Friday, January 8, 2021

Some Notes On Our Present Moment---Part Three Of Three

Salem, Oregon---our town---has been highlighted as a center of far-right terrorism and activism. Here is recurring fascist violence, and the right-wing won most of the local and state electoral contests in November and controls the County Commission and the School Board. Attending the counter-protests can be unsafe, and they are not organized on a united-front basis that builds and broadens our capacity to fight and win. A door opened for broad anti-fascist and anti-racist unity last spring and then closed and has remained closed. The pandemic has been disempowering---or our response to it has been. Radical forces have not consolidated and put forward an all-people’s political program while the right-wing has consolidated and put forward a program of sorts, or a warped explanation of what’s going on. Liberals have erred on the school reopenings and the matter of school district liability for the spread of COVID at work. Liberal faith in the system seems to have been strengthened even as the system falters. They continue to take a top-down approach in many areas, and they continue to write off the working-class except when our votes are needed.

Attempts were recently made by the far-right to intimidate staff from the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration at their homes while the right-wing Freedom Foundation seeks to bust public employee unions, and now anti-maskers are attacking retail workers on their jobs in Salem. Intentionally or not, they are working hand-in-hand against working people. Where are our liberal and radical friends when it comes to attacks against workers and our unions? Where are our unions when it comes to leading an all-peoples front against our enemies? We return to the point that solidarity is not a two-way street in Salem, and we add that it sometimes feels that this is by design and intent by some people.

Our City Council appears to be progressive in much the same way that a few members of our School Board and the Superintendent once appeared to be progressive, but the people now have only two or three voices on the City Council (and none at the School Board). The real estate industry, the Chamber of Commerce, the banks, and the Salem Leadership Foundation are positioned to head off progressive change, and they are probably relieved that they have not taken heat for their roles over the past year. The police and the people who work behind the scenes at the County, City, and School Board levels work very hard to redirect that heat and deplete our progressive energy. Many non-profits help to soften the blow and redirect our energy and heat as well.

Politics here remains a matter of personalities---Paul Evans’ push for power, Shemia Fagan’s extended run for Governor, the short-lived Tina Kotek/Janelle Bynum controversy and deal, Bill Post on the radio, the right-wing focus on Kate Brown. Politics should be about political programs, struggle, and forward motion. It should not be about agreeing to disagree or conciliating or convincing people that we’re all on the same team; there is an “us” and a “them” that needs to be understood and used correctly. What force is there in Salem, or in Oregon, that can make politics all about a working-class and oppressed peoples’ struggle for forward movement?

Still, we must ask how is it that Rep. Nearman may have let the fascists into the State Capitol on December 21, that Rep. Cliff Bentz supports Trump and the right-wing terrorists and holds office, that Rep. Bill Post can waffle on the coup attempt and still hold office and be named as Assistant Deputy Leader of the Oregon House Republicans? Post’s case is instructive: he is no doubt getting support and protection from agribusiness for his effort to cut the agriculture minimum wage for workers under 21 years of age.

We have been through the fires, but rural Oregon continues to suffer. We are hitting a high point in new COVID cases, and Marion County’s infections and deaths are way out of line with our population numbers and our healthcare systems. Houselessness appears to be growing. These are systemic problems that are not going to be solved by individual effort, but saying this does not get individuals off the hook. If we dwell only on the bad news and our desperation, we disempower ourselves and one another. Radicals here are indeed surrounded. Breaking out of this encirclement can only be done by building relations with the working-class and oppressed peoples and through strategic united front (coalition) work.

Some Notes On Our Present Moment---Part Two Of Three

A statement from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) reinforces what gets called “liberal identity politics” when they say, “This was scripted white supremacist violence instigated by Trump.” We agree with DSA that Representative Ilhan Omar’s impeachment attempt and Representative Cori Bush’s effort to expel Republicans who tried to block the election deserve full support, but DSA is misstating what fascism is and they aren’t talking about building or consolidating an anti-fascist united front. A statement from Howie Hawkins of the Green Party (remember them?) on January 1 took the Left to task for supposedly retreating to the right. Hawkins prescribed less unity for the Left as his cure and put forward no ideas on how to fight and win in the present moment. The “We knew this was coming!” crowd didn’t know this was coming, or wasn’t prepared even if they did. The people who scoff and say that this insurrection or attempted coup was poorly prepared forget that the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 was also a sloppy job. Coups and insurrections often do not succeed on their first or second or third attempts---think of Turkey----but they are staging grounds and they consolidate power. The liberals must be pushed and pulled to follow through on impeachment and prosecutions of Trump and his allies; this a moment to open political options and build unity, not to further confine ourselves.

We do not defend science and logic, or reason, only because they are under attack by our enemies, but because science and logic are political questions. Each class---workers, the middle-class, the bosses---has a science and logic that meets its interests and needs, whether they fully realize this or not. The workers have dialectical materialism. That is a political matter. But for reason of any kind to hold sway, reasonable people must hold power---and the question of power is also a political question. The broad question of this moment is one of who will hold power, who will be excluded from holding power, and under what conditions this will take place.

Our radical friends who return from the future with prognostications of “all will be well” or “we are all doomed” should at least have the good graces to bring the winning Lotto numbers back with them if they really wish to be helpful.

It is now a true saying that if Georgia shows then way, then D.C. shows the stakes. But there is something else: it is not our liberal friends, or even many of our revolutionary comrades, who form the directly opposite and absolutely necessary opposing force to what happened in D.C. The necessary effective counter-push against the right-wing is coming from the Solid and Black Belt South and from workers in industries and professions most directly affected by the pandemic and people of color in communities where the police killings have happened and where there are existing traditions of fighting back. But these people cannot fight alone and win. The concept that solidarity is a two-way street built from necessity has been sacrificed and must be repurposed.

We should share with the liberals an absolute abhorrence of seeing the Confederate flag carried in the Capitol, or anywhere, and react with the same abhorrence and anger to the Camp Auschwitz sweatshirts. We should hold up the union statements condemning the fascists and use them to organize fellow union members into the movement. We should look soberly at the election numbers and stay with the base, the grassroots, and figure out how to win people over during the pandemic.

The media and certain politicians have been building narratives that will allow some Republicans to survive this moment politically and go on to win future elections by giving space to the Republicans who suddenly oppose Trump and street violence. That sets a low bar, but it feeds bipartisanship and may be used by Democrats to justify compromises. “We finally found some moderate Republicans!” The media and certain politicians have also been working for quite a while to find the roots of our crises in Russia, and not here at home. A liberal friend even sent along a meme of the Republican leadership under a hammer and sickle yesterday. Much is being done by the Centrists to salvage part of the right-wing and strengthen the Democratic party's Centrists, once more excluding the Left. It is not that the Democratic Party’s Centrism should not be reconstructed or saved, but that a Left-Center alliance would be of greater help, and would be more viable, than an alliance between the media and the center of the Democratic party or an alliance between centrist Democrats and the Right.

Our liberal friends walk into the media trap with their glasses off. Some of our radical friends either insist that the Left should have no ties to the center and that we should not consult the liberal media, or their criticisms are formulated in ways that prevent building unity. It’s as if the hard-fought election that we just went through didn’t teach us anything and that we didn’t win and lose ground in the elections in the same moment. The most capable voices on the Left analyzed the election results and argued that a Biden/Harris win would give us a new terrain to struggle on, and that waging that political struggle is all-important, but many of us remain mired in ultra-leftism and instinctively reject an organizing strategy and tactics that take us beyond Left circles and to the masses.

Some Notes On Our Present Moment--Part One of Three

It is understandable that people will respond to the multiple crises of the current moment reflexively, reaching for what is past and comfortable to sustain them in a new and difficult time. Armies are always fighting the last war. Revolutions perform seances to find their justification in the languages and personages of the past. Liberalism still looks to Rousseau’s Social Contract of 1762. When we speak of what is reactionary in honest terms, we are describing what has arisen in reaction to progress, or in reaction to forward movement. We are thus describing that familiar and comfortable political space that is a refuge from reality. Change, struggle, and contradiction form our material reality; everything within and around us is constantly in motion and development. Every reactionary idea or trend denies those aspects of reality and provides an alternate myth (racism, misogyny, false histories). We now find ourselves having to defend science and logic against a New Confederacy, a particular form of fascism that looks back 100 years to the racism and xenophobia and anti-union corporate-led offensives of the 1920s, and even further back to the defeat of Reconstruction, and then still further back in time.

Looking for comfort in the past and sentimentality are understandable, but they are things to struggle against and to defeat within ourselves and around us.

The “slow-motion coup” from the far-right that has been unfolding for years now has accelerated in recent days. It may change its form, but its essential content will remain and it will threaten progress for years to come. Bear in mind that this movement organized and consolidated as revenge, as a death cult, as a revolt against science and logic, as offensive tactics and strategies of the New Confederacy, as a force that at once does the militant and political work of a section of capitalism and, at the same time, is a response to globalism and neoliberalism.

Revenge because the far-right, steeped in racism, could not abide the Obama presidency and political advancements by people of color, however insufficient that administration was and however tenuous these advancements have been. A death cult because deteriorating social conditions are causing widespread misery and addiction and lifespans are generally decreasing. A death cult because the far-right has no answer to the pandemic and will surrender to it, or will sacrifice large numbers of people to the pandemic who they regard as expendable and as surplus populations. A death cult because individualism in the U.S. conspires with powerlessness and a lack of critical thinking skills to the point that self-harm and suicide, and not collective action, are our responses to oppression. Masses of people, and particularly white working-class people, struggle to come to terms with the reality that the capitalists have played us like chumps, and they seek refuge in self-destructive behaviors. A revolt against science and logic because these disprove superstitions, challenge the right-wing ideologically, challenge the death cult, and point to a human future.

The New Confederacy drew its strength from the remnants of the southern planters and aristocracy, their political servants, the segregationists, and the industrialists who moved production to the south. These forces then allied with other reactionary forces allied with agribusiness and meatpacking and sections of heavy industry in a desperate attempt to maintain profits. The south’s competitive edge has been dulled as automation has increased and as China becomes responsible for greater shares of the world’s gross domestic product. The New Confederacy thus represents a brutal form of economic and political management, or dictatorship we might say, that divides workers by race, age, gender, and citizenship/immigration status. Every murder by the cops has come as a means of taking revenge on people of color and the poor and as a means of disciplining all oppressed peoples and the entire working-class, regardless of the color of our skin. White privilege exists, and racism and class oppression are the fault lines of American society, but being “less oppressed” should not be confused with privilege.

When we say that the New Confederacy is consolidating as a fascist movement what we mean is that it is finding its political identity as an explicitly reactionary movement, that it is finding internal unity and is becoming self-aware, that it is gaining a consciousness of its role in carrying out the policies and actions required for racial and class oppression, and that its gangs are building cohesion through street brawls with BLM and anti-fascist demonstrators and the cops. The sudden abandonment of “Back the Blue” by the New Confederates here in Oregon signifies a stage of consolidation in their movement, a stage that occurs in most fascist movements. They experience internal contradictions and divisions, they’re aren’t without fault lines, but they also have unique aspects; their protests and violence are not spontaneous, and they will conform in every respect to other fascist movements.

The militant political work of a section of capitalism was accomplished in the Malheur occupation (a front for agribusiness), the giveaways to the energy sector and the repression of protests against the pipelines, the police and extra-judicial killings of people of color, the decimation of unions, the pressures brought by the anti-maskers and the people who want to keep businesses running during the pandemic. The thugs in the streets and in the suits are all about doing this work, and they use one another. We say that this is a response to globalism and neoliberalism, and that the street thugs and suits use one another, because our enemies do not come all from one social class and they are not (yet) of one mind. Some have no objective interest in the system and do what they do out of anger and despair and because they are losing whatever economic security they had and because it is so difficult to come to terms with being played by the capitalist elites. It is easier to blame the person of color---or, if you are a right-wing person of color, take on a colonized mindset---or an immigrant than it is to take responsibility and fight your boss, your landlord, the banks, and their defenders. The suits, on the other hand, represent some parts of finance capital (parts of the banking and real estate industries), agribusiness and meatpacking, and parts of the energy sector. If they could settle their disagreements with the larger financial sector and basic industry, and resolve problems of trade and hold on to world market share at the same time, we would find ourselves in a fascist state as soon as they felt threatened and motivated to take power. We’re not there yet, but we’re closer to that and to civil war than most of us realize.

Still, we spend too much time looking for one sign or another of fascism, instances of this or that class moving to the right. We follow Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables” remark, we allow talk of “white trash,” we spotlight particular corporations. And so we lose sight of Clara Zetkin’s famous point that the nucleus of fascist movements are "the politically homeless, the socially uprooted, the destitute and disillusioned." The fascists themselves have said “We want to glorify war---the only cure for the world---militarism, patriotism, the destructive gestures of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for women.” (Flippo Tommaso Mainetti, founder of the Futurist movement and a supporter of Mussolini) The initial incoherence of the movement is not its failure or something for us to ridicule or debate; this incoherence is the movement’s strength.

Our liberal friends want to dissect and ridicule this incoherence and are shocked, shocked to find that Hillary Clinton’s deplorables would attempt a coup here. “This is not America!” they say. But the United States is the home base of coups the world over. “Our democracy!” they say. But this has always been a democracy for the wealthy---a democracy worth defending against the fascists and racists, but still a democracy for the wealthy. “Our democracy is sacred!”---but it isn’t. Democracy here is relative, as it is everywhere and always, and it is not above or beyond human beings and human experiences. “This is white privilege!”---but this mistakes a stage in fascist consolidation with the entirety of the fascist project and implies that anti-racism is, by itself, the counter to fascism.

And we have more liberal outrage: “Where the hell were the Capitol Police!” and “These people are traitors!” and “They should be tried for treason!” and “So disheartening to see the unrest/protests that are happening in our Nation's capital…I don't care what your political views are or who you voted for, this is NOT right. This is AMERICA!” and “Seditionists and domestic terrorists!” ---but this appropriation of conservative rhetoric does harm because it gives the work of defending democratic principles over to the police, it can be used against those of us who have or will occupy government buildings for good reason, these words come back to bite us whenever we use them, and this rhetoric privileges and obscures the true nature of the imperialist United States. It does matter who voted and who people voted for. The implication is that coups are okay elsewhere, but not here, and that the events of this week are something other than political. Forgotten is how and why the ball got dropped in 2015 when attempts were made at the federal level to list the fascist organizations for what they are and hell broke loose.

We and our radical friends have our own versions of this outrage. “This has killed the Republican Party!” and “This is a dreadful day for the right….The case can now be made that the entire GOP is bent on wrecking democracy, and the cops in every state have been actively involved. This is not a coup. It's a premature orgasm.” and “Trump is finished at this point. The failed lawsuits, street scuffles with militia yahoos and Proud Boy wannabes, and endless talking about 'Trump's coup' and whatever else is a distraction from the real struggles.”---these back-from-the-future pronouncements have yet to be realized, they say or imply that our opposition has imploded, they don’t look at how political struggle occurs, they talk about “real struggles” that do not (yet) have mass support and action.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

A Minimum Program For Social Change And Revolution

Several comrades recently put together a minimum program for social change leading to revolution. What this means is described below.

At the very end of this introduction is a link to the minimum program itself

People who identify with the goals of the minimum program in the short-run or in the long-run are encouraged to be in touch.

This minimum program is not the final word. Other comrades from around the U.S. are also thinking along these lines. The Left is going to have to adopt programs that speak to both winnable goals and carry us forward if we are going to make it through the current crises. Our primary task right now is in defeating the ultra-right in November, allying with others, winning over critical numbers of people to our programs through practical work, and moving from a defensive to an offensive position.

The logic of our position on defeating the ultra-right is given here.

This program owes a great deal to the Movement For Black Lives Platform.


A minimum program attempts to put forward reforms that can be won now, under capitalism, that will improve our lives, restore and extend democracy, and involve more people in the fight for a socialist future.

First, a minimum program attempts to build unity between socialists, nationally oppressed and working-class people, and non-socialists, on the basis of shared demands that can be won through unity, organizing and mass mobilization. A minimum program appeals to the core forces needed for social change because without the unity of those core forces change is impossible. The core social forces are workers, people of color, women, youth, LGBTQIA+ people, small farmers, middle-class people who are facing dislocation, and people who are politically liberal or centrist and who no longer have a political home. A minimum program provides a basis for discussion and forward movement. A movement for democracy can become a movement for radical democracy. A radical-democratic movement can become a revolutionary movement. A revolutionary movement can become a socialist movement. Socialism brings power to the workers and all of the oppressed.

Second, a minimum program guards against those who think that no reform can ever be radical enough and those who always put radical demands on the back burner. A minimum program does this by connecting demands to one another and building a program from those connections. A minimum program expresses confidence in the core forces. We understand that forward motion depends on theory, struggle, organization and leadership at work among the core forces. When these are weaker, there is little or no forward motion. When these are stronger, people learn and accomplish in a few weeks or months what it might take them years to accomplish otherwise.

Third, a minimum program attempts to describe the demands needed to beat back the corporations and the rich who control the corporations, racism, misogyny, bigotry and all of the prejudices and superstitions that divide the working-class and oppressed peoples. It attempts to build anti-imperialism and anti-monopoly capitalism on an inclusive and democratic basis. It presupposes that a broad and radical-democratic movement can win people over in large numbers and transform our lives. It also presupposes that the capitalists and the state will react harshly and that the only real protection anyone has is with their comrades.

Fourth, a minimum program represents an effort by socialists to break out of isolation, connect with the core forces mentioned above, join them in their struggles, test socialist theories and practice, and build a path to revolutionary-democratic power for oppressed peoples. Leadership and power come through organizing and fighting back against oppression. We are about full participation in working-class and nationally oppressed struggles, learning and sharing responsibilities with our comrades in struggle, taking on responsibilities in these struggles, and building leadership through action and accountability.

Fifth, these reforms build a bridge between the present and the future as more and more working class and oppressed people are drawn into the fight for a better world, and thus learn what democracy looks and feels like. As workers and oppressed people organize for radical social change, campaigns and movements will be sparked, which will necessarily raise the level of political development and self-organization of the working class and its allies. As workers and their allies struggle for their objectives, a sense of the power of a united working class and people becomes evident, and with this power, workers and their allies become increasingly aware of their ability to reconstruct society according to their own precepts and principles. In a word, the working class and its allies learn that we can do anything.

This minimum program owes a great debt to the Movement for Black Lives Platform. We welcome your criticism and support. We look forward to discussing these points with you and joining with you.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Vote Democratic not in support of Biden (or another nominee) or against Trump, but in order to help defeat the ultra-right and raise the level of contradiction between a left-center coalition and the far-right

The Left in the United States seems to be forever at a crossroads, and there seems to always be someone present proclaiming that being at a crossroads constitutes a crisis for the Left. These polemics have been with us for at least 75 years. People come to the Left and leave, and times and conditions change, but for some of us only an unreasonable and impoverished sense of crisis remains.

The problems with these formulations seem clearer to me at this moment than they have in the past. We on the Left can be so inward-looking that we speak in languages that those around us often don’t understand and have no reason to concern themselves with. We have an exaggerated sense of our own importance. We adopt a middle-class framework when we fail to understand why everyone doesn’t share our opinions. We assume that all of those who disagree with us have been duped by the media or can’t think logically, and we either don’t struggle with people over ideology or we make conversation a one-way street when we do. There is also a middle-class idea prevalent on the Left that says when we don’t get what we want from an organization or a movement we are free from our obligations to struggle over ideas and free to walk away.

People arriving on the Left now are arriving under different circumstances than people who arrived four or six years ago, and those people arrived under different conditions than people who were radicalized in the Occupy movement or in the 2008 period. Radicalization today might come through the strike wave of the last two years, through the Sanders movement, or through the way that the COVID-19 virus has emerged and is being handled. There are qualitative differences between these people and those who were radicalized under the impact of Black Lives Matter and related movement. These new lefts, working-class lefts, and people of color lefts are also different than the Old Left that is passing on and the radicals who joined the movement in the 1970s and 1980s. We may agree on a few basics or share an instinctive anti-capitalism, but there our commonality and solidarity often stop.

The jail breaks from these problems are found in studying Marxist theory with others, engaging in the hard work of organizing for change, critiquing our actions and views with others, improving our collective practice, and returning again to Marxist theory as a guidepost. The immediate barriers to doing this are that individualism runs deep in the United States and in our movement, that theory and practice look like salad bars to many of us, that the leading Left organization in the U.S. discourages engagement with Marxism, and that we have not found a widely-agree-upon way to combine theory and practice to win people over to revolutionary politics. In fact, we lack agreement on what “revolutionary politics” means and how important it is.

In better times---in a revolutionary moment---we would not have to struggle over the definitions of words. We would have general agreement on what words like “capitalism,” “socialism,” “fascism,” and “solidarity” mean. We would feel committed to struggling with one another as comrades. We would not be in a place where so many of us begin with saying “I believe that…” and then make an essentially moral point based only on our morality and leave it there, not basing our opinions on theory or practice or Marxist science. We would not believe that all ideas have equal weight. We would uphold the principle that ideas are tied to classes and lived experiences. But we are not in a revolutionary moment.

The Sanders movement has been a necessary defensive effort. The movement’s program formed around undoing the damage done by past Republican and Democratic administrations and by the 2007-2008 economic meltdown, and so it has been a patchwork of needed reforms that speak to almost everyone and no one at the same time. It could speak from the standpoint of policy and had a needed flexibility on policy issues. Its collective defense of its populist and social democratic principles and its resiliency have been admirable. The movement’s ability to inspire people and birth its future in young and dynamic representatives to the left of Sanders illustrates how political struggle moves forwards and backwards in stages. The Sanders movement has helped to lay a foundation for on-going organizing and political victories. If the Left does not drop the ball, and if we change course and hold the biggest part of our base and expand that base through alliances, this could be the last election in which we face such limited choices.

On the other hand, the Sanders movement has been a cross-class movement, but it has barely reached the point of being an alliance. It has been over-confident and dogmatic. It did not ally with Warren’s movement or move those forces leftward, ensuring that neither would succeed. It could not hold a coalition of the Democratic Party’s left together.

The Left bears some responsibility for the Sanders movement’s naivete. This naivete and the Left’s internal weaknesses work together to prevent us from acknowledging our weaknesses and errors. This allows the Sanders movement and the Left to blame Americans and Trump for our failures and to excuse ourselves from self-criticism. This inability to do self-criticism and change course means that our errors will not be corrected. We allowed the Sanders movement to substitute for a mature Left and speak to the American people in our name instead of doing the hard work ourselves. Large numbers of people have moved in our direction, but the Left cannot win a national campaign under current conditions.

The Sanders movement is not what a strategic and tactical offensive from the Left should look like. Neither was Occupy, or the recent strike wave, or the Warren campaign. These are all notable and necessary political formations, but they are not strategic and tactical offensives by the Left. The question is not about the “purity” of these formations. Rather, the point revolves around the related questions of whether or not a strategic and tactical offensive from the Left is possible at this stage and what the relationships should be between the Left, the social movements, and the political center. Now the question is how the Left should relate to the Biden campaign and the political center and how we can defeat Trump.

In a Left-led campaign we would be able to distinguish between stages of struggle and think in terms of strategic leadership. We would have agreement and clarity around objectives and distinguish between our primary and reserve forces. These forces would be mobilized to unite large numbers of people and exploit our opposition’s vulnerabilities. In a struggle for democracy this would mean building a majority. In a more revolutionary moment, a majority might not be as decisive. Having a party of our own and rooting our party among the masses of working-class and specially exploited and oppressed peoples, with a tested political line and leadership structures, would be more decisive.

Political alignment would be very different than it is now. We would know what is important to the masses of working-class and oppressed peoples and what they’re taking action on. National campaigns would not depend on six or eight great senators and articulating needed reform and make-up packages. Something like a broad united front would exist at the grassroots, and it would be led by women, people of color, the working-class and all of the core forces needed for social change. Those core forces might or might not remain in the Democratic Party under those conditions. We would have many candidates and many electoral successes, all backed up by street heat.

But we live within the working-class that exists, not the one that we want to exist. The new left, and particularly the youth and many of those most attached to the Sanders and Warren campaigns, are struggling with this. It’s difficult to acknowledge that our views are not widely shared or have not been well-communicated. It’s also difficult to dig in and summon the patience to be critical and self-critical in a Marxist framework and to go about the work of organizing and thinking 10 years ahead. I doubt that many of those who have come to us through the Sanders movement will make this leap now. They may find a place in a cause-of-the-month DSA that is preoccupied with processes and policies and never gets down to Marxism or they may withdraw from politics entirely. It is unlikely, though not impossible, that DSA will be fully transformed and will educate them in socialist basics. This is an all-around loss because we all have much to learn from one another and DSA has its moments in the sun.

Let’s step back and consider the following:

1.       The core forces needed for social change remain largely within the Democratic Party.
2.       The Left needs these core forces, and should be about the work of giving them the space to look leftwards.
3.       The core forces have divided their votes between Sanders, Warren, and Biden. They constitute an important bloc in the rank-and-file of the political center. Those who live in the Black Belt and Solid South made a necessary political calculation to vote as they did. That calculation and their votes must be respected.
4.       To remain aloof from the core forces, to view involvement with working-class and oppressed peoples as optional in any way, and to assume that Left or progressive politics constitutes an entitlement to leadership among them is to abandon radical politics.
5.       Abstaining from voting with the core forces and struggling with them and learning from them breaks faith with the core forces. Breaking faith is a final and decisive act. No one can abstain from working with the core forces, or working against their interests, and expect to be welcomed in later and taken seriously.
6.       Our American history has evolved under the special conditions of the color and class lines being determinative factors. The struggles waged by people of color and working-class people have moved the center to the left, or have created openings for this to happen. Lincoln was forced to adopt an abolitionist program because of slave revolts. Roosevelt was forced to open the New Deal by working-class upsurges.
7.       The Democratic Party exists as a cross-class alliance of various contradictory social forces. In this sense it is not a bourgeois party, and it seems unlikely that can be transformed into a labor or social democratic party. We cannot say that the parties or the candidates are the same.
8.       Americans have not undertaken the great fights for social change when things are at their worst. Rather, our struggles gain support when social conditions begin to shift for the better and when advancement is blocked or progress is slowed. The labor movement of the 1930s did not make its greatest advances in the depths of the Depression but when bad conditions eased somewhat. The modern civil rights movement took on a mass character when social advancements were made possible and were promised but were not equally distributed in the post-World War Two economic boom. The Left would have been frozen out of these movements had we not abandoned our dogmatism and sectarianism.
9.       The “Bernie or Bust” and anti-Biden rhetoric from some people on the Left shows a lack of flexibility and a distance from the working-class and oppressed peoples. It also reflects the opportunism of social democrats and anarchists. This finds its main expression in DSA. This lack of flexibility doesn’t work for Sanders, since he has rejected a “Bernie or bust” position. It does not help move Biden or any other potential nominee to the left. And since it finds its primary expression in DSA, with its social democratic and anarchist biases, the “Bernie or Bust” and anti-Biden rhetoric complicates building a revolutionary political party in the future.
10.   The Henry Wallace 1948 Presidential campaign was a desperate but noble attempt to hold on to the Left of the New Deal coalition under Roosevelt and mobilize for jobs, equality, peace, and democracy. That effort had internal weaknesses and was crushed by the onset of the Cold War, but sections of the Wallace movement held the line and influenced the New Left years later. The Humphrey and McCarthy campaigns were insurance policies against a resurgence of the left-of-center and people-of-color coalition that had moved the Wallace campaign. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 Presidential campaign carried some of the heritage of the Wallace campaign with it. Jackson was to the left of where Sanders is today and did relatively well. The Sanders campaign has proceeded as if it is the first of its kind, and people entering the socialist movement today lack a needed sense of history and development.
11.   If we fully participated in the Democratic Party on the basis of being the forces needed to carry out the most progressive aspects of their program where it intersects with ours, and if we used this as a means of learning and teaching and as a platform to advocate for a more aggressive political push by the Democrats, we would stand a better chance of winning great numbers of the core forces to our side and changing the debate within the Democratic Party. We need the will to earn leadership and respect by doing the hard work in principled ways. This is not about reforming or transforming the Democratic Party, which might be a by-product of our work if it occurred, but of making socialism and socialist practice accessible to people at the grassroots. It would be better to attempt this and to change course later if it did not work or to be expelled by a Democratic establishment then it would be to reject attempting this.

 Consider the following practical-philosophical points:

1.       The most advanced or radical ideas are not those that we come up with in our heads. Rather, the most advanced and radical ideas are those that we can rally most of the core forces around.
2.       The most “revolutionary” ideas are not always the most radical. A “revolutionary” position may feel good, but it has to meet the tests of resonating with the core forces and fitting into the ebb and flow of organizing and struggle.
3.       It is struggle that resolves differences. Investigate and study, act, evaluate, and act again in order to arrive at a correct position. Sterile debates set us back.
4.       There are correct and incorrect ideas. We discover what is correct and incorrect by acting with others.
5.       No tactic is wrong in itself, but strategies and tactics must correspond to stages or moments in real time. Abstaining from voting or from allying with the political center might make sense when we have tens of millions of people with us. Who needs an alliance with the center or participation in elections when we can wage mass strikes and civil disobedience to win radical demands? But abstaining from voting now breaks faith with the core forces and isolates us.
6.       To say that Biden or some other Democratic nominee is unelectable is to say that there are inevitabilities, which is to deny the power of the people and the ebb and flow of struggle. It is the people who make history, not defeatists. We mobilized millions to defeat fascism in Europe, over 100,000 people participated in the Long March in China, we mobilized to beat Jim Crow segregation in the US, we overthrew apartheid, and we beat American imperialism in Cuba and Vietnam. Our history is that of being told that the prisons will outlast us—and then we tear the prisons down. We can stop fascism in the U.S.
7.       Political alliances are a necessary foundation for political strategies and tactics.
8.       A movement for democracy can become a movement for radical democracy. A radical-democratic movement can become a revolutionary movement. A revolutionary movement can become a socialist movement. Socialism brings power to the workers and all of the oppressed. There are necessary stages to development, and occasional leaps, that call forth different alliances, but alliances are needed at each stage.
9.       Alliances are a matter for the present, not the future. We are in a defensive stage and engaged in a struggle for democracy. Under these conditions our main task is to unite the many against the few, build capacity to fight and win within that cross-class and all-people’s alliance, stop the Republicans, involve or win over tens of millions of people, and build a path to democratic power. That will move us from being on the defense to going on the offense.
10.   In doing so we must be honest about our politics and state our disagreements with others, but this must be done in constructive ways. This implies that we have a political line and are grounded in that line and that we are rejecting whatever seeks to substitute for a political line.
11.   We are not anarchists. We support the conquest of state power by the working-class and oppressed peoples, the creation of the democratic means to carry out planning and distribution of value and wealth, self-determination for oppressed peoples, and the eventual use of legal coercive means against the exploiters.

Some on the Left talk about “class struggle elections” and a “rank-and-file strategy” as if the center of political gravity is with the Left, as if the class struggle is on the offensive now, as if the Left is leading the class struggle and doesn’t need allies, and as if union leaders form the main barrier against class struggles. This is self-isolation, an add-on to the “Bernie or Bust” tendency. DSA and others who roll with this are painting themselves into a corner at a time when there is a breeze---not a wind, but a breeze---in our sails. Let’s instead talk about “class struggle elections” and a “rank-and-file strategy” in terms of the labor movement leading a coalition with a “bargaining for the common good” platform; mass union organizing; the need to build worker leadership in the joint struggle against the Republicans, monopoly capital, and COVID-19; or in winning survival space and gains in the Solid or Black Belt South, among indigenous peoples, and in immigrant communities.

 In line with this, I am recommending

1.       That the Left devote our collective energies where they exist to the study of Marxism.
2.       That we actively engage in debates and in political alliances with the center and that we leverage our positive relations with the center to win a more progressive Democratic Party platform and move forward more progressive candidates.
3.       That we act within social movements on the basis of where the most progressive aspects of the Democratic platform and our program intersects.
4.       That we push for a debt jubilee, jobs or income now, a Green New Deal, and a full minimum program for social change based on the programs of the Movement for Black Lives, the Sanders campaign, and the labor movement.
5.       That we commit to voting for Democratic Party nominees now.
6.       That we support using the Democratic Party convention as a primary means of making the case against Trump to the American people.
7.       That we vote Democratic not in support of Biden (or another nominee) or against Trump, but in order to help defeat the ultra-right and raise the level of contradiction between a left-center coalition and the far-right.
8.       That we prepare ourselves to either provide an opening for a Democratic president and the center to move leftwards if they win or to wage the most militant workplace and community struggles possible in coalition with the core forces if the Democrats lose.
9.       That we endorse a revolutionary path and, in that context, work for Democratic candidates without endorsing them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

A Response to the Biden Campaign Proposals on Health Care and Student Debt

The following was submitted by a comrade:

“Sorry Joe, it Just Doesn’t Cut It”

So, here’s the scenario, at least in my head. Joe Biden is in negotiations with The Left; it’s like bargaining a labor contract. The Democrats and Joe Biden want “Unity” across the Democratic Party as it faces Trump in the November election.

The Left is interested in moving its agenda forward.

On April 9, in that quest for Unity, the Joe Biden campaign offered two policy initiatives meant to placate and get the Left on board with the Biden campaign. The two policies are student debt relief and healthcare/health insurance.

Back to the contract bargaining scenario that’s in my head. The Biden campaign gave us two proposals on April 9. Because the scenario is in my head, I get to be the Left’s spokesperson. What do we say in response to the April 9 proposals?

In my head, the response goes like this:

Me: “Let me respond to your proposals of the other day. First, I want to say we appreciate your efforts and movement in the direction of accommodating the policy concerns of The Left. We know you want to get us on board, and we know you’re trying to figure a way to adjust your positions in the interests of the working class, oppressed people, rural workers and immigrants. However, in response to your proposals of April 9 – sorry, Joe -- but the proposals just don’t cut it, and I’ll tell you why:

First: Student debt. What’s wrong with you guys? So, poor kids who have incurred debt at a private college or university don’t get debt relief help? Why? Do you feel a need to punish poor and working class students who took out loans to go to a private university? Or, are you trying to punish private universities and colleges by holding their students hostage?

Two: Why are graduate students not covered by your student debt policy? Graduate students have personal student debt that’s in the six figures range. Graduated graduate students are also academics. Yet these academics are faced with years of bouncing across the country from low paid one-year contract to another low paid one- year contract, just like the Middle Ages! Is this how we want to further higher education? By systematically immiserating those who are the backbone of higher education in the USA?

Three: Joe, your proposal on student debt offers no structural changes to higher education. We bail out some students now? Start the student debt crisis over again with a new generation?

Four: If you really want The Left on board, stop your damned means testing. When you means test, there are always winners and losers. Some poor working class kid who made a big mistake and went to a private college, what are you going to say to them? “Sorry kid, you’ll have to pay the full $70K in student debt because you went to a private college”? 

This is what happens when you means test. You divide winners and losers based on a shallow ideology of who “deserves”, who doesn’t, and all the arbitrary and bureaucratic divisions you put in place to enforce the separation of the “deserving”, from those who were on the losing side of the political deal, those dumb, poor, pampered working class kids who went to a private college.

You can do a lot better!

On to healthcare:

Me: So, Joe, your proposal to drop Medicare eligibility to age 60? You know, if you can find a way to include the first 60 years of life too? Then we’d be talking!! Which leads us to the public option…

We’re not impressed with a public option. Why? Because a public option is just another insurance plan out there. Just like Obama Care, there will be co-pays and deductibles up the wazoo, and there will be monthly premiums. In the spirit of Obama Care too, you will be offering higher quality healthcare plans, with lower deductibles and co-pays to those who can afford the high premium, and those who are working class with low incomes, who are stuck with “silver” and “bronze” plans, who face deductibles of $1500 and $6000 respectively. Congrats here! Because you’ve actually built a health insurance program which economically punishes working class people when they seek healthcare!

If you want to push the public option, and want us on the Left to buy-in, you’re off to a bad start. Here’s a hint -- the devil is always in the details!

If you want to get the Left even talking to you on healthcare, you better put a public option out there that starts at 100% subsidized premiums for the lower 90% of the population.

Second, don’t even think about putting co-pays and deductibles in your public option. Every co-pay and deductible is an obstacle in the way of actually receiving healthcare!…. Medicare for All would be so much cost-effective, efficient, and user friendly! But if you insist on subsidizing the health insurance corporations……

Joe, you know, the biggest problem is we just don’t see things the way you do. We have funny ideas, like “An injury to One is an Injury to All”. We know that nobody is better off unless all people are better off. You guys on the other hand through peoples’ lives around like they’re gambling chips. Everything is about the deal; who will be short changed so that others can get a better deal? Sorry, but we don’t think the way.

To sum things up, Joe, your proposals of April 9 just don’t cut it! If you want “enthusiasm” for your campaign, from the Left, you’ll have to do miles and miles better then your proposals of April 9.” 

Out of My Head and Back to Reality

In reality, I have a pretty low bar with this Presidential election. I will vote for Joe whether he becomes more Left friendly or not. My vote for Joe is based on one important criteria; Donald Trump is a Fascist and Joe Biden is not. For me it’s that simple!

I’m also a responsible socialist (at least I’d like to think so). Therefore, I think I have a duty to talk to the rest of my comrades, friends, co-workers and family about being responsible and voting for Biden.

My Biden rap is already worked out, it goes like this: “You will get nothing by voting for Joe Biden, but you will have stopped Fascism in the USA!” Adding a little substance here, a Biden win means that Latinx DREAMERS will get to stay in the US, that voter suppression of oppressed people will be significantly slowed down, we’ll be able to stop gender-based concentration camps of the US-Mexican border, and the Constitution and a republic will be maintained.

I think it’s an honest rap and accurately reflects what’s at stake. But it’s not an inspiring rap.

Many people on the Left will decide to be “responsible” and vote for Biden in order to stop Fascism. On the other hand, many on the Left will see voting for Biden as a surrender of their principles, and among some, there’s a search for serious vengeance.

Anger from the Left, especially youth, are the wages Biden and the Democratic Establishment have earned in their all-out war against the Bernie Sanders’ campaign and every proposal it made. These voters and activists will have a real hard time forgiving Joe Biden and the DNC.

So, what can I say? If Biden and the Democratic establishment want even a sliver of “enthusiasm” from the Left, they’re going to have to do a whole lot better!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Understanding Hong Kong

Imagine that Japan occupied San Francisco in the 1880s, forcing the US government to sign a 100 year 'lease' for the territory. Imagine that the Japanese abolished all democratic rights in the city, and ruled through a colonial government appointed directly by Tokyo. Non-Japanese residents of San Francisco became second class citizens and are forced to live in overcrowded slums to make room for upscale Japanese businesses; these businesses display notices saying "No Whites or dogs". The Japanese colonial administration imposes Japanese culture, language, and economic institutions by fiat. Anything non-Japanese is deemed inferior, and Japanese chauvinism is reflected at every level of society, including education.

After a century of occupation, the Japanese finally agree to return San Francisco to the United States. However, they stipulate that the colonial administration must remain intact; there will be no elections, the economy will continue to be dominated by Japanese businesses, and colonial-era Japanese laws and values will remain in place. This compromise is called 'one country, two systems'.

After a few years, San Francisco begins to lag behind the rest of the US economically, causing discontent among the working population who continue to labor under colonial conditions despite the end of formal Japanese rule. Pro-Japanese demonstrators demand that the Emperor 'free' them from the US; they wave the Japanese colonial flag, and fly to Tokyo to meet with representatives of the Japanese government. The Japanese media paints the demonstrators as 'pro-democracy', ignoring their government's obvious role in the unrest; the US government is, meanwhile, denounced as 'oppressive' for attempting to exercise sovereignty over its territory.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

On Socialist Work and Working Class Trump Voters, Briefly

We hear a great deal of late about the so-called 'Trumpenleft' or 'Red-Brown alliance'. The terms were first coined by writers at Counterpunch, and refer to a segment of the left that is allegedly supportive of, or at least sympathetic to, Donald Trump. Tellingly, the label is typically flung at anyone who is deemed too critical of the Democratic Party, not critical enough of Trump, or who points out that Trump's populist-sounding campaign rhetoric resonated with certain segments of the working class- particularly when juxtaposed with Hillary Clinton's snide elitism. Polling data is marshaled by the anti-Trumpenleftists that supposedly shows that Trump voters are irredeemably racist and sexist and therefore not worth engaging with; furthermore, they are predominantly well-off members of the petty bourgeoisie. Leaving aside the many issues with over reliance on polling data, anyone who has done a shred of real-world socialist political work should know two very important facts: that the views of working class people, especially white working class people, are often contradictory, and that socialist work is by its nature transformative in a way that ordinary bourgeois politics is not.

A complex history of settler-colonialism, racism, class struggle, regional economic differences, and national-cultural chauvinism (both as recipient and victim), and oppression fueled apathy has left white workers with a hodgepodge of political views, some of which border on the absurd. We find anti-Arab racism and militarism coexisting with anti-war sentiments; 'social libertarians' who support social programs but oppose state regulation of industry; anti-tax/anti-corporate combinations (ironically, this is very close to a recognition of the class nature of the state). The lesson we ought to draw from this is that we must never 'write off' any section of the working class, no matter how backward or contradictory their views. The very contradictions we observe in workers' politics are indicative of how little value the bourgeoisie places on their support, not even bothering to propagandize to them properly (in contrast to careful cultivation of the petty bourgeois worldview). We should not join the bourgeoisie in its malign neglect, but do precisely the opposite: respectfully engage and educate wherever and whenever we can.

For the purposes of liberals and social democrats, who are primarily concerned with electioneering (i.e., marketing) on behalf of this or that candidate, broad demographic categories are useful. We see arguments put forward that the number of working class Trump voters who 'matter' amounts to less than two percent of the population, and so they may be safely ignored. From a marketing perspective, this may be true. However, in terms of the number of working people who are socialists with some grasp of socialist theory, this is a huge number. More to the point, the needs of our political work, particularly when we are politically weak as we are now, is by nature more focused, more concerned with ideological struggle, and directed toward building durable organizations with theoretically literate and highly motivated members. This is why we must make lived experience the guiding principle of our day to day political work and eschew shallow pollsterism.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The question of the law of value

The following short essay represents a comrade's contribution to discussions we are having about value, abstract labor, and basic Marxist economics. Does this seem complicated or over your head? It isn't! Start with Rius' Marx For Beginners, as we're doing, and think through your own work experience with others.)

A central problem of socialist development is the question of the law of value. Stalin famously argued in his last work, Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR that commodity production and the law of value continue to operate under socialism and that this is "not a bad thing", that it leads enterprises to become more efficient, managers to be more cost conscious, and generally improves the performance of the socialist economy. In taking this position, Stalin argued against those in the Communist Party of the Soviet Uunion who believed that the development of the socialist economy could be accomplished by decree alone, that prices could be set without regard to the cost of production, and generally that Marx's correct observation that economic law is social in character meant that therefore economic law must not exist at all.

In the context of the struggle against bureaucratic revisionism in USSR of the 1950s, a struggle that was subsequently lost to Khrushchev, Stalin was no doubt correct. However, the history of the application of the law of value in the USSR can only lead us to conclude that it led to the development of a nascent capitalist class that eventually grew to the point that it could abolish socialism. This was not merely a 'managerial' or 'technocratic' class as some idealist critics would have it, nor simply a clique of corrupt 'Khrushchevite revisionists' or second economy bandits (though no doubt these existed), but a class with real, material interests whose chief concern was the efficient operation of the law of value and the profitability of its enterprises; its origin lay in the very foundation of the postwar Soviet economy.

Shall we, then, simply stop there and declare that true socialism must abolish the law of value instantly and completely? By no menas. We must instead, as any competent scientist might, go back to first principles and reexamine the law of value and its potential application under socialism.

The law of value states that the value of a commodity is twofold, containing both a use value and an exchange value. Use value, based on specific labor, determines a commodity's usefulness in itself; exchange value determines its value relative to other commodities. The magnitude of the exchange value is dependent upon the average, or abstract, socially necessary labor time needed to produce that particular commodity. Note that value is distinct from price.

Particularly under monopoly conditions, capitalists seek always to get 'something for nothing', to 'cheat' the system of exchange so to speak and thereby receive a greater sum of value than they give in their transactions. In doing so, they do not create value from thin air; they extract it from the other party in the transaction. Modern bourgeois economics attempt to cover this up by conflating price with value: Pubilius Syrus' old saw, "everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it", is elevated to divine writ in the annals of marginal utility theory (the subjective theory of value which states that the purchaser determines a commodity’s value via the ‘margin of utility’ gained by purchasing it).

At any given moment, there exists some number n of like commodities c that will satisfy the need for their particular use values. This is the demand. However, capitalism obscures the actual demand as the production of these commodities is determined not by the use value, but the exchange value; commodities under capitalism do not have value in themselves but only insofar as they can be exchanged for other commodities. Thus, the capitalists' natural response to the inevitable fall in price as demand is met is to produce more while selling for less, and when these measures fail, to cut staff, raise quotas, and resort to all the various tricks and gyrations that the bourgeoisie uses in its vain attempts to preserve the exchange value of its products. The use value of these products is immaterial in all this. Under capitalism, use value is subordinated to exchange value.

Under socialism, on the other hand, commodities ought to have value in themselves; they should exist primarily as use values. In other words, rather than abolishing the law of value, its application under socialism should be inverted: exchange value should be subordinate to use value. This means that all exchange must be conducted on the basis of value for value, never value for value+ or value for nothing (as we see in the markets for real estate and certain digital goods, for instance). The goal of production, meanwhile, must be to maximize the number of use values produced per unit of average labor time, allowing exchange value per commodity to fall and thus indicate a potential need to reallocate or restructure the means of production. This does not preclude the existence of market mechanisms per se, though the operation of these would be along lines very different from markets under capitalism.