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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Communist Unity and Its False Friends

To paraphrase de Maistre, every political party has the leadership it deserves. It is confidence in the wisdom of this maxim that keeps me from commenting extensively on the continuing effort to retreat from Marxism-Leninism on the part of Chairman Sam Webb and the rest of the Communist Party USA top leadership. As the membership continues to shrink-- discounting internet “friends” and “likes”-- one can only marvel at the dogged loyalty of most of the remaining membership, a loyalty perhaps leftover from times when the Party was under attack from all sides. But the Party is under attack from no one today, especially since the Party's entire body of work coincides with working selflessly for Democratic Party election victories while slavishly following (off-electoral season) the leadership of the AFL-CIO.
Apparently changes are afoot in the CPUSA as it approaches its June National Convention. There will be leadership change. Unfortunately, it does not promise to be accompanied by a shift in ideological perspective. Nonetheless, some will entertain an unfounded “hope” in a new direction, a hope that will immobilize dissent.
There is also talk of dropping references to “Communism,” the final barrier, if the Webbites are to be believed, to the CPUSA becoming a party with mass support.
For an honest, critical discussion of the latest musings of Sam Webb, go here: Houston Communist Party.
Apart from its continual decline, the CPUSA counts as a small voice, but an authoritative voice, to the US left on matters pertaining to the World Communist Movement. Recently, Sue Webb, who represented the CPUSA at the International meeting of Communist and Workers Parties held in Lisbon in November of last year, gave a report of that meeting, highlighting the CPUSA’s and other parties' assessments and views on the current situation and the way forward.
Much of Sue Webb's commentary is a thinly-veiled attack upon the Greek Communist Party (KKE) under the guise of supporting diversity and independence in the world movement. At the same time, she exploits differences between Parties to justify the CPUSA's exodus from Marxism-Leninism.
Now the KKE needs no one to defend its honor or its positions; it is supremely capable of supporting both. However, it is important for all Communists and friends of Communism to examine carefully and critically the views represented in Lisbon. Sue Webb's commentary fails to reach those standards.
She disparagingly suggests that the KKE obstinately and unreasonably thwarted a final, unifying statement: “The Greek party's criticisms were so strong that it rejected and blocked issuance of any consensual final statement summarizing the thinking of the conference. In doing so, the Greek party and its supporters from a few other countries clearly went up against the thinking and policies of the overwhelming majority of parties represented at the meeting.”
At the same time, she heralds the diverse roads taken by various Parties and their relative autonomy from a single path, citing Lenin copiously as well as her Party's reliance upon "our own experiences and conditions of struggle.” In other words, she faults the KKE for not acceding to the will of others by drawing upon its “own experiences and conditions of struggle.” Apparently, she finds no inconsistency in touting the old Euro-Communist line of national Communism while chiding the KKE for its principled, independent stance in the Lisbon meeting.
The charge of instigating disunity is particularly spurious when the KKE's big role in revitalizing the international meetings, conferences, and exchanges is recognized.
Lost in Sue Webb's simplistic account is the singular contribution that the KKE brings to any discussion of the path to socialism. Without judging the merits of its every conclusion, one must respect the deep analysis that the KKE has made of the collapse of mass European Communist Parties since the Second World War. While most Parties have wrestled with the lessons of the loss of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist community, few explore the theoretical consequences of the near-complete self-destruction of powerful mass Communist Parties in Italy, France, and Spain as thoroughly as does the KKE. The process of evisceration of Marxism-Leninism in non-ruling Communist and Workers Parties began well before the fall of Soviet power. It is the KKE that draws the most profound lessons from this experience. Webb ignores it entirely.
Failure to grapple with the lessons of the collapse of Eastern European socialism and the failure of Euro-Communism leads to a one-sided, distorted map of the road ahead.
It is in this context that the KKE challenges the position that there are “stages” between capitalism and socialism. After World War Two, many Parties projected an anti-monopoly stage in the transition to socialism. Still others sought to construct a stage built on a “democracy of a new type,” a system of rule that was neither bourgeois nor socialist. These strategies entailed a focus upon parliamentary struggle and collaboration with all non-monopoly capitalist forces. The Italian “Historic Compromise” was the symbolic culmination of this perspective, engaging a strategy that opened the door to the bourgeoisification of the Italian Communist Party (PCI) and consequently its inevitable demise.
One of the ideological salesmen of this approach, Giorgio Napolitano, demonstrates, with the trajectory of his life, the cruel tragedy of the PCI's failure: once a member of a university fascist youth group, Napolitano engaged with the resistance, joined the PCI, assumed a leading role in its new direction, and today reigns as the President of the Italian bourgeois Republic. With measured civility and dignity, he legitimized the government of the buffo-fascist, Silvio Berlusconi. His many honors, decorations, and prizes testify to his service to capitalism.
In an interview in 1975, Napolitano, then the economic spokesperson for the PCI, deftly danced around hard questions posed by Eric Hobsbawn: “I believe that in any country the process of socialist transformation as well as socialist regimes have to be founded on a broad basis of consensus and democratic participation... My argument about the principles and forms of democratic life to be upheld in the context of an advance to socialism and the construction of socialist society refers more concretely to the countries of Western Europe in which bourgeois democracy was born, where representative institutions have a more or less strong tradition and diverse democratic,ideological, cultural and political currents have operated more or less freely... [and] which are characterized in varying degrees... by the presence of sizable intermediate groups between the proletariat and a big bourgeoisie controlling the basic means of production.” Only a mere thirty years after Communists played a key role in the fall of anti-democratic European despotism, Napolitano vigorously celebrates the dubious Euro-tradition of bourgeois democracy while catering opportunistically to the interests of the middle strata. Unfortunately, these illusions still linger with many Communist Parties. It is this failed perspective that is vigorously opposed by the KKE.
Similarly, the mass Spanish Party, under the leadership of Santiago Carillo, collapsed into near irrelevancy thanks to the fetish of bourgeois democracy and the pandering to non-proletarian strata. Carillo argued that ”... the Communist Party should be the party of freedom and democracy...We must bring into our programme as an integral part, not only the demands of the workers, but also those of all sections of society which are under privileged.” These vacuous, shallow slogans serve the bourgeoisie well, as they do when inscribed in the platforms of modern bourgeois congressional or parliamentary parties. No wonder workers fled the PCE in droves; they understood Marxism far better than did the Party leaders.
Reflections on these tragic miscalculations should lead one to heed the warnings against opportunism issued by the KKE:
It leaves them defenseless against the corrosive work of the bourgeois and opportunist forces which are trying to assimilate the CPs into parliamentarianism, to castrate them and make them a part of the bourgeois political system, with unprincipled collaborations, with participation in governments of bourgeois management which have a “left”-“progressive” label, with entrapment in the logic of class collaboration, with support for imperialist centres, as is happening e.g. with the CPs of the so-called European Left Party, as well as other CPs that are following the same path. (G. Marinos, Member of the PB of the CC , KKE)
In the wake of the deepest global economic crisis since the Great Depression, the idea that Communist and Workers Parties should struggle to lead capitalism out of the weeds-- to better “manage” capitalism-- is an absurd strategy guaranteed to further marginalize the prospects for socialism. If only the Communists (or Communists in alliance with others) can rescue capitalism, why would they do so?
Sue Webb fails to frame the KKE positions in the context of class partisanship, an error that guarantees confusion and misunderstanding. She fails to find a difference between fighting for reforms in the framework of capitalism and refusing to take the side of a bourgeois class, a distinction that the KKE sharply makes. Where reforms benefit working people-- increases and improvements in public education, social welfare, public health, etc,-- Communists fight harder than anyone and accept allies unconditionally. But where workers are asked to stand with the bourgeoisie-- in sacrificing wages and benefits to make their employer more competitive, in boycotting products produced by foreign workers-- Communists urge that workers stand aside.
Sue Webb charges the KKE with discounting emerging economies as rivals to Western imperialism: “the concept of the BRICs countries... or others, such as in Latin America, emerging as challenges to Western imperialism is rejected.” But this is absurd; Communists see these countries as imperialist rivals to Western imperialism. That is, they have their own designs upon the global economy, their own expansionist interests. At the same time, Communists oppose aggression and war on the part of imperialist powers in every case and of every stripe. For example, Communists fervently oppose US intervention in Venezuela; they oppose EU and US meddling in Ukraine. However, they do not support the respective national bourgeoisies. This is in contrast to some “Marxist” organizations that vacillated on or capitulated to regime changes or “democratic” missionary work in countries such as Iraq or Libya.
Sue Webb scoffs at the KKE rejection of the term “financialization.“Identifying financialization as a particular feature of today's capitalism is a hoax, a diversion. Capitalism is capitalism.” One might well ask her: if capitalism is not capitalism, then what is it? I'm sure it’s lost on her that the notion that there is good capitalism and there is bad capitalism is alien to Marxism. Social Democracy and its genetic relatives all attempt to find a good capitalism to ride toward socialism. Of course in every case they have failed-- capitalism doesn't go in that direction.
Profit is the driving force of capitalism; it is impossible to imagine capitalism without profit. And profit-seeking shapes the trajectory of capitalism. Like a rabid predator, capitalists seek profits everywhere-- in the capital goods sector, in the consumer goods sector, in the service sector, and in the financial sector. The fact that the financial sector played a bigger role in profit-seeking in recent times sheds little light on capitalism's fundamental operation. Rather, anointing financial activity as a unique species of capitalism only obfuscates the basic mechanisms of capitalist accumulation. It adds nothing.
That the global crisis first broke out in capitalist financial centers is undeniable. But the fact that the initial eruptions were the result of processes long set in motion is equally undeniable. Social democrats would have us believe that the crisis was caused by aberrant behavior, a feverish fixation on financial maneuvers easily repaired by regulation and reform. This is nonsense. This is not Marxism.
Thus, the term “financialization” is a kind of hoax. A term favored by those too lazy or too afraid to examine the inner workings of a rapacious system.
One does not have to agree with every perspective, every formulation of the KKE to recognize that they are taking the lead on issues facing the World Communist Movement; they are asking the hard questions that challenge old habits, easy assumptions, and unexamined positions. Yes, they challenge convenient beliefs that make for easy interaction with other left forces, but they do so from fidelity to the Communist tradition. Yes, they do not put consensus-for-the-sake-of-consensus ahead of principle. But those of us who want to restore vitality to the Communist movement must show a deep appreciation-- and not contempt-- for their selfless commitment to resurrecting a militant Communism based upon the foundations laid by Marx and Lenin.
For all its self-congratulatory bluster about escaping from dogmatism, sectarianism, and “alien” ideas, Sue Webb's Party is about to sink into oblivion. As with a sinking ship, the CPUSA 's leadership is jettisoning its deck chairs and cabin furniture as fast as the water rises. Gone are the Party archives, the Party newspaper, Party bookstores, Party organizations, education, and even Party meetings. Gone are the Party symbols, the organizational principles, the ideology, and even the greetings of comradeship. In their place are Facebook and Twitter communications, telephone and video conferences, and common cause with liberal groups between the mandatory efforts in support of Democratic Party election campaigns.
Sue Webb says: “The outlook and policies of our party fit well into the mainstream of the world communist movement as expressed at the Lisbon meeting last November.”
Would that it were so! The current CPUSA leadership rejects audacious approaches to reaching socialism while waiting passively for the second coming of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and The New Deal. They draw their strategic line from the desperate, defensive measures necessitated by the rise of fascism eighty years ago, a temporary front with non-working class forces that quickly betrayed that alliance after World War II and the fall of fascism. Sam Webb and his leadership coterie remain locked in the thinking of another time.
Well into the mainstream”? I think not. The World Communist Movement is growing again thanks, in part, to lively, frank conversations about the way forward, as occurred in Lisbon. While consensus remains illusive, the process of discussion is, nevertheless, clarifying and unifying. But for those captured in the web of opportunism, the future is bleak.

Zoltan Zigedy

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ukraine: War on the Horizon?

As I wrote elsewhere (, Ukraine is a great tragedy for the people. Caught in the web of imperial powers, many Ukrainians were seduced by the European Union and the US into collaborating in the overthrow of the elected government. While the US and European media depicted events as reflecting a yearning for Western values and culture, they conveniently sidestepped the questions of constitutionality and electoral legitimation. The fact that the former leaders of Ukraine came to power through mechanisms worshiped in the West as the foundations of civility and the rule of law counts for nothing in the carving up of spheres of influence.
Even at the last moment, when the Ukraine government struck a deal with the opposition favorable to the anti-government insurgents and guaranteed by the EU, the Western media ignored the blatant betrayal of that agreement and the complicity of the guarantors. Shamefully, the media masked the critical role of the hyper-nationalist, Jew-baiting fascists in the front lines of the opposition’s street fighters.
In the US, the intellectual courtiers-- the obsequious academics-- dutifully filled the airwaves and newsprint with tributes to the heroic, democracy-loving opposition. They assured us that the opposition represented exactly what the US State Department said they were. How convenient!
Before the coup against Yanukovych, the Washington Post's Anne Applebaum wrote a column (Ukrainian smears and stereotypes, 2-20-14) promising to explain the Ukrainian “crisis” to those who might foolishly believe an illegal coup was brewing (“the Ukrainian crisis can seem murky”). She mocks the language of those questioning the legitimacy of the opposition in Ukraine and paints the Russians with vulgar Cold War invective and Russo-phobia: “At the same time, those who throw these terms [“fascist” or “Nazi”] around should remember that the strongest anti-Semitic, homophobic and xenophobic rhetoric in this region is not coming from the Ukrainian far right but from the Russian press, and ultimately the Russian regime.” So if the Ukrainian right are fascists, we should overlook it because the Russians are worse. Tu quoque!
It is a measure of our times that the Washington Post, on whose editorial board she serves, fails to reveal that Applebaum is married to the Polish foreign minister and is herself a Polish national, relationships that link her with the regime most ardently supportive of the opposition.
Others will know her as the Pulitzer prize-winning author of numerous “histories” of the Soviet era, all marked by an unconcealed hostility towards socialism. Her zeal for damning every aspect of the Soviet experience has earned her a place in the hearts of old Cold Warriors and on the pages of such rabid anti-Communist publications as The New York Review of Books. Her newly found status as a major media gas bag of the Bill O'Reilly school of historiography has apparently not tarnished her intellectual reputation among liberals.
Reaching for the same stature, her colleague, Timothy Snyder, is equally notorious with his histrionic and unfortunately celebrated book, Bloodlands, another victim-counting effort meant to equate Hitler and Stalin. Like Applebaum, Snyder is among a newer generation of offspring of Robert Conquest, the Cold War hack who gathered anecdotes and inflated them into millions of deaths at the hands of “blood-thirsty Bolsheviks.” We now know from Soviet archives that Conquest's numbers were vastly exaggerated. We now know from further revelations that Conquest enjoyed sponsorship from US security agents in his efforts to rally gullible minds in the West. Unfortunately, no one with sufficient credentials and major media access will today counter the similarly inflated horror stories of Applebaum and Snyder.
But we can wonder why Amy Goodman would invite Snyder on her radio/TV show, Democracy Now! (2-24-14) for his opinion of events in Ukraine. From a promising beginning as a Left media voice, Goodman has too often given credence to those fawning after US imperial posture in her coverage of Eastern Europe, Libya, Syria and other imperialist ventures.
Predictably, Snyder mounts a vigorous defense of the opposition:
It [the opposition] included people from—included Muslims. It included Jews. It included professionals. It included working-class people. And the main demand of the movement the entire time was something like normality, the rule of law.
Strange that Snyder could paint such a diverse, liberal picture of the opposition from his perch at Yale University, particularly when Goodman's other guest, Professor Petro, reporting from his vantage point in Ukraine, depicted an opposition welded together by fervent Ukrainian nationalism. Interestingly, the opposition-in-power's first acts, as reported by Professor Petro, were to restrict local use of the Russian language and a resolution to outlaw the Communist Party-- hardly an endorsement of diversity or liberalism. Snyder did not dispute this claim.
And Snyder demonizes Yanukovych:
And the reason why this demand [for the rule of law] could bring together such people of different political orientations, such different regional backgrounds, is that they were faced up against someone, the previous president, Yanukovych, whose game was to monopolize both financial and political as well as violent power in one place. The constitution, the legitimacy of which is now contested, was violated by him multiple times, and most of the protesters agree to that.
What a tangled argument! Snyder charges the former Ukrainian president with seriously violating his constitution which is immediately dismissed as “contested”! Which is it? Inviolable or not?
Nor does his concern for constitutionality and the rule of law lead him to condemn the opposition for ignoring the constitutionally sanctioned mechanisms for removing a president. Yanukovych's alleged “monopoly” on violence fails to account for the street violence conceded by Western media through lurid pictures of masked “protesters” throwing fire bombs and attacking police. Snyder treats Goodman's listeners to a dose of propaganda rather than a truthful commentary.
Professor Petro gently challenged Snyder's account, returning again and again to the fanatical Ukrainian nationalism of the opposition. Snyder responded patronizingly:
Yeah, I mean, as Professor Petro probably knows, that’s the subject of my specialization. And, of course, I share his concern. Svoboda takes its example from the history of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, an interwar, extreme-right party which I would not hesitate to call fascist. The Pravi sector also refers to the same historical symbolism. Both of them speak of the necessity for a national revolution, especially Pravi sector. They are significant.
An honest “specialist” would note that the OUN was not merely extreme-right or even fascist, but made up of Nazi collaborators responsible for the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent Soviet civilians including much of the Jewish population. The OUN's equation of Judaism and Bolshevism invited its identification with the Nazi occupiers. One would think that Snyder's “specialization” in Eastern European history would demand that he call out the opposition on this point. At the very least, he should issue a demand to purge the coup-installed government of such elements. One would think, as well, that Amy Goodman would call out Snyder on this failing.
As Ukraine moves towards becoming the flash point of a regional or even broader war, my colleagues remind my of the similarities with Europe in 1914, with imperial powers elevating threats and demands, with a reckless empowering of forces beyond anyone's control, and with nativist sentiments rabidly unleashed.
Unfortunately, we lack a significant anti-imperialist front in most European countries and the US. Even Samuel Gompers, the reactionary leader of the AFL at the turn of the last century joined US writer Mark Twain and numerous other luminaries in founding a US Anti-Imperialist League. Today, our labor movement leaders are complicit in or silent on US meddling in Ukraine and numerous other countries. And US liberals, in all too great numbers, endorse US imperialism as a crusade for democracy and the vaunted “rule of law.” With peace so desperately needed, we lack a vibrant peace movement to counter the threat of war.
We must aggressively act to change this confusion and complacency before it is too late.
Zoltan Zigedy