Friday, August 31, 2012
Thursday, August 30, 2012
from M-L-M Mayhem! by JMP
Recently, EDB, comrade blogger of The Fivefold Path, wrote an insightful post about controversies within the New Atheist movement. Her commentary on blog atheist Jen McCreight's account of chauvinism within this movement explained what so many of us leftists have known, for quite a while, about the inherent contradictions of this movement: that it is a club primarily for privileged pro-imperialist petty bourgeois males who imagine that they're subversive for rejecting God while, at the same time, accepting everything capitalist-imperialist society has socialized them into believing is holy. EDB's article, along with the McCreight article she was referencing, got me thinking about the long-standing [non-]issue of atheism and communism. Moreover, it made me again think through the reasons why Marx and Engels, who did not believe in God or any non-materialist account of reality, at the same time rejected atheism as a viable political project.
As many of my readers are probably aware, the communist movement has had a rather heterogeneous approach to religion and religious commitment. Religious conservatives like to claim that communism has always endorsed some sort of "state atheism" but this is clearly an oversimplification––for even those communist-led socialisms that have declared something like this always were more concerned with pushing primarily for a secular separation of church and state, targeting proselytization rather than private religious commitment, and in some cases going after specific religious commitments rather than every religious commitment.
For example, Lenin believed that Christianity should be outlawed from the public sphere, but he also thought that it should be permitted in the private sphere––the belief was that it would whither away just like the state… this might seem tantamount to "state atheism" (evangelically minded people of all religions believe that a religion is "under attack" if it is not allowed to proselytize, after all), but it does not precisely fit the definition. This is not some "Anti-Theocracy" that, like a Theocracy, enforces a religion even upon the private lives of citizens; it simply asks for people to stop pushing their fire and brimstone narratives upon others outside of spaces where people privately agree that this is all fine and dandy. Another example would be the Chinese Revolution where Confucianism was targeted (since its ideology enforced semi-feudalism) but other religions were generally left alone (though, in the case of Christianity, those types of Christian missionary-ism that were connected to imperialism were also targeted).
Outside of these two world historical revolutions, however, communist history is not entirely certain on the question of religion. The Irish revolutionary James Connolly (friend of Lenin and Luxemburg, another rebel of the Second International) argued that you could be a socialist and a Christian, and that the two commitments were not mutually exclusive. There is also a long history of liberation theology, another way of approaching the Jesus of the Gospels and that I've blogged about before, that derives its communism from a radical understanding of Xtian doctrine. Then there are those who argue that, while you can be a socialist and a theist, the fact that you are committed to the latter should mean that you can never be part of a revolutionary party since you lack the advanced consciousness necessary for qualification––but still, even this camp, wouldn't disqualify one from claiming a socialist outlook, or from even participating in a socialist society, only from party membership.
Where is "communism" on this sign post? It has nothing to do with these options.
In any case, communists have never, as a whole, been atheists in form even if they have often been atheists in essence. More specifically, while communists have often refused to believe in the existence of God––some even theorizing that such beliefs would necessarily wither away once the material grounds for these beliefs (anything that allows for religion to be the "opium of the people, the sigh of the oppressed") were annihilated––they did not treat religion and spirituality as the prime contradiction of social struggle. Indeed, as Roland Boer has pointed out, Lenin even regularly attended church services while he was in exile because he saw these churches as places where the proletariat gathered and discussed, though in religious language, the terms of their exploitation. [Note: Boer has also written some great books on the long-standing marxist fascination with theology.] And though Lenin was always clear about the fact that he did not believe in any god or gods, he was not an atheist-qua-atheist in that he did not make atheism into the basis of his ideology.
So what does it mean when I say that communists can be atheists in form but not atheists in essence? This might seem like some sort of pernicious "commie double-talk" but, as with all accusations of Orwellian "double-talk", it is merely critical dialectical thinking. And one of my international comrades explained this distinction in a very simple way that I will paraphrase here: "we are not 'atheists' not because we believe in God but because we feel that the issue of God's existence [or non-existence] is not a class contradiction." That is, neither the capitalist mode of production nor the capitalist world system is dependent upon the contradiction between oppressing theists and oppressed atheists: the former depends upon the contradiction between proletariat (theist or atheist) and bourgeoisie (theist or atheist); the latter depends upon the contradiction between oppressed nations and oppressor nations. What sort of revolutionary movement can be led by atheists who define their movement simply by atheism? Well, obviously, a movement that is more secular than the brutal theocracy their opposites would erect but not a movement by itself that can overthrow capitalism. This is because there are many atheists who are comfortable bourgeois and/or imperialist assholes and, because of this, are not subversive but are simply people who have a different ideology but possibly the same class commitments as the religious assholes they're trying to overthrow––a palace coup, a realignment of ideology but not the material basis of oppression.
I mean, look at the New Atheist movement: pro-imperialist, eurocentric, and anti-feminist to the core. The McCreight article cited above is a typical account of the core ideology of this movement in that it describes a woman (McCreight) who attempts to talk about her own feelings of oppression within this movement and is met with scorn, chauvinist belittlement, and rape threats. One only needs to read the comment strings of her posts that have to do with feminism to realize that the movement she wants to save––that she still imagines is politically viable and can be reclaimed––is a movement filled with retrograde bourgeois fucks who think that atheism is tantamount to advanced consciousness.
Obviously religion can be an ideology that endorses class oppression; only a fool would think otherwise. But we communists have more in common with a theistic proletariat who knows that capitalism has to go than an atheistic bourgeois who wants to maintain hir class position. The former possesses an advanced consciousness, and understands more about reality than the latter who imagines that hir atheism makes hir superior. For communists, it is not the fact of religion or non-religion that, at root, makes one more aware of reality; it is the understanding that capitalism and imperialism, rather than religion, is what primarily stands in the way of human progress.
So we must ask why people like McCreight want to waste their time trying to reform a movement that is only united on the basis of [anti-religious] ideology. Because of rationalism? Far better to pick the rationalism that understands that one can never be allies based on a commitment against religion, a commitment that will still be divided by class and everything that composes class. It is not rational to assume that there can be solidarity with one's class enemies, even if you both believe there is no god or gods. Far better to take your atheism into a different sphere and focus on the end of class rather than the end of religion. Here, in the communist world, we already have a long history of working out these contradictions. Here, in the communist world, we know that the atheist who is only committed to atheism might be our class enemy. Here, in the communist world and despite our messiness, at least we understand that "atheism and theism" is not, and can never be, a class contradiction.
When Obama Whitewashed Rape » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names
....To a considerable extent, the Republicans have been forced to move further and further to the right, adopting positions that lead to bizarre episodes like the Todd Akin affair, because the Democratic Party has itself adopted openly right-wing positions on social policy (the abolition of welfare, cuts in Medicare and Medicaid), democratic rights (extra-judicial assassinations, domestic spying, the gutting of due process and habeas corpus) and imperialist war (the “surge” in Afghanistan, war against Libya, war for regime-change in Syria, preparations for war against Iran).
The general tenor of the Republican convention was set by the keynote speech delivered Tuesday night. The hard-line right-wing message found an appropriate human repository in the thuggish persona of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. His theme was that politicians had to choose between being respected and being loved.
Politicians of both parties, he declared, “have decided it is more important to be popular, to do what is easy and say ‘yes,’ rather than to say ‘no’ when ‘no’ is what’s required.” Now, he argued, at this Republican convention, “we choose respect over love.”
According to Christie, it is necessary to say “no” to the expectations and needs of the American people—to slash the jobs, wages and benefits of public employees; eliminate teacher tenure and gut public education; and cut spending on entitlement programs for the poor, the sick and the elderly.
The New Jersey governor claimed that the people of his state “stepped up and shared in the sacrifice,” although not a penny was extracted from the super-rich or big business. The entire burden of budget cuts and deficit reduction—$132 billion in a single state, by Christie’s boasting account—was imposed on the backs of working people.
He claimed that his policies were popular in the state, although opinion polls consistently show majority opposition to his drastic deficit reduction measures and growing hostility to Christie personally. Only the collaboration of the Democratic Party, which still controls the state legislature, and the treachery and cowardice of the public employee unions has enabled the Republican governor to sustain his chosen posture as the bully of New Jersey politics.
An incoming Republican administration in Washington would carry out similar measures, Christie declared. “We believe in telling our seniors the truth about our overburdened entitlements,” he said. The truth, in fact, is that the so-called crisis in Social Security and Medicare is the product not of inexorable demographic trends, but the insatiable profit drive of Wall Street. Finance capital looks upon these social programs, the last remnant of the era of social reform in America, as a source for more bailouts and more raids on the public treasury to prop up the banks and the financial oligarchy.
Christie made no reference to the Wall Street crash of 2008 or the economic crisis that followed it. The words “recession,” “slump,” “unemployment,” “foreclosure” and “eviction” never crossed his lips, let alone “poverty,” “homelessness” or “hunger.”
The experience of the past four years has discredited the capitalist system in the eyes of tens of millions of working people. Wall Street bankers and speculators are widely—and justly—blamed for the biggest social catastrophe since the 1930s. But there is not the slightest acknowledgment of such sentiments in Tampa, where “free-market” mythology is even more dominant than Christian fundamentalism.
There are two concerns revealed in Christie’s emphasis on “respect” over being “loved.” The short-term issue is that the Republican Party and its nominee, Mitt Romney, are deeply unpopular. One recent survey showed that despite hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising by the Romney campaign and pro-Republican super-PACs, only 35 percent of those polled had a positive impression of Romney.
More fundamentally, Christie, Romney & Co. are well aware that the measures demanded by the American financial aristocracy—which calls the tune in both the Democratic and Republican parties—will provoke massive resistance among working people.
There is no way to make popular the destruction of working class living standards and social conditions to finance ever-greater tax cuts for the wealthy and big business. To carry through these measures will require dictatorial methods and the collaboration of both political parties of corporate America.
Christie referred to this political reality towards the close of his remarks, when he declared, in his only reference to Obama, “Mr. President—real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls. That’s what we need to do now.”
Translated into plain language, this means that the next government, whether headed by Romney or Obama, the Republicans or Democrats, will ride roughshod over public opinion, pushing through measures like the destruction of Medicare and Medicare and the gutting of Social Security that the ruling class demands and the vast majority of the people opposes.
The political physiognomy of the Republican Party was also laid bare in the platform adopted by the convention. The document is replete with provisions crafted to win favor among the most politically deranged elements of the middle class, including:
* A complete ban on abortion, even for victims of rape and incest;
* A constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage;
* Withdrawal of federal funding from universities that give immigrant children in-state tuition rates;
* Endorsement of efforts by Republican governors to ban or cripple public employee unions, as in Wisconsin and Ohio;
* Declaration of English as the “official language,” effectively barring any government recognition of Spanish or other languages spoken by millions;
* Authorizing the government to conduct religious exercises such as “public display of the Ten Commandments,” effectively abolishing the separation of church and state;
* The establishment of a national commission to study returning to the gold standard.
The platform also endorses the House Republican budget, drafted by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chosen by Romney as his running mate, to privatize Medicare, raise the eligibility age to 67, and transform Medicaid into a block grant to the states with strict financial caps to ensure the program’s rapid demise.
It is possible for a party running on such a platform to go before the public as a serious contender for popular support only because neither the corporate-controlled media nor the Democratic Party dare to say what is: the Republican Party is an ultra-right organization that openly advocates the enrichment of the top one percent of American society at the expense of the rest of the population.
To the extent that its representatives gain any significant popular following within hard-pressed sections of the middle class and among workers, it is largely a byproduct of the right-wing, anti-working class policies of the Democratic Party, supposedly the official “left” party in America. The Democratic Party represents the interests of the corporate-financial elite no less than the Republicans, although in a somewhat more concealed manner, since its assigned task historically is to divert popular discontent into harmless channels and maintain the monopoly of big business over the American political system.
Republican National Convention: A celebration of reaction
Art History with a capital A and H: Art critic and social historian Robert Hughes (1938-2012)
By Clare Hurley
30 August 2012
Australian-born art critic and social historian Robert Hughes was fond of framing the historical periods that he examined with bookends—significant events that summed up the character of an age. He began his 1980 television series about modern art, “The Shock of the New,” with the opening of the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889 as a symbol of all that was progressive and optimistic about modernity. In his epilogue to the series, “The New Shock of the New,” made 25 years later, he closed what he called the “project of the modern” with the collapse of the World Trade Towers in the new capital of the art world, New York City.
Hughes’s own death last month at the age of 74 serves as a bookend of a kind. It marks the passage of a generation of critics and social commentators who held out against the formidable pressure on intellectuals to make their peace with capitalism and shift to the right after the upheavals of the postwar period died down. They continued to analyze cultural developments with an acerbic wit and integrity not yet found in their successors.
Hughes’s central argument throughout his prolific career was that the complacent and culturally degraded state of the arts in the early twenty-first century had not always been the case. In earlier periods, and particularly at the outset of the twentieth century, art had a great deal to say about life that was genuinely new as well as substantial, and its decline was rooted in changes in the present social order itself.
To a large extent, Hughes shared the 1960s radical milieu’s rejection of any alternative outcome to the Russian Revolution than Stalinism, which limited his analysis of the postwar period. Despite his essentially pessimistic social and historical outlook, however, Hughes maintained an abiding commitment to the principles of Modernism. He continued to think in terms of Art History with a capital A and H, with all that implied.
Hughes insisted that it was possible to determine if an art work had something fresh and vital to say about the world in which we live: “what was good, what was bad, and why it was important to know the difference.” His refusal to go along with postmodernism—its obsessive and subjectivist focus on personal identity issues—earned him the label of elitism, ironic for one who probably did more to make art accessible to a popular audience than any other art critic in the late twentieth century.
Born in Sydney on July 28, 1938, Hughes’s was a rebellious nature in rebellious times. In the early 1960s, he left Sydney University without completing his architecture course. Intent at first on becoming an artist, he left behind what he considered the cultural backwater of Australia to travel in Europe, absorbing Renaissance art and architecture. He ended up in London, where, in addition to writing art reviews, he plunged into its bohemian countercultural scene. When offered a job as art critic at Time magazine in New York, suspicious that the call was a trick by the CIA, Hughes told the editor to bugger off. Luckily, Time magazine called back.
Over the course of the next three decades, Hughes wrote a weekly art column for Time, covering exhibitions of everything from Dutch old master portraits and early modern artists like Edouard Manet or Vincent Van Gogh, to giving assessments, often scathing, of the period’s art superstars, from Andy Warhol, to Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Many of these reviews, together with longer essays written for the New York Review of Books and the New Republic, were collected in Nothing If Not Critical: Essays on Art and Artists, published in 1990. Hughes’s pieces flash with insight and wit, all within a strict word count, bringing art that might otherwise be considered esoteric to a broad audience in a popular magazine format.
The ideal of making the criticism of art an art form itself was pioneered by another notable wit, Irish-born playwright, poet, essayist and social satirist Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Like Wilde, Hughes insisted that art should hold to the highest aesthetic standards without compromising with the philistine demands of popular taste. As Wilde wrote in his essay “The Soul of Man Under Socialism” (1891), the point was not to make art more popular, but the populace more artistic.
Hughes’s eight-part television series “The Shock of the New,” first broadcast by the BBC in 1980 and then in United States on public television in 1981, did just that. Reviewing the series today, one is struck first by the tremendous degradation of public cultural life in just three decades. It is almost inconceivable that public funds would be available today to produce such a series, which gave millions of viewers such a thorough, and thoroughly entertaining, introduction to modern art.
Though dated in some small ways, the series remains well worth watching (most of the episodes are available in full on YouTube). “The Shock of the New” inventively combines rare film footage with present-day views of places and art works, together with a variety of interviews, and Hughes’s own narrative, to bring to life not just an artistic movement, but the whole cultural period known as Modernism. More vividly than many other art history accounts, it grounds the radical departure seen in art work around the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century in Europe and America with changes in humanity’s way of life itself.
For example, Hughes details the technological innovations that the archetypal modern artist Pablo Picasso (b. 1881) would have witnessed by the age of 25—the machine gun, the Parsons steam turbine, photographic paper, Tesla’s electric motor, the Kodak box camera, the Dunlop pneumatic tire, the Ford car, cinematograph and gramaphone discs, X-rays, radio telegraphy, the Lumière brothers’ movie camera, the Wright brothers’ first flight, and so the list goes on, to include Freud’s studies on hysteria and the 1905 annus mirabilis in theoretical physics and Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity.
But what gave avant-garde art its dynamism, he argued, was not just technological change, but the imperative felt by artists, no less than other people, to overthrow the whole oppressive social order that would bring the “civilized” world with all its technological feats to the brink of destruction on the battlefields of World War I and the economic crises and political upheavals that followed.
The second episode in the series opens with a view of the battlefield of the Somme in France where in just six months in 1916, 1 million Allied and German soldiers were mowed down with machine guns, bombed in trenches or poisoned with mustard gas, giving mankind its first horrifying experience of mass industrialized warfare and destruction. Placed in this context, it wasn’t art that was shocking with its violent colors and fragmented new forms—it was reality.
And Hughes shows too how, for a period at least, revolutionary art was connected to revolutionary politics. Artists of the Berlin Dada group such as Georg Grosz, whom Hughes dubbed the “Bolshevik of painting,” and particularly Russian avant-garde Constructivists like Naum Gabo (who appears in an interview) and Vladimir Tatlin, called the “Leonardo of the Russian Revolution,” were among those who saw socialist revolution as the future and insisted art would play a role in that transformation.
So what happened to Modernism? Though willing to give revolution its due in animating early Modernism, Hughes’s acceptance—with some nuance perhaps—of the prevailing argument within postwar intellectual circles that Stalinism was the inevitable outcome of the Russian Revolution, that Stalinism and Fascism were twins, as could be seen in the parallels between the art and architecture of these authoritarian regimes, etc., inevitably distorts and weakens this section of “The Shock of the New.”
In addition to his many reviews and television series on art, Hughes wrote The Fatal Shore (1987), an international bestseller, which served to introduce many to both Hughes as a writer and to Australia’s turbulent history. In 1997, he wrote and produced “American Visions,” a series on American art. After recovering from a near-fatal car accident while in Australia in 1999 producing The Fatal Shore for television, Hughes made a deeply personal and moving study of the art of Spanish Enlightenment artist Francisco Goya (1746-1828), “Goya: Crazy Like a Genius,” broadcast by the BBC in 2002. He wrote a memoir, Things I Didn’t Know, in 2006 and his final published work, which met with mixed reviews, was Rome: A Cultural, Visual and Personal History (2011).
But what ultimately led to him being sidelined by critical circles as an opinionated curmudgeon was his unequivocal condemnation of the role of finance capital in the arts. This became the theme he returned to again and again in the documentaries “The New Shock of the New” (2005) and particularly in “The Mona Lisa Curse” (2008) (see “Robert Hughes: A refreshingly frank comment on the art market“).
Tracing the growing commercialization of the arts, which he saw as beginning in the 1960s with the work of American artist Andy Warhol, Hughes insisted on the qualitative change in the nature of art itself wrought by such vast quantities of money coursing through the art market—$20 billion of contemporary art was being sold annually by 2006, and prices have only continued to break records since the financial collapse of 2008.
Few critics besides Hughes could—or would—have made such mincemeat in person of the likes of art dealer David Mughrabi, whose family’s collection of 3,000 works is considered to be the largest and most valuable in the world, including 800 pieces by Warhol alone (Hughes: “Don’t you think this gives you a vested interest in keeping the values of his [Warhol’s] work inflated?”).
And there was Hughes’s treatment of Jeff Koons, whose oversized sculptures of balloon animals—produced in a factory by 90 assistants, sold for tens of millions of dollars to wealthy collectors—have defaced public spaces from Versailles to New York, Bilbao, Spain, to Sydney, Australia.
To Hughes, the work of a Koons—or of British art star Damien Hirst (of stuffed shark and jewel-encrusted skull fame) and their ilk—was not even worth taking seriously as art. He rightly considered it just another type of risky asset to be speculated in by hedge-funders and financiers, who now make up the bulk of art collectors.
However, Hughes recognized that the most destructive consequence of this process was that many works of art, such as the painting by Edvard Munch that sold recently for a record-breaking $120 million, was effectively removed from the public sphere. Museums can no longer afford to acquire art, independent cultural institutions receive ever-dwindling funding, and art like everything else becomes a plaything of the super-rich. For Hughes, this wrecking operation was nothing less than “spiritual vandalism and a cultural obscenity.”
Which is not to say that Hughes thought the situation entirely irredeemable. But his outlook and social position rendered him oblivious to and uninterested in signs that a social revolution might once again be on the horizon, one which could again transform the situation for art and artists, as well as that of the mass of humanity, as it had at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Instead, he found small hope in individual instances, the rare handful of contemporary artists like Paula Rego, Anselm Kiefer, Lucian Freud, David Hockney, and Sean Scully, whose work continues to resonate with the values that Hughes held dearest in art—its enigmatic, painstaking, often subliminal way of making sense of the world. He also felt that people continued to hunger for new art, that “despite the decadence and brouhaha, the desire to experience art, to live with it, remains immortal.”
He will be missed.
Art History with a capital A and H: Art critic and social historian Robert Hughes (1938-2012)
Why you should join the ‘11%’
A revolutionary youth’s perspective
By Caleb T. Maupin on August 29, 2012
Are the seeds of a communist revolution sprouting up around us?
The fury of the youth at Occupy Wall Street, the fearlessness of public workers in Wisconsin and Ohio, the national revulsion against the racist lynching of Trayvon Martin, the overwhelming rejection of right-wing attacks on women’s rights, the huge protests against NATO in Chicago, the recent victories in the struggle for lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer liberation, the mass mobilizations countering the Republican and Democratic conventions — these are all signs of bigger, better things ahead.
The 99% are in a fighting mood. Elections, police repression and the usual bag of tricks used to slow us down are not working.
Rasmussen is a highly respected polling agency, employed by the wealthy ruling elite to gauge public opinion. Last year, it conducted a poll whose results certainly made the super-rich tremble: 11 percent of people in the United States believe that communism is “morally superior” to capitalism.
The U.S. ruling class has nurtured one of the most right-wing ideologies of all the imperialist countries. Why would a section of the population — which is constantly deluged with anti-communist propaganda — hold this type of opinion?
Millions of workers have lost their jobs. Millions of homes have been foreclosed. Youth face astronomical costs for education and little chance of finding decent employment. Racist terror and repression are on the rise. The drive for wider wars continues, while programs serving human need are being cut without mercy.
Amidst all this suffering, the ultra-wealthy 1% sits on top of trillions of dollars while the capitalist system leaves the world in poverty. The planet is heating up, and toxic pollution means almost nothing on Earth is poison-free.
Naturally, amid all these problems, some people in the U.S. are coming to understand that there is something wrong with a system where profits are in command.
Worsening conditions, growing consciousness
Communism represents the obvious answer.
Communism means that banks, giant farms, factories, oil wells and big box stores will be held in common by those who work in them. People’s power will own and control the “commanding heights” of the economy. A new government based in community and working-class organizations will replace the current capitalist state.
Communism means that the prison system will be torn down. Racist cops will face justice at the hands of the people. Jobs, health care, education and a higher level of human freedom will be guaranteed to all people.
This vision is what Karl Marx called “the first stage of Communism.” It is also called socialism.
The Rasmussen poll indicated that to millions of people in the U.S., this sounds great. The fact that 11 percent of the population supports communism is a big step forward.
These millions must now be brought together and organized. With coordination, discipline and determination we can push toward a historic victory. We can abolish capitalism, seize power and began constructing a socialist and communist future, right here in what is now the center of world imperialism.
Workers World Party calls on all those who are ready for battle to join us. If you are part of the 11 percent, you belong in a fighting Marxist-Leninist organization! Together we can fight so the 99% rule and the 1% is driven out!
Why you should join the ‘11%’
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Recently Carl Davidson's undying efforts as a Pinkerton policing the petty bourgeois left in the interests of the imperialist Democratic Party in the United States have led him to interventions even on my paltry blog. They came as responses to my "walk-through" of that acme of opportunism, the Fletcher-Davidson statement The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama's Record: Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him.
Carl Davidson August 25, 2012
The underlying problem is that none of us here, on any side of the argument, who would like to speak for the working class has any ability to do so with any force and reach. That's what we meant by politics as 'cafe chatter' and strategy as 'self-expression.'
The task, then, is to start with the working class we have, organize the best of them, and find a path forward. Most progressive-minded workers understand that the danger from the far right is quite real, even if some on the left would like to convince themselves that it's only a 'bogey man.' They'll do what they can to thwart it, and the best of them will do so by also building organizations of their own to wage the wider battles of politics as strategy.
As for OWS, the current conjuncture has brought it to an impasse as well, a crisis of anarcho-syndicalist one-sided reliance on fanning the flames of mass movements to bring pressure 'from below', largely a kind of militant liberalism. I've supported OWS, visited many of them and won over allies for them. But mass movements ebb and flow, and one has to have the ability to know how and when to cast the net out, and draw it back in. As much as I love mass insurgency, I'm not one who worships spontaneity. In my book, organization-building trumps movement-building, even as they are intertwined.
Keep in mind that we are not asking anyone to support Obama or his platform or the Democrats. We are simply asking people to vote for him to defeat the alternative. If you don't think this matters, you are seriously out of touch with those sectors of the masses you think most important for more radical change. At the very least, you could get in the streets to oppose the GOP's efforts to deny the ballot with their new VoterID 'poll tax.' That's just a matter of consistent democracy with a small 'd.'
"Keep in mind that we are not asking anyone to support Obama or his platform or the Democrats. We are simply asking people to vote for him to defeat the alternative. If you don't think this matters, you are seriously out of touch with those sectors of the masses you think most important for more radical change."
I cannot imagine a more dismissive or contemptuous attitude toward the working class at an international level. What must workers in other countries, under the gun of a bipartisan war by the Wall Street parties, think of Fletcher-Davidson's rationalization for voting for drone death lists, invasions, and unconditional preemptive war.
Are we really to believe, after all the decades of Browder-cum-Fletcher/Davidson, that a vote for Obama is NOT a vote for Wall Street's platform, or all the other millionaire and billionaire Democrats who [like their Republican opposite numbers] have conducted in the last thirty-five years an undifferentiated capitalist assault on life and limb at home and abroad?
In the comment above, Davidson seeks to bait us by saying, "At the very least, you could get in the streets to oppose the GOP's efforts to deny the ballot with their new VoterID 'poll tax.' That's just a matter of consistent democracy with a small 'd.'"
When Obama is re-elected and emboldened on his current course; when missiles strike in Syria and Iran; when Homeland Security rounds up another autumn's protestors; when all this happens because we voted against Romneyism, the Fletcher-Davidson's in the US will have much to answer for, as they do already for their anti-worker actions in 2008. They will have sold US workers on another four years of voting against their interests, defeating their own independence.
"Vote against the ultra-right." This is a decades' old cats-paw for supporting the Democrats, and it has pushed US workers further away from the class political independence we need so badly today. It is time to stop the lesser evilism. Republican and Democratic imperialist agendas and their ideological rationalizations will be stopped only when this process reaches fruition. Better to start now than delay another four years.
Carl Davidson August 26, 2012 10:16 AM
Thinking the ultra-right these days is an imaginary 'cat's paw' is a huge illusion held by the far left, which likes to lecture others on 'illusions.'
As for internationalism, who do you think Palestinian-Americans and Iranian-Americans, in good measure, will be voting for this round? An anti-imperialist isn't on the ballot, but someone who criticizes Obama for not invading Iran now, and who thinks the West Bank is poor because of 'Palestinian culture,' is running. Voting to keep him out doesn't mean you 'endorse' Obama. Workers often vote for those they think will do them the least harm without endorsing any of them. The larger task is to create a socialist organization with 100,000+ members--which might be done, if we could cut the number of circular firing squads in half or better.
"The larger task is to create a socialist organization with 100,000+ members--which might be done, if we could cut the number of circular firing squads in half or better."
What can one make of such thinking? The greatest circular firing squad facing the US working class is the every-four-year squad telling them they need to put off their political independence, even the germinal stage of it, for another four years, [then another, then another] because things are too urgent now.
Urgent how? Because of the horror stories Obama shills tell us, citing Fox news.
Is their really any equal sign between the Republican who says "West Bank is poor because of 'Palestinian culture,'" and the president who leads an international bombing campaign on the population of Somalia and Libya, and every day promotes doing the same against Syria and Iran?
"An anti-imperialist isn't on the ballot"? Hmmm... could be because Fletcher-Davidson and their ilk scare us every four years into voting for actual imperialist war-makers, and denigrate anti-imperialism as a sideshow distraction from defeating the Republican Party at the polls?
Elections don't bring about radical social change; that happens in the streets. I think it is fine to vote for a socialist or progressive Third Party candidate if you want to. In that case I would choose Peta Lindsey [sic] of PSL.
More urgent, though, is the need to build a real alternative to the bourgeois electoral system. I urge you to check out the National Call for a People's Power Assembly, which we will be building at the RNC and DNC protests.
The "Peoples' Power Assembly" sounds, given the lack of a general rise in the tempo of working class resistance, like the utopia of a party [Workers World Party] which felt unable to run a candidate, but realizes they must intervene in bourgeois elections in some way at this late date. Examining the list of endorsers for the "National Call To Create, Build & Multiply People's Power Assemblies" reveals all are political allies pf Workers World Party or actual party members signing the petition on behalf of their unions or WWP Popular Front-type groups.
Still, it is hard to dispute this:
A higher level of organization is called for: a block to block, neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, state to state, region to region approach; a national network of People's Assemblies — assemblies designed to empower at every level, that take up the interests of working people, especially the most disenfranchised, assemblies that defend our rights and fight for real democracy, assemblies where the least of us is made whole by a deepening social contract that puts working people's needs and rights before the interests of the wealthy, corporations and financial institutions.
Such an organization would be the highest expression of democracy. The People's Power Assemblies are the vehicles through which we struggle, whether it is defending a home -owner from eviction, occupying a school from being closed, seizing vacant property, fighting against racism, sexism or LGBT oppression.
Sunday, August 26, 2012
By Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report
In today's political ecology, the job of Republicans is to provide political camouflage to right wing Democrats like the last two Democratic presidents Clinton and Obama, by moving still further rightward, even past the boundaries of lunacy. When Bill Clinton was busy passing NAFTA and ending welfare as we knew it, both measures tried and failed at by Bush 1, Newt Gingrich provided covering babble about taking poor children from their homes. While Barack Obama offered to put Medicare and social security on the deficit cutting table and enacted a so-called "Affordable Care Act" first passed as an insurance company bailout by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney in 2004, Republicans threaten the piecemeal repeal of Rove V. Wade and cuts to unemployment compensation.
The fact is that 120% evil Republicans offer the only justification for our support of 100% evil Democrats. And with the dissolution of what used to be the black consensus for equality, civil liberties, full funding for public education, and opposing war spending and corporate privilege, Obama-era Democrats continue to flee rightward toward war, privatization and austerity.
This deformed puzzle is not the political logic of free and responsible people. It's the cramped and twisted reasoning of someone trapped in a box urgently trying to convince himself that it's not really a box, that pragmatic acceptance of the box as the whole of the great and free universe is really all that can be hoped, struggled and strived for. It's not. Only a beaten, cowed and enslaved people can imagine their forbears sacrificed and struggled for them to choose among greater and lesser, but both still monstrous evils.
We at Black Agenda Report spend more time denouncing Democrats because they act like and enable Republicans. We don't spend as much time denouncing the party of white supremacy because Republicans rarely bother to pretend to be anything else. African Americans haven't voted Republican in 50 years. But we're more unemployed than we've been in seventy years, and more imprisoned than we've ever been.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Whatever the (well deserved) derision heaped on the head of Francis Fukuyama for his 'end of history' thesis, he has the merit of posing the big questions. In his 'The Future of History' article (Foreign Affairs, Jan-Feb) he poses two big questions that are vital for Marxists: Is the neoliberal undermining of the social position of the employed working class and poorer sections of the middle class compatible with liberal democracy? and What explains what he calls the 'absent left' – the lack in theory or practice of a powerful left/populist alternative to neoliberalism in a period of such drastic economic collapse and moral bankruptcy of the dominant neoliberal model?
His answer to the first question is clearly 'yes'. Such vast inequality, hargues, undermines trust and community and deepens social conflict – so much so that democracy is put in peril. He's right about that and we'll look more closely at its consequences later.
On the reason for the 'absent' left he has two types of explanation. First is the apparent impossibility of shaking off the right wing Tea Party-type populism that ensnares so much of the American proletariat. Second is the intellectual bankruptcy of the left that is - allegedly - incapable of coming up with ideas that can mobilise mass support.
On the inability of the left to mobilise Fukuyama hasn't looked much outside the United States and certainly not southwards towards Venezuela and Bolivia or indeed other parts of Latin America where he would have discovered plentiful attempts to mobilise mass opposition and alternatives to neoliberalism (how successfully is another question).
Also he wrote his article before the dramatic electoral rise of Syriza in Greece or the challenge the Left Alternative in France. An 'absent left' is a huge exaggeration of the situation in Europe or Latin America; his dismissal of the 'Occupy' movement in the United States (which elsewhere he describes as "the same kind of anti-capitalist kids who were at the Seattle protests"  mis-assesses the links and interactions that existed between the core youth activists and the labour movement.
But in any case his argument that the left is much weaker than might have been expected given the depth of the neoliberal crisis is sure correct. But Fukuyama's line that left weakness is due to a poverty of ideas is way off the mark.
Fukuyama's main argument is this: the present crisis needs a new form of left of centre populism, which has yet to be thought of. It cannot however be based on the old leftist formulas that can no longer be afforded.
First he dismisses socialism (aka Marxism): "The main trends in left-wing thought in the last two generations have been, frankly disastrous either as conceptual frameworks or tools for mobilisation. Marxism died many years ago, and few old believers still around are ready for nursing homes. The academic left replaced it with postmodernism, multiculturalism, critical theory and a host of other fragmented trends...It is impossible to generate a mass progressive movement on the basis of such a motley coalition..." 
Then social democracy gets short shrift: "Over the past two generations, the mainstream left has followed a social democratic program that centers of state provision of a variety of services, such as pensions, health care and education. That model is now exhausted: welfare states have become big, bureaucratic and inflexible; they are often captured by the very organisations that administer them, through public sectors unions; and most important, they are fiscally unsustainable given the aging populations virtually everywhere in the world. Thus, when existing social democratic parties come to power, they no longer apsire to be more than custodians of a welfare state that was created decades ago; none has a new exciting agenda around which to rally the masses." 
The problem with all this is of course that in apparently breaking with the neoliberalism he previously so ardently defended, Fukuyama bases himself on some its lamest and most fatuous central dogmas. They include the supposed superiority of private provision over public, the unaffordability of decent, pensions, health and welfare services, the 'fact' that more older people means public health and pensions are unaffordable etc etc. These are central tenets of so-called 'capitalist realism', a set of axioms that constrict all social choices within the framework of privatised neoliberalism. In fact all these things are the subject of conscious political choices, but political choices the neoliberal right don't want to accept.
Decent public services and decent minimum incomes are perfectly possible provided you are prepared to accept the logic of economic redistribution away from the wealthy towards the poor. That's where the problems start, especially for the social democrats (perhaps we should call them post-social democrats) themselves. In Fukuyama's own country, the United States, the pitiful level of taxation for the super-rich (in practice 0% for many) and the huge expenditure on the military makes it of course extremely difficult to sustain welfare programmes. But Fukuyama is expecting someone to come up with a populist alternative which both challenges the neoliberals and accepts their fundamental arguments.
Contrary to Fukuyama the problem with actually existing social democracy in power is precisely that it doesn't aspire to be the custodian of the welfare state, but has largely gone along with neoliberal cuts and privatisation, although usually at a slower rate than right-wing parties. A period of economic crisis makes it much more difficult to defend the welfare state without being prepared to make inroads into the wealth of the rich and powerful.
Marxism, socialism, doesn't get even a summary dismissal from Fukuyama but just ritual abuse. What then might be elements of a Fukuyama alternative? His "ideology of the future" (aka "exciting new agenda") includes no denunciation of capitalism as such, but a change in the type of capitalism. This is explained in the following way:
"Globalization need be seen not as an inexorable fact of life but as a challenge and opportunity that must be closely controlled politically. The new ideology would see markets not as an end in themselves; instead it would value global trade and investment to the extent that they contributed to a flourishing middle class, not just aggregate national wealth.
"It is not possible to get to that point however without providing a serious and sustained critique of much of the edifice of modern neoclassical economics, beginning with the fundamental assumptions such as the sovereignty of individual preferences and that aggregate income is an accurate measure of national well-being. This critique would have to note that people's incomes do not necessarily represent their true contributions to society (sic). It would have to go further however and recognize that even if markets were efficient, the natural distribution of talents is not necessarily and that individuals are not sovereign entities but beings heavily shaped by their surrounding societies. Most of these ideas have been around in bits and pieces for some time...(sic again)" 
You could re-write this as saying: "Left to themselves markets do not ensure fair or efficient outcomes. Society needs to take control of the economy to a significant degree." Fukuyama does add a little to this by talking about 'Buy America' campaigns and the like, and insisting that the 'new ideology' must be 'populist', but in reality it's at least social democratic. And it would be resisted furiously by the US political, business and media establishment, especially the two major parties, both of them parties not of the millionaires but of the billionaires.
The populist alternative to Marxism and social democracy that Fukuyama seeks doesn't exist because it can't. It is absolutely pointless waiting for a radical populist alternative that accepts major concepts of neoliberalism – especially the idea of the superiority of private provision over public. It is like waiting for a mythical land that has constant cloudless sunshine every day with absolutely no water supply problems. Such a paradoxical beast does not and cannot exist.
The strange non-death of neoliberalism
This issue is addressed in Colin Crouch's book The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism . Why is it, asks Crouch, that after such a catastrophic economic crisis neoliberalism is still dominant politically? At first blush this seems an enigma: after all when the Keynesian mixed-economy/welfare state model went into crisis in the mid-1970s the bourgeoisie got rid of it, replacing it by the mid-1980s with full-blown neoliberalism. Why haven't they done the same with neoliberalism?
Crouch, although writing from within a pro-capitalist framework, provides an important part of the answer. He argues that neoliberalism isn't the untrammelled working of the free market, despite the neoliberals doffing their hats to von Hayek, Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand (who claimed that the state had no right doing anything except militarily defending its citizens).
No says Crouch, we don't have the free market, we have a 'controlled free marketism' in which the giant corporations wield gigantic power, especially in the form of government lobbying, to fix markets in their own interests, against other companies, small businesses and workers. The business lobby is mega powerful in the US, where most of the Congress is bought and paid for. In effect big business has massive access to government power – not just in the US. And their interests lie in maintaining the neoliberal framework from which they derive such massive profits.
But Crouch's concentration on the big corporations, while important, is not the whole story. Financial capital, Wall Street, the masters of the universe, have just as much to do with it. They are more powerful than any giant corporation. And neoliberalism is the unfettered dominance of financial capital, the bankers - provided we understand that under neoliberalism the state can and must intervene economically and politically, but only to defend the interests of big banks and big companies.
The contrast with the end of Keynesianism is this. In getting rid of the Keynesian model the bourgeoisie was doing something in the short-term and long-term interests of key components of its own class, the monopoly corporations and the bankers. To get rid of neoliberalism would be to do something against the perceived interests of those self-same sectors. Any attempt to go beyond neoliberalism will be fought tooth and nail by the banks, finance houses, monopolistic corporations and the dominant right-wing political forces that defend them.
Obstacles to left advance
Francis Fukuyama wrote his article before the victory of the Socialist Party in the French elections (and the rise of the Left Front) and the left upsurge in Greece focussed on the radical alliance Syriza. However few on the left would deny that despite the global upsurge of protest, political progress for the radical left has been at best uneven and often slow and halting. Massive demonstrations by the indignados in Spain are wonderful, but where is the left politically in Spain? A huge vote for a radical left alternative in Greece is fantastic, but why does the right wing hang on to power, when working class living standards are being massacred? Why does it seem that protest movements in many countries seem to result in no permanent political or organisational gains? Why do promising left formations like Die Linke in Germany make significant gains and then get thrown back?
Some of the answers to these questions are obvious. Defeats of the left and the workers movement in the 1980s and 1990s have objectively weakened the base of the workers movement and the left and, combined with the fall of the Soviet bloc and the political collapse of social democracy, subjectively undermined socialist credibility. Changes in the production process undermined bastions of the labour movement as manual jobs were shipped out to Asia, in countries with no or weak independent workers movements.
The working movement has far less credibility than 30 or 40 years ago as an alternative 'social subject'. This factor is a crucial one in the evolution of mass protest movements. Tens of thousands who came into politics during the 1960s could immediately and obviously see the centrality of the working class as the instrument for society-wide social change. In Europe the general strike in France in 1968, the prolonged upsurge of the Italian workers movement into the 1970s and mass strike movements in Britain and elsewhere meant the discourse of the far left organisations – the 'orientation to the working class' – had immediate and clear relevance. This is much less so today, although of course to imagine the labour movement and protests movements are totally separate and that there is no interchange between them would be to strongly overstate the case. 
And of course the international capitalist class, despite the discrediting of the bankers and capitalism itself, have launched a ferocious fightback. The dominance of the virulent right-wing media today is unparalleled and its influence is often under-estimated by the left, as is the specific task of fighting back against it, as has been recently done in exemplary fashion by the mass movement of Mexican students against political fixing in the main television channels . An explicit purpose of the Fox News/shock-jock type of media is to demonise, de-legitimise and ridicule protest movements and the left.
Harsh semi-militarised repression of protest movements is very widespread and is reaching new levels, so much so that the most familiar figure on the TV news (when it's not an Olympic athlete) is the riot policeman...in Athens, Barcelona, Cairo, New York and Berkeley California.
All these things combine to make the progress of anti-capitalism slow and halting. But there is an ideological factor, the significance of which is also underplayed by some on the left – the persistence of anti-partyism, 'horizontalism' and networking 'movementism' which has been absolutely dominant in, for example, the Occupy movement in the US and elsewhere. In fact it has been dominant in the anti-capitalist protest movement since the anti-WTO demonstration in Seattle in November 1999.
Much has been written about this from a revolutionary socialist perspective, although some of it has been too organisational in tone, excessively rehearsing the dialectical compatibility or non-comparability of democratic centralism and networks . Paul Mason's now infamous turn of phrase – "a network usually overcomes a hierarchy" – has been quite correctly criticised as far too optimistic about 'social network driven activism'  For example how does this aphorism stand up in the light of the situation in Egypt 18 months after the January 25 overthrow of Mubarak? When the army hierarchy has withstood the siege of numerous dissident 'networks'?
But the real source of the left's weakness is that precisely identified by Crouch – the lack of an alternative society-wide hegemonic project that has mass support. Crouch himself thinks that such an alternative project is impossible because "The combination of economic and political forces is much too strong to be fundamentally dislodged from its predominance". However "there is no need to despair" because giants corporations can be held to account and pressurised into some sort of social responsibility by the power of civil society. Note here that for Crouch it is not mainly a left intellectual failure that creates the lack of an alternative hegemonic project, merely that the dominance of the big corporations is too powerful, too entrenched to be challenged. He thinks however that while the big corporations cannot be overthrown, their wings can be clipped:
"Whether they like it or not, and whether it can be justified by economic theory or nor, firms are increasingly being seen as politically and socially responsible actors. There is a whole new politics around corporations, as campaigners expose their undesirable actions and try to influence customers and sometimes investors or employers. This can, given the right pressure from activists and regulators, turn corporate social responsibility from being an aspect of corporate public relations to a sharp and penetrating demand for corporate accountability."
And moreover, "Rarely before in human history has so little difference been shown to authority, so much demand for openness, so many cause organisations, journalists and academics devoted to criticising those who hold power and holding up their actions to scrutiny. New electronic forms of communication are enabling more and more causes to express themselves in highly public ways." 
This is indeed a forlorn hope, and much less radical than what Fukuyama is saying. But think about it for a moment, and Crouch's view is certainly one widely held in the NGO milieu. And a significant number of radical campaigners, journalists and academics at least act as if this were true, giving no thought to global alternatives and focusing everything on the creation of civil society campaigning in the here and now.
Further along the spectrum many even conscious anti-capitalist campaigners explicitly reject alternative society-wide projects and make the absence of such things a positive virtue. This was certainly true of the Occupy movement in the US and UK.
Far from being a strength this is a devastating weakness. If you demand the end of one system, even if it's just the end of one type of capitalism and not the end of capitalism as such, you have to be able to say something about what should replace it. At least something. The Marxist left cannot be sanguine about this weakness and has to wage an ideological struggle about it, albeit from a minority situation within the movement, and at the cost of temporary unpopularity.
Again, this problem is not of course universal. In countries where Marxism has a stronger tradition, often signalled by the existence of a strong Communist Party, the issue of programme and party is better understood- the examples of Greece and France stand out here.
Can democracy withstand the crisis of neoliberalism?
By the end of his article Fukuyama has forgotten to explicitly answer the question he posed at the beginning: can democracy survive what is being done to the 'middle class' (ie the middle class and the employed working class)? The nearest he come is his account of the deepening social exclusion that maintenance of neoliberalism will necessarily involve:
"..there are lots of reasons to think that inequality will worsen. The current concentration of wealth in the United States has already become self-reinforcing: as the economist Simon Johnson has argued, the financial sector has used its political clout to avoid more onerous forms of regulation. Schools for the well off are better than ever; those for everyone else continue to deteriorate. Elites in all societies use their superior access to the political system to protect their interests, absent a countervailing democratic mobilization to rectify the situation. American elites are no different" .
On the more directly political front, there is good reason to believe that the kind of economic attacks being suffered by working and middle class people in countries like Greece and Spain are incompatible with the 'normal' function of liberal democracy. These take a number of related forms: Social and economic priorities are being dictated from 'outside', by what the EU, the bankers and the international rating agencies will accept. Violent austerity projects are being implemented without ever having been approved by the voters, in the Greece through the mechanism of a 'national government'. Growing police authoritarianism and repressive violence is being unleashed in several countries against protest movements, most notably where the crisis is deepest, in Greece and Spain. The failure to resolve the crisis creates multiple morbid symptoms, including depoliticisation and the growth of the radical right and racism. If no way out of the crisis is forthcoming, other than the brutal austerity determined by the bankers, in the long term 'normal' liberal democracy will come under threat and the system is likely to break - either to the left or with the imposition of come sort of right wing authoritarian regime. The liberal democracy that dominated in all of Western Europe after the fall of the dictatorships in the mid-1970s, and to some extent in the Untied States, was premised on an overall social compact.
Capitalist political democracy relied on maintaining living standards at least to an historically determined minimum. Once the social pact breaks down politics will be transformed, as Karl Polanyi explained in his book The Great Transformation about the political changes of the 1930s. Polanyi called the 1930s 'revolutionary', including in this definition extreme right transformation, as well as left wing and progressive.
So Francis Fukuyama, to give the devil his due, wants to break with neoliberalism, sees deepening inequality, especially in the US, as catastrophic, and wants someone to come up with an alternative, that is not however social democratic or – worse still – socialist. This will not happen however:
"...as long as the middle classes of the developed world remain enthralled by the narrative of the past generation: that there interests will be best served by even freer markets and smaller states. The alternative is out there, waiting to be born." 
The alternative is certainly out there, but it was born a long time ago (in the 1840s if you want to put a date on it). Fukuyama is limiting himself to discussion of advanced capitalist countries, but if his discussion had more involved looking south, he would have found some people trying to put alternatives to neoliberalism into practice – in Venezuela and Bolivia at least. There has never been a more relevant time to challenge 'capitalist realism' in the name of a systematic ideological alternative, one that already knew that neoliberalism and the neocons were bankrupt at the time that Fukuyama championed them.
-Phil Hearse is editor of Marxsite (www.marxsite.com) and a member of Socialist Resistance, the British section of the Fourth International.
 Interview with Der Spiegel
 The Future of History, Foreign Affairs, January-February 2012 p60
 Ibid p61.
 Colin Crouch, The Strange Non-Death of Neoliberalism, Polity Press 2011.
 See for example The Life and Times of Occupy Wall Street, International Socialism issue 135 http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id...
 See http://upsidedownworld.org/main/mex...
 See for example The Shock of the New, Jonny Jones, International Socialism 134.
 Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere, the new Global Revolutions, Paul Mason Verso 2012.
 Crouch, op cit pp 162ff.
 Fukuyama p61
 Fukuyama ibid
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The Congressman's views on women's biology can be found here.
On his 21 August radio program, Rush Limbaugh spent three frothing hours fulmination against the cack-handedness of his own team, their unerring ability to take a sure thing and transform it into purest "Macaca."
In the end Limbaugh seemed to echo his once and future king Rick Santorum: pregnancies under any circumstance are a 'gift.' [Not be be overly economic-determinist, but to the wealthy, with a limitless supply of prescription pep, aren't most of what Human Resources reps call "life events" easily tossed-off as gifts?]
The mentality revealed in these statements gives us a snapshot of patriarchy's moral self-absorption and serenity. As with Dr. Panglosss, all life's setbacks [rape, unemployment, war, eviction, foreclosure] merely underscore how good 'we' have it. "We" being those who can afford it.
For the rest of us, making the best of it, accepting as a gift capitalism's devastations, turns out differently.
Akin's view of how women should approach their position in class society [the gift] is an opinion shared by ruling classes throughout history and around the world. And not just about women. Today gender oppression is a component part of capital's protective armature, pragmatically incorporated along with other ages-old inheritances of racism and obscurantism to divide and conquer working people and their oppressed allies. Thus is the reign of capital prolonged, with deadly consequences.
That the oppressed should accept as gift [uncomplaining] ramifications of the lawful workings of capitalism is bipartisan. There is no alternative perspective from Republicans or Democrats. After thirty-five years of neo-liberal austerity and union-busting, this fact is clear for all to see. Who can see. The fact that it is not clear is a product of the trillion-dollar ideology industry; and in the electoral arena, the idea that the Democratic Party can play an ameliorative role [FDR, LBJ], "lifting all boats."
The material basis for powerful illusions in the stability, fairness, and legitimacy of capital's dictatorship vanished decades ago. What remains, braking class solidarity and a generalized labor upsurge, are social atomization and cop/prison terror. Disguising these brutal defensive bulwarks of the state are powerful values reinforced by every official and private institution and apparatus.
These values reduce a world-historical situation for billions into an individual predicament. Women, doubly oppressed, are told that the most violent and destructive facts of their oppression are but inputs for life's lemonade.
In the teeth of this, the real gift is the speed of outrage over Akin's comments, and the militancy expressed.
French Communist Party backs killing of South African miners
By Alex Lantier
21 August 2012
The World Socialist Web Site notes with contempt the French Communist Party’s defense of the massacre of 34 striking South African platinum miners by police at Marikana.
After sympathetically quoting South African President Jacob Zuma and cynically expressing its “indignation and horror” at the violence, the brief communiqué published August 17 by the Communist Party (PCF) states: “The PCF reaffirms its solidarity with all the political and trade union forces in South Africa in their struggle to reduce inequality, for progress and for social justice under the true rule of law.”
It is public knowledge that the “political and trade union forces” defended by the PCF ordered and defended the massacre. The African National Congress (ANC) government’s national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, declared after the massacre that she “gave police the responsibility to execute the task they needed to do.” She opposed any prosecution of those responsible for the miners’ deaths, saying, “This is no time for finger-pointing.”
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), whose former president Cyril Ramaphosa has gone on to amass a fortune of $275 million, has opposed the miners’ strike. NUM General Secretary Frans Baleni defended the police, stating, “The police were patient, but these people were armed with dangerous weapons.”
The PCF’s fellow Stalinists in the South African Communist Party (SACP), who historically have supported the ANC, dismissed the police killing of strikers as “worker-to-worker violence.”
The massacre of South African miners is an event of international significance, testifying to the murderous hostility of bourgeois “left” parties and the trade union apparatus towards any militant movement of the working class that threatens to escape the suffocating grip of the official unions. It is also a sharp warning to the working class internationally.
By praising police toadies in South Africa as fighters for justice and the rule of law, the PCF is signaling that it and PCF-affiliated unions like the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) will not object to similar acts of police violence to crush strikes in Europe.
The rest of France’s petty-bourgeois “left,” which operates within the CGT and with the PCF on the periphery of France’s social democratic government, is maintaining a telling silence on this outrage. As of this writing, five days after the killings, the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) has still not commented on the Marikana massacre on its web site.
As for the Workers Struggle (LO) group, the CGT’s most dogged promoter, it has published only one brief, eight-line news dispatch on the massacre. LO is totally silent on the role of the ANC and NUM, but concludes: “Whatever some kind souls may claim, the class struggle is still present, sometimes ferocious. This is proof.”
LO’s platitudes are calculated to allow the French petty-bourgeois pseudo-left to maintain its political support for the organizers of the Marikana massacre.
French Communist Party backs killing of South African miners
SACP official Dominic Tweedie was quoted as saying: “This was no massacre, this was a battle. The police used their weapons in exactly the way they were supposed to. That's what they have them for. The people they shot didn't look like workers to me. We should be happy. The police were admirable.”
Monday, August 20, 2012
The article below is a Commentary piece. Articles posted in the Commentary section do not necessarily reflect the views of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Editorial Board of Liberation.
Remembering Antonio Gramsci: Italian revolutionary and writer
By William West
August 20, 2012
Jan. 22 marks the birthday of Antonio Gramsci, a seminal Marxist thinker. Gramsci was a key activist in Italy during the 1920s. His often misunderstood ideas remain relevant today.
Gramsci moved from rural Sardinia to industrialized Turin in 1911. He saw that while both the workers and the peasants were being exploited, their world-views were very different, and this led to distrust between these two classes. Gramsci was convinced that if workers and peasants could fight together, capitalism could be overthrown in Italy. He wondered how these groups could be made to view their interests as one.
Gramsci joined the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), which strove for socialist reform through electoral means. There were food shortages and riots in 1919. Soviets (workers councils) were set up in many cities. The PSI focused on winning seats in Parliament and did not participate in the soviets. Gramsci saw the need to begin operating independently.
He went to Turin's factories to organize workers' councils that would stay on-site after-hours to study Marxism. Gramsci hoped the councils would help create a fertile environment for a new revolutionary party to grow. The councils started organizing marches and strikes around political issues, and successfully demanded pay raises. The industrial capitalists attacked the councils by locking the workers out of the factories. When unions started negotiating to re-open them, the factory owners demanded an end to the councils. In response, Gramsci and his comrades proposed a general strike throughout Turin. They hoped that a successful strike would help spread the movement throughout Italy.
Most of the workers of Turin participated in the strike. The bosses formed "Commissions of Civil Defense" in which they, their families and friends volunteered to perform civil services, such as distributing food and mail to the population of Turin, thereby blunting the effect of the strike. They made themselves appear to the population of Turin as benefactors of society. The masses were led to believe their interests were tied to the welfare of the city's rich, rather than to that of the striking workers.
By the summer of 1920, the Italian workers' movement was on the defensive. The factory owners demanded increased insurance premiums and a ban on overtime. Throughout the country, workers took to "obstructionism"—intentionally working slowly, or engaging in what is known in the United States as a "slowdown." The owners threatened mass lockouts. In response, more than 400,000 people occupied their workplaces throughout Italy in September 1920. Workers' councils oversaw production and different factories communicated with each other to provide for the needs of the people on a national scale.
Gramsci celebrated the occupation movement but warned against viewing it as a revolution. So long as the state was still in the service of the capitalist class, the workers would eventually see their organizations overthrown.
The parliamentary members of the PSI agreed to exert their influence to quell the movement in exchange for union control of the factories. Gramsci took from this that even when a revolutionary situation presented itself, actual revolution was impossible without a well-developed revolutionary party. He helped found the Communist Party of Italy in 1921. Gramsci viewed union control of the factories still under capitalist ownership as counter-revolutionary, because the Italian workers might come to view themselves as invested in the state of the capitalists who exploited them, thus losing their revolutionary potential.
Union control, however, never came about, as the capitalists paid off rightist parliamentarians and fascist thugs to oppose it. As the fascist movement—headed by Benito Mussolini, formerly a leading member of the PSI—became more powerful, the Soviet Union advised the Italian left to form a united front to oppose fascism.
Gramsci sought to form an alliance between communists, socialists and anarchists, but ideological divisions made this impossible. The fascists took over and outlawed both the PSI and the CPI. In 1926, Gramsci was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison. After suffering years of harsh imprisonment in solitary confinement, he was conditionally released from prison in 1934 due to his declining health. Gramsci died three years later, in 1937.
Gramsci wrote over 3,000 pages on politics during his years of imprisonment. He believed that the capitalist class had been able to derail revolution in Italy because the peasants had not been made to see their struggle as one with that of the urban proletariat. If they had, the entire nation might have joined in striking against capitalism. Gramsci noted how seizing a revolutionary opportunity from a capitalist crisis depended on developing a sense of unity between different classes and sectors of classes.
This sense of unity between different groups, which Gramsci called a "historic bloc," had been successfully articulated by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution
Those oppressed by capitalism are comprised of different groups with unique life experiences. Although these groups have come to think of themselves as separate from each other, Gramsci believed they must come to understand themselves as one exploited totality.
This sense of unity between different groups, which Gramsci called a "historic bloc," had been successfully articulated by the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution. The Bolsheviks' emphasis on the struggle of all exploited classes against national oppression made unity in the Russian Empire possible. Gramsci referred to the successful formation of a historic bloc as "hegemony."
In Italy, however, the capitalist class had formed a historic bloc with the peasants and sectors of more-privileged workers. They peasants and these workers were convinced that their interests lay with the capitalist class rather than the factory workers. Gramsci deduced that for a revolution to be successful in an advanced capitalist society, a historic bloc would have to be formed between the various sectors of exploited and oppressed.
In recent months, we have witnessed initial steps in the direction of what Gramsci would have called the formation of a hegemonic operation. The mantra of the Occupy Wall Street movement—"We are the 99 percent!"—articulates a unity between all but the most privileged in U.S. society—the tiny elite of banks and corporations—the 1 percent.
Rather than expressing the needs of the majority as dependent on the capitalists—the "job-creators" as the right wing calls them—the Occupy Wall Street movement expresses a shared interest between even relatively highly paid "white-collar" workers and the most oppressed members of our society.
Of course, whether or not the Occupy movement evolves into a "historic bloc" that can ultimately overthrow the capitalist system will depend on whether it can move beyond expressing the rightful grievances of the majority against the capitalist class to adopting a working-class program.
Gramsci's ideas misappropriated by 'post-Marxists'
Unfortunately, Gramsci's name has become associated in some circles with counterrevolutionary ideas. In their book "Hegemony and Socialist Strategy," published in 1985, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe hijacked Gramsci's theories to claim that class struggle was no longer viable, and in the process anointed themselves "post-Marxists."
Workers have, according to Laclau and Mouffe, formed a historic bloc with the capitalists through the labor movement, thus becoming invested in the capitalist state. According to the post-Marxist narrative, workers under advanced capitalism are not simply workers but have also become consumers and administrators.
What is needed is not revolution, Laclau and Mouffe claim, but the expansion of participatory democracy to oppressed minorities, who will learn to form their own historic blocs with the "democratic" capitalist state.
What these arguments ignore is that neither "participatory democracy" nor the class-conciliatory line of the labor movement can alter the function of the capitalist state as an instrument of repression against the working class. Advanced capitalist countries are run under the dictatorship of the capitalist class, though imperialist super-profits have made possible what could be termed a "historic bloc" between the capitalists and organized labor. But as evident from the severe weakening of most unions over the past few decades, this bloc has not served the longer-term interests of the working class and is doomed to collapse.
Gramsci, as a Marxist, would not view the participation of workers in capitalist institutions as truly democratic. No matter what possessions a high-paid worker may amass, everything can be taken away from that worker in a time of crisis. The capitalist class can take away every "right," including access to shelter and food, from these "liberated workers."
Further, by promoting divisive ideologies such as racism, sexism and homophobia, the ruling class does not just spread false consciousness but extracts extra profits. The end of national oppression will not come about as the result of workers from oppressed nationalities gaining access to a share of capitalist super-profits. It will come from all sectors of the working class rejecting all forms of exploitation and oppression, and overturning the capitalist system.
Despite the misappropriation of Gramsci's thought, revolutionaries should remember Gramsci as someone who dedicated his life to the struggle of the working class, and for his important contributions to Marxist analysis.
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The man who gave the Black Panther Party some of its first firearms and weapons training – which preceded fatal shootouts with Oakland police in the turbulent 1960s – was an undercover FBI informer, according to a former bureau agent and an FBI report.
One of the Bay Area's most prominent radical activists of the era, Richard Masato Aoki was known as a fierce militant who touted his street-fighting abilities. He was a member of several radical groups before joining and arming the Panthers, whose members received international notoriety for brandishing weapons during patrols of the Oakland police and a protest at the state Capitol.
Aoki went on to work for 25 years as a teacher, counselor and administrator at the Peralta Community College District, and after his suicide in 2009, he was revered as a fearless radical.
But unbeknownst to his fellow activists, Aoki had served as an FBI intelligence informant, covertly filing reports on a wide range of Bay Area political groups, according to the bureau agent who recruited him.
That agent, Burney Threadgill Jr., recalled that he approached Aoki in the late 1950s, about the time Aoki was graduating from Berkeley High School. He asked Aoki if he would join left-wing groups and report to the FBI.
"He was my informant. I developed him," Threadgill said in an interview. "He was one of the best sources we had."
The former agent said he asked Aoki how he felt about the Soviet Union, and the young man replied that he had no interest in communism.
"I said, 'Well, why don't you just go to some of the meetings and tell me who's there and what they talked about?' Very pleasant little guy. He always wore dark glasses," Threadgill recalled.
Book Details Role
Aoki's work for the FBI, which has never been reported, was uncovered and verified during research for the book by this reporter, "Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power." The book, based on research spanning three decades, will be published Tuesday by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
In 2007, two years before he committed suicide, Aoki was asked in a tape-recorded interview for the book if he had been an FBI informant. Aoki's first response was a long silence. He then replied, " 'Oh,' is all I can say."
Later during the same interview, Aoki contended the information wasn't true.
Asked if this reporter was mistaken that Aoki had been an informant, Aoki said, "I think you are," but added: "People change. It is complex. Layer upon layer."
FBI Code Number
The FBI later released records about Aoki in response to a federal Freedom of Information Act request made by this reporter. A Nov. 16, 1967, intelligence report on the Black Panthers lists Aoki as an "informant" with the code number "T-2."
An FBI spokesman declined to comment on Aoki, citing litigation seeking additional records about him under the Freedom of Information Act.
Since Aoki shot himself at his Berkeley home after a long illness, his legend has grown. In a 2009 feature-length documentary film, "Aoki," and a 2012 biography, "Samurai Among Panthers," he is portrayed as a militant radical leader. Neither mentions that he had worked with the FBI.
Harvey Dong, who was a fellow activist and close friend, said last week that he had never heard that Aoki was an informant.
"It's definitely something that is shocking to hear," said Dong, who was the executor of Aoki's estate. "I mean, that's a big surprise to me."
Finding the Informant
Threadgill recalled that he first approached Aoki after a bureau wiretap on the home phone of Saul and Billie Wachter, local members of the Communist Party, picked up Aoki talking to Berkeley High classmate Doug Wachter.
At first, Aoki gathered information about the Communist Party, Threadgill said. But Aoki soon focused on the Socialist Workers Party and its youth affiliate, the Young Socialist Alliance, which also were targets of an intensive FBI domestic security investigation.