Archive for June, 2011

27
Jun
11

Joining the Party: Socialist Party USA (Part IV)

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but the term “Socialist” gets thrown around a lot. It’s been used interchangeably with Marxism, it’s been used as a generic insult to describe government power, and- as I’ve found to be most common- it’s been used to describe large, centralized, social-program heavy governments typical of many European countries. With the current progessivist movement (endorsing more government programs, regulations,etc.) in full swing, I’ll admit I tend to be pretty cynical whenever I hear the term used. My disappointment with the CPUSA didn’t help my pessimism much, and I started off my investigation of the SPUSA worried that it worried that it too would prove to be tame and conciliatory.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Now my investigation of the SPUSA is far from complete- at the moment I’ve sent some questions over to an SPUSA party member to ascertain the party’s views on a number of issues, in particular the use of violence and the role/existence of the state. For now though, I’ll go ahead and lay out what I’ve seen so far.

Pros:

  • Surprisingly, the SPUSA seems to be more radical than the CPUSA. Unlike the CPUSA, the SPUSA has remained staunchly critical of the Democratic party and has firmly rejected authoritarianism and the welfare state notion that so often accompanies the word “Socialist”.
  • The SPUSA makes repeated demands for unionization, collectivization, and for industries to be controlled by their workers and institutions to be controlled by the communities they benefit.
  • The SPUSA affirms that oppressed groups have a right to “self-defense in the face of attacks”. Now this point could stand to be more clear (does being exploited count as an attack, or only immediate physical threats?) but it remains fairly reassuring to see.
  • The SPUSA seems to generally support the basic tenets of Marxism.

Cons:

  • The SPUSA platform does, at times, seem ambiguous. Exactly how much government power the SPUSA expects to exist in a Communist society is never fully defined- and as I’ve said before, I’m on the left of one of the most left-wing tendencies in the left wing. I want to see government so stripped down, people will question whether it actually exists.
  • The SPUSA never fully defines what constitutes “self-defense”. Indeed, the general feeling I get from reading the SPUSA platform is that they expect to enact social changes through democratic elections. While I’m all for working through the present institutions to fight on behalf of the oppressed, I don’t think it’s how we’re going to be able to bring about real solutions. Capitalism cannot be reformed- even Rosa Luxemburg, arguably the mother of Democratic Socialism, realized this, and advocated for total revolution. I’ve had this same issue with the CPUSA- the exploiters and oppressors in this world have no qualms about enslaving thousands- am I to expect that they’ll simply give up their power? I’m not saying that this is what the SPUSA believes, I’m saying this is the impression I’m getting from their writings. I’m still waiting on a SPUSA member to give me a definitive answer.

Now that said, my overall feeling towards the SPUSA is positive.

It doesn’t mean that I’ll join the SPUSA (again- still investigating), but on the whole the party seems like it’s worth attention.

25
Jun
11

Joining the Party: Revolutionary Communist Party USA (Part III)

To be perfectly honest, I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to write about the RCPUSA. The party’s history, its ideological background, its principals, its goals- there’s a lot of ground to cover.

Let me try to start by giving you a quick look at the party’s history. The party was formed in 1975, in the wake of the anti-war, anti-establishment, and counter-cultural movements of the 60s and early 70s. A number of leftist and collectivist groups merged, forming the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. While very much a local movement, the party has managed to survive to this present day (not something one can say about most leftist parties).

Now for ideology, where things get tricky. You see, I’m a Trotskyist. The RCPUSA is Maoist. In general, Maoists hate Trotskyists with a passion. Trotskyists aren’t exactly wild about Maoists either. Nevertheless, I’ll try to do my best to give an accurate picture of what Maoists believe, offering alongside it some notes on what Trotskyists believe- so if nothing else, you’ll at least know where I’m coming from.

  • Maoists call themselves “Third Worldist”, that is, they believe that (as many on the left do) that the people of the third world are key in the fight against Capitalism. At first glance, that might look fairly standard- it’d be well nigh impossible to find a Communist who doesn’t believe the third world is key to the fight against Capitalism. However, some Maoists take things a step further, arguing that the struggle in the third world is the only battleground that Communists should be concerned with- that Communists in “developed” countries are actually Capitalist stooges and exploiters. Of course, considering that the party in question is the Revolutionary Communist Party USA– it’s doubtful that they hold this particular perspective. Still it’s important to know the belief is out there.
  • Stemming in part from the emphasis on Third Worldism, Maoists are nationalists– that is, they believe that Communism can exist fully within the confines of a border, that the state can coexist (nay, must) coexist with Communism, and that the nation must resist foreign imperialism at any cost. Trotskyists, on the other hand, are internationalists– that is, we believe that Communism cannot exist in a vacuum (no coexistence with Capitalism- ever), that the state cannot coexist with Communism, and that while imperialism should be resisted, it should not be resisted at the expense of the freedoms of the people of that nation. For example, during Iran’s “Green Revolution”, Maoists sided with Ahmadinejad, claiming he would protect Iran from Western imperialism and Trotskyists sided with the rebels, claiming that democracy must be maintained.

Now with all those differences, why not write off the RCPUSA right now? Well, as much as I am a Trotskyist, I’d like to imagine that I’m also a pragmatist. While I’m not going to drop my views, I’m not going to let them stand in the way of me working with people who I disagree with in order to, let’s say, fight for a union, or protest the murder of Oscar Grant, or advocate collectivism. So let’s get right down to the pros and cons.

 

Among the pros are:

  1. While not as old as the CPUSA, the RCPUSA certainly has been around long enough to merit some respect. Further, the RCPUSA has connections with such famous leftist groups as the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) and the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
  2. Unlike the CPUSA, the RCPUSA endorses revolution as the only means of achieving Communism. This doesn’t mean that the RCPUSA holds that violence is the only answer to every problem, but rather, that militant action is still and option, and that the RCPUSA recognizes that the evils of Capitalism, exploitation, and authoritarianism aren’t simply going to go away.
  3. Again, unlike the CPUSA, the RCPUSA does not believe in compromise in any way shape or form. No voting for Democrats, no making concessions. Yes, this rigidity can be a problem, but it certainly doesn’t seem any worse than the extremely conciliatory track taken by the CPUSA.

And now for the cons:

  1. The RCPUSA requires members to reject any belief in religion or god. Now I’ve got plenty of criticisms about organized religion and various theologies, but there’s no way I can support the RCPUSA’s demand that members reject any and all beliefs that there might exist more than just the material world. First and foremost, I have a number of religious beliefs, and I don’t feel inclined to just throw them away because the party wants members to be “scientific” (that’s the justification they gave to me when I asked them about this). If nothing else, being told that I can’t believe in god because I must be “scientific” is both a deeply disturbing reflection on what the party believes to be scientific. The existence of god isn’t something that can be proven or disprove- being told to reject the existence of god is just as unscientific as being told to accept the existence of god And beyond the seem logical issues, there’s application. How dare the party attempt to dictate the person thoughts and opinions of its members? Where does it end? Doesn’t every person have the right to make conclusions about the state of the universe based on his own experiences and studies? This tiff I have with the RCPUSA is alone enough for me to write it off my list, but there still so much more to cover…
  2. There’s a strong possibility the RCPUSA is a pseudo-Communist organization, that is, while calling themselves Marxists, their actual ideology is contrary to Marxism. For example, while the RCPUSA spends a lot of time criticizing democracy. Now it’s fairly normal for Communists to criticize “democracy” in a Capitalist society, but the RCPUSA spends so much time lambasting it, one begins to wonder whether they’re against democracy entirely. After the fall of Capitalism, Communists believe that there will exists a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, that is, “true democracy” or “pure democracy”, untainted by the class system, will emerge. However, this term “dictatorship of the proletariat” has often been misused by pseudo-Communists to justify totalitarian regimes, such as the USSR and North Korea. While the RCPUSA never explicitly state “we’re against the very concept of democracy” or “we believe in authoritarianism”, there’s enough skirting of the issue to make me nervous. I’ve watched a number of recordings of Bob Avakian, the RCPUSA’s leader, speak, and the general feeling I get is that he’s endorsing an open-minded, benevolent, dictatorship, in which the party control wields total control. If this is true, it would mean that RCPUSA is not only not Communist, but a straight up danger to the ideals of Marxism.
  3. I mentioned Bob Avakian, founder and leader of the RCPUSA. While he’s a good speaker, the guys is, to be perfectly blunt, creepy. Almost everything on the RCPUSA website is written either by him or about him. Just from a pragmatic standpoint, he’s so central to the RCPUSA, I’m not sure the organization will survive without him after he dies. Again, the whole party seems to really be a casual personality cult of this man who just happens to be a Communist (if he really is one).

Avakian

 

So the final verdict?

All in all the RCPUSA is a weird, small organization that might not even be Communist. What little- what very little- it has going for it is absolutely dwarfed by its disturbing policies, obsession with its leader, and its unbelievably backward demands concerning religion. The whole thing seems more like a bizarre recreation of the worst aspects of the USSR, only the USSR was less invasive.

 

So yeah, that’s a no.

23
Jun
11

Joining the Party: CPUSA (Part II)

I began my search for a party to join with the Communist Party of America (CPUSA). Founded back in 1919, it’s one of the oldest and most prominent leftist parties in the US, so starting here seemed as good as place as any.

Now I’ll admit, my own brand of Communism is fairly left-wing, even by Socialist standards; so why I’d start with the relatively mainstream-Marxist CPUSA might be a little confusing. You see, as much as I’d like to work alongside fellow radicals, the left is splintered enough as it is, and regardless of where we stand on certain issues, there are far too few of us to spend our time fighting each other when we ought to be collaborating. If there’s enough that the CPUSA has going for it, I’m more than willing to put my individual politics on hold to work for the greater good.

Now let’s look at the pros:

  1. The CPUSA is, as I mentioned above, one of the oldest leftist parties still active. It’s managed to weather McCarthyism, wars, internal strife, and rivalries with other parties. Durability like that has to count for something.
  2. The CPUSA is, compared to other leftist parties, pretty large- roughly 3,000 members in total.
  3. The CPUSA isn’t anti-religious (as some parties are). Regardless of what your stance is on religion or spirituality, you have to admit that people have the right to be believe, true or false, whatever they want to believe.
  4. The CPUSA has a long history of standing up for labor rights, racial equality, and feminism and gay rights.

And now the cons:

  1. The CPUSA has, at points throughout its history, been influenced by the former Soviet Union, rather than the American left and working class. It’s not good, but with the fall of the pseudo-Communist USSR, it might be forgivable.
  2. The CPUSA has, on multiple occasions, endorsed the Democrats as being “lesser evils”. Further, Sam Webb, leader of the CPUSA, has fully backed (again, on multiple occasions) Obama as being a “friend” and “advocate” of the people.
  3. The CPUSA entirely rejects violence, and asserts that working through the present system is the only acceptable means of securing change.
  4. The CPUSA, on the whole, is barely Communist. At best they might be Social Democrats, and at worst, run-of-the-mill liberals with delusions of radicalism. It’s a harsh judgment I know, but it has to be said.

So what are my conclusions?

While the CPUSA does have a lot going for it, all the good aspects are really negated by how tame the party is on the whole. As a Communist, I’m either laughed at or feared, and since that doesn’t look like it’s going to change, I’d really rather be laughed at/feared for doing something more than just writing letters to Monsanto’s- sorry- my political representatives. The things we’re up against are going to go away just by applying minimal political pressure- we’re facing people who wouldn’t think twice about benefiting from slave labor or bribing politicians. The CPUSA’s hippie-meets-bureaucrat philosophy just doesn’t seem like a realistic means of combating injustice. I’m not saying I won’t work with them if the opportunity arises, but I’m not going to dedicate time and energy to what’s essentially a compassionate lobby

22
Jun
11

Joining the Party (Part I)

Having grown up in Syria, certain opportunities were never available to me, most prominently, the ability to do, say, or think anything that might be considered even remotely critical of the government or current social order. Since moving to the US for college, I’ve been enjoying a considerable higher degree of political freedom (higher freedom, not complete freedom), and so I’ve been trying to make the best of it- though considering my school’s location, I’m not sure my seven-man G20 protest march did much to impress the local Amish.

Not a lot impresses these guys...

What I’ve yet to do, however, is join a political party.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think you need to be a member of a political party to make a difference, but it certainly doesn’t hurt either to have the connections a party can offer either. The problem is- which party should I join? Do I go for the classic CPUSA? Do I try for something socially acceptable like the Green Party? Or should I try a more underground movement like the the Freedom Socialist Party? Socialist Action? PSL? PFP? RCPUSA?

You see the problem here.

Well, that’s what the next few posts are going to center around. I’m going to be taking a look at every major leftist party in the US to determine which I should try to become a member of.

So here’s what I’m looking for:

I. A commitment to abolishing Capitalism- not reforming it. I’m not looking for some party with the end goal of more regulatory laws.

II. A commitment to abolishing government- as before, I’m not looking for a party whose solution to the problems of the world is more power for politicians.

III. A global perspective. The party I join is going to have to be centered around the belief that an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.

IV. Flexibility. Even though the left is splintered into countless Communist, Anarchist, Socialist, Feminist, Other-kinds-of-ist movements, we’re still to few to be picky about who we work with. The party I join must be willing to work with rivals in order to establish justice, truth, and freedom.

With that, let the search commence!

(And as always, if you have any suggestions, I’m open to looking into them…)

09
Jun
11

Where Wendy’s Food Is Made…

Normally, I get ticked off when people are picky about their food- I think the 5 second rule oughta be moved up to 5 minutes. Still, there are limits as to what’s acceptable. Check out this video a Wendy’s employee made of the conditions of the kitchens at his place of work.