Saturday, August 18, 2007





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.

Thursday, August 16, 2007



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!




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




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




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






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.