Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 15, 2016

Snowden

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 10:50 pm

Like Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and John Ford, Oliver Stone is a true auteur—a director who puts his unique stamp on a body of work defined by a particular theme and aesthetic. In Stone’s case, it is the story of lost innocence as the protagonist discovers essential truths about himself and the debased American system he mistakenly believed in. In “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Platoon”, the hero is a young man who joins the military to defend freedom in Vietnam only realizing in the end that he was a hired gun for Wall Street as Smedley Butler once put it. Landing a blue-chip job in that “Wall Street”, a young stockbroker decides that jail and a loss of a lucrative career is preferable to robbing ordinary working people with a fountain pen as Woody Guthrie put it in “Pretty Boy Floyd”. Even if “JFK” trafficked in wildly improbable conspiracy mongering, it shared their basic message, namely that the military-industrial complex and the big banks are enemies of peace and freedom.

After a long drought, Stone has made the kind of film he became famous for. Like Ron Kovic, the real-life hero of “Born on the Fourth of July”, Edward Snowden came from a family that embraced rightwing patriotic values. His father was a Coast Guard officer as was his maternal grandfather who became a senior FBI official after leaving the military and who was at the Pentagon on September 11th 2001.

Snowden enlisted in the Army to train for the Special Forces, an elite commando unit, but had to leave basic training after breaking both legs in exercises. He told the Guardian not long after he became a whistle-blower why he wanted to become a killer for Uncle Sam: “I wanted to fight in the Iraq war because I felt like I had an obligation as a human being to help free people from oppression”, the same kind of beliefs that motivated Ron Kovic to join the Marines in September 1964.

In Stone’s classic films, there is an adrenaline rush of sensationalism that propels the films forward: gun battles in Vietnam, eye-popping decadence on Wall Street or the skullduggery of assassins determined (rather improbably) to get rid of a president who had decided to end American intervention in Vietnam.

I was wary about how Stone would treat Edward Snowden’s odyssey from gung-ho patriot to principled opponent of unlawful surveillance. Since sensationalism was part of the Oliver Stone brand name, I half-expected “Snowden” to have scenes of the hero ducking under gunfire like Matt Damon in the Jason Bourne movies, especially when we are told as the film begins that it was “inspired” by the Edward Snowden story.

The big surprise is that Stone has made his classic redemption film but without the sensationalism we have grown to expect, a sign that even a seventy-year-old director is capable of growth. (Is there hope for me?) “Snowden” is not a spy thriller. It is instead a story of the moral and political awakening of a hero wrestling with the yawning gulf between the patriotic beliefs he had held since boyhood and American assaults on both people in far-off lands and those living inside the “Shining City upon a Hill”. Like Ron Kovic, Edward Snowden became a radical—not so much in the sense of embracing Marxist ideology but in sacrificing everything he had treasured up to the point when he became a whistle-blower: his livelihood, his prestige as a high-powered security engineer, and—most of all—his citizenship. Risking the charge of espionage, he stood up for the right to privacy, a basic right we are supposed to enjoy in a democracy. If Orwell’s classic novel was forever linked with the words “Big Brother is Watching You”, Snowden risked becoming an “unperson” in 2013 because he would not accept Big Brother reading your email, listening in on your phone calls or any other forms of electronic surveillance.

The film is structured as a series of encounters with people in authority who violate his sense of elementary rights to privacy. When he is in a training class for the CIA, the instructor tells the class that President Bush has a green light to snoop on Americans without a warrant because the 2008 amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 gives him that right. As Edward Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face takes on the look of someone being told that it is okay to use the Constitution as toilet paper, which is essentially what the amendment did.

Gordon-Levitt is not only a fine actor who conveys Snowden’s combination of nerdiness and boy scout like idealism but someone ideally suited to bring such a character to life. His father was the news director of the Pacifica station in Los Angeles and his mother was a Peace and Freedom candidate in the 1970s.

In addition to showing how Snowden was pushed to the limit by a Deep State that violated constitutional rights while using verbiage defending them, “Snowden” is a love story about his long-term relationship with Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley), a woman he met through an online dating service geared to computer geeks. As you can imagine, the stresses he dealt with working for agencies he rapidly began losing faith in put the relationship through the mill. Ironically, it was her liberal politics that first got Snowden doubting the patriotic ideology he lived by and finally led to his putting his life on the line. In the Trotskyist movement we used to call that “horizontal recruitment”.

The screenplay was co-written by Stone and Kieran Fitzgerald, a young screenwriter who has a BA in English from Harvard University. If he was responsible in some way for keeping “Snowden” close to the facts, he is to be commended.

If you’ve been watching “Mr. Robot” on the USA network, you’ll be familiar with the way a tale about hacking or whistle-blowing can become a peg to hang all sorts of paranoia and geek arcana upon. “Snowden” eschews any such temptations and instead focuses on the broader questions of privacy and accountability, matters that remain on the front burner given the government’s battles with Apple over bypassing the iPhone’s encryption features. It is very likely that if Snowden had not blown the whistle, Tim Cook would have given the FBI the green light.

Even if “Snowden” had been a lesser film, it was of major significance in putting the status of Edward Snowden on the front pages of newspapers and in the evening news. A campaign to pardon him has been launched by the ACLU to coincide with the film’s opening in major theaters everywhere. An op-ed in today’s NY Times co-authored by Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch and Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International, makes the case for pardoning Snowden:

Since the United States canceled his passport, stranding him in the Moscow airport, Mr. Snowden has continued to demonstrate the principles that led him to disclose profoundly disturbing facts about surveillance overreach. He is the head of a human rights group, the Freedom of the Press Foundation; he’s developing technology to protect journalists in dangerous zones around the world from life-threatening surveillance; and he has frequently criticized the human rights and technology policies of Russia, the only country that stands between him and a high-security prison in the United States.

As should come as no surprise, the traditional rightwing views Snowden as a traitor. In a WSJ editorial, Hoover Institute fellow Josef Joffe regards Snowden as “the greatest counterintelligence disaster since the Rosenbergs and Klaus Fuchs, who betrayed America’s most precious nuclear secrets to Moscow.” What about Donald Trump, who has the reputation of being a friend of the Kremlin that is supposedly using Snowden as an asset? He told Fox News: “I think Snowden is a terrible threat, I think he’s a terrible traitor, and you know what we used to do in the good old days when we were a strong country — you know what we used to do to traitors, right?”

In an October 13, 2015 debate, Clinton was asked whether Snowden was a hero or a traitor. She said:

He broke the laws of the United States. He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.

Meanwhile, Jill Stein, a candidate who will be excluded from the debates, was clear about what Snowden deserved:

If elected president I will immediately pardon Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and John Kiriakou for their important work in exposing the massive, systematic violation of our constitutional rights. I would invite them to the White House to publicly acknowledge their heroism, and create a role for them in the Stein-Baraka Green party administration to help us create a modern framework that protects personal privacy while still conducting effective investigations where warranted.

For some of my comrades, the name Jill Stein is associated with subservience to the Kremlin. Would her advocacy for Snowden be linked in some fashion with a conspiracy to advance Putin’s agenda and sap the strength of the USA, so necessary according to some leftists as a counterforce to Russia?

Maybe Edward Snowden is not the person such a conspiracy can rely upon:

screen-shot-2016-09-15-at-6-36-13-pm

Snowden is a man of integrity and principle. Oliver Stone has made a spellbinding film about one of our heroes. My choice for one of the best films of 2016.

August 7, 2016

The Battle of Aleppo

Filed under: Syria — louisproyect @ 8:29 pm

In my review of Gilbert Achcar’s “Morbid States”, I referred to the imminent fall of East Aleppo—an event that would likely mean that the war would end on terms favorable to the Baathist dictatorship. Just three days after posting the article, I was quite surprised and elated to discover that the battle had turned against the Baathists. In a surprise attack on the Ramosa military base, an alliance of rebel groups gained control of its weaponry and opened up a corridor that will allow food and medical supplies to be shipped in to the besieged slums.

Essentially Assad and Putin were carrying out the same strategy that was used in 1999 against the people of Grozny in Chechnya, almost to the last detail. Putin had leaflets dropped on the city announcing a safe corridor for civilians just as was the case in East Aleppo. And as they began leaving in trucks, the Russian air force bombed them. That is probably one of the reasons the people in East Aleppo decided to take their chances on staying put.

And those that stayed put had to face the same kind of criminal attacks that the Chechens faced in 1999:

At least 10 explosions devastated a downtown market and maternity hospital in Grozny, Chechnya, on Thursday evening, according to accounts from the breakaway Russian republic.

The explosions reportedly killed scores of people and injured hundreds more in a scene of panic and horror. Chechen officials told The Associated Press that at least 118 people died and more than 400 were injured, although the number could not be confirmed.

Ultimately, the Chechens could not withstand such attacks and a puppet government was installed that rules in mafia style to this day.

Aleppo has been a microcosm of the war in Syria with seemingly unresolvable contradictions. In 2012, Yassin al-Haj Saleh, the legendary communist opponent of Baathist misrule who was imprisoned for 16 years for the crime of writing critiques of the regime, touched upon some of these contradictions in an article titled “Aleppo: a tale of three cities”.

The first two Aleppos were in the regime controlled western part of the city and the third was in the east that has proven indomitable up to this point, about which Saleh noted:

The third Aleppo, the one now in open revolt, started from the rural parts and from the most marginalized slums: Salahuddin, Alsakhur, Alklaseh, Bab Alhadid, Al Shaar, Al Zabadieh…. As if these neighborhoods had retained their spirit and personality while the major districts had become devoid of them, with the state having sizable presence, capital and domesticated religiosity.

When it comes to the spirit and personality of a city, the regime exhausts itself trying to eliminate them and pursue their ghosts. When it feels endangered, it kills. It has already killed Homs, Deir ez-Zor, and nothing will deter it from killing Aleppo if it could. If left alive, this wild monster will kill all of Syria.

I remember when the better-off parts of Aleppo were reported to be disturbed by what they saw as revolutionary invaders from the “rural parts”. Edward Dark, who washed his hands of the revolution when it proved too crude and unruly, could barely contain his disgust with the riffraff. In a 2013 article titled “How We Lost the Syrian Revolution”, he accused them of betraying the original goals of the revolution:

They were the underprivileged rural class who took up arms and stormed the city, and they were out for revenge against the perceived injustices of years past. Their motivation wasn’t like ours, it was not to seek freedom, democracy or justice for the entire nation, it was simply unbridled hatred and vengeance for themselves.

Extremist and sectarian in nature, they made no secret that they thought us city folk in Aleppo, all of us, regime stooges and sympathizers, and that our lives and property were forfeit as far as they were concerned.

Using a pseudonym, a young educated Aleppoite who left Syria, echoed Dark’s complaints in a Vanity Fair article from July 2015 :

But most of Aleppo regarded the Arab Spring with indifference. When the revolution broke out in earnest later that year, much of the city distanced itself from the turbulence. Demonstrations remained confined mostly to slums like Al-Saladin, Bustan Al-Qasr, and Al-Marijah. Protests were brief, with demonstrators chanting before running from the security forces.

In Aleppo, the revolution gives the impression that it is a revolt of the poor. When rebel groups from the northern countryside pushed towards the city, these slums were the first that welcomed them, unlike the richer neighborhoods, which, instead, remained in the hands of the regime.

Despite this, the author captures the spirit of solidarity that exists in the slums:

The Syrian air force has a habit of following their first barrel bomb with a second. People say this is to kill first responders. (The government still denies that it uses barrel bombs.)

Despite this, the crowd did not run away. They dug in the rubble with their bare hands—old men, Civil Defense volunteers, and militants alike—all except the media activists shooting video. When they found a victim, they gathered to help snatch them out, screaming “Allahu Akbar” as they did. Once they laid the victim in an ambulance, they began to dig again.

“If you see a body lying down, are you going to hesitate? Even when you know that if you stop to move it away, the sniper is going to make them two?,” a shopkeeper in the Al-Qasr neighborhood once asked me. “No! Your conscience wouldn’t let you walk away.”

Steps away from the scene, neighbors thanked God for safety.

In the best of all possible worlds, Bashar al-Assad might have been less savage and less determined to turn the country into a sectarian battleground. He would have actually protected his own class interests by stepping down and allowing some rich Sunni to take his place in the same way that the English-speaking ruling class of South Africa persuaded or coerced the Afrikaners to allow Nelson Mandela to become president.

This would have allowed the democratic opposition to organize itself into an effective movement capable of convincing people like the better-off Aleppoites to make common cause with the rural poor. Clearly, the university students were in the vanguard of the protests and most educated and professional Syrians would have preferred to live in a country where you didn’t have to worry if a loved one was going to be tortured or killed just for demanding change.

But Assad was a master strategist understood in narrow terms. He polarized the country along Sunni and non-Sunni lines and militarized the conflict so that those that had access to money and arms could dominate the opposition. If you had co-thinkers in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, you could rely on them for support even if they had no interest whatsoever in democracy or socialism—god forbid.

The net effect of all this was to give added weight to Islamist militias in East Aleppo, including al-Nusra that was critical to the breaking of the siege. It was their suicide bombers that were critical in storming the Ramosa military base. Speaking of al-Nusra suicide bombing, it is worth mentioning that it bears little resemblance to ISIS terrorism. The targets are always military as a search in Google would reveal:

Aleppo: Jabhat Al-Nusra Suicide Bombing Leads to Fierce Clashes in the North (March 2015)

A Turkish suicide bomber from the Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra” attempted to drive his vehicle into a National Defense Forces barricade at the village of Deir Zeitoun in northern Aleppo; however, the vehicle was allegedly destroyed before it could reach its destination, according to a military source.

The suicide bomber was identified by Jabhat Al-Nusra social media pages as “’Usama Al-Turki” – a Turkish “Mujahid” carrying out his “martyrdom” operation for the militant group’s offensive that directly followed his death on Monday night.

Syria’s Nusra Front stages deadly suicide bombing in Aleppo (July 2015)

A suicide bomber from Syria’s al Qaeda offshoot the Nusra Front blew himself up in a Syrian army outpost in a contested neighborhood in the divided northern city of Aleppo and killed at least 25 soldiers and allied militia and injured scores, a monitor said.

For the past year or so, there has been a rapprochement between the USA and Russia over the need to prioritize attacks on ISIS in Syria even to the point of the Pentagon having demanded that rebels sign a contract agreeing that any arms they receive will only be used against ISIS and not the Baathist military.

Over the past few months, Russia has escalated its demands. It insists that the rebels separate themselves physically from al-Nusra so that its bombers can destroy the group and presumably any civilian that backs it. In other words, Grozny deux. Consider what this would have meant for East Aleppo. To start with, if it was risky for civilians to exit the slums, what would have happened to anybody considered a fighter? Which for all practical purposes would have meant men between the ages of 16 and 60. And those that remained behind? If you consider what has happened in Aleppo over the past 5 years, the results would have been horrific.

It is difficult to predict what will happen next in Syria. Without a doubt, al-Nusra and probably most of the militias that defended East Aleppo over the past five years would seek to impose their vision of an Islamic society. But  we can all agree that it would be a step forward if it allowed the population relief from barrel bombs, Russian missiles and the various militias intent on killing anybody who dares to oppose Bashar al-Assad. Well, maybe not Patrick Cockburn or Seymour Hersh who must be wearing sackcloth and ashes since the recent turn of events.

When asked for what he saw as a solution to the Syrian misery, Yassin al-Haj Saleh offered the following. Needless to say, a precondition for it taking place is an end to the war and the sectarian impasse that the demon of Damascus created:

One could think of a historical compromise that ends the war, guarantees full withdrawal of foreign forces, and is the basis of a wholly different political landscape in the country. A sustainable solution can only be built on a new political majority. This cannot be achieved through facing Da’esh alone or the regime alone. A new Syrian majority requires a substantial political change that is impossible to envisage without putting a full-stop to the rule of the Assad dynasty that has been in power for 45 years, a dynasty responsible for two big wars in the country: 1979-1982 and 2011-…

This change is the political and ethical precondition for a war against Da’esh with the broad participation of Syrians. The global powers have so far been putting the cart before the horse by targeting Da’esh only, ignoring the root cause of the militarisation, radicalisation, and sectarianisation that has occurred over the past five years, namely the Assad regime. This is a short-sighted and failing policy, not to mention unethical. It is a prescription for an endless war.

The new Syria could be built on a number of essential principles: decentralisation; thinking of different ethnic, religious and confessional communities as equal constituent communities; full equality among individual citizens (Arabs, Kurds and others; Muslims, Christians and others; Sunnis, Alawites and others; religious, secular and others). It is not acceptable to talk about Syria as a secular state, as the Vienna document of 30 October 2015 states, when the same document says nothing about justice and accountability, and avoids the word democracy. Lecturing about secularism reminds one of the worst traits of the colonial discourse.

What a terrible shame that so many on the left, including Jill Stein I am sad to admit, were indoctrinated by the writings of Patrick Cockburn and Seymour Hersh, et al without ever having the opportunity or the desire to track down the writings of a Syrian revolutionary anti-capitalist.

August 5, 2016

Should Syria be a litmus test for the left in the 2016 elections?

Filed under: Green Party,Syria — louisproyect @ 5:23 pm

At the risk of alienating people who I have strong affinities with, it is necessary for me to explain why I support Jill Stein even though her VP candidate Ajamu Baraka is someone I have described as a “pro-Baathist hack”. I can honestly say that if Baraka had been the presidential candidate, I probably would have endorsed another left candidate even though my support for the Greens over the long haul would have persisted. As I have made clear for the past two decades or so, there is an urgent need for the American left to form a party to the left of the Democrats. This party might not be the one that leads a socialist revolution but as Trotskyist James P. Cannon once put it, the art of politics is knowing what to do next.

In fact, if in the unlikely event that Bernie Sanders had declared that he was launching such a party, I would have switched my allegiance to it for the simple reason that quantity turns into quality as Plekhanov would have put it. With the millions of dollars and tens of thousands of passionate supporters he could count on, Sanders would have raised the ante considerably in the long and arduous fight against the two-party system.

As it happens, the same complaints about Stein were made against Sanders by my comrades in the pro-Syrian revolution camp, which is to be expected if Syria is a litmus test. I have my own litmus test obviously, which is the need to oppose the Democrats on a principled basis in the same way that the Bolsheviks opposed the Cadets, the Russian version of the Democratic Party.

For example, Jett Goldsmith, who works with Elliot Higgins’s Bellingcat project, wrote an article for the Middle East Eye about Sanders’s failings on Syria:

The Syrian regime – which Sanders opposes intervening against – is so corporatist, corrupt, and non-democratic that its basic structure shatters Sanders’ entire “getting money out of big politics and restoring democracy” platform. The Assad regime was born and bred from the special interests-laden corruption of the Baath Party in post-Mandate Syria, and functions as a government that controls society through a patronage system paid for by the Assads’ inner circle, which Hafez worked for decades to foster, while suppressing civil society and essentially all political dissent.

Jett Goldsmith is entirely correct, of course, but the creation of a left party in the USA would have had been a major step forward in confronting capitalist rule. It might not be obvious at first blush but Sanders’s accommodation to Assad and his unwillingness to run as an independent go hand in hand. That is the consensus of the American ruling class that Sanders was willing to challenge but only up to a point. Liberal opinion in elite circles is consistent with Obama’s willingness to see the Syrian revolution be drowned in blood and Sanders is definitely at one with it.

You could have seen the same hostility to Jeremy Corbyn who had the crowning bad judgement to make Seumas Milne his press secretary. Seumas, like Baraka, is a pro-Assad propagandist of the worst kind as I pointed out in a September 2015 article where I took issue with his reliance on the Judicial Watch document that “proved” the USA backed the Islamic State—this despite the fact that the document warned that such an eventuality would be a disaster. What? You were expecting Milne to write truthfully?

James Bloodworth is an outspoken British opponent of the Baathist dictatorship who blasted Corbyn in a December 2015 article titled “The bizarre world of Jeremy Corbyn and Stop the War”. As much as I sympathize with any article that details the sordid record of the STWC on Syria, I have to part ways with Bloodworth on the broader questions of capitalist politics. He has a neo-Eustonian outlook that shares Tony Blair’s opposition to Corbyn, even to the point of condemning STWC for showing solidarity with the Sunni resistance to the American occupation of Iraq in the early 2000s. Given the inconsistencies of the “anti-imperialist” left, it makes perfect sense that John Rees and company would now adopt a kind of inverse Eustonian outlook with respect to Syria since Russian imperialism is kosher in their calculations. I know, I know. It is difficult to keep track of such gyrations.

Returning to the Jill Stein campaign, there are a number of things worth pointing out.

To start with, as I have pointed out before, a search in Nexis for “Jill Stein”, “Green Party” and “Syria” returns zero articles while for “Jill Stein”, “Green Party” and “fracking” returns 18 and “Jill Stein”, “Green Party” and “global warming” returns 21. So this will give you an idea of where her priorities are.

I hate to say it but when I see my Syrian solidarity comrades looking for incriminating quotes from her on Syria, I can’t help but be reminded of the “anti-science” critiques. My general impression is that her opinions on Syria are about the same as Bernie Sanders and hardly ones that she would emphasize in her public talks.

If you go to her official website and look at her platform, there is not a single word about Syria. I should add that the website does not have anything about Ajamu Baraka, which might be a function of it not having been updated yet or—as I suspect—the secondary character of all vice presidential candidates.

Essentially the only way to understand Green Party problems with Syria (and there are some as this misinformed article would indicate) is to see it in context. The likelihood of Jill Stein or any other leading Green adopting positions on Syria that resemble my own or my comrades is almost zero. People don’t evolve political positions in a vacuum. They tend to rely on the word of the leftist universe in which they dwell. If you get your ideas from The Nation, Salon, CounterPunch, ZNet, Truthout, Consortium News, the LRB, Mondoweiss, CommonDreams, Alternet et al, you will simply find very few articles defending the Syrian rebels. You need to consult websites that are generally not on the radar screen of a Jill Stein such as Pulse Media, magazines like New Politics or books such as “Burning Country” or “Khiyana”. Studies in the sociology of knowledge would probably explain how certain ideas remain beyond the pale but I suspect that to a large extent it can be explained by Islamophobia. With literally thousands of articles describing Syrian rebels as either al-Qaeda or collaborating with its fighters, you end up going along with the crowd. It is also a major problem with some truly retrograde characters taking up the cause of the Syrian rebels, starting with Hillary Clinton who some Syrian solidarity activists regretfully urge a vote for.

There are historical precedents for the tendency of good people (the best actually given the horrors of the Baathist tyranny) to make Syria a litmus test. In 1948 Henry Wallace, a member of FDR’s cabinet, broke with the Democrats and ran as a candidate of the Progressive Party. In my view, this third party bid was the most significant of 20th century history as I tried to point out in an article on the Ralph Nader campaign in 2000.

The Wallace campaign has served as a whipping boy for dogmatic Marxist electoral theorizing, much of which I took seriously when I was in the Trotskyist movement. It was supposed to prove what a dead end middle class electoral politics was, in contrast to the insurmountable power and logic of a Labor Party. Unfortunately, the Labor Party existed only in the realm of propaganda while the Wallace campaign, with all its flaws, existed in the realm of reality.

While most people are aware of Wallace’s resistance to the Cold War and to some of the more egregious anti-union policies of the Democrats and Republicans, it is important to stress the degree to which his campaign embraced the nascent civil rights movement.

 Early in the campaign Wallace went on a tour of the south. True to his party’s principles, he announced in advance that he would neither address segregated audiences nor stay in segregated hotels. This was virtually an unprecedented measure to be taken at the time by a major politician. Wallace paid for it dearly. In a generally hostile study of Henry Wallace, the authors begrudgingly pay their respects to the courage and militancy of the candidate:

 The southern tour had begun peacefully enough in Virginia, despite the existence in that state of a law banning racially mixed public assemblies. In Norfolk, Suffolk, and Richmond, Wallace spoke to unsegregated and largely receptive audiences. But when the party went on into supposedly more liberal North Carolina, where there was no law against unsegregated meetings, the violence started. A near riot preceded his first address, and a supporter, James D. Harris of Charlotte, was stabbed twice in the arm and six times in the back. The next day there was no bloodshed, but Wallace was subjected to a barrage of eggs and fruit, and the crowd of about five hundred got so completely out of control that he had to abandon his speech. At Hickory, North Carolina, the barrage of eggs and tomatoes and the shouting were so furious that Wallace was prevented from speaking, but he tried to deliver a parting thrust over the public address system: ‘As Jesus Christ told his disciples, when you enter a town that will not hear you willingly, then shake the dust of that town from your feet and go elsewhere.’ If they closed their minds against his message, he would, like Jesus Christ, abandon them to their iniquity.  (Henry A. Wallace: His Search for a New World Order, Graham White and John Maze)

When I wrote this, I wasn’t thinking much about anti-Stalinist opposition to Henry Wallace but it was not just about rejecting the “bourgeois” character of the Progressive Party along the lines of the World Socialist Website’s vituperative attacks on the Green Party. It was more than that. You have to keep in mind that Henry Wallace’s campaign was influenced to a large extent by the CPUSA’s leading role as well as Wallace’s friendliness to the Kremlin that was a legacy of FDR’s New Deal. By 1948, many people on the left had woken up to the depravities of Stalinism even if not to the extent of the post-Khrushchev revelations. But as is the case today, the consensus was that the USSR was a “socialist country” even if it was authoritarian—in other words given the same kind of leeway as Gaddafi’s Libya or Assad’s Syria.

And Henry Wallace was exactly the kind of person who bought into these lies as indicated in a New Yorker article titled “Uncommon Man” dated October 14, 2013.

Wallace was hardly the only politician of the period to form an unduly rosy picture of Stalin’s regime, but he went further than most. In May, 1944, he embarked on a good-will mission to Soviet Asia and China, and during a tour of Siberia he fell for an elaborate Potemkin-village presentation. In his 1946 travelogue, “Soviet Asia Mission,” he wrote admiringly of Red Army choruses, needlepoint artwork, and enlightened farming methods. “The larch were just putting out their first leaves, and Nikishov gamboled about, enjoying the wonderful air immensely,” Wallace wrote. He was referring to General Ivan Nikishov, the master of the Kolyma Gulag system. In China, Wallace showed himself more alert to the shortcomings of Chiang Kai-shek. (He did not favor the Communists, though, as he was later accused of doing.) A diplomatic amateur, he was too easily impressed by whichever host responded to his interests or appreciated his gifts, which included a shipment of fifty baby chicks and a glow-in-the-dark portrait of Stalin executed in radioactive paint.

If I had been around in 1948, I would have urged the left to back Henry Wallace despite all this. Whatever flaws he exhibited on Stalin, there was an urgent need back then to create a party to the left of the Democrats that was in favor of civil rights, the CIO, and against the looming Cold War and witch-hunt. When such a party came into existence, there would be other fights necessary to make it an instrument of the rank-and-file rather than the Stalinist hacks but it had to be born first. Instead it was strangled in the cradle just as the Clintonites are trying to do to the Green Party. Make no mistake about it. The fight to defend Jill Stein as a legitimate candidate of the left is necessary, warts and all.

 

 

July 14, 2016

Misusing German history to scare up votes for Hillary Clinton

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

Hermann Müller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

June 5, 2016

Karl Kautsky, Eric Blanc and Lars Lih: my contribution to a discussion on “Leninism”

Filed under: Lenin — louisproyect @ 8:25 pm

Exchanges between Eric Blanc and Lars Lih on John Riddell’s blog over Kautsky’s 1909 article ‘Sects or class parties’ leave me a bit perplexed since they seem to be somewhat removed from the problems we face today in building an effective revolutionary movement.

In recommending Kautsky’s article, Eric writes:

The question of broad parties has been heatedly debated by socialists in recent years. Many have argued that “Leninism” should be discarded in favor of wider formations such as Syriza, Podemos, the British Labour Party, the Greens, etc. Others have rejected participating in such structures, on the “Leninist” grounds that building independent revolutionary Marxist parties remains the strategic organizational task for socialists.

I imagine that Eric is not referring to the Labour Party per se but to the Corbyn campaign that has reawakened interest in a party that was widely despised by the left during the Tony Blair reign as New Labour.

In terms of “Leninist” opposition to Syriza, Podemos and the Greens—formations that the North Star website and I personally have endorsed—my view is that revolutionary parties based on Marxism are still necessary but attempts to construct them have failed because their “program” has been so narrowly defined. This was especially true of those that were affiliated with the various Fourth Internationals but Maoism of the 60s and 70s as well.

Despite the massive disaffection that the Marxist left experienced with Syriza over Alexis Tsipras’s capitulation to the German bankers, I doubt that a self-declared revolutionary party can be built in Greece that is based on the “lessons of Greece”. Trotsky’s movement had plenty of failures to “learn” from in the 1930s but that never translated into effective revolutionary parties. The negative critique can only go so far. At a certain point, Marxists have to develop an aptitude for uniting broad layers of both workers and the social movements to make a revolution. As such, I find the Cuban July 26th movement or the FSLN and FMLN in Central America more immediately applicable. For those who write off the Salvadoran and Nicaraguan experience because they too became Syriza type failures, I can only invite them to reach the point where they are capable of betrayal themselves. To reach such a level takes considerable mastery of strategy and tactics. Writing a communique in the style of Coyoacan does not require much mastery. The Spartacist League comes up with them like clockwork, after all.

When Eric tries to connect Kautsky’s article to our contemporary situation, I  have some problems understanding the relevance:

Unfortunately, the two orientations criticized by Kautsky – both of which counterposed the building of broad parties and Marxist parties – have become hegemonic. In fact, the positions against which Kautsky polemicized in 1909 in some ways were more advanced than their current articulations. Reformist advocates of the broad party model in the Second International at least pushed for a working-class organization, whereas it has become common today for socialists to promote cross-class populist formations (or even to participate in capitalist structures such as the U.S. Democratic Party).

There is a fundamental methodological problem with this statement. Socialists do not “promote” cross-class populist formations, as far as I know. Assuming that Eric is referring to the American Green Party, Syriza, or Podemos, I am simply not aware of any significant bourgeois constituency in any of them nor does the term populist do them justice. I would call them radical parties even if they are not organized around a specifically socialist program. A strict class analysis would certainly identify Jill Stein’s party as made up predominantly of wage earners such as Howie Hawkins, who works in a warehouse. Jill Stein is a physician, hardly what I’d call a member of the bourgeoisie.

I am not familiar enough with the class composition of Syriza or Podemos to resist arguments to the contrary, but I am fairly confident that at the upper levels of the party you will find university professors, lawyers and shopkeepers et al. Like I say, I am open to an alternative class analysis but facile descriptions of such parties as “cross-class” trouble me.

Some critics, of course, fault Syriza for being top-heavy with university professors and there is no doubt that its class composition would have corresponded more to Marxist guidelines if the KKE had at least formed a united electoral front with it. Given the KKE’s super-sectarian stance, however, that possibility was precluded at the outset. Furthermore, it is not clear if having a purer class composition would have made much difference given the alignment of class forces facing Tsipras. Sometimes the objective conditions trump the “subjective factor”.

Turning to Kautsky’s article itself, it draws a distinction between his own party and a small Marxist group in Britain called the Social Democratic Federation that sought to emulate his, just as Lenin aspired to in Russia. In 1909 the German social democracy was the gold standard even if in 5 years it would prove to be a victim of the reformism that swamped every other party in Europe. Kautsky believed the British Labour Party was the kernel of the future revolutionary party and considered the attempt to build a pure Marxist party to be a sectarian mistake.

If it was a sectarian mistake, it was a very honorable one. Its membership included Belfort Bax, William Morris, Edward Aveling and his partner Eleanor Marx. Not too shabby. Bax in particular was an exemplary anti-imperialist whose critique of Eduard Bernstein’s “Marxist” defense of colonialism was as important as Rosa Luxemburg’s in defending revolutionary politics.

Kautsky faulted the SDF for abstaining from the trade union movement and considered the Labour Party to be the future of the revolutionary movement even if its program did not specify socialist goals. He did give credit to the SDF for promoting socialist ideas that undoubtedly seeped into the ranks of the Labour Party:

The striving, therefore, for the organisation of an independent mass and class party is not sufficient. No less important is the socialist enlightenment. If the SDF failed in the former task, it achieved all the more in the domain of the latter. By its socialist agitation it prepared the soil upon which the Labour Party could arise, and the socialist criticism and propaganda which it still pursues is indispensable even now, when the Labour Party already exists, in order to imbue that party with a socialist spirit and to bring its actions for occasional and partial ends into accord with the lasting aims of the struggle of the proletariat for its complete emancipation.

Lih’s contribution to the discussion is a bit sketchy on the details, something that bothers me about much of his analysis especially when it falls outside his usual scholarly concentration on early Bolshevik history. The further he moves forward in history, the less focused it gets. For example, he writes:

Lenin’s solution, post-1914, was to kick out the opportunists, to create an opportunist-free party. His assumption was that in an era of war and revolution, there would be a mass impulse from below that would lead to the desired merger [between socialism and the mass workers movement]. But the era of war and revolution ebbed away, and Lenin was stuck with the same basic reality as everybody else: the merger wasn’t taking place in Europe and USA, and no one really knew how to make it take place – maybe, just maybe, because it couldn’t take place, and the original analysis was wrong.  Well, that is heresy, but I don’t think one can automatically assume, as Eric seems to here, that Lenin found the solution by demanding opportunist-free parties – the same problem just emerged in a different form.

Did the era of war and revolution ebb away? Certainly World War One came to an end but Germany was roiled by revolutionary struggles for much of the 1920s, with their termination not so much a function of class peace but the failure of the “subjective factor” across the board starting with Comintern meddling in the early 20s and crashing to earth with the CP’s “third period” madness.

When Hitler seized power in 1932, the revolutionary wave continued in France, Spain and elsewhere. Opportunities were squandered when the CP lurched 180 degrees away from the “third period” and toward the Popular Front that sought partnership with reformist capitalist parties. When revolutionary movements failed because of ineptitude, it opened the doors to WWII and a new round of barbarism.

Lih writes:

In my view, the end of the era of classical Marxism – an era that included Marx, Kautsky and Lenin – came when one side gave up on revolution and the other side gave up on “bourgeois democracy,” loudly claiming that political freedom under bourgeois conditions was a sham, but pointing out no other way to the desired merger.

This is an interesting formulation but one that unfortunately errs badly in the information-disclosing department. Classical Marxism means nothing but applying a class analysis to bourgeois society–at least to me. For example, Jacobin, Socialist Register, Monthly Review and Historical Materialism all dispense classical Marxism to one extent or another.

Perhaps Lars has a different definition—I only wish he could furnish it when convenient. I have no idea what side “gave up on revolution” unless Lih was referring to Eduard Bernstein and his disciples, especially in the Scandinavian countries. If so, that seems problematic since Bernstein would have been the first to admit that he had no use of classical Marxism to begin with.

As for “loudly claiming that political freedom under bourgeois conditions was a sham”, that would also exclude Karl Marx and Frederick Engels since they were partisans of the 1848 democratic revolutions—so much so that the Neue Rheinische Zeitung edited by Marx was one of its major voices. For more on their belief in the importance of political freedom under bourgeois conditions, I refer you to the scholarship of August Nimtz. Now there are self-described Marxists who sneer at the demands for political freedom under bourgeois conditions as a plot hatched by George Soros but I am not one of them. In fact, most of them would be willing to tell you that I am a secret operative for Soros even though my bank account would falsify that claim.

To conclude, I am not sure how much we can glean from Kautsky’s 1909 article about what is to be done today. I can tell you that a North Star editorial board member has been deeply involved in a debate in the Green Party for the need for an anti-capitalist program but I doubt that Kautsky’s article would be of much use to him.

April 18, 2016

Richard Seymour justifies voting for a Democrat

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

Richard Seymour

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 16, 2016

Left-leaning critics of Sanders? Left of Attila the Hun that is

Filed under: Bernie Sanders — louisproyect @ 4:52 pm

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 11.48.09 AM

When I saw the headline in today’s NY Times “Left-Leaning Economists Question Cost of Bernie Sanders’s Plans”, I bet myself a bottle of good Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand before reading the article that the “left-leaning” economists are not people like Michael Perelman or Richard Wolff. Naturally, given the paper’s backing for Hillary Clinton, this was a safe bet. The wine will go nicely with the Mahi Mahi later tonight that was probably caught in the waters near New Zealand. Yummy.

Before examining the article, I should say that I am very sympathetic to Sanders’s economic program. Calling for universal Medicare and free college education is a perfect way to counter the neoliberal programs of every other candidate and even to force Clinton to shift to the left (mostly rhetorically). That being said, I have not voted for a Democrat since 1964 when LBJ essentially carried out Barry Goldwater’s agenda in Vietnam. It was only three years later when I became a Trotskyist that I fully understood how the American two-party system operated. Unlike the training I got from people like Farrell Dobbs and George Novack, however, I am much more flexible on the type of party I find acceptable. James P. Cannon regarded Henry Wallace’s 1948 campaign as “bourgeois” while I consider it a model for the type of party that is needed now. Since Jill Stein’s candidacy for the Green Party is close to that in spirit, that is who I will be voting for.

Turning to the Times article written by one Jackie Calmes, a member of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University, it justifies a complaint to the Times ombudsperson at public@nytimes.com. This is like a number of think tanks at Harvard, a marriage of the corporate elite and the media hacks who have scrambled to the top of the heap defending its interests. The center was started with funding by Walter Shorenstein, a real estate developer who was a long time power broker in the Democratic Party. To give you an idea of the Center’s politics, Michael Ignatieff, a major supporter of Bush’s war in Iraq, is the Edward R. Murrow Professor of Press, Politics and Public Policy. This is like having someone like David Horowitz being named the Edward Said professor at Columbia University.

The article begins with an attack on Medicare for All that claims that Clinton was not aggressive enough in her charge that it would increase the size of government by 40 percent. It cited a “respected health economist” who said it would be more like 50 percent. So who is this left-leaning critic of Medicare for all?

It is none other than Kenneth Thorpe, who was Deputy Assistant Secretary in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet and had a central role in formulating his ill-fated health care reform proposals.

Next in line to take a whack at Medicare for All is one Austan Goolsbee:

By the reckoning of the left-of-center economists, none of whom are working for Mrs. Clinton, the proposals would add $2 trillion to $3 trillion a year on average to federal spending; by comparison, total federal spending is projected to be above $4 trillion in the next president’s first year. “The numbers don’t remotely add up,” said Austan Goolsbee, formerly chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, now at the University of Chicago.

Left-leaning? Austan Goolsbee? Before Obama was a nominee for President in his first term, I came to the conclusion that his “hope and change” mantra was garbage based simply on the economics advisers he chose for his campaign.

Although it is not widely understood, Obama is pretty much committed to the neoclassical economics outlook of his home-town University of Chicago. Since becoming Senator, he has relied on the advice of a professor named Austan Goolsbee, who calls himself “a centrist, market economist” (Washington Times, July 16, 2007).

Goolsbee has been a columnist for Slate.com and the NY Times, as well as a standup comedian. His economics are not meant as a joke, as I understand it. His columns are written very much in the same vein as fellow U. of Chicago neoclassical economist Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics,” examining everyday problems such as “Why you get stuck for hours at O’Hare.” Most are fairly uncontroversial except for the swipe he took at Michael Moore’s “Sicko”, whose single-payer recommendations violate his free market principles.

Right. Very left-leaning if the comparison is to Attila the Hun, I suppose.

By the way, if you are looking for what genuinely left-leaning analysts think of this business, I urge you to read David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler’s dismantling of Thorpe that appeared in the Huffington Post:

In summary, professor Thorpe grossly underestimates the administrative savings under single-payer; posits increases in the number of doctor visits and hospitalizations that exceed the capacity of doctors and hospitals to provide this added care; assumes that the federal government would provide state and local governments with huge windfalls rather than requiring full maintenance of effort; makes no mention of the vast current tax subsidies for private coverage whose elimination would provide hundreds of billions annually to fund a single-payer program; and ignores savings on drugs and medical equipment that every other single-payer program has reaped.

Although he did have some credibility as a left-leaning economist in a previous lifetime, Jared Bernstein sold his soul to the devil when he became Vice President Biden’s economic adviser. Ensconced now at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Bernstein was called upon to deliver a verdict on a paper by Gerald Friedman of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who is Sanders’s adviser.

“We need a deep investment in infrastructure, more efficient health care and less student debt,” Mr. Bernstein said. “But when you put it all together, government’s role in the economy goes well beyond anything we’ve ever considered.” He said protecting the Affordable Care Act against Republican opposition should be a higher priority — a critique echoed by Mrs. Clinton.

Just what you’d expect from someone drawing a salary from the Obama administration. Worries over “government’s role in the economy” and protecting Obamacare. Feh.

Calmes also invokes Paul Krugman as a “left-leaning” critic of Sanders. I don’t want to waste any words on Krugman except to say that I stopped reading him about eight years ago when he began focusing most of his wrath on Obama’s enemies in the Republican Party. That was also around the same time I bailed on MSNBC.

Next up in her rogue’s gallery is one Henry J. Aaron, “a longtime health economist at the Brookings Institution in Washington” (Brookings is a dead giveaway that he is a centrist) who belongs to a “lefty chat group”, which you can be assured is not PEN-L or anything remotely resembling it. In that chat group, Aaron has been arguing that fighting for a single-payer plan would destroy his political capital.

Since Aaron is a member along with Jared Bernstein at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it is worth saying a word or two about this outfit. To start with, its founder Robert Greenstein was one of Bill Clinton’s appointees to the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform in 1994. Co-chaired by the neoliberal war criminal Robert Kerrey and Republican Senator John Danforth, it proposed among other things raising the age for the full benefits for Social Security from 65 to 70. I have no idea how Greenstein voted in the deliberations there but do have to wonder how he was nominated in the first place. I doubt if Sanders would have been picked if you gather my drift.

All these people from Kenneth Thorpe to Jared Bernstein represent “left-leaning” to the political arbiters of the permissible spectrum at the NY Times. Clearly, Sanders falls outside that spectrum in more or less the same way that Trump falls outside the Republican Party spectrum. It is too bad that Sanders lacks the killer instinct of Trump who had the guts to lambaste George W. Bush for the invasion of Iraq. I only wish that Sanders had half the gumption to go after the entire Carter-Clinton-Obama Democratic Party neoliberal edifice that is likely to continue with the election of Hillary Clinton. If Sanders would lose votes if he stopped pulling his punches, the real loser would be the American people who need to hear a critique of how we have ended up in such an unequal society that is rotting apart like a dead animal’s carcass in the desert. At least we have Jill Stein who knows how to throw a powerful uppercut (http://www.jill2016.com/plan):

A Green New Deal:

Create millions of jobs by transitioning to 100% clean renewable energy by 2030, and investing in public transit, sustainable agriculture, and conservation.

Jobs as a Right:

Create living-wage jobs for every American who needs work, replacing unemployment offices with employment offices. Advance workers rights to form unions, achieve workplace democracy, and keep a fair share of the wealth they create.

End Poverty:

Guarantee economic human rights, including access to food, water, housing, and utilities, with effective anti-poverty programs to ensure every American a life of dignity.

 

February 11, 2016

Democracy, the Democratic Party, and superdelegates

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

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 2.53.01 PM

What the fuck?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delegate State Group Candidate
Alma Adams[4] NC Representative Clinton
Pete Aguilar[5] CA Representative Clinton
Maggie Allen[6] ME Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jill Alper[7] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dennis Archer[7] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patrice Arent[8] UT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Brad Ashford[8] NE Representative Clinton
Jon M. Ausman[9] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Carrie Austin [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Shawn K. Bagley[11] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tammy Baldwin[12] WI Senator Clinton
Nick Balletto[13] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Karen Bass[14] CA Representative Clinton
Jan Bauer[15] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joyce Beatty[16] OH Representative Clinton
Xavier Becerra[17] CA Representative Clinton
Michael Bennet[18] CO Senator Clinton
Ami Bera[19] CA Representative Clinton
Bret Berlin[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeff Berman[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Don Beyer[22] VA Representative Clinton
Gus Bickford[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Erin Bilbray[24] NV Democratic National Committee Sanders
Stephen Bittel[25] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Bloomingdale[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Earl Blumenauer[27] OR Representative Clinton
Richard Blumenthal[28] CT Senator Clinton
Dean Boerste[29] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
James Boland[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Suzanne Bonamici[30] OR Representative Clinton
Anita Bonds[31] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cory Booker[32] NJ Senator Clinton
Madeleine Bordallo[18] GU Representative Clinton
Muriel Bowser[33] DC Gov. Clinton
Barbara Boxer[34] CA Senator Clinton
Carolyn Boyce[35] ID Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandra Brandt[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Christine Bremer Muggli[37] WI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Scott Brennan [38] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Doug Brooks[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Boyd Brown[40] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Corrine Brown[41] FL Representative Clinton
Sherrod Brown[42] OH Senator Clinton
Julia Brownley[43] CA Representative Clinton
Jocelyn Bucaro[44] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tonio Burgos[45] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cordelia Burks[46] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cheri Bustos[47] IL Representative Clinton
Laphonza Butler[4] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
G.K. Butterfield[48] NC Representative Clinton
MaryEva Candon[49] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maria Cantwell[50] WA Senator Clinton
Lois Capps[51] CA Representative Clinton
Michael Capuano[52] MA Representative Clinton
Tony Cardenas[53] CA Representative Clinton
Ben Cardin[54] MD Senator Clinton
Maria Cardona[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Carney[55] DE Representative Clinton
Tom Carper[55] DE Senator Clinton
André Carson[56] IN Representative Clinton
Karen Carter Peterson[57] LA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Matt Cartwright[58] PA Representative Clinton
Bob Casey, Jr.[59] PA Senator Clinton
Barbara Caspar Silperstein[45] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Cassidy[60] VT Democratic National Committee Sanders
Joaquín Castro[61] TX Representative Clinton
Mitchell Ceasar[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Judy Chu[62] CA Representative Clinton
David Cicilline[63] RI Representative Clinton
Katherine Clark[64] MA Representative Clinton
Yvette Clarke[65] NY Representative Clinton
William Lacy Clay, Jr.[66] MO Representative Clinton
Emanuel Cleaver[18] MO Representative Clinton
Alan Clendenin[67] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Clinton[68] NY DPL Clinton
Tony Coelho[26] DE Democratic National Committee Clinton
Larry Cohen[1] DC Democratic National Committee Sanders
Steve Cohen[69] TN Representative Clinton
Rickey Cole [70] MS Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sheila Comar[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gerry Connolly[72] VA Representative Clinton
John Conyers[73] MI Representative Clinton
Chris Coons[74] DE Senator Clinton
Jim Cooper[75] TN Representative Clinton
Maria Cordone[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jerry Costello [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeannette Council[76] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joe Courtney[77] CT Representative Clinton
Jeffrey David Cox[78] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joseph Crowley[79] NY Representative Clinton
Henry Cuellar[18] TX Representative Clinton
John Cullerton [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Elijah Cummings[80] MD Representative Clinton
Ana Cuprill[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jennifer Cunningham[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Andrew Cuomo[82] NY Gov. Clinton
Maria Cuomo Cole[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Melba Curls[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Currie[83] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joyce Cusack[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Danny Davis[18] IL Representative Clinton
Wendy Davis[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Dayton[17] MN Gov. Clinton
Howard Dean[85] VT DPL Clinton
Diana DeGette[86] CO Representative Clinton
John Delaney[18] MD Representative Clinton
Lizette Delgado Polanco[83] NJ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rosa DeLauro[87] CT Representative Clinton
Suzan DelBene[88] WA Representative Clinton
Ted Deutch[18] FL Representative Clinton
Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nancy DiNardo[89] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Debbie Dingell[18] MI Representative Clinton
Arrington Dixon[49] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Kate Donaghue[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ronald Donatucci[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Joe Donnelly[90] IN Senator Clinton
Joanne Dowdell[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tammy Duckworth[18] IL Representative Clinton
Dick Durbin[92] IL Senator Clinton
Jess Durfee[93] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maria Echaveste[94] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Donna Edwards[20] MD Representative Clinton
Joyce Elliott[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Keith Ellison[96] MN Representative Sanders
Eliot Engel[97] NY Representative Clinton
Akilah Ensley[98] NC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Reni Erdos[99] NJ Democratic National Committee Sanders
Anna Eshoo[5] CA Representative Clinton
Lily Eskelsen García[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Elizabeth Esty[100] CT Rep Clinton
Joe Falk[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Herman Farrell[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chaka Fattah[71] PA Representative Clinton
Dianne Feinstein[101] CA Senator Clinton
Rajiv Fernando [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Foster[18] IL Representative Clinton
Donald Fowler[102] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Earl Fowlkes[103] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lois Frankel[104] FL Representative Clinton
Isabel Framer[105] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Al Franken[106] MN Senator Clinton
Marcia Fudge[107] OH Representative Clinton
Kate Gallego[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ruben Gallego[109] AZ Representative Clinton
John Garamendi[110] CA Representative Clinton
Montserrat Garibay[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dick Gephardt[39] MO DPL Clinton
Penny Gerber[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Alice Germond[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Gierau[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Kirsten Gillibrand[28] NY Senator Clinton
Emily Giske[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Angel Gomez[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Barry Goodman[112] MI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Billi Gosh[39] VT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Al Green[113] TX Representative Clinton
Darlene Green[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gene Green[18] TX Representative Clinton
Amanda Green-Hawkins[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Vallena Greer [70] MS Democratic National Committee Clinton
Raúl Grijalva[114] AZ Representative Sanders
Marcel Groen[115] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Michael Gronstal[116] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stanley Grossman[117] DA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steve Grossman[23] MA DPL Clinton
Luis Gutiérrez[118] IL Representative Clinton
Debra Haaland[119] NM Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Halpern[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Janice Hahn[18] CA Representative Clinton
Mary Hales[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Maggie Hassan[120] NH Gov. Clinton
Alcee Hastings[104] FL Representative Clinton
Denny Heck[88] WA Representative Clinton
Martin Heinrich[121] NM Senator Clinton
Heidi Heitkamp[12] ND Senator Clinton
Luis Heredia[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Hickenlooper[122] CO Gov. Clinton
Brian Higgins[43] NY Representative Clinton
Tony Hill[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rubén Hinojosa[43] TX Representative Clinton
Jim Himes[123] CT Representative Clinton
Mazie Hirono[19] HI Senator Clinton
Marge Hoffa[124] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Eleanor Holmes Norton[21] DC Representative Clinton
Danny Homan[125] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Honda[126] CA Representative Clinton
Steny Hoyer[18] MD Representative Clinton
Fred Hudson[127] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Alice Huffman[4] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jared Huffman[128] CA Representative Clinton
Harold Ickes[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Vince Insalaco[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jay Inslee[88] WA Gov. Clinton
Steve Israel[18] NY Representative Clinton
Troy Jackson[129] ME Democratic National Committee Sanders
Sheila Jackson Lee[18] TX Representative Clinton
Jay Jacobs[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Hakeem Jeffries[65] NY Representative Clinton
Eddie Bernice Johnson[18] TX Representative Clinton
Hank Johnson[130] GA Representative Clinton
Lacy Johnson[131] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Barbara Jones[119] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ray Jordan[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gale Jones Carson[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tim Kaine[133] VA Senator Clinton
Elaine Kamarck[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ron Kaminski[134] NE Democratic National Committee Clinton
William Keating[135] MA Representative Clinton
John Keller [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Randy Kelley[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Unzell Kelley[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Robin Kelly[137] IL Representative Clinton
Joseph P. Kennedy III[138] MA Representative Clinton
Ruben Kihuen[139] NV Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Kildee[18] MI Representative Clinton
Derek Kilmer[18] WA Representative Clinton
Paul G. Kirk[140] MA DPL Sanders
Ann Kirkpatrick[108] AZ Representative Clinton
Amy Klobuchar[141] MN Senator Clinton
Kaye Koonce[142] SC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sarah Kovner[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Caitlin Kraft-Buchman[143] DA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ann Kuster[144] NH Representative Clinton
Jim Langevin[145] RI Representative Clinton
Linda Langston[15] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rick Larsen[18] WA Representative Clinton
John B. Larson[100] CT Representative Clinton
Brenda Lawrence[146] MI Representative Clinton
Gerald Lawrence[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patrick Leahy[147] VT Senator Clinton
Sunita Leeds[148] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frank Leone[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Cindy Lerner[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Levin[18] MI Representative Clinton
John Lewis[18] GA Representative Clinton
Yvette Lewis[149] MD Democratic National Committee O’Malley
Ted Lieu[19] CA Representative Clinton
John Litz[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dave Loebsack[150] IA Representative Clinton
Zoe Lofgren[151] CA Representative Clinton
Martha Love[152] WI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Myron Lowery[153] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nita Lowey[18] NY Representative Clinton
Michelle Lujan Grisham[18] NM Representative Clinton
Stephen F. Lynch[18] MA Representative Clinton
Mark Mallory[44] OH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dan Malloy[154] CT Gov. Clinton
Carolyn Maloney[155] NY Representative Clinton
Sean Patrick Maloney[18] NY Representative Clinton
Joe Manchin[156] WV Senator Clinton
Jack Markell[157] DE Gov. Clinton
Ed Markey[158] MA Senator Clinton
Ken Martin[159] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Trudy L. Mason[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Doris Matsui[18] CA Representative Clinton
Janet May[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jayne Mazzotti[160] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Terry McAuliffe[161] VA Gov. Clinton
Claire McCaskill[162] MO Senator Clinton
Jennifer McClellan[163][164] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Betty McCollum[165] MN Representative Clinton
Dustin McDaniel[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jim McDermott[18] WA Representative Clinton
Jim McGovern[166] MA Representative Clinton
Joseph McNamara[167] RI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jerry McNerney[5] CA Representative Clinton
Gregory W. Meeks[17] NY Representative Clinton
Shari Mellin[90] IN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Grace Meng[79] NY Representative Clinton
Barbara Mikulski[80] MD Senator Clinton
Breanne Miller[8] UT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nancy Mills[115] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stephanie Miner[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Walter Mondale[168] MN DPL Clinton
Gwen Moore[17] WI Representative Clinton
Minyon Moore[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bruce Morrison[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Seth Moulton[168] MA Representative Clinton
Dorothy Mrowka[169] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bob Mulholland[46] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chris Murphy[170] CT Senator Clinton
Patrick Murphy[171] FL Representative Clinton
Ian Murray[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patty Murray[172] WA Senator Clinton
Jerrold Nadler[173] NY Representative Clinton
Grace Napolitano[174] CA Representative Clinton
Katie Naranjo[175] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Richard Neal[176] MA Representative Clinton
Bill Nelson[177] FL Senator Clinton
Jadine Nielsen[148] HI Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jay Nixon[177] MO Gov. Clinton
Chad Nodland[178] ND Democratic National Committee Sanders
Rick Nolan[179] MN Representative Clinton
Michael Nutter[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
David O’Brien[23] MA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Blanca O’Leary[180] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Olsen[169] CT Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Opstvedt[181] IA Democratic National Committee Clinton
William Owen[132] TN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frank Pallone[182] NJ Representative Clinton
Bruce Palmer[81] WY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bill Pascrell[183] NJ Representative Clinton
Donald Payne, Jr.[184] NJ Representative Clinton
Gregory Pecoraro[149] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Christine Pelosi[126] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Carol Pensky[185] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ed Perlmutter[18] CO Representative Clinton
Gary Peters[186] MI Senator Clinton
Scott Peters[17] CA Representative Clinton
Pedro Pierluisi[187] PR Representative Clinton
Chellie Pingree[18] ME Representative Clinton
Redding Pitt[136] AL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Stacey Plaskett[4] VI Representative Clinton
Jared Polis[18] CO Representative Clinton
Karen Pope-Onwukwe[20] MD Democratic National Committee Clinton
DuBose Porter[188] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steven Powell [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
David Price[189] NC Representative Clinton
Carrie Pugh[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sandy Querry[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mike Quigley[190] IL Representative Clinton
Jake Quinn[191] NC Democratic National Committee Sanders
Evie Rafalko McNulty[192] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gina Raimondo[193] RI Gov. Clinton
Andres Ramirez[139] NV Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rion Ramirez[194] WA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jack Reed[195] RI Senator Clinton
Kasim Reed[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Steve Regenstreif[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ed Rendell[196] PA DPL Clinton
Rory Respicio[197] GU Democratic National Committee Clinton
Laura Ricketts [10] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dennis Rivera[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
José R. Rodríguez[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mannie Rodriguez[180] CO Democratic National Committee Clinton
Roy Romer[180] CO DPL Clinton
Carol Ronen[198] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ellen Rosenblum[199] OR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sally Rosser[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lucille Roybal-Allard[174] CA Representative Clinton
Charles Rangel[18] NY Representative Clinton
Chris Regan[200] WV Democratic National Committee Sanders
Kathleen Rice[18] NY Representative Clinton
Cedric Richmond[18] LA Representative Clinton
Raul Ruiz[187] CA Representative Clinton
Dutch Ruppersberger[20] MD Representative Clinton
Bobby Rush[201] IL Representative Clinton
Tim Ryan[18] OH Representative Clinton
Gregorio Sablan[202] MP Representative Clinton
Linda Sánchez[203] CA Representative Clinton
Loretta Sanchez[174] CA Representative Clinton
Raymond Sanchez[204] NM Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bernie Sanders[1] VT Senator Sanders
Keelan Sanders[70] MS Democratic National Committee Sanders
John Sarbanes[20] MD Representative Clinton
Lee Saunders[21] DC Democratic National Committee Clinton
Peggy Schaffer[6] ME Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jan Schakowsky[18] IL Representative Clinton
Brian Schatz[205] HI Senator Clinton
Adam Schiff[18] CA Representative Clinton
Kurt Schrader[75] OR Representative Clinton
Nancy Schumacher[206] MN Democratic National Committee Clinton
Chuck Schumer[207] NY Senator Clinton
Bobby Scott[36] VA Representative Clinton
David Scott[17] GA Representative Clinton
José E. Serrano[208] NY Representative Clinton
Terri Sewell[17] AL Representative Clinton
Lottie Shackelford[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Billy Shaheen[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jeanne Shaheen[18] NH Senator Clinton
Garry Shay[209] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Brad Sherman[210] CA Representative Clinton
Peter Shumlin[211] VT Gov. Clinton
Louise Slaughter[212] NY Representative Clinton
Leslie Small[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Adam Smith[213] WA Representative Clinton
Hilda Solis[214] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Lenora Sorola-Pohlman[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Jackie Speier[5] CA Representative Clinton
Dennis Speight[111] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Debbie Stabenow[215] MI Senator Clinton
Kathy Sullivan[91] NH Democratic National Committee Clinton
Eric Swalwell[216] CA Representative O’Malley
Susan Swecker[217] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Gerry Sweeney[71] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Annette Taddeo[218] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Takai[205] HI Representative Clinton
Mark Takano[19] CA Representative Clinton
Allison Tant[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Marian Tasco[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Bennie Thompson[219] MS Representative Clinton
Mike Thompson[43] CA Representative Clinton
Krystal Thrailkill[95] AR Democratic National Committee Clinton
Dina Titus[18] NV Representative Clinton
Paul Tonko[97] NY Representative Clinton
Niki Tsongas[220] MA Representative Clinton
Tom Udall[221] NM Senator Clinton
Chris Van Hollen[222] MD Representative Clinton
Marc Veasey[18] TX Representative Clinton
Filemon Vela, Jr.[223] TX Representative Clinton
Nydia Velázquez[18] NY Representative Clinton
Brian Wahby[39] MO Democratic National Committee Clinton
George Wallace[36] VA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Tim Walz[159] MN Representative Clinton
Carolyn Warner[108] AZ Democratic National Committee Clinton
Mark Warner[224] VA Senator Clinton
Maxine Waters[53] CA Representative Clinton
Bonnie Watson Coleman[184] NJ Representative Clinton
Randi Weingarten[225] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton
Royce West[175] TX Democratic National Committee Clinton
Sheldon Whitehouse[18] RI Senator Clinton
David Wilhelm[44] OH DPL Clinton
Alan Williams[20] FL Democratic National Committee Clinton
Nikema Williams[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Frederica Wilson[104] FL Representative Clinton
Sylvia Wilson[26] PA Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Wisniewski[226] NJ Democratic National Committee Sanders
Tom Wolf[17] PA Gov. Clinton
David Worley[84] GA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Ron Wyden[227] OR Senator Clinton
Rosalind Wyman[228] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Karen Yarbrough[160] IL Democratic National Committee Clinton
John Yarmuth[229] KY Representative Clinton
Laurence Zakson[230] CA Democratic National Committee Clinton
Patricia Zieg[134] NE Democratic National Committee Clinton
Rob Zimmerman[231] NY Democratic National Committee Clinton

 

August 20, 2015

Is Donald Trump our Vladimir Putin?

Filed under: Donald Trump — louisproyect @ 7:53 pm

Putin-Trump

Yesterday Washington Post editorial writer David Ignatius compared Donald Trump to Vladimir Putin:

He promises to restore his country’s greatness, without offering a specific plan. He uses crude, vulgar expressions that make him sound like an ordinary guy, even though he’s a billionaire. He’s a narcissist who craves media attention. And for all his obvious shortcomings, he’s very popular.

Whom am I referring to? Russian President Vladimir Putin, of course. But the parallels with a certain American politician known as the “The Donald” are obvious.

Donald Trump is in some respects an American version of Putin. Like the Russian leader, he seeks to reverse his country’s losses and return its former glory. He promises a restoration of power and prestige without trifling about the details.

“We have no victories,” Trump complained to NBC’s Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “As a country, we don’t have victories anymore. And it’s very sad.”

Trump’s official slogan is “Make America Great Again!” It’s a line borrowed from Ronald Reagan’s acceptance speech at the 1980 Republican convention, when the Gipper promised a “crusade to make America great again.” But really, this kind of talk is the mainstay of politicians around the world who campaign on a platform of national restoration. Their message is as much psychological as political.

This does raise some interesting questions even though Ignatius is obviously overly enamored of these facile analogies, having already written an editorial in April 2014 stating that Putin is borrowing from Reagan’s playbook by intervening in Ukraine. This is not to speak of the message put forward in his novel “Body of Lies” that the CIA has been overly constrained by legality and oversight, telling Ken Silverstein in a Harper’s interview: “CIA officials put up with a degree of public abuse that would be unimaginable in the case of military officers.” Given what we know about torture and renditions, this makes him just as scary as Putin if not more so.

But there is something to all this. Putin emerged as a popular leader by playing the nationalist card. As opposed to Yeltsin who put down the red carpet for foreign investors buying up Russian assets at bargain basement prices, he made it clear that he had no use for Thomas Friedman type “globalization” panaceas. He has also more recently become the nemesis of the European Union, blaming it for scheming against Russian interests and throwing his support behind ultraright parties like the French National Party that are also opposed to the EU on a nationalist basis.

Despite the Republican Party’s long standing agreement with the Democrats that trade agreements like NAFTA are good for their class interests, Trump has attacked Obama’s latest free trade gambit on the basis that it does not defend American interests aggressively enough as CNN reported:

Donald Trump has lashed out against President Obama’s plans to create a free trade area across the Pacific.

The outspoken businessman, who is known to start brawls on Twitter, sent out a series of tweets explaining his opposition.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an attack on America’s business. It does not stop Japan’s currency manipulation. This is a bad deal,” he said.

The U.S. government has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) since 2009 with 11 other nations, including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Chile, Canada and Mexico.

It hopes to wipe out trade tariffs to bring down the cost of importing and exporting, which would help make U.S. businesses more competitive overseas. It would also make it easier for businesses to invest in other countries.

The U.S. government estimates a TPP agreement would add $223 billion per year to the global economy by 2025.

But Trump believes the deal would hurt U.S. businesses, particularly manufacturers, and put people out of work.

That’s in contrast to Hilary Clinton who backed her husband’s NAFTA to the hilt and who has spoken out of both sides of her mouth on TPP. Meanwhile Jeb Bush, who is likely the Republican candidate for 2016, has attacked Clinton for waffling. Unlike Trump, he is gung-ho on TPP.

Meanwhile Trump’s rabid nativism does resonate with Putin’s pals in Western Europe, ranging from Marine Le Pen to Nigel Farage.

Undoubtedly David Ignatius was unnerved by what Donald Trump told Bill O’Reilly on June 16th: “Putin has no respect for our president whatsoever. He’s got a tremendous popularity in Russia, they love what he’s doing, they love what he represents. I was over in Moscow two years ago and I will tell you — you can get along with those people and get along with them well. You can make deals with those people. Obama can’t. I would be willing to bet I would have a great relationship with Putin. It’s about leadership.”

I doubt that Ignatius is fully capable of understanding the romance that some Americans are developing with Donald Trump, which is some ways is like that from a generation ago when there was great affection—at least from white people—for Ronald Reagan, another man on horseback, or for that matter the feeling that Russians had for Vladimir Putin until the economy started going sour. There’s something about these macho guys that makes insecure men and women all weak in the knees, after all.

Someone tapped into the Reagan, Putin and Trump mystique—all at once—is probably the best qualified to speak about it, namely Paul Craig Roberts who was in Reagan’s Treasury Department and who nowadays carries Putin’s water just as tirelessly as Stephen F. Cohen. In an article titled “Trump for President?” on his blog, Roberts fuses the iconography of the Kremlin and Atlantic City most eloquently:

There is no known politician in America who measures up to Vladimir Putin’s ankle, or to the knee of China’s leaders, or to the waist of Ecuador’s, Bolivia’s, Venezuela’s, Argentina’s, Brazil’s, or to the chests of India’s and South Africa’s.

In Europe, the UK, Australia, and Canada, the natural leaders are also frozen out of the corrupt system.

In the US, “leadership” positions depend on financial support from the ruling economic interests. American presidents and politicians represent about six powerful private interest groups and no one else.

After Celente went to press, Donald Trump announced to much mirth. A “con man” they say, but what else is the President of the United States? Do you think you weren’t conned by Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama? What universe do you live in?

In actual fact, Trump might be our best candidate to date. By all accounts, he is very rich. Thus, he doesn’t need the office in order to become rich by selling out America to interest groups.

By all accounts, Trump has a healthy ego. Thus, he could be capable of standing up to the powerful interest groups that generally determine the governance of the American serfs.

Well, okay, I think I will stick with Jill Stein.

May 20, 2015

Call for Papers: Toward a Mass Party, Bernie Sanders

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,third parties — louisproyect @ 9:31 pm

sanders

How will we achieve a mass socialist party, or mass left party, in the USA?  If we have a special opportunity to do so in this specific era, how will we manifest those possibilities?

Electoralism is a particular theme here at North Star.  However, we are happy to entertain alternative routes to a mass party, especially in response to this call.  But instead of just rejecting or critiquing the electoral path, we would prefer pieces that outline your path, your model, articulated in detail!

This is also an opportunity to discuss the 2016 elections broadly — how should we interact with the recent Electoral Action Conference’s network?  Could we get some report-backs on that?  Should we contend the 2016 elections?  Local, Congressional, Presidential, both/any?  Jill Stein?  Vermin Supreme?  What kind of politics?  Let it rip.

And that guy Bernie Sanders.  He talks about class war, he’s running for President.  He has a huge following, he openly identifies as socialist, he is all but a veritable Ron Paul of socialism, and then he has to kick us in the groin by running as a Democrat.  Not that this is a surprise, but as the meme goes, It’s Happening.

Support/oppose?  Join the campaign?  Condemn it?  Engage the conversation without giving support?  Why/why not?

Send submissions to: submissions.northstar@gmail.com

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