Thursday, January 30, 2014

Capitalist trade pacts

U.S. imperialism’s
protectionist trade assault  

(The following excerpts from Capitalism’s World Disorder by Jack Barnes discuss the growing competition and rivalries that mark relations among the imperialist ruling classes, including France, Germany, and the other imperialist powers that make up the European Union. The first piece is from a talk by Barnes in November 1992 entitled, "The Vote for Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan’s ‘Culture War’: What the 1992 Elections Revealed." The second is from "So Far from God, So Close to Orange County: The Deflationary Drag of Finance Capital," a presentation at a regional socialist educational conference held in Los Angeles over the 1994-95 New Year’s weekend. Barnes is the national secretary of the Socialist Workers Party. Copyright © 1999 by Pathfinder Press, reprinted by permission. Subheadings are by the Militant.)


The prospect of a breakdown in world trade is slowly but surely increasing as interimperialist conflict sharpens today. During this year’s election campaign, Clinton competed with Perot and Buchanan to be the most aggressive-sounding candidate on questions of international trade. Clinton expressed doubts about signing the so-called North American Free Trade Agreement, at least before doing some arm-twisting and renegotiating with the Mexican and Canadian governments "to level the playing field." And Clinton’s backers in the trade union officialdom, and among bourgeois political figures who are Black, such as Jesse Jackson, were among the most vociferous in opposing what they called a "fast track" of "American jobs" to Mexico.1
At the same time, U.S. imperialism’s protectionist assaults against its trade rivals have bipartisan support. Just this month, for example, the Bush administration threatened to levy a 200 percent import tax on white wine and other European Community products in order to force the EC, especially the capitalists in France, to back off subsidies on soybeans and other agricultural products. These are aggressive, unilateral acts by Washington. They will be repeated in one form or another over and over again. The U.S. rulers’ European rivals may well back off this time, but crises like this will recur in the deflationary, depression conditions the capitalist world has entered. The stability and the patterns of world trade will be threatened. No one is in control of the pressures that erupt in these conflicts. Unilateral acts are taken in reaction to the perceived national interests of powerful capitalist classes that come into conflict with the national interests of competing capitalist classes. No one plans these clashes, and no one can ultimately prevent them.

No one plotted six months ago, for example, that a dispute over soybean oil would pose a threat to patterns of world trade that have been built up by the capitalist powers through negotiations since the end of World War II. But the conflict shaping up between Washington and Paris and other European imperialist powers is no joke. Carla Hills, the chief U.S. trade representative, is standing in front of TV cameras and saying, in essence, "Cheat us on soybeans and we’ll zap your white wine!"

Why is all this happening? The big-business media offers an explanation. From reading the papers and watching TV, you would think the dispute is about farmers. The problem is that farmers are being voraciously greedy--especially dirt farmers in France, who are portrayed as having more power than any social force on earth. They have supposedly pushed the entire French government to the wall. They have the European Community on the run. Working farmers in France, some of whom can barely eke out a living, are threatening to bring world trade to its knees!  
Big stakes in agricultural trade conflicts
But this is all demagogic camouflage. The dispute over soybeans and white wine is a direct conflict between some of the most powerful interests of rival national capitals--not a clash between debt-burdened independent commodity producers on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. France is today the number-two exporter of farm products in the world, following the United States. The profits are raked in by giant French commercial trusts that monopolize trade and banking both--not by working farmers. U.S. capitalists are the world’s largest traders of soybeans, accounting for close to 63 of the 86 million tons produced worldwide. So, there are big stakes for some of the largest monopolies in both countries.2

Moreover, the threatened tax on imported wine is less an assault on the French ruling class than it is a broadside by both Washington and London against the German ruling class, Paris’s partner in the conflict. We should not forget what Bonn did a month or so ago. In September, the world’s financiers, including those in Germany, decided to treat the pound sterling like a two-bit overvalued currency and crammed it down the Tory government’s throat. That was after finance capital had squeezed the pound for years, helping to precipitate the deepest and most prolonged recession in Britain since the Great Depression of the 1930s, one it is just now beginning to come out of. The German government and banks, however, teamed up with the French rulers to prevent the same thing from happening to the French franc. So, when Wall Street and Washington take aim at Paris over trade and financial policy, they often have locked Bonn in the cross hair as well.

These conflicts between rival national capitalist classes and governments are blowing apart the myth of a "united Europe" at an accelerating pace. Since the end of the so-called Cold War, bourgeois politicians and commentators have had trouble coming up with phrases to describe the world balance of power. They talked about a New World Order for awhile, but that did not seem to fit so well in light of the outcome of the Gulf War, the permanent crises in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, and the onset of depression conditions. So some of them began talking about "the tripolar world"--the United States, Europe, and Japan were the three poles. But that description of power relationships in today’s world has already bumped up against a big problem--there is no Europe pole.

How long ago was it that many ruling-class figures in Europe (especially in Bonn, and to a lesser degree Paris) were insisting that the European imperialist powers--whatever their problems and frictions--were on the road toward political unity? Members of the European Community would pool their funds--so the story went--and give some money to Ireland, to Portugal, to Greece, and even a little bit to Spain, so these countries could catch up and narrow the economic and social gap with the rest of capitalist Europe. They would adopt common social welfare rules, labor standards, and pollution controls. Eventually they would converge toward a common foreign and military policy. They would smooth out differences in productivity and eventually all agree to use the same tokens as a common currency. And then, this new and united Europe--with class differences slowly but surely disappearing for all practical purposes--would emerge big, powerful, and competitive with the United States and Japan.

The opposite has actually happened over the last decade, however. Despite all the talk about unity, the evolution of world capitalism has increased uneven development across Europe and made its character more explosive. And not just between the weakest capitalist powers in southern Europe and the rest. The gap has also widened, for example, between rates of capital accumulation and economic development in Britain and other, more powerful capitalist countries in Europe.3

With official unemployment at around 12 percent in France, the same kind of anti-immigrant scapegoating is on the rise there that we hear from Patrick Buchanan here in the United States. "Save American jobs!" "Save French jobs!" Just as in the United States, such nationalist demagogy is on the increase in France, including in the officialdom of the social democratic- and Stalinist-led parties and unions.

The French rulers are also continuing to press their defense of the franc fort--that is, keeping interest rates high in order to keep the franc strong, pegged to the German mark. That deflationary policy puts the squeeze on anybody who works for a living in France or who needs a job, whatever their national origin. But it serves the class interests of most of those who own and control wealth, and all of those who own bonds and hold debt.  
Borders more valued than ever

National boundaries are more important to the bourgeoisie today than at any time in history, just as they are becoming more porous than ever before. Forget the hoopla about European unity, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations. To the most powerful ruling families of world finance capital, borders are becoming more important, not less.

Why? Because national boundaries mark off two things the capitalist rulers need in order to maximize their wealth and protect it in face of rising competition.

One, boundaries define currencies. The borders of France define the area in which the franc is legal tender, backed by the full faith and credit of the state. The French bourgeoisie’s effort to keep the franc strong is important if they are to keep capital flowing into their coffers, not out.

Second, boundaries define the home base of the bourgeoisies’ armed forces. The French army stands behind the franc; that is the power that makes the franc more than a piece of paper when push comes to shove. French bankers do not want a devalued franc when it comes time to collect on their loans; the bourgeois state and its armed forces are the ultimate collection agency. It defends French finance capital against its rivals around the world and against the effrontery of working people from Paris to Rwanda, from Lyons to Martinique and Guadeloupe, and from New Caledonia to Marseilles.

The greatest single contradiction in world politics is the internationalization of both capital and labor, on the one hand, and, on the other, the growing conflicts among the most powerfully armed nation-states as a result of intensifying competition for profits. Marx and Engels explained this fundamental contradiction of capitalism many years ago, and Lenin and the Bolsheviks taught us why these conflicts are much more explosive and much more devastating for working people in the imperialist epoch.

We might look at the wars that have been fought in recent years and initially think: well, these all seem to be conflicts between imperialist powers and colonial countries, as in the Gulf War; or between big powers and oppressed peoples, as in Moscow’s assault against Chechnya; or civil wars between rival ruling groups in colonial countries or weaker workers states, as in Angola or in Yugoslavia. If we look a little more carefully, however, we can also see the mounting social tensions in world politics that lead to growing nationalist demagogy and rightist movements in the imperialist countries. We can see the class polarization that can and will fuel the war party--the nonpartisan bourgeois war party--in all the centers of finance capital. And we can recognize the threat of interimperialist armed conflicts and wars that can set humanity on the path toward a world conflagration.


1After wresting further concessions from Ottawa and Mexico City, Clinton did put NAFTA on the "fast track" for ratification by Congress, which did so in a bipartisan vote in November 1993; the trade agreement took effect in January 1994. Opposition to NAFTA also cut across bourgeois party lines, involving forces on the far right of the Republican party such as Buchanan; much of the so-called labor-liberal-civil rights coalition in the Democratic Party; and Perot and his supporters.

2The U.S. government withdrew its threatened import tax later in November 1992, when Washington wrested a concession from the European Community--over protests by Paris--on cuts in EC agricultural subsidies. In mid-1995 Washington threatened to impose a 100 percent import tax on thirteen models of Japanese-made automobiles until Tokyo agreed to "voluntary" quotas increasing the purchase of U.S.-made auto parts.

3According to a study reported in the May 14, 1996, issue of the London Financial Times, total manufacturing output in the United Kingdom between 1973 and 1992 grew by only 1.3 percent, compared to 16.5 percent in France, 32.1 percent in West Germany, and 68.6 percent in Italy. Over the same period, industrial output expanded by 68.9 percent in Japan and 55.2 percent in the United States, according to the same study.

U.S. government trade pacts

I've seen some discussion about the Tran-Pacific Partnership, which recalled this article about the approach to imperialist trade deals in general. It was written by Doug Jenness.

....Washington, Barnes points out, claims it's for free trade and less protectionism. But, he adds, "None of this has anything to do with advancing free trade, remedying unfair competition, or any of the other high-flown rationalizations emanating from the White House and bipartisan Congress. It's the use of power to drain surplus value from wherever it's produced by workers and toiling farmers into the pockets of capitalists in the United States."

Washington's political and military clout has given it an edge in imposing what it wants in recent trade deals, but every capitalist government is attempting to improve the competitiveness of the dominant capitalists in their countries. This involves trying to protect goods that have difficulty competing in the world market and breaking down the obstacles to getting more competitive goods into other countries. Both aspects become intertwined in all trade agreements. And by strengthening themselves against their rivals, each capitalist class is also trying to improve its ability to exploit working people at home.

Barnes points to the experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement. This, he says, was neither about free trade nor a plot by Yankee capitalists. Rather, Barnes states, "it is the codification of an agreement between capitalists in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, among other things, to carry through the wrenching, violent transformation of a still largely agricultural country into one that will serve as a platform for exporting manufactured goods. Capitalists on both sides of the border will profit."

Working people clearly cannot be neutral toward a pact with such devastating consequences for exploited producers. "But this does not mean," Barnes states, "there was anything at all progressive about the anti-NAFTA campaign waged over the past few years by the union officialdom, a minority of business interests, and capitalist politicians of both liberal and ultraright stripes in the United States and Canada. Often shedding crocodile tears over the low wages and poor working conditions of workers in Mexico, these `America-' and `Canada-firsters' warned against the `flight of capital' abroad and in fact counterposed defense of `U.S.' or `Canadian' jobs to the jobs of Mexican workers. On the part of the labor officialdom, this is nothing more than another rationalization for their class collaborationist course of refusing to organize workers anywhere - on either side of the borders - to defend our living and working conditions against the capitalist rulers in all three countries and beyond."

Meyer calls for a "neutral" position on capitalist trade pacts, but in point of fact, doesn't take a neutral stance in practice. Our reader opposes many, if not most, capitalist trade deals, while possibly backing others. It would be helpful, however, if Meyer pointed to a specific example of a capitalist trade pact that workers and farmers should be neutral on or endorse. I can't think of any. If working people in the United States, Japan, Sweden, or any other capitalist country get behind a trade deal being pushed by a section of the capitalist exploiters in their nations this can only lead to collaborating with "our" employers against "their" employers. We become accomplices in helping to squeeze more surplus value out of workers and farmers in other countries. It's by getting workers to accept the framework of the "national interest" in the economic field that the employers and their governments prepare the ground for defending the "national interest" when they go to war. This is what the experience of working people has clearly shown in relation to the EU, NAFTA, and other such accords....


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Joseph Hansen: What Is A Workers State? A Marxist appraisal

(The excerpt below is from the article "The problem of Eastern Europe" by Joseph Hansen, a long-time leader of the Socialist Workers Party. It was written in December 1949 and is published in its entirety in Class, Party, and State and the Eastern European Revolution, an Education for Socialists bulletin published by Pathfinder Press. The bulletin costs $7.00 and can be ordered from bookstores on page 12, or from Pathfinder (see address on page 9). The portion that follows deals with the question of what is a workers state. It is copyright Pathfinder Press and is reprinted by permission.)

One of the easiest errors to slip into when considering this question is to make a kind of fetish of the category "workers states." All of us tend to think of it as something glorious that arose to put an end to the blood and filth of capitalism. To this day an aura surrounds the words "workers state" because of all associations with [Russian Bolshevik leaders V.I.] Lenin and [Leon] Trotsky and the great emancipating struggle they led. We therefore find difficulty connecting it with anything base, and even when we insist on its degeneration in the USSR a brightness still clings to it. We want it to be something noble and great and inspiring....

To make a scientific appraisal, however, we must learn to cut through the superficial appearance. The state should be regarded as expressing a relation between classes. It is a relation of coercion that takes the form mainly of a civil bureaucracy and armed forces. Through this apparatus one class coerces or oppresses another....

The dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, as we all know, is based on private property in the means of production. To maintain this social relation it oppresses the working class.

The dictatorship of the proletariat begins with the elevation of the working class into a ruling class in place of the capitalists. The task of the new power is to end the social relation peculiar to the capitalist class. But this does not occur over night. Even a model workers state is still nothing but a hangover of capitalist society. On top of this, a workers state is forced to maintain for a time, even in the best of circumstances, bourgeois modes of distributing the national income.

We have a contradictory reality - a state that is based on destruction of bourgeois property forms and the nationalization of economy but which still retains vestiges of capitalism.

When this state eventually begins to wither away as the productive forces expand and all danger of a capitalist restoration vanishes, then we can first begin to speak of socialism, the lower stage of communism. If we call a workers state "socialist" it is more because of its aims and tendencies than what it is when it first emerges from the womb of capitalism.

A workers state is a transitional state, transitional between capitalism and socialism.

A healthy workers state carries this transition through as rapidly as possible by extending the revolution along the international spiral. But history has forced us to include in our general category a workers state that is not healthy, one that is retrogressing toward capitalism. This degenerated workers state, spilling over the frontiers fixed at the close of World War I, has upset capitalist property relations in Eastern Europe and given rise to formations that are pretty much replicas of the USSR. Their fate is intimately bound up with that of the Soviet Union. If the USSR must be included in our general category of a workers state, I do not think it is incorrect to include Yugoslavia and the other Eastern European countries where the capitalists have been displaced as the ruling class.

Social content and political form
In November, 1937, Trotsky wrote a most illuminating article on the character of the USSR. The title is "Not a Workers and Not a Bourgeois State? Political Form and Social Content."....

Written in a pedagogical manner, it picks up the theoretical threads of the pamphlet written four years earlier, The Soviet Union and the Fourth International. Trotsky explains the difference between the economic and social content of a workers state and the variegated political forms that it can assume.

Here is one of Trotsky's illuminating instances: "The domination of the Social Democracy in the State and in the Soviets (Germany 1918-1919) had nothing in common with the dictatorship of the proletariat inasmuch as it left bourgeois property inviolable. But the regime which guards the expropriated and nationalized property from imperialists is, independent of political forms, the dictatorship of the proletariat."....

"Only the intrusion of a revolutionary or a counter revolutionary force in property relations can change the class nature of the state," Trotsky emphasizes.... Then he continues: "But does not history really know of cases of class conflict between the economy and the state? It does! When the Third Estate seized power, society for a period of years still remained feudal. In the first months of Soviet rule the proletariat reigned on the basis of bourgeois economy. In the field of agriculture the dictatorship of the proletariat operated for a number of years on the basis of petty-bourgeois economy (to a considerable degree it does so even now). Should a bourgeois counterrevolution succeed in Russia, the new government for a lengthy period would have to base itself upon nationalized economy. But what does such a type of temporary conflict between economy and the state mean? It means a revolution or a counterrevolution. The victory of one class over another signifies that it will reconstruct the economy in the interests of the victory. But such a condition of transition appearing during the necessary time in every social revolution, has nothing in common with the theory of a classless state which in the absence of a real boss is being exploited by a clerk, i.e., by the bureaucracy."

This paragraph deserves the closest study and thought, in my opinion, for the light it can shed on the events in Eastern Europe. For one thing, it seems to me to place the question of the class relations in agriculture in their properly subordinate place in determining the character of the state.

More important, it indicates the contradiction that can exist for a time between the economy and state during a transition period. Finally, it reaffirms the Marxist law that a fundamental change in property relations cannot occur without the intrusion of a revolutionary or counterrevolutionary force. The events in Eastern Europe constitute a test of these propositions. The problem is to work out how they either confirm or invalidate Trotsky's theses....

Criteria and norms
To illustrate his meaning, Trotsky uses the familiar analogy between a workers state and a trade union. Our norm, embodied in the program we fight for, calls for a trade union to be an organization of class struggle. But reality gives a different kind of trade union, in fact a great variety of them. Some of them are definitely reactionary but that doesn't mean they are not trade unions.

Trotsky then tells us by what criteria we can distinguish both trade unions and workers states: "The class character of the state is determined by its relation to the forms of property in the means of production. The character of such a workers organization as that of a trade union is determined by its relation to the distribution of national income." Because William Green & Co. defend private property in the means of production they are bourgeois. So long as the AFL bureaucracy is forced to defend the workers' share of the national income, however, they continue to head genuine trade unions. "This objective symptom is sufficient in all important cases to permit us to draw a line of demarcation between the most reactionary trade union and an organization of scabs."

Market `Reforms' Exacerbate Crisis, Struggle In Russia

(Below we print an excerpt from "Imperialism's march toward fascism and war" from the Marxist magazine New International no. 10. The article is based on talks by SWP national secretary Jack Barnes in 1994. New International is copyright c 1994 by 408 Printing and Publishing Corp., and reprinted by permission.)
.... Despite the horrors meted out to working people in the name of "socialism" by the former Stalinist regimes, workers were not so badly defeated by the bureaucratic castes in these countries that they have simply been ready to acquiesce to, let alone internalize, all the culture, values, and attitudes that are necessary to the expanded reproduction of capitalist social relations.

Virtually every step by the U.S. rulers with regard to Russia over the past few years -whether advocated and guaranteed by the White House, by Congress, by university professors or Wall Street technocrats - has ended up setting back attempts by the regime there to win broader layers of working people to the glories of capitalism and has undercut Washington's chosen favorites. It's not that the U.S. rulers consciously set out to destabilize Russia. To the contrary! They aimed to collaborate with the aspiring bourgeoisie emerging out of the privileged caste in Russia to reimpose capitalism and zap the workers and other toilers. Given the decades of police-state repression by the Stalinist regimes in the USSR, the imperialist rulers assumed the working class in Russia would be an easy mark. They condescendingly told Yeltsin to use "shock therapy" against the workers, go along with U.S. foreign policy as Gorbachev had done during the Iraq war, and turn over Russia's nuclear weapons. The job would be even easier in the rest of Central and Eastern Europe, the U.S. rulers assumed.

But Washington and other imperialist powers and agencies delivered on only a small percentage of the billions of dollars in economic assistance they pledged to Moscow and the other regimes. The "shock therapy" urged by finance capital's academic wizards and other "advisers"- wholesale plant shutdowns; elimination of food, rent, and other price subsidies; the slashing of education, pension, health, and other hard-earned and desperately needed entitlements - magnified impoverishment and social instability. The new regimes have repeatedly been forced to back off these draconian policies in fear of setting social forces in motion that could spiral beyond their control.

The big majority of toilers in these countries reveled in getting the Stalinist boot off their necks. But they are resisting efforts to make them accept as normal the joblessness, social insecurity, and dog-eat- dog competition produced and reproduced by the workings of capitalism. They're defending the social conquests that have survived in the workers state, in however tattered condition, despite decades of police- state terror and massive corruption by the petty- bourgeois castes. It's a class question.

In the past couple of months I've noticed that even opinion polls in Russia and eastern Germany reinforce this assessment. One taken by the Russian Academy of Science at the end of 1993 found that support for "economic reforms" in Russia had dropped from about 40 percent of those surveyed in 1989 to less than 25 percent. The majority of those polled agreed with the statement that "privatization is legalized theft." And according to the German Economic Ministry itself, a survey in eastern Germany in December 1993 found that support for the "market economy" had dropped to 35 percent from 77 percent in February 1990.

Of course, this doesn't mean that the working class in any of these deformed workers states has a class- struggle leadership, let alone a communist vanguard. Communist continuity was broken by the Stalinist murder machine in these countries decades ago and is yet to be reknit. As a result of Stalinism's counterrevolutionary legacy, even the most rudimentary support for socialism versus capitalism as a conscious alternative exists only among small numbers of workers and youth.

But as events of the past half decade have demonstrated, it would be dead wrong to conclude that workers in these countries have been transformed into warm-blooded robots to produce surplus value for the world bourgeoisie. Neither Stalinist police terror nor the procapitalist course of the new regimes has been able to crush and atomize the working class.

Having gone through two presidents, Gorbachev and Yeltsin; too many prime ministers and cabinets to remember; and two botched coup attempts, the upshot of half a decade of U.S. imperialism's efforts to advance capitalist restoration in Russia is that the economy and society as a whole have been driven into deeper crisis and social dislocation. As Moscow seeks to reassert dominance over the now-independent countries that once made up the USSR, rival factions among the privileged layers in those lands divide over relations with Russia. The grab for territory and resources is draped in Yugoslavia-style nationalist demagogy on all sides. Parts of the former Soviet Union are intermittently engulfed in civil war.

But the workers in city and countryside in Russia and other former Soviet republics have not been won to the course of capitalist restoration, or to acquiescence to its consequences.

U.S. rulers' 'Cold War' failed to destroy workers states

....(Printed below are excerpts from U.S. Imperialism has Lost the Cold War, by Jack Barnes. The resolution was discussed and adopted by the 1990 national convention of the Socialist Workers Party. The entire resolution is published in New International no. 11 Copyright © 1998 by 408 Printing and Publishing Corp., reprinted by permission.)

1. The "Cold War" was the term used to describe the strategic military course forced upon U.S. imperialism and its allies in face of the limitations imposed by the international balance of class forces coming out of World War II. These limitations made impossible for the foreseeable future the use of massive armed forces to accomplish Washington's strategic goal--overturning the Soviet Union and Eastern European workers states and reestablishing capitalism there.

During the period just after World War II, Washington was blocked from pursuing this goal by the refusal of the GIs to go back to war, this time against former allies, the Soviet Union and the workers and peasants of China. Faced with a popular "Bring Us Home!" movement organized by the soldiers themselves, the imperialist rulers were politically forced to live up to their promises to demobilize the bulk of their armed forces.1
The U.S.-organized imperialist assault on Korea in 1950, which tested the "back door" military approach to the Soviet Union, failed in its objective to overturn the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as the war ended in a stalemate at the thirty-eighth parallel.
The consequences of the aggression against Korea speeded the overturn of capitalist property and the consolidation of a workers state in neighboring China. Massive numbers of Chinese worker and peasant volunteers poured across the Yalu River to fight together with the Korean people to turn back the imperialist invading forces.
The imperialists concluded that the political price they would pay throughout Asia for unleashing nuclear weapons for a second time in the region precluded their use in the Korean conflict. The difficulties of maintaining a politically unpopular land war in Asia against a workers state foreshadowed the U.S. defeat in Vietnam some two decades later.
The war left a divided Korea, denied its national unification after more than half a century of occupation by Tokyo and Washington. This remains the most important and explosive unresolved national division imposed by the victors of World War II.
By the latter half of the 1950s, the USSR's development of nuclear weapons and space technology convinced the imperialists that the risks of massive destruction not only of capitalist Europe but also the United States were too great to consider a direct assault against the Soviet and Eastern European workers states. Since the end of the 1960s, the Soviet Union has had rough parity with U.S. imperialism in nuclear weaponry and delivery systems (parity not in the sense of equal numbers of warheads and missiles, but the capacity of both governments to inflict devastating damage against each other--Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD, in Pentagon lingo).2

2. Given these realities, Washington was restricted during the Cold War to using its military power to attempt to contain any extension of the revolutionary overturn of imperialist domination and capitalist property relations. Its strategic effort to weaken the Soviet and Eastern European workers states became one of applying pressure on the bureaucratic castes to police the working class, squelch all political initiatives, and keep working people isolated from the struggles of workers and peasants around the world, with all the depoliticizing and demoralizing consequences that flow from such a separation.
For imperialism this was an unavoidable interlude, preparing for the day when the workers states would be sufficiently weakened by Stalinist policies that demoralized the working class to make possible their destruction in a direct imperialist assault.
Instead, what has culminated in 1989 and 1990 is an accelerating and irreversible crisis of the Stalinist parties and parasitic petty-bourgeois castes on which they are based, whose counterrevolutionary policies have been weakening the degenerated or deformed workers states for decades.
The workers states and their proletarian property foundations have proven stronger than the castes.
Although brutalized and depoliticized, the working class in the workers states has demonstrated its ability--even within the limits of bourgeois trade union consciousness--to resist the economic and social consequences of the deepening parasitism and bureaucratism of the governing castes.
This resistance, beginning with the Polish workers' uprising in 1980, has triggered the crises that are now ravaging the regimes across Eastern and Central Europe and in the Soviet Union.
The workers of these countries will resist the consequences of moving toward capitalist restoration even more fiercely.
These events confirm the continuing truth of the prognosis advanced by communists in the 1930s. As succinctly put by Trotsky: "As a conscious political force the bureaucracy has betrayed the revolution. But a victorious revolution is fortunately not only a program and a banner, not only political institutions, but also a system of social relations. To betray it is not enough. You have to overthrow it. The October revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum, but not yet overthrown."3

3. With the betrayers--who have been the biggest obstacle to strengthening the workers states--either crumbling or on the defensive, and with prospects of a military assault against the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe less feasible than ever before, imperialism still confronts the same historic battle, but from a weakened position. Instead of waging a "Cold War" against the petty-bourgeois regimes of the bureaucratic caste, imperialism will have to directly take on and try to defeat the working class in order to overthrow the workers states and reestablish capitalism in Eastern and Central Europe and the Soviet Union.
1. See "1945: When U.S. Troops Said 'No!'" by Mary-Alice Waters in New International no. 7.
2. Despite John F. Kennedy's demagogy during his 1960 U.S. presidential campaign against Richard Nixon, alleging a "missile gap" that gave the USSR a military advantage over Washington, the truth was the opposite. In 1962 the U.S. government had some 5,000 nuclear warheads and 500 intercontinental missiles, while the Soviet Union had 300 or fewer nuclear warheads and only a few dozen missiles. The Soviet government stated that it reached parity with Washington in the number of missile launchers in 1971, although Moscow continued to have many fewer warheads. Currently Washington has more than 7,100 nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine launchers, and bombers; Russia has some 6,200 warheads.

3. Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? (Pathfinder, 1972), pp. 227. m/2001/6517/651749.html

Are former Soviet states capitalist?

Tim Jones writes in a letter to the editor that “it’s pretty clear that capitalism has not been restored, at least not completely,” in countries such as Russia where socialist revolutions were successfully carried out in the past. He asks, “Are these countries still ‘workers’ states’ or are they somewhere between workers states and capitalism?”
This question is addressed in New International no. 11, “U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War.” It describes the foundations of what socialists call a workers state as “state property, a monopoly on foreign trade, and economic planning, established through the expropriation of the bourgeoisie.” This is a transitional state along the long-term road to establishing socialism as part of the world struggle against imperialist and capitalist exploitation and oppression. As such, a workers state can go backward toward a capitalist one, but so far none have.

The workers state is not simply a block of nationalized property. It is fundamentally a set of social relations conquered by the working class in its struggle for state power. It will take another struggle—a counterrevolutionary war, in fact—to reverse such relations. That war has not yet been joined anywhere in the world, although it remains a key goal of the imperialist rulers.

Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky explained this in The Revolution Betrayed, describing why the Soviet Union remained a workers state despite the takeover of the government and party by a privileged bureaucratic caste led by Joseph Stalin. “As a conscious political force the bureaucracy has betrayed the revolution,” Trotsky wrote. “But a victorious revolution is fortunately not only a program and a banner, not only political institutions, but also a system of social relations. To betray it is not enough. You have to overthrow it.

“The [Russian] revolution has been betrayed by the ruling stratum, but not yet overthrown. It has a great power of resistance, coinciding with the established property relations, with the living force of the proletariat, the consciousness of its best elements, the impasse of world capitalism, and the inevitability of world revolution.”

Today, proletarian property forms continue to dominate industry and agriculture in Russia and other workers states including in Eastern Europe. A 1998 report by the pro-imperialist Freedom House found that 95 percent of state and collective farms in Russia “are largely unreformed,” meaning the land has not been privatized. That situation has not changed much since then. And while a substantial amount of industry has been turned over to private owners, the core of industry remains nationalized.

The strike in October by 24,000 coal miners in Kazakhstan, formerly part of the Soviet Union, shows why many foreign capitalist firms are reluctant to pour money into the workers states. The miners walked off the job after a blast killed 41 miners at the Lenin mine owned by Dutch-based steel giant Mittal. They only returned when Mittal promised to double their wages and improve mine equipment.

The socialist consciousness Trotsky refers to no longer exists in the bureaucratized workers states. Decades of Stalinist miseducation and repression destroyed that. That explains the fact that today Stalinist parties in those countries are sometimes voted into office despite their anti-working-class politics.

What does exist in these countries is a trade union consciousness and the assumption by the working class of the right to a historically defined minimal social wage. These remain the first great obstacle that will lead to massive struggles in the workers states against the reimposition of capitalism.

One of the most important gains from the collapse of Stalinist governments and parties in the former Soviet bloc countries is that the myth that these counterrevolutionary gangs represented Marxism has been shattered. They are no longer able to derail revolutionary anti-imperialist and anticapitalist struggles in the way they did previously. That bodes well for the development, over time, of a new working-class leadership on a world scale, including in the bureaucratized workers states.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

"The Unfolding New World Situation" by Jack Barnes [1973]

An international comrade has been motivating me to study the trove of Socialist Workers Party document bulletins on the Marxist Internet Archive.  This has also sent me back to my own bookshelves and files this weekend.

The book Dynamics of World Revolution Today [Pathfinder Press, 1974] contains many documents useful in understanding the international struggle to build communist parties carried out in 1963-1973.  One of the most interesting is the April 1973 SWP National Committee report  "The Unfolding New World Situation" delivered by Jack Barnes.  His summation then remains true today:  "We view the construction of Leninist parties not as a preferable method but as the necessary method to lead the workers to victory and to guarantee that victory.  That is the road we are determined to follow."

Black liberation and the proletarian party: Trotsky's discussions with C.L.R. James

The name C.L.R. James came up in a discussion on Facebook today.  This sent me back to Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power [Pathfinder Press, Second Printing, 2010] by Jack Barnes. Pages 307-313 seem to cover the question well. is then possible that the Negroes will become the most advanced section.... It is very possible that the Negroes will proceed through self-determination to the proletarian dictatorship in a couple of gigantic strides, ahead of the great bloc of white workers. They will then be the vanguard. I am absolutely sure that they will in any case fight better than the white workers.

But this can only happen, Trotsky emphasized, "provided the communist party carries on an uncompromising, merciless struggle not against the supposed national prepossessions of the Negroes but against the colossal prejudices of the white workers"-prejudices brought into the working class by the bourgeoisie and the imperialist masters, through their petty-bourgeois agents-"and makes no concession to them whatsoever."

This is what Trotsky had learned from Lenin, the central leader of the Bolshevik Party and Communist International, and from his own long revolutionary experience in the tsarist prison house of nations. Trotsky had deepened this under- standing through his discussions with delegates from the United States to the first four congresses of the Communist International from 1919 through 1922. And this is what he worked with the Socialist Workers Party leadership and the rest of the world communist movement, from 1929 until his death, to apply in practice.

Struggle for a proletarian party

In April 1939,a little more than six years after his discussions with Swabeck, Trotsky took part in another exchange on the struggle for Black liberation and proletarian revolution in the United States. The discussions were held in Coyoacan, near Mexico City, where Trotsky was then living in exile. And this time they were not initiated by the central leadership of the Socialist Workers Party, but by C.L.R. James, a Trinidadian-born writer who had joined our world movement in Britain in 1935.James was in his mid-thirties at the time.3

Trotsky initially took an active interest in collaborating with this new Afro-Caribbean recruit. In a May 1938 letter to James P. Cannon, Trotsky noted that James had written a book (World Revolution) a year earlier criticizing Trotsky "very sharply from an organizational point of view." The ultraleft political line of the book, Trotsky said, was undoubtedly "a theoretical justification of [James's]own policy toward the Independent Labour Party" in the United Kingdom, one of several centrist organizations in Europe that James adapted to politically.4

Trotsky nonetheless urged Cannon to involve James in the work of the world movement and to seek to convince him "that his criticisms are not considered by anyone of us an item of hostility or an obstacle to friendly collaboration in the future."5  Toward the end of 1938 James visited the United States to live and travel for a period of time, and the SWP leadership collaborated with him to advance the party's work in defense of Black rights. In early 1939 James wrote to Trotsky proposing the discussions in Mexico.

At the time, the Socialist Workers Party had made relatively little progress since the discussion between Trotsky and Swabeck in involving itself in political work among workers and farmers who were Black. In preparing for the discussion with James, Trotsky wrote Cannon that the "party cannot postpone this extremely important question any longer."6

As with the discussions six years earlier, Trotsky's exchange with James opened on the question of the right to national self-determination for Blacks in the United States. Trotsky was taken aback by James's assertion - a position held by no one in the central leadership of the SWP - that self-determination for Blacks in the United States was "economically reactionary" and "politically false." Trotsky responded sharply and strongly: "We cannot say [self-determination] will be reactionary. It is not reactionary .... [W]e can say, 'It is for you [African Americans] to decide. If you wish to take a part of the country, it is all right, but we do not wish to make the decision for you.'"

First and foremost, however, the 1939 discussions with James put a spotlight on the working-class program and composition that is the bedrock of any revolutionary party capable of organizing and leading a victorious battle by the toilers to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat in the United States-or in any other capitalist country. The discussions took the form of an exchange on James's proposal that the Socialist Workers Party take the initiative to launch and help lead an independent Black organization of militant action. Acknowledging he was not familiar with "the concrete situation in Negro circles in the United States," Trotsky nevertheless took the proposal seriously and organized two sessions with James, together with cadres of the SWP, to consider it.

"If another party had organized such a mass movement, we would surely participate as a fraction, providing that [the movement] included workers, poor petty bourgeois, poor farmers, and so on," Trotsky said. "We would enter for the purpose of educating the best elements and winning them for our party. But this is another thing. What is proposed here is that we take the initiative," said Trotsky.

Trotsky steered clear of tactical judgments about the SWP's work in the class struggle in the United States. But his political criteria for assessing this proposal were the opposite of James's. Trotsky focused on the class orientation of such an organization: Would our cadres seek to build it among workers and rural toilers who were Black?  Would we fight within it for a revolutionary program to advance the struggle for power in the United States?

James pointed to some examples of individuals and cur- rents that might be brought into such an organization. The information James provided "shows that we can have some elements for cooperation in this field," Trotsky said. At the same time, he noted, it "limits the immediate perspective of the organization." How and why did it limit those perspectives? Because, Trotsky said, it's necessary to ask the question: "Who are these elements?" And he answered: "The majority are Negro intellectuals, former Stalinist functionaries and sympathizers."

Trotsky noted that white intellectuals who earlier in the 1930s had been briefly attracted to communism had largely gone "back to Roosevelt and democracy"-imperialist democracy, that is. But "the disappointed Negro intellectuals looked for a new field on the basis of the Negro question," Trotsky continued. Yes,communist workers can and should seek to collaborate with them on defense campaigns, to raise money for common goals, and so on. "That is one thing," he told James, "but you consider these Negro intellectuals for the directing of a mass movement." And that was neither possible nor, above all, desirable.

Trotsky pointed to the danger that such an organization "will become a game for the intellectuals," whom, he added, "keep themselves separated from the masses, always with the desire to take on the Anglo-Saxon culture and of be- coming an integral part of the Anglo-Saxon life"-that is, their desire to become integrated into the professional and middle classes of capitalist society, of "white" America.7  An independent Black organization, Trotsky said, "can justify itself only by winning workers, sharecroppers, and so on."

These exchanges with James on our movement's proletarian orientation had a substantial impact on the two SWP members present for the discussions in Mexico: Charles Curtiss, a cadre of the party since the founding of the Communist League of America in 1929, and Sol Lankin, also a founding CLA member and at the time a guard in Trotsky's household. "Would this organization throw its doors open to all classes of Negroes?" Lankin asked James.
Yes, said James. "The bourgeois Negro can come in to help, but only on the basis of the organization's program." That didn't satisfy Lankin, however. "I cannot see how the Negro bourgeoisie can help the Negro proletariat fight for its economic advancement," Lankin added.

So James tried another tack. "In our own movement some of us are petty bourgeois," he replied to Lankin. That was James's attitude to the class composition of the party! It was a political approach that flew in the face of the systematic campaign being carried out by the majority of the SWP leadership and cadres at the time to proletarianize the party from top to bottom. This effort was being made at Trotsky's urgent insistence.

As delegates to the party's convention had decided some fifteen months earlier, "We will not succeed in rooting the party in the working class, much less to defend the revolutionary proletarian principles of the party from being undermined, unless the party is an overwhelmingly proletarian party, composed in its decisive majority of workers in the factories, mines, and mills." The January 1938 convention decided that such a "complete reorientation of our party, from the membership up to the leadership and back again, is absolutely imperative and unpostponable."8

Following up in response to James's comments, Trotsky underlined the life-or-death character of the proletarian orientation that guided the SWP, and its inseparable relationship with deepening the party's work among African Americans. "Our party is not safe from degeneration if it remains a place for intellectuals, semi-intellectuals, skilled workers," Trotsky emphasized. "... Many times I have pro- posed that every member of the party, especially the intellectuals and semi-intellectuals, who, during a period of say six months, cannot each win a worker-member for the party should be demoted to the position of sympathizer. We can say the same in [relation to] the Negro question."

Returning to points that had been central to his discussions with SWP leader Arne Swabeck several years earlier, Trotsky added:

We must say to the conscious elements of the Negroes that they are convoked by the historic development to become a vanguard of the working class. What serves as the brake on the higher strata? It is the privileges, the comforts that hinder them from becoming revolution- ists. It does not exist for the Negroes.

What can transform a certain stratum, make it more capable of courage and sacrifice? It is concentrated in the Negroes. If it happens that we in the SWP are not able to find the road to this stratum, then we are not worthy at all....

It is a question of the vitality of the party. It is an important question. It is a question of whether the party is to be transformed into a sect or if it is capable of finding its way to the most oppressed part of the working class.


3. Transcripts of the three discussions can be found in Part III of this book, pp. 257-91.
4. These centrist organizations included the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in Britain, the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) in Spain, the Socialist Workers and Peasants Party (PSOP) in France, and others. Between 1932 and 1939 they clustered together under the umbrella "The London Bureau." Zigzagging between Stalinism and Social Democracy, these organizations contributed to the bloody defeat of the revolution in Spain, added to the disorientation of the workers movement in France, and created substantial obstacles to efforts led by Trotsky to rebuild the world communist movement across Europe and beyond.
5. "On C.L.R. James" in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1937-38) (Path- finder, 1976), pp. 385-86 [2009 printing].
6. "More on Our Work in the Communist Party" (April 10, 1939), in Writings of Leon Trotsky (1938-39) (Pathfinder, 1969, 1974), pp. 341- 42 [2004 printing].
7.Except for a tiny handful of individuals, that desire was a vain hope in the Jim Crow America of the 1930s-the Jim Crow America, not just the Jim Crow South. As a by-product of the victorious Black rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, however, a layer of the African American population in the United States has today taken great strides toward achieving that aspiration. See "The Cosmopolitan 'Meritocracy' and the Changing Class Structure of the Black Nationality" in Part II of this book.-JB
8. See "The Political Situation and the Tasks of the Party," and "The Trade Union Movement and the Socialist Workers Party," in The Founding of the Socialist Workers Party (Pathfinder, 1982), pp. 145, 162, 2001 printing].

Saturday, January 25, 2014

George Novack on "negation of the negation"

From the glossary in George Novack's Polemics in Marxist Philosophy

negation of the negation - one of the basic laws of dialectics, flowing from the unity and struggle of opposites and the transformation of quantity into quality.  Every object or condition is characterized by internal contradiction between a positive and a negative pole - that which exists and that which is coming into being.  At the first dialectical leap, or negation, the old framework is broken, the previously subordinate quality or object in the relationship becomes dominant, and a new framework is established with a new set of internal contradictions.  In both Hegelian and Marxist dialectics, this rupture is referred to as transcendence, rather than mere empty negation of the previous status quo, because there is an element of continuity and development as well as destruction.  The concept of the negation of the negation traces this element of transcendence over a longer period of time.  It is the logical means of conceptualizing evolution over time, on the premise that natural and social processes are sufficiently determinate to show long-term cyclical patterns.  Common examples given include the life cycles of living species, where birth represents the breakup of the previous unity of the parent organism for the first negation, with the stage where the progeny reach reproductive age representing the second negation, or the negation of the negation.  In social evolution, a common example is the negation of primitive social property by the rise of private property and class society, followed by the eventual emergence of the proletariat, which moves toward the second stage, the negation of private property and the reestablishment of social property on a higher level, for a negation of the negation.  From these examples  it can be seen that Marx's concept is not purely cyclical but more like a spiral in which the conclusion of the complete process also involved evolution and progress toward a higher level of organic or organizational complexity, and not mere repetition.

from Polemics in Marxist Philosophy [Pathfinder, 1978] page 315.

George Novack on Louis Althusser

George Novack's excellent collection "Polemics in Marxist Philosophy" (Pathfinder, 1978) ends with a thirty page glossary where Novack summarizes many left philosophical personalities untouched in the book's articles.

Whither Ukraine?

Ukrainians defy new law attacking right to protest
Fight against Russian boot fuels ongoing actions 


Some 100,000 people demonstrated in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, Jan. 19 to demand repeal of new laws that curtail the right to protest. Underlying months of anti-government protests are national aspirations of the Ukrainian people, who — with the exception of the early years of the Russian Revolution — have lived for centuries under Russian domination.

Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich pushed through the law in an attempt to undercut protests that began in November when he backed out of a deal to sign a trade and “association” agreement with the European Union and instead moved to maintain close economic and political ties with the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At the time hundreds of thousands took to the streets, demanding that Yanukovich resign. A central slogan at opposition demonstrations has been, “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the nation! Ukraine above all!”

The leadership of the protests comprises a heterogeneous coalition of bourgeois parties pressing for integration into the EU. Three of these parties have seats in Parliament: Fatherland, led by jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoschenko; UDAR — punch in Ukrainian — led by Vitali Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion who campaigns on an anti-corruption platform; and ultrarightist Svoboda (Freedom), which scapegoats Jews and has introduced bills to ban abortions and “communist ideology.”

The new law passed by Parliament last week bans the unauthorized public installation of tents or stages and the use of loudspeakers in public and imposes jail terms for participating in “mass disorder” and wearing balaclavas or helmets.

Some protesters who fought with police defiantly wore saucepans and colanders on their heads. Some 1,500 protesters needed medical attention after the clashes.

Centuries under Russian boot
The suppression of national rights in Ukraine goes back centuries. Eastern Ukraine became a possession of the Romanov Dynasty in 1654 and from that time on the feudal monarchy carried out a policy of Russification there. While rule over the western part changed hands between Austria, Poland and Russia over centuries, the tsars banned the Ukrainian language, suppressed the Ukrainian church and promoted Russian colonization, in the areas under its control.

By the early 1900s Ukraine made up 20 percent of the population of the Russian empire, which at the time was comprised in its majority of non-Russian peoples who faced varying degrees of subjugation. It was a “prison house of nations,” in the words of V.I. Lenin, central leader of the Bolshevik Party and 1917 Russian Revolution.

The Ukrainian bourgeoisie remained small and weak. The ruling class and urban middle classes were drawn from Russia and other nationalities. “In the Ukraine and White Russia,” wrote Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky in 1932, “the landlord, capitalist, lawyer, journalist, was a Great Russian, a Pole, a Jew, a foreigner; the rural population was wholly Ukrainian and White Russian.”

At the same time, Ukraine was a key conquest of the empire, serving as a breadbasket for Russia and major source of its coal and iron production.

Among the central tasks of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution under Lenin’s leadership was the emancipation of tens of millions of oppressed peoples — from the culturally more advanced people of the Baltic region to the Muslims of the Caucasus to nomadic tribes of the Far East.

The Bolshevik Party’s championing of the right of oppressed nations to self-determination leading up to the revolution was decisive in uniting, educating and organizing the working class to take political power, which included forging an alliance with the peasant majority from all backgrounds.

The Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party stated in November 1919 that Bolsheviks in Ukraine “must put into practice the right of the working people to study in the Ukrainian language and to speak their native language in all Soviet institutions; they must in every way counteract attempts at Russification that push the Ukrainian language into the background.”

The new policy of Ukrainization helped the Bolsheviks win over the Ukrainian Borotba (struggle) Party, which merged with the Ukrainian Communist Party in 1920.

Stalin murder machine
But by the early 1920s the degeneration of the Bolshevik Party had begun, personified by the rise to power of Josef Stalin after the death of Lenin in 1924. Stalin headed a counterrevolution representing the interests of a growing privileged social layer centered in the increasingly bureaucratic state apparatus. This reactionary caste reversed the Bolshevik’s course and resurrected the Great Russian chauvinism of the empire, including the re-subjection of oppressed people, this time under the false banner of “communism.”

“Nowhere did the purges and repression assume such a savage character as they did in the Ukraine,” Trotsky wrote in 1939.

Russification of Ukraine was revived. From 1959 to 1989 the number of Russians rose from 16.9 percent of Ukraine’s population to 22.1 percent.

When the Stalinist regime in Russia and Eastern Europe finally collapsed under pressure of growing social contradictions in the early 1990s, the new regime continued to dominate Ukraine, whose industry remained closely linked to that of Russia. Moscow supplies 60 percent of gas used in Ukraine and has turned off the spigot twice to force compliance with the Putin government’s demands.

Competing factions of emerging and aspiring capitalists arose following the collapse of the Soviet Union, drawn largely from remnants of the Soviet bureaucracy. In Ukraine, the factional contest was partially based on divisions of east and west, Russian and Ukrainian, orientation toward Moscow and the West. Meanwhile, the national aspirations among Ukrainian working people against the Russian boot remain strong.

At the end of 2004, in what became known as the Orange Revolution, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly from the western part of the country took to the streets to oppose the continuing Russian domination of the country and what they saw as a rigged election that gave the presidency to Yanukovich, who was then prime minister.

As a result, a new election was called and bourgeois opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko was elected president, taking office in 2005, but a series of corruption scandals left him with little support by the end of his term.

Today about four out of every six people in Ukraine are ethnic Ukrainians and speak the Ukrainian language. One in six are ethnic Russians who speak Russian and roughly one in six are ethnic Ukrainians who speak Russian. Russian is the main language in much of the eastern and southern part of the country, areas which are more economically developed.

Yanukovich returned to the presidency after winning elections in 2010. In July 2012 his Party of Regions successfully passed a language law that encourages making Russian an official language in some regions.

The Ukrainian Week reported in March last year that the top eight Ukrainian TV stations broadcast less than a quarter of their prime-time content in Ukrainian. Less than 5 percent of the songs on the top six radio stations were in Ukrainian.

The United States is not an Orwellian "police state"

The U.S. middle class left has taken the Snowden revelations  as carte blanche for their hysteria that  the country is a "police state" and an Orwellian nightmare.  Anyone subscribing to feeds from outfits like Counterpunch, Socialist Worker, and Socialist Action will be familiar with this.  World Socialist Web Site, which never met a labor union or affirmative action program it didn't want to tear apart, has made daily obeisance to "revelations" its mantra for months.

For U.S. communists such "revelations" come as no surprise, and do not affront our sensibilities.  Wallowing in moral outrage and engaging in prurient rhetoric about "1984" does not match today's social reality.  Instead, it can demoralize and demobilize.  Today there is unprecedented political space in the United States for workers defend their class interests and reach out for solidarity.  (Indeed, protests against murderous cops and Stop-and-Frisk are an important defense of this space).

Here is the current Militant editorial, which speaks to this:

Gov’t spying attack on workers’ rights

President Barack Obama’s Jan. 17 speech on National Security Agency spying was intended to convince us that expanding spy operations and methods are nothing “ordinary folks” need to pay attention to. That’s for the bad guys. Don’t worry, we are told, spies are our friends, they’re just like us, and the president himself is on the case.

While the NSA’s data mining program is not directed at the working class in the U.S. today, the ongoing assault on rights and constitutional protections by the capitalists’ government is very much our concern.

Starting in the 1970s and escalating rapidly after 9/11, the propertied rulers have sought acceptance for their stepped-up spying as minor intrusions of privacy required of “us all” in face of “terrorist” threats to the homeland. “Why should you care if you’re not a terrorist?” they say.

NSA Internet spying is just one small piece of the government’s network of snoops, informants and provocateurs. The mass collection of communications records are an extension of airport luggage and body searches, X-ray screening in government buildings, appeals to report “suspicious bags” on the subway, increasing use of conspiracy charges to “stop attacks before they happen,” and stepped-up targeting of foreign-born residents, whether “legal” or “illegal.”

While many of these efforts are today primarily used by Washington against al-Qaedist organizations and adherents, the rulers seek to have them in place because they know they will face greater challenges in the future. As the crisis of capitalist production and trade deepens, the bosses will continue to increase their attacks on the living standards, working conditions and rights of the working class. They have a premonition of the coming class battles it will engender, which is part of what drives their attack on rights today.

The working class is the ultimate target of the bosses’ wiretaps, black-bag jobs, frame-ups and provocations. In addition to NSA electronic spying, the rulers are ramping up the FBI’s “counterterrorism” units. The New York cops’ Intelligence Unit alone numbers over 1,000. As labor actions and political protests increase, government plants and informers will be deployed to disrupt them.

The big majority of workers and farmers do not yet directly feel these developments are aimed at them. But increasingly more focused probes by the rulers will be seen as what they are — and resisted — as working people and the labor movement are pressed into struggle.

My blog's readers: by country

This week's readers of Marxist Update, based on the always inaccurate page-view count:

United States
United Kingdom

The tragedy of Amiri Baraka: A personal view

Who said Bush didn't do enough to prevent 9/11?
Who opposed busing in Boston?
Who supported Obama?
Who opposed Cuba's internationalist missions in Africa?
Who proclaimed his own birthday a High Holy Day?
Who race- and agent-baited during the 2007 Venezuela International Book Fair?
Who said Israel knew about 9/11?
Who? Who? Who?

On 9 January, in the break room at work, I saw the online announcements of Amiri Baraka's death.  In a fit of Facebook bravado, I posted this before returning to my cubicle:
"Amiri Baraka - another Democratic Party Stalinist Jew-hater bites the dust."

A comrade responded, "Brace yourself for a torrent of heart-wrenching memorials from the middle-class left."

Another comrade wrote, "Not classy.... not classy... Baraka was an amazing revolutionary artist."

Two weeks later, the poet has been buried and the obituaries have faded into the ether.  I was surprised by their breadth and scope.  The New Yorker paid attention to the Leroi Jones period.  The middle class left emphasized the career arc of beatnik-to-nationalist-to-Marxist, spending late paragraphs addressing, or failing to address, Baraka's anti-Semitic and conspiracy-mongering 2002 verse "Somebody Blew Up America."

Though I used to write a lot of poetry, and have read some, I am certainly not qualified to comment on the value of Baraka's verse.  Like that of Pablo Neruda, it does not appeal: privledging the verbal, straining after rhetorical effect, its moral overkill is - to put it mildly - unenticing to the eye and ear.  I have been reading Blues People this week, and find it useful as historical revision, but my ignorance of music is a real roadblock to appreciating the book's obvious passion.

Baraka's politics are another matter.  His career in U.S. politics was not unique.  Many radicalized by the mass proletarian civil rights movement that smashed Jim Crow, attracted by the example of the Cuban revolution, and mobilized in defense of Vietnam against Washington's invasion, moved toward communism in the period 19602-1980.  But like the 1930s radicalization, objective limits were imposed on the process: relative stability of the capitalist economy; the profound weight of Democratic Party bourgeois reformism; the misleading and corrosive effects of Stalinism, acting to thwart the development of communist leadership.

Many Black militants, awakening to political consciousness, found the counterfeit of communism, mostly in its Maoist variant.  Those like Baraka, inspired by the Cuban revolution, found themselves on a road that led to condemning Cuba as a colony of Soviet social imperialism.  Those like Baraka, inspired by worker and peasant mobilizations in the  colonial world, found themselves rejecting the revolutionary potential of the multinational U.S. working class, instead supporting the blood-drenched Democratic Party.

Over time this degeneration led to radical poses that obscured middle class reformism.  By 2002 Baraka was in the position to write a poem, "Somebody blew up America," as a hymn to ahistorical moralizing and conspiracy explanations for social reality.  In it, he could castigate George W. Bush for not preventing the 9/11 terrorist attacks, while at the same time claiming Israel knew about the attacks in advance. 

Who know why Five Israelis was filming the explosion And cracking they sides at the notion

Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers To stay home that day Why did Sharon stay away?

Who? Who? Who?

From that poem, Baraka was only six years away from embracing Barack Obama. 

But the nadir and summation of his political career may have been his interventions at the 2007 Venezuela International Book Fair in Caracas.  While there he participated in the forum "The United States: a possible revolution."

"Some twenty-two participants addressed the November 10-14 forum, almost all of whom had been involved in various social protest movements and political parties in the United States, " wrote Socialist Workers Party leader Norton Sandler about the event.  "....the majority traveled from North America to take part.  Widely diverging and often sharply counterposed views were debated in the course of what was, with one exception, a model of civil debate for the workers movement.  The exchange achieved an unusual degree of clarity on a number of central political questions.  The resolution of those questions, in the course of far-reaching class struggle, will decide whether the working class in the United States will be able to transform itself into a class with a mass political vanguard capable of successfully leading broad layers of oppressed and exploited toilers in a struggle for power." [cite]

The one exception was, alas, provided by Baraka.

Sandler goes on to detail the forum presentation of Socialist Workers Party leader Mary-Alice Waters:

....a sharpening capitalist financial and economic crisis like that opening today "will intensify the battle for the political soul of the working class" in face of efforts by employers to turn immigrants, workers who are Black and female, and others into scapegoats for mounting joblessness and worsening economic and social conditions.

Working people in the United States "face the same class enemy," Waters said, "and determined struggles on any front tend to pull workers together in face of the attempts to divide us."  More than ever before in history, she emphasized, a fighting vanguard capable of leading a successful revolutionary struggle in the United States today will bring together workers regardless of skin color, national origin, or sex.  As we fight alongside each other, "it becomes harder for the bosses to pit 'us' against 'them,'" she pointed out.  It becomes more possible to see that our class interests are not the same as those of 'our' bosses, 'our' government, or 'our' two parties.

A counterview to this perspective was expressed most sharply by panelist Amiri Baraka, a U.S. writer who has been active in Black nationalist, Maoist, and Democratic Party politics since the 1960s.  Baraka argued strongly that "white privilege" has derailed all potentially revolutionary struggles in U.S. history, including the powerful labor upsurge of the 1930s and the mass movement that brought down the institutions of Jim Crow segregation in the South by the end of the 1960s.  The failure of the "white left" to organize "whites" to fight "white privilege," he said, has spelled the doom of every movement for social change.

In this version of history, race-baiting rears its ugly head, as "white workers," with racist prejudices become the explanation for all defeats.  Missing is the responsibility borne by the Stalinist parties worldwide, from the mid-1930s on, for subordinating struggles by working people and the oppressed worldwide to Moscow's quest for peaceful coexistence with the imperialist rulers.  In the United States that meant diverting the great social movement that grew out of the battle to organize the industrial unions, channeling it toward support for the Democratic Party.  (In her remarks, Waters pointed out that as a result of such Stalinist political misleadership, "The revolutionary potential of the great radicalization in the 1930s was squandered and diverted into support for capitalism's 'New Deal' and then its inevitable successor, the 'War Deal" - the imperialist slaughter of World War II."  With the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s, she said, that "enormous political obstacle at least no longer stands across the road toward independent working class political action and revolutionary socialist leadership."

Participants in the audience pointed to examples of strikes and other recent struggles in the United States to which the employers have failed to achieve their objectives with divide-and-rule strategies that had long proved effective.  In response, Baraka said he did not share the opinion expressed by others that racial divisions could be overcome through such struggles, because "white leaders" are interested above all in protecting their privileged positions.  In short, "white privilege" is more powerful than common class interests.

....On the closing day of the forum, Baraka ended his presentation by reading his verse about the events of September 11, 2001, entitled "Somebody Blew Up America."  That piece asks: "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed / Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers / To stay home that day / Why did Sharon stay away?"

These bigoted, conspiracy-spinning allegations deny not only the facts of what happened on September 11, they conceal the plain truth of how capitalism works.  Above all, they deprive working people of the knowledge and confidence  that we are the makers of history - that our own conscious, revolutionary action, and only that, can remove the capitalist ruling families from power and prevent them from blowing up the world.

Following the initial remarks about the rich and all-powerful Jews, I took the floor to point out that Jew-hatred remains one of the most virulent anti-working class weapons of the ruling classes, as it has been for the past century and a half.  Recalling its ghastly consequences in the hands of Germany's imperialist rulers in the 1930s and '40s, I underlines the deadly threat to the workers movement of refusing to intransigently combat any and all scapegoating of Jews, Latinos, Blacks, gypsies, whites, or any other national or ethnic grouping. 

Agent-baiting was also introduced into the debate - the one departure from civil discussion noted earlier - and it was answered.  Baraka accused one fellow panelist of hiding that he was a "Trotskyite" and another of being an "agent" (of some unnamed power) whose objective was to abet the mobilization of a reactionary student movement in the streets of Venezuela to overthrow the government of Hugo Chavez.

Waters replied to Baraka.  Thanking the book fair organizers for making possible the expression of a broad range of views as part of the forum, she stressed that in order for civil debate to take place, "the poison of agent- and race-baiting" must be condemned by all.

Sandler also recounts Baraka's own political stance on U.S. politics as expressed on the panel:

....If the bourgeois-democratic revolution was incomplete, then bourgeois reform is what's on the agenda.  He laid out his program to complete that task as part of a bloc with sections of the Black bourgeoisie.  The program he spelled out was aimed not at advancing a revolutionary struggle by the working class and its allies to take power out of the hands of the capitalist rulers.  Instead, Baraka advocated rewriting the bourgeois constitution of the United States and replacing the current bicameral Congress with a unicameral parliamentary system similar to what exists in the majority of imperialist powers!

Nothing could have been in sharper contrast to Waters' opening remarks that, "Yes, revolution IS possible in the United States.  Socialist revolution.  To put it in class terms, a proletarian revolution - the broadest, most inclusive social upheaval of the oppressed and exploited imaginable, and the reorganization of society in their interests....

"What's more, a revolutionary struggle by the toilers along the path I just described is inevitable."  What is not inevitable, however, Waters emphasized, "is the outcome of these coming revolutionary struggles.... That is why what we do now, while there is time to pepare - what kind of nucleus of what kind of revolutionary organization we build today - weighs so heavily."

The panelist Baraka attacked for not identifying himself as a "Trotskyite" was ISO leader Lee Sustar.  

Militant correspondent Olympia Newton, attending the sessions where Baraka spoke, reported the event this way:

....He proposed that Blacks and Latinos, including the “progressive” Black bourgeoisie, unite around a program to abolish the electoral college; establish a unicameral parliamentary system; ban “private money” from election campaigns; make voting compulsory; and restore voting rights to felons. Such constitutional reforms, he said, would shift power towards “people’s democracy” in the United States. Revolutionary goals could then be put on the agenda.

What has derailed all previous revolutionary struggles in the United States, Baraka argued, is “white privilege.” He cited the defeat of Radical Reconstruction following the Civil War, the failure of the 1930s labor upsurge to go further, and the decline of the mass movement that brought down Jim Crow segregation as three examples. Moreover, “white privilege” and the failure of the “white left” to fight it remain the primary obstacle to struggles today.

Baraka also renewed his attack on [George] Katsiaficas, who had spoken about Asian student struggles on the panel the previous day. Baraka accused him of being an agent trying to stir up support in Venezuela for student marches against the government of Hugo Chavez.

Baraka concluded by reading his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America,” a Spanish translation of which was distributed to participants. Written after September 11, 2001, the poem presents a long list of historical atrocities, interlacing anti-imperialist and anticapitalist rhetoric with conspiracy theories of history and anti-Semitism. “Who decide Jesus get crucified,” the poem asks. “Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed / Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Tower / To stay home that day / Why did Sharon stay away?”

During the opening day of the panel, a participant from Panama had said during the discussion that Jews are the main problem facing working people in the world today because “they have all the money” and control everything. Norton Sandler, a member of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States, spoke from the floor the next day and pointed to the danger of scapegoating and Jew-hatred for the working-class movement.

After Baraka’s remarks the final day, Mary-Alice Waters took the floor to thank the organizers of the book fair “for bringing together diverse forces for such a broad variety of views for the discussion that took place here.” She stressed the importance of civil debate, noting that “the poison of agent- and race-baiting should be rejected by all.”

The paths of U.S. Stalinism lead but to the Democratic Party.  A year after the 2007 Caracas book fair, Baraka embraced the candidacy of Barack Obama.  Just as this political evolution is typical of Baraka's generation, so to is a growing reliance on race- and gender-baiting and Jew-hatred.

Jay Rothermel