Posts Tagged ‘Marxism

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…)

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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.

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.

28
Dec
11

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

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

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

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

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

Not exclusively, anyways...

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

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

This sign must drive OCD protesters crazy...

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

…Or offer basic medical care…

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

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