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Sunday, July 30, 2017

Boomers to Millennials: Get Off My Lawn!


"Jacobin types hate the sixties, hate Bob Dylan, etc. But the politics then seems so much more advanced than now. And if you can believe it, some are arguing that the millennial DSA/Jacobin leftists are really throwbacks to the radicals of the 1930s. They couldn’t hold a candle even to the Gus Hall of that time. You hit the nail on the head when you say that perhaps these “leftists” really don’t hate capitalism all that much." - Michael Yates

The above quote was from a comment by Yates, to an article by Louis Proyect. The link to Proyect's article can be found at the end of this article. The reference to Gus Hall, refers to a long time leader of the Communist Party USA. Jacobin is an online magazine, whose editorial staff, for the most part, are members or sympathizers of Democratic Socialists of America, aka DSA. Reading between the lines I think Yates was casting a wider net, then merely "DSA/Jacobin leftists." My guess is he was going after millennial leftists in general. The give away is the part about "hate Bob Dylan." Horror of horrors! The younger generation has no interest in standing in line waiting to kiss the ass of a libertarian, misogynist, wealthy ego maniac! Oh the humanity!


Yates' comment drew a rebuttal from Farans Kalosar: "Bob Dylan (albeit an entertaining performer) is one of my own least favorites. What’s the big deal with this libertarian misogynist anyway? He used an electric guitar at a folk festival. That’s OK. But he also converted the authentic leftwing content of the folk movement into a gigantic moneymaking machine for himself personally–which is a big part of his very blurred 'message' if you ask me. IMHO, he’s about as revolutionary as a can of baby powder."
Were the politics  of the 1960's so much more politically advanced" than now? Do younger leftists "hate capitalism" less than their elders? It has to be noted that when the so called Boomers generation came of age during the sixties and early seventies, the post World War 2 boom was still in progress. Real wages, after inflation from 1946 to 1973 increased 74%.

This was a period of relatively low unemployment and in inflation adjusted dollars, higher income. When adjusted for inflation college tuition was less than 30% of current costs, rent less than two thirds of the  current cost, and health care probably less than one third. This was a period of time when even a degree in Under Water Basket Weaving was "marketable" or a high school graduate, could find a union job that paid enough, with benefits, for a decent standard of living.


Having come of age before the economy declined, beginning with the mid seventies, Boomer leftists for the most part, then, as well as now, discounted, and continue to do so, issues of  economic deprivation such as unemployment, homelessness, and poverty. While correctly recognizing that class oppression is not the only oppression that exists under capitalism, Boomers for the most part then and now, take this to the extreme, by insisting, that the only politics that matter are "identify politics and identity politics only". This had the effect of down playing the importance of class issues from the politics of the left, during that period. 


 Many of that generation of leftists, actually believe that the overwhelming majority of the US work force are either, computer programmers, tenured academicians, or high paid, unionized industrial workers. The leftists of that generation, who did well economically, have only contempt for their fellow Boomers, who didn't fare as well. One, a former Maoist, and a key leader in Progressive Democrats of America, actually posted on a leftist web discussion site, that the solution for unemployment was for the unemployed "to use their computers to generate $20-$60 self employment income"! 


The older leftists are totally at a loss to how to deal with the issues the younger generation face, such as, under employment, lack of affordable housing and health care, and declining income. They actually believe that the pay and benefits enjoyed by the highest paid in US society is the norm rather than the exception, and that all older workers retire with adequate pension. Some even claim, that the term "austerity" has no place in the vocabulary, of the US. It doesn't sound like those from the sixties really hate capitalism, all that much. In fact they seem to infer that we're all one big happy middle class family, here in their beloved, Murica.

Then we have the younger generation of leftists, who very much understand, having experienced, the ravages of capitalism. They acknowledge, unlike their elders, the existence of poverty, homelessness, lack of access to affordable health care, and crippling student debt. They know, from experience, that even an advance degree, is no guarantee to sustainable employment The younger generation know that the only use for a high school diploma, for the overwhelming majority of high school graduates,
is either a low paying job in the service sector, or enlisting in the military.

So who has the better politics, those who acknowledge the existence of austerity, or those who deny the existence of economic deprivation, in US society? Who hates capitalism the most, the refugees from the sixties who have made their peace with capitalism, or those whose hatred of capitalism, stems from their own experience? 


The article by louis Proyect. https://louisproyect.org/2017/07/24/chapo-frat-house/

Michael Yates' comment is number 8.  The full response by Farans Kalosar is comment number 14.



















Monday, August 4, 2014

Israeli Soldier Was Not "Kidnapped"

Israeli Army Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, was NOT kidnapped by Palestinian fighters as claimed by US President Obama, and Israeli Prime Minister Nutteryahoo. Furthermore, his death was possibly the result of "friendly fire".

A bit of clarification on terminology. Soldiers who are apprehended by opposing forces , in combat, have not been "kidnapped". They have been "captured." When reading historical accounts of wars or battles, you'll notice that casualty figures are listed as Killed, Wounded, Captured, and Missing. I have yet to see a figure for "kidnapped."

For example when US and Filipino forces surrendered to Japan, in 1942, 15,000 Americans and 85,000 Filipinos were listed as Captured, NOT "Kidnapped." When 250,000 Germans and Italians surrendered to Allied forces in Tunisia in 1943, they were listed as Captured, NOT "Kidnapped."

If an Israeli soldier is apprehended by Palestinian fighters, as a result of hostile action, prior to a truce going into effect, as in the case of Goldin, he has been Captured, NOT Kidnapped. If Israeli troops kill him to prevent his capture, then he has become a victim of Israel's "Hannibal Directive," That's another story, altogether.


For more, including "Hannibal Directive":
http://www.richardsilverstein.com/2014/07/26/israel-murders-idf-soldier-to-prevent-his-kidnapping/

Monday, July 7, 2014

"Leftist" Enemies of the Left

There are those who refer to themselves as "Leftist", who apparantly are of the opinion that the ruling class needs assistance in smashing the Left. By Leftist I refer to those who consider themselves to the left of liberalism. I include Leninists, Council Communists, Anarchists, Greens, and Social Demcrats. These "leftist" enemies of the Left include several types.

Anti-Organization


Advocates of this position claim  that revolutionaries should only organize revolutionary organizations when a revolution is in progress. Contrary to historical example, they believe that preparation before hand is not only unnecessary, but even potentially harmful. The extreme version of this tendency claims that organizing for a revolution is no more difficult "then calling up some friends to go to a movie."


Supporters of the liquidation of all socialist organizations, are usually former members of cadre or Leninist type revolutionary organizations. For the most part, they're people who are doing quite well, economically. They dominate the Unrepentant Marxist website and Grumpy Old Man Mail (aka Marxmail) discussion list. These petit-bourgesoie dilettantes, keyboard warriors, and talk shop revoltuionaries are "leftist" enemies of the Left and should be treated accordingly.


Stop the Right


This tendency argues that the only option the Left has is to "stop the right" which is accomplished by lobbying elected officials and electing Democrats.  They describe the right as those forces who favor escalation of the war against the poor, the destruction of labor unions, who oppose a massive jobs program, and support the expansion of  US military bases overseas. Supporters of this tendency appear to have significant support  from the membership of Committees of Correspondence for Democratic Socialism, and Progressive Democrats of America.


They prefer nott being remindedl that it was during the administration of a Democrat Bill Clinton, that the escalaltion of the war against the poor, in the form of Welfare Reform passed. They seem forgetful it  was Bill Clinton who pushed through NAFTA,  that cost union jobs in the US. They prefer not to be reminded it was this same Bill Clinton, who supported financial deregulation, which in turn contributed to the economic meltdown of 2008. They fail to acknowledge, that the number of US military bases overseas, increased during the Obama administration, and that Obama, himself is opposed to a massive jobs program, to alleviate unemployment.


The Stop the Right types, are opposed to the policy of single issue coalitions, such as those engaged in anti war or strike support actions, having a non exclusionary policy of membership. What is meant by non exclusionary,  is that all who support the goals of the coalition are allowed to participate, regardless of their position on other issues.

These coalitions usually have a non electoral policy. The Stop the Right advocates, are adamant that coalitions organized around specific demands have an electoral and lobbying perspective, and demand the expulsion of anyone who disagrees. They're not big on the democratic process. Supporters of Stop the Right are "leftist" enemies of the Left and should be treated accordingly.


Trash the Poor and the Unemployed


This trend denies the existence of involuntary poverty and unemployment among native born workers. Advocates of this position tend to be older, usually people who radicalized during the 1960's and 1970's. This position has the strongest support among Anarchists over age 50 in the San Francisco Bay Area, and a few adherents among the membership of Progressive America Rising. They occasionally post on the Kasama Project website.


One especially insulting and reactionary claim by these types, is that the poor and unemployed have themselves to blame for not using their computers to come up with some sort of self employment "$20-$60 per hour" scheme. Such people are "leftist" enemies of the left and should be treated accordingly.


Third Worldist

This tendency, with the exception of a few Anarchists, for the most part tend to be supporters of Maoism. They justify their position by claiming, "no manner how bad off the economically disenfranchised in the developed countries are, people in the developing world are worse off. How do the poor in the US think their complaining sounds to the international proletariat?" Their words, not mine. This is another group that seems to have found a home at the Kasama Project.


I would not advise telling someone who has just had their house forelcosed,  or are still unemployed after exhausting their unemployment benefits,  how well off they are. These find joy in your poverty, types are "leftist" enemies of the left and should be treated accordingly.


Conclusion


My own personal opinion is that the only solution to reversing the 40 year offensive against working people, is a mass upsurge, up to and including insurrection. In preparation, the Left will have to purge the 'leftist" enemies of the Left, from it's ranks. If this fails we can expect the US to go the way of Italy and Germany between the two world wars.  Rosa Luxemburg got it right when she described our options as "socialism or barbarism." There is no middle ground.

New Perceptions For Socialism: Don't resist and God Bless America

New Perceptions for Socialism is a leftist discussion group on Facebook. These "new" perceptions appear to be that any fight back is doomed to failure, because the state has a repressive apparatus, and even more surprisingly, the left must adopt US patriotism.

Down with Resistance! Up With Voting!


Angie Delacroix the moderator of the group asks, apparantly rhetorically,  "are we going to see an uprising?" She then proceeds to answer her own question. " No we won't! The idea of a vanguard party taking the streets is blatantly idiotic-almost laughable. Signs, fists , sticks, rocks vs. helicopters, tanks, assault rifles---well guess who would win? Anarchists are usually idealistic, clueless folk into a culture of revolutionary pretense, disorganized into fearing necessary hierarchy and whose military prowess is pathetic. They can yell real loud, make romantic style set designs, bang drums,  pass joints, take down a website, and act as agent provocatuers getting any real socialist shot. " Angie manages to trash Anarchists and revolutionary Socialists, simultanously. She also reveals a woeful ignorance of the history of struggle and social change. 


Angie goes on to say, "however if people voted for 'soft-socialists'  who outlawed multinationals and placed strict laws on corporations and banned political collusion with corporations, we'd get somewhere".  Since these political platforms would be limited to "curbing the power of corporations," then are we to assume that issues such as poverty, unemployment, lack of health care, and military intervention abroad, are off the table? Sure sounds like it.

One can only assume that the recent Occupy Movement must have been her worst nighmare. I can picture here calling out to the protestors, "is everyone here registered to vote?"  So apparantly the only option for the left is electoral politics.

God Bless America

" If democratic-socialists want to take down corporate rule,then they need to consider patriotism! .......Get real and consider using USA flags at rallies rather than Red flags. ....... If you go for every ideal espoused by Robespierre or Marx, then you get nothing but killed. " Angie give us a twofer with these lines: resistance is futile, and the joys of patriotism. One can only imagine her advising advocates of racial equality in the US south during the 1950's and 1960's, to adopt the Confederate flag and the anthem, Dixie, as symbols of the Civil Rights movement.

So according to this, we are supposed to be patriotic, loyal and grateful for poverty, homelessnes, unemployment, union busting, imperialism, and all sorts of social ills. Whatever we do, don't offend anyone.

I can't help but notice, all those who oppose resistance, in favor of an electoral only perspective, are generally people who are doing well, economically, under the current economic and social system. Their perspective seems to be, as long as they're doing fine, the rest of us need to shut up. 

What is further disturbing about the so called New Perspectives, face book group, is that there are people in the group, who know better, yet never challenge the reactionary views of the moderator. 

Further reading:  The American Flag: Symbol of a Monstrous Lie
http://socialistworker.org/2001/379/379_05_Flag.shtml



Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Don't Fight Back! They'll Suppress US!

There appears to be a new tendency gaining traction in the US Left. That's the position that any sort of fightback, non violent included, is doomed to failure, because if we fight back we'll just be inviting ruling class suppression. By this logic, the labor upsurge of the 1930's and the Civil Rights movement of the 1950's and 1960's should have never happened.

Yes, there were indeed attempts to suppress these movements, which included the murder of key acitivists and leaders. Nevertheless these movements prevailed. If those of this tendency are so fearful of non violent resistance one can only imagine their distress at the other alternative which leads us to.......

Guns! Oh Dear!

The common argument against the use of armed resistance, is that rifles are worthless against tanks. True. I don't have the time nor inclination to give a class in Urban Guerrilla Warfare 101 except to say, in past instances no one used rifles against tanks. That's what Molotov Cocktails are for. Now, I'm not advocating armed struggle. At least for now. I just wanted to dispense with the argument "rifles vs tanks." For those interested in learning more, I suggest the book, The Blood of Free Men, by Michael Neiberg, which chronicles the actions of the French Resistance in Paris, in 1944.

Had the Don't fight back! They'll suppress us! crowd been around in Spain in the 1930's what would have happened........

An Alternative History of the Spanish Civil War

When General Francisco Franco landed in Spain with troops from the Spanish Army of Africa, in 1936, the first impulse of the Workers and Peasant militia members, was to call for the defense of the Spanish Republic, by means of armed resistance.

Ana Delarollover  a government minister, from the Spanish region of Brooklonia, said,  "no, resistance is futile. If we resist we'll just be suppressed. The Spanish Organization, translated into English, Guns! Oh Dear! proposed a compromise between the two positions of armed resistance.and no resistance. "No, we must not resort to violence. Instead let us call for a large, legal, peaceful demonstration, in protest of Franco's actions." Sure enough there was a large, legal, peaceful demonstration, in protest of Franco's actions.

When Franco learned of this he exclaimed, "oh no, a large, legal, peaceful demonstration, in protest of my actions! How can I resist this, with only a couple of hundred thousand soldiers, armed only with rifles, machine guns, mortars, artillery, tanks, combat aircraft, and a line of credit with US oil companies? I must appeal for a negotiated settlement."

And it came to pass that peace terms were discussed over a banquet of sprouts and herbal tea. Sure enough, Franco called off his coup attempt, retired from the Army, and used his savings to buy a farm, where he raised prize winning Tofu. Even today Franco Farm Tofu is considered the best in the world. All because of a large, legal peaceful demonstration. The end.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Huzzah for the Left Forum

The annual event, The Left Forum will be held, May 30-June 1, in New York. What follows is a fictional account, of how the event proceeded. This article is my critique of how the Left in the US has abandoned advocating for the most economically vulnerable.  Hopefully, this article, will remain nothing more than a work of fiction.

Convergence of the Left and the Right?

One of the best attended workships at the recent Left Forum, was a call for the US Left to abandon Marx's Theory of the Reserve Army of the Unemployed. Marx claimed that unemployment was built into Capitalism.

 In effect nearly all Leftist who were radicalized during the 1960's and 1970's have rejected this theory. Many if not most, radicalized during that period, claim that US capitalism has abolished involuntary unemployment and economic deprivation.

Long time west coast Anarchist , Top Weasel, pontificated that economic hardship only exists among immigrant workers. He cited the pamphlet, "Death to the Native Born Poor," written by fellow Anarchist, the late Biff Rural. When Rural lost his job and found himself part of the native born poor, his shame was  so great, that he took his own life. Weasel claimed that "any native born worker not making it in America, is obviously a worthless piece of shit!"

During the workshop Fight for Fifteen, referring to the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour, members of the Well Off Trotskyist Federation, or WTF, objected on the grounds, "that no one in the US, with the possible exception of students and immigrants are involuntarily making less than $20 per hour!" The WTF raised the objection to historic figures, such as Gene Debs and Big Bill Haywood, being honored as working class heroes. As one WTF spokesperson explained, "since America has always been characterized by high wages and full employment, Debs and Heywood had no legitimate grievances against the capitalist class."

When this analysis was challenged by references to the Great Depression of the 1930's and the Great Recession of 2008, WTF members responded, between gales of laughter, "what depression, what recession?" Former 60's leftist Kowl Condescenson, added, if people are poor or unemployed, it's their own fault for not being able to freelance for $20-$60 per hour."

A  representative from the Third Worldist organization, Find Joy in Your Poverty, the FJYP, claimed that even the homeless, the unemployed, the poor, and those who lost their houses as a result of foreclosure, have no right to complain. The FJYP spokesperson claimed," all these people who endure this alleged suffering are still better off than people in the developing world. How do these complainers think they sound to the international proletariat?"

A spokesperson from Leftists Friends of Bill, supporters of Bill Clinton noted, "what's with all this talk about economic hard times? Bill Clinton single handedly resolved all the contradictions of capitalism. What Clinton gave us in the nineties, was not just a lower than usual unemployment rate, but an actual labor shortage! We have to stamp out the myth that half these jobs paid less than $7 per hour, and that most were temporary jobs. Not only was everyone employed, but everyone had good, high paying jobs, with benefits. Instead of all this talk about revolution, we should be out organizing for a constitutional amendment making Bill Clinton President for Life!" Not surprisingly, the groups greatest strength is among former members of cadre organizations, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Labor staffer, and self proclaimed Leftist Will Feckless aggresively argued that the top priority of the Left in the US was electing Hilary Clinton President in 2016. Feckless claimed that anyone not supporting Clinton would be "aiding the Right!"

W. Impy, from  Leftist Against Guns , or LAG, a group best known for it's motto, "Oh dear, guns!", suggested the Left should go on record, calling for the State to have a monopoly on firearms, and that all privately owned firearms should be confiscated. The position of LAG is that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, guarnateeing the right to bear arms, only applies to a "well regulated militia." As proof W. Impy stated, "if this was not the case, then why were all privately owned firearms confiscated, within a year after ratification of the constitution?"

A French leftist noted, "there doesn't appear to be much difference between the Left and the Right, in this country.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Is Venezuela Burning? Federico Fuentes Responds to Mike Davis

From a Facebook Posting by Federico Fuentes

I have had a few people ask me what I think of the recent article by Mike Gonzalez regarding events in Venezuela https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/02/is-venezuela-burning/

Putting aside the fact he can't even get the name right of the oil minster, here are 3 things that are wrong with the article:

1) “It is no secret that behind the fa├žade of unity, there is a struggle for power between extremely wealthy and influential groups within government — a struggle that began to intensify in the months before Chavez’s death.”

If this was no secret, then surely there would be a mount of evidence to prove this. But Mike offers none.

A more serious analysis, would indicate the opposite: that despite the narrow election victory in April 2013, the immediately wave of opposition violence and campaign around “fraud”, the ongoing economic war against the government, the municipal elections and the most recent events, there has been no visible signs of fractures in the government.

Even serious right-wing analyst can see this: “What makes Venezuela’s government so different is its absolute dominance of all the main levers of political power. President Nicolas Maduro’s administration wields unquestionable control over the Supreme Court, the Congress, the military and the oil industry -- the very institutions that could threaten his regime.” http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-02-25/venezuela-is-no-ukraine

Add to that the solid support the government still maintains among working class and poor sections and you start to see a very different picture to the one Mike paints of a government on the brink of cracking up.

In fact, the only people that continually speculate about such internal struggles (apart from Mike and a few other leftists) are the gossip columnists in the right-wing media.

None of this is to deny that there are *political* differences within the government and Chavismo more generally, which brings me to…

2) “All of this is an expression of an economic crisis vigorously denied by the Maduro government but obvious to everyone else.”

Again, this is just plain silliness to claim the Maduro government is denying economic problems. In fact one of the key triggers to the recent protests (ignored by Mike) was that the government had precisely begun to take measures to address the economic problems, starting with the imposition of set profit margins and accompanying regulations to open company books.

But Mike’s article goes further and also invents a crisis that does not exist. Let’s just look at what Mike says and some of the actual figures:

“2012 had seen inflation rates hovering around fifty percent (officially) and the level has risen inexorably throughout the last year.”

Inflation in 2012: 20.1% http://www.ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/actualidad/economia/inflacion-en-venezuela-cerro-2012-en-20-1.aspx

Inflation in 2013: 56.2% http://globovision.com/articulo/inflacion-en-noviembre-fue-de-48-y-la-de-diciembre-22

That is it was not around 50% in 2012 and it did not rise inexorably from that imaginary figure (even if it clearly did rise substantially in 2013)

“The shortages are explained partly by speculation on the part of capitalists — just as happened in Chile in 1972 — and partly by the rising cost of imports, which make up a growing proportion of what is consumed in Venezuela”

Value of imports in 2012: US$47.310 billion

Value of imports in 2013: US$37.802
http://www.ine.gov.ve/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=48&Itemid=33

That is value of imports when down. In fact the value of imports in 2013 was higher in 2007, 2008 and 2009 than it was last year.

“Today, those funds [oil wealth] are drying up as Venezuela’s oil income is diverted to paying for increasingly expensive imports.”

As I showed above imports are not more expensive. But its also not true that funds are drying up:

Value of exports 2012: US$97.340 billion. http://www.bcv.org.ve/Upload/Publicaciones/anuasectorexterno77-12.pdf?id=458

I couldn’t find the figure for 2013, but I doubt exports fell by 2/3 which would indicate Venezuela continues have a nice trade surplus.

I could continue to do the same for almost every other assertion Mike makes (and happy to do so if you want me to). Or point to figures that show despite the “crisis” poverty rates and unemployment continue to fall, unheard of in any other economic crisis. But the main point is not so much the gross errors Mike makes, but why he does so.

The reason is because what he wants to demonstrate is that the government is just as responsible for the “economic crisis” as the opposition. To so he has to make up stuff like the government is going bankrupt, oil money is drying up, imports are skyrocketing while production at home has all but disappeared…. All the same stuff that the right wing media says.

This matters because as the old saying goes: “if you make the wrong diagnosis, you will never apply the right remedy”. The right wing says all this to prove that the Chavista economic model of state control and redistribution of oil wealth to meet peoples needs will inevitable destroy the economy.

But they are not the only ones saying this. There are some in the government who disagree with key economic policies, hence the *political* struggles I referred to above.

This is also true more broadly with the Bolivarian Revolution. For example, Roland Denis, who Mike is so fond of, is part of a group within Chavismo that argues much the same line as Mike when it comes to the government’s economic problems. Unlike Mike, they have put forward their alternative economic policies in the Que Hacer? document http://www.aporrea.org/ideologia/a167599.html

I’ll let you decide jut how “left-wing” their economic policies are.

Again, none of this is to say there are not economic problems, but behind this debate filled with dubious stats and assertions is a more important political debate of what should happen to Venezuela’s oil wealth.

3) “What can save the Bolivarian project, and the hope it inspired in so many, is for the speculators and bureaucrats to be removed, and for popular power to be built, from the ground up, on the basis of a genuine socialism — participatory, democratic, and exemplary in refusing to reproduce the values and methods of a capitalism which has been unmasked by the revolutionary youth of Greece, Spain and the Middle East.”

This is all well and good, but ultimately a motherhood statement devoid of any content. I wonder if Mike agrees’ with the alternative policies proposed in the Que Hacer document as a way to refuse to reproduce the values and methods of capitalism? Who knows? All Mike has to say can be summed up in a slogan “one solution: revolution!”

But this is not the only problem with such statements. Pretty much since 2002, leftists like Mike have been saying the same thing “Venezuela is at a crossroads, only two options, restore old order or deepen the revolution towards socialism”. But after 12 years should we ask ourselves some questions like: isn’t it perhaps possible that out of every crisis, the government has taken measures to deepened the revolution, hence why the Bolivarian revolution is still going and the old elites are not back in power? Isnt perhaps true that implementing some kind of war communism in Venezuela (which tends to be what calls to deepen the revolution amount to) would not be the best course of action? Isn’t it the case that given the current international balance of forces it is possible for the revolution to continue advancing but that conditions do not exist for Venezuela to implement socialism in one country?

This are serious questions that some of the left continue to paper over, preferring slogans to real action.

Federico Fuentes is a national executive member of the Socialist Alliance (Australia). He edits Bolivia Rising and is part of the Venezuelanalysis.com editorial collective

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Louis Proyect and the ISO: A Response

In his article, Notes on a Staggering ISO,  www.counterpunch.org Louis Proyect criticizes  the International Socialist Organization (ISO), for having members only political discussions. Proyect defends anonymous sources leaking ISO internal documents to a blogger who is hostile to the organized left.

Proyect's position is since the government knows everything we're doing, anyway, there's no need for secrecy. I wonder what Proyect would have said, to the organizers of the 1930's Flint Sit Down strike, or the Minneapolis Teamsters organizaing drive, who conducted many of their meetings in secret? What does Proyect have to say to workers engaged in the initial phase of an organizing campaign, where secrecy is certainly required?


Much has been said, for or against "security culture" within leftist groups, on other forums. My response, with this article, will be to address the alternatives to Leninist or cadre formations that Proyect proposes, and the ISO opposition.



ISO Opposition

Historically, within the US Trotskyist movement, internal factional battles have usually been along clear cut lines. Examples include whether or not to defend the former Soviet Union against imperialism, disagreement,whether or not Cuba is a "healthy" or "deformed" workers state, or the relevance of the theory of Permanent Revolution.

This is not the case with recent factionalism within the ISO. Those who have left, within the last 5 years, or still remain within the organization, are all over the place politically. The most prevalent unifying theme is that the leadership is in error, defining the post 2008 recession period as one of "heightened class struggle." The opposition really never offered a concrete proposal on changing the direction of the ISO.

Former members are not exactly united. Historically, in most groups when an opposition leaves or is expelled they generally leave as an organized tendency or faction, and in many cases form a new organization. Most recent examples are Left Turn, by former ISO members, Committees for Correspondence by former Communist Party members, and Socialist Action by former members of the Socialist Workers Party/US.

As they were internally, externally former ISO oppositionists are all over the map, politically. Some work in single issue campaigns. I know of only one who has joined another revolutionary organization. One has thrown his lot in with the Anarchists. Another has written off organization altogether saying, "carrying out a revolution is like calling up some friends to go to a movie." I would advise this individual to cut back on his drug usage. It remains to be seen what political path that former members of the ISO Renewal Faction, who were expelled at the recent convention, will take.

Former members of the ISO tell me, that oppositionists were never able to contact each other because of not having the right to organize tendencies. The existence of the now defunct, as a result of their wholesale expulsion, Renewal Faction would seem to contradict this claim. In any event the right to form tendencies and factions, at least for pre convention discussion should be quarnteed.


A New Type of Party?

Louis Proyect calls for a new type of organization altogether. He wants to assign the term cadre, "to the dustbin of history." He doesn't quite get the military usage of the term cadre right. It's not just officers, but trained soldiers, around which units are bought up to full strength. The term in military usage, also refers to those responsible for training new troops. This includes drill sergeants, instructors, and yes, officers.

The politcal concept, is that when there is an upsurge, ideally a revolutionary one, the relatively small revolutionary organizations will be the core, to attract larger numbers, or I suppose one could say, critical mass. The most famous example is the expansion of the Bolsheviks in Russia, in 1917, from 10,000 members at the time of the February Revolution to 250,000 at the time of the Ocotber Revolution (old calendar). Though I haven't seen the figures, I assume that the Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries also had significant growth during this period.

Proyect omits the significant role played by cadre type organizations in various struggles. Examples are the role of the Communist Party in labor organizing and eviction defense, during the 1930's, the role of the Socialist Workers Party in the Teamster organizing campaigns in Minneapolis in 1934. Later examples are the role, once again of the Socialist Workers Party, during the anti war movement during the Vietnam war, the role of Socialist Action in solidarity work with the Hormel strikers during the 1980's, the international conferences against neo liberalism in which Socialist Organizer played a significant role. Proyect seems unaware of the exemplary role played by the International Socialist Organization during the campaign to defend the Charleston 5, in 2001.

It could be argued, I suppose that  non cadre organizations, while having a smaller percentage of their members being active, would make up for this with a larger membership. In other words, a non cadre organization of 5000 could do the work of a cadre type organization of 1000. Fair enough, except where is this non cadre organizatin of 5000. Solidarity? Socialist Party USA? I don't think so.

Proyect calls for getting rid of the usual leftist symbols such as red stars, and go with American symbolism. Is Proyect proposing for example that leftist conferences, such as the annual Socialism Conferences sponsored by the ISO begin with the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag? Is Proyect suggesting that instead of closing the conference with the singing of The Internationale, a more appropriate closing anthem would be God Bless America? Reminds me of an article by one of Proyect's co-thinkers a former member of the International Socialists Network,  in Britain: Down With the Internationale, Up With Rule Brittania! OK, the article wasn't quite that bad. Almost, but not quite.

There are some good suggestions by Proyect. For example:
     ......we need something like an American Syriza-a broad left-of-center party that can accept people on their own terms ideologically as long as they adhere to key programmatic demands such as:

 -Run election campaigns opposed to corporate rule, against both Republicans and Democrats.
=Organize campaigns against environmental despoliation from fracking to mountaintop removal.
-Strengthen the trade unions through organizing drives aimed at the most exploited workers.

While not bad suggestions, as usual the devil is in the details. Will this type of organization be an activist one or a talk shop? Will there be well organized campaigns, or will everyone do whatever they want to do, politically speaking?

The non cadre type organizations, such as Solidarity and Socialist Party USA, are both probably smaller than the ISO. The one attempt by former SWP members, to form such an organization, during the 1980's, the North Star Network, was nothing more than a personality cult around the late Peter Camejo. Why will Proyect's alternative be different?


Conclusion

Speaking for myself, I'm of the opinion that the entire left, all organizations as well as individuals, failed to understand the signifcance and impact of the "Great Recession." The entire US left regards the suffering and deprivation resulting from the economic down turn of 2008 as just one issue among many. 

This is hardly surprising. Issues of unemployment and poverty have traditionaly been the Achilles heel of the U.S. Left. Anarchists in the San Francisco Bay Area don't even believe that involuntary poverty and unemployment exists among native born workers. Others on the left believe that Bill Clinton resolved all the contradictions of capitalism. I submit that this failure, more than any organizational formula is the main explanation for the marginalization of the U.S. left.

For further reading:
http://socialistworker.org/2014/02/19/a-response-to-slander
http://externalbulletin.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/we-are-expelled/
http://kasamaproject.org/threads/entry/killing-lenin-again-the-conscious-crusade-against-left-security-culture
http://redguarddude.blogspot.com/2014/02/leftists-against-left.html