. Police always go too far in such situations, but this truth had to made widely known.

In every way, Peter’s leadership was geared toward mass mobilization and mass action.

The third thread that runs through the book from beginning to end is the need to break from the Democratic and Republican parties. This was an aspect of our insistence that the antiwar movement be focused on independent mass actions in the streets not subordinate in any way to the twin parties of “money.” It was projected in the small example set by SWP election campaigns, from the first one Peter and I participated in, Farrell Dobb’s 1960 Presidential campaign with Myra Tanner Weiss as his running mate, through Peter’s own campaigns for the mayor of Berkeley, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, and his 1976 campaign for President with running mate Willie May Reid. After he left the SWP, Peter supported the independent campaigns of the Green Party, including Ralph Nader’s 2000 run for President, Peter’s own campaigns for Governor of California in 2002 and 2003, and as independent Ralph Nader’s running mate in 2004.

Peter’s last battle was to keep the Green Party independent from the Democrats, a fight which he lost at the national level as is well documented in the book, although some local Green Party groups do maintain their independence.

A comment is order here. There are some splinters of the Trotskyist movement who have attacked Peter’s support of independent Green Party election campaigns. Their argument is that the Greens are not a socialist party, nor do they have a base in the trade unions. These groups (including the rump which still uses the SWP name), say they would vote for a Labor Party if the trade unions organized one, claiming that it would be a workers’ party. They point to Lenin’s position in 1919 that the newly formed British Communist Party should vote for the Labour Party. They leave out that Lenin also said that the British Labour Party was a bourgeois party through and through, and an imperialist party to boot. He urged the young CP to vote for this imperialist capitalist party anyway, to reach out to the British workers whose trade unions had created it. The weird logic of the sectarian argument ends up urging a vote for the Labour Party of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, while opposing a vote for the anti-imperialist, pro-working class Ralph Nader. It is true that the U.S. Green Party is a petty-bourgeois (and thus bourgeois) party, but it is not a party of the big bourgeoisie nor is it an imperialist party. Unfortunately, on a national level it is now on a slippery slope towards supporting the imperialist Democratic Party. In many countries, the Greens have already gone over to finance capital.

A bright spot Peter points to was the 2000 campaign of Nader for President on the Green Party ticket. Tens of thousands packed Nader rallies in many cities, more than those of the two capitalist parties. These rallies were mainly young. A central aspect, evident in the shouts and applause of these young people, was their identification with the big anti-globalization demonstration in Seattle the year before. A new movement had appeared, inexperienced, new to radical ideas, but moving in an anti-capitalist direction – and full of the energy and enthusiasm of youth. Peter doesn’t mention this background to the Nader campaign, but this must be an oversight.

We both were present at the Oakland, California, Nader rally and saw these anti-globalization young people firsthand. Nader reacted to the shouts of the crowd, absorbing their energy, and his speech became more and more radical, which furthered the excitement of the audience.

This anti-globalization movement was cut short by the chauvinism and war mongering whipped up by the Bush administration, the Congress to a person, and press after 9/11. The movement continued elsewhere, but was silenced in the U.S. This was the major factor in the success of the subsequent Democratic Party anti-Nader campaign that reached into the Green Party itself. Figures like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Media Benjamin and Michael Moore capitulated. Not content with only their ideological campaign, the Democrats launched a series of despicable dirty tricks to keep the Nader-Camejo ticket off the ballot. This part of Peter’s book graphically explains the obstacles we face in breaking the two-party stranglehold.

Peter writes that in 1984 he made a “major political mistake” in supporting the campaign by Jesse Jackson in the Democratic Party Presidential primaries. A detail that Peter omits was that after Jackson lost, Peter supported the Democratic candidate Walter Mondale in the general election. After Peter left the SWP in 1981, I hadn’t had contact with him. In 1984, I happened to be walking by a Mondale street rally in New York, and ran into Peter, who handed me a vote Mondale leaflet. This seemed to me at the time to validate charges by the SWP leadership that Peter had moved way to the right.

Later, Peter and I talked about this. He said he wrongly supported the Mondale campaign as part of his tactic of trying to work within Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition in hopes that it would lead to a mass break with the Democrats. Peter writes “This error on my part lasted until I came to my senses and realized that, with few exceptions, the Rainbow Coalition was just another name for keeping progressives in the Democratic Party.”

An important appendix is a short essay on the origins of the two-party system, going back to the foundations of the United States, and up through the Civil War and beyond. He shows that in fact the present Republican and Democratic parties emerged from a single party, the Republicans, after the Civil War. This appendix should be reprinted as a pamphlet for the new generations who will become radicalized in the future.

There is a chapter on how Peter became a stockbroker, and how he helped set up a firm, “Progressive Assets Management.” The idea was that Peter would invest money for those who didn’t want to invest in firms doing business in apartheid South Africa, polluters, and so forth. There was an element of self-deception in this undertaking, as the control of the economy by financial capital makes it virtually impossible to know where investments go, except for some start-ups like solar power firms. This chapter is interesting, however, in explaining the obstacles the powers that be put in the way of Peter’s progressive projects. His outline of how workers’ pension funds are controlled by capital is revealing.

When my companion, Caroline Lund, and I reconnected with Peter it was after we had left the SWP some years earlier. We had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. It was in the early 1990s when we first talked. In discussing what had happened to the SWP, Peter said that the fundamental question was that the program of the SWP was wrong. Since this theme is a major one in his book book, and since I disagree with him, I will take this up in some detail, both to disclose my bias and to explain Peter’s views in the latter part of his life more clearly.

Peter told me this disagreement represented a “profound difference” between us. I agree.

Peter writes, “With the rapid growth of the SWP and YSA during the antiwar movement, an ideological crisis had manifested itself within the SWP. The older, primarily worker-based segment of the party had grown concerned that the SWP would be changed by its newer members, most of whom were middle class youth. Many of the older members opposed our support for what they saw as contemporary issues, such as gay liberation, and in general were nervous that the SWP might abandon its roots in Trotskyism and begin to alter its ‘program.’”

This is wrong on several counts. A minor distortion is the assertion that our newer members “were middle class youth.” Most of our recruits in this period had come from the campuses, were students. Students come from all classes, from the bourgeoisie like Peter, from “middle class” families (working farmers, small business people, lawyers, self-employed and so forth) and from blue and white collar workers. After the Second World War, there was an explosion in education which drew in millions from working class families. Most of our recruits came from this latter section which was the majority among students, but we recruited from all these backgrounds.

To Peter’s main point. The “worker-based” older cadre had come to grips with analyzing the Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions prior to the radicalization of “The Sixties” but which greatly influenced our generation. These revolutions had come to power under Stalinist leaderships, something which our program had deemed extremely unlikely. The SWP modified its program accordingly. A new challenge was the Cuban Revolution, unfolding as Peter and I joined the SWP, which was led by non-Stalinist but not socialist forces (they became socialists in the course of the Revolution). Our program was further modified as we embraced the Cuban Revolution, an important context of the youth radicalization.

Our fundamental strategy and tactics in the antiwar movement (well explained by Peter) were first developed by the “older, primarily worker-based” party leadership, and which the younger leaders then also helped shape. It was the older comrades who developed the party’s positive appreciation of Black Nationalism against the opposition of almost all other socialist tendencies, and developed a far-reaching program for the Black liberation movement. It was younger leaders who analyzed the world-wide youth revolt, developed a new program in relation to it, with enthusiastic support of the older comrades. The same was true of the new women’s liberation movement. The younger members and leaders had the full support of the older comrades in all of these “contemporary” issues.

Opposition to our embracing of the new issues of the 1960s radicalization did develop in the party and YSA. This came not from the older comrades (with one or two exceptions) but from a small minority of the newer members, who did charge that the party was abandoning its program. This was a reflection among our student recruits of outside forces, especially the national leadership of the Student for Democratic society, who did turn their backs on the youth radicalization in a “workerist” direction. This small minority of our student youth was soundly defeated in the SWP and YSA.

There was some opposition to our fully embracing the gay liberation movement from some older comrades and some younger ones, too. This had nothing to do with fearing for our program, but was an expression of prejudice, pure and simple, in the wider working class at the time.

These examples and others refute Peter’s assertion, and a later one that the party’s program was “rigid.”

Peter makes some correct generalizations: “Not only is a political program an evolving concept, but it requires continuous discussion and debate in order for it to be effective. And it must, most important of all, be tested against reality. In other words, the program of an organization trying to bring justice to the world must be a process rooted primarily in the living mass struggles of the people.” But his next sentence reads, “It is not a written document put together by intelligent people in the past.”

Marxist written documents “from the past,” beginning with the Communist Manifesto, are essential to understand the present and to effectively intervene in it. The “living mass struggles” of the present grow out of those of the past. The written programmatic documents of Marxism are rich with the lessons of these past struggles. They do show development of course, since they reflect changing reality, but they also provide continuity. Neither reality nor Marxist theory (program is another word for theory) is always just coming into existence independent of the past.

Peter’s own history attests to this. Peter didn’t invent the need to break with the Democrats and Republicans. He learned this from the program of the Socialist Workers Party. His book has a chapter on Stalinism. He was taught to understand Stalinism by the SWP, which based its understanding on the programmatic work done by Trotsky. When Peter and I joined the SWP the two larger socialist groups, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, rejected the need to break with the Democrats and rejected Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism. The “single issue” and mass action perspective of the SWP in the antiwar movement was an adaptation of the united front tactic developed by the early Communist International, codified in “written documents.” What Peter learned about Malcolm X from the SWP was developed from “written documents” of the Bolsheviks on the national question. And so forth.

Peter’s position appears to reject the basic program of Marxism. He writes that Marx was right on many things. “Marx said human history can be understood like any other scientific process,” he says. He goes on to list other positive aspects of Marx’s thought. “Marx raised the idea that humans can transcend the brutality, violence, and abuse that have characterized most of human society for at least the past few thousand years. He laid out a view that attempted to tie society’s past evolution to how it might evolve in the future.”

Marx wasn’t the first to raise that society can transcend the present order. All socialists before Marx believed this, and were devoted to the cause of the working people and the oppressed. Marx’s unique contribution was his program of how this will (not “might”) come about. He didn’t “attempt” to do so, he did so. His program in its essence is that the modern working class which capitalism has produced is in an irreconcilable class struggle with the capitalists, and will lead all the oppressed in a revolution that will overthrow capitalist rule and take state power. It will use that state power to build over time a society without classes. To accomplish this historical task, the working class will have to develop consciousness of itself as a class and form a political party (or parties).

Peter nowhere affirms Marx’s program, and appears to reject it by omission. That is, he rejects much more than the SWP’s program. In the place of program and theory he presents an agnostic view: “The science of social change is permanently evolving. We will learn what works – that is what is ‘true’ – by the inevitable conflict of ideas and by testing those ideas against reality.” What “works” is what is “true” – a restatement of American pragmatism. We don’t yet know what “works,” including Marx’s program, Peter seems to be saying.

Peter believes, as do Marxists, that a Third American Revolution is on the historical agenda. An important part of his book is devoted to the idea that this revolution will be an extension of the first two, the War of Independence and the Civil War, which centered on the fight to extend democracy. “I am convinced the struggle will appear as a fight for democracy and will develop around very concrete issues of a defensive nature,” he writes. In the mid-1970s, as he was first developing his new ideas, Peter told me that the coming revolution will be fought around democratic demands, “not class demands.” Peter’s view is reflected in the title of his book, “North Star.” He took this term from the name of the abolitionist newspaper published by the great former slave Frederick Douglas in the fight against slavery.

Democratic demands will be very important, including the unfinished democratic tasks from the first two revolutions such as ending the continued oppression of Blacks. But so will the specific class demands of the workers, including the need for them to take state power, or there will be no revolution. The Third American Revolution will be a proletarian revolution for socialism.

The first two American Revolutions consolidated the rule of the capitalist class. The Civil War clinched this by overthrowing and expropriating the slave owning class. In class terms, the Third will overthrow the capitalist class and consolidate the rule of the working class through the formation of a democratic workers’ state and the expropriation of the capitalist class. The workers’ state will gradually move toward the withering away of all classes and the state itself.

Peter is right that we should assimilate the democratic victories of the War for Independence and the Civil War and identify with their leaders. But our American revolutionary heritage goes beyond that. We identify with the suffragettes, the decades-long battles against Jim Crow, and their many leaders including Susan B. Anthony, W.E.B DuBois, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. The first stirrings of the labor movement in the later 1880s, the IWW and the Socialist Party, the formation of the Communist Party and the SWP are also part of our heritage, as is the great labor upsurge of the 1930s. These movements threw up leaders we seek to emulate, too – and they put class demands at the center of the coming revolution. Malcolm X was moving toward socialism when he was gunned down. Martin Luther King saw at the end of his life that it was necessary to begin fighting for economic, working class demands – he was assassinated assisting striking Black waste workers.

Our generation of “The Sixties” also developed leaders and organizations of women, gays, youth, Blacks, Chicanos, socialists and more, who combined democratic and working class demands.

I realize that my reaffirmation of Marx’s view of the dynamic of class struggle under capitalism and its outcome is a minority one within the broad progressive movement and even among socialist organizations, and that many readers of Peter’s book will agree with him. This is quite true today, in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, the feebleness of the labor movement in the face of the capitalist offensive, and the shrinking and divisions within the socialist movement.

All this is not say that Peter does not accept many Marxist concepts. He applies an analysis of the conflicting class forces (and fractions of classes) that have created the two-party system to great effect in his appendix on the subject. But he does not do so in relation to capitalism today and the question of what class forces will accomplish the Third American Revolution he looks forward to. We have to wait and see what “works.”

There has been a degeneration of the SWP, signs of which appeared in the 1970s, and which accelerated after 1980. Peter attributes this to Trotskyism itself, which inevitably produces sectarianism, splits and cults. He points to undoubted true examples. But there are glaring contradictions to his view. If the SWP was always inflicted with these diseases (since it undoubtedly was Trotskyist), there was no degeneration, only a continuation. The SWP that Peter and I joined was not sectarian. It certainly was not a cult of an individual. Its leadership team was composed of very independent and strong individuals, such as James P. Cannon, Farrell Dobbs, Tom Kerry, Murry and Myra Weiss, George Novack, Evelyn Reed, Karolyn Kerry, Joe Hansen and many others. The European Trotskyist parties on the whole were not sectarian or cults, and aren’t to this day.

The picture of the SWP and his participation in it and the movements of the radicalization of “The Sixties” Peter outlines are positive, overall. He clearly enjoyed those days and regards them as a high point of his life. This stands in contrast to many who left the SWP and have become bitter about their own youth.

I’ve taken the space to explain my differences with Peter because they are fundamental, but in spite of these differences we remained friends. I supported Peter’s attempts to further the struggle against the parties of “money” in the 1990s and 2000s, which he explains in his book. The 2000 Nader campaign, and his own election campaigns for governor stand out. One instance I particularly remember was in his 2002 campaign. Peter had championed the cause of the undocumented workers vigorously in this campaign, as he did before and after. My companion Caroline Lund and I joined a long march of 500 such workers in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, on a cold day, which ended up in a spirited rally addressed by Peter in Spanish.

From time to time Peter would telephone me to get my opinion during these campaigns. He also would call me to check my memory of events as he was writing the book. There are factual errors that crept in, probably because he was pressed for time and did not have the opportunity to consult the written record, but most do not affect the thrust of the book. One, however, should be corrected, as it misrepresents the views of an important figure in the Marxist movement, Ernest Mandel.

During the first days of the Nicaraguan revolution, a current of the Trotskyist movement relatively strong in Latin America led by Nahuel Moreno, which had split from the Fourth International, had formed an armed column called the Simon Bolivar Brigade. The SBB entered the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, which was demographically and geographically separate from most of the country, and attempted to set up local governments there. The Sandinista leadership of the revolution was concerned, of course, and moved to expel them.

Peter writes that Mandel, a central leader of the Fourth International in Europe, supported the SBB. I was part of the FI leadership in Paris at the time, and know this is not true. The whole of the FI repudiated Moreno’s adventure. A close friend of Mandel’s in Mexico, Manuel, who was also a leader of our group there, was dispatched to Nicaragua to explain our position. It is possible that Peter confused something that had occurred years earlier during the Portuguese revolution when there was a temporary political agreement between Mandel and Moreno. However, the false picture Peter presents of Mandel’s and other European leaders’ view of the Nicaraguan revolution extends beyond the Simon Bolivar Brigade. These leaders wholehearted supported the revolution, and sent many delegations to Nicaragua to learn about it first hand and returned to build solidarity in their countries. Peter also claims that at the November 1979 World Congress of the FI, the majority of the European leaders expressed hostility to the Sandinistas. There were two resolutions on Nicaragua presented to the Congress, but both were in support of the revolution, while having a theoretical difference.

I wish Peter had checked with me on this, because I am sure that if he had he would have realized that his memory of these events was faulty.

Peter’s honesty and selfless devotion to working people and all the oppressed marked his entire conscious life, and these qualities shine through the book. When my companion, Caroline Lund, was dying of  ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2006, we held a big party for people to say goodbye to her. Peter was there, and a photo of him, Caroline and myself was taken, which I treasure and still keep. At that party Peter did not yet know of the cancer that was developing in his body, and which would take his life. Peter also spoke at Caroline’s memorial meeting, and noted that she was a very kind person. This was one of Peter’s personal qualities, too.

 

July 17, 2010

Barry Sheppard reviews Camejo memoir

Filed under: Trotskyism — louisproyect @ 2:14 pm

(I will be responding to this–probably tomorrow.)

Barry Sheppard

“North Star – A Memoir” by Peter Camejo, Haymarket Books, Chicago, 2010

By Barry Sheppard

This book by Peter Camejo, who was an important figure in the radicalization of “The Sixties” and beyond, up to his untimely death in 2008, should be read by veterans of the socialist movement and wider social causes. It also should be read by new activists thirsty for understanding of previous struggles in order to better equip themselves for present and future battles.

Also, the book is a good read. The first chapter is set in 1979, out of chronological order from the rest of the book. It explains how the CIA attempted to get Peter arrested in Columbia, on a leg of a speaking tour in South America. If he had been imprisoned there it is possible that he would have been “disappeared.” Without giving away the story, Peter escaped this fate through an unlikely intervention, quite a tale in itself.

As Peter explains, the two of us met each other in college, collaborated and then joined the Socialist Workers Party at the same meeting in Boston in November 1959. I was 22 and Peter 20. We became leaders of the party’s associated youth group, the Young Socialist Alliance. In 1960 and 1961 a dispute over the Cuban Revolution broke out in the SWP and YSA. The majority in both groups supported the Revolution and its leadership (with criticisms). Peter and I supported the majority position, and became its primary spokespersons in the YSA. As a result, I became the national chairman and Peter the national secretary of the YSA and we moved to New York. Soon, along with others from a new generation, we joined with people from older generations in the leadership of the SWP.

Peter left the SWP in 1981. After that he remained active in promoting various attempts to rebuild the American left culminating in his running as the Green Party candidate for governor of California in 2002 and 2003, and then as independent candidate Ralph Nader’s running mate in the Presidential elections of 2004.

His experiences as a leader of the YSA and SWP, and his subsequent activities, form a major part of his memoir. In this review I will concentrate on this aspect of his memoir. There are three political threads that run through the book. One is that social change comes about through the action of masses of people. Related is the theme that attempts to circumvent mass action by the activities of small groups engaging in what they think of as “exemplary” actions of a few are an obstacle to social change. Two variants of this viewpoint are ultraleftism and sectarian abstention. The third theme is the need to break from the stranglehold of the parties of “money” as Peter puts it, the Democrats and Republicans.

Peter’s experiences as a leader in the anti-Vietnam-War movement are vividly portrayed. One is his speaking before a crowd of 100,000 on the Boston Common as a spokesperson of the Student Mobilization Committee Against the War in Vietnam as part of the 1969 Vietnam Moratorium. There is a gripping account from a political opponent from the Democratic Party describing how Peter was by far the best received speaker of the day. In fact, Peter was the best public speaker of our generation in the SWP and YSA, and, I think, of the youth radicalization as a whole.

Peter had moved from New York to Berkeley, California in late 1965, at the request of the SWP and YSA. The San Francisco Bay Area had become a center of the new student movement, and the University of California at Berkeley especially so. Peter enrolled in the University, and quickly rose as a leader of the antiwar movement and the student movement in general there.

He outlines three different perspectives that emerged in the antiwar movement. One was that the movement should orient toward the Democratic Party. The Communist Party put forward this perspective, but also would endorse mass actions especially during periods between elections. Another was associated with the national leaders of the Students for a Democratic Society, who, while calling for the first massive action in 1965, had subsequently turned their backs on mass action and increasingly championed small vanguard actions and then minority violence. The third approach, which we supported, was to further mass actions in the streets independent of both capitalist parties.

To do this, we focused on building broad antiwar formations around the “single issue” of opposition to the war. All, regardless of their political views on other questions, were welcome to join. Within such coalitions, Peter explains, we argued for taking an “Out Now!” position, calling for immediate withdrawal from Vietnam. It took some years before “Out Now!” became the widely accepted goal of antiwar demonstrations.

Another key point we raised was non-exclusion. While independent of the Democrats and Republicans, we argued, the antiwar movement would welcome politicians from those parties who were against the war, on the principle that the movement had to be non-exclusionary. In practice, there were very few such politicians. It was on this basis that the large antiwar demonstrations that reached into the hundreds of thousands were organized.

An aspect of our approach was to build antiwar committees both locally and nationally by putting decision making in the hands of the activists themselves. Votes would be taken by the assembled activists after open debate. Most often our mass action perspective would carry the day, which led many others with opposing perspectives to charge that we had mechanical majorities of our own members at such meetings. But we never became anywhere near that large, although we did grow substantially during this period. Our arguments simply made sense to the majority of antiwar activists. This approach also raised the self-confidence of the participants, who became more dedicated to building the mass actions as a result.

Peter concludes that the SWP played a crucial and positive role in the antiwar movement. Peter himself was an important part of that effort.

There is a riveting chapter on what became known as “the battle of Telegraph Avenue.” This street abutted the Cal campus. In May-June 1968 there was a massive student-worker uprising in France which galvanized the world. Our young French cothinkers played an important part in these events. We organized support meetings and picket demonstrations in solidarity. In Berkeley, Peter met with other campus leaders to organize a big meeting on Telegraph Avenue. The SWP and YSA reached out to involve other organizations, but Peter was recognized as the main leader of the event.

The rally was set for June 28. The Berkeley City Council voted down the organizers’ request to shut down a short stretch of the Avenue next to the campus for the event. So there was agreement that the participants would stay on the sidewalks. Monitors were stationed to help keep the crowd on the sidewalks. But then the police attacked.

The students fought back as best they could. The next days and nights were marked by increased police violence, all of the city of Berkeley was placed on nighttime curfew, and mass meetings of the young people who fought against these violations of their rights to free speech and assembly. Finally, the city backed down and allowed the rally to proceed on Telegraph Avenue on July 4.

Peter’s account of how this victory was won makes for exciting reading, but more important are the lessons to be drawn. There was a big difference between the physical showdown between the mass of student protesters and the cops, and the actions of violence even bombings carried out by small groups believing they were “sparking” the mass movement. In contrast to such futile “offensive” actions, the protesters of Telegraph Avenue were defending their fundamental rights. All of their decisions were made at mass meetings after open debate. Their most important decision was to defy the city authorities by going forward to hold a rally on July 4, come what may. They knew that this could mean a violent confrontation with the police. They had already suffered casualties, and understood what this could mean. It was this resolve that forced the City Council to back down.

An important aspect of the leadership of the SWP and YSA and Peter himself was to reach out to the citizens of Berkeley, the fight for public opinion. Initially, this was against the students. But through careful tactics aimed at bringing the truth of the situation to the public, that the city authorities were trampling on rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, the mood in the city swung over to support them. The over-reaction of the police, by attacking bystanders and even people in their homes, was a factor. Police always go too far in such situations, but this truth had to made widely known.

In every way, Peter’s leadership was geared toward mass mobilization and mass action.

The third thread that runs through the book from beginning to end is the need to break from the Democratic and Republican parties. This was an aspect of our insistence that the antiwar movement be focused on independent mass actions in the streets not subordinate in any way to the twin parties of “money.” It was projected in the small example set by SWP election campaigns, from the first one Peter and I participated in, Farrell Dobb’s 1960 Presidential campaign with Myra Tanner Weiss as his running mate, through Peter’s own campaigns for the mayor of Berkeley, U.S. senator from Massachusetts, and his 1976 campaign for President with running mate Willie May Reid. After he left the SWP, Peter supported the independent campaigns of the Green Party, including Ralph Nader’s 2000 run for President, Peter’s own campaigns for Governor of California in 2002 and 2003, and as independent Ralph Nader’s running mate in 2004.

Peter’s last battle was to keep the Green Party independent from the Democrats, a fight which he lost at the national level as is well documented in the book, although some local Green Party groups do maintain their independence.

A comment is order here. There are some splinters of the Trotskyist movement who have attacked Peter’s support of independent Green Party election campaigns. Their argument is that the Greens are not a socialist party, nor do they have a base in the trade unions. These groups (including the rump which still uses the SWP name), say they would vote for a Labor Party if the trade unions organized one, claiming that it would be a workers’ party. They point to Lenin’s position in 1919 that the newly formed British Communist Party should vote for the Labour Party. They leave out that Lenin also said that the British Labour Party was a bourgeois party through and through, and an imperialist party to boot. He urged the young CP to vote for this imperialist capitalist party anyway, to reach out to the British workers whose trade unions had created it. The weird logic of the sectarian argument ends up urging a vote for the Labour Party of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, while opposing a vote for the anti-imperialist, pro-working class Ralph Nader. It is true that the U.S. Green Party is a petty-bourgeois (and thus bourgeois) party, but it is not a party of the big bourgeoisie nor is it an imperialist party. Unfortunately, on a national level it is now on a slippery slope towards supporting the imperialist Democratic Party. In many countries, the Greens have already gone over to finance capital.

A bright spot Peter points to was the 2000 campaign of Nader for President on the Green Party ticket. Tens of thousands packed Nader rallies in many cities, more than those of the two capitalist parties. These rallies were mainly young. A central aspect, evident in the shouts and applause of these young people, was their identification with the big anti-globalization demonstration in Seattle the year before. A new movement had appeared, inexperienced, new to radical ideas, but moving in an anti-capitalist direction – and full of the energy and enthusiasm of youth. Peter doesn’t mention this background to the Nader campaign, but this must be an oversight.

We both were present at the Oakland, California, Nader rally and saw these anti-globalization young people firsthand. Nader reacted to the shouts of the crowd, absorbing their energy, and his speech became more and more radical, which furthered the excitement of the audience.

This anti-globalization movement was cut short by the chauvinism and war mongering whipped up by the Bush administration, the Congress to a person, and press after 9/11. The movement continued elsewhere, but was silenced in the U.S. This was the major factor in the success of the subsequent Democratic Party anti-Nader campaign that reached into the Green Party itself. Figures like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Media Benjamin and Michael Moore capitulated. Not content with only their ideological campaign, the Democrats launched a series of despicable dirty tricks to keep the Nader-Camejo ticket off the ballot. This part of Peter’s book graphically explains the obstacles we face in breaking the two-party stranglehold.

Peter writes that in 1984 he made a “major political mistake” in supporting the campaign by Jesse Jackson in the Democratic Party Presidential primaries. A detail that Peter omits was that after Jackson lost, Peter supported the Democratic candidate Walter Mondale in the general election. After Peter left the SWP in 1981, I hadn’t had contact with him. In 1984, I happened to be walking by a Mondale street rally in New York, and ran into Peter, who handed me a vote Mondale leaflet. This seemed to me at the time to validate charges by the SWP leadership that Peter had moved way to the right.

Later, Peter and I talked about this. He said he wrongly supported the Mondale campaign as part of his tactic of trying to work within Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition in hopes that it would lead to a mass break with the Democrats. Peter writes “This error on my part lasted until I came to my senses and realized that, with few exceptions, the Rainbow Coalition was just another name for keeping progressives in the Democratic Party.”

An important appendix is a short essay on the origins of the two-party system, going back to the foundations of the United States, and up through the Civil War and beyond. He shows that in fact the present Republican and Democratic parties emerged from a single party, the Republicans, after the Civil War. This appendix should be reprinted as a pamphlet for the new generations who will become radicalized in the future.

There is a chapter on how Peter became a stockbroker, and how he helped set up a firm, “Progressive Assets Management.” The idea was that Peter would invest money for those who didn’t want to invest in firms doing business in apartheid South Africa, polluters, and so forth. There was an element of self-deception in this undertaking, as the control of the economy by financial capital makes it virtually impossible to know where investments go, except for some start-ups like solar power firms. This chapter is interesting, however, in explaining the obstacles the powers that be put in the way of Peter’s progressive projects. His outline of how workers’ pension funds are controlled by capital is revealing.

When my companion, Caroline Lund, and I reconnected with Peter it was after we had left the SWP some years earlier. We had moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. It was in the early 1990s when we first talked. In discussing what had happened to the SWP, Peter said that the fundamental question was that the program of the SWP was wrong. Since this theme is a major one in his book book, and since I disagree with him, I will take this up in some detail, both to disclose my bias and to explain Peter’s views in the latter part of his life more clearly.

Peter told me this disagreement represented a “profound difference” between us. I agree.

Peter writes, “With the rapid growth of the SWP and YSA during the antiwar movement, an ideological crisis had manifested itself within the SWP. The older, primarily worker-based segment of the party had grown concerned that the SWP would be changed by its newer members, most of whom were middle class youth. Many of the older members opposed our support for what they saw as contemporary issues, such as gay liberation, and in general were nervous that the SWP might abandon its roots in Trotskyism and begin to alter its ‘program.’”

This is wrong on several counts. A minor distortion is the assertion that our newer members “were middle class youth.” Most of our recruits in this period had come from the campuses, were students. Students come from all classes, from the bourgeoisie like Peter, from “middle class” families (working farmers, small business people, lawyers, self-employed and so forth) and from blue and white collar workers. After the Second World War, there was an explosion in education which drew in millions from working class families. Most of our recruits came from this latter section which was the majority among students, but we recruited from all these backgrounds.

To Peter’s main point. The “worker-based” older cadre had come to grips with analyzing the Chinese and Vietnamese revolutions prior to the radicalization of “The Sixties” but which greatly influenced our generation. These revolutions had come to power under Stalinist leaderships, something which our program had deemed extremely unlikely. The SWP modified its program accordingly. A new challenge was the Cuban Revolution, unfolding as Peter and I joined the SWP, which was led by non-Stalinist but not socialist forces (they became socialists in the course of the Revolution). Our program was further modified as we embraced the Cuban Revolution, an important context of the youth radicalization.

Our fundamental strategy and tactics in the antiwar movement (well explained by Peter) were first developed by the “older, primarily worker-based” party leadership, and which the younger leaders then also helped shape. It was the older comrades who developed the party’s positive appreciation of Black Nationalism against the opposition of almost all other socialist tendencies, and developed a far-reaching program for the Black liberation movement. It was younger leaders who analyzed the world-wide youth revolt, developed a new program in relation to it, with enthusiastic support of the older comrades. The same was true of the new women’s liberation movement. The younger members and leaders had the full support of the older comrades in all of these “contemporary” issues.

Opposition to our embracing of the new issues of the 1960s radicalization did develop in the party and YSA. This came not from the older comrades (with one or two exceptions) but from a small minority of the newer members, who did charge that the party was abandoning its program. This was a reflection among our student recruits of outside forces, especially the national leadership of the Student for Democratic society, who did turn their backs on the youth radicalization in a “workerist” direction. This small minority of our student youth was soundly defeated in the SWP and YSA.

There was some opposition to our fully embracing the gay liberation movement from some older comrades and some younger ones, too. This had nothing to do with fearing for our program, but was an expression of prejudice, pure and simple, in the wider working class at the time.

These examples and others refute Peter’s assertion, and a later one that the party’s program was “rigid.”

Peter makes some correct generalizations: “Not only is a political program an evolving concept, but it requires continuous discussion and debate in order for it to be effective. And it must, most important of all, be tested against reality. In other words, the program of an organization trying to bring justice to the world must be a process rooted primarily in the living mass struggles of the people.” But his next sentence reads, “It is not a written document put together by intelligent people in the past.”

Marxist written documents “from the past,” beginning with the Communist Manifesto, are essential to understand the present and to effectively intervene in it. The “living mass struggles” of the present grow out of those of the past. The written programmatic documents of Marxism are rich with the lessons of these past struggles. They do show development of course, since they reflect changing reality, but they also provide continuity. Neither reality nor Marxist theory (program is another word for theory) is always just coming into existence independent of the past.

Peter’s own history attests to this. Peter didn’t invent the need to break with the Democrats and Republicans. He learned this from the program of the Socialist Workers Party. His book has a chapter on Stalinism. He was taught to understand Stalinism by the SWP, which based its understanding on the programmatic work done by Trotsky. When Peter and I joined the SWP the two larger socialist groups, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party, rejected the need to break with the Democrats and rejected Trotsky’s analysis of Stalinism. The “single issue” and mass action perspective of the SWP in the antiwar movement was an adaptation of the united front tactic developed by the early Communist International, codified in “written documents.” What Peter learned about Malcolm X from the SWP was developed from “written documents” of the Bolsheviks on the national question. And so forth.

Peter’s position appears to reject the basic program of Marxism. He writes that Marx was right on many things. “Marx said human history can be understood like any other scientific process,” he says. He goes on to list other positive aspects of Marx’s thought. “Marx raised the idea that humans can transcend the brutality, violence, and abuse that have characterized most of human society for at least the past few thousand years. He laid out a view that attempted to tie society’s past evolution to how it might evolve in the future.”

Marx wasn’t the first to raise that society can transcend the present order. All socialists before Marx believed this, and were devoted to the cause of the working people and the oppressed. Marx’s unique contribution was his program of how this will (not “might”) come about. He didn’t “attempt” to do so, he did so. His program in its essence is that the modern working class which capitalism has produced is in an irreconcilable class struggle with the capitalists, and will lead all the oppressed in a revolution that will overthrow capitalist rule and take state power. It will use that state power to build over time a society without classes. To accomplish this historical task, the working class will have to develop consciousness of itself as a class and form a political party (or parties).

Peter nowhere affirms Marx’s program, and appears to reject it by omission. That is, he rejects much more than the SWP’s program. In the place of program and theory he presents an agnostic view: “The science of social change is permanently evolving. We will learn what works – that is what is ‘true’ – by the inevitable conflict of ideas and by testing those ideas against reality.” What “works” is what is “true” – a restatement of American pragmatism. We don’t yet know what “works,” including Marx’s program, Peter seems to be saying.

Peter believes, as do Marxists, that a Third American Revolution is on the historical agenda. An important part of his book is devoted to the idea that this revolution will be an extension of the first two, the War of Independence and the Civil War, which centered on the fight to extend democracy. “I am convinced the struggle will appear as a fight for democracy and will develop around very concrete issues of a defensive nature,” he writes. In the mid-1970s, as he was first developing his new ideas, Peter told me that the coming revolution will be fought around democratic demands, “not class demands.” Peter’s view is reflected in the title of his book, “North Star.” He took this term from the name of the abolitionist newspaper published by the great former slave Frederick Douglas in the fight against slavery.

Democratic demands will be very important, including the unfinished democratic tasks from the first two revolutions such as ending the continued oppression of Blacks. But so will the specific class demands of the workers, including the need for them to take state power, or there will be no revolution. The Third American Revolution will be a proletarian revolution for socialism.

The first two American Revolutions consolidated the rule of the capitalist class. The Civil War clinched this by overthrowing and expropriating the slave owning class. In class terms, the Third will overthrow the capitalist class and consolidate the rule of the working class through the formation of a democratic workers’ state and the expropriation of the capitalist class. The workers’ state will gradually move toward the withering away of all classes and the state itself.

Peter is right that we should assimilate the democratic victories of the War for Independence and the Civil War and identify with their leaders. But our American revolutionary heritage goes beyond that. We identify with the suffragettes, the decades-long battles against Jim Crow, and their many leaders including Susan B. Anthony, W.E.B DuBois, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. The first stirrings of the labor movement in the later 1880s, the IWW and the Socialist Party, the formation of the Communist Party and the SWP are also part of our heritage, as is the great labor upsurge of the 1930s. These movements threw up leaders we seek to emulate, too – and they put class demands at the center of the coming revolution. Malcolm X was moving toward socialism when he was gunned down. Martin Luther King saw at the end of his life that it was necessary to begin fighting for economic, working class demands – he was assassinated assisting striking Black waste workers.

Our generation of “The Sixties” also developed leaders and organizations of women, gays, youth, Blacks, Chicanos, socialists and more, who combined democratic and working class demands.

I realize that my reaffirmation of Marx’s view of the dynamic of class struggle under capitalism and its outcome is a minority one within the broad progressive movement and even among socialist organizations, and that many readers of Peter’s book will agree with him. This is quite true today, in the aftermath of the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, the feebleness of the labor movement in the face of the capitalist offensive, and the shrinking and divisions within the socialist movement.

All this is not say that Peter does not accept many Marxist concepts. He applies an analysis of the conflicting class forces (and fractions of classes) that have created the two-party system to great effect in his appendix on the subject. But he does not do so in relation to capitalism today and the question of what class forces will accomplish the Third American Revolution he looks forward to. We have to wait and see what “works.”

There has been a degeneration of the SWP, signs of which appeared in the 1970s, and which accelerated after 1980. Peter attributes this to Trotskyism itself, which inevitably produces sectarianism, splits and cults. He points to undoubted true examples. But there are glaring contradictions to his view. If the SWP was always inflicted with these diseases (since it undoubtedly was Trotskyist), there was no degeneration, only a continuation. The SWP that Peter and I joined was not sectarian. It certainly was not a cult of an individual. Its leadership team was composed of very independent and strong individuals, such as James P. Cannon, Farrell Dobbs, Tom Kerry, Murry and Myra Weiss, George Novack, Evelyn Reed, Karolyn Kerry, Joe Hansen and many others. The European Trotskyist parties on the whole were not sectarian or cults, and aren’t to this day.

The picture of the SWP and his participation in it and the movements of the radicalization of “The Sixties” Peter outlines are positive, overall. He clearly enjoyed those days and regards them as a high point of his life. This stands in contrast to many who left the SWP and have become bitter about their own youth.

I’ve taken the space to explain my differences with Peter because they are fundamental, but in spite of these differences we remained friends. I supported Peter’s attempts to further the struggle against the parties of “money” in the 1990s and 2000s, which he explains in his book. The 2000 Nader campaign, and his own election campaigns for governor stand out. One instance I particularly remember was in his 2002 campaign. Peter had championed the cause of the undocumented workers vigorously in this campaign, as he did before and after. My companion Caroline Lund and I joined a long march of 500 such workers in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, on a cold day, which ended up in a spirited rally addressed by Peter in Spanish.

From time to time Peter would telephone me to get my opinion during these campaigns. He also would call me to check my memory of events as he was writing the book. There are factual errors that crept in, probably because he was pressed for time and did not have the opportunity to consult the written record, but most do not affect the thrust of the book. One, however, should be corrected, as it misrepresents the views of an important figure in the Marxist movement, Ernest Mandel.

During the first days of the Nicaraguan revolution, a current of the Trotskyist movement relatively strong in Latin America led by Nahuel Moreno, which had split from the Fourth International, had formed an armed column called the Simon Bolivar Brigade. The SBB entered the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, which was demographically and geographically separate from most of the country, and attempted to set up local governments there. The Sandinista leadership of the revolution was concerned, of course, and moved to expel them.

Peter writes that Mandel, a central leader of the Fourth International in Europe, supported the SBB. I was part of the FI leadership in Paris at the time, and know this is not true. The whole of the FI repudiated Moreno’s adventure. A close friend of Mandel’s in Mexico, Manuel, who was also a leader of our group there, was dispatched to Nicaragua to explain our position. It is possible that Peter confused something that had occurred years earlier during the Portuguese revolution when there was a temporary political agreement between Mandel and Moreno. However, the false picture Peter presents of Mandel’s and other European leaders’ view of the Nicaraguan revolution extends beyond the Simon Bolivar Brigade. These leaders wholehearted supported the revolution, and sent many delegations to Nicaragua to learn about it first hand and returned to build solidarity in their countries. Peter also claims that at the November 1979 World Congress of the FI, the majority of the European leaders expressed hostility to the Sandinistas. There were two resolutions on Nicaragua presented to the Congress, but both were in support of the revolution, while having a theoretical difference.

I wish Peter had checked with me on this, because I am sure that if he had he would have realized that his memory of these events was faulty.

Peter’s honesty and selfless devotion to working people and all the oppressed marked his entire conscious life, and these qualities shine through the book. When my companion, Caroline Lund, was dying of  ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 2006, we held a big party for people to say goodbye to her. Peter was there, and a photo of him, Caroline and myself was taken, which I treasure and still keep. At that party Peter did not yet know of the cancer that was developing in his body, and which would take his life. Peter also spoke at Caroline’s memorial meeting, and noted that she was a very kind person. This was one of Peter’s personal qualities, too.

March 6, 2007

Erik Olin Wright’s “Envisioning Real Utopias”

Filed under: Academia,economics,socialism — louisproyect @ 6:33 pm

Erik Olin Wright

I had kicked around the idea of responding to sociologist Erik Olin Wright’s manuscript-in-progress “Envisioning Real Utopias” a few months ago, but decided against it mainly out of respect for Wright’s overall scholarship. Although I have big problems with Analytical Marxism (his methodology) and utopian thinking of any sort, he did have an excellent track record when it came to the nitty-gritty empirical research around class questions, starting with the 1973 “The Politics of Punishment: A Critical Analysis of Prisons in America.” If more leftist professors did this kind of yeoman scholarship, we’d all be better off.

When references to Wright’s work-in-progress turned up on recently on Crooked Timber and Political Theory Daily Review, I reconsidered since these two websites are excellent barometers of academic trends. As an outsider to this world, I find it endlessly fascinating–especially when it takes up questions of how to eliminate the capitalist system. So without further ado, here are some scattergun observations on the manuscript.

To start with, we should thank Wright for using the Internet to get feedback in this fashion. Over the years, I have found people such as Robert Brenner to be extremely uncomfortable with email debates. The preferred mode of operation for established Marxist scholars is to go into the woodshed for a couple of years or so and then unleash their finished product on the outside world. I am not sure what motivated Wright to take a different approach, but I hope it inspires others to follow his example.

Part one of “Envisioning Real Utopias” deals with the question of “What’s so bad about Capitalism?” Since I obviously would have no problem with any sort of answer to this question, I will move on immediately to the next part, which has to do with alternatives to the capitalist system. Since Wright finds Marx’s approach to this question “unsatisfactory in certain key respects,” I felt compelled as a troglodyte-Marxist of long standing to defend orthodoxy–even on heterodox terms.

In chapter 3 (“Thinking About Alternatives to Capitalism”), Wright announces at the outset that Marx proposed a highly problematic theory of the “long-term impossibility of capitalism,” which can be divided into 5 sub-theses:

1. Long-term nonsustainability.

2. Intensification of anticapitalist class struggle thesis.

3. Revolutionary transformation

4. Transition to socialism

5. Communism Destination

Now these constitute a kind of catechism for Marxist activists. When I went through a new member’s class in the Socialist Workers Party in 1967, this is more or less how it was explained to me. Of course, if your Marxism does not advance beyond this level, it is unlikely that it will make much of an impact politically.

While there are certainly grounds for thinking in more subtle ways about alternatives to capitalism, I am not sure that Wright’s answers are what we are looking for. To start with, Wright casts doubt on the “self-destruction” thesis in terms that are highly familiar to anybody who has taken Economics 101:

The thesis that the crisis tendencies of capitalism will have a systematic tendency to intensify over time is critical to the whole argument, for this is the basis for the idea that the contradictions of capitalism ultimately destroy its own conditions of existence. If the most we can say is that capitalism will have a tendency for periodic economic crises of greater or lesser severity, but there is no overall tendency of intensification of disruptions to capital accumulation, then we no longer have grounds for the idea that capitalism become progressively more fragile over time.

Basically, this is a straw-man construction. All of the major Marxist economic works since WWII have dispensed with the idea that there are mounting contradictions leading to permanent crisis. Except for the journals of tiny sects, you simply don’t find such arguments about “self-destruction” over the past 50 years. Back in May 1958, Harry Braverman was writing about “Marx in the Modern World” in the pages of the American Socialist in terms utterly at odds with Wright’s reductionist version:

Marx and the movement he shaped operated on the basis of imminent crisis. If he never gave thought to the kind of living standard inherent in a capitalism that would continue to revolutionize science and industry for another hundred years, that was because he thought he was dealing with a system that was rapidly approaching its Armageddon. He thought the social wars that would usher in socialism would take place under the social conditions he saw around him. In that sense, the economic obsolescence we can easily find in him today is of a piece with his errors of political foreshortening.

I could also refer Erik Olin Wright to the writings of Ernest Mandel, David Harvey or a host of other Marxist theoreticians who have little to do with notions of inevitable “self-destruction”. Since this would complicate his task of coming up with new theories to replace Marx’s, I doubt if he would have much interest in them.

Once he has dispensed with classical Marxist theory, Wright puts forward his new (“Wrightist”?) theory in chapter 4, titled “The Socialist Compass”. He starts off with the notion of a road map, but realizes that a compass is less rigid:

Instead of the metaphor of a road map guiding us to a known destination, the best we can probably do is to think of the project of emancipatory social change more like a voyage of exploration. We leave the well-known world with a compass that tells us the direction we are moving and an odometer which tells us how far from our point of departure we have traveled, but without a road map which lays out the entire route from the point of departure to the final destination. This has perils, of course: we may encounter chasms which we cannot cross, unforeseen obstacles which force us to move in a direction we had not planned. We may have to backtrack and try a new route.

Unfortunately, neither a road map nor a compass is the sort of metaphor that will be of much use to a socialist movement. Road maps and compasses are only useful when it comes to static realities, like a street, a lake, a rest stop, an ocean or a continent. Revolutionary politics defy any attempts to apply fixed categories since the ground is always shifting beneath your feet. Yesterday’s South might be tomorrow’s North. Indeed, there is absolutely no engagement in Wright with the social realities of present-day America, from the problems of immigrant labor to the decline of the trade union movement. It makes no sense of speaking about compasses to lead you in the direction of socialism while ignoring the pitfalls in your immediate path.

Ultimately, the obsession with coming up with “feasible” socialisms is a bit like the “maximalist” socialisms put forward on May Day by the old SP. In between the elections of SP candidates on “sewer socialism” platforms and the grand finale of a socialist world, they had very little to say. One imagines that is why Wright poses the question in terms of “utopian” solutions, since they are disconnected from politics as such.

The chapter does not start off promisingly since Wright defines the need for “ideal-types”:

To explain what this means I will first need to clarify a number of key concepts: power; ownership; and the state, the economy, and civil society as three broad domains of social interaction and power. Second, I will develop an ideal-type conceptual map of capitalism, statism, and socialism as types of economic structures based on different the configurations of ownership and power linked to these three domains. And third, I will explain how this ideal-type typology of economic structures helps inform a conceptual map of empirical variability of the macro-structures of economic systems.

I would suggest that ideal-types are the last thing we need. To speak in these terms means that you are accepting the formal logic straitjacket of bourgeois social science.

While I have stated previously that I probably have no disagreements with Wright about the meaning of capitalism, I do have to part company with him on his use of the terms statism and socialism.

He defines statism as “an economic structure within which the means of production are owned by the state and the allocation and use of resources for different social purposes is thus accomplished through the exercise of state power.” Socialism, by contrast, is “an economic structure within which the means of production are socially owned and the allocation and use of resources for different social purposes is accomplished through the exercise of what can be termed ‘social power.'”

And what are some examples of an economic structure in which the means of production are “socially owned”? Wright states:

In Israel the traditional kibbutzim would constitute an example of social ownership: all of the means of production in the kibbutz were owned in common by all members of the community and they collectively controlled the use of the surplus generated by the use of those means of production. Worker cooperatives also can constitute examples of social ownership, depending upon the specific ways in which the property rights of the coop are organized.

It is rather remarkable to see the Israeli kibbutzim described in these terms at this stage of the game. Of course, you can only do so in the context of “ideal-types.” Once you step down from the Platonic clouds and deal with the reality of the kibbutz, you will understand that they always relied on the exploitation of Arab labor. In 1983, one out of five kibbutz workers was an Arab who could not even organize a trade union for higher wages. This is not to speak of the fact that the land was stolen from the original inhabitants. If such “social ownership” is supposed to be an advance over the nasty “statist” ownership of actually existing socialist states, then one wonders what kind of utopian dimension Wright hopes to introduce into our movement. For the Palestinians, the kibbutz have been rather lacking in the utopian department.

In considering the inadequacies of “statist” approaches (i.e., Marxist theories about the proletarian dictatorship), Wright resorts to the favorite villain of central casting, the old Soviet Union:

Whether because of inherent tendencies of revolutionary party organizations to concentrate power at the top or because of the terrible constraints of the historical circumstances of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, whatever potential for the Communist Party to be subordinated to an autonomous civil society was destroyed in the course of the early years of the revolution. By the time the new Soviet State had consolidated power and launched its concerted efforts at transforming the economy, the party had become a mechanism of state domination, a vehicle for penetrating civil society and controlling economic organizations.

As is so often the case with these sorts of exercises on “what went wrong,” Cuba does not enter the discussion. With its obvious departures from Stalinist practices, Cuba does not easily serve as a cautionary tale against the evils of “statism.” This is particularly unfortunate since the recent period has been marked by invitations from the very highest levels of the party to discuss the role of “autonomous civil society” in the building of socialism. It would behoove Erik Olin Wright to study this plucky little island’s attempt to create an alternative to capitalism.

I will conclude with a look at chapters 5 and 6, in which Wright explores “a range of real utopian proposals.” I am glad that he is proposing real utopian proposals as opposed to imaginary utopian proposals of the kind that tend to get my dander up. Frankly, the more one looks into these proposals, the more has to ask what is particularly “utopian” about them.

For example, Wright is impressed with the “participatory budget” that Lula’s party pushed for in the city of Porto Alegre:

In most cities that are governed by democratic institutions, the Mayor’s office prepares a city budget each year, which is then submitted to a city council for approval and amendment. But where does the mayor get the numbers? Usually this is done through a technical budgetary office filled with economists, city planners, political cronies and other associates of the Mayor. In Porto Alegre, in contrast, the budget is generated by a complex process centering on direct citizen participation in popular councils.

Given Wright’s distaste for “statist” economics, it is not surprising that he would gravitate toward municipal decision-making over how the local pie should be divided. If the voters of Porto Alegre decide to allocate 50 percent of the budget for better sanitation rather than cops, who could oppose that? Unfortunately, the major problems facing Brazil can only be resolved at the national level, including land distribution and an end to neoliberal economics. A “participatory budget” hardly amounts to some kind of “utopian” assault on the status quo. At best, it is a modern version of the kind of “sewer socialism” referred to above. Nobody would gainsay the right of the Brazilian people to find a more beneficial way to spend their tax dollars, but you don’t need to come up with a new tailor-made substitute for Marxism when Fabian Socialism is available right off the rack. When you strip away the social science jargon that Wright wraps his arguments in, that is what you are left with after all: Fabianism.

Wright, like other Analytical Marxists, is easily infatuated with what can best be described as individualistic solutions. John Roemer, for example, came up with the idea of coupon socialism, in which all citizens above 21 are supposed to receive coupons which they must invest in firms, but they are not free to sell or give the coupons to each other. This is supposed to reduce the concentration of wealth and open the door to socialism in some fashion. It is of course a silly idea from top to bottom.

Wright endorses a similar idea concocted by another left-leaning academic, but the instrument is a credit card rather than a coupon:

Bruce Ackerman has proposed a novel institutional device which potentially would have the consequence of both marginalizing the role of wealth in electoral politics and create a much more deeply egalitarian form of financing politics in general, not just conventional electoral campaigns. The basic idea is simple: At the beginning of every year every citizen would be given a special kind of debit card which Ackerman dubs a Patriot Card, but which I would prefer to call a Democracy Card.

I can’t say that I am one of Bruce Ackerman’s fans. After he and Todd Gitlin drafted an idiotic document titled “We Answer to the Name of Liberals” that “supported the use of American force, together with our allies, in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan,” I cast him into the lower depths of liberal hell along with the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Albert Shanker. My response to the Gitlin-Ackerman article is here.

The rest of Wright’s chapter goes on in this vein with “Citizen’s Assemblies” selected at random and other gimmicks. Ultimately, this sort of thing is simply another sterile exercise in utopian thought, not much different from Albert-Hahnel’s “Parecon” or the Socialist Labor Party’s century-old prescriptions about how socialist industrial unions have to become the basis for a new world.

Alternatives to capitalism will not arise because a critical mass of the population has become smitten with such utopian schemas, but because the conditions of daily life have become so onerous that they revolt against the system in its totality. As that day grows near, it will become urgent to develop a revolutionary movement of the classical type no matter whether that is fashionable in the academy or not.

 

December 23, 2006

Does socialism have a future?

Filed under: socialism — louisproyect @ 4:20 pm

When Fidel Castro was stricken with what appears to be a terminal illness, it prompted many commentators to muse about the imminent collapse of Cuban socialism. This is a theme that finds new ways of expression based on periodic upheavals both within and outside Cuba. After the Soviet Union evaporated in the early 1990s, pundits wrote countless words about how Cuba would be next. But socialism finds ways to keep rolling along on the island, just like the American jalopies that the inventive Cubans find ways to keep on the road with chewing gum and baling wire. In every respect, socialism has the appearance of being out of sync with a world that is either openly capitalist or that like China wraps private property relations in a thin tissue of socialist rhetoric.

With its frenzied obsession with technical innovation, joined at the hip to planned obsolescence, the capitalist system puts novelty on a throne. Spalding Gray, the brilliant performance artist and writer who threw himself off the Staten Island ferry after battling bad health and depression for a number of years, had a wonderful story about visiting the Soviet Union in the 1980s. He said that despite being the butt of jokes about its backwardness, he found something alluring about the country. He noted that on Soviet warships captains still communicated acoustically with the men in the engine room through a pipe that ran through the ship’s innards. He found something more human about that process.

Are socialists condemned to be followers of kitschy symbols of the past? Are those of us in the West who became socialists in the 1960s and still retain such beliefs the equivalent of the aging East Europeans who traffic in Ostalgie, a term coined for those foolish souls who think that something was lost when East Germany was swallowed up by its more aggressive and wealthy cousin to the West?

The war in Iraq has now lasted longer than World War Two and is rapidly approaching the Vietnam War in longevity, a conflict that radicalized tens of thousands of youths, including me. Since the U.S. was waging a war against “Communism,” it was inevitable that those of us who were called upon to kill or be killed would begin to ask what that system was all about. If nothing else, the heroism of the Vietnamese people led us to investigate the ideas that they supposedly held dear. For a small minority, the ideas actually made sense. In the West, especially during the “cool” and disaffected 1950s, no idea seemed worth dying for.

There is no such phenomenon at work in the war in Iraq, despite the obvious dedication of the Sunni fighters and Sadr’s militias at times to rid their country of occupiers. Although it is very difficult to get word about the beliefs that motivated fighters in a place like Fallujah, we can assume that socialism was not part of the mix. The fighting spirit of the Iraqi resistance, the elan of the Hezbollah, and the irrepressible militancy of the Iranian government has engendered a certain sense of camaraderie on the Marxist Left in the West. If socialism has few adherents in the Middle East, should we throw in our lot with those who have the muscle to stop the imperialists in their tracks?

Furthermore, to make ourselves attractive to them, perhaps it might make sense to downplay our stubborn emphasis on class, especially since Islam purports to unite owner and employer on the basis of faith. It was probably symptomatic of such barely concealed desires that Counterpunch ran an interview with Hezbollah’s leader Hasan Nasrallah in which he says, “You will witness how our people have embraced Chávez and Ernesto Che Guevara. Nearly in every house, you will come across posters of Che or Chávez.” A red-faced Counterpunch had to admit some days later that the interview was a fraud.

In Latin America, there have been expressions of sympathy for Che Guevara that are genuine and which would seem to indicate a revival of interest in the socialist project. Evo Morales, the newly elected President of Bolivia, told interviewers that “I’m not only a follower of Chávez, but a follower of Castro and a follower of Che.” However, in the next breath he added, “This does not mean I am going to implement their programmes here because Bolivia is not Cuba.” This would seem to mean that Cuba serves more as an inspiration than an actual model to be followed for the new Latin American left.

In Venezuela itself, socialism is openly defended as a kind of official ideology but it is a ‘sui generis’ twenty-first century socialism that is open to varying interpretations, it would seem. For the ultra-orthodox Trotskyists of the In Defense of Marxism Web site, Hugo Chávez is a standard-bearer of their own particular ideas about socialist revolution, even if he is not aware of that himself. By the same token, Chávez is claimed by Joseph Stiglitz as a practitioner of his own version of New Deal economics. Oddly enough, in a world that puts dog-eat-dog competition on a pedestal, it is both socialism and the New Deal that seem like relics from a bygone era.

Tariq Ali, the well-known British Marxist, goes one step further and synthesizes socialism and the New Deal. In an interview with Doug Henwood on the New York Pacifica station, here’s how it plays out:

Tariq Ali: So the reforms which he has pushed through of using the oil money to create… You know people in the states sometimes get shocked when I say this but look he is very radical in attacking imperialism and all that but the internal reforms which are taking place in Venezuela today are a combination of Roosevelt’s New Deal and social democratic reforms which were pushed through in every European country after the Second World War. [Presumably, Ali is referring to Western Europe.]

Doug Henwood: So this is what he means by 21st century socialism?

Tariq Ali: Yeah, that’s what he means. It is left social democratic reforms. And he has said that to me a number of times that we are not living in an epoch of proletarian revolution. It is just crazy to think you can just jump over everything and do that.

Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to examine some of these questions in greater depth. Is socialism a worthwhile theory that can only lead to chaos and disaster if it is implemented anytime in the foreseeable future — a “crazy” ambition, in Tariq Ali’s words? Is the best thing we can hope for a realignment of world superpowers that would put China and Russia in a stronger position to resist US savagery? Is there some other economic system in between capitalism and socialism that can combine the dynamism of the former system and the egalitarianism of the latter? These are questions that should matter to every thinking person on the planet.

March 14, 2005

Carl Davidson, continued

Filed under: Uncategorized — louisproyect @ 12:14 pm

Carl Davidson writes:
Louis, you sort of slide over the main point. Of course the Trotskyists ‘supported’ the defeat of Germany, et al. I’m not claiming they didn’t. There’s no ‘bald-faced lie’ here. But they also supported the defeat at the same time of the bourgeoisie in every country, the defeat of all imperialists in the inter-imperialist war, including ours. You couch this in terms of ‘revolutionary mobilization to do the job.’ I’m not quite sure quite what this is supposed to mean, since the Civil War analogy doesn’t really hold, but it usually meant, in the language of the time, something like ‘overthrow the bosses government, install a workers and farmers government,’ and then conduct the war of a difference class basis from there.

Response:
The only defeat that Trotskyists ever urged with respect to Roosevelt was at the hands of the American working class, not the Wehrmacht. I must say that you are rather adept at characterizing the position of the SWP even if falsely. But you must learn to cite what the SWP actually *said*. Your analysis of the Trotskyist position on WWII is utterly bereft of any direct citations. Instead of foggy declarations about “the language of the time,” you would be well-advised to read what Trotsky or other people wrote. This is especially important in light of the fact that your attack on Trotskyism was simultaneously a defense of Stalin. You even put the words “Stalin’s crimes” in quotes, a sign of the Stalin worship that the Progressive Labor Party infected SDS with and that people like you and Bob Avakian eventually succumbed to. I guess your intention was to show Peking that you were even more anxious to turn back the clock to the mid-1930s than your rivals in PLP.

Rather than putting words into our mouths, you might want to consult what the Trotskyists were actually saying. As should be obvious from what I have been writing on the Internet for the past 13 years or so, I am a critic of the organizational model of the Fourth International. Despite that, I remain sympathetic to what Trotsky wrote about fascism, Stalinism, etc. Here’s what Ernest Mandel has to say about WWII. Mandel, in my opinion, was the deepest thinker that this movement produced in the post-WWII period:

Or movement was inoculated against nationalism in imperialist countries, against the idea of supporting imperialist war efforts in any form whatsoever. That was a good education, and I do not propose to revise that tradition. But what it left out of account were elements of the much more complex Leninist position in the First World War. It is simply not true that Lenin’s position then can be reduced to the formula: “This is a reactionary imperialist war. We have nothing to do with it.” Lenin’s position was much more sophisticated. He said: “There are at least two wars, and we want to introduce a third one.” (The third one was the proletarian civil war against the bourgeoisie which in actual fact came out of the war in Russia.)

Lenin fought a determined struggle against sectarian currents inside the internationalist tendency who did not recognise the distinction between these two wars. He pointed out: “There is an inter-imperialist war. With that war we have nothing to do. But there are also wars of national uprising by oppressed nationalities. The Irish uprising is 100 per cent justified. Even if German imperialism tries to profit from it, even if leaders of the national movement link up with German submarines, this does not change the just nature of the Irish war of independence against British imperialism. The same thing is true for the national movement in the colonies and the semi-colonies, the Indian movement, the Turkish movement, the Persian movement.” And he added: “The same thing is true for the oppressed nationalities in Russia and Austro-Hungary. The Polish national movement is a just movement, the Czech national movement is a just movement. A movement by any oppressed nationality against the imperialist oppressor is a just movement. And the fact that the leadership of these movements could betray by linking these movements politically and organizationally to imperialism is a reason to denounce these leaders, not a reason to condemn these movements.”

Now if we look at the problem of World War II from that more dialectical, more correct Leninist point of view, we have to say that it was a very complicated business indeed. I would say, at the risk of putting it a bit too strongly, that the Second World War was in reality a combination of five different wars. That may seem an outrageous proposition at first sight, but I think closer examination will bear it out.

First, there was an inter-imperialist war, a war between the Nazi, Italian, and Japanese imperialists on the one hand, and the Anglo-American-French imperialists on the other hand. That was a reactionary war, a war between different groups of imperialist powers. We had nothing to do with that war, we were totally against it.

Second, there was a just war of self-defence by the people of China, an oppressed semi-colonial country, against Japanese imperialism. At no moment was Chiang Kai-shek’s alliance with American imperialism a justification for any revolutionary to change their judgement on the nature of the Chinese war. It was a war of national liberation against a robber gang, the Japanese imperialists, who wanted to enslave the Chinese people. Trotsky was absolutely clear and unambiguous on this. That war of independence started before the Second World War, in 1937; in a certain sense, it started in 1931 with the Japanese Manchurian adventure. It became intertwined with the Second World War, but it remained a separate and autonomous ingredient of it.

Third, there was a just war of national defence of the Soviet Union, a workers state, against an imperialist power. The fact that the Soviet leadership allied itself not only in a military way – which was absolutely justified – but also politically with the Western imperialists in no way changed the just nature of that war. The war of the Soviet workers and peasants, of the Soviet peoples and the Soviet state, to defend the Soviet Union against German imperialism was a just war from any Marxist-Leninist point of view. In that war we were 100 per cent for the victory of one camp, without any reservations or question marks. We were for absolute victory of the Soviet people against the murderous robbers of German imperialism.

Fourth, there was a just war of national liberation of the oppressed colonial peoples of Africa and Asia (in Latin America there was no such war), launched by the masses against British and French imperialism, sometimes against Japanese imperialism, and sometimes against both in succession, one after the other. Again, these were absolutely justified wars of national liberation, regardless of the particular character of the imperialist power. We were just as much for the victory of the Indian people’s uprising against British imperialism, and the small beginnings of the uprising in Ceylon, as we were in favour of the victory of the Burmese, Indochinese, and Indonesian guerrillas against Japanese, French, and Dutch imperialism successively. In the Philippines the situation was even more complex. I do not want to go into all the details, but the basic point is that all these wars of national liberation were just wars, regardless of the nature of their political leadership. You do not have to place any political confidence in or give any political support to the leaders of a particular struggle in order to recognise the justness of that struggle. When a strike is led by treacherous trade union bureaucrats you do not put any trust in them – but nor do you stop supporting the strike.

Now I come to the fifth war, which is the most complex. I would not say that it was going on in the whole of Europe occupied by Nazi imperialism, but more especially in two countries, Yugoslavia and Greece, to a great extent in Poland, and incipiently in France and Italy. That was a war of liberation by the oppressed workers, peasants, and urban petty bourgeoisie against the German Nazi imperialists and their stooges. To deny the autonomous nature of that war means saying in reality that the workers and peasants of Western Europe had no right to fight against those who were enslaving them at that moment unless their minds were set clearly against bringing in other enslavers in place of the existing ones. That is an unacceptable position.

It is true that if the leadership of that mass resistance remained in the hands of bourgeois nationalists, of Stalinists or social democrats, it could eventually be sold out to the Western imperialists. It was the duty of the revolutionaries to prevent this from happening by trying to oust these fakers from the leadership of the movement. But it was impossible to prevent such a betrayal by abstaining from participating in that movement.

What lay behind that fifth war? It was the inhuman conditions which existed in the occupied countries. How can anyone doubt that? How can anyone tell us that the real reason for the uprising was some ideological framework – such as the chauvinism of the French people or of the CP leadership? Such an explanation is nonsense. People did not fight because they were chauvinists. People were fighting because they were hungry, because they were over-exploited, because there were mass deportations of slave labour to Germany, because there was mass slaughter, because there were concentration camps, because there was no right to strike, because unions were banned, because communists, socialists and trade unionists were being put in prison.

That’s why people were rising, and not because they were chauvinists. They were often chauvinists too, but that was not the main reason. The main reason was their inhuman material living conditions, their social, political, and national oppression, which was so intolerable that it pushed millions onto the road of struggle. And you have to answer the question: was it a just struggle, or was it wrong to rise against this over-exploitation and oppression? Who can seriously argue that the working class of Western or Eastern Europe should have abstained or remained passive towards the horrors of Nazi oppression and Nazi occupation? That position is indefensible.

So the only correct position was to say that there was a fifth war which was also an autonomous aspect of what was going on between 1939 and 1945. The correct revolutionary Marxist position (I say this with a certain apologetic tendency, because it was the one defended from the beginning by the Belgian Trotskyists against what I would call both the right wing and the ultra-left wing of the European Trotskyist movement at that time) should have been as follows: to support fully all mass struggles and uprisings, whether armed or unarmed, against Nazi imperialism in occupied Europe, in order to fight to transform them into a victorious socialist revolution – that is, to fight to oust from the leadership of the struggles those who were linking them up with the Western imperialists, and who wanted in reality to maintain capitalism at the end of the war, as in fact happened.

full: http://www.geocities.com/youth4sa/mandel-ww2.html

Carl Davidson continues:
Anything like that was never in the cards in the US in that period, and you should know it a well as anyone. The closest to it was Randolph’s threatened ‘Double V’ march–victory against fascism abroad and Jim Crow at home. Only Randolph was calling for the victory of the US bourgeoise in Europe and Asia, correctly arguing that intergrating the Army and opposing segregation everywhere would strengthen the position of the US, especially in the colonial world, where the allies where up against the Japanese call for ‘a united front of the darker races under the leadership of Japan.’ Opposing Randolph, along with supporting the no strike pledge, the goverment crackdown on the SWP, and and the incarceration of the Japanese in camps, are to the everlasting shame of the CPUSA and all came back to haunt them, all point I believe I made in my 1970s writings, if not in this pamphlet, then in others. Harry Haywood certainly made it in his book, ‘Black Bolshevik.’

Response:
I have no idea what points you made in your 1970s writings and lack the patience or the free time to review them. All I know is that somebody who puts the words “Stalin’s crimes” in scare quotes needs to rethink the merit of standing on such writings. They are about as solid as a 3 dollar suitcase.

Carl Davidson continues:
I know SWP members took part in the US military, and never claimed they didn’t; they also submitted to the draft in the Vietnam war. Their line was always to carry out your duties as a soldier as best as you could to avoid a courts-martial and to continue doing SWP revolutionary propaganda work among the GIs. In the case of the Fort Hood 3 in the 1960, this had a positive impact. But I still stand by our SDS line of opposition to the draft as well as working in the Army.

Response:
I wasn’t aware that SDS worked in the army. I thought you guys were focused on developing a counter-culture.

Carl Davidson continues:
As for Kerry, I never endorsed him or even called him an antiwar candidate. I said he represented another faction of imperialism. I did urge people to register to vote, organized them to do so in large numbers, and to vote to defeat Bush. We left it up to them to decide whether to vote Kerry, Nader or Cobb, knowing, of course, that almost all would vote for Kerry and only a handful for any third party option that might be there. But we brought them to the polls nonetheless. In the process, we build our own organizations that belong to us, not the Democrats. If you can’t tell the difference between that and a reform Democrat line prettifying or kissing Kerry’s butt, then that’s part of the problem, isn’t it?

Response:
In his autobiography, CP leader Steve Nelson explained how Browder perfected the tactic now being employed by people such as you and Ted Glick:

“The fact that the Party [CP] continued to run its own candidates during the early New Deal may give the wrong impression of our attitude toward the Democratic Party. We supported pro-New Deal candidates and ran our own people largely for propaganda purposes….

“Earl Browder’s campaign that same year [1936] demonstrates how we ran our own candidates but still supported the New Deal. His motto and the whole tone of his campaign was ‘Defeat Landon [the Republican] at All Costs.’ In this way he sought to give critical support to FDR. We wanted to work with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party and to achieve a certain amount of legitimacy as a party of the Left. We held a rally for Browder in the Wilkes-Barre [Pennsylvania] armory, which held over three thousand people, and the place was jammed. Many in the audience were rank and file Democrats. We didn’t get their votes on election day, but that’s not what counted to us. They were coming to recognize us as friends.”

Carl Davidson continues:
As for Gus Hall and the ‘peoples party,’ goodness, that’s a blast from the past. He used it as a ‘left’ cover to continue the main effort of working to reform the Democrats. I don’t care what name the replacement for the Democratic party has, but I’m working to build something new from the ground up, a broad nonpartisan alliance to defeat the right. So far, at least here in Chicago, we’re actually making some progress.

As for not having the same views I had in the 1960-70s, I can only quote Muhhamed Ali to the effect that ‘anyone who thinks the same at 50 as they did at 20 has wasted 30 years of their life.’

Response:
In your case, the pattern seems to be the classic transformation of an ultraleftist into a reformist.

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