Wednesday, July 25, 2007

*Sex And The American Presidential Election Campaign-The View From The Extra-parliamentary Left

Click on title to link the Leon Trotsky Internet Archive's 1923 article by Leon Trotsky entitled "From The Old Family To The New" for a communist perspective on the need to transform the constrained modern nuclear family to something much more convivial and social.



For those who expected some lurid copy about the behind the scenes sex lives of the above-mentioned candidates, forget it. This is much more prosaic. It is hard to believe but in the year 2007 this writer is compelled to make a few comments on the latest 'tempest in a teapot' on the campaign trail over the question of the appropriate age at which public institutions should make children aware of sexual issues. Mitt Romney, staking himself out as the king of ‘family value' issues in order to cozy up to the social conservatives, believes that sex and kindergarten students do not mix. Obama, rightly in this case, believes that age appropriate sex education can be started at that age.

Mainly this is a question of public policy guidelines and, as is the case with most current state-mandated sex education programs aimed at the youth, there are opt out procedures for those adults unconformable with public institutions teaching their children about sex. That, however, is not the real political or cultural question. For those of us who learned about sex the hard way on the streets or have been stuffed with erroneous knowledge about sex or have had to face the sometimes bizarre nature of sexual mores under capitalism without much guidance early sex education would seem to be the beginning of wisdom. Ignorance never did anyone any good. This simply program, moreover, is not something that has to wait until we are in a socialist society. The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky reputely once spoke of the three great tragedies of life-hunger, sex and death. He noted that Marxists had staked out the struggle against hunger as the axis on which to fight. But he also noted that these other issues would be addressed most fully under socialism. And they will. But for now- the more real sex education the better.




Well, they finally got controversial University of Colorado ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill. This week the Colorado Board of Regents acting on a recommendation by the school voted 8-1 to fire him. Ostensibly, as always, it was for some academic infractions but we know the real reason. After 9/11 Professor Churchill had the ‘gall’ to express his opinion in an article that those killed in the World Trade Center attack, as agents of American imperialism and part of the technological infrastructure that drives the machine, were essentially fair game for attack. I will make a brief comment on that analysis below. What is important here is that speech, academic speech in this case, is really what drove the Regents’ decision. That is the real issue and the one that all militants, leftists, and just plain old ordinary garden variety democrats should be howling to the rooftops over. One does not have to be in political agreement with the good professor to know that the whole point of the vaunted freedom of expression that we are desperately trying to defend against the yahoos only works when controversial expression is safeguarded. Otherwise it is just something nice for the bourgeois democrats to point to in their constitution.

As for Professor Churchill’s thesis. Hell, it is so wrong politically it is hard to believe that one who fancies himself a progressive would write it. Let us get this straight-the Al Qaeda actions in New York were not acts of anti-imperialism. They were crimes. Moreover, as I have stated before on other occasions, we are in a life and death struggle against Islamic fundamentalism to win the Islamic masses for socialism. Make no mistake about that. The way to defeat imperialism is not to arbitrarily and indiscriminately blow up civilian targets no matter how symbolic but by painstakingly political organizing to overthrow that system and replace it with a socialist one. In the meantime ordinary people have a right to go about their lives. To compare them to Nazis is over the top. Our fight is elsewhere. And that is the point. These criminal actions were manna from heaven for the imperialists wedding the mass of Americans to Bush and Company. But enough of this. The fight right now is –Reinstate Professor Churchill. Send messages of protest and solidarity with Professor Churchill to the University of Colorado Regents.





One of the great achievements of the last thirty plus years in the women’s liberation movement has been the dramatic increase in the amount of scholarship on the role of women in history. That is to the good. Even better when the research concerns the role of women in a subject that is one near to my heart-the anti-fascist struggle in the Spanish Civil War. One can argue with the feminist politics that drives Ms. Mangini’s work. One can argue about the somewhat arcane literary/sociological academic methodology that she uses to motivate her study. What cannot be argued is that she has made an important contribution in giving voice to the women of that struggle that has been muted for a long time. While it is true that history is made by the victors, or at least the flow of propaganda is controlled by them, the stories that she has to tell about those women who served, were imprisoned, executed by Franco or forced into external and internal exile makes for compelling reading.

If one knows anything about the role of women in the Spanish Civil War it usually revolves around the personality of the famous Stalinist Dolores Ibarruri-'La Pasionaria'- well known for her slogan-They Shall Not Pass during the siege of Madrid. For those a little more knowledgeable the name of the Anarchist governmental minister Frederica Montseny may come to mind. Beyond that there is generally a blank. Ms. Mangini has filled in those blanks with the stories of lesser known women leaders, militia women, rank and file politicos and those who helped the cause in a myriad of other ways. She vividly describes their roles behind the lines, on the front, in the political organizations, in prison awaiting long sentences or execution, and in exile. Ms. Magnini also describes something that I have found to be generally true of those who fought on the Republican side-male or female-the extreme difficulty in articulating what they did and what happened to them during the Civil War even after the end of the Franco regime in 1975. Obviously, in some cases, those stories will never be told or told in a muted manner. One thing is sure for those of us who cherish the memory of the anti-fascist fight in Spain. General Franco should have never been able to die in his bed.

*On the Workers Party Slogan- From The Archives- Jim Cannon's View

Click on title to link to the James P. Cannon Internet Archives 1943 article by Cannon on "The Campaign For A Labor Party". There has always been some confusion (probably stemming back to the early revolutionary Communist International days) around the propaganda campaign for the labor party in America, its relationship to the united front and the strategic tasks of revolutionaries here. However, Cannon's review here indicates a pretty good grasp on the subject for, as he has been characterized by so-called leftist political opponents then and now, a mere "trade unionist" leader.



In a sense the question of a workers party in America is, for now, a question posed to revolutionaries and other radical intellectuals. Why? Given the one-sided nature of the class struggle in America it has at this time a propagandistic thrust. This is a slogan that the organized trade union movement, the natural nucleus for such a formation, has not embraced. Yes, an occasional dissident trade union bureaucrat will throw the slogan out as threat to break from the Democrats if they do not do better by working people but I take that as being merely for public consumption. Those same dissidents are much too busy raising money and providing foot soldiers for Democrats to even take it seriously. Or, my favorite response when I have put the question to them, is to wistfully put the struggle for it it in the great by and by when the workers are 'ready'. We, on the other hand, take it seriously. However, in the interest of clarity it is not out of place to discuss what we mean by the slogan and offer a prognosis on the timing of the creation of that formation. As always a prognosis is just that- an educated guess about the probable direction of the class struggle. Below are a few comments in aid of that discussion.

* In the best of all political worlds we would not be talking about the slogan for a workers party. Again, why? In the early history of the Marxist movement, especially of the Russian Social Democratic movement, Marxists saw themselves as THE workers party and they recruited workers, intellectuals and others on that basis directly to the party based for the most part on the full socialist program. And it worked. Our task as propagandists who are on the margins of the class struggle is to provide an important vehicle to break workers from liberalism. In America that means the Democratic Party. The workers party slogan directs the focus today toward the need to break from bourgeois parties.

*It is interesting to note that at various points in American socialist history communists did not raise this slogan. The early American Communist Party saw itself as a small mass workers party and, although it made many mistakes on the way, recruited directly to the party. In the period when Trotsky and his American followers who ultimately formed the Socialist Workers Party were struggling to create a revolutionary party they sometimes raised the slogan and sometimes did not. When they did not it was in periods of increased class struggle like the great unionization movement of the 1930’s when it was possible to recruit directly to the party. The way I look at is that the workers party slogan is a transitional one connected with the struggle for a workers government. Let us put it this way, it would be very, very nice if the class struggle heated up enough for us to recruit directly to a revolutionary workers party. But we have to be ready for other possibilities.

*I will look into my crystal ball and project, given the American political realities today , that a workers party will most likely be formed in a pre-revolutionary situation. A pre-revolutionary situation is one where the government in power cannot rule in the old normal way and the working classes will no longer put up with the old regime. Workers will be looking for answers and leadership. That is a tall order. That is why we have to be there. This prognosis precludes any thought of a long drawn out workers party development analogous to, let us say, the British Labor Party. And that is the point. Our conception of a workers party is basically not a parliamentary one although we will fight the parliamentary struggle, if necessary. That is for sure. I would offer the Bolshevik Party in Russia in the 1917 revolution as one scenario. There the situation of war, physical hunger and land hunger was so critical that the Bolsheviks were recruiting like mad even though at the beginning of World War I they had been a small outcast organization that barely existed in Russia or in exile, for that matter. They had a history of struggle to be sure and were known to the advanced workers, especially in St. Petersburg, but the point is they grew rapidly because they had a handle on the situation and acted on that understanding.

*One of the most frustrating things that an American follower of Leon Trotsky has to account for is the pervasive tendency for ‘progressive’ politics in America to take a popular front form. A popular front is an amalgam of various classes centered on a minimal program and mainly a vehicle to push the Democratic Party to the ‘left’ (or have it do something). This, for the most part, during the last century has been a conscious policy from social democrats to Stalinists. It takes different forms in different periods –one of the earliest forms was the farmer-labor party in the 1920’s. James Cannon had some interesting and personally revealing comments on how hard the young American Communist Party, after coming up from underground, pursued this policy and almost shipwrecked the party by creating a two-class party. Needless to say the appropriate form of political action with other class forces is the united front. But virtually nobody here in America wants to play that way. Sadly, until we do will be in our current predicament.

*Finally, a word on the workers party and the struggle for power. Separately the workers party slogan is just another garden variety reformist slogan that that above-mentioned dissident trade union bureaucrat could use for protective covering. The program of the workers party must lead inevitably to the struggle for state power if it is to mean anything at all. That is hard medicine but if, as I have speculated above, a workers party will be formed in a pre-revolutionary situation then we better be struggling for power. Pre-revolutionary and revolutionary situations, as we are painfully aware, are too far and few between to accept anything less. Build a workers party that fights for workers government.

Monday, July 23, 2007

*From The Pen Of Ernest Hemingway- The Fifth Column Problem In The Spanish Civil War

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for the great American writer, Ernest Hemingway.



I have written reviews of many of Ernest Hemingway’s major novels elsewhere in this space. I have reviewed his major novel on the Spanish Civil War For Whom the Bells Toll, as well. Here I review a short play of his concerning that same event. This play is the main item of interest for me in an anthology that also includes his first 49 short stories. I will make a few minor comments on them at the end. However, here I wish to address the main issue that drives the play The Fifth Column. I believe that this is fitting in the year of the 70th anniversary of the Barcelona Uprising-the last chance to save the Spanish Revolution.

The main action here concerns the actions, manners, and love life of a seemingly irresolute character, Phillip, in reality a committed communist who has found himself wrapped up intensely in the struggle to fight against Franco’s counter-revolution. His role is to ferret out the fifth columnists that have infiltrated into Madrid for intelligence/sabotage purposes on behalf of the Franco forces in the bloody civil war that was shaking Republican Spain. The term ‘fifth column’ comes from the notion that not only the traditional four columns of the military are at work but a fifth column of sympathizers who are trying to destabilize the Republic. What to do about them is the central question of this, or any, civil war. At the time there was some controversy that swirled around Hemingway for presenting the solution of summary executions of these agents as the correct way of dealing with this menace. I have questioned some of Hemingway’s political judgments on Spain elsewhere, particularly concerning the role of the International Brigades, but he is right on here. Needless to say, as almost always with Hemingway, a little love interest is thrown into the mix to spice things up. However, in the end, despite the criminal Stalinist takeover of the Spanish security apparatus and its counter-revolutionary role in gutting the revolutionary promise there this play presents a question all militants need to be aware of.

As for the other works included here there are many classics such as "The Snows of Kilimanjaro", "The Killers", many of the other youthful Nick Adams stories, stories on bullfighting, a few on the never-ending problems of love and its heartbreaks, and some sketches that were included in "A Farewell to Arms". Well worth your time. As always Hemingway wields his sparse and functional language to make his points. Again, as always read this man. But what you really need to read here is "The Fifth Column". Okay.




The history of Ireland is replete with ‘times of troubles’, no question about that. The particular ‘ time of troubles’ that the master Anglo- Irish socialist playwright Sean O’Casey takes on in these three classic and best known of his plays is the time from the Easter Uprising in 1916 to the time of the lesser known Civil War battles between Free Staters and die-hard Republicans in 1921-22. Needless to say they were all classified as tragedies by O’Casey. What qualified O’Casey to do much more than provide yeoman’s cultural service to this period? Well, for one he helped organize the famous James Connolly-led Irish Citizen’s Army that took part in the heroic Easter Uprising in 1916. For another, O’Casey was a true son of the Dublin tenements where the action of the three plays takes place. He KNEW the ‘shawlie’ environment and the language of despair, duplicity and treachery that is the lot of the desperately poor. Finally, as an Anglo- Irishman he had that very fine ear for the English language that we have come to cherish from the long line of Irish poets and playwrights who have graced our culture. That said, please read about this period in Irish history but also please read these plays if you want to put that history in proper perspective- in short, to understand why the hell the British had to go. Below are capsule summaries of the three plays.

Juno and the Paycock- the Boyles, the central characters in this play, have benefited from the creation of the Free State but at a cost, namely the incapacity of their son. Their daughter has seemingly better prospects, but that will remain to be seen. The device that holds this play together is the hope of good fortune that allegedly is coming under the terms of a relative of Captain Boyle’s will. The ebb and flow of events around that fortune drives the drama as does the fickleness of the tenement crowd who gather to ‘benefit’ from it. There is also a very lively and, from this distance, seemingly stereotyped camaraderie between the Captain and his ‘boyo’ Joxer.

The Shadow of a Gunman- the gun has always played, and continues to play, an important part in the Irish liberation struggle. That premise was no different in 1920 than it is today. Whether the gun alone, in the absence of a socialist political program, can create the Workers Republic that O’Casey strove for is a separate question. What is interesting here is what happens, literally, when by mistake and misdirection, a couple of free-floating Irish males of indeterminate character and politics are assumed to be gunmen but are not. It is not giving anything in the play away to state that the real heroine of this action is a woman, Minnie, who in her own patriotic republican way takes the situation as good coin. The Minnies of this world may not lead the revolution but you sure as hell cannot have one without them (and their preparedness to sacrifice).

The Plough and the Stars- There was a time when to even say the words 'plough and stars' brought a little tear to this reviewer’s eye. Well he is a big boy now but the question posed here between duty to the liberation struggle in 1916 and its consequences on the one hand and, for lack of a better word, romance on the other is still one to br reckoned with. That it had such tragic consequences for the young tenement couple Jack and Nora only underlines the problem of love and war in real life, as on the stage.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Click on the title to link to an "Under The Hood" (Fort Hood G.I. Coffeehouse)Web site online article about the "Oleo Strut" Coffeehouse, an important development in the anti-Vietnam War struggle. Hats off to those bygone anti-war fighters.




If one has paid virtually daily attention to the news from and about Iraq over the last five years then one knows, as I do, that some weeks bring unrelentingly bad news. And the others are worst. This past week, the week of July 16, 2007, was one of those worst weeks. No, not because of any dramatic increase in casualty rates or horrific bombings but because there are unmistakable signals in the air from the American political/military establishment that the next step in Iraq is another troop ‘surge’ that in their language will finally stabilize the situation there. This is the famous Plan B that the Bush Administration is apparently taking under serious consideration and had previously scoffed at as unnecessary. And from their perspective why not.

This administration is already doomed to go down in history as a failure even by bourgeois standards. The Bush poll ratings can hardly get worst. Moreover, it is getting to be time in the now lame duck Bush presidency to spruce up his image for his place in history. So with nothing in particular to lost why not roll the dice one more time hoping that more troops, that is more American troops , will get the job done. Know this- the Bush cabal is committed, come hell or high water, to staying in Iraq at current or greater military levels until January 20, 2009. Make no mistake there. The real question is what are we going to do about it? The ball is in our court now. The headlines above indicate the slogans that I have propagandized for over the last year. (See also, August 2006 archives) They still retain their full force today. Below are a few comments on this week's developments.

As everyone knows by now the United States House of Representatives voted basically along party lines in favor of a resolution calling for quick withdrawal from Iraq. Over in the United States Senate that same basic resolution was defeated by pajama-clad Republican senators holding their party line. Okay, boys and girls fun’s fun but aside from the pajama party this so-called Democratic ‘pressure’ strategy on the Bush administration by repeated votes that cannot be overridden is getting a little tiresome. The Democrats were swept in last November, in part at least, on a wave of anti-war sentiment. I submit the parliamentary maneuvering of the past couple of months as prima facie evidence that the parliamentary road to ending the war is a bust. Seemingly the American people agree, at some level, in that a recent poll has place Congress’s approval rating at some 20 something percent, lower than Bush’s rating if that is possible. Even a political novice can recognize now that some other forces need to come into play to end this damn war. Those soldier and sailor committees cited above are desperately necessary right now. The slogan, not Bring the Troops Home but Troops Out Now-Rev Up the Troop Transports Now.

The most ominous news of the week concerns the maneuvering over the so-called report by General Petreaus in mid-September evaluating the military situation then as a result of the additional troops provided over the past period. Every bourgeois politician and his or her brother has been waiting breathlessly for this report in order to bail out, or at least decide what his or her political chances are for 2008. This is especially true since the interim report to the interim report issued in mid- July had to be ‘sexed-up’ to make it look like any progress was being made at all. But hold on. Now senior military commanders are hedging their bets and are arguing for ‘postponing’ the day of reckoning. Moreover, a less senior commander on the ground is blowing smoke about the summer of 2008 being the real target date when Iraqi troops will be ‘ready’ to take over. Christ, will this madness never end. Worst and this is from the top- the soon to be ignobly retired Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff Marine General Peter Pace has signaled that there are ‘contingency’ plans afoot in case the situation in Iraq warrants another little ‘surge’. Take that statement seriously. Leading American military generals who have spent over thirty years in military service and who would rather fall on their swords than make a false bureaucratic move do not telegraph such news without a nod from their civilian superiors. Pay very careful attention over the next couple of months to who in the military is saying what about the military situation in Iraq. That is where the fight over the outlines of Plan B will come from.

Finally, there has been something of a resurgence of neo-conservative chatter about surrender and treason if America leaves the Iraqis in the lurch anytime soon. This sentiment has been expressed by my local nemesis Boston Globe Op/Ed contributor Jeff Jacoby. His argument is that somehow the decisive battle against Islamic fundamentalism is to be fought and decided in Iraq. Pulling out now ipso facto automatically means a victory for Al Qaeda. I have commented previously that such a stance would keep the American presence long enough so that his young sons and seemingly now his grandchildren would get a chance to fight there. The reality, however, is that these neo-cons are not prepared to shed their blood or their kin’s but are more than happy to let some other mother’s son or daughter die there. That question aside there is a core point that these neo-cons bring up that we of the left need to address.

Everyone from the lowliest neo-con to the most radical socialist revolutionary understands, or should understand, that we are in a life and death struggle against Islamic fundamentalism. Even from our staunch anti-imperialist prospective we, if and when we come to power, would have to address this question of politically, and if necessary, militarily defeating that movement. The distinction we need to draw is that we would do it differently. It seems to me, as the current British terrorist cases tend to bear out, that extensive police/intelligence work would be our first avenue. In the end, however, we will fight them arms in hand, if necessary. This thought is not etched in stone and bears both more study and additional comment. In the meantime- U.S. Troops Out of Iraq. Enough said.