Posts Tagged ‘Communist

28
May
12

A Communist’s Criticism of Communism (Part IV): America and the World

It would be remiss to discuss the contemporary Communist movement (and indeed, the modern leftist world in general) without taking some time touch on the subject of America, the West, and the Third-World.

Being an American citizen who spent the majority of his life growing up overseas, I’m in a unique position, having seen a little of both worlds. Considering the highly contentious nature of the subjects I’m about to address, I’m hoping you, the reader, will keep this in mind.

With that request, let’s begin.

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“Death to America!”:

You’ve probably heard this slogan, or some variation on it. “Down with the imperialist aggressors!“, “Throw out the neo-colonialists!“, “Destroy the military-industrial complex!” and of course, my favorite, “American pig-dogs!“.

And let’s face it, these insults aren’t without some merit. Even if we forget the attacks on and the abuses of the Native Americans, the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, the countless injustices inflicted on African Americans and Hispanics- the past decade alone, America has committed more terrible acts than I recount (though if you’re looking for some highlights, the wrongful execution of Troy Davis, Citizens United, and the veto of the Palestinian UN membership bid all spring to mind).

Beyond that, there are the obvious cultural issues. The gross excess of consumerism, the fact that nearly seventy percent of Americans are overweight in a world where starvation and malnutrition affect so many- this all serves only to bolster the US’s image as a corrupt and evil empire intent on the pillaging of the world.

And there is a problem with this mentality.

As I said above, I grew up in overseas- in the Middle East, to be specific. I myself have seen the effects of Westernization, globalization, and Bush’s self-proclaimed “crusade” perpetuated even now by the Obama administration. Thereis unquestionably a lot to decry- but there is such a thing as taking it too far.

Bear with me here. When someone says America, chances are, this comes to mind:

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Or this:

ImageOr this:

ImageBut am I the only one who also thinks of this?

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Or this?

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Or this?

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Or even this?

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See, my problem with the criticism and condemnation thrown America’s way isn’t that it’s undeserved, but that it too often becomes generalized. When someone screams “Death to America!“, does that include the homeless population, or the people trying to help them? Does that include Mumia Abu-Jamal? Noam Chomsky? The protestors of America’s various wars? The environmentalists? The activists? Does that include the legacy of John Brown, Eugene Debs, or the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade?

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“Hey! You socialists who risked your lives fighting against Fascism in Spain! Screw you guys!”

I’m guessing you can see my point here. I’m not saying that criticism is wrong, but the blanket diatribes you often run into when talking to Communists- even American Communists, they’re just… well, dumb. And it’s only dumber when your own nation is guilty of many of the same errors- Europeans, I’m looking at you.

Just look at the English. The British Nationalist Party (BNP)- a fascist political movement with a rabidly racist and homophobic agenda- not only has won seats in British elections, but the BNP’s leader, a particularly vile holocaust denier by the name of Nick Griffin, won a seat on the European Parliament- the legislative body of the EU. To put that into perspective, that would be the equivalent of the leader of the American Neo-Nazi Party winning a congressional election.

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“… but we ARE in it for a racially pure Britain…”

Or just look at France’s bigoted treatment of Muslims and the Roma…

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Or German chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration that “Multiculturalism has failed”!

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The last time a German chancellor declared the failure of multiculturalism, things didn’t turn out so well…

Now is any of this to say that we can’t criticize each other? Not at all. Is any of this to say that Europe is utterly and totally evil? Of course not. My point is simply this: Everyone- everyone has their issues. Every nation has its heroes and villains. Criticism is good, but only so long as it is directed at the real enemy- and the real enemy isn’t one people or another- it’s injustice, imperialism, capitalism, and oppression.

First Worldism/Third Worldism:

This criticism is really aimed at two different groups, Communists who believe that a Marxist revolution can only occur in a “developed” nation (like the US or a European country), and Communists who believe that the revolution can only occur in a third-world nation (you probably know who I’m talking about here).

Now in response to the “First-Worldists”, I can only say “really?”. “You think that people who enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world are going to touch off the Communist revolution? You think that so-called ‘development’ is what makes or breaks a revolution?”

“We’re starving, our government has been bought and paid for by foreign corporations, and our homeland is a dumping ground for toxic waste, but until we have air-conditioners and high university graduation rates, we’re just not gonna do a thing about it…”

Granted, having a good education helps. Granted, it’s easier to fight injustice when you don’t have to decide between the picket line and putting food on your family’s plates. Granted, it’s easier to even just have plates to put food on- but let’s face it, you don’t need a PhD to know that you’re being screwed over.

And the reverse arguments aren’t much better. There are those out there who insist that all attempts at revolutionary activity in America and the West are pointless because “there’s no real working class in the first-world”.

Obviously that’s nonsense. Yes, the standard of living in the West is much higher than it is in the rest of the world, but that hardly means there isn’t a Western proletariat, or that they don’t struggle to survive on a daily basis.

“Just look at that decadence…”

I dare you- dare you- to walk through Detroit, Sioux County, Ziebach County, or Appalachia and tell those people that they just have it too well to have “revolutionary potential”.

A wood stove and a plastic bag for a trash bin? Lap of luxury is what that is!

Let’s be serious- if someone wants to join the struggle against Capitalism, do we really care whether he or she is from an industrialized or rural community? Do we really care whether they were born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti or Athens, Georgia? Do we really care whether or not they had enough cash to fix their roof after a bad storm?

A Red Flag Does Not A Communist Make:

Despite our best efforts, every once in a while it happens- some idiot professing to be a Marxist tries to make some passionate defense for North Korea. It doesn’t happen much, but that fact that it happens at all is troubling. The various tendencies of Communism do have their differences, but one thing we should all hold in common is that the Kim dynasty is. not. Communist.

Helpful Hint: When absolute power is held indefinitely, and passed down from father to son for three generations, it’s called a “Monarchy“…

Not too long ago, I ran into a would-be apologist for North Korea- though considering he was fourteen, whether or not he was into Communism simply for the furry hats was unclear. Despite pointing out that North Korea had become something akin to the lovechild of an divinely mandated monarchy and a military junta, and that a perpetual disgrace to true Communists everywhere, this kid continued to insist that the DPRK was the sole bastion of Marxism in an otherwise degenerate Capitalist world. Short of North Korea hauling down their red-flags and pulling the stars off their buildings, nothing would convince him otherwise.

Now this is an issue in Communism. Even though most every Communist will agree that North Korea is a brutal dictatorship and corruption of socialism, the same basic issue is at play in support for other countries. This was, in fact, one of my first major issues with Communism- having encountered it during the days of Iran’s ill-fated “Green Revolution”, following outrage at the alleged rigging of the 2009 elections. At the time, Ahmadinejad had the support of many leftists- and considering the past (near) decade of the Bush doctrine, I wasn’t all the surprised. The issue of imperialism was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and the consensus many came to was that Iran, while definitely not a socialist paradise, wasn’t without justification in taking an “anti-imperialist” stance. My own conclusion was that “Hey, you can’t force change on people- if there’s anything to learned from Iraq, it’s that. If the people want to change things, then they’ll do it, and they’re they only ones who can or should do it.”

Which is of course, just what they attempted to do in 2009.

Now I thought to myself “Hey, they feel cheated. They feel that there self-determination has been taken from them- if it’s the will of the masses, let it be so.” I also thought to myself that most Communists would feel they same.

I was in for a nasty surprise.

Rather than cheering the people on, most of the blogs and commentary made by the left were in favor of Ahmadinejad, calling the rebels tools of imperialism and the West. Considering that Mousavi’s foreign policy was more or less identical to Ahmadinejad, that didn’t make much sense to me, but nevertheless, that was the response. I tried questioning it, but the single reply was always a chorus of “Anti-Imperialism!”.

With the current conflict in Syria (where I grew up), I’ve found the same pattern. Rather than supporting the rebels, again there has arisen a near-universal show of support of Assad and again claim “Anti-Imperialism” as their justification.

Let’s clear up why this irks me so much.

First, oppression is oppression, regardless of whose doing it. When you’re having your freedom stripped from you, does it matter where the tyrant comes from. Is coercion less heinous for being committed by a compatriot? Is inequality less unequal if it comes from your own government? Clearly not.

Second, this justification makes the assumption that the regime in question is the sole thing standing between the people and a colonization. It makes the assumption that the people have no investment in protecting themselves from imperialism, that they’re incapable of defending themselves from foreign exploitation. It makes the assumption that the people are simply ignorant sheep who will fold to any Western pressure. How Communists can rationalize such a deeply elitist and condescending view is a mystery to me.

Third, the assumption that the rebels are either (1) Western puppets or (2) militant, theocratic Muslims. The idea that the people might actually have some reasonable grievances they want addressed is simply “out of the question”. Again, this is a severely disturbing perspective- I’m not saying that Western puppets or theocratic don’t exist- my complaint here is that this third possibility is never even considered.

Fourth and finally, the greater assumption made here is that anti-imperialism is the sole issue at hand. A dictator can brutalize and pillage his own people, but so long as he takes an “Anti-Imperialist” stance, he merits the support of the left.

If only that were the case. Truth of the matter is, a dictator can brutalize and pillage his own people, but so long as he takes an “Anti-Imperialist” stance against the west. Forgetting Russian or Chinese foreign interests and intervention, just so long as the regime in question isn’t generally cooperative with America or Europe, all is forgiven. It’s like giving a neighbor who’s a wife-beater and an abusive father a free pass because he dislikes the same guy you dislike.

That’s all this is, really. This so-called “anti-imperialist” stance has nothing to do with protecting a people from neo-colonization and globalization, it’s about giving the US the finger. This isn’t Communism- this is simply arrogance at the expense of the people in question. To quote one of my favorite artists:

My revolution is born out of love for my people, not hatred for others.

Seriously, look this guy up…

Look, a few social programs does and opposition to the US does not make a nation “socialist” or worth defending- if that was the criteria, we’d have to support Nazi Germany for their social programs and opposition to America. Support from Communists should never be for a government– it should be for a people. And it should definitely be given simply to put down someone else- which brings me to my final topic…

What Can Communism do for US?

This final criticism is directed more or less exclusively at the Communist movement in the US, though I’d imagine a similar issue may exist in Britain. You see, a lot of the American Communist movement’s energy seems to be directed towards addressing foreign policy- and there’s nothing wrong with that. Palestine, the global antifascist struggle, exploitation of workers overseas, antiwar protests- these are not merely good, but essential to creating, maintaining, and advancing unity among the left around the globe. That said, I can’t help but sometimes feel the issues at home are being forgotten.

Back when I was searching for a party to join, something I noticed was that while most every group had a distinct and clear set of demands for foreign policy, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of addressing the issues of the American proletariat. I know these aren’t the days of the labor struggle, but there’s got to be more to be done. When some poor farmer asks what Communism can do for him, he’s not looking down the road- he’s got kids to feed and bills to pay, and he’s looking for an immediate and tangible reason to back the far left. Simply responding “We’re gonna cut the military budget and raise taxes on the rich” is all good and well, but short of both the Republicans and Democrats forgetting to file some important paperwork, there’s no way Marxists will win a major election in the US anytime soon and these people know it. Again, we need to reinvest our efforts into figuring out how we can improve the conditions of the working class without having power handed to us on a silver platter. How can I, using the limited tools and resources afforded to me, make a difference for myself and my community?

(Lest I be called a hypocrite, I do have some of my own ideas, but that’s for another post…)

11
Feb
12

A Communist’s Criticisms of Communism (Part II): Academia

Vladimir Lenin, in his What Is To Be Done? states that “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”.

I’m not going to argue with that. Despite the piteous cry many self-proclaimed “anarchists” might make, the simple fact of the matter is that the world will not suddenly transform if enough “there’s no government like no government!” slogans get spray-painted on walls. If you’re going to change the hearts and minds of the people, and fight for the freedoms and rights of the poor and oppressed, there ought to be some basic strategy involved. I’d liken it to driving to another city. You can’t just hop in the car and hit the gas- you’re going to need to get some directions on how to get from here to there.

But this is not about “anarchists”. No, this is a post directed at the many Communists who, in trying to figure out how best to get from Point A to Point B, seem to have forgotten that we need to actually start moving.

This is one of the greatest problems with Communism today- this line of thought that holds theorizing about Communism on par with actually trying to advance Communism. Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- there’s nothing wrong with theorizing; but there’s such a thing as taking it to far.


And things have been taken way too far.

See, ask a Communist what he believes with regards to the revolution, class warfare, economic development, or the like, and he’ll talk for hours. Ask a Communist what he does, and chances are he’ll blank on an answer. I’m not trying to say that I’m better- I’m not. And I’m not saying that action is as easy as flicking a switch, activism is tough even when the cause is generally accepted, and there are plenty of Communists out there who face personal danger as a result of taking action. Nevertheless, there is a clear problem with “intellectualizing” Communism, and it is a problem that we need to address.

Intellectual Elitism:

I’d like to start off with a quick few points about the Communist “Intellectuals”, who, even if they’re not responsible for this trend, certainly do perpetuate it.

There seems to be an assumption among these Communists that because of their great knowledge of Communist theory and history, when the revolution comes they’ll be leading it, or somehow catapulted into power when Capitalism is defeated. After all, they’ve been Communists longer, understand dialectics, and have read extensively on labor theory in 1840s Prussia- why shouldn’t they be in charge? The masses will obviously recognize their superior and extensive understand of socio-politico-economic theory and patiently await the command of these intellectuals.

Yeah, right.

Now I don’t know where this attitude originated from- I don’t even think that most people who have it are aware of it. Nevertheless, there’s a palpable sense of elitism among Communists who, for whatever reason, don’t see the poor and the oppressed as equals but as (at best) brute force to be harnessed or (at worst) ignorant masses to be ruled.

Perhaps it stems from a reaction against the “Kill them gawdless commis!” response that you can sometimes find among the very people who would benefit most from Communism.

“They took our jobs!”

Or maybe it arises out of some misplaced sense of revenge. I got kicked around by life, so now it’s my- I mean, our– turn on the throne.

Sound familiar?

Again, I don’t know what the cause of this anti-Communist perspective is- and make no mistake, this attitude is the very antithesis of fundamentals of Communism. How do we combat it? In all honesty, I’m not sure. Maybe we just need to remind ourselves of the words of Che Guevara- “I am not a liberator. Liberators do not exist. The people liberate themselves.”

And while we’re bringing up, could someone explain to me exactly how having an intimate understanding of petty Communist feuds and some old Russian’s idea of how literature should be interpreted makes one an ideal candidate for leadership? Since when did knowledge of the theory of surplus value become criteria for fighting on behalf of the enslaved and exploited?

So he’s a good orator, but does he agree with Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”?

Communists need to wake up to the fact that, while there’s nothing wrong with knowing the ins and outs of our own theories, knowledge alone does not make you an effective leader, and it certainly does not somehow entitle you.

The One True Way:

Too many Marxists seem to be of the opinion that their theory is the only correct one. Now I’m not going to say that there aren’t some tendencies which are better than others, or that every style of Communism advocated is equally effective. What I am going to say, however, is that chances are your tendency isn’t absolutely and without a doubt the best technique that ever has or ever will exist.

Yeah, I’m talking to you!

You see it in the academic world, and you see it in Communism- people are convinced that theirs is the one, true way and that all other theories are hopelessly flawed. And maybe they are. Maybe. But am I the only one here who thinks that the struggle to perfect revolutionary theory has gone too far? Am I the only one who thinks that the details of how the masses liberate themselves and attain a free, equal, and just society isn’t exactly as important as, oh I don’t know, actually liberating themselves and attaining a free, equal, and just society?

“Look, if we can’t have the popular front, we’re just not going to rise up…”

It just doesn’t make sense. If you want to advocate your own perspective on how the revolution should be undertaken, good. If you want to put a lot of effort into figuring out what’s needed in the undertaking of the revolution, great. But at the end of the day, work still needs to be done to get things moving. The kid slaving away for ten cents an hour probably isn’t too picky about how efficiently the revolution is done. Take Che Guevara, for example. Guevara was a Maoist, and yet most every Communist from every tendency hails Che as a hero. Is this because they agree with Che’s theories? No, it’s because Che accomplished things.

Misplaced Priorities:

One last time I’ll say it; there’s nothing wrong with studying Marxism. However, we have to understand that as of this moment, our priorities are terribly misplaced. Now I’ve mentioned in a previous post a podcast I listen to- the various lectures of the annual Socialism Conference, held in Chicago and in Oakland. Don’t get me wrong- I enjoy these lectures, but as much as I appreciate them, I’m always left wishing that just for once, they’d cover something actually relevant to me.

A step-by-step discussion of Rosa Luxemburg’s childhood isn’t the most helpful information out there…

Too often the most “relevant” information offered to young Communists such as myself is either discussion of past events (which we can only do so much with) or the rehashing of the basic “Capitalism is evil! The state is oppressive!” slogans we’ve been fed ad nasuem. Am I the only one here who wants to hear how to effectively protest from a veteran protestor? Am I the only one who wants to know about community organization from an old Black Panther? Does anyone else want to know when a cop is just trying to take advantage of your ignorance, and when they actually have a real threat? Farming? Direct action? Use of local politics and reforms? Can we at least be talking about these things? I am not, I repeat, am not ok with letting Communism turn into nothing more than a mental exercise, and a pointless one at that.

Yes, Lenin said “Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement”, but I want to add this caveat.

Revolutionary theory is only as good as the revolution is produces.

03
Feb
12

A Communist’s Criticism of Communism (Part I)

I’ve been wanting to do a series of posts on the subject of (what I believe to be) the flaws and failures of contemporary Communism and the radical Left as a whole. Before getting into it, however, I’d like to first offer this explanation. While I’m planning on referencing groups/parties/organizations/etc. in my criticisms, this is by no means meant to be a personal attack- I’m merely attempting to offer concrete examples of problems that I believe to be prevalent in our movement as a whole. Further, this are all simply my own, personal observations- if you believe that I’ve got something wrong, or if I need correction on a certain point, or even if you’d like to add something yourself- by all means, just shoot me a comment.

 

That said, let’s begin.

 

 

13
Jan
12

Arguments for Communism

A while ago, I wrote a post listing brief counterarguments to the claims usually used to “disprove” Communism. To this day, it’s been one of the most read pieces I’ve written, so I thought it might be time to expand it a bit. Written below are the most common arguments people use against Communism, and my responses to them.

 

Communism Has Been “Tried and Failed”:

The problem with this commonly used argument is that more or less everything has been tried and failed. Take democracy for example. Can I argue that democracy is a futile endeavor because it failed not once but multiple times it was tried?

"I propose we write really depressing plays!"

If I recall, democracy didn’t work for the Athenians.

"I propose we totally rip off of the Greeks!"

And the republic didn’t exactly wind up being a lasting facet of Roman society.

Even in America, democratic government needed to be reworked- but despite the many failed attempts at democracy, the idea that anyone today would want anything other than a democracy is laughable. Let’s keep this in perspective before claiming that Communism was tried once and should now be abandoned for all time.

 

Communism is “Great on Paper”:

I’m particularly irked by this argument because most everything is “great on paper”! Now there’s no real response to the whole “Communism is great on paper but doesn’t work in application” because of how broad it is. Really, it’s more of a prefix to an argument (such as the ones below), and any response is going to have to be more specific. Still, if you really do need an immediate response, simply point out that egalitarian, classless societies that shared work and held common property have existed since the beginning of time.

Remember us?

Communism Conflicts with Human Nature:

I’ve found this line of reasoning especially prevalent among religious groups, and while you could debate whether or not humans are basically good or bad till the end of time, there is an argument you can use in defense of Communism even if humans are inherently evil (which, for the record, I myself believe).

 

Now the argument tends to go “If humans were also basically good, Communism would work. But humans are basically bad- that’s why Capitalism works. Capitalism takes humanity’s evil nature into account.”

 

See, this argument is just ridiculous- first, if humans were basically good, we wouldn’t even be having to bring up Communism to begin with. Second, Capitalism doesn’t so much “take humanity’s evil nature into account” at it does reward it. Greed, deception, selfishness, reckless individualism, decadence, and the like- these are all things that Capitalism not only makes excuses for, but encourages! If we’re going to base our economics on the concept that greed is acceptable, should we then base our legal system on the concept that perjury, harassment, and murder are acceptable?

There's actually a big market for furniture made from human skin...

Just because humans are naturally bad doesn’t mean we should base our entire society around the hopes that they’ll act badly.

 

Communism Is Against Religion:

Let’s face facts- Marx was an atheist, as were many prominent Communists. However, to assume that Communism and religion are opposed would be wrong- indeed, if you take a look at what Marx wrote about religion, you’ll find his issues weren’t so much with faith, as the use of religion by the powerful for control, and the use of religion by the powerless as an excuse for not taking action. In reality, even Communists who would describe themselves as “anti-theist” almost universally hold to the belief that what you believe (or don’t believe) is your own business. On the other end of the spectrum, you will in fact find Christian Communism, liberation theology, and social justice movements arguing that it is not Communism but Capitalism that is antithetical to the basic principals of religion.

Totally what Jesus had in mind...

Communism is Against Democracy:

My response to this accusation is two pronged- first, we need to point out that not all Communist leaders seized power, most prominent among Marxists democratically elected to power was Chilean president Salvador Allende, who lost his life in a CIA-backed military coup. Second, while there were dictators who claimed to be Communist, these men were Marxists in about the same way that the propagators of the Spanish Inquisition were Christian. Take a look at the writings of Marx or Engels or Luxembourg and you’ll see the demands for power to be put in the hands of the people, not the party chairman or head of the military. Communism believes in democracy- it is with Capitalism that democracy doesn’t mesh so well. Democracy is meant to be a system in which all have equal power. However, in a system where money is power, any inequality in wealth is going to mean an inequality in influence over government. The wealthy man can hire lobbyists, give campaign contributions, fund advertising, hire people to smear his opponents, and so on (and let’s not forget the straight-up bribe). Is that equality? Let’s take a look at what democracy looks like in the US.

Not exactly faith-inspiring is it?

Planned Economies Aren’t Efficient:

It’s not a common argument, but every once in a while you’ll run into someone with a penchant for economics who’ll take this line of argument. They state “Hey, there’s no way a planned economy will work unless you’re always over producing ______ or trying to catch up to the demand for ______. It’s inefficient.”

 

Now you can probably argue exactly how a planned economy could work- and that’s a debate for another time. The easiest response to this argument is to point out that Capitalism isn’t exactly efficient either. When someone can take natural resources, use them to create a product, and finding that the market for novelty sumo tables doesn’t actually exist, be stuck with a warehouse full of the stuff, you can’t exactly assert Capitalism doesn’t have just as much potential to be wasteful.

All this and more garbage available from SkyMall!

Society Won’t Function Without the Free Market:

Another argument sometimes used by the economically minded is that the only way for society to function is through the natural process of supply and demand. Now my response to this is to use my own conditions- unless you attend a college set in an extremely rural area, I’m geussing you won’t be able to use the exact same points, but hopefully you’ll be able to use the basic logic behind them.

 

Now as I said, I attend a college surrounded by miles of forest and not much else. There is a massive demand for theaters, restaurants, shops, grocery markets, and other diversions, yet nothing happens. See, what the acolytes of the infallible system of supply and demand don’t realize is that supply and demand is like fate- it only works in retrospect. Yes, demand is met (or else, it moves elsewhere), but how long and how much do you have to demand for a product or service before it shows up? There’s no standard, no pattern, no system. Things were either meant to be or not meant to be- all in all, the whole “supply and demand will answer everything” stance taken by some really can’t be held.

Communism is Against My “Right” to Private Property:

You ever see ads for buying a star, or property on the moon? You laugh at it- maybe you’ll think it’s a nice sentiment- but at the end of the day you don’t take it seriously. After all, the moon and stars can’t be bought because they’re not anyone’s to sell. It all makes about as much sense as buying a cubic foot of air from a man named Steve. Steve can’t actually give you a cubic foot of air, can’t prevent you from moving through said cubic foot of air, and has no way of owning a cubic foot of air to begin with.

Yet we view land (and private property, made from resources from land) as a sacred right. Why? Land is just land- land didn’t belong to anyone until some neanderthal took up a club and declared that all dirt between points A, B, C, and D were his and his alone. Yet today if I were to attempt to do the same thing and claim that all within an invisible border belongs to me and no one else, I would be called a thief. That’s the origin of this so-called “right”, someone in the distant past just took it, and because of this, you can “buy” a plot of land, never use it for anything, and yet have every right to keep anyone from living there. That’s just not rational- the world belongs to everyone, and you can only “own” property in as much as you can be the one currently using it.

Communism Is Against Prosperity:

Come one- you don’t have to be a Communist to recognize that we can’t live in decadence and luxury. Communism isn’t against prosperity, but it is against mindless excess. Private jets, whaleskin leather seats for you SUV (look it up), imported caviar with every meal- there’s no way that we can live like this- the planet is having a hard enough time keeping up with current rates of consumption as it is. Further, let’s not imagine for a moment that fast cars and big houses are what make a life worth living. Freedom, dignity, peace, equality- I’d take that over a gold plated BMW any day.

If You’re a Communist, Why Aren’t You Poor?

The inbred cousin of the question of “Why can’t I be stinking rich?” is the question “Why aren’t you desperately poor?”.  Now I’ve touched on this question before, but it comes up a bit and I’ll try to address it here as well. We might not believe in decadence, but we don’t want people to be poor either- that’s not what Communism is about. Equality in wealth will mean the end of millionaires and billionaires, but for countless people across the planet, the standard of living will dramatically increase. We aren’t poor because we’re not supposed to be poor- no one is!

We’re not big fans of either extreme…

Big Government Doesn’t Work:

We couldn’t agree more. Communists don’t believe in big government, we believe in collectives,  communes, and communities working on a local level to address problems and issues unique to them. If they choose to band together for whatever reason, they may of course do so, but at the end of the day, we do not believe in the state. Even Lenin, a Communist who was about as “big government” as Marxists get, called for the abolition of the state. Communism is about power to the people, not the politician.

Communism  Has Killed Millions:

Here’s the big one.

Now if you’ll take a look at the texts of Communism, nowhere will you find anyone say “By the way, you should totally purge entire sections of your population”, yet nevertheless, it cannot be denied that millions are dead at the hands of “Communists”.

That’s “Communists” in quotation marks- you see, mass murder reflects on the ideals of Communism in about the same way that (as I’ve said above) the Spanish Inquisition reflects the ideals of Christianity. Let’s face it, people will use any justification for their actions. The men who killed in the name of Communism only used Communism as a facade for their own agendas. After all…

The Tuskegee Spyhilis experiments did nothing to treat African American farmers the researchers knew were infected, and did so  in the name of science, but exactly how is (secretly) giving someone a disease reflective of the goals of science?

And the reign of terror- was this the product of enlightenment and reason?

And is this democracy?

People kill people- that’s the sad truth. Communism has nothing to do with it.

02
Jan
12

Podcasts for Leftists

Once again I’m putting off writing on a more difficult subject, so I’ve written up three brief reviews of podcasts you benefit from. All are free from iTunes, though I believe you can also download audio files directly from the various host websites.

 

Socialism Conference:

Every year, the ISO helps in the hosting of two major conferences for revolutionary socialists in the cities of Chicago and Oakland (both historically significant cities for the left, but more on that later). Covering a wide range of topics, the conference speakers offer insightful and informative lectures on such issues as the victories and defeats of Marxism in the US, the ever growing problem of mass incarcerations, the Palestinian freedom struggle, feminism, culture, and international politics. I would personally recommend the 2010 Oakland conference lecture “Legal Lynching in America”, in which family members of Oscar Grant, a young man murdered at the hands of the police, call for justice. “Breaking the Siege of Gaza” is also well worth listening to, as the speakers were actually participants in the tragically ill-fated first Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

If there’s criticism to be had of the Socialism Conference lectures, it’s that they, like much contemporary Communist dialogue, tend to be based in analysis of the past, rather than focusing on application. That said, the analysis is great.

 

Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Radio Essays:

Incarcerated Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal has, with the help of Prison Radio (a site well worth visiting), been putting out three minute essays on his views on current events, politics, economics, culture (with a soft spot for music), and history, generally focusing on the struggle of African Americans. His involvement in the radical leftist movement, as well as his thirty years experience inside the prison system, serve to bolster his challenging, simply-stated perspectives. Many times I find myself wondering how it is that Mumia, in solitary confinement, is able to speak with greater authority and accuracy on the state of the world than most pundits and politicians.

If there’s a downside to these podcasts, it’s that they leave you wanting more.

 

I hesitate to add “Occupy the Airwaves”, only because I myself have yet to make up my mind about it. A collection of interviews with various OWS members (primarily in California), “Occupy the Airwaves” was created to give people who have yet to make up their minds about the movement a chance to hear some of the backgrounds, perspectives, and demands of the protestors, hopefully raising greater support for the movement as a whole.

 

Now while these podcasts (at least, the five I’ve listened to so far) are informative and interesting, I do often myself frustrated with the host who consciously avoids interviewing what he calls “the regular suspects”, that is, “veteran” protestors (not to be confused with protestors who are veterans, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive). His reasoning for this is that his target audience is one that will be moved to action through seeing “normal” people for whom the OWS movement is their first protest, allowing the listens to relate. Of course, the problem I have with this is that (1) it’s making that assumption that the protestors who demonstrated at the WTO or G12 meetings are not normal or sympathetic, and (2) that a hefty portion of those who have both planned and attended the OWS movement are not being able to voice their own (more radical) views. In the host’s defense, he has interviewed one anarchist, and while I was initially hoping to hear more from the far-left, I’ll take what I can get.

 

Is it a revolutionary podcast? Not at all- the host has a strange obsession with political philosophy John Rawls that, frankly, isn’t an answer to the root problem of inequality and injustice. That said, Occupy the Airwaves is professionally done, and while I certainly don’t agree with the perspectives of the host, it still merits looking into.

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.

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?

18
Aug
11

Joining The Party: SPUSA VS. ISO VS. Socialist Action (Part VIII)

It’s been a long time coming, but round two of eliminations has begun. No, the ISO still hasn’t gotten back to me, but since I’ll be looking primarily at the structural aspects. I might find something here that pushes me to make a final decision.

Now since the ideological side of things has been more or less taken care of, I’ll be focusing on five key elements: party size, electoral involvement, activism, membership expectations, and resources.

So let’s get right to it.

 

Party Size:

Let’s face it, size matters. While a small party certainly offers one the chance to be (more easily) heard and to make a name for oneself, ultimately, a party’s clout comes from the number of members. The larger the party, the more voters, the more activists, the more opinions and ideas. Bottom line- big is (almost always) better.

Socialist Party USA:

  • Roughly 1000 due-paying members

International Socialist Organization:

  • Roughly 1000 due-paying members

Socialist Action:

  • Between 200-300 due-paying members

The Winner:

SPUSA and ISO tie.

 

Electoral Involvement:I don’t believe that elections are the answer to the problems we’re facing. Ultimately, winning every seat in government isn’t (as Rosa Luxemburg pointed out) the answer- change has to happen from the bottom up, not from the top down. Revolution, not regulation. Power to the people, not the polticians.

 

You know the slogans.

 

But that said, I don’t believe, as some leftists do, that getting involved in elections is pointless. Far from it. Sure elected officials might not be able to solve the issues we’re confronted with, but they can certainly fight on behalf of the workers, the poor, the homeless, and the oppressed. So naturally, I’ll have to examine the three parties’ track records when it comes to (1) involvement in the political system and (2) general success.

Socialist Party USA:

  • Submits party candidates
  • Has had success in local elections

International Socialist Organization:

  • Does not submit party candidates
  • Has backed Democrat Ralph Nader’s 2004 campaign

Socialist Action:

  • Submits party candidates

The Winner:

SPUSA.

 

Activism:

I said “big is (almost always) better”, however, I was careful to add the “almost” bit. While size is important to a party, it is so only in relation to activism. At the end of the day, it’s better to be part of a tiny party that’s actually involved in the struggle, than tied to massive party that doesn’t actually do anything. For the activism aspect, we have to take both the range of issues confronted by the parties and the level on which they engage those issues. A good sense of balance is needed here- we can’t be immersed in only a single cause, or only nominally confronting a vast array of problems.

 

Socialist Party USA:

  • Engaged in a wide array of campaigns in the US.

International Socialist Organization:

  • Engaged in a wide array of campaigns in the US and internationally.

Socialist Action:

  • Engaged in a wide array of campaigns in the US.
  • Supportive of, though not directly involved in, international campaigns.

The Winner:

ISO.

 

Membership Expectations:

Essentially, we need to take into account what the party expects of it’s members. This can mean membership dues, recruitment initiatives, fundraising, involvement within the party, and so on. And to be perfectly honest, it’s tough to gauge any of this without actually being a member of the party, but let’s work with what we have.

 

Socialist Party USA:

  • Membership dues vary, but tend to be relatively cheap. As a student, I would only have to pay 15 dollars annually.
  • Members are encouraged, but not required, to volunteer to support the party, both financially and through individual talents (there’s currently a call out for technological and editorial service).

International Socialist Organization:

  • Membership dues are fairly steep, with a minimum payment of 240 dollars annually.

Socialist Action:

  • Membership dues are set a universal rate of 60 dollars annually.
  • Members are encouraged, but not required to, be involved in the internal workings of the party (decisions are made via direct democracy).

The Winner:

SPUSA.

 

Resources:

Any political party or organization is meant to be a give and take. As much as individual members need to contribute to the party, the party, in turn, needs to be helping individuals. Of course, joining any party offers the immediate benefits of being able to communicate and network with other revolutionaries, and the ability to vote and voice opinions within the party, so we’ll just leave those as given. What I’m looking for here is something that makes a party stand out- a service or an opportunity that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to find.

Socialist Party USA:

  • Membership includes a subscription to the SPUSA publications The Socialist, Socialist Women, and the local SPUSA newsletter.
  • Access the SPUSA internal discussion e-mail list, Hammer & Tongs

International Socialist Organization:

  • I was unable to find any. Think ISO members might get discounts on Haymarket Publication books, but I’m not sure.

Socialist Action:

  • Extensive say in the internal affairs of the party (against, SA functions as a direct democracy).
  • Due the party’s small size, there is (potentially) the chance to be directly involved in the party structure.

The Winner:

SPUSA.

 

Total Score:

SPUSA- 4, ISO-2, Socialist Action- 0.

SPUSA it is then.

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.