Friday, June 30, 2006





Just as I started feeling good about beating up on the United States Supreme Court justices this week, calling them black-robed closet Nazis and Neanderthals (see above commentaries) the justices vote by 5-4 (oops, 5-3 Chief Justice Roberts recused himself on this one- but WE all know where he stands) to deny President Bush the right to use his own executive-derived and organized private Star Chamber proceedings against detained ‘enemy combatants’.

This decision would seem to negate this writer’s usual uncanny grasp of which way the political winds are blowing. Not so. Without trying to weasel out of this squeamish situation by lawyerly argument I would point out that in The Angels of Death Ride Again that the Court was positioning itself just to the left of the medieval Star Chamber. And I am correct on this. The Court’s decision did not strike down the executive military commissions as the vehicles for show trials that such commissions had become but only that the President must ask Congress nicely to set them up with all due regard for those shopworn concepts- the rule of law and the constitutional balance of powers. When the Court starts bringing these arguments in it’s definitely time to head for cover. How hard do you think the Bush administration is going to have to fight Congress (presumably in an election year) to get approval for legislation military commissions to try a bunch of Moslems fanatics. Damn, they live and breathe for these kinds of soft ball votes.

We live in desperate times as the above commentaries for only ONE WEEK make abundantly clear so we have to take even small victories, such as this decision when we can get them. Any limitation, no matter how small, on the Imperial Presidency can only help give us a little breather. Enough said.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006





The Senate has just rejected, by a 66-34 vote, a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that would give special protection to the American flag and enable Congress to pass legislation penalizing acts of desecration on that banner. That vote fell just one vote short of the required 2/3 (66.66%) vote needed to pass it on to the state legislatures for a vote and final enactment. Of course, this kind of proposition is red meat to most Republicans and many Democrats. They can vote for these kind of measures all day, every day, and not work up a sweat. The political calculus which drives American bourgeois electoral politics, votes, makes this a real slam dunk. The flag-burning community (all eleven of them) against your average sunshine, couch potato patriot. Even perennial Democratic presidential campaign consultant Robert Schrum can figure that one out.

The Democrats, not to be outdone, proposed as an alternative federal legislation which would protect the flag on federal property. A WORKERS PARTY Senator, on a straight up or down vote on the amendment would vote NO. (Yes, even if that meant a bloc with Democrats- this after all, is a democratic rights issue which we most definitely care about). He or she would also then turn around and vote NO on any federal anti-flag-burning legislation for the same reason (and feel good about being able kick the Democrats in the shins). Following are some quick comments on these developments.

There was a time in America when the American flag was worth militants fighting and dying for- the Civil War, 1861-65. Unfortunately, certain forebears of the current august Senators on Capitol Hill, particularly from the Southern states, had no problem desecrating that flag as they beat the path to secession from the Union over the slavery question. Shouldn’t they then be just a little more circumspect about the rights of others these days who may not be respectful to their Confederate (oops, American) flag.

The amendment’s main sponsor Senator Hatch of Utah (Jesus, I thought he died during the Hoover administration, I really have to pay more attention to who is alive and who isn’t up on the Hill) who claimed that his motivation was to show respect for soldiers, etc. If the Senator means support the troops I already have a proposal for that- and it has nothing to do with flag-burning amendments. It has to do with fully funding 138,000 pairs of sneakers to get American troops the hell out of Iraq now. (See my blog, dated June 23, 2006). Hatch’s bizarre efforts are clear proof of why they are in that quagmire in the first place.

Personally, this writer does not see the point of flag-burning as political protest. However, this is a First Amendment free speech issue and even the Neanderthals on the United States Supreme Court have, for now, declared that it is a protected expression of free speech. Moreover, I can sympathize with any militant (or ordinary citizen, for that matter) who is so outraged by the government’s policies that he or she needs to make such a material statement. However, in contrast to that form of expression let me propose another. This writer shed no tears when 'Old Glory' was pulled down from the American Embassy after the Cuban Revolution by the Cubans or when it was pulled down from the American Embassy by the Vietnamese in 1975. Organizing the fight for socialism to change the flag from red, white and blue to red- that’s the real way to express our outrage. OUR FLAG IS STILL RED.

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-In Defense of Homosexual Rights: The Marxist Tradition

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for "Communism and homosexuality".

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Summer 1988 issue of "Women and Revolution" 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.

In Defense of Homosexual Rights: The Marxist Tradition

Defense of democratic rights for homosexuals is part of the historic tradition of Marxism. In the 1860s, the prominent lawyer J.B. von Schweitzer was tried, found guilty and disbarred for homosexual activities in Mannheim, Germany. The socialist pioneer Ferdinand Lassalle aided von Schweitzer, encouraging him to join Lassalle's Universal German Workingmen's Association in 1863. After Lassalle's death, von Schweitzer was elected the head of the group, one of the organizations that merged to form the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). The SPD itself waged a long struggle in the late 19th century against Paragraph 175 of the German penal code, which made homosexual acts (for males) a crime. August Bebel and other SPD members in the Reichstag attacked the law, while the SPD's party paper Vorwarts reported on the struggle against state persecution of homosexuals.

In 1895 one of the most infamous anti-homosexual outbursts of the period targeted Oscar Wilde, one of the leading literary lights of England (where homosexuality had been punishable by death until 1861). Wilde had some socialist views of his own: his essay, "The Soul of Man Under Socialism," was smuggled into Russia by young radicals. When the Marquess of Queensberry called him a sodomist, Wilde sued for libel. Queensberry had Wilde successfully prosecuted and sent to prison for being involved with Queensberry's son. The Second International took up Wilde's defense. In the most prestigious publication of the German Social Democracy, "Die Neue Zeit", Eduard Bernstein, later known as a revisionist but then speaking as a very decent Marxist, argued that there was nothing sick about homosexuality, that Wilde had committed no crime, that every socialist should defend him and that the people who put him on trial were the criminals.

Upon coming to power in 1917 in Russia, the Bolshevik Party began immediately to undercut the old bourgeois prejudices and social institutions responsible for the oppression of both women and homosexuals— centrally the institution of the family. They sought to create social alternatives to relieve the crushing burden of women's drudgery in the family, and abolished all legal impediments to women's equality, while also abolishing all laws against homosexual acts. Stalin's successful political counterrevolution rehabilitated the reactionary ideology of bourgeois society, glorifying the family unit. In 1934 a law making homosexual acts punishable by imprisonment was introduced, and mass arrests of homosexuals took place. While defending the socialized property forms of the USSR against capitalist attack, we Trotskyists fight for political revolution in the USSR to restore the liberating program and goals of the early Bolsheviks, including getting the state out of private sexual life. As Grigorii Batkis, director of the Moscow Institute of Social Hygiene, pointed out in "The Sexual Revolution in Russia," published in the USSR in 1923:
"Soviet legislation bases itself on the following principle:

'It declares the absolute non-interference of the state and society into sexual matters so long as nobody isinjured and no one's interests are encroached upon

"Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offenses against public morality—Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called 'natural' intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters." [emphasis in original]

—quoted in John Lauritsen and David Thorstad, The Early Homosexual Rights Movement 1864-1935

Tuesday, June 27, 2006




The United States Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, has just overturned a Kansas State Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of a Kansas death penalty statute. The Kansas court had held that the statute- which provided that where the evidence was equally divided on the question of sentencing a defendant to life imprisonment without parole or death the death penalty should apply- was unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment. Apparently the U.S. Supreme Court had no such qualms as it positioned itself just slightly to the left of the medieval Star Chamber. New justices, Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justice Alito voted with the majority, the usual rogue’s gallery of robed closet Nazis Scalia, Thomas and Kennedy. That should come as no surprise to militants.

The immediate impact on the decision on death penalty cases is to further narrow the so-called technical arguments for appeal on due process or equal protection grounds. There was a time when the legal concept of an ‘evolving standard of human decency’ on such grounds in death penalty cases was making some headway. That concept seems foreclosed by the U.S. Supreme Court lineup for the foreseeable future. The wrangling now seems to be over whether the court will continue to ‘tinker with the machinery of death’ as the liberals on the court will argue or basically let the death machine roll along relatively unimpeded. Remember this, however, not one of the nine current justices, liberal or conservative, has come close to publically calling the death penalty unconstitutional. Whatever the grounds for argument against it all militants know that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment and should be abolished.

A reader might ask what a workers party justice of the U.S. Supreme Court would do. In the immediate case, obviously bloc with the minority of justices to oppose this decision which narrows the legal basis for appeals. He or she, however, would write a separate opinion denouncing the death penalty and use the U.S. Supreme Court as a tribunal to galvanize support. Realistically, although many bourgeois governments have abolished the death penalty, at the point where we had a workers party U.S. Supreme Court justice we would probably have a workers government. As one of its first acts that government would abolish such punishment without fanfare.

In any case, no serious militant today should believe that the fight against the death penalty (for the guilty as well as the innocent) depends on court majorities. While all legal avenues, including the U.S. Supreme Court, should be pursued in individual death penalty cases this is a fight that can only be finally won by organizing mass demonstrations and other militant action. Let us do it. DOWN WITH DEATH PENALTY!

Monday, June 26, 2006

*Eyewitness To The Spanish Civil War-George Orwell's "Homage To Catalonia"

Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for the Party Of Marxist Unification (POUM)whose militia George Orwell fought in and an organization thta has been the subject, including in this space, of on-going controversy for its role in the Spanish revolution.




I have been interested, as a pro-Republican partisan, in the Spanish Civil War since I was a teenager. Underlying my interests has always been a nagging question of how that struggle could have been won by the working class. The Spanish proletariat certainly was capable of both heroic action and the ability to create organizations that reflected its own class interests i.e. the worker militias and factory committees. Of all modern working class revolutions after the Russian revolution Spain showed the most promise of success. Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky noted that the political class consciousness of the Spanish proletariat was higher at the time than that of the Russian proletariat in 1917. George Orwell’s book gives some eyewitness insights into the causes of that defeat from the perspective of a political rank and file militant who fought in the trenches in a Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) militia unit during the key year 1937.

Leon Trotsky in his polemical article ‘The Lessons of Spain-Last Warning’, collected in The Spanish Revolution, 1931-39 , his definitive assessment of the Spanish situation in the wake of the defeat of the Barcelona uprising in May 1937, while asserting that the POUM was the most honest revolutionary party in Spain, stated that in the final analysis the approaching defeat of the revolution could be laid to the policies of the POUM. Orwell’s book parallels that argument on the ground in Spain although he certainly was not a Trotsky partisan.

Let us be clear here- we are not talking about the Orwell who later, after World War II, lost his political moorings and decided that the road to human progress passed through the nefarious intelligence agencies of British imperialism. Unfortunately, many militants have traveled that road. Nor are we talking about the later author of Animal Farm and 1984 who warmed the hearts of Western Cold Warriors. We are talking about the militant George Orwell who fought as a volunteer against fascism in Spain in 1937 when it counted. That Orwell has something to say to militants. We need to listen to him if we are to make sense of the disaster in Spain.

While Homage to Catalonia is in part a journal of Orwell’s personal experiences as a militiaman under the stress of war that part is less useful to militants today. The parts that are important are the political chapters. One should, moreover, discount Orwell’s self-proclaimed blasé attitude toward politics. Here is an intensely political man.

Orwell draws two important conclusions from his experiences. First, the war against Franco could not be won without a simultaneous extension of the revolution to the creation of a workers state. The workers and peasants of Spain could not be persuaded to and would not and fight to the finish merely for ‘democracy’. This premise ran counter to the objective policies pursued by all the pro-Republican parties. Orwell describes very vividly the changes toward defeatism that occurred in working class morale in Barcelona, the Petrograd of Spain, after the May days of 1937during his stay.

The second conclusion Orwell draws is that the role of the Spanish Communist Party and its sponsor, the Soviet Union was not just momentarily anti-revolutionary in the interests of defeating Franco but counterrevolutionary. The Soviet Union had no interest in creating a second workers state. In the final analysis, despite providing weapons, the Soviet Union was more interested in finding allies among the European imperialists than in revolution. In long-range hindsight that seems clear but at the time it was far from obvious to militants on the ground, especially the militants of the Spanish Communist party who got caught up in the Stalinist security apparatus. Of course, this extreme shift to the right on the part of the Stalinists dovetailed with the interests of the liberal Republicans. However, in the end they all had to flee.

This writer notes that at the time many European militants, like Victor Serge, and organizations , like the Independent Labor Party in England, covered for the erroneous policies of the POUM based on their position as the most coherent, organized and militant ostensibly revolutionary organization in Spain. That support was at the time the subject of intense debate on the extreme left. Fair enough. What does not make sense is that since 1991 or so under the impact of the so-called ‘death of communism’ a virtual cottage industry has developed, centered on the British journal Revolutionary History, seeking today to justify the positions of the POUM. Jesus, can’t these people learn something after all this time.

And what was the POUM? That party, partially created by cadre formerly associated with Trotsky in the Spanish Left Opposition, failed on virtually every count. That party made every mistake in the revolutionary book. Those conscious mistakes from its inception included, but were not limited to, the creation of an unprincipled bloc between the former Left Oppositionists and the former Right Oppositionists (Bukharinites) of Juan Maurin to form the POUM in 1935; political support to the Popular Front including entry into the government coalition in Catalonia by its leader, Andreas Nin; creation of its own small trade union federation instead of entry in the massive anarchist led-CNT to fight for the perspective of a workers state; a willful failure to seriously expand the organization outside of Catalonia; creation of its own militia units and other institutions reflecting a hands-off attitude toward political struggle with other parties; and, fatally, an equivocal role in the Barcelona uprising of 1937. In short, at best, the POUM pursued left social democratic policies in a situation that required Bolshevik policies. Read 1937Orwell for other insights into the POUM.