Posts Tagged ‘Che

26
May
12

A Communist’s Criticisms of Communism (Part III): Loyalty

I discussed in my last post the issue of turning the contemporary Communist movement into little more than an intellectual exercise. In this post, I want to address the issue of “loyalty”- that is, the obsession we seem to have with adhering to certain lines of thought, political parties, and even individuals who have been dead for centuries and countries that no longer exist.

Let me jump right into things.

“If Marx Said It, It Must Be True…”

A recurring phenomena you run into in your discussion/debates/rabid scream-fights with Communists is that, almost inevitably, someone will cite Karl Marx and sit back, assuming the argument has been settled. Marx you see (and to a lesser extent, Engels, Lenin, and other prominent Marxist thinkers) is often treated as being infallible. His writings are, to put it bluntly, viewed as “canon”- Das Kapital and the Manifesto are the unimpeachable criterion for all Communist thought and action.

Needless to say, this is a problem.

I don’t mean to attack Marx’s writings- for the most part, I think Marx was right. But when Marx’s words are put on a level usually reserved for religious texts and certain seasons of Dr. Who, issues begin to pop up- the most obvious of which is that it simply isn’t true.

Shocking, I know…

I am going to cite an example, but first, just think about it generally. Isn’t it possible- nay, likely– that a nearly two-hundred year old Prussian thinker didn’t quite come up with every answer to every political, social, and economic problem we’ll ever have? Isn’t it reasonable to suspect that in his extensive writing, he didn’t have total accuracy? Could it be that Marx, as a human being, made errors just like the rest of us?

Of course. I’d even go so far as to speculate that you’d find few people more opposed to this idea that Marx is omniscient than Marx himself.

Who has a magnificent beard and thinks you should be reasonably skeptical?
This guy!

Now I promised an example of Marx being wrong, and here it is. In 1872, Karl Marx delivered a speech in Amsterdam, in which he claimed

“You know that the institutions, mores, and traditions of various countries must be taken into consideration, and we do not deny that there are countries — such as America, England, and if I were more familiar with your institutions, I would perhaps also add Holland — where the workers can attain their goal by peaceful means.”

Now if you’re familiar at all with the contemporary Communist movement, you’ll recognize that one of the few (nearly) universal views held is a contempt for the belief that Communism can be achieved without violence. Typically the response to such a claim is (at best) “That’s completely utopian and unrealistic” or (at worst) “Die revisionist scum! Die!”. Yet it is a view that Marx held.

So how do we resolve this? Either we assume that the past century or so has been all wrong and that Marx was indeed correct in his view, or that (drum roll) Marx was wrong on this one.

IT CAN’T BE TRUE!

The simple fact of the matter is, this misplaced “loyalty” to Marx and “Orthodox Marxism” (i.e., you interpret Marx’s works) is just, plain wrong, and all that’s to say nothing of the way this “…Because Marx/Engels/Lenin/etc. said so!” mentality damages our innovation and dialogue (but more on that later). We need to stop invoking Marx and putting him on a pedestal.

…though maybe it’s a bit late for that…

Which brings us to our next point.

“Uncle Joe”:

On one Communist discussion board, I encountered a rather gung-ho Stalinist who had a habit of spamming the forum with pictures of Stalin, accompanied by rather creepy odes and love-notes to (not aboutto) “Uncle Joe”. Now what I suppose really irked me about this wasn’t that this person was praising a despotic, paranoid murderer who used Communism as a facade for his own ends, or that this person was writing this posts to Stalin, while simultaneously mocking religion (though Iwas bugged by both of these things). It was that this person was turning a political leader into an icon- all in all it was, well, “cult-y”. That kind of twisted obsession usually is only found in the followers of guys who claim to have a spaceship.

Also known as “trekkies”…

Well, that’s an isolated incident“, you might say, “Just thecrazed ramblings of someone who isn’t a real Communist anyways.”

And that may be true, but there’s plenty of this in mainstream Communism as well- the face is just a bit different.

No matter where you stand on the Communist or even Leftist spectrum, chances are, you admire Che. He’s seen by many as the ideal Communist- the perfect combination of a thinker, a fighter, a public servant, a leader, and a writer; utterly devoted to the cause of liberty and equality. Pretty much every Communist has a poster or picture of Che (myself included)- and in and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing. It becomes a problem, however, when this admiration crosses that blurry line over into the realm of devotion.

When we turn our heroes into icons, we distort our perspective not only of them, but of everything. Let me offer this example.

Imagine you admire Che, and even go so far as to practically adore the man. Turning Che from a man into a superhero, you find yourself defending each and every single thing he said or did- including the stuff he got wrong. Che for all his noble characteristics, cheated on his wife. If you’re such a fan of Che that you find yourself having to defend something wrong simply because to not do so would mean “abandoning” your hero, things have gotten way out of hand.

“Paranoid? No- our glorious leader simply is experimenting with photoshop. He’s totally not a crazed madman…”

Not only is this kind of blind faith dangerous (see above for an obvious example), but it winds up dragging our conversations down. I can’t tell you how many times seen two Communists debating each other, and resorting to taking pot-shots at each others’ ideological leaders, rather than actually addressing the issues. If you’re caught up in defending every aspect of Trotsky, you’ll never convince anyone of your point. We need to stop trying to defend every detail of Trotsky, Lenin, or Huey P. Newton’s life and recognize that they weren’t angels- they were people. We need to forget about proving them to saints, and start trying to just prove them right.

And speaking of being right…

“Fight the Good Old Fight!”:

I’ve touched on this subject before, but it’s worth revisiting. It’s the subject of the Communist obsession with taking sides on fifty-year old arguments which were petty and stupid even then. To this day, you’ll find division within Communism on the subject of who was right- James P. Cannon or Marx Schatman.

Allow me to submit this excerpt from Shachtman’s Wikipedia page, discussing his split with Cannon during the early 1930s:

Frictions between Shachtman and Cannon, especially over Shachtman’s work when representing the League in Europe, broke out into a factional struggle in 1932. Trotsky and other leaders of the International Left Opposition complained to the CLA that Shachtman had intervened against them within the ILO’s fragile European affiliates…

…During this time, Cannon experienced a spell of depression, during which the CLA’s organizing secretary was Abern while Shachtman worked on The Militant. Writing in 1936, Shachtman would criticize Abern’s habit of nourishing secret cliques of friends and supporters by supplying them with insider information about debates in the League’s leadership… It was only a sharp intervention by the ILO in 1933 that ended the fight. Although the line-up of opponents largely anticipated Shachtman’s 1940 split from the mainstream Trotskyists, the years from 1933 to 1938 restored the co-operation between Cannon and Shachtman.

This tussle between Shachtman and Cannon had a huge impact on the development of Communism in the US, the split between these two men serving as a major source of contention, leading to debate even to this day.

Allow me to submit what I believe to be the correct response to all this:

I don’t think there’s a single time I’ve read a book, or listened to a lecture, on Communist history that hasn’t resulted in this basic reaction. These fights are simply dumb. People can bicker all they want, but I have difficulty researching a single split in the Communist movement and finding a shred of evidence that fragmenting into petty little sects was the right or reasonable solution.

Believe it or not, I think the Republicans actually have a pretty decent model.

Bear with me here…

Think about it. This party is home to both people who are essentially fiscally-conservative Democrats and theocratic psychos who insist that the government occasionally handing out slips of paper to gay couples will ignite the apocalypse. Libertarians rub shoulders with supporters of the Patriot Act and NDAA provisions. Isolationists wear the same elephant-pin sported by neo-cons who hailed Bush’s self-proclaimed “crusade”.

These are all people whose have major differences on a number of subjects, and yet all come together under a single banner. Of course there’s friction, but when two republicans disagree on a subject, chances that’s all they’ll do. The fragmentation of Trotskyism- even the Communist movement as a whole- has nothing on the disagreements Republicans have with each other, and yet, Republicans remain Republicans.

I’m not saying that disagreements are wrong, or that there’s no such thing as a right or wrong course. What I am saying is that splitting over, say, whether or not Cuba is Communist is more than a little dumb.

See, the root problem of all of this is that it’s not about your loyalty to Marx, or your loyalty to your heroes, or your loyalty to your party…

Ego:

…It’s about your loyalty to you.

Ego- that’s where it all comes from.

Look, we all want to be the next great Communist leader or thinker or icon. We all, on some level, hope that things will play out so that we wind up being the Lenin, Che, or Marx of our time. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with that until it starts affecting our actions.

Let’s face it- would half of divisions in the contemporary Communist movement exist if we were all a bit more capable of swallowing our pride? Would we have half the scuffles we do if we weren’t so obsessed with our hero whose image goes untarnished, or our interpretation of Marx that goes unchallenged, or our party that gets all the glory.

The Collected Works of Bob Avakian,
Written and Compiled by Bob Avakian,
With Special Thanks to Bob Avakian, Head of Bob Avakian Studies at Bob Avakian University

It seems that we’re incapable of saying “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” or even coming to terms with the possibility that we might make mistakes in the future. Pride is corroding the modern Communist movement, and it’s time to remember that this isn’t about us.

It’s about them.

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.

19
Dec
10

Films For Communists

In a world where the bearded-Russian “Communist” stereotype is the antagonist in every film made before 1990, I thought it might be time to list a few films where Marxists are (for once) portrayed in good light. Below is a list of mainstream films that deserve to be seen by any Communist:

 

Shadowlands (1993): Despite having only a fleeting reference to Communism near the beginning of the film, it’s refreshing to see a Marxist portrayed with being in the process of torturing some American soldiers or preparing to launch nuclear warheads.

The Edukators/ Die Fetten Jahre Sind Vorbei: While I don’t recall Communism ever being directly addressed in this German film, the movie deals with the various issues and struggles of fighting Capitalism in this era. The film opens with the main characters handing out tracts on sweatshop labor, and follows them as they escalate their responses to social injustice (breaking up the “action” sequences with lively discussions on activism and sequences depicting some of the ills they’re trying to fight against). Again, while Marxism is never directly discussed, it is evident that this is a far-left film.

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006): While I don’t believe there are any explicit uses of the terms “Communist” or “Marxist”, the film takes place during the last years of the Spanish Civil War, in a remote part of the country where a Fascist captain is attempting to destroy the “Red” resistance hiding in the nearby mountains. The film is a fairy-tale and never becomes especially political, however the Communist rebels are shown in a very sympathetic light.

Battle in Seattle (2007): Though the film doesn’t deal with Marxism, it does (excellently) show different perspectives on social activism, from a black bloc Anarchist (embracing violence as a means of protest) to a group of non-violent protesters, to a riot policeman, to a simple bystander, to a news crew, to the mayor of Seattle. If nothing else, it’s a discussion starter not merely for Communists, but for anyone.

Defiance (2008): Set during the holocaust, this film follows the story of the Bielski brothers and their followers, a group of Belorussian Jews who formed a resistance to the Nazi occupation of their country. Throughout the film, the Bielski partisans interact with the Soviet resistance, and while the Soviets are portrayed as being generally arrogant and unhelpful, the film does show them (1) fighting the Nazis (a part of Communist history too often forgotten) and (2) makes reference the official Communist policy of ending antisemitism. In addition to this, it is suggested that one of the members of the Bielski group is an active Socialist, and the partisans adopt a communal form of a living.

Quantum of Solace (2008): Now you’d probably think the last place you’d find Communist-sympathies would be in a James Bond film- after all, the man spent a good 80% of his career foiling Soviet plots (the other 20% being unbelievably picky about his drinks- seriously, how will he even know if it’s been shaken or stirred?). Despite this, Quantum of Solace actually is about as left-wing as Bond’s ever been, as the film deals with politics used by the West to dominate third-world countries. In Haiti, there’s a brief discussion between the two villains about how raising the minimum wage angered foreign corporations, and the Quantum’s plot (the “quantum” being the cabal of tuxedoed bad-guys) is to control the majority of drinking water in Bolivia (a clear reference to the attempt to privatize drinking water in Bolivia back in 1999).

The Baader-Meinhof Complex (2008): I’m a bit at a loss to describe this two-and-a-half hour film detailing the roots, rise, and fall of the RAF (Red Army Faction). While certainly sympathetic to the causes of the characters in the films, the story does not shy away from showing the faults of the RAF- honesty that I believe only serves to strengthen the film’s credibility, even with the left-wing slant. While the previous film’s I’ve mentioned have tended to shy away from explicitly dealing with Marxism, this is made up for (and then some) by The Baader-Meinhof Complex, which constantly brings up the issues of politics, economics, revolution, and culture. While it’s an exhausting film to watch (again, nearly three-hours packed with conflict, history, and so on.), it’s well worth seeing.

Che (2008): In all honesty I was slightly disappointed by Che. For being nearly five-hours long (divided into two episodes), the film really didn’t say much about the justification for the actions of perhaps the most iconic Communist of all time. While the film did artfully chronicle Che’s role in the Cuban Revolution, and his expedition to Bolivia, the film leaves out Che’s actions in Cuba after the revolution (baring a sequence of Che’s trip to the United Nations) and his time in Africa. While the film definitely is sympathetic to Guevara, the film really only deals with Guevara- and not the ideals he fought for. It almost feels like I watched the beginning and the end of a documentary on the man. Even so, it’s still a decent film.

The Trotsky (2009): While the film technically doesn’t deal with Communism, considering the main character believes himself to be the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, themes of revolution, unionization, and rebellion are hard to get away from. Again, while the film centers on the issue of youth rebellion (apathy vs boredom), the movie is inundated in Marxist slogans, philosophy, and art. Leon Bronstein (the protagonist), constantly quotes Trotsky and other prominent Marxists. Throughout the film, pictures of Che Guevara, Einstein (yes, he was a Socialist), Lenin, and other revolutionaries can be seen on posters and paintings and t-shirts. Now while I am tempted to go on, I’ll save this film for a more in-depth review later- suffice it say for now that The Trotsky is a great movie for Marxists.

 

Please note that this list is by no means complete- any suggestions are welcomed and I hope to have full reviews of these films out soon.

29
Jul
09

It’s Not Easy Being Red

It’s not easy being Red.

Sure we claim the moral high ground, believe in the inevitable nature of the Communist revolution, and get the exclusive privilege of railing against the established order. But all of that doesn’t change the fact that being a Communist is hard. I’d liken it to being an Old Testament prophet, preaching to the masses about the inevitable judgment of God, the need to end the oppression of the idols and turn to righteousness. But the prophets were rejected, labeled as possessed, delusional, and insane. Nothing but crazed voices in the desert. Being a prophet was to be rejected, maligned, and even hunted like animals.

Being a Communist isn’t much different. We have a message or revolution, justice, and freedom we try to give the masses. We try to help the people, but instead of being hailed as liberators we’re stoned as heretics and blasphemers. Nine times out of ten when I tell someone that I’m a Communist I’m met with such hostility, shock, and disgust that you’d think I’d have claimed to support the punching of infants. Perhaps it’s understandable on some level. Many before us claiming to be Communists were nothing but charlatans and frauds, using Marxism for their own ends. Much of the Communist message seems dark, almost apocalyptic. The plutocrats and Fascists have filled society with propaganda, depicting Communism as enslaving and authoritarian. Perhaps people can’t be blamed for being scared. Perhaps they can- after all, fear isn’t a poison that can be injected- people become afraid by letting themselves be scared. Ernesto “Che” Guevara, as a child, once drove off a group of street-urchins harassing a homeless, disabled man. Instead of being thanked by the man, Che was spat on.

It’s not easy having to deal with that every day. When the public fears you, when the masses hate you, when society has no respect for you and the whole world thinks you’re insane- it all tends to wear on one. Like the old prophets, it’s easy to want to give up- to flip off the public and wander up into the hills, patiently waiting for the human race to hunt itself to extinction. They don’t want help, they don’t get help. Let the Capitalists enslave the world, let the profiteer suck the earth’s resources dry. When it’s all over and the only thing left are the dogs wandering the dusty, empty streets we can wander back down an say “We told you so…”.

But as much as we’d like that, as easy as it would be, we must always remember we aren’t doing it for them. Whatever prompted us to become Communist, we remain Communists- in spite of all the stigmatism, crucifixion, and incredulity- for a single reason. We do not do all that we do out of a love of humanity, we do all that we do because it is right.

Yes, comrades, it’s not easy being red. I don’t like feeling like a leper or a lunatic anymore than the next man. I don’t enjoy the prejudice, the taunts, and the condescending smiles. Nevertheless, I remain a Communist and will always remain a Communist. The old prophets were mocked- they went on roaring from the deserts. I’m sure Jesus had his bad days, it never stopped him. Trotsky and Che, even up to the days they were murdered, fought always for a better, more just world. I have non of their eloquence, Comrades, so the best I can do is to echo their words below.

“As long as I breathe I hope. As long as I breathe I shall fight for the future, that radiant future, in which man, strong and beautiful, will become master of the drifting stream of his history and will direct it towards the boundless horizons of beauty, joy and happiness!”

– Leon Trotsky, 1901

It’s not easy being red…

…but it is right.