Friday, March 14, 2008

*A Modest Proposal-Recruit, Run Independent Labor Militants in the 2008 Elections

Click on the headline to link to a Leon Trotsky Internet Archive online copy of his 1921 Report on “The Balance Sheet” of the
Third Congress of the Communist International.




Repost 2008

I am reposting this commentary that I have been running periodically since September 2006 as a propaganda piece to drum up support for a workers party that fights for a workers government. I have retained previous reposting comments, as a matter of course. Since we are in something of a hiatus, as this is posted after the Mississippi and prior to the Pennsylvania primary, in the frenzy of the current presidential campaign I think this is just the time to roll this commentary out again. It should be clear to even the most obtuse political observer that this mud-slinging contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, to speak nothing of the mutterings of the presumptive Republican nominee, totally obscures the pressing needs of working people that are once again going by the wayside. Needless to say the programmatic points listed here continue to retain all their validity. Shame on us though, for the need in 2008 to continue to raise point number one about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Repost Spring 2007 comment

I originally planned to repost the commentary below in the summer of 2007. However, two trends have forced me to republish earlier than I planned. The first is the fact that the whole 2008 bourgeois electoral process has gone into warp speed. Yes, yes I know that thinking about electoral politics, or any politics, in the spring of 2007 is only for political junkies and other misbegotten types. I confess to that sin and some day I will turn myself into the appropriate 12-step program. Nevertheless the campaign season goes full throttle. Thus if we are to have any effect on the 2008 campaign on behalf of our fight for socialism we better get in harness now.

The second trend revolves around the periodic publication of, and commentary on, the not so startling, by now, fact that the wealth distribution gap between the very, very rich and the merely rich here in America and the rest of us has over the last few years once again become wider, the widest since the 1920’s. In response a number of political commentators, especially liberal commentators, have bemoaned this condition noting that part of the problem is the very real ‘class struggle’ by the rich and their minions to beat down wages and benefits. One of the better commentators on this subject the Boston Globe Op/Ed writer Robert Kuttner, who is almost always worth reading to gauge the pulse of the Eastern liberal part of the Democratic Party, recently placed the blame on the fight against unionization by the corporations and their political hangers-on. So far, no argument there.

Where we part company is over his exclusive and eternal strategy of relying on the political ‘goodwill’ of the ‘friends of labor’ in the Democratic Party to make capitalism fairer. He further argues that this is where labor has found its earlier successes. No, one thousand times no. Despite Kuttner’s obviously truncated reading (if at all) of labor history the way unions were organized, particularly in the 1930’s the heyday of militant action, usually meant hard-fought factory and street actions over and against those so-called ‘friends of labor’. This is the simply truth that we must get out and have independent militant labor candidates shout to the rooftops. LET OUR CAMPAIGN BEGIN.


All “anti-parliamentarian”, “anti-state”, “non-political” anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist brothers and sisters need read no further. This writer does not want to sully the purity of your politics with the taint of parliamentary electoral politics. Although I might remind you, as we remember the period of the anniversary of the Spanish Civil War 1936-39, that your political forbears in Spain were more than willing to support the state and enter the government when they got the chance- the bourgeois state and the bourgeois government. But, we can fight that issue out later. We will, hopefully, see you latter on the barricades.

As for other militants- here is my modest proposal. Either recruit fellow labor militants or present yourselves as candidates to run for public office, especially for Congress, during the 2008 election cycle. Why? Even a quick glance at the news of the day is calculated to send the most hardened politico screaming into the night. The quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration walls, flag-burning amendments, anti same-sex marriage amendments, the threat to separation of church state raised by those who would impose a fundamentalist Christian theocracy on the rest of us, and the attacks on the hard fought gains of the Enlightenment posed by bogus theories such as ‘intelligent design’. And that is just an average day. Therefore, this election cycle provides militants, at a time when the electorate is focused on politics, a forum to raise our program and our ideas. We use this as a tool, like leaflets, petitions, meetings, demonstrations, etc. to get our message across. Why should the Donkeys, Elephants, and Greens have a monopoly on the public square?

I mentioned in the last paragraph the idea of program. Let us face it if we do not have a program to run on then it makes no sense for militants to run for public office. Given the political climate our task at this time is to fight an exemplary propaganda campaign. Our program is our banner in that fight. The Democrats and Republicans DO NOT RUN on a program. The sum of their campaigns is to promise not to steal from the public treasury (or at least not too much), beat their husbands or wives or grossly compromise themselves in any manner. On second thought, given today’s political climate, they may not promise not to beat their husbands or wives. You, however, get the point. Damn, even the weakest neophyte labor militant can make a better presentation before working people that that. In any case, this writer presents a five-point program that labor militants can run on (you knew this was coming, right?). As point five makes clear this is not a ‘minimum’ program but a program based on our need to fight for power.

1. FIGHT FOR THE IMMEDIATE AND UNCONDITIONAL WITHDRAWAL OF U.S. TROOPS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST NOW! U.S. HANDS OFF THE WORLD! VOTE NO ON THE WAR BUDGET! The quagmire in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East (Palestine, Iran) is the fault line of American politics today. Every bourgeois politician has to have his or her feet put to the fire on this one. Not on some flimsy ‘sense of the Congress’ softball motion for withdrawal next, year, in two years, or (my favorite) when the situation is stable. Moreover, on the parliamentary level the only real vote that matters is the vote on the war budget. All the rest is fluff. Militants should make a point of trying to enter Congressional contests where there are so-called anti-war Democrats or Republicans (an oxymoron, I believe) running, who nevertheless have voted with both feet for the war budgets, to make that programmatic contrast vivid.

But, one might argue, that would split the ‘progressive’ forces. Grow up, please! That argument has grown stale since it was first put forth in the ‘popular front’ days of the 1930’s. If you want to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fight for this position on the war budget. Otherwise the same people (ya, those progressive Democrats) who, in the end, voted for the last war budget get a free ride on the cheap. By rights this is our issue. Let us take it back.

2. FIGHT FOR A LIVING WAGE AND WORKING CONDITIONS-UNIVERSAL FREE HEALTH CARE FOR ALL. It is a ‘no-brainer’ that no individual, much less families, can live on the minimum wage of $5/hr. (or proposed $7/hr). What planet do these politicians live on? We need an immediate fight for a living wage, full employment and decent working conditions. We need universal free health care for all. End of story. The organized labor movement must get off its knees and fight to organize Wal-Mart and the South. A boycott of Wal-Mart is not enough. A successful organizing drive will, like in the 1930’s, go a long way to turning the conditions of labor around.

3. FIGHT THE ATTACKS ON THE ENLIGHTENMENT. Down with the Death Penalty! Full Citizenship Rights for all immigrants who make it here! Stop the Deportations! For the Separation of Church and State! Defend Abortion Rights! Down with ant-same sex marriage legislation! Full public funding of education! Stop the ‘war on drugs’, basically a war on blacks and minority youth-decriminalize drugs! Defend political prisoners! This list of demands hardly exhausts the “culture war” issues we defend. It is hard to believe that in the year 2008, over 200 years after the American and French Revolutions we are fighting desperately to preserve many of the same principles that militants fought for in those revolutions. But, so be it.

4. FIGHT FOR A WORKERS PARTY. The Donkeys, Elephants and Greens have had their chance. Now is the time to fight for our own party and for the interests of our own class, the working class. Any campaigns by independent labor militants must highlight this point. And any campaigns can also become the nucleus of a workers party network until we get strong enough to form at least a small party. None of these other parties, and I mean none, are working in the interests of working people and their allies. The following slogan, which codifies that great lesson of politics today, must be hammered home. Break with the Democrats, Republicans and Greens!

5. FIGHT FOR A WORKERS AND XYZ GOVERNMENT. THIS IS THE DEMAND THAT SEPARATES THE MILITANTS FROM THE FAINT-HEARTED REFORMISTS. We need our own form of government. In the old days the bourgeois republic was a progressive form of government. Not so any more. That form of government ran out of steam about one hundred years ago. We need a Workers Republic. We need a government based on workers councils with a ministry (I do not dare say commissariat in case any stray anarchists are still reading this) responsible to it. Let us face it if we really want to get any of the good and necessary things listed above accomplished we are not going to get it with the current form of government.

Why the XYZ part? What does that mean? No, it is not part of an algebra lesson. What it reflects is that while society is made up mainly of workers (of one sort or another) there are other classes (and parts of classes) in society that we seek as allies and could benefit from a workers government. Examples- small independent contractors, intellectuals, the dwindling number of small farmers, and some professionals like dentists. Ya, I like the idea of a workers and dentists government. Given my dental history I would fight on the last barricade for that government. The point is you have got to fight for it.

Obviously any campaign based on this program will be an exemplary propaganda campaign for the foreseeable future. But we have to start now. Continuing to support or not challenging the bourgeois parties does us no good now. That is for sure. While bourgeois electoral laws do not favor independent candidacies at this late date write-in campaigns are possible. ROLL UP YOUR SHEAVES! GET THOSE PETITIONS SIGNED! PRINT OUT THE LEAFLETS! PAINT THOSE BANNERS! GET READY TO SHAKE HANDS AND KISS BABIES.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jack and Abby-America's First Politcal Power Couple

Click on title to link to a "The Boston Sunday Globe" book review of a biography of Abigail Adams by Woody Holton.


March is Women’s History Month

John and Abigail Adams: An American Experience, PBS, 2006

Over the past twenty years or so there have been various attempts by historians of the period to reshuffle and expand the pantheon of the American Revolution. These efforts have included highlighting lesser male personalities like financier Robert Morris, paying attention to the role of the Founding Mothers and a deeper look into the plebeian base of that revolution. Those efforts have also, most prominently of late, included reordering the place that John Adams, an acknowledged early revolutionary leader and second President of the United States, in that pantheon. Leading this charge has been David McCullough’s (one of the inevitable ‘talking heads’ in this docudrama) best-selling book and now this PBS film. Brother Adams (and Sister Abigail) have arrived.

I will confess here, as I have previously in this space, that I am something of a ‘homer’ on the Adams family. I was born in their hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts and so imbibed the spirit of the place and their effect on it from early youth with visits to their homes and tombs. Some of my first political readings in elementary school were biographies of various members of the family (Which may explain quite a bit, right?).

I never, however, at that time, or later, saw them as central to the revolutionary experience. Washington, Samuel Adams (a cousin), the Sons of Liberty and, above all, Tom Paine fired my imagination. To be kind, as I have also mentioned before in this space, I had characterized John Adams as a ‘conservative revolutionary’ (an oxymoron, to be sure) and nothing in this documentary has changed my opinion on that matter. John Adams represented (except in his early firebrand pre-revolutionary period) individually and later through his ‘party’, the Federalists, the closest approximation to what Lafayette represented in the French revolution- the idea of rule by a small-entrenched elite over the ‘mob’-the so-called Republic of Virtue.

This documentary, although something of a valentine to John and Abigail, does not hide this fact but rather downplays it by highlighting other aspects of a rather long political career. The chronology presents Adams as the pre-revolutionary firebrand, the supreme political operative of the Continental Congresses, the diplomatic emissary to various European countries during the war including invaluable service in getting funds from the Dutch, the gentleman farmer chafing at the bit in political slow times, the formative role as first Vice President, the stormy one term as a beleaguered president, the love- hate relationship with his arch political opponent Jefferson and threaded throughout this career his strong dependence on Abigail as wife, mother, political confidante and ‘soul mate’. For those who thought that political power couples only started with Bill and Hillary this will be a surprise. Frankly, what this documentary has done for me is to reinforce my elementary school-derived high opinion of Abigail. As for the closet (and at times not so closet) Tory John I will let David McCullough argue his case.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

*The 160th Anniversary of the Communist Manifesto-Foundation Document of Modern Communism

Click on title to link to the Karl Marx Internet Archive's copy of "The Communist Manifesto".

This year is the 160th Anniversary of the publication of the Communist League's Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx in 1848, a document that has played a central role in world history since then, if not always happily. Below is a review of this document that I wrote in 2006 and proudly stand by today. Additionally, I will post Leon Trotsky’s article on the 90th Anniversary of the Manifesto in 1938 from the Trotsky Internet Archive. What unites the two pieces is the thought that we both share that the Manifesto read for Trotsky and reads today like it could have been written about conditions in either of these periods. Forward.




If you are a revolutionary, a radical or merely a liberal activist you must come to terms with the theory outlined in the Communist Manifesto. Today’s political activists are obviously not the first to face this challenge. Radicals, revolutionaries and liberals have had to come to terms with the Manifesto at least since 1848, when it was first published. That same necessity; perhaps surprisingly to some given the changes in the political landscape since then, is true today. Why surprisingly? On the face of it, given the political times, it would appear somewhat absurd to make such a claim about the necessity of coming to terms with the overriding need for the revolutionary overturn of the capitalist order outlined in the Manifesto. It, however, is necessary.

With the collapses of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-influenced Eastern European states about fifteen years ago, which were supposedly based on Marxist concepts, one would think that Marxism was a dead letter. But hear me out. Even the less far-sighted apologists for the international capitalist order are now worrying about the increasing gap between rich and poor, not only between the so-called first and third worlds but also within the imperial metropolitan centers themselves. Nowhere is that more evident that in the United States where that gap has dramatically increased over the last thirty years. Thus, despite the carping of the ‘death of communism’ theorists after the decisive capitulation of international Stalinism in the early 1990’s, an objective criterion exists today to put the question posed by the ongoing class struggle and of the validity of a materialist concept of history back on the front burner.

Whether one agrees with the Marxian premises about the need for revolution and for a dialectical materialist conception of the workings of society or not one still must, if for no other reason that to be smart about the doings of the world, confront the problem of how to break the stalemate over where human history is heading. 'Globalization' has clearly demonstrated only that the 'race to the bottom' inherent in the inner workings of capitalism is continuing at full throttle. Moreover, the contradictions and boom/bust cycles of capitalism have not been resolved. And those results have not been pretty for the peoples of the world.

Experience over the last 160 years has shown that those who are not armed with a materialist concept of history, that is, the ability to see society in all its workings and contradictions, cannot understand the world. All other conceptual frameworks lead to subjectivist idealism and utopian concepts of social change, at best. One may ultimately answer the questions posed by the Manifesto in the negative but the alternatives leave one politically defenseless in the current one-sided international class war.

So what is the shouting over Marxism, pro and con, all about? In the middle of the 19th century, especially in Europe, it was not at all clear where the vast expansion and acceleration of industrial society was heading. All one could observe was that traditional society was being rapidly disrupted and people were being uprooted, mainly from the land, far faster than at any time in previous history. For the most part, political people at that time reacted to the rise of capitalism with small plans to create utopian societies off on the side of society or with plans to smash the industrial machinery in order to maintain an artisan culture (the various forms of Ludditism). Into this chaos a young Karl Marx stepped in, and along with his associate and co-thinker Friedrich Engel, gave a, let us face it, grandiose plan for changing all of society based on the revolutionary overthrow of existing society.

Marx thus did not based himself on creation of some isolated utopian community but rather took the then current level of international capitalist society as a starting point and expanded his thesis from that base. Now that was then, and today still is, a radical notion. Marx, however, did not just come to those conclusions out of the blue. As an intellectual (and frustrated academician) he took the best of German philosophy (basically from Hegel, then the rage of German philosophical academia), French political thought and revolutionary tradition especially the Great French Revolution of the late 1700’and English political economy.

In short, Marx took the various strands of Enlightenment thought and action and grafted those developments onto a theory, not fully formed at the time, of how the proletariat was to arise and take over the reins of society for the benefit of all of society and end class struggle as the motor force of history. Unfortunately, given the rocky road of socialist thought and action over the last 160 years, we are, impatiently, still waiting for that new day.

In recently re-reading the Manifesto this writer was struck by how much of the material in it related, taking into account the technological changes and advances in international capitalist development since 1848, to today’s political crisis of humankind. Some of the predictions and some of the theory are off, no question, particularly on the questions of the relative staying power of capitalism, the relative impoverishment of the masses, the power of the nation-state and nationalism to cut across international working class solidarity and the telescoping of the time frame of capitalist development but the thrust of the material presented clearly speaks to us today. Maybe that is why today the more far-sighted bourgeois commentators are nervous at the reappearance of Marxism in Western society as a small but serious current in the international labor movement. Militant leftists can now argue- Stalinism (the horrendous distortion of Marxism) never again, to the bourgeois commentators' slogan of - socialist revolution, never again.

As a historical document one should read the Manifesto with the need for updating in mind. The reader should nevertheless note the currency of the seemingly archaic third section of the document where Marx polemicized against the leftist political opponents of his time. While the names of the organizations of that time have faded away into the historical mist the political tendencies he argued against seem to very much analogous to various tendencies today. In fact, in my youth I probably argued in favor of every one of those tendencies that Marx opposed before I was finally won over to the Marxian worldview. I suggest that not only does humankind set itself the social tasks that it can reasonably perform but also that when those tasks are not performed there is a tendency to revert to earlier, seemingly defeated ideas, of social change. Thus the resurgent old pre-Marxian conceptions of societal change have to be fought out again by this generation of militant leftists. That said, militant leftists should read and reread this document. It is literally the foundation document of the modern communist movement. One can still learn much from it. Forward.

Revised September 26, 2006

*Writer's Corner- When Baseball Was The National Pastime- The Stories Of Ring Lardner

Click on title to link to "Wikipedia's" entry for the great short story writer, Ring Lardner.


Ring Around the Bases: The Complete Baseball Stories of Ring Lardner, University of South Carolina Press, 1992

Well, the boys of summer are already stretching themselves out down at the various training camps in order to get ready for yet another baseball season. I no longer have the intense interest in baseball that I had when I was a kid I still like to read old Ring Lardner’s stories from the time when baseball was literally the national pastime, although like today not without its scandals, escapades and nutty characters. Of course, being from Boston I might just have to note in passing that our boys of summer, the beloved Red Sox of fabled Fenway Park (how is that for a Grantland Rice-like sports phrase?), are the reigning WORLD CHAMPIONS. Come and get us, if you can. In the meantime I suggest the above-titled book for you baseball-starved fans.

This volume contains virtually every important baseball story that Ring Lardner wrote, except the central character in the You Know Me, Al series Jack Keefe's wartime service and baseball world tour stories. As we approach another baseball season it is nice to look back to a 'simpler' time in the saga of baseball in this country. Savor these stories. Perhaps read them on one or more of those long winter evenings or in the interval between 'hot stove' league discussions.

At one time early in the first part of the 20th century there was no question that baseball was the American pastime. That was a time when the name Ring Lardner was well known in sports writing and literary circles. The sports writing part was easy because that was his beat. The literary part is much harder to recognize but clearly the character of Jack Keefe has become an American classic. Other stories here have also provided exemplars of the type like Hurry Kane, Alibi Ike, Harmony, What’s That Noise? and so on.

Does one need to be a baseball fan to appreciate this work? Hell, no. We all know, in sports or otherwise, this guy Keefe (and the various characters in the other stories who mimic his type). Right? You know the guy (or gal) with some talent who nevertheless has no problem blaming the other guy for mistakes while he (or she) is pure as the driven snow. That is the concept that drives the You Know Me, Al stories told in the form of letters to Al, his buddy back home in the sticks. That format applies as well to the other stories.

The language, the malapropisms and the schemes used by Lardner all evoke an earlier more innocent time in sport and society. I do not believe that you could create such characters now based on today's sport's ethic. Such innocent antics would just not ring true. The athletes would have a spokesperson `spinning' their take on the matters of the day. The only character that might have come close is Nuke LaRouche in the movie Bull Durham but as that movie progressed Nuke was getting `wise'. Read these stories. More than once.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Scottsboro Boys-American Travesty


The Scottsboro Boys: American Tragedy, PBS, 2001

Those familiar with the radical movement know that at least once in every generation a political criminal case comes up that defines that era. One thinks of the Haymarket Martyrs in the late 19th century; Sacco and Vanzetti, probably the most famous case of all, in the 1920’s; the Rosenburgs in the post-World War II 1950's Cold War period and today Mumia Abu-Jamal. Here we look at the case of the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930’s. The exposure of the tensions within American society, particularly around the intersection of race and sex, which came to the surface as a result of that case is the subject of the documentary under review.

In a certain sense this is another one of those liberal do-gooder films that the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is known for. That is indicated in the title of the work-an American tragedy. The underlying premise is that the fate of the Boys, ugly in many aspects by the standards of that time and certainly by today’s standards, was now merely a long past singular aberration of the American justice system that eventually got righted. Tell that to the vast black and Hispanic majority of today’s victims of that same ‘justice’ system languishing in America’s prison’s in the overwrought ‘war on drugs’. Tell that to the kids down in Jena, Louisiana. But that is a story for another time.

What the PBS film does here is highlight the various legal trials and tribulations, over many years, which most of the nine Scottsboro defendants faced including four trials, many appeals and, ultimately for the lone survivor who lived long enough, a pardon. All for crimes that they did not commit and that the state of Alabama knew that they did not commit. For those unfamiliar with the case this chronology is a nice primer on the key aspects of the case. But it should make one think more about how the lives of the Scottsboro Boys were really saved.

Although the documentary tips its hat, somewhat begrudgingly, to the titanic efforts of the American Communist Party in 1931 to make the case internationally known, and gain a hearing from blacks on other social and economic issues as well, that tendency to highlight the legal side of the battle plays the filmmakers false here. There would have been no cause celebre without the communists, although the fate of the feisty New York Jewish lawyer who handled most of the stages of the case and holds center stage here is certainly of interest. As is the question of plebian anti-Semitism as a proper subject for study in its own right.

The vaunted NAACP, nominally the legal voice of the black community, did not want to touch the case because it involved accusations of interracial sex and would have wrecked havoc with their liberal base. I will argue here that without the dreaded communists to stay the state of Alabama’s hand the boys would have long before been executed –or been hanging from the nearest poles.

I might also mention that the American Communist Party was acting under the Communist International’s direction. On the black question in America that meant support for the slogan of national self-determination for blacks in the South (the actual configuration for that is rather weird by- black majority counties). That slogan played a propaganda role in the background for holiday occasions during this period, called the ‘third period’ in communist parlance, but the heart of communist work in the early 1930’s were in struggles over wage equality, saving jobs, evictions, unemployed work, the fight against lynch law in the South and labor and black defense work.

For most of my adult political life I have been an anti-Stalinist leftist but for their Scottsboro Boys defense-all honor to the party and its legal arm the International Labor Defense. As pointed out above this documentary is a good primer on the case but one should Google for books on the case. Then, I hope, you will be able to agree that this case was not merely an American tragedy but a travesty.