Saturday, March 24, 2018

ABCs of Socialism, Part 1: What is socialism? What is capitalism?

What is socialism? At the most basic level, the essence of socialism lies in worker sovereignty, the idea that those who do the work should also make the decisions. We cannot be free so long as we hold no real power in the workplace. What does worker sovereignty mean in practical terms? We can begin to answer this question by first defining just what we mean by a worker. It might seem obvious- a worker is someone who…works. However, in socialist thinking, we must be more specific. In socialist terms, a worker is someone who must support themselves by selling their labor, their time and energy, to someone else. When you work at a job for someone else, you are selling your labor. The workers in society make up a group with common economic interests, a class- the working class. Who do we sell our labor to? The purchasers of labor in society comprise a class that supports itself by owning property: stores, factories, mills, apartments, etc. Another name for this property is capital. The owning class gets its name, capitalist, from its ownership of capital. Capitalists obtain their wealth by buying labor, then selling the product of that labor at a profit. Let’s look at an example. Think of your phone: it was made by a factory laborer (worker); it was designed by an engineer (worker); it was shipped by a trucker (worker); it was stocked and sold by a salesperson (worker). At each step, a worker contributes his or her labor to the process of production. Yet, the final price of the phone is greater than the labor cost to produce it (material costs are also labor costs- extracting and processing raw materials also involves labor). Where does this ‘extra’ portion of the sale price go? To the capitalist, who contributes nothing to the process of making and selling your phone, and furthermore, has a great incentive to pay the lowest possible price for labor and thereby maximize profits. 

In other words, this:

Depends on this:

And this:

That’s why socialists also have another name for profit, surplus value, meaning the unearned value extracted by a capitalist from workers’ labor. It is this fact, not some nebulous sense of ‘unfairness’ or ‘social justice’ that leads socialists to rightly call the system of surplus value extraction, capitalism, an exploitative system. Only worker sovereignty, socialism, can bring an end to this system of capitalist exploitation. Under socialism, society’s capital, the factories, mills, stores, and so forth, would not be controlled by capitalists, but by workers. A revolutionary new form of management would come about- instead of dictatorial bosses and secretive ‘human resource’ operatives, workplaces would be administered by elected workers’ councils. Firms would be run, not in the interest of a tiny cabal of wealthy investors, but in the interest of those who do the work of creating society’s wealth. Socialism may sound utopian to many readers, but the reality is that there are no other paths to freedom for US workers. Either we can continue as we have done and see ourselves sink lower and lower into the tyranny of the profit system, or we can adopt a new way of thinking that can set us free.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Belated Response to 'Are we Standing by...'

We cannot afford to fight against each imperialist aggression in detail. We must instead take a broader approach against imperialism, one that will move the consciousness of the masses forward. Imperialism relies upon the unchallenged assumptions of national chauvinist ideology among the US and European masses to maintain its political base. Attacking this base of ideological support will weaken imperialism everywhere. Why is this the best approach?

1. Our political reach and resources are limited. We do not have the resources to directly support every freedom struggle around the world; we must be more focused in our work. Being socialists and communists in the United States, our main enemy is not US imperialism in Ukraine or Turkey, but US imperialism in the US. Our main task, therefore, is to attack imperialism's base of support among the broad masses in the United States. We do this by connecting in general terms the vast wealth squandered on imperialist interference, both military and non-military, to the crises affecting working people in the US.

2. . To a greater or lesser degree, all sections of the US working class find themselves under the thrall of national chauvinism; we cannot underestimate how deeply ingrained the ideas of national and cultural supremacy are in the minds of the broad masses in the US. Under such conditions, any appeal to internationalism can easily be twisted to serve a 'humanitarian' imperialist narrative. Witness the success of the Trotskyites in doing just that in the US and UK time and again. Instead, building up support for national self-determination and sovereignty will meet the masses where they are and begin moving their thinking forward.

3. In the context of the deeply held national chauvinism of the masses in the world's most powerful imperialist country, the demand that the state respect national self-determination and sovereignty becomes a radical demand, one that can profoundly affect the fortunes of progressive humanity around the world.

4. We should avoid being drawn into a multitude of debates over the precise character of this or that movement or government and whether the aforesaid deserve our support and solidarity. The subtext of such debates is that foreign peoples who do not organize themselves in 'correct', Western leftist-approved ways do not deserve solidarity and should be left to imperialism's mercy. The principled approach is to oppose all imperialist intervention, regardless of what we think of its target.

5. Does this mean that exposing the individual crimes of imperialism is unimportant? It does not. Rather, it means that 'Respect national sovereignty!' is an appropriate mass slogan given current objective conditions in the US, while 'Victory to the enemies of imperialism!' is not. By adopting the former position, we have the greatest chance of weakening imperialism in the US and moving the US working class toward true internationalism.

6. Does this position pander to the 'privilege and ignorance' of the US working class? It does not. It acknowledges the relative backwardness of the US working class and seeks to begin addressing it in a systematic way. One cannot begin with differential calculus when teaching mathematics; if our aim is to educate, we must understand our student's strengths and weaknesses first.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Are we standing by as spectators as a revolution is being strangled? Condemn Turkey's attack on Afrin and support Rojava's revolution!---Part 2

Today in Afrin

The Turkish state has been at war with the Turkish people for generations. In 1930, 1937, 1955, 1977, 1978, 1987, 1993, 1994, 1999, 2011, 2015, and 2017 there were massacres and pogroms instigated by the Turkish state or the “deep state” or their paramilitary and religious accomplices. The PKK came of age in these later conflicts, but it has not been alone in resisting repression and engaging in the strategies and tactics needed in times of undeclared civil war. The heroic Marxist-Leninist Communist Party, the Socialist Party of the Oppressed, and the Revolutionary Communist Party of Turkey are some of the legitimate resistance forces. Mass rebellions by political prisoners in Turkey in 1996, and since 2000 and in 2006 and 2007 have ended with the deaths of well over 125 people, most of whom died from horrific state violence, self-immolation, or on hunger strike. Amnesty International tells us that conditions in Turkish prisons remain terrible, and at one recent point Turkey led the world in the number of imprisoned journalists. The most reliable reports come from the Human Rights Association (IHD), which is a target of the Turkish state. IHD has documented that 2016 was a particularly bad year for human rights in Turkey.

The legitimate liberal opposition in Turkey, such as it is, and the followers of the cleric Fethullah Gülen and many innocent people charged with being their accomplices also fill Turkey’s jails now after the 2016 coup attempt egged on by the deep state and the Gülenists. Turkey’s President Erdoğan has effectively married parts of the secretive deepstate to the state apparatus and to his clerical-fascist movement. He has done so as a servant of the major banks and financial institutions and the most reactionary sectors of heavy industry and the political forces which look to Iran or to the Gulf States for leadership.

Women prisoners who survived repression

The U.S. and the western powers have created a narrative which says that Turkish intervention in Syria is justified by supposed links between the PKK and the PYD and that Turkey does not want a united Kurdish state or enclave on its border which can agitate and work for the liberation of Kurds in North Kurdistan (eastern and southeastern Turkey). This narrative is an entirely false and opportunistic one, but it is the one you hear on American media every day. The PKK is a liberation movement and a social system, not a terrorist organization. The PYD operates independently. Neither the PKK nor the PYD want a state; they both want a democratic and federative system which includes the region’s Kurds, Arabs, Syrians, Syriacs and Assyrians, Turkmen, Yezidis, Armenians and others on equal terms and advances the rights of women and all minorities. The Turkish government knows this and has set about attempting to strangle the revolution while militarizing North Kurdistan (eastern and southeastern Turkey) and seeking to reignite a civil war there. The HDP and the Left and the Kurdish people and the powerful women’s movements are the first targets of these attempts, but they extend to smashing unions, stopping the advances made by LGBTQIA+ people, closing the books on the genocides the Turkish state has carried out in the past, and assassinating activists in western Europe. It is disingenuous for the Turkish government and its American supporters to label the PKK and the PYD as “terrorists” under these conditions.

Past American administrations, and now the Trump administration, have found the Kurds to be helpful allies when needed. U.S. forces have used, or cooperated with, Kurdish fighters in Syria against ISIS and have relied on these fighters to win ground and time. Kurds and their allies were set up to be massacred in Halabja in Southern Kurdistan (Iraq) in 1988. The massacres in Sivas (1993) and Roboski (2011) and Suruc and Ankara (2015) likely happened with American knowledge and/or participation at some levels. Meanwhile, American, Turkish, and western European interests have cooperated to make sure that Kurdish self-government in Iraq is either derailed or corrupted and reactionary and opposed to Rojava’s revolution. The German government seemed to support human rights in Turkey for a time, but those are German tanks attacking Afrin today.

The Russians sought half-heartedly to push negotiations between the revolutionary cantons and the regime in Damascus; today they are cooperating with Turkey in the attack on Afrin. The Americans knew in advance of the attacks and likely okayed them, doing nothing for human rights in Turkey and doing nothing for the Kurds who helped beat ISIS in Syria. No government has come to the aid of the people in Qandil, constantly under Turkish attack, for that matter, and no one besides the PKK and the organizations affiliated with PJAK (Kurdistan Free Life Party) and KJAR (Eastern Kurdistan Free Women’s Organization) assists the oppressed Kurds in Iran (Rojhilat, Eastern Kurdistan).


Are the Kurds naïve or are they regional agents of imperialism? No. Several years ago, when it looked as if the HDP would enter the Turkish parliament with cautious support from some western European powers, there were moments of great optimism. The PKK withdrew its fighters, disarmament and a peace treaty were attempted, the focus was on Rojava’s revolution, and the Obama administration might have negotiated a deal which got the leading party in Iraqi Kurdistan, the PYD, and the Turkish government talking. The Turkish government broke the deal and made progress impossible. Whatever suspicions or reticence regarding American and western European intentions existed at the time, the immediate threats posed by ISIS and Turkey and the gangs sponsored by Turkey weighed heavier on the Kurds and other progressive forces. The United States and Germany have different interests in the region, and the Americans settled for an increased military presence and attempted to push the revolutionary forces into an alliance with others closer to the U.S. position. That alliance has had certain immediate benefits, but it has a shelf life.

The Kurds exploited contradictions between the leding imperialist powers. The Iranian and Russian governments pursued their own divergent aims, and both played a double game of seeming to oppose Turkey’s interests in Syria while influencing Turkey’s internal affairs for the worse. The revolutionary minority in the region has had to rely on the people, a barely equipped army, and its ability to influence (rather than command) events elsewhere. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is one force willing to help today. The PUK has moved under the pressure of events from the center to the left. The Russian, Iranian, Egyptian, Swedish, French, and U.S. governments all state their concerns or opposition to Turkish state imperialism, but their lack of action on behalf of the revolutionary cantons and human rights in Turkey tells the real story. Mexico, Brazil, and some other governments and mainstream political forces in Europe and Latin America oppose the Turkish incursions. Volunteers have come from all over the world to join the revolutionary forces, including the U.S., but what is most needed is political solidarity organizing everywhere on behalf of the Kurdish-led revolution.

The path to peace in the region leads through the Kurdish people being able to hold a fully representative Kurdish national congress, Turkey freeing Öcalan and all progressive political prisoners, a Turkish troop withdrawal from Syria and from all Kurdish regions and a standing-down of military activity in North Kurdistan (eastern and southeastern Turkey), free and fair elections in Turkey which allow the HDP to campaign and elect representatives, the lifting of all laws in Turkey which join the state and religious institutions and which protect the deep state, the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Turkey, an end to genocide denial in Turkey, an end to Turkish-Israeli and Turkish-Azeri power relations, an end to compulsory military service in Turkey, and an end to all laws which oppress women and minorities within Turkey. Turkey must pay reparations for the genocides. The corrupt Iraqi Kurdish government should step down and new elections should be held, and the revenues from the oil produced and sold in this region should benefit, in the first place, the communities living in the Iraqi Kurdish region and in Iraq. Rojava must be given the resources needed to rebuild and to protect itself without strings attached. The Yezidi population must be guaranteed safety and social resources and the right to live where they choose. Negotiations between the PYD and the regime in Damascus should take place under peaceful and honorable conditions, and Rojava must be represented by the PYD at all international and regional conferences. The PYD must be recognized as a legitimate partner by all concerned parties. The attacks against Qandil must cease and the Qandil region must receive protection and guarantees for its existence. The Iranian regime must guarantee full civil and human rights to the Kurds and release all Kurdish political prisoners.

Turkey has no free mainstream media. That means that the American press, which approaches every world situation with American interests at heart and most often ignores Third World countries and complexities, must depend on so-called “experts” who are employed by universities and in think tanks. Many of these people have their jobs precisely because they are adept at carrying the Turkish line; many are paid to assemble selected “facts” in order to prove that there was no genocide of Armenians and others during times of Ottoman crises in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and to justify Turkish claims in the Kurdish and Syrian regions. And so it is that we hear daily the lies that the PYD is an offshoot of the PKK, that the PKK is a terrorist organization, and that the PYD represents a threat to the authoritarian Turkish state. They make the mistake of describing the cleric Fethullah Gülen, who now resides in Pennsylvania, as a moderate and ignore the Gülenist terrorist organization (FETO) and the fact that the conflict between President Erdoğan and Gülen is a fight between political cousins. The Gülenist terrorists and the Grey Wolves, a violent fascist organization with a well-developed intelligence service, represent real threats to society but somehow escape the attention of American media.

We rcommend that American readers visit the YPG site, the ANF website, JINNEWS, and Bianet for news. It's necessary to stay informed, but action is needed as well. Boycott Turkey and Turkish products, protest at the embassies and consulates, make your views known to American politicians, and make supporting Rojava and the social movements within Turkey part of your peace and justice work. Take up the slogan of "Jin, Jiyan, Azadi!" ("Women, Life, Freedom!") and make it your own.  

Will Afrin and Rojava’s revolution survive the Turkish attack and the apparent U.S., Russian, Iranian, and European government’s complicity in that attack? Turkey has announced that its forces will turn east after completing their attack on Afrin. Today the news is bleak, but the invader is taking more casualties than American media admits and this has become a costly misadventure for them whatever the final outcome. A Turkish loss in Rojava could turn things upside in Turkey. In the past the PYD could take advantage of the contradictions between the imperialist powers, but the differences between the criminal Trump and the criminal Erdoğan in Turkey are perhaps not so great.

It will indeed be great shame on us if Rojava’s revolution perishes before most Americans have even heard of it.

Are we standing by as spectators as a revolution is being strangled? Condemn Turkey's attack on Afrin and support Rojava's revolution!---Part 1

Are we standing by as spectators as a revolution is being strangled? Turkey is violating international law by crossing borders and attacking the Afrin region, a canton associated with revolutionary Rojava.

An optimistic map of the region

I thought that people in the U.S. might be forgiven for not paying more attention to events in Turkey, North Kurdistan, Western Kurdistan, and northern Syria. In fact, when we name these regions and when we say “Rojava”---the name of the most advanced center of the Kurdish revolution in the region---we get blank stares. The U.S. media is complicit in confusing people, partnering with the Trump administration, Turkey’s supporters, the German government, and others to make Turkey’s most recent violations of borders and attacks on the revolutionary enclaves about terrorism and not human rights and simple justice. People in the U.S. enjoy the privilege of not having to understand world geography, regional histories which are not our own, and the real human costs of imperialism and intervention. We look away, we resist learning and knowing because knowledge compels us to act and that means confronting the system here. The crises we live with often prevent us from understanding the dimensions of crises elsewhere, but if we are not about the business of understanding how oppression and exploitation here connect in systemic and deliberate ways with an international picture then we will forever be waist deep in quicksand, or we will go under.

So let’s start with some basics. Rojava is a revolutionary enclave located in what is often called northern Syria. More properly, Rojava should be understood as being made up of three cantons: Afrin Canton in the west, Kobane Canton in the center, and Cizre Canton in the east. These cantons comprise much of what should be understood as being Western Kurdistan. They border Turkey but they are not themselves contiguous.

Rojava has been attempting to build a revolutionary and democratic society for almost six years. In this sense “revolutionary and democratic” means decentralized, women-led and women-inspired, socialistic, based on regional cooperative models, and fluid. Popular organizations carry out the tasks normally performed by governments. Women have their own institutions, including a military structure. The turning point for Rojava’s advanced revolution came in 2014 and 2015 with the desperate Battle for Kobane. The poorly armed and isolated militias defeated ISIS and retook control of the region. From there, the peoples’ armed forces attacked other ISIS-held regions where Kurds formed majorities and, with varying success, established some forms of popular or revolutionary power. The Democratic Union Party (PYD) provided political leadership while the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) provided the needed military force.

The ideology and inspiration for Rojava’s revolution came in part from the writings of Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK). Öcalan has been held as a political prisoner in Turkey since 1999. He was captured through the cooperation of the United States and Israel and, perhaps, the German and other governments. He has been held incommunicado for several years now, perhaps because he is one of the few people who could broker and help negotiate peace in the region. The Turkish government understands that Öcalan is a powerful symbol and uses his isolation and imprisonment as a means of humiliating the Kurds and prolonging war conditions.

Abdullah Öcalan

When last heard from, Öcalan was advocating views which are closer to forms of cooperative and ecological anarchism than they are to national liberation, Marxism, or historic socialism. He has worked out a sophisticated theory of Jineology (a “science of women”) and Democratic Confederalism, both of which are made real in Rojava and in the revolutionary Kurdish movements. The possibility that these ideas might spread through the Middle East and into other regions terrifies the ruling classes. Öcalan and his movement remain revolutionary despite their ideological proximity to anarchism. Murat Karayılan, Çiğdem Doğu, Kasım Engin, Besê Hozat, and Cemil Bayık are among the capable revolutionary leaders associated with the PKK and the Kurdistan Communities Union. We get the sense that in the last three years an ideological search has been underway which again centers feminism, socialism, self-reliance, and military preparedness. More attention is being given to conditions in Iran (Rojhilat, Eastern Kurdistan), particularly to the conditions of women and political prisoners there. The movements in Turkey and North Kurdistan must, on the other hand, center on democratic struggles at the municipal and regional levels, on protecting political activists and leadership, on labor and women’s and youth struggles, and on opposition to the war.

The Kurdish movement marks particular forms of revolutionary progress. First, it is inspired by, and inspires, a women’s liberation movement. It has created the space for all minorities to step forward. It has at times united Kurds who are divided by religion, politics, language, region, and class (peasantry, working-class, small capitalists, or professionals). It has spoken well for the Kurdish people, who really are tired of wartime conditions in Turkey, Iran, and in Syria. Through the People’s Democratic Party (HDP, see below) in Turkey the movement has united with labor, women, youth, LGBTQIA+ people, other national minorities, much of the left, and citizen’s movements and won representation for them and with them. The Kurdish people have paid for this progress with their lives.

There is no doubt that the Turkish government oppresses and exploits the Kurdish minority and others. The PKK was formed as a liberation movement in the late 1970s. It is unfairly and unreasonably described as “terrorist” by western powers, although these governments have frequently used Kurds for their own ends and have at times sought cooperation with people close to the PKK. In fairness, the PKK is today more of a social system than a party, and its fighters are centered in the Qandil Mountains near the Iraq-Iran border. Progressive and Kurdish interests in Turkey and North Kurdistan are best represented by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey and the Confederation of Public Employees' Trade Unions and associated peoples’ organizations. HDP has made great progress since its founding in 2012, but today its leadership and activists are facing violence and terrible repression as the Turkish government militarizes the country, enables the increasing exploitation and oppression of workers and national minorities, supports the armed religious fanatics in the region, and launches interventions in Syria. For a time the Turkish government actively supported ISIS. The Turkish government is trying to recreate something from the Ottoman past by creating a “security zone” which would take Kurdish, Syrian, and Iraqi land and resources and provoke additional conflicts.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Iran and the Western Left: What is our primary task?

Once again, we are assailed by a pointless debate on the left over whether the recent protests in Iran comprise a ‘genuine’ popular uprising or another imperialist-backed ‘color revolution’. Such debates highlight the national chauvinism that is deeply held in the thinking of many western leftists on both sides. Left unsaid is the fact that the Iranian people do not need our approval to manage their own affairs. It is not the task of western leftists to determine the proper course for Iran or any other foreign land. It is our task to fight imperialism, and the best way to do so is to organize the working class in our own countries. Does this mean we should ignore imperialism’s crimes in around the world? It does not. However, rather than attempting the highly complex and ultimately pointless task of determining the precise character of movements and organizations in countries thousands of miles away, we need only apply a simple principle: national self-determination. We ought to oppose any and all interference by our own imperialist governments in the affairs of other nations, and more importantly, we must recognize and respect the ability of other peoples to govern themselves. The development of working class power in the imperialist countries is the only way to decisively defeat imperialism and safeguard the independent development of the repressed nations. We should turn all our energies toward that task rather than second guessing the working class in other countries. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

There is no Shortcut on the Path to Power

A response to "A Path to Power for the American Left"

1. The ruling class has no interest in destroying bourgeois democracy. A turn to fascism (true fascism, not the bogeyman facsimile conjured up in the minds of frightened liberal petty bourgeois) requires two preconditions: the inability of the apparatus of bourgeois democracy to serve the interests of the capitalist class, and the existential threat of proletarian revolution. US bourgeois democracy continues to serve its purpose well enough, with another round of massive tax breaks for the investor class having made its way through Congress a few days ago. The threat of working class revolution is nonexistent under current historical conditions.  Our analysis must be based on a sound understanding and application of theory, not subjective thinking.

2. “The country and the world are at a critical tipping point.” This is a vulgarization of dialectics. We hear this from certain sections of the left every time a Republican is elected President, or the Republican Party manages to achieve a majority in Congress. Then, when these offices inevitably flip back to the Democrats, those same people call for patience and compromise even as conditions for the working class worsen. We have sacrificed organizing and political education on the altar of these ‘critical defensive struggles’. Study? No one has time for that; we must stop Trump.
Inevitably, the low level of class consciousness and political education among the politically active masses leads them to being duped into demobilizing by left-sounding Democratic promises. This is the true lesson of 2008 and 2012, the “social movement-centered successes”. These so-called social movements evaporated the day after the election, as they were not social movements at all, but well financed marketing campaigns. And where was the “political space for the left” that these electoral victories were supposed to bring? The left was ruthlessly suppressed under the Obama Administration: the raids on left organizations in Minneapolis; the coordinated attacks on Occupy Wall Street encampments; the forcible shutting out of single-payer advocates during the development of the ACA. Democratic politicians, with a very few exceptions, are resolute enemies of the left and the working class.

3. Fragmentation and isolation are undoubtedly a problem. How do we combat them? By improving our work, chiefly by fighting against individualism and egotism, developing a new theory that is accessible and applicable to current conditions, and building durable organizations, starting at the local level. This is difficult political work, and we must be prepared to face the fact that it may not bear fruit in our lifetimes, but it is critically necessary. History shows us that there is no shortcut to political power for the working class. If we truly do have a world to win, we must have the discipline and the resolve to see the fight through.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Ethan Young: A Path to Power for the Left

Living through this era of rotten feelings is like being trapped in an endless dystopian movie. We now live under an alliance of the old-guard conservatives and the far right (evangelicals, Tea Party and overt white supremacists), funded up the yin-yang by billionaire lunatics. This alliance includes theocrats like Vice President Mike Pence and open fascists, and their beliefs are surging into the mainstream.

The goal of this real-life hydra, which now dominates all three branches of government, has gone beyond the old conservative dream of dismantling the social benefits brought about by the New Deal. Now they are set on destroying what’s left of bourgeois democracy. A Hunger Games story is emerging in its place: a tightly controlled state, militarized police, unregulated monopolies, privatized services, a powerless and destitute working class and a culture pulsing with the venom of war and racial hatred.

The role of the electoral opposition largely falls to the corporate-friendly Democratic Party centrists, now decidedly in the minority in Congress despite the GOP’s low polling numbers. The centrists did not plan it that way. They play that role because no one else is in any position to put up a fight at that level of politics. But they’re lousy at it. They blew the election and they know it, but they don’t want to confront their mistakes.

Instead, they are praying for the cavalry, a fairy godmother, any superhero from the power centers of society to come to their rescue. Their appeal has always been to the moderate wing of capitalists: You need us, keep us funded and we’ll keep them dogies rollin’. To the public, their appeal is: We’ll protect you if you come through with the votes. Between the money guys’ indifference and being out-organized in key sectors of key states, those appeals fell flat. Yet they seem to know no other way to play politics.

The Democratic centrists’ main hope right now is that the Mueller investigation will bring Trump down with a crash, à la Watergate. They envision a scenario in which Trump’s Russian ties get him legally branded a traitor to America. This would get them off the hook for their bungling the election and tarnish the Republicans’ image enough to give them a path back to power. It would also enable them to win without offering a strong alternative that would draw on their base’s eagerness for change; for more, not less, social welfare and stability, for peace at home and abroad and for democratic rights.

This works out nicely under the tunnel-view formula the center-clingers have cultivated for decades. Follow the shift to the right halfway, keep the left at bay and eventually the public will get sick of the Republicans and return to Old Faithful. So in the face of an active attack on every principle they purport to be about, the centrists still insist on a half-assed response. They are afraid of their party’s base. They are afraid of losing favor and financial support from big business and Wall Street.

That’s their problem. Our problem is that the stakes are much more than just win or lose for the Democratic Party. The country and the world are at a critical tipping point. Government is being transformed amid widespread voter disenfranchisement, rampant privatization and monopolization, shrinking wages and the destruction of basic democratic and human rights. And, of course, all the money in the world can’t deal with the ravages of a wrecked environment.

We can’t afford the Democrats trying to fight the rightist siege with their usual tactics of “bipartisan” halfway tradeoffs. Their working assumption is that the more balls-out crazy Trump performs, the more power he’ll lose, as Republicans and more moderate supporters defect. Some see Roy Moore’s defeat in that light. But generally, without a strong progressive alternative, the crazy becomes normal.

When the media talk about “the resistance,” they are usually referring to Democrats in office. Secondarily, they mean the crowds of angry civilians confronting elected officials in town halls, on the heels of the massive women’s marches in January. Below the radar, there is widespread opposition, anger and revulsion. This is where the left should come in. Situations like this call for a solid, politically coherent left, but that’s what seems to be missing.

The left’s role is to move this unrest and opposition in the direction of politics — enabling working-class people to apply pressure where and when it can change the situation in their favor, building their (small-d) democratic strength. This is our mission inside and outside the Democratic Party, in social movements, in unions and in intellectual settings.

The next move should be away from fragmentation and isolation. Each fragment tends to confuse building the left with keeping its own particular project afloat. This is a problem even in the suddenly expanded Democratic Socialists of America and more spontaneous self-conscious resistance groups like Indivisible. There’s so much going on in every state and territory, but most of those involved are unaware of it. All of us need to find and connect the pieces into a coordinated mutual project, one with a unified focus on democratic action and potential power.

The focus we need comes down to an immediate, defensive political operation: Unseating and defeating every Republican and “blue dog” (conservative-friendly) Democrat we can, between now and November 2020.

This is workable, based on the electoral wins in 2017, and even the social movement-centered successes of 2008 and 2012. The Bernie Sanders campaign won 13 million votes and opened up space for a class-conscious left populism within the Democratic Party that had not existed since Jesse Jackson ran for President in 1984 and 1988. We have gained ground on popular support for Medicare-for-all, dignity for women and raising the minimum wage, and forced the issues of income inequality, police terror and climate destruction into the discussion, despite the right’s offensive.

One reason to play on this field is to isolate the right inside and outside the party. The left is in no position to drive out the Trumpoids without allying with the center, as much as we (and they) might like to avoid it. This worked in Virginia this year, when a centrist Democrat was elected governor over a Trump imitator spewing anti-immigrant urban legends, and progressives won a number of legislative seats, including socialist Lee Carter and Danica Roem, Virginia’s first transgender state legislator.

This should not be confused with “pushing the Democrats to the left.” Centrists will be centrists, dependent on support from corporate donors even when they use leftish-sounding rhetoric for votes or back some leftist goals. But if they actively push back against the GOP, it will create more political space for the left.

Nor does it mean dropping other issues. Single-payer health care? Hurts the rightist regime. Ending police murder and violence? Also. Every social movement that confronts the attack on democratic rights shakes a pillar of the right-far right alliance’s influence on voters.

Third-party efforts and campaigning for socialists as Democrats can sometimes be feasible tactics. But in order to cut Trump & Co. off at the knees, we’ll also have to work for some lesser evils to break the GOP stranglehold on Congress and state legislatures. A center-left alliance will be necessary over the next three years, even if the centrists have to be dragged into it to avoid collapse.

Politically-minded leftists need to practice solidarity as something more than just mutual sympathy and support. We’ll have to make connections across old, entrenched and increasingly obsolete barriers. No single group will achieve this. Competing sects hooking up momentarily won’t cut it. It’s up to individual group leaders and movement organizers to make up their minds that this approach should be the priority over tending their own gardens. This is happening to a limited extent, and people are finding each other and beginning to talk seriously.

One potential national rallying point is the Poor People’s Campaign being organized by Rev. William Barber and Rev. Liz Theoharis of Kairos Center. They are reviving Martin Luther King’s unfinished Poor People’s Campaign of 1968. They plan to draw organized poor people into direct action targeting state and federal authorities to demand that poverty and inequality be addressed. It grows out of the Moral Mondays movement, which helped slow North Carolina’s race to the far right after the state government fell under total Republican control in 2012.

The project’s goals bridge the gulf between left populism and the crucial sector of working people who are already well acquainted with their fate in the 21st-century U.S. economy. To win the political goal of economic justice, the campaign frames it as a moral issue, in which inequality and lack of workers’ rights are simply wrong.

Mass organization + political action = power. Or as Rev. Barber says, “Forward together, not one step back.”

Monday, December 18, 2017

Happy birthday, Koba!

"It is difficult for me to imagine what 'personal liberty' is enjoyed by an unemployed hungry person. True freedom can only be where there is no exploitation and oppression of one person by another; where there is not unemployment, and where a person is not living in fear of losing his job, his home and his bread. Only in such a society, personal and any other freedom can exist for real and not on paper."