Saturday, March 31, 2012

WWP, OWS, Chris Hedges, Left Forum & the sorrows and frustrations of our time

Left Forum used to be called the Socialist Scholars Conference.  Anyone reviewing the 2012 videos and list of classes would be forced to admit that there is nothing socialist about this yearly activist and protest movement event.  The fact that it is no longer termed a conference, but instead a forum, says a great deal about the tempo and temperament of the organizers and attendees.

On 30 March 2012 Workers World Party leader Caleb T. Maupin called down Olympian wrath upon the head of one particular speaker at this year's event, the Nation Institute scholar and former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges.  [His talk ca be viewed here.]  Clearly, reading Maupin's article in the latest issue of Workers World, that party has a deep and abiding stake in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. 


Caleb T. Maupin

In lines the anger and bitterness of which it would be hard to overstate, Maupin writes to Hedges:

The speech you gave at the Left Forum this year, in which you presented yourself as someone with authority and wisdom needed by OWS, said things that are the opposite of how I and many other OWSers feel.

Listening to the Hedges Left Forum talk on blip.tv, I must admit I did not see anything uncharacteristic in what Hedges had to say.  After an introduction by Francis Fox Piven, who somehow managed to misread every title Hedges has produced in his career, the author spent most of his time comparing the current U.S. conjuncture to that in the GDR and the former Czechoslovakia in 1989, and to Sarajevo during the Yugoslav civil war.  For these comparisons he used his own experience as a foreign correspondent during the period, name-dropping like all good foreign correspondents.  He also made no secret that his heroes and role models are Alexander Herzen, Julien Benda, George Orwell, and Vaclev Havel.  Clearly there is no false modesty here!

Hedges seems most concerned that atypical supporters of OWS, those not normally drawn to protests or galvanized by issues of political currency, not be scared away from attending OWS mobilizations and events.  He insists that non-non-violent actions by the Black Bloc, because they provoke increasing levels of cop wilding and cop violence, cut against the ability to build the OWS movement among the newly politicized.

This point of Hedges' recalls a 15 October 2011 Oakland street corner discussion lead by Omali Yeshitela.  He fielded questions from Black and Muslim activists concerned that white anarchists were involving them in actions unnecessarily provoking cops and bringing more fire down upon oppressed peoples of color.  [On the You Tube video, this point is raised at 00:26:00].  Were the Black and Muslim activists wrong to be concerned that white anarchist OWSers, because they wanted to do their own thing, were objectively inviting or provoking  further and perhaps more punitive attacks on the whole OWS encampment, where violence would fall principally upon Black and Muslim activists present?

Workers World Party leader Maupin seems more concerned that Hedges is letting the cops and the 1% off the hook.  When we accuse fellow activists with whom we disagree of being double-dealers and even perhaps traitors and fools, does this "You don't speak for me!" anger create space for open discussion of differences? 

Why would you divide the movement by trying to label one section as "violent" and "dangerous"? Why would you aid the state in isolating some sections? Aren't the Wall Street bankers the real criminals?

Are Hedges and Yeshitela doing this when they criticize and condemn some anarchists who want to rise to the subjectivist and self-satisfying option of further provoking the cops and the capitalist state?  Who in particular OWS camps and assemblies voted to allow some to do their own thing, without criticism and regardless of the consequences?


*

In his Left Forum talk, Hedges wallows in the revolting and enervating rhetoric of middle class radicalism.  He has written books against what he calls "American Fascists" and against the "new" atheism.  He decries the neoliberalization of US political culture, it seems; but what he really decries is only the evaporation of a long tradition of petty bourgeois protest based upon the grievances of farmers and small shopkeepers a century and more ago.  Hedges is one of countless middle class professionals/intellectuals who have always found a chair at the head table of U.S. capitalism when the music stops.  Only now is his sense of dignity affronted.

He lauds the transparency, consensus, "true democracy" and nonviolence ('at this moment') of OWS.  Clearly he, unlike Maupin, does not see OWS from the trenches.  That he can sum up OWS with these phrases indicates not a little wishful thinking, as well.  If OWS were, in cities like Oakland and NYC [or here in Cleveland],  built on democracy, transparency, and consensus, all its activists would know their own subgroups could not act on their own.

"Force is all they have left," Hedges says of the 1%.  When going up against OWS, and the relatively leaderless and nearly completely un-class-conscious proletariat, force is all the U.S. ruling class requires.

*

The agitational slogan of 99% vs.1% as used by both Hedges and Maupin increasingly obscures more than it clarifies.  Irreconcilable enemies of workers and their oppressed allies in the United States, who will never be tempted to come over to "our side," comprise far more than the 1% of our exploiters. 

Consider this:

The 1 percent/99 percent is an arbitrary division that serves to obfuscate real social classes, which are based on irreconcilable interests. It dovetails perfectly with the demagogy that permeates the 2012 Democratic election campaign, part of the bosses' two-party sham.

The propertied rulers and their allies represent much more than 1 percent of the population. The capitalist class, in many gradations of size, includes the owners of all the factories, mines, mills, real estate, transportation and shipping, retail and commercial distribution, banking and finance, media, legal and illegal drug manufacture and distribution, etc, etc.

They include owners and co-owners of the 1.3 million firms that employ 10 or more workers, more than 2 million top corporate executives and the board members of some 6,500 banks.

Maintaining "order" on the shop floor for the capitalist owners are millions of supervisors, foremen and other management personnel.

The bosses are backed by the armed power of their state: over 800,000 federal, state and local cops; some 518,000 prison guards and jailers; and another 100,000 parole and probation officers; a military officer corps of 200,000; 58,000 agents and support personnel in the FBI, Secret Service and Defense Intelligence Agency; tens of thousands more in the CIA and National Security Agency, whose exact numbers the rulers keep "top secret"; 41,000 immigration and border patrol personnel; 10,000 in the Drug Enforcement Agency; 5,000 Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents; and more.

Add to this the millions who comprise a substantial section of middle-class "professional" layers not directly associated with production, but whose primary function is connected in one way or another to maintaining the social relations of capitalist production. These include lawyers, professors, think tank and non-governmental organization functionaries, etc—the self-styled "enlightened meritocracy."

Rather than a "greedy" 1 percent, we confront the capitalist class and its allies representing far more than 10 times that—all of whom utterly depend on maintaining the exploitation of our labor, the source of all wealth. We are then confronted with the real class relations under capitalism, as well as the necessity and possibility of proletarian revolution to bring it to an end.

*

Most of Maupin's "open letter" about Hedges is a defense of Workers World Party's line on the end of the Cold War.  In his Left Forum talk, Hedges spent most of his time defining the end of the Cold War as profoundly progressive, obviously reassuring his audience of anti-communist  radicals and reformed "68ers" that OWS was the moral inheritor of Benda, Orwell, and Havel. 

Maupin writes:

Right now, the women of Eastern Europe, who once had paid maternity leave, guaranteed employment, and birth control and abortion on demand, are sex trafficked at higher rates than ever.

The events you described in your speech as being so glorious were simply the 1% taking control of Eastern Europe for themselves. Things for the working class have gotten worse since Wall Street recolonized a big chunk of the globe, with your confessed assistance.

I don't want to model our movement on the events that led to economic catastrophe and mass suffering in Eastern Europe. Rather, the political movements I look to as inspiration for the OWS are the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Chinese Revolution of 1949, the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and other socialist revolutions where the 99% took power away from the 1%.

In addition, I think much can be learned from the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China, where young people like us fought to prevent capitalist restoration.

Likewise, the anti-war movement, the Black Liberation movement, the Unemployed Councils and sit-down strike waves of the 1930s have real lessons for OWS on how to fight and win against the 1% here in the U.S.

Many within these movements, just like many of us in OWS, thought of capitalism and U.S. imperialism as the true enemy of humanity. They saw their movements, as we see OWS, as a place to fight to overthrow the system and create a society where the 99% rule.

A new chant has been catching on at OWS rallies in New York. It was on our lips in Union Square on March 21 when they tried to evict us. We also chanted it when we took back Zuccotti with crowds of Left Forum activists.

We chanted, "Just like Ho Chi Minh! Occupy is gonna win!"

When the Vietnamese people kicked the Wall Street bankers out of their country, it was a great victory for all humanity. It took a great deal of militancy and relentless years of heroic sacrifice on the part of the Vietnamese people.

I have no doubt that it will take a similarly long and relentless struggle to bring down the 1% in the U.S. But I'm confident that just as the Soviet people drove the Nazis out of Eastern Europe, the Chinese Red Army drove Japanese imperialism out of their country, and the people of Cuba still stand strong, that just like Ho Chi Minh, we too will win and defeat the 1%!

A recent article by John Studer in the Militant takes a step back from the OWS trench to lay out a Marxist-Leninist perspective for the current and coming period.  Since Maupin's "open letter" contains little of scientific socialism or broader communist perspectives, I will close with some lines from Studer:

As individual struggles wind down, some workers become demoralized and embittered, making them susceptible to rightist conspiracy theories and sectarian anti-union "anti-bureaucratic" demagogy. They can become the feeding ground for rightist and fascist-minded groups, fostered by a wing of the bosses for future use when workers rise to challenge their rule.

Others seek to remain true to the struggle they fought but cannot see beyond a vicious cycle of defensive battles and temporary lulls, waiting to fight again another day.

Militant workers don't need to wait for another day. The road forward is political. It is the building of a proletarian party, which draws on the continuity of more than 150 years of working-class struggle, and charts a course toward political power.

At the same time, such a revolutionary road forward is not easy to see today; it requires political imagination and a sense of history. The recent period is unusual. For some two decades there have been no revolutionary forces leading workers' battles to end capitalist exploitation and replace it with workers power anywhere in the world. Nothing in the labor movement today is even moving beyond economic solidarity to begin fighting around burning social questions.

In 1917 the Russian Revolution was a beacon to workers around the world. In 1959, when Fidel Castro led a triumphant Cuban people to power in Havana, overlapping with the proletarian Black rights movement that smashed Jim Crow segregation in the U.S., a new generation was won to revolutionary politics.

In 1979, workers and farmers in Nicaragua, Grenada and Iran overthrew tyrannies beholden to imperialism, inspiring tens of thousands. Into the '80s one of the most profound revolutions in African history conquered in Burkina Faso, drawing attention across the continent and others worldwide.

In the 1980s and into the '90s, new generations of Cuban revolutionaries gained experience and confidence through mobilization in Angola, where they were decisive in defeating the South African apartheid army and hastening the fall of that racist regime, and in volunteer brigades in Cuba that strengthened the revolution.

As the Socialist Workers Party, a proletarian party of industrial workers, engages with others in the unfolding class struggles it looks to recruit and win allies to advance the interests of the working class. The party acts on the assumption that the opportunities and challenges that confront our class will be similar for the next several years, as the bosses keep pushing and workers are forced to respond.

The SWP must become more deeply integrated into the fights unfolding today, using its propaganda arsenal—the Militant newspaper and Pathfinder books on the lessons of previous revolutionary working-class struggles—to advance the discussion about the need to construct a revolutionary party to help mobilize the fight for workers' power. The party seeks to expand this propaganda systematically among working people in rural areas outside the city limits where party branches are located and among workers who are Black.

*

For the last six months Workers World Party has been trying to build a popular organization called Occupy 4 Jobs.  The stated goal is to unite the indignation and direct action of OWS with a more explicitly anti-capitalist series of demands for relief and an end to government austerity.  The O4J group has launched many trial balloons, including an upcoming National Tour to Build Peoples Power.  Clearly WWP has put all its eggs in the Occupy basket.

At the same time, the party has decided not to field a presidential election ticket.  Not using bourgeois elections to popularize and recruit to scientific socialism may be a necessity, but it is one the party leadership has so far left unexplained.

In the context of Washington's war drive against Syria and Iran; the obvious and demonstrable limitations of North American OWS and the mass movements of the Arab Spring and many European anti-austerity struggles, a high level of impatience and frustration is not unexpected.

Is this the context where anger at Chris Hedges's 14 karat anticommunism could permit WWP to publish a piece like Maupin's, containing an unprecedented level of political venom?

I can appreciate the frustration manifested in every line of Maupin's piece, but not why WWP thought it useful or constructive to publish the piece.

*

A Marxist-Leninst approach to OWS, its rank and file, and professional intellectuals like Hedges begins with a little circumspection and, of course, some reading and study.  We are Marxists, after all.

Jay
20120331