Saturday, March 30, 2002

In my post about the McCarthy period I prefaced it by saying that this was history that you weren't going to get anywhere else-now I'm going to come through on that statement again. To my knowledge this hasn't been published anywhere. If I'm wrong so be it, but if I'm not...well here's the deal: Nixon was responsable for extending the Cold War because he won China over to the side of the U.S.
Nixon is usually gushed over as helping to end the Cold War because he 'broke the iron curtain' around China and 'divided China and the Soviet Union'. That's the normal bullshit. Problem is that China and the Soviet Union were divided since the mid fifties. Nixon went to China in the early seventies. China broke with Moscow over Khruschev's de-Stalinization. China continued in a modified Stalinist model,
loosely termed 'Maoism', which enabled it to implement totalitarian social programs, like the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, at a time when the Soviet Union was content to live with the
Brezhnev status quo. So what were Nixon and Kissenger really after? Well, a clue comes the fact that
after China broke with Moscow it decided to act as a 'Third force' on behalf of countries now known as 'Third World countries'. The idea of the Third World was Mao's invention, and the reasoning behind it was that the non-industrialized/colonial/recently post-colonial countries had a fundamentally different set of problems and challenges from both the Capitalist countries and the European Communist countries, and should therefore work together for a unique solution to their situation. This Third World-ism was the
flip side of what was known, and I guess still is, as the non-aligned movement-which was initiated by Yugoslavia-which had broken from Moscow on it's own, India, and several other countries to do basicly the same thing-advocate an alternative political and economic worldview to both Capitalism and Communism. In both movements the idea was for these countries to act as wedge against the warring ideologies. In case you didn't know, for the Third World choosing between Capitalism and Communism essentially meant choosing between Western Imperialism and Communist Imperialism. The non-aligned and Third Worldist movements argued for straight independence from any type of Colonialism, neocolonialism, or imperialism. Maoism was the activist and radical arm of the movement.
Yugoslavia was not urging radical change, although it certainly wouldn't have been adverse to it. What's more because Maoism involved a good degree of decentralization and what appeared to be 'local
initiative' and because it too was against beaurocracy it had more than rhetorical appeal to countries
lacking a strong central government.
Whereas Yugoslavia was a poor country, China was comparatively rolling in dough. That meant that they could have put their money where their mouth was with regards to funding a Third World wedge movement. Oh, the ultimate purpose would have been to overthrow both U.S. Capitalism and Soviet Communism in their own countries as well, after the colonialism had been taken care of, replacing both with radical nationalist-communist regimes....but...that prospect was extremely distant. Having the Third World, newly decolonized, not incorporated into colonial relationships with either of the Great Powers was.
Nixon met with Mao to assure that China would not follow up on it's rhetoric and promises, but would instead agree to stop toting third worldism in exchange for a) being left relatively alone by the United States and b) having preferential trade deals which benefitted the Chinese economy.
It was successful. The Third Worldism stopped. The agreements reached between Mao and Nixon set the stage for Mao's successors, after Maoism was overthrown, to stear China more concretely to being a semi-capitalist state allied with the United States. The acceptance of China into the WTO is just the fruit of over 25 years of effort by the United States to coopt China.
What does this all mean and why is it important. Why would it have ended the Cold War? The answear is quite simple: when the field of battle was reduced to just two opponents it was impossable for any outside force to intervene and try to stop the confrontation, or at least break the stand off. When a third force is involved, even if it's poor Third World Countries, the options for alliances and strategy expand dramatically. If a Third World country, say China, was strongly independent, it could play the U.S. off the Soviet Union in terms of economic agreements, treaties, military alliances, cooperation, etc...once the U.S. and the Soviet Union are competing against each other to supplicate the wants of a Third world country instead of trying to dominate the world the Cold War is effectively over. They aren't in control anymore. Once third world countries can band together against Soviet and U.S. Imperialism with the aid of Chinese troops and money the ideological battle between Capitalism and Communism instantly loses credibility, and instead the big powers would have been shown to be directed by interests that had to do with the old standby of power and influence, instead of ideology.
If the Third World didn't choose either Capitalism or Communism, then this is a result that does not compute with the Cold War mindset. The Third World, so it was thought, was dying to embrace Capitalism-but the darned Commies were infiltrating the countries and preventing them from doing so.
Mozambique, Angola or Tanzania saying 'Fuck You' to the great powers does not do much for the credibility of Cold War ideology.
If the stand off between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was really broken like this it would have forced everyone to suddenly engage in more nuanced diplomatic relationships, which would have meant the end of the Soviet Union being our absolute enemy and the U.S. being theirs. If the edge was taken off foreign relations-due to common interest in suppressing the Third World, then both countries would not be able to maintain the high state of paranoia and nationalism that the Cold War had engendered, with the result being a relaxation of civil liberties and effective freedom in both places.

But Nixon had to go and fuck the whole thing up by bribing China to fall in line with the United States.
If you thought that Nixon was good on at least this issue, think again.
If there had been an early end to the Cold War due to the entry of a third force we would not have the
scenario that we have now-where the Soviet Union has fallen and people are declaring Capitalism to be the one true path-and there's a huge vacuum where conceptions of alternate ways of structuring the economic and political system should be.
Think about it.

I have to add a caveat to my last post, lest people acuse me of 'bourgeois individualism'- those anthropological nitches I was talking about....see the thing that their based on is the economic structure of society. The economic structure of society produces the anthropological nitches. Now, there are two basic things that make up society, the individual and the economic structure. We might be able to transform the economic structure so that it doesn't produce anthropological nitches-classes or any other
type of division-i.e. the beaurocracy and the people-, but we can't get rid of the economic factor. We can make it so that the individual, however concieved, and his or her well being is the thing that the economic structure works for-but people will still have to work, and in this glorious future all will have to do some kind of work in addition to having their liberty. The difference is that the liberty comes first. Then the work. The advantage of this is that through letting ones liberty be applied through work one actually gains a greater understanding of oneself and of the world. So having to work while having liberty is a good thing. The factor that will seperate a Stalinist hell hole from a decent society is if the work is ultimately being directed towards the common good, including the good of the person doing the work, and if that fact is reflected in work and in society at all levels.
We can argue that the dichotomy between individuals and work, and economic need, is just a subset of a greater one-between human beings and Nature. After our own emancipation, or as a part of it, should come an ultimate reconcilliation between humans as beings with economic and material needs and humans as animals that are part of the ecosystem just like any other living creature. We all, animals, plants, and humans, need to learn how to live together in a harmonious and stable way.
Quality of life should include all life, if you want to get glib.
The reason why simply saying Rich and Poor and not talking about class is wrong.

The New Left, in my eyes, went wrong primarily because it took a temporary economic boom to mean a fundamental change in the economic structure. This boom enabled people like Marcuse, Michael Harrington, C. Wright Mills, and others to deny the class structure of society and to instead propose an analysis where bourgeois society was seen as uncompromised. Forget about those workers-bourgeois society and values are here to stay! Harrington was especially obnoxious-even though he went through the last days of the Old Left his major contribution to post war analysis was ‘the Other America’ where he made the claim that capitalism was OK except for a few ‘pockets of poverty’. No need to look for the working class here-just give a few bucks to the kids in Appalachia and to the people of the inner cities and you can sleep soundly.

Folks, it isn’t quite that simple. To illustrate why I’m going to introduce a concept I call the ‘anthropological nitche’ idea. It’s pretty simple: all societies are made up of a combination of anthropological nitches-and these nitches are established on the basis of some broad characteristic that their members have which demarcates their lives from those of people from other nitches. Think of the concept of an ecological nitche: organisms interacting with their environments over time establish a fixed way of doing things based on the presence of persistent environmental characteristics. They become fixed in their nitche. It doesn’t matter if the nitche looks to us as being exceedingly artificial-to them it’s dependable, so they have adapted themselves. The same goes for us. Human nature is such that we have to go on our feelings and on the information that our immediate environment presents us-it’s not possible to take everything in. So we pull together a view of the world based on our limited knowledge of it. Education helps to broaden a perspective, but culture effects us so deeply that a few hours at school everyday are usually not enough to equalize any sort of perspective with one that’s radically different. So is born the anthropological nitche.That being the case I think that class, and race as regards the U.S., is a prime demarcater and creater of nitches. The working class and the bourgeois class in the U.S. don’t just have different amounts of money and power-they effectively live in two different worlds.

One world is defined by working class prospects for future change, i.e. the frustration of those prospects. The other one is defined by liberty to pursue a wide range of future prospects with a good deal of support. Individual liberty has real meaning for those in the top class, for the ones at the bottom it’s just a word. Pressing further, you could say that the difference is between a life based on liberty and a life based on work. Everyone has to, in some sense, work in order to survive. The days of the idle rich are largely behind us. But everyone also has some sort of liberty. This liberty is based on the capabilities of the individual. If liberty comes first the individual is able to realize his potentialities, and then apply them to work. If work comes first then a person is destined to spend his or her life doing jobs that are oppressive, with little control over the choice or quality, and that same individual will have to accept a corresponding deformation of their self and of their liberty. It’s said sometimes that ‘you can’t expect the world’, but while not all of us may have the chance to become movie stars there does exist a vast chasm between what the children of the rich, the bougeois, the managers and owners, will have to ‘settle with’ and what the children of regular
workers will have to. College for the bourgeois is a ticket to jobs located around the country, interesting an stimulating. Job prospects for the worker are demarcated by the town limits, or by the town limits of a relative’s place of residence.

With Bourgeois jobs comes bourgeois perks-flex time, even talk about a free agent nation. What do workers get? The shaft if they don’t simp to the boss, a little quisling autocrat who wants to ride exploitation out of the working class ghetto.

My point is this: can a person who grows up with resources to learn and feel, and who has the whole world ahead of him, and who then makes good on that potential, really be said to live in the same society as someone who’s life has been marked by a presumption of failure? Who has to do a fetch-and-steppin routine for the brass to try to get a scholarship for a ticket out?
There’s a reason why working families tend to ascend the class ladder through jobs like engineer. It’s because if you win the football scholarship they aren’t inclined to fund your interest in philosophy. Funny, what if you have an interest in philosophy, or potentially have one, but come from a poor family, are short and suck at sports? You see what demarcates this anthropological nitche from the upper and bourgeois classes is that there’s some breaking point when it comes to liberty: after a certain level of material comfort and a reasonable amount of self control with regards to jobs the amount of liberty this translates into goes through the roof. The upper classes are raised in and exist in an environment where that barrier has already been breached, where they can comfortably explore their own feelings, interests, skills, strengths, etc....The working class is defined by the fact that that barrier is still very real. People work their whole lives just to escape it, they put up with who knows how much in the hope that they can just get through, so that they can experience, and so that their families can experience, some sort of decent middle class life. They try to provide for their kids so that they can grow up in an environment with more liberty, more possibilities, than they did.
People are told over and over again that they can’t do anything about it, or they’re fed the line that someone working a forty hour week as a janitor goes through the same ‘work’ experience as someone who puts in forty hours as an executive, that more money will only improve things marginally...forget about this breakthrough...the Rich only differ from the Poor and the workers by the size of their TV sets.
I wonder if people on the top know what they’re suggesting to a person when they ask him to just ‘grin and bear it’. You only have one life to live, and class mobility doesn’t come easy in this society after you’re set in your ways. Asking people to ‘grin and bear it’ while the children of the Rich get to party away four years or engage in philosophical masturbation with postmodernism and post-structuralism is a death sentence. It’s a condemnation to lead a meaningless life, with maybe a respite of glancing a few pages here and there.

Ward Churchill put the situation in perspective, talking specifically about minorities, when he said that ‘The system’, capitalism, doesn’t just exist in some abstract realm-it’s ruining people’s lives here and now. Every year that this class based society of workers and managers exists another high school class is condemned to poverty. Every year this keeps going on people continue to be born, have their ambitions thwarted, resign themselves to a terrible job and life, take up drinking, and die bitter poor and used up. No one ever breaks through the system. You poor your life into it and it leaves you with nothing to show for it after a lifetime of service, except maybe a few toys for the bosses kids.

Hegel had an interesting conception of this, which Marx took over: he said that on the one hand there was the State, and on the other hand there were the collective industries that supplied the needs of the State. In Hegel’s conception people were both workers and members of the State, so they benefitted from their own labor. I think that the Bourgeois class is a good stand in for Hegel’s State, that it exists as a film over the industries of society where people not lucky enough to be born above the film toil for their benefit.

You know that there’s a better way. What Marx and all the socialists loved about Capitalism was that it made the experience of living ‘above the film’ possible for many more people than ever before. Their goal was to take that precious experience of personal liberty and self expression and change society so that everyone could have the benefit of growing up and experiencing it. Work was going to play second fiddle to Liberty, Comfort, Standard of living, quality of life, instead of the other way around. This is the goal of socialism-and it isn’t that radical, if you look up the Australian Labor Party’s statement of values you’ll find something very similar to what I’ve just related. And the Australian Labor Party isn’t exactly a minority party.

There’s a misunderstanding about what Marx meant by revolution. In the Communist Manifesto he actually defines revolution not as a coup but as a name given to a general process of social change that ends with a fundamental redefinition of society.
We can accomplish this change, and make life in it’s fullest sense possible for all citizens without bloody war, without atrocities-Europe, although not ideal, has shown that great change is possible without hurting people. We Just have to exert legitimate force to advance our cause. Struggle exists in all times, it’s the backbone for revolution. Struggle for change is also legitimate. Only your life and your children’s lives at stake.

This struggle is fundamental. It’s the struggle of life or death that goes on everyday, behind the scenes of Bourgeois life. If the New Left and any successors to them do not recognize that this is an issue my advice is to reject their ideas, because obviously they’re so far into Bourgeois life that they’ve lost touch with reality. Witness Barbera Ehrenreich in Nickel and Dimed. This is why class is important, and discussion of ‘Rich vs. Poor’ are immaterial, this is why inequality should be central to any discussion, and if it’s not central why people should at least show recognition of this concen. Mother Jones said, in response to the Suffragetes campagning for the vote for Women that ‘We Have Child CRUCIFIXION! going on in the Mines!” Child crucifixion, and they want to talk about votes for dainty women. It’s still the same.

Harriet Tubman: You put a coat over a puddle for a Woman, no one ever put a coat over
a puddle for me, and I’ve worked at any job a man works at, toiling in the hot sun, and ain’t I a woman? (It’s paraphrased) Yes, ain’t she a woman? and aren’t members of the Working Class Human Beings ?

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Well folks it's time for a little truth that you can get no place else. The
topic for this post is the nasty few years after World War II in America when
McCarthyism reigned. We who are left of center hem and haw about it but few factual
accounts are widely known. Everyone, or at least most people, know that Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg were convicted based on circumstantial evidence and executed. If you
press people about who else was a victim or what else happened they might mumble
something about some sort of 'Hollywood Ten' or eight or something but few people
would be able to actually recall the names of any of them. Just for the record the two
most prominent defendents were the screen writer Dalton Trumbo Jr., writer of the
anti-war novel 'Johnny Got his Gun' and the...I think it was director, it might be
writer, Ring Lardner jr., who went on to write(?) the screenplay for the movie
M.A.S.H., which was later turned into a popular sit-com.
What even fewer people realize is that the red scare of the fifties wasn't about
persecuting a few people on the margins of society; as Haynes (?), an anti-communist
historian pointed out, the difference between the witch hunts of salem and the
McCarthy trials is that there really were Communists. And were there. You see, the
thing that is deleted from all the history books is that prior to the end of World
War II the Communist party was at an all time peak in terms of committed members-
100,000 across the country. You have to understand that to be an actual party member
and not just a participant in a 'front' organization a person had to commit themselves
to do a certain amount of party work every week. Every weekend the neighborhood
'cell' would convene where people would report back on what they did and get
assignments for the next week. So when you see 100,000 members we're talking about
100,000 members with this level of commitment-although there's more to be said about
that which I'll get to in a little while. For all of you conspiracy nuts out there
who think that the fact that there were 'cells', or clubs if you want the real term,
which met regularly to give orders let me burst your bubble:the work that clubs
assigned was the stuff that any political organization would do-things like trying
to start a union, talking to friends and coworkers about Party ideas, writing
congressmen, starting committees to bring attention to certain issues from a Party
perspective, talking to the media, walking picket lines, etc....raising money to
keep various Party organs like the newspaper running. Not espionage.
Which brings me to the point about so-called fronts. People have a big
misunderstanding about how the Party worked in that they think that the Party was
just like the Democratic party etc...not true. All Communist Parties are collections
of activists dedicated to a certain collection of common principles and stands,
derisively known as the 'Party Line', and as such could be considered 'meta-activist'
organizations. For the Party to do anything it needed to form some sort of
sub-committee or working group dedicated to the issue. To do the job these committees
had to enlist the help of people outside the Party with common interests as well as
be present in the media, produce literature etc...and all of this entails an
organization unto itself. The Party was organized in a command structure but the
trouble was that that same command structure couldn't accomodate seperate
organizations existing within it, although the Party did have many groups within
itself working on these issues on a lesser level. The natural strategy is to form an
organization which is somewhat seperate from the Party apparatus itself. Since the
Party was based not on blind obediance but on common principles this organization
would be animated by those same common principles; that would allow it to be
independent of the Party to a certain extent. Part of not being able to be
incorporated in the command structure means that the Party has to relinquish a certain
amount of control.
Look at it this way: if you have a group of activists who are committed to
fight for a certain issue, and they have the same sort of political viewpoint, and to
accomplish that fight they start a public organization with other activists that agree
with them, would it really be that much of an activist sin if the people who started
the thing seek to retain some sort of influence over it? It might be hierarchical
and somewhat unfair for a core group to direct the course of an organization but
doesn't the fact that they started it and that they're the engine driving it give them
some sort of right to direct where exactly the organization will go? See-this issue
of Communist 'Fronts' is more complex than people are led to believe. This sort of
thing goes on in non cadre organizations all the time-the founders have a vision and
they're anxious about turning over the reign of their organization to people who
they feel don't have the same values or vision as they do.
So there you have the genesis of the Communist 'Front Group'. The same principle of organizational utility, you might call it, could be applied to the sinister concept
of 'Communist Cells' secretly meeting and planning nefarious things. And to the
concept of the Party itself. But now I'm really going too far afield. Let's get back
to McCarthyism

Okay, I've written that McCarthyism didn't just attack a marginal group but that
the Communist Party was actually at it's height before the end of the War. Let's
expand on that. There was a very good reason for this expansion and it's name was
Earl Browder. Earl Browder, a figure you don't hear much about, was the Party
beaurocrat who took over in 1929 in the wake of the expulsions that resulted from
Stalin consolidating his power in the Soviet Union. Luckily Browder assumed leadership
right before the Great Deppression started. Browder brought a different sort of idea
to the Party; he made it more open, he endorsed more cooperation with other groups,
he started to push more for reform through it than revolution. Before Browder the
Party had gone through a long phase where it truly did opperate as a secret and
somewhat conspiratorial group. It adopted this stance in wake of the Palmer Raids
and the general anti-leftist feeling that followed World War I. To join it meant going through all sorts of hoops and bullshit. Browder's aim was to make the Party a
respectable force in American politics.
He had seen this done with Communist Parties in other countries: Germany before
the Nazis had the Communists being a major political force-which was accepted as such
- and also in France where a government led by Socialists under Blum had welcomed
Communists into government via coalition. To update on this: the Communist Party
of France, or the PCF, played a major role in the French Resistence during World
War II and came out of it as the major opposition party to the de Gaulists. It's still
a major force in French Politics-it has representatives in the French Parliament along
with controlling several Unions. All of this is above ground. I think the Communists
were pretty much crushed in Germany so there hasn't been much indigenous West German
activity, but the other major success story for Communism as a mainstream political
force is in Italy. The Communists actually would have won the first post-war election
if the Allies hadn't said that 'If you vote Communist you'll get no Marshall plan
funds to rebuild your country', along with the usual shenanigans. But apart from that
the Italian Communist Party, (now split with part going to the new Socialist coalition
party "the Democratic Party of the Left", sinistra.net (sinistra is Left in Italian),
and half forming a new grop called the "Communist refoundation Party" or Rifandazione)
became a major player in postwar Italy with the party adopting a Reformist line which
led to immense popular support. It to entered the Italian government with some
sort of Ministerial position.
My point in all of this is that Browder's idea that if the Party could be less
extreme, if it could be open to cooperation with other Leftist organizations, if
it could support reforms instead of only revolution, that the CP could become a major
player in American politics wasn't based on self delusion. To give an example from
the PCI, Communist Party of Italy, the PCI issued a statement saying that the values
of the PCI didn't conflict with Catholocism to the point that one could not be a
Catholic and a Communist at the same time resulted in major electoral gains and support. They carried through with it, too. Not only was it a somewhat feasable
strategy but in the Depression climate it became a very succesful one as well. As
several of the minor players in the Hollywood Communist scene recounted in the wonerful interview book "Tender Comrades" paraphrasing 'After the stock marker crash
anyone with any sense was on the Left'. Browder regularly filled Madison Square
Garden for Communist rallies and several other industrial cities, like Detroit,
experienced the same phenomenon. His 'State of the Party' addresses filled it as well,
which should tell you something about the Party's support. Note: Madison Square
Garden was of course a little bit smaller than it is now. The Daily Worker had
a very large circulation on the East Coast and the People's World had a similar
following on the West.
Not only that but the Communists organized 'Unemployed Citizens Councils' in the
midst of the Depression, and also organized a vast network or 'Working Men's Clubs',
which were a step below Party Membership, and which in addition to providing a
social group for Workers also sold cheap life insurance policies for needy families.
Browder was a little behind the Party in Moscow though. Incidentally, to get this
out of the way, I should explain what exactly I feel, from reading a great deal on
this subject, the relationship was between the Party and Moscow.
The Party may have been great, who knows, but the link to Moscow in the end
always sours the evaluation. Here it goes: The Party leadership was selected
by the Party Congresses in which rank and file Party members voted on issues and
on people running for executive office. At the Party Congresses the agenda was set
about what issues the Clubs would emphasize in the coming year and what exactly the
Party position was on them. The catch is that after all that was decided Party
members were obligated to honor the decisions made-and keep dissent within the Party.
The ACP, as I think it was known in the beginnig of Browder's time, was formally
an associate of the Soviet Communist Party via the Communist International, which
was a supra-party body which was housed in Moscow. The Communist International, in
turn, was made up of representatives from the individual Communist Parties of the
world who acted on behalf of the individual parties. The International, in turn,
decided the big issues which faced the international Communist movement. At the top
of the Pyramid of the Communist International was the Soviet Union and Stalin. The
Soviet Union played the leading role because it was the first country to go Socialist
, have a Worker's revolution, and because of it's survival in this unique position
was more qualified than any other country to give a picture of what Socialism,
leading to Communism, would look like. In that unique capacity it followed that
Moscow's advice was something that should be heeded. Plus, of course, the Soviet Union was a major source of funds for the Communist movement.
Okay, that's the formal story. I think we all know what the reality was. The
reality was that the individual parties, not the ACP, not anyone, did not really
control their own party lines. This even went down to the question of strategy.
They also certainly did not control who was going to occupy the executive branch of
the Party. Both those things were controlled, of course, by Moscow and Stalin.
Stalin had the good fortune of inheriting a functioning international movement when
he took power. The International as well as the Party structures were democratic
remnants from the pre-Stalin days which the new leadership used to give a veneer
of respectability to the new regime. Stalin could have been murdering thousands of people for political reasons and establishing himself as the supreme dictator of the
country-but Party newspapers didn't report that. Instead they suppressed news,
painted a rosy picture of Stalin, and said that the people talking about camps
and genocide were Capitalist lackeys anyways and not to be believed. Besides, they
still had all that intricate Party machinery, and that had to lend some sort of
credibility? Right? Right. But I digress again. Even within this machinery, though
there was room for a figure like Browder to take control and reform things.
Browder's quest for reform of the Party took a turn for the better as the New Deal rolled along. The New Deal, actually more socialist than liberals like to believe, legitamated the idea that government had to intervene against business for the survival of society. In a collection of essays he wrote, Howard Zinn paints a
curious picture of what happened in Washington after the New Deal was started: he writes that the big wigs decided that they'd have to start telling people the truth
about the relationship between government and business. They had been telling people
pro-business lies for eternity, but now they'd have to come clean in order to convince
people that the New Deal really would work.
Although the Hitler Stalin pact hurt Communist interests, which were focussed on domestic problems anyways-like ending segregation etc.. and not really having anything to do with Moscow, when Russia was invaded by the Nazis and the Soviet Union became our ally it became difficult to object to the Communists having a legitimate place
in American society. Taken together the New Deal and the alliance with Stalin were seen by some as a sanctioning of Leftist ideas in general as allowable, O.K. in the
United States. Browder certainly felt that way; in fact this was the source of the mistake that led to his downfall as leader of the Communist Party.
He had gone so far as to dissolve the Communist Party as a legal organization during the war and reincorporate it as the Communist Political Association, which would be like a PAC, political action committee, like the Sierra Club or something, which would run fronts but not be committed to having a Command structure which was geared around preparing the country for revolution. He saw, particularly in the
initial agreement between Stalin and the other Allied powers in Tehran, a future
America where revolution didn't have to happen to usher in socialism. His view was
much like the early Bolsheviks in the New Economic Plan, which was a reformist
measure, although I might be going to far with that. He thought that the New Deal
could prepare the country for a legal, political and social Communist movement which
would unite different interests, including Capitalists even, in pursuing Communist
social programs and political reforms which would benefit the whole country. It was
similar to the Keynesian welfare state on crack, you could say, with the Keynsian
commitment to government planning stabilizing the economy taken a step further to
being a precursor to central ecnoomic planning. As some one in some damn book said, referring to why he broke with the Party, he didn't believe that the Capitalists
would just lay down their guns and march along with Browder to this glorious world
of state capitalism and central planning. The response of a companion who supported
Browder was disheartening: as a true believer he couldn't understand why this guy
thought that.
The biggest threat to the American power structure related to Communism didn't come from the cultural sphere but rather from Labor. As the economy went into the
toilet the labor movement grew. Not only that but the CP played a major role in
the formation of the CIO,or Congress of Industrial Organizations. Outside of the CP
the Trotskyists also gained the support of certain sections of the Teamsters, culminating in a successful sit down strike in Minneapolis which unionized the city.
The forming of the CIO was an extremely important event in the history of American labor because it was the first time that Industrial Unions came together in an organized group, and because for many industries the with the forming of the CIO were
also formed many new industrial unions.
The importance of industrial unionism can be seen when it's compared to the other dominant union idea: Craft Unionism, which has historically been represented by the AFL, the American Federation of Labor, in the U.S. Craft unionism grows out of the old guild idea of unionism. Craft Unionism covers skilled trades people like carpenters,
masons, electricians, teachers, factory 'skilled trades' people like tool and die makers, etc... and it bases itself on the idea that people who engage in these trades are not 'just workers' but are more self-sufficient and self manageing. In turn this serves as a basis for organizing against the pressures of capitalism. It leaves out
the majority of occupations. Enter Industrial Unionism. Industrial Unionism focuses on factories as a whole, and covers 'unskilled' or less skilled workers whose jobs aren't defined by a tradition of craft but as being derived from the needs of industrial capitalism. A machinist at an auto plant has a job that didn't exist before industrial capitalism, more over his job is more interrelated to the goings on with others at the plant than his counterpart in the skilled trades. His interest is with the interests of the entire plant, or at least closer to most of the plant than to management. Hell of a lot closer. Industrial unionism seeks to be inclusive of the people who make the factories run, and when a factory is unionized under this model it means that the whole thing is Union, from the janitors up to the more skilled 'unskilled workers', and that they unite through their various subsections of the unions against management as a whole. Powerful stuff. Moreover the Industrial Unions don't just Unionize factory by factory, they engaged in the past, and hopefully in the future, of strategies where through strikes and pressure they won representation for workers at all the factories at all the companies in an industry. The UAW, United Auto Workers, is an example of this. At it's best it means that the Union is in a position to bargain across the board for the pay and conditions of workers in similar jobs across the industry. So there's nowhere to hide, in other words. Once an industry is Unionised one company can't play it's workers off another in order to break the Union. They can move to Mexico though. Causing tradgedy in industrial America which goes way beyond what it's faced before. The goal of industrial Unionism is eventually to serve as a united center for all workers across industry lines.
This is what's happened in Sweden, that place that Liberals and Leftists talk about as an example of a successful welfare state. The LO in Sweden is the one and only Union, and it covers a very large portion of Swedish workers. This central position allows the Swedish working class to actually have a voice of it's own through which it can influence things. I haven't been to Sweden, so I can't say this from personal experience but I assume that since the workers are all in the same Union that competition between different types of jobs regarding things like regulations and social programs has ended. The Swedish working class is united. In the United Kingdom this is also the case somewhat, or at least it was until Thatcher dismantled some Union protections, hmm, probably still is. Compare all of this to Craft Unionism. In the Craft Unions one of the premises of all of it is that the Craftsmen and women are more like the bosses than regular workers and so are more deserving of respect. In Industrial Unionism the line between boss and worker is clearly drawn, the shop rats and the shirts, the foreman and the workers, and the point isn't to extort money out of 'respect' but to take from the companies what is rightfully the workers. By establishing the class cleavage the workers can then assert their right to self management on the shop floor, which they can also assert as having a right to use.
In most other countries this assertion of workers power and the right of workers to be dealt with like human beings by the bosses-through representatives no less!- is accompanied by political campaigning for a more just society. It's accompanied by support for a progressive welfare state through both direct advocacy and by institutionalized support for labor or social democratic parties. The Labour party in England, I bet you didn't know, isn't just called the Labour party because it's for the working class-it's called the Labour party because half of it's support comes directly from Unions-which are incorporated into the Labor Party structure and which have special voting rights on Labour party issues! The same can be said for the Communist and Social Democratic Parties, and Socialist Parties, in Europe. IG Mettal,
the skilled, yet industrial, metal workers Union in Germany is a fierce supporter of the German welfare state. The Industrial Union concept puts the struggle against Capitalism and the state into action, and the results are major wins not just for workers but for the whole society.
The function of Industrial Unions goes well beyond all this as Unions with political clout and organization can claim to be the voice of the working classes in the countries that they're in, with some legitamacy. People in the U.S. dismiss the opinions of Unions and Union members, unfortuanately, as being the feelings of a pampered class and not reflective of workers as a whole. If Industrial Unionism succeeded in the U.S. this would seriously change. Of Course as said before, once a pulpit for workers at the base has been established the question of how society is run
, who for, by what means, and what regular people should get out of it is permanently on the table, leading to a permanent basis of support not just for Social Democratic parties but for Communism and other related ideologies that have a plan for society that includes radical change.
This is what Industrial Unionism in the United States potentially was. Whether it would have been a good thing or not to let the Communists have an interest in the political scene is a debateable point-suffice it to say that France and Italy haven't
become dictatorships because of the prominence of Communists and Communist unions
in their political life. As can be seen from the tone of my previous comments
Industrial Unionism had importance for the very structure of American Capitalist
society which went well beyond the Communists, and even beyond Browder (even though
his reformist ideology in part made it possible). If the industrial Unions could
exist, and could organize on a radical and classist basis, it would have made many
different shades of reform tolerant political radicalism possible. Which could then
use their power to reinforce the power of the Unions. Which could then expand and
take more power from the Capitalists. You see where this is going. On the one hand
there's the immdediate danger to Capital from the Unionists on the site of the job,
on the other there's the danger to Capital that workers taking political power could
bring. It was already somewhat foreshadowed by FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when
he practically encouraged people to join Unions. The Roosevelt administration
made it clear that cooperation between the State and Unions for the common goal
of economic regulation, i.e. keeping the country from falling into another
depression, would be acceptable practice for the forseeable future. This was before
and during the War. During the war Browder and the CP even went out of their way to
stop strikes against war profitearing from happening, because it would disrupt the
war effort. The Unions didn't like this, and the more radical ones-Trotskyist and
otherwise- even rejected it towards the end of the war.
Even though it didn't take Communist form, in America, just like in Europe,for little while a truce somewhat in the vein that Browder had advocated-but with ambiguous radicalization, prevailed between labor and the government as it prepared to take on the economic coordination
necessary for the Keynseian welfare state. Effective demand had to be maintained so that misread market signals wouldn't lead to a downward spiral: what this entailed
was for the market to be stabilized by government subsidy like Social Security, union contracts, progressive taxation, social programs whose goal was to ensure a healthy stable working population. On the other side of the fence loans for home ownership as a way of getting basic capital for potential loans were provided as well.
It could have been the end of ideology right....ahhh, just like Daniel Bell said. But the problem was that almost from Roosevelt's death at the end of the war the counterreaction by business big and small and by the conservative right against the
gaines of the Left, Unions, Communism, New Dealers in general started.
Truman was the one who started it, not McCarthy. Truman was cut from different cloth them Roosevelt. Ahh, this brings me to a part of the story that's very sweet, but hold on. Roosevelt wanted to continue the good terms that the U.S. had been on with Stalin and the Soviet Union after the War was over, but Truman turned U.S. policy 180 degrees, and effectively started the Cold War. You see Truman wasn't the Vice Presidential candidate that Roosevelt wanted in the first place. Truman was a compromise forced on Roosevelt because of the defection of cabinet member Henry Wallace, not to be confused with the racist Southern candidate George Wallace, from the Democratic Party to the new Progressive Party, backed by the Popular Front, the alliance of Communist and Anti-Fascist groups during the war, and supporting even greater ties with Russia, and also caused by the fact that the only other prominent candidate for Vice President was a racist Southern Democrat. So Truman, who was much farther to the right than Roosevelt was chosen. People in the Roosevelt administration have recounted how Roosevelt had so little contact with Truman that when he died Truman was in the blue about most of the U.S. and Allied war strategies.
This brings me to what may be my last digression before concluding this monstrous thing. I forgot to mention that the Left in America had grown so strong that by the last presidential election of the War, yes they still had elections during World War II, Henry Wallace-who I think was originally a bright agricultural specialist who Roosevelt brought in at the beginning of the New Deal, actually had the support of enough people, and there were enough progressives out there....some holding office, like Vito Marcantonio, the (virtually) Communist representative of Spanish Harlem, and
Robert LaFollette, Governor of Minnesota and member of one of the new Farmer-Labor parties that sprung up at about that time.....that he was able to form a totally new
explicitly Leftist political party and challenge the Democrats and FDR. Wow. As said he had the backing of the Popular Front and the Unions, he wanted to extend the social benefits of the New Deal, wanted peace with Russia.....and he got over a million votes. Enough support that he was thought to pose the same threat to Democrats winning the race that Ralph Nader, with a much less progressives platform, was thought to pose in the 2000 elections. What did Wallace in, from the accounts I've read, was his more or less open fraternization with Communists. The CP at that time might have been at the height of it's influence on the American scene, with even a whole book selling circuit established through the CP lecture circuit, but most Americans still were not willing to openly and unambiguously support Communists and Communism, no matter how reformist or progressive they were. It was sort of a line in the sand that doomed Wallace, pushing things a little too far for a nation in which, as McCarthyism proved, support progressives was still a mixed bag.
Onto Truman. Truman was the architect of the National Security State and instituted the first FBI evaluation of government employees and the first loyalty oaths for Government employees. The National Security State is what we live in now, although it's applicability is clearly over. The NSS is a set of executive orders and other circumlucations which override the Constitution and provide emergency guidelines for how the United States should behave in both foreign and domestic affairs. The emergency guidelines were designated so because of the percieved immediate threat of Stalin and Communism on the world scene. Soviet Union's gone, but the NSS statutes still govern us. What they effectively did and do is establish a rationale by which the US can justify it's meddling, covertly and overtly, in the affairs of other nations where it has no business being-all emergency measures to 'Fight the Spread of Communism'. The NSS is made a reality by the fact that not only the Executive Branch but the Military and our police services, FBI, as well as Intelligence, support it's aims. I hate to think what will happen when Congress tries to oppose this collosus. It's the Military Industrial Complex, in other words, that supports it, but 'Executive Branch of government' as well as those other things should be added to give a better picture. Also, it's not really the Military collaborating with Defense Industry Capitalists, it's really Capitalists in general collaborating with the Executive Branch, and also lending support to the NSS, which keeps it going. What has the NSS been a rationale for? Covert interference in elections, proxy war, destabilizing countries, over throwing governments, shipping arms to dictators, establishing a military presence around the globe, all for U.S. Capitalism-to be distinguished from European capitalism. Truman likely thought that the dominance of the world by Capitalism was a natural thing, and that he was just putting things right by supporting it. Just as he was putting right the excesses of the New Deal by starting a Red Scare. But back to the NSS, on the home front the NSS meant that law enforcement and intelligence was given a justification for infiltrating and destroying Leftist activist organizations, killing activists, busting Unions, spreading propaganda, framing people, etc...sometimes in cooperation with non governmental right-wing groups like the Ku Klux Klan. On the homefront the administration, with the restoration of a form of Capitalism, call it a modified welfare state as opposed to the idyllic vision I presented earlier, wanted to show the world that America was united against Communism and that America truly was the greatest place on Earth. Legal discrimination against African-Americans in the South somewhat sullied this picture, so the forces that be decided to try to break the movement. But that truly is another post. Back
to McCarthyism. McCarthyism was an integral part of the imposition of the NSS on
society, in fact whipping people into such a frenzy that they fullfilled many of the
domestic goals of the NSS without coercion.
What was McCarthyism? Remember HUAC? House UnAmerican Activites Committee? Well, to give you an idea of how vast this repressive machinery was suffice it to point out that McCarthy was a Senator and was chair of the Senate Committee on UnAmerican activites...I don't remember right now who was in charge of the house.....oh yeah, at one time it was the usually-identified-as-a-liberal-hero Robert Kennedy, who was as rabid a Red Hater as they came. Back to the structure of McCarthyism: there were essentially two parts to it: the first was the more legal phase, in which the FBI and the State department investigated Communist and other Leftist activist organizations and arrested key members for treason. In thise phase Labor was also investigated, with similar results. It was also when Truman purged the federal government of suspected leftist by establishing investigative commisions to act on any anonymous charges of Communist activity by an individual, as well as by establishing loyalty oaths and doing basic 'cleaning up' of known Communist spies and others from the Washington power structure. This phase was quietly repeated on the local level, until the second phase, what I'll call the cultural phase, started, which caused all hell to break loose.
With the release of documents relating to espionage from both the former Soviet Union and the United States government it's been revealed that the initital investigation by the FBI managed to come up with all the real security threats and 'secret Communists' that the McCarthyist period would produce. The circus of the cultural phase, in other words, despite great harm to our nation and despite the silencing of dissent and mindless persecution of suspected leftists that it caused, produced absolutely nothing that the FBI didn't already know. McCarthy and the HUAC trials associated with this period broke into a section of American life that had, for a while at least, been left alone: the cultural sphere that contains what people read, the content of movies and the tv programs that people watch, the content of radio, of the conduct of teachers and figures in the community....etc...with the legal part taken care of the witchhunt now centered on propaganda-on the idea that even if people aren't aware of it, THEY could slowly be influencing people's minds, slowly giving them the right dose of Leftism that will prepare them for some sort of secret takeover. THEY, THEM, things out of this world, people-who knows who? who are long time Soviet moles. They look just like you, and may even live in your neighborhood, but watch out-! Communism is seen as an incomprehensable system of lies that weak minded students from well off families buy into, it's a promise of Utopia that hides an isidious plan for world domination......and you, yes, even YOU, reading this right now could be secretly being guided into carrying out there plan....so you have to watch yourself! Watch others, and keep an eye out. See? All of those writers were Communists! Don't you know that one actor whistled the Internationale spontaneously in an elevator scene? Don't you know that the writer of those Abbott and Costello movies was secretly playing the workers of against the managers? What about that Texas radio host who attended a social function where Communist heads of State were eating (it turned out to be a dinner honouring the U.N., put on by the U.N.)......So you must be patriotic, we all must be...or else....even if you aren't a Communist, even if you're just a no good slacker who doesn't buy into all this 'American Dream' stuff, don't you know that you're weakening this country and just asking for Communists to come right in and take over? So hippies, too bad, this new world order doesn't include you...You get the picture about what I'm saying. Before I start with the analysis let me relate a little known fact: Mr. 'Anti-Communism' McCarthy got some of his damaging information on 'subversive' German refugees from a high Nazi official that was later convicted of war crimes. Shows you where he's coming from.
Onto analysis. The strange thing is that the McCarthy period culturally paralleled the situation in German philosophy before the rise of Hitler. Just like there the basic question in the McCarthy cultural period was this: Do we really know what we know? Is our common sense really trustworthy? Or is it just possible that something beyond our common sense comprehension might be out there? Might even be out there and out to get us!? What if it takes what we know to be good and right, and twists it without our even knowing? Wouldn't it be right, if this is the case, to take extreme precautions against it, even if that means doing things that we would ordinarily think are repressive or invasive? What about the Jewish Bolshevik threat?
You know that they control the banks, that they control the movies, and that they're at the leadership of the Soviet state. Who was it that sold us out after World War I? The Jewish bankers, that's who, they made us pay reperations and humiliate us in order to make more money. Who are these Jews anyways? What is a Jew? He's like us but he isn't...he seems alright but he also seems to have his own little world, he doesn't go to church, doesn't celebrate christmas, and he sticks together with others who do who knows what in those synagogues....
You get the point. The parallel is that this paranoid view ties into a position called 'Cognitive Relativism' which says that people from different cultures think differently in a fundamental way which is beyond reason. In fact, what we think of as reason itself is relative, so people from other cultures can be threatening beyond what we could reasonably assume. Let's face facts here: From what I've written in this post you by now know that Communism wasn't this faceless beast. It was real people who had a point of view, that although extreme in certain ways and certainly supportive of the wrong people, was valid and should have been recognized and accepted as such and not pushed down into the ground.
But hey, the cognitive relativist view worked. If I'm right this is the view that Hannah Arendt, anti-communist student of Nazi member and supporter Martin Heidegger, pushed in her work 'Totalitarianism'. In a totalitarian society, so it goes, everything is dominated by the state. There are no independent feelings or thoughts going through the minds of regular people-it's all from the state. And we can't understand it because we haven't been subject to that propaganda, but people that have function as spies right here.....and we can't understand them either-they just want to do us harm to advance the interests of their cruel Russian masters. This view predominated Russian studies and led to the idea that Russia was the first place in history where sociological analysis didn't apply-which was fortuitous for Russia by the way because they didn't like sociology there too much either-hell, even normal historical methods don't apply. Before getting back to the consequences of McCarthyism
let me give an example of this: I came across a book of papers on Yugoslavia in a library once, all by prominent Sovietologists and cold warriors, which purported to give an inside view of what was going on...In the introduction the editors made it clear that the Communists don't think like us....unlike us theory matters so much to them that they strive to make reality look like their theory.....so since we can take that as a given we're not going to look at their society per se, no in fact we'll just cut out the middle man and deal only with the social theory that the Party officially puts out. So these eminent Sovietologists dismissed all Yugoslavian mass media, newspapers, t.v programs, books, movies, as irrelevant because they thought that by reading the minutes of the party congress and then subjecting it to philosophical analysis they'd get all the info they needed.
On to the consequences.The consequences of all of this were quite startling. First, by legally eliminating key people in the Left political and Union scene, making many Leftist organizations illegal, they weakened the structure of the Left severely.
However, even with the loyalty oaths and the FBI investigations, the Left culture of the pre-McCarthy period, which I've been trying to reconstruct from accounts of it in books, would have still existed. Earl Browder and the head of the Long shore workers Union might have been put in prison but there were still scores of people out there who had symptathized with Henry Wallace and his presidential campaign. Still all those people who had listened to the campaigns of demagogues like Huey Long, who wanted to tax all the New York stockbrokers dry and give that money to working people, still scores of people out there that had been involved in or sympathized with the left in the years after the depression. So that culture had to be eliminated. And that's what cultural McCarthyism did. It tried to erase the past and replace it with 'Leave it to Beaver'. It succeeded so well that when the hippies and the student radicals sought to challenge it they never succeeded in breaking free from it's image of America. This fraudelent view of the world has existed too long and has had influence on too many of the minds of America, it's time that America's true history, it's true story of the pre war and pre McCarthy left and left culture come out. We can reconnect with that past through accounts of others, and hopefully resume the class struggle based issues and activism that progressives in that era carried out.

Final note and disclaimer: I make a great distinction between the rank and file Communists who did good work organizing Unions and fighting segregation and the few real spies that actually did commit espionage and did try to interfere with the U.S. government. I don't sympathize with that or approve of that at all. Also, I don't think that a United States whose government was composed of people coming from a political party dominated by the Communist party would be a country that I'd like to live in; nevertheless there is a difference between what that vision would entail and the mind numbing totalitarianism that anti-communist opponents said would have happened if they gained some sort of power. Frankly I can't imagine any situation where the CP could actually win an electoral majority or something, so the idea of a democratically elected CP government is farfetched to begin with.......but as the Communists did have viable political ideas, and as they came from a progressive culture that did have a lot of democratic and non-authoritarian potentials, they deserve to be given the respect that they deserve. I should add that that culture which they came from specifically should be given the credit it deserves as containing viable progressive options which were crushed by the McCarthy period. It should be obvious from the fact that a) I'm not defending people who were actually Communists and Criminals and b) that I'm emphasising the ideas of a leader of the American CP who specifically downplayed the possibility of violent revolution that I am in favor of legitimate politics and in favor of reform instead of anti-democratic options.

Sunday, March 24, 2002

To give an example of what I'm talking about when I talk about effective liberty and the difference between effective liberty and conventional liberty, let me steer you to the movie 'Z', based on the book
of the same name by Vassilis Vassilikos ,about the overthrow of Greek democracy in the late sixties. It's a foreign film, with dialogue in French, that was made in the early seventies.

The story focuses on a socialist member of the Greek Parliament , who is looking to become a major mover and shaker, who is assassinated by the Greek military for supporting the rights of labor, socialism, etc....Most of the
action happens after the fact and concerns a prosecutor who is determined to get to the bottom of the killing. It turns out that there is an extensive old boy network in place in Thessalonika, where the film takes place, that connects the police, the legal system, the military, and the city government—united by right wing ideals—and includes secret organizations reminiscent of the Klan and the Conservative
Citizens Council. They're the ones that orchestrate the killing, but they protect themselves and conceal their actions through legalistic means.

The member of parliament is prevented from speaking at venue after venue, and is eventually killed in front of one of them. When the organizers of the event at which he is killed ask why it's been cancelled, the answer is that 'the fire inspector
came in and found some violations'. For every suspicious thing that the government does there are always reasonable explanations....that the government was just concerned about people's safety, etc...All legally justifiable, and in fact probably true on a technical level. The bigger level of the interests in the social structure as a whole is not dealt with.

Z makes clear capitalist legality and liberal legality are not sufficient to capture what is really going on in society, and are not enough to counter it. In Z, to find out what was really going on you have to look beyond what the legal system and what individual figures in government say and instead examine what the power relations
are between the government officials, military personnel etc... If one takes
into account that the chief of police, I think it was, also had ties to the army, to
monarchist groups, to rich backers, to conservative societies then it would be clear
what he would have to gain when something suspicious happened.
But of course if one takes into account structural problems like a military
supported by wealthy business leaders it would be obvious that to have any kind of
decent society those underground links have to be severed. And that could only happen under a socialist regime empowered to go beyond what could be called capitalist individualist legality and able to deal with the real sources of problems in society.

Incidentally this isn't that radical of a view, the kernel of truth about systems being guilty and not just individuals is widely recognized: for example here in the U.S. there was a recent supreme court case dealing with just this issue. Involving police brutality the gist of the ruling was that systems could not be
deemed racist--only individual acts could be prosecuted for racism. There was an appropriate level of outrage.

So if members of a police department consistently harass black
motorists who come through their town by hassling them over minor stuff—not actual violence--, and people complain, all that can be done is to investigate the officers who actually did the hassling and give them petty warnings--what can't be done is something
involving looking at why the department has a history of harassment, finding the
causes, and dealing with them by firing people, demoting people, transferring
people, transforming the structure of the department etc...

Good 'ol boy systems are the same the world over, and this
ruling is just one example of how capitalist individualist legality lets situations
like that in Z take place.

You can say many things about Socialists, but one thing is certain: in places outside
of Communist countries, where they were the power structure, they might be
somewhat statist, but they're honest.

The nature of liberty.

Believe it or not the nature of liberty and freedom is something that's of very deep concern for me and for many other people on the left. In fact part of the reason that socialism came into being is because people felt that the promises of liberalism were not being fulfilled. Liberalism of course is the political ideology which says that liberty to regulate one's life comes first and that politics should be geared towards accomplishing the things that individual liberty alone cannot handle. Read Locke. Anyways socialism and socialists have always made a distinction between liberty as exists in a bourgeois system, bourgeois liberty, and "socialist liberty", which we could call, for lack of a better term, effective liberty. The argument that capitalist society is not as libertarian as it makes itself out to be that's put forward by the left is not due to a basic difference in philosophy, although Marx did set out to redefine liberalism...another post...but is really based on historical experience. It was recognized early on that although Locke and company spoke about about individuals being the only real basis of society that society itself interjected itself into the equation, ruining the whole scheme. Let's put it this way: there are two basic factors here--individuals and society.
If society is a factor that interferes with the fulfillment of individual liberty, then for a society to be truly libertarian it would have to transform it's social system in a way that parallels the transformation of society that recognizing individual liberty required. Gracchus Babeuf, an early French socialist pointed out a reason why this is the case. Talking about the radical French revolution he said that even though it redistributed land to the peasants in an attempt to create some sort of economic equality, because the possibility still existed for a person to acquire as much land as a feudal lord by legal commercial means this state of equality was illusory. What difference is there if the inequality in society is the result of an explicitly rigged legal and social system, like in the feudalism of pre-Revolutionary France, or if it's the result of a commercial system that claims to base itself on equality? In this argument it's assumed that mass accumulations of property, and direct political power in the case of the modern corporation, also bring with them accumulations of social influence effecting people far beyond the those who they immediately control. Both phenomenon, the feudal lord and the accumulator of property, are unjust. The solution to the problem in Babeuf's eyes was to get rid of the institution of property altogether, or what he possibly meant, to redefine the definition of property so that it becomes socially controlled and not purely controlled by individuals.
You see, there's the problem of this conception of liberalism right there: if we really wanted everyone to be free in the sense that classical liberalism expects everyone would either have to be a small businessman or a farmer and having roughly equal holdings, and equality would have to be enforced. Otherwise, the economy would undermine political rights. But, although this may be the case it isn't actually what Locke, and people following him, advocated. Instead, Locke said that the existence of economic inequality was something that society inevitably decides it is willing to trade off on in order to be more prosperous as a whole. His theory was that total equality was limiting, and that to raise the general standard of living individual accumulation, buying and selling, would have to happen. Locke, and the classical liberals who came after him, were content to accept economic inequality because of the promise of the potential benefits it would have for society. Locke and company didn't seem to realize that the tradeoff might undermine the very democratic government that followed from their other considerations on rights.
Actually, Locke may have been more correct than he realized: another way of expressing what the socialist attitude towards property and money is, is to add to Babeuf's criticism by saying that in response to the potential for accumulation of unjust amounts of property, money, and power, there are two avenues available, one: dismantle capitalism and go towards a Rousseauian precapitalist society like Locke suggested initially existed, or two: declare that as a means for people to reassert self control over their society as a whole, both politically and socially, property should be substantially socialized. It would not be a step back towards rough equality but a step forward to a new state of things, The point is that it would be another trade off, this time of individual property rights on the one side and social self control on the other. It wouldn't mean the end of personal property, but it would require a recognition of limits to property and limits to individual control and accumulation.
How does this all relate to liberty? Well, let me put it to you this way: liberty is a whole lot better if one has the money and power to actually use it. It doesn't do me much good to know that there's I can possibly get good grades in school and get a good job after college if society is now so unequal that I would never really have a chance to actually see those rights play out. Rights only matter if you can use them--if we have free speech on paper and yet are intimidated through informal means into being silent then free speech effectively doesn't exist. Remember the definition of socialist liberty as effective freedom? If you can effectively exercise rights you have them, if you can't they might as well not exist. In capitalist society the bourgeois class, because it has a monopoly on money and power, is the only class that can effectively exercise it's rights. Here in America having 'the system' work for you is quite expensive.
Get in trouble? You need a lawyer. Costs money. If you can't get one you're fucked cause the public defenders won't help you. Get sick? You need Health Insurance to cover your illness. Most people with 'Insurance' only have partial insurance. For something comprehensive you need a nice bourgeois job. And don't even mention Medicaid, which you can get on if you're on welfare. Lose your job? Well, either you have the money stashed away and possibly the unemployment necessary to keep up your life or again, you're fucked. What about free speech? Well, I know this blog is a shining example of it, as is much of the net, but the situation is still that to exercise your free speech you have to be able to get access to a media outlet. Or own one of course....but to get access or to get your stuff published....it helps to be a child of the middle or upper classes, or to have bought into them--because the power structure of the media is drawn from those same sectors of society, and they don't take kindly to people who dissent heavily from their world view.
Socialists fight for effective liberty in order to restore some truth to the idea of rights.

Speaking of the Communist countries:

this whole notion of totalitarianism is really ill founded. I can't believe, for instance, that I didn't know growing up that Hungary and Yugoslavia were much more liberal and tolerant than the Soviet Union itself or many of it's satellite states. The joke goes that Hungary was the gayest camp in the barracks but listen to this: Hungary had a much more liberal economic system which led to a higher standard of living than in most of the Communist world. It recognized private agricultural property, and in general had more of a market. It tended more towards what is known as indicative planning, where government plans general goals for businesses to meet, than to dictating what production figures are expected . This process allows for more lee way- it relaxes economic coordination in a way that's necessary for the economy to run well. Of course the Hungarian government still owned the means of production etc...but they followed a course in which the government was there to ensure that a 'social market' or a limited market system existed which did not end up dominating the country. As for social control Hungary was on so good terms with it's historic neighbor, Austria, that Hungarians and Austrians could get limited day passes to each other's countries, not many of them but enough.
As for Yugoslavia the process of reform went much further there than in Hungary. Yugoslavia's socialist past is often obscured in light of the horrific events that have taken place since the fall of the country's socialist system. It's hard to believe that this place that's been the site of genocide was once looked on as an example of how Communism could be successfully reformed. The story of Yugoslavia is too long for this post, but suffice it to say that Tito and company believed in worker's self management and that the party, renamed the Communist League, should take a guiding role instead of dominating all affairs.
I have to qualify this on two points: the first is that reform in these countries, as in Russia during Glasnost and Perestroika, did not automatically equal the country looking more like a capitalist market system. If anything Yugoslavia and Hungary are interesting because they deepened the meaning of socialism, producing something new. It wasn't Stalinism but it wasn't capitalism. They should be looked at for ideas about what a future society should look like. The second point is more obvious: although these countries were better than the Soviet Union they were still dictatorships. They weren't places where civil liberties were respected or widely recognized.
My point in relating all this stuff is to point out that the Communist world was not monolithic. The Iron Curtain wasn't nearly as all enveloping as it's made out to be. There were variations and permutations within Eastern Europe, as well as within Communist satellites elsewhere. But according to the cold warriors this could not be. Everyone living east of West Germany and Austria were living under uniformly crushing conditions, where the party dominated every aspect of life, and where there was no belief in the ideals of socialism. They all lived under economically crushing regimes that could not innovate. Surprise surprise, things weren't quite what they seemed. When I found out this I was taken aback.....
Just think: if it is true that not all Communism was equally bad, that there were innovations that made life better, without implying a market system, then it would follow that dismantling the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was not the only possibility. Russia and the East have been experiencing extreme economic hardship. Russia has been a virtual holocaust in terms of lives lost and lives cut short. We've been told this was the only way. If it actually wasn't, then maybe if the U.S. had tolerated a reformist Communist regime all of this suffering could have been avoided. Or most at least. And if it could have been demonstrated that a reformist Communist regime could have been much better than the traditional Soviet model....it would have been an indication that there was another option besides U.S. capitalism. If a reformist regime worked then couldn't there be an even more liberal regime, in respect of rights and self determination
It really gets me that the right refers to CNN as the Communist News Network. It's obvious to me that these people have no grasp on reality. But hey, if Clinton can be called a Communist then I guess CNN can be too. In fact I think that the spate of people denouncing the liberal media, denouncing people as crypto-Stalinists, talking about supposed left infiltration etc...demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt just what the Cold War was all about. You would think that if the cold war was really about fighting Communism then all these right wing ideologues would have some insights into the nature of the beast. But as time has passed it's only become clearer that they in fact lived in a giant echo chamber for fifty years. That's why all these conspiracy buffs were, and still are, mystified by Communism.
If they were really paying attention to Communism they would have some non-trivial insights, and it wouldn't be a thing that was mysterious and that no one could figure out. Point is, or one of the points at least, these people couldn't have possibly have done anything to actually fight Communism because they had no understanding of it. Their actions probably had less effect on postwar politics than the strategic diplomacy of more dovish actors.
However, while all this doesn't add up to a hill of beans of insight into the world of the Soviet Union and its related states, it does add up to a sophisticated rationale for beating down any domestic dissent. Particularly domestic dissent and domestic action, like unions, that could have changed the distribution of resources and power in this country. Just call them Communists, say that they're really being manipulated by foreign powers, and suddenly regular people will be afraid for their own safety. They then turn against said groups.
Funny, considering all this, that William F. Buckley Jr., who recently published a memoir about his early days clerking for Joe McCarthy, said in an interview a while back that the worst consequence of the sixties and seventies is that the press couldn't label anyone a Communist anymore. I think the phrase 'arbitrarily label anyone a Communist' is the one he should have used, but the incident is telling, both about Buckley and about the conservative movement as a whole.

Difference between Trotskyism and the New Left.

It's a strange thing that the New Left and figures in it like Marcuse are considered to be more libertarian than the Old Left. Marcuse and his Frankfurt school buddies declared that the Working Class in advanced countries was bought out and that the only hope for social change was from elite groups of people who had been disenfranchised from the system in other ways. This turned out to be students, minorities, and-taking the scope beyond the industrialized countries-third world revolutionaries.
Surprisingly, this was just who was revolting at the time of Marcuse's writing. Sure he criticized bureaucracy, but the fact remains that he denied that class had any meaning in the post war world. Throughout One-Dimensional man Marcuse makes snide comments about workers and the working class. Strange as it may be Trotskyism, usually thought of as authoritarian, was more liberal than Marcuse on this subject.
The issue isn't whether Marcuse was right about the postwar world. Marcuse was going well beyond a reevaluation of the postwar situation. His writings used philosophical considerations to justify his own prejudices. These had nothing to do with post war reality. So thoroughly does Marcuse object to the working class that the question that Marcuse asks, asked by neo-conservatives after the war, becomes not 'does the postwar reality render Marxism irrelevant' but 'is the postwar reality so different that class itself is no longer a useful idea'. Taken in that light Marcuse seems to be very shortsighted. One could argue that in the post war age many of the problems of Capitalism were lessened because of the economic boom, but to go from there to denying class as a relevant social category is going too far.
Class didn't end with the end of WWII. If one takes as your yardstick of progressiveness how well a philosophy mirrors social reality, then indeed because Trotskyism at least kept alive the idea of class struggle it was more progressive then Marcuse. Marcuse' denial of the working class is is therefore also a denial that working class people can have any significant sort of liberation. He denies possibilities of liberty to the working class. Therefore Trotskyism was more Libertarian then the New Left guru Herbert Marcuse, q.e.d.
Some day I'm going to put together a book called 'The unknown Lenin'. I can think of
no better example of how reality contrasts with image then to compare the accounts of
the Bolshevik party and the Russian Social Democratic Movement given in non-Leninist
Left circles to that given in the first book of Isaac Deutshcer's biography of
Trotsky: The Prophet Armed.
The anarchist left portrays the Bolsheviks and Russia in an overly
simplistic light, with few people actually knowing what went on during the Russian Revolution.
Deutscher 's account of the ins and outs of early RSDP politics shows
that far from being parlor socialists the Russian Marxists were heavily engaged in
the real politics of their time. Much more heavily than most Left reporters and essayists
today. Indeed, the engagement is one of the obstacles for people who want to get an idea of
Lenin's thought: as an editor of a redacted collection of Lenin's work expressed the
problem, half of the people who Lenin was addressing in his many articles and
books are figures who are totally unknown outside of Russia. They were, however,
major figures in Russian social movements.
It's hard to navigate the Russian corpus
of work because of the obscurity of these references. The point stands, though, that if
Lenin and the Bolsheviks, many living in exile, were really disconnected
from the people then why did they spend so much time addressing rival socialist
leaders who people in the West didn't know or care about? Wouldn't it have made more sense for
Lenin in exile to write about issues concerning the German Social Democrats if he
wanted fame instead of devoting his time to Russian politics?

Saturday, March 23, 2002

Hey, is thing really working?
This is just a test to see if my Blogs have been getting through...
Okay, so after the preliminaries here's what this site is about: It's basicly a site
where I will rant and rave about whatever Leftist issue comes up, but with the twist
that I take a more theoretical viewpoint than most. So the posts will be different
from the usual one's and the topics will be more complex and abstract. I hope that
this format will be a welcome change for people. Too much of the Left online is
superficial. With that in mind I'll skip the whole confession about point of view.
I'd rather just write and have people read it and make up their own minds about what
I have to say rather then pigeon holing myself into a category. So, hope you enjoy!
This Blog is now on the air!
- Kalinin Andric
I'm writing this Blog because lately I've found that I've been posting comments to
Lefty websites longer than the articles that they are referring to. Hence to get off
of everyone's nerves here's my Blog. I'm putting this stuff out in the hope that
although few people in any one place might be interested in this stuff that
collectively, over the expanse of the Internet, enough people will like it so that
the site gains some sort of popularity. I'm not writing to please anyone. Who am I?
Well, I'm remaining anonymous. It's part of the deal, as I see it: writing
anonymously with no input from readers frees me to write without worries. Sometime in
the future I may start accepting reader input, but not at this stage.