Archive for December, 2011

31
Dec
11

A Communist’s Defense of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Part III)

I wanted to end my defense of the OWS movement by addressing some final criticisms of the protests.  While both the question of “What do they want?” and “They aren’t doing anything” are criticisms that have begun to fall apart, the latest wave of approach has been not so much of the movement, but of the protestors themselves.

 

Not too long ago, I came across this picture:

 

Despite an overall positive response to the message, one of the highest ranked comments was a person arguing that the Klansmen, unlike the protestors, had permits to march, while the OWS movements across the nation were illegally squatting. Because they are on private property, it is only right that the police should respond in the ways they do.

I wonder if that person would’ve reacted the same way fifty years ago, when these young men and women were illegally occupying private property.

That’s the Greensboro Four, occupying private property in 1960 in protest of racial segregation. Ought the police to have pepper sprayed them for refusing to leave? The problem with attempting to make out the OWS protestors as criminals who are attacking social order is that this same reasoning has to be applied to criticize the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, the abolitionist movement, and so on. Even the men and women of the American revolution would, under this blind obedience to the law, be considered criminals and rioters- even traitors. Trying to pretend that the OWS protestors are nothing but vagrants and lawbreakers simply doesn’t work.

However, even if you can’t call them criminals, you can at least call them crazy.

I’m not going to lie, I’m not always a big fan of the crazy outfits some people will wear to protests to make a point. I don’t think dressing up as the Monopoly guy is really all that effective at communicating the messages you want to make.

You're already protesting en-masse, the satire might be a little overkill...

I’m not saying that I’m right, maybe a couple zombie-protestors is just what you need to drive home a point of mindless consumerism. And I’m not against people wearing what they want to wear- I think the Guy Fawkes masks a la V for Vendetta are actually pretty effective at empowering people and creating a sense of unity. Nevertheless, you still hear people trying to discredit the movement because they don’t like the way the protestors look.

Is this what we’ve really come to? Because the OWS protestors aren’t clean shaven or wearing suits and ties (zombie bankers excluded), they’re just a bunch of moochers? Since when does nonconformity to a social “norm” suddenly create grounds for disproving someone’s views? You could take Jesus, drop him the middle of Times Sqaure, and if he’s dressed in the same clothes he would’ve worn two thousand years ago, then he’d be written off as some hobo or crazy ex-hippie.

Get a job, you bum!

But of course, not all the protestors are dressed like something you’d encounter in a post-apocalyptic carnival. You will find protestors cleanly shaven and dressed in suits and ties (who aren’t zombie bankers). What do we call these people?

Hypocrites- or at the very best, spoiled and privileged college kids. That’s right, dress shabily, and you’re a bum, dress sharply, and you’re a naive idealist completely detached from reality. That’s not to say that such people don’t exist- I have a tough time accepting “revolutionaries” wearing Nike or buying from Starbucks, but to attempt to label the occupy movement as a bunch of hypocrites because they aren’t living in poverty is crazy. No matter what you do, you’re either an outcast of society or from the cream of society- either way, you’re message isn’t worth hearing. Perhaps the best mockery of this line of thought is this picture here:

It’s the same problem with criticizing the OWS encampments as being a health and safety hazard. Are all camps nests for vermin and disease? Not at all- in fact, the protestors have done a rather admirable job in developing means for sanitation and maintaining order. But again, these are camps. If the protesters were in a position to be checking into hotels, they wouldn’t be protesting! Arguing that the poor shouldn’t be allowed to protest poverty because they can’t afford showers, razors, and wardrobes of fresh clothes is absolute madness.

Madness?

 Let’s face it, the people employing these lousy criticisms aren’t people who are going to be happy with anything the OWS movement produces. Give them clean camps filled with well dressed protesters and they’ll tell you the OWS is a collection of entitled brats. Give them Hoovervilles (seriously, how has no one made this comparison yet?) brimming with the desperate and the destitute and they’ll tell you the OWS is a bunch of lunatics and malcontents.

In short, there’s just no pleasing some people- so why worry? Keep doing what you’re doing, and, if it helps, refer to the greatest motivational poster of all time:

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28
Dec
11

A Communist’s Defense of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Part II)

In my last post, I tried to address the criticism of the OWS that they had no clear or defined objectives or goals. Moving on from “what they want”, I’ll be trying to address today “what they’re doing”.

A criticism that’s hits the OWS movement both from the right and the political left is that the protestors “aren’t doing anything”. I’ve heard conservatives complain that the protestors are simply condemning without offering solutions. I’ve heard a few liberals argue that the protestors have made their point and need to leave, and that continuing to stay will only lead to conflicts with the police and discredit the movement as whole. Even some Communists have (in the early days of the movement) disparaged the OWS as “lacking revolutionary potential”, or in other words, being unable or unwilling to act on their positions.

It’s a common criticism, but hardly a fair one.

First, these criticisms are based on the idea that the protest themselves have no intrinsic value or effect- of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The protests serve as a demonstration, both to the government, the corporate world, and the population in general that people are fed up enough to take to the streets for months. A common outlet of frustration and rage is provided by the movement, allowing people to realize that (1) they are not alone in their anger, (2) that other options beyond Republican/Democrat do exist, and (3) that the medium of protest is no longer a thing of the past or something only done by radicals and weirdos.

Not exclusively, anyways...

And that’s just the use of the protests in general, but there’s much more that the OWS has done. Take for example the OWS initiative to reclaim foreclosed houses for individuals who have been evicted. Over the past few weeks, the OWS has been systematically helping people “re-occupy” vacant houses in almost every major city in the US, from New York to Los Angeles. Not only are OWS activists helping people move back into vacant housing, but are also combating evictions, and helping repair the houses newly occupied. Further still, campaigns of advocacy are being conducted by OWS activists on behalf of the homeless. It seems only fitting that, with the collapse of the housing market arguably touching off this series of financial meltdowns, the front line of the fight be the reclamation of empty homes.

Similarly, OWS protestors have taken action through blockading ports along the west coast (as far north as Vancouver). Protesting poor treatment of truckers working for the ports, as well as attempting to damage profits made by Goldman Sachs, a principal investor in two major port operation companies.

This sign must drive OCD protesters crazy...

 And let’s not forget that the occupation itself constitutes an interesting experiment in leaderless, communal living, as the protestors attempt alternatives to mainstream consumerism. If nothing else, the OWS movement has proven that you can, with a little work, operate a library…

…Or offer basic medical care…

…Or just develop (or at least, rediscover) means for direct democracy and anarchic decision making.

Is it the revolutionary overthrow of the world as we know it? Probably not, but this does not change the fact that the OWS protestors have been active in taking steps towards a new future.

27
Dec
11

A Communist’s Defense of the Occupy Wall Street Movement (Part I)

I’ll admit freely- I didn’t expect the OWS movement to take off when I first heard of it in August. Despite the advances made by Egypt and other Arab countries utilizing the same techniques, I never would have expected Americans to have taken to the streets in a unified expression of frustration and desperation. And yet here we are, nearly half a year later with the OWS movement in every major city in the US and solidarity movements across the globe. It would naturally be remiss of me to not to comment on the OWS and offer, for anyone interested, a Marxist take on the whole venture. Despite this, months after the first protestors gathered in New York, there are people who claim to not know what it is the movement wants, and the most common criticism of the movement is that it has yet to produce a concrete list of demands.

 

Now this is something that has always irked me, but after some contemplation, I think I’ve figured out what it is that people aren’t clear on. Many seem to be under the impression that the OWS is not so much a movement as it is a campaign- that the protestors are (or at least, ought to be) after a few specific objectives,and after these have been achieved, the movement will disband. But that’s not what the OWS is- not at all. The OWS is not just a political movement, it is an entirely new political and social perspective. You could no sooner get a list of objects from liberalism or conservatism than you could from the OWS movement. These are not goals in play here, these are values. In a world where Republican/Democrat or Conservative/Liberal have been dominant for so long, its difficult to grasp the idea that there are indeed other views out there on the way the world can be.

 

So what is the perspective? Again, defining the exact content of the OWS perspective would be as difficult and pointless as trying to catalog every aspect of liberalism or conservatism- you’re going to find varying degrees of liberalism/conservatism and you’re going to find arguments about what tenets you have to hold to be liberal/conservative. The same is true of the OWS movement- you’re going to meet everyone from moderates, liberals, and libertarians angry at the behavior of corporations to the most hardline Marxists and anarchists. On the whole, the whole perspective could be argued to be the rise (or, depending on how you look at it, the resurfacing) of the radical left, targeting both the current economic system and ever increasing government power. Take the following general values as an illustration of the mindset the OWS represents.

 

Economic Equity:

Despite the old Capitalist fairy tale that the wealthy are wealthy because they’ve worked harder, or are smarter, or more competent than their peers, the recent financial crisis (or rather, crises) have disillusioned most people about the truth in all this. Further, as countless Americans who have worked hard their entire lives, never making a risky investment or acting irresponsibly with their money, find themselves nevertheless in dire economic straights, the justification for the rampant inequality in wealth is more widely being seen for the lie that it is. Greater economic equality, both in the workplace and in society in general, is a core tenet of the perspective OWS represents.

Democracy:

Similarly, the long list of interferences by corporations and the wealthy in government and democracy have forced many to question whether economic inequality can coexist with democracy. When unlimited corporate spending on political campaigns, as well as lobbyists, and a host of former CEOs and corporate lawyers now in charge of regulatory organizations, the credibility of both the current administration and in the current system of government in general is rapidly deteriorating (and police brutality against the OWS isn’t helping much either). Greater representation through greater democratic control is another principal component of the OWS perspective.

Justice/Responsibility:

Arising out of the combination of a lack of faith in either the current economic or political system, many are questioning the exact “fairness” of it all. Returning again to the issue of the actions of a few affecting the vast majority, there is much discussion on how to create a world where the majority are not punished for the failings of the minority and vice versa. The twin values of justice and responsibility, even if their correct implementation is not fully understood, is at the heart of the OWS mentality.

 

Human Dignity:

With increased rates of homelessness and poverty, the issue of basic human dignity is emphasized in the OWS movement. With corporate personhood juxtaposed to the suffering of many actual people serving as insult to injury, exactly what it means to be a member of society is being rethought. Emphasis on the right of all people to housing and employment, regardless of economic circumstances is arising out of rejection of the Capitalist treatment of humans as products and instruments of labor.

Of course, there are plenty of degrees to which you can take any of these points. For some “moderates” of the OWS movement, these values can be achieved through the implementation of political reform, greater regulatory legislation, and taxation on the wealthy “1 percent”. For others holding more extreme views, the current system can be neither reformed nor regulated, and the only way to improve society is through eliminating all economic disparity. No demands can be put forward for the OWS simply because the OWS is not a uniform group with a single plan. It is a mass movement of individuals united under a single set of principals, all seeking together to implement those principals.

You still need an OWS objective? Here it is:

26
Dec
11

5 Personal Annoyances of Being Communist

I’m still working on a larger post for tomorrow, so for today I thought I’d just post five personal annoyances I’ve run into as a Communist- maybe some of you can relate.

 

I. “You’re a Communist, so you must love Russia!”

Upon hearing that I am a Communist, most people assume that, as such, I have a torrid love affair with all things Russian. Vodka must be my favorite drink, the ushenka must be my favorite hat (the big, furry ones), I must always be rooting for the villains in old James Bond movies.

Ok, technically I am- but only because this guy is really, really obnoxious...

Now if the USSR was still around, this assumption  would be more understandable- but the Soviet Union fell apart decades ago- why would people continue to assume that as a Marxist, I’m a fan of Russia? Even the basic logic of this is flawed. Let’s say that, for just a moment, that Russia was the very epitome of the Marxist ideals (it wasn’t). It still wouldn’t make sense. The equivalent of saying “You’re a Communist, Russia is Communist, therefore, you must like Russia” would be arguing that “You drink water, cats drink water, therefore you must like cats”.

And why Russia? China used to be seen as a Communist nation- why am I never assumed to be a big China fan?

A very big fan...

It’s not that I dislike Russia (barring the national cuisine, which should constitute a cruel and unusual punishment), it’s just that I’m tired of my political views being taken to assume that I am, in the end, just obsessed with all things Russian. It’s a false depiction of Communism as something exclusively Eastern European and I can only imagine the Russians are sick and tired of the comparison as well.

 

II. “If you’re a Communist, how come you aren’t poor?”

Now this is something that really bothers me- maybe you’ve run into it as well. Someway or another, the fact that you’re a Marxist comes up, and someone pipes in that “Hey- if you’re a Communist, then how come you aren’t poor?”.

How come I’m not poor?

Look, I get the idea that there are plenty of people out there who complain about the injustice of wealth despair from the more comfortable of the two sides. A common way people will put down the Occupy Wall Street protestors is by claiming they’re just a bunch of spoiled college kids complaining about wealth on their apple computers. Hey, I am a college student (for a few more months, anyways) in my early twenties railing about the Capitalist system- I fit a lot of the stereotypes as well. What kills me though is the lousy logic behind this- you have to be poor to complain about poverty. Yeah, kinda like how you have to be a slave to rail against slavery, or be starving to condemn the effects of famine.

It’s just plain idiocy.

And it stems from this similarly irrational concept that the radical left is, because we’re opposed to wealth inequality, must be advocating universal poverty.

This isn't exactly our vision for the future...

The idea that you must be poor to try to fight for an equitable society, or that you can only choose between a few being wealthy and everyone being wealthy- well, you can probably guess that being tagged with this false representation is pretty irritating.

 

III. “If you’re a Communist, why don’t you have a job?”

A similar argument that gets presented to me sometimes is the question of jobs. While now working part-time as a janitor, I used to get harassed with the question of “If you’re a Communist, why don’t you have a job?”. Now at first glance, this might seem like a legitimate criticism, after all, if Communism is based on the workers rising up, it might seem strange to speak out on behalf of the workers when you yourself don’t work. But let’s run with that logic for a bit, shall we? Using this logic, people who are out of work don’t qualify as part of the working class. Same goes for the homeless, the mentally challenged, immigrants, etc. Effectively, it’s the reverse of the “You’re too well-off to be a revolutionary”, arguing that the most oppressed and alienated in society are “Too poor to be revolutionaries”.

Needless to say, when faulty reasoning is employed to discredit you as a hypocrite no matter what you do, it can feel pretty aggravating.

 

IV. “You’re a Communist, huh? Then that means you have to give me your ________!”

Now I’ll admit, I’ve only ever encountered this with one person (though he did constantly fall back onto this argument), I can’t say for certain whether or not it’s something other leftists run into, but here it is.

This one person, a follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism (aka, Capitalism on PCP) would argue “Hey, if you’re a Communist, then you have to give me whatever you have!”. As I said, I’ve only ever encountered this reasoning with this particular person, but it does seem to be reflective of a larger view on Communism. Only Communism isn’t about handouts, it’s about sharing. Whenever this person used that argument, I’d respond with “No, I won’t give you my _________, but I’ll share it with you if we both participate in a mutually beneficial venture. Again, its a false portrayal of Communism as being about handouts, when nothing could be further from the truth. Equal work for a common reward using tools and resources we share.

Like I said, I’ve only ever had this line of thought explicitly used by a single person, but the general misrepresentation of Marxism as being about enabling the poor to leech off of the wealthy.

Poor People: Viciously exploiting the wealthy since 8,000 B.C.

 

V. “Democrats are Socialists!”

As much as liberals and Democrats hate being called Communists, it pales in comparison with how much Communists hate being called liberals and Democrats.

I think Phil Ochs perhaps said it best with this song:

In case you’re like me, and have an irrational aversion to clicking on YouTube links on blogs, let me break it down for you. The comparison between the radical left and Democrats/liberals/progressives is so annoying is because, despite the yawning chasm that supposedly separates the mainstream right and left in the US, they really aren’t all that different.

"Evil Republicans endorse Capitalism with some government restristictions, unlike the good Democrats who endorse Capitalism with some government restrictions..." -Everyone on AlterNet

I don’t like having to sift through countless pictures equating Obama’s policies to Marxism when I’m looking for Communist-related photos. I don’t like my values and perspectives being put on par with those of Bill Maher. I cannot state this enough- the policies of the liberals and progressives are in no way, shape, or form similar to those of Communists, and it is a pain in the neck to constantly have to try to extricate my symbols and terminology from the “Obamunist” apocalypse foretold by the right-wing. Again, I’m not bashing Democrats as people- I have Democrat friends. What aggravates me is the equation of my ideology with theirs- the relationship simply does not exist.

This kind of junk has got to stop

24
Dec
11

The Revolution is Now

A while ago, a family friend and I were having a debate on the application of Marxism, primarily, the redistribution of wealth after a Communist revolution. This friend argued that he simply didn’t see how it was possible, asserting that the only way that wealth could possibly be redistributed was through a gargantuan, all-powerful government that not only redistributed the wealth, but ensured that the balance was continually kept after the revolution.

The problem with his understanding was that, to him, the “revolution” exists solely as a military venture. The “revolution” is simply an armed uprising of Communists who seize control. But of course, that is not what the revolution is. Anyone can oust a regime or forcibly take control of the government, but this is simply a rebellion, or even merely a coup. A revolution is something different entirely- so what exactly is it?

 

It the struggle for radical change, originating in new values and perspectives of the masses and affecting every aspect of life.

See, the revolution is not merely a physical struggle, born out of weapons and strategy. On the contrary, even if every Communist in the world at this very moment seized control of every government seat and position in the world, nothing world change. Ultimately, change- true change- occurs not among the powerful few but among the powerless masses. It was here that the crux of our debate rested, the problem of the will of the people. To my family friend, the revolution is merely an armed insurrection, and social change was meant to be enacted from the top down- rather from the bottom up.

In short, the revolution begins in the mind, and from there, affects everything else. Take a collection of slaves, break their chains, and they remain slaves, having known nothing else and being able to comprehend nothing else. But convince slaves that no man has the right to own another, and they will not only break their own chains, but will never be enslaved again. Again, the revolution is not (simply) a physical struggle, but first and foremost an constant battle in culture, education, social values, philosophy, religion, music, and economics. Too many Communists seem to be, like my family friend, under the impression that the revolution is solely about militancy, rather than about mentality. Go to nearly any leftist forum and I guarantee that you’ll find Marxists debating about “when is the right time to strike?”, oblivious to the fact that the struggle is ongoing. We are not waiting on the revolution, the revolution is now!

As the great revolutionary hero Che Guevara once said “The revolution is not an apple that falls when it is ripe. You have to make it drop.”. Our role as revolutionaries engaged in this battle against the evils of capitalism, oppression, exploitation, and enslavement is to combat them on every front. We spend altogether too much trying to interpret the world, and not enough time trying to actually change it.

Sound familiar?

So how do we do this? Well, we contribute our individual talents to the struggle; advocating, supporting, and implementing freedom, justice, and equality wherever and however possible. Be it anything from the resistance of neocolonialism and neoliberalism, as with the Zapatistas, or standing up for the rights of immigrants and refugees, or protesting against imperialist wars, or bringing down unethical companies, or working through agitation and the spreading of awareness, there are no shortage of opportunities available to champion the cause.

Now to this some may say, “But we are Marxists! We are working to establish Communism- we’re all for creating class consciousness and educating the people, but why should we work with non-revolutionaries?”. This is a problem I see far too often. The idea that we, as Communists, should only be working with other Communists stems from a terrible error in perspective- that is, some believe that we advance justice and equality to establish Marxism, rather than advancing Marxism to establish justice and equality. Perhaps this particular error is a result of our isolation as radical leftists- we develop a baseless “us-them” mentality that actually leads some of us to imagine that we’re doing is getting our “team” to win. Again, I defer to the eloquence of Che, who asserted “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.”.

My comrade is not the person who agrees with me, but the person who takes a stand with me. A revolutionary is not measured in his or her ability to recite the minutiae of Marxist theory or in his or her capacity to demonstrate historical precedent for their opinions- a revolutionary is measured in his or her ability to embody his or her values and act upon them.

And none of this is to relegate the revolution to some kind of zeitgeist that will allow us to sit back and wait for the revolution to simply appear. As said above, the revolution, while ultimately a change within people, can still be advanced through our actions and words. I know that I wouldn’t be (trying to be) a revolutionary if not for the words and actions of my peers and those before me- in spite of this common misconception that culture and society simply “are”, they can be changed.

And none of this either is to suggest that the new world will simply “evolve” without physical confrontation. Some belief the revolution can be peaceful- even Marx himself was of this opinion. I however have difficulty believing that the individuals and organizations who have, without any qualms, profited from child labor, prison labor, slave labor, sweatshop labor, exploitation, environmental degradation, bribery and political manipulation, murder and war will simply allow us to walk away from the plantation. I am not opposed to self-defense- after all, everyone has the right to fight for his or her basic human rights and defend those rights once secured. However, we must be perfectly clear, militancy is not a substitute for social change- you cannot simply “break stuff” and expect the new world to simply fall into place. Returning to the debate mentioned above, guns don’t make the revolution- the revolution makes the revolution.

This is the revolution- the ongoing struggle to establish justice, egalitarianism, and freedom from poverty, exploitation, and tyranny by any and all forces. What else can I end on except this phrase?

Viva la revolucion.

23
Dec
11

The Feminist Post

I’ll admit, I’ve been avoiding doing this post. Feminism is such a broad, complex, and controversial topic that I know, even as I’m writing this, I’m going to be struggling to cover even the most basic points. Nevertheless, this is a topic I’ve been wanting to touch on for no small amount of time, and with the ever increasing number of feminist issues being brought up and examined in our society, I figured it’d be best to try to tackle a few of the more primary elements of feminism, capitalism, and communism.

 

Now deciding exactly where to start when discussing feminism is difficult- after all, with feminism pertaining to the treatment of women, one would technically have to start at the very beginning of human history. So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s deal with the feminism that we’re all probably most familiar with.

Now I’m assuming we’re all fairly familiar with the basic evolution of the feminist movement that we’re taught in school. In the decades following the end of the American civil war, women get it into their heads that they ought to have the same basic rights as men, most notably, the right to vote. After a long struggle, women achieve this right, and then nothing happens for a long while.

World War II rolls around and, with most of the men off fighting in Europe, Africa, and the Pacific Rim, women took their places in the factories and plants, demonstrating that they were just as capable as those they replaced. To an extent, the workplace opened up for women. Nevertheless, gender rolls remained more or less the same, with women (largely) in the kitchen and men in the office. Not until the 60s and 70s are the issues of gender inequality really addressed, with women at long last (permanently) opening up the workplace, political office, etc. Indeed, so momentous were the achievements of the 60s, 70s (and to an extent 80s) that today the exact direction of the feminist movement is yet unknown.

See, there’s the core problem that I want to discuss here- at least, it’s part of it. It’s the attitudes that people have towards feminism today, be it the tiny but vocal “men are evil” fringe-group of feminism (as much as it pains us, we have to admit that such people do exist) to the anti-feminist ramblings of Pat Robertson and his ilk.

Pat Robertson: Basing his ministry on the hope that God will once again speak through an ass...

But neither of those extremes quite compares to what I believe to be the single greatest threat to the feminist movement: apathy.
The prevalent idea on Feminism seems to be that it has served its purpose, and that modern day feminists are either “female-supremacists” or are focused on minor issues. And that perspective doesn’t seem to be without basis either- from my research and conversations, the majority of feminist activism falls into one of two categories, (1) attacking minute issues of gender inequality or stereotyping or (2) attacking gender inequality in other countries.

 

Not that there’s anything wrong in attacking contemporary gender inequality- after all, inequality, regardless of how small, is still inequality. Take, for example, one of my personal peeves- high heels.

Yeah, I'd like to buy a shoe that's an affront to the laws of physics and basic human anotomy...

Now there’s nothing about the high-heeled shoe that is remotely natural or practical, and yet it’s seen as proper for both the workplace and for formal occasions. Again, nothing- nothing– about this design is useful, in fact, it’s straight up damaging– and that’s just from wearing the things. Try to imagine the equivalent for a man; imagine a shirt that both restricted all major movement and deformed your spine. Despite this flying in the face of reason and basic human dignity, this shoe is marketed to women as an acceptable, nay, essential part of one’s wardrobe.

An issue of women’s rights and dignity? Absolutely. But does it compare really to voting or being able to work the same jobs a man can? Not really.

As for the question of gender inequality in other countries, certainly it does exist and exists on a level on which feminism ought to be involved. The problem here however is the issue of culture. Too often I hear feminists railing on the hijab (head covering worn by Muslim women) without fully understanding the dynamics behind them.

Despite the hijab (or fuller covering) being required in a few countries, the vast majority of Muslim women wear head coverings because the choose to. In certain areas of the world, such things are simply part of the culture, and criticism on this from is shortsighted and patronizing. Indeed, the equivalent would be women from a culture with little to no clothing (certain tribal people in the Amazon, for example) criticizing Western women for wearing shirts.

 

In short, you can see why people have difficulty getting behind the contemporary feminist movement. With the issues being addressed either (comparatively) small or outside of the West (in case you haven’t noticed, I’m focusing here on western feminism- other places in the world have different approaches and issues), feminism and issues of women’s rights really don’t seem all that relevant or important.

 

Now of course, that simply isn’t so.

Granted, while the individual points touched upon by contemporary feminism may seem, when looked at in isolation, “nitpicking”, but let’s add all this up for a moment. You’ve got certain expectations placed upon women by culture to buy and consume and struggle to meet an unattainable lifestyle, be it a standard of beauty, some kind of “perfect” balance between work, family, and self, and so on. Take all of this, every role model presented to women, from the time they’re born on; every hobby or activity meant to be “girlish” or “womanly”; and then compound it with every depiction of female life hurled at us from advertising, television, music, film- you name it. The end result is one warped perception of femininity.

 

Like so

And despite this general issue of the degradation of femininity, I honestly don’t believe that could get behind the contemporary feminist movement either- not for a lack of belief in gender equality, but simply for the fact that the feminist movement, like many movements in society, is stuck treating the symptoms rather than the disease. And what is that disease?

Objectification.

The turning of people into commodities. Perhaps the best way to explain it would be to take a brief look at an offshoot of feminism.

Now I’m not exactly sure what to name this particular perspective- suffice it to say that it’s a brand of “feminism” actually embracing the use of women as sex objects or the like. The basic line of thought is “Hey, if feminism is about empowering women, then what’s more empowering than the ability to use our bodies or our sexuality for our own gain?”. Of course this is completely ridiculous- one could just as easily claim that a black man or woman performing in a minstrel show for money is “empowering”. You can’t sell yourself, you are yourself- at least, that’s how it ought to be. But we live in a capitalist society where anything that can turn a profit will turn a profit, regardless of the effects to human dignity.

And obviously I don’t need to get too into detail about the mentalities that arise out of objectification. For men, women are subhuman- they are, as the word suggests, objects to be had. The Communist Manifesto itself discusses the abuse of women arising from the capitalist system.

“The bourgeois sees his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and, naturally, can come to no other conclusion that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women… Our bourgeois, not content with having wives and daughters of their proletarians at their disposal, not to speak of common prostitutes, take the greatest pleasure in seducing each other’s wives. “

And this is merely the male perspective. Consider the effects this mentality has on women, being taught from their infancy that they exist to be used, possessed, and sold.

And it’s not that the contemporary feminist movement is not aware of this issue, however, with capitalism seen as the only option for society, the idea that anything more can be done than superficially building up a counter-culture (hey- that’s still an important element of the movement) is unfortunately not even considered (a sweeping generalization, but you get the idea). At the end of the day, if true gender equality is to be met, then objectification must be destroyed, and objectification is a production of the capitalist system. It seems a great tragedy that still today we have to be told that human beings are not objects to be bought or sold, or to be used to sell cars or cologne or food or clothing. Human beings are not things which can be possessed. Human beings are meant for freedom- in the end, that’s what feminism is truly about: freedom.

21
Dec
11

The Life of the Party (Or, Back to Square One)

Ok, so after my brief stint in the SPUSA, I’m leaving empty handed. We all know where this is going, so let’s just get this over with.

I was wrong, you were right- the criticisms concerning the SPUSA turned out to be true, and it was a mistake to have joined this organization. Mea culpa.

Now before we get right into the details of why I won’t be renewing my membership in the SPUSA, let’s just take a quick moment to recall why I joined in the first place.

After general disappointment with other Leftist parties as being either too small to be especially effective, too localized, or too creepy (RCPUSA, I’m looking at you), the SPUSA ranked high on my list, with both a platform I could agree with, internal democracy, and a large, (reportedly) active membership spread out across the country. Granted, the core values seemed more conciliatory than I’d have liked, but I figured that this was a result of the party being “multi-tendency”, that is, representative of a wide array of Leftist tendencies- a major pro in and of itself. After all, what I believe as a Communist now is not what I’d have believed four years ago, so exposing myself to a “thousand schools of thought” contending would be infinitely more productive than joining a party whose platform I totally and completely agreed with (we’re talking about Socialist Action here).

Like I said, I was wrong.

 

While I entered into the SPUSA with the hope that I’d be right in the action, I, in the weeks following the acceptance of my membership application, received no orders (or even suggestions) from the party on what I could be doing to further the cause. I’m not knocking personal initiative here- I fully understand that, as individuals, we ought to be addressing the issues that we’re facing in our day-to-day lives and that are affecting the local area. However, if I didn’t need to join the SPUSA to do that. Again, I’m not saying that I require orders from on high to act. It just seems strange that the SPUSA advocate a society based on utilizing individual talents for a common purpose, but not be in contact with its members on how they can best contribute to the movement. I think one commenter on this blog said it best when he stated “The SP-USA doesn’t have 1,000 members…it has 1,000 donors…”.

 

See, ultimately, my goal in joining a party or organization was to contribute my time, talents, and efforts to a concentrated and directional campaign to advance Marxism, or, at the very least, the principals espoused by the left. I realize again that my location in the backwoods of New York (most of the year) make networking and collaborating difficult, but nevertheless there has got to be something I can do. Have a comrade running for office? Let me help campaign on his or her behalf? Writing a statement on the Arab Spring? Let me get input and info from some of my contacts. Need funds for a project? Let me try to raise funds (ok, technically membership fees do play into that, but you get the idea).

Let's get our hands dirty

The way I figure it, the party should, in and of itself, be an example of Communism at work. A democratic, egalitarian group collectively pooling resources, skills, and effort to make a united effort to combat injustice, oppression, ignorance, and inequality. Getting a magazine is a nice perk, but its not the reason I chose the SPUSA. I chose the SPUSA because I thought that what the organization lacked in core principals, it would make up for in its ability to draw from the various schools of Leftism represented and channel this diversity into a powerful, coherent movement.

 

Again, I might be coming across as overly harsh on the SPUSA- after all, I have friends there, and I don’t believe that the party is without merit or achievement. At the same time, the general criticism that the party lacks “direction” or “discipline” as a result of it not being based in Leninism does have a lot going for it, and while I think the SPUSA is trying to address the issues surrounding us, it simply isn’t being aggressive enough, certainly in part due to its multi-tendency background. As much as I’d like to assert that we are all on the same side, the simple fact of the matter is that if we try to adopt an approach that is acceptable to everyone, from the most gung-ho direct-action Anarchist to the most diplomatic Democratic Socialist, we’re not going to get anywhere. At some point, someone’s got to put their fist down and say “Look, this is what needs to be done, contribute as much as you feel your conscience allows and then step back- this is gonna be messy!”.

Emphatic Marxist Giant is Empahtic

Look, I’m not going to say that my time in the SPUSA was a waste- I do feel that I’ve learned, even if my learning has stemmed out of a generally negative cause. You can’t sacrifice principals for resources- push come to shove, a small, poor group with direction is going to be advancing the cause further than large, well-funded group without one (or at least, with only the most general of goals). There’s something to be said for the Leninist model of the vanguard party- for all the criticism it receives on both sides of the left-wing spectrum, it’s effective.

Movement from the top down is still movement...

At the end of the day, I’d like to think of myself as a pragmatist. I have my own theories, my values, and my general concept of how things ought to be done, but my perspectives and beliefs are, as they should be with all of us, a means, not an end. I’m a Trotskyist (Anarcho-Trotskyist, if you want to get needlessly specific), but I’ll throw my weight behind whatever and whoever is actively and effectively working to advance the cause of freedom, equality, and justice. My support goes not to who I have ideological similarities with, but to those who are actually implementing Marxism, be it the Maoist-inspired Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (the old BPP- not the new one) or the unionization efforts made by various elements of the New Left.

So where am I now? Back to square one.

I haven’t changed my views on joining a party- I do feel that I ought to be networking and collaborating with other revolutionaries, but I am at a bit of a loss as to where to proceed from here. My other top choices for membership (ISO, Socialist Action) still have the same cons attached to them, and recent comments (and I am grateful for the comments) seem to indicate that both organizations have a lot less going for them than I initially thought.

So again my question is- where do I go from here? Any thoughts?