Friday, August 31, 2007
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Click on title to link to an overview of the Sacco and Vanzetti case today on the anniversary of their executions by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1927.
SACCO'S LETTER TO HIS SON
If nothing happens they will electrocute us right after midnight
Therefore here I am, right with you, with love and with open heart,
As I was yesterday.
Don’t cry, Dante, for many, many tears have been wasted,
As your mother’s tears have been already wasted for seven years,
And never did any good
So son, instead of crying, be strong, be brave
So as to be able to comfort your mother.
And when you want to distract her from the discouraging soleness
You take her for a long walk in the quiet countryside,
Gathering flowers here and there.
And resting under the shade of trees, beside the music of the waters,
The peacefulness of nature, she will enjoy it very much,
As you will surely too.
But son, you must remember; Don’t use all yourself.
But down yourself, just one step, to help the weak ones at your side.
The weaker ones, that cry for help, the persecuted and the victim.
They are your friends, friends of yours and mine, they are the comrades that fight,
Yes and sometimes fall.
Just as your father, your father and Bartolo have fallen,
Have fought and fell yesterday. for the conquest of joy,
Of freedom for all.
In the struggle of life you’ll find, you’ll find more love.
And in the struggle, you will be loved also.
Words by Niccola Sacco (1927)
Music by Pete Seeger (1951)
© 1960 (renewed) by Stormking Music Inc.
*On The Anniversary Of The Execution- The Trial Of Sacco And Vanzetti- The Case That Will Not Die, Nor Should It
Click on title to link to legal site for information about the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti- The case that will not die, nor should it.
Labels: ANARCHISM, capitalist justice, DEATH PENALTY, elizabeth gurley flynn, international labor defense, james p. cannon, john dos passos, leon trotsky, PARTISAN DEFENSE COMMITTEE, sacco and vanzetti
Click on title to link to YouTube'sfilm clip of the funerals Of Sacco and Vanzetti executed by the State of Massachusetts on August 23,1927. Never forgive, never forget this injustice.
Click on the headline to link to a "The New York Times" obituary for American writer Norman Mailer article, dated November 10, 2007.
THE PRESIDENTIAL PAPERS, NORMAN MAILER, VIKING, 1963
At one time, as with Ernest Hemingway, I tried to get my hands on everything that Norman Mailer wrote. In his prime he held out promise to match Hemingway as the preeminent male American prose writer of the 20th century. Mailer certainly has the ambition, ego and skill to do so. Although he wrote several good novels, like The Deer Park, in his time I believe that his journalistic work, as he himself might partially admit, especially his political, social and philosophical musings are what will insure his place in the literary pantheon. With that in mind I recently re-read his work on the 1960 political campaign-the one that pitted John F. Kennedy against Richard M. Nixon- that is the center of the book under review. There are other essays in this work, some of merely passing topical value, but what remains of interest today is a very perceptive analysis of the forces at work in that pivotal election. Theodore White won his spurs breaking down the mechanics of the campaign and made a niche for himself with The Making of a President, 1960. Mailer in a few pithy articles gave the overview of the personalities and the stakes involved for the America of that time.
Needless to say the Kennedy victory of that year has interest today mainly for the forces that it unleashed in the base of society, especially, but not exclusively, among the youth. His rather conventional bourgeois Cold War foreign policy and haphazard domestic politics never transcended those of the New and Fair Deals of Roosevelt and Truman but his style, his youth and his élan seemingly gave the go ahead to all sorts of projects in order to ‘‘seek a newer world”. And we took him up on this. This writer counted himself among those youth who saw the potential to change the world. We also knew that if the main villain of the age , one Richard Milhous Nixon, had been successful in 1960 as he graphically demonstrated when he later became president we would not be seeing any new world but the same old, same old.
I have been, by hook or by crook, interested in politics from an early age. Names like the Rosenbergs, Joseph McCarthy, Khrushchev and organizations like Americans for Democratic Action and the like were familiar to me if not fully understood then. I came of political age with the 1960 presidential campaign. Mailer addresses the malaise of American political life during the stodgy Eisenhower years that created the opening for change-and Kennedy and his superb organization happily rushed in. These chances, as a cursory perusal of the last 40 odd years of bourgeois presidential politics makes painfully clear, do not come often. The funny thing is that during most of 1960 I was actually ‘Madly for Adlai’, that is I preferred Adlai Stevenson the twice defeated previous Democratic candidate, but when the deal went down at the advanced age of 14 I walked door to door talking up Kennedy. Of course, in Massachusetts that was not a big deal but I still recall today that I had a very strong sense I did not want to be left out of the new age ‘aborning’. That, my friends, in a small way is the start of that slippery road to the ‘lesser evil’ practice that dominates American politics and a habit that took me a fairly long time to break.
Mailer has some very cutting, but true, remarks about the kind of people who populate the political milieu down at the base of bourgeois politics, those who make it to the political conventions. Except that today they are better dressed and more media savvy nothing has changed. Why? Bourgeois politics, not being based on any fidelity to program except as a throwaway, is all about winning (and fighting to keep on winning). This does not bring out the better angels of our nature. For those old enough to remember that little spark of youth that urged us on to seek that newer world and for those too young to have acquired knowledge of anything but the myth Mailer’s little book makes for interesting and well-written reading.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Class- Struggle Defense Work In The U.S. - Building on the Heritage of the International Labor Defense
The following is an article from an archival issue of Women and Revolution, Winter-Spring, 1996, that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of Women and Revolution during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.
Class- Struggle Defense Work In The U.S. - Building on the Heritage of the International Labor Defense
We print below an edited speech by Deborah Mackson, executive director of the Partisan Defense Committee, prepared for April 7995 regional educationals in New York, Chicago and Oakland as part of a series of meetings and rallies sponsored by the PDC to mobilize support for Mum/a Abu-Jamal and the fight against the racist death penalty.
Mumia Abu-Jamal describes his current conditions of incarceration on death row at the State Correctional Institution at Greene County, Pennsylvania as "high-tech hell." When Governor Tom Ridge assaults all of the working people and minorities of this country by initiating the first execution of a political prisoner in America since the Rosenbergs, he must hear a resounding "No!" from coast to coast. Because Jamal is an articulate voice for the oppressed, this racist and rotting capitalist state wants to silence him forever. He is indeed dangerous. He is indeed a symbol. He is, indeed, innocent. Hear his powerful words, and you will begin to understand the hatred and fear which inspires the vendetta against this courageous fighter:
"Over many long years, over mountains of fears, through rivers of repression, from the depths of the valley of the shadow of death, I survive to greet you, in the continuing spirit of rebellion.... As America's ruling classes rush backwards into a new Dark Age, the weight of repression comes easier with each passing hour. But as repression increases, so too must resistance.... Like our forefathers, our fore-mothers, our kith and kin, we must fight for every inch of ground gained. The repressive wave sweeping this country will not stop by good wishes, but only by a counterwave of committed people firm in their focus."
We of the Partisan Defense Committee, the Spartacist League and the Labor Black Leagues are committed to a campaign to free this former Black Panther, award-winning journalist and supporter of the controversial MOVE organization who was framed for the 1981 killing of a Philadelphia policeman. Our aim is to effect an international campaign of protest and publicity like that which ultimately saved the nine Scottsboro Boys, framed for rape in Alabama in 1931, from the electric chair. We must mobilize the working class and all the oppressed in the fight to free this class-war prisoner framed by the government's murderous vendetta.
As Marxists, we are opposed to the death penalty on principle. We say that this state does not have the right to decide who lives and who dies. Capital punishment is part of the vast arsenal of terror at the hands of this state, which exists to defend the capitalist system of exploitation and oppression. America's courts are an instrument of the bourgeoisie's war on the working people and the poor; they are neither neutral nor by any stretch of the imagination "color blind."
To us, the defense of America's class-war prisoners— whatever their individual political views may be—is a responsibility of the revolutionary vanguard party which must champion all causes in the interest of the proletariat. The Partisan Defense Committee was initiated by the Spartacist League in 1974 in the tradition of the working-class defense policies of the International Labor Defense, under its founder and first secretary from 1925 to 1928, James P. Cannon. Today, I want to talk to you about how that tradition was built in this country by the best militants of the past 100 years—the leaders of class-struggle organizations like the pre-World War I Industrial Workers of the World, the early Socialist and Communist parties and the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party.
The Roots of Black Oppression
To forge a future, one has to understand the past. The modern American death penalty is the barbaric inheritance of a barbaric system of production: chattel slavery. Like the capitalists who hold state power today, the slavocracy used the instruments of their power, special bodies of armed men and the "justice" system— the laws, courts and prisons—to control people for profit. Directly descendant from the slavocracy's tradition of property in black people is the death penalty. A trail through history illustrates this truth. The "slave codes" codified a series of offenses for which slaves could be killed but for which whites would receive a lesser sentence. In Virginia, the death penalty was mandatory for both slaves and free blacks for any crime for which a white could be imprisoned for three years or more. In Georgia, a black man convicted of raping a white woman faced the death penalty; a white man got two years for the same crime, and punishment was "discretionary" if the victim was black. Slaves could not own property, bear arms, assemble or testify against whites in courts of law. Marriage between slaves was not recognized; families were sold apart; it was illegal to teach a slave to read and write. Slaves were not second- or third-class citizens—they were not human, but legally "personal, movable property," chattel.
William Styron in The Confessions of Nat Turner has the fictional character T.R. Gray explain the slaveowners' rationale to Turner:
"The point is that you are animate chattel and animate chattel is capable of craft and connivery and wily stealth. You ain't a wagon, Reverend, but chattel that possesses moral choice and spiritual volition. Remember that well. Because that's how come the law provides that animate chattel like you can be tried for a felony, and that's how come you're goin' to be tried next Sattidy. "He paused, then said softly without emotion: 'And hung by the neck until dead'."
While the slave codes were a Southern institution, legal and extralegal terror were never exclusive to the South. As early as 1793, fugitive slave laws were on the federal books. The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law was passed in response to the growing abolitionist influence which had inspired several Northern states to pass "personal liberty laws," giving some protection to slaves who had successfully negotiated the Underground Railroad. The 1850 law, seeking to protect the private property of slaveholders, put the burden of proof on captured blacks, but gave them no legal power to prove their freedom—no right to habeas corpus, no right to a jury trial, no right even to testify on their own behalf.
Many blacks were caught in the clutches of this infamous law, which had no bounds. For example, a man in southern Indiana was arrested and returned to an owner’ who claimed he had run away 79 years before. The law knew no pretense. A magistrate's fee doubled if he judged an unfortunate black before the bench a runaway slave instead of a tree man. And fugitives were pursued with vigor. In Battle Cry of Freedom, historian James McPherson recounts the story of Anthony Burns, a slave who stowed away from Virginia to Boston in 1854. The feds spent the equivalent of $2.3 million in current dollars to return him to his "owner." That is approximately equal to what an average death penalty case costs today.
Any hope that "blind justice" could be sought from the U.S. Supreme Court was dashed with the 1856 Dred Scott decision. Chief Justice Taney wrote that at the time the Constitution was adopted, Negroes "had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order...so far inferior, that they had no rights which a white man was bound to respect."
While slavery itself was overthrown in the Civil War and Reconstruction, the needs of the American capitalists for compulsory agricultural labor in the South remained. A new, semi-capitalistic mode of agriculture developed, in which the semi-slave condition of the freed blacks was made permanent by the re-establishment of the social relations of slavery: color discrimination buttressed by segregation and race prejudice.
After the Civil War the slave codes became the "black codes," a separate set of rules defining crime and punishment for blacks and limiting their civil rights. They were enforced by the extralegal terror of the Ku Klux Klan; in the last two decades of the 19th century, lynching vastly outnumbered legal executions. As W.E.B. Du Bois said of lynching:
"It is not simply the Klu Klux Klan; it is not simply weak officials; it is not simply inadequate, unenforced law. It is deeper, far deeper than all this: it is the in-grained spirit of mob and murder, the despising of women and the capitalization of children born of 400 years of Negro slavery and 4,000 years of government for private profit."
The promise of Radical Reconstruction, equality, could only be fulfilled by attacking the problem at its very root: private property in the means of production. Neither Northern capitalists nor Southern planters could abide that revolution, so they made a deal, the Compromise of 1877, in their common interest. That's why we call on American workers, black and white, to finish the Civil War—to complete, through socialist revolution, the unfinished tasks of the Second American Revolution!
In the wake of the Compromise of 1877, the U.S. Supreme Court began to dismantle the Civil Rights Acts of the Reconstruction period. One landmark decision was Plessey v. Ferguson in 1896, which permitted "separate but equal" treatment of black and white in public facilities. But separate is never equal. This was simply the legal cover for the transformation of the "black codes" into "Jim Crow"—the "grandfather clause," poll tax, literacy test, all designed to deny blacks the vote, and the institution of separate facilities from schools to cemeteries. This legal and practical segregation, instituted in the South and transported North, was a tool to divide and rule.
America's Racist Death Penalty
The death penalty was applied at will until 1972. From 1930 to 1967 the U.S. averaged 100 or more executions per year. In 1972, following a decade of civil rights protests, the Supreme Court ruled the death penalty was "cruel and unusual punishment" because of its arbitrary and capricious application. But the hiatus lasted only four years.
In 1976-the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty and has been expanding it ever since. In 1986 the court ruled it unconstitutional to execute the insane, but gave no criteria for defining insanity; in 1988 it approved the execution of 16-year-olds; in 1989 it ruled for the execution of retarded persons. Since 1976, 276 people have been executed in this country. Between January and April of 1995, 17 were killed. And innocence is no barrier, as the Supreme Court recently decreed in the case of Jesse Dewayne Jacobs, executed in Texas in January 1995 after the prosecution submitted that he had not committed the crime for which he had been sentenced. The Supreme Court said it didn't matter, he'd had a "fair trial." What an abomination!
Perhaps the most telling case in recent history was the 1987 McCleskey decision. The evidence submitted to the courts illustrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that racism ruled the application of the death penalty. Overall, a black person convicted of killing a white person is 22 times more likely to be sentenced to death than if the victim is black. When the McCleskey case went to court, liberals across the country hoped for a Brown v. Board of Education decision in regard to the death penalty. The evidence of racial bias was clear and overwhelming. But while the Supreme Court accepted the accuracy of the evidence, it said it doesn't matter. The court showed the real intention of the death penalty when it stated that McCleskey's claim "throws into serious question the principles that underlie our entire criminal justice system" and "the validity of capital punishment in our multi-racial society." Or as a Southern planter wrote in defense of the slave codes, "We have to rely more and more on the power of fear.... We are determined to continue masters" (quoted in Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution).
Let's take a look for a moment at "our multi-racial society." The U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world: 344 per 100,000. It is one of the two "advanced" industrial countries left in the world which employs capital punishment. As of January 1995, 2,976 men, women and children occupied America's death rows; 48 are women, 37 are juveniles. According to the latest census, blacks make up 12 percent of the population, yet 51 percent of the people awaiting execution are minorities and 40 percent are black.
Eighty-four percent of all capital cases involve white victims even though 50 percent of murder victims in America are black. Of a total of 75 people executed for interracial murders, three involved a black victim and a white defendant, 72 involved a white victim and a black defendant. The death penalty is truly an impulse to genocide against the black population for whom the ruling class no longer sees any need in its profit-grabbing calculations.
Understanding this and understanding the broader importance of the black question in America, we take up Jamal's case as a concrete task in our struggle for black freedom and for proletarian revolution in the interests of the liberation of all of humanity.
Early History of Class-Struggle Defense
From the beginning of the communist movement, a commitment to those persecuted by the ruling classes, whether "on the inside" or out, has been recognized as an integral part of the class struggle. Marx and Engels spent years defending and supporting the refugees of-the Paris Commune.
As Trotskyists, we feel this responsibility keenly because we inherited some of the finest principles for class-struggle defense from James R Cannon, the founder of American Trotskyism. The traditions which inspired the International Labor Defense (ILD) were forged in hard class struggle, dating back to the rise of the labor movement after the Civil War. One of the first acts of the Republican government following the Compromise of 1877 was to pull its troops from the South and send them to quell the railway strikes that had broken out throughout the Northern states. The federal strikebreakers tipped the scales in the hard-fought battles of the time, many of which escalated into general strikes, and the workers were driven back in defeat. But united struggle against the bosses had been launched, and less than a decade later the workers movement had taken up the fight for an eight-hour day.
In the course of this struggle, workers in Chicago amassed at Haymarket Square in early May of 1886. The protest was just winding down when a bomb went off, likely planted by a provocateur. The cops opened fire on the workers, killing one and wounding many. The government’s response was to frame up eight workers, who were sympathetic to anarchist views, on charges of murder. They were tried and convicted, not for the bombing but for their agitation against the employers. Four were hanged, one committed suicide, three were finally pardoned in 1891.
The period from the turn of the century to America's entry into World War I was one of intense social struggle; militant strikes were more numerous than at any time since. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW—the Wobblies) led union organizing drives, anti-lynching campaigns and a free speech movement. The level of struggle meant more frequent arrests, which gave rise to the need for defense of the class and individuals. The left and most labor currents and organizations rallied to the defense of victims of the class war. Non-sectarian defense was the rule of the day. The Wobbly slogan, "an injury to one is an injury to all," was taken to heart by the vast majority of the workers.
This was Cannon's training ground. One of his heroes was Big Bill Haywood, who conceived the ILD with Cannon in Moscow in 1925. As Cannon said, the history of the ILD is "the story of the projection of Bill Haywood's influence—through me and my associates—into the movement from which he was exiled, an influence for simple honesty and good will and genuine non-partisan solidarity toward all the prisoners of the class war in America."
Big Bill Haywood came from the Western Federation of Miners, one of the most combative unions this country has ever produced. The preamble to their constitution was a series of six points, beginning, "We hold that there is a class struggle in society and that this struggle is caused by economic conditions." It goes on to note, "We hold that the class struggle will continue until the producer is recognized as the sole master of his product," and it asserts that the working class and it alone can and must achieve its own emancipation. It ends, "we, the wage slaves...have associated in the Western Federation of Miners."
Not all labor organizations of the time had this class-struggle perspective. Contrast the tract of Samuel Rompers' American Federation of Labor (AFL), "Labor's Bill of Grievances," which he sent to the president and Congress in 1908:
"We present these grievances to your attention because we have long, patiently and in vain waited for redress.
There is not any matter of which we have complained but for which we nave in an honorable and lawful manner submitted remedies. The remedies for these grievances proposed by labor are in line with fundamental law, and with progress and development made necessary by changed industrial conditions."
The IWW, whose constitution began, "The working class and the employing class have nothing in common," was founded in 1905. Haywood was an initiator and one of its most aggressive and influential organizers. As a result of that and his open socialist beliefs, in 1906 he, along with George Pettibone and Charles Moyer, were arrested for the bombing murder of ex-governor Frank Steunenberg of Idaho (the nemesis of the combative Coeur d'Alene miners). The three were kidnapped from Colorado, put on a military train and taken to Idaho.
The Western Federation of Miners and the IWW launched a tremendous defense movement for the three during the 18 months they were waiting to be tried for their lives. Everyone from the anarchists to the AFL participated. Demonstrations of 50,000 and more were organized all across the country. It was this case that brought James Cannon to political consciousness.
The case was important internationally, too. While they were in jail, Maxim Gorky came to New York and sent a telegram to the three with greetings from the Russian workers. Haywood wired back that their imprisonment was an expression of the class struggle which was the same in America as in Russia and in all other capitalist countries.
On a less friendly note, Teddy Roosevelt, then president of America, publicly declared the three "undesirable citizens." Haywood responded that the laws of the country held they were innocent until proven guilty and that a man in Roosevelt's position should be the last to judge them until the case was decided in court.
The Socialist Party (founded in 1901) also rallied to the defense. While in jail, Haywood was nominated as the party's candidate for governor of Colorado and got 16,000 votes. The leader of the SP, Eugene Debs, wrote his famous "Arouse, Ye Slaves" for the SP's Appeal to Reason:
"If they attempt to murder Moyer, Haywood and their brothers, a million revolutionists, at least, will meet them with guns.... Let them dare to execute their devilish plot and every state in this Union will resound with the tramp of revolution....
"Get ready, comrades, for action!... A special revolutionary convention of the proletariat...would be in order, and, if extreme measures are required, a general strike could be ordered and industry paralyzed as a preliminary to a general uprising."
Haywood's trial began in May of 1907. It was Clarence Darrow for the defense and the infamous Senator William E. Borah for the frame-up (prosecution). That this was a political trial was clear to everybody. The prosecution, for example, introduced into evidence issues of the anarchist journal Alarm from 1886, when Haymarket martyr Albert Parsons was its editor. Haywood thought that Dar-row's summary to the jury in his case was the best effort Darrow ever made in the courtroom. But Haywood also got a bit exasperated with his lawyer. In his autobiography, he tells the story of Darrow coming to jail depressed and worried. The defendants would always try to get him to lighten up. Finally Pettibone got tired of this and told Darrow they knew it would be really hard on him to lose this great case with all its national and international attention, but, hey! he said, "You know it's us fellows that have to be hanged!"
Every day of the trial the defense committee packed the courtroom with what Haywood called "a labor jury of Socialists and union men." This is a practice we proudly follow today. On the stand, Haywood told the story of the Western Federation of Miners and its battles against the bosses, putting them on trial. He refused to be intimidated by Senator Borah. When Borah asked whether Haywood had said that Governor Steunenberg should be exterminated, Haywood replied that to the best of his remembrance, he said he should be "eliminated."
On June 28 Haywood was acquitted. Soon thereafter, so were his comrades. At a Chicago rally organized to greet him upon his release, he told the crowd of 200,000, "We owe our lives to your solidarity." Haywood knew that innocence was not enough. It is that kind of solidarity we are seeking to mobilize today for Mumia Abu-Jamal.
The Labor Movement and World War I
Haywood was elected to the National Executive Committee of the Socialist Party in 1908, during its most left-wing period. In 1910, he was one of the party's delegates to the Socialist Congress of the Second International in Copenhagen. Shortly after, the SP moved to the right, and in 1912 (the year Debs polled nearly a million votes in his campaign for president) a number of leftists, including the young Jim Cannon, left the Socialist Party. A year later, when Haywood was purged from the executive board, there was another mass exodus.
The IWW, in which Haywood and Cannon remained active, expanded the scope of its activities. This was the period of the free speech movement and anti-lynching ' campaigns. One Wobbly pamphlet, "Justice for the Negro: How He Can Get It," discusses the question of integrated struggle and how to stop lynchings:
"The workers of every race and nationality must join in one common group against their one common enemy—the employers—so as to be "able to defend themselves and one another. Protection for the working class lies in complete solidarity of the workers, without regard to race, creed, sex or color. 'One Enemy—One Union!' must be their watchword."
They almost got it right: as syndicalists, they didn't understand the need for a vanguard party to fight for a revolutionary program.
With the beginning of World War I and preparations for U.S. involvement, the government declared political war on the IWW and the left. Thousands of Wobblies were imprisoned under "criminal syndicalism" laws—100 in San Quentin and Folsom alone. In response, the IWW adopted the slogan, "Fill the jails." It was a misguided tactic, but unlike many so-called socialists today, the Wobbliest had a principled position where it counted: they'd go to jail before they'd cross a picket line.
1917 was the year of the Russian Revolution. A month after that world-historic event, Haywood was back on trial in Chicago with some 18 other Wobblies. He was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in Leaven worth prison. In 1919 he was released on bail pending appeal and devoted his time to the IWW's General Defense Committee, launching a campaign to raise bail money for those in prison. When the Red Scare and the Palmer Raids began, Haywood learned that he was a primary target. So, as his appeal went to the Supreme Court, he sailed for the Soviet Union. A student of history, he had no illusions in "blind justice."
Cannon was also heavily influenced by the case of California labor leaders Tom Mooney and Warren Billings. In 1916, as America was preparing to go to war, Mooney and Billings were framed up for a bombing at a Preparedness Day Parade in San Francisco. The Preparedness Movement was a bourgeois movement of "open shop" chamber of commerce, right-wing vigilante groups, who were very serious about getting the U.S. into World War I. They went into Mexico to fight Pancho Villa as practice. The Preparedness Movement was opposed by labor, and in fact two days before the bombing there had been a 5,000-strong labor demonstration in San Francisco.
Mooney and Billings were convicted. Mooney was sentenced to hang, Billings got a life sentence. At first, their case was taken up only by the anarchists. The official AFL labor movement took a hands-off position. But when it became clear that they had been framed with perjured testimony, a "Mooney movement" swept the country.
The Mooney case had a big impact on Russian immigrant workers, among others. Thus the Mooney case was carried back to Russia, and in April of 1917 the Russian anarchists led a Mooney defense demonstration in Petrograd at the American consulate. Worried about Russia pulling out of World War I at that point, Woodrow Wilson personally interceded on behalf of Mooney and Billings. It didn't get them out of jail, but the effect of international pressure was not lost on Cannon.
In the U.S., the cops broke up Mooney defense meetings and arrested those present. The class-struggle nature of the defense movement, involving such actions as one-day strikes, was a felt threat to the ruling class, especially in the face of a war. In a conscious effort to dissipate this movement, the state commuted Mooney's death sentence to life in prison. In combination with the domestic repression following the war, this took the life out of the Mooney movement. Mooney and Billings stayed in prison for 22 years. They were released in 1939, and Mooney spent two and a half of the next three years in the hospital and then-died.
In his eulogy "Good-by Tom Mooney!" Cannon wrote:
"They imprisoned Mooney—as they imprisoned Debs and Haywood and hundreds of others—in order to clear the road of militant labor opposition to the First World War, and they kept him in prison for revenge and for a warning to others."
As World War II began, Cannon would find himself in the same position.
The Tradition of International Labor Defense
The parties of the Second International backed their own ruling classes in World War I, and the Bolsheviks fought for a new international party committed to the Marxist movement's call, "Workers of the World Unite!" In 1919, the leaders of the Russian Revolution founded the Third International, the Comintern, to build revolutionary parties which could take up the struggle against capitalist rule. 1919 was also a year of massive strike activity in the U.S. This wave of class struggle swelled the ranks of the Socialist Party, which then split in September. The most left-wing workers regrouped, giving birth to the American Communist movement, and Cannon was among them.
America in the 1920s was not a nice place to be. Warren Harding was elected in a landslide victory on the slogan of "Return to Normalcy." And "normal" was racist and repressive. His attorney general, A. Mitchell Palmer, launched a war on the left inspired by fear of the Russian Revolution, which resulted in massive deportations of leftists and jailing of American radicals. The young Communist Party went underground. 1920 saw more lynchings and anti-black pogroms than any time in recent memory. The Klan grew like wildfire, and the government passed anti-immigration legislation that would give Newt Gingrich and Pete Wilson wet dreams.
When it was clear that the IWW was for all practical purposes broken, many of its jailed members, including Eugene Debs, were pardoned. The Communists, however, remained in jail. The union movement took it on the chops as well, and by the end of the 1920s only 13 percent of the workforce of this country was unionized.
The 1921 Third Congress of the Comintern was held under the watchword "To the Masses." In the U.S., the newly formed party had been underground and could hardly make a turn to the masses. At the Comintern's urging, the Workers (Communist) Party emerged in December of 1921 with Cannon as its first chairman and main public spokesman.
By the time of the Fourth Congress of the Comintern in 1922, the tactic of the united front had been defined; the Fourth Congress detailed its application. The need for the united front grew out of the post-World War I ebbing of the revolutionary tide following the Russian Revolution. The offensive by the capitalists against the proletariat and its parties was forcing even the reformist-led organizations into partial and defensive struggles to save their very lives.
The slogan "march separately, strike together" encapsulated the two aims of the united-front tactic: class unity and the political fight for a communist program. The Comintern sought both to achieve the maximum unity of the working masses in their defensive struggles and to expose in action the hesitancy of the leadership of the reformist organizations of the Second International to act in the interests of the proletariat and the inability of its program to win against the ruling class.
The united front is a tactic we use today. Our call for labor/black mobilizations to stop the execution of Mumia Abu-Jamal and abolish the racist death penalty has brought together many different organizations and individuals to save Jamal's life. At these rallies and demonstrations, we
have insisted on the right to argue for our program to put an end to racist injustice and capitalist exploitation through socialist revolution.
In line with the policies hashed out at the Third and Fourth Congresses, the Communist International founded an international defense organization, the International Red Aid. These events had a substantial effect on the young American party, and one of the direct results was the foundation in 1925 of the International Labor Defense (ILD).
Cannon's goal was to make the ILD the defense arm of the labor movement. Cannon wrote to Debs on the occasion of his endorsement of the ILD:
"The main problem as I see it is to construct the ILD on the broadest possible basis. To conduct the work in a non-partisan and non-sectarian manner and finally establish the impression by our deeds that the ILD is the defender of every worker persecuted for his activities in the class struggle, without any exceptions and without regard to his affiliations."
From 1925 to 1928, the ILD was pretty successful in achieving that goal. It established principles to which we adhere today:
• United-front defense: The ILD campaigns were organized to allow for the broadest possible participation.
• Class-struggle defense: The ILD sought to mobilize the working class in protest on a national and international scale, relying on the class movement of the workers and
placing no faith in the justice of the capitalist courts, while using every legal avenue open to them.
• Non-sectarian defense: When it was founded, the ILD immediately adopted 106 prisoners, instituting the practice of financially assisting these prisoners and their
families. Many had been jailed as a result of the "criminal syndicalism" laws; some were Wobblies, some were anarchists, some were strike leaders. Not one was a member of the Communist Party. The ILD launched the first Holiday Appeal. Of course, the ILD also vigorously defended its own, understanding the vital importance of the legal rights of the Communist Party to exist and organize.
Social Defense and Union Struggle
The ILD's most well-known case was the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti. The frame-up for murder and robbery of these two immigrant anarchist workers, who were sent to their deaths by the state of Massachusetts in 1927, grew directly out of the "red scare" of the early '20s. The ILD applied with alacrity the main lines of its program: unity of all working-class forces and reliance on the class movement of the workers. Thousands of workers rallied to their cause, and unions around the country contributed to a defense fund set up by Italian workers in the Boston area. But the level of class struggle is key to the outcome of defense cases, and the ILD's exemplary campaign proved insufficient to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti.
As the case drew to a close, one of the feints used by the state was to start rumors that Sacco and Vanzetti's death penalty sentence would be commuted to life without parole. This was designed to dissipate the Sacco and Vanzetti movement and prepare their execution. Cannon rang the alarm bells from the pages of the Labor Defender, rallying ILD supporters to mass demonstrations and warning them of the devious and two-faced nature of the bourgeoisie. Cannon had not forgotten the demobilization of the Mooney movement after his sentence had been commuted nor the living death that Mooney and Billings were enduring in their 22 years of internment.
This has significance for us today as we fight against the threatened execution of Jamal. Life in prison is hell. Think about the "life" of Geronimo ji Jaga (Pratt), another former Panther, jailed for a quarter of a century for a crime the state knows he did not commit. While some call upon Pennsylvania governor Ridge to convert Jamal's sentence to life without parole, we demand the freedom of both these innocent men.
The ILD also worked in defense of the class as a whole. In 1926, about 16,000 textile workers hit the bricks in Passaic, New Jersey. Their strike was eventually defeated, but it drew sharp lessons on the role of the state and demonstrated for Cannon the absolute necessity for a permanent, organized and always ready non-partisan labor defense organization. Cannon wrote in the Labor Defender:
"Our I.L.D. is on the job at Passaic. Not a single striker went into court without our lawyer to defend him. There was not a single conviction that was not appealed. Nobody had to remain in jail more than a few days for lack of bail.... A great wave of protest spread thru the labor movement and even the most conservative labor leaders were compelled to give expression to it."
In 1928, the Trotskyist Left Opposition (including Cannon) was expelled from the Communist Party. The ILD remained under the control of the Communist Party and thus became subject to the zigzags of Stalinist policies throughout the 1930s, including the perversion of the united front from a tactic for class unity into an instrument for class collaboration and counterrevolution.
In 1929, Stalin declared the "Third Period," an ultraleft shift, the main tactic of which was to smash the Social Democratic and other leftist parties by creating what the Stalinists called "united fronts from below." The Comintern charged the reformists with "social fascism"; the real fascists were to be dealt with secondarily. In Germany, this policy contributed to Adolph Hitler's seizure of power— there was no united fight against fascism by the workers in the mass Communist and Social Democratic parties. This policy had an effect on the U.S. party and its defense work.
Legal Lynching in the American South
One result of the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Depression was that 200,000people made the rails their home as they moved from place to place looking for work. On 25 March 1931, nine black youths, ranging in age from 13 to 20, were riding the Memphis to Chattanooga freight train. Two young white women, fearful of being jailed for hoboing when the train was stopped after reports that there had been a fight with some white boys, accused the blacks of rape. Among the nine were Olen Montgomery—blind in one eye and with 10 percent vision in the other—headed for Memphis hoping to earn enough money to buy a pair of glasses; Willie Roberson, debilitated by years-long untreated syphilis and gonorrhea—which is important if you're going to be talking about a rape case; and Eugene Williams and Roy Wright, both 13 years old.
The group were nearly lynched on the spot. The trial began in Scottsboro, Alabama on April 6. Four days later, despite medical evidence that no rape had occurred—not to mention gross violations of due process—eight were sentenced to death and one of the 13-year-olds to life in prison. The Communist Party issued a statement condemning the trial as a "legal" lynching. That night, the campaign to free the Scottsboro Boys began.
Freedom was a long time coming. A series of trials and appeals all went badly for the defendants. In 1933, one of the alleged victims, Ruby Bates, recanted her testimony, but it wasn't until 1937 that four of the defendants were freed. Three more were paroled in the 1940s, and in 1948 Haywood Patterson escaped from Angola prison to Michigan, where the governor refused to extradite him. The last, Andy Wright, who had had his 1944 parole revoked, was finally released in 1950. The nine had spent 104 years in jail for a "crime" that never happened.
The ILD made the word "Scottsboro" synonymous, nationally and internationally, with Southern racism, repression and injustice. Their campaign was responsible for saving the Scottsboro Boys from the electric chair. As Haywood Patterson's father wrote in a letter to his son, "You will burn sure if you don't let them preachers alone and trust in the International Labor Defense to handle the case."
The CP's publicity was massive and moving. They organized demonstrations in Harlem and across the country, appealing to the masses to put no confidence in the capitalist courts and to see the struggle for the freedom of these youths as part of the larger class struggle. Young Communists in Dresden, Germany marched on the American consulate, and, when officials refused to accept their petition, hurled bottles through windows. Inside each was the note: "Down with American murder and Imperialism. For the brotherhood of black and white young proletarians. An end to the bloody lynching of our Negro co-workers."
In the South, the defense effort faced not only the racist system but the homegrown fascists of the Ku Klux Klan as well, which launched a campaign under the slogan "The Klan Rides Again to Stamp Out Communism."
The ILD's success in rallying the masses to the defense of the Scottsboro Boys happened despite their sectarian "Third Period" tactics. The ILD denounced the NAACP, the ACLU and most of the trade-union movement as "social fascists" and threw the "Trotskyite" likes of Jim Cannon out of Scottsboro defense meetings. But fascism was on the rise in Europe, and, seeking now to make as many allies as he could, in 1935 Stalin' declared the "Third Period" at an end. A Comintern resolution urged the Communist parties to form "popular fronts" with any and all for progressive ends. In the U.S. this meant supporting Roosevelt and abandoning the struggle to link the defense of black people with the fight against the capitalist system. You can imagine the surprise of the NAACP, who were now greeted warmly by the ILD as "comrades"! This comradeship did not extend to the Trotskyists. The Scottsboro Defense Committee was formed, and a lot of the life went out of the movement as the case dragged on.
Cannon and his party, the Communist League of America, supported the efforts of the ILD to free the Scottsboro Boys. The Trotskyists insisted on the importance of an integrated movement to fight in their defense. Cannon pointed out that it was wrong to view the Scottsboro case solely as a "Negro issue" and agitated in the pages of the Militant for the organization of white workers around the case.
When Clarence Darrow refused to work on the case unless the ILD withdrew because he didn't like its agitation methods, Cannon wrote:
"The ILD was absolutely right in rejecting the presumptuous demands of Darrow and Hays, and the Scottsboro prisoners showed wisdom in supporting the stand of their defense organization. Any other course would have signified an end to the fight to organize the protest of the masses against the legal lynching; and with that would have ended any real hope to save the boys and restore their freedom."
Darrow's big argument was: "You can't mix politics with a law case." Cannon replied:
"That is a reactionary lie. It is father to the poisonous doctrine that a labor case is a purely legal relation between the lawyer and client and the court.... It was the influence of this idea over the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee which paralyzed the protest mass movement at every step and thereby contributed to the final tragic outcome. Not to the courts alone, and not primarily there, but to the masses must the appeal of the persecuted of class and race be taken. There is the power and there is the justice."
Communists on Trial
During the time that the Scottsboro Boys were languishing in their Southern jails, World War II began in Europe. The American workers had gone through the experience of one of the biggest union organizing drives in the history of the country, resulting in the formation of the CIO, and many of the new industrial unions had won significant victories. Communists, including the Trotskyists, Jim Cannon and the Socialist Workers Party, had participated in and led many of these struggles. War is great for capitalist economies—the destruction creates constant demand, and if you win, you get new markets to exploit. But to go to war, you have to regiment the population at home, and that begins with the suspension of civil liberties.
On the eve of America's entry into World War II, Congress passed the Smith Act, requiring the fingerprinting and registering of all aliens residing in the United States and making it a crime to advocate or teach the "violent overthrow of the United States government" or to belong to a group advocating or teaching it.
For public consumption, this act was billed as an antifascist measure, but the Socialist Workers Party (successor to the Communist League of America) and Minneapolis Teamsters were the first victims of the Smith Act prosecutions. Why did the head of the Teamsters Union, Daniel J. Tobin, the U.S. attorney general, Francis Biddle, and the president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt, conspire to take away the First Amendment rights of a small Trotskyist party, a party with maybe a couple thousand members and influence in one local of one union?
Part of the answer is that the SWP was effective. The party had led some hard class struggle; it was their comrades who had provided the leadership for the Minneapolis strike of 1934 which led to the formation of Teamsters Local 544. Another part of the answer is politics: the SWP was forthright in its opposition to the coming war. This was a calculated government attack designed to cripple the SWP where it had the most influence in the proletariat as America girded for imperialist war.
In the courtroom, the SWP's goal was to put the capitalist system on trial, a tradition we carry forward in our own cases. On the stand, Cannon pedagogically explained the positions of the SWP on the questions of the day and Marxism in general. But the Minneapolis defendants went to jail for 16 months—sentenced on the same day that Congress voted to enter the war. The ruling class hoped that the party would be leaderless and pass from the stage. But at that time the SWP was still a revolutionary party with a revolutionary program and a collective leadership—so that hope was, in the main, dashed.
A number of CIO unions issued statements in defense of the Minneapolis defendants, as did numerous black organizations. The American Communist Party, however, issued the following statement: "The Communist Party has always exposed, fought against and today joins the fight to exterminate the Trotskyite fifth column from the life of our nation." In line with their support for Roosevelt and the war, the CP aided the government in the Smith Act prosecution of the SWP and aided the FBI in their persecution of the Trotskyists in the trade unions. The CP's disgusting collaboration did not prevent them from being prosecuted under the very same Smith Act, beginning in 1948. The Trotskyists, of course, defended the CP unequivocally against the government prosecution while criticizing the CP's Stalinist politics.
Years later the attorney general, Francis Biddle, apologized for prosecuting the Trotskyists. The bourgeoisie sometimes apologizes when its crisis is safely over. Fifty years after the end of World War II, the U.S. government "apologized" for the wartime roundup and internment of Japanese Americans, offering a token compensation to those whose homes were seized and livelihoods ruined. They say whatever outrageous trampling of civil liberties occurred was an "excess" or "wrong" and of course it will "never happen again." But the Reagan government drew up plans to intern Arab Americans in concentration camps in Louisiana after the bombing of Libya. Those camps are ready and waiting for the next time the bourgeoisie feels its rule is substantially threatened.
Class-Struggle Defense Work
The Partisan Defense Committee was initiated in 1974 by the Spartacist League with the goal of re-establishing in the workers movement united-front, non-sectarian defense principles in the tradition of Cannon's ILD.
This was not anticipated to be, nor has it been, an easy task. Unlike the ILD, which inherited the rich and principled defense traditions of the IWW and the personal authority of mass leaders like Cannon and Haywood, we were the immediate inheritors of a tradition of Stalinist perversion of defense work. In addition, the ILD was founded as a transitional organization, seeking to organize the masses for class-struggle defense work under the leadership of the party. By its second conference, the ILD had 20,000 individual members, a collective, affiliated membership of 75,000, and 156 branches across the country. The PDC attempts to conduct its work in a way that will make the transformation to such an organization possible.
The PDC program of raising money for monthly stipends for class-war prisoners is an example of an ILD practice to which we adhere. We currently send stipends to 17 prisoners, including Jamal, Geronimo ji Jaga and other former supporters of the Black Panther Party, victims of the FBI's murderous COINTELPRO frame-ups; Jerry Dale Lowe, a miner condemned to eleven years in prison for defending his picket line; and members of the MOVE organization locked up because they survived the racist cop assaults on their homes and murder of their family. We also follow the ILD's policy of strict accounting of finances and have modeled our journal, Class-Struggle Defense Notes, on the ILD's Labor Defender.
We take to heart Cannon's point:
"The problem of organization is a very significant one for labor defense as a school for the class struggle. We must not get the idea that we are merely 'defense workers' collecting money for lawyers. That is only a part of what we are doing. We are organizing workers on issues which are directly related to the class struggle. The workers who take part in the work of the ILD are drawn, step by step into the main stream of the class struggle. The workers participating begin to learn the ABC of the labor struggle."
Class-struggle defense is a broad category. We are a small organization and must pick and choose our cases carefully, with an eye to their exemplary nature. The case of Mario Munoz a Chilean miners' leader condemned to death in 1976 by the Argentine military junta, is a good example. This was the PDC's first major defense effort. Co-sponsored with the Committee to Defend Workers and Sailor Prisoners in Chile, the international campaign of protest by unions and civil libertarians won asylum for Munoz and his family in France.
Some of our work has been in defense of the revolutionary party. The Spartacist League takes its legality— the right to exist and organize—very seriously, and has been quick to challenge every libel and legal attack. The party successfully challenged the FBI's slanderous description of the SL as "terrorists" who covertly advocate the violent’ Overthrow of the government. A 1984 settlement forced them to describe the SL as a "Marxist political organization."
The PDC takes up not only the cases but the causes of the whole of the working people. We have initiated labor/black mobilizations against the Klan from San Francisco to Atlanta to Philadelphia to Springfield, Illinois, and mobilized sections of the integrated labor movement to join these efforts to stop the fascists from spewing their race hate.
In 1989, we broadened our thinking about how the PDC could champion causes of the international proletariat and offered to organize an international brigade to Afghanistan to fight alongside the forces of the left-nationalist Kabul regime against the imperialist-backed, anti-woman Islamic fundamentalists on the occasion of the withdrawal of Soviet troops. When our offer of a brigade was declined, we launched a successful campaign to raise money for the victims of the mullah-led assault on Jalalabad. To reflect this, we expanded the definition of the PDC to one of a legal and social defense organization. To carry out this campaign, it was necessary to expand the PDC internationally. Sections of the International Communist League initiated fraternal organizations in Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Currently we focus our efforts on Mumia Abu-Jamal and the fight to abolish the racist death penalty. Our actions in the Jamal case embody many of the principles of our defense work and the integral relationship of that work to the Marxist program of the Spartacist League, in this case particularly in regard to the fight for black liberation, which is key to the American revolution. This is a political death penalty case which illustrates the racism endemic in this country in its crudest, most vicious form and lays bare the essence of the state.
Throughout the very difficult period ahead, we will put all our faith in the mobilization of the working class and none in the capitalist courts. We embark now on exhausting every legal avenue open to Jamal, but we know the result hinges on the class struggle.
We hope you will join us in the fight to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, to abolish the racist death penalty and finish the Civil War. Forward to the third American revolution! •
WHITHER THE MALIKI GOVERNMENT?
IMMEDIATE UNCONDITIONAL WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ
In Iraq amid the daily suicide bombings, sectarian murders and United States- led military sweeps of the neighborhoods, you know the monotonous routine news out of that benighted country, comes news that all is not well in the relationship between the American government and it’s wholly owned subsidiary-the Maliki government. If one is to believe the recently returned Anthony Cordesman from the Center for International Strategic Studies who apparently, from the number of times I have seen his name used, is the only person on the planet whom the media can find to comment on the record and in his own name on the situation there, none of the three (or more) sectarian factions that have some relationship to the governing apparatus nor the U.S. or Iraqi military is happy with his leadership. If memory serves Mr. Maliki was about a 27th round draft choice in the lottery to find some one acceptable to govern Iraq a couple of years ago. Well, you reap what you sow. But that is not the important point today. What is important is that in light of the ‘big day’ September 15th status report forthcoming from General Petreaus and Ambassador Crocker how long will the Maliki government hold and who will or will not bring it down. Over the last five years I have warned repeatedly that Iraq is not Vietnam. And on most days that is ever so true. But I would point out that in November 1963 the Diem government in Vietnam was unceremoniously overthrown with America’s, aty least, tacit, blessing. And, my friends, the Diem government seemed in comparison to have been one hundred times stronger and in control of the situation than the current Iraqi government. In any case, Mr. Maliki may soon be joining us in calling for the immediate unconditional withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq in order to save his own skin. Well, what the hell, those of us who support that slogan have a ‘big tent’ approach to building an opposition. Come on in.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Click on title to link to Leon Trotsky Internet Archives for photographs of the heroic Bolshevik revolutionary on the anniversary of his murder by a Stalinist agent.
Click on title to link to American Socialist Workers Party founder and Leon Trotsky co-thinker James P. Cannon's appreciation of the life of Trotsky at a memorial meeting held in New York City in 1940 immediately after the assassination of Trotsky by a Stalinist agent.
Monday, August 20, 2007
*Those Who Fought For Our Communist Future Are Kindred Spirits- Honor Russian Revolutionary Leon Trotsky
Click on the title to link to the Leon Trotsky Internet Archive's copy of his 1923 article, "The Tasks Of Communist Education"
This is a repost of an earlier entry used here to honor of the memory of this great communist internationalist revolutionary on the anniversary of his death.
Every January, as readers of this blog are now, hopefully, familiar with the international communist movement honors the 3 Ls-Lenin, Luxemburg and Liebknecht, fallen leaders of the early 20th century communist movement who died in this month (and whose untimely deaths left a huge, irreplaceable gap in the international leadership of that time). January is thus a time for us to reflect on the roots of our movement and those who brought us along this far. In order to give a fuller measure of honor to our fallen forbears this January, and in future Januarys, this space will honor others who have contributed in some way to the struggle for our communist future. That future classless society, however, will be the true memorial to their sacrifices.
Note on inclusion: As in other series on this site (“Labor’s Untold Story”, “Leaders Of The Bolshevik Revolution”, etc.) this year’s honorees do not exhaust the list of every possible communist worthy of the name. Nor, in fact, is the list limited to Bolshevik-style communists. There will be names included from other traditions (like anarchism, social democracy, the Diggers, Levellers, Jacobins, etc.) whose efforts
contributed to the international struggle. Also, as was true of previous series this year’s efforts are no more than an introduction to these heroes of the class struggle. Future years will see more detailed information on each entry, particularly about many of the lesser known figures. Better yet, the reader can pick up the ball and run with it if he or she has more knowledge about the particular exploits of some communist militant, or to include a missing one.
The name Leon Trotsky hardly needs added comment from this writer. After Marx, Engels and Lenin, and in his case it is just slightly after, Trotsky is our heroic leader of the international communist movement. I would argue, and have in the past, that if one were looking for a model of what a human being would be like in our communist future Leon Trotsky, warts and all, is the closest approximation that the bourgeois age has produced. No bad, right? Thanks, Comrade Trotsky.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
A NOTE ON THE CURRENT MARKET VOLATILITY
FOR A MORATORIUM ON MORTAGE FORECLOSURES
FORGET DONKEYS, ELEPHANTS AND GREENS- BUILD A WORKERS PARTY!
In a commentary earlier this year I argued for a moratorium on home mortgage foreclosures as a defensive act on behalf of the ‘little people’ who were being squeezed out by their inability to pay the adjustable interest rate hikes that came with many such housing loans. That call is still appropriate today. Obviously this demand has nothing to do with the fight for socialism, as such, but if we had workers party congressmen or senators we would have them submit such legislation to Congress. Moreover, I believe that we would also want to introduce legislation for regulation of the unchecked financial services industry that has wrecked havoc on the backs of working people, wittingly or unwittingly. Since I first argued for the moratorium the fallout from the bad loans and other problems that have trickled down as a result has created an extremely volatile, and potentially destructive, economic situation for working people who depend on credit to make ends meet. Thus a couple of notes on episodic economic fluctuations seem appropriate.
I make no bones about the fact that I am not an economist, Marxist or otherwise. My relationship with the ‘dismal’ science of political economy is weighted toward the political end not the economic one. Oh sure, I have read Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations and, of course, Karl Marx’s Das Capital and some of the commentaries on these works. Thus I have a sense of the classical underpinning of the capitalist mode of production but as for the various instruments, especially the financial ones, which drive the day to day modern capitalist economies I admit my ignorance. In my defense I would argue that while some Marxists had better study these workings (just not this writer) getting caught up in the minutia of the capitalist mode of production is not decisive. If one assumes, as I do, that the capitalist mode of production has played out its progressive historic role then the real fight is not over the ramifications of the day to day fluctuations of the market but the need to overthrow it-a political question. The capitalist mode of production, its operators, apologists and hangers-on need to be pushed out-there is no other way.
As if to underline the above sentiment I have been recently reading Irving Howe and Lewis Coser’s History of the American Communist Party that I will review in this space later. The most interesting section of that work concerns the ‘third period’ Communist International strategy and tactics. This policy, that held sway from about 1928 until 1935 as the official international line, was predicated on a ‘final collapse’ of capitalism. For those not familiar with the period this is the time when the Communist International was calling virtually any non-Stalinist politcal formation ‘social fascist’. The most famous, or rather infamous, result of that strategy was the refusal of the German Communists to unite with the Social Democrats to form a workers united front in order to fight off Hitler’s advances in the early 1930’s. We are all painfully aware of the results. The point for today, and I have seen it come up enough to note it, is to not directly tie general economic trends with political action. If not opposed and defeated the capitalist will muddle through one way or another. Thus, in the end the economic issues dominate but in the meantime it is about politics.
As a kind of subset of that last idea the fact that many of our ‘people’ are being squeezed to the wall by today’s credit crunch would seemingly create conditions for a fight back. Right? Alas, in the short run those affected are too demoralized to fight and the next layer above them is afraid they are next so economic downturns do not necessarily favor militant political action. Along this same line I would note, however, that their ‘people’ –the capitalist investors, jobbers and brokers are not going to the wall on this. It is our ‘people’ who wind up with the bad credit record, monetary losses and loss of whatever sense of self worth home ownership brings. To dramatically bring this point home a recent article in the financial section of a Boston newspaper highlighted the demise of one of their ‘best and brightest’ capital managers who had to close his financial operation at the end of July when the creditors clamored for cash. This manager was no ‘fly by night’ operator but had been a star in the management of Harvard University’s 29 billion dollar endowment fund (now 34 billion, as of August 23). This brought many rewards among them a nice house in the very exclusive town of Wellesley, a suburb of Boston. At some point this manager left Harvard’s management team and went out to run his own financial operation and snagged 500 million from the Harvard endowment to work with, among other high end clients. When the crash came this operator had to close up not however before losing 350 million dollars of the Harvard endowment and smaller sums for other clients. His response- a heartfelt e-mail message of sorrow to all those who had lost money through his poor management. Yes, I can see the tears streaming down your eyes after hearing this story. Not to worry though- he is NOT losing his house. Enough said.
Friday, August 17, 2007
*A SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC VIEW OF THE AMERICAN COMMUNIST PARTY- The View From Professor Irving Howe's Chair
Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for Professor Irving Howe.
THE AMERICAN COMMUNIST PARTY-A CRITICAL HISTORY (1919-1957), IRVING HOWE AND LEWIS COSER, BEACON PRESS, BOSTON, 1957
I have reviewed the two volume set on the history of the early American Communist Party by Theodore Draper elsewhere in this space. There I noted that as an addition to the historical record of the period from the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the formation and consolidation of the legal, above ground party in 1923 The Roots of American Communism and its companion volume detailing the period from 1923 to 1929-American Communism and Soviet Russia are the definitive scholarly studies on the early history of the American Communist Party through the Stalinization of the American party.
The present volume by Irving Howe, who had been long time editor of the social democratic journal Dissent, and fellow professor Lewis Coser took that story up to 1957. Although Howe and Coser also covered the early period covered by Draper including the pre-World War I radical milieu, the split of the left wing of the Socialist Party, the creation of two communist parties, the underground period , the eventual reunion of the two parties, the resurfacing and finally the Stalinization of the party since I believe that Draper did an extremely thorough job on the early period I therefore will limit my comments on this book to the period after that from the ‘third period’ Communist policy of about 1929 through the Popular Front, the Stalin-Hitler Pact, and the various makeshift popular front policies of the World War II and post-war period.
That said, I will pose the same question here that I did in the Draper reviews. Why must militants read these works today? After the demise of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe anything positively related to Communist studies is deeply discounted. Nevertheless, for better or worse, the American Communist Party (and its offshoots) needs to be studied as an ultimately flawed example of a party that failed in its mission to create a radical version of society in America when it became primarily a tool of Soviet diplomacy. Now is the time for militants to study the mistakes and draw the lessons of that history.
Needless to say the very title of this study gives its perspective-a critical study- and that attitude, sometimes mockingly, sometimes with disgust at Communist strategy and tactics mars this work as one would expect from a political opponent of communism. But we are after all political people (assuming that today’s reader of such material has to be political) and we know how to take those kinds of opponent's remarks in stride. The book nevertheless provides a wealth of information about what was going on in the American Communist party, how subservient it was to Moscow at any particular time and the difficulties inherent in a radical approach to American labor politics during that period (and now, for that matter).
For my money the most important contribution in this volume is the study of the ‘third period’. For those unfamiliar with the terminology Communist International language, codified in its theses and tactics, had set 1917-1924, the first period, as one of revolutionary opportunities, 1924-28, the second period, of capitalist stabilization and beginning about 1929 the ‘third period’-the collapse of capitalism and the final confrontation between the two main forces in world politics- the bosses and the workers. A good shorthand way to describe this period was the slogan- Class Against Class. Well we all know the results- the most important being the victory of Hitler in Germany without so much as a fight by the working class. I will confess that in my youth I was intellectually very drawn to ‘third period’ Comintern politics, that is, until I got hold of a copy of Leon Trotsky’s The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany and realized that the whole Stalinist policy was a house of cards. There were no places of exile for the mass of the German working class who borne the brunt of Hitler’s vengeance as a result of this strategy. They took it on the chin and never really recovered from that defeat. So much for ultra-radical sloganeering. Although the effects on the American scene were not as traumatic it was nevertheless a period of isolation and some very serious labor defeats in struggles here.
If in my youth I was enamored of the ‘third period’ that was not the case of the next period-the period of the popular front. As a reaction to the sterility and foolishness of the ‘third period’ and the isolation internationally of the Soviet Union in the face of the Hitler menace the class against class approach was abandoned to be replaced by one in which the communists were basically undifferentiated from the mass of bourgeois politics- they were just the ‘guys and gals’ next door. Although this was the period of greatest influence for the American party in the unions, in the universities, in cultural life and in American politics in general it too proved a house of cards when the Moscow line changed during the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939-41. The authors present a very interesting description of how the party maneuvered through ‘front’ groups during the popular front period to gain apparent influence on the cheap. They list a whole catalogue of organizations that the party controlled, a few that I was not previously aware of, and what happened went the deal went sour in 1939. In short, a lesson that latter radicals, including today’s radicals, should have permanently etched in their brains when one counts how much influence we really have in such things as the current anti-Iraq war movement.
After the Soviet Union was invaded in 1941 the party’s influence grew but for all the wrong reasons- it was the most patriotic and conservative factor in labor politics, all ostensibly in the interest of defending the Soviet Union. In the post-war period, however, the party reaped what it had sown as it faced a steep decline of influence in the labor movement due to its own policies and the ‘red scare’ that developed during the Cold War build up. It is during the discussion of this period that the authors show their greatest degree of contempt for the American party mainly arguing that that party was solely an agent for the Soviet Union and therefore not part of the labor movement. While those of us today who are anti-Stalinist can quote chapter and verse the crimes of Stalinism as well as Howe and Coser could it is a very grave mistake to have assumed that Stalinism was not a current of the international labor movement and therefore did not have to be defended. We have paid a steep price for that social democratic view. It was necessary to defeat Stalinism within the labor movement but not by 'outsourcing' that task to American imperialism. Read this book with a very jaded eye.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
HANDS OFF IRAN!!
The latest news out of Washington is that the infamous Iranian Revolutionary Guard has been put on the Bush Administration’s list of ‘terror’ organizations. That means that, formally at least, any ‘material aid’ to that organization, a shadowy appparatus connnected by many threads to the Iranian state, is subject to criminal sanction-if not more. Of course, these days everything to the left of the American Republican Party, and even there some elements are suspect, has been accused of ‘materially aiding’ some enemy. However, in the red-hot tension of the Iranian situation this move has the uncanny look of a statement of war. I have been bothered at least since last year’s Seymour Hersh April 2006 New Yorker expose about the Bush Administration’s push to war with Iran-under whatever pretext. Clearly, although the debacle in Iraq has cut off many direct options toward an overthrow in Iran there is nevertheless still an appetite by the Bush-Cheney remnant of the government to go out in a blaze of glory. And what better way that to get revenge for that nasty Revolutionary Guard-driven American Embassy hostage-taking of almost 30 years ago. We best keep vigilant on this one. And while we have nothing politically in common with the Revolutionary Guard and mullahs who control the situation in Iran and offer them no political support we do not 'outsource' the job of changing the situation there to American imperialism. HANDS OFF IRAN!
ADIEU, KARL ROVE
A SAVAGE CLASS WARRIOR LEAVES BUSH TO HIS OWN DEVICES
Well by now everyone among the ‘chattering classes’ knows that Republican President George Bush’s ‘evil counselor’, one Karl Rove, has like so many in the recent past abandoned the sinking ship U.S.S. Bush and gone off to seek greener pastures in the hills of Texas. However, unlike most of the Bush ilk, the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to a name a couple, I will miss Karl Rove as a target. Why? I will make a confession based on a very long experience in politics- I get along better with and better understand right wing ideologues than the usual mushy ‘consultant’ types who populate today’s political scene. The ‘band aid guys’ and the ‘scotch tape gals’ whose political program is a small grab bag of ‘nice’ things to tweak the capitalist system while leaving it intact and that solve nothing leave me cold. One only needs to mention the name of the apparently recently retired Democratic Party consultant and perennially ‘loser’ Robert Schrum to bring this point home.
Give me the hardball players, the real bourgeois class warriors, any day. They know there is a class struggle going on as well as I do and know and that, in the final analysis, it is a fight to the finish. And who will dare say that Karl Rove was not the hell-bent king of that crowd. Anyone who could get a genuine dolt like George Bush elected twice Governor of Texas and twice President of the United States without flinching knows his business. Imagine if Rove had had a real political street fighter like Richard Nixon for a client. Yes, I know in the end Mr. Rove and I will be shooting from different sides of the barricades but Karl was a real evil genius and I will miss that big target.
Karl Rove honed two basic propositions that Marxists can appreciate, even if only from an adversarial position. One was the above-mentioned sense of the vagaries of the class struggle for the bourgeois class that he has so faithfully represented. How he was able to grab the dirt poor and against the wall farmers of places like Kansas and the desperately poor of the small towns of the ‘Rust Belt’ as cannon fodder voters for a party that has not represented plebian interests since at least the 1870’s is worthy of study. The second was his notion, parliamentary-centered to be sure, of a ‘vanguard’ party. What? Karl Rove as some kind of closet Leninist? No. However, his proposition that the Republican party should cater to its social conservative base and drag whoever it could in their wake is a piece of political wisdom that leftists should think through more. That is a much better political approach than to rely on the current dominant ‘popular front’ strategy of organizing on the basis of the lowest common denominator issues whittled down to a meaningless point just to avoid antagonizing the Democrats instead of fighting for what is necessary. Yes, one can sometimes learn something from one’s political adversaries- Adieu, Karl.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
REBELS IN THE RISE OF EARLY CAPITALISM
PRIMITIVE REBELS, E. J. HOBSBAWN, W.W. NORTON AND CO., NEW YORK, 1959
The recently deceased British historian E.J. Hobsbawn, notwithstanding his unrepentant Stalinism to the end, wrote many interesting historical studies in his very long career. The book under review, Primitive Rebels, was an early effort to trace the sociological roots of rebellion in the period of the rise of capitalism. We all know that the development of the capitalist mode of production as it started in Europe was both a long and uneven process. The way various sections of the poor in European society, mainly rural and small town workers, responded and adjusted to its demands is the core of this study. Not all resistance movements of the time led naturally to the three great political movements that defined the plebian respond to early capitalism-socialism, communism and anarchism- but those are the ones that drew masses of people around their programs and that is the focus of this work.
Professor Hobsbawn divided his study into two basic parts. The agrarian response, particularly in heavily agrarian Southern Europe, and the urban response, particularly in the small towns of Northern Europe, where much of capitalist development gained a huge foothold. Although there are some similarities in the response of both components local conditions such as tradition, geography and custom played a key role in whether the response became an organized one or faded in the onslaught. To that end he touches upon the history of social banditry and millennialism in the agrarian milieu and the strong pull of anarchism, especially in Spain, on the other. His case study on peasant anarchism in the period of the Spanish Civil War is worth the attention of Marxists in order to buttress their case for why that political response (or, better, non-political response) was totally inadequate in the face of the necessity of taking state power in order to defeat Franco.
The strongest part of the book is in his study of the urban plebians, their rituals and their revolutionary organizations. Here the theories and practice of the great 19th century revolutionary Louis Blanqui and his followers draws Hobsbawn’s interest. Even stronger is his study of the relationship between religion, mainly of the non-conforming sort, and the development of the organized labor movement in Britain. This goes a long way to explaining why the British labor movement was stalled, and still is stalled, in its tracks. In the end, however, the great lesson to be drawn from this work concerns today. I would ask where are the pockets of resistance to late capitalism comparable to those that emerged under early capitalism and how will they response to the effects of ‘globalization’ of the capitalist mode of production. We await our chronicler of that subject.
Monday, August 13, 2007
TROUBLE IN BUCKINGHAM PALACE
ABOLISH THE BRITISH MONARCHY, STATE CHURCH AND HOUSE OF LORDS
In the normal course of events news from England’s Buckingham Palace, the seat of the British monarchy, does not directly concern socialist militants except in a propagandistic way. Most of the news lately has concerned the ‘plight’ of poor Prince Harry (or is it Prince William?) and his non-deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan with his tank unit. However another more recent piece of news permits me to make some points about the socialist attitude toward those ‘revered’ English institutions of British royalty, the established Anglican Church and the moribund House of Lords.
I will admit that I have received this news second hand but Queen Elizabeth’s eldest grandson Peter Phillips, son of her daughter Princess Anne, has become engaged to a Canadian woman. Nothing extraordinary there. However in the convoluted process of the British royal succession Peter Phillips stands number ten in line to the throne. That, again, would be neither here nor there except that the woman he proposes to marry, Autumn Kelly, is a strongly self-professed Catholic. And there is the rub. Although Peter's real chances of getting to be the ’once and future king’ are just a shade better than mine apparently if he marries the Catholic woman without some form of renunciation he violates British law. According to the Act of Settlement of 1701 (the one that brought Queen Anne, daughter of the papist James II, to the throne) no British monarch can marry a papist- a Roman Catholic. Thus, either Peter Phillips has to renounce his right to the throne or Autumn has to renounce her religious beliefs. Attempts, including one last year, to rescind that law have failed. And that is where socialists have a duty to comment.
Strange to have to say in the year 2007 but socialists, while hostile to religion on principal, are opposed to religious tests for anyone- including marrying into royalty. A great part of the struggle during the heroic days of the rise of the bourgeoisie and the fight for the Enlightenment centered on this very question of state support of, and interference in, the private realm of religion. But that is not the main point. In England the head of state, in this case the queen, is also the head of the state church. This brings me to the real argument. Despite the so-called aura of tradition and despite its alleged benign symbolic place the real fight here is to abolish the monarchy. When Oliver Cromwell and his friends established the Commonwealth during the English Revolution one of the important acts, if not the most important act, was the abolishing of the monarchy exemplified by the beheading of Charles I. I, however, do not believe that Cromwell spent enough time trying to round up Charles' sons, who later during the counter-revolution became Charles II and James II, in order to eliminate (or at least curtail) the chances of restoration. So here is my proposal. British militants take note. In order for the kids, Citizen Peter Phillips and Citizen Autumn Kelly, to get married life off to the right start-ABOLISH THE BRITISH MONARCHY, ABOLISH THE STATE CHURCH and ABOLISH THE HOUSE OF LORDS. In short, finish the tasks of the old English Revolution of the 1600’s. Those are our tasks, among others, in the British Isles.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Click on the title to link to "Wikipedia"'s entry for the Sacco and Vanzetti case, provided ere as background. As always with this source and its collective editorial policy, especially with controversial political issues like the Sacco and Vanzetti case, be careful checking the accuracy of the information provided at any given time.
HONOR THE MEMORY OF SACCO AND VANZETTI IN THIS THE 80TH ANNIVERSARY OF THEIR EXECUTION BY THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS.
I HAD ORIGINALLY INTENDED TO BASE MY COMMENTARY ON THE RECENTLY (2006)RELEASED DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THESE TWO ANARCHISTS BUT I WAS NOT ABLE TO GET THE DVD IN TIME SO THAT THIS COMMENTARY IS BASED ON A REVIEW OF A BOOK I DID EARLIER THIS YEAR-JUSTICE CRUCIFIED, ROBERTA STRAUSS FEURERLICHT, MCGRAW-HILL, NEW YORK, 1977.
Those familiar with the radical movement know that at least once in every generation a political criminal case comes up that defines that era. One thinks of the Haymarket Martyrs in the 19th century, the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930's, the Rosenbergs in the post-World War II Cold War period and today Mumia Abu-Jamal. In America after World War I when the Attorney General Palmer-driven ‘red scare’ brought the federal government’s vendetta against foreigners, immigrants and militant labor fighters to a white heat that generation's case was probably the most famous of them all, Sacco and Vanzetti. The exposure of the tensions within American society that came to the surface as a result of that case is the subject of the book under review. I note that it is as much a polemic on American nativism and Puritan skullduggery as it is a thorough study of the particulars of the case. After reading the book those whose sense of the 1920’s in America was formed by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age will have to think again.
A case like that of Sacco and Vanzetti, accused, convicted and then executed in 1927 for a robbery and double murder committed in a holdup of a payroll delivery to a shoe factory in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1920, does not easily conform to any specific notion that the average citizen today has of either the state or federal legal system. Nevertheless, one does not need to buy into the author’s thesis about the original sin of obtuse ‘righteousness’ that drove the Puritans forebears in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and therefore made it possible to railroad two foreign-born Italian anarchists in 1920 to know that the case against them 'stunk' to high heaven. And that is the rub. Even a cursory look at the evidence presented (taking the state of jurisprudence at that time into consideration) and the facts surrounding the case would force the most mildly liberal political type to know the “frame” was on. That standard response is the minimum one would expect of an author on this subject so long after the events. This author passes that test. Her sympathies lie with the two anarchists and by extension all those who suffered physical and psychological damage from the abysmal social, political and cultural attitudes of the American ruling classes and their henchmen toward the great ‘unwashed’.
Everyone agrees, or should agree, that in such political criminal cases as Sacco and Vanzetti every legal avenue including appeals, petitions and seeking grants of clemency should be used in order to secure the goal, the freedom of those imprisoned. This author does an adequate job of detailing the various appeals and other legal wrangling that only intensified as the execution neared. Nevertheless she does not adequately address a question that is implicit in her description of the fight to save the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti. How does one organize and who does one appeal to in a radical working class political defense case?
The author spends some time on the liberal local Boston defense organizations and the 'grandees' and other celebrities who became involved in the case, and who were committed almost exclusively to a legal defense strategy. She does not, however, pay much attention to the other more radical elements of the campaign that fought for the pair’s freedom. She gives short shrift to the work of the Communists and their International Red Aid (the American affiliate was named the International Labor Defense and headed by Communist leader James P. Cannon, a man well-known in anarchist circles) that organized meetings, conferences and yes, political labor strikes on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti, especially in Europe. The tension between those two conceptions of political defense work still confronts us to day as we fight the seemingly never-ending legal battles thrown up since 9/11 for today’s Sacco and Vanzetti’s- immigrants, foreigners and radicals (some things do not change with time). If you want plenty of information on the Sacco and Vanzetti case and an interesting thesis about it’s place in radical history, the legal history of Massachusetts and the social history of the United States this is not a bad place to stop. In any case-Honor the Memory of Sacco and Vanzetti.
GENERAL ROMNEY AND HIS 'TROOPS'
THE FRONTLINE ON THE 'WAR ON TERROR' IS APPARENTLY-IOWA
IMMEDIATE UNCONDITIONAL WITHDRAWAL FROM IRAQ
FORGET DONKEYS, ELEPHANTS AND GREENS- BUILD A WORKERS PARTY!
You do not often find much that is unintentionally humorous on the bourgeois presidential political campaign trail but last week, the week of August 5, 2007, ex- Massachusetts Governor and current Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney won the prize. Why? In Iowa, an early and important caucus state in the race for party nominations, an anti-war activist asked the Governor why, given his extreme hawkish defense of the Iraq quagmire and calls for huge increases in the military budget, none of his five sons had seen fit to enlist to fight the ‘war on terror’. Romney’s reply rightly enough included the fact that they were their own agents. Then he tipped overboard. Apparently Romney’s concept of ‘alternative service’ in the war on terror for his sons is to have them run around Iowa in campers ‘fighting’ for his victory to be president. Strange. I do, however, wish that I could have used that argument with my draft board back when I was faced with being drafted for the Vietnam War.
As a socialist I am opposed to reintroducing the draft. And that includes for Romney’s sons. Why? Simple, socialists do not want to give the capitalist state any more ways of enforcing its rule than it already has at present. Another way of putting it in its proper perspective-its a rich person’s wars, but a poor person’s fights. If, however, a draft were reinstituted over our opposition we would reluctantly go along with the other draftees and expect Romney’s sons to be there with us. No exemptions for those pursuing ‘other options' as 'chicken hawk' Vice President Cheney so succinctly put it when asked why he did not enlist for his generation's war-Vietnam. Fat chance of that, right? I would note that those who either have not fought in a war or have not had to be faced with the prospect of fighting in one should be very circumspect about having some other father’s son or daughter fight that war for them. Nevertheless it may almost be a law of capitalist human nature that the farther away from the battle field these ‘sunshine’ hawks are the more belligerent they are. But to take the pressure off the poor Romney boys and their consciences our best bet is- Immediate Unconditional Withdrawal from Iraq.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
*From The Archives- The Slip-Slide From Revolution To The Embrace Of 'Democratic' Imperialism- A Case Study-Albert Glotzer
Click on title to link to the Albert Glotzer Internet Archive for samples of his writing while he was a leader in the Socialist Workers Party in the 1930s and later after he split from that party in the famous Shachtman-led exit in 1940 over the question of defense of the Soviet Union (to form the Workers Party and it subsequent organizational forms that led back, ultimately, to the right-wing of the Social Democratic movement). That was the touchstone issue for his, and later generations, and one can see in the later writing the slip-slide into the defense of "democratic" imperialism. A cautionary tale, for sure.
*Ex-Trotskyist (American Socialist Workers Party) Albert Glotzer's Political Obituary- A Cautionary Tale
Click on title to link to the World Socialist Web Site's political obituary for Albert Glotzer in 1999 mentioned in an entry posted today concerning Glotzer's view of American Trotskyist leader James P. Cannon. This is provided for informational purposes only, as the article hits the highlights of his political rise and fall.
Click on title to link to Albert Glotzer's Internet Archives for a 1945 article for the break-away Workers Party on James P. Cannon, a name that should be familiar to readers of this blog. I have touted the abilities of ex-Wobblie, ex- American Communist Party leader and founding Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party leader (along with Glotzer under the party name Albert Gates) Cannon. Glotzer provides a very different view. Compare, but also read Glotzer's obituary also posted on this date to see the curve of his political trajectory. It was not pretty.
THE MALE LIBERAL POLITICAL BLOGOSPHERE?
FORGET DONKEYS, ELEPHANTS AND GREENS- BUILD A WORKERS PARTY!
Apparently the latest tempest in a teapot in the blogosphere is the gap between the number of well-known male, mainly liberal, political bloggers and their female counterparts. At a recent Daily Kos liberal blogger gabfest there was reportedly a heated discussion on ‘being female while blogging’. A number of media commentators have also picked up on this issue for discussion. The gist of the argument is that like other forms of political expression and technologically-driven communications males swamp females in their rates of participation and linkage. Nevertheless, somehow, somewhere someone got the quaint notion that the ‘information superhighway’ was going to be a neutral vehicle that would give all segments of society equal ‘voice’. Well, okay, we are very familiar with the notion that some other forces than the seemingly mundane class struggle form the basis for the political decisions of the liberal intelligentsia and their hangers-on. But why would anyone assume that in a still very sexually discriminatory society that males would not dominate the ether. I do not like it, nor should you, but this society, despite some real gains for women, is still in an affirmative action, special case mode in relationship to woman’s role in society. The liberal political blogosphere merely reflects that unfortunate reality. Needless to say it is one more battle that socialists and others have to fight.
As an aside, this campaign season has seen more than its share of blather about the effects that organized liberal blogging has had on presidential politics. While I obviously appreciate the technology that allows for wide-spread use of the Internet and blogging for a whole variety of reasons this is hardly the lynchpin to social change. A useful tool? Yes. The way to organize social change? No. Call me old-fashioned but from all I see and read on the question of blogging influence I just do not see it. Raising money? Obviously. Getting quick information access to many people? Yes. But the nuts and bolts of political organizing mean that there has to be face to face encounters with real people and real live discussion and polemic. And that does not mean a yearly Kos meeting or its socialist equivalent. Nor does it mean reliance on the average bilious liberal political blog reader. One of the interesting statistics that has come out of this male/female blogger gap is that the average liberal political blog reader, much like his talk radio conservative counterpart, is about 43 years old and has a family income of $80,000 and a chip on his shoulders. I would assume that proportionally the same statistics would be borne out in regard to the average leftist male blog reader. In short ‘blog potatoes’. No revolution will occur based on those kinds of numbers. Where are the youth? They are in iPod/cellphone/video nation. Methinks we may be in a little trouble fighting for a socialist future if these numbers hold up.
Click on title to link to the Albert Glotzer Internet Archive for samples of his writing while was in the Socialist Workers Party in the 1930s and later after he split from that party in the famous Shachtman-led exit in 1940 over the question of defense of the Soviet Union. That was the touchstone issue for his, and later generations, and one can see in the later writing the slip-slide into the defense of "democratic" imperialism. A cautionary tale, for sure.
TROTSKY-MEMOIR AND CRITIQUE, ALBERT GLOTZER, PROMETHEUS BOOKS, NEW YORK, 1989
THIS MONTH MARKS THE 67TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE MURDER OF LEON TROTSKY BY A STALINIST AGENT-ALL HONOR TO THE MEMORY OF THE GREAT RUSSIAN REVOLUTIONARY
As readers of this space may know I make no bones about being an admirer of the work of Leon Trotsky (see archives). I have noted elsewhere that I believe that the definitive biography of the man is Isaac Deutscher’s three-volume set. Nevertheless, others have written biographies, or in this a case a memoir and critique (naturally-the memoir alone in this case would not sustain a book) on Trotsky that are either less balanced than Deutscher’s or come at it from a different angle with a different ax to grind. Mr. Glotzer’s take on Trotsky’s legacy is a classic post World War II social democratic one driven by the effect of the ravages of American imperialism during the Cold War on the right wing of that international political tendency. The post war period was not kind to those who fell away from the politics that sparked their communist youth, but more on that at another time.
Despite our extreme politic differences Mr. Glotzer’s reminiscences of how he became a communist are welcome. I am always fascinated by how those who came to political maturity a couple of generations before me and who are the real living links to the Russian Revolution felt about that event. Moreover, Mr. Glotzer is no mere chronicler of Trotsky’s life. During the 1930’s before the political temperature in the American left intellectual milieu got too hot for some of them Mr. Glotzer was part of the leadership of the American Trotskyist movement and was a key lieutenant, factional operative and personal friend of a central founder- one Max Shachtman. That these two, along with another “Young Turk” one Martin Abern, spent as much time plotting for organizational control of the movement against the wily ‘bureaucratic’ old timer and founder James P. Cannon during that time as in constructive political work is a separate issue. Needless to say only a few cryptic references to that experience surface in this work- a very selective memoir, as is usually the case. For more on that political struggle read Cannon’s The Struggle for a Proletarian Party and Trotsky’s In Defense of Marxism and make up your own mind.
As always the critique of Trotsky, or more correctly, Bolshevism is centered on the question of the organizational principles of that party. That is democratic- centralism or as the critics would have it bureaucratic-centralism-long on the bureaucratic, short on the democratic. Trotsky is seen here to have escaped that bad practice until he linked up with the Bolsheviks in 1917. This is his 'original sin' in the eyes of liberals and social democrats like Glotzer. The reduction of an organizational principle of a political party to the decisive reason for the degeneration of a revolution defies belief.
The model for all European social democratic parties, including both the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks in Russia, at the turn of the 20th century was the German party. One does not have to read to far into the history of that party to know that even without state power to buttress its organizational practice that party was as bureaucratically run as any Stalinist party cell. The real question then is not the principle of democratic centralism but the question of a ‘vanguard party’ versus a ‘party of the whole class’. In the end that was what the dispute in the Russian social democracy turned on. And later on the international movement, as well. History has demonstrated, if it has demonstrated anything on this question, that a ‘party of the whole class’ with its implication of inclusiveness toward socially backward workers can never take state power, if that was the idea of those who argued for this type of party in the first place. All of the above said, the question of bureaucracy in the process of transforming society from capitalism to socialism is one that has, in the light of the history of Stalinism, has to be taken as a real question. There are no a priori guarantees on the bumpy road to socialism but that is hardly the decisive question for now.
The rest of Glotzer’s critique is a more or less quick gloss on his politics and a rather annoying gloating over what proved to be the incorrectness of some of Trotsky’s predictions. The central argument Glotzer presents here is that capitalism rather than being in its death throes as Trotsky (and before him, Lenin) suggested still had, and has, a life and is not ready to be relegated to the dustbin of history. Unfortunately, those social democrats, like Glotzer, did more than their fair share of ideological work of behalf of preserving the imperialist status quo. Perhaps he would have been better off if he had ended his memoirs in his Communist youth in the 1930’s when he helped to try to create an international Trotskyist youth movement -that is the Glotzer who interests me. The rest I have heard a million times before.