Showing posts with label old new left. Show all posts
Showing posts with label old new left. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

*From The Archives-The Struggle To Win The Youth To The Fight For Our Communist Future-Lessons Of The Anti-War Movement (Vietnam War): A Militant Trade-Union Leader Speaks On The New Left (1980)

Markin comment:

One of the declared purposes of this space is to draw the lessons of our left-wing past here in America and internationally, especially from the pro-communist wing. To that end I have made commentaries and provided archival works in order to help draw those lessons for today’s left-wing activists to learn, or at least ponder over. More importantly, for the long haul, to help educate today’s youth in the struggle for our common communist future. That is no small task or easy task given the differences of generations; differences of political milieus worked in; differences of social structure to work around; and, increasingly more important, the differences in appreciation of technological advances, and their uses.

There is no question that back in my youth I could have used, desperately used, many of the archival materials available today. When I developed political consciousness very early on, albeit liberal political consciousness, I could have used this material as I knew, I knew deep inside my heart and mind, that a junior Cold War liberal of the American For Democratic Action (ADA) stripe was not the end of my leftward political trajectory. More importantly, I could have used a socialist or communist youth organization to help me articulate the doubts I had about the virtues of liberal capitalism and be recruited to a more left-wing world view. As it was I spent far too long in the throes of the left-liberal/soft social-democratic milieu where I was dying politically. A group like the Young Communist League (W.E.B. Dubois Clubs in those days), the Young People’s Socialist League, or the Young Socialist Alliance representing the youth organizations of the American Communist Party, American Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S.) respectively would have saved much wasted time and energy. I knew they were around but not in my area.

The archival material to be used in this series is weighted heavily toward the youth movements of the early American Communist Party and the Socialist Workers Party (U.S). For more recent material I have relied on material from the Spartacus Youth Clubs, the youth group of the Spartacist League (U.S.), both because they are more readily available to me and because, and this should give cause for pause, there are not many other non-CP, non-SWP youth groups around. As I gather more material from other youth sources I will place them in this series.

Finally I would like to finish up with the preamble to the Spartacist Youth Club’s What We Fight For statement of purpose:

"The Spartacus Youth Clubs intervene into social struggles armed with the revolutionary internationalist program of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky. We work to mobilize youth in struggle as partisans of the working class, championing the liberation of black people, women and all the oppressed. The SYCs fight to win youth to the perspective of building the Leninist vanguard party that will lead the working class in socialist revolution, laying the basis for a world free of capitalist exploitation and imperialist slaughter."

This seems to me be somewhere in the right direction for what a Bolshevik youth group should be doing these days; a proving ground to become professional revolutionaries with enough wiggle room to learn from their mistakes, and successes. More later.
Markin comment on this article

This article is place here mainly to give a flavor of the times (early 1970s) when every self-respecting extra-parliamentary leftist was struggling to find the road to the working class. There were plenty of groups, committees, leagues, tendencies and what not to the left of the Communist Party and Socialist Workers Party (both dismissed almost out of hand as too tame for revolutionary hearts based on practical experience in running up against them in the process of trying to break with the Democrats and other so-called progressives as a preclude to bringing THEIR, the Democrats, house down). The speaker’s general comments, and specific insights, could have been written by me, or any number of leftist militants, back then as we struggled to break out of the youth vanguard milieu and learn a couple of things about revolutionary politics

As Bob Mandel pointed out in this article, youth vanguardism was rampant in the New Left as the student movement began to swing dramatically leftward. I was fully in tune with that sentiment, at least for a while. What I was not tuned into, and as he also mentioned here, was the other strong current coming out of the New Left, especially from those elements reacting to those of us who were starting, gropingly, to reach out to the working class was the notion that the “most oppressed were the most revolutionary.” And the reason was not some esoteric theory but pure fact.

I came from a segment of that milieu as it was left behind in post World War II America- the working poor, the chronically unemployed, the unskilled day workers, and those drifters, grifters and midnight sifters, as my school days friend Frankie used to say, who fed off their misery. In short, the lumpen proletariat parasites. These segments need a revolution; desperately need a revolution but their life circumstances almost preclude political action unless some bigger turmoils are occurring in society. A lot of the New Left glorification stemmed, frankly, from ignorance of the ways of life down at the very edges of society. And "Third-World-ist" book romance with Franz Fanon’s Wretched Of The Earth and a movie like Battle Of Algiers. I have written previously on the latter and will do a review in the future on Fanon’s work.
From Young Spartacus, May 1980, Lessons Of The Anti-War Movement (Vietnam War): A Militant Trade-Union Leader Speaks On The New Left.

We print below an edited text of the talk given by Bob Mandel at a Spartacus Youth League forum entitled "No to the Draft! Down with Carter's Anti-Soviet War Drive!" held March 7 at Stanford University.

Mandel was an early civil rights organizer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and later became a prominent Bay Area anti-Vietnam War activist. In 1967 he helped organize "Stop the Draft Week," a successful—if short-lived—street action to shut down the Army Induction Center in Oakland, California. For his leading role in this action, Mandel was tried (and acquitted) along with six others in the "Oakland 7" conspiracy trial.

Shortly thereafter Mandel became an active member of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU). He is currently a member of the General Executive Board of ILWU Local 6 in the Bay Area and a leader of the Militant Caucus, a class-struggle opposition within the union. Last month Mandel was convenor of the April 19 Committee Against Nazis, which organized a 1,200-strong mobilization of labor and minorities in San Francisco to stop the Nazis from celebrating Hitler's birthday.

Many leaders of the student struggles of the 60s and early 70s passed through the Democratic Party on their way out of politics. Others adopted China as the "socialist fatherland," and are today abject apologists for the anti-Soviet U.S.-China alliance and enemies of world revolution. The tragedy of the New Left is that so many who at one time despised the racist imperialism of the United States failed to find the revolutionary program to guide the oppressed in overthrowing that system.

Mandel's remarks are a guide for today's young militants who wish to
avoid the mistakes of the New Left, which led to an accommodation to U.S. imperialism. To find the road to revolution, one must examine the Trotskyist program. It is only the Spartacist League and its youth section,
the Spartacus Youth League, which fights to implement that program.

In one very major sense, the new anti-draft movement is different from the New Left. I remember, when in 1965 Johnson rigged the Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify bombing North Vietnam, that 3,000 people marched through the streets of San Francisco and ran an NLF (National Liberation Front) flag up on the Federal Building flagpole. Almost from the beginning the New Left had a very clear side.

Now the New Left came out of a series of experiences domestically. There had been the civil rights sit-ins beginning in 1960 in Greensboro, and an educational process had gone on. People initially started off involved in these struggles believing that reform could be effected within the context of capitalism. And the first Kennedy administration consciously played into that illusion. In fact, Kennedy gave money to the SNCC civil rights workers to do voter registration to bolster the illusion that if you vote Democratic things will improve in the U.S. And initially SNCC believed that. But in 1964 an organization called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which had been organized by the left wing of the student civil rights movement, came to the Democratic Party convention and was simply rudely swept off the floor, and all the old white racists were seated in toto. People's eyes began to open.

It took the New Left a hell of a long time to draw the conclusion that the Democrats were bankrupt, and most of the New Left didn't. That's why the left today in the U.S. is very small. So I want to go through some of the mistakes that the New Left made and some of the New Left's history.

New Left Rejects History

The central mistake is that it rejected history, and it said that the old politics, the politics of the American CP (Communist Party), the question of what the Soviet Union is, what China is and what Cuba is, were irrelevant. It just closed the book, decided to start all over again, and it kept feeling its way along. So you start with militant non-violence with SNCC and the MFDP, then black power.

What "Stop the Draft Week" in 1967 represented in the largely white student
milieu was a conscious break from non-violence. We split with Joan Baez and David Harris. The first day of "Stop the Draft Week" they sat in at the induction center and made their moral protest; there were about 150 people. The second to fifth days of "Stop the Draft Week" 3,000 and then 10,000 students and some young workers and blacks from the city of Oakland fought the cops. We were going to show working-class kids in this country that they didn't have to burn their draft cards and set themselves up or go to jail, but that somebody was actually going to fight to stop the draft. Now, it was illusory. What can 3,000 or 10,000 students do? They can riot, but they sure as hell can't bring down state power. They couldn't even bring down state power in one city. But what it represented was a significant empirical lurch to the left: enough of this sitting down and saying, "Drag me off and put me in jail and then I can't do anything anymore."

At the same time that "Stop the Draft Week" was going on, Huey Newton was shot and the Panthers became nationally known. 1968 brought the Chicago demonstrations around the Democratic Party convention and the new element there was that black and white GIs at Fort Hood and Fort Carson rebelled and refused to go on riot duty in Chicago. Cops beating students wasn't so new, but that rebellion was new.

New Left and the Democratic Party

The anti-draft movement became consciously anti-imperialist in that period and started talking not about bad U.S. policy, but that there was some¬thing endemic in the capitalist system which had led to the Vietnam War. One of the real hallmarks of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in those days— when students in Berkeley were talking about anti-imperialism and the nature of the capitalist system—was telling people to link up with Vance Hartke, link up with the liberals in the Democratic Party, that it can be cleaned up and American capitalism can be reformed. They were trying to construct what is called a popular front, an alliance between leftist and working-class forces and capitalist forces.

1971 was the peak of the mass demonstrations. That was the year the 10,000 hippies and SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) members went to Washington to shut down the govern¬ment, and the government simply moved in and picked them all up and locked them up. They had no social power and the U.S. government, intent on maintaining its imperial empire, was not about to let 10,000 hippies of 10,000 people with Viet Cong flags disrupt its central government. You began to have splits from 1969 to 1971, splits all over the place in the left, as people groped for new solutions, because they kept coming up against their powerlessness.

So on the one extreme you had the Weathermen going underground and bombing the Capitol, and on the other extreme—and this is far and away the most significant, it was the death of the New Left—you had the McGovern campaign with literally tens of thousands of students who had been very active in the struggles against the war going back into the Democratic Party in the hope that the party that had sponsored the war in the first place would somehow clean up its act. And central in people going back into the Democratic Party was the SWP with their line that there weren't class questions posed in Vietnam: it was not the workers and peasants vs. the landlords and U.S. imperialism, it was simply a question of should American boys be killed. So under a socialist guise, it's the Tom Hayden line of today and it was the line of the various "doves" of those days: American boys shouldn't be killed; let's bring the troops home now. And the question that the New Left was groping toward was that imperialism isn't a policy. Imperialism is, as Lenin said a longtime ago, a phase of capitalist development—the international extension of markets, the dominance of finance capital. It's part of the growth of the capitalist system.

Destruction of the Black Panthers

Another key thing that happened was that as large parts of the antiwar movement went into the Democratic Party, the Black Panther Party was being annihilated and was also going back into the Democratic Party, having tried to substitute a heroic handful of black kids for mass working-class struggles. They went up against the police in city after city; they went up against the federal police and they were murdered systematically.

Now one of the key things in the defeat of the Panthers was that the left consciously hid its politics. The left had this theory that the most oppressed were the most revolutionary. Remember that the New Left had been inspired by the civil rights struggles in the South and by the Black Panthers. It looked around and saw that most important fights were being fought by blacks primarily so that there was a certain reflex reaction that blacks were by definition the most revolutionary.

A lot of the New Left simply did not know history. But there were parts of the left, like the CP and the SWP, that very much did know it. Unlike the Spartacist League (SL), they refused to criticize in a comradely way. They contributed to the defeat and destruction of the Panthers by not saying, "Look, we sympathize with what you are doing, but the power in the U .S. is in the factories, in those sections of the working class which are already in interracial unions and which already have some basic sense of solidarity of workers against bosses."

So, for instance, when 1 worked in General Motors in 1970, there was a Black Panther Party caucus in GM. They had about a dozen cadre and 200 to 300 active supporters. If, when the cops framed up Newton or Bobby Seale or murdered Bobby Button in Oakland, the Panther caucus (which had large
support among the white workers in the plant) had shut the plant down to demand cops out or to demand a political strike against the frame-up trials, that would have been power. That would have cost the American bourgeoisie millions of dollars and worried them about the fact that the working class in its organized forms was beginning to come into play.

New Left Turns to the Workers

You had at this same time whole sections of the left turning to the, but turning very empirically. The New Left was influenced by the 1968 general strike in France, which came within a hair's breadth of toppling the capitalist government. There was also a strike wave in the U.S. from 1969 to 1971. So, in 1970 the postal workers went out in an unprecedented strike, and the National Guard was brought in to break that strike. Essentially for the same reasons, Teamsters went out in the Midwest. For about a week and a half the news every night on TV would have scenes of National Guard convoys escorting scab trucks—the stuff that we all saw a little bit of during the miners strike in 1978—and there would be the Teamsters up in the hills shooting at the scab trucks.

One of the contingents of the National Guard that was used to try to break that Teamsters strike was the contingent that went over to Kent State in 1970 and massacred the students who were protesting the bombing of Cambodia. And there was a lesson there: that the students had no social power. Students can play an important role. Students carry ideas, students historically have been catalysts, students historically have played important roles in building revolutionary parties; but you shut a university down, so what? It is a symbolic act; it can have certain political impact. But if the National Guard had turned around and shot four or five or ten Teamsters in the Midwest, then the U.S. government faced the possibility of a nationwide strike of Teamsters in protest. And, there is the obvious link-up: the troops are shooting the Vietnamese in Vietnam, the troops are shooting blacks in the ghettos, and the troops are shooting striking workers. Well, what's going on here?

So there was an enormous opening for the left, and unfortunately, most of the left went into the labor movement in a very touchy-feely fashion. Maybe that's not doing it justice. Most of the left went in with the same prejudices that it carried. There's a connection here. In 1969 SDS split into two camps, and then one of those camps split a lot more.

One of those camps was Progressive Labor (PL)/SDS. The other was the Weathermen and all the Maoist groups which developed. The theory of the Weathermen was that the American working class, and centrally its white component, is a labor aristocracy which is hopelessly backward, hopelessly racist and which can never be won to revolutionary politics. Therefore: "forget about them, we're going to go underground, we'll be the Third World army in the cities and we'll blow up this and that and the other thing." Their lack of belief that the workers could be won to revolutionary politics was symmetrical with everybody who went into the Democratic Party, because going into the Democratic Party was essentially a statement that there is no other route for the working class in the U.S. except through the dominant capitalist parties.

PL/SDS said that the workers could be won to revolutionary politics, but PL had a lot of the same intellectual baggage. So it went into the labor movement thinking that workers were dumb, workers were bought off and that workers could not be educated. Therefore PL tended to jump back and forth. So that on the one hand, it had a very leftist impulse; on the other hand, it had a theory that you had to accommodate to existing consciousness. For instance, on the woman question, PL opposed free abortion on demand because male chauvinism is rather rampant in American society and PL simply accommodated to that backwardness.

Then there was another side to it. PL opposed both open admissions and free college education. When this was raised in a successful student strike at the City College of New York, PL opposed it because it decided that workers would be bought off if their kids could go to college. Now, what kind of crap is that? What lies there is the basic assumption that you better suffer a lot or you'll never be a revolutionary. It is the same old "the most oppressed are the most revolutionary." In fact, the most oppressed are very often the most backward.

The second half of the SDS split in 1969 was the Revolutionary YouthMovement, a bloc of the terrorist Weathermen and assorted Maoists which rapidly splintered into a myriad of competing groups. All the Maoist groupings went through the same thing. One has to examine, in any given instance like Afghanistan, what are the forces at work, which side should you be on- and draw essential conclusions. What was wrong with the New Left was that it had no program to run on. When people vote for us they know they are voting against the capitalist system and against the Democratic Party, for the workers running their own government.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

From The New Left Archives- Carl Davidson's Guardian Series- "Trotskyism- Left In Form, Right In Essence" (1973)

Click on the headline to link to a Marxist Internet Archive entry, Carl Davidson's Trotskyism- Left In Form,  Right In Essence (1973).

Markin comment:

Somehow the day's postings would not be complete without  a little historic overview on the writings of one current radical travelogue writer, Carl Davidson.  Actually, I think I like his old-time pro-Stalinist stuff better than his reporting from the Basque country today. At least then we could fight it out for the "soul" of the international working class, or our approximation of it, before he apparently decided that "communism was dead."

Thursday, June 17, 2010

*When The "Bad Boy" Of The Left Was A "Bad Boy"- Christopher Hitchen's Memoir- A Guest Review

Click on the headline to link to a "Boston Sunday Globe" review, dated June 13, 2009, of ex-leftist "bad boy" Christopher Hitchens' new memoir, "Hitch 22: A Memoir."

Markin comment:

Thanks to Professor Washburn for his review. Now I don't have to do one. The only thing worse than writing about the myriad of extremely literate (and savage) has-been leftists who have made their peace with the imperial order, and who insist on writing about that "conversion", is to write about bourgeois politics. But not by much.