Search This Blog

Friday, July 3, 2020

Marxism Without Socialism, Socialism Without Marxism

With an unparalleled, multi-faceted crisis only beginning in the US, one would expect that our deeper thinkers would rise to the occasion and offer bold, creative answers. With a popular revulsion against racism; a raging, death-wielding virus; a two-party electoral catastrophe; and only the first wave of a likely unprecedented economic disaster, one would hope that radical solutions would come forward to meet equally radical challenges. 

Instead, many of the US Left’s most influential thinkers are offering weak tea-- a tepid, shopworn, unimaginative crazy quilt of answers. Since the stultifying anti-Communist purges of the 1950s in the US, labor, peace, racial and women’s equality, and economic justice movements have been shackled to anarchist, liberal and social democratic ideas. As a result, anti-Communist Western “Marxism” only enters the conversation shorn of a commitment to socialism. And socialism is only discussed apart from the basic ideas of Marx and Lenin. 

Perhaps the most popular “Marxist” in the US is Professor Richard D. Wolff. Throughout his career, he has done much to popularize Marx and Marxism. He is the go-to individual whenever the media needs a facile and well-spoken “Marxist.” Unfortunately, popularity and facility are not always a guarantee of clarity or audacity of vision. 

Professor Wolff correctly sees this moment, this bizarre combination of biological, economic, social, and political catastrophe, as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for change. In a recent article (How Workers Can Win the Class War Waged Against Them, Counterpunch, 6-19-2020), Wolff gives a brief, but competent recounting of the key events leading to this moment and the importance of the working class in advancing beyond it.

He answers the crisis with three points: “What then is to be done? First, we need to recognize the class war that is underway and commit to fighting it. On that basis, we must organize a mass base to put real political force behind social democratic policies, parties, and politicians. We need something like the New Deal coalition.” 

A revitalized New Deal coalition? While hardly a new idea, that would require a sea-change in the Democratic Party, a party that demonstrated emphatically in the 2016 and 2020 primary elections that it would thwart social democratic ideas encroaching on its thoroughly corporate capitalist turf. Moreover, the Roosevelt coalition brought together Northern progressives and Southern racists in a last-ditch effort to save capitalism. After capitalism regained strength through the war economy, the corporate, reactionary wings of the coalition slammed the brakes on progressive politics with the Red Inquisition. Wolff knows this. He acknowledges this in his second point:

“Second, we must face a major obstacle. Since 1945, capitalists and their supporters developed arguments and institutions to undo the New Deal and its leftist legacies...  Those positions gave capitalists the financial resources and power—politically, economically, and culturally—repeatedly to outmaneuver and repress labor and the left.” True enough.

“Third, to newly organized versions of a New Deal coalition or of social democracy, we must add a new element...The new element is thus the demand to change enterprises producing goods and services. From hierarchical, capitalist organizations (where owners, boards of directors, etc., occupy the employer position) we need to transition to the altogether different democratic, worker co-op organizations.”

And there you have Wolff’s answer. With a rebuilt New Deal coalition that should magically spring up because the professor wills it, a “demand” for worker cooperatives should be advanced (against whom?) and a transition engineered (how?) to a New Jerusalem. Of course this is a modern iteration of the Fourier, Owen, Cabet utopianism that Marx sarcastically described in the Communist Manifesto

Hence, they reject all political, and especially all revolutionary action; they wish to attain their ends by peaceful ends, and endeavor, by small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure, and by the force of example, to pave the way for a new social gospel...They still dream of experimental realization of their social utopias…--pocket editions of the New Jerusalem-- and to appeal to the feelings and purses of the bourgeois.

Marx understood that, as an anti-capitalist tactic in his time, cooperative experiments ultimately would have to be financed by capitalists in order to compete against giant enterprises. Imagine how they would need to be capitalized to compete against monopoly transnational corporations in our time! Perhaps Goldman Sachs would fund them?

Lenin believed that cooperatives could help the working class struggle, but not replace socialism as the goal. As his party affirmed in 1910: 

[T]he improvements that can be achieved with the help of the consumers’ societies [cooperatives] can only be very inconsiderable as long as the means of production remain in the hands of the class without whose expropriation socialism cannot be attained… consumers’ societies are not organisations for direct struggle against capital and exist alongside similar bodies organised by other classes, which could give rise to the illusion that these organisations are a means by which the social question may be solved without class struggle and the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.

Clearly Lenin (and Marx and Engels) did not see cooperatives as anything but an illusive challenge to capitalism. They saw the cooperative movement as, at best, a helpful companion to the fight for socialism, at worst, a distraction.

In a curious turn, Wolff argues that “[w]e could describe the transition from capitalist to worker co-op enterprise organizations as a revolution. That would resolve the old debate of reform versus revolution.” So by verbal legislation, the cooperatives become revolutionary and not reformist. And the fight for socialism (unmentioned by Wolff) is removed from the historical stage. Wolff serves “Marxism” without socialism at a time when there is an unprecedented interest in socialism and an unprecedented need for a replacement for capitalism. 

David Harvey is another celebrity “Marxist.” In truth, he has written several insightful, thought-provoking books in the Western Marxist tradition (an academic tradition bereft of praxis). Like Wolff, he is an able expositor, bringing a nourishing taste of Marx (especially political economy) to hungry readers. But like Wolff, his disconnect from popular movements, his self-imposed distance from 20th century Marxism (Communism), cripples his answers to the pending 21st century catastrophe. 

In a recent video (Global Unrest, December 19, 2019) in his Anti-Capitalist Chronicles series, Harvey makes a startling claim: “Capitalism, right now, is too big to fail.” We must manage it, nourish its accumulation process, while tempering the inequality that it generates. In a bizarre, Malthus-like argument, he asserts that, unlike in Marx’s time, “70 or, maybe 80%” of the world would not survive if capitalism were brought down. His comments are worth quoting at length:

We cannot afford any sustained attack upon capital accumulation. So the kind of fantasy that you might have had-- socialist or communist, and so on, or might of had in 1850, which is that well, ok, we can destroy this capitalist system and we can build something entirely different-- that is an impossibility right now. We have to keep the circulation of capital in motion, we have to keep things moving, because if we don’t do that, we are actually stuck with a situation in which, as I’ve said, almost all of us will starve. 

And this means, in general, that capital is too big to fail… We have to actually spend some time propping it up, trying to reorganize it, and maybe shift it around very slowly and over time to a different configuration. But a revolutionary overthrow of this capitalist economic system is not something that is conceivable at the present time. It will not happen, it cannot happen, and we must make sure that it does not happen…

We must make sure that it does not happen…” In fairness, Professor Harvey may feel differently today, six months later, as capitalism is imploding under its own weight. I had to listen to the video three times before I could grasp that a student of Marx could cast such a dire shadow over the prospect of socialism.

Another paragon of the US left, Noam Chomsky, while professing a personal kind of libertarian-socialism, never embraced Marx. He, along with Edward S. Herman, exposed the deeply undemocratic role of the capitalist media and its commitment to “manufacturing consent,” that is, serving the ruling class by constructing a corporate-friendly shared narrative. In addition, his activism, his self-effacing solidarity has been an example for academic political authenticity, especially his willingness to criticize Israel. But the twists and turns of the late US empire have challenged his critical understanding. 

In late October, Chomsky called for US troops to remain in Syria, a strange deviation from his long-standing opposition to US intervention in the affairs of foreign countries.

More recently, on June 25, Chomsky announced that Donald Trump “is the worst criminal in history, undeniably.” In an interview with Jacobin magazine, he elaborates: “There has never been a figure in political history who was so passionately dedicated to destroying the projects for organized human life on earth in the near future...That is not an exaggeration.”

But, of course, it is an exaggeration. It is one that diminishes the criminality of a Hitler or a Tojo. It trivializes the mindless slaughter and bombing of millions of Vietnamese under Johnson and Nixon, a crime that Chomsky himself opposed vigorously. 

It stains the anti-Trump movement with an in-itself immature, gross magnification of the damage that Trump --this childish, swollen ego, prevaricator-- has perpetrated. It serves no purpose to overplay the real, existing case against Donald Trump. Most importantly, it muddies the important insight that Trump is the product of a long trajectory of rot in US politics. 

Chomsky is adding little clarity to the task facing a left caught off guard by the severity and depth of the 2020 crisis. Instead, he leads people back to the two-party travesty.

It would be mean-spirited to not acknowledge that there are thousands of people motivated by and introduced to left activism by Wolff, Harvey, Chomsky, and a handful of other celebrated left pundits. Undoubtedly, they share a genuine interest in promoting change in the US. But their popular status depends upon their not exceeding the bounds established decades ago by the vile Red-hunters, the thought-police who protect the US people from a robust idea of socialism. There is no need to judge their anti-Communist sincerity. It doesn’t matter whether they believe the Cold War mythology that is foundational to the capitalist world view. The simple fact is that Wolff, Harvey, Chomsky, and others would not enjoy the notoriety they command if they deviated too far from those myths.

Because they are unable to break from these limitations, they are ill-suited to lead in the battle of ideas at this critical time. They cannot imagine a world without capitalism; they cannot envision politics outside of the dreary prospect of two-parties or two-and-a-half parties divided by contrived optics; they find no ideas worth considering in a hundred years of real existing socialism.

At a time when literally millions of young people are searching for a meaningful alternative to capitalism, when they accept that socialism may be the answer to poverty, inequality, and war, it is tragic that those enjoying their trust cannot give life to that vision. 

Success in the coming period will depend on whether the labor movement, the broadly progressive movement, and young activists can remove the blinders forced on them by the ideological ‘iron curtain’ that denies them an understanding of the organizational and programmatic pre-conditions of capturing the capitalist state and replacing it with a peoples’ state. The Cold War fetters must be cast aside to allow the fight for a new world without commodities, market competition, and exploitation. 

For most of the last century and a half, the fertile ideas of Marx, Engels, and Lenin have served as a guiding light for that program. Working people, certainly since the last years of the 19th century, found no better beacon. Nor were they afraid to pronounce socialism as the goal of their struggles.

Isn’t it time to recognize and return to that path?

Greg Godels

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Against the Equality of Inequality

“You don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality…” Nina Simone

Paul Heideman’s recent article posted on MLToday and originally appearing in Jacobin could not be more timely, more useful to an energized anti-racist movement in need of a compass. 

For many of us, the multi-racial marches and demonstrations in cities, towns, and even rural areas, their persistence, and their earnest expression of a commitment to racial justice are phenomena unseen since the heyday of the civil rights movement. 

At the same time, many wonder if they will leave a lasting impact. It is impossible not to recall the insurgencies of the 1960s that completed the democratic revolution started with the US Civil War, but which, nonetheless, left African Americans as a people largely impoverished, de facto segregated, and crippled by the socio-economic scars left them by cruel centuries of chattel and wage slavery, and depravation of opportunity.

As in the 1960s, a similar ritualistic, officious outburst of indignation and righteous pledges of reform from politicians, celebrities, and other of our “betters” are now following the murders of African Americans. Certainly much of this energy is dissipated in sloganeering, gesturing, and targeting the symbols of racial injustice while failing to attack the root causes of racism-- taking a knee and modeling a Kente cloth over demanding changes that affect the material conditions of Black people. It is a victory of form over content. Posturing supersedes the need for a concrete, doable, and winnable set of demands.

And that returns us to the contribution of Paul Heideman. He reminds us of a promising, long tradition of antiracism cut short and effectively buried by the post-war anti-Communist crusade in the US (McCarthyism). He recalls a now-suppressed history when the left, led by the Communist Party, fought racism on many fronts, most significantly in Labor. For much of this history, the Communist Party and the left-led unions were the only significantly integrated organizations in the US. They were the only organizations with significant Black leadership (Communist Oliver Law, a battalion commander killed in the defense of the Spanish Republic during the 1930s, was the first African American officer to lead mainly white US troops in battle).

At the same time, Heideman documents the rise in size and militancy of the Black working class, a development that itself helped propel the left-led fight for job equality, equal access to housing, and against Jim Crow.

It was the successes of the Communist Party-led effort to drive racism from the workplace and forge class unity that no doubt played a role in provoking the post-war crusade against Communism. As that ruthless crusade gained steam in the late 1940s, the Communist-initiated campaign to present the cause of African Americans before the United Nations proved particularly galling to both the Red-baiters and the race-baiters. In December of 1951, Paul Robeson and William Patterson, executive director of the Civil Rights Congress, simultaneously presented the petition, We Charge Genocide, to representatives of the UN in New York and Paris. WEB Dubois, who planned to join Patterson in Paris, saw his passport revoked.

The petition and accompanying campaign became a profound embarrassment to the US and its heavily promoted image as a bastion of democracy. US authorities made the petition’s disavowal a condition of political safe passage for any domestic human rights organization. No doubt the international impact of the petition, especially within the colonial and formerly colonial nations, contributed to the first tentative moves to dismantle segregation, including the 1954 Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court decision.

But the anti-Communist witch hunt devastated the Black freedom struggle. As Heideman notes: 

This wide net of repression had a chilling effect on black activism. Liberal organizations like the NAACP raced to distance themselves from anyone tainted by communism, which in local branches often meant expelling some of the most dedicated activists. Though liberal black intellectuals and activists had been a vital part of the anticolonial push before and during World War II, they now retreated from anything that could be construed as opposing American geopolitical aims.

The legacy of anti-Communist purges harmed both the labor movement and the African American equality movement. On the latter, Heideman makes the profound point:

The nature of racial oppression itself had been redefined at the height of the Cold War. While even many liberals in the 1930s and ‘40s had agreed that racial inequality was intimately bound up with the structure of economic power in American life, the anticommunist crusade had made these sorts of critiques politically radioactive.

The redefinition removed Black people from their place in the working class. Civil rights replaced objective, material gains as the goal of the movement. Procedural justice replaced the redistributive justice championed by the Old Left. Anti-Communism foreclosed any connection between domestic liberation and the liberation of the majority darker peoples of the world. And any suggestion that Black people might benefit from a more just economic system was cause for expulsion from the mainstream of liberalism.

Throughout the Cold War, this restricted mode of struggle forced itself on the Civil Rights movement. In his Riverside Church speech, and even more so in a later Freedomways oration honoring WEB Dubois, Martin Luther King daringly revisited the Old Left internationalism and the class politics of economic equality. His actions immediately before his assassination coincided with his new thinking. The same road that led Dubois to link the struggles of African peoples to the struggles of the most militant sectors of the working class was leading King towards the same destination.

But it was not to be. In Heideman’s words: “Racial equality and class equality had been divorced as political visions. The repression of class radicalism during McCarthyism created a void that has defined American politics since.”

Heindeman astutely concludes:

The ambition of civil-rights unionism is precisely what is needed to give substance to antiracist politics today. For all the lip service paid to intersectionality in contemporary discourse, too many visions of black advance are all too happy to see that advance occur within a society whose fundamental structure remains unchanged. Often, it seems that antiracism is defined simply as the equal distribution of inequality. An earlier generation of civil rights struggle saw things differently. They, and their opponents, understood that black equality required a fundamental transformation of American society.

“[T]he equal distribution of inequality” is an apt description of the liberal vision of procedural justice, the idea that establishing fair rules will somehow make up for playing a “game” without equipment, experience, training, or encouragement. It hasn’t worked well for Black people; it has left African Americans below their white counterparts in every objective measure of well-being. Sure, many have broken through former barriers and some can enjoy a status and life-style on a par with the white petty-bourgeoisie; but most Black people are still living in segregated neighborhoods, living in substandard housing, receiving substandard educations and substandard medical care with, predictably, substandard life outcomes. 

It is time to recognize that capitalism has not and does not offer a different fate. As Heideman argues, it is time to revisit the program of the so-called Old Left and take the fight to the ultimate enemy of racial equality-- capitalism. 

Greg Godels

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Racism, Police Violence, and Capitalism

Donald Trump chastising governors and mayors over their response to the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd was perversely appropriate. While Trump is invoking the “law and order” mantra of racist politicians in his rant, the complicity of local and state authorities in police criminality cannot be denied. Police violence against African Americans is as old and persistent as the history of the first Africans brought to the New World as slaves.

Since nothing has changed in centuries, certainly mayors and governors have blood on their hands. Either they have acquiesced in police murders and lynchings or else they are powerless or too frightened to prevent them-- they only pretend to govern the police.

The lesson is further driven home when the police are not unleashed by governors and mayors upon the gun-toting, venom-spewing, right-wing rabble recently invading state and city seats of government.

How is this failure explained?

Under capitalism, the police, like the military and the security services, are direct agents of the ruling class, unmediated by popular control. All three, in their areas of responsibility, are the “legitimate” purveyors of violence and aim to own a monopoly on violence. As much as governments aspire to maintain and promote an image of consent, the three institutions are the coercive backstop to threats to elite rule. As governors and mayors come and go, they remain as watchdogs to unrest, messengers of the folly of resistance.

Historically, the nationally oppressed African American people have offered the greatest collective resistance to the US ruling class. Their former enslavement, their very limited enjoyment of basic bourgeois democratic norms, and their continued physical and economic segregation has given them every reason to struggle against, often leading in the struggle against, the injustices of the capitalist system. That tradition has placed African Americans in the cross-hairs of wealth and power and their trusted security apparatuses. It is, therefore, no surprise that the police wield their repressive powers so violently against Black people.

Of course that perspective-- the class-based understanding of racism-- never gets a hearing in the monopoly media. Instead, police murders are attributed to “bad apples,” poor training, misleadership, lack of Black police, lack of oversight, and the catch-all of “racism,” as though racism can be explained by simply invoking the charge of “racism.”

Yet all the well-intentioned reforms-- training, civilian review boards, screening, etc.-- have failed to stop police violence against Blacks.

Liberals are fond of studying police violence, especially when the reaction to police misconduct brings masses of people into action. The classic example of liberal response to Black rebellion was the 1968 Kerner Commission. While the Commission’s findings were among the first (and probably last) candid, official exposures of the economic base of Black disadvantage, little or nothing was done to rectify that disadvantage. The promising affirmative action programs offered at the time were effectively killed by 1976, disappearing from the Democratic Party program.

When the US ruling class refuses to address the plight of the disadvantaged majority of Blacks, the police also get the message of official neglect, of contempt. Blacks die from poverty, bad health care, inadequate infrastructure and poor services, pandemics, and, of course, police violence. The message sent by the police is: don’t resist wealth and power.

Sadly, most mainstream commentators opportunistically force the discussion of police violence into the two-party box, to frame it in the context of the forthcoming elections. Trump’s response to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery is as crudely racist as his earlier full page New York Times ads condemning the five Black youths falsely convicted as the Central Park Five. One senses the same fear and hatred of Blacks as that of an unreconstructed, Southern segregationist like Orville Faubus or Strom Thurmond.

Biden, on the other hand, mouths the liberal platitudes that have been typical of Democratic Party politicians since Otto Kerner’s famous report: a robust denouncement, a call for change, and inaction. His supporters are either ignorant of or willfully ignoring his own role in fanning racist violence: attacking busing, supporting the militarization of the police, boosting mass incarceration.

One candidate represents the moonlight-and-magnolia racism of the segregated South and the other the more sophisticated Northern racism of malign “benign neglect.” Both are irrelevant to stemming police violence.

To see the ineffectiveness of corporate Democrats, one need only be reminded of Barack Obama’s response to police violence when a racist cop accosted a Black Ivy League academic on his own porch: have a beer with both of them.

Or, as Cornel West passionately insisted in a CNN interview: "We've tried black faces in high places... Too often our black politicians, professional class, middle class become too accommodated to the capitalist economy, too accommodated to a militarized nation-state, too accommodated to the market-driven culture of celebrities, status, power, fame, all that superficial stuff that means so much to so many fellow citizens."

West went on to describe the inadequate response of the Democratic Party to police violence: "You've got a neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party that is now in the driver's seat... because all they want to do is show more Black faces—show more Black faces. But oftentimes those Black faces are losing legitimacy, too—because the Black Lives Matter movement emerged under a Black president, a Black attorney general, and a Black director of Homeland Security, and they couldn't deliver. So when you talk about the masses of Black people—the precious poor and working-class black people, brown, red, yellow, whatever color—they're the ones left out and they feel so thoroughly powerless, helpless, hopeless—then you get rebellion."

On The Hill.TV’s Rising, Nina Turner, a national co-chair of the Sanders campaign, astutely endorsed West’s comments as “poignant, right on time, as usual, an indictment of both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.”

“Dr. West is making people very uncomfortable, especially the Democrats, and they should be uncomfortable... For me right now, this is not about your political affiliation, this is about right or wrong. Whether you have the commitment, the character, the clarity, the vision and the leadership to sacrifice something and to do the right thing on behalf of Black people in the United States of America.”

Leave it to Susan Rice, Obama confidant and former National Security Advisor, to take the ruling-class spin on the uprisings to laughable, ludicrous levels. In a CNN interview with the readily agreeable Wolf Blitzer, she finds Russia lurking behind the scenes to promote violence in the nationwide protests.

Alarmed by the unfettered power accumulated by the military and its affiliates, President Eisenhower, himself a participant at the highest levels, warned of the attendant dangers:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.

Similarly, the “misplaced power” of the police threatens the lives and well-being of African Americans, the poor, and working people. Like the military and the security agencies, the role of the police cannot be separated from its central function of protecting wealth and privilege. It cannot be detached from the capitalist system.

The insurrections that are rising throughout the US are a remarkable sign of both the breadth and depth of anti-racist sentiment. They are inclusive in the best possible way. And they have frightened the Trumps, Cuomos, DeBlasios and the others charged with maintaining compliance with the system. The capitalist media is doing its best to shatter the hard-won unity against racism and against the police.

Insofar as the police are central to maintaining the legitimacy of capital, the rebellion is a rebellion against capitalism, whether its participants recognize it or not.

We must do everything to safeguard that unity and expose the source of racism and police violence: capitalism.

Greek Communist youth protesting racist US police murder outside the US embassy

Greg Godels

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Renewing Trust in a World on the Brink

Daniel J Edelman and Associates is the world’s largest public relations firm, by revenue. Like all PR firms, Edelman peddles its services to corporations, institutions, and individuals to burnish their commercial or public image. 

Indirectly, a good image will help generate more interest, more business, and, most importantly, more profits.

Edelman understands that the vital link between image and profits is the trust of the public. They are in a business that sells trust to their clients.

One of their marketing tools is the annual Edelman Trust Barometer, an international poll that purports to show potential customers the elements that inspire trust in various institutions (or, conversely, elements that diminish the trustworthiness of institutions). 

Now trust is an elusive, subjective concept, but for institutions embedded in the capitalist system appearances are as good as the real thing. 

Though the annual Trust Barometer is not meant as a political instrument, its findings often carry political import. For example, the 2020 “global trust-index,” a poll conducted worldwide between October 19 and November 18 of 2019, shows trust in key institutions-- NGOs, Business, Government, and Media-- declining in the US, firmly placing the US among the countries in the “distrusting” category. Perhaps surprisingly to the obsessive China-bashers now dominating the leadership of the two parties, the country scoring highest on the trust-index is China (PRC). There, unlike the US, Japan, Germany, Spain, UK, France, Ireland, South Africa, Italy, Australia, and Russia, those surveyed have trust, increasing trust, in their institutions, a fact hard to square with the media-generated picture of undemocratic repression.

On questions of inequality, the Edelman trust index divides the population into two categories: the masses (85%) and the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie (euphemistically and arrogantly, Edelman calls the upper classes the “informed public”). Not surprisingly, global elites are more trusting of their institutions on the matter of income inequality as opposed to the rest of us, by 14 index points. 

Here again, of all countries, the PRC shows the most trust that its institutions address inequality, though there is a large gap between the trust of the most well off and well-educated and the masses.

On the other hand, the masses in the US, its NATO allies, Japan, and Russia distrust their institutions on questions of inequality.

Globally, Edelman finds that elites trust 3 of the 4 key institutions: NGOs, Business, and the Media, but not Government. Certainly, this should be no surprise since the institutions serve the elites, but elites express an anti-government stance to justify tax cuts and privatization. The masses, on the other hand do not trust any of the key institutions surveyed by the PR firm (see below for a radical shift since the coronavirus).

Edelman finds that income inequality affects trust more than economic growth. That is, the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us weighs more heavily upon trust in institutions than in the past or with other factors.

Most developed countries, including the US, are pessimistic about economic prospects; and even more “worry about people like me losing the respect and dignity I once enjoyed in this country.” This result goes some way toward explaining the appeal of “Make America Great Again” and its counterparts outside the US.

Fifty-six percent of respondents agreed that “Capitalism as it exists today does more harm than good in the world.” 

Seventy-seven per cent of respondents expressed a “sense of injustice” and seventy-six per cent had a “desire for change.” Only 18% agree that the system is “working for me.”

Two-thirds of those surveyed agreed with the statement: “I do not have confidence that our current leaders will be able to successfully address our country’s challenges.” Is it any wonder that people are searching for leaders outside of the mainstream?

Trust After Covid?

To its credit, the Edelman firm took another look at trust after the global pandemic struck this winter and spring. The new conclusions were striking.

“[T]he public is relying on government to protect them in a manner not seen since World War II. Trust in government is not only up by double digits in six of 11 markets surveyed, it is the only institution trusted by the mass population (62 percent).”

“[R]espondents want government out front in all areas of the pandemic response: to provide economic relief (86 percent), to get the country back to normal (79 percent), to contain Covid-19 (73 percent), and to inform the public (72 percent).”

“The Spring Update shows that 67 percent of respondents believe that those with less education, less money and fewer resources are bearing a disproportionate burden of the suffering, risk of illness and need to sacrifice in the pandemic…”

“This pandemic has made me realize how big the gap in this country is between the rich and the working class, and something must be done to more fairly distribute our country’s wealth and prosperity.”
64% of respondents agree.

“Only 38 percent believe business is doing well or very well at putting people before profits.”

“Only 39 percent believe business is doing well or very well at protecting their employees' financial wellbeing and safeguarding their jobs.”

When the future of a public relations firm so inextricably tied to the fate of capitalism arrives at these dire conclusions, one can be certain that the conclusions are not twisted or spun to put lipstick on the capitalist pig. Indeed, the fact that one of the top cheerleaders for capital reports that over half of its respondents believe that global capitalism “does more harm than good” means that there is a ready audience for the message of socialism. The spring pandemic and the coincident economic collapse have only amplified the dissatisfaction with capitalism and the potential for a socialist resurgence.

We are in the first act of a global revolution; the objective conditions for radical change-- mass dissatisfaction, exploding inequality and immiseration, desperation-- are present and only intensifying. As in the early stages of other revolutionary moments, the subjective conditions are backward and undeveloped. Cynicism, nostalgia, reformist illusions, and utopianism have yet to give way to a united sentiment for radical change. Neither a scientific, nor historically grounded vision of socialism has taken deep root in the masses. There is every reason to believe that it will.

But the opportunity is not guaranteed. If it is not seized by a coherent, revitalized, and mature socialist movement, others will seize it, with unhappy outcomes. That is one of the many tragic lessons of the last century.

Greg Godels

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Better World is Possible

Capitalism is an amazingly resilient system. This is not meant as praise, but as an observation that Marxists have made again and again since Marx and Engels first foresaw capitalism’s demise. 

Its resilience lies not in its delivering the public goods, but in its ability to convince a critical mass of people that it does deliver and, when faced with an existential crisis, to stop at nothing to save the reign of capital. 

Of course earlier socio-economic systems had long runs as well. But it is a fool’s errand and decidedly un-Marxist to call the date of the “final” crisis. Unfortunately, far too many have foolishly made that call-- I have the books on my bookshelves to prove it.

What Marxists can do is check the pulse of the capitalist system, take an x-ray, and make a cautious diagnosis. I think everyone-- Marxist and non-Marxist alike-- would agree that today the system is ill, indeed, critically ill. Global capitalism is breathing heavily, and struggling to get out of bed. Maybe it’s because of the coronavirus, maybe it’s also from some serious pre-existing conditions.

Metaphor aside for a moment, capitalism is, at this time, declining rapidly. The usual numbers-- unemployment, GDP, investment, manufacturing activity, trade, etc.-- are all trending in ways unseen at least since the Great Depression. 

What is the prognosis?

The pollyannas of the capitalist class-- most capitalists, economists, politicians-- speak of a quick recovery. They see the crisis as beginning and ending with the rise and fall of Covid-19 infections. Once the coronavirus is conquered, they say, the global economy will pick itself up and, in time, continue briskly marching forward. This should, and does, sound like whistling past the graveyard. 

Liberals and social democrats-- the social-work left-- understand that great human damage is occurring; their sympathy for the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the crisis’s victims is genuine and heartfelt; and they sense an opportunity to reform. However, for them, reform must accomplish two-- I would argue, contradictory-- tasks simultaneously: restore and repair the capitalist system and repair and restore the carnage inflicted upon people by this crisis. 

Sure, the respectable left rails against capitalism-- crony capitalism, disaster capitalism, pandemic capitalism, gender capitalism, Trump capitalism, “cancerous form of capitalism” (Michael Moore) or neo-liberal capitalism. But they don’t really mean capitalism itself. Rather, they reject what they consider aberrant capitalism, bad capitalism, capitalism off its otherwise benign rails. Instead, they desire a good capitalism: “human-centered capitalism” (Brookings), “accountable capitalism” (Elizabeth Warren), “capitalism for everyone” (Center for American Progress), “post-capitalism” (the science-fiction capitalism imagined by many academic leftists), or a host of other capitalisms tailored to the supposed greater good. 

The unstated truth is that the soft left, the reformist left does not connect the social ills of growing inequality, wealth concentration, increasing poverty, declining life expectancy, and social dysfunction directly to the intrinsic mechanism of capitalism. They believe that, with some tinkering, they can make the insatiable drive for profit, for accumulation, take a backseat to human needs.

It is an odd view; for centuries, through capitalism’s birth, growth, and maturation, this reformist program has not come close to any lasting success.

In the twenty-first century, with three devastating, life-crushing economic crises in twenty years, that prospect appears even dimmer.

Many in the US are entirely focused on the forthcoming Presidential election campaign. Do they think that the two-party electoral system-- finely honed over many decades to repel even moderate reformism-- will produce solutions equal to the tasks of this era? For young people, it is hopefully a learning experience; for older people, confidence in a favorable outcome is a disappointing measure of their cynicism, not their maturity. Could anyone believe that either Donald Trump or Joseph Biden (now joined with the execrable Laurence Summers) is able to tackle, for the good of the people, an economy now in free fall?

In the past, the reformist left relied upon the labor union hierarchies, the center-left political parties, and issue-oriented activist networks. But today, these groups are more and more compromised. The center-left parties are thoroughly “bourgeoisified”; corporate ownership-- once a dirty, little secret-- is now apparent to all. 

The labor union leadership has exchanged class confrontation for partnership with capital; in some embarrassing cases, they have mounted a stiffer defense of capitalism than the corporations, notably when attacking “foreign” competitors.

And far too many issue-groups have drunk from the poisoned chalice of foundation money. Understandably, there are desperate needs for funding, especially for a resource-starved left, but foundation money is a stealth assault on independent action.

The way forward lies in unleashing the potential of working people, freeing them from the institutional fetters imposed by bankrupt political parties, an ossified labor leadership, and ineffective NGOs.

While it is a daunting task, organizing the millions of unemployed workers promises to break from the inadequate tactics of the recent past. It was the Communist-led unemployment councils that sparked the peoples’ movement in The Great Depression. The marches on state capitals and Washington DC, the confrontation with assistance agencies and evicting officials, and relentless agitation pressed the authorities to reluctantly consider remedies to widespread human misery. Contrary to the “great man” mythology ascribed to Franklin Roosevelt, it was the militant action of the unemployed and other workers that constructed the popular base for New Deal reforms. Without that base demanding more, Roosevelt would have retreated. This time, even greater victories are possible.

Encouraging signs are rising that workers are seeking a new militancy to combat the ravages of capitalism. There is a thirst-- expressed especially among younger workers-- for new ways to organize and direct the anger emerging from the failures of the system to protect and support workers faced with a deadly virus. The callousness of many capitalist leaders toward the safety of health care workers, the rush to return enterprises to profit making despite endangering workers, and the failures to promptly and efficiently provide the resources necessary to combat and treat the virus have exposed the inhumanity of capitalism. Amazon workers, gig workers, the precariat, and other unorganized workers, now more than ever, see the need for collective action. Danger and idleness are great teachers.

Those with the lowest paying jobs, women, Blacks, and Latinos have been hit the hardest by the layoffs and are the most neglected by the politicians and those pretending to represent labor. Like in the era of the Great Depression, a resurgent, militant, and independent labor movement must appeal to those left out. Whether the movement follows the pattern established by the 1930s industrial movement, the CIO, or takes another form, it must not be shackled with moderation and class pacification. The objective need is there, the conditions are ripe; all that is needed is the will. 

As in the thirties, there is mass confusion, unfocused anger, nihilism. The divisions grow in number and grow deeper. The danger of the right coopting righteous indignation increases. Already, Trump and his international counterparts have exploited the frustration of the masses and the impotency of the center-left. 

The antidote to the appeal of the right is not hand-wringing or fear-mongering, but countering with alternatives. Communists in the thirties countered Father Coughlin, the Black Legions, and the many crackpots and demagogues with the power of organization and the inspiration of militant ideas. 

In the thirties, where a catalyst seized the initiative-- even a small catalyst like the US Communist Party-- working people were able to unite and force change on an obstinate ruling class. They were able to find their strength and a vision of a better world. Once recognized, the potential of working people knows no bounds. We must work to foster that recognition.

Our fight is not for unemployment insurance or social security. Those fights have been won, though the ruling class has chipped away at these gains from the day they were secured. Hopefully, our fight is for more, for everything, for socialism!

Greg Godels

Sunday, April 26, 2020

What to do When Your Party is a Serial Abuser?

A few weeks ago, the UK was rocked by a leaked report recounting the activities of top officials in the Labour Party. As Morning Star details (4-18-2020):

Pages upon pages of emails and texts expose in stark detail how some of the party’s most senior officials acted to sabotage the Jeremy Corbyn leadership, obstruct everything it tried to do, direct vile abuse at staff and activists perceived to be supportive of Corbyn and express contempt for the members whose fees paid their salaries.

Most shockingly of all for those who pounded the streets, knocked on doors and phone banked for Labour, the report exposes top staff working against election victory, running a secret campaign to protect rightwingers in safe seats at the expense of winnable marginals, voicing growing dismay as Labour in 2017 closed the gap with the Tories and reacting with fury when the party broke Theresa May’s majority.

The records of Labour officials expressing preference for a Tory victory to a Corbyn one show treachery to their party and its members, but loyalty to a capitalist system they are used to being part of running.

In an article in The Guardian (4-21-2020), John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor under Corbyn’s leadership, denounced the racism found in the report and directed at some of Corbyn’s closest associates by some of Labour’s top officials:

The alleged abuse of Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and Clive Lewis, three prominent black shadow ministers, was appalling and, as others have commented, betrayed a deeply worrying underlying strain of racism.

The leaked report, commissioned to report on alleged anti-Semitism inside the Labour Party, was unsurprisingly ignored by the US mainstream media.

Unsurprisingly, because it might conjure up memories of the Wikileaks revelations of Democratic Party leaders plotting against the Bernie Sanders primary campaign leading up to the 2016 election, the actions taken against Sanders caucus voters, the embarrassing resignation of the party leader in the wake of plotting, the leaking of debate questions to Sanders’ opponent in that primary season, and many other 2016 attempts to sabotage Sanders’ campaign. 

Of course, reporting the Labour Party’s undermining of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership might also plant suspicions about Biden’s miraculous rising from the dead this year, the leaked misinformation about Sanders, the red-baiting, the slanders, and the seemingly orchestrated dog-and-pony show of a motley crew of candidates slicing and dicing the primary vote suddenly surrendering and endorsing Uncle Joe Biden. 

In other words, the complicit US media doesn’t want to give any ammunition to the suspicion that there may be a significant parallel in the ways that established “center-left” parties suppress any real left movement within their orbits. 

While the Labour Party has a claim to exist somewhat as a membership party, with its members or their organizations having some say in its leadership, the US Democratic Party can make no such claim; “membership” is simply a matter of registration, and party activism is largely limited to carrying out dictated electoral activity, fund raising, and voting. The days of visits from and discussions with ward or neighborhood leaders are long past. Today, the Democratic Party is more like a sports team than a political party: one can choose it, follow it, and support it, but only marginally influence it.  

But like the Labour Party, the Democratic Party pretends to be democratic while its leaders do all they can to stifle any democratic stirrings. Where insurgencies energize the typically most active, progressive, and earnest members, the leadership finds a way to undercut, underfund, or even engage in dirty tricks to derail their efforts. 

In the US, the McGovern, Jesse Jackson, and now Bernie Sanders campaigns are examples of serious, but failed attempts to inject left politics into a party determined to define itself through a brand of tepid social liberalism which is inoffensive to its corporate financial base. If there is a role for the Democratic Party to challenge corporate dominance, to reverse growing inequality, and to expand the social safety net, the leadership has yet to reveal it.

Much attention has been drawn to analyzing what Corbyn and Sanders did wrong, where their campaigns failed. The more important matter is how a candidate can overcome the barriers that are institutionally, systematically placed in front of her or him. How can a candidate ride a party to victory when the party’s leadership does not want the candidate to be successful? 

As Roger D. Harris explained in a recent thoughtful wrap-up of the Sanders phenomena in Popular Resistance

Sanders proved on one hand that a sizable potential constituency would support and fund a progressive agenda. On the other hand, the Democrats – who would rather risk four more years of Trump than back someone with a mild New Deal agenda – are the graveyard for such a movement. The Democratic Party is an instrument of class rule and not a democratic institution…

If your obsession in life is to defeat Trump, by all means hold your nose and vote for what you perceive as the lesser evil.

For the US left, the quadrennial question looms: do we put the Sanders campaign behind us and, paraphrasing Harris, hold our nose and vote for the candidate anointed by the Democratic Party and its corporate backers?

For some, it comes easy. They argue that Trump is such a repugnant figure that, should the Democrats offer a veteran of every corporate-friendly, socially reactionary current surfacing in the Democratic Party, one must still vote against Trump. As in the past, the revolutionary left, the Marxist-Leninist left, the socialist left could not make much of a difference, if it so desired. The serious anti-capitalist left lacks the influence to decisively affect the outcome of the US Presidential election in spite of Democratic operatives occasionally blaming their defeats on them. For the most part, the debate among Marxists over whether to support the pathetic Democratic Party candidate is a sterile one.

But leftists can begin to show the way from such an ugly option. The left can emphatically point to the futility of a lesser-of-two-evils strategy that stretches over the four decades since the election of Ronald Reagan (and before) that has only seen the political center move inexorably rightward. 

They can insist that the defenders of the lesser-of-two-evils strategy explain how such a strategy could ever produce significant change. 

The left can explain that demagoguery prevails precisely when the options available to people hungry for change are meager. The Trumps, Johnsons, and their ilk arise when traditional party loyalties are taken for granted and when supporters are desperate for new answers.

Leftists can stress the role of consistent, principled, and unbending independent politics and, most importantly, how that independence can be expressed broadly, electorally and otherwise. Independence can not be conditional upon the electoral fate of politicians and parties that are hostile to left politics.

For many of us, that means encouraging and supporting third-party breakaways, electoral formations where the left is welcome. Of course it is understood that not everyone will agree. Some will argue that this moment is different.

In the spirit of respecting differences, it was still disappointing to see the recent open letter addressed to the youthful supporters of Sanders-- who the signatories called “the new new left.” Former leaders and members of the 1960s SDS-- with a cringe-worthy, patronizing tone-- warned ominously that failing to vote for Joseph Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party candidate, would be to hand the Presidency to a “protofascist.” 

Most would agree that ridding the political stage of Donald Trump is a good thing. Probably many will even accept replacing him with a corrupt, corporately-compromised, and regressive substitute like Joseph Biden. 

But it is disappointing that the retired SDSers make no demands on the Democrats, set no conditions for support, suggest no alternative actions in uncontested states, offer no program beyond the dismal electoral choice, and supply no vision for distraught Sanders backers.

This from the group advising the existing left movements in its founding statement in mid-1962 that: “An imperative task for these publicly disinherited groups... is to demand a Democratic Party responsible to their interests.” These then-young, idealistic radicals dared to make demands on the Democratic Party in the months before Barry Goldwater Jr. embarked on arguably the most right-wing, dangerous campaign for the US Presidency in modern history. 

Then, it seemed important to challenge a Democratic Party deaf to poverty, racism, and inequality. SDS sought to force “peace, civil rights, and urban needs” onto the political agenda, even in the face of a Republican challenger who openly argued for the use of nuclear weapons. 

Today’s self-described “veterans” of those long-past struggles now make a simple, unconditional demand: “we must work hard to elect [Biden].”

They ominously liken this moment to the late history of Weimar Germany immediately before Hitler’s ascension. Indeed, there are many parallels to today: a growing severe crisis of capitalism; a bankrupt political party with no answers to the crisis, yet commanding the allegiance of most workers; demagogues appealing to a disillusioned middle strata and a neglected working class. 

In the Weimar Republic, many people sought a broad “democratic” coalition in 1932 to reelect the militarist conservative Paul von Hindenburg-- a-lesser-of-two-evils-- to defeat Hitler’s Presidential candidacy. The Social Democrats, the counterpart of today’s Democratic Party, believed that their support of von Hindenburg would stop the greater-of-two-evils. Months later, von Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor, giving him a grasp of power that he would never relinquish.

Trump is not Hitler, but a barren opposition-- an opposition ill-equipped to respond to the despair engulfing most people’s lives-- opens the door wide for the Trumps to walk through. As Weimar shows, a hollow appeal to unity at all costs may be insufficient, even ill-advised in the effort to close that door. 

The old SDSers and the other Democratic Party loyalists need to ask themselves if Joseph Biden’s Democratic Party has the vision to give hope to those suffering what may prove to be capitalism’s greatest crisis. With millions experiencing hardships unknown before, they want to vote for something, not just against Trump.  

One would have hoped that the “old new left” would have offered something more of substance in their lecture to those who understandably felt that the Sanders program was betrayed and derailed by the Democratic Party establishment. 

As the Sanders supporters consider their choices going forward, they might heed the conclusion drawn in the Morning Star article. Noting the sabotage of Corbyn’s leadership by many of the Labour Party’s officials, the author warned that “much of the left engaged in a futile effort to bury real differences and appease an irreconcilable enemy.

As long as we keep making such mistakes, we will keep losing.”  

Greg Godels