Archive for July, 2011

30
Jul
11

RevLeft

I know I haven’t taken my search for a political party to the next level yet, but I’m still waiting to hear back from the ISO and I’m determined not to continue until they have a chance to make their case. While we’re waiting, I’ll give you little post about my recent adventures at RevLeft.

 

RevLeft is an online forum for, as the name suggests, Revolutionary Leftists. You can start a conversation or respond to various discussion threads on any one of the forum’s many topics, you can enter groups specifically tailored for various schools of Marxism or specific subjects, and you can even chat with other online users (though I myself never made use of that). You can connect with leftists all around the world from pretty much every single tendency or political background. You can hear young Communists offer fresh perspectives and you can listen to veterans share their experiences. Whatever you’re looking for, if it has anything even remotely to do with the radical left, it can be found here.

So why then is RevLeft such a miserably awful site?

Why RevLeft? Why?

Well, there’s a lot to get through, so let’s do this point-by-point.
Thousands of Discussion Threads, No Discussion:

First, there’s the general attitude of pretty much everyone there. Remember how I was just talking about discussion boards? Well I was taking some serious liberties with the term “discussion”. Conversations on RevLeft tend to look something like this:

And this is RevLefters being polite...

You can start a discussion on anything- anything, and within a few posts it’ll turn into a fight with all the nobility, restraint, and dignity of a demented octogenarian attacking a raccoon with a sponge. You could be talking about your favorite food, and before you know it, you’ll be called a reactionary (more on that in a minute) trapped in a petite-bourgeois mentality.

You, according to everyone on RevLeft

 

And maybe it’s understandable- in our current situation, Marxist and the ideals of the Far Left tend to appeal to a certain kind of personality type. You put a bunch of naturally anti-establishment people into a room together, arguments are bound to break out. Still, RevLefters tend to go crazy with it. Really, the only way to avoid controversy is to go with a tried-and-true slogan, which while lacking any actual meaning or substance, is going to get a thumbs up from everybody.

 

For example:
Discussion Topic: How much should we as Marxists being working through established institutions (government, education, etc.)? What’s the acceptable cut-off point before we compromise our ideals? Can we work through established institutions at all?

XxXPrairieFireXxX: Down with imperialism! Long live the people’s struggle!

Discussion Starter: …Not really what I was asking…

Immortaltechnique4prez: So what, you’re not against imperialism? Screw you Capitalist lapdog!

 

You get the idea. And it brings us right into the next problem with RevLeft.

 

My Cult of Personality is Bigger than Your Cult of Personality:

Remember how I mentioned that you can join groups based on various Marxist tendencies? Yeah, well, those aren’t so much ‘groups’ as they are cults. If you’re a Trotskyist/Stalinist/Maoist/etc. than Trotsky/Stalin/Mao/etc. was a hero of the revolution who could do no wrong and anyone other than Trotsky/Stalin/Mao/etc. is a crypto-Fascist and an enemy of the people. Whenever you bring up any major Communist (or pseudo-Communist, depending on your perspective figure), things are pretty much guaranteed to rapidly descend into a shouting match between side A and side B.

 

For Example:

 

XxXPrairieFireXxX: Does anyone ever feel that insert-obscure-Maoist-here isn’t really appreciated?

TrotskyRocks: Insert-obscure-Maoist-here was a Maoist and therefore a tool of an oppressive regime that backslid on the ideals of Marxism. Of course insert-obscure-Maoist-here isn’t appreciated!

E-Goldman88: Whatever- Trotsky was an authoritarian! You’re all dictators!

Immortaltechnique4prez: Trotsky was a hero! He and Lenin were the only real Communists! Stalin hijacked and destroyed socialism!

Hoxhaist: I’m with XxXPrairieFire, insert-obscure-Maoist-isn’t appreciated. Kind of like Hoxha.

XxXPrairieFireXxX: Shut up. No one likes Hoxha.

 

The Great Communist Debate: Colonel Sanders vs Mario

Reactions to the Reactionaries:

Further up, I mentioned the word “reactionary”. I’ve talked about it in other posts, but just as a review, the word “reactionary” is a term used to describe a person who, while claiming to be Leftist, is opposed to the revolution/struggle of the workers/etc. It’s an insult most comparable to “heretic”. And it’s a word that the good people at RevLeft can’t go two paragraphs without.

For Example:

XxXPrairieFireXxX: You Trotskyists are reactionaries.

TrotskyRocks: No, you’re a reactionary.

Hoxhaist: No, you’re a reactionary.

E-Goldman88: You’re all reactionaries.

 

Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration there, but the word is used a lot, and almost never is there any justification for it. It’s just a blanket insult that gets you out of any argument by stripping your opponent of his credibility. So long as there’s the threat of someone using the “R” word, there’s never going to be an open, honest discussion on RevLeft (or indeed, any Marxist forum).

 

All Tendencies Are Equal, But Some Tendencies Are More Equal Than Others:

In spite of the wide variety of skirmishing tendencies on RevLeft, there are pretty strict regulations on who gets to post on the main forums. Primtivists and Third-Worldists are both considered to be “Opposing Ideologies”, and prevented from having access to the main forums, groups, etc. While I don’t agree with a lot of what Primitivists believe, and while I consider Third-Worldists to be wrong on many counts, I don’t get why they’d be kept out. The justification people kept giving me was “Primitivists and Third-Worldists are reactionaries”, and whether that’s true or not, I don’t think we’re qualified to make that distinction. As I pointed out above, we’re calling everyone who doesn’t agree with us “reactionary”, how to do we know that we’re not wrong? It really seems to be arbitrary- the admins (the unelected moderators of the forums) have decided that certain groups don’t meet their qualifications for “Revolutionary Leftist” and that’s the end of it.

Stocky Philipino third-worldist will **** your **** up with his little red book...

It’s all part of a greater problem of RevLeft:

 

Bad Attitudes Towards Learning

When I reviewed the Kasama Project, I noted that they had one of the best attitudes towards education I have ever seen. RevLeft, on the other hand, has one of the worst.

 

First, many on RevLeft seem bent on over-thinking everything. While there are plenty of good discussions to be had on RevLeft, for everyone one of those there are three topics that push the boundaries of intellectual frivolity. Don’t get me wrong- I’m all for theoretical exercises, but there’s such a thing as taking it too far. People are trying to advocate or disprove passing comments made by already obscure leftists, and again, while any expansion of knowledge is good, the theoretical has to be balanced with the applicable.

Second, many residents of RevLeft seem to have fallen into an attitude that I’ve encountered with many Marxists. I’m not sure exactly how to describe it, but it’s something like an intellectual meritocracy. Education isn’t viewed as a collective venture we’re all partners in regardless of our level of experience, but as a rigid ladder. Let me explain it this way: at my university, I recently took a course on Shakespeare. The professor of this course taught us pretty much his interpretation of Shakespeare, but any attempt to challenge his views were smacked down with “I’ve been studying Shakespeare for years- once you have as well, then we’ll talk”. The same problem seems to pop up a lot in RevLeft (and in Marxism in general). “I’ve been studying this aspect of Marxism for years, once you’ve spend time reading _________ and __________- then we’ll discuss it. Until, accept my teachings.”

 

See, I’m not sure there could be a worse approach towards education. This idea that knowledge is something that can be categorized and structured and ranked- it seems deeply counter-revolutionary. Yet it’s a problem in RevLeft, in Marxism, and in education as a whole. But like I said, unless you’ve reached a certain level, you’re theories, questions, comments, and criticisms are dismissed.

 

You DARE to question Otto Ville Kuusinen's assertion of the existence of two distinct but interdependent courses?

And Yet…

 

In spite of RevLeft encapsulating some of the worst qualities of the revolutionary movement, I’m still grateful that I spent time investigating it. First and foremost, even with all that’s wrong with it, there are still decent conversations to be had on RevLeft- even if you do have to look for them. Second, it’s a great comfort to me to have seen RevLeft. I used to be plagued with the fear that I was nothing but an armchair Marxist talking about revolution, but never actually doing anything. I’m not saying that I’m some revolutionary hero- far from it. All I’m saying is that I could be worse than I am now, and I (if no one else) can take some comfort in that.

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25
Jul
11

Communism Explained With Cows

I know it’s been a long time since I last updated, but the ISO has yet to get back to me and I’m committed on not proceeding until I’ve heard everyone out.

 

As a filler article, I’ve created this brutally simplistic and tongue-in-cheek list explaining various leftist tendencies with cow analogies.

Hope you find it amusing.

 

Orthodox Communism:

Everyone gets a cow.

Stalinism:

You milk the government’s cows, and then the government shoots you.
Trotskyism:

You try to get the cow-milkers to form a union.

Maoism:

You milk cows out of love for the glorious leader.

Hoxhaism:

You claim that your cows are the only real cows.

Anarchism:

Screw you man, I’m milking goats.
Anarcho-Primitivism:

You hunt cows.

Communist Humanism:

Robots milk the cows for you.

Primitive Communism:

Everyone gets a cow until the shaman declares them to be possessed.

European “Socialism”:

You get to milk the government’s cows- unless you’re gypsy, Muslim, or an immigrant.

Canadian “Socialism”:

Same as European Socialism, but instead of being a racist you’re polite to the point of being creepy.

Soviet “Socialism”:

Cows milk you!

Democratic Socialism:

The government will eventually get you a cow. Seriously- when has the government ever gone back on a promise?

18
Jul
11

Round 2

Tomorrow, I’ll start up the second round of research into which party I’ll join.

Parties that have made it to this round are:

The Socialist Party USA (SPUSA)

The International Socialist Organization (ISO)

Socialist Action (SA)

 

Now formatting is going to be a bit different for this round. I’ll be going through these organization’s recent actions, and scrutinizing their platforms in greater detail. I’ll also be contacting these groups and will hear out their recruitment pitches. Lastly, I’ll be looking at the basic logistics of joining up- as a student, I don’t have guaranteed access to a steady income, so I’ll be looking for an organization will fairly flexible membership-fees.

17
Jul
11

Joining The Party: Peace and Freedom Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Socialist Action, Socialist Alternative (Part VII)

I thought I’d close out round one of my search for a political party by examining the last four organizations on my list all in one post. Let’s start with the Peace and Freedom Party, a Socialist party founded in 1967.

Now as the PFP dissolved and reformed numerous times over the past forty-plus years, giving a clear and comprehensive history of the party is going to be a nightmare. I’ll just give the roughest of backgrounds, and say that the Peace and Freedom Party was formed out of the antiwar and countercultural movements of the 60s, during which time it nominated Eldridge Cleaver, a leader of the Black Panther Party, for president. Unfortunately, the PFP did not achieve widespread popularity on a national level, and has been, since the late 60s, relegated to California.

PFP Pros:

  • The PFP Platform lists out a wide variety of clear, radical goals, including calls for honoring treaties made with Native Americans, demanding equal rights for women and gays, expansion of public transportation, and restructuring education, agriculture, etc.
  • The PFP is, as it was in the 60s, extremely active in opposition to war.
  • The PFP is “multi-tendency”, meaning that they accept leftists from all schools of Marxism.

PFP Cons:

  • The PFP, as mentioned above, is quite small, and while extremely active, it is only (or at least, largely) active in California.

So the answer is ‘no’ for the Peace and Freedom Party.

And it’s a real shame too- like I said, the PFP has a really good platform, and if the party were larger it would be getting a thumbs-up for sure. I’ll admit, I knew going into all this that the PFP was too small for me to join, but I thought I should mention it here nevertheless- if nothing else, I can do some off-hand advertising for them.

So that brings us to the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

The PSL is a pretty new organization, and I wasn’t able to find much out about its founding- and to be honest, I’m not sure it matters that much. A party’s age indicates how flexible it is, or how it handles what history throws at it, but it’s not everything. The same roots and ties that some parties take pride in are the very things that keep them from working together with rival organizations. So I’m not going to mention the PSL’s age as a con, though it should be taken into consideration.

PSL Pros:

  • The PSL describes itself as “Marxist-Leninist”, a label that simply means the PSL endorses Marxism as it was implemented under Lenin (the vanguard party, endorsing a more centralized form of government, etc.). There are some things I disagree with when it comes to Leninism, but for the most part, it can be understood to be “classic” Marxism, and in my experience, Marxist-Leninists tend to be fairly tolerant of other schools of Communism.
  • The PSL argues for the liberation of what it deems to be colonies (US territories such as Guam, Puerto Rico, and other areas)- something we can all get behind.
  • The PSL, in spite of being a minor leftist party, is fairly widespread, with branches in many major US cities.

PSL Cons:

  • The PSL does not condemn Stalinism, and seems to adopt the view that the USSR ceased to be Communist as a result of the policies of Gorbachev. Now that should set off more than a few warning bells. The USSR was not Marxist, for a ‘Communist’ to say otherwise- well, it throws all their politics into question. Now the PSL does appear to endorse basic Communism, however, the PSL’s refusal to condemn the travesty of socialism that was Stalin’s Russia does not sit easy with me.
  • The PSL does not seem to be politically active (that is, attempting to change things using elections and political office). As with other Marxist organizations that fully reject the idea that the current political structures can be used in the interests of the oppressed and working class, I see where they’re coming from, but I disagree. I think that, even if it’s on the most basic level, the current political system can be used for the good of the revolution, though it certainly isn’t the answer to the basic problems of Capitalism and the state. It’s not a major problem, but it’s still not good.

So what’s the verdict on the PSL?

meh...

For the first time in this investigation, I’m truly unable to deliver a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. There’s a lot the PSL has going for it, and a lot against it, and I’m not going to be able to decide without further investigation. So here’s what I’ll do- I’ll look around a bit, write a few letters, and if the PSL doesn’t appear in the second round of decision making, you’ll know it didn’t make the cut.

So until then, let’s take a look at Socialist Action.

As with the PSL, I’ve had some difficulty finding out why Socialist Action was founded, or rather, what the major influences were behind its founding. As before, I don’t think it’s terribly important. History’s good, but it doesn’t make or break a party. I’ll just get right into the pros and cons- those should give a pretty good picture of what Socialist Action stands for.

Socialist Action Pros:

  • Socialist Action is a Trotskyist organization. They believe in the vanguard party, that the USSR was not Marxist, that true Communism means the establishment of pure democracy, and the general abolition of the state. All in all, the Trotskyist ideology gives me some assurance that Socialist Action understands what Communism really means.
  • While Socialist Action is a minor Communist party, they realize this and have structured their organization in such a way as to ensure that you can still be an active member, even if you aren’t located near one of their branches. It’s a really nice feature I wish more parties would implement.
  • While Socialist Action recognizes that elections are not the ultimate answer to the issues of Capitalism and nationalism, they do seem to understand that elections can be used to benefit the working class and oppressed.

Socialist Action Cons:

  • While Socialist Action is attempting to work with its small membership, it can’t be denied that there is strength in numbers, and in this respect, Socialist Action leaves something to be desired.
  • I am a little concerned that Socialist Action might not be as ‘multi-tendency’ as it ought to be. A major aspect of the party I join should be its ability to work alongside rival groups for the common goal of Socialism.

So the final verdict?

Again, I need to look into this party further- there’s enough on both side to merit a more detailed investigation. As with the PSL, if Socialist Action doesn’t make it to the next round, you’ll know it’s been cut.

 

That leaves us only with our fourth and final organization: Socialist Alternative.

Socialist Alternative is, similar to Socialist Action, a Trotskyist organization. As with previous organizations, I haven’t been able to find out a lot about the origins of this group, and as always, I doubt it’s all that important. Let’s move straight on to the pros and cons section.

Socialist Alternative Pros:

  • Socialist Alternative was actually recommended to me by a Welsh Trotskyist, a member of SA’s British counterpart, the Socialist Party. While I’ve never actually ‘met’ the comrade in question, from his blog and his internet activity, it would appear he’s active in spreading the revolution. If his experiences are any reflection of the level of activity I’d have in the Socialist Alternative, it’d be certainly an encouragement.
  • Socialist Alternative is, while a minor Communist organization, fairly widespread- always a plus.

Socialist Alternative Cons:

  • In the past four presidential elections, Socialist Alternative has backed Ralph Nader, which, considering that Nader is not a Socialist in any sense of the word, is pretty weird.
  • While Socialist Alternative has a good program, it isn’t quite as detailed as I’d like it to be- but maybe I’m still contrasting it with the platform of the Peace and Freedom Party.
  • As with all minor leftist parties, Socialist Alternative seems pretty small, and size does matter- at least a bit.

So what’s my decision on the Socialist Alternative?

Yep, it’s another one of these. The pros and cons balance each other out, and a more detailed investigation will have to be had.

13
Jul
11

Joining The Party: Kasama Project and the International Socialist Organization (Part VI)

To be perfectly honest, after an hour of research, I’m less sure I know what the Kasama Project is than when I began. The members of the Kasama Project have (if I understand them correctly) attempted to reject conventional labels in order to redefine what it means to be a “Marxist” organization, and while I’m confident there’s some merit to that, describing exactly what the project is all about is something of a nightmare.

From what I can gather, the Kasama Project can be described as an internet-based collective of Maoists (though accepting of most schools of Marxism) who are attempting to completely rethink the goals of Marxism and the structures of revolutionary groups in order to apply them to contemporary times.

It’s a mouthful, I know, but hopefully my pro/con breakdown will help clarify things a bit.

Pros:

  • The Kasama Project seems to be a fairly young and vibrant community, really committed to the study of Marxism, activism, revolutionary tactics, etc. It seems that many Communist organizations have certain tenets which, if questioned, will have you called a reactionary or a subvert or an elitist and so on. Since the Kasama Project seems to be trying to re-imagine every aspect of Communism, it would appear that there’s none of the “do-not-question-this” traditionalism that sometimes pops up in other organizations. In short, these guys seem to have some of the best attitudes towards Marxism I’ve ever seen.
  • The Kasama Project, while largely Maoist and Maoist sympathizing, is open to all schools of Marxism (Trotskyists, Leninists, Anarchists, etc.). The Kasama Project has also been very critical of issues in the RCPUSA (the RCPUSA’s anti-Gay stance has been a recent topic).
  • “Kasama” is a Tagalog for “traveling companions”- and the general atmosphere at their website seems to communicate the idea that all comrades are together in the learning process.

Kasama: Tagalog, (noun). "Traveling companions"

And now for the cons:

  • My principal (indeed, only) problem with the Kasama Project is that it’s not so much a party or an organization as it is a discussion group and network. There’s nothing wrong with is- only I’m looking to join up with an organization that I can really cooperate with and participate in. I certainly intend to look into joining the various Kasama Project discussions, but without any actual structure or goals, I’m afraid that there’s nothing to join- at least, not in the way I’d join a political party.

So all in all, that’s a ‘no’ from me- but I would like to emphasize that my initial reaction towards the Kasama Project is positive.

Now on to the ISO.

Out of all the organizations I’ve discussed so far, I believe I am most familiar with the International Socialist Organization. The ISO has been one of the major sponsors of a number of annual “Socialism Conferences”, and while I have never had the opportunity to attend, I have managed to get my hands on the podcasts of the conference lectures, and I feel that as as result, I have a pretty decent grasp of what the ISO is all about.

I’ll get right into the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The ISO, while not the oldest leftist organization around, is fairly old, created in the mid-70s as a result of the amalgamation of Trotskyists and leftist factions. While I’m no fan of tradition, the fact that the ISO has been around for at least two generations (with strong ties to its predecessors) means that (1) the organization is fairly flexible and able to handle changing times and (2) has an established reputation and ties to the struggle.
  • The ISO is, while accepting a wide array of Communist and leftist schools of thought, a predominantly Trotskyist organization. As a Trotskyist myself (at least, I try to be), there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that the ISO rejects Stalinism and pseudo-Marxism, demands the establishment of pure democracy, and accepts the use of violence as a means of self-defense.
  • While the ISO does not appear to be actively attempting to influence the political sphere through elections, it is active in supporting boycotts, unionization, protests, and other means of social change.
  • The ISO is a revolutionary party- that is, it maintains that a revolution is the only means of establishing a Marxist society (as opposed to gradual evolution, as some Social-Democrats have argued).
  • The ISO, unlike some other parties, is fairly widespread, with branches in nearly every major city in the US.

And now for the cons:

  • While I understand the ISO’s (seeming) skepticism of using elections to influence the politics in favor of the working class, I feel that elections can, if nothing else, demonstrate the true nature of Marxism as a viciously pro-democratic movement, rather than an authoritarian one. I believe that even minor changes are worth the effort. Again, I should point out that it seems the ISO isn’t active with regards to political elections. I haven’t found anything on their site or in their lectures that indicates otherwise.

So my final verdict on the ISO?

Yep, that’s a ‘yes’ from me on the ISO, joining the SPUSA at the top of my list.

08
Jul
11

Another Good Article From Cracked.com

Article (describing growing corporate power) linked here.

07
Jul
11

ETA Member Captured

BBC articled linked here.