Friday, May 18, 2007




For better or worst, and I think for the better, the bloody American Civil War of 1861-65 was a key turning point in the creation of a unitary American state. The successful completion of the twin tasks of eliminating slavery and the creation of a transcontinental state based on a single capitalist economy, a common communications network and common cultural aspirations by any standard represented the type of progress that a historical materialist can salute. Thus, in order to better understand the political tasks that are before us today and make sense of the promise that those long ago results produced it is necessary to study in some detail the trends that led up to the Civil War, what the conflict itself resolved and those trends that were accelerated by the Union victory. For those not familiar with, or who have forgotten some of the details of those events, Professor Donald’s book is a little refresher course that will steer you into further study of the issues.

Professor Donald’s main thesis is that as trying as the Civil War experience was the results of that clarifying act, with the usual fits and starts, allowed for a more normal democratic discourse and thereafter placed the military option for the resolution of political problems in the shade. In defense of that argument he does a more than adequate analysis of the political, social and economic trends in the North, South and critically the West that prefigured the crisis of 1860 when all hell broke loose. Of decisive importance was the fate of slavery in the territories that were critical to creating a national state but also were critical to the survival of slavery. The resolution, or rather lack of resolution of that issue acted as the catalyst to break the sections apart.

As for the war itself the professor makes an interesting point about how the political, military and diplomatic strategies for both North and South ran on parallel courses. And that makes sense in a situation where the leaderships learned from a common experience. One should also note that while, in hindsight, the Northern victory seemed almost inevitable as late as 1964 that was certainly not the case. A decisive military breakthrough by Lee could have turned the political winds toward defeatism in the North around quite quickly.

Professor Donald’s post-war analysis is the weakest part of his book. Although he has done a good job of setting up the key political, economic and social trends of the period there is a just a little too much of a sense historical inevitability of the leading role of the United States and the exemplar of its institutions for my taste. Although he recognizes that blacks were continually aggrieved during Reconstruction and after; that Native Americans were essentially exterminated in the interests of white settlers; that the working class took a serious beating from the ‘robber barons’; that the family farmers were beginning to go under; that no serious national culture developed he nevertheless, on balance, believes that political stabilization and economic growth were the main results of the Civil War. In short, on balance, a classic liberal interpretation of post-Civil War history. The reader will therefore have to dig deeper to understand the real impact on of the Civil War on the American psyche. But here is a place to start.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Click on title to link to the Leon Trotsky Internet Archive's copy of his classic 1938 exposition, The Mexican Oil Expropriations", defending what more recently have been called "third world" nations and their rights to exploit their own natural resources and to expropriate those controlled by the colonial (and neo-colonial)powers, if necessary.



Word comes this week, the week of May 1, 2007, that Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has ordered the nationalization of its oil industry, or at least a dramatic increase in the state’s percentage of the oil revenues. The situation is a little murky because the international oil cartel that runs the Venezuelan oil industry still retains an undetermined share of revenue. Although there have been no lack of nationalizations by capitalist states over the last century usually done to either placate a restless working class or, more frequently, to bail out a bankrupt industry such as the coal industry in Britain after World War II nationalizations, per se, are not the road to socialism. The key to that socialist road historically, unfortunately based on only one chemically pure workers’ revolution- the the early days of the Russian, has been workers’ control of production as expressed through workers’ councils.

nationalizations, particularly by colonial and semi- colonial nations trying to assert their rights over their own natural resources. (The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, while calling for the defense of Mexico’s nationalization of its oil industry in the late 1930’s, wrote the definite leftist argument on our attitude toward such developments, see Leon Trotsky Internet Archives-1938) Thus any attempt by the imperialist powers, particularly in this case, the United States or its agents, to militarily or otherwise take those resources back must be opposed. One should also note that in the case of Venezuela such a defense may become operative more quickly than one might expect as many indigenous capitalists have either fled, taken their money out of the country or are hoarding in order to create some kind of crisis situation. The imperialists have stopped investing, as well. More, probably much more, on this later. Meanwhile HANDS OFF VENEZUELA. DEFEND THE OIL NATIONALIZATIONS!

Monday, May 14, 2007




Although a number of my political efforts these days are linked to appealing to the youth to learn the lessons of our history, working class history, I make no bones about feelings of trepidation when I take up the subject of youth, their hopes and their aspirations. That said, I recently read an interesting review article based on polls taken of youth (18-24) and their political aspirations. The major conclusion of the article was that today’s youth are trending (the poll’s expression, not mine) to vote Democratic in greater numbers than previous youth generations. A couple of minor conclusions were that youth have more potential impact on politics today than my generation, the generation of 1968, and that the current more technologically savvy generation was not reachable by traditional methods of communication and thus political organizations needed to catch up with the wave. Fair enough. Let me make some observations.

The generation of 1968 made every mistake in the political book. And that ain’t no lie. In our defense I will add that we were in uncharted waters facing such legitimate political monsters as Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace who were fully capable of using all of the methods of political repression. Nevertheless we tried non-violent protest in the civil rights movement under Martin Luther King. We tried peaceful protest against Vietnam under Dr. Spock and others. We tried parliamentary politics under Bobby Kennedy and Gene McCarthy. We tried to drop out with Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary and other counter-cultural heroes. We tried to make music the revolution. When things started to get grim in 1967 we tried to ‘raise’ the Pentagon. When things got grimmer still we tried to act as a second front for the Vietnamese National Liberation Front. When they got really grim we were ready to declare revolutionary war on America. Ah, those were the days. We were, however, for a number of reasons, politically defeated. A defeat from which we still have not recovered.

Obviously, every political generation will find its own means of expressing itself in a world that it has not made. Also fair enough. However, after a few years of opposition to this Iraq war I find that the current ‘youth’ generation seems much more politically passive and lacking in political imagination than the poll mentioned above would indicate. One of the most striking points about the survey is the apparent faith that today’s youth have in letting governmental agencies and officials resolve certain questions. By this I assume that Mr. Bush or his successor, probably Hillary Clinton at this point, is duly appointed to resolve the conflict in Iraq and such other questions as the on-going genocide in Dhafur.

In my day, while we had more than our share of illusions in the good graces of the government we were much more ready to face it down than rely on it. As a case in point, someone like Hillary Clinton (nee Rodham) who may have passed for a ‘radical’ at sedate 1960’s Wellesley would not even have gotten, nor should she have gotten, a hearing from the more thoughtful radical political types in the Boston area of the time. The time of waving the Vietnamese National Liberation Front flag at the front of anti-war marches was not Hillary’s time. Her time, if it is now, is the time of many, many defeats for progressive movements and a time of youth ‘trending’ Democratic. To put the situation in perspective I would argue that the political development of today’s youth was about what my generation’s was in 1962. Plenty of spunk, a desire to serve humanity, and plenty of illusions and faith in the ‘fairness’ of the democratic process. But, which way will they jump?

Seemingly each generation develops their own tribal language, fashions and other such cultural gradients to distinguish it from the OTHER. Once again fair enough. The survey mentioned above made an express point that today’s youth cannot be reached by traditionally methods of communication and/or advertising. And that makes sense about a generation nurtured on iPods, e-mails, chat rooms and cell phones. In short, today’s youth are light years ahead of my generation on the information super-highway. Or are they?

No one can reasonably deny that the Internet has a great potential as an aid to political development and organization. However, it is no substitute for face-to-face polemics and argument to develop strategy and to clarify political positions. From my own personal experience I find that one can spent so much time on the Internet that there is little time to get out and do the necessary political spade work. Multiply that by ubiquitous cell phone and iPod use and where is there time for organizing real people in real time. And that brings us back to that point I made above about the political passivity of this generation. If the revolution will not be televised it will also certainly not spring forth from a laptop. More on this later.


Click on title to link to Wikipedia's entry for the Soviet Union's entry into Afghanistan in 1979. I provide this link for informational purposes only I do not assume to guarantee the politcal or literary correctness of the article.



With the recent flurry of activity by Congress in Washington over the Iraq and Afghanistan war budgets and the ‘surge’ strategy in Iraq Afghanistan has fallen below the newspaper fold. That is a mistake. In one of the ironies of history Afghanistan was the pivotal start of the whole ‘war of civilizations’ going back to the fight by the Soviet Union in the 1980’s that was fought, at least partially, to bring Afghanistan into the 20th century (or maybe even the 19th). If the Soviet Union had waged more than a half-hearted fight then world history might have looked significantly difference today. The Islamic fundamentalist forces, notably those committed to Bin Laden and an Al Qaeda strategy, got their first taste of blood there. And they liked it.

The current political situation in that benighted country is that the Karzai government’s writ does not extend outside of Kabul and that the U.S./NATO presence there is the only thing propping up that government. And this is the rub. There has been a recent spate of articles on the fighting in Afghanistan centered on the allied forces indiscriminate bombing of various outlining villages and the killing of innocent civilians. While not now a matter of widespread public knowledge the American strategy in Afghanistan is essentially the same as in Iraq. In order to defeat the Taliban (and other) insurgencies those allied forces have relied on the old tried and true imperialist method of bringing overwhelming military force and then letting “God” separate out the innocent from the guilty. Of course, this nice little strategy has its blow back effect as previously disinterested Afghans have now begun, on their own, to fight against the imperialist presence. One village that was bombed by the United States during the past week did just that. One can expect more to come.

American imperialism, for public consumption, will bring out the candy bars and soap to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the local populace but when the deal goes down the bomb is the persuader of choice. So much for all those vaunted pacification programs. In justification for the aerial bombing policy one of the Allied ground commanders stated that without the use of such power hundreds of thousands of additional ground troops would be necessary. Nobody in the political and military establishment in Washington, or anywhere else, wants to, at this point, get into that hornet’s nest. The long and the short of it is that while we keep the fight against the war in Iraq on the front burner we had better bring the demand for immediate withdrawal in Afghanistan up to the front as well. In fact, United States Hands Off The World!