Sunday, December 30, 2018

Marx and Milliband on the Jewish Question

....Jewish Question

....In the first essay, Marx criticizes Bruno Bauer for confusing political and human emancipation, and notes that ‘the limits of political emancipation are evident at once from the fact that the state can free itself from a restriction without man being really free from this restriction, that the state can be a free state without man being a free man’. 15 Even so, political emancipation is a great advance; it is not the last form of human emancipation, but it is the last form of human emancipation within the framework of the existing social order. 16 Human emancipation, on the other hand, can only be realized by transcending bourgeois society, ‘which has severed all the species-ties of man, put egoism and selfish need in the place of these species-ties, and dissolved the human world into a world of atomistic individuals who are inimically opposed to one another’. 17 The more specific meaning of that emancipation is defined in the Jewish Question, in Marx’s strictures against ‘Judaism’, here deemed synonymous with trade, money and the commercial spirit which has come to affect all human relations. On this view, the political emancipation of the Jews, which Marx defends, 18 does not produce their social emancipation; this

is only possible in a new society, in which practical need has been humanised and the commercial spirit abolished. 19

"Marx and the State 1965"


Class War Conservatism and Other Essays Ralph Miliband

Reading notes: Russia Without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War by Tony Wood

Russia Without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War by Tony Wood

This was a poignant read for me, as a supporter of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party. When did the Russian workers state end? That is not an academic question: critical for the education of our class.

I hoped Russia Without Putin: Money, Power and the Myths of the New Cold War by Tony Wood would give me a picture of the 1991-2018 process of capitalist restoration in the USSR, a single work recounting the driving forces and signal conjunctures of a tumultuous process would be invaluable today.

Russia Without Putin is not that book. As much as author Tony Wood promises us:

....The purpose of this book is to provide a portrait of contemporary Russia that goes beyond the blaring headlines about its president. How is Russia ruled, and for whose benefit? What are the consequences for Russian society? How can we best explain Russia's mounting clashes with the West? Where is the country headed? To answer these questions, we need to discard several of the core assumptions behind most discussions of Putin's Russia.

....My argument, rather, is that Western media coverage and analysis of Russia are overly fixated on Putin's personality. Time and again, the characteristics of the man are used to explain the behaviour or interests of the state. The conflation is to some extent understandable: Russia is a country in which political power is not only highly concentrated but deeply personalized, so the preferences and whims of the figure at the very heart of the system take on an outsized importance. But even in an age when it has become common to analyse complex events through the prism of singular personalities, the recurrent focus on Putin has become particularly extreme. And it is unhelpfully self-confirming: the more media coverage and analysis uses him to explain Russia, the more Putin comes to dominate, constantly narrowing our frame of reference.

At worst, the focus on Putin is dangerously counter-productive, leading to profoundly mistaken ideas about the source of Russia's ills. The notion that a single person is responsible for everything that happens in Russia shades all too readily into the belief that changing the figure at the top will rectify the problem....

Wood falls short, to say the least. For him and his publisher and chums, Putin is the alpha and omega underscoring their bourgeois academic adaptations: contempt for the workers and farmers of Russia, for the working class and oppressed nationalities internationally, for Marxism's understanding of the state not as an entity floating above all, but as the ruling class expression of the dictatorship of capital

The class-conscious reader will grip their wallet when they read, in the Acknowledgments of Tony Wood's book, "I'm also tremendously grateful to Perry Anderson for his close critical reading of the final manuscript, and for suggestions which improved it significantly."

Verso, and Perry Anderson in particular, were part of a UK anti-communist political tendency that, after their guerillasist line's defeat at the Fourth International world congress in 1979, rejected proletarianization of national sections. For all intents and purposes they happily dissolved themselves into the slough of the UK Labour Party, a pragmatist surrender to the Thatcher-Reagan course of the capitalist ruling classes of the time.

By 2001, Anderson relaunched New Left Review as a petty bourgeois box of pink Kleenex to the Labour party's left, with Marxism dutifully effaced. So too the content of books published by NLF's publishing tentacle, Verso. Gone were Deutscher and Timpanaro; forward came Zizek, Mouffle, and Laclau: later-day Euro-Shachtmanite blacklegs.

Thus, the reader is warned about Russia Without Putin.


Some excerpts with nota bene.


....he personifies his country in the eyes of the outside world.

....the absolute centrality of Vladimir Putin. In the West, Russia's president is portrayed as the most implacable foe of the US and its allies, a malevolent puppet master pulling the strings in a succession of crises across the world.

CHAPTER 1 The Man and the System

[N.B.Peripatetic recapitulation of the overthrow of nationalized property and the monopoly of foreign trade seen as a chess game of the Stalinist bureaucracy.]

CHAPTER 2 Faces of Power

….Yet the corruption, nepotism and 'raiding' so characteristic of the Putin era are not the malignant fruit of his rule alone, nor are they solely attributable to the vices of a few individuals. The 'kleptocracy' targeted by Western sanctions is merely the flesh-and-blood manifestation of a systemic feature: the blurring of the boundary between the state and the private sector. This in turn is the result of the particular form taken by capitalism under Russian conditions. The idea that Putin and his circle are somehow unusually crooked requires us to overlook the extent to which the entire Russian elite – from billionaire oligarchs to local kingpins – is driven by the same motives, and skilled in the use of the same predatory techniques. More importantly, it asks us to ignore the wider realities of profit-making in Russia, which are rooted in the system that was imposed in the 1990s, and which Putin consolidated after 2000. That system will not be affected by the sanctions regime, nor will it be altered in the unlikely event of Putin being removed from power before his term is up.

CHAPTER 3 Red Bequests

....Russia had already had its Pinochet – and his name was Yeltsin.

....Rather than being a hindrance, the remnants of the Soviet past have been a massive boon for post-Soviet Russia.

....After the collapse of the USSR, the transition to capitalism set in motion a process of sharp social differentiation that gave rise to new social groups and new experiences; yet it did not instantly demolish the previous social order, which persisted in various forms. The coexistence of these two social structures, one under construction within the still crumbling ruins of the other, gave rise to a parallelism of old and new – a kind of combined and uneven social development – which effectively smoothed the path of capitalist transition rather than blocking it.

....Presented as a choice in the 1980s, women's ejection from the workforce became an inescapable fate only a few years later. Women accounted for a disproportionate share of the newly unemployed after 1991, as well as being over-represented among the working poor: in 1993, 70 per cent of those who had jobs and yet were classed as 'extremely poor' were women.29 In part this was because of shrinking (and often unpaid) wages in the 'feminized' sectors of the economy. There also were many more women pensioners than men – a consequence of women's longer life expectancy and the higher toll taken among men by the Second World War – which again left women disproportionately vulnerable.

....Institutional atrophy and slumping economic fortunes helped bring on a splintering of the intelligentsia's collective sense of self. In 1993, the sociologists Lev Gudkov and Boris Dubin argued that the very idea of 'a shared intelligentsia sentiment, lending rhythm to the existence of the whole social layer', had already vanished.33 What was taking place now was a 'powerful process of professional differentiation', as the former intelligentsia was separated out into various roles thrown up by the new market order. The 1990s boom in petty trade generated a host of low-skilled, badly paid, loosely 'cultural' jobs in advertising and sales. 'Professionalization' was also in large measure a process of deskilling and proletarianization, only partially masked by the glossy patina of the new consumerism.

....but as the former dissident Andrei Sinyavsky put it, 'The intelligentsia has not yet understood that the war in Chechnya is a direct continuation of the firing on the White House.'35

....'The intelligentsia, which in the past had lived with the people and shared its misfortunes to such an extent that the very term "intellectual" … unequivocally implied a love for the people, was today afraid of those same people.'36 In some cases, that fear was overpowered by contempt: in January 1999, shortly after the rouble crisis, novelist and critic Viktor Erofeev disparaged the mass of the Russian population as 'medieval creatures' who were 'dragging Russia down toward the bottom' the 1990s. Most people were struggling to survive, and many opted for individualized solutions amid the collapse of older collectivities. Privatization also made it hard in many cases to identify who exactly should be the target of protest: in much of Russian industry, for example, the actual ownership structure was hidden behind layers of shell companies and investment vehicles. As a result, the vast majority of strikes took place in the state sector rather than the private one (education alone accounted for almost 90 per cent of them between 1992 and 1996).40 unions....labour migrants all told numbered 7 to 8 million, almost 10 per cent of the working population.47 The new arrivals provided a large pool of unskilled labour, toiling on construction sites, cleaning the streets, working in markets or driving taxis for abysmal wages. Xenophobia against them became widespread, from the poisonous ranting of the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) to the casual racism of TV shows like Nasha Rasha....

....Putin system drew an even larger portion of its base from among the millions working in state-owned enterprises or in the remnants of the Soviet welfare state.

....The generalized admiration of the president became self-reinforcing, giving rise to a stiflingly conformist climate in which it became outlandish as well as pointless to criticize the authorities. This shift was rendered all the more effective by the postmodern capaciousness of the broader culture: ideas and beliefs were mashed together in wildly incongruous combinations that made their substance hard to pin down, and hence difficult to argue with or oppose. Soviet nostalgia blended with folksy echoes of medieval Muscovy; Western philosophy and critical theory were digested alongside Russian nationalism and religious texts. A 'sickening aesthetic atmosphere' had taken hold of the country, according to the leftist poet Kirill Medvedev, who described 'the average cultural consciousness' as 'a putrid swamp – half-Soviet, half-bourgeois – in which Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Josef Stalin, the pop star Alla Pugacheva, and Jesus Christ all lie side by side, dead and decomposing'.52

....The emphasis on consumption means that the threshold for joining the Russian middle class is relatively low: acquiring a refrigerator or even a car is significantly more affordable than buying an apartment.

....While the majority might consider themselves members of a single 'middle class', the society that emerged in the 2000s – built on the disparities generated in the previous decade – consisted of several groups that differed hugely from one another: oligarchs, petty traders, industrial workers, migrant labourers, professionals, white-collar 'office plankton', and so on. Yet the disparities between these groups appeared less stark than they might have, thanks to the persistence of Soviet structures alongside emergent capitalist forms.

....1997.... the liberal politician Boris Nemtsov declared that Russia must enter the twenty-first century 'only with young people'. The same year, IMF managing director Michel Camdessus told a press conference that the structural adjustment policies his organization was insisting on might well require Russia to 'sacrifice a generation'.62

....The protests that burst onto the national stage in 2011, though widely interpreted as the political coming of age of the 'new middle class', are actually better understood as signs that the parallelism is fading.

CHAPTER 4 An Opposition Divided

[N.B. There is no independent working class movement in Russia that Wood can find through his reading of bourgeois Western press sources. And he has no curiosity about it in Ukraine; only the question of whether invading Ukraine was "good" for Putin in the eyes if U.S., UK, and EU (i.e. German) imperialism].

["Opposition" in Russia today: No social weight. Equivalent to Naderist consumerism. Navalny Great Russian chauvinism. League of Women Voters legitimacy.]

....Even if the movement could do little to prevent Putin's re-election in March 2012, for many commentators the very fact of its existence meant that things could not carry on as before. The Financial Times and Economist concluded that the protests marked 'the beginning of the end of the Putin era'.2 But several years later, the Putin era is apparently still in full swing – and if anything, his personal dominance of the political stage has grown. His crushing victory in the 2018 presidential election secured him another six-year mandate, extending his rule to 2024.

....liberals in Russia were for the most part peripheral to official politics, and increasingly found themselves turning to extra-parliamentary tactics. This made for some strange bedfellows: the few anti-Putin marches held in the mid-2000s were attended by a mixture of free-marketeers, human-rights advocates, and devotees of the National Bolshevik movement – a postmodern, red-brown fusion engineered by the writer Eduard Limonov that acquired a substantial youth following. This patchwork came together in 2006 in an ungainly coalition called The Other Russia, which organized a series of 'Dissenters' Marches' over the next few years. These sometimes drew decent-sized crowds, by Russian standards, but outside the major cities – principally Moscow, St Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod – they had little resonance.

....Having joined the liberal Yabloko party in 2000, Navalnyi was expelled from it in 2007 for helping to organize the 'Russian March', a gathering of far-right nationalists whose best-known slogan is 'Russia for the ethnic Russians!'*

....Russia's electoral calendar coincided with a gathering tide of discontent, and the 2011–12 parliamentary and presidential votes provided the first test of the system since the post-2008 economic downturn. Yet although this created a slender opening for Russia's multiform oppositional movements, many of the basic divisions between them not only persisted through the 2011–12 protests; if anything, they deepened.

....The differences between the liberal and left wings of the movement were apparent from early on. At the demonstration on 24 December 2011, liberal figurehead Ksenia Sobchak – a TV star and daughter of the former St Petersburg mayor who had been Putin's boss in the 1990s – told the crowd that 'the main thing is to exert influence on power, rather than to struggle for power'. She was whistled and booed by sections of the crowd, who no doubt thought precisely the opposite. When the left tried to formulate a list of social demands for the movement to put forward, the liberals rejected the idea as 'divisive'.

....there is no capitalism, no market, no economic activity even, outside of history. The 'capitalism' Russian oppositionists aspire to emulate is the product of the specific and diverse histories of Europe and the US, shaped by concrete events and flesh-and-blood people. A related but still more consequential error is the idea that what Russia has now is not – or is not yet – capitalism, and that the failure to establish 'proper' capitalism is what accounts for the perversions of the present. But many of the characteristic features of the Putin system are directly descended from the post-Communist order installed in the 1990s, which Putin has consolidated and prolonged. The foundational purpose of this 'imitation democratic' system was the establishment of capitalism, and it owes its subsequent shape to the desire of Russia's rulers to maintain that initial commitment and defend their gains. Capitalism, in short, has predominated in Russia for the past three decades, and what many Russian oppositionists see as symptoms of its absence are, instead, structural features of the kind of capitalism the country has.

....whatever small gains a progressive anti-Putin movement might make at home are likely to be overshadowed by events on an increasingly tense and turbulent international stage.

....Even if the movement could do little to prevent Putin's re-election in March 2012, for many commentators the very fact of its existence meant that things could not carry on as before. The Financial Times and Economist concluded that the protests marked 'the beginning of the end of the Putin era'.2 But several years later, the Putin era is apparently still in full swing – and if anything, his personal dominance of the political stage has grown. His crushing victory in the 2018 presidential election secured him another six-year mandate, extending his rule to 2024.

....liberals in Russia were for the most part peripheral to official politics, and increasingly found themselves turning to extra-parliamentary tactics. This made for some strange bedfellows: the few anti-Putin marches held in the mid-2000s were attended by a mixture of free-marketeers, human-rights advocates, and devotees of the National Bolshevik movement – a postmodern, red-brown fusion engineered by the writer Eduard Limonov that acquired a substantial youth following. This patchwork came together in 2006 in an ungainly coalition called The Other Russia, which organized a series of 'Dissenters' Marches' over the next few years. These sometimes drew decent-sized crowds, by Russian standards, but outside the major cities – principally Moscow, St Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod – they had little resonance.

CHAPTER 5 After the Maidan

....This "U.S. won the cold war" judgment was contradicted by living class reality: the continued unravelling of the world order forged after WW2 by Washington and the Stalinist leadership of the USSR: to thwart, midlead, and eventually destroy struggles for national liberation and revolutionary socialism. In fact the U.S. can be seen today as the biggest loser of that cold war.

....The process of NATO enlargement is crucial to understanding why and how relations between Russia and the West later deteriorated. It demonstrated the basic imbalance that has governed strategic calculations on both sides ever since: the US enjoyed accumulated advantages that enabled it either to attend to or ignore Russian interests as it pleased, while Russia retained enough of its great-power habits of mind to resent this state of affairs, but lacked the capacity fundamentally to alter it.

....Greeted in the West as a democratic flowering, but seen in the Kremlin as the product of Western machinations, the Ukraine crisis of 2004–05 was crucially different from the previous 'Colour Revolutions' in Serbia (2000) and Georgia (2003). There was much more at stake for Russia than in those previous cases: the Kremlin had poured a great deal of money and effort into securing the presidency for Yanukovych, and the geopolitical outcomes of his defeat were far more serious – potentially opening the way for NATO to emplace itself along almost all of Russia's western borders. In the case of Ukraine, moreover, external strategic issues were intertwined with internal political questions. The 'Orange Revolution' represented a frontal challenge to Russia's own 'imitation democratic' regime, raising the possibility that popular energies – till now excluded from the business of government across the post-Soviet space – might surge back once more, as in 1989–91, to threaten the existing system. The examples of Georgia and Ukraine proved contagious: Kyrgyzstan's 'Tulip Revolution' followed in early 2005, while comparable though unsuccessful movements emerged elsewhere (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Mongolia). From 2004–05 onward, the defence of what the Kremlin saw as Russia's interests abroad became inseparable from the impulse for self-preservation at home, tying Russian foreign policy ever more closely to concerns over domestic order.

....the newly installed President Dmitri Medvedev – much more of a liberal Westernizer than Putin [N.D. more liberal?!?! -JR]. movers in Western policy toward Eastern Europe and the former USSR had been the US and NATO, but in the 2000s it was more often the EU that drove it. [N.B. A "Marxist" should at least have enough clarity to avoid such obscurantist nomenclature. The "EU" is German imperialism. But this is Verso....].

....Despite the Kremlin's mounting concern over the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO and becoming more closely integrated with the EU, it was unable to make Kiev a genuinely better offer. Putin's plan to buy $15 billion of government debt and give Ukraine deep discounts on gas came too late to help Yanukovych, but it wouldn't have made much difference if it had been offered earlier. Russia simply could not match the West's combined economic and ideological appeal.

....This is the context in which Russia's subsequent foreign-policy moves need to be understood. The intervention in Syria, launched in September 2015, was in large measure a response to the disaster of the Kremlin's policy in Ukraine. There were, to be sure, many motivations behind the decision to deepen Russia's involvement in the Syrian conflict – a war in which it was already implicated through its support for the Assad regime. But some of the factors most commonly invoked were by 2015 secondary to Russia's most pressing foreign-policy needs. Economic and political ties between Moscow and Damascus stretched back to the Cold War, and might suggest an obvious material reason for Russia to prop up Bashar al-Assad's rule. Under Assad's father, Syria had been one of the USSR's few state-level allies in the Middle East, and received substantial economic and military aid in exchange for the lease of a naval base at Tartus.

....But the central aim of the Kremlin's intervention in Syria was, in my view, neither to protect Assad nor to prevent regime change per se; it was, rather, an attempt to re-establish Russia's importance on the world stage.

....With Trump's victory, Russia moved to the centre of US public and media debate as never before in the post-Soviet era. Among dismayed Democrats, Russian interference became the default explanation for Clinton's defeat: it was as if the Kremlin had hacked American democracy itself. Of course, whatever trouble the Russian government may have wanted to cause the Clinton campaign, it made little difference to the actual outcome of the vote. (And allenabling many American liberals to avoid discussing the multiple factors behind Trump's disastrous success, from the anti- indications are that the Kremlin, like so many other observers, expected Clinton to win anyway.)

....democratic distortions of the electoral college system to the disenfranchisement of voters, especially African-Americans, through voter ID laws and mass incarceration. Rather than confront the deep flaws in the US's own institutions, political system and society that produced the freak result, for many it was more convenient – more emotionally accurate, too – to blame Trump's ascent on an outside power, and implicitly to identify Trump himself as a foreign body.

....The idea of a 'New Cold War' seems, more than anything, designed to fill a conceptual vacuum – compensating for the lack, in the minds of many, of ways to grasp the disconcerting novelty of the current geopolitical moment.

[N.B. This "U.S. won the cold war" judgment was contradicted by living class reality: the continued unravelling of the world order forged after WW2 by Wshington and the Stalinist leadership of the USSR: to thwart, midlead, and eventually destroy struggles for national liberation and revolutionary socialism. In fact the U.S. can be seen today as the biggest loser of that cold war.]

CHAPTER 6 Russia in the World

....Russia's fantasy of integration or alliance with the West has finally been buried.

....But its role will remain significant, even in a century that promises serious shifts in the global balance of power. All the more reason, then, to think seriously about how the country sees its future self, and what obstacles and opportunities might lie along its path.

[N.B. "The country"   No classes but classless abstractions caricatured inadequately.]

....It occupies a difficult mid-category between the hegemonic US and a rising China on the one hand, and on the other a handful of large states, chiefly Brazil and India, that are rapidly leaving behind their status as 'developing countries'.

....For all the concern about the tentacular spread of Putin's influence, its actual capacity to shape political outcomes has proved negligible to non-existent – the 2016 US elections very much included. The Kremlin does indeed seek to convert whatever leverage it possesses into concrete advantages, and this can involve all kinds of tactics, from discreet negotiations to loud threats to covert meddling. But the resources at Russia's disposal are fewer than in 1917 or 1945, and the forces likely to oppose it are far stronger.

....It does seem reasonable to assume that US hegemony will eventually come to an end, just as the Pax Britannica did before it, and it makes sense to debate what kind of world order will follow. Will China slide smoothly into the role of next global hegemon? Are we headed for an anarchic system in which no single power takes the place of the US? Or will the world to come do away with the dominance of states altogether, replacing that pattern with a world-market society?10 These alternative scenarios would have very different consequences, for Russia as for everyone else. From Moscow's perspective, a Chinese-dominated world would be unlike the US-dominated order in one especially crucial respect: Russia would now share an extensive land border with the single superpower. If the PRC became the US of the twenty-first century, would Russia become its Mexico – economically integrated with and strategically subordinated to the giant next door? The world-market scenario poses a different kind of threat: a dilution or even dissolution of state sovereignty that might produce all kinds of socio-economic or even territorial fragmentation, turning existing nation-states into little more than cartographic fictions.

....when after the 2008 war with Georgia, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Whatever was left of Russia's commitment to the idea of territorial integrity vanished completely during the Ukraine crisis, when it first annexed Crimea after a hasty referendum supervised by 20,000 Russian troops, and then backed secessionist rebels in the Donbass, while making intermittent noises about absorbing eastern Ukraine's Russian-speaking territories. It seems unlikely that this second annexation was ever seriously considered: the Kremlin was instead floating the idea of reconstituting 'Novorossiia' in order to push the West to back down. The attempt clearly failed; but at the same time, it opened up once more the Pandora's box of separatisms Russia had apparently fought so hard to keep shut since the 1990s.

[N.B. Still a "prison house of nations."]

....If there were any connection between state security and degrees of local democracy, Putin should have done the opposite. In 2014, though Moscow furnished the rebellion in the Donbass with arms and troops, and to begin with noisily promoted the rebels in official media, its enthusiasm had limits: besides being pro-Russian, the Donbass militias were strongly anti-oligarchic, a stance that might potentially have popular appeal well beyond eastern Ukraine. When it came to it, the Kremlin knew which side of the barricades it would rather be on.

[N.B. Nice of Wood to give Putin some free advice.]


....tendency, across the post-Soviet space and far beyond, for countries governed by such regimes to find themselves circling through variations on the same governmental theme.

[N.B. Almost like different political parties and leaders simply represent the same ruling class! 😏]

....not just an anti-Putin who can take the current president's place. This is no small task, and it would have to be the work of a large-scale movement rather than an elite plot or a few scattered individuals. Yet it's possible that Putin's fourth term might provide an opportunity for such a project to begin to take shape. A period of stasis for the ruling system could also be a valuable interval....


For a book supposedly setting aside myths and fantasies about Putin in order to analyze the Russian class politics and economic transformations of 1991-2018, the name Putin appears in every single page.


30 December 2018

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Continuity of struggle for a proletarian party

…. An essential part of the strategic line of march toward the establishment of a workers and farmers government in the United States is the fight for the transformation of the industrial unions—the most powerful existing organizations of the working class—into revolutionary instruments of class struggle for the interests of the exploited and oppressed.

During the long postwar period of capitalist expansion, political conditions in the United States stood in the way of effective revolutionary work by socialists in the industrial unions. The political and economic situation that opened in the mid-1970s made it possible once again for communists to advance this fight from within the industrial unions. This dictated a sharp turn. The SWP decided to get a large and stable majority of its members into the industrial unions and to build national fractions of its members in these unions.

Without such a turn to the industrial unions a retreat from the struggle for a proletarian party would have been unavoidable. The party’s internationalism, its political homogeneity and centralization, and its revolutionary centralist character would have been eroded. The working-class composition of its milieu, its membership, and its leadership would have been diluted instead of strengthened. It would have become more white and anglo. There would have been even greater pressure on party members who are female to retreat from the demands of political leadership and lose their political self-confidence. The party would have been more susceptible to the pressures of a growing economic and social crisis and war preparations—pressures originating in the bourgeoisie and transmitted through various petty-bourgeois layers and organizations. It would have been more vulnerable to cliquism and permanent factionalism, and therefore less democratic. If a revolutionary proletarian party does not base its membership in the industrial working class and industrial unions when it is politically possible to do so, this inevitably results in the erosion of its program.

*   *   *

(Continuity of struggle for a proletarian party)


Counterrevolution in Soviet Union

By the mid-1920s, however, the wave of revolutionary upheavals in other countries that followed the Russian Revolution had been defeated. The worker Bolsheviks, forged in the party built by Vladimir Lenin, the central leader of the 1917 Russian Revolution, were exhausted by the first world war and then the 1918-20 civil war. These objective conditions helped promote the growth of petty-bourgeois, bureaucratic layers in the Soviet government and Communist Party, led by Joseph Stalin, mainly concerned with guaranteeing their privileged positions and life style.

Stalin reversed Lenin’s revolutionary internationalist course and replaced it with the narrow, nationalist perspective of the bureaucratic caste in the government and party. He imposed a change in the CPs around the world, transforming them from organizations seeking to carry out socialist revolutions to instruments of Soviet foreign policy, carrying out dictates from the Kremlin and working to pressure their own capitalist classes to accept Moscow’s offer of collaboration to dampen workers’ resistance.

A minority within the CPs fought to maintain a genuine Marxist course. They were eventually expelled. In the United States, they went on to form the Communist League.

The following decade brought much opportunity for the workers in the Communist League to recruit, as labor radicalized under the blows of the Great Depression. Up to this time the great mass of workers were unorganized. But beginning in 1933, millions of workers began participating in strikes and organizing drives across the country. The massive strike wave culminated in the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1936, which became a social movement, pressing for government action to bring relief from depression conditions. This upsurge wrested major gains for the working class in the face of attacks from the bosses and their government.

Essential to the most important battles in the ’30s was the leadership initiative of rank-and-file unionists who fought for independent working-class action. Revolutionary class-conscious leadership was decisive in some of the most successful battles, such as the Teamsters strikes in Minneapolis and subsequent organizing drive throughout the Upper Midwest, from which many of the best militants were recruited to the Communist League. (See “The 1930s Minneapolis Teamsters rebellion” in the October 20 Militant).

A series of fusions between the Communist League and other revolutionary-minded forces in the succeeding years led to the foundation of the Socialist Workers Party in 1938. U.S. imperialism’s drive toward war in the late 1930s precipitated a deep political fight within the SWP. A petty-bourgeois layer within the party bent to bourgeois pressure and rejected many of the party’s longstanding Marxist principles. They abandoned defense of the Soviet Union against imperialist attack and rejected fundamental norms of party organization.

This layer split from the party in early 1940. Though the split took a large number of members, the party emerged on a stronger proletarian footing. The record of this political fight is contained in the books The Struggle for a Proletarian Party by James P. Cannon and In Defense of Marxism by Leon Trotsky.

For the next few years the party continued to focus its work in the industrial union movement. But over the course of the following decades, industrial unions receded from their central place in politics. The failure of the union officialdom to mobilize labor in broader political struggles—to organize the unorganized in the South and elsewhere, or to fight for independent working-class politics—led to stagnation in the union movement.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s the SWP concentrated its activity on the explosive social struggles by Black workers against segregation and on the openings presented by the Cuban Revolution. These were soon to be followed by the massive opposition to the war in Vietnam, the rise of the women’s liberation movement, and other social and political struggles that attracted young people looking for an alternative to the capitalist system. Out of these movements many youth joined the communist movement. 

Turn to industry
A turning point in working-class politics arrived with the 1974-75 economic recession, which was the deepest since 1937-38 and the first downturn since then that was worldwide in scope. This downward slide prompted the bosses and their government to qualitatively accelerate their attacks on workers’ standard of living.

In light of this, the Socialist Workers Party prepared itself for the opportunities that would come with the inevitable working-class resistance that the ruling-class assaults would produce. In 1978, the SWP decided to initiate a turn to the industrial unions, organizing the big majority of its members and leaders to get jobs in industry and center their activity there and in the industrial unions. “Our turn has to do with what is changing in the American working class,” states the report adopted by the party’s 1979 convention. “When our kind of party has the opportunity to go to the weightiest and most powerfully organized sections of our class and do political work, we have to do it.”

Since the party’s turn to industry, the experience of the workers’ movement has illustrated its correctness. While the sharp battles that will materialize in response to the assaults by the ruling class lie ahead, we can already see the signs of initial resistance as more and more workers seek to use union power to defend themselves from layoffs, speedup, lack of safety, and declining real wages. As the consequences of the capitalist economic and social crisis bear down harder, the most class-conscious workers will be won to the communist movement.

"Methods" of leadership

From Chapter 12. The ‘Clique’ and the ‘Leader Cult’

....The Stalinist bureaucracy represents privileged social groupings which have appeared for the first time in history on the basis of a workers’ state. The Marxists alone—that is, the Trotskyists—found the key to the real mystery of Stalinism. They first revealed its social base. Then they demonstrated that its privileges and special interests collide irreconcilably with the interests of the masses in their march toward socialism. In order to serve their special interests the Stalinist bureaucracy was compelled to introduce a line of policy which contradicted the program and tradition of the party. In order to impose such policy upon the party and upon the country, they were compelled to suppress party democracy, to force their line through by means of bureaucratic violence, and to concentrate all power in the party apparatus.

But the conflicts of class interests in the country, and the numerous rivalries and conflicts of interest between the various privileged groups, found a distorted expression in factional struggles within the apparatus itself. This unsettled the regime and created possibilities for the intervention of the party rank and file, and of the working mass in general. The Left Opposition for a time made its way through just such fissures in the apparatus and threatened its overthrow. This demonstrated to the bureaucracy the iron necessity of a still narrower concentration of power. The conflicting privileged groups required a means for the arbitration and regulation of their conflicts without the intervention of the masses, and in such a way as to unite them all against the masses. Out of this necessity, after the revolutionary wing of the party had been annihilated, emerged the single, all-powerful leader, the arbitrator, the Soviet Bonaparte, Stalin.

Stalin thus appears as a “leader” of an entirely different type from Lenin, who also enjoyed exceptional authority, and one who arrived at his position by an entirely different practice. Lenin, the Marxist, the revolutionist, truly expressed the interests of the masses and maintained his position by the consent and even the love of the most conscious section of the proletariat. Lenin consequently leaned upon the masses and required party democracy to mobilise their support against the privileged elements within the country and in the party. Stalin, the revisionist, the betrayer of the revolution, came to his position not by the voluntary will of the masses but in a struggle of the privileged groups against them. Stalin is not the “leader” because the people “love” him; it is obligatory to “love” him because he is the dictatorial power, the Soviet Bonaparte, whose prestige must be artificially inflated and promoted in order to strengthen his position as the arbitrator, defender and best representative of the privileged elements in the population. If anyone disagrees, there is the GPU to convince him.

All the “methods” of Stalinism grew from the necessities of an unstable and highly privileged bureaucracy which cannot maintain itself by other methods, and dares not permit democratic procedures that would permit the masses to intervene. As for the Stalinist bureaucracies in the parties of the Comintern, they are simply the extensions of the Russian social phenomenon, its foreign agents. The main social base of the bureaucratic gang in the American Communist Party is in the Soviet Union. That explains the peculiarities which distinguish it from the bureaucracies of the trade union movement, the reformist political parties, etc....

--Struggle for a Proletarian Party by James P. Cannon

Turning the party in the right direction

From 13. The Proletarian Orientation

....Our basic problem still remains, as stated there, to “turn our faces in the right direction. That means, first of all, to turn our backs on the pessimists and calamity howlers, the soul-sick intellectuals and tired radicals who whine and dawdle around the fringes of the movement and even, to a certain extent, infest our ranks.” I still think that “most contemptible of all are those who seek to cover their desertion and retreat by hurling newly invented ‘ideological’ disagreements with Marxism over their shoulders. Taken altogether they are an unattractive and uninspiring aggregation. It is nothing less than a monstrous travesty to consider them as in any way reflecting the movement of workers’ emancipation which, by its very nature, is alien to all pessimism and defeatist tendencies. It is criminal folly to waste time or even to argue the question with these runaway boys and heralds of defeat before the battle.”

--Struggle for a Proletarian Party by James P. Cannon

The proletarian party and the petty bourgeois intellectual


…. For the proletarian revolutionist the party is the concentrated expression of his life purpose, and he is bound to it for life and death. He preaches and practices party patriotism, because he knows that his socialist ideal cannot be realized without the party. In his eyes the crime of crimes is disloyalty or irresponsibility toward the party. The proletarian revolutionist is proud of his party. He defends it before the world on all occasions. The proletarian revolutionist is a disciplined man, since the party cannot exist as a combat organization without discipline. When he finds himself in the minority, he loyally submits to the decision of the party and carries out its decisions, while he awaits new events to verify the disputes or new opportunities to discuss them again.

The petty-bourgeois attitude toward the party, which Burnham represents, is the opposite of all this. The petty-bourgeois character of the opposition is shown in their attitude toward the party, their conception of the party, even in their method of complaining and whining about the “grievances,” as unfailingly as in their light-minded attitude toward our program, our doctrine, and our tradition.

The petty-bourgeois intellectual, who wants to teach and guide the labor movement without participating in it, feels only loose ties to the party and is always full of “grievances” against it. The moment his toes are stepped on, or he is rebuffed, he forgets all about the interests of the movement and remembers only that his feelings have been hurt; the revolution may be important, but the wounded vanity of a petty-bourgeois intellectual is more important. He is all for discipline when he is laying down the law to others, but as soon as he finds himself in a minority, he begins to deliver ultimatums and threats of split to the party majority.

Monday, December 3, 2018

“Tell those Kennedy brothers they both can go to hell”--Gloria Richardson

Amazon review by a comrade:

I got to see Gloria Richardson at a discussion of Malcolm X at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture a few years back. As I recall, she was the only panelist who had known Malcolm X, and definitely the only one there worth listening to.

I’m glad to see more biographies coming out about Black leaders, especially women, like Richardson, Rosa Parks and Fannie Lou Hamer.

Today middle class leftists think that pro-Democratic Party rallies "against Trump" are a mass movement. But everything that Trump has done, and worse, has been done by the Democratic Party (see The Clintons' Anti-Working-Class Record (Why Washington fears working people?)).

Richardson’s first protest activity was when she was a student at Howard University; boycotting and picketing stores that wouldn’t hire Black workers. Earlier, in 1937, a union organizing drive in Cambridge, MD made Richardson admire her grandfather’s oratory, but she disagreed with him and supported Blacks joining the union. This was the period when the CIO, a group of unions that had broken with the AFL, was organizing unskilled workers by industry, unlike the AFL, which organized skilled workers by trade. Although the CIO didn’t make a total break with racist practices, unlike most of the AFL, they organized Black workers. The results both in wage gains and self-confidence were enormous for these workers. The best book that tells this story is Labor's Giant Step: The First Twenty Years of the CIO: 1936-55.

When the US entered World War II, the Stalinized Communist Party supported Roosevelt’s attempts to impose a wage freeze, strike-ban, and an end to dissent about racism in the military. The failure to totally do this is illustrated in the Art Preis book, especially by the description of the coal miners’ strike of 1943. The failure to stem the fight against the attempt to “postpone” the fight against racism is well documented in Fighting Racism in World War II, which, although it is taken from the pages of the ‘Militant,’ frequently was based on reporting carried in the Black press across the country. Gloria Richardson certainly would have been aware of some of these struggles.

After the war in Europe and against Japan was over, tens of thousands of American GIs considered that their war was over and demanded to come home (see “1945: When U.S, Troops said No!” in New International no. 7: Opening Guns of World War III: Washington's Assault on Iraq). This enabled the Chinese Revolution to win and also led to a postwar strike wave. But the hated policies of the Stalinists made easier the imposition of McCarthyism, which had a devastating effect on the labor movement. It was not as effective in destroying the fight for civil rights, although it certainly made it more difficult; the FBI’s hounding of Dr. King is just the best-known example.

Despite the fact that its framework is the life of Dr. King, the 3-vol ‘America in the King Years’ by Taylor Branch is essential for background on the Civil Rights/Black Power movements. Branch used a wide variety of sources for his work, including the ‘Militant’ and the ‘National Guardian.’

You can find the “Message to the Grass Roots” November 1963 Detroit speech by Malcolm X that Gloria Richardson heard (and that mentions her) in Malcolm X Speaks: Selected Speeches and Statements.

My problem with this generally excellent book is too much academic jargon, and too few quotes from Richardson. I don’t doubt that Joseph R. Fitzgerald does a good job of summarizing her views; I’d just prefer hearing them direct.

One doesn’t need research on facial gestures to know why Robert Kennedy was uncomfortable with Richardson. Would a smile have made the difference? Robert Penn Warren (mentioned in the Fitzgerald book for an interview with Richardson) in a hostile interview with Malcolm X wrote that his “face suddenly breaks into his characteristic wide, leering, merciless smile….” Smile or not, white liberals knew when they were being barely tolerated, and they didn’t like the feeling! (Today this interview is mostly known by people who read the article written in response to it--“Two Interviews,” by Jack Barnes, who interviewed Malcolm X for the Young Socialist [see Malcolm X Talks to Young People: Speeches in the United States, Britain, and Africa]).

Richardson and the Cambridge movement didn’t have a commitment to non-violence in principle. They also raised economic demands which King didn’t do for a few more years. And their goal was desegregation, not “integration,” which didn’t seem either possible or desirable at the time. While some at the time and today tried to make a big distinction between the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the distinctions were not always that great, and there was a lot of overlap. The real distinctions were in degree of militancy, class outlook, where to find allies, and self-defense. Some of the Black Power movement, like CORE, became focused on “black capitalism.” Dr. King didn’t like capitalism, but his framework was always reform and work within the Democratic Party.

Malcolm X was attracted to the revolutionary socialism of the Cuban and Algerian Revolutions (the latter in its early years) and spoke three times at the Militant Labor Forum in addition to other collaboration with the Socialist Workers Party (see Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power).

There were people from both the Civil Rights and Black Power wings of the movement involved in the fight against the war in Vietnam. This was especially highlighted at the April 15, 1967 march in New York, headed by a large Black contingent, which both Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael spoke at. (See Out Now: A Participant's Account of the Movement in the United States Against the Vietnam War).

While the online index for the ‘Militant’ (something I work on) only goes back to 1979 at this point, other search features go back to the beginning (1928). I’ll just give a few of the references I found there to Gloria Richardson. In the August 19, 1963, issue, which was sold (and sold out!) at the March on Washington, an article appeared on a speech she gave in San Francisco. One paragraph reads:

“The Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee has proposed a program to benefit both white and Negro workers. Mrs. Richardson listed some of the major points: A proposed federal housing project should be built by a local contractor hiring an integrated work crew. Special classes to be instituted to train Negro and white apprentices. Integrate the school system and invite a special task force of outside teachers in to help raise the low standards of the formerly segregated schools.”

From the ‘Militant,’ September 2, 1963:
“It was very moving when A. Philip Randolph paid tribute to the women who have played a heroic role in the civil rights revolution. He singled out Mrs. Daisy Bates of Little Rock; Mrs. Rosa Parks of Montgomery, Ala., who touched off the historic bus boycott there by refusing to move to the back; Mrs. Herbert Lee, whose husband was shot in cold blood by a Mississippi racist for supporting the voter-registration drive; Diane Nash Bevel, a courageous young Deep South rights fighter; and Mrs. Gloria Richardson, the unflinching leader of the embattled Cambridge, Md., movement, which is affiliated to SNCC.”

The 'Militant' didn’t comment on the fact that none of the women got to speak, but it commented on the censoring of John Lewis’ speech, and ran the original version in a later issue.

From the June 7, 1965 issue:
“NEW YORK — Civil rights militants Fannie Lou Hamer of Mississippi and Gloria Richardson Dandridge, formerly of Cambridge, Md., were among the featured speakers at the memorial meeting for Malcolm X held at the Rockland Palace Ballroom here May 26. Malcolm’s widow, Betty Shabazz, who is expecting Malcolm’s fifth child this summer, was present and greeted the audience of some 500 persons.

“Fannie Lou Hamer said Malcolm was “one of the greatest men I ever met because he was one of the only men I ever met who had the guts to tell the truth.” Gloria Richardson Dandridge, who led the famous Cambridge Nonviolent Action movement until she married and moved to New York last year, said that unlike those people who disliked some sides of Malcolm ‘my admiration was for the whole man.’ She liked the direction in which Malcolm was moving, she said, and for ‘White America with its elaborate myths it was a more dangerous Malcolm who was developing.’ He was cut down, she said, when it only remained for him to ‘fashion the political weapon oriented toward the black people and necessary for our freedom.’

“Among the other speakers who appeared were Harlem rent strike leader Jesse Gray, comedian Godfrey Cambridge and actor-producer Ossie Davis. The meeting was chaired by writer Sylvester Leaks.”