Wednesday, December 29, 2021

New Approaches are Not Defeatism

 We must always base our approach on facts. Although revolutionary optimism is important, as is avoiding defeatism, there is a difference between defeatism and a sober analysis of objective conditions. The US state is unresponsive to the needs and policy preferences of its citizens and has been for decades. Is this defeatism or is it a fact? It is a fact. Large parts of the US working class are politically disengaged. Is this defeatism or is it a fact? It is a fact. What we choose to do in response, how we organize ourselves, and how we approach the problem can be defeatist; acknowledging the fact is not. Likewise, the left/progressive strategy of unprincipled voting for Democrats to ‘stop the right’ has largely failed in its objective over the past four decades. Is this defeatism, or is it a fact? It is a fact. Indeed, we hear little else from the promoters of this strategy (and if we are being specific, I will name the CCDS as an exemplar of this) than endless warnings about the growing strength of the right. If I and others are sick of hearing the same strategy put forward over and over no matter how objective conditions change, that is completely understandable. The present moment is characterized by a rapidly shifting balance of forces, both internationally and within the US, fraught with both danger and opportunity; the old gradualist strategies of the 1980s and 90s will no longer serve us. We must explore new approaches, new tactics, new ways of engaging in electoral and organizing work. The final measure of the correctness of practice is objective results.

Against Defeatism

"We were extremely marginalized, and there was a lot of prejudice. The biggest problem, however, was that the party wasn’t rooted among the population. There was nothing objectionable about its program — it stood for the same goals as it does today. But we hadn’t yet understood that we couldn’t just console people with hopes of a better world. We thought we had to explain the whole world to people. It is surely important to make connections: Why is there so much conflict in the world? How do wars start? But, above all, you have to be in touch with how others live and work if you are going to be a useful party for people. You have to acquire the skills to help people with their small, everyday problems."---Elke Kahr, the recently elected Communist mayor of Graz, Austria

Defeatism on the U.S. Left comes in many colors and flavors. There is the defeatism and nihilism that comes with acknowledging pending environmental and political disasters and not building or seeing an alternative or acknowledging that people can and will have to work very hard to overcome ecological destruction. Lying is defeatism, and we're lying to people if we're telling them that the future will be easy and that everyone will have more "after the revolution." There is the defeatism of making arguments and demands grounded in what a writer or a speaker wants rather than what exists in reality. Consider the times when you have been at a rally or read an article that says "I'm tired of ____!" as if one person's particular exhaustion is the problem. There is the defeatism of always being the critic, of never meeting a union contract or a legislative change or a movement or politician that measures up to your standards. There is the defeatism of making criticisms of ideas or movements in print but not naming who exactly is being criticized and leaving readers to wonder what is really being said. There is the defeatism of looking overseas for inspiration and ideas but not engaging with ideas and movements here. There is the defeatism of holding on to a set of demands that are essentially moral positions and stating these as measuring sticks for others, regardless of whether they are practical now or not.

Calling for "education" has been a form of liberal defeatism for more than a century that now appears on the Left, the implication being that people have a set of mistaken ideas that need to be replaced with the truth and that if people just went to the right websites or read the right books change will follow. You know that a meeting is going nowhere when people start talking about the websites they go to. The liberal call to vote for this or that candidate and not to maintain a movement to pressure that person when they are elected is another example of liberal defeatism, but this is mirrored by those on the Left who counterpose electoral activity to organizing for change and/or who talk about "working-class self-activity" as if this is somehow at odds with electoral activity and unionism. There is the defeatism and dead-ends of what often gets called "class-struggle elections" and "breaking with the Democrats" and the idea that every and any group has to rely primarily upon itself and not build a practice of extending solidarity with others as struggles around specific issues deepen.

There is the defeatism of replacing movement-building with non-profits and there is the defeatism of Labor's top-down approach to most struggles. There is the defeatism of thinking that we're in a massive strike wave now and there is defeatism in thinking that strikes are doomed to fail so long as union leadership exists. There is the defeatism of thinking that a particular sect or union or non-profit matters more to people than the issues they deal with and making every conversation about sects, unions or non-profits. There is the defeatism of "allyship" and what has become known as "identity politics" and anti-racism and privilege theory and the defeatism of talking about an economy or a country "that works for working people." There is the defeatism of "movementism," thinking that the movement is everything or enough and that political organization is less important or not important. There is the defeatism of thinking that political organization is important but not joining a political organization and helping to craft its line and practice. There is the defeatism of mansplaining.

There is the defeatism of long articles in Left publications dealing with the end of the world written in language that only academics and a in-crowd gets. There is the defeatism of having shelves of books and not offering them to new people looking to the Left. There is the defeatism of Left groups electing people to leadership positions before they are well-prepared and the defeatism of people showing up at meetings and taking the floor and making criticisms, and sometimes taking on tasks, and never showing up again. There is the defeatism of insisting that everyone must be a pacifist and the defeatism of thinking of liberals and the political center and union leaders and Democrats as our primary enemies.

There is the defeatism of taking a union staff job or a job in a non-profit and becoming the representative of the workers or the people and not moving them forward to take your place, being the swashbuckler, the burnout, the 24/7 organizer, the one-person service representative. There is defeatism in being the retiree who tells everyone what they should do and/or who tells battle stories and history subjectively.  

There is defeatism in living in a Leftist parallel universe where everything that you want to happen comes to fruition the way that you want it to, and when that doesn't happen you get to blame others and walk away without consequences.

Alright. Enough.

There is lots of great work being done out there. If you're not actively engaging with a project or organizing, I'm not sure that you have space to be defeatist. But the background drone of defeatism that you're adding to is, well, helping lead to defeats. Here are some of the most important projects out there:

Organizing Upgrade hits it most every time. They're almost always ahead of the curve.

The Communist Party USA has a section on the classes the Party gives. Sometimes they miss the mark, but more often this is a great starting place.

The Online University of the Left and the Marxist Internet Archive get you to the classics and to better understanding current issues. If you think that the problem is a lack of learning resources, think again. The problem is that we don't ask people to do long-term study groups and expand these to include others. Why is this so? The Better World Book Club in Ohio figured out how to do good popular education on Facebook and Organizing Upgrade works this out well, so we know that it can be done. Look at Liberation Road's Revolutionary Book Club. What holds our defeatists back from picking this up?

Democratic Socialists of America has lots of educational and activist materials out there, many of them so-so, but some local DSA chapters and commissions do great work. The Portland DSA chapter does exemplary labor work, for instance. What stops us from doing the same? And how is it that many people on the Left who have talked for years about the need for a socialist movement have disengaged from that movement as it has taken shape? 

There are probably more Labor-oriented publications, blogs, radio broadcasts and podcasts than ever before. There is no reason to say that Labor isn't moving. The question is not whether Labor is moving or not, or even in what direction we're going, but where you stand in relation to that movement. You can (wrongly) deny the radical importance of Labor, think (wrongly) that the primary contradiction for workers is between union leadership and union members, or you can engage through your union or organize a union where you work or get behind groups like the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and others. The United Electrical Workers models how to build unionism, labor alliances, and Labor-Left alliances. The main problems in the labor movement will be solved by new organizing and by winning whatever makes that easier and by establishing strong unions from the beginning. Every grievance and complaint is an opportunity to effectively win or renegotiate a contract.    

This is not intended to cheer you up or sound like Pollyanna. If you see yourself in this---and I certainly see myself in this---then I think that you're either obligated to make some changes or step aside. 

I mentioned up above some forms of defeatism. In fairness to them, and because I criticized folks who make criticisms without being specific, here are some examples of what I think demonstrates defeatism:  https://www.tempestmag.org, and to list a few.                     

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Another Plea for Progressive Strategic Voting


Since 2014, even mainstream political science acknowledges that the US state is profoundly unresponsive to the needs of its ordinary citizens. The views and preferences of mass organizations and ordinary people have no effect at all upon policy outcomes. None. Meanwhile, elite organizations and the views of the owning classes are enormously influential. Any state that ignores the will of its citizens so consistently and brazenly cannot be termed a republic or a democracy. The United States, whatever it may have been in the past, is a plutocratic oligarchy. Seen in this light, it is no wonder that progressives rarely hold office and, even when they do, struggle to enact even the most tepid policies. The electorate, for its part, has understood this for decades: the single universal predictor of regular voting is higher income. A plurality of working class people, and a majority of poor working class people, do not vote at all.

The widening gap between the needs of the masses and the policies enacted by the government has potentially serious consequences. We must remember that fascism does not arise merely from reactionary politics, but from a crisis in the established bourgeois order. The unresponsiveness of the state to the people’s needs provides a catalyst for such a crisis, and let us be clear: this unresponsiveness is bipartisan, as is the fascist threat. We see the signs in the sad state of cities around the country, in the hopelessly corrupt response to the pandemic, in the growing desperation of a population that has turned to opioid abuse and suicide to find some relief from their circumstances, in rising censorship and political violence, in hysterical war propaganda against Russia and China, and in the stark image of a Presidential inauguration conducted behind concrete barricades and a ring of soldiers. Under these conditions, there is a very real possibility that the country could become ungovernable.

In all this, the main progressive and left organizations provide the same answer to the masses that they always have, an answer that has had the same basic form for the past four decades: “We must stop ____”. Whether the blank is filled by Reagan or Bush or Trump makes no difference. The status quo, however bad, must be defended against the greater evil. Once that is done, we are told, our needs may be met. But they never are. In fact, it is precisely the status quo that prevents progressive policies being enacted and leads inexorably to crisis, of which the election of unscrupulous huckster Donald Trump is only one expression. To repeat: the election of right wing Democrats creates the very conditions which produced the faux-populist Trump in the first place. Moreover, if supporting rightist Democrats is “strategic” as its defenders have stubbornly argued, should we not have seen some measurable policy result in forty years? Today, the prescription to support the Democrats without question or criticism reaches even more absurd heights, as organizations like the moribund old CCDS and CPUSA enjoin leftists to unite with the military, the state security apparatus, and Bush-era war criminals to oppose Trump. If ever there was a ‘red-brown alliance’, this is it.

One might imagine, after reading the preceding paragraphs, that they might be followed by a vague call to organize the masses directly or to build a labor party out of thin air. Not at all. In fact, what I propose should be acceptable to even the most yellow-bellied reformist: strategic voting. Progressive votes should be given only to those candidates who demonstrate tangible effort in support of progressive policies. Failure to show such effort would result in a coordinated withdrawal of votes. Either progressives can continue on the path of political cowardice and watch the country sink further and further into apathetic misery or we can adopt a new strategy that acknowledges the basic principles of electoral organizing.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Is It Protest Music Or Is It Our Lives?

This post has a lot to do with bluegrass and country music---not completely, but if bluegrass and country music aren't your things then this post may not be for you.

Let's start by dispensing with the idea that "culture" is music, art, writing, and a matter of tastes that may or may not be cultivated and refined. I like an enlarged definition of culture that says that culture is how we operate within social contradictions, how we work with and transmit our understandings of the reality of which we are a part. There is the base of society---all the relationships tied to the means of production and distribution. And there is the superstructure that builds from that base and which ensures that one class holds hegemony and others don't. This is the state, cultural institutions, the way work is organized, school, religion, etc. But there is always---always---conflict running from the base through the superstructure, and hegemony never becomes complete domination, even with fascism. Change and conflict are inevitable. Both the base and the superstructure have irreparable cracks in them. The class conflicts and the contradictions and struggles that occur between races and between genders take place between real people in real time. Classes, races, and genders are verbs in the first place, not nouns; they draw their identities and reason and force---their most active dimensions---from action, not from being statistical categories. Culture is how we operate and what we do within that verb of active dimensions. It's one very important means of understanding and acting on what differentiates the "thems" and the "uses," part of the inevitable social conflict over either the ruling class maintaining or us gaining hegemony.

Have I lost you yet? You thought you were digging into a post about bluegrass and country and here I am going abstract on you. Hang on! 

I think that the great photographer Yevgeny Khaldei best illustrated the role of the cultural worker. His photographs of the Great Patriotic War ("World War Two") are stunning, to be cliché but truthful. And there is one of his photos showing the USSR's soldiers marching over a giant nazi flag as they liberate a concentration camp and there is a building burning in the background. "People ask if I staged the photograph of the soldiers marching on the flag," Khaldei said. "I didn't. But I did set fire to the nazi office in the background." That takes a certain understanding of struggle, the push and pull of struggle and culture, to fully appreciate.

No movement for social change is going to stand alone, apart from society or as a subculture or as "in crowd," and win. Our movements for social change have used music for 150+ years, and things work best when that music reflects popular experiences and knowledge and is accessible. I don't see much discussion of music in my circles, or much appreciation of it. Maybe the pandemic has done some damage here, but I don't see a movement that sings the songs that reflect the lives of working people and that is fully accessible to them/us. It's been a long time since I've been to a picketline with live music that turned people on and had songs they knew the words to. Maybe I'm not going to the right picketlines. That said, there is some great music for us out there right now.

I'm liking Leyla McCalla's music these days:


That music speaks pretty clearly for itself, doesn't it?

I also like Sabine McCalla's music. Here's one of my favorites:

Is Sabine McCalla's song a protest song? In a sense it is---in the very cultural sense as described above---because it captures a sound and an attitude and a rhythm and comes from a creative lineage that are all very much at odds with the capitalist social (dis)order and the music industry itself right now. This is an expression of a southern Black woman's poetic sensibilities, something reaching for a new humanism and coming from a woman whose parents were political activists.

Cedric Watson and Leyla McCalla raise the intellectual bar by challenging us to think and feel together, which is to say that they challenge the capitalist order that separates thought and action. And they do this with real subversive tact.

Let's kick it up a little.

Kelsey Waldon nails so much of the timber of our lives in "High in Heels"--

If she stopped there she might make it in Nashville. But she goes much further:



It isn't just that Kelsey Waldon is singing about our lives with solidarity and beauty or that she wears camo (the color of the United Mine Workers of America union) or that you can donate to good causes when you purchase records on her site ( It isn't just that she borrows from Hazel Dickens and Ola Belle Reed. It's also the ways that she smiles and frowns and takes control of the music and the ways that she speaks and the way she partners with some serious women musicians. If you know Appalachia and parts of the midwest and south you know what I'm talking about. You will recognize someone just like her on a picketline or at the Piggly Wiggly.

We're going to get some criticism for stereotyping working-class people as mine workers and industrial workers, and as men. I take the point that the working-class is multiracial and multinational and diverse and that we do all kinds of work---more on that below---but I want to draw out that coal production is increasing right now and that this increase in production comes with fewer permanent hires and more contracted workers and increases in black lung. In other words, it comes with suffering for workers and our communities. 

Now, I'm not necessarily anti-Nashville when it comes to music, but for a long time Nashville has promoted music that feeds the far-right or that leaves politics and struggle out of the picture. I can't believe that Lady Antebellum got away with themselves for as long as they did. But Del McCoury gets in under the radar and gets his points across:


Now, someone is going to say that Del McCoury's gospel music has a reactionary side to it. I hear that line in "Free Salvation" ( about school prayer, but I want to draw attention to the antiwar message and the underscored statement in the song that salvation is for people "with no exceptions." From the standpoint of a working-class Protestant in the so-called "non-conforming churches" these are not always intuitive positions. I also want to emphasize that the Del McCoury band is essentially a family band, a form of musical organization that Nashville did much to destroy. And who else is doing Woody Guthrie songs and a song protesting rural gentrification?

Del McCoury's "Amnesia" is full of working-class complaints about a relationship falling apart, and his "Streets of Baltimore" is a story I heard many, many times before I left Appalachia in the late '90s. Even then Baltimore had large Appalachian communities, and when I went over there I got away with quite a few traffic violations because the cops figured that I was just another one of the many moving in. I once got hired at a textile mill there without even filling out an application because the manager pinned me as a desperate West Virginian looking for work who couldn't read. "You look like a solid citizen," he said with a wink.   

Billy Strings is moving into Nashville, I guess, but you can see that he has some of the same energy that Kelsey Waldon has and that he knows our working-class despair. Listen in to "Dust In A Baggie":

Logan Halstead gets it right most of the time:

And there are lots more.

This music has to take up some contradictions and hits some walls. All that despair will burn people out, even though it's a money maker. It's easy to get stuck there, and as you go through this music you will find one musician who has a number of songs about staying high and warding off people who carry "bad news" (like the Left) and Logan Halstead's offensive song that insults women in Pineville, Kentucky. This takes us to hipster irony, that just makes fun of working-class people, and to nihilism. And you know that describing our lives is not the same as singing or talking about changing life, but you also know that if we can't define what's happening then we don't have any power at all.

The bigger problem is that most music that puts forward justifiable white or Black grievances and that doesn't attempt to draw the two together somehow falls short and maybe turns back the clock as well. It's an old saying that there is nothing that Black people want that white people don't need. We need to hear that and work with it. Have you ever wondered why The Persuasions changed the ending of their "Willie and Laura Mae Jones" over the years?   

Now, there is an old and very stupid joke about playing country music records backward and getting back your house, your wife, and your dog. I didn't get the import of the history of bluegrass nd country music until I read Keri Leigh Merritt's book "Masterless Men." It's not that she writes about music---she doesn't--but that she explores in this book the lives and cultures of the majority of  dispossessed whites in the pre-Civil War south who did not own slaves and who had an ambiguous or oppositional relationship to the slaveholders and to slavery. Their misery has remained with us. It's a hard book to read, but I want you read it and Dr. Du Bois' "Black Reconstruction in America."

I think that its also essential that you go over to the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum and poke around, buy some books there and watch some videos. The Battle of Blair Mountain can be read in many ways, but I think that now wee can see that it formed part of a working-class response to the Tulsa Massacre and the reactionary trends taking hold in the United States during and after the First World War. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

F__k Joe Manchin (and Krysten Sinima too)!!

 West Virginia Senator, Joe Manchin, said he doesn't want to vote for an "entitlement" society. Manchin is of course, referring to the 3.5 T reconciliation bill stuck in the current Congress. The truth of the matter is that both Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are standing for a different kind of "E" society. Manchin and Sinema are standing with their Republican cohorts in defense of the Exploitation society.

For Manchin, Senator for West Virginia, the second poorest State in the Union, it really is OK for people to spend their life working crap jobs in poverty; they should be entitled to nothing, per Joe Manchin. The kids of these exploited people shouldn't be offered anything better then the shit lives their parents had, and its plenty OK if West Virginia's seniors die around age 60, rather then the upper 70s to 80s like big chunks of the rest of the country (or at least the wealthier parts of the country).

And then there's Kyrsten Sinema; a ball of lies and bad faith if there ever was one. As we speak, our Senator from Arizona is busy putting wrenches in the gears of her Party's legislative corner stone.  

Nobody knows what Sinema's objections are to the 3.5 T reconciliation bill. She's not saying what she objects to. Sinema says she doesn't negotiate in public. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders say she hasn't negotiated with anyone; not her fellow Senators, not the White House, maybe just the Pharma and other lobbyists she seems to meet with frequently.

Sinema has broken most of her campaign promises. She said she supported lowering drug prices during her 2018 Senate run, but is now hinting she she's ready to object to legislation which would allow Medicare the necessary leverage to bargain for lower drug prices. Coming out of the Green Party, Sinema campaigned for Climate Change legislation. As of today, she's hinting that she objects to the climate change legislation contained in the reconciliation bill.

All week long, we've heard the protest of right-wing politicians, Bill Maher, and the mainline media about Sinema being chased and accosted by activists in a bathroom. Given Sinema's astounding bad faith and wholesale lies throughout her Senatorial campaign, she's lucky she didn't get tarred and feathered, as often happened to politicians in the early Republic when they broke faith to the degree Sinema has. 

The irony of the 3.5 T reconciliation bill is is that there's nothing new or radical about the bill. There are no new social or economic rights contained in the bill. New social programs will be stringently means-tested, as is always the case with social legislation in the USA. Climate change provisions are anemic and the bill in no way challenges the capitalist economic structure. 

Yet the reconciliation bill contains this feature; it's the first piece of legislation  in over 50 years which actually aims to improve the lives of poor working people and their children. As such, the reconciliation bill attempts to define the limits of American poverty to which none can sink lower.

Evidently, even this attempt to define the limits of poverty is too much for Republicans and too much for Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin, and too much for American capitalism. For Manchin, Sinema and the Republican Party, the right to exploit needs to be absolute and without limit. This is the Exploitation Society!


Saturday, July 17, 2021

What Do Cuba and George Floyd Have in Common?

 The answer to this title question is this:

Neither George Floyd or Cuba can breathe. Derek Chauvin, a model of what policing really is in America, had his knee on the neck of George Floyd for over nine minutes and killed him. The United States, for 62 years, has had its knee on the neck of Cuba and Cuba is struggling for breath.

This is not an article about the long and tumultuous between the United States and revolutionary Cuba. It's about the cant, jingoism, and the raw hypocrisy of U.S. politics. Joe Biden, yesterday, referred to Cuba as a "failed state". Yet most of the world see's the United States as a "failed democracy". Cuba might or not be a failed state; its existence might be up in the air. The United States however is more than happy to prove itself over and over again as a "failed democracy".

If I had to throw additional abuse, let me line up Congressional Representative, Val Demings and ex-Congressional Representative, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, both Democrats, both of Florida and both calling for some kind of invasion of Cuba. 

Demings and Mucarsel-Powell are willfully ignoring the fact that their home state is systematically suppressing voter rights, that climate change and pollution are destroying the State of Florida, that Florida's developer boom of the 70s, 80s and 90s has produced death-trap housing up and down its east and west coasts, and health care increasingly doesn't work for Florida's elderly and working class populace. 

Instead, Demings and Mucarsel-Powell have embraced the politics of the U.S's most reactionary, revanchist segment of the population, Florida's Cuban emigres. 

Personally and politically, I despise the politics of the Cuban emigre population. Talk about easy immigration! These emigres arrived in the USA and had silver spoons placed in their mouths. Why? Because they were defecting from a socialist state which went perfectly with Washington's Cold War politics.  That alone led to lots of privileges never accorded to other immigrants. Current immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and other Central American states would have thought they died and went to heaven if they got the same immigration treatment that Cuban Americans got, and Venezuelan wealthy people get now. 

Frankly, I'm also sick and tired of Florida's fascist emigres and their expectations that the U.S.'s foreign policy should center around returning this class of emigres to a nation they left 63 years ago because their personal property was more important than the rest of Cuba. Yet, these are the people Demings and Mucarsel-Powell have chosen to embrace.

It would be interesting to take a look at what Cuba would be if the emigres, Demings, and old right winger Cold Warriors had their way. Minus the 1959 Cuban Revolution, Cuba would look a lot like Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti or the Dominican Republic; maybe at best, Jamaica. With the possible exception of Jamaica, all these states are indeed "failed states" well within the orbit of a failing economic system called capitalism. That capitalism is failing the people of these states is proven by looking at the millions of people lining up along the U.S. border trying to get out of these failed states.

Finally, what this immediate cry to invade Cuba is really all about is the failure of the Republican Party, the generic right wing, and moderate Democrats to deal with the United States' own substantial and pressing problems. Rather than dealing with its own democratic failures and the closing net of an American oligarchy; rather than dealing with its own crumbling economy and the impoverishment of half or more of the U.S. population; rather than dealing with the existential threat of climate change; the right wing and their moderate Democrat friends have united around anti-communism and a retreaded McCarthyist anti-socialist politics. 

Anti-socialism and anti-communism are always the politics of those who are otherwise politically bankrupt. Anti-Cuban threats are an attempt to cover-up the political bankruptcy of people like Demings, Mucarsel-Powell, Marco Rubio and others by creating a dire threat that doesn't exist.

So, I'm not buying Demings, Mucarsel-Powell and others' re-hashed Cold War shit. And neither should you!  


Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Talking About the Party (1)---Rafael Hernández

The following piece by Rafael Hernández is part of a much longer and very complex piece that can be found here. The "whole strategic conception of making revolution" is always up for debate, here and internationally. This contribution seems particularly significant given the recent Congress of the Cuban Communist Party and the special difficulties that Cuba is now struggling with.

Hernandez sees an antagonistic struggle between the Cuban revolutionary experience and what were already-existing socialisms, socialist ideologies, and the world alliance of communist parties (Comintern). I don't see that, and I think that we can talk about "socialisms" in part because of the Cuban contributions that might have moved already-existing socialisms and socialist ideologies forward. But are the questions of antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions from the past the most important set of questions right now? No.  

The Cuban, Chinese, and Vietnamese experiences should teach us that revolution is a prolonged struggle and process that does not move along a straight line, and knowing this should give us some humility when assessing a revolution that is not of our own making.  

Debates become sterile when there is not socialist mass work and practice to back them up---the problem that we have here in Salem.   

March 17, 2021 — I believe that I am not making any revelation when I say that ours does not resemble, neither in its origins, nor in its primary rules for becoming a member, nor in the historical circumstances that surrounded it, any of the living or dead communist parties.

The lack of a history to explain it is one of those gaps, among the many with which today’s society demands information and knowledge, for the Revolutionary process. In case of doubt, conduct your own survey and ask: Which organizations considered socialism as a political project before 1959? What political strategies did they adopt to achieve it? When and how was the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), which governs today, founded? Where did those who were part of its leadership come from? What ideas did they have about communism and socialism? With these five questions, there is enough to explore a plain where many are slightly lost [Cuban slang for “not having any idea about anything].

I can think of other issues, perhaps even more enigmatic: How many of its members called themselves communists five years before the PCC was founded? What did they think and say about some other Communist parties in sister countries [‘other socialist countries”]? Why wasn’t the meeting where it was constituted its first congress? How can it be explained that it was held only 17 years after the beginning of the Revolution and 10 years after it was founded? Did it maintain its original seal when the “Soviet influence” predominated in Cuba? How did it go from identifying itself as the vanguard of the working class to the vanguard of the Cuban nation? At what point did it stop advocating the “dictatorship of the proletariat”? What is its role, as the “superior leading political force of society and the State,” which “facilitates the simultaneous action of the generations that are the protagonists of the Revolution,” in a democratic socialism?

The political culture that originated this Party -on its way to its VIII Congress in a few days- does not come mainly from the Bolshevik tradition, or from the Long March of the Chinese peasants against the Japanese and the Kuomingtang, but above all from the two main Cuban revolutions, one organized in New York and Tampa, to fight for independence, and the second arising from the insurrection against Machado and fought in the streets of Havana in the 1930s. In dealing with the strategic problem of alliances and their difficult framework, this revolutionary political culture contested the type of domination established by the U.S. and its allies on the island, different from that of a decadent empire, submerged in deep and semi-feudal backwardness, as in Russia and China.

As it is known, the culture of the Cuban left was influenced by legacies as diverse as the Mexican and Russian revolutions, varieties of socialisms, communisms, anarchisms, European and American social movements, Latin American and Caribbean radical nationalisms, whose complete inventory does not fit among the iconic images that preside over the commemorative events. However, the political practices of José Martí and Antonio Guiteras, more than any other, were the main artery of that culture. It was not built from the proletariat or the worker-peasant alliance, but on a subject identified as “the people,” that is, a specific set of groups, social strata and very mixed traditions of struggle. Also, from a practice of national liberation, through armed struggle to overthrow a dictatorship, and to advance, from power, a program of reforms aimed at changing an unjust and dependent social order.

The extent to which these reforms would unleash a conflict, which, in a few months, escalated to the level of a bloody civil war, with the active belligerence of the United States, was not foreseen in the platforms of any of the revolutionary organizations, and perhaps not even in the most intimate dreams of their leaders, who would end up coming together as one, 30 months after the triumph.

On the way, and so early that it was almost natural, there was the illegalization of those parties that collaborated with the dictatorship’s elections in 1958. Above all, there was the deactivation of a Congress where the established political parties competed for positions through elections that were suspended indefinitely, without anyone seeming to care much at the time, and which deprived them of their basic functions in the previous political system.

Surprising as it may seem today, those parties, including the Autenticos and the Ortodoxos, opposed to the dictatorship, were left on the sidelines, while people went out to do politics in the streets. Most of those people could not remember when exactly they ceased to exist.

The de facto suppression of the established armed forces, and their replacement by the Rebel Army that had defeated them on the battlefield, gave way, from the first months of 1959, to the merger of the commands and troops of all the political organizations that fought the dictatorship. In addition to bringing those organizations together in the same military structure, two and a half years before they were merged into a single political body, this replacement of the army produced a transcendental change in the actual functioning of the old state.

Nothing less than the armed forces, that backbone of the old regime, would be uninstalled, to put it in the jargon in fashion today. No wonder Fidel Castro, who was neither the president nor yet the Prime Minister, was from the beginning the Commander-in-Chief of those newly installed forces, made up of “the uniformed people,” as his head of state liked to say, a smiling Camilo Cienfuegos, who at 27 was not, however, the youngest guerrilla commander.

I have always been intrigued by the line that separates, according to some textbooks, the “agrarian and anti-imperialist” period of the Revolution and the “socialist.” I say this precisely because all that radical transformation in the functioning of political power noted above, including that of the parties, occurred even before the Agrarian Reform Law of May 1959 triggered conflict with the Cuban and American upper class, even when the Revolution had almost unanimous support, except for the Batista supporters who had fled to Miami and the Dominican Republic.

How the structure of power and the prevailing social order in Cuba in the 1950s could have admitted an “agrarian and anti-imperialist revolution” without it entering from the beginning into the radicality of a real social revolution only makes sense for the codes of that Marxism-Leninism, and in the hypothetical revolutionary scenarios that the Comintern manuals enunciated.

Numerous authors have investigated the Cuban left before 1959, and some of its main problems, differences and conflicts. To narrate it as a well-tuned band, or to simplify it in a straight line connecting the first Cuban Marxists with the Communist Party of 1965 does not help to understand anything of our history. When it comes to political movements, their main interaction was not expressed in the ideological contents of their speeches, but in their concrete political strategies.

For example, when Fidel Castro, before the Granma [landing], characterized the 26th of July Movement as “the revolutionary apparatus of Chibasism,” he was not distinguishing it so much from the Communists, but above all from the Ortodoxo party, politically “impotent and divided into a thousand pieces,” incapable of fighting against the dictatorship.

To illustrate with another example, what separated Joven Cuba (JC), the organization founded by Guiteras in 1935, and the Communist Party of the time, was not adherence to a socialist goal. “In order for the organic organization of Cuba as a nation to achieve stability, it is necessary that the Cuban State be structured in accordance with the postulates of Socialism,” begins the JC Program.

The difference at the outset, when adopting an insurrectional strategy, was concrete political action, which predetermined the type of power at the head of the revolution from the beginning. When it clarified that socialism is reached “by successive preparatory stages,” of which that Program only outlined the first, it was assigning to the “stages” a completely different meaning from those established by the Comintern.

So, to characterize Guiterismo as “revolutionary-democratic” or just “anti-imperialist,” and not as the strategy that opened the road to the socialist revolution in Cuba, through the revolutionary movement that overthrew the Batista dictatorship and initiated the revolution in a continuous manner, illustrates that difference and its meaning. It is not something as simple as different “means” for the same “ends,” but a whole strategic conception of making revolution.

Considering these differences, among the revolutionary organizations and within each one, is not aimed at retrospectively blaming any of them for their mistakes, lack of vision or schematism at the time, but to understand our history as different from a fairy tale or a horror movie, as Tyrians and Trojans are accustomed to characterize it. Among other things, because it also allows us to appreciate the merit of a policy of dialogue that contributed to bringing together very divergent currents, which were deeply suspicious of each other.

Reducing the socialist revolution to the leading role of a party or an ideology does not help to explain its complexities and problems. To imagine that the restoration of the unfulfilled promises of the 1940 Constitution, or any other program of laws or legal constructs created by the organizations that opposed the dictatorship, as if they were the script of the process would be to believe that the circumstances in which the radical social and political changes proper to a social revolution occur are enclosed in a plan of reforms, however important they may be. In any case, the revolution had already manifested itself as a political power even before the first major economic reform had been adopted, by being able to impose itself on the vested interests in the established political order.

The differences within the Cuban left were not limited, of course, to the ways to reach government or take power. If, before 1959, the Ortodoxo Youth even inscribed the word socialism on its banners, and if the program of the old Communist Party, renamed the Popular Socialist Party, could have been confused today with social democracy, these affinities did not necessarily prepare them for coexistence. Quite the opposite turned out to be the case.

Of course, there were Stalinists in this story almost from the beginning. In fact, they were there before the revolutionary parties decided to unite, and not just collaborate. Although sectarianisms were not limited to a single organization, the one that provoked the crisis within the first unitary political organization, the Integrated Revolutionary Organizations (ORI in Spanish), was the one brought about by a group of Stalinists who were suspicious of all revolutionaries who were not old communists. In spite of the fact that the PSP warned, in its self-critical VIII Assembly of August 1960, that “the joint action of the organizations is the guarantee of unity and the advance of the Revolution,” the ORI, constituted only two months after Playa Girón, were run aground by sectarianism almost from their foundation.

Finally, as is known, what contributed decisively to uniting the various organizations and their respective internal political currents was not precisely the deliberate, voluntary and conscious adoption of a Leninist model. Beyond the intelligence within the revolutionary leadership, and the coupling of a policy of negotiated unity, the main impact was the siege of a formidable counterrevolution, backed and tutored by the US. The siege of its enemies pushed more for unification in a single party than for a shared ideology among the revolutionary ranks.

If you reread the above, you can understand that when parties like the PSP agreed to dissolve, in the summer of 1961, and declared that “we merge today in the integrated revolutionary forces, on the march towards the construction of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution of Cuba, “they were not entering the Walhalla of perfect harmony or the frozen realm of totalitarianism, as characterized by Tyrians and Trojans, but in a process of change towards a new political system, different from Stalinism and Maoism, and which was not then and later free of contradictions, divergences and even conflicts.

Not having a critical history of that political system and its complexities leaves a vacuum, which is often filled with doctrinal packages, of one sign and another. Both of them are closer, by the way, to the schemes of the Comintern than to political sociology. This convergence is crystal clear when, for example, when some regular contributors to the Spanish daily, El País state that “it was not in January 1959, but in April 1961, when the construction of Cuban totalitarianism had at hand all its necessary elements.”

From this perspective, the social conflict was not brought about by interests and factors of power, but by ideology, and cultural representations, such as those of an enemy “that had to be national and foreign at the same time, a monster in which the evil of the empire and the vileness of the traitors could merge.” This parallelism between apparently exclusive visions, brought together in an approach that replaces historical analysis with literary phrases, and the logic of a social revolution by what philosophers call a teleology (of good or evil) confers a curious code of kinship, not at all by accident.

To deal with plurality within the ranks of that Party; to lead the transformation of the political system, not only as a subject, but also as an object of change; to be a mirror of society and its problems; to look inside and be inspired by that original political culture, seem to be requirements of the historical moment, and of the reconstruction of its meaning. How to do it, at the height of today’s Cuba, requires both realism and imagination.

Source : Hablando del Partido (I)

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Bullshit and Lies; Another Response to Liz Wheeler and the YAF

The above is a link to the Liz Wheeler's rather poorly thought out diatribe on socialism. Liz says she has five questions about Socialism and Democratic Socialists of America, and I'm writing this response because Liz said right wingers should ask these five questions to their "liberal" friends.

So, here it goes:

Question One: "What is the difference between Democratic Socialism and "regular old" socialism?

First, all socialism is democratic socialism. Democratic Socialists of America has included the word, "democratic" because DSA talks about socialism in terms of extending democracy into sectors of society that are currently anything but democratic. 

Right now, that extension of democracy would include the economy, where people and workers democratically decide what is to be produced and how it would be produced. 

Consider the current reality: 

When any of us walk into work, we are not entering a democratic institution. One acts according to policies and production arrangements that are designed by owners. You have no say in how you work and what you make belongs to bosses, not you or your co-workers. 

Every "socialism" I know of finds the current arrangements of work to be entirely unsatisfactory. In truth, the current arrangement involves employees being stressed to the maximum, monitored, and pushed, all in the interests of maximizing profits for bosses and investors. As socialists, we want these relationships of economic exploitation to end; we can. as a society, do a lot better. 

There are other institutions we'd want to change. For instance, education, where the two most important groups of people involved, the students and teachers, have absolutely no say over what is taught  and what real education looks like in the classroom. The current situation in schools is highly "un-democratic" and results in kid-to-worker factories, or, even worse, school-to-prison pipelines. 

Question 2: "Where has socialism worked? Venezuela - no antibiotics, Cuba - rusty surgical instruments, elites fly to other countries for medical care." 

Lets talk about Venezuela and Cuba. Both countries have been thoroughly hounded by the USA and its allies for decades. USA sanctions have have blocked all normal economic relationships with the rest of the world. What Cuba and Venezuela have been reduced to is cash economics (in US dollars) where everything imported needs to be paid for, cash up front. Exports for both countries are subject political interference as the US and allies seek to block Cuba and Venezuela's access to export markets. Any nation, capitalist or socialist, would eventually collapse if they had to live within the restrictions Cuba and Venezuela have to live under.

Here's some facts to consider. Cuban doctors and nurses are all over South and Central America. Mexico has Cuban doctors and nurses, and these doctors and nurses are where they are to help, not make a pile of money.

My daughter is a nurse. While training, she spent a six weeks on a practicum in Nicaragua on the Mesquito Coast. The doctors were Cuban, they were highly competent, although medical supplies were lacking (keep in mind, Nicaragua is now and has been a capitalist country for the last 30 years. So why, in a capitalist country, are antibiotics, anesthetics, surgical equipment so lacking? I know the answer to this, bet Liz doesn't).

Consider too that a number of 9/11 responders who went to Cuba for burn treatments that don't exist in the USA. Stalin lived to be a ripe old man, he never went outside the USSR for medical treatment because he didn't have to. Soviet health care worked for every one, and Chinese health care works for every one. too I'd rather be sick in Vietnam than the USA because in the USA, the care you get is only what your insurance carrier will pay for, and personally, I'm not covered under a "cadillac" health care plan; I think I'd be treated better if I was Vietnamese.

Question Three: "Who pays for socialist programs?"

The funny thing about Liz's rant is that she's got a fetish about money, as does the capitalist class. 

Somehow or another, Liz, and capitalist friends have this idea that money builds everything. As if thousands and billions of dollar bills march into the factory gates and push endless buttons, lug the weights, and operate the machinery that makes everything go: a happy collection of George Washingtons, folded into little origami people,  smiling as they walk through the office, factory, hospital, or whatnot.

Of course, such an economics as Liz suggests are just silly. Everything that has ever been built is built by people. Simply put, the Pyramids weren't built by Pharaoh, they were built by thousands of slaves. Rome wasn't built by the Emperors, it was built by slaves. The aristocrats, secular and spiritual, didn't build the Medieval period. It was peasants and a three field crop rotation system that built the Medieval period. And capitalists didn't build the modern mass production economy; that duty fell to workers of every occupation. 

In truth, capitalists produce nothing. Instead, capitalists are adept at expropriating (i.e. stealing) all that is produced and turning it into private profit.

Basically, us socialists aren't talking about taxing or purchasing "socialism" from capitalists. Socialism, if it ever exists again, will be built by society as a whole. It's the collective power of laboring people that would build such a world and manage it too. 

Socialism really has no use for capitalists at all. Capitalists take what workers make and turn it into their own personal profits; who needs them? We don't tax capitalists because we want their money; we tax capitalists, and want to tax them drastically in order to get rid of the whole class.

Question Four: "What will stop Democratic Socialism from turning into socialism?"

Jeez, this question sounds a lot like the question, "when did you stop beating your wife?" The question is not an honest question; its nothing but a cheap, rhetorical word trick and I'm not biting.

If you've noticed from the above, democracy and socialism are complementary concepts; they go hand-in-hand for us socialists. This idea that democracy and socialism are contradictory is your idea, and comes from your idea of "big" government as it exists now in the USA, which of course is a government that is avowedly capitalist at every level and to its core. The proof of this is the number of corporate lobbyists who fill the halls of every legislative office building in America.

Question Five: "Why would we want socialism here? 100 million people have been killed by socialist regimes."

"100 million people have been killed by socialist regimes."

I'm quite dubious about Liz Wheeler's numbers and how she counts her "100 million". But yes, socialist regimes have made some pretty brutal mistakes in the not so long history of real, existing socialism. In my mind, the Soviet invasions of Czechoslovakia and Hungary were brutal, wrong, and impeded the free development of socialism, for instance.

Honestly too, elections in the USSR and the Socialist Bloc were a joke aimed at giving the ruling Party the chance to engage in a few days of self congratulation.

However, the Socialist Bloc demonstrated a different kind of democracy.

In the late 1940s, early 1950s, both East Germany and Yugoslavia attempted to collectivize agriculture. Farmers didn't react well to collectivization, and thus, East Germany and Yugoslavia abandoned collectivization efforts after an year or two. Instead, East Germany and Yugoslavia moved towards a co-op system where farmers retained their personal land ownership but worked with other farmers to increase farm productivity while the state supplied farm equipment and machinery.

East German farmers seemed to like their system. After the re-unification of Germany in 1990-91, East German farmers petitioned the West German power brokers to be allowed to keep their agricultural co-ops. The West German power brokers said, "no". I know why the West German/re-unified German government rejected the co-ops. Bet Liz and the Right Wing don't.

But let's also talk about capitalism's body count.

Slavery, from 1500 AD, up through the 19th century was a 100% capitalist institution. In all that 400 years, slavery was the labor source for the production of cash crops to be sold in Europe's commodity markets.

From 1900 to 1930, roughly half a million workers were killed at work in the US.

I bet Liz is counting the Russian Civil War of 1918 through 1922 in her "100 million" total? Let's talk about the Russian Civil War.

The Russian Civil War caused the death of 1.5 million combatants, and 8 million civilian deaths. This civil war turned into a blood bath because Britain supported, including with troops and airplanes, Monarchist General Yudenich's White army and in Northern Russian. The Czechs and French did the same in regard to General Wrangel's White Army in Ukraine and western Russia. and the US had troops out in support of Admiral Kolchak's White Army in Siberia. 

The strategy of Britain, France and the US was best summed up by Winston Churchill when he said, we want.."to strangle the baby in its crib". Churchill wasn't interested in saving Russia, he was interested in saving his own sorry class in Great Britain.  

I'd be glad to take ownership of our socialist mistakes. But I expect the Right to take responsibility for it's capitalist history as well.

"Why would we want socialism here?"

Here's why DSA, a mess of other socialists, and millions of non-political, non-activists people are interested in socialism in the United States.

Right now, the median income for a family of four, is around $68,000 per year. This means that 50% of US households live on 68K or less, and 50% of households earn 68K or more.

At 68K a year, a family has a roof over their head, most likely. But it's not an easy life. A family of four, at 68K, is probably up to its neck in debt. The loss of one income would be a disaster for such a family. If the kids are going to college, it's going to have to be paid for in loans; thus more debt.

Imagine what life is like on a household income of 40K, or 30K a year? Here, a $400 maintenance bill to fix the car will cause months of economic dislocation in the household. That is if the maintenance job can be paid for in the first place.

By the way, a significant part of the population pays over 50% of their income towards housing alone. 

Meanwhile, ILO and World Health Organization announced last week that 745,000 die per year due to over-work. The focus of US COVID policy, and state policies has been to get people and economies working again (the profit chain), at the cost of around 400,000 additional US lives. Also, the WHO, a couple of years ago listed "burnout" as an official occupational disease. People bust their butts in America every day, just for the right to survive until next month.

Its also worth mentioning US "essential" workers have learned over the last year that "essential" means "disposable".

Given the above, I have a question for Liz and the Right Wing. The question is this: "If capitalism is so great, how come it has resulted in the immiseration of hundreds of millions of people over the last 40 years?"

Finally, Liz and the Right Wing have a view of socialist life that's just plain wrong.

First, the bread lines Liz mentioned? Yeah, lines existed. The type of lines that Liz mentioned though, could have happened after the collapse of the USSR. I read a story a couple of years ago about two sisters who had to share one pair of shoes for years. But this was after the USSR collapsed and was under the care of the IMF, World Bank, the US, UK and Germany's shock doctrine.

I don't know piles about life in socialist Europe. The country I'm most familiar with is East Germany.

In East Germany, it was routine for workers to take time away from work tasks to head over to the enterprise's food store. Usually, co-workers would ask this worker to pick up an item for them as well. If anybody had to wait in line at the food shop, or plant pharmacy, it was 100% on the clock. Try walking off the job and going to the store on the clock in the US; you'd probably be fired.

East German workers, and I suspect Eastern Bloc, and workers in the USSR didn't work like workers in the US or capitalist Europe.  In East Germany, it was almost impossible to be fired. Victor Grossman, author of, From Harvard to Karl Marx Allee, said you'd have to "hit your boss over the head with a crow bar, or report to work  drunk for four weeks in a row" to be fired, and even then the plant's union would have to sign off on the discharge.

In East Germany, economic planning agencies would decide what the factory is going to produce. After that, how the commodity was produced was up to the workers and the union. Unions were 100% accountable to its workers.

Workers in the East didn't have the kind of job stresses that we take for granted in the capitalist West. Nobody was afraid to be fired. Workers decided the speed of production; nobody in the East would have put up with the kind of production speeds ups, monitoring of worker productivity, and brutal supervisors always pushing, like US and European workers put up with every day. After all, it's a workers' state!

The East Germans introduced a course in elementary schools titled, "How to take care of your pet". East German teachers thought that a sense of empathy was a valuable social skill. When my daughter was a little kid, we had an East German story book. It was a sweet story, and the theme was that everything living deserves to be loved.

Or, how about  Social Democratic Denmark? I read a story from a  young American woman who took an internship with a Danish company. This woman worked like an American. She said at work late into the evening. She worked weekends, and she thought all this was good; that's how you get ahead she thought!

After a while, her boss told her she was missing a life. The work week was 37 hours and her boss told her to go home when her 37 hours were done. He told her that her grinding away at work was not healthy, and that she was leading a highly unbalanced life. In sort of socialist Scandinavia, the philosophy of doing your work well, and then forgetting about work after you've done your weekly hours is dominant and written into the culture.

So, yeah, I'd love to be living in a socialist USA! My back wouldn't hurt as much as it does if I had worked in a socialist USA. My stress levels from work and trying to survive wouldn't have anywhere near the stress levels and anxiety that is so much a part of working in a capitalist USA.

There's something else the Right Wing and Liz should know. There's no "secret socialist blueprint". "In regard to socialism and revolution, "one size does not fit all". Every socialist revolution (peaceful or not) has found its own way, consistent with its own history, culture and politics.

As for the USA, American socialists don't exist outside of American history and culture. We actually live quite happily within the our own culture, politics and history. The idea that American socialists would "impose" a borrowed system from the USSR, Vietnam, East Germany or China is pathetically laughable. The Right should actually read our socialist press in the USA if they want to know what socialists are thinking and what a socialist agenda might look like.

In a normal political world, I'd challenge Liz and the Right to a debate. I'd win, hands down, because I understand the importance of facts, and because I know a lot more than Liz Wheeler and the Right will ever know from their narrow, authoritarian, and vengeful rage version of politics.

But the debate isn't going to happen. The problem is that for Liz Wheeler and the Right Wing, a debate is Marjorie Taylor-Greene yelling taunts and threats through AOC's mail slot. With its blanket denial of fact, its reliance on guns and the noose, Liz Wheeler and the Right Wing are the greatest threat to the American Republic in its 245 year history.