Next Stop: Regroupment?

by Pham Binh on May 11, 2013

As a fellow traveller since late 2011, I was heartened to see Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara’s common sense call for a regrouped socialist left that is not only self-conscious enough to avoid embarrassing itself on the subway but begin to make a difference in the class struggle in the U.S. The responses by Socialist Worker’s Joe Allen to Sunkara’s call dwelled not on the pros and cons of Sunkara’s core points but on the sins of Michael Harrington, a striking confirmation that Sunkara was right – political onanism on the far left is a real problem.

One step forward, two steps back.

By contrast, the response by Occupy cadre Chepe Martín engaged the politics of Jacobin generally while Arran James reacted critically and specifically to Sunkara’s prescriptive vision of “a larger, more centralized organization” with paid staffers. Ideologically, I am much closer to Martín than Sunkara and closer to James on the organization question, but regardless of our precise positions, the four of us are on common ground in wanting to see an effective anti-capitalist left develop.

The key questions are how do we get there and who else is a fellow traveller at this stage of our journey?

Sunkara’s points about the overall dynamics of the self-defeating circular firing squad we call the U.S. socialist left are unassailable. 2008-2009 created an ideological crisis of the first order for capitalism out of which Occupy emerged (setting the stage for unionization fights by low-wage workers at Wal Mart, McDonald’s, and Guitar Center), over 30% of Americans say they have a positive image of socialism, a revolutionary Marxist can get 20,000 votes in a race for state legislature, a socialist ecology conference is attended by 200 people when organizers expected only 100 – where has this red groundswell left America’s socialist organizations? Struggling might and main to recruit and retain new members by the ones and twos.

It does not have to be this way. A better left is possible, but not unless we start doing things differently as Sunkara says.

The difficulty with calls for left regroupment in the U.S. is that the precise path to a large, united, diverse, pluralistic, and powerful mass left organization is not even remotely close to being self-evident in part because we are dealing with two and a half lefts. Sunkara’s “Fellow Travelers” reflects this difficulty: he begins by describing the uninspiring state of the far left in the U.S., ends by outlining a reasonable-yet-grand vision of “a larger, more centralized organization” with paid staffers and the right to form factions, and provides nothing substantive connecting our present moment to our glorious future.

This yawning gap between points A and F is not Sunkara’s failing but the far left’s – it is ours collectively rather than his individually.

So regroupment, left convergence, or a common organization populated by common sense radicals is much easier said than done. On top of that, there are few successes and many failures to learn from.

Pointing to SYRIZA in Greece as a positive example is well and good but only if we begin by acknowledging that the class war there is more two than one-sided, that SYRIZA did not emerge simply because Maoists, Trotskyists, and Eurocommunists decided to bury the hatchet and work more closely together, that the country has a long history of civil wars and general strikes, that their working class has not just one but two, three, many political parties, and that they operate in a parliamentary rather than a winner-take-all system. So opponents of regroupment efforts in the U.S. are not wrong when they point these obvious differences out, but they are wrong when they use these differences to defend the status quo on our left and as an excuse to keep on keepin’ on when plainly this is getting us nowhere fast.

The socialist alternative to capitalism’s rat race cannot be a hamster wheel.

A more useful and relevant example for us to learn from is the experience of the United Left Alliance (ULA) in Ireland. Leaving aside the question of whether or not it makes sense to form a left-of-Labour party when the existing Labour party is still going strong, the ULA was hobbled from birth until its untimely demise by the less than half-hearted commitment of its two largest organized components, the Socialist Party (SP; affiliate of the Committee for a Workers’ International) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP; satellite of the defunct British Socialist Workers Party), to the growth and success of the ULA. From the outset, ULA was not controlled by its membership because it was not initially a membership organization but rather an umbrella held up by the hands of the SP and SWP. In practice, this meant that the independents – people not in pre-existing far left organizations – were at a severe disadvantage because they had no constitutional rights, no ability to mobilize their supporters to turn up at meetings, and no access to money, newspapers, and other resources to balance the SP and the SWP who had all of the above.

Based on this experience, we can safely say that a small united left formation cannot hope to succeed without the full and selfless dedication of its organized components, especially at the beginning stages when such a project is extremely fragile.

The second thing we can say is that an organization that is not controlled by its membership is usually under the control of other forces which can lead to behind-the-scenes sectarian maneuvering and all manner of underhanded, dishonest, and destructive realpolitik.

However, we do not need to look thousands of miles away to learn lessons from failed unity initiatives. Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Jamala Rogers wrote a lengthy but very worthwhile discussion of the experience of the Black Radical Congress’ successes and shortcomings; while it does not deal with socialist organizing per se, they grappled with many of the same difficult dilemmas – whether and how to create a membership organization, how decisions get made, and most difficult of all, fund-raising – that a new and improved regrouped left will face. Another example here at home is Revolutionary Work In Our Time (RWIOT), a multi-tendency effort by Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Solidarity, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, League of Revolutionaries for a New America, Left Turn Magazine, LA Coil, and the New York Study Group that grew out of U.S. Social Forums. Over the course of a few years RWIOT ran out of steam, foundering on the absence of a self-evident path forward and/or concrete activity and the impossible task of creating theoretical or “line” unity between “different traditions” in accordance with Lenin’s old dictum, “without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.”

Failing to assimilate and learn from these experiences would be criminal.

To return to the key questions: how do we get there and who else is a fellow traveller at this stage of our journey?

Political navigation is always relative and so Mapquest-style directions cannot be drawn up. Instead, working hypotheses such as “lean socialist” or “head north” must suffice when the priority is on changing fundamental direction rather than turning a particular corner at a particular angle in a particular city in a particular set of circumstances.

Fellow travelers are easy to identify: they are against the capitalist social order and recognize that we need a better left to fight it effectively. This definition excludes liberals and includes those who identify with anarchism, an important point that Sunkara does not consider and/or does not agree with since he is already dreaming of a future centralized party and an apparat of paid staffers. It is not wrong to dream of these things, but the party form in the 21st century needs a major re-think by pro-party Marxists because of the new horizontal organizing forms that have arisen on the basis of the new technology Sunkara mentions in passing. The old divisions (really a division of labor) between leaders and led, informed and uninformed, thinkers and doers, talkers and fighters have been radically transformed from a necessary verticalism to a more fluid horizontalism. We also must acknowledge that consensus was the modus operandi of Anonymous, Occupy, the free armies of Syria and Libya, and SYRIZA’s component parts rather than any variant of “democratic centralism” (whose past success stemmed from democratism rather than centralism).

This is not to say that the way our great grandparents organized political parties in the era before the telephone should be completely and utterly rejected but to affirm that the way we organize has to be based on modern conditions, on modern methods, and on what gets results now rather than on models that arose a long time ago in countries far, far away that truthfully we have little first-hand knowledge of or experience with.

Beginning this journey with fellow travelers today means being a bit like Occupy: open-minded, inclusive, and experimental, willing to take risks, make mistakes, and start all over again. It means being willing to re-think old positions and argue through old debates given new and different contexts in an open-ended conversation rather than starting “discussions” with fixed endpoints in mind like central committees, hammers and sickles, banners emblazoned with the busts of your favorite Marxists whether it’s Michael Harrington, Mao, or Peter Camejo, or clutching to your favorite shibboleth as a non-negotiable. It means networking and building political relationships with fellow travelers who hail from a wide range of ideological homelands that are durable enough to withstand fierce disagreements and angry polemics because we never lose sight of the fact that we are fighting against common enemies and for common ends. It means getting as many fellow travelers as possible into the same subway car without preconditions and litmus tests to begin hashing these issues out. It means taking direct action personally to help create the left you want to see by reaching across old boundaries and divides and collaborating practically with people and forces guilty of some world-historic deviation like taking a positive view of something you view dimly or vice-versa.

With these ends (really, beginnings) in mind, The North Star will be hosting a number of panels at the Left Forum in New York City on June 7-9 to facilitate the above processes. Come along. It would be a shame if the train left the station without you.

{ 127 comments… read them below or add one }

David Berger (RED DAVE) May 11, 2013 at 1:27 pm

What it is going to come down to in the current period is the Democratic Party.

Cursing out the old left, proclaiming all kinds of notions of a new kind of left party, etc., will not permit this question to be avoided.

In it, one way or the other, or out of it. Go in it, the route of Mike Harrington. Stay the fuck out of it, the route of Occupy Wall Street so far.

You have already indicated which direction you want to go in.

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Carl Davidson May 11, 2013 at 2:12 pm

I don’t think it comes down to ‘the Democratic Party,’ but rather what tactics you can live with or experiment with in regard to both ‘greater dangers’ and the means of supplanting and replacing it with something different and better.

I tried to spell some of this out here in my piece on the US ‘Six Party System.’ My organization, for example, has people working in PDA, the Greens, WFP, their union’s GOTV operations and no electoral option at all. We manage to get along under one tent, and constantly debate the tactics concerned and try to learn from each other. We see no need to make it a ‘matter of principle’ one splits over.

But if you cling to this notion of ‘principle,’ my guess is that you’ll remain stuck in a rut, for the simply reason that you’ll lack key connections with the more progressive sector of the working class and the communities of the oppressed.

We need some critical mass for socialism in this period, and if we can’t see our way to it, shame on us.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) May 12, 2013 at 10:39 am

I have to respectfully disagree with you here, Carl. Almost immediately a “socialist” party will have to deal with the Democrats. The issues of running against, running with, supporting, opposing, actually running, DP candidates will come up almost immediately.

If the relationship isn’t established from the giddy-up, there will be a huge split when it does come up and one side or the other considers itself betrayed.

AAs to “connections with the more progressive sector of the working class and the communities of the oppressed,” I think that the DP, that has fucked over the working class since time out of mind, is the last place for socialists to make contact and build alliances.

David Berger

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John Halle May 11, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I’m all for regroupment and will be glad to discuss it with all comers at the North Star panels at the Left Forum, which is to say I will be, in Sunkara’s terms joining other “masturbators” in making a pilgrimage “for heated arguments over this or that piece of sectarian esoterica.” Some of those I will be joining, according to Sunkara, will be those with a “master plan for world change: Refuse to take power. Avoid politics. Occupy squats and ‘liberate space.’ Celebrate liberalism’s collapse and hope something better will arise out of the rubble.” In short, while I’m all for ending the so-called circular firing squad, but it’s a bit rich to find those who are most ready to accuse others of engaging in it being the first to pick up the machine guns, as the above quotes, and many others, will show.

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Pham Binh May 11, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Everyone comes into this with political baggage, myself included (and perhaps more so than Sunkara). A new left will emerge stamped with the birthmarks and scars of the old left from whose womb it emerges.

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John Halle May 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Fair enough. Obviously, I have baggage of my own-we all do. Here’s what would help: a recognition on Sunkara’s part that those remarks were inappropriate and, with that, an apology for them. This is something, unfortunately, which media types almost never find it in themselves to manage, except when they are forced to-something I’ve written about, as has Sunkara himself. I will be very impressed if he does so and much more inclined to take his calls for left unity seriously-as I’m sure others will be.

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ll May 16, 2013 at 8:10 pm

quite a confusing image that one

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dand May 11, 2013 at 1:41 pm

This is good, but I really think you focus too much on criticizing Bhaskar’s suggestion that a left formation should have paid staffers. That’s just the basic ABCs of organization building, not a reflection of some sort of ideological commitment to build a certain type of party (although I realize some people think differently on this question). Was it good, for example, that Occupy never developed (to my knowledge) paid staffers or real mechanisms of democratic accountability? Or, for an even more concrete example: Occupy Homes MN has some paid people working for them, and have received undue and absolutely mistaken criticism from some members of Occupy MN for it. Don’t we have enough historical (practical, common sense, etc.) experience to take a strong stand on this issue? Why then should we be so soft on those who see the idea of “paid staffers” as some sort of original sin?

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Pham Binh May 11, 2013 at 1:54 pm

It’s extremely premature to even raise the question. We have to do a lot more work to include and engage everyone who could and should be part of a common front before we start thinking about handing out paychecks.

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dand May 11, 2013 at 2:11 pm

I don’t think it’s premature – reason being: there is a strong current among the left today, coming out of the New Left and the anarchist movement, which continues to argue against many forms of leadership and hierarchy (see: Occupy). There’s plenty to be said for the contributions that those groups have made (see: Occupy’s participatory model), but I think it needs to be combated more confidently by others with different positions on these questions, until the right balance is found. That said, I’m not arguing for including this in some program of a new left formation – but when it comes up, I don’t think we should cede as much ground as we often do.

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Pham Binh May 11, 2013 at 2:45 pm

So how do we pay these staffers? And what is it that they would do/organize?

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dand May 11, 2013 at 3:04 pm

That might be premature to say – depends on the concrete situation. I’m more arguing against people’s a priori opposition to the notion of paid staffers. That said, nearly every left organization has some paid staff, and throughout history most have had some. They’d do things like: run and edit a website, make sure meetings are being organized, develop study programs, help build an organization nationally, provide more resources to help local struggles, etc etc etc. All of these things *can* be done by unpaid organizers as well. But if a movement has the resources then it should have full-time organizers, no? One reason Occupy was able to do what it did is that it had many young people who were willing (and able) to sacrifice their entire lives for a certain period because they had enough money saved up to live off of for a short period of time, or they were able to survive at the park, or they were full-time, professional activists who were allowed to do Occupy stuff full-time by whatever organizations they were working for at the time. This also meant: that certain people were more able to participate than others, and that those who were working full-time for the movement were not necessarily accountable to it, at least in any formal sense. As far as how to get resources: membership dues, online donations, fundraising drives, etc etc etc.

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Pham Binh May 11, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I’m arguing against the a priori position of having paid
staffers. These things should be open questions, the
answers to which should be dictated by fluctuating
needs (and resources) rather than on what a
movement organization like Occupy Homes does.

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Karl Grant May 12, 2013 at 3:29 am

My reading of Sunkara’s mention of developing an ‘apparat’ of staffers was more positive, I simply understood it as indicating the scale and reach of the organization we should aspire to build.

A mass party of the left needs a solid fundraising system, to pay for buses for demos, to print material, to finance campaigns, to run service-the-people programs PhillySocailist style, and finally to retain the professional staff appropriate for running a national organization.

Full-time organizers and communicators can be accountable to a democratic organization and I’m reluctant to confirm the anarchist notion that having staff somehow equates to automatically being a top-down organization. Although I agree with you, that in terms of developing a vision for regroupment, framing the question in terms of ‘pro-anti staffers’ a priori is bad politics and alienating for a more horizontalist leaning audience.

Finally, I’d just like to paste here an extract from an interview with a Left Bloc MP which I think illustrates my thinking on this issue:

“M.R.: This is an important issue. Can you explain what your system of press is? In particular, to consider one of the oldest traditions of left communication: what role does the newspaper of the organization play?

F.L.: Ever smaller. We have a monthly newspaper that is sent to the members of the Bloco and distributed on newsstands. But perhaps in the future it will no longer exist, because the centre of our communication is the internet. We have a web portal where a professional team works that is already very large, about ten people, working in radio, television, and media consulting. We also intervene in social networks. It is a highly developed information system with an ambitious goal. We would be happy if we had about 100,000 people, 1% of the population following the information we produce daily.

M.R.: You are very far from that?

F.L.: We are already close to 40 or 50,000 people counting all forms of communication we use: social networks, internet access, broadcasting on Youtube and similar things. We also have several people working as press consultants with the leadership with the Bloco. The relationship with the press is a difficult one.

M.R.: It sounds weird that you have “media advisors” in a militant organization…

F.L.: These people are great professionals in communication, and are also among the best political cadres that we have. We need skilled people, with a capacity of communication with the directors of newspapers, the television editors, with those responsible for news, to respond appropriately.

We are in a world in which we focus on communication. The dominant communication is a world of manufacture of rumours as a political weapon, of communication agencies formed by “spin doctors”. We have to overcome them. There is an intensive debate about that, and we have to be the most capable in this debate, creating ideas that mobilize and inform social mobilization. So we had to decide on a major change in our system of communication, which will be increasingly important in our policy.”

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Joe Vaughan May 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I’m bemused to see that you have used the term “common sense”–a red flag to the Theory crowd–but perhaps before delving into the minutiae of organizing (should “we” hire “staffers?”) someone should take a step back and, as it were, systematically define the requirements for a modern party before plunging pell-mell into details of implementation.

The mode of existence of a “classical” revolutionary party, for example, is very different from that of the Democratic or Republican party. The latter in general consist of interlocking committees that do not function continuously; including committees to elect or re-elect someone or other, connected by a vast web of interlocking Farley files; a certain body of elected officials, with legislative caucuses for legislators and other committes for those in the executive branches; members of the press; wealthy contributors; academics; “think tanks;” consultants; non-party advocacy groups; unions, and so on.

The organizations employing “staffers” within these rather ill-defined entities come and go, the longer-term “staffers” being either affiliated with the elected, with ongoing political campaigns, with lobbyists and the like, or employed by institutions of one sort or another, with a minimum of standing committees employing a certain number of staff on their own.

Considering the single-minded unity with which the Democrats and Republicans suppress truth and unite to disarm the critical capacities of citizens, it’s quite remarkable how amorphous and even anarchic the structures making up such “parties” actually are.

As coherent, organized presences in the daily lives of party members and citizens in general, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans really exist at all, at least in the way in which, as we all know, Bolsheviks and Communists existed.

It may even be that part of the effectiveness of Democrats and Republicans in reinforcing the class system resides precisely in the chimerical quality of the actual party organizations.

Where would a modern Left party stand organizationally–in what specific ways would it actually exist? How would it avoid sectarianism, given the virtual certainty of schisms, purges, expulsions, disputes over allocations of scarce resources, and the unavoidable competition of party members once the organization moved from the intellectual to the concrete and practical sphere?

Not to mention, if the party is effective, the overwhelming likelihood of attempts at repression, leading to the necessity for a degree of clandestinity and secrecy of operation, with all the problems those things entail.

Answering these questions in a somewhat abstract and detailed way–defining the functionality and structure of the party to some extent before trying to implement its organization–might be helpful, supposing that the organization has not arisen spontaneously (do they ever, really?), or that, as in the case of Occupy, the organization exists but has encountered fatal internal obstacles to its continued existence.

Of course, to quote a favorite cliche of business consultants, the process of defining the requirements would have to be “iterative,” and could not proceed strictly from the top down.

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Pham Binh May 15, 2013 at 3:46 pm

One of the big reasons why I argued talk of paid staffers at this stage is premature is based on the experiences of the Black Radical Congress and Crossroads Magazine, Peter Camejo’s joint magazine with Max Elbaum founded after Camejo let his North Star network die a natural death (you can read about it here: http://www.revolutionintheair.com/histstrategy/crossroads.html). Both found it extremely difficult to raise money to have even a single paid organizer much less a team that could either staff an office or travel the country doing political work.

Another thing is that I only mentioned the staffer issue twice in passing in the piece. My main focus was on arguing that centralization (especially “democratic centralism”) out of sync with where we are right now in the absence of any concrete activity to coordinate or resources to pool

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dand May 16, 2013 at 8:22 am

But even many tiny socialist organizations manage to fund multiple paid staffers, so the idea that this is impossible or even all that difficult is just not true, from my experience. But sorry to harp on this question and blow it out of proportion to your original piece.

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Pham Binh May 16, 2013 at 9:24 am

Sure, but they tend to be linked to some international outfit that helps with funds. Plus, they have an existing membership, structure, and set dues. We’re not close to having any of that, and a common formation could easily end up competing with the existing groups who participate in it for the resources, time, and money of their rank-and-files. If it was easy to do any of this, it would have been done by now and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

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dand May 16, 2013 at 5:35 pm

International funding is generally not the source, to my knowledge. But yes, existing membership/structure/dues are important. My only point was that the resources do exist to fund full-time (or part-time) organizers, writers, web developers, etc. And it is, honestly, not all that hard to amass those resources, in the grand scheme of things, compared to other obstacles that are out there – the biggest one being how to get people to work together, which you are right to point to.

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ll May 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm

international funding? from where? thats just dead wrong… but this is exactly it. institutions, even tiny left ones have their own logic. asking people to dissolve their existing groups, become tendencies etc or even make double commitments are big asks especially absent the projection of something ‘better’ not just bigger.

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Pham Binh May 18, 2013 at 9:02 pm

It’s not a big ask for a group that treats its own existence as historical transient or as merely a means to an end rather than end in and of itself. The ISO for example could gain a lot of cred on the broad left and a much bigger following if it adopted an ambitious but realistic 5-year plan of intensive local and national outreach and collaboration to lay the basis for a united, all-inclusive far left formation. Their refusal to countenance anything along these lines is a reflection of their deep-seated conservatism and risk-averse nature; Lenin forbid anyone upset the applecart of individual recruitment and paper sales. Soli is too small and under-resourced to embark on such an effort unilaterally, but nothing better is going to materialize until some forces decide to take risks and forge ahead into the great unknown where one’s group might no longer be needed or wanted.

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Pham Binh July 18, 2013 at 8:58 pm
ll May 11, 2013 at 2:54 pm

You mention RWIOT but left out Solidarity who was along with FRSO the main initiator of the RWIOT. curious as to why you think it failed.

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Pham Binh May 11, 2013 at 3:36 pm

That was an honest mistake on my part. I’ll amend the text when I’m in front of a computer again.

I explained the basic reasons why I thought RWIOT came to naught in the text. What I would add to those is a kind of top-down (perhaps not the most accurate expression) approach to unity whereby small numbers of designated leaders from FRSO and other groups engaged in large numbers of meetings and delicate negotiations; these small numbers were of course hamstrung by the “party discipline” of their own organizations, leading to a pretty conservative approach. A more bottom-up approach would mean doing locally-based breakouts at the Social Forum gatherings and intensive ongoing local collaboration on joint projects/struggles, educationals, and socials (so NY Study Group would do stuff with FRSO, Solidarity, and whoever else in NYC). My impression — solely based on second and third-hand accounts and sources — is that not a lot happened locally between the groups and the unafilliated individuals who came around the RWIOT process.

Why do you think RWIOT dissipated? (I’m open to other explanations.)

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ll May 16, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Solidarity doens’t have line discipline.

I think it failed for a few reasons–most of the groups you list were only ever minimally committed to the process or open to any regropument at all and the most committed groups were not committed to serious political discussion, instead choosing to paper over political discussion in favor of lowest common denominator form of ‘unity’. I disagree that this was about lack of local affinity etc or even local events–at least early in the process that did happen with FRSO, SOLI and NY study group.

ultimately this did result in increased cooperation between elements in the main organizing groups–organizing upgrade is a result of that–but also highlighted political and strategic differences within those groups with splits and dissolution partly as a consequence.

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Pham Binh May 18, 2013 at 8:50 pm

So there was no attempt to create common forums or a journal to explore differences through rigorous debate?

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Arthur May 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm

1. The problem isn’t organization, it is politics. Or at any rate there is no possibility of solving organizational problems without first developing better politics.

2. There is nothing modern about consensus. Its the standard practice in low trust societies. When we are capable of organizing a left again it will have to be as comrades that are prepared to work together.

3. Meanwhile there is still plenty to do to involve people in open debate about politics. Energy put into premature atempts to organize will only distract from that and could seriously hinder it.

4. More bluntly, why would anybody want to join or support people who are still seen as having something in common with the kind of crap coming from the pseudoleft? Anyone even mildly progressive finds the pseudoleft organizations both individually and collectively repulsve, and they will be no less repulsed by a more ecumenical version of the same churchy losers.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) May 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Could you be more specific about what you call the “pseudoleft”?

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PatrickSMcNally May 13, 2013 at 11:59 pm

“Pseudoleftists” don’t support US wars in Iraq the way “real Leftists” do.

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Arthur May 14, 2013 at 5:33 am

Not exactly. Lots of people opposed the Iraq war for reasons that reflected a faulty analysis but from a standpoint that sides with the left and supports progress.

For example many wrongly believed the US would just remove Sadaam but leave a perhaps less malevolent version of the same sort of regime in place with a dictator more compliant to US interests rather than smashing the Baathist regime, holding free elections and leaving when requested by a freely elected government not particularly congenial to US interests.

The pseudoleft on the other hand adopted essentially the arguments of the conservative foreign policy establishment favouring “stability” and actually denounced the US for NOT simply removing Sadaam without actually smashing the autocratic state.

Presenting essentially conservative ideas in support of maintaining a status quo of tyranny and oppression dressed up with “militant” and “anti-imperialist” verbiage is what I call pseudoleft.

The outright support for fascism in Syria is a classic example.

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Arthur May 14, 2013 at 8:14 am

PS its often hard to say what it is about the rhetoric of pseudo-leftists that makes people (including themselves) imagine that they have something to do with left politics.

Here’s a classic example of an article in the UK guardian (generally perceived as “left liberal”) explaining events in Syria as due to “Peak oil, climate change and pipeline geopolitics”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/earth-insight/2013/may/13/1

You see there was an agreement for a pipeline from Iran through Iraq to Syria, so of course… everything becomes clear…

Then since “climate change” is the current rallying cry, it somehow gets linked in too.

This particular example doesn’t actually use “left” terms like “imperialist” or “capitalist”. But it closely resembles the level of “analysis” that people have got used to from pseudo-left sects over many decades. So people reading this kind of stuff don’t just think “nutty fruitcake”. They tend to think “leftist nutty fruitcake”.

Its important to popularize the concept of pseudo-leftism so that people will not think of such articles as confirmation that leftists are nutty fruitcakes but as an example of “pseudo-leftist nutty fruitcake”.

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Aaron Aarons May 17, 2013 at 5:56 pm

Pseudo-leftists are those like Arthur Dent, Patrick Muldowney and Bill Kerr who constantly push neo-con positions while calling themselves the true leftists.

But there are other, different, pseudo-leftists who make excuses for the United Snakes imperialist rulers like Obama without actually acting as their overt propagandists. In other words, the latter kind of pseudo-leftists are shame-faced apologists for empire, but not its priests.

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Pham Binh May 14, 2013 at 9:35 am

Examples of pseudoleftism:
– arguing that winning reforms is impossible
– opposing and blocking aid to democratic movements abroad
– sect-building
– organizing for the sole purpose of “speaking truth to power” or “exposing the system” rather than winning anything or changing anything

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David Berger May 14, 2013 at 9:49 am

My list of pseudo-leftism

— supporting imperialist wars as in Iraq

— arguing that it is possible in the USA today to win significant reforms

— playing fast and loose with terms like “bourgeois revolution” in order to provide a quick and easy answer to situations like Syria and Libya

— distorting the nature of mass movements like Occupy Wall Street and calling them “uprisings”

— separating the notion of socialism from the struggle for the emancipation of the working class

— working within the Democratic Party

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Pham Binh May 14, 2013 at 9:51 am

“working within the Democratic Party”

So for you the entire AFL-CIO is a pseudoleft organization? Interesting.

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Aaron Aarons May 17, 2013 at 5:28 pm

The old CIO was a left organization, but when, since the sub-merger of the CIO into the AFL during the McCarthy days in 1955, has the AFL-CIO even pretended to be a “left organization”? It is no more a pseudo-left organization than it is a pseudo-vegetarian organization, although it has both left and vegetarian members.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) May 17, 2013 at 7:46 pm

PHAM BINH: So for you the entire AFL-CIO is a pseudoleft organization? Interesting.

DAVID BERGER: I think that a so-called left winger supporting Democratic Party candidates is an example of a pseudo-left-wing attitude.

As Aaron Aarons has pointed out, who in their right mind would ever call the AFL-CIO any kind of leftist? Liberal? Yes. But unless you consider liberals to be some kind of leftists, no way is the AFL-CIO leftist. And I wouldn’t use the term “pseudo-left” as it doesn’t pretend to be leftist in the first place.

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John Halle May 17, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Yes, I think it is pretty much undebatable that, insofar as the term has any meaning, the AFL-CIO would have to be described as pseudo-left-i.e. narrowly concerned with 1) preserving the control and privileges of its bureaucracy and (to a lesser degree) 2) negotiating contracts for its members. Notably lacking is any commitment to working class solidarity or advancing the interests of the working class as a whole. Typical was its role in the destruction of labor in Latin America, as discussed, for example, here: http://monthlyreview.org/2005/05/01/labor-imperialism-redux-the-afl-cios-foreign-policy-since-1995
I take it this is not news to you, though sometimes it is hard for me to know what historical facts one can take granted that other leftists, particularly younger ones, will be familiar with. In any case, this, and other equally objectively reactionary policies and commitments seems to indicate pretty unambiguously the AFL’s status as pseudo-left.

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PatrickSMcNally May 17, 2013 at 9:13 pm

One could justify the term “pseudo-liberal” based upon the things which you reference. But how long has it been since the AFL-CIA pretended to be honestly “Leftist” in any sense?

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PatrickSMcNally May 14, 2013 at 10:52 am

The phrase “winning reforms” is obfuscatory. There are economic and non-economic reforms. The era from roughly Teddy Roosevelt up to Tricky Dick Nixon was very much an era of economic reforms within capitalism. That era has indeed ended. Today the reforms we see revolve around things like gay marriage or allowing gays to openly enter the military. These are real enough reforms and I have no reason not to welcome them, though I don’t see them as a central priority. But they are not economic reforms. The time when economic reform could be used to wage a “War on Poverty” within capitalism is clearly over.

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Pham Binh May 14, 2013 at 10:55 am

“Economic reforms” is obfuscatory. Is Vermont’s single-payer health care system an economic reform or a political one? I would say it’s both.

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PatrickSMcNally May 17, 2013 at 9:05 pm

It seems rather pointless to be opening a political argument around something which is not expected to start until 2017. Supposedly Mark Larson, the sponsor of H. 202, has stated that its implementation depends upon first establishing that it will cost less than the current health care system. Regardless of what the actual outcome in 2017 may turn out to be, it’s obvious that this is not a working model for general health care around the USA as a whole. For any functioning national public health care system to be set up across the country this would require not necessarily the exprorpraition of the bourgeoisie but at least a return to the taxation policies on the rich which were the norm in the Eisenhower-Nixon years. Because even with the most efficient management of resources, any functioning public health care system would absolutely have to involve vast increases in cost which could only be paid for by taxes on the 1%. Anyway, get back to us in 2017 and we can check out how this is going then.

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Chris Lowe May 17, 2013 at 11:23 pm

You are quite wrong about costs. About 25-30% of total costs attributed to “health care” in this country actually are due to grossly inefficient and wasteful “administration” practices on the part of insurance companies, and hospitals & clinics and doctors who have to deal with them, or to insurance company profits. The comparable costs in public social insurance programs (Medicare and Medicaid) range from 3% to 7% depending on who you ask. Cutting the inefficient, wasteful private bureaucracy would pay for adding everyone who is currently uninsured and providing full actual coverage for everyone who is underinsured. Moreover, the public costs under the PPACA (“Obamacare”) are going to rise hugely due to the (again grossly wasteful) subsidies for purchase in the Exhanges, and the expansion of Medicaid.

What it will require will be replacement of inequitable private taxes (in effect) paid to insurance companies with regular, transparent public taxes — but for most persons those will be less than what they are paying for insurance premiums plus out-of pocket “cost sharing” before and after insurance payments for actual care or prescriptions.

So yes, it would require new taxation to cover the expansion of the public sector and the social wage — and that is a good socialist goal.

It would also require a conversion program in employment. About 1 million jobs would be lost in unnecessary administration related to for profit care and private insurance. About 3 million new jobs would be created — but also NEED to be created, to actually provide care.

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PatrickSMcNally May 18, 2013 at 9:31 am

“but for most persons those will be less than”

The issue here is not about “most persons” but about the 1%. These are the people who would have to pay higher taxes the way that they once did in the “I Like Ike” era. Nothing which has yet been demonstrated about this Vermont H. 202 has yet suggested a solution to this.

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Pham Binh May 18, 2013 at 11:00 am

Comments by PSMN and Berger directed at me in this thread are part of longer running political debates conducted on this site. The former argues that meaningful/significant economic reform is no longer possible and the latter is always looking to find someone guilty of some heretical deviation from the True Marxist Party Line.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) May 18, 2013 at 4:40 pm

PHAM BINH: [Berger] argues that meaningful/significant economic reform is no longer possible

DAVID BERGER: Right as rain, Binh (since we’re now calling each other by last names). And you have never shown one iota of evidence that such reforms are possible. You have pointed to the US in the 1940s and to current Venezuela. With regard to Venezuela, I pointed out that there has been no fundamental shift in the distribution of wealth, and therefore the balance of class forces, in the economy.

And if there has been no such shift in Venezuela, how much less possible is such a shift in the USA.

Arthur May 14, 2013 at 11:59 am

I think the term should be confined to examples that are “left in form, right in essence” that is where essentially right-wing politics is being fraudulently presented as left-wing (usually by adding “militant” verbiage without altering the substantive content of the right-wing ideas).

On that basis your examples would be classified as follows:

“arguing that winning reforms is impossible” This is indeed a classic example of pseudoleftism (and the main activity of pseudo-leftist sects). It is of course EXACTLY what the ruling class wants potential radicals to believe. Dressing it up with purely verbal claims to support revolution instead of reforms is ALL that makes this pseudo-leftism instead of just ordinary conservative cynicism.

“opposing and blocking aid to democratic movements abroad”. Again a classic example and EXACTLY what ruling class conservatives advocate.

” sect-building”. Not really the same phenomena. Many pseudo-leftists are not in sects (eg very common among a wing of liberal Democrats) and sects have been a problem long before the specific emergence of psudo-leftism. There is already a well understood and completely adequate term for sect building – “sectarianism”. Conflating the two dilutes the meaning of both.

“organizing for the sole purpose of “speaking truth to power” or “exposing the system” rather than winning anything or changing anything”

That’s closely related and arguably a common feature of pseudo-leftism. Its often engaged in by pseudoleftists but its also done by people who are not fraudulently passing off essentially right-wing politics as leftist. Again terms like “ultra-leftist” are more apt unless the basis of the behaviour is opposition to progress and/or hostility to the oppressed as with pseudo-leftists pretending to be leftists.

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Pham Binh May 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I actually think sects and sectarianism are two problems that are often mistakenly conflated, in part because sects so often are sectarian. I tend to emphasize the distinction because a sect, even with the best political practice and the best formal politics/ideology, will still be a sect, unable to be or play a real vanguard type of role (both the many Marxist-Leninist/Maoist groups in the U.S. or the American SWP in the 1960s-1970s period are proof positive of this, depending on which of those “traditions” you adhere to).

The reason I included sect-building in my list of examples is because it gives comrades the illusion that they are fighting, in some small, almost imperceptible way, for ending capitalism when really what they are doing in practice is much more like the politics of bearing moral witness. In general I don’t get hung up on trying to properly pin or label individuals and forces as leftist, rightist, pseudoleftist, pseudorightist because every time you do so you’re required to provide a dictionary so people can comprehend what the heck people are talking about, and the only thing worse than pseudoleftism to me is deliberate obscurantism.

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Arthur May 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm

The distinction you make between sect building and sectarianism is linguistically doomed.

Pinning labels on people is closely related to sectarianism.

But ALL tendencies that could plausibly cosider each other “left” (with various labels for each others bad politics) face a common strategic problem from the public perception that the the pseudo-leftists are also part of the left. This actively drives people away from even thinking about what we might have to say.

Consistently using that term with a narrow definition is vitally important for enabling people to separate friends and enemies of the left.

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Pham Binh May 15, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Linguistically doomed? Yes. But it was a distinction I wrestled with (unsucessfully) in a lengthy exchange with Dan Dimaggio years ago (http://kasamaproject.org/communist-organization/3253-85dead-ends-road-maps-building-a-new-socialist-movement) and fully wrapping my head around the difference was critical for my own political evolution away from “Leninism.”

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Jurriaan Bendien May 11, 2013 at 4:36 pm

I remember having this kind of discussion in the 1980s. Basically the conclusion we reached that if you cannot persuade and convince people who are not already committed socialists, you don’t have much chance at all. The question is whether you can create a new formation which, rather than promulgating a doctrine, speaks to the real concerns that people have, and persuades them that they can have a real effect. If political activity cannot make a real difference to people’s lives, then it cannot succeed. Here in Holland, the SP decided to pick some fights they had a chance of winning, and they won some of them. They won some of them, and got a real following. Right now they have about 40,000 members plus a bunch of parliamentarians and councillors. So, irrespective of whether you agree with them or not, it can be done. The trouble with the legacy of the Russian revolution is that people cannot even agree on what the successes and failures were. And so an approach which bases itself on that experience is most likely a non-starter.

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Pham Binh May 11, 2013 at 4:44 pm

We’d welcome a submission on the Dutch experience.

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Arthur May 12, 2013 at 5:57 am

“pick some fights they had a chance of winning, and (win) some of them” is certainly what any genuine left party has to do in its day to day work – in stark contrast to the pseudoleft orientation to persuading people that everything is hopeless and they are doomed.

Having more than 40,000 members in a country of 17 million is qualitatively different from most other western countries. It would certainly be helpful to have a detailed article on the experience with links to translated documents.

I gather there is also something similar in Norway (also from a former Maoist oriented party as in Holland).

Although far better than pseudoleft sects and arguably part of a genuine left a purely reformist orientation has a well known historical trajectory. Long before they officialy abandoned Marxism in their public stance the Social Democrat reformist parties inevitably became bourgeois parties. If there is some reason not to expect the same result it needs to be explained in detail.

I have no idea how to get there, but I still think what is needed is a mass based revolutionary party, with a Marxist leadership that wins fights for reforms as part of an overall strategy for revolution. It should be possible to have active participation in mainstream democratic politcs by large mass revolutionary parties with a relatively small number of Marxists, although the only example I know of is in a very different society (Nepal, 500,000 class conscious members mobilized for struggle, of whom about 3,000 would have some familiarity with Marxism).

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ll May 16, 2013 at 8:18 pm

“Although far better than pseudoleft sects and arguably part of a genuine left a purely reformist orientation has a well known historical trajectory. Long before they officialy abandoned Marxism in their public stance the Social Democrat reformist parties inevitably became bourgeois parties. If there is some reason not to expect the same result it needs to be explained in detail.”

this is particularly true given the partners proposed for this project.

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Darwin26 May 11, 2013 at 5:34 pm

I’ve suggested several times: http://www.newprogs.org/ ~ if we can agree that all the stuff in the >>>NPA-Platform<<< is heading in the right direction then we can at least skirt the "theoretical twaddle" and get on with Organizing (eh Joe!)
I do not like electoral politics but it is the most propitious road to over-turning Capitalism.
I don't have a problem with paid staff ~ this isn't some utopian situation ~ printing, development, accounting, etc cost money ~ i don't want to have someone errantly running the show or derelict in a chosen field that WE cannot fire. i'd like to pay them a living wage for sure.
I understand the reluctance of some to include the 'PDA's' 'Bold Progressives' or Daily Kos types, those in Liberalisms/Democratic party tentacles but i'm willing to work with them as long as they adhere to the NPA Platform. Same for the Anachists/Libertarians i've less than no use for but willing to be inclusive if they adhere to the NPA platform.
i'm in earnest seeking a person in the Montana Green Party to run for Baucus's senate seat. He's not running so the seat won't be as hard to take ~ but organizing is near overwhelming but not hopeless… and finding someone is like searching for the proverbial needle in fly-over country… but he or she will surface and in time we'll vaporize Capitalism
Organize,

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David Berger May 14, 2013 at 9:51 am

The NPA Platform is below. This is not a socialist program. It’s a liberal program.

1. Peace First

A world of increasing population, diminishing resources, and unstable climate is a world poised for conflict.

2. Full Employment at a Living Wage

We hold that reordering our national priorities to make peace, the welfare of all people, and the protection of our planet our topmost concerns will result in long-term Economic Sustainability.

3. Saving the Environment

We envision a sustainable society that recognizes our interdependence with the planet and utilizes resources such that future generations will benefit rather than suffer from the practices of past generations.

4. A Real Social Safety Net

We stand firmly in support of strengthening, expanding, and protecting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unemployment insurance by any means necessary.

5. Medicare for All

We support Medicare for All as the single most effective approach to cutting runaway healthcare costs, and providing high-quality health care for all Americans.

6. Fair Trade

We support reformulation of all international trade relations and commerce practices in order to protect the labor, human rights, economy, environment, and domestic industry of this nation, and those of partner and recipient nations.

7. Human Rights/Civil Liberties

We are dedicated to protecting, respecting, and expanding the rights and civil liberties of all people.

8. Election Reform

We support full public financing of elections in order to remove undue influence from political campaigns. Further, we recognize and are committed to ending the myriad opportunities for fraud which now exist in our electoral system.

9. Corporate Accountability/Reform

National and multinational corporations have become too powerful. We must reduce the economic and political clout of corporations, improve corporate citizenship, increase executive responsibility, and require corporations to serve society and democracy while safeguarding the environment.

10. Infrastructure Investment/Ownership

We support the establishment of a publicly funded infrastructure bank to capitalize large-scale physical projects and direct funding toward associated research and development.

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Jurriaan Bendien May 11, 2013 at 7:02 pm

For a start, the SP scrapped the idea that the aim is to convince people of Marxism. I talked about it with Jan Marijnissen once, and he said that although he was sympathetic to Marxism, that “if he would talk Marxism it would only confuse people”. In anything the “Marxism” on this view is at most implied in what you do, but it’s not the public face of the party at all. So a very clear distinction was drawn between all kinds of theoretical issues you might like to talk about at home or with your friends or whatever, and the things you really have to talk about to persuade people out there. The second thing is, that you have to pick some fights you can win. Okay, some things you will campaign on, because you believe you have to do them, but also you have to win on some issues, otherwise it’s not going to be convincing in the long term. The issues that you can win may at first not be the ones you ideally want to win, but the point is that any issue where you can have a win or a success, is persuasive. The third thing is that you are not primarily interested in followership, you want to create leaders by practical example, using people’s own creativity and ingenuity. The fourth thing is that you make it easy for people to join, and provide resources in the exact measure that people are actually active for party goals. And finally, you have to structure the statutes of organization such that finances are well-organized, and bureaucratic privileges are blocked off. If you are a party official in the SP, you cannot make money out of it, you have to do it out of conviction; your earnings go to the party coffers, and at most you get paid a modest wage for your trouble by the party. The orientation of the party is clearly one of “activist reformism” dealing with the actual concerns that workers and environmentalists have, roughly with a “mass line” sort of method. That of course irks Leninist true believers. But that is all you can do democratically, in a situation where a revolution is not on the agenda. All this may sound extraordinarily simplistic, but with a relatively simple formula, a successful political party was built. How all that will work out as the political conflicts intensify, nobody can really say in advance. But you only have one life, and in that life you try to make a difference in the way that you can, realistically speaking. That is how it was put across to me. There are three core values of the SP: social equality, social solidarity and human dignity. That is the political foundation of the party, and the basis of what members agree on. So you don’t have a twenty page program which packs in the LTV, the falling rate of profit, and quotations from Lenin. Communicatively, you wouldn’t get anywhere, if you did that. You just have these three values that people can agree on. Of course, the party then develops detailed policies in al sorts of areas being worked in, but they’re very much oriented to what is happening right now. Generally, the party aims to defend the public sector and oppose its marketisation, and it aims to oppose all policies which increase social and economic inequality. I don’t think the Dutch model can be simply transposed to the American situation, since America is a very different place. But what you can learn from the SP is how to communicate politically, putting a message across in a way that is more successful. And the first requirement of that is, that you talk in a way that people understand and can really relate to. You have to get away from the idea, that you can “train up” people for the red revolution. That is a mistaken idea. A revolution is a social convulsion that arises out of the depths of a dysfunctional society, which nobody can easily predict or be in control of, since it can be triggered off in all sorts of ways. You cannot “create” or “instigate” a revolution, it is something that just happens at a certain point, and indeed it is something which people usually fear, and which really takes them by surprise. What you can gain control of, is what happens in your own lives, by banding together in ways which are constructive. And what matters more than your own lives? At present I am not a member of any political party, for personal reasons, but I do try to learn from everything that is going on. And there are definite do’s and don’ts which you have to follow, if you want to be successful. It takes a certain type of people with a certain type of mindset and a will to succeed. If you adhere to a strong sectarian faith, or if you have a lot of trouble in your own life, then most probably you will not succeed. Regroupment sounds nice, but very often it multiplies all the problems you were trying to get away from, because it turns out that the motives of the different groups for entering into politics in the first place were really quite different. Just because somebody is a “socialist” or whatever, doesn’t mean at all that he or she has what it takes to play an effective role in the organization. But what you can do is provide a supporter role, which provides enough freedom for that person to do his own thing, without obstructing the organizing function. You can have gradations of membership depending on how active people are able to be. http://international.sp.nl/

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Karl Grant May 12, 2013 at 4:01 am

I discussed with a member of the SP once the American political situation and he relayed an anecdote which supports Jurriaan’s observations.

He said that the SP had conducted a focus-group style study on how people perceived the party, and what were their emotions and associations around it. One aspect of the study was to have people draw what they thought an ‘SP’ supporter looked like. The result was that most people drew representations that looked like themselves and their communities – ‘normal’ people.

This exercise was repeated by Die Linke just across the border. They found that in Germany, when people were asked to draw supporters of Die Linke, they drew stereotypes. they drew early 19th century looking geesers in flatcaps or they drew molotov throwing youth.

There is something to be said for developing the right messaging, abandoning vocabulary and traditions that don’t help us build a mass audience. Tom Walker, a former journalist for the British Socialist Worker paper, has recently convincingly made this argument:

“Intervene. Build. Cadre. Recruit. Centralism. Discipline. Indiscipline. Smash. Oppositionist. Comrade. Purge. Bourgeois. Layer. Expel. Vanguard. Front. Turn. Propaganda.

All these words and more are part of the very particular jargon we have been used to, both in the Socialist Workers Party and on the wider revolutionary left. Taken together, they are certainly evocative – and not in a good way.”

http://internationalsocialistnetwork.org/index.php/ideas-and-arguments/organisation/party-and-class/101-tom-walker-say-no-to-revolutionary-jargon

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rdlp715 May 11, 2013 at 10:33 pm

The point about the Irish Labour Party still polling well when the ULA launched isn’t really relevant. The IMF were coming/had arrived, the country really quickly was economically ruined and a monster trade union march tipped over a crumbling government. It was clear from very early on that the Irish Labour Party would enter an IMF government with our historically quasi-fascist party Fine Gael to administer an austerity regime, carrying on exactly as the soon-to-be smashed “natural party of government” since the inception of the state..

There was an air of excitement around and real possibility of something good developing in the ULA project. It had a lot of good will, somehow brought together many diverse forces and acted like a magnet and attracted a lot of the floating lefties that were around.At it’s first national rally(no conference..) in June 2011 a target of 1,000 members by the end of that year was set, such was the buzz. For scale, decades old Sinn Fein, the party of the IRA had probably 3,000 people, Labour not much bigger, and combined these days have about a third of the vote. A lot of young people relatively new to activism got on board that would never have joined the established left groups in Ireland. Come the Feb 2011 election, just 2 or 3 months after its creation, it made a major breakthrough in getting 5 mps elected and taking 3% of the vote. This in a country where getting 1 mp elected in the late 90s was considered a breakthrough before he lost his seat later. This in a place where the Labour Party never got more than 12% and two very conservative neoliberal parties jostled for a share of 80% between them. And between the ULA and Labour there was also Sinn Fein, the party of the IRA struggle in the North which has a certain radical image associated with it for obvious historical reasons.

Looking back it really was phenomenal achievement that had great potential, unfortunately it was ignored by the left internationally for some reason. Right now, the Labour Party which polled 20% in the election just 2 years ago is on 7% in the polls on its way to oblivion. It’s too painful to wonder would the ULA have overtaken them by this point. Certainly it’d only have been a matter of time.

But before the first year was over, it was slowly picked apart and wrecked by the sectarian opportunist bureaucracies who saw it as a fattened calf to pick apart or a short-term front to recruit from to their own organizations. Things are still fertile(if cynical) here, however, and a more measured and patient realignment is ongoing. The “mood” as they say, is starting to pick up again which should drive the fresh, exciting and now-wiser projects along and, hopefully, together.

A few points
1. Due to the relative ease of getting elected in Ireland(multiseat constituencies, tolerable electoralism dictates the rhythms of Irish activism, perhaps similar to RGA Denmark or what was SSP). The seeming impossibility of electoral success in the US means ULA may not be a suitable case study.
2. But there are some general things to follow. The crisis is also a crisis of pre-existing left groups. Generally, during the lean boom years – they’ll have bureaucratized into a toxic mess with an interest only in its own reproduction/survival. That will provide the kindling for internal crises when rank and file and particularly young, new activists see stagnation and failure and rise up against the bureaucracy and take back and regenerate their party or leave(as in the UK). I think that’s a necessary prerequisite before regroupment.
3. First start building the leftwing infrastructure. Are there all/non-party mass go-to anticapitalist website, publication and Marxism-like events? Slovenia of pop just over 1 million people have a “Workers and Punks University” – should be possible in many places.
4. It has to be explicit and clear to all groups involved before it begins that they are dissolving themselves into a tendency of a new party.
5. That includes that the proto-party must campaign, fight, be active and do so as itself/centrally and groups involved must not be active in campaigns through their own brand when the new central group agrees to back said campaign.
6. Make it explicit that for the first year or two, parties-now-tendencies must agree to not seek to recruit the new, independent activists to their own groups.
7. Must approach and build campaigns selflessly and not use them as recruitment fronts.
8. Eradicate workerism/economism.
9. Eradicate the non-pedagogical approach of socialist catechism and treating people like garbage. Also, at the risk of sounding like a 60s Maoist caricature, there really is a need to closely inspect every aspect of our political method and strip the managerialism out of it and bring the humanity back into it. Habits picked up over the degenerative boom years that ye didn’t know you have, must go. Need to reinvestigate and re-understand what the bureaucratic phenomenon of “Stalinism” is today and what relation “Zinovievism” is to it.
10. Tap into the concrete traditions, experiences, history of your working class/labour movement.

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Pham Binh May 14, 2013 at 11:57 am

I’m glad to hear ULA had even bigger potential than I gave it credit for then. Being able to elect MPs (TDs) is a big success, far beyond anything that we could accomplish in this country where I think we’d be hard-pressed to elect even a dog catcher in an urban working-class area.

What I raised re: Ireland’s Labour Party was more of a question rather than a hard and fast line. So many regroupment efforts over the past decade have been miserable failures because there was no serious attempt to investigate or find out if the class nature of these parties changed (see http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=5189 and http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=8703) and then basing one’s strategy on that. Rather, the far left has generally reasoned in the following way: XX party is dead, gone over to neoliberalism, time to found a new party to replace the old political slot occupied but now vacated by XX. This method has failed in Britain with the left-of-Labour Party efforts and in France with the NPA, but based on what you are saying failure in Ireland had more to do with internal ULA matters than the strength of competing, external forces.

1-10 are good ideas, but of course the tricky part is implementing them.

1) Electoral success for the far left here means local races, not across the board, but on a very selective case-by-case basis since we have hardly the money or the (wo)manpower to beat Ds and Rs funded by super PACs in really important races for powerful positions like governorships, mayoralities.

2) What you say applies to boom and bust years, although the shift from boom to bust and the resultant struggles did create a layer of independent-thinking/acting militants in the UK SWP that formed the basis for the opposition and now the International Socialist Network. There is nothing like that in the States. The rank and file of existing sects hardly involved themselves with Occupy and the sects continually recruit completely raw and politically inexperienced people rather than battle-tested organizers or emerging leaders in part because there is almost zero struggle on campuses here (again, unlike Britain, or Quebec).

3. This site is trying to serve this purpose, although not in an exclusive capacity. One of many voices/platforms.

4. RWIOT had this rule and it served them well.

5. We’re not even close to this step. Maybe a few years out, at best if we’re lucky and being watched over by Lenin’s ghost.

6. See #4.

7. Yes, but what campaigns/initiatives such a joint formation is far from being obvious or self-evident. The balance of forces in this country is such that it can seem like nothing is a winnable fight even though there are tons of things that are pressing and crying out to be fought around like rent control on the local level or the sequester on the federal level that is literally closing parts of the federal government for days at a time.

8. I would say this needs to be overcome through being supplemented rather than “eradicated.” Tons of people who leave the sects end up as “economists” around initiatives like Labor Notes or as paid organizers or union officers for the AFL-CIO. It’s an indication of what kind of primitive level we’re at in this country.

9. See #3.

10. See #3. The North Star is a simultaneous reference to the fight against slavery, Frederick Douglass, and Peter Camejo. We used to have a quote by Malcolm X as our byline: “I’m for whatever gets results.” Personally I’d like to put it back up to reinforce the point.

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rdlp715 May 18, 2013 at 10:16 pm

In Europe, that space to the left of social democracy typically is only successfully conquered when a project is initated by an actual split from the left of social democracy(Tony Benns..) or with old mass communist parties which are essentially social democratic parties. That’s why Left Front of Melenchon is working out and why the NPA is being pulled apart by LF’s gravity and not the other way around. I think you need a Greek-level crisis situation for a sect or collection of sects to swell up to a mass party. People are atomized to such a degree that they will not or don’t join projects like previous generations.

5. In that case I think having a series of serious broad campaigns in each sphere of activism where you work together might be a best start. When the hardened bureaucratic shell is still intact, an alliance is just a sectarian carve-up which makes for a rather unpleasant experience for new activists. All sides will have a limit on how far they’ll integrate(for selfish reasons – they’re only in it to recruit) and will conveniently blame the other group for creating that bloc to progress. (One may play the controlling vetoing bureaucrat, the other the insidious demogag who use that as their recruiting angle while they work to bring the house down and blame it on the other folk). So if a fusion isn’t possible, a direct political alliance will just harden the respective rank & file bases against the other side and create a dynamic towards a split – which will eat up years we don’t have in recovery time.

8. It’s quite amazing in Ireland. The CWI have a rule not to march with Republican protests/events(R as in our infamous independence struggle North&South..) in case it impedes their efforts to recruit the minority Loyalist(actually fascist) elements of the Belfast protestant working class – the “class position”. A new law is proposed that women can be imprisoned for 14 years for procuring an abortion on the island(where it is an archaen criminal act). A woman died for lack of access to abortion which ignited a huge spontaneous choice movement – so multiple ‘women against cuts’ fronts erroneously emerged to try take advantage of it, rather than face actually building a women’s rights campaign to win an immediate demand without a domineering economistic perspective. And now it.. could be in a better place than it is, and what was initially an unthinkable defeat may now materialize. Racism, ecological issues, everything is generally on the rise – battles the left can’t be absent from because it doesn’t fit an always-wrong 1950s caricature of a monocultural white manufacturing working class/ archetypal Bruce Springsteen song. And the ironic thing is all those protocols have been for less than nothing, as the ultimate target the trade unions(both rank&file and left-bureaucracy) want less than nothing to do with them.

10. Perfect. We’re working on a youth campaign to commemorate the centenary of the biggest event in radical Irish labour movement history, which is still strong in the folk memory. Meanwhile we’re simultaneously using it to adapt new socialist campaigning methods that anarchists & co are so good at like podcasts, social media, community radio, graphic design, anti-economism, breaking down wall between different traditions like republicanism/socialism etc, pedagogical participation methods and all that jazz which hopefully we can take with us back into general activism and make how we do things relevant to people. Like a pro-left, pro-trade union movement occupy! It’s also good for ourselves in that we’re consciously seeking out other similar aged activists for their modern skillset and then sharing those between us, rather than just growing aimlessly in size and just having the capacity for meeting-march-meeting. It’s being done knowing that we’ll probably be struggling alongside each other for the next few decades so we might as well establish a working relationship and model for campaigning with that in mind. We try to include 1 person from the peripheries of each of the parties through which we can build trust and initiate the next regroupment from below. So far we’re only operating on a city basis though. But joint-work on a historical-commeorative campaign around your own traditions that snowballs into an actual campaign might be a good way to initiate something more with prospective regroupment buddies. Trust and cross-sect relationships are important foundations. (link: https://www.facebook.com/1913UnfinishedBusiness)

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the red star twinkles mischievously May 12, 2013 at 7:45 am

Speaking of left regroupment, I recommend comrades check out the book ‘New Parties of the Left: Experiences from Europe’ – you can find chapters from the book free on the website International Viewpoint. There are plenty of reviews of the book online which will give you a sense of its content and analysis.

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Jurriaan Bendien May 12, 2013 at 10:13 am

I suppose there are two big problems for the Marxists. Firstly, Marxism has little to do with what Marx and Engels actually said, did and thought. Secondly, Marxists are usually so deeply embued with their own ideology, that they completely fail to understand what makes people with a different opinion tick, i.e. they fail to understand the mentality of other people.

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Pham Binh May 14, 2013 at 9:59 am

I agree with both your comments in this thread. Most Marxists are part of the ideology-based left and focus one-sidedly on principles, demands, programs, calls, and theory and eschew the reality-based left which is focused on winning reforms of one sort or another and politically/organizationally engaging with people and forces where they are actually at.

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David Berger May 14, 2013 at 11:04 am

And, of course, your “reality-based left which is focused on winning reforms of one sort or another and politically/organizationally engaging with people and forces where they are actually at” will be quite happy to engage in Democratic Party politics.

I would like to know what you and the other “reality-based” leftists, did over this past May Day? That would be a good example of “engaging with people and forces where they are actually at.”

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Pham Binh May 14, 2013 at 11:32 am

Chepe Martín for example was straightening out CP USA on the headcount of NYC’s May Day march: https://twitter.com/PeoplesWorld/status/330010364370644992‎

They said it was 30,000 when it was more like 6,000.

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David Berger May 14, 2013 at 12:11 pm

So, besides doing a head count of the march, what did Chepe Martin, who you have called “Occupy cadre” actually do for May Day? Or any other “reality-based” leftists?

People various Marxist engaged in activity ranging from showing up with their literature tables and making a show of it, but doing nothing to organize the March (RCP), to working their asses off to get it organized (ISO, Solidarity, SA). One individual I know from WWP did a lot of work.

My impression is that “reality-based” leftisist were conspicuous by their absence.

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Pham Binh May 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Just one example of many. You’ll have to ask the FBI for more detailed information on what particular groups and individuals were doing.

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David Berger May 14, 2013 at 3:04 pm

I really think you need to give concrete examples if you want to have your assertions about the activities of “reality-based” leftists seriously.

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Chris Lowe May 17, 2013 at 5:46 pm

David,
In Portland May Day was organized as has been the case in most recent years by a loose organizing committee composed of people from anarchist/anti-authoritarian groupings; several Trotskyist groupings including ISO, Internationalist Group (I think we have the only branch outside NYC), Freedom Socialist Party (Pacific Northwest rooted group) and Workers Action (Bay Area and Portland breakaway from Workers International League); and people who would fit the description being labeled “reality based leftists,” although that is not a term we use among ourselves. Most of the latter active in Portland Jobs with Justice and/or some of its 90 member union and community organizations (also true of many of the Trotskyists), the immigrant focus is strong in PDX May Day reflecting JwJ alliance with immigrant worker groups. Political affiliations in the third category include Oregon Working Families Party (somewhat different from NY variety), Solidarity, Pacific-Green Party, Progressive Party (semi-Naderite), and Democrats. Neither DSA, CCDS, or FRSP has an organized presence in Portland although in the 1980s DSA was so strong it elected itself out of existence by getting key leaders into local office. If some non-sectarian broad left organization were created along the lines mooted by Bhaskar Sunkara and here by North Star, a lot of those people would join it.

Virtually all of these people, i.e. all three categories, were involved in Occupy Portland. Making that an opposition makes no sense here.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) May 18, 2013 at 4:54 pm

CHRIS LOWE: Virtually all of these people, i.e. all three categories, were involved in Occupy Portland. Making that an opposition makes no sense here.

DAVID BERGER: That’s terrific.

However, I was talking about New York, where Pham Binh and I both live. He has set up a political category, “the reality-based left which is focused on winning reforms of one sort or another and politically / organizationally engaging with people and forces where they are actually at.”

Now the first implication is that (a) important economic reforms are winnable. This has never been demonstrated by Pha binh or anyone else around here with the slightest bit of evidence.

(b) The second implication is that Marxists do not engage in political organizing. I gave examples of Marxists doing precisely that in New York in and around May Day, and I asked for examples of the “reality-based” leftists doing that kind of organizing for that day. Pham Binh’s reply was to give an example of one alleged “cadre” OWS person “straightening out CP USA on the headcount of NYC’s May Day march.” This is hardly an example of either winning reforms or engaging in political organizing.

There are in existence hundreds of different rank-and-file groups, immigrant groups, labor groups, Marxist groups, all engaged in struggle at this time. Binh’s role seems to be to disparage the one set of groups that have a political theory and, hopefully, are taking action, that points the way out of the current morass.

I will add, to reiterate my fundamental point on this thread, that there is no indication that any political progress can be made until sections of the labor movement and various branches of the left and other groups, enter into a political 12-step program and end their active addiction to the Democratic Party.

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Andrew Gorman May 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm

The situation in each differs to some degree, and if regroupment is to occur it will be on a state-by-state basis. I do not think we can or should consider regroupment on a national basis at this time – we need to build grassroots support. We are nowhere near strong enough to challenge the national Democratic Party, and should only consider contesting Congressional and Senatorial elections after there is significant support at the grassroots. Run as local and state assembly candidates.

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Thomas Barton May 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm

The link to Left Forum provides no helpful information. It shows 10 packed pages of various presentations from everybody presenting.

Please post the title, day and hour of presentations by North Star.

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Pham Binh May 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm

The North Star: Strategies on Renewing the Radical Left
Sun 10:00am – 11:50am

Abstract:
This panel features editors and participants introducing The North Star project. The North Star is a radical left space for discourse, debate, and analysis, aiming to facilitate the renewal of the radical left by creating a network of intellectuals and activists from diverse perspectives. We are not a vanguard or the nucleus of the revolution. Rather, our only party line is that we have no party line — except for a firm belief that a culture of open debate is required for building a left with real political muscle.

Left Third Party Organizing: Challenges and Opportunities
Sun 12:00pm – 01:50pm

Abstract:
In an age of two-party domination and neoliberal hegemony, what opportunities exist for left electoral politics through third party campaigns? Why and when should leftists focus on third party campaigns, as opposed to Democratic Party primaries? Where should the left focus its electoral resources, and how might it overcome division? Should third-party politics be thought of in terms of consciousness-raising, or is the left in a position to affect public policy by taking power?

The Crisis of Capitalism: Five Years Later
Sun 03:00pm – 04:50pm

Abstract:
The financial crisis of 2008 seemed to mark an inflection point for capitalist accumulation. How does the post-2008 period compare to that of pre-2008? Is global capitalism still in crisis? How does or did this crisis compare to past crises of capital, and how has or will global capitalism recover, if at all? How will this all depend on ongoing struggles of resistance, reform, and revolution?

The relevant URLs have speakers listed:
http://www.leftforum.org/content/north-star-strategies-renewing-radical-left
http://www.leftforum.org/content/left-third-party-organizing-challenges-and-opportunities
http://www.leftforum.org/content/crisis-capitalism-five-years-later

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Thomas Barton May 12, 2013 at 1:32 pm

People should also be prepared to pay for anything they wish to attend as follows:

Conference Fee Pre-Conference Discounts *

Full Three-Day Registration – $ 65.00

Low-income Three-Day Registration (25K income or less) – $ 45.00

One Day registration (Sat) – $ 30.00

One Day registration (Sun) – $ 30.00

Low income one day registration (Sat) – $ 20.00

Low income one day registration (Sun) – $ 20.00

Group Rate (10 or more) – $ 25.00

Students and youth – 22 and under (with ID) – $ 15.00

Pace community Registration (with current Pace I.D. only) – $ 20.00

Special Discount URL Price $55 – $ 55.00

Special Discount URL Price $60 – $ 60.00

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Chris Lowe May 12, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Count me in as a fellow traveler. As an FT based in Portland, Oregon, please allow me to enter a plea for New Yorker self-awareness of the problems of cosmopolitan provincialism. NYC both has fantastic resources for the national left, and is such a resource. But the New York left is not the national left, nor even is the NE Corridor plus Chicago, SF and LA, which was sort of the model of the last anti-war movement. Creating a truly national left should be a task we set ourselves. Synecdoche politics is not enough.

In terms of past models that had a horizontal quality at the kind of scale we are talking about, that persisted for a number of years, we should look at SDS in the ’60s. Many of the characteristics and indeed modes of action of the OWS solidarity movement find roots in New Left “participatory democracy,” and many of the limits and problems that have led to fragmentation of Occupy were named inside Occupy, based on that experience, but there was no capacity to respond to that knowledge in an organized way.

SDS peaked at about 200,000 members widely spread, with a large degree of local autonomy, a considerable degree of national coordination, embeddedness in wider movement culture to which it contributed borr good and ill. Its collapse in the face of sectarian politics directly related to some of the issues under discussion in the post and comments above offers opportunities. Many protagonists are still with us and have reflected on those experiences, the value and limits of “party-building” etc., exemplified by Carl Davidson above. (At Labor Party parties in the late ’90s it was fascinating for me as a younger person to listen to ex-Trotskyists and ex-Maoists and ex-CPers of various stripes compare notes, even as we were struggling with issues related to current varieties, as well as others connected to union democracy or lack thereof.) SDS used an existing social structure, college and university campuses, to achieve its breadth, in some ways maybe comparable to the function of fundamentalist churches on the right — without being a sectorally student movement, is there still something to be learned from or emulated there?

The Labor Party experience might be another focus of critical reflection.

Here is a suggestion for a possible route forward: Take six months to try to pull together a core of FTs. In January of 2014, issue a call for leftists across the country to convene local left community assemblies or social forums during the month of May 2015 (i.e. 17 months later, non-election year). Or March or April. Plan some further national forum or assembly to bring together participants at the many local assemblies or forums later in 2015.

During the rest of 2013, identify a limited set of core agenda *questions* or *problems* that all the assemblies or forums are asked to include, while encouraging other topics suited to local conditions and needs. Some of them have come up in this discussion already, e.g. politics vs. organization, decentralization (“leaderlessness”) vs. persistence capacity, party vs. other forms, electoralism in the context of the fragmented undemocratic U.S. electoral & governance system, relation to the DP and people who choose to work in DP contexts at different times. Some are more alluded to — paths to social transformation/revolution, relation to the state in all its wondrous U.S. fragmentation, how to make demands on the state, localism vs. national and global scale of the political economy and division of labor, national coordination and cooperation. I don’t like these formulations particularly, they are incomplete and would need to be winnowed and sharpened, they are just offered as indicative.

Such a process of agenda formation for the rest of 2013 might lead to a conclusion not to issue the call I suppose, but in itself it might have some value in producing some focused exchange of ideas.

FWIW.

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Pham Binh May 21, 2013 at 9:59 am

Fellow traveler event in NYC:

The Future of the Left – A Conversation on Socialist Unity

Chaired by Pat Fry – Left Labor Project
Opening remarks from Mark Solomon – Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
Responses by:
• Bhaskar Sunkara, Editor – Jacobin Magazine
• Libero Della Piana, Vice Chair – Communist Party USA
• Maria Svart, National Director – Democratic Socialists of America
• Eric Odell – Freedom Road Socialist Organization

Hosted by:
• Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
• Communist Party USA
• Democratic Socialists of America
• Freedom Road Socialist Organization

With participation and support from: Jacobin Magazine | Left Labor Project | Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office

(RSVP here: http://j.mp/futureleft)

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David Berger May 23, 2013 at 8:48 am

So let me inject some actual politics into this discussion, instead of the usual Internet blather.

During the run-up to May Day 2013, in New York, the active groups of Occupy Wall Street were involved in negotiations with unions, various immigrant groups and the May 1st Committee to organize the May Day events. There was heavy internal politics in OWS, involving, ultimately a conflict between HADs (Horizontalist / Anarchist / Decentralists) and various affiliated and unaffilated Marxists. People from Socialist Action, Workers World and to a lesser extent Solidarity and ISO were involved.

The Marxists managed to keep their heads above water during this process. To the extent that there was a united May Day event, it was probably due to the Marxists in OWS. Otherwise, the May 1st people, organized labor and the immigrant groups, plus the HADs in OWS would have gone their own ways, with minimal cooperation. It was a very uphill struggle anyway since OWS had nothing like the weight it had last year.

My point is this: this was an excellent example of a process that could lead to some kind of regroupment or at least to some meaningful alliances. None of the groups that Pham Binh is touting, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, Communist Party USA, Democratic Socialists of America, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, had anything to do with organizing the May Day events, internally or externally that I’m aware of, nor were any of them even present as “interlopers” as the RCP was (complete with slogans from Chairman Bob).

Regroupment will involve both ideas and actions. Anyone who thinks that the kinds of ideas and actions compatible with regroupment will have anything to do with work within the Democratic Party, is dreaming a very odd dream indeed.

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Chris Lowe May 23, 2013 at 12:56 pm

David, one reason I hate these kinds of discussions is that they involve people like you who don’t know me telling me what I think and what my motives are and what my defining issues are, invariably in a mistaken manner, often either before, during or after a process of pinning a smeary dismissal label of lesser or greater hostility on me.

See, here’s the thing. For you, not working in the Democratic Party is a matter of principle. For me, it is not, but nor is it a matter of principle that I *should* work in the DP. I am not obsessed with the DP the way most of my Leninist friends are, to varying degrees.

One thing I am concerned with is working with trade unionists and trade union groups. Evidently you do too, on occasion, even though a lot of them are Democrats or work for DP candidates at the behest of unions or belong to or work for union organizations that give lots of money and other resources to DP candidates or DP organs.

If you or your (I assume) Leninist organization are like most the ones I know, you are not really concerned with what lies “within” the Democratic Party. Perhaps I am wrong in your case. Most of those I know and work with do not bother themselves with thinking about how attacks on various perfidies of “the Democrats” may sound in the ears on non-party activist DP voters who nonetheless in some way identify with the DP, most of whom are working class people and many of whom are union members and some of whom are union activists. Similarly they do not examine much their blanket dismissals of “labor bureaucrats” and its harsher variants. Rather the point seems to be to draw in bold lines a picture of connections among the labor bureaucrats, support for “the Dems,” and reformism, with the l.b.s being either dupes or dastards, “the Dems” more on the dastard end, and reformism the enemy of revolution. Is that about right?

Now the thing is, that way of defining things either precludes asking, or makes it difficult to even ask, never mind answer, most of the questions that seem of most pressing interest to me in immediate work around trade unions, social justice organizing, and changing the character of politics in the U.S. to make them more open to socialism.

I think that the “regroupment” referred to by Binh in the title of this thread applies mainly to those socialists who *do* want to think about a variety of issues relating to working with trade union activists who also often are employed by unions, with connecting short term reformist/”liberal” programs like the NPAs with medium term and long term work, with questions of how to do politics that make actual demands on “power”/the state rather than merely propaganda gestures signaling revolutionary identities or attitudes, and win them.

In the bigger picture I wouldn’t mind having discussions with Leninists of aspects of those questions, if they would be willing to do so with some degree of openness to the possibility that things that once appeared settled might not be now. For instance both the united front vs. popular front distinction and the question of a “transitional program” seem interesting and potentially useful to me in trying to sharpen my thinking about some kinds of political choices. But most of the Trotskyists I talk to seem to see those as issues that are permanently settled, rather than as concepts that had particular practical instances in the mid or late 1930s from which we might try to derive principles whose application might look quite different 80-odd years later in a radically different global and national political economy.

That means that discussions or debates about those ideas with people from those groups tend to be much more limited in use and I think fruitfulness. They may help me understand with greater clarity the specifics and nature of various tiny groups’ positions, but only indirectly will they help me in interpreting the world and my concrete choices and my best praxis. They have a kind of abstract, academic interest — the anthropology of Trotskyist cultural variation, as it were (what a friend of mine used to call “Marxist train-spotting”).

Something similar might be said about discussing trade union related work — that there are possibilities that ideological rigidity obstructs or channels into unfruitful time worn ruts.

So, it seems reasonable to me to want to talk about regroupment within that category of socialists who are open to the kinds of questions that seem pressing to me. What I don’t really understand is Leninists who want to play dog-in-the-manger about that. I would love to see y’all go and work on regroupment around the issues that seem pressing to you, which might produce some greater vitality and effectiveness. I wouldn’t mind creating different spaces for structured debates or discussions across the division we are talking about here. But what is the point of trying to obstruct our efforts within our area of focus? I don’t get it.

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Chris Lowe May 23, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Shorter version: You don’t like the kind of regroupment we’re doing. That’s legitimate. You want us to do a different kind apparently, but don’t want to do it yourself, for some reason. That’s not legitimate. If you want a different kind of regroupment, d.i.y., as the saying goes. But don’t play dog in the manger.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) May 24, 2013 at 1:36 am

CHRIS LOWE: Shorter version: You don’t like the kind of regroupment we’re doing.

DAVID BERGER: First of all, who is “we”? I wasn’t aware there was a recognizable tendency, a “we” at TNS. If so, it should be clearly identified if for no other reason than political honesty.

CHRIS LOWE: That’s legitimate.

DAVID BERGER; Gee, thanks. I was beginning to wonder.

CHRIS LOWE: You want us

DAVID BERGER: Again, who is us? Is there an organized tendency?

CHRIS LOWE: to do a different kind apparently

DAVID BERGER: If you’re referring to running candidates or supporting candidates in the Democratic Party, guilty as charged.

CHRIS LOWE: but don’t want to do it yourself, for some reason.

DAVID BERGER: Obviously, you have little or no idea of what I do as a member of the Labor Outreach Committee of Occupy Wall Street. This group, which has been meeting since about Day 3 of the occupation of Zuccotti Park, is a group of rank-and-file workers, leftists and non-affiliated radicals working together. This is my idea of the kind of actions that can lead to some kind of regroupment.

CHRIS LOWE: That’s not legitimate.

DAVID BERGER: This is not clear. If you mean I don’t want to shack up with the Democrats, that’s true. If you mean I’m not engaged in regoupment according to my concept, not true.

CHRIS LOWE: If you want a different kind of regroupment, d.i.y., as the saying goes.

DAVID BERGER: So I am. And I consider regroupment to be more than posting on a website.

CHRIS LOWE: But don’t play dog in the manger.

DAVID BERGER; I hope you’re not asking me to refrain from criticism of your notions and activities in a public left-wing forum.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) May 24, 2013 at 6:09 pm

CHRIS LOWE: David, one reason I hate these kinds of discussions is that they involve people like you who don’t know me telling me what I think and what my motives are and what my defining issues are, invariably in a mistaken manner, often either before, during or after a process of pinning a smeary dismissal label of lesser or greater hostility on me.

DAVID BERGER: Obviously, you’ve had some pretty shitty experiences in political discussions.

CHRIS LOWE: See, here’s the thing. For you, not working in the Democratic Party is a matter of principle.

DAVID BERGER: You say that you don’t like “people … who don’t know me telling me what I think and what my motives are and what my defining issues are, invariably in a mistaken manner.” Congratulations: you just did what you don’t like. Not working in the DP is not a matter of principle for me. It’s a matter of a response to evidence. My studies of history, my personal experiences, and my assessment of the current state of the class struggle in the US lead me constantly to the conclusion that the DP is a trap for the Left.

CHRIS LOWE: For me, it is not, but nor is it a matter of principle that I *should* work in the DP. I am not obsessed with the DP the way most of my Leninist friends are, to varying degrees.

DAVID BERGER: I’m not obsessed with it either. The DP rarely comes up in the political work I do, which is either directly with workers involved in struggles or in Occupy Wall Street as an organization.

CHRIS LOWE: One thing I am concerned with is working with trade unionists and trade union groups. Evidently you do too, on occasion

DAVID BERGER: Chris, I would watch remarks like “on occasion.” I have been a member of six different unions. And I am currently engaged, through Occupy Wall Street, with three or four unions. I sincerely doubt that there is anyone at TNS as involved with unions in the past or currently as I am.

CHRIS LOWE: even though a lot of them are Democrats or work for DP candidates at the behest of unions or belong to or work for union organizations that give lots of money and other resources to DP candidates or DP organs.

DAVID BERGER: I am well aware of the penchant of unions to cast pearls before the swine in the DP.

CHRIS LOWE: If you or your (I assume) Leninist organization are like most the ones I know

DAVID BERGER: You need to hire a fact checker of something. I am not a member of any Left organization except the Occupy Wall Street Labor Outreach Committee.

CHRIS LOWE: you are not really concerned with what lies “within” the Democratic Party. Perhaps I am wrong in your case.

DAVID BERGER: You are dead wrong. I am very concerned about the corrupting power of the DP and the snakes “within” it. As to its rank and file, I have never seen any attempt by the Left to work in the DP that showed the slightest bit of success as the Left judges success: significant reforms or the growth of Left organizations of any sort. Quite the contrary.

CHRIS LOWE: Most of those I know and work with do not bother themselves with thinking about how attacks on various perfidies of “the Democrats” may sound in the ears on non-party activist DP voters who nonetheless in some way identify with the DP, most of whom are working class people and many of whom are union members and some of whom are union activists.

DAVID BERGER: I think you are exaggerating. I am currently working with members of three of four groups that come out of the “Leninist” tradition, and the members of those groups are, by and large, well aware of the effects of their rhetoric.

CHRIS LOWE: Similarly they do not examine much their blanket dismissals of “labor bureaucrats” and its harsher variants. Rather the point seems to be to draw in bold lines a picture of connections among the labor bureaucrats, support for “the Dems,” and reformism, with the l.b.s being either dupes or dastards, “the Dems” more on the dastard end, and reformism the enemy of revolution. Is that about right?

DAVID BERGER: Maybe you have been hanging around with the RCP or some other cult, but in my immediate experience, over the past 18 months, working with people from Socialist Action, Solidarity, the ISO and Workers World (not a group I care for), the above is at best a parody and at worst a travesty of their attitudes.

CHRIS LOWE: Now the thing is, that way of defining things either precludes asking, or makes it difficult to even ask, never mind answer, most of the questions that seem of most pressing interest to me in immediate work around trade unions, social justice organizing, and changing the character of politics in the U.S. to make them more open to socialism.

DAVID BERGER: Again, you’re beating a dead horse, dragging a red herring, poisoning the well, or something like that. The comrades I am working with, and myself, do not have any problems such as you have described, working with union officials, organized workers or unorganized workers in a workplace or community context.

They do not engage in DP work as a matter of choice, However, this has never, in my experience, precluded union work. You would be amazed how little DP campaigns affect the work of unions (except in a negative sense as, for example, the current New York mayorality campaign caused the bus workers union leadership to sabotage its own strike).

CHRIS LOWE: I think that the “regroupment” referred to by Binh in the title of this thread applies mainly to those socialists who *do* want to think about a variety of issues relating to working with trade union activists who also often are employed by unions, with connecting short term reformist/”liberal” programs like the NPAs with medium term and long term work, with questions of how to do politics that make actual demands on “power”/the state rather than merely propaganda gestures signaling revolutionary identities or attitudes, and win them.

DAVID BERGER: I disagree. People such as Binh have the fantasy that significant reforms can be achieved “under the reign of capitalist=m” in this day and age, in the USA. They want to get people elected to government positions to accomplish these reforms. This, to me, is out-and-out social democracy. It has nothing to do with a socialist program. And, most of all, it won’t work.

As to the issue of reforms, socialists are constantly concerned with reforms, especially economic ones. However, we do not believe that capitalism is capable of delivering them. And so, to enter into or engage the government with the notion of actually accomplishing something directly is, at best, an illusion. We fight for reforms to raise consciousness for the greater struggles to come. We believe that to out-and-out state, as people have at TNS, that a realistic goal of electing candidates is the achievement of significant reforms, is nonsense.

CHRIS LOWE: In the bigger picture I wouldn’t mind having discussions with Leninists of aspects of those questions, if they would be willing to do so with some degree of openness to the possibility that things that once appeared settled might not be now.

DAVID BERGER: We’re communicating now.

CHRIS LOWE: For instance both the united front vs. popular front distinction and the question of a “transitional program” seem interesting and potentially useful to me in trying to sharpen my thinking about some kinds of political choices.

DAVID BERGER: Me, too.

CHRIS LOWE: But most of the Trotskyists I talk to seem to see those as issues that are permanently settled, rather than as concepts that had particular practical instances in the mid or late 1930s from which we might try to derive principles whose application might look quite different 80-odd years later in a radically different global and national political economy.

DAVID BERGER: I’d have to know, specifically, what you’re talking about. Universal free healthcare? Syria?

CHRIS LOWE: That means that discussions or debates about those ideas with people from those groups tend to be much more limited in use and I think fruitfulness. They may help me understand with greater clarity the specifics and nature of various tiny groups’ positions, but only indirectly will they help me in interpreting the world and my concrete choices and my best praxis. They have a kind of abstract, academic interest — the anthropology of Trotskyist cultural variation, as it were (what a friend of mine used to call “Marxist train-spotting”).

DAVID BERGER: I wonder what context you have encountered the groups and which groups you are talking about. Again, my experience over the past 18 months in Occupy Wall Street has been a lack of sectarianism and a great flexibility of strategy and tactics. Interestingly, in spite of the recent presidential campaign, the issue of the DP has never come up directly.

CHRIS LOWE: Something similar might be said about discussing trade union related work — that there are possibilities that ideological rigidity obstructs or channels into unfruitful time worn ruts.

DAVID BERGER: Again, you’d have to be specific. As an active member of a group you might call “Leninist,” the IS of the 1960s and 1970s, our major work was in the unions. We probably achieved more success, especially long-term success, than any other group.

CHRIS LOWE: So, it seems reasonable to me to want to talk about regroupment within that category of socialists who are open to the kinds of questions that seem pressing to me. What I don’t really understand is Leninists who want to play dog-in-the-manger about that.

DAVID BERGER: I assume you’re talking about the Democrats. Again, the opposition to work in the DP is empirically based. I have seen one movement after another adopt some kind of entrism as a tactic and get lost in the swamp. If you want a good reference point, check out the career of one of the leaders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War – John Kerry.

CHRIS LOWE: I would love to see y’all go and work on regroupment around the issues that seem pressing to you, which might produce some greater vitality and effectiveness.

DAVID BERGER: Hopefully, that’s what’s being done right now in Occupy Wall Street. (By the way, about a year ago, Pham Binh, referred to the Labor Outreach Committee of OWS as a “red ghetto” precisely because experienced leftists were working in it.)

CHRIS LOWE: I wouldn’t mind creating different spaces for structured debates or discussions across the division we are talking about here. But what is the point of trying to obstruct our efforts within our area of focus? I don’t get it.

DAVID BERGER: My point here is to try to convince people, based on evidence accumulated now over a period of 80 years, that the DP is a trap. I have no idea why, suddenly, in the aftermath of Occupy Wall Street, which indicated great possible openings to the left, some people want to crawl back towards the center.

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Pham Binh May 23, 2013 at 1:21 pm
Richard Estes May 23, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Very late to this discussion after having to deal with some work and family demands on my time.

Some quick thoughts: not surprisingly, I agree with the overall orientation of this article, even though I wasn’t enthusiastic about Sunkara’s. I have always thought, like Pham and Proyect, that the left should participate in efforts to improve the living conditions of people under capitalism. “Reformism” can be the difference between someone having a place to live with enough food for themselves and their family or living precariously day to day. Just look at the statistics that are periodically reported about the numbers of people living in poverty with “food insecurity”.

Being “open-minded, exclusive and experimental” is required beyond past ideological perspectives. The US political system and US labor unions have changed a lot in recent decades. How can they be effectively engaged, if at all? A particular emphasis upon the current state of the US labor movement might be useful, as it has been reduced, in most instances, to being an appendage of the Democratic Party.

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Pham Binh June 3, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Mostly good article but it doesn’t really get into the Democratic Party terrain/third-party organizing: http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/03/the-lefts-missing-ingredient/

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David Berger June 3, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Below is the political program advocated by the article that Pham Binh is quoting. I suggest that if anyone can either (a) find a Democratic candidate who has a program like this they let us know. Or (b) if anyone is field a candidate in the DP with a program like this they let us know. Accept no substitutes.

(1) Adequate food for everyone,

(2) decent housing,

(3) universal healthcare,

(4) full employment/good jobs,

(5) quality education for all

(6) adequate income in old age,

(7) enhanced public transportation,

(8) a commitment to a sustainable environment

(9) progressive taxation

(10) a non-imperialist government, and

(11) labor- and environmentally friendly trade.

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Pham Binh June 5, 2013 at 3:57 pm
David Berger (RED DAVE) June 5, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I wouldn’t get too excited about Chokwe Lumumba.

— Lumumba ran as a mainstream candidate who would represent all city voters. He defeated businessman Jonathan Lee in the Democratic primary runoff last month.

http://www.electlumumbamayor.com/peoplesplatform.html

Lumumba’s program is the called the People’s Platform. It’s long on rhetoric and short on concrete proposals. Here’s an example of it below. Notice the first sentence, the reference to “a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for victims of the present economic crises and/or Katrina type disasters.”

Cool, but the full phrase is: “support of action on all levels of Government which places a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for victims of the present economic crises and/or Katrina type disasters.” In other words, this mayor, of this city, will take no independent action to stop foreclosures and evictions. He’ll just “support” any action take by “all levels of Government.”

Business as usual. Don’t try to stop an eviction in Jackson. Wait until you get “support of action on all levels of Government.” (Don’t you love the “G” in Government?)

We have experience with African-American mayors of major cities, from the first, Carl Stokes in Cleveland, to AWilson Goode in Philadelphia (the guy whose cops dropped a bomb on the MOVE headquarters), to David Dinkins here in New York. Did any of them make a real difference in the lives of working class people, the poor, the minorities in their cities?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_first_African-American_mayors

— City Government must work to ensure the basic human rights to housing, food, security and health care of the residents of Jackson by action and support of action on all levels of Government which places a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for victims of the present economic crises and/or Katrina type disasters. 


Support programs designed to create housing and jobs for all city residents


Support and encourage extension of unemployment and benefits like food stamps for the victims of economic crises and/or the natural disasters like Katrina.   


Support on all levels of Government the expansion of health care and coverage to include affordable free and reduced medical coverage for victims of the economic crises.


http://www.electlumumbamayor.com/peoplesplatform.html

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Pham Binh June 5, 2013 at 8:34 pm

Land, bread, and peace weren’t concrete proposals either.

Doesn’t the mayor control the police force? If so, he could take action to stop foreclosures and evictions.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) June 5, 2013 at 8:49 pm

DAVID BERGER: Lumumba’s program is the called the People’s Platform. It’s long on rhetoric and short on concrete proposals. Here’s an example of it below. Notice the first sentence, the reference to “a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions for victims of the present economic crises and/or Katrina type disasters.”

PHAM BINH: Land, bread, and peace weren’t concrete proposals either.

DAVID BERGER: Oh, Jesus, Binh, have you no shame? “Land” meant land to the peasants; “bread” meant food for the starving people of the cities; “peace” meant an end to Russian involvement in WWI.

Don’t hold your breath for the day that a wholly bourgeois politician like Chokwe Lumumba calls for anything as powerful as what the Bolsheviks called for.

PHAM BINH: Doesn’t the mayor control the police force? If so, he could take action to stop foreclosures and evictions.

DAVID BERGER: He sure as shit could. And he won’t.

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Pham Binh June 6, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Well, the Bolsheviks cut bread rations to the bone for workers and there wasn’t any peace to be had either.

Wretched traitors, eh?

Back to what’s interesting, he describes himself as a “Fannie Lou Hamer Democrat.” Clearly we can learn something from Lumumba:

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/6/6/civil_rights_veteran_chokwe_lumumba_elected

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David Berger (RED DAVE) June 6, 2013 at 9:57 pm

PHAM BINH: Well, the Bolsheviks cut bread rations to the bone for workers and there wasn’t any peace to be had either.

Wretched traitors, eh?

DAVID BERGER: If you think that a member of the Democratic Party and the Bolshevik Party under conditions of civil war can be compared, well … .

PHAM BINH: Back to what’s interesting, he describes himself as a “Fannie Lou Hamer Democrat.” Clearly we can learn something from Lumumba:

http://www.democracynow.org/2013/6/6/civil_rights_veteran_chokwe_lumumba_elected

DAVID BERGER: Oh, you can learn something from him: like how to use rhetoric and influence people. Meanwhile, you have ducked the fundamental issue, that there isn’t a single indication in his published program that this man will do anything at all beyond what your average liberal Democrat will do, which is nothing.

When he starts using his police power to stop evictions and foreclosures (your idea), let us know.

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Pham Binh June 6, 2013 at 10:23 pm

Published programs aren’t everything. Did you learn nothing from OWS?

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David Berger (RED DAVE) June 7, 2013 at 3:49 am

PHAM BINH: Published programs aren’t everything. Did you learn nothing from OWS?

DAVID BERGER: So, what you’re saying is that the DP candidate is going to all of a sudden turn into a dyed-in-the-wool radical?

I learned a lot from OWS, like never trust a Democrat? What did you learn?

David Berger (RED DAVE) June 7, 2013 at 9:03 am

PHAM BINH: Lumumba is a dyed-in-the-wool radical. Read his bio.

DAVID BERGER: Lumumba is a dyed-in-the wool Democrat. Let’s watch and see what he does. Every month or so, I’ll post his latest doings.

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Pham Binh June 7, 2013 at 9:17 am

He’s a Democrat now, but that’s not his roots. That’s why comparisons to Dinkens et. al. don’t wash.

Feel free to denounce Fannie Lou Hamer for betraying the working class via the DP. This ought to be rich.

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Louis Proyect June 9, 2013 at 8:36 am

The comparison is with Bobby Rush, who was a member of the Black Panthers in the 60s and is now serving an utterly conventional term as Congressman from Chicago. Having a “radical” past, like Obama’s community organizing stint and friendship with Rashid Khalidi, Bill Ayers et al, can be useful in building a political career, especially during a period when people feel that change is necessary. Who knows how much longer the illusion of change will suffice? Although Obama is pretty fucking good at keeping people mollified.

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Pham Binh June 9, 2013 at 1:20 pm

This guy is a way too old to be doing the “past radicalism for newfound careerism” bit, plus I don’t think he ever renounced his membership in the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. That would mean he is a present radical rather past radical.

I don’t think there are many past analogies that work for this situation where a radical actually wins office and through the DP machinery no less. Upton Sinclair won the DP nomination in 1934 and the party bosses created a one-time only party to steal votes from him, handing the GOP the governorship. Bernie Sanders ran as an independent against the Democratic mayor of Burlington in the 1980s and won. Neither is anything like this case.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) June 9, 2013 at 5:44 pm

PHAM BINH: He’s a Democrat now, but that’s not his roots. That’s why comparisons to Dinkens et. al. don’t wash.

DAVID BERGER: He is running as a moderate Democrat. Whatever his roots are, he is now mainstream, in spite of his rhetoric

PHAM BINH: Feel free to denounce Fannie Lou Hamer for betraying the working class via the DP. This ought to be rich.

DAVID BERGER: Okay, Binh, gloves off. I was in Atlantic City in 1964 when the Democrats betrayed Hamer. She didn’t betray the working class. The Democrats betrayed her and the MFDP.

And I met her. Your snarky brand of DP sycophancy puts you in a different universe from that of Hamer. She was a person of utmost honesty and conviction. And the Democrats, who you want to play footsie with, showed over and over again, exactly what they thought of her.

———-
Johnson then dispatched several trusted Democratic Party operatives to attempt to negotiate with the Freedom Democrats, including Senator Hubert Humphrey (who was campaigning for the Vice-Presidential nomination), Walter Mondale, and Walter Reuther, as well as J. Edgar Hoover. They suggested a compromise which would give the MFDP two non-voting seats in exchange for other concessions, and secured the endorsement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the plan. But when Humphrey outlined the compromise, saying that his position on the ticket was at stake, Hamer, invoking her Christian beliefs, sharply rebuked him:

“Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people’s lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.”

Future negotiations were conducted without Hamer, and the compromise was modified such that the Convention would select the two delegates to be seated, for fear the MFDP would appoint Hamer. In the end, the MFDP rejected the compromise, but had changed the debate to the point that the Democratic Party adopted a clause which demanded equality of representation from their states’ delegations in 1968.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
______

DAVID BERGER: Now, Chokwe Lumumba calls himself a “Fannie Lou Hamer Democrat.” Well, he’s entitled to his propaganda and you to your fantasies.

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Pham Binh June 9, 2013 at 6:23 pm

So what did you two discuss? The DP was being loyal to its class base when it betrayed her and MDFP, no? What did she make of that betrayal? Did she decide to break with the DP as a result?

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Pham Binh June 9, 2013 at 7:16 am

Great overview of the local terrain for Lumumba’s victory: http://southernstudies.org/2013/06/voices-from-mississippi-goddam-to-jackson-hell-yes.html

Turns out his program was the result of discussions with constituents at popular assemblies. How many bourgeois politicians can say that?

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Louis Proyect June 9, 2013 at 8:32 am

Here’s another article by Bob Wing, who wrote the one above.

“The significance of Obama’s victory is accentuated by the fact that not only is he an outstanding individual with liberal politics and a community organizer’s instincts, but he is also leading a potentially historic realignment of U.S. politics.”

full: http://www.counterpunch.org/2009/02/06/obama-race-and-the-future-of-u-s-politics/

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Pham Binh May 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm

Reforms are not about “fundamental shift[s]in the distribution of wealth.”
Only an ultra-left statistic-mongerer could assert that the Venezuelan masses have made zero progress and no significant gains during Chavez’s administration.

If Lowe is interested in my arguments around Venezuela, he can them here: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=8095

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David Berger (RED DAVE) May 18, 2013 at 7:02 pm

DAVID BERGER: Right as rain, Binh (since we’re now calling each other by last names). And you have never shown one iota of evidence that such reforms are possible. You have pointed to the US in the 1940s and to current Venezuela. With regard to Venezuela, I pointed out that there has been no fundamental shift in the distribution of wealth, and therefore the balance of class forces, in the economy.

And if there has been no such shift in Venezuela, how much less possible is such a shift in the USA.

PHAM BINH: Reforms are not about “fundamental shift[s]in the distribution of wealth.”

DAVID BERGER: Why not? Because you say so. Any significant “reform” around which a party such as you fantasize about, would require important economic reforms. What else are you going to build a “reform” party around?

PHAM BINH: Only an ultra-left statistic-mongerer

DAVID BERGER; You’re an amateur at cursing, and I would answer you back double and in spades, but, instead, I’m going to point out that you have no notion of what ultra-left ism is and to call me a “statistic-monger” because I demonstrated elsewhere that the Chavez administration didn’t achieve a fundamental shift in wealth, and therefore class power, is to be politically dishonest.

PHAM BINH: could assert that the Venezuelan masses have made zero progress and no significant gains during Chavez’s administration.

DAVID BERGER: The facts are clear. In 1987, the poorest 5th of the Venezuelan population received 4.7% of the national income, while the wealthiest 5th received 50.6% for a GINI Index of ~43,42, In 2011, the poorest 5th of the Venezuelan population received 5.7% of the national income, while the wealthiest 5th received 44.8% for a GINI Index of 39.02. If you think that represents major progress, you are dreaming.

The ruling class in Venezuela rules as usual.

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PatrickSMcNally May 18, 2013 at 7:07 pm

Yes, there have been reforms in Venezuela. That is different from a rotting imperial power like the USA.

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Pham Binh May 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm

There’s no sense in discussing anything with someone who doesn’t understand the difference between reforms under the rule of capital and ending the rule of capital.

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Aaron Aarons June 10, 2013 at 1:19 am

David Berger writes:

In 1987, the poorest 5th of the Venezuelan population received 4.7% of the national income, while the wealthiest 5th received 50.6% for a GINI Index of ~43,42, In 2011, the poorest 5th of the Venezuelan population received 5.7% of the national income, while the wealthiest 5th received 44.8% for a GINI Index of 39.02.

Do these figures also include non-monetary income in the form of goods and services provided by the government or by programs it finances? Also, does it reflect any changes in taxation that may or may not have taken place in that time?

Another question is, why use 1987 as the basis of comparison, since the condition of the workers and poor probably greatly worsened between 1987 and Chavez’ election in 1998? (The February, 1989 uprising, known as the Caracazo, was a response to sharp attacks on the living standards of the poor that were carried out shortly before

BTW, this is a genuine request for clarification, not a defense of Chavismo.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) May 18, 2013 at 7:53 pm

There’s no real political dialog when you make blanket statements and don’t back them up.

The point you are trying to make is that significant reforms are currently possible “under the rule of capital” in the US, and this justifies a strategy of messing around with the Democratic Party

But you have never demonstrated that is the US the possibility of any kind of significant reforms exists “under the rule of capital.’

So, Venezuela notwithstanding, how about you tell us what kind of significant reforms you think are possible “under the rule of capital” and how a struggle for these reforms will lead to regroupment?

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Pham Binh June 7, 2013 at 6:40 am

Lumumba is a dyed-in-the-wool radical. Read his bio.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) July 10, 2013 at 2:46 pm

So much for the “dyed-in-wool radical” Chokwe Lumumba. I promised that I would post stuff on him from time to time.

__________

http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/6b4a5c28c9704f01a3e895074579a845/MS–Mississippi-Mayors

JACKSON, Mississippi — A one-time black nationalist was inaugurated as mayor of Mississippi’s capital city Monday, saying he wants Jackson to be a unified community where people of diverse backgrounds can make a living.

Chokwe Lumumba (SHOW-kway Lu-MOOM-bah) said developers who do business in the city need to work with contractors and subcontractors who live in Jackson. The city has a majority-black population and most of its office-holders are African-American, but its economic power structure traditionally has been white.

Lumumba said he will resist the type of development that would drive up the cost of living.

“Gentrification is nothing but a war on the people who live in the city already,” said Lumumba, who was involved in a black nationalist group, the Republic of New Afrika, in the 1970s and ’80s, serving for a time as its vice president.

More than 27 percent of Jackson residents live below the poverty level, and the city has hundreds of dilapidated or abandoned homes. The new mayor said he wants Jackson to attract new residents.

“The aim is prosperity and security for every one of us,” he said.

Lumumba, 65, is an attorney and served the past four years on the seven-member Jackson City Council. During the Democratic primary in May, he unseated Harvey Johnson Jr., who was mayor 12 of the past 16 years. Lumumba won the June 4 general election by a wide margin over three low-budget independent candidates.
Johnson was Jackson’s first black mayor, and Lumumba is the third.

Jackson is Mississippi’s largest city, though its population has dropped significantly in the past two decades as people have moved to the more affluent suburbs. The Census Bureau estimates Jackson had 175,561 residents in 2011; 79 percent were black and 18 percent were white.

A diverse group of more than 2,000 people attended Lumumba’s inauguration at the Jackson Convention Complex, an angular contemporary structure that opened in 2009. It’s just two blocks west of the white-columned City Hall, which was built by slave labor in 1846-47 and was used as a Civil War hospital for both Union and Confederate troops.

“Mayor Lumumba. I like the ring of that name,” Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, told the crowd. Medgar Evers was assassinated 50 years ago last month outside his Jackson home, by a white segregationist.

Jackson, Miss., Mayor Chokwe Lumumba delivers his inaugural address just after being sworn-in on Monday, July 1, 2013 at the Jackson Convention Complex. (AP Photo/The Clarion-Ledger, Joe Ellis)

The new mayor said Evers “gave his life for freedom, justice and equality.”
“We think of Medgar and the other martyrs of Mississippi who lived their lives and lost their lives that we may be exactly where we are today,” Lumumba said. “Most of us here are part of a long effort, a tremendous story of glory, of horrible suffering, of tragedy, of struggle and of courage. And it is precisely this story which brings us here today.”

Lumumba was born in Detroit as Edwin Taliaferro, and changed his name in 1969, when he was in his early 20s. He said he took his new first name from an African tribe that resisted slavery centuries ago and his last name from African independence leader Patrice Lumumba. He moved to Jackson in 1971 as a human rights activist. He went to law school in Michigan in the mid-1970s and returned to Jackson in 1988.

During the mayoral campaign this year, Lumumba said people should not be concerned about his involvement in the Republic of New Afrika, which advocated reparations for slavery and “an independent predominantly black government” in the southeastern United States. He said Monday that he has heard people say that he is “too radical” and “too militant.”

“If you get to know me, I’m a pretty nice guy,” he said, adding that he wants the city to move forward with a brand of love that is not “vindictive.”
“God has really blessed us with a history that makes us understand when things are wrong,” Lumumba said.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat who’s the only black member of Mississippi’s current congressional delegation, said that since Lumumba’s election in June, people have told him they’re anxious about Jackson’s future. “If you heard the speech,” Thompson said, “then your anxiety should be no more.”

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Pham Binh July 10, 2013 at 6:52 pm

When was the last time an elected mayor in America said gentrification is a war on a majority poor/black city and pledged to fight it? Pretty radical I’d say. Keep posting. :)

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Richard Estes July 10, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Certainly not in Sacramento. Our mayor embraces gentrification and large scale development projects. He will be running for governor or the Senate eventually.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) July 11, 2013 at 4:14 am

PHAM BINH: When was the last time an elected mayor in America said gentrification is a war on a majority poor/black city and pledged to fight it? Pretty radical I’d say. Keep posting. :)

DAVID BERGER: And I’d say, when was the last time a Democrat ran a line of bullshit and a lot of Lefties fell for it?

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Pham Binh July 11, 2013 at 6:54 am

^I’m glad we agree that it was a radical thing to say.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) July 11, 2013 at 8:45 am

PHAM BINH: I’m glad we agree that it was a radical thing to say.

DAVID BERGER: Talk is cheap. Why would you be impressed by the speechifying of a Democratic Party politician?

Here is a prediction: Lumumba will do nothing to upset the political apple cart. He will perform no radical actions. He will not threaten either corporations, banks, real estate interests, etc. He will not stop evictions and foreclosures.

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Pham Binh July 11, 2013 at 9:23 am

Why would you use speeches as evidence that someone isn’t a radical? Your method is as irrational as it is irregular.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) July 11, 2013 at 9:35 am

PHAM BINH: Why would you use speeches as evidence that someone isn’t a radical? Your method is as irrational as it is irregular.

DAVID BERGER: You are as politically dishonest as the day is long.

(1) Speeches and program can be used as an assessment of intention. Lumumba’s speeches and program clearly express a moderately liberal intention in spite of a few flairs of rhetoric.

(2) With regard to action, so far Lumumba has done exactly zero that has been reported in the press as being at all radical. He is fulfilling his pre-election promise, which is to do nothing to disturb the property relations that keep the ruling class in power.

For anyone who thinks Lumumba is going, within the Democratic Party, provide some kind of left-wing alternative, to quote Jay-Z: “It was just a dream.”

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Pham Binh July 11, 2013 at 10:25 am

“With regard to action”? How long has he been in office? Under 2 weeks? I suppose if you were elected mayor in his place they’d have soviets by now.

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David Berger (RED DAVE) July 11, 2013 at 10:30 am

PHAM BINH: “With regard to action”? How long has he been in office? Under 2 weeks? I suppose if you were elected mayor in his place they’d have soviets by now.

DAVID BERGER: I wonder how many foreclosures, evictions, victimizations of employees, etc., have taken place in the past two weeks. I wonder how long it would have taken for this big, bad radical to make a public statement expressing the intention to stop foreclosures and calling on people to resist them and that the Mayor would be on their side?

Don’t hold your breath for one.

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Pham Binh July 11, 2013 at 10:49 am

It’s much easier to organize and fight for such things when a politician in office claims to be on your side rather than declares you to be an enemy and your cause to be wrong. Did you learn nothing from the civil rights movement?

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Pham Binh July 11, 2013 at 11:05 am

“DAVID BERGER: I wonder how many foreclosures, evictions, victimizations of employees, etc., have taken place in the past two weeks.” Maybe you could find out how many have taken place in the past two weeks and tell us since you’re interested.

Nobody is advocating a “hold your breath” policy with regards to the mayor, least of all me.

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