Saturday, June 21, 2014

James P Cannon on the 1952 U.S. elections

This is Lecture 1 from Cannon's America's Road to Socialism lecture series, given in Los Angeles in the Winter of 1952-53.  It was not printed in the trade paperback 2nd Pathfinder edition.

Kurdish Struggle

....The biggest shift in favor of the Kurdish struggle for national sovereignty came as an unintended consequence of the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Iraqi Kurds took advantage of that conflict to carve out an autonomous region there under the Kurdish Regional Government.

These developments inspired Kurdish fighters throughout the region. In 2004, dozens of Kurds were killed by Syrian government forces in the suppression of an uprising in Qamishli, a city on the Turkish border in Hasakah province.

When protests against Assad swept across the country in 2011, Kurdish youth joined in. PYD cadres who had been driven out of the country by Assad’s repression and were encamped with Turkish PKK fighters, returned to Syria. They largely stood aloof from the unfolding protests. But these developments opened the door to a new rise of Kurdish national struggles....


Oppressed Kurds defend their lands in Syria civil war 


Kurdish militias have routed al-Qaedist forces in northeast Syria, securing their control over more than 20 towns and villages. By late October, Kurdish forces had extended their control over most of Hasakah province. This ground, taken in the course of the Syrian civil war, is part of a broader rise in the struggle of the Kurdish people, an oppressed nationality of some 30 million concentrated in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Of the more than 2 million Kurds in Syria, the largest concentration resides in Hasakah province, which is 70 percent Kurdish. The other major concentration is in the district of Efrin in the northwest, where their numbers have doubled over the course of the civil war. These areas are commonly referred to by Kurds as Rojava (western Kurdistan). Kurds also comprise a significant minority in both Damascus and Aleppo.

Hasakah is strategically important, containing the majority of the country’s oil resources and functioning as the agricultural heartland. With the capture of Ras al-Ain on the Turkish border and Yarubiya on the Iraqi border, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military wing, the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People (YPG), now control most of Syria’s oil resources and its means of export.

The Democratic Union Party was forged out of an alliance with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey. Between 1980 and 2012, some 5,000 Syrian Kurds were killed fighting with the PKK against the Turkish government. Today, the Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People in Syria number more than 15,000, nearly 10 percent of them women.

Since 2011 a three-front war is being fought in Syria, where workers, farmers and their allies are pressing for greater democratic and political rights against the Bashar al-Assad government.

At the center of the war is the grinding conflict by rebel groups under the banner of the Free Syrian Army against the weakened Syrian military, which has been propped up by local pro-government paramilitaries and Hezbollah forces sent from Lebanon and backed by Tehran. Recently pro-Assad forces made gains, with a ground offensive in the suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo that followed a campaign of air and artillery bombardments and sieges aimed at starving the population.

The second front is being fought by reactionary al-Qaedist Islamist groups — primarily the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the al-Nusra Front — seeking to wrest territory and control over resources amid the fray, particularly in areas under sway of rebel groups and Kurdish militias. While they have gained ground in some regions against the former, battles against the Kurds have been largely unsuccessful.

The third is the Kurdish fight for control of the regions where they predominate, which has made steady progress.

The Kurds were oppressed under the six-century reign of the Ottoman empire and have faced more of the same since that empire fell at the end of the first World War. At that time, victorious powers of London and Paris carved the region into what are now Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel — consciously dividing the Kurds within imperialist-drawn borders and denying them a homeland. The capitalist rulers of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria maintained the second-class status of the Kurds after the end of colonial rule in the Middle East following World War II.

History of Kurds in Syria
In 1962, the Syrian military regime stripped 120,000 Kurds of Syrian citizenship, declaring them “foreigners living in the country.” They and their descendants were forced to carry red ID cards identifying them as foreigners, without the right to own land. Use of the Kurdish language was restricted.

In 1963 the Baath party came to power, declaring Syria “an Arab country,” and defining Kurds as “refugees displaced from Turkey.” After Hafiz al-Assad came to power in 1970, the regime began a policy, which continued under the rule of his son and current president Bashar al-Assad, providing incentives and special privileges for Arabs to move to Hasakah province in an effort to weaken Kurdish influence.

The biggest shift in favor of the Kurdish struggle for national sovereignty came as an unintended consequence of the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Iraqi Kurds took advantage of that conflict to carve out an autonomous region there under the Kurdish Regional Government.

These developments inspired Kurdish fighters throughout the region. In 2004, dozens of Kurds were killed by Syrian government forces in the suppression of an uprising in Qamishli, a city on the Turkish border in Hasakah province.

When protests against Assad swept across the country in 2011, Kurdish youth joined in. PYD cadres who had been driven out of the country by Assad’s repression and were encamped with Turkish PKK fighters, returned to Syria. They largely stood aloof from the unfolding protests. But these developments opened the door to a new rise of Kurdish national struggles.

“It is our right to self-determination in the Kurdish areas,” Redur Xelil, PYD spokesman, said in a Nov. 11 Reuters article. “We’re not asking for separation, simply the right to manage our affairs.”

“The Kurds in Rojava will continue with the autonomous governance until a new Syria emerges. In that new Syria, Kurds want to be recognized and accepted,” Kurdish journalist Amed Dicle wrote in Jadaliyya, an online magazine of the Arab Studies Institute based in Washington and Beirut. “If in this new Syria a regime happens to emerge that denies the Kurds their dignity and rights in Syria, such as Al-Nusra or the current regime, Kurds will enter a new period of struggle.”

On Nov. 7 thousands of Kurds in Turkey demonstrated waving the Kurdish national flag near Nusaybin on the Syrian border where the Turkish government is building a wall to separate the two Kurdish communities. Turkish forces dispersed them with tear gas.

1981 Steve Clark introduction to "The Changing Face of U.S. Politics"

I did not read The Changing Face of U.S Politics until after I 

joined the U.S. Socialist Workers Party in summer 1989. The copy I 

bought was the 1981 first edition with the orange and brown 


The third edition, from 2002, can be purchased here.

The second and third editions dispensed with the 1981 Steve 

Clark introduction and the 1979 report to the Fourth 

International by SWP leader Jack Barnes.  These editions 

replaced them with far more pertinent material on the turn to 

industry based on party and fraction experience from the late 

1980s and early 1990s.

I recently found a copy of the 1981 first edition at a local 

bookstore here in Cleveland. Coincidentally, it belonged to a 

fellow comrade in the Cleveland branch of my youth: Almeda 

Kirsch.  The red check marks and under-linings in the Barnes 

report "The turn to industry and the tasks of the Fourth 

International" are hers.

[What happened to the Fourth International's turn to industry?  

Some Fourth Internationalists made it, and after a long struggle 

reconstituted themselves as communist parties.  The 1988  Mary-

Alice Waters document "The Communist Strategy of Party-Building 

Today: A letter to comrades in Sweden" 

 tells that story, and can be purchased here.  ]

The 1981 Clark introduction and the 1979 Barnes report I think 

are of more than historical interest.  They can be read here:


Watergate: a Marxist view

Watergate and the Myth of American Democracy was published by Pathfinder Press in June 1974.

Below is a link to the Les Evans article "Watergate and the White House: From Kennedy to Nixon and Beyond."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

George Novack's philosophical glossary

George Novack's Polemics in Marxist Philosophy [NY: Pathfinder Press 1978] can be purchased here.  It's glossary:

Did The Militant and the U.S. SWP publish anti­-OWS screeds? 

Joseph Hansen on Czechoslovakia 1968 and Fidel Castro

From the pamphlet "The Invasion of Czechoslovakia"  Edited by Les Evans
Merit Publishers NY February 1969

From the pamphlet "The Invasion of Czechoslovakia"  Edited by Les Evans
Merit Publishers NY February 1969

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Jack Barnes on Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968

Let's begin with the footnote first:

1   The 1956 Hungarian revolution began in late October following attacks by Hungarian secret police and Soviet troops on demonstrations demanding democratic rights. Workers formed revolutionary councils, took control of a large section of the country, and battled several divisions of Soviet troops. The uprising was crushed by Moscow within several weeks, though strikes continued into mid-December. Also in 1956, a workers’ rebellion in Poland was put down by a combination of armed repression and the establishment of a "reform" regime under Wladyslaw Gomulka. Three years earlier, in June 1953, Soviet troops and armored vehicles crushed an uprising in East Germany that included a general strike by more than 200,000 workers.
By the time of these rebellions in the 1950s, the Stalinist regimes and parties, through a combination of murderous repression and political disorientation, had decimated any vestige of communist leadership of the working class in these countries. These revolts, however, were the last in Eastern Europe to involve layers of socialist-minded workers who in their youth had been won to communist perspectives prior to the consolidation of the Stalinist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and Communist International in the early 1930s.

The Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia was a period of mass radicalization during the early part of 1968 that initially succeeded in winning some democratic concessions and political space from the Stalinist regime. It was crushed by the August intervention of more than 650,000 Soviet and Eastern European troops. No communist leadership existed during this rebellion to organize resistance by working people and students, or to forge a nucleus of a revolutionary internationalist vanguard of the working class in the aftermath of the defeat.  


And now the context:

....Washington was the chief victor in that war. It emerged as imperialism’s predominant economic and strategic military power, and the only one nuclear-armed to boot. The Soviet toilers, at the sacrifice of tens of millions of workers and peasants, had repelled the onslaught by German imperialism. By the beginning of the 1950s capitalist property relations had been overturned throughout much of Eastern and Central Europe, even if under Stalinist-led regimes. By the latter half of the 1950s the USSR had its own nuclear arsenal (although not effective parity with Washington in weaponry and delivery systems until late in the 1960s).  

Post-World War II pattern 
Struggles for national independence and self-determination gained powerful momentum throughout the colonial and semicolonial world during World War II and its aftermath. During the decade and a half following 1945, victorious national liberation struggles in Azerbaijan, Yugoslavia, Albania, China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba grew over into deep-going anticapitalist revolutions; brought to power workers and peasants governments; and (except for Azerbaijan) culminated in the expropriation of the landlords and capitalists and the establishment of workers states.

Washington’s wars in Korea and Vietnam were fought during a period of an ascending world capitalist economy. The U.S. rulers’ dominance in the world imperialist system was still unchallenged, both economically and militarily. The dollar reigned supreme in world financial markets. But U.S. imperialism’s German and Japanese rivals were not under sharp competitive economic pressures that pushed them toward direct military involvement in the Korean or Vietnam conflicts. (In fact, Tokyo took advantage of huge construction contracts during the Korean War to take the first steps toward rebuilding its devastated economy, without having to share the burden of the U.S.-organized military operations.)

Given this global picture that emerged in the second half of the twentieth century, imperialist war was expected to be largely limited for the foreseeable future to the use of military power against the colonial revolution, as well as threats against the workers states. It was in the colonial world that the main organized, massive resistance to imperialism was continuing to take place--from Asia and Africa, to the Middle East and the Americas. Bourgeois-nationalist leaderships and Stalinist organizations frequently dominated these struggles, but the obstacles posed by this misleadership did not prevent substantial victories from being won by the toilers in their fight for colonial independence.

In some cases radical petty-bourgeois leaderships--responding in a determined way to blows aimed at them by an arrogant imperialism, and under the impetus of worker and peasant struggles against capitalist exploiters in city and countryside--went through an anticapitalist evolution. This was the case with respect to the July 26 Movement in Cuba; a major wing of the Algerian resistance movement; and a few organizations influenced by the Cuban revolution such as the Sandinista National Liberation Front in Nicaragua and New Jewel Movement in Grenada. (Most petty-bourgeois nationalist leaderships, on the other hand, did not evolve in this direction and ended up tailing or being integrated into bourgeois nationalist formations, or, in a few cases, Stalinist parties.)

This was the period of the so-called Cold War. At least from some point in the 1960s, the U.S. rulers operated on the assumption of a nuclear stalemate with Moscow, especially once the Soviet Union developed the capacity to hit U.S. targets with nuclear-tipped missiles. Meanwhile, the privileged castes in the Soviet, Eastern European, and Chinese workers states, acting as transmission belts for imperialist pressure, combined police-state repression with Stalinist political disorientation to push working people at home increasingly out of politics and keep them isolated from the international class struggle--to the great advantage of the imperialist ruling classes as well.

On the basis of this post-World War II pattern, most revolutionists concluded--correctly for the foreseeable future--that the international class struggle was not heading toward increased interimperialist military conflicts, but toward a standoff between the two major powers with strategic nuclear arsenals--U.S. imperialism and the Soviet Union--and their allies. A third world war, it was assumed, would necessarily find the imperialist powers aligned behind Washington in a conflict with the USSR. The rival capitalist ruling classes would avoid military conflicts among themselves, conflicts that would leave them vulnerable both to the Soviet Union and to the loss of additional portions of the world to anticapitalist revolutions.

I’m presenting a simplified version of this view of the world, but not a caricature. Whatever onesidedness there was to this assessment, it was grounded in the objective fact that due to the factors just cited there was no drive toward interimperialist military conflict during this initial period of postwar capitalist expansion.

This pattern corresponded with what was actually happening in world politics during the initial decades following World War II, including the generally low level of intensity of the class struggle in the United States and other imperialist countries. We were not heading toward intensified class combat on the picket lines and in the streets. We were not heading toward an ascending working-class movement bursting beyond the bourgeois political framework imposed by the petty-bourgeois union officialdom. We were not heading toward clashes in the streets with growing ultrarightist and fascist movements organized by wings of the employing class to try to take on and crush a class-struggle-oriented vanguard of the labor movement.  

Class struggle in imperialist countries 
With a time lag that could not be predicted, it was assumed, the class struggle in the United States and other imperialist countries would eventually turn a corner heading in this direction and begin narrowing the gap with the level of combat in the colonial world. This would lead to prerevolutionary situations that could result in major new advances in the international struggle for national liberation and socialism.

Politics and the class struggle in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China, and other Stalinist-dominated workers states were largely a nonfactor in this political equation. The existence of a substantial portion of the world where the domination of capitalist property relations had been abolished was recognized as a conquest of the toilers worth defending against imperialist assault. But the workers and farmers of these countries seemed more and more to have been frozen out of the world class struggle for an indefinite period by the repressive and politically stultifying domination of the castes and their police-state regimes--especially following the bloody defeat of the Hungarian revolution in 1956.1 Meanwhile, as a way of maintaining bargaining leverage with Washington, the Stalinist regimes provided arms and financial aid to national liberation movements and to governments that came in conflict with imperialism in the Third World.

But none of these political assumptions hold any longer in the world situation today--one whose advent was most explosively marked by the 1987 crash of the world’s stock markets. The crash was further evidence that the 1974-75 worldwide recession and the sharp and sudden slump of 1981-82 were not simply two more periodic downturns in the capitalist business cycle; they also signaled the end of an ascending segment in the broader curve of capitalist development and the ushering in of a descending segment heading toward intensified class battles on a national and international scale, including among the imperialist powers....

Full article:  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The trials of O.J. Simpson: a Marxist view

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the arrest of U.S. athlete, broadcaster, and actor O.J. Simpson for murder.

Three contemporary articles by The Militant correspondent Naomi Craine explained the facts and layed out the stakes for working people.

Simpson Jury Rejects Word Of Racist Lying Cops  

A Los Angeles jury decided unanimously to reject the word of lying, racist cops and voted to acquit O.J. Simpson on two charges of murder October 2. The jury made the right decision.

By the time the jury went into deliberations, the case against the former football star had become, in fact, a trial of the police and their standard method of operation. Particularly damning for the cops and prosecution were audio tapes of their key witness, detective Mark Fuhrman, using repeated racial slurs and bragging about beating up and framing numerous people.

"I think [Simpson] probably did do it," the daughter of juror Anise Ascherback quoted her mother as saying. But "there wasn't enough evidence." The jury voted for acquittal, Ascherback said, "because of Mark Fuhrman."

The murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman was a horrific crime. When their bloodied bodies were found in June, 1994, O.J. Simpson, who had beaten his wife on numerous occasions, became the prime suspect.

The cops did what they always do - they began assembling the case they thought would guarantee a conviction. The rights of the accused, which workers guard jealously, are irrelevant to them.

Fuhrman, by his own admission, searched Simpson's yard without a warrant, where he says he found a bloody glove that was a key piece of evidence. Blood samples and other physical evidence were handled haphazardly - a fact a couple of jurors pointed to in explaining why they voted "not guilty." These procedures are so typical, the cops and prosecutors thought nothing of it. Fuhrman was praised for his work by the prosecutors and higher-ups in the police department.

From the beginning, Simpson's attorneys hammered away at the actions of the police, accusing Fuhrman and other cops of planting and tampering with evidence and of being racist. The defense got a boost when taped interviews between Fuhrman and an aspiring screen-writer were released. In the interviews the cop uses the epithet "nigger" at least 30 times - a word he swore under oath he had not used in 10 years - and describes in graphic detail beating and torturing suspects in a mostly Latino housing project.

After small portions of the tape were presented to the jury, Fuhrman declined to take the stand for further questioning, citing his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self- incrimination.

Not the trial workers get
Simpson didn't get the same treatment working-class people, whether Black or white, receive. A millionaire, Simpson was able to hire several of the best defense attorneys in the country. And Judge Lance Ito allowed him to do what few workers ever get an opportunity to do - present the record of the cops and make it possible to challenge their evidence. Because of his high-priced legal team and the widespread distrust of the Los Angeles police department, Simpson was able to get the fairest trial money can buy in capitalist society.

This stands in stark contrast to what working people face when they find themselves in court. The main cop who testified against framed-up unionist Mark Curtis in Iowa, for instance, had been suspended from the police force in the past for brutalizing suspects and then lying to cover up his actions. The judge, however, ruled that the jury could not be told this fact, let alone review the cop's entire record.

The same week Simpson was acquitted, 10 men who follow the Muslim faith were found guilty of seditious conspiracy in New York on the word of a paid FBI snitch. The prosecution had not one shred of physical evidence against most of the defendants, yet all face between 20 years and life imprisonment as the U.S. government put its full weight behind the frame-up.

Many innocent working people sit on death row, not able to afford high-priced attorneys.

As two young workers on the Santa Fe railroad in Los Angeles - one of them Black and the other white - told a Militant correspondent, "If we were on the stand [instead of Simpson], we would have both gone to jail."

Normal functioning of cops, prosecutors
The functioning of the Los Angeles Police Department and district attorneys was no aberration. It is exactly how the cops function across the country, all the time. This has been exposed in recent months not just in Los Angeles but in Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. And the prosecutors work hand-in-glove with the cops. They're an inseparable part of the same system.

"This has been going on for years in our country to the Black people," Bonnie Beasley, a 55-year-old woman in San Francisco, told the New York Times following the Simpson verdict. "In every city there is a Fuhrman."

The trial highlighted how discredited the police have become. The Times reported September 25 on interviews with dozens of perspective jurors across New York. The big majority said they would distrust the word of the cops. Many of those interviewed cited Fuhrman as an example.

From beginning to end, the big-business press has played up what they call a "racial divide" over the Simpson case, citing the fact that a much higher percentage of Blacks than whites polled said Simpson should be found "not guilty." The key factor in this "divide," however, is class and experience with the cops, not race.

Workers who are Black and Latino bear a disproportionate brunt of police brutality and frame-ups, and therefore know first-hand what the cops do routinely. Many workers who are white also have similar experiences with the cops, and greater numbers do every day. With the Fuhrman tapes and other recent revelations, more workers than ever before distrust the cops' word, including the two white women who were on the jury that acquitted Simpson.

For many people the verdict does not resolve whether O.J. Simpson murdered Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Only O.J. Simpson himself knows that for sure. It is a matter of record that Simpson physically abused his wife more than once. When he was caught, he pleaded no contest and got a slap on the wrist from the court - a $970 fine and counseling, which he was allowed to do by telephone. This sorry record demonstrates how little the cops and courts really care about wife-beating and other violence against women.

The jury wasn't in a position to correct what the cops and courts failed to do about O.J. Simpson's wife-beating. The choice before them in the murder trial was to accept the cops' tainted evidence or to acquit. They made the right choice.


Simpson Verdict Causes A Stir (`Discussion With Our Readers' Column)  

Militant reader Evelyn Spencer has decided to cancel her subscription over our coverage of the O.J. Simpson verdict. "I am sickened both by the verdict and by your response to it," she writes in response to the article "Simpson jury rejects word of racist, lying cops."

Former reader Spencer's basic argument is: Simpson beat his wife and we know he killed her, so he should be convicted, regardless of the evidence and cops' actions. That's a dangerous position for the working class to fall into, and one that doesn't advance women's right to be free from domestic violence either.

The presumption of innocence, the ability to challenge your accuser, and democratic safeguards against police manipulation of "evidence" are rights that the working class has fought for and jealously defends. Once the cops' behavior was exposed, the jury decided to not just take their word in the O.J. Simpson trial. They decided the evidence wasn't good enough, and they were right to return a not guilty verdict.

Simpson's attorneys pointed to the cops' records - including detective Mark Fuhrman's racist comments and the mishandling of evidence by various officers - and challenged their testimony. The police searched Simpson's home without a warrant, haphazardly carried a vial of his blood around, and covered up Fuhrman's racist record.

The police, by their actions, have made it virtually impossible for whoever killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman to ever be brought to justice.

Many reporters and columnists present the verdict as a reflection of the "racial divide" - a decision by a mostly Black jury to acquit Simpson because he is Black. Spencer criticizes defense attorney Cochran for "playing the race card." The jurors' sensitivity to racism did have something to do with the verdict, but the exposure of the standard operating procedure of the Los Angeles police was the most compelling factor.

Simpson's lawyers put their finger on the frame-up methods that the cops routinely use against thousands of working people who they assume must be guilty of something. For instance, nine more people in Philadelphia just had criminal convictions overturned after six cops confessed that they lied on reports and planted drugs in people's homes in order to ensure convictions. Thousands of other arrests there are now under review. These abuses, which are not at all unique to Philadelphia, occurred largely in the city's Black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods.

The cops routinely victimize and frame up working people of all nationalities. But workers who are Black receive especially harsh, racist treatment, which leads many more of them to draw the conclusion that a cop's word can't be trusted.

Many workers who are white distrust the cops too, as they learn from experience how common police frame-ups and beatings are against working people - white and Black. A poll by Newsweek right after the Simpson verdict found that one-third of whites agreed with the jury's decision and half thought the jury was fair and impartial - hardly a solid "racial divide."

It's important to remember that workers don't get the same kind of "day in court" O.J. Simpson got. The jury made the right decision, but that doesn't mean the justice system is any fairer to working people today.

In regard to the other letters, reader Robbie Scherr is correct in noting that the Militant's previous article on the Simpson verdict was not simply a news item. It was a news analysis, which should have been indicated.

Fred Feldman points out that the Militant should have been more accurate in attributing statements by a juror and her daughter. All of the quotations cited were indeed from the daughter. Ascherback herself has made similar statements since, however. And while jurors pointed to a range of problems with the cops' evidence and behavior, Fuhrman's record did play a key, if not decisive, role in the verdict.



Simpson Trial Abused Democratic Rights  

For several months, nightly TV news broadcasts across the United States began with an update on the second trial of Orenthal James Simpson, who was acquitted in 1995 of murder charges in the deaths of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman. Simpson was found guilty in the second trial, on civil charges of wrongful death brought by the families of the deceased. He was ordered to pay the plaintiffs $8.5 million in compensatory damages.

Working people should oppose this second trial as a clear case of double jeopardy. The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits twice putting a person "in jeopardy of life and limb" for the same alleged crime. This is one of the basic rights of the accused stipulated as part of the Bill of Rights, which codifies many of the democratic safeguards that the working class needs to defend its interests, and that the capitalist rulers keep trying to whittle away at.

The prohibition on double jeopardy means that if you're acquitted of some offense, the state can't just keep retrying you until they get the desired verdict.

Previous court rulings had already set a precedent that private lawsuits - such as the "wrongful death" charges against Simpson - don't violate this provision. The high- profile Simpson trial gave added legitimacy to this narrowing of democratic rights.

In a February 6 editorial, the New York Times declared the outcome of the second trial "a reasonable response." Although "some experts consider the second trial a violation of the principle of double jeopardy," the editors wrote, "there seems no reason that the original verdict should give him [Simpson] immunity from civil suits."

Many other aspects of the second Simpson trial breached democratic safeguards. One was setting the venue in an area where most members of the jury would be white, instead of mostly Black as was the case in the first trial.

The earlier acquittal of Simpson, who is Black, hinged on the jury's rejection of blatant racism and lies on the part of the Los Angeles police officers involved in the investigation. One of the cops, Mark Furhman, was caught in a lie on the witness stand, when he claimed he never used racist epithets against Blacks. The defense then played an audio tape in which Furhman repeatedly referred to "niggers" and bragged about beating up and framing numerous people.

It's worth noting that Furhman was never charged with perjury, despite this obvious case against him. Neither Simpson's defense lawyers nor the prosecution or other officials filed such charges.

Other cops involved in the investigation admitted sloppy handling of blood samples and other evidence. It was under these circumstances that the jury refused to find Simpson "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt."

Lower standard of evidence allowed
The standard for finding someone guilty in a "civil" case is substantially less than in a criminal court. The jury in the latest trial was charged with determining whether a "preponderance of the evidence" showed Simpson guilty, not whether he was "guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." Allowing this lower standard of evidence is a blow to the presumption of innocence, a very recent democratic gain.

Through most of the history of class society, when a person from the toiling classes was accused of something the presumption was that of guilt. If you were allowed any hearing at all, it was to "prove" your innocence, a virtually impossible task. Putting the burden of proof on the accuser, not the accused, is a fundamental democratic conquest that the working class must fiercely defend, for everyone.

There were other factors that made the second Simpson trial a travesty. Unlike the criminal case, there didn't have to be a unanimous jury to win a conviction, just a two- thirds majority vote by the jurors. Simpson was also forced to testify, which he chose not to do at the criminal trial. This violated constitutional protections against self- incrimination.

O.J. Simpson is a former sports star who has garnered millions from advertising various products. His life as a social parasite -like the lives of most of those around him -is totally alien to working people. No worker accused of a crime could buy the kind of defense Simpson had at either of his trials.

But this shouldn't blind workers to the dangerous abuse of democratic rights that was carried out - one that will be committed a thousand times over against workers and their allies, particularly those who stand up and fight. To ignore this would be to fall prey to the politics of resentment - the argument that "O.J. Simpson is a millionaire, so his rights are no concern of mine."

The second Simpson trial coincided with the second trial of Lemrick Nelson, a youth from Brooklyn who is Black, in connection with the killing of Yankel Rosenbaum in 1991. While the big-business press trumpeted the incident that led to Rosenbaum's death as an anti-Jewish riot, the outburst actually erupted in response to racist treatment of Black residents of Crown Heights by the cops and emergency personnel after a Black child was killed in a traffic accident.

Nelson, who was 16 at the time, was charged with stabbing Rosenbaum to death on circumstantial evidence that relied heavily on the word of the cops. He was acquitted in a state trial in 1992, with the jurors openly saying they did not believe the cops' story. Nelson was then retried on federal civil rights charges, convicted, and faces 6 to 20 years in prison.

The grounds on which Nelson was tried in federal court were established in the 1960s, when state governments refused to vigorously prosecute the murderers of civil rights activists in the South.

Under pressure from the advancing fight for Black rights, the federal government was forced to take action. Federal prosecution of those acquitted of racist acts in the state courts was a gain for the working class. The application of this precedent in the case of Nelson, however, a young Black man framed up by the police, was a travesty of justice.

The Simpson trial also took place in the context of other attacks on the rights of the accused, prisoners, and those who have previously been convicted of a crime. These include taking away the civil rights of alleged sex offenders, increasing the cops' powers to carry out warrantless searches, and others.

Working people should speak out against all these attacks on democratic rights.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Notes on unrepentant social democracy and economism today

A few notes on: Goodbye Lenin by LOUIS PROYECT


Back to social democracy and economism? 


Without the Leninist strategy of party building, what is the alternative proposed to build revolutionary forces?  An ad hoc group of chums palling around until things heat up?  At which time the unmediated dog fight among members of the book club breaks out?


Proyect has gone from attacking Jack Barnes for criminal malfeasance to attacking the very idea of a revolutionary combat party that is proletarian in program and social composition. 

A comrade on Facebook described the political "evolution" of the man this way:  "....first the slander against the party you once belonged to, picturing your former comrades as mindless robots, then the slander against that diabolical "Barnes", then came the turn for Cannon and Dobbs to meet the internet firing squad, and after that Trotsky and now Lenin. The circle of political renegacy, practiced as "commentary" and political parasitism, has been squared..."

Proyect for a time blamed what he called Zinovievism, but of course his argument was with Lenin all along. Before too much longer he will join the ranks of those who say that Stalin's murder machine was a logical outcome of Lenin and Zinioviev. 

For Proyect, Lenin and Zinoviev were the architects of both anti-democratic parties and international.  What Proyect fails to mention is that while the Comintern was becoming clearer about its own rules for membership, it was also organizing to get its own forces focused on building united fronts with non-communist forces within the workers movement who were willing to fight on specific issues.


Proyect suggests that anyone who wants to be a revolutionary should not study the heritage of previous revolutions and revolutionaries.  Castro did not study Lenin when he started out in Cuba; why should we study Castro?

Unlike the “Leninists”, Fidel Castro, his brother Raul and Che Guevara did not pore through the collected Lenin to figure out how to overthrow Batista and establish a new government committed to the liberation of the workers and farmers of Cuba. They studied Cuban society and developed strategy and tactics that flowed from the class relationships of a society that was stunted by underdevelopment and imperialist domination.

What possible guidelines to political action could be derived from studying Fidel Castro’s career? He started out as a candidate of the Ortodoxo Party and then decided to organize an unsuccessful attack on the Moncada barracks. After being released from prison, he began recruiting people for a trip on the Granma from Mexico to Cuba, where they would launch an armed struggle against the dictatorship. Once in Cuba and barely surviving an army assault on his tiny ranks, he began coordinating rural guerrilla warfare columns with urban resistance mounted by the July 26th Movement.

Proyect here misses the point, a crucial point.  Lenin and Castro, as young men, both studied their societies and developed strategy and tactics that "flowed from the class relations" of their respective countries.  Neither were academics; both were recruited to the cause of proletarian emancipation, not classless radical talk-shoppery. [Because of the class collaboration of Stalinism, Castro's evolution to communism was more prolonged and uneven than Lenin's.]

If Castro and his team had not made this evolution, and built a communist party capable of recruiting millions of Cubans,  I suggest there would have been no Cuban role in world politics: no internationalist missions to Africa; no rectification process; no victory in the "special period."  

Proyect ridicules the Trotskyists of the early years of the Cuban revolution:

Now it should be mentioned that there were “Leninist” groups in Cuba at the time, including one dedicated to the teachings of J. Posadas who argued that UFO’s proved that socialism existed on other planets. How could they have reached the planet Earth unless they had superior technology of the sort that only socialism could deliver?

While the Posadists were obviously one of the more exotic varieties of “Leninism” in Latin America, there were certainly many others that were a lot closer to the SWP or the ISO in adhering to more conventional “Leninist” norms, which meant defining yourself in relationship to the Russian Revolution, starting a newspaper, opening bookstores and party headquarters, holding regular conventions that voted on line resolutions according to “democratic centralist” principles and all the rest. But it was exactly these methods that condemned both the Trotskyists and the Maoists to irrelevancy. A revolutionary movement grows organically out of the class struggle. The “Leninist” method adopted by groups such as the SWP or the ISO sets them apart from the broader mass movement since it is by definition based on an ideological litmus test that most people on the left will refuse to submit to, like a urine test for drugs. To put it bluntly, Fidel Castro did not ask Che Guevara how he stood on the Kronstadt revolt. He was only interested in finding out whether he could pass muster as a doctor and a combatant.

Proyect has a jolly time with his caricatures.  

The "irrelevance" of Trotskyists in the 1960s is of course a figment of Proyect's imagination. The shortcomings of Trotskyists  were not because they were Leninists; objective factors in world politics were manifold: particularly the weight of Stalinism and social democracy in the labor movements of every nation; and the influence of the Cuban revolution itself, drawing Trotskyist cadre of many parties away from the Leninist strategy of party building. [Hansen deals directly with these issues here and here.]

Parenthetically, it is amusing that Proyect smears Leninists with the UFO theories and other activities and thoughts of Juan Posadas.  A look at the merchants rooms of Proyect-endorsed events and groups [Left Forum, ISO Socialism conferences] reveals quackery the scale of which makes Posadas like an eccentric piker. 

The challenge for Trotskyists in the period 1968-1988 was to recruit a large cohort of radicalized youth that had joined their ranks; a profound challenge: recruiting radicals to proletarian politics and building Leninist parts that were proletarian in both program and social composition. Some parties met the challenge; most could not, and formulated years of rationalizations for this failure as their membership and prospects dwindled in the face of the capitalist anti-labor offensive that began in the mid-1970s.

With the question of class composition came the question of milieu.  Petty bourgeois membership and areas of work warped and disoriented many parties over time. They could not respond effectively to challenges or opportunities. 

The handful of parties that made the successful transition, led by the US Socialist Workers Party, are a special target of unprincipled attack by Proyect today.


Proyect's anti-Leninist program has all the  familiar opportunist perspectives that have led the working class into countless defeats in the last hundred years:

I think that conditions are ripening in the United States for a SYRIZA type development that will unite the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people who either took part in or identified with the Occupy movement. Activists in the ISO and Socialist Alternative could play an important role in bringing that to fruition and even become convinced in the process that their “Leninist” security blanket was no longer necessary.

He also quotes a former leader of the US SWP who left the party during the 1950s:

....we should say goodbye to Lenin and begin to think of our role in terms of the way that Bert Cochran defined them in 1955, to build “a movement that understands this country, that is sensitive to the feelings and aspirations of its people, that knows how to establish communication with them and how to make itself heard, that has the ability to come up with drastic structural solutions which recommend themselves to significant bodies of people as meaningful and realistic.”

I cannot think of a finer recipe for "will power" subjectivism and ad hoc economism in program. It will epitomize petty bourgeois national chauvinism and the "whateverism" of a clique.  


Sunday, June 1, 2014

Internationalism or Russification? A Study of the Soviet Nationalities Problem Ivan Dzyuba [Seond Edition: 1970 Widenfield & Nicolson]

A comrade sent me chapter-by-chapter scans of this important book.

Internationalism on Russification?  A Study of the Soviet Nationalities Problem
Ivan Dzyuba

Seond Edition: 1970 Widenfield & Nicolson