Thursday, December 14, 2017

A Profound Post By Kali Akuno Taking Up Key Questions Of Strategy & Tactics

Kali Akuno is an especially advanced thinker working as co-director of Cooperation Jackson, an organization we have often supported on this blog. A recent post on Kali Akuno's blog takes up many questions we are working with locally in Salem: what is criticism/self-criticism, how do we define victories, how do we correctly clarify our understandings and agreements, what are our best and tested points of reference as we do socialist political work, what opportunities really exist for our work?

Of course, the Movement in Jackson is taking up questions we're not yet dealing with, or even prepared to deal with: what are the reasonable political expectations we should have at this point, what does socialist regional political organizing around an advanced program really look like, what ids our relationship to other parties and to the Democrats, what might socialist (re)construction look like in our situation right now?

The article begins with a fundamental quote from Amilcar Cabral:

“Our agenda includes topics whose importance and acuteness are beyond doubt and in which one concern is predominant: The Struggle. We note, however, that one type of struggle we regard as fundamental is not explicitly mentioned in this agenda, although we are sure that it was present in the minds of those who drew it up. We are referring to the struggle against our own weaknesses. We admit that other cases may differ from ours. Our experience in the broad framework of the daily struggle we wage has shown us that, whatever the difficulties the enemy may create, the aforenamed is the most difficult struggle for the present and the future of our peoples. This struggle is the expression of the internal contradictions in the economic, social and cultural (therefore historical) reality of each of our countries. We are convinced that any national or social revolution which is not founded on adequate knowledge of this reality runs grave risks of poor results or of being doomed to failure” – Amilcar Cabral

The article demonstrates what criticism/self-criticism should consist of, and adds the necessary ingredient--solidarity in a spirit of revolution and internationalism. Take in the depth of Kali Akuno's wisdom here:

For my part, I will continue to struggle for the realization of the Jackson-Kush Plan through the work and contributions of Cooperation Jackson and the construction of a new political organization to help fill in some critical gaps that exist in the movements for revolutionary social transformation in the US. It is my sincere hope that the New Afrikan People’s Organization, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the administration of Chokwe Antar Lumumba will make the course corrections suggested herein. Our movement has nothing to gain by pursuing the path of collaboration and compromise. If anything, without a major course correction, the Lumumba administration is structurally poised to reenact an “American” version of the neo-liberal tragedy currently being executed and administered on the Greek people by Syriza. It is only by pursuing a revolutionary path, however difficult it may appear in the short-term from the perspective of having to be a “responsible” administrative force, that we, as a movement, will gain. This would entail pursuing things like a comprehensive food sovereignty program, with the elicit aid of working class vehicles like Cooperation Jackson and the People’s Assembly, to eliminate the threat of food being used as a weapon, that would require converting most, if not all, of the cities vacant properties into urban farms. This would entail creating administration supported people’s markets and distribution centers, and support for a local alternative currency or token, to help facilitate the exchange of this community produced value.

The Syriza Trap is not completely inevitable. Clear leadership, with a clear plan, and uncompromising will can still go another route. I say this because I know all conscious political actors make mistakes and we all have the ability to learn from them, and most importantly, correct them. It is in this light that I note that despite our present differences, we have to be cognizant of that fact that in the face of the concentrated power of our enemies, that none of our differences ultimately rise above those posed to us collectively by the systems of capitalism, imperialism, colonialism, white supremacy, and hetero-patriarchy and their conscious and willing agents and enablers. The process of “unity-struggle-unity” is still applicable on the level of alliances, fronts, and blocs. When and where possible, I look forward to allying with the Lumumba administration, NAPO, MXGM and many other organizations in the common struggle to dismantle the systems of hierarchy, alienation,
and oppression and construct a new world, beginning in Jackson, but in no way limited to it.


In a few paragraphs we get a leading activist's view which transcends and pushes beyond the usual discourse of the U.S. left. We get necessary connections made between Syriza and Jackson, a point we have been discussing here, and a dialectical view of how necessary contradictions or tensions between a politically advanced urban administration and the New Afrikan People's Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement move all of us forward. It helps that there is a crucial distinction made in this article between primary and secondary contradictions. It's not that I agree with everything in the post so much as that there are important new starting points here which should cause us to reexamine our thinking and deepen a specifically socialist consciousness and work, realigning our thinking, consciousness, and practice. I don't agree with much that I hear from Black Agenda Report, but I have to respect the differences, and I know that many Marxist-Leninists do support BAR. When some local socialists threw some of Kali Akuno's words at us recently I did not know how to understand this. The post referenced here explains his thinking and also puts those socialists on the spot: they quoted selectively and without context. As Mao said, "No right to speak without investigation." 

Read the post here.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Vito Marcantonio---12/10/02--8/9/54


Vito Marcantonio was born on this day in 1902 and died in August 9 of 1954. Marc was a leading progressive politician in his day and his influence is still being felt.

Marc’s career demonstrates how people can move across a political spectrum and grow and affect others. He started as a Republican in Fiorello LaGuardia’s wing of the Republican Party. With a change in the times, which is to say a change in the balance of social forces, he moved further to the left. Marc ably represented East Harlem, which then had large Italian, Jewish, Puerto Rican, and Cuban neighborhoods. His movement brought those enclaves together into an all-peoples’ political machine and sent him to Washington as a people’s representative repeatedly.

Vito Marcantonio worked his way up from the poor and tough Italian neighborhoods and became an attorney in the mid-1920s. He moved to the left and to Marxism as he matured. The people gathering around the liberal or progressive Fiorello La Guardia and Robert M. La Follette recognized Marc’s special abilities. He was able to build on this and win a seat in the House of Representatives in 1934 as a Republican. His loss in the political race of 1936 was likely more due to splits in the New Deal administration and corruption at the city level than it was to any failures by Marc and the interracial and militant movement he was building.

Marc gave us everything that he could. He was immigrant-friendly, one of labor’s strongest allies, a heavy-handed and militant defender of civil rights, and some people have credited him with being a founding father of the modern Puerto Rican and Cuban independence movements. A former member of the Young Lords in New York once told me that she saw the Young Lords building in part on Marc’s legacy, and she said that had Marc lived longer the Young Lords would been a different organization than they were. His outstanding failure at the time was his support for the wartime internment of the Japanese in the United States, a failure he shared with many others. This was a terrible and serious error and contradicted everything else he did in his life’s work.

For some context, there were also Italians and Italian-Americans interned and deported in those years. The difference between these people and the Japanese who were interned was that among the Italians were many fascists who had been involved in building a violent fascist movement in the United States. They did indeed threaten national security and the war effort, and they threatened the safety and lives of Italian-American anti-fascists in their communities. The Italians were interned for political reasons, the Japanese for racial and racist reasons. At the time it may have been difficult for sincere anti-fascists to tell the difference. And for what it's worth, the very able Communist leader Gus Hall wrote personally to every Japanese family who he could reach who had been interned in order to apologize and do self-criticism on behalf of the Communist Party. I am not aware of any other party or leader having done that.

Marc’s steady move to the left took him into the American Labor Party, and back into the House in 1938 on the American Labor Party line. He served in the House from 1939 to 1951. For a period of time he could run in multiple primaries and did so, usually winning on the Labor, Democratic, and Republican lines. His popularity was so strong that the establishment changed the law on ballot access in New York in order to block him. He lost the 1949 mayoral election, again due to corruption and to the onset of the Cold War. His principled stands for civil rights and against war brought down the wrath of the right wing. He was a strong backer of Henry Wallace’s 1948 campaign for the presidency, and it is impossible for me to conceive of Wallace’s campaign without Marc as a guiding influence. Wallace lost, but he was not defeated---the civil rights work that his campaign built on and encouraged, his antiwar stand, and his pro-labor stands were all vindicated in the 1950s and 1960s. Marc and Wallace were both victims of Cold War hysteria and McCarthyite smear tactics, and sometimes racist and vigilante violence. Marc sponsored bills to prohibit the poll tax and to make lynching a federal crime. He also helped lead the great International Workers Order, a cultural and mutual aid and benefits organization which provided insurance to working-class people without discrimination. The IWO was a special target of the McCarthy-led forces.

Marc held office and was active in Depression-era America and during the toughest times of the Second World War. He was opposed to war and then joined the war effort with others when the Soviet Union was attacked. It is now fashionable to criticize those who changed positions in these years, particularly Communists and their progressive allies at the time, but the status quo of the day could not hold, the allies’ half-hearted peace with armed security doctrine had its limits and was untenable, the British government was not anti-fascist when it most needed to be, and the speed of the fascist advance left the liberals and social democrats lost and isolated. Defending the Soviet Union meant defending world progress. Vito Marcantonio thought clearly about the situation, as did all principled people, and strongly supported the opening of a second anti-facist front. Many liberals and socialists could not adjust to changing times and turned instead to pacifism, which was indensible under the circumstances, or so wed themselves to Washington that they surrendered their critical thinking skills and joined in the postwar red scare.

Marc was always denied committee chair positions in Washington. At the time of his death, he was working as an attorney in a private practice and was running for Congress on the Good Neighbor Party. He died from a heart attack. He was denied a Church funeral; his red politics had angered the Catholic hierarchy. At a time when McCarthyism and the Cold War were in nearly full swing and when Italian-Americans were expected to reconfigure our identities Vito Marcantonio was pointing in another direction.

Great politicians came up in the ranks of Marc’s movement. Pete Cacchione and Ben Davis were associated with Marc. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.’s progressive period overlapped with Marc’s movement. Bella Abzug and Betty Friedan were influenced by Marc’s movement. Stanley Novak, the great radical political leader in Michigan, mirrored Marc’s approach to politics and cross-racial working-class unity alongside Coleman Young in the late 1940s and 1950s. And let’s not forget Frank Barbaro. What, you don’t know these names? Study! Their approach to politics is fully relevant today. Great community and labor activists also came forward through Marc’s movement. His political popularity rested on his ability to get things done in the neighborhood, translate important left-wing concepts into everyday practice, hold mass street corner meetings, build coalitions between unions and people of color, take on landlords and corporations and the political establishment and win, and stay just a step ahead of the rest of us.

I have a photo of Vito Marcantonio and some longshoremen on my desk. Only Marc looks fully at ease, but everyone looks fully determined, and maybe worried a bit about something. Marc is well-dressed and the others are in their work clothes, but Marc is not putting himself out there and apart from the group. Nothing about his style or bearing says “Hey, look at me! I’m in the center!” This was our radical practice in the past: be one with the workers and the people and don’t be the attention-getter.

When I worked in the factories the men who were my father’s age still talked about Vito Marcantonio and still loved him. It was hard to talk radical or union politics with them sometimes because they would cut me off with something like, “Hey, kid, Vito Marcantonio said it all before you, and even better!” They would then tell some story about Marc saving a family from eviction or honoring a union picketline or speaking at a May Day rally.

When I think of Italian-American pride I think first of Vito Marcantonio. From a Marxist point of view, whatever pride we take in our race or ethnicity should derive from an understanding of these as accidents of birth and as something to transcend through work and integration into the world beyond ourselves. That is to say that there are indeed real Italian-American characteristics, as there are characteristics of any racial or ethnic group, and these characteristics have a basis in history and in existing material and social conditions. But they do not remain static or spiritual or abstract. They find their meaning, emerge, and change through our necessary and life-giving encounters with others. The path to being a good Italian-American runs through being a good human being first, as an old Italian radical once told me. Vito Marcantonio lived it.

Vito Marcantonio's collection of speeches, I Vote My Conscience, edited by Annette Rubenstein, was first published in the mid-1950s and was reissued in 2002. Put it on your necessary reading list for 2018.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Israeli, Palestinian and Greek Communists Denounce Trump's decision on Jerusalem

Israeli and Palestinian Communist Parties have reacted to U.S. President Donald Trump's provocative decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Below you can read statements by parties such as Hadash, the Communist Party of Israel, the Palestinian Communist Party and the Palestinian Peoples' Party.

Hadash/Communist Party of Israel (CPI)



According the official website of the Communist Party of Israel (CPI), the intention to transfer the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem "provoked reactions of outrage" among the ranks of the CPI, including the members from the Joint List of the Democracy Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash) in the parliamentary assembly of Israel, Knesset.

“Trump is a crazy pyromaniac capable of setting the entire region ablaze with his madness,” stated the leader of the Joint List, Members of Knesset (MK) Ayman Odeh. “If there is one thing that the past few days have proved, it’s that the US shouldn’t remain the sponsor for discussions between Israel and the Palestinians,” Odeh added. “If the Israeli government wishes for the world to recognize West Jerusalem as the Israel’s capital, all it needs to do is recognize East Jerusalem as the capital city of Palestine.”

Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash) attacked the decision of US president Donald Trump to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. “The decision to move the embassy cripples the peace process and the chances of reaching a diplomatic agreement in the region,” Touma-Sliman said. “As long as Israel refers to Jerusalem as a ‘united’ city and occupies the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Trump’s decision will significantly harm the rights of the Palestinian people to liberty and self-determination in its future capital, East Jerusalem.”

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas warned on Sunday, December 3, against US plans to relocate its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying that such a move “would endanger the future of the political process in the region.” According to Palestine’s official news agency WAFA, Abbas expressed his outrage and concern in a meeting with a delegation from the Hadash in Ramallah. President Abbas added that Arab countries, including Palestine, and the international community would not recognize such a move by the US administration.

Earlier Sunday, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki called on the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to convene to discuss the situation regarding Jerusalem. Al-Maliki warned that such a US move “would have grave consequences” and would “blow up the situation in the Palestinian territories and throughout the region.”

Jerusalem remains at the core of the perennial Israel-Palestine conflict, as Palestinians want Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state of their own.
* * *
 
Palestinian Communist Party (PCP)




The statement reminded that the historical Zionist occupation of Palestinian land would not have occurred without the support of British and American imperialism forming this usurper entity, which since its inception is confiscating the land and deporting the people of Palestine.

The Communist Party of Palestine named the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem as "a declaration of war" on the people of Palestine and its national cause. "This obliges us to unite and end the Palestinian division quickly and properly, the only viable option remaining before our people is massive resistance" said the statement.

It was observed that the American attack on the rights of the Palestinian people regarding its defeat "by the axis of resistance" in the region means that the arrogance of US policy is challenging the Palestinian people, free Arab nations and the world.

The statement underlined that the central focus in the face of the Trump attack is the masses of the Palestinian people, its national resistance. It said that this requires to draw a policy of confrontation including;

- Unifying of all factions on the Palestinian arena and the restoration of the PLO on the basis of a revolutionary democracy.
- Re-considering the Charter of the PLO and replacing the two-state solution with the one-state democratic solution, which requires a struggle by all means.
- Meeting all the factions of the national action to prepare for a third uprising, led by the factions of resistance.
- Emphasizing the need to overcome regional agendas or commitments.
- Giving a larger role for the masses through the people's congresses, a General People's Congress, in the homeland and among the diaspora, to draw a policy of confrontation.
- Resisting to the division of the Palestinian party concerning the Oslo commitments based on the Decisions of the General People's Congress.
 
The Palestinian CP ended the statement with the slogans "Long live Jerusalem, the eternal capital of an independent Palestinian state", "Freedom to the prisoners of the Palestinian Communist Party".
* * *

Palestinian Peoples' Party (PPP)


In a press statement, the PPP said that the implementation of the US administration’s decision would have serious repercussion on the security and stability of the region, cutting away the chances of “political settlement” of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The decision was assessed as a blatant attack on the Palestinian people in their struggle for a independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem being its capital. The PPP underlined that the shrewd policy pursued by the US will lead to further ignition of chaos in the Middle East, especially in light of its efforts to impose “solutions” that do not meet the minimum rights of the Palestinian people.

The PPP called not to succumb to Trump’s blackmail policy and his administrations efforts to force the Palestinian leadership to deal with his vision of reviving the “peace process”. Pointing out to Israel’s projects to undermine the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to an independent state on the occupied territories since 1967, Jerusalem being its capital, the PPP stated the need for the US administration to play a positive role.

In order to resist US efforts to diminish the rights of the Palestinian people stipulated in all charters and resolutions of international legitimacy, the PPP called to accelerate the process of ending the division among Palestinian political actors, restoring a comprehensive national unity and adopting a strategy based on further escalation of the struggle. According the statement of the PPP, in the forefront, the popular resistance should be based on the international recognition of the State of Palestine in 2012 with Jerusalem as its capital.
***
And from Greece:

Regarding the announcement of U.S. President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital city, the Press Office of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Greece issued the following statement of condemnation:

"The decision of the USA to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital shows the cynicism with which American imperialism actively participates in the crime that is being committed against the people of Palestine by Israel and its allies, primarily the USA, as well as the EU. The later, not only deepens constantly her relations with Israel, but also identifies the perpetrator and the victim, proclaiming as 'terrorism' the righteous struggle of the people of Palestine."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What does it mean to be a revolutionary in our time?

What does it mean to be a revolutionary in our time? Tim Horras of Philly Socialists offers this trenchant reflection in an answer to the question and also comments on Jacobin Magazine as a point of departure. Some readers will stumble over what "reformism" means---look here for your first answer. Some readers may not know what Jacobin Magazine is or what it represents.See Jacobin here. The magazine is a weak attempt at reflecting divergent socialist opinion and likely captures the views of many of the folks who lead Democratic Socialists of America. A liberal critique of Francis Fukuyama can be found here; Fukuyama's ideas are something we take particular exception to. The fact is that people new to the socialist movement or socialism may not understand the differences of opinion expressed here or why such differences matter. With some reflection, though, readers can see that we have a number of contesting schools of thought in the socialist movement, we always have, and that if you want this to be your movement then you will study the questions and form your opinions in dialogue with other.

Tim Horras writes:

Despite the accusations to the contrary, revolutionary socialists don't take isolation from the masses as a point of pride. We're not afraid to get reformist cooties.

The fact that the revolutionary left has been cut off from an organic connection to working class life for some time is a structural phenomenon correlated to decades of political defeat rather than idiosyncratic attachment to hammer and sickle iconography. And, let's be real: the reformist left is equally disconnected from working class life, and y'all have your own sacred cows which similarly lack any rational relation to either strategy or social base.

There are trends among the revolutionary left which are clumsily grasping toward a path forward in both theory and practice. But the gatekeepers at Jacobin Magazine aren't interested in engaging with these thinkers and activists, because it would be handing over ammunition to their political opponents. The hope is that we can get frozen out of the discussion.

However, while barred entry into the mainstream of the movement, they can't cordon us off entirely, and our successes in working around the edges has seeped into the very center of their political organizations and discourse. Today, even our opponents are forced to articulate how reformist strategy "builds a base" and defend their favored tactics against "politicized service work." We're weak and fragmented, it's true. But we're growing. We don't have the mic; nevertheless we're helping to set the agenda.

What does it mean to be a revolutionary in our time? Primarily it's about being more open to contingency, to the unexpected, anticipating a roller coaster of political twists and turns rather polishing a left gloss on Fukayama end-of-history triumphalism. Being a revolutionary means recognizing that the future won't look like the past or the present; that whatever the coming decades hold, it won't be a permanent status quo, an endless haggling with class enemies over budgetary line items.

The foundation of the capitalist regime is crumbling; the house is sinking. It won't cave in tomorrow, but neither will it continue to stand without the application of new scaffolding to every single pillar of the base.

Reformists would like to think we can remodel the house; paper over the cracks and add some colorful window dressing. But none of their prescriptions will address the rot in the foundation below. Our choices are to stand idly and let the structure collapse or to tear it down and build ourselves a new home.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Theoretical Justification of the Struggle for Constitutional Rights


In socialist work, it is not enough to simply develop a plan of action willy-nilly. A theoretical justification must be provided that lays out the overall goals of the plan, how it will advance the struggle for worker sovereignty, and demonstrates that the plan is made in accordance with known principles of social development (or explains precisely why said principles do not apply). We do this not because all socialist political action must conform with some Marxist ‘canon’, but because we approach political problems in the same manner as scientists and engineers approach physical problems; that is, we define problems and develop solutions based on a systematic method, and we further refine that method according to the real-world results of our attempted solution. The following article is a Marxist theoretical justification for the proposal outlined in “For Workplace Rights”. It may contain terms which are unfamiliar to some readers. Go here for an introduction to Marxist theory.

The contradiction between the formal rights granted to workers by the Constitution and their negation in the workplace is one that is most obvious to the vast majority of the working class at the present moment. It is a contradiction that is deeply felt, particularly by non-union workers, nearly every working day. We do not mean to say that the Constitutional rights contradiction is necessarily the ‘main’ or most important contradiction, but only that it is the most easily comprehensible and visible to the greatest number of people. It is a starting point for developing class consciousness and political literacy. Taking up the banner of Constitutional rights does not mean that we ignore other struggles; we do not here advocate for ‘class over race’ or other such vulgarization. Rather, it is the most effective starting place, a weak point in the whole rotten edifice of racist, misogynist, anti-LGBT+, anti-immigrant, chauvinist ideology.

Most politically active workers think about politics in terms of the Constitution and rights talk, and have little or no familiarity with Marxist terms. In an ego-driven, anti-communist society such as ours, in which unfamiliar ideas are often greeted with hostility, it does us no good to talk to people straight away in terms of the dictatorship of the proletariat, surplus value, and the like. Instead, we must choose carefully where to begin, where the weakest point in the official narrative is, and how we can approach people with respect. Make no mistake: we should not discard the underlying theory, merely consider how best to convey it. We can start by developing the idea that people have rights at work, and that they need to retake their Constitutional rights in the workplace; through this initial struggle, we can begin to create a shared identity among people who, generally speaking, view themselves as isolated individuals or family units. Once people accept the idea of Constitutional rights at work, the question naturally arises as to how those rights are exercised and protected. We can then start speaking in terms of a ‘civil society’ at work to introduce the idea of democracy in the workplace, that workers should have power in the economic life of society. From there, we can develop the idea of democracy into worker sovereignty. We do not expect, however, for each step to proceed smoothly from one to the next. On the contrary, we expect the capitalist class to fight tooth and nail against the introduction of Constitutional rights at work and all the derivatives thereof. It is, in fact, this very opposition that will drive the process forward and increase the class consciousness and level of political education of the working class; for in order to explain why the ruling classes so vociferously oppose the idea of expanding their supposedly most cherished rights and ideals into the workplace, we will have to make full use of Marxist theory. In their struggle against Constitutional rights at work, the bourgeoisie will graphically illustrate the theory that they deny. In this way, liberal ideas that once served to obscure or justify capitalist exploitation will become weapons in the arsenal of working class ideology.

Does this mean that we will make the struggle for Constitutional rights at work our only goal? It does not. The struggle for Constitutional rights is firstly a vehicle for deepening other struggles by exposing the hypocrisy of bourgeois ‘rights’ that in reality only apply fully to the bourgeoisie and its lackeys. Secondly, it is a mechanism for building unity among the entirety of the US working class. While it is true that sections of the nonwhite working class are more advanced politically than their white counterparts, no part of the working class can hope to contest power on its own. The backwardness of the white working class is no reason not to organize white workers. In fact, our “backwardness” highlights the need for organization and special efforts made by the most aware and advanced workers.  Marx encouraged us not to “despise” workers for taking backward positions, but to do our best to educate and enlighten them in a respectful way.

Does employing rights talk and appealing to the Constitution mean that we are making concessions to bourgeois ideology? It does not. We must meet the politically engaged sections of the working class where they are, not where we wish them to be. Like it or not, rights talk and the Constitution are the terms in which most of the US working class, especially its white contingent, thinks about politics. We employ these terms, not in the opportunist fashion, but as a vehicle for advancing more progressive positions and to highlight the hypocrisy of bourgeois ‘rights’.

We see, then, that the only route to the final victory over capitalism lies in the unity of the entire US working class, not its component parts individually. We can achieve this unity by emphasizing the glaring contradiction between formal rights and actual rights, igniting a struggle for full Constitutional rights at work, and build upon this initial struggle a new ideology: an ideology of the US working class.

For Workplace Rights

How many of us are free, truly free? We are told over and over that we are ‘free’, that we possess inalienable rights, guaranteed by the Constitution. But, all across the US, there are innumerable places in which the right to free speech, to be secure in our persons and effects, to due process of law, are routinely ignored. Indeed, we spend most of our waking hours in these places: they are our places of work.

At work, we can be disciplined or fired for the things we say, even if we say them outside of work; even using the wrong tone can lead to discipline. You can’t be insubordinate and expect to keep your job most of the time. The standard of proof you need as a worker to win in a grievance, an arbitration, or a court case is far beyond what you think justice is. There is no legal protection for you if you are disciplined or fired for expressing political opinions different than your employer’s. You can be fired for a hairstyle your employer doesn’t like. The courts have held that women can be fired for “being too pretty” or because their presence at work might tempt a male boss and put his marriage at risk. Most Constitutional rights either do not exist at work or exist in limited ways. We are subject to near-total surveillance and arbitrary searches. Human Resource departments maintain secret files, not on a select few ‘dissidents’ or troublemakers, but on all employees. Their officers carry out secret investigations into our conduct and performance. With the help of outside consultants, they conduct background checks, prying into the most intimate details of our lives. If a state security service behaved this way, it would be denounced as totalitarian.

We are told constantly by the media that this or that is ‘un-American’ or ‘anti-American’. Is it American to be subjected to arbitrary searches and thought policing? Employers do not even have the excuse that their repressions will bolster national security. We should demand that all authority, whether public or private, should not be arbitrary, but lawfully constituted, just as the Founders insisted. Our rights and freedoms as citizens---people with full rights described in law and in the U.N. Declration of Human Rights---should apply in all spheres of life, public and private.

What is the path to freedom? How do we emancipate ourselves from the dead hand of tyranny in the workplace? We do so first by joining together and insisting that, first and foremost, workers are citizens with full human rights, regardless of legal status. Most of U.S. labor law comes to us from old English master/servant law, so this is actually a revolutionary idea for our country! From this idea, we begin to build worker sovereignty, or worker self-determination, the idea that those of us who do the work should make the decisions, too. Another name for worker sovereignty is socialism.

Our right to collective action still exists. We can, we must, organize our coworkers to support one another. Here are some concrete examples of efforts to get involved in right now: getting real “just cause” standards for discipline and discharge into law; removing barriers to union organizing; covering free speech at work as a protected right; removing all barriers to the hiring and advancement of women and people of color at work; higher minimum wages for all workers without exception; strengthening the laws in Oregon which protect workers against last-minute schedule changes; linking rent control to a higher minimum wage; banning aerial pesticides and protecting farmworkers, health and safety monitors, and medical workers who are in the fields; and changing the laws defining insubordination. Some organizations or unions or worker centers are working on these issues, so reach out to them. Don’t give up---things can, and will, change!

Organizations to get started:

Fight for $15

Portland Jobs with Justice

Portland Workers' Rights Education Project


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Paul Krehbiel: United and Popular Front: Lessons from 1935-2017

Paul Krehbiel of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism has written the following article on building united and popular fronts and putting this matter before us in a helpful historical context which connects the past to the present. The article has appeared in Dialogue & Initiative and on Portside. I recommend it as a place to begin needed discussion.   

Donald Trump won the presidency in November 2016 on a program of racism, nationalism, misogyny, attacks on human rights, the promotion of corporate power, appeals to white workers while pushing anti-working-class policies, scapegoating immigrants and Muslims, militarism, erosion of democracy, and advocating authoritarianism. A number of scholars have written about many of these characteristics previously, such as Robert Paxton and others, as they were key elements of fascist regimes that came to power in Europe after WWI, especially Mussolini in Italy in 1922, and Hitler in Germany in 1933. Some writers today are asking, "Is Trump a fascist, and will he bring fascism to the US?" While Trump's actions aren't as brutal as Hitler's and Mussolini's in his early days in power, it's still too early to tell. But Trump's statements and actions have alarmed people from all walks of life. And history has shown that a country can turn to the right very quickly.

Millions of people are protesting Trump's ascension to power, beginning with the powerful Women's Marches the day after Trump assumed office. Street demonstrations, rallies, mass Congressional phone calls and town hall meetings, and much more have continued since. Discussions abound regarding how best to build this resistance movement. While we can learn from many sources, the success of the United Front and Popular Front strategies of the 1930's and beyond provide important lessons for us today.

The United Front and Popular Front strategy was developed by Georgi Dimitrov, leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party and a leader of the Communist International. Dimitrov presented his strategy at the Seventh Congress of the Communist International in 1935. He said that all working-class and socialist organizations should work together in a United Front to defend their interests, and to resist and fight to defeat and overthrow fascism. He then said this United Front should also promote the creation of a broader, Popular Front, that would be comprised of the forces in the United Front but would reach out to all other sectors of society that are against fascism, including capitalists who opposed it. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were arresting and killing targeted groups in their own countries, and invading foreign lands, waging war, and taking over other governments. They were rolling over traditional defense forces with lightening speed and power, some of whom simply surrendered in the face of vastly superior military power. Fear spread across Europe and beyond. This dire state of affairs led the Communists to develop a better, more comprehensive strategy for fighting and defeating fascism.

Monday, November 27, 2017

There is no “safe space” in a revolutionary situation, or even in a democratic or anti-fascist struggle.


I hope that people on the Left---and particularly white people on the Left---will read and reflect on the article which appeared in the New York Times of Sunday, November 26 about the fascist Tony Hovater. I believe that the article validates certain points some of us have been making in the anti-racist movement over the past two years. The article also calls to mind certain shortcomings in our work.

If white radicals are not about the business of organizing working-class whites as part of an anti-racist, pro-socialist, and revolutionary strategy and tactics then we are surrendering people to the opposition. Note that in the Times article Hovater talks about his version of serving the interests of whites in Appalachia. There are scores of Hovaters at work, no doubt, and they’re working quietly in places like Appalachia, the Midwestern factory and farming towns, and the logging towns of the Pacific Northwest, winning people over to a reactionary agenda which does not serve their interests. Most of us do not have a strategy and tactics to counter this, and we place the burden of thinking and doing on people color or we engage in introspection instead.

Organizing the working class once ran deep in our Leftist DNA. The move away from class-based politics on the Left, aided and abetted by every fake-Left ideology which says that the working-class is not the primary revolutionary force in the world, has meant that we no longer talk about white chauvinism as the most pernicious force dividing workers, that we talk more about racism and less about national oppression, that we do not recognize in principled ways the need for self-determination and people of color-based leadership, and that we do not reach out to the grassroots and to our co-workers with a revolutionary program. It is not that there are not revolutionary programs. You can start with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the Communist Party, the Party of Communists, Freedom Road, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the Movement For Black Lives (M4BL) to find fully-developed political programs which can be adapted or put into practice in your workplace or community. Readers of this blog know that the DSA and M4BL programs resonate with me, whatever their differences or contradictions. The problem is not that we don’t have programs. The problem is that we don’t have the will or the means to put these programs into living form. The price we pay for that is Trump, or worse.

We should cease trying to reinvent the Leftist wheel and instead look into our Leftist DNA. We need full support for the leadership and grassroots in Jackson, MS., where the living traditions of revolutionary self-determination and socialism are resurfacing. But not only support---we need to learn in all humility from Jackson, and from other such places, and bring that home in a package. We believe, or should believe, in the principles of self-determination and working through every democratic option as part of constructing a larger revolutionary path. This should apply to how we understand the struggles of all nationally-oppressed peoples (Black- and Brown-majority regions), women, LGBTQIA+ people, the differently-abled---and to places to places like Appalachia as well.


What does this mean? It means full support for the M4BL program and adapting that in our work in principled ways so that we’re building working-class power free of white chauvinism. It means dropping white- and middle-class-based integrationism and intregrationist slogans and respecting the rights of people of color to determine their collective destinies. It means carrying every freedom struggle into our organizations and into our communities in ways which build solidarity. It means collectively dealing with the fear which we are all facing every day. It means understanding that there are needs for specific people of color revolutionary organizations and supporting the rights of people of color to form those organizations. It doesn’t mean alliances until everyone is working in organizations which can ally with one another---and by then, perhaps, we will have something better than allying with one another as an option. It means looking at whatever disrupts the reproduction of labor power as a working-class fight, as part of the class struggle, while understanding that it is the working class who carry out the revolutionary project of overthrowing the bourgeoisie.

Not everyone is going to be good with this. Since the conversation about “twenty-first century socialism” began, and since the Sanders campaign, we have been talking about “big tent” socialism and all-inclusive organizations and movements. This has been an error, or is proving to be. We are not distinguishing between a movement, which is absolutely essential and needs to be inclusive of all oppressed and exploited people, and socialist political organizations. In the past people worked their ways through movements and into political organizations. Recognizing oneself as a socialist and being accepted into a socialist political organization were regarded as achievements, as something special. Some socialist organizations had probationary periods, and potential leaders were mentored. Some organizations still require interviews to join, and they only admit, say, white male applicants after people of color and women or non-binary people have joined. Some organizations balance their organizations along the lines of class composition. The expectation was that members donate one day of pay each month, subscribe to the organization's newspapers and magazines, sell the papers, attend the rallies, join a study circle, and sign up new members---and all after working on a job and while managing a relationship or a family. Few people did all of that work because they were power-hungry or driven by ego or were careerists. You learned how to fit in, judge situations, organize, not be the outstanding person getting everyone's attention. These were the good practices of an Old Left, but much of that has been lost. And so it is that a socialist meeting might have a majority of people who are not members of an organization present, or not even socialists, making decisions impacting socialist organizing. The meeting might be led by a union staffer with their own interests and priorities.

In such situations we can see much is being lost. Opportunities to learn and be mentored are being lost, there is not a commitment to an organization, time and energy get burned, people come in thinking that they have a right to take the floor and speak without knowledge or investigation, organization gets treated as a commodity when people say that they will quit if they don’t get their way, projects get put off, and integrationism and progressive stacking get used instead of socialist-proletarian democratic processes. Good people show up and never come back because they were not prepared for the meeting. None of this is democratic. Most of these are features of white-majority organizations seeking to grow and build with good intentions, but they're doing so with what are sometimes petty-bourgeois prejudices and leadership.

The special meaning of having membership in a socialist organization was expressed by the poet Yevtushenko in these words:

Party Card

A shot-up forest full of black holes.
Mind-crushing explosions.
He wants some berries, he wants some berries:
the young lieutenant, lying in his blood.
I was a smallish boy,
who crawled in the long grass till it was dark
and brought him back a cap of strawberries,
and when they came there was no use for them.
The rain of July lightly falling.
He was lying in remoteness and silence
among the ruined tanks and the dead.
The rain glistened on his eyelashes.
There was sadness and worry in his eyes.
I waited saying nothing and soaking,
like waiting for an answer to something
he couldn’t answer. Passionate with silence
unable to see when he asked me,
I took the party card from his pocket.
And small and tired and without understanding
wandering in the flushed and smoking dark,
met up with refugees moving east
and somehow through the terribly flashing night
we travelled without a map, the priest
with his long grey hair and his rucksack,
and me and a sailor with a wounded arm.
Child crying. Horse whinnying.
And answered to with love and with courage
and white, white, the bell-towers rang out
speaking to Russia with a tocsin voice.
Wheatfields blackened round their villages.
In the woman’s coat I wore at the time.
I felt for the party card close to my heart.

One tradition on the Left---the tradition I most identify with---recognized the right of people of color to full self-determination while also building people of color leadership in integrated organizations. As far as I know, the first instance of an American Black military commander being in charge of majority-white American troops followed from this and was in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. We were the first to practice what became “progressive stacking” and affirmative action in combat and political life, but we did so from the standpoint of intersectionality as mass organizing was underway. Why do whites on the Left now so seldom connect support for people of color leadership and methods like progressive stacking to mass organizing? Certainly a tradition has been lost, and people in my Leftist corner bear responsibility for this, but the Trotskyites, social democrats, and anarchists who were on the wrong side in Spain (and elsewhere) have set about reinventing the Leftist wheel and rewriting history and blocking unity once more. The modern-day careerists assist them. In such hands, then, progressive stacking becomes a liberal attempt at balance or control. If it is not linked directly to leadership accountability through criticism and self-criticism, it becomes a means of reformism.


What does it mean to say that something becomes a means of reformism? It means for us that petty-bourgeois interests are being substituted for radical or revolutionary objectives and that hope is being put in individualism rather than in the oppressed and exploited masses or in the working-class. Any radical or revolutionary organization in the U.S. now will have two or more political lines present and in competition with one another: one will come from the petty-bourgeois people who have joined the left and one will come from women or people of color or proletarians or LGBTQIA+ people who are engaged in revolutionary organizing. A petty-bourgeois line, or politics, may not be wrong in itself under particular circumstances, but it will not be viable in the long run. The U.S. is not "exceptional" among countries in the sense that the system here does not have weaknesses and cannot be overthrown, but the petty-bourgeois mentality in the U.S. is exceptionally strong and constantly invades the left, taking the forms of pacifism, the Greens, social democracy, anarchism, following the Democrats, refusing to learn and refusing to lead, racism and sexism and transphobia, ableism, distance from the working-class, and reliance on leadership and NGOs and trade unionism.


We need unity with pacifists, Greens, social democrats, anarchists, the Democrats, the NGOS and the trade unions. We also need these organizations to unite against Trump, put forward at least a minimal radical-democratic program, and build an inside/outside strategy which will defeat the ultra-right and take us to a new stage in struggle. We need everyone to show self-discipline, cooperation, and solidarity. But our appeal as the Left needs to be to people at the base of every organization, and our faith must be there and not in the organizations themselves. We want a united front, or at least coalition politics, but we must understand that, by itself, coalition politics are petty-bourgeois and reformist. That doesn't get us off the hook for having to have a healthy relationship to leaders and leadership; it obligates us to win leadership based on relations of trust and hard work. A perfect line doesn't win the day. The application of that line to real problems wins. We build coalition politics because we understand a push and pull in society and because we believe in democracy and---most importantly---because we are fighting for our survival and the survival of the planet. But we go into this knowing that capitalism has to go. Our first allies need to be the workers and the exploited and oppressed peoples. We respect them by learning from them and by showing up every day to do the work, being the first to arrive and among the last to leave. The trade union tactics of putting everyone at a meeting on a rating scale, manipulating a few leaders, doing selective one-on-ones and creating the trappings of democracy without ever talking about militance and vision only ensures that things will get worse. Facebook and the latest social media undermines unity because it prevents needed face-to-face and collective discussion. Our Plan A should be to be with one another and with the oppressed and exploited. Our Plan B might be social media.

    
Our tradition has also said that “power comes from the barrel of a gun.” We took this in the worst of possible of ways, using this to justify armed struggle when it was adventurist and just wrong. Let’s back up. The saying also means that state power is inherently coercive and rests, when all is said and done, on the coercive power of government. The anarchists see this as an evil; we see it as a transient moment in history. If we acknowledge that government is inherently coercive, then we also interrogate the concept of democracy: whose interests does a particular government or system best serve, where has this system come from and where is it going, what are the forces at work here? And we quickly conclude, once we understand what the balance of forces is, that there is no “safe space” in a revolutionary situation, or even in a democratic or anti-fascist struggle.


Things change because there are differences of opinion, competing ideas, and competing systems. The old cannot go until something has arrived to replace it, and something of the past and of the future is always with us in the present. For some years now our movements have been talking about “safe space” as if we could achieve safe space in a movement or in a capitalist society. We should instead be steeling ourselves through collective study, collective work, and criticism/self-criticism. Revolution is not a tea party, after all.

Criticism/self-criticism is not the right or responsibility to thrown off or throw down with people. It is the responsibility to investigate failures and successes, understand the push-and-pull of events, see a big picture and a small picture, own one’s mistakes and successes in light of existing political and economic and social conditions, be modest, and dedicate oneself to one’s self-improvement and the advancement of the collective. It comes from below, not from above, and cannot be formulaic or a form of punishment or a means of maintaining control. In fact, the leading bodies and the leading activists in our organizations need to be the first to engage in and teach criticism/self-criticism.


Zhou Enlai, when he was revolutionary, wrote the following:

1. Study diligently, grasp essentials, concentrate on one subject rather than seeking superficial knowledge of many.

2. Work hard and have a plan, a focus and a method.

3. Combine study with work and keep them in proper balance according to time, place and circumstances; take care to review and systemize; discover and create.

4. On the basis of principles, resolutely combat all incorrect ideology in others as well as in myself.

5. Insofar as possible, make the most of my strengths and take concrete steps to overcome my weaknesses.

6. Never become alienated from the masses; learn from them and help them. Lead a collective life, inquire into the concerns of the people around you, study their problems their problems and abide by the rules of discipline.

7. Keep fit and lead a reasonable regular life. This is the material basis for self-improvement.

One criticism I get is that this is all theory and has no application. This is often valid. But our local organizing work tells me that we need help doing two things: fighting white chauvinism and national oppression among white working-class people, and growing socialist-minded cadre with the ideological tools needed to move forward. Much of what I have written here comes from real local practice. Please consider the rest as a plea for solidarity and discussion.

Another criticism is that this is “above the heads” of the people, and this also has some validity. If there are easier ways to communicate what is being said here, or if the opinions given are wrong, then let’s talk about that in real time and in the context of organizing. Let’s get started!