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Thursday, March 14, 2019

When Internationalism Mattered

Early March marked the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Third International, the Communist International or Comintern. For the most part, the anniversary went unnoticed.

An exception was an article in Jacobin by Loren Balhorn entitled The World Revolution That Wasn’t. Balhorn is a youthful contributing editor of Jacobin.

Not so long ago, the legacy of the Comintern still prevailed -- Communist Parties in virtually every country constituted, dominated, or greatly influenced their country’s left. Perhaps those of us who lived through or well remember that time should be grateful for its commemoration by Balhorn. But because Balhorn does not fully grasp the significance of the Communist International, he delivers a small favor, a very small favor indeed.

For Balhorn, the Comintern was a failure. Its history was quite simple:

The International’s first four years of existence witnessed multiple uprisings and revolutions, socialist and other radical organizations exploded in size, and it appeared that the world could really be on the cusp of socialist transformation.
Yet the Communists failed to realize this transformation. The Soviet Union remained isolated and grew increasingly authoritarian and stagnant. When it met its end in 1991, its failure triggered neoliberal capitalism’s truly total globalization and the collapse of the international left as a powerful force able to oppose it.

To illustrate the lost opportunity of the Comintern, Balhorn cites the planned German rising of October, 1923, an event that he derisively calls the “German Floptober.” Like so many liberal and social democratic accounts of the Weimar period, Balhorn buys into the myths of Communist incompetence, betrayal, and, contradictorily, both timidity and ultra-leftism. The reality was somewhat different, though, when viewed against the backdrop of social democratic perfidy. Like the liberals of today, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) was willing to work with the devil to achieve or protect political goals and to avoid, at all costs, a socialist revolution.

In the case of the SPD, Communist calculations were necessarily shaped by the collaboration of the SPD with-- indeed, the eager recruitment of -- the German extreme right, the proto-fascist Freikorps, and the German army in the slaughter and defeat of Communist risings in 1918 (Spartacist), 1919 (Bavarian Soviet Republic), and 1920 (in the wake of the Kapp putsch).

The Kapp putsch is particularly instructive. When a counter-revolutionary plot of some Freikorps and army elements marched against the social democratic-dominated Weimar government, President Ebert and most of his SPD government fled Berlin, cautiously calling for a general strike against the coup. The workers responded and, within days, brought the rightists to their knees with the greatest, most paralyzing strike in German history.

Buoyed by their overwhelming demonstration of working class power, workers kept to the offensive, rising throughout Germany in a revolutionary wave. In Germany’s industrial heartland, workers formed a Red Ruhr Army of 50,000-80,000 armed workers supported by 300,000 miners. The Communist and left socialist workers defeated Freikorps and regular army units, eventually taking the entire Ruhr area.

Treacherously, the SPD government unleashed the forces sympathetic to the coup-- the Freikorps and the Reichswehr-- on the insurgents, resulting in the slaughter of hundreds if not thousands of Communist and Socialist workers. Most of the extreme right coup participants were amnestied, many later joining the ranks of the Nazis, while many strikers were punished.

Is it any surprise that Communists many times referred, in ensuing years, to social democrats as “social fascists”? In the case of Germany, the treachery of suppressing the left and collaborating with the extreme right emboldened and cleared the way for fascism. And certainly, the all-too-frequent collaboration of social democracy with reaction to forestall revolutionary change earned the enmity of revolutionaries.

Without the historical context of social democratic betrayal, liberal historians and the anti-Communist left have constructed the widely-held myth of Communist intransigent, ultra-left sectarianism in the working class movement.

Balhorn enthusiastically subscribes to that canard:

The failed German Revolution would have disastrous long-term effects, entrenching a divide between Communists and Social Democrats that greatly weakened the resistance to Hitler’s rise and culminated in the destruction of the German workers’ movement — one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century.

Given the resolve of the era’s social democrats and liberals to defend capitalism against revolutionary change at all costs, Communists had no choice but to go it alone.

Moreover, the coddling of the Freikorps, the Reichswehr, and putsch-happy Nazis by the SPD and its Weimar allies made a tactical anti-fascist alliance nearly impossible in Germany. Nonetheless, the Communists sought working class unity in many instances, contrary to the liberal mythology that blames the rise of Nazism on Communist sectarianism.

In some places, like Saxony, SPD workers rebelled against the leadership’s anti-Communism and forced a united front government with the Communists (1923), defying the national SPD. Consequently, SPD leader and Reich President Ebert permitted the army to depose the government and suppress the Communist Party.

After the victory of the Nazis in the spring 1932 Landtag election in Prussia, it was the Communists who called for unity of action between SPD and KPD workers, as noted by the German Nobel Peace prize-winning journalist martyred by the Nazis, Carl von Ossietzky, a call that went unheeded.

It was, of course, the German Communists who issued the appeal for a general strike after Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor, an appeal rebuffed by the Social Democrats.

The realities of German Weimar history leading up to Hitler’s consolidation of power clash sharply with the mythologies promoted by liberal and social democratic historians. The facts point to a collapse of social democracy in the face of economic crisis and political reaction rather than a failure of Communism or the Comintern, as Balhorn would lead us to believe.

To leap from the failure of European revolutions in the early 1920s to the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 and to pronounce the Communist International therefore a failure and irrelevant is surely an ill-informed judgement. There is no way to explain the twentieth-century fight against (and defeat of) fascism without acknowledging the central role of Communism and the Comintern. The foundations for that fight were laid in the Comintern-organized internationalist defense of the Spanish Republic in the 1930s, a heroic effort that even served as the centerpiece of an iconic Hollywood movie, Casablanca, and numerous other celebrated cultural artifacts of the time. The Comintern-organized international response to fascism’s assault on Spain remains, to this day, the most inspiring example of selfless solidarity with the cause of social justice.

Though the Comintern ceased in 1943, its legacy of Communist unity continued well after the war, through successful revolutions in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere and through the liberation of nearly all of the colonies. While the unity of the Communist movement was broken by the Chinese Communist Party and its allies, at one point, two-fifths or more of the world’s population was ruled by political organizations claiming adherence to Marxism-Leninism. At the same time, significant Communist organizations existed throughout the capitalist states.

To be clear, the Soviet Union fell because it lost the Cold War. Why it lost the Cold War is important, though a different conversation. But it is an improper conclusion to judge a state to be unworthy, flawed, or failed simply because it lost at war. Many just causes, many movements for emancipation have tasted defeat and, unfortunately, will again. And surely the sanctions wars conducted by today’s imperial bullies demonstrate that war is not only armies meeting on the battlefield. But the success or failure of the Soviet Union and the Communist movement must be judged by a careful and thorough look at the balance sheet, given the alignment of forces, the level of material development, the plans met, the benefits achieved, and the social progress won. Some thirty years after European socialism’s demise, opinion polls still show widespread nostalgia for the system in the former socialist states.

To say, as Balhorn does, that the Soviet “...failure triggered neoliberal capitalism’s truly total globalization and the collapse of the international left as a powerful force able to oppose it...” is regrettable. The logic of capitalism-- faced with the ineffectiveness of the Keynesian model-- triggered the return to market fundamentalism-- so-called “neoliberal capitalism;” the relegation of millions of well educated workers from the former socialist countries to the capitalist labor market did indeed dramatically lower the cost of labor globally, fueling the growth of profits and global trade expansion.

But once again, it was social democracy, including its liberal and Labour embodiment, that yielded to triumphant capital’s assault upon public institutions, welfare, regulation, living standards, wages, and social protection, an assault that pundits have dubbed “neoliberalism.” With the failure to manage the system through Keynesian prescriptions, social democracy quickly surrendered to the forces of brutal, unfettered, unreconstructed capitalism.

Just as timid “socialists” preferred to placate the right in the 1920s rather than join with the forces of revolutionary change, the social democrats of today make common ground with the corporate globalists and the market fetishists, thus, paving the way for the growth of right-wing populism.

Balhorn concludes:

The political landscape today is nothing like 1919... We are still at the beginning of a potential mass socialist movement — a priceless opportunity we cannot afford to waste… Today the distinction between revolution and reform appears less immediately relevant. With overall levels of class struggle and organization still at historic lows, and insurgent politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jeremy Corbyn popularizing socialism in a way not seen in decades, it seems obvious where the action is… The problem is that no revolutionary left of any significance exists. To abstain from the breathtaking developments in electoral politics will ensure only that nobody notices that socialists are trying to pull them to the left at all.

Yes, the ‘problem’ is that the revolutionary left is very weak-- still reeling from the loss of the Soviet Union and the social democratization of many Communist Parties in the post-war and Perestroika era. But the labor movement is very weak as well. The peace movement has fallen upon hard times. In fact, nearly all social justice movements have declined in recent years. That is only more reason to redouble our efforts to build them.

Yes, the ‘political landscape’ is not 1919; it is more like 1914! With the rivalries between imperialists heating up nearly every day, there is an urgent, dire need for action, action against war, action that has not been forthcoming from existing political forces. War danger on the India-Pakistan border, drone attacks in Somalia and Afghanistan, threats of invasion in Venezuela, plots of “regime change,” fighting in Syria and Yemen, the abrogation of treaties, aggressive war games, death-dealing sanctions, and nuclear saber-rattling are just a few of the daily threats to peace that could explode at any moment, just as they disrupted the appearance of peace at the turn of the last century.

Balhorn’s contrast between ‘reform and revolution’ is not useful. There are no revolutionary agents that have not won the confidence of the masses through fighting for immediate reforms challenging capital and ameliorating the suffering of working people. Conversely, reformism has never won enduring concessions from capital unless insurgents or revolutionaries were breathing down the necks of the capitalists-- that’s the dialectics of political struggle.

We should be mindful of the fact that the success of Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Corbyn, and others is as much or more a matter of mass dissatisfaction searching for an expression (as it is to some extent with Trump) than it is any commitment to a particular ideology. The Democratic Party (and to a lesser extent, the Labour Party) has never been a friendly home for socialism. Since the time of Woodrow Wilson, the notion that the Democratic party can be enlisted to tame corporate capitalism has been dashed by its corporately-controlled leaders. To think that a new generation of young, dynamic, and capable progressives can transform the Democratic Party is either wishful or muddled thinking. For the moment, the Democratic Party and a burst of social democracy may be ‘where the action is,’ but history suggests that it will not be there for long. It must be compromised or grow independent and more militant.

As in 1919, the task of revitalizing the revolutionary left is urgent. Decades of social democratic degeneration into a cheerleader for “a rising tide lifts all boats,” a sponsor of market solutions, and an apologist for obscene inequality, underscores the need for an authentic anti-capitalist movement.

At the same time, the emergence of left trends in the US and the UK signals a popular thirst for a new politics and legitimizes a conversation about socialism. That conversation should not, must not be constrained by electoral fetishism or shepherded into old, compromised institutions. How this trend evolves will, of course, help shape the left of the future. We must help to shape it.

But the revitalization of an independent left, a Marxist-Leninist left will be the necessary step toward a genuine anti-capitalist and revolutionary left and our greatest contribution.

That is the real lesson of the Communist International.

Greg Godels

zzsblogml@gmail.com

Sunday, March 3, 2019

A Forgotten Anniversary


In contrast to four years ago, the anniversary of the electoral victory of the Greek political party, SYRIZA, passed almost unnoticed by the US and international left. Thanks to a posting by Nikos Mottas, we are reminded of that once celebrated event.

Apparently, it is easy to forget the euphoria of the great majority of the reformist and anti-capitalist international left accompanying SYRIZA’s success in the Greek elections, promising to overturn the regimen of austerity that brought Greece to its knees. It must be easy to forget the ascent of the youthful, charismatic, and photogenic SYRIZA leader, Alexis Tsipras, who charmed everyone from The New York Times liberal Paul Krugman to even some in the Communist movement.

I remember well the disdain cast on those who defended the decision by the Greek Communists (KKE) to refuse partnership in the SYRIZA government. Left pundits pointed to KKE rejection of collaboration as another example of Communist “sectarianism.” The KKE was vilified for refusing to legitimize a social democratic electoral victory that would both fail to rescue Greek workers and betray the cause of socialism.

In the words of Motta in his In Defense of Communism article:

From the very beginning of SYRIZA's electoral rise, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) was the only political power which, actually and honestly, exposed the real nature of Alexis Tsipras' party. Back in 2012, various leftist and reformist forces in Greece, including SYRIZA, exercised immense pressure to the KKE, in an effort to extort its collaboration with a future “left government.” Both bourgeois and opportunist media attacked the KKE for its refusal to join a “left” political alliance under SYRIZA.

Looking back, the four years of SYRIZA were a disaster for the Greek people. As the Mottas quote below reminds us, SYRIZA and its right-wing populist allies brought:

  • Full implementation of all the anti-people, anti-worker measures of the previous austerity memorandums (2010-2014) signed by the governments of PASOK [social democrats] and ND [conservatives], which include immense cuts in salaries and destruction of labour rights.

  • Unprecedented tax enforcement against the working class and popular strata, including increase in VAT [value-added tax] and dozens of increases in “special” taxes. At the same time, numerous tax evasion laws in favor of the big capital remained intact.

  • Cuts in pensions and retirement age limits, decrease of lump-sum allowances, while through the so-called “Katrougalos law” a whole category of insurance contributions was imposed.

  • The tax enforcement on one hand and the continuous reductions in pensions and social benefits on the other, led to monstrous primary surpluses. These surpluses in state budget have been a result of extreme austerity imposed on the working people. From the budget's 55 billion euros, only 800 million euros are being used by the government as part of a supposed “social policy.”

  • Implementation of every project that benefits the big capital, from the destructive gold mining in Chalkidiki and the conversion of Attica into a field of profit-making large businesses (casinos, Elliniko redevelopment, etc) to the privatization of the country's airports, major ports (e.g. Piraeus, Thessaloniki), of the Public Power Corporation (DEI), etc.
In addition, the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition collaborated closely with US-NATO imperialist ventures, including in Syria. Instead of offering an escape from the austere, repressive, capital-friendly policies of PASOK and New Democracy, SYRIZA-ANEL entrenched, even expanded those policies. In short, SYRIZA betrayed the Greek people who supported politicians proving to be sell-outs rather than liberators. For those in the international center-left and left who invested heavily in what they believed to be a rebirth of progressive militancy, SYRIZA proved to be an embarrassment.
Lessons Learned?

For Mottos, the lesson of SYRIZA is transparent:

The four years of SYRIZA governance has destroyed any illusions. The perception that a bourgeois government can exercise a pro-people, pro-workers policy within the limits of the capitalist system has been totally bankrupted. A major lesson that comes out of the SYRIZA experience is that the rotten exploitative system cannot be managed or reformed in favor of the workers' interests.

And yet much of the left-- both the “respectable” and the radical left-- continues to cling to the hope that a reformist political formation can steer the capitalist ship in a more humane, more just direction. Many still believe that the institutions so thoroughly and solidly constructed by capital to promote its interests can be used to serve working people.

Certainly some worthy, but contingent concessions have been won against capital in moments of severe stress on the system-- wars, economic crisis, mass upheaval-- but they were made only to shield the capitalist system from even more drastic outcomes: revolution or breakdown. It is precisely in those moments that the Leninist left sees the opportunity to advance beyond capitalist reforms and overthrow capitalism.

And that underscores the difference between Communists and revolutionary socialists and their social democratic rivals: Communists never surrender their maximum program of overturning capitalism while consistently supporting any and all reforms that challenge capital’s authority or erode its economic dominance. The most radical Social Democrats, on the other hand, see reforms and the fight for reforms as intrinsic, incremental steps on the road to socialism. Consequently, they are prepared to compromise with, to accommodate capital in order to secure even minimal steps toward reforms-- collecting the crumbs does not make a cake!

For example, despite popular disgust with the profit-anchored US healthcare system, Democratic leaders, time after time, dilute healthcare legislation to appease capital and avoid political struggle. It is painful to watch them retreat before the battle is joined. They refuse to fight for what is necessary, instead settling for what they believe is possible.

In countries like the UK or the US, where social democracy is experiencing a rebirth in parties that have for decades mutated into capitalist instruments, into corporate clients, Communists can be the most principled fighters against the predictable ruling class assault mounted against these leftward trends. At the same time, they cannot get caught in the trap of legitimizing social democratic ideology, of endorsing the social democratic ‘road’ to socialism.

The rise of so-called ‘Democratic Socialism’ in the US-- personified by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez-- signals the profound political crisis of the US two-party system. And the success of Trump was as much a failure of the corporate-dominated, market fundamentalist Democratic Party to address that crisis.

But the renegade social democratic trend emerging in the Democratic Party is likely more a face lift than a new soul. There is little reason to believe that the Democratic Party leadership will allow real change beyond rousing its liberal-minded base. Pelosi, Schumer, and the rest are charged with and determined to arrest or compromise that trend as illustrated by their dismissal of the “Green New Deal.”

Nonetheless, the popular rise of soft-left alternatives marks a welcome trend, possibly foretelling opportunity for even more leftward options. Ocasio-Cortez frequently punctures the smug facade of the corporate-dominated political establishment; Ilhan Omar has challenged the unrestrained political bullying of AIPAC; and Tulsi Gabbard has boldly critiqued the imperial foreign policy consensus. But all three have been hammered swiftly by the media and their party’s mainstream. What conclusion can be drawn about the prospects for reforming the Democratic Party? For pursuing these goals within the Democratic Party?

The history of the post-World War II era demonstrates the bankruptcy of the social democracy that Motta references. Social democracy has taken the working class no closer to socialism. The reforms won have as quickly been eroded. Since 1980, North Atlantic social democracy has shamefully devolved into conservative-lite, embracing an emaciated state, the rule of the market, a minimal safety net, and ruthless competition. In Europe, social democracy has collapsed-- rejected by the people or betrayed by its leadership-- with the last ruling Party (Spain’s socialists) hanging onto power by a slender thread.

As Motto does, we should draw lessons from this collapse and not pray for the social democratic resurrection as do influential thinkers like Thomas Piketty, Yanis Varoufakis, and their ilk.

With the collapse of social democracy and the ugly rise of bogus populist nationalism, the only credible road of promise for the working class is revolutionary socialism.

Greg Godels

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

An Interview with Al Marder, President, US Peace Council



GREG: Al, you’ve lived through, participated in some of the most significant events of the last century. You’ve never wavered in your commitment to peace, social justice, and socialism despite many setbacks and disappointments. Others have dropped away, grown cynical, or given up. How do you account for your dogged commitment to these principles?

AL: Thank you so very much for providing me with an opportunity to reflect upon my activities for peace and socialism. As a boy of 14, I observed the steady stream pouring out of the New Haven Railroads yards of men looking for work, coming into my parents’ small store asking for something to eat. I also observed in the neighborhood the poverty and the run-down conditions of mostly immigrants and a few black families. In downtown New Haven, I observed women picketing the Woolworth store that was selling silk stockings protesting the invasion of Manchuria by the Japanese. And then I saw the picket line for the vigils protesting the Spanish Civil War, wearing leather jackets and berets in honor of the Spanish Loyalists. I became deeply aware of the Fascist takeover in Germany, Italy. At the same time, there were fascist broadcasts by Father Coughlin from Detroit spewing anti-Semitism.

It was at this time that I transferred to the James Hillhouse High School. In my class, I discovered some of my classmates shared my concerns. I learned that several of these classmates were the children of Communists.

In our discussions I began to understand the class nature of these events that had disturbed me so. And also, for the first time, I learned of the concept of a society without profit, without discrimination, with equality and justice for all. A democratic society for the people, a socialist society. I was enthralled. This concept was a direct contradiction to what I had observed. My imagination soared. I began seeking out all the literature devoted to the struggles of people. To think that all the people, wherever they were, were struggling for the same goals that I now envisaged was mind-boggling.

With my classmates, with my new-found comrades and friends we decided to organize a Peace Council in the high school to conduct meetings explaining the issues to our classmates. This for me, was the beginning of tying my dreams of a new society with the daily struggles.

I learned of the emergence of a society of workers and peasants in Russia dedicated to building a society of the future, a socialist society. I read of the overthrow of the Czar and the nobility that had imprisoned an entire people. I read of the intervention of the imperialist world to try to prevent the emergence of a society without exploitation and capitalism. I read of a society that declared its goal was to liberate the minds of hate and discrimination. I understood from the very beginning how difficult this task was, to build a society, in the midst of a world controlled by the imperialist capitalist world. The struggles of workers and peasants coincided with my dreams, a society devoted to equality and opportunity for everyone to fulfill their potential. I marveled at learning of how this new society, the Soviet Union, was providing written language to peoples for the first time. I was also taken by the explosion of culture, music and literature emerging from this new experiment in history.

This was also the period when the newly formed industrial unions were trying to organize the shops in Connecticut. It wasn’t long that I met the union organizers who needed help distributing flyers to the various factories in the greater New Haven area. I volunteered. Since my father owned a car, I managed to find a way that we could “borrow” the car and distribute the flyers before the family awoke. The realization that the struggle for a new society entailed the struggle for improvement of the daily lives of the workers cemented my understanding and commitment to the working class.

I learned that there was a long history of the struggle of peoples for a better life. There was a great deal of literature explaining this struggle as a science of society. I became an avid reader of this material despite the fact that at that stage much of it was difficult to absorb. I must confess that it was only in later years that the lessons of what I had read became clear to me, the more and more I became involved in the struggle.

The horrors of fascism were the background of everything we did or discussed. How to mobilize the American people against fascism became the dominant responsibility. It was clear to us that we had to unite all the democratic forces, center and left. The concept of “united front” became the overarching guide. I became deeply involved in organizing the New Haven Conference of Youth and the Connecticut Conference of Youth as part of the mobilizing of the young people against fascism. This effort deepened my understanding.

The effort to organize the electrical and brass industries of Connecticut was successful. When the organizers became aware that the companies had set up sports and activities to cement the loyalties of the young workers, they approached me and asked if I would help organize a sports and youth organization for the CIO. I enthusiastically agreed and became president of the CIO Sports and Youth Association and proceeded to organize athletic events, dances, and other activities that would enhance the participation and the loyalty of young workers to the union. The outbreak of WWII made it impossible to continue. However, this experience brought me closer to the lives of young workers, their hopes and their expectations. I was one with them.

These experiences have never left me. I understood from my experiences that the move from avaricious capitalism to socialism was a very difficult road but one I was determined to travel. I realized there was no blueprint for this struggle. It entailed educating workers that the only answer to exploitation and impoverishment was to change the system. While we fought for an increase of 5 cents an hour, this was not the ultimate answer.

Today, millions throughout the world are struggling for food and shelter. Millions are leaving their homes in search of work. The only answer of capitalism is war and domination. This, while at a different level and historical stage, is what I had witnessed as a boy of 14.

GREG: The World Peace Council emerged in 1949-1950. What is its mission? What have been its major initiatives and accomplishments?

AL: The dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US had a profound effect on the immediate post-World War II. Any thoughts that were nurtured of post-World War II cooperation in the struggle against fascism that brought together the Socialist Soviet Union with the capitalist world were shattered. That collaboration during World War II itself was characterized by the constant thread of the capitalist maneuvering to weaken the Soviet Union in that common struggle. The postponement of the Second Front was a deliberate strategy to bleed the Soviet Union. This strategy contributed to the unbelievable toll of 28 million Soviet citizens.

There was the hope that the establishment of the United Nations would provide a venue with a new socialist world that could meet as equals with the capitalist world in post-World War II. However, it did not take long for that hope to unravel. The US emerged from World War II as the sole capitalist Superpower, with no international capitalist competition and facing an enlarged Socialist block in Eastern Europe and large Communist parties in Europe.

It became evident that the post-World War II period would soon become a battleground between the people’s movement and US Imperialism. French anti-Fascist intellectuals with support from the anti-Fascist and Left movements organized a movement for peace calling the first meeting for Paris. However, the French government refused permission and it was moved to Warsaw, and the World Peace Council came into being. It began the task of organizing peace councils throughout the world. It extended support to the burgeoning anti-Colonial movements in Africa and the national movements in China and Asia.

Recognizing that the major threat to world peace was the emergence of nuclear weapons, the World Peace Council initiated the Stockholm Peace Pledge, a petition that was circulated globally for the abolition of nuclear weapons. It mobilized international support for the Cuban Revolution and full support for the anti-Apartheid struggle in Africa. Throughout its existence, it has provided leadership and recognition of the dangers that US Imperialism presents to world peace. It is a beacon for peoples everywhere who are struggling for national liberation and sovereignty.

With the virulent McCarthyite anti-Communism of the post-World War II period coinciding with the organizing of the World Peace Council, relations for the US peace movement were very difficult. It was almost impossible to get travel permission from the State Department for outspoken peace leaders of the Left. A delegate to the initial World Peace Council Conference from the US was Reverend Willard Uphaus, president of Religion and Labor, from New Haven. He addressed the meeting in Warsaw, urging the peaceful competition between systems. Upon his return, the trade union movement, already subverted to virulent anti-Communism, the national trade union leadership withdrew support from the organization. Forced to find employment Willard Uphaus became the Executive Director of a Peace Camp in New Hampshire. There the state of New Hampshire insisted that he reveal all the names of people who attended his Peace Camp. Willard refused and served a prison sentence.

The US Peace Council maintained its membership in the World Peace Council despite all the difficulties. It finally assumed a leadership role in preparation for the World Congress held in Copenhagen in 1986 for the International Year of Peace. It has remained a Vice President and member of the Secretariat.

GREG: Many believed that with the end of the Cold War global peace was within reach, yet today the US is involved in seven wars, maintains hundreds of military bases, and strong-arms countries with sanctions. The US military budget is bloated and growing even faster than the military requests, nuclear weapons are being modernized, new weapons systems are being developed, the INF treaty is threatened, and the US and NATO surround Russia and PR China with offensive weapons. How do we best understand these developments? Are we headed for another world war?

AL: The New York Times recently in a lead editorial asserted that the US was involved in 14 secret wars. We are aware of the seven but obviously New York Times is privy to other developments.

These are indeed volatile times. The capture of the US government by the billionaires, assisted by the belligerent positions and support of the Democratic Party, has created the preconditions for a potential catastrophe. The US economy is a war economy with 61% in the national treasure devoted to the military budget. The dominance of the military in the government becomes more apparent every day, with ex-military officials in policy-making positions. The arms industry is flourishing, depositing huge profits. Arms have become the major export item, along with capital. In order to keep this profit stream going imperialist policies must follow.

US imperialists are fully aware that they are no longer able to dominate the global agenda. In order to turn that trend around, they have unleashed a global offensive creating the crisis, potential of war.

While the major capitalist world is part of the aggressive NATO Alliance, there are serious disagreements and competition. The role of Russia and China in opposing US aggression plays a very significant role in the opposition. In addition, the global peoples’ movements are an integral part of the movement against imperialist aggression and cannot be ignored.

When we talk about another world war, the frightening aspect is the presence of nuclear weapons. The trillion-dollar Obama budget for modernizing nuclear weapons and the threat and withdrawal of the INF Treaty by Trump threatens any semblance of arms control and escalates the tensions. The global peace movement must accelerate its opposition to nuclear weapons and energize the recent drive for a United Nations Ban on Nuclear Weapons. This cannot be separated from the campaign for peace.

While we recognize all the factors that can explode into a world war, we cannot, we must not allow this to produce a sense of inevitability. Just as we are witnessing an upsurge by the US peace movement against the US plotted coup in Venezuela, so must we intensify our efforts to mobilize the powerful grassroots movement for peace that has characterized peoples’ struggles for peace in the past. The basic ingredient must be unity of all peace forces.

GREG: You are the president of the US Peace Council, the US chapter of the WPC. In July of 2016, the USPC organized a first-of-its-kind fact-finding delegation to Syria. This was a bold move in the face of almost total official and media support for the anti-government forces and their international sponsors. The report-back broke the consensus and spurred rethinking among many on the left who gave tacit or even active support to the enemies of the Syrian people. Why was the broader peace movement largely absent on the issue of Syrian self-determination? What lessons should we draw from this initiative?

AL: In the broader peace movement there were serious divisions, not only Syria but on Russia, Ukraine, Yugoslavia and North Korea. In every instance, sections of the peace movement bought into the CIA/ State Department ploy of demonizing the leadership of these countries, thus justifying the intervention of US imperialism. They forgot that each intervention of the past was justified by this rationale. It inhibited a discussion that US imperialism was violating the sovereignty of Syria and the right of peoples to determine their own destiny. This led to almost complete silence on the part of the broader peace movement.

The US Peace Council decided that it would organize a delegation that would build on global solidarity and hopefully open the avenues of discussion in the US peace movement. We realized there would be criticisms. At the same time, we knew that a report-back from this delegation would provide the opportunity to engage the peace movement in a discussion. It did. Members of the delegation were invited to address a number of local peace groups. While we cannot say we won over everybody, nevertheless, the delegation opened the door to deepen the conversation on Syria and emphasized the obligation to oppose US imperialism’s drive to extend its domination in the Middle East.

This action proves the need for dramatic expression.

GREG: The US and World Peace Councils were major organizers of the recent Dublin conference against US/NATO bases. Tell us about the event and its resolutions. I understand that one important result is the planning of a national demonstration in Washington on March 30. Would you tell us about this action as well?

AL: The leadership of the US Peace Council recognized that the broader peace movement in the US was comparatively silent in the face of aggressive foreign policies initiated by the new Trump administration and endorsed by the Democratic Party. We also recognized the divisions within the peace movement. We felt it was our historic responsibility to bring the peace movement together in the face of this juggernaut for global domination. To overcome the differences, we proposed a Unity Statement that would recognize that the main dangers to world peace were the policies of US/NATO.

We also recognized that an issue that would unite all the peace movements was foreign bases, the widespread distribution of US military forces in 186 nations, the symbol of US imperialist domination. We proposed a national conference in Baltimore, Maryland in January 2018 to form a US Coalition Against Foreign US/NATO Bases. The Conference was very successful, very well attended and united. Out of the Conference came the Resolution to organize a global conference to set up a global coalition. It also resolved to organize some April spring actions for peace in New York. Efforts ensued to bring together a global coalition in November. With the co-sponsorship of the Ireland Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA), a conference was organized in Dublin, Ireland that brought together over 400 delegates from global peace organizations. This successful conference called for the creation of a global coalition and actions.

NATO declared that it was going to commemorate its 70th anniversary in Washington, DC on April 4, 2019. This announcement desecrates the observance of the assassination of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. It also was the date of the previous year when Dr. King made his famous speech at Riverside Church in New York condemning the Vietnam War and decrying the militarism of US policies.

While there will be several activities that week, the Coalition is organizing a Demonstration and March on Saturday, March 30 in Washington, DC. It is imperative that the peace and justice community organize a large expression. It will provide an opportunity to demonstrate the opposition to the drive to war. Carrying banners and posters expressing the demands for peace and justice, the marchers will be making a major contribution to mobilizing the American people for peace.

The WPC will organize a conference on NATO on Sunday, March 31, 2019, continuing its practice of mobilizing in opposition to NATO.

GREG: What role do you see for the USPC in 2019? What is its unique role in the peace movement?

AL: The USPC has maintained its unwavering position of anti-imperialism since its founding. Its unity with the struggles of working people everywhere is integral to its work. Its history of solidarity with peoples and movements throughout the world struggling for liberation and sovereignty permeates its relations with the global people’s movement.

We consider it a profound historical responsibility to help unite the various peace and justice movements in our country. This is an imperative if we are to halt the drive to war.

We invite all those who wish to contribute to this noble struggle to join the USPC, to form Chapters wherever they are. Together we can make a meaningful contribution to unity.

GREG: Thank you for the interview, Al. You are a wonderful example for the thousands of youth who are stirring and looking for political direction. Any closing thoughts and further information about how to participate in USPC activities?

AL: My closing thoughts for young people is if you want a full, rewarding and meaningful life, I heartily recommend joining with us. Knowing that you are devoted to creating a more just, equal and peaceful world is of great satisfaction. It brings you together with others who share your vision. It also extends your hand to peoples throughout the world who are involved in the same struggle. The USPC is a member of the World Peace Council (WPC) bringing us together with peace organizations throughout the globe.

I urge you to come aboard and share your ideas and dreams.

Contact information: https://uspeacecouncil.org




US Peace Council

PO Box 3105

New Haven, CT 06515




Phone: 203-387-0370

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Solidarity with the People of Venezuela!

This coming September will mark 45 years since the US helped engineer a bloody coup against the Chilean government, a government seeking to break the chains of imperial dominance and capitalist enslavement. Today the US government is at it again, engaging its enormous power to destroy a liberating project of the Venezuelan people. In the interim, US dirty hands have been present in thwarting the self-determination of peoples throughout the world, in some cases multiple times. Afghanistan, El Salvador, Nicaragua, tiny Grenada, Panama-- the list of the violated goes on and on-- extending to more recently, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Honduras, and, at the moment, Venezuela.

It doesn’t matter whether the US is ruled by Republicans or Democrats. When the first whiff of national independence is detected by the global watch dogs, the alarm sounds and the political “leaders” fall in line.

Surely only the willfully blind fail to see a pattern. You don’t have to be a Marxist to grasp that the US is systematically and unilaterally reining in countries deemed by its corporate interests to be renegades. Nor do you have to study Lenin to see that this is the behavior that history associates with empires. Thus, the word “imperialism” should come easily to even those who have little or no knowledge of the scientific precision of the term.

And it is US imperialism that now holds Venezuela in a death grip.

Unlike with Chile, the facts are readily before us. In the midst of the Cold War, the US went to great lengths to disguise its intervention behind the cloak of the covert services. In the intense competition with the socialist countries, the US fought hard to appear on the world stage as a champion of democracy. US aggression hid behind the doctrine of “plausible deniability.”

But today, in the attempted subversion of Venezuelan self-determination, there are no masks, no cloaks, no double talk. The plan is out in the open. We can find public records of the millions of dollars allocated for phony human rights groups, for subversive NGOs, for opposition parties, and even for purveyors of violence. We can trace the escalation of sanctions through three administrations, sanctions designed to disrupt, cripple, and dismantle Venezuela’s economy and finances. Ironically, the Venezuelan people's US CITGO operation once offered free home heating oil to the US needy. Today, the US government is attempting to steal CITGO from the Venezuelan people.

Oppositional electoral tactics, assassination attempts, and street violence failed to provoke the Venezuelan people into rejecting the Bolivarian process. The failures, the corruption, the leadership strife, and the foreign dependency of the opposition instead led directly to the sweeping electoral victory by President Maduro in the 2018 election.

In response to the divided and demoralized opposition, the US government rallied Maduro’s enemies behind a naked plan-- a plan both desperate and extremely audacious-- to depose the legitimate government with a virtual unknown, notable for his penchant for extremism and his malleability before his US masters. Urged on by notorious gusanos-- Republican Senator Marco Rubio and Democratic Senator Robert Menendez-- US operatives met with the opposition in late December/early January, according to The Wall Street Journal, and began to concretely develop the plans for a coup based upon a parallel government. An administration official reported to the WSJ that “The opposition at this point believed, and told US officials, that they needed the international community’s backing to affect the political dynamic inside Venezuela.”

The plan went forward and weeks later Vice President Pence called the dutiful puppet and told him to proceed. The next day, the young graduate of George Washington University, Juan Guaidó, stood with a gaggle of his supporters and announced that he was, in fact, the President of Venezuela. This must have come as a shock to most Venezuelans who did not recall his name on the previous May’s Presidential ballot. Yet like abject toadies, government ministers in Latin America, Canada, and the EU immediately made anti-Maduro noises, called for new elections, or even threatened to recognize the unelected President. That is the reality of Jack-in-the-Box imperialism.

The US media, willing collaborators with the coup plotters, have for years deemed Maduro a dictator, a tyrant, a murderer, and worse. They eagerly returned to those themes with horror stories and accounts of deprivation and economic duress without a mention of the draconian sanctions that bleed the Venezuelan economy. After the call for January 30 demonstrations, NPR, a particularly vicious journalistic beast (“Stop the Maduro Genocide”), reported “Protesters filled streets across Venezuela on Wednesday in a show of strength for Juan Guaidó….” Accompanying the article is a picture of a handful of demonstrators, reminiscent of the infamous toppling of the Saddam statue in Baghdad.

The Wall Street Journal similarly recorded the Wednesday demonstrations (see below) with the apologetic caption: “Venezuelans opposed to Nicolas Maduro protested in Caracas on Wednesday. Larger antigovernment protests are expected Saturday.”


Quite a “show of strength”!

Similarly, Sunday morning’s CBS News website coverage of the opposition’s Saturday demonstration carried an impressive picture of a massive march. But curiously, the marchers constituted a sea of red, the colors worn by the Chavistas. By Sunday evening, the picture was gone.

The videos of the well-to-do marchers and the pot-bangers will bring back to many of us memories of the strident, orchestrated Chilean momias who served imperialism well with overwrought drama prior to the 1973 coup.

Showing their customary spinelessness, Democrats ignored, equivocated, or hailed the coup attempt. Illinois Senator Durbin was absolutely ecstatic. The so-called progressive wing was little better. Only Tulsi Gabbard courageously and emphatically spoke against the coup, despite the fact that her Presidential campaign has come in for brutal, unprincipled attack by the media. For a sampling of shameful vulgarity by most politicians, watch Max Blumenthal’s interviews of legislators commenting on the coup attempt.

This is the moment that requires unwavering, unqualified solidarity with the Venezuelan people and their elected government. If human rights mean anything, they must be universal; they must extend to everyone regardless of whether we share their beliefs or their politics. And at the top of the rights hierarchy, as its exponents agree, is the right of self-determination, the right to find your own way, even to make your own mistakes. If all of the loud, insistent Western human rights movements are to be more than cover for Western imperialism, if they are to be more than a bludgeon to thrash societies struggling to overcome the legacies of backwardness, disunity, and instability imposed by colonial and imperial domination, then they must stand against US intervention in Venezuelan affairs. They must demand that the US remove all sanctions, cease funding factions, and recognize the Maduro government.

Isn’t it odd that a liberal intelligentsia that can understand and vigorously condemn juvenile bullying cannot grasp that the most powerful country in the world by far is bullying a small country of 32 million mainly poor people?

It is not acceptable for self-described “progressive” Democrats to give a pass to US intervention by damning the Maduro government (or any other government out of favor with the US ruling class). Opining on Venezuelan politics by those who can’t name three Venezuelan cities may make for an entertaining parlor game, but it has no bearing on the question of US intervention. US intervention is immoral, illegal, and ill-advised, whether in Venezuela, Syria, or anywhere else.

Nor is it helpful for “leftists” to use this moment to lecture their friends and foes on the true revolutionary path while giving short shrift to solidarity.

One such pundit recently conceded that: “Leftist opinion on the crisis in Venezuela tends correctly to blame American meddling and the local bourgeoisie for trying to make the people ‘cry uncle’ as Reagan infamously described his intervention in Nicaragua.” But then he went on to devote thousands of words to his own pet theory of revolutionary change. His grudging statement of solidarity was lost in his windy exercise in self-indulgence.

Our left should do better.

It’s quite simple: Hands off Venezuela.

Greg Godels


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Tilting at Windmills?



Two months have passed since the 2018 midterm elections, yet Democrats are already jumping into the 2020 Presidential race with many more candidates on the way. Typically, candidates are reluctant to go against an incumbent, but the Democrats smell blood in the water with the Trump Presidency.

This is another “new face” moment when Party leaders sense that Democratic Party voters are angry at nearly all of the US institutions and disgusted with past choices.

Earlier moments of flagging voter confidence necessitated fresh faces to bolster class rule. For example, in the wake of the Nixon fiasco, the Democrats found a relatively unknown “aw shucks” peanut farmer/governor from the South. Jimmy Carter, a “Mr. Clean Jeans” with an unblemished record as an administrator, served in sharp contrast to the Nixon sleaze machine. By 1978, he had betrayed the last iteration of a progressive, New Deal-like Democratic platform and roused the somnolent then “lion of the Senate”-- Ted Kennedy-- to run against him in the next primary.

Bill Clinton, another governor, but this time with youth and charm, rode the health care issue to victory. It is easy to forget that universal, low-cost healthcare was the number-one issue nearly thirty years ago and still remains unsolved. And every Democratic candidate will run in 2020 again on healthcare reform, though the Democratic Party leadership is working overtime to stealthily dilute any popular “Medicare for All” program in order to make it corporate friendly.

The twin catastrophe of costly wars and a collapsing economy associated with the Bush administration drove public confidence in US institutions to a new low. Once again, ruling class legitimacy required confidence builders. Seizing the opportunity, the Democrats offered both a reliable, established policy hand-- Hillary Clinton-- and a new fresh, untainted face-- Barack Obama. Both came with a bonus appeal to urban social liberals and identitarians: first woman President or first African American President.

Obama proved better suited to ruling class purposes, raising and spending over twice as much money as McCain in the general election.

Like Carter, Obama was all promise and little change. Despite two years of rare command of both the legislative and the executive branches, Obama only delivered on a Rube Goldberg health care bill written by the insurance industry. Of course, its failings are the reason that the healthcare crisis remains at the top of national issues.

Frustration with “hope and change” opened the back door to the vile Donald Trump and his military/con men coterie. Trump became a gift to the Democratic Party and the deeply discredited media (polls show that most people thought that the media was a monger for “fake news” well before Trump coined the term). With Trump’s bombast and crudity, Democrats and cable news windbags can trash Trump without wrestling with deeper issues. Moreover, they could invent a few issues of their own and further their saber-rattling, militaristic agenda. If your corporate masters won’t allow you to tackle inequality, systemic racism, and deteriorating living conditions, then resort to fear and distraction.

Presented with the prospect of a campaign against a bumbling, egomaniacal Donald Trump burdened with falling approval ratings, a herd of Democratic Party politicians and officials are scraping together cash and scrambling for operatives and supporters. Some are really only jockeying for a Vice-Presidential anointment. Still others, for future consideration or a step up in job title. An announcement and a tour of the hinterlands serves as a beauty contest for some future considerations. But there are still many with sufficient self-regard that they plan to run for a shot at Trump.

**********

What’s new in this election-- or appears to be new-- is a sizable, pesky left wing in the Democratic Party. To be sure, the Party’s left today is a tepid left by historic or international standards. But economic duress often generates a left turn. It is established that younger people’s fate was the most damaged product of a decade of halting growth, greater inequality, and fewer opportunities for better jobs in the wake of the 2007-2008 collapse. So it is no surprise that “socialism”-- ill-defined socialism-- is more popular with youth than it has been in many generations.

Bernie Sanders brought the idea of socialism into a Democratic Party that had even cast off the term “liberal,” embracing “progressive” in its place. Cold War Democrats rivaled Republicans in denouncing socialism.

Of course Bernie embraced Scandinavian-style social democracy, but his use of the forbidden word was welcome indeed.

It is worth remembering that the Sanders primary campaign in 2016 garnered 46% of the delegates at the Democratic Convention despite the widespread sabotage of his campaign by the Party leadership and the powerful effect of conservative superdelegates. Sanders polled well against all of the Republican candidates and in states later critical to Trump’s victory. Nothing demonstrates better the dissatisfied mood of the country two years ago.

But since 2016, the Democratic Party establishment has shown no interest in embracing, even tolerating Sanders-style leftism. They have marshalled a host of arguments-- pragmatic, technical, seldom ideological arguments-- about electability, diversity, demographics, experience, etc. They muster a slew of “realities”-- budgetary limits, need to compromise, unintended consequences, etc.-- that hinder change. They aim to paternalistically keep the Party’s left within the tent without even remotely advancing a left agenda.

To a great extent, Sanders has made their work easier. Aside from some minor Convention reforms, he has neither asked nor demanded any substantial programmatic changes in the Party. He has loyally supported the Party, its strategy, and its candidates since the last Presidential election. Unlike insurgent counterparts in the Republican Party, Sanders makes no non-negotiable demands; he refuses to elevate principles above accommodation to the Democratic Party center. Whether Sanders consciously serves the Party (“sheep-dogging”) or naively believes that he can maneuver among shameless corporate Democrats is irrelevant. He has crippled his effectiveness.

The current face of the left ‘insurgency’ within the Democratic Party is the youthful, attractive and very able Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. What is not surprising is how the Democratic Party establishment and its media henchmen have lined up against her. What is surprising is how deft she has been in meeting their often ridiculous attacks. Tainted Democrats from millionaire Whoopi Goldberg to Neanderthal Joe Lieberman have dismissively scorned her.

Where she wants to go, where she will be allowed to go with her streak of relative independence is yet to be determined. But surely, her challenging of the Democratic Party leadership is an exciting development.

Ocasio-Cortez’s introduction of a 70% marginal tax rate for mega-salaries was a surprise, a welcome and politically shrewd surprise. For the Democrats who speak “progressive” when they are out of power, this idea presents an embarrassing problem. Pelosi and her cohorts have indignantly attacked Trump over his tax breaks for the rich and corporations, but they will never embrace a real, concrete, and popular tax policy as a centerpiece in the coming election.

Ocasio-Cortez has also drawn attention to the notion of a “Green New Deal.” Despite the fact that the term remains more of a slogan than a policy-- how much Green? how much New Deal?-- Democratic Party policy wonks and the new House leadership are blocking anything even remotely related to crafting such a policy.

For those who were snookered by the contrived faux-progressivism of the “community-organizer” legend, Barack Obama, Ocasio-Cortez presents a more credible role model.

**********

Of the early Presidential prospects, the hollow corporate Democrats would likely be most happy with Beto O’Rourke, the upstart who raised a record $83 million dollars to run a Senatorial campaign that advanced virtually no serious issues. With a name that is instantly a campaign slogan and with overflowing congeniality, O’Rourke defines the “moderate” candidate sought by empty suits.

In the Obama mold of attractive, youthful and flamboyantly moderate candidates are Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar. All are ambitious, anxious to please, and ill-disposed to advance a peoples’ agenda.

Similarly, the avuncular crowd-- Joe Biden and sleepy Bob Casey-- are dependable centrists and accommodators, but not likely to answer to the “new face” moment.

Representing the Party’s left, Sanders remains the most viable candidate, though the media has already begun to dig up dirt to undermine his chances. Should he falter, Elizabeth Warren offers a Sanders-lite candidate with a credible record of assailing the bankers around the financial crisis, but little policy-wise beyond repeating that she is an advocate for the “middle class.”  

The most intriguing candidate is Tulsi Gabbard, the only Democrat to dare to challenge the Democratic Party foreign policy consensus. Gabbard has courageously and vocally defied the apologists for US wars and US interventions throughout the world. Nearly alone, she has stood against the war mongers who stoke confrontations and aggression, and she has even defended Syria’s right to peacefully determine its own future. Measured against almost any Democrat, her congressional record and her public positions today are decidedly the most radically advanced.

Yet the attacks on her candidacy began almost immediately after she announced plans to run. Rather than weigh her legislative record, her projected issues, critics dredged statements made in her youth and misstatements since renounced. They accuse her of being “left hard-realist” in outlook, “homophobic,” “virulent anti-gay activist” (CNN, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Daily Kos etc., etc.), loved by the “Conservative Media and the Far Right” (The Daily Beast) and on and on. ad nauseum. Many liberals and the moderate left-- especially the speech moralizers-- shook their fingers in Gabbard’s direction over past indiscretions. Significantly, one of Gabbard’s openly gay House colleagues, Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, came to her defense. Her voting record with the organization that claims to represent the greatest number of sexually diverse members is 100%.

But it can’t go unnoticed that the same standards are not applied to other candidates. No one has challenged Elizabeth Warren for being a Republican until an epiphany in1995. No one is probing the past views of the many “liberal” Bible-thumping Christians who populate the House and Senate and run for office. If they attend churches that oppose abortion or same-sex marriage, does that not disqualify them? Or do we judge them on their own current public posture, as we should?

And recall the sickening obituaries by these same news sites a month ago of ex-CIA chief, Reaganaut George HW Bush, eulogies that found nothing to fault in his loathsome history. All was forgiven.

No, the real grounds for the attack on Gabbard lie elsewhere. Gabbard dared to question the official narrative that Assad is a butcher and the US should push to overthrow him. She also criticized Israeli apartheid, another foreign policy disqualifier with the media, the pundits, and the Democratic Party leadership.

It should not be lost on the Democratic Party left that no other candidate will speak as boldly on these issues, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. And it should not be lost on the left, in general, that no prominent Democratic leader has stepped up to defend Gabbard’s foreign policy positions, her right to legitimately hold them, or her right to run for President on these issues.

**********

Denied a sense of history by 24-hour cable news noise and suffering social media addiction, it should come as no surprise that most voters demonstrate no grasp of the history of reformism, of insurgencies in the Democratic Party. As some left pundits like to remind us: “The Democratic Party is where good ideas go to die!”

There is much truth in this epigram. With the exception of extraordinary moments like the Great Depression and the 1960s mass insurgencies, the Democratic Party as an institution has shown overwhelming resistance to any movement to change its character from fealty to the capitalist agenda. Its existence as an opposition force is based solely on cultivating an image moderately distant from the other more shamelessly pro-corporate, unabashedly capitalist party. For the most part, the Republican Party has established the capitalist, ruling class line and the Democrats have occupied a position minimally to the left of that line, an option available when the preferred line falters. That would appear to be the logic of a two-party system when both parties are capitalist.

The details of history support this thesis. Within a few years of the close of the Second World War, the Democrats were in retreat from Roosevelt’s New Deal vision, especially its foreign policy. The turbulent sixties were dampened by assassinations that effectively disrupted electoral politics and frightened potential insurgents who likely suspected that the spate of assassinations was more than a coincidence.

When Senator George McGovern secured the Democratic Party nomination in 1972 and promised to further democratize the process, extend the Great Society, and revise US foreign policy, the media, the Democratic Party establishment, a conservative labor leadership, and Cold Warriors subverted, sabotaged his campaign and emboldened the re-elected Nixon administration.

When that same Nixon administration was disgraced and the Republican Party damaged, the Democrats enjoyed a rare freedom of action with a veto-proof House and Senate domination in 1976. The platform promised a reduction in military spending, full employment, a low-income housing policy, comprehensive national health insurance with universal coverage, acceptance of busing for racial integration, rejection of nuclear energy, and a host of other progressive reforms. This was to be the last New Deal-like Democratic platform. It was betrayed within two years.

By the mid-1980s, the Democratic Party was reborn as Reaganism-lite. As The New York Times noted, virtually all of the reforms of the 1976 and 1980 platforms were discarded. In their place was a new focus: “The [1984] platform contrasts in a number of key areas with the 1976 platform on which Jimmy Carter and Mr. Mondale were elected, and the differences say a good deal about the path the party has chosen this year. Abortion and Homosexual Rights.”

In place of welfare-related programs, the Democrats offered “Cost containment.”

“The 1984 platform mentions marijuana for the first time in its section on crime and drug control,” signaling the Democrats’ developing fixation on criminalizing drug use. “What may be the only overt mention of liberalism in the 1984 platform,” The New York Times notes, “maintains that the answer to crime is 'neither a permissive liberalism nor a static conservatism.’”

Similarly, the Democrats’ fascination with global, unfettered markets emerged at this time: In the view of The New York Times, “The party is more concerned about world trade now than it was in 1976, with attention rising from two paragraphs to nearly 2,000 words. Very little of the campaign protectionist language survived into the final draft, however, which observes that ‘the international economy is the area in which we must compete.’”

As the grand liberal chronicler, The New York Times, underscores above, the 1984 Democratic Party platform marked a watershed in the abandonment of New Deal thinking in the party, a change that entrenched even further in the ensuing years. By the election of Bill Clinton, the process was completed, allowing the Democrats to successfully attack and dismantle the New Deal welfare system. An attempt by Clinton and Newt Gingrich to privatize social security was only derailed with the distraction of Monica Lewinsky.

Of course, there were insurgencies along the way-- some shallow, some Quixotic. The Kennedyesque Gary Hart campaign was hollow and symbolic; Jesse Jackson successfully broke through the racial barriers constraining a Black national candidate by projecting a remarkably radical economic and peace program in the primaries, only to be buried by corporate fundraising funneled to the Democratic establishment; the Deaniac campaign of Howard Dean was innovative and boldly challenging of the war consensus, but was sunk by a corporate media exercising its powers to submerge Dean under waves of derision.

History suggests that the Democratic Party is a corporate monolith only moved to change in order to meet profound crisis coupled with extreme mass pressure. Even then, it remains a capitalist party, a party that puts the interests of capital before all else. And when it is forced to make concessions, its corporate masters move as quickly as possible to reverse them.

History shows that these moments of concession are extremely rare. Nonetheless, new generations of well-meaning activists are intent upon foregoing the more radical-- actually the more promising, but more tasking-- alternatives of independent, revolutionary politics. As insurgents have in the past, they will attempt to reform the nonreformable.

One can only hope that when the new generation, excited again by the idea of socialism, recognizes the futility of transforming the Democratic Party, they will not fall into cynicism and settle for polishing the capitalist apple. One can only hope that they will find a home where they are more welcome.

Greg Godels