Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Nestlé and Coca Cola, are putting public water supplies in jeopardy in communities both in the United States and overseas. They're selling us a product that is often not any cleaner than tap water, and is a lot pricier.
In the Socialist Review, Shuan Doherty praises the new literary critic work Task of the Critic. Written by Terry Eagleton and Matthew Beaumont, this comprehensive volume of interviews covers Eagleton’s life and the development of his thought and politics. According to the reviewer, the book is a
brilliant intellectual biography of our foremost literary theorist and critic. Beaumont has steeped himself in Eagleton’s prodigious output across a range of literary genres and brought to it his own considerable insights and research to produce a book worthy of its subject. It is a genuine dialogue.
Read the full article here.
Terry Eagleton is Professor of Cultural Theory and John Rylands Fellow at the University of Manchester. His other publications include Walter Benjamin, Literary Theory: An Introduction, The Function of Criticism, Criticism and Ideology, The Illusions of Postmodernism, Figures of Dissent and Ideology: An Introduction. He is also a dramatist, and his plays have been collected in Saint Oscar and Other Plays; in addition, he has written the filmscript for Wittgenstein and the novel Saints and Scholars.
The book has been edited by Matthew Beaumont, who with Gregory Dart is co-editor of the forthcoming Restless Cities.
"The party is the highest prize to the young trade unionist who becomes a revolutionist, the apple of his eye. But to the revolutionist who becomes transformed into a trade unionist – we have all seen this happen more than once – the party is no prize at all".
This speech by James P Cannon, from 1953, deals with how revolutionaries relate to trade-union activity and its pressures. It was made in the context of a faction-fight in the American Trotskyist movement, in which a section of the movement's "senior" trade unionists joined with people (led by Bert Cochran) who wanted a "softer" attitude to Stalinism, but is instructive way beyond the immediate references.
Since the consolidation of the CIO unions and the 13-year period of war and postwar boom, a new stratification has taken place within the American working class, and particularly and conspicuously in the CIO unions. Our party, which is rooted in the unions, reflects that stratification too. The worker who has soaked up the general atmosphere of the long prosperity and begun to live and think like a petty bourgeois is a familiar figure in the country at large. He has even made his appearance in the Socialist Workers Party as a ready-made recruit for an opportunist faction.
In our 1952 convention resolution, we explained the situation in the American working class as a whole in the two sections “The Causes of Labour Conservatism and the Premises for a New Radicalisation” and “Perspectives of a New Radicalisation”. In my report at the national convention, I called those two sections “the heart of the resolution” and centred my report around them.
It appears to me now, in the light of the conflict in the party and its real causes, which are now manifest, that those sections of the convention resolution dealing with the class as a whole require further elaboration and amplification. We need a more precise examination of the stratifications within the working class, which are barely touched there, and of the projection of these stratifications in the composition of the unions, in the various inner-union tendencies, and even in our own party. This, I believe, is the key to the otherwise inexplicable riddle of why one proletarian section of the party, even though it is a small minority, supports a capitulatory opportunist faction against the proletarian-revolutionary line and leadership of the party.
Examples from history
This apparent contradiction – this division of working class forces – in party factional struggle is not new. In the classical faction struggles of our international movement since the time of Marx and Engels, there has always been a division, in the party itself, between the different strata of workers. The proletarian left wing by no means ever had all the workers, and the opportunist petty-bourgeois wing was never without some working-class support, that is, working class in the technical sense of wage workers. The revisionist intellectuals and the trade union opportunists always nestled together in the right wing of the party. In the SWP at the present time, we have a repetition of the classical line-up that characterised the struggle of left and right in the Second International before the First World War.
Trotsky told us on one of our visits with him – I think he also wrote it somewhere – that there was a real social division between the two factions of the original Social Democratic Party of Russia, which later became separate parties. The Mensheviks, he said, had nearly all the intellectuals. With a few exceptions, the only intellectuals Lenin had were those whom the party had trained, a good deal like our own worker-intellectuals for the greater part. The intellectual – I mean the professional intellectual of the Burnham type, the man from the professor’s chair, from the universities – was a rarity on Lenin’s side, whereas the Mensheviks had shoals of them.
In addition, the Mensheviks had most of the skilled workers, who are always the privileged workers. The printers union was Menshevik even through the revolution. The railroad workers’ bureaucracy tried to paralyse the revolution; it was only by military force and the aid of a minority that the Bolsheviks were able to prevent the Menshevik railroad workers’ officialdom from employing their strategic position against the revolution.
Trotsky said that the Mensheviks also had most of the older workers. Age, as you know, is associated with conservatism. (In general, that is, but not always; there are exceptions to the rule. There are two different ways of measuring age. In ordinary life you measure it by the calendar, but in revolutionary politics you measure it by the mind and the will and the spirit – and you don’t always get the same result.)
On the other hand, while the older workers, the skilled and the privileged, were with the Mensheviks, the unskilled workers and the youth were with the Bolsheviks; that is, those of them who were politicalised. That was the line of division between the factions. It was not merely a question of the arguments and the program; it was the social impulses, petty-bourgeois on one side, proletarian on the other, which determined their allegiance.
The same line-up took place in Germany. The prewar German Social Democracy in its heyday had a powerful bloc of opportunist parliamentarians, Marxologists who utilised their scholastic training and their ability to quote Marx by the yard to justify an opportunist policy. They were supported not merely by the petty shopkeepers, of whom there were many, and the trade union bureaucrats. They also had a solid base of support in the privileged stratum of the aristocracy of labour in Germany. The trade union opportunists in the German Social Democratic Party supported Bernstein’s revisionism without bothering to read his articles. They didn’t need to read them; they just felt that way. The most interesting facts on this point are cited by Peter Gay in his book on Bernstein and his revisionist movement, entitled The Dilemma of Democratic Socialism.
All through the prewar fight over revisionism, then through the war and postwar days, through 1923 and 1933, the skilled, privileged trade unionists were the solid base of support of the opportunist Social Democratic leaders – while the communist revolutionaries, from the time of Liebknecht and Luxemburg all the way down to the fascist catastrophe in 1933, were the youth, the unemployed, and the unskilled, less privileged workers.
If you will go back and read Lenin again, in case you’ve forgotten it, you will see how Lenin explained the degeneration of the Second International, and its eventual betrayal in the First World War, precisely by its opportunism based upon the adaptation of the party to the conservative impulses and demands of the bureaucracy and aristocracy of labour.
We had the same thing in the US, although we never had a Social Democracy in the European sense and the working class was never politically organised here as it was there. The organised labour movement, up to the ’30s, was largely restricted to a privileged aristocracy of labour – as Debs and De Leon used to call it – of skilled craftsmen, who got better wages and had preferred positions, “job trusts”, and so on. The chief representative of this conservative, privileged craft union stratum was Gompers.
On the other side, there was the great mass of the basic proletariat, the unskilled and semiskilled, the mass production workers, the foreign born, and the jobless youth. They were without benefit of organisation, without privileges, the outcasts of society. It was not without reason that they were more radical than the others. Nobody paid any attention to them except the revolutionists and radicals. Only the IWW of Haywood and St. John, Debs, and the left Socialists voiced their bitter grievances, did the organising work, and led the strikes of the mass production workers in those days. If the official labour bureaucracy intervened in the spontaneous strikes of the unorganised it was usually to break them up and sell them out.
The officials of the skilled unions did not welcome the great upsurge of the unorganised workers in the ’30s. But they could not prevent it. When the spontaneous strikes and drives for organisation could no longer be ignored, the AFL began to assign “organisers” to the various industries – steel, rubber, auto, etc. They were sent however, not to lead the workers in a struggle but to control them, to prevent the consolidation of self-acting industrial unions. They actually wouldn’t permit the auto workers in convention to elect their own officials, insisting that the AFL appoint them “provisionally”. The same with the rubber workers and other new industrial unions.
These new unions had to split with the conservative labour fakers of the AFL before they could consolidate unions of their own. The drives behind the 1934-37 upsurge were the bitter and irreconcilable grievances of the workers; their protest against mistreatment, speedup, insecurity; the revolt of the pariahs against the pariah status.
This revolt, which no bureaucracy could contain, was spearheaded by new people – the young mass production workers, the new, young militants whom nobody had ever heard of. They were the real creators of the CIO. This revolt of the “men from nowhere” reached its high tide in the sit-down strikes of 1937. The workers’ victory in these battles definitely established the CIO and secured stability of the new unions through the seniority clause.
It is now 16 years since the sit-down strikes made the new CIO unions secure by the seniority clause. These 16 years of union security, and 13 years of uninterrupted war and post-war prosperity, have wrought a great transformation in the unprivileged workers who made the CIO.
The seniority clause, like everything else in life, has revealed a contradictory quality. By regulating the right to employment through time of service on the job, it secures the union militant against arbitrary discrimination and layoffs. It is an absolute necessity for union security. That is the positive side of the seniority clause. But, at the same time, it also gradually creates a sort of special interest in the form of steadier employment for those unionists who have been longest in the shop. That is its negative side.
In time, with the stretching out of their seniority rights and their upgrading to better jobs, a process of transformation in the status of the original union militants has taken place. In the course of 16 years, they have secured more or less steady employment, even in times of slack work. They are, under the rules, the last to be laid off and the first to be rehired. And in most cases, they have better jobs than newcomers to the shop. All of this, combined with war and postwar prosperity, has changed their material position and, to a certain extent, their social status.
The pioneer militants of the CIO unions are 16 years older than they were in 1937. They are better off than the ragged and hungry sit-down strikers of 1937; and many of them are 16 times softer and more conservative. This privileged section of the unions, formerly the backbone of the left wing, is today the main social base of the conservative Reuther bureaucracy. They are convinced far less by Reuther’s clever demagogy than by the fact that he really articulates their own conservatised moods and patterns of thought.
But these conservatised ex-militants are only part of the membership of the CIO, and I don’t think that our resolution at the convention deals specifically and adequately with that fact. In these mass production industries, which are real slave pens and hell holes, there are many others. There is a mass of younger workers who have none of these benefits and privileges and no vested interest in the piled-up seniority rights. They are the human material for the new radicalisation. The revolutionary party, looking to the future, must turn its primary attention to them.
If we, counting on a new upsurge in the labour movement, look to those who led it 16 years ago, we could indeed draw a gloomy picture. Not only are they not in a radical mood now; they are not apt to become the spearhead of a new radicalisation. That will take youth, and hunger, and raggedness, and bitter discontent with all the conditions of life. We must look to the new people if, as I take it, we are thinking in terms of the coming American revolution and not limiting our vision to the prospect of a new shake-up in the bureaucracy and of caucus combinations with slick “progressive” fakers for little aims.
This new stratification in the new unions is a feature which the party can no longer ignore. All the more so, since we now see it directly reflected in our party. A number of party members in the auto union belong to this privileged upper stratum. That’s the first thing you have to recognise. Some of the best militants, the best stalwarts of the party in the old times, have been affected by the changed conditions of their own lives and by their new environment. They see the old militants in the unions, who formerly cooperated with them, growing slower, more satisfied, more conservative. They still mix with these ex-militants socially, and are infected by them. They develop a pessimistic outlook from the reactions they get on every side from these old-timers, and, unknown to themselves, acquire an element of that same conservatism.
That, in my opinion, is the reason why they support a crudely conservative, pessimistic, capitulatory tendency in our internal faction fight. This, I am afraid, is not a misunderstanding on their part. I wish it were, for in that case our task would be easy. The miserable arguments of the Cochranites cannot stand up against Marxist criticism – provided one accepts the criteria of revolutionary Marxism.
But that’s the rub. Our conservatised trade unionists no longer accept these criteria. Like many others, who “used to be radicals themselves”, they are beginning to talk about our “Theses on the American Revolution” as a “crackpot” idea. They don’t “feel” that way, and nobody can talk them out of the way they do feel.
That – and perhaps a guilty conscience – is the true explanation of their subjectivity, their rudeness and factional frenzy when one tries to argue with them from the principled standpoint of the “old Trotskyism”. They do not follow Cochran out of exceptional regard for him personally, because they know Cochran. They simply recognise in Cochran, with his capitulatory defeatism and his program of retreat from the fighting arena to a propaganda circle, the authentic spokesman of their own mood of retreat and withdrawal.
Just as the older, more skilled and privileged German trade unionists supported the right against the left, and as their Russian counterparts supported the Mensheviks against the Bolsheviks, the “professional trade unionists” in our party support Cochranism in our fight. And for the same basic reasons.
I, for my part, must frankly admit that I did not see this whole picture at the beginning of the fight. I anticipated that some tired and pessimistic people, who were looking for some sort of rationalisation to slow down or get out of the struggle, would support any kind of an opposition faction that would arise. That happens in every faction fight. But I didn’t anticipate the emergence of a conservatised workers’ stratum serving as an organised grouping and a social basis for an opportunist faction in the party.
Still less did I expect to see such a grouping strutting around in the party demanding special consideration because they are “trade unionists”. What’s exceptional about that? There are 15 million trade unionists in this country, but not quite so many revolutionists. But the revolutionists are the ones who count with us.
Losing faith in the party
The revolutionary movement, under the best conditions, is a hard fight, and it wears out a lot of human material. Not for nothing has it been said a thousand times in the past: “The revolution is a devourer of men.” The movement in this, the richest and most conservative country in the world, is perhaps the most voracious of all.
It is not easy to persist in the struggle, to hold on, to stay tough and fight it out year after year without victory; and even, in times such as the present, without tangible progress. That requires theoretical conviction and historical perspective as well as character. And, in addition to that, it requires association with others in a common party.
The surest way to lose one’s fighting faith is to succumb to one’s immediate environment; to see things only as they are and not as they are changing and must change; to see only what is before one’s eyes and imagine that it is permanent. That is the cursed fate of the trade unionist who separates himself from the revolutionary party. In normal times, the trade union, by its very nature, is a culture-broth of opportunism. No trade unionist, overwhelmed by the petty concerns and limited aims of the day, can retain his vision of the larger issues and the will to fight for them without the party.
The revolutionary party can make mistakes, and has made them, but it is never wrong in the fight against grievance-mongers who try to blame the party for their own weaknesses, for their tiredness, their lack of vision, their impulse to quit and to capitulate. The party is not wrong now when it calls this tendency by its right name.
People often act differently as individuals, and give different explanations for their actions, than when they act and speak as groups. When an individual gets tired and wants to quit, he usually says he is tired and he quits; or he just drops out without saying anything at all, and that’s all there is to it. That has been happening in our international movement for 100 years.
But when the same kind of people decide as a group to get out of the line of fire by getting out of the party, they need the cover of a faction and a “political” rationalisation. Any “political” explanation will do, and in any case it is pretty certain to be a phony explanation. That also has been going on for about 100 years.
The present case of the Cochranite trade unionists is no exception to this rule. Out of the clear sky we hear that some “professional trade unionists” are suddenly against us because we are “Stalinophobes”, and they are hell-bent for an orientation toward Stalinism. Why, that’s the damnedest nonsense I ever heard! They never had that idea in their heads until this fight started. And how could they? The Stalinists have gotten themselves isolated in the labour movement, and it’s poison to touch them. To go looking for the Stalinists is to cut yourself off from the labour movement, and these party “trade unionists” don’t want to do that.
The people in Michigan who are hollering for us to make an orientation toward the Stalinists have no such orientation on their own home grounds. And they’re perfectly right about that. I don’t deny that people like Clarke, Bartell, and Frankel have heard voices and seen visions of a gold mine hidden in the Stalinist hills – I will discuss this hallucination at another time – but the Cochranite trade unionists haven’t the slightest intention of going prospecting there. They are not even looking in that direction. What’s amazing is the insincerity of their support of the orientation toward the Stalinists. That’s completely artificial, for factional purposes. No, you have to say the orientation toward Stalinism, as far as the Michigan trade unionists are concerned, is a phony.
What is the next thing we hear? That they are full of “grievances” against the party “regime”. I always get suspicious when I hear of grievances, especially from people whom you didn’t hear it from before. When I see people revolting against the party on the ground that they’ve been badly treated by this terrible regime in our party – which is actually the fairest, most democratic and easy-going regime in the history of the human race – I always remind myself of the words of J. Pierpont Morgan. He said: “Everybody has at least two reasons for what he does – a good reason and the real reason.” They’ve given a good reason for their opposition. Now I want to know what the hell is the real reason.
It can’t be the party’s hostility to Stalinism, as they say – because the Cochranite trade unionists wouldn’t touch the Stalinists with a 10-foot pole, not even if you stood behind them with bayonets and lighted firecrackers under their coat-tails.
It can’t be the Third World Congress, concerning which they are suddenly working up a lather. These comrades in Michigan have many admirable qualities, as has been shown in the past, but they’re by no means the most internationalist-minded section of the party; not by far. They’re not that section of the party most interested in theoretical questions. The Detroit branch, sad to say, has been most remiss in the teaching and study of Marxist theory, and is now paying a terrible price for it. This branch hasn’t got a single class going; no class in Marxism, no class in party history, no class on the Third World Congress or anything else. So when they suddenly erupt with the demand that the Third World Congress be nailed to the party’s masthead, I say that’s another good reason, but it’s a phony too.
The real reason is that they are in revolt against the party without fully knowing why. For the young militant, the party is a necessity valued above everything else. The party was the very life of these militants when they were young and really militant. They didn’t care for jobs; they feared no hazards. Like any other first-class revolutionists, they would quit a job at the drop of a hat if the party wanted them to go to another town, wanted them to do this or that. It was always the party first.
The party is the highest prize to the young trade unionist who becomes a revolutionist, the apple of his eye. But to the revolutionist who becomes transformed into a trade unionist – we have all seen this happen more than once – the party is no prize at all. The mere trade unionist, who thinks in terms of “union politics” and “power blocs” and little caucuses with little fakers to run for some little office, pushing one’s personal interest here and there – why should he belong to a revolutionary party? For such a person the party is a millstone around his neck, interfering with his success as a “practical” trade union politician. And in the present political situation in the country, it’s a danger – in the union, in the shop, and in life in general.
The great majority of the party trade unionists understand all this as well as we do. The vulgar “trade unionist” appeal of the Cochranites only repels them, for they consider themselves to be revolutionists first and trade unionists second. In other words, they are party people, as all revolutionists are.
I think it’s a great tribute to our tradition, to our cadres, to the leadership of our party, that we have succeeded in isolating Cochranism to a narrow section of the party membership. It’s a great satisfaction, in these troubled and heavy times, to see the great majority of the party standing firm against all pressures. In the further course of the discussion, we will strike still heavier blows and chip off a few more here and there. We don’t want to see anybody leave the party if we can help it.
But soul-saving is not our main occupation. We are determined to protect the party from demoralisation, and we will do that. We are concerned with individuals only within that framework. The rescue of political derelicts can be left to the Salvation Army. For us, the party comes first, and nobody will be allowed to disrupt it.
This fight is of the most decisive importance because the prospect before our party is the prospect of war and all that goes with it. We see the dangers and the difficulties – as well as the great opportunities – which lie ahead of us, and just because of that we want to get the party in shape before the worst blows fall upon us.
The party line and perspectives, and the party leadership, will be settled in this fight for a long time to come. When harder times come, and when new opportunities open up, we don’t want to leave any doubt in any comrade’s mind as to what the party line is and who the party leaders are. These questions will be settled in this fight.
The Socialist Workers Party has the right, by its program and its record, to aspire to a great future. That’s my opinion. That was the opinion of Trotsky. There is a line in the document of the Cochranites that sneers at the 1946 SWP convention and at the “Theses on the American Revolution” adopted there. It says: “We were children of destiny, at least in our own minds.” In that derision of the party’s aspiration, the whole pessimistic, capitulatory ideology of Cochranism is contained.
In 1929, when Trotsky was deported to Constantinople, the victory of Stalinism was complete, and he was isolated and almost alone. Outside the Soviet Union, there were only about 200 people supporting him in the whole world, and half of them were the forces we had organised in the US. Trotsky wrote us a letter at that time in which he hailed our movement in the United States. He said our work was of world historical significance because, in the last analysis, all of the problems of the epoch will be settled on American soil. He said that he didn’t know whether a revolution would come here sooner than in other places, but in any case it was necessary to prepare by organising the nucleus of the party of the future revolution.
That’s the line we have been working on. Our cadres have been raised on that doctrine. When I read in the Cochranite document that cynical dismissal of our revolutionary aspirations, I remembered a speech I made to our young comrades 13 years ago in Chicago. The occasion was our Active Workers Conference, held just a month or so after the death of the Old Man,36 when everybody felt bereft; when the question in the minds of all, here and all over the world, was whether the movement could survive without Trotsky.
At the end of the conference, I gave a speech and I said to the young activists there: “You are the real men of destiny, for you alone represent the future.” In the 1946 convention theses we put the same concept.
That has been the position of all our militants who are standing together through this long, hard battle. A young comrade in California, one of the leading party activists, pointed the Cochranite sneer out to me and said: “What about that? If I didn’t think our party has a great future, why should I be willing to devote my life and everything I have to the party?” Anyone who low-rates the party and crosses off its future ought to ask himself what he is doing in the party. Is he here on a visit?
The party demands a lot, and you can’t give a lot and risk everything unless you think the party is worth it. The party is worth it, for it is the party of the future. And this party of the future is now once again getting its share of historical luck. Once again, as in 1939-40, it has the opportunity to settle a fundamental conflict in open discussion before a war, on the eve of a war.
Before World War II the party was confronted with a faction which threatened its program and, thereby, its right to exist. We didn’t have to jump immediately into the war before the question was settled. We were working in the open while the rest of our comrades in Europe were underground or in concentration camps. We here in America were privileged to conduct a debate for the whole International over a period of seven months.
The same thing is happening again now. We ought to recognise this historical luck and take advantage of it. The best way to do this is to extend and amplify the discussion. I will repeat what Comrade Dobbs said, that our aim is not to split the party but to break up the split and save the party. We will try to prevent a split by a political fight which hits the opposition so hard that it can have no perspectives in a split. If we can’t prevent a split, we will reduce it to the smallest possible size.
Meantime, we will develop the party work on all fronts. No party work is going to be sabotaged. If the attempt is made, we will move our forces in everywhere and take over. We will not permit the party to be disrupted by sabotage or derailed by a split, any more than we did in 1940. We have made a good start, and we won’t stop until we have won another complete victory in the struggle for a revolutionary party.
The Latin American Labor Leaders tour kicked off March 21 in Cleveland demanding an end to the U.S. blockade of Cuba and its trade and travel ban that prevents workers from exchanging views and direct understanding.
The participation of Gilda Chacón Bravo from the Confederation of Cuban Workers (Central de Trabajadores de Cuba) and the World Federation of Trade Unions has been stalled by the U.S. State Department. Although approved for a visa, her passport is currently held by the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, making it impossible for her to travel and take part in the tour.
Protest letters to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were signed by participants. Martha Grevatt, chair of the Civil and Human Rights Committee of UAW Local 122 and Peoples Fightback Center organizer, chaired the meeting and declared that workers’ solidarity could not be stopped and neither would this tour.
A wide cross section of Cleveland unions and the community warmly engaged Ronald Quesada, a national directorate member of the National Union of Social Security Fund Employees in Costa Rica (UNDECA). Quesada was one of many union leaders who applied to the U.S. State Department for a visa to join the tour, but the only one to date who has been approved.
Quesada discussed labor conditions in Costa Rican shipyards, health care and mining; immigration, the imperialist-sponsored free trade agreements and the development of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA). Quesada’s union is a member of ALBA, although Costa Rica is not.
Ignacio Meneses from the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange spoke and translated. Greetings were given by meeting organizers including Deb Kline, Cleveland Jobs with Justice organizer; Brian Stefan-Szittai, director of the Inter Religious Task Force on Central America; Harold Wilson, president of the Cuyahoga-Medina Community Action Program Council of the United Auto Workers; and Tito Boneta, president of UAW Local 1005.
Also present were members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Teamsters, the Steelworkers, AFSCME, North Shore Labor Federation Retirees and a representative from the office of Congressperson Dennis Kucinich. A generous collection contributed to financing the tour.
The Latin American Labor Leaders tour will meet with workers in Toledo, Ohio; Detroit; Chicago; San Diego; Los Angeles; and New York. Find a complete and updated schedule of public events at laborexchange.blogspot.com. Online donations can be made at that site as well. Media interviews are available by calling 313-575-4933. Overall sponsors are the U.S./Cuba Labor Exchange, the World Federation of Trade Unions-Americas and the International Action Center.
Articles copyright 1995-2010 Workers World. Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium without royalty provided this notice is preserved.
Michael Parenti has written a compelling work, whose themes are so relevant for our time: the essentiality of rational thought, the struggle to maintain a secular and tolerant society, and the abuse of religion for reactionary political and obscurant objectives. As Parenti points out, "That 'old-time religion' is still very much with us and having a considerable impact on U.S. political life." And that impact has only grown in recent years.
Parenti launches his account with that bedrock of old-time religion, the Bible, examining it for what moral lessons it has to impart. Assessing the Bible in the light of literal interpretation as advocated by fundamentalist Christians, rather than inspiration Parenti finds a deeply troubling narrative. There have been many excellent analyses of the absurdities and twisted morality of the Old Testament, but this is among the best. Parenti's romp through the Old Testament is highly entertaining, sharply observed, and simultaneously hilarious and disturbing (in that so many point to it as a source of moral authority). Parenti writes:
"The god of the Holy Bible - so much adored in the United States and elsewhere - is ferociously vindictive, neurotically jealous, intolerant, vainglorious, punitive, wrathful, sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, sadistic and homicidal. As they say, it's all in the Bible. Beware of those who act in the name of such a god. Were we to encounter these vicious traits in an ordinary man, we would judge him to be in need of lifelong incarceration at a maximum-security facility. At the very least, we would not prattle on about how he works his wonders in mysterious ways."
Unlike some detractors of the Old Testament, Parenti does not give the New Testament a free ride, holding it up to the same standard of rational analysis he gave to the older section of the Bible. Parenti finds that the "biblical Jesus qualifies quite well as founder and forerunner of an intolerant Christianity."
Parenti is devastating in his critique of the efficacy of prayer and the incongruous nature of religious belief in divine intervention, which he notes is partly based on selective perception: "When over 22,000 people were killed in a 7.6-magnitude earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, one survivor, convinced that his god had saved him - and taking no notice of the thousands who had perished - shouted 'Allah is great'. In 2003, when a U.S. space shuttle blew up in midair killing seven astronauts, thousands of pieces of wreckage rained down on East Texas. Fortunately, no one on the ground was hurt. Many believers praised their god for watching over them. One marquee in Hemphill, Texas read: 'Thank you God. You protected us all here on the ground. You are amazing.' Not a word was proffered regarding God's less than amazing performance in regard to the astronauts." As Parenti observes, "when people survive a danger, they proclaim that their prayers have been answered." But when people perish, no one is quoted as saying their prayers went unanswered, "and no news story is inclined to voice a lament about the futility of prayer."
Indeed, Parenti points out, some of the faithful regard death and destruction as direct retribution, such as Christian evangelist Jerry Falwell's statement that the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were divine punishment upon America for harboring "the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and lesbians." Then there was Republican congressman Richard Baker's equally insensitive and deranged comment after Hurricane Katrina: "We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn't do it, but God did."
One of the strengths of God and His Demons is its refusal to back away from exposing the underside of those widely-admired mainstream icons of modern religion: Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, and Tibetan Buddhism. Mother Teresa's "clinics and hospitals" were in actuality hospices, where medical care was lacking. One young doctor was appalled at the conditions and reported that many of the dying were suffering from hunger and malnutrition rather than fatal diseases, and could be saved with an improved diet and vitamin supplements. "But he could not persuade Teresa, who showed no interest in medicine or in treating patients with vitamins." Expensive medical equipment donated to Mother Teresa "was left to rust, completely unused."
Meanwhile, Mother Teresa jetted around the globe, "to wage campaigns against divorce, abortion, and birth control." In Egypt, "she urged housewives to 'have lots and lots of children' - at a time when the Egyptian government was trying to promote family planning to counter the nation's population explosion." Mother Teresa's opposition to contraception was unwavering. "Her concern for the unborn child," observes Parenti, "was matched only by an indifference toward the living child. What social conditions caused hundreds of thousands of children to die of malnutrition and disease in Asia and elsewhere was a question that failed to win her attention."
Fast-tracked on the path to sainthood by Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa was beatified in 2003. She was only one among many of the frauds launched upon that path by John Paul. Similarly beatified was Msgr. José María Escrivá de Balaguer, supporter of Franco's fascist government and founder of the right-wing Opus Dei. The self-promoting Padre Pio was another, and Parenti delightfully exposes Pio's outlandish claims about himself, leaving one to wonder how anyone could have taken the man seriously, let alone canonized him. Then there was Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, that fervent supporter of the Hitler-era fascist puppet government in Croatia, with its extermination of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma.
But it is for his political role that Pope John Paul II is most revered. As Parenti points out, "John Paul, that most political of all popes, remained up to his ears in counter-revolutionary politics in Latin America and elsewhere." Noted for his close collaboration with U.S. President Ronald Reagan, "the pontiff directed no critical attacks against right-wing dictatorships, which he valued as bulwarks against communist revolution." Through the Vatican's secretary of state, he intervened on behalf of Augusto Pinochet, the former fascist leader of Chile, who was then under arrest in Spain for his crimes. And it was John Paul who did the most to undermine the spirit of Vatican II, replacing it with what one church historian has described as "a law-and-order, fear-driven, clerically controlled Church."
Most in need of myth-busting has been the widespread illusion about Tibetan Buddhism, with its reputed beneficence. This section alone is worth the price of the book, so revealing is it. "Religions have an age-long relationship not only with violence but also with economic exploitation. Indeed, it is often the economic exploitation that necessitates the violence." The Tibetan theocracy was no different, even up through the time of rule by the Dalai Lama, when "most of the arable land was still organized into manorial estates worked by serfs and owned by monasteries and secular landlords. Just how harsh life could be for a Tibetan serf is described in moving and eye-opening detail by Parenti. Change for Tibetans since 1959 has been substantial, and Parenti provides a balanced narrative of developments, with an honest portrayal of what has been positive and what has not. Certainly, the worst excesses of religious oppression have been expunged.
In a chapter entitled, Cashing in on Heaven, Parenti focuses on the self-enrichment by many religious leaders at the expense of their followers. The extent of sheer greed is astonishing. Often the message today in fundamentalist churches is that of what is termed prosperity gospel, promising "material affluence." Such a retrograde ideal has predictable results. "Prosperity televangelists like W.V. Grant and Robert Tilton collected tens of millions of dollars from poor, sick, and desperate viewers, while claiming to be supporting orphanages that did not exist. Meanwhile, both live in utter opulence. Tilton does not directly trust in God for financial miracles, preferring to get his money the old-fashioned way - from other people." By no means are these isolated examples, and the emotional extortion of money from the gullible for personal enrichment has, if anything, been the hallmark of fundamentalist Christian leaders.
Similarly abusive have been a great many of the cult leaders and gurus, a subject that has not always received the attention it has deserved. "Pretending to an inner quietude and profound modesty, many are endowed with raging egos and immersed in nasty rivalries that are played out with a vehemence redolent of less spiritually advanced individuals." While leaders live a lavish lifestyle, in many cases adherents are compelled to live in poverty as they work long hours for the cult with little or no pay. In these "totalistic, self-enriching, guru-worshiping cults," the "master is elevated, the followers are infantilized and diminished." The outright child abuse that occurs in many of these cults and churches is one of the more disturbing sections of the book.
Too often today, religion is placed at the service of reactionary political goals. "Backed by moneyed interests, the right-wing Christianist media propagate free-market corporatism, militarism, and super-patriotism." And their influence is powerful. "It is no accident that we hear almost nothing about the religious Left and so much about the religious Right. Progressive dissidents usually are denied access to mass media audiences. As with politics, so with religion: there is no free market of ideas, no level playing field. Conservative organizations possess a vast constellation of publications, television and radio networks, and satellite and cable channels that gather millions of listeners and viewers." But "the secular corporate-owned media also show a striking favoritism toward the religious Right. On the major television networks, cable news channels, and PBS, conservative religious leaders have been quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 400 percent more often than progressive ones, and over 250 percent more often in major newspapers." Those statistics are taken from a 2007 report, and my initial reaction was surprise that these percentages were not higher. Surely in the last three years, the gap has only grown more skewed.
The all-too-frequent abuse of position by religious leaders for sexual predation makes for one of the book's more harrowing chapters. "How the religionists and their political counterparts wish to lead their private lives is their business, as long as they bring no harm to others," writes Parenti. "What is at issue here is the moral chasm between what is preached and what is practiced. Also at issue is their homophobia and - in the case of pedophiles and rapists - their criminal venality and the damage they inflict upon the innocent." Parenti recounts the record of hypocrisy and harm with compassion for the victims and outrage over injustice.
Fundamentalist Christian leaders make no secret of their desire to transform the American political system into a theocracy. Already, alarming inroads have been made, as outlined by Parenti with so many examples as to alert one to the dangers ahead. One wishes this information could be presented to as wide an audience as possible. These people mean business. "In the mind of theocrats, 'religious freedom' means the right to roll back secular culture and impose a monochromatic belief system upon everyone. Right-wing fundamentalist leader Randall Terry told an audience of the like-minded faithful: 'I want you to just let a wave of intolerance wash over you... Our goal is a Christian nation... We are called by God to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism'." The goal, Parenti writes, "is to take over the U.S. government and replace civil law with biblical law."
Islam, too, has its fundamentalists. "Today's Islamist reactionaries, however, bear a closer resemblance to today's Christian reactionaries in their intolerance toward secularism and their conviction that both heaven and earth are their exclusive province. But unlike the Christianists who await their return to state power, the Islamists can already boast of existing bona fide theocracies such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan (under the Taliban), and Kuwait." And in a number of other countries Islamists are such a strong force that they manage to impose Sharia law. Theirs is an appalling record, as demonstrated by the examples mentioned in this book.
Parenti does see some glimmers of hope, with the continued adherence to the ideal of a secular and tolerant society by a meaningful portion of the American public. Our aim, Parenti concludes, should be to "roll back the theocratic aggrandizement while strengthening our right to entertain our beliefs and disbeliefs openly and with impunity. Only secular strength and organized democratic activism on our part will counter the sectarian intolerance and state-assisted tyranny of reactionary theocrats.
God and His Demons is exceptionally well-written book, infused with the author's characteristic style, wit, no-nonsense analysis and deeply-felt humanism. This ranks among the author's most important works, deserving of the highest praise.
Visit Michael Parenti at: http://www.michaelparenti.org/
Gregory Elich is on the Board of Directors of the Jasenovac Research Institute and on the Advisory Board of the Korea Truth Commission. He is the author of the book Strange Liberators: Militarism, Mayhem, and the Pursuit of Profit.
Workers and youth protest in Paris, France in May 2003 , photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
LITTLE MORE than 24 hours after the second round of regional elections in France, strike action began on the railways, ushering in a day of action and protests in 80 cities across the country.
Clare Doyle, Committee for a Workers' International (CWI)
23 March was agreed on by the eight major trade union organisations to demonstrate mounting hostility to the government's policies on jobs, pensions, working conditions and the cost of living. Mobilisation from on top was poor, but anger and hatred against Sarkozy has reached boiling point.
He and his government have pushed ahead with attacks on the railway workers, universities, high schools, post office etc. Only in some cases, where widespread opposition has developed, has he been forced to step back.
There was a record abstention of over half the electorate in the first round, especially in the poor and working class areas.
As Le Monde wrote on Monday 22 March, this expressed "a deep disappointment with politics and with the head of state". The paper's front page headline was "After the electoral punishment, the third round (of) social (battle)?"
Alex Rouillard of Gauche Révolutionnaire (GR - CWI, France) commented: "After driving a steam-roller over so many rights and conditions of workers - old and young - Sarkozy is hated. His unpopularity has never been greater.
"He may be forced to reshuffle his cabinet and even retreat a little, but his aim is to make the working class pay for the bankers' and bosses' crisis".
Socialist Party benefits
Workers and youth protest in Paris, France in May 2003, photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
The hostility to Sarkozy benefited the French 'Socialist' Party considerably. It had been reeling badly after poor performances in previous national and European elections. This time they got their highest score since 1981. The SP and their allies in the second round got 53.8% to 35.4% for Sarkozy's camp.
Together with the Greens, the SP ended up in control of 21 out of the 22 regions of France.
But the SP has a record in government of implementing far-reaching attacks on workers and widespread privatisation. Its leader, Martine Aubry, now said to be preparing to challenge Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election, was the first to propose raising the retirement age.
The far right National Front (FN) also benefited from the anti-Sarkozy protest vote. In Le Pen's (FN leader) region it got 24% and 9% overall. It got more than 17% on average in the regions where it stood.
This has not yet brought them to the level they reached in 1995 but shows a real potential danger of reaction gaining ground.
The new Left Party, a split from the Socialist Party, with its vague promises of a fight against the right, apparently fared a bit better.
In 17 regions, they were involved in the Left Front (alliance between the Left Party, the PCF - communists - and a rightwing split from the ex-LCR) which, in the first round, got about 6% on average on a national level, around the same as the 6.5% they won in last year's European Parliament vote.
But the Left Front's subsequent alliances with the Socialist Party and others means they will be faced with the question of whether they will be involved locally in implementing cuts dictated by central government policies in a time of capitalist crisis.
The crisis and the left
Cecile, of Gauche Revolutionaire, France, the sister party of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, addresses the European Committee for a Workers' International school, photo Bob Severn
France has a widening budget gap and an €11 billion deficit in the state pension fund which, under capitalism, means more demands for austerity measures.
This crisis, and the need for generalised mass workers' struggle against it, should have meant that the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA), first time out in regional elections, would fare well.
Unemployment now exceeds 10%. Millions of workers and young people have already been involved in battles over jobs, education, and pensions in the recent period.
Yet the NPA could muster only 2.5% of the vote in the first round, far less than what they got in the 2009 European elections (4.88%).
Only in one area - Limousin - did it pass the 10% barrier and have candidates in the second round. Without any distinct programme, it got two councillors (along with three for the Communist Party and one for the Left Party).
The NPA nationally had entered the fray in total confusion over tactics - with three different positions in relation to alliances with other parties. Gauche Révolutionnaire argued, along with others on the national committee who formed Platform B, for an independent fight in the elections on a real programme of working class struggle, to build support for the party as well as attract votes away from the right and the pro-capitalist Socialist Party.
Others wanted an alliance with the Socialist Party from the beginning and a third grouping wanted 'technical' alliances for the second round.
After referendums in the party last December showed much more support for position B than anticipated, the leadership of the NPA decided on a position of the party in each region deciding on its own programme and tactics. A recipe for chaos and ineffectiveness.
There was the additional factor in the election of the party in Vaucluse choosing to put forward a young woman who wears the veil. Before and after the election, she became the victim of considerable attacks inside and outside the party.
Disgracefully, she has even become, for some, a scapegoat for the poor showing of the NPA in the elections.
"The coming national meeting of the NPA leadership this weekend will see the left around platform B pushing harder for clear fighting policies", commented Alex. "The Right will attempt to blame the left for the poor showing but will have difficulty."
By Mike Ely
Someone recently made a comment about the Communist Party USA leader Gus Hall, and triggered the following memory:
I was invited (as a young high school student) by my sisters boyfriend to hear the CPUSA’s Gus Hall speak about a recent trip to the USSR. This was in the mid 60s and it was one of my very first political meeting.
It was held in an auditorium, and the turnout was respectable — this was (after all) New York City, and the CP had real roots and history.
I was first impressed by how truly frumpy and inbred the whole thing was — even the kids. They had no hint of the times, and were decked out in a very particular Pete Seeger-like subculture (with flannels and a lot of Russian embroidery). And the kids my age were mainly socializing with other red-diaper babies as if this was some boring church meeting that their parents made them attend.
Gus Hall started to speak about touring an autoplant in the USSR, and went off on a whole riff about how slowly the workers were moving. And he said he had remarked to his guide, that they “wouldn’t last a day” back in Detroit. His whole tone had an indignant and self-righteous disdain for the laziness of the Soviet workers, taking advantage of the (supposed) benevolence of their system and its bosses.
It was a moment of clarity for me. Because I felt (at that moment) that he was clearly not speaking as someone who connected with or represented those workers… He was on a hand-held VIP tour conducted by the plant manager — who Gus Hall was seeing as his “peer” and whose problems he was identifying with.
Gus Hall had been strutting around that Soviet plant soaked in the outlook of an aspiring future state capitalist, looking over those workers with his counterparts (in that plant and that country) — discussing the people as if they were so much flawed and frustrating raw material to be hammered and manipulated into doing their “work” (which was obviously NOT the work of ruling or even participating in power).
And he was (rather casually and unapologetically) sharing those thoughts with us — on the assumption (perhaps) that we would share and adopt them .
The whole scene — the deliberate and conservative cultural insularity of the crowd, the obligatory church-like attendance by bored youth, and the truly capitalist class stand of Gus Hall himself — impacted me deeply.
I just felt it was alien and hostile to the things we were trying to bring into being.
Sunday, March 28, 2010
America’s road to socialism
Printed below is an excerpt from America’s Road to Socialism one of Pathfinder’s Books of the Month for March. The book features six talks by James P. Cannon, a founding leader of the communist movement in the United States and national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party from 1938 until 1953. The talks were given in December 1952 to January 1953, a political period much different than what we face today. The U.S. military intervention in Korea was raging with no mass resistance to it. A radicalized labor movement that built the industrial unions during the 1930s was in retreat. Reaction fueled by the McCarthyite witch-hunt was rampant, and economic prosperity strengthened the belief of many in the perpetual reign of capitalism. The SWP pointed to the necessity and inevitability of coming labor battles to challenge capitalist political rule. Copyright © 1975 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.
BY JAMES P. CANNON
In real life, when the social crisis strikes, and especially when it develops and deepens, the developments will be simultaneous, interacting on each other in all fields. This is what history tells us… .
The workers, under such conditions, must and will turn to militancy and throw up leaders of a new mold, just as the workers in the thirties threw up new trade-union leaders out of the ranks. And it is in just such a situation, when class collaboration is out the window and the class struggle is on the agenda, that the supreme expression of the class struggle, the revolutionary Marxist party, will get a hearing and become the mentor of the militant new staff of leaders arising out of the shops and the factories.
That’s the prospective change on the side of the working class—a change toward a new militancy, a new leadership, and the revolutionary political party rising in influence and power by virtue of its character and its program. And on the other side, the capitalists must and will discard all temporizing measures, cast off the democratic facade which they can no longer afford, and turn to wholesale violence against the workers.
Fascist bands will be subsidized and armed and hurled against the strikers, against the union halls and all other workers’ gathering places and institutions. The workers, for their part, will have no choice, if they don’t want to be defeated and enslaved, as the German workers were defeated and enslaved under Hitler—they will have no choice but to organize their own defense guards, meet the fascist bands on their own terms and carry the battle to them.
American capitalism is not in love with democracy. It’s no principle of American capitalism that we must maintain all the democratic forms—free speech, free press, free rights to organize, and all the rest. The only principle the American capitalists have is the exploitation of labor, the extraction of profits, and the enrichment of themselves at the expense of the workers. That’s their principle. If they can do it in an easy and smooth and quiet and peaceful way under political democracy, OK. That’s the cheapest way. But when that doesn’t work any longer, our wonderful, democratic capitalists will turn, with the savage fury of the German and Italian capitalists, to the bloody violence of fascism. They will finance and equip a fascist movement and check it straight up to the labor movement: “What are you going to do about it? There are going to be no more debates with you, it’s going to be fight.
“It will be a fight to a finish, and it will be fought on all fronts, from election campaigns to strikes and fights with fascist gangsters in the streets. Under the powerful impulsion of the social crisis which American capitalism cannot avoid, and which is already ripening within its body, all these developments predicted here, and many more, will erupt spontaneously, simultaneously, in one general process which cannot be arrested by any device. The irrepressible conflict will lead inexorably to a showdown in the United States of America, which will bear the name: The Struggle for Power.
The alternatives in this struggle will be truly terrible: Either a workers’ government to expropriate the capitalists, or a fascist government to enslave the workers. Those are the alternatives.
Now who will win? Upon the answer to that question, in my opinion, the fate of mankind will depend. Trotsky once referred to America as “the foundry where the fate of man will be forged.” That fate is going to be forged in the social crisis and the coming showdown battle between the workers and fascist capitalists for mastery of this land.
Who will win, in this greatest battle of all time, and of all places? That side, I say, will win which deserves to win. That side will win which has the will to win, and the consciousness that no compromise is possible. Power is on the side of the workers. They are an absolute majority of the population. And their strategic social position in industry multiplies the importance of their numerical majority at least a hundred times. Power is on their side. All they need is will, the confidence, the consciousness, the leadership—and the party which believes in the revolutionary victory, and consciously and deliberately prepares for it in advance by theoretical study and serious organization.
Will the workers find these things when they need them in the showdown, when the struggle for power will be decided? That is the question. We think they will. We think the workers and colonial peoples, in revolution throughout the world, will powerfully influence the American workers by their example. When all the world is in revolution, the American workers will remember their own ancestry and take fire too.
We think the American workers, who have never been Quakers, will demonstrate unexampled energy, courage, and decision when it becomes clear that their own destiny is at stake. We think they will find the consciousness, and therewith the leadership, for victory in the struggle for power.
And we think, finally, that it is our duty even now, in advance, in the period of preparation for the coming times, to contribute to this consciousness and leadership. That’s why we belong to the Socialist Workers Party. That’s why we’re building it up. That’s why we’re inviting you to join us in the great work of preparation for the great tomorrow.
by Mark L Thomas
KeIr Hardie was one of the key architects of the Labour Party, as Bob Holman’s book makes clear.
Two ideas were central to Hardie’s politics. First, the working class needed political representation independent of the Liberal and Tory parties.
Some trade union officials had entered alliances with the Liberals—they were known as “Lib-Labs”.
Hardie opposed this. His skill lay in constructing a coalition of socialists, trade unionists and radical liberals.
The creation of the Labour Party was a step forward, but it created contradictions for Hardie.
He attacked those on the left who wanted the Labour Party to be an openly socialist organisation. Hardie feared this would alienate the trade union leaders.
His second crucial idea was that parliament was the key to improving the position of working class people. He asked an open air meeting of workers in West Ham as he campaigned to be elected as a Labour representative, “How many lives would be saved if parliament were to be based on proper lines, and the representatives were honest working men instead of capitalists, as they now were?”
Hardie supported many strikes, but he didn’t see them as the solution, instead arguing that, “the propoganda of class hatred is not one which can ever take root in this country.”
Hardie believed that conflict between labour and capital could be solved by electing workers who were not tied to the wealthy industrialists.
They would then pass progressive laws in parliament.
He also saw public ownership of industry as a solution to the conflict between workers and capitalists.
But parliament does not control the state machine, which is dominated by vast unelected centres of power in the top civil service, the police and army.
And state run industries do not abolish class conflict. They have always exploited workers just as private industry has.
The central role of parliament for Hardie created a further tension. It meant that the parliamentary Labour Party should not be accountable to the party membership. He insisted, “rigidly laying down the lines which the party must follow... is the road to ruin.”
Throughout its history Labour’s leaders have simply ignored decisions taken by Labour members at its annual conference when they felt they were too left wing.
Hardie and other early Labour MPs threatened to resign when conference decisions didn’t go their way.
Hardie died 14 years before the first Labour government with a majority in parliament was elected.
The twentieth century has repeatedly put the party to the test of government office.
Labour governments have passed reforms that have benefited working class people—most notably the 1945-1951 government that laid the basis for the modern welfare state.
But they have always sided with big business when it counts. When capitalism is expanding, reforms for workers are possible. But winning reforms in an age of economic crisis is much harder.
In reality, parliament has very little power in the teeth of opposition by big business. Rebuilding the working class movement today cannot come by returning to the start of the parliamentary road, unsullied by betrayals and compromises.
There are important lessons to learn from how the Labour Party was formed. One is that it is vital to look to workers’ own struggles as the key to changing society.
But the other is the centrality of a revolutionary socialist party capable of winning workers away from reformism to a strategy that can smash the system, and build a new one in the interests of the many not the few.