A relaunch of North Star

by Louis Proyect on November 11, 2014

Forerunners

 Frederick_Douglass_c1860sFrederick Douglass

 

Bert Cochran

Peter Camejo

The North Star website was named in honor of Peter Camejo who launched the North Star Network in 1981 as part of an effort to regroup the left around a non-sectarian and non-dogmatic approach. He chose that name in honor of Frederick Douglass who published North Star, an abolitionist newspaper, from December 1847 until June 1851.

As someone who worked closely with Peter Camejo on the North Star Network, I had hopes that a website would carry on in that tradition. Because competing demands made on a series of editors rendered that task impossible, the website became dormant. I hope to resurrect it and help reorient it to its original mandate, which like the network of the early 80s, was to regroup the left around a non-sectarian and non-dogmatic approach.

The idea of something like North Star came to me about four years ago as I was nearing retirement at Columbia University. It would not be promoting a “party line” but instead provide a platform for socialists to report on the struggles they are involved with as well as facilitate debates about how to move such struggles forward.

In January 1954, a very dark time for the left, former members of the Socialist Workers Party in the USA launched a new group called Socialist Union that was a forerunner to the North Star Network in many ways. The group eschewed “Leninist” norms of democratic centralism and functioned more as a network than as a disciplined “cadre” formation like the one they had just left. In keeping with their more open approach, they published a magazine called The American Socialist (http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/amersocialist/) that welcomed different points of view, including articles from a very young Ralph Nader and WEB DuBois. In a speech (http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/amersocialist/cochran02.htm) defining the goals of the new group, Bert Cochran outlined an approach that remains relevant six decades later:

If I may be permitted to draw my own design of the consensus that I believe has been achieved, I would state as the first proposition that the day of organizing a radical movement in this country as a branch office of the Russian concern—is over; and thank God! And that is true whether it is a branch office that gets its instructions from Stalin or Khrushchev or Lenin or Trotsky. This country is too big, too diversified, too self-sufficient and self-confident, it has too many people, it has too powerful a tradition of its own to tolerate a radicalism whose source of inspiration or whose hidden allegiances reside abroad. We can be friends of socialist achievements wherever they take place, and we can practice international labor solidarity on behalf of a common cause without surrendering the dignity of our independence and without losing our bearings that socialism in this country, as in all major countries, will only be won as a manifestation of its own national will.

The second proposition that I would list on which there has been a significant meeting of many minds is the realization that a new movement cannot be built representing simply one of the existing factions, or revolve around one of the existing factions. The fact is all of these have been trying to build the Left party of the American people for many years, and all of them have failed. It doesn’t mean that all of their ideas are necessarily worthless. But as an overall proposition, they have weighed in the balance of a quarter century, and have been found wanting. The new movement has to be new in fact as well as in name. It has to breathe the spirit of an all-national enterprise, and eschew the spirit of a faction or sect.

The third proposition is that the new movement will have to effect a wedding between radicalism and democracy all over again. It was a fatal error that an estrangement was permitted between the two, and reconciliation will have to be consummated, not as a matter of mutual convenience, but of true love. Socialism can have appeal and attractive power in America again only if it rests on the democratic achievements that have been wrested thus far and seeks to extend them, only if works to realize the American dream one of whose main components is freedom and democracy. And the promise will not carry conviction unless it is accompanied by the practice, by resistance to injustice, by an outcry against brutality, by hostility to dictatorship, wherever it appears, be it in Russia or America. Moreover, a revived Left will demonstrate its democracy by the free play for variegated concepts of work it permits in its own councils. The experiments with semi-military, over-centralized and over-bureaucratized forms of organization have proven a fiasco.

Despite the disappearance of the Socialist Union and the North Star Network, their orientation continued to have an appeal for many on the left who had found the experience of “Leninist” party membership futile or were fortunate enough never to have made the mistake of joining such a party. It is the independent socialist left in the USA (and globally) that North Star hopes to reach just as was the case with previous efforts. At the risk of overprojecting, I am confident that the time for North Star is more propitious than ever.

The ability of the revolutionary left in Greece, for example, to regroup through the “big tent” of Syriza indicates the kind of flexibility that is needed when traditional “Leninist” structures have been largely ignored by the masses. Even more encouraging is the development of Podemos in Spain, an electoral formation led by young people who took to the streets against the brutal austerity that is sweeping the planet.

It is also important for North Star to draw upon the talents of socialists across the planet. Given the “globalizing” tendencies of capitalism, it is more necessary than ever for our class to develop bonds of solidarity that will hearken back to the early days of the Russian Revolution when socialism was a global movement.

Over the coming weeks, I will be in touch with people who I have gotten to know over the years to broach the subject of writing for North Star. In addition, I hope that people sympathetic to this approach will contact me at [email protected] to submit articles broadly in the spirit of the relaunched website. More to come…

Louis Proyect

 

Robert Gahtan November 12, 2014 at 3:14 am

If “an effort to regroup the left around a non-sectarian and non-dogmatic approach”, then I think it useful to have some of the writings, radio programs, and videos of Richard D. Wolff.

Go up to any worker and ask them what they think about Mondragon, or about the
Arizmendi Bakery in San Francisco,

Richard D. Wolff is a Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. And he is currently a Visiting Professor of the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School University in New York. Since 2008, he has been writing and speaking chiefly on the global capitalist crisis. His latest book is Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA.

Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

It used to be that to talk about the capitalist system would bring up all the demons of McCarthyism and the House Un-American Activities Committee. You couldn’t even talk about the economic system unless you were somewhere in some university political economic courses or such. In popular parlance, it was almost un-American to talk about the system everyone was actually part of.

Well, that’s changed. We’ve got generations of people now that don’t even know what McCarthyism was, and the issue of whether it’s capitalism or socialism is kind of just a question of what are the options. And it’s a debate that perhaps needs to come way out more in the open, ’cause I think ordinary people are a lot more ready for that conversation than a lot of the people who have been insiders of this conversation think so.

So without further ado, now joining us in the studio is a Marxist. Oh no! A Marxist!

RICHARD WOLFF, PROF. EMERITUS OF ECONOMICS, UMASS AMHERST: No horns.

JAY: No horns! Richard Wolff is one of the nation’s most well-known Marxist economists. He’s a professor of economics emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he taught economics for 35 years, and he’s currently a visiting professor of the graduate program in international affairs at the New School University in New York. He’s the host of The Economic Update, a weekly radio show on WBAI. He’s edited all kinds of books, and he’s appeared on lots of TV shows, including Bill Maher and Bill Moyers and Charlie Rose.

And thanks for joining us.

WOLFF: Thank you.

JAY: And the fact that you’re getting invited on all these shows kind of speaks to the fact that you can actually talk about Marx and economic systems and socialism and such. In that sense, public opinion has changed.

WOLFF: It’s an amazing thing to me, having spent most of my life trying to offer what I thought were constructive criticisms of capitalism and having relatively few opportunities to do it. You’re exactly right. The last three or four years is a complete seachange, like nothing I’ve ever seen before or that I ever expected. Everywhere in the country, people want to have that conversation. They want to look at the critical perspective on capitalism and not just hear the cheerleading that comes from the politicians and the journalists, with few exceptions. And so I’m finding out audiences left and right that I never dreamed were there, and the conversations are intense, engaged, and very much looking for new solutions.

JAY: I mean, I think it’s getting clear to a lot of people that capitalism is out of solutions within its own framework. I mean, first of all, in terms of financial reform, there’s been nothing serious enough. It’s pretty clear there are still enormous financial institutions that are still speculating wildly, and the same stuff that happened in ’07 and ’08 is likely to happen again. It’s kind of a question of when rather than if.

WOLFF: That’s right.

JAY: The issue of demand in the economy, low wages and such, nothing’s changed. And climate change, capitalism, so far, at least, does not consider it a threat to capitalism to have global warming, and they’re not really getting serious about it. So, I mean, are you finding that there’s this sense of that, that there aren’t solutions here anymore?

WOLFF: I think two things are happening. The one that’s most important is that as the crisis since 2007 lingers and lingers, this crisis that was not supposed to happen, that was not supposed to cut so deep, continues to do all of that and to last and last and resist government efforts to change it, that people are shifting and beginning to want to look beyond the crisis years since 2007 and ask the question whether maybe we’re not in a bigger, longer-term dilemma for capitalism. And I think we are. And if I could sketch it for a moment, think it would help people to see this as a momentary downturn within a longer crisis.

And here’s how I would summarize it. For the first 200, 250 years of capitalism, which begins in England, goes to Western Europe, and then to North America and Japan, the capitalist system, it concentrated in those countries, concentrated its factories, its offices, and stores there where it began. And it turned the rest of the world–Asia, Africa, Latin America–into a hinterland to provide the people, to provide the food, to provide the raw materials. And that was how the world was globally organized.

Then in the 1970s something radically changed. With a jet engine, you could get anywhere in the world in a matter of hours. With modern telecommunications and the computer, you could monitor a factory in Shanghai from Cincinnati as easily as you could manage a factory down the street in Cincinnati. And so capitalists–and I want this really to be driven home if I can–capitalists in the 1970s in Western Europe, North America, and Japan have basically said to the United States and Western Europe and Japan, goodbye, we’re leaving, we are abandoning you. You are not where the profit is. The profit is in those places we can now go to where we pay a small fraction of those wages, where we can operate with impunity, where the poverty of these societies, itself a product of all of this, makes them desperate to have the jobs that we can provide. It’s a perfect scenario. We made a lot of money for 200 years in the West, and now we’re leaving.

And I think the emblematic city that kind of shows this is Detroit, a place that was the apogee, the peak of capitalist efficiency in the 1960s, sustaining 2 million people population, today 700,000, a city that has been literally ripped apart and destroyed because three corporations decided, for profit, to leave that place and say goodbye and leave behind the desolation, the unemployment, the collapsed housing, and all the rest of a city and now has to be the largest bankruptcy of any American urban area in our history.

I think the capitalists of the world are saying to Western Europe, North America, and Japan, we were willing to give you higher wages because we were able to reorganize the planet for 200 years. Now our future is in the areas that are cheap for us–the rest of the world–and we’re abandoning you.

JAY: Or beating up the wages here. Like, for example, in Detroit–

WOLFF: That’s the other side of the same thing.

JAY: –the starting wage used to be $26 an hour. In this great reorganization, it’s now $14 an hour.

WOLFF: That’s right. So basically they’re saying to the West, we’re leaving. Now, of course, if you make it worth our while not to leave by bringing the wages and the costs [incompr.] well, we might reconsider. But then what they’re saying to the American people is, you can have a choice of a slow decline as we leave or a rapid decline to slow our departure. This is an unbelievable proposition to present to Western Europe, Japan, and the United States and I think will shape the basic political struggles in all these places for years to come.

JAY: But it’s so self-destructive even for capitalism, because now you’ve taken a market that was the consumer of last resort for the world and turning people into increasingly low-wage workers. You’re going to sell your profits where? The places that are already low-wage workers? I mean, it’s really completely–.

WOLFF: You know, it’s wonderful, ’cause as you introduced me as a Marxist, Marx was fond of saying that capitalists are caught in a stunning contradiction. Every capitalist tries to lower the wage costs, reduce the workers, substitute a machine, cut the wages, never wanting to face the fact that if all capitalists are trapped in a system where they’re systematically reducing the wages, then they won’t be able to sell what those wage workers are producing. And if you don’t face that, you’re caught in the contradiction that what the system makes you do undoes you by the absence of anyone to buy this stuff. And there we are, back to the naked, basic contradiction of a system that doesn’t want to face that it has these kinds of internal problems.

JAY: So in terms of long-term decline, why isn’t this cyclical? We’ve seen these things over the last century. Why is this any different?

WOLFF: Well, I think that we have the cyclicals, but the one thing that I find so interesting is that this one has certain unique characteristics. It was really out of the blue in the sense that almost nobody saw this kind of thing coming. Everyone assured us, not just the president and the politicians, but the economists, that it wouldn’t last long. That was wrong. That it would cut deep. That was wrong.

But I think the thing that really strikes me is the kind of utter failure of anyone in this system to cope with this other than the 1 percent. The politicians can’t figure out a solution. The bankers can’t, as you rightly put it–for example, the banks that were too big to fail without exception are now bigger than they were then. Nobody is solving it. And even the mass of people are like deer caught in the headlights not knowing which way to go. In the ’30s, after all, they joined unions, [they joined (?)] socialist and communist parties, and that made a difference. At this point, there is the behavior of a system that kind of knows that this isn’t just a temporary crisis, there’s something fundamental shifting. And yet no one quite knows what to do.

JAY: There’s another part from–I mean, I know something about Marx. I’m not–I haven’t studied it the way you have. But I’ve always been struck that one of the things that Marx and Engels said that I think gets completely underestimated is that socialism isn’t just some good idea. It’s not a better policy that we could adopt. It’s something that actually grows within capitalism. You get these massive enterprises, and they’re fabulously well-planned. Like, you take Walmart, you get a toothpaste off of a shelf in Walmart, they know to get another toothpaste thing going somewhere in China. But the individual, as you say, the individual enterprises try to drive down wages, but they also get extremely efficient, and especially with computerization and digitization. Walmart is a planned economy.

WOLFF: Absolutely.

JAY: But it’s, like, the biggest private employer. I mean, Marx’s whole point is this is actually–this is the seeds of socialism, except they’re privately owned.

WOLFF: That’s right. They’re privately owned. They’re driven by the maximization of profit for a tiny fraction of the population. And then you can’t be surprised that the capacity, what they’re capable of doing, which is a staggering saving of labor for the community, ends up not saving the labor for the community at all, because the whole point of it is to gather absurd wealth in the tiny number of hands. And Marx’s point was this is an irrationality that even the best public relations cannot forever cover over.

And I think we’re in a moment where, both in the short-run crisis and this longer-run decline, the irrationalities, the contradictions–. Look, basically capitalism is saying to particularly the American working class, for 200 years, we really exploited you on the job, but we gave you rising standard of living. Compensation of an awful day was that you could go someplace at the end of the day and have something called a happy hour to console you for the unhappy hours prior. Now capitalism is saying to you, we’re going to exploit the hell out of you, but we’re not giving you a rising standard of living. We’re actually giving you a falling one. We’re condemning your students to debt they can’t handle. We’re taking away the benefits. We’re taking away all of the job prospects and hopes for the younger generation. We’re going to work you on the job more hours than ever, and we’re going to give you less for it. Whatever you think about the past, I’m not clear that the American working class will find that an acceptable offer.

JAY: Now, you’re traveling a lot around the country. You’re speaking all over the place. What are you seeing? Are you seeing anything politically that excites you?

WOLFF: Yes. I’m a teacher. I’ve been a professor of economics all my life. I see a level of hunger to understand what’s going on. I’ve never seen that before. It’s like a teacher’s dream. What you want in your students is a desire for what it is you have to teach. I now travel around the country, and I see audiences of 200, 400, 1,000. And what’s clear is they want me to explain how did this happen, what happened to this American dream they thought they were going to get, why is it disintegrating, why is it disappearing. And if I’m going to explain it to them and if I’m going to be critical, they are so grateful for someone giving them a sense of what’s going on that my leftism is a kind of extra benefit. They’re willing to hear me halfway out, which is all I ask. So to make a long story short, as a teacher with a critical perspective, I’m having the time of my life.

JAY: Alright. Now, Rick has to run, but he’s agreed to come back. So–.

William C Crain November 13, 2014 at 9:21 am

i look forward to North Star ~ i learned a great deal from it… I’m ready for more ~
Yes we are too big and too fortunate to be constrained or saddled with the labels of the distant past in places far far away. i appreciate all 3 positions you address Louis.

42Erin December 4, 2014 at 12:20 am

This relaunch is taking awhile and though I wish you well I think the project is in trouble.
I think that a big debate is required out in the open.

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Aaron Aarons December 12, 2014 at 8:09 pm

“As much as I respect Proyect, I don’t think that this kind of “big-tent project” should or can be led by a single person, no matter how open-minded they might be.”
The name “Louis Proyect” and the adjective “open-minded” don’t belong in the same sentence. I’m not the only left, anti-imperialist critic who has been banned from participating in his Marxism list or from commenting on his web site. I hope he has not been given similar power over the North Star site.

Aaron Aarons December 12, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Apparently, Louis Proyect, the late Bert Cochran, and others believe that one can talk about the building of a socialist movement in the United States while ignoring not only the need for a genuine socialist movement in the world’s leading imperialist power to fight against that imperialism, but even the very existence of that imperialism! And there’s also no mention of the other pillar of the American Way of Life, white supremacy, or even of racism in the abstract!

Of course, there is one variant of “socialism” that is consistent with such willful blindness. It’s called ‘national socialism’, a variant of ‘socialism’ that, in its most extreme form, was attempted in Germany in the 1930’s, somewhat less crudely by Labor Zionism in Palestine, and, to varying degrees, by the various Labor parties and Social Democratic parties in other imperialist countries.

louisproyect December 13, 2014 at 4:49 pm

Aaron, this attempt to link the North Star to Nazism is a provocation. If you write anything like this again, it will be your last post here. There are many websites on the Internet that surely come closer to your idea of socialism. My suggestion is that you orient to them rather than those you hate. It is best for us and for you as well.

Aaron Aarons December 13, 2014 at 6:30 pm

To say that my comment was an “attempt to link the North Star to Nazism” is an attempt to find an excuse to ban me from this site as you have from your own. Is this site just going to be another Louis Proyect blog where his majesty gets to insult and ban people at his whim, usually people more distant from the dominant ideology than he is?

Bert Cochran has been dead for a while, but you, Louis, are still with us (you’re a bit younger than I am, in fact) and could take the opportunity to actually respond to my comment and either defend or correct your failure to mention the struggle against U.S. imperialism and white supremacy as part of the foundational principles of the movement or organization you are apparently trying to build.

BTW, it should have been clear that my mention of “national socialism” in its German manifestation as the extreme end of a range of “socialisms” that don’t oppose national chauvinism was only s “provocation” in that it was meant to provoke discussion of the question of how socialists in imperialist countries deal with the national chauvinism — partly based, in my opinion, on material interests — of their working classes. So do you want to deal with the issue or just ban me?

louisproyect December 13, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Aaron, I regard you as hostile to the aims of North Star. I really must urge you to stop trying to have “scratch to gangrene” type interventions here. It was obvious that you were making a connection between the project here and Nazism or why else would you have made it? We are not political newcomers here and understand your game completely. You can be sure that if you ever started a blog with your politics, I would not haunt it trying to prove that you were an enemy of the working class or some such thing. I would simply ignore you.

Fifteen years ago the Internet was a much different place. People would intervene on mailing lists or newsgroups to “expose” traitors to the cause and flame wars were endemic. I was not too involved with North Star when it first started up except to post an occasional article. Now that I am more directly involved as an editor, I am determined to keep the comments focused on the agenda that inspired it, namely to promote the kind of broad left unity that Bert Cochran and Peter Camejo urged at different times in American history. If that does not interest you, please move on or you will be moved.

Aaron Aarons December 18, 2014 at 7:10 pm

First of all, I never made a “connection between the project here and Nazism”, but only, perhaps a bit provocatively, pointed to German National Socialism as an extreme example of what happens when socialists fail to oppose their imperialist-country nationalism. I hereby retract any suggestion that the project here, however ill-defined it appears to be, has any resemblance to Nazism.

But could you do your readers a favor and be more specific about your interpretation of “the kind of broad left unity that Bert Cochran and Peter Camejo urged”? Are there any points of unity that would differentiate the “broad left” from the totality of all those who describe themselves as “leftist”, or who are described by others as “leftist” even if they don’t like the term? What political positions or practices would exclude somebody from your “broad left unity”? Until you fill in the blanks, so to speak, it will appear that your “broad left” consists of those whose politics, as you interpret them, do not challenge your own.

marcos December 14, 2014 at 4:04 pm

Camejo was the same, an old school Trotskyist when working within the Green Party with all of the sectarian leftist organizing style, all that was missing was the newspaper. Anyone who challenged his highness’ divine right to rule, the millionaire socialist leader would get all bent out of shape and launch a jihad against the infidels. Disagreeing with the Great Man was tantamount to climbing in bed with the corporate Democrats. It is this approach to politics, focusing on the narcissism of small differences by insecure men to the exclusion of the underlying politics, that has led “the left” into a ditch.

louisproyect December 14, 2014 at 5:11 pm

I take it Marcos was a supporter of Ted Glick et al. Or who knows what he thinks? It is buried beneath the invective.

marcos December 14, 2014 at 5:17 pm

No, I was a supporter of building a strong base from the bottom up that could support more ambitious campaigns in the future. Camejo denied that legitimacy because it did not offer him sufficient venues for self promotion. So he instigated a schism in the party, mostly with the progressive pseudo celebrity circus animals following him. The upshot was that Camejo bolted from the Green Party once it did not honor his greatness and instigated a division that, combined with a pincer movement by the Democrats from the right, effectively destroyed the CA Green Party. The voters? For their part they ignored the machinations and delivered slim fractions of the vote totals to all Green/Nader candidates on the ballot. But far be it for the vanguard Tribunes of the People to take feedback from The People.

When you make the Ted Glick play, you reprise Bush II’s “Either you are with us or you are against us” framing of tribal cooties. What role could that kind of thinking possibly have in a consensus, feminist based party? No, the professional leftists saw that independent radical political energy had been generated by years of shoe leather work in building a new non-leftist radical party. Being the cold blooded reptiles of politics that they are, unable to generate their own body heat they pounced on the rock heated by the Greens to move their torpid agenda. The goal of the sectarian is to either hijack or destroy through entrism. Camejo was the spearhead of the leftist entrist destruction of the Greens. The FBI could not have done a better job.

louisproyect December 14, 2014 at 7:54 pm

I still honestly have no idea what the politics were. You say that Peter opposed “building a strong base from the bottom up” but nobody can get a handle on what that means. We are relying on your account of a fight that is almost impossible to evaluate, especially given your extreme animus and inability to point us to independent sources.

marcos December 14, 2014 at 10:59 pm

In California Greens had begin to gain cred in local elections. As the right wing had organized to take the school boards starting in the 1960s which led to more ambitious and successful campaigns, the “demogreens” that Camejo jousted against for not supporting his quixotic capaigns were nothing of the sort. Far from wanting to run interference to defend the Democrats, most of us wanted to spend as few resources as possible on campaigns outside of our weight class to focus on continuing to build the base at the local level.

I was there as a first hand observer and participant. But since no leftist had analyzed it and rehashed it into a form suitable for the ideology at hand, you dismiss it. Perhaps this is why Camejoism never gained traction despite standing on a platform raised by the hard work of others in 2003, getting in the debates and getting the biolerplate 3.2% of the vote. “Going to run all out against the Democrats” is what Camejo used to say. We used to ask, running all out of what, support?

louisproyect December 15, 2014 at 1:54 am

I wish I could reply to what you are saying but it is simply beyond my capability to make a judgment. I don’t think that Peter was perfect but you ask me to agree with your hate campaign against him purely on your own account. I cannot and will not do this. It goes against the grain politically.

marcos December 15, 2014 at 2:25 am

You are basing a website on the political thought of an individual yet would seek to insulate your website from first hand accounts of people who have worked with this individual and seen his promises of moving beyond the confines of sectarian leftism for the frauds that they were.

Camejo was a Trotskyite first and foremost, his sectarian tendencies and inclinations were deeply ingrained. It was simply a matter of time before he fell in with the Green Party, positioning himself as a leader at the top, not at the bottom, and there was a split. Ditto for Todd Chreiten, doing no work with the Green party and using his ISO drones to barely edge out a real Green for the Senate nomination with which he did nothing to “run all out’ against Feinstein.

After the Trots came and dominated, the Green Party split and fell into irrelevance. Trotskyites split organizations, generally with a lot of yelling. There is nothing new nor desirable about following Camejo’s path from our experience in the California Green Party.

dreadnoughtpm December 17, 2014 at 3:06 pm

I am glad to see yet another go at TNS
patrickm

dreadnoughtpm December 18, 2014 at 11:53 am

What genuine niche is TNS going to fill? How will the owners of the site differ in brand from say a Sawant Socialist? What will they present at the next NY Left forum?

TNS completely failed because of the actions of the authoritarian and boring pseudoleftists who having got ‘the numbers’ banned people that thought in a manner which offended them. These classically sectarian thugs were typical of what people who had emerged from the sects were trying to get past in the first place. TNS was set up to get past sect conduct and the inability that it displays to engage in real debate and in the case of Pham Binh was almost getting past but not quite. Some debates on TNS – that were not liked by someone else in a position to edit – were not even included in the facebook feed! That is really strange but true. This breach of the stated raison d’etre was never made public.

Also open discussion was always difficult. The atmosphere particularly when focused on direct requests of the owners/editors was not relaxed and that debate not conducted with ‘ease of mind and liveliness’ but was stilted and even blatant refusals to respond. Eventually even stooping to disingenuous rejection of articles rather than publish and be damned.

The new TNS ought to make sure this is not the case this time, and the two wings ought to carry the same material. If people are published and a debate is happening on this site then it ought to be uploaded onto Facebook as well. There was never any discussion about this censorship at the time and I did not notice till I checked later. When a debate was going flat out on TNS and yet is not included in the Facebook section something was seriously wrong!

It happened and so there was the practice of proclaiming open debate and yet censorship of that debate by at least the one editor and that fact was never discussed publicly. Such conduct (exactly that of the sects) was sure to lead to more issues when real debate over deeply held beliefs confronted that editor and others.

The following current statement; “Because competing demands made on a series of editors rendered that task impossible, the website became dormant.” is an “airbrushed” explanation of what occurred because actually the people who got the numbers destroyed TNS with their juvenile sectarian rubbish and it was then shunned. What had given TNS some life and a healthy vigour can be established by starting with the full open record and reflecting honestly on it.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Aial5lJv2_HudDkxMkVLdlV2TWkwUDl5ajVCWF9JRFE#gid=0

Public debate fostered the real project.

Private discussion about ‘what to do’ destroyed it.

If there had been a site that was open to debate and thus worth joining in the US or anywhere else I guess people would have joined it, but the experience of OWS demonstrated that no such site existed and that the sects were useless to build anything out from within. Sawant socialists don’t mind being promoted on sites like TNS but they are sectarians and don’t have a similar site for real debate where very different views on issues like Syria, and industrial development and Carbon taxing etc., can continue without the minority being excluded. The sects want to proclaim in the same way. Not one sect has reversed a policy on an issue like Libya in the way that Pham Binh did and that is why they are all in a state of collapse and irrelevance. The masses know they have got the big issues wrong.

Just as the Camejo Network of 1981 ‘ to regroup the left around a non-sectarian and non-dogmatic approach’ long ago failed as part of a world trend of collapse – as that level of struggle and theory exhausted its potential after very great victories from the 1960s – so the zombie groups that have continued into this century have also attracted no youth and gone exactly nowhere. They are essentially not affected by the tide of the mass movement that they always remain on the periphery of. Cults and sects like those that were around in WW2 preserve themselves till they just split to death or just age out of existence. Not one has a site where real debate can develop in the required manner. It will take courage to stand above that practice.

Marxists must be fearless in genuine debate and must be democrats first otherwise what has just happened will happen again. At no point during the growth phase of TNS did anyone AT ALL mention that the site was not following ‘its original mandate’ I was published on that original mandate. I ignored people that I considered a waste of my effort on that mandate and that mandate was trashed behind the scenes and I was banned from the site.

The net has for years given leftists the great tool to smash the cultural gatekeepers of space restricted newspapers and tellingly not one of the sects has got a site worth debating at! If anyone thinks that is not so then point to the site and compare the best (by the numbers) debates of TNS with whatever you would like to draw attention to.

On TNS the challenging ideas presented in debates over a diverse range of issues like Egypt, Libya and Syria and on through green issues had green sectarians fuming as much as the usual ‘anti-imperialist’ Neverland usuals. What produced a stir of interest was the genuine fearless open, honest and above board debate until that open method was shut down.

Refusing to publish my article that I had prepared in anticipation of the anniversary of the big anti war marches did not stop the debate breaking out. What it did show was that dishonesty was now front and centre. Request to open a thread for people to discuss what we liked were ignored and all manner of simply rude conduct was adopted.

TNS was developing some interest and being noticed not because of the ‘green’ line promoted by the usual suspects (one need only see who responded to what they were publishing) but because of the clear stand taken to reverse a view on Libya and the big opportunity to view the world afresh that this breakthrough produced. That clear reversal by one editor is what brought the interest and debate.

No such reversal was possible for the sects nor the sectarians and so they have continued to decline as people continue to ignore their efforts. TNS did not promote ‘a “party line” but instead provide a platform for socialists to report on the struggles they are involved with as well as facilitate debates about how to move such struggles forward.’ including our all important understandings of how the world works and what it means to be of the left.

Libya broke the spell and debate was encouraged over what this change of stand meant. TNS emerged as part of a rejection of the collapsing peace movement but was not clearly understood as that. US and Australian troops are back in the ME fighting Daesh and the peace movement is effectively dead.

Syria and the whole issue of what Marxists had called region change back in 2002 later called the ‘Arab Spring’ by those who saw it coming after it had happened, gave the site plenty to talk about. Debate finally dragged people back to 9/11, Afghanistan and liberating the Iraqi people from the fascist regime of Saddam Hussein. The numbers participating in the site then doubled again.

It may well be that

‘The American Socialist …welcomed different points of view,’ But TNS was drifting into more censorship even before the madness struck and destroyed the project; nevertheless it is true that

..a revived Left will demonstrate its democracy by the free play for variegated concepts of work it permits in its own councils.’ so that returns me to the original contribution I made when published that one and only time!

Syria: It Is Right To Rebel! by Patrick Muldowney August 8, 2012 195 Comments

I openly sort for a way ‘into’ the project and was studiously ignored yet the comments alone when compared to those generated by others indicated that I warranted publishing again irrespective of how confronting people found the material.

Instead of real debate the sectarian method became the operating method and so TNS died.

What is published must reflect ‘‘the kind of flexibility that is needed’ for any TNS project.

and yes ‘It is also important for North Star to draw upon the talents of socialists across the planet. Given the “globalizing” tendencies of capitalism, it is more necessary than ever for our class to develop bonds of solidarity that will hearken back to the early days of the Russian Revolution when socialism was a global movement.’

There is more than ever a reason to sing the internationale!

TNSMod December 18, 2014 at 1:43 pm

Syria: It Is Right To Rebel! by Patrick Muldowney August 8, 2012 195 Comments

I openly sort for a way ‘into’ the project and was studiously ignored yet the comments alone when compared to those generated by others indicated that I warranted publishing again irrespective of how confronting people found the material.

Without going into too much detail, Pham Binh had a tendency to write in a provocative manner. This had the effect of spawning comments that were overheated. While the editorial board for the relaunched website is still in its early stages, we plan to adhere to the standards outlined in the new “about” statement:

“In its early stages the North Star offered polemical critiques of the established organizations of the US Left but now sees the need to turn towards the task of defining new ways for moving forward… The North Star will happily continue to host wide-ranging discussion, debate, and brainstorming on Left strategy and organization.”

As a rule of thumb, articles will be less about the misdeeds of the existing left than about positive examples. As such we would hope that comments and submissions will take that into account.

Aaron Aarons December 18, 2014 at 7:41 pm

So Patrick Muldowney, the Maoist neocon from Australia, is back with us. Could his comrade, Arthur Dent (né Albert Langer), from their now-defunct “Last Superpower” grouplet, be far behind? But, since they seem to think that the fight for socialism includes supporting imperialist war-making against almost any country governed by a local force that has fallen out with the imperialists, it’s hard to see how they can be part of any “broad left unity” that most leftists would touch with a ten-foot pole. (If their support for imperialism isn’t enough, there’s also their siding with capitalist predators on almost every issue regarding the environment and indigenous rights. And then there’s their support for the fascistic petty-bourgeois response to the threat of proletarian and landless-peasant revolution in Portugal in 1975.)

They have a right to argue for their positions, but not as a pretend part of “the left”.

TNSMod December 18, 2014 at 11:25 pm

Aarons and Muldowney should be aware that this website will not be featuring the kind of analysis of Syria that Pham Binh was devoted to. If those questions interest you, you might look elsewhere.

Aaron Aarons December 19, 2014 at 5:38 am

I certainly have no interest in debating Syria on this site, particularly since the situation there is far too complex for my limited knowledge of that country and my lack of any comprehension of the native language. There will be international issues, though, that can’t be avoided by a left movement in a country whose ruling class meddles in almost every conflict anywhere in the world.

Matt December 17, 2014 at 6:27 pm

“History is, at least in major part, simply a sequence of random events.
Not only is there no correct understanding, it is by its very nature
incomprehensible.”

Yes and the world is flat, and Ptolemy was correct. And dankingbooks is indeed “incomprehensible”.

Aaron Aarons December 18, 2014 at 4:14 pm

“For those of us who had ample uniformly poor experiences with sectarianism gathered during the anti-apartheid movement in support of the ANC,[…]”
I was in Berkeley, where the most active and militant group, the Campaign Against Apartheid, the core group that put up the shantytowns on campus and defended them against the University of California Police, also explicitly rejected the call to recognize the pro-capitalist ANC as “the sole legitimate representative of the South African people”. We also had to openly go against the leftist Mayor of Berkeley, Gus Newport , and his ally, student body president Pedro Noguera, in order to carry out those actions that were “violent” in that the police used violence to suppress them. Is that the “sectarianism” you are referring to?

marcos December 18, 2014 at 5:50 pm

We were in Austin and supported the ANC because it had the most support of black South Africans. When they came by and asked us for help, we helped them. It was not my place to second guess folks who succeeded in one of the major liberation struggles of our lifetimes given our own utter incompetence in furthering our own liberation.

Aaron Aarons December 19, 2014 at 12:09 am

So, because the ANC, with the resources of the then-Soviet Union channeled through the SACP, and with the support of more forward-looking European capitalists, had more apparent Black South African support than did either the Black Consciousness Movement or the more radical workers’ groups, you had to support them and not those more radical groups?

Of course, given your history of supporting that bourgeois-cum-Stalinist alliance against its left opponents, it’s not surprising that you would claim that those you supported “succeeded in one of the major liberation struggles of our lifetimes” when, in fact, what they accomplished was the betrayal of one of the world’s most militant working classes in exchange for the incorporation of much of the Black petty bourgeoisie and trade-union bureaucracy into the management of the exploitation and oppression of that working class and the rural poor. To put it starkly, think billionaire ex-union leader and present-day ANC leader Cyril Ramaphosa vs. the Marikana miners.

marcos December 19, 2014 at 12:25 am

The BCM and ANC were not antagonistic. The ANC of the 1980s and the ANC of today are very different because the circumstances are different.

It must suck for you communists when other people don’t conduct their liberation struggles according to your demands, whether those are South Africans or North Americans.

Aaron Aarons December 19, 2014 at 5:19 pm

While all of us supported the ANC, the BCM and other groups against the apartheid government, some, under Stalinist and other non-revolutionary influence, supported the ANC’s political program while others supported left critics of the ANC, including supporting the Workers’ Charter as an alternative to the Freedom Charter. As many of us anticipated, the ANC could not carry out even the reformist program of the Freedom Charter while respecting the property rights of capital and the continued existence of the capitalist state, so it was the Freedom Charter that was thrown out and replaced with successively more right-wing, anti-worker government programs.

It must suck for you anti-revolutionary reformists, whether Stalinist or explicitly anti-communist, when leftists who rain on your parade are proven correct.

marcos December 19, 2014 at 5:35 pm

The South Africans had different ideas than global northern socialist theorists did. That is all that really count in liberation movements, self determination. Had the South Africans supported something more radical and had they come to the global north asking for help, we would have supported that too.

Perhaps one reason why revolutionary socialism is dead in the global north is because of a diversity of interpretation amongst its adherents, each of whom demands that others agree with them under penalty of insult and yelling. Nobody sees that go down and says, “yeah, gimme summa dat!”

Aaron Aarons December 19, 2014 at 6:05 pm

You keep on referring to “the South Africans” as if they were politically homogenous. They weren’t and they aren’t. But just as the Stalinists, committed to their support for bourgeois republicans against revolutionary workers in Spain in 1936-39 managed to convince most of the global left that there was no revolution there, the Stalinists in the 1980’s managed to convince most of the global left that there was no left alternative to the ANC in South Africa.

marcos December 19, 2014 at 7:10 pm

I refer to “the South Africans” as in not we north Americans. Acting in solidarity with people in the global south means supporting them when they come asking for help. The ANC was organized enough to come calling, whatever socialist splinter groups were nowhere near so organized. Had we waited until South Africans to come calling with your precise politics would mean that apartheid would still be in place.

You all apparently are appalled with Stalinists except when they’re Trotskyites, vanguard is bad when it is someone else’s vanguard but okay when the vanguard standards are yours.

Bringing this tangent back to the substance of this piece, this is why Proyect’s fascination with Camejo is so annoying as there was a non-capitalist environmentalist democratic feminist party, the Greens, that had made progress in winning elections. But the professional leftists like Camejo could not have given a damn about any of that, they were here to fulfill Marxist prophesy and had no compunctions about destroying a non-socialist, non-capitalist party in the process.

Global northerners criticizing South Africans for not uniting behind socialism is a non-starter.

TNSMod December 19, 2014 at 12:55 am

I am closing comments on this article because people are going off on tangents. This website will not be about Syria or the ANC. It will be about efforts to build mass anti-capitalist parties like Podemos. The only thing about South Africa that is relevant to our agenda is the emergence of NUMSA but the best place for such a discussion will be an article devoted to its emergence. People really have to learn to relate to the topic at hand and not use articles as a pretext to push their own agenda.

sartesian December 20, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Apparently not.

louisproyect December 15, 2014 at 2:34 pm

But your “first hand account” sounds biased. Plus, using a term like “Trotskyite” marks you as someone with a chip on his shoulder. I keep asking you for some documentation on this dispute written by independent sources and you have failed to do so. I would only say this: if your purpose here is to denounce the North Star, you will not be welcomed. As I have told Aaron Aarons, the North Star website has an obligation to keep the discussion focused on ways to build the project otherwise it becomes a time and bandwidth wasting dead end. The editors, as is the case with any other publication–print or electronic–should exercise some control. I will not comment on how North Star was moderated in the past, but you can be sure that it will be much more focused after the relaunch.

sartesian December 15, 2014 at 5:53 pm

I think Marcos is claiming that Camejo was in it for Camejo’s reasons, for the purposes of self-aggrandizement, and ideology serves nothing so much as it serves self-aggrandizement. So we get the “non-sectarian” “leader” or arbiter acting in a way that conforms to his/her own ideological background. Now I have no way of knowing if a) that is what Marcos intends or b)if that’s how Camejo conducted himself But..

..but we do have the legacy of failure; a failure no less material than that of the 57 varieties of Leninist parties; a failure no less material than that of the thousands of “independent left” movements preceding Camejo.

Proyect speaks about “building the project” but what project is that? To build a Syriza type movement in the US? OK great…except for the Syriza movement to develop, a complete breakdown in the economy was required; the establishment, existence, and failure of a Socialist (big S) party was necessary, and Syriza itself has had to obscure its own “radical” rhetoric and proposals.

Does the “project” propose to ignore those critical elements?

Can the “project” be successful, even as a Syriza or Podemos look-alike, utilizing populist appeals? And if the “project” does in fact focus on a “left-populism” exactly how will the “project” distinguish itself from co-optation by the “left-populists” of the Democratic Party.

The “project” projectionist has stated elsewhere that the function of (I guess) Marxists in a Syriza or Podemos is to “keep them honest.” Those familiar with history know what a fool’s errand that is, and always will be.

Nothing is more important than a mass movement that is independent of the established parties in the US; that movement however will never come into being as a mass movement until there is a specific, identifiable, class movement against capitalism

louisproyect December 15, 2014 at 8:20 pm

Nothing is more important than a mass movement that is independent of the established parties in the US; that movement however will never come into being as a mass movement until there is a specific, identifiable, class movement against capitalism

That’s fine. But in the meantime we will promote parties that fall short of such an ideal, including the NY State chapter of the Green Party that made Howie Hawkins campaign such a success. If that sort of thing does not seem worth your while, then leave the rest of us in peace to pursue such an imperfect goal.

marcos December 15, 2014 at 10:38 pm

Mass movements are predicated upon connecting with people in a way that encourages them to join in the movement “en masse.”

For Proyect and his sectarian marxist ilk, historical evidence of praxis is irrelevant, there is to be no learning from experience, noncooperative reality must be shoehorned into the theory.

Marx’ relentless critique of all things existing does not apply to Marxists. Isn’t that convenient?

sartesian December 16, 2014 at 1:41 am

Good way to avoid providing any substantive response. WTF does that mean “leave the rest of us in peace”?? Don’t question, don’t challenge, don’t disagree, don’t criticize? Wonderful. Perfect object lesson in ideology as the cloak for self-aggrandizement.

” Yeah, we want a broad non-sectarian movement as long as nobody disagrees with what I call broad and non-sectarian.” Sound familiar? Should. It’s precisely how the (US) SWP conducted itself back in the day.

Your North Star, Proyect, will turn out to be a black hole.

Consider yourself left in peace

Aaron Aarons December 18, 2014 at 6:18 pm

The only thing I know about the Howie Hawkins campaign are what I gleaned from looking at its web site just today. It seems that he/they took good positions on lots of issues, but — and this is an honest question, not a rhetorical one — in what ways, and by what measure, was it “such a success”?

Matt December 17, 2014 at 6:22 pm

Yes, unfortunately there is a tendency to make the “imperfect” the enemy of the possible. And assuming that this was sartesian’s implication, I do think a broad anti-capitalist movement is possible NOW in the US, and that is hardly asking for the “perfect” Marxist revolutionary socialist party. In a country where most manufacturing workers have been pounded down to the wage level of fast food and retail service workers. Though Greece is the extreme case, we’re not that far off economically either, generally speaking. As sartesian mentions, the historical difference in political experience is key. But that means that it will occur in one combined political development here in the US, something for which there is historical precedent – mass movements out of “nowhere” – and that give us an advantage over the Europeans over the longer term. We don’t necessarily need to retrace their steps any more than a country must pass through the “stages” of early British capitalist development. If we are alert to this dynamic and move quickly.

And reality will not let any of us in peace, I predict. So I support any and all attempts such as this, regardless of the quibbles.

TNSMod December 18, 2014 at 11:23 pm

It was a success because it reached millions of people with a radical analysis. We refers to the editors of this website.

Aaron Aarons December 19, 2014 at 5:36 pm

It seems to me that, if radical leftists were going to support the Howie Hawkins campaign, they should do it independently, by putting out material that both reinforced the valuable points it made and going beyond it, particularly by including issues of the U.S. relation to the world — something that will be hard to avoid if and when candidates run for Congress. I expect that dealing seriously with issues around U.S. imperialism will undermine such a campaign’s ability to get votes, but I hope I’m wrong.

BTW, do any of the editors of this website, other than Louis Proyect, choose to identify themselves in any way? Do you have any agreed, or individual, political positions other than admiration for Peter Camejo and a desire for a vaguely-defined ‘broad left’ movement?

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