Monday, June 25, 2007

Socialism 2007

Socialist Worker also covers the ISO event Socialism 2007 in Socialism for the 21st century by Nicole Colson June 22, 2007
AROUND 1,000 activists from across the U.S. and beyond turned out in Chicago June 14-17 for Socialism 2007, organized around the slogan “Socialism for the 21st Century.”

The conference, sponsored by the Center for Economic Research and Social Change, publisher of Haymarket Books and the International Socialist Review, and the International Socialist Organization, publisher of Socialist Worker, brought together some of the most important voices on the left for three full days of debate and discussion about the way forward for building the left in the U.S.

This year’s participants included people on the front lines of some of today’s most important struggles--from members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) and Gold Star Families for Peace, to activists for immigrant rights and those fighting the death penalty,
Left-wing journalists and authors John Pilger, Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill, Jeffrey St. Clair, Ron Jacobs and Josh Frank were on hand to represent the voices that are rarely heard in mainstream media--and debate and discuss the fight to rebuild the left.

IVAW members Camilo Mejía, Kelly Dougherty, Garett Reppenhagen, Martin Smith and Chanan Suárez Diaz spoke about fight to build the antiwar movement among soldiers and veterans.

In a meeting on the fight for social justice among athletes, radical sportswriter Dave Zirin stood alongside former NFL player Anthony Prior and Dr. John Carlos, who raised the Black power salute at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

“It’s been such a great weekend,” said Chicago activist Mario Garcia. “I think it’s great when you get people from all over the country--to hear the debates and what the fight is like where they are.”

Dr. Dahlia Wasfi, who has family living in Iraq, speaks out about the impact of war and occupation on the lives of ordinary Iraqis. “This is my first socialism conference, and I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to come,” she said.

“I wish my family could know what’s going on here, because they’re at the point now where my cousins have known nothing but war and occupation their whole lives. This is the worst it has ever been for them, and I hear them starting to lose hope.

“And even though this weekend doesn’t bring them more electricity, and it doesn’t bring them more water, I just wish they could know the compassion that I’ve received here for them and will send back to them.”

There's also PANEL DISCUSSION FROM SOCIALISM 2007: Confronting empire including speakers John Pilger, and More Voices with excerpts from some of the other talks.


US Socialist Worker June 22nd

The American Socialist Worker leads on Michael Moore's Sicko with Who’s killing health care in America?

NANCY WELCH looks at the causes of the health care crisis depicted in Michael Moore’s Sicko.
AS MICHAEL Moore’s Sicko hits theaters, the simmering health care crisis appears headed for a boil.

The number of Americans without coverage has soared from 40 million in 2000 to upwards of 50 million today. Plus, researchers estimate that a further one-fifth of those who are insured don’t have the coverage they need for a chronic condition or catastrophic illness, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

In other words, for every member of the U.S. Senate enjoying full government-administered health coverage, 1 million Americans go entirely or mostly without.

A total of 27 corporations, classified as health care and pharmaceutical companies, rank in the Fortune 500 list of big U.S. corporations, with total revenues of more than $600 billion among them.

And that’s not counting mega-corporations like General Electric, which counts diagnostic equipment and medical financial-management systems among its many holdings--or insurance giants such as Prudential and Metlife, which peddle Medicare supplements and disability insurance among their other “products.”

The truth about U.S. health care is one most people know too well: This system isn’t “the best in the world,” with “private medicine” encouraging “innovation and change,” as George Bush boasted at a meeting of the American Hospital Association.

Instead, by innovating new ways to ration care and boost profits, this sick system causes 18,000 unnecessary deaths a year. And that’s just the annual U.S. death toll for those who have no health coverage. Moore’s new documentary tells the stories of the millions more whose health coverage doesn’t ensure adequate, affordable care.

It portrays a woman denied treatment for her ailing infant at a Los Angeles emergency room outside her HMO network. Hours later, en route to an approved hospital, the baby dies.
A Kansas City woman recounts the perpetual battle she faced to get insurers to cover her husband’s kidney cancer medicines--and their refusal to approve what might have been a life-saving bone-marrow transplant.

A couple in their mid-50s facing cancer and heart trouble is forced to sell their home and move into their daughter’s basement when the bills not covered by their HMO pile up faster than they can pay.

Such stories from Sicko aren’t the result of a few “bad apple” insurance companies and corporate hospital chains. In fact, a surveillance camera captures disoriented patients herded from a University of Southern California hospital to a homeless shelter when their coverage runs out.

Even Time’s usually churlish Richard Corliss concedes that “the HMOs and pharmaceutical companies have made billions while Americans have health care below the standard of other industrialized countries, and pay more for it.”

Sicko packs a phenomenal punch--even Fox News lauds it as “brilliant”--because, as London’s Independent puts it, “Everyone in America has a health-care horror story or knows someone who does.”

Moore apparently squanders some of that power, however, by pitting health care for U.S. citizens against health care for Guantánamo prisoners. His attempted visit to this notorious gulag could have underscored that the United States leads not in health care, but in prisons; it could turn emotion into solidarity and struggle against Washington’s twisted priorities.
Nevertheless, commentators suggest that viewers will take from footage of American patients welcomed at a Havana hospital a sound, straightforward lesson: “A poor Caribbean island, whatever its ideology, can afford health care for everyone, while we do not,” writes Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir. “The only possible conclusion is that our society has chosen not to.”

BUT HOW did this “choice”--leaving the U.S. alone among 40 industrialized nations in failing to provide universal coverage--come about?

Sicko points to 1971, when Richard Nixon speculated about the boon that health care could be for the insurance industry because “the less they give ’em, the more they make.” The 1970s were indeed a turning point. Faced with intensifying global competition and declining profits, U.S. capitalism sought new markets, turning to resources and services such as health care that had been largely outside the for-profit realm.

After Nixon, corporate health care had many more politicians to thank for its more than 30-year bonanza. In the 1980s, Congress handed out the bipartisan gifts of the Hatch-Waxman and Bayh-Dole bills, permitting drug companies to patent medicines created with federal funds and shutting out competition from lower-cost generics.

This is the reality of America’s “free-market” medicine: Spending hardly a dime on research and protected from competition, Big Pharma scoops up the drugs developed in the NIH and university labs, and reaps colossal rewards.

At the start of 1980s, Wyeth was the only drug company in the Fortune 100, with barely a toehold at 99. Today, there are four pharmaceuticals in the top 100, and two others ranked just outside.

But it was the 1990s that really fulfilled Nixon’s dream. After abandoning an attempt to implement the Democratic Party’s 40-year-old promise of a national health program, Bill Clinton gave the green light for for-profit HMOs, which helped complete U.S. health care’s corporate domination.

The result has been a full-blown crisis, made in Washington for Wall Street. As one insurance industry employee explains in Sicko: “You’re not slipping through the cracks. They made the crack and are sweeping you toward it.”

While critics who’ve caught sneak peaks widely agree that Sicko makes a convincing case against for-profit health care, some, like Time’s Richard Corliss, chide Moore for not presenting the tab for a universal, government-administered (or single-payer) program. For all the virtues of universal coverage, Corliss implies, it could prove too costly.

On the contrary, data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that countries with universal coverage, such as France, Germany, and Canada, spend at least one-fourth less of their gross domestic product--between 8 and 11 percent--on health care while keeping virtually everyone covered.

By contrast, the U.S. spends 16 percent of GDP--more than $2 trillion every year--while failing to insure or insure adequately 35 percent or more of the population.

Where does the money go? For starters, to profits--especially profits made through cutting care and marketing lifestyles. For instance, UnitedHealth Group (number 21 on Fortune’s list) reveled in earnings up 26 percent last year, while also facing racketeering charges for routinely denying patient claims.

Pfizer (39 on the Fortune 500) likewise saw its bottom line swell by 139 percent. Pfizer isn’t getting rich by inventing needed treatments for malaria or drug-resistant TB. Instead, it pushes the profit-enlarging Viagra.

A piece of every health-care dollar also goes to Republican and Democratic Party candidates, plus lobbying organizations--to keep them on corporate health care’s side.

The results are obvious. In 2003, Congress could have expanded traditional Medicare to include prescription drugs, for which the government would negotiate a reasonable price.

Instead, the 2003 Medicare Modernization Act puts no government brake on the price-gouging drug companies. What it does do is turn over a chunk of this program to for-profit insurers--which are charging, two recent studies show, 11 to 19 percent more than traditional Medicare to deliver the same care.

Now the AARP wants in on this lucrative business too, announcing in April that it would team up with UnitedHealth and Aetna to become the nation’s biggest provider of private insurance to Medicare recipients.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ALL THIS profit-making comes at a steep bureaucratic cost. A 2005 study in Health Affairs found that only 66 cents of every private-sector health-care dollar goes to medical care. Another 21 cents goes to billing paperwork--the price for extracting profit.

Compare this with the purchasing power of every public Medicare dollar: 97 cents for patient care and only 3 cents for overhead. According to Physicians for a National Health Program, we could shift everyone to a program like Medicare, scrap our current system of some 1,500 insurance plans--each with its own marketing, premiums, paperwork and money-guzzling CEO--and save $150 billion in bureaucracy every year.

When Physicians for a National Health Program’s David Himmelstein met with Hillary Clinton in the early 1990s to pitch the affordability of a national program, Clinton reportedly replied, “You make a convincing case, but where’s the power to do that?” At Himmelstein’s response--“How about the president of the United States leading a crusade of the American people?”--Clinton scoffed, then asked “for something real.”

But real grassroots forces are starting to step up to build this critical crusade. Advocacy groups like Healthcare-Now have called on activists to leaflet outside screenings of Sicko so viewers can channel their anger and ideas raised by the film to work into organizing panels, truth hearings and demonstrations.

In Hartford, Conn., activists didn't wait for Sicko. Twenty-two people, many of them from local unions, were arrested earlier this month when they refused to budge from a state capitol sit-in calling for universal health care and a single-payer program.

“This type of behavior was disruptive to the legislative process,” scolded Capitol Police Chief Michael J. Fallon. But if Sicko helps inspire many more of these disruptions, it could be just what the doctor ordered.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 15, 2007

Victor Grossman on G8 Protests

MRZine (June 15th) has a good piece on the G8 protests.

The G-8 Summit and the Provocateurs, or Coming through the Rye
by Victor Grossman
Vacationers visiting Baltic Sea beaches in the area have always loved the little small-gauge railroad affectionately called Mollie. But during the G-8 summit of presidents and premiers, Mollie was strictly reserved for those directly connected with the conference in the swank hotel at the beach. To all others it was definitely a No Go Zone. Or was supposed to be.

But on June 5 a large group of protesters defied the restrictions. Opponents of globalization, warners about atmospheric warming, supporters of the poor people of the world against the leaders of the wealthy countries outflanked police cordons and marched through fields of rye to block off the Mollie tracks for as long as they were able. Like those blocking nearby roads, they were committed to action, but to peaceful, non-violent action. Or at least most of them were.
For months, but especially for the last four or five weeks, most German media had been beating the terrorist drums, warning about the violent youngsters from across Europe who were out for trouble, and why they must be stopped. Houses were searched, computers and other equipment seized, arrests were made, and there had been an endless series of changes on where and when demonstrations were to be permitted or forbidden, especially near the miles of high fencing topped with barbed-wire surrounding the conference site and larded with state-of-the-art electronic warning systems. The changes continued up to the last moment and beyond, resulting in great confusion, near hysteria in the media, a somewhat smaller turnout than expected (80,000 showed up in the end), but a resolute decision by most protest participants to keep cool heads and not be provoked.

Among the crowd now determined to stop the Mollie were some from the so-called "Black Bloc," protesters dressed in black clothes with hoods who had not pledged to non-violent tactics, and who had been involved in tough clashes with the police on the first day of the anti-G-8 protests on Saturday. These had provided the expected giant headlines, the one-sided and exaggerated reports in most of the media. But here they seemed peaceful. The group which had crossed through the fields so dramatically wanted to avoid giving the police new opportunities to move in with their batons, water cannon, and the new big cages for arrestees.

But something was funny about four members of the black-clad contingent. One of them, possibly the leader of the little group, wore a jacket with the red logo of a music group called "Slip-Knot," popular with globalization opponents. This was unusual, since the others avoided any details which would make them easily identifiable on police videos. And then, as the line of cops took up position nearby, ready to end the blockade, it was these four who started picking up stones from between the railroad tracks and lobbing them over towards the police and shouting, "Get the bulls"! Then one of the other protesters took a good look at the young man with the logo before he had a chance to pull up his bandana mask.

"That's the same fellow who arrested me during a demonstration in Bremen last year!" he cried, and he and his friends made a grab for the four. Two of the four made it to police lines, one disappeared, but they caught the one with the red logo, presumably the leader. They did not treat him exactly gently, it must be admitted, but one of the group organizers took hold of the man, sheltering him from the crowd, and dragged him over and delivered him to the police line -- and safety.

Although this episode ended the stone throwing, the police started up with their water cannon anyway, excuse or no excuse.

This was not the only indication that the police were using agents provocateurs, but it was the clearest and most dramatic. Confronted with the facts, the authorities admitted having their men in black clothing ("fresh from the clothing store," it was claimed by protesters), but insisted stubbornly that that they had been there only to observe what was going on, not to take part or provoke trouble. The facts proved otherwise.

There were other, more violent episodes. When Greenpeace members used small inflated boats to approach the summit beach and dramatize their demands against atmospheric pollution, speedy German police boats moved in to stop them. One scene made it onto TV -- it showed a police boat turning sharply and riding right over the Greenpeace vessel, overturning it and injuring the two in the boat, who could easily have been drowned.

Other frightening images included photos of the big, open cages, reminiscent of Guantanamo, in which some of the hundreds arrested were temporarily "deposited." In the end, very few protesters could be charged with anything, and the number of injured policemen originally reported -- in the hundreds -- was also sharply reduced. But the media and the politicians had the basis for new demands that everyone in the country, first and foremost the non-citizens, be fingerprinted, photographed, documented, and controlled.

The participants in the G-8 summit, the presidents and premiers, had accomplished very little; no binding deadlines against pollution, no definite financial sums for fighting AIDS, nothing really accomplished beyond the smiling photos of Merkel, Bush, Putin, Blair, the new man Sarkozy, Abe, and the others.

And yet something had been accomplished. A very large number of organizations opposed to the policies of the wealthiest and most powerful governments, including the Merkel's German government, had joined together in a common action. They ranged from usually tame but occasionally more active grass roots groups of Greens all the way to the militant "Make Capitalism History" bloc, most of whom dressed in black. They had all camped together, demonstrated together, often sung together, sometimes with leading musicians, and had also taken part in what was called the Alternative Summit with countless meetings and discussions aimed at moving towards common policies and resistance methods. One point of debate was the degree to which action, even violent action, was tolerable: some pointed out that Bush and Blair were guilty of war crimes so terrible that throwing paving stones seemed child's play in comparison. No final agreements were made, but the scattered movements moved closer together. The potential seemed stronger than usual.

Two side notes were of interest. When Walden Bello, a sociology professor from the University of the Philippines, spoke at the opening rally, he wared that at previous protests the question of the Iraq war and a possible attack on Iran had been underestimated or ignored. The translation was not too good, but when he said something like: "We must bring the war right into this meeting," it was clear to all who heard him that he meant a discussion of the Iraq war and was not calling for violence at Heiligendamm. A news agency twisted the meaning, undoubtedly maliciously, and the media trumpeted this alleged "call for violence" to the world. The almost immediate correction by the protest organizers against the false translation and nasty interpretation was ignored for many days and then -- if noted at all -- hidden in the back pages.

A second note: the two leftwing parties, PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) and WASG (Electoral Alternative for Jobs and Social Security) were strongly represented in both the demonstrations and the Alternate Summit discussions. The PDS has not always played such an important role in similar movements in the past; but this time some of its Bundestag members and many members were closely involved and its top leaders made their positions clear in several TV talk shows. This increased level of activity would seem to be a good omen for the new party to be founded this coming weekend, when the PDS (largely East German) and the WASG (largely West German) join to form a new united party, Die Linke (The Left), which already has the careerist politicians of the Social Democratic Party, now tied into the government coalition with Merkel's Christian Democrats, desperately trying to recapture lost ground and prove that they, too, despite all appearances, are really in favor of working people's rights. It could be a hot summer.

Victor Grossman, American journalist and author, is a resident of East Berlin for many years. He is the author of Crossing the River: A Memoir of the American Left, the Cold War, and Life in East Germany (University of Massachusetts Press, 2003).


Labels: , ,

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Paul Le Blanc: Lenin's Return

Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What Is to Be Done?’ in Context, by Lars T. Lih. Leidin/Boston: Brill, 2006, 867 pages, including index. Hardcover $181.00.
James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, 1890-1928, by Bryan D. Palmer. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007. 542 pages,including index. Hardcover $50.00.
Lenin Reloaded: Toward a Politics of Truth, edited by Sebastian Budgen, Stathis Kouvelakis, and Slavoj Žižek. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007. 337 pages, including index. Hardcover $84.95, softcover $29.95.

By Paul Le Blanc
About 40 years ago, my great-uncle (now long dead) gave me an old handbill printed in red ink, issued by District 2 of the Workers Party, which proclaimed LENIN LIVES! It urged us to “Come En Masse” to Madison Square Garden to a Sunday afternoon event chaired by Ben Gitlow (a central leader of U.S. Communism who later devolved into a professional anti-Communist on the far-right), an event which included the 400-voice Freiheit Chorus, a 100-piece symphony orchestra, and speeches from William Z. Foster, C. E. Ruthenberg, Moissaye Olgin, and Jack Stachel – for an admission fee of 50 cents (not a negligible sum
in 1925) and with an exhortation at the handbill’s bottom: LONG LIVE LENINISM!

The relevance of the handbill now, in relation to these three remarkable books, is a reflection of the terrible times in which we live. Consider three films that capture aspects of our reality as we
feel our way toward the close of the new century’s first decade.

The poignant German comedy “Goodbye Lenin!” (2003) – reflecting on the beautiful, tarnished, murderously corrupted, deadeningly bureaucratized dreams of the Communism that proved so utterly unsustainable throughout Eastern Europe – shows a monstrous statue of Lenin being carried away, through the air, by a helicopter, as a stunned female Communist-idealist (herself close to premature death) watches with uncomprehending wonder.

The edgy thriller “Syriana” (2005) shows us ruthless machinations of Communism’s triumphant and relentlessly profiteering adversary, as the corporate-capitalist driven Empire “takes out” a thoughtful, progressive, radical-nationalist of an oil-rich country, perpetuating
the global exploitation and misery of millions which – in turn, thanks to the absence of revolutionary alternatives – generates suicidal fundamentalist violence.

Fast forward to the year 2027 portrayed in the uncompromising “Children of Men” (2007): in the absence of a socialist alternative (protest movements for global justice were not enough), the world has begun its downward slide into barbarism, a vast cemetery, with the final enclave of “civilization” standing as an increasingly authoritarian and exclusionary (anti-immigrant, anti-refugee) husk whose inhumanity infects many who struggle against it – but images of Lenin appear, in the midst of religious icons, in an obscure, nurturing haven of those who hope and reach for humanity’s future.

But surely the images of Lenin as nurturing hope are misplaced – even radicals agree with liberals who quote conservatives who assure us that Lenin was a monster. In his little essay on Lenin in Time/CBS News People of the Century: One Hundred Men and Women Who Shaped the Last One Hundred Years, David Remnick explains to us that the great revolutionary held a “view of man as modeling clay and sought to create a new model of human nature and behavior through social engineering of the most radical kind,” and he goes on to quote Richard Pipes that
“Bolshevism was the most audacious attempt in history to subject the entire life of a country to a master plan. It sought to sweep aside as useless rubbish the wisdom that mankind had accumulated over millennia.” Such an inhuman approach to humanity inevitably breeds
nothing but inhumanity – unless the liberal/conservative allegation is a lie.

As my book Marx, Lenin, and the Revolutionary Experience was about to be published in 2006, I was unable to shake the feeling that what I was doing in that book hardly reflected my own thoughts alone. Against what had become so standard an interpretation of Lenin, as I was writing in the post-9/11 world, it felt that dominant ideologies were being undermined by political and social crises that would be generating insurgent forces ready to connect with the ideas of the “universally” dismissed revolutionary. Perhaps, I thought, we are about to see a
Lenin revival. The appearance, at approximately the same time, of these three volumes (two of which I was able to quickly take note of on my book’s page proofs) reinforce that sense.

Taking the most recent first, Lenin Reloaded presents a remarkable set of essays by an impressive set of 21st-century intellectuals – with contents causing the working-class child in me to recoil in panic, fearing that I will be too dull-witted to understand what all these
learned people, using strange words and esoteric allusions, are saying with such apparent fluency. As I labor over what they have written, I bump into the militant young activist within me who scoffs at such “over-intellectualizing,” yet the aging scholar in me feels unable to
follow the young comrade’s impatient advice to close this book – in part because what many of these people are saying is so interesting, so strikingly put, and (yes) so mind-expanding.
Frederic Jameson, beginning with an account from Trotsky’s 1932 diary of a dream-conversation with Lenin, describes Lenin’s formidable writings as coming from a man who is unaware that he is dead –He doesn’t know that the immense social experiment he single-handedly brought into being (and which we call Soviet Communism) has come to an end. He remains full of energy, although dead, and the vituperation expended on him by the living – that he was the originator of Stalinist terror, that he was an aggressive personality full of hatred, an
authoritarian in love with power and totalitarianism, even (worst of all) the rediscoverer of the market in his NEP – none of those insults manage to confer a death, or even a second death, on him. How is it, how can it be, that he still thinks he is alive?

This imagery is an eloquent way of stating the simple premise that “Lenin still means something,” but it gains one attention, nonetheless. So does Slavoj Žižek’s description of a Slovenian Communist who led a heroic uprising in a fascist prison, an uprising that became part of the mythology of a triumphant Communist state, a state that then arrested and imprisoned the same man and assigned him to forced-labor work brigade that was creating a monument glorifying the anti-fascist uprising that he had led – “a perfect metaphor for the twists of
Stalinism.” There is Terry Eagleton’s challenging and clever essay – with wonderful turns of phrase (he describes Lenin’s Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, while defending it, as “a work in which one can hear the occasional gurgling of a man well out of his depth”). Eagleton reflects on Lenin’s much maligned notion of a “revolutionary vanguard” (commonly dismissed as the arrogant elitism of a middle-class intellectual) with this fine point:
Those members of the Citizen Army and Irish Volunteers who fought with
James Connolly against the British imperial state in the Dublin Post
Office in 1916 constituted a vanguard. But this was not because they
were middle-class intellectuals – on the contrary, they were mostly
Dublin working men and women – or because they had some innate faculty
of superior insight into human affairs, or because they were in serene
possession of the scientific laws of history. They were a vanguard
because of their relational situation – because, like the revolutionary
cultural avant-guardes in contrast with modernist coteries, they saw
themselves not as a timeless elite but as the shock troops or front
line of a mass movement. There can be no vanguard in and for itself,
as coteries are by definition in and for themselves. And a vanguard
would not be in business unless it trusted profoundly in the capacities
of ordinary people, as elites by definition disdain them.

It is hardly the case that all of these writers are in agreement with each other. Antonio Negri argues that “not only must Lenin’s thought be re-examined with energetic fidelity, but it must also be reframed – as it were – ‘beyond Lenin.’” Of course, in going beyond Lenin, Negri and co-thinker Michael Hardt presented a notion of the world, in their stimulating best-seller Empire, that argued for the obsolescence of Lenin’s classic Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. This is in stark contrast to what Georges Labica argues in this volume – “contemporary globalization is nothing other than Lenin’s ‘new imperialism,’ now reaching a still higher stage of development.” It is worth pondering how this yet “higher stage” is described:
If we finally take into account elements unknown to the old “new
imperialism,” since they simply did not exist, or at least in some
cases not on such a scale, such as the weight of debt controlled by
international monetary institutions, which has led to the ruin of an
entire continent (Africa), we have such things as the threat of nuclear
weapons, the dangers to the environment, the foreseeable shortage of
drinking water, and the general commodification that extends to the
sale of organs and the massive prostitution of children, so that we
should not be afraid to speak of a regular “criminalization of the
world economy.” The drug trade, another element previously unknown,
stands at the head of world commerce, narcotics being the commodity
with the highest rate of profit. ….

Also in these pages are prominent leaders of would-be Leninist parties, such as Alex Callinicos of the British SWP, and Daniel Bensaïd of the French LCR – capable intellectuals from substantial organizations. Callinicos articulately challenges among other things, what one might call traces of Stalinist residue among others in this volume, yet with comradely tone and with a respect for the common ground they share in relation to what has been the sterile anti-Leninist consensus. He usefully concludes his contribution with a serious-minded discussion of Lenin’s relevance to today’s Left – having to do with what he sees as 1) Lenin’s strategic analysis of capitalism, 2) his perspective of the specificity and centrality of politics, and 3) his view on the necessity of political organization. This seems remarkably consistent with points made in Bensaïd’s own distinctive essay, which concludes with the thought that "a politics without parties whatever name – movement, organization, league, party – they are given) ends up in most cases as a politics without politics: either an aimless tailism toward the spontaneity of social movements, or the worst form of elitist individualist vanguardism, or finally a repression of the political in
favor of the aesthetic or the ethical."

As suggested in Negri’s earlier-noted comments, there are those who emphasize how one can use Lenin to go beyond Lenin. In exploring Lenin’s radical engagement with Hegel of 1914-1916, Kevin Anderson comments that "by widening the orthodox Marxian notion of the revolutionary subject, he helped pave the way for later attempts to widen this still further, to embrace not only, as Lenin had begun to do, national and ethnic liberation movements, but also those of women, ecologists, gays and lesbians, and youth." At the same time, Anderson goes out of his way to stress that one can "still appreciate the many attractive features of this great revolutionary leader without in any way self-identifying as a Leninist, which in the dominant discourse usually means an adherence to his elitist concept of the vanguard party." We have noted that some of Anderson’s fellow contributors differ with him here – but none so completely as another scholar who also avoids "self-identifying as a Leninist," Lars T. Lih, who buoyantly argues (against critics like Anderson and against more than one defender in this volume) that the Lenin of the 1902 classic What Is To Be Done? – no elitist at all – got his perspectives on organization from none other than Karl Marx himself, "but more concretely and effectively from Marx as incarnated by European Social Democracy and the German SPD in particular."

All of this is interesting, and yet we happen to live in a time when, as the editors of this collection observe, "global capitalism appears to be the only game in town and the liberal-democratic system as the optimal political organization of society, [and] it has indeed become easier to imagine the end of the world than a far more modest change in the mode of production." Their response: "For us, ‘Lenin’ is not the nostalgic name for old dogmatic certainty; quite the contrary, the Lenin that we want to retrieve is the Lenin-in-becoming, the Lenin whose fundamental experience was that of being thrown into a catastrophic new constellation in which old reference points proved useless, and who was thus compelled to reinvent Marxism."

The rich, diverse contributions offered in this book – in some cases jostling aggressively against each other, while unified around the common perspective voiced by the editors – is a challenge for all serious intellectuals and activists of our time.

A limitation of Lenin Reloaded is that its essayists do not have an opportunity, between the covers of this specific volume, to demonstrate amply the virtues embodied in Lenin that are implied in their provocative, sharp-edged assertions. This cannot be said, however, about the volume that one of them has recently produced. Lars T. Lih’s Lenin Rediscovered: ‘What Is to Be Done?’ in Context, reminds me of a saying a Swedish once shard with me – "enough to choke a horse." It is massive, almost overwhelming – and yet, it is a magnificent contribution to our understanding of Lenin, Bolshevism, Marxism, and the history of the Russian revolutionary movement and of Communism. Clearly written, well-reasoned, effectively documented, it is a work that no scholar seriously examining the life and thought of Lenin will be able to ignore. More than this, it is a gift to serious political activists seeking to draw on traditions and lessons of the past in order to get present-day and future possibilities into sharper focus.

It is unfortunate that this book’s price is prohibitive for most activists, and that the sheer bulk of the volume (more than 860 pages) will be daunting for many. But those who seek to bridge the gap between serious scholarship and serious activism by helping deepen their comrades’ understanding through the development of more widely accessible educational materials will certainly want to draw on this outstanding resource.

Lih’s primary target for criticism is "a strong consensus of informed experts" who "at least from the mid-1950s" have put forward a reading of What Is To Be Done? that "has found its way into textbooks of political science and of Russian history, and, from there, into almost any secondary account that has reason to touch on Lenin. The two or three famous passages that form the textual basis of this reading are endlessly recycled from textbook to popular history to specialized monograph and back again." He sums up: "Putting all the assertions of the textbook interpretation together, we realize that WITBD is a profound theoretical and organizational innovation, the charter document of Bolshevism, and the ultimate source of Stalinism" – a set
of contentions unable to withstand this scholarly onslaught.

Lih presents a Lenin who is absolutely committed to the establishment of political democracy as essential to the struggle for and the realization of socialism, a Lenin who has immense confidence that the working class has a natural capacity for absorbing revolutionary socialist ideas and committing itself to the struggle for a radically better world, a Lenin who is determined to help build a broad working-class party with a principled socialist program flowing from a Marxist understanding of the world. He demolishes the notions that Lenin diverged qualitatively from Marx, that he distrusted the workers and their "spontaneity," that he was an elitist and an authoritarian. There is, in my opinion, a problematical feature of Lenin Rediscovered. While his primary anti-Communist target is effectively dealt with, he also has a bone to pick with how Lenin has been understood by "activists in the Trotskyist tradition" (specifically "writers such as Tony Cliff, John Molyneux and more recently Paul Le Blanc" – here referring to my 1990 book Lenin and the Revolutionary Party). The activists, he claims, have been inclined to give too much ground to the academics’ positing an elitist and authoritarian content in Lenin’s 1902 classic. While he does have some nice things to say about us, he suggests that the activists are swayed by the unfair and inaccurate anti-Lenin polemics of 1904 advanced by Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky (which are also employed by many of the academics). As I argue in a review to appear in the journal Historical Materialism, aspects of this argument strike me as too broadly put and somewhat off-base. Yet this strikes me as a minor problem within what remains a splendid achievement.

Lih is able to demonstrate, with scholarly thoroughness, that this vision is at the core of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? and other writings from the mid-1890s up to the revolutionary upsurge of 1905. Thanks to his knowledge of Russian, he is able to comb through existing English
translations to identify problematical formulations not existing in the Russian original. In fact, about one-third of the text consists of a retranslation of What Is To Be Done?, with two sections of detailed annotations – an incredible contribution by itself. He also combs through an immense quantity of other Russian-language materials that he utilizes to help bring the context of Lenin’s writings into clearer focus than ever before. For those of us laboring without Russian language skills, this in itself is a precious offering.

More than this, noting that Lenin unambiguously projected a Russian version of the German Social Democratic Party as the kind of organization to bring about socialism in Russia, Lih focuses sustained attention on the German party and its powerful influence on the Russian
Marxists. In doing this, he gives a well-merited respectful attention to the early contributions of Karl Kautsky and to his importance for the revolutionary Left, Lenin most of all.

One might argue that he "bends the stick" too far – being rather dismissive of the powerful critique of "so-called fatalistic Marxism" of the Second International advanced in the 1920s by the likes of Lukács, Korsch and Gramsci, and not being alert to the critical insights that Rosa Luxemburg and other revolutionary Marxists (Pannekoek, Riazanov, Parvus, Trotsky, Radek, Rakovsky, etc.) were developing at the time. These critical insights that found confirmation in the debacle of 1914, causing Lenin himself to revise his earlier positive judgments and to recast and sharpen his own Marxism. But a serious understanding of Lenin and the other Russian
Marxists of the early 1900s can be advanced by setting these matters aside in order to fully comprehend the understanding they had at the time of the Marxism of the Second International and of Germany Social Democracy. And as he does this, Lih helps us to see the strengths and
grandeur of these truly impressive entities.What, according to Lih, was the Leninist vision of the revolutionary party as put forward in his 1902 classic? His view of Lenin’s orientation could be summarized this way: The creation of a revolutionary workers’ party, guided by a serious-minded utilization of socialist theory and scientific analysis, drawing increasing numbers of
working people into a highly conscious struggle against all forms of oppression – this could not be expected to arise easily or spontaneously. It had to be created through the most persistent,
serious, consistent efforts of revolutionary socialists. The working class would not automatically become a force for socialist revolution, but it could develop into such a force with the assistance of a serious revolutionary workers’ party. Such a party – making past lessons, the most advanced social theory, and a broad social vision accessible to increasing numbers of workers – would be a vital component in the self-education and self-organization of the working class, helping to develop spontaneous working-class impulses toward democracy and socialism into a cohesive, well-organized, and powerful social force.

The greatest limitation in this huge study, perhaps, is that it is not three or four times as huge – that is, it stops in 1904. It needs to be extended two more decades to help us see how Lenin’s party, and his ideas, continued to evolve in ways that brought about the workers’
revolution of 1917, and what happened in the revolution’s aftermath to help transform Lenin’s party into something other than what he intended. It might be good to add the consideration of an additional ten years, to examine the further transformation of what had been the
revolutionary party of Lenin into the bureaucratic tyranny of Stalin. Those are realities that must also be understood if we are to comprehend the "Leninism of Lenin" in a manner that will be useful for those who wish to change the world for the better.

Those arguing in Lenin Reloaded that we need to consider how to translate Lenin into our own distinctive realities can do little – again because of space limitations – to illustrate what such efforts might look like. To get a sense of how some have tried to do this very thing (with complex and often mixed results, to be sure), it is worth looking at the history of the early Communist movement that arose in the week of Lenin’s revolution in Russia.

Bryan Palmer’s James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left is one of the finest books yet produced on the early Communist movement in the United States. This is not surprising given the nature of Palmer’s work to date. He was a young colleague of the
incomparable British labor historian E. P. Thompson, of whom Palmer has written a rich and insightful biography worthy of its subject. In his writing a fluid and clear literary style seems always to be matched with a searching and disciplined analytical mind. His mastery of the
secondary literature on U.S. Communism is matched by his own cutting-edge research, pushing the edge of scholarship significantly outward.

Cannon, a figure often dismissed by academics, intellectuals, and political opponents as unworthy of serious consideration. But Palmer cuts through the dismissive tangle to reveal a remarkable figure. The young Cannon was intensely active in the Socialist Party led by Eugene V. Debs and in colorful and rambunctious Wobblies – the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) – before becoming a key founder and a central leader of the early Communist Party in the United States. (Cannon’s role in the later Trotskyist movement will be the focus of a projected second volume, but what we offered here stands quite well on its own.)

The wonderful blend of literary and scholarly skills greatly enhances what Palmer is able to do for us. The first two chapters on Cannon’s boyhood – which unearth new material – are written with considerable charm, giving a sense of a boyhood reminiscent of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. Other early chapters convey a sense of what the early Socialist Party was like on the local level as Cannon was coming of age in a socialist household in Rosedale, Kansas. The young activist soon struck out on his own, attracted with many others of his generation to the rough-and-tumble revolutionary unionism of the Wobblies, and Palmer gives a marvelous on-the-ground picture of the IWW during the Progressive era in such places as New Castle, Pennsylvania, where Cannon edited a Wobbly paper and helped provide leadership in
organizing and strike struggles. Also very well done is the account of the merging of local radical streams (under the impact of World War I, government repression, and the Russian Revolution) into the early U.S. Communist movement.

The historiography of U.S. Communism has been a minefield. The contributions of Theodore Draper – in two volumes focused on the first ten years of American Communism -- long dominated the field, and this terrain was extended into the 1930s by Draper protégé, Harvey Klehr. Draper and those identifying with him strongly emphasize the decisive influence of the USSR in shaping and dominating American Communism, telling a grim story of authoritarian corruption and wasted idealism. This "traditional" orientation (compatible with traditional Cold War liberalism and more recent neo-conservatism) has been sharply challenged over the years by a very substantial and incredibly rich body of "revisionist" scholarship (compatible with "new left" and socialist perspectives). The "revisionists" have insisted on the indigenous roots of U.S. Communism and – while not denying negative influences emanating from the USSR – highlight inspiring struggles and positive contributions on American soil.

Palmer stakes out a new position in this highly contentious field. He does not allow the story of triumphant Stalinism to obliterate the fact that capitalism is an oppressive system, and that the early Communists were often insightful, creative, and heroic in confronting it – both drawing from and contributing to the rich traditions of the U.S. labor and radical movements. In contrast to many of the "revisionists," however, the story of American Communism’s subordination to the vicious Stalin dictatorship that came to dominate the USSR and the world Communist movement is no less central to Palmer’s account than it was to Draper’s.

Most historians of American Communism have focused on other periods: the first moments, when John Reed and others respond with joy and boundless optimism to the Russian Revolution of 1917; the mass struggles and growing influence of the 1930s; the shift from significant influence during World War II to the disasters of the anti-Communist Cold War era; the crisis and collapse in the wake of the revelations of Stalin’s crimes. Here we are offered a coherent and detailed story about the converging streams of vibrant labor radicalism that resulted in U.S. Communism’s beginnings, its promising initial growth in the glow of the Russian Revolution’s early promise, and its painful disorientation and corruption as the revolutionary promise of
Lenin and the Bolsheviks was replaced by the bureaucratic tyranny of the Stalin regime.

One of the great strengths of Palmer’s book is that it so effectively challenges a common misconception perpetrated by many latter-day students of U.S. Communism, to some extent beguiled by rationalizations of many who embraced the Stalinist dilution of Communism prevalent from the mid-1930s onward. According to such accounts, the U.S. Communist Party of the 1920s Communist movement was little more than a hot-bed of sterile sectarianism that was only overcome by the broad-based reformism of the later "people’s front" era. Palmer shows us, however, is that this movement represented, "for all its internal divisions, a leading edge of the labor Left, as well as an important force in defending civil rights for oppressed minorities and class-war prisoners," all in all "a momentous advance for the revolutionary Left,
albeit one that would soon stumble and eventually fall backward."

The formation of the U.S. Communist Party had been the culmination of half a century of experience since the Civil War, involving the cumulative development of a vibrant labor-radical sub-culture, and the corresponding evolution of three generations of labor-radical activists. Uneven, full of contradictions and sometimes absurdities, the Communist Party of the 1920s, with a membership fluctuating between 7000 and 12,000, exercised significant influence in labor, radical, and even liberal circles. Under William Z. Foster’s leadership, and with the assistance of Cannon and others, an influential network was created in the American Federation of Labor through the Trade Union Educational League (TUEL), to which many progressive union leaders and activists rallied. (Palmer’s critical assessment of Foster’s mis-steps and limitations provides worthwhile insights into TUEL failures.) The Party was also involved in defending human rights and civil liberties in the United States, particularly those of workers, through the International Labor Defense (ILD) that was conceived of during 1925 discussions between Cannon, his companion Rose Karsner, and the legendary IWW leader "Big Bill" Haywood. Indeed, Palmer’s book offers the first sustained examination of the ILD (which has generally been subjected to scholarly scrutiny primarily only around the Herndon and Scottsboro cases later in the 1930s). There were many other components of the Communist movement – focusing on the rights of oppressed racial and national groups, women’s rights, immigrant rights, the interests of young people and aspirations of students, the opposition to war and imperialism and militarism. Significant attention was given to educating around and building support for the Soviet Union, where many felt a bright socialist future was being built. There were a variety of publications, educational efforts, cultural activities, and more.

Describing Cannon as "a figure stamped with the unmistakable marks of the native-born proletarian agitator, [who] nevertheless cultivated relations with some of the more cosmopolitan and theoretical elements in the communist movement, such as Alexander Bittleman, just as he
rubbed shoulders with the cultural wing of the revolutionary Left, reviewing books by Mike Gold, drinking and breaking bread with the likes of Tom Tippett and Joseph Freeman, and impressing a youthfully radical Claude McKay with his acumen at a Comintern gathering in

Although rich in material on the internal workings of the Communist Party, as well as on the interesting details of Cannon’s life, this big book goes much further. Connections with larger economic, social, and cultural developments in the United States are frequently made, with
contextual explications, as well, of both national and international political realities. A discussion of the interplay between shifting dynamics within the Communist International and factional fluctuations among the early U.S. Communists is central to the latter part of the narrative (and is a key to Palmer’s own interpretation) without, however, obliterating the larger narrative. One gets a vibrant sense of problems and struggles among workers, with the importance of the
Passaic strike and the Sacco and Vanzetti case, for example, shining through – and in some cases helping to illuminate – the internal conflicts that wracked the Communist Party in the same period.

Palmer does not hold back from tackling larger issues of U.S. labor radicalism, including such questions as "why is there no socialism in the United States?" and – at least by implication – how obstacles to an effective socialist movement might be transcended. He explores the
relationship of the USSR, as opposed to indigenous traditions, to U.S. Communism, while tracing contributions of the Communist movement to social struggles and social changes in the larger society. He also gives attention to the "organization question" and how different ways of dealing with it have had a significant impact on the fortunes and effectiveness of a political organization and movement. In this last matter, he is part of the rising current of sharp-thinking left-wing
scholars who are moving well beyond the fashionable bashing of "the Leninist vanguard party" as the root of all evil. The example and influence of Lenin and the Bolsheviks are far more positive than negative in this narrative. Cannon’s stubborn adherence to the early revolutionary ideals is what gets him into trouble with the bureaucratic-authoritarian degeneration of international Communism with the advance and consolidation of the Stalin regime.

The book concludes with the decision of Cannon and a few handfuls of comrades to adhere to the Left Opposition headed by Trotsky. Their expulsion from the Communist mainstream (with even former adherents such as William Dunne and Gil Green turning against them) was
engineered by leaders of a rival faction, Jay Lovestone, Bertram D. Wolfe, and Ben Gitlow, who soon were expelled themselves for being insufficiently Stalinist, and who a couple of decades later were prominent Cold War anti-Communists. The distinguishing characteristic of Cannon and many others who rallied around Trotsky’s banner was that they would remain true to the revolutionary and working-class socialist ideals that had animated the early Communists, in the face of the incredibly more powerful and "relevant" yet incredibly more ugly forces – the totalitarian lure of Stalinism and the exploitative materialism of capitalism.

If the words "LENIN LIVES!" are to be more than rhetorical posturing, they will have to go beyond the intellectual constructions contained in essays of the eighteen intellectuals represented in Lenin Reloaded. Some of that volume’s essayists insist on this themselves. "Without revolutionary theory there is no revolutionary movement, to be sure, which at one level means no more than that you can’t have a women’s movement without the idea of feminism," Eagleton tells us. "But at the same time, according to Lenin, there is no adequate theory without revolutionary practice. Correct revolutionary theory, he insisted, assumes final shape only in close connection with the practical activity of a mass revolutionary movement."

Living "Leninism" is not encompassed in a one and a half dozen intellectuals (the number associated with this book) – they are not "the revolutionary vanguard" of which Lenin spoke, nor is an organization of 1800 activists that has simply declared itself to be so. The words "mass movement" suggests that the vanguard Lenin has in mind constitutes a more substantial, measurable percentage of the working class. My uncle’s old handbill, an artifact from the time of
which Palmer writes, reflects the fact that serious efforts to implement Lenin’s perspective were rooted in a political, social, cultural phenomenon adding up to a section (or vanguard) of the working class. This seems so alien to our own reality!

Yet long before radical academics were intoning the mantra of "race, class, and gender" and to exploring even more diverse and dynamically intersecting identities, such sensibilities could be seen (despite inadequate vocabularies and the inevitable clumsiness of beginners) within the Leninist tradition. The Workers Party of America sought to represent women as well as men, young and old and everyone in-between, workers of all colors and cultures and ethnicities, each and every person who suffered oppression under capitalism, and to draw more and
more of the working class into an independent economic, social, and political force capable of effective challenging the multi-faceted power of capitalism, and to transfer that power into the hands of the working-class majority – to allow the free development of each to become the basis for the free development of all.

"For Lenin, the knowledge that the working class can have of itself is indissolubly linked to a precise knowledge of the reciprocal relations of all classes in contemporary society, a knowledge which is not only theoretical, we should say is less theoretical than founded on the experience of politics." This according to Bensaïd, who adds: "It is through the test of practical politics that this knowledge of the reciprocal relations between classes is acquired. To paraphrase Lenin, this makes ‘our revolution’ into a ‘revolution of the whole people.’" Callinicos – challenging the notion prevalent among many activists that "the dispersal of campaigning energies serves to confuse the corporate establishment and keep it on the defensive," which he warns could lead to "confusion and exhaustion among activists" – adds that "any effective radical movement requires some means of fitting together specific grievances into some more comprehensive picture of what is wrong and how to remedy it and some systematic means of translating this vision into reality."

Smart as these leftist intellectuals are, they are not the only ones to whom such ideas are occurring. Our world is in trouble. "Mainstream" politics and the logic of the market seem unable to keep things from getting worse. Varieties of reformism, anarchism, fundamentalism
(secular as well as religious) have been tried, continue to be tried, and yet the times in which we live seem to grow more terrible. There is a growing unease, questioning, searching for new pathways of thought and action. These books, which ten or fifteen years ago might not have
been taken seriously, will today still not be read by masses of people. But what masses of people are experiencing and feeling and thinking today gives these books a greater resonance than before, and so they may find a greater "market" – a broader and more intense readership –
than before. It is even possible that these intellectual stirrings will contribute to thinking and activity among an emergent layer of activists that, in turn, could facilitate larger political shifts.
Lenin has returned, possibly to be followed by a re-emergence/revitalization of some variant (or variants) of Leninist politics. Whether this will advance struggles for human liberation, with activists learning from (not repeating) sectarian and tragic derailments of the past – this is a question that may yet become relevant.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

British strikes

Working days lost to strikes soar
By Andrew Taylor, Employment Correspondent

Financial Times
June 12 2007

The number of working days lost through strikes soared last year to the highest level since 2004 as the government faced increasing strife from public sector unions over job cuts, pay and pensions.

Total days lost rose from 157,400 in 2005 to 754,500 last year, according to figures published by the Office for National Statistics. More than 80 per cent of the days lost through strikes last year involved public sector workers.

Gordon Brown is facing a fresh round of public sector stoppages when he takes over as prime minister at the end of this month.

More than 2m civil servants, postal workers, council staff, teachers and health workers have threatened to take industrial action in a series of disputes over below-inflation pay rises, job cuts and privatisation of services. Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, the largest public sector union, and Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, representing 280,000 civil servants, have called on unions to co-ordinate industrial action to cause maximum embarrassment for Mr Brown.

The biggest single stoppage last year involved more than 1m local government workers who forced the closure of schools, libraries, local bus services, leisure centres and multi-storey car parks when they walked out for 24 hours in March over proposed changes to rules allowing staff to retire early on full pensions.

Civil servants, driving test examiners, revenue and customs staff, passport staff and national gallery employees staged a series of separate one-day strikes over job cuts and pay.
The outcome, in spite of the upsurge in public sector strikes, was still well below the number of days lost through strikes in the 1970s when an average of 12.9m days were lost annually and in the 1980s when 7.2m days a year were lost through stoppages, says the ONS. It compared with 29.47m days lost in 1979 during the "winter of discontent" and a record 162m days lost in 1926, the year of the General Strike.

Union membership, which peaked at 13.2m in 1979, when over half of all workers were members of a trade union, has fallen to fewer than 7.5m as employment in traditional manufacturing industries has declined. According to the Department of Trade and Industry only 16.6 per cent of private sector employees are members of a union compared with 58.8 per cent of public-sector employees.

Legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher, imposing lengthy and complex balloting procedures, is blamed by unions for impairing their ability to organise industrial actions. But rising affluence and increased home ownership may also have reduced members' willingness to halt work for more than a short period. Stoppages lasting for no more than 24 hours accounted for 67 per cent of all days lost through strikes last year.

Unions also appear to be using strike ballots as a negotiating tool rather than a prelude to action. Last year there were 1,341 ballots calling for strike action, of which 1,290 voted in favour of a stoppage but only 158 stoppages took place.

The result is that Britain, from having one of the worst industrial relations records among European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries, has one of the lowest number of days lost through strikes. Figures published last year by the ONS reported that the UK strike rate - the number of days lost per 1,000 workers - was the 19th lowest out of 26 nations studied in 2004.

The UK lost only 25 days a year per 1,000 workers on average between 1995 to 2004. This compared with 40 days lost in the US; 200 in Spain; 172 in Denmark; 100 in Italy, 193 in Canada and 68 in Australia. The average for the 12 EU countries for which statistics were available was 59 days and 48 days for OECD countries.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

MDS: US and 21st Century

From MRZine, June 12th.

The US and the 21st Century
by Paul Buhle, et al.
Introductory Note:

This essay is an adaptation and reworking of a historic 1963 document of the Students for a Democratic Society. Its original was mimeographed in several thousand copies and distributed jointly by the SDS National Office and the newly-created Economic Research and Action Project (ERAP). America and the New Era was intended to be a follow-up to the Port Huron Statement, but for a variety of reasons it never received the attention of the stunning, often reprinted statement of generational sensibility.

We members of the Movement for a Democratic Society, nearly 50 years later, have taken it upon ourselves to use the structure of the original document as a framework, but to insert contents appropriate for our time. We presented a much-condensed portion of it at the "Port of Providence" MDS/SDS meeting on April 15, 2007.

The following is a collective document, in the nature of the PHS and "American in the New Era." Richard Flacks did the yeoman's task of drafting the 1963 original, with help of Robert Ross and others. This version has been drafted by several MDS and SDS activists with criticisms and suggestions from Bruce Rubenstein, Jay Jurie, Penny Rosemont, Mark Rudd, and Devra Morice for MDS, Senia Barragan and Josh Russell for SDS, and a valued friend from War Times, Max Elbaum. Paul Buhle did most of the drafting and rewriting.

The New Era

We stand at the beginning of a new social movement as well the beginning of a new century. The global overreach of US strategies has created divisions in society unknown since the 1960s, in some ways unknown since the 1890s. Here, a soldier is shot to death after a fourteen-hour domestic standoff because he is driven mad by the prospect of his return to Iraq. There, casualty figures are systematically underreported, the degree of military brutalization and eco-poisoning warfare hidden as effectively, or ineffectively, as in the early years of the US invasion of Southeast Asia. In Washington, powerful forces with billions of dollars behind them (and clearly more at stake) rage against each other, hopeful of protecting Empire but blinded by their past triumphs and unable to find a way out. New SDS, with several thousand members and several hundred chapters, takes the field in the name of a newly rebellious generation, its membership reaching into community colleges and high schools far from the liberal arts limits of the 1960s, and across borders to Canada, Germany, Indonesia, and elsewhere. We also see the beginning of yet a new project: the founding of MDS, the Movement for a Democratic Society.

America and the New Era began with a similar "hope for human freedom," and trends beginning to bring an end to the Cold War Era. To summarize:

The emergence of a new Europe, from the largely collapsed, US-dominated post-Second World War Western Europe, into a vigorous society ready to compete with the US.
The emergence of the Third World, the success of the colonized world in throwing off its colonizers, at least in formal terms.
The disruption of the international communist movement, i.e., the Sino-Soviet split and the proliferation of poly-centered State Socialist economic form no longer dominated by the USSR
The obsolescence of nuclear weapons, "because it has become clear that nuclear weapons cannot effectively deter popular upsurge and forestall revolution."
The authors concluded most presciently that "no existing mode of thought, nor entrenched institution, will remain unchallenged."

Over the next quarter century, none did remain unchallenged. And yet at the end of the day, the end of the century, the System survived. The US reigned as all-out victor over the Soviet model, with post-colonial societies returned to neocolonialism (not excluding Russia, remnant of the Soviet Union), and with the supposed Chinese alternative drifting toward integration into global capitalism at every level.

The world of permanent US hegemony and permanently successful military intervention was hailed by authors as widely-quoted as the like-minded (and long-winded) Samantha Power, Vaclav Havel, and Jorge Castaneda, but it was not destined to last. This was not the end of history after all.

The acclaimed humanitarians described a world in which militant opposition to US policies had become foolish, reactionary, and downright dangerous. "Civil society" as a rationalized, militarized internationalism run from Washington, through NATO or the UN whenever possible but with no doubt as to the controlling hand, emerged as the neo-liberal ideal, the globalized corporate world economy, the day-to-day reality. Increased "diversity" of race and gender among the rich and powerful now justified the expanded operations of power. Scarcely the home to every giant corporation or legally entitled to the world's natural resources, Washington would nevertheless decide, as if it determined all moral judgments. The decent, acceptable people of the world would obey, perhaps offering minor criticisms but not actually opposing the inevitable invasions and mass bombing campaigns necessary to maintain this version of order. The protests of anti-globalization radicals in the 1999 Seattle demonstrations and elsewhere around the world were brushed aside as Luddism, deeply irrational or at most a call for minor adjustments to the emerging global system (but we now see them as the vital precursors of today's radical movements, emphatically including SDS and MDS).

No doubt, the ostensibly liberal intellectuals, like so many others, later came to regard the George W. Bush regime as a disaster, recalling with tearful nostalgia the dear, dead days of Clintonia. They, and many others like them in positions of power and prestige, are today hoping that another Clinton (or a like-minded competitor) will bring those neoliberal days back again, with a "redeployed" US military freed to assault other resource-rich or merely uncooperative nations on one pretext or another. At this writing, and if the Bush administration doesn't act first, Iran seems the most likely target for the military adventure of some future Democratic administration, though more suitable for nuclear bunker-busting than old-fashioned invasion and occupation. Nothing, in other words, has been learned that cannot be swiftly unlearned. Nor has the threat of nuclear warfare been averted; on the contrary, US moves since the collapse of the Soviet system make it more rather than less likely.

The neoliberal rhetoric of the 1990s had seemed so marvelously effective, the restless natives of various continents so easily kept under control, their leaders effectively discredited for behavior that, as it turned out, was no better or worse, bomb for bomb, pollutant for pollutant, than that of the victors. No one, or hardly anyone respectable, rose to question the use of Depleted Uranium weapons in the name of peace: these were deployed by NATO under US direction, just as Agent Orange and napalm had been applied a generation earlier by the American military, evidently Manna from Heaven, liberating the flora and fauna alike from countless millennia of natural evolution. DU, like the house-to-house sweep in Iraqi cities, like detention without charges, like rendition and torture whenever useful, above all the craving for total control of natural resources, had become the visible reality of America's policy of wars and was certain to remain so.

These illusions survive but they have been seriously damaged. The truth is out and the subservient backers of American military conquests have grown sheepish and silent on many subjects, including, at times, even the economic and social blessings of globalism under bankers' control. The events of September 11, 2001, with the crash of hijacked jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- the ultimate emblems of corporate and military power -- have badly tarnished the imperial sense of self-confidence. No longer could the disaffection of distant others be held at arm's length. Rather than engage in the sort of introspection that would reveal the role and purposes of U.S. power projected across the globe, however, these acts were quickly capitalized upon by those seeking to spread and solidify Washington's influence through the famous Shock and Awe. The strategy that can be neatly encompassed as a Patriot Act for the whole planet has, however, proved a failure, at home and abroad.

On the forty-fifth anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, then, we once again face a world in which existing modes of thought are treated by the public with contempt. Institutions both old and new seem to be threatened as they have not been since the last days of the Second World War and the late days of the 1960s. Not threatened, to be sure, by the ideology or organizations of avowed socialist beliefs and cooperative practices -- except perhaps in Venezuela and Bolivia, among somewhat wider currents in Latin America and the Caribbean including Cuba -- but threatened, nevertheless.

We are faced with the thoroughgoing exhaustion of the old models, liberal as well as conservative, socialist as well as capitalist. The golden age of confident socialism, in the first decade of the twentieth century, can be book-ended with the golden age of capitalism during the final decade of the same century. Both can now be laid to rest for their myopia, their willingness to treat most of the planet as a region for "development" rather than a moiling world of people with their own visions and their own paths forward (or backward). Both of these old forms need to be discarded.

Why did the self-confident predictions of the Marxists and equally self-certain predictions of the 1980s-90s globalizers fail so miserably?

During the first half of the twentieth century, the decline of capitalism was confidently predicted by a wide range of thinkers from left to right, its successor envisioned as some kind of State control. Reform-minded non-communists expected -- or still hoped, notwithstanding the disillusionments of European socialist support for World War One -- to see a gradual, seamless, and almost painless drift of capitalism into a social democracy. Franklin D. Roosevelt, in saving capitalism, actually encouraged social movements that improved the lives of millions and appeared to bring that promise closer. Victory over Fascism seemed to bring it yet closer. Then FDR died, however, and Harry Truman entered the White House. The Cold War began at home and abroad with a march toward total global hegemony at any cost. Labor leaders, screenwriters, even career diplomats associated with leftwing causes either abandoned their ideals or found themselves banned and discarded.

A new world of atomic bombs and Cadillacs emerged, with light weapons and Chevrolets for small-fry wars and consumers, respectively. The corrupt chief of the new AFL-CIO labor federation, George Meany, described America as a society in which everyone had a chance . . . even if the historic labor vision of a cooperative society or serious re-division of wealth had been dropped as outdated and unpleasant, and even if solutions to racial problems evidently demanded patience and government action rather than reform of unions themselves.

After the excitement and the new radicalism of the 1960s accompanied by an economic boom, the severe economic recession of the following decade seemed, for a moment, to bring back classical Marxist visions of capitalist decline. The picture afterward, and not only in the US, was something very different, pronounced by experts -- perhaps for the thousandth time -- to be the absolute refutation of Marxist, socialist, anarchist, and all radical ideas in the name of victorious economic liberalism (or neoliberalism). That prediction has proven one more illusion, even apart from the vast ecological degradation at hand. Any sensible examination of the economic picture reveals a world not truly anticipated by the wisest savant.

A recent, keen economic analysis updating a century of Marxist predictions thus notes that stagnation and sluggish growth in the old-fashioned categories of GNP and productive capacity have continued as leftwingers long predicted they would. But remarkably enough, these disappointments have not impeded profit levels, nor brought down the world's leading capitalist power, its center still situated on Wall Street. Neoliberalism, as a recent Monthly Review essay notes, is the natural ideology of a "financialized" capitalism as Keynesianism was of an earlier monopolized economic phase.

No one, neither Keynes nor Milton Friedman, had sufficiently credited the power of seemingly bottomless debt. (Marxist theorist Harry Magdoff, admitting later he had underestimated the debt effect, nonetheless came the closest to accuracy.) Nor had anyone predicted the degree of the financiers' takeover, displacing actual production with the concentration of paper. The strange contemporary conjunction -- punctuated by the Chinese State-directed bailout of Wall Street -- is an apt metaphor that marks the urgent need of fresh radical analysis of society, the social forces, and the role of a future Left.

Perhaps, and this is a grim thought, slow growth and wild speculation are locked together in a downward spiral of widening class differences and ecological decline. Making money steadily displaces the making of anything else, goods or services. Debt creation and the collaterization of debt, the magic instruments of recovery (or pseudo-recovery), demand ever taller towers of cash. These disproportions come, naturally enough, from a vast heightening of exploitation in every respect, now no longer draining only the lives of people on the planet but the earth itself. Lacking a successful challenge, they will, within two generations, have wiped out nearly every species of fish, eviscerated all but the least of rainforests, and set the planet upon a near irreversible course of global warming. The lives of suffering humanity, in the face of these threats, can only be imagined.

Just a half century ago, a few years before the founding of SDS, a manifesto of sorts declared "the whole world today lives in the shadow of . . . an ever-present self-perpetuating body" of concentrated military-industrial power and noted hopefully that "against this monster, people all over the world . . . are rebelling ever day in ways of their own invention. . . Always the aim is to regain control over their conditions of life and their relations with one another. Their strivings, their struggles, their methods have few chroniclers." These phrases were written by the followers of C.L.R. James against the background of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the short-lived creation of workers' councils (until the Russian tanks arrived), the colonial rebellions of the Third World, the civil rights movement, and the wildcat strikes of American auto workers against employers and union officials alike. What hits home now, a half century later, is that optimism has grown scarce while the struggles against the military-industrial complex and its war-making continue in ever-new forms.


What has happened, meanwhile, to us, to the social forces that we SDSers had seen as the future of our movement? It is valuable to look back at the period briefly following the collapse of Old SDS because so many of its members set themselves, in the name of "economic democracy" or more classically Marxist political formulae, to reach beyond the campus to the blue collar communities. Developments of the early 1970s, with especially intense struggles of African American workers, public workers (notably the postal employees but also teachers and other public workers), women workers in occupations that formerly had seen little militancy, such as health care, and various activities of returned veterans from a failed war -- all these and the continued surge of the Black Power movement in new forms reinforced the recent SDSers' sense of determination and also of a kind of optimism.

The terminal crisis of the Nixon administration, the sudden rise of oil prices, rents, and of interest rates with no sensible regulation induced the widespread feeling that the State had failed, and not just failed to deliver. It was the "Fiscal Crisis of the State," a favorite phrase of the time pointing altogether accurately to the eclipse of Cold War liberalism. The old formulae didn't seem to work anymore for Democrats, not even in the face of Republican disgrace. Military spending, welfare checks for the poor and assorted assistance to the middle class, consumer readiness for bigger, better products like the ever-new lines of automobiles no longer commanded the political heights. The New Right's determination to roll back 1960s gains, energetically assisted by labor leaders and erstwhile liberal intellectuals now eager for military recovery from the Vietnam debacle and lifestyle recovery from the counter-culture, was already on the move. Public savants who had proclaimed the "end of ideology" at the dawn of the 1960s now turned their guns on what passed for New Left ideology in the pages of the New York Times and the slick magazines. The organization that had vanished, SDS, remained somehow the lasting image of horror that was worse than war, worse than racism, almost worse than communism.

Here and there, meanwhile, in Chicago where Mayor Harold Washington ran the Midwest metropolis, but also in Detroit, Gary, Oakland, and scatterings of other cities, former SDSers joined other radicals in bringing left-leaning black officials into power. In the counter-culture cities such as Madison, Eugene, Burlington, later Santa Cruz and elsewhere, student protesters and their allies put forward progressive candidates and often won. These were small but not insignificant victories for activists hanging tough, finding new friends or renewing old alliances. They linked with the briefly huge and in some ways entirely effective anti-nuke campaign of the early 1980s, the ultimately effective anti-Apartheid movement aimed at South Africa's regime, the heroic but doomed support movements for Sandinistas and El Salvador's FMLN, as well as the 1988 Jesse Jackson nomination campaign, and a trove of other, less-remembered moments. Such left-leaning city governments, temporarily displacing the familiar real estate interests, expressed themselves against US global projects and created a sense of panic in high places. They also reinforced the conservative and neo-conservative determination for revenge.

Conservative religionists enraged at the Jackson campaign in New York and at feminism's growing influence sharpened their knives and looked for Great White Hopes like future police-state champion, Rudolph Giuliani, to restore moral order. Conservative labor leaders, along with rising Roman Catholic figures like the future Cardinal O'Connor, joined these campaigns and gave each other cover. A new round of CIA activities to exterminate threats (Salvador Allende of Chile was among the first, with many others to follow), to break up unstable Soviet-style societies (with Yugoslavia topping the list), destabilize popularly elected socialistic leaders like Michael Manley of Jamaica, all proceeded whether with Nixon, Ford, or Carter in the White House. The rhetoric sometimes changed, and the CIA offered fresh rationalizations for human rights abuses and war crimes. If the Iranian Revolution of 1979 marked the apparent blunder of the forces of order, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan offered a fresh opportunity to find or, if necessary, to create a US-funded winner. The real cost would come later.

In a larger sense, these moves preceded and were part of the globalization project that proceeded at ever swifter speeds during the 1980s and 1990s. Unions, long useful as stabilizing mechanisms, had by this time become increasingly unnecessary to the ruling strata and were undermined, and eventually eliminated, as obstacles to the large plan shared by most Democratic and Republican power-brokers. Social expenditures on education, healthcare, and public services, the entirety of the safety net, were to be diluted and gradually eradicated, on the installment plan. As early as the 1970s, this process gained the twinned names, "neoliberalism" and "neoconservatism," variations on the same rightward-drifting Cold War liberalism joined to more traditional conservative impulses revived by the fears of feminism, secularism, and multi-racial democracy. The bankers, gaining leverage year by year over old-fashioned capitalist producers, saw in the 1970s disorder their opportunity for a free hand . . . and took it. Labor historian (and labor activist) Peter Rachleff has summarized the consequences:

Free Trade, the right of capital to move unhindered without regulation, while labor was constrained or limited in movement.
Financialization, the power of capital to shift from one sector to another via speculation, credit, and stock manipulations, the collection of huge commissions for squeezing companies dry, adding to cash collections even while plants closed and fleets of planes or trucks stood idle.
Deregulation, marked by the deregulation of transportation in particular, with labor still regulated and capital free to take its opportunities where it can.
Commodification, the long-accepted public goods of water, electricity, telecommunications, and even air now subject to takeovers and/or deregulation, making clear that nothing could be closed off to class privilege.
Privatization, contracting out and outsourcing of government infrastructure, from the postal service to the military.
Dispossession, the displacement of farmers and whole urban neighborhoods, zones marked for commercial activity and zones marked for highways or dump sites, with winners decided by big-money deals among politicians and their patrons.
Labor cost reduction, with full-time jobs replaced by contingent and part-time labor minus benefits and protections, with longer hours, stiffer competition among employees, and more stress in every aspect of work receiving the highest accolades, and multiple family members in multiple jobs a new standard.
Social wage reduction, above all health care, now grown steadily more expensive for those who lack insurance but even for those whose deductibles race upward. Borrowing against home ownership, in response to a sharp reduction of labor costs and social wages, increases steadily as decisions are made to sacrifice one value to another.
Increased social inequality with staggering increases in the distance of the very wealthy from the very poor, with understandable anxiety or panic among those in the middle to hold on, if not advance, as promised through hard work.
The racist character of the emerging prison-industrial system, the creation of a vast nonwhite, largely but not entirely male underclass that spends much of its life behind bars or on probation (largely without the right to vote), needs particular emphasis here. Old-time segregation and discrimination stood blatantly outside the American ideals of freedom and equality and could be condemned in that manner. The new incarceration offer a drastic modification of racialization far more acceptable to all who fear for their lives and their property, not excluding the new class of wealthy nonwhite businessmen. Then, too, the domestic prison system mirrors global militarization, the well-paid and sometimes unionized guards a counterpart to the defense industry worker with the suburban home. Economic stability and growth in hundreds of communities large and small depend upon services and punishment given these inmates, just as the mortgage market of the Southwest and Northwest, among other spots, had for so long depended on ever-new generations of weaponry.

To this list should be added the pillaging of global ecology on a scale heretofore unimaginable. Under the sign of global warming, this pillaging actually intensified, with a return of nuclear power increasingly blessed but energy efficiency only winked at, and promises of reduction in greenhouse gases discussed but randomly, mostly for the purposes of putting off blame. That Brazil's worker-president, elected by the poor and backed by environmentalists, should turn around to defend investors and attack the defenders of the rapidly dwindling rainforests was, in the balance of global forces and the weakness of official morality, perhaps predictable. Just as sad as Vaclav Havel, long ago a severe critic of the automobilized society, in power and basking in the sprawl that was historic Prague, surrounded by symbols everywhere, preaching the charisma of wealth and overshadowing the remnants of a fast-fading historical city. Recycling? Rudolph Giuliani ridiculed it, and his backers guffawed at ignorant environmentalists. Species eradication? Tell it to the snow mobilers, the international investors plundering Russia's vast forests and what remains of African woodlands. Water shortages? Build up Las Vegas: someone will deal with the problem, sometime in the future. For now, profits prevail and the opinion-makers applaud.

These are all, of course, universal tendencies, their effect on display as much in post-Communist China as in the post-liberal United States. But they are experienced with an observable intensity even in the most privileged society the world has ever known. Americans seemed forever (within the short time-span of the society) to assume that empire is their natural right, their destiny, given by fate if not by the Deity. In the twenty-first century, they face a rude awakening.

The Crisis of Empire

The explosion of simultaneous crises, as leading scholar of empire William Appleman Williams noted long ago, stems from the demands for absolute planetary control. As America and the New Era already made clear, President Harry Truman's dream for total supremacy through atomic weapons was doomed whenever the nuclear club grew larger. The alternative postwar plan offered by former vice-president Henry Wallace, to cool the Soviets by peaceful coexistence and to embrace rather than reject the third world rebellions against the colonial powers, was denounced by Cold War liberals more forcefully than by traditional Republicans like Robert Taft and Herbert Hoover. Old-fashioned conservatives actually viewed military occupation of the globe as madness; Truman, but also Adlai Stevenson, his scriptwriter Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and the carefully created politician-intellectual John F. Kennedy, saw in military-industrial expansion at home and abroad a recalibrated welfare state, one in which they themselves would become prestigious and influential.

The Soviet Union and China would need to be "contained," but the restless Vietnamese and Guatemalans, among others, would need to be crushed into submission. Long before the global reach of the US military transferred from the borders of Communist states to the paths of oilfields, the alternative to nuclear intimidation had become clear.

But this, too, was an elusive dream or rather contained so many elusive dreams that would become nightmares. Russia, remnant of the Soviet Union would, in Wall Street's vision, be recreated as a virtual colony of the US, rushed forward (or backward) into capitalism through "shock therapy" guided by US economists. Thus a former leading world power was reduced to second or third world status in a matter of years, with vast differences introduced between rich and poor, social services reduced or eliminated, falling birth rates, higher mortality, and other symptoms that more closely resembled the effects of war than "transformation." The arming of the religious anti-communist rebels of Afghanistan like the crushing of Marxists at the hands of American-appointed regimes (the Shah's Iran a prime case in point) created a massive blowback, with no end in sight. For that matter, America's ever-faithful but also ever-hawkish Jewish State ally, with its big-money supporters in the US, endangered Jews (and not only in Israel) more than all the weapons in all the hands of fanatics in the world. The endless suffering of the Palestinian population and the demonization of Arab populations could bring only worse crises ahead, yet Democrats as much as Republicans deflected all efforts at changes in US Middle East policies.

Did the blood-drenched crushing of Liberation Theology's forces from Sandinista Nicaragua to deepest South America in the 1980s provide the nourishment for the martyrs as the egalitarians of Venezuela and Bolivia? Or did the policies of neoliberalism, along with a growing sense of desperation among indigenous peoples, prompt a desperate move against the US plans for total domination of daily life? Whatever the case, the end of classic Marxism as the opposite to classic capitalism redefined the oppositions. The cooperatives of indigenous groups, aided (or unaided) by elected governments opposed to the US, reflected the sentiment that had been seen decades earlier in de-centralized SDS.

From William Appleman Williams' empathetic standpoint, Americans had built their faith upon expansion of empire from the beginnings of colonization and could not imagine any other way of being. To block expansionism was to deny Americans their way of life, their very purpose: this had been Jeffersonian as much as Hamiltonian, Carteresque as well as Bushian (twice over). Were the global economic system perfectly well-set rather than fragile, had 9/11 and the succeeding wars never happened, the drive for total domination would be as great as it is today. At the end of this road (as Williams stressed about Washington's "Cuban dilemma" after the Missile Crisis that nearly blew away civilization and the whole planet) lies madness. Along that road, endless agonies, waste of global resources on weapons, the undercutting of all efforts to avoid the catastrophe of global warming, among other woes.

How much does "the average American" feel the suffering of others in less fortunate places of the planet? This question cannot now be posed with the usual pessimism or cynicism expressed after the post-1960s disappointments, because so much of this society is new, that is, renewed by a fresh influx from abroad. Immigrant-population levels have returned to those at the turn of the twentieth century, and, with them, huge sectors dispossessed, one paycheck away from the poorhouse. And, more to the point in some ways, they are linked to relatives abroad and struggling for life . . . as were the radicals of a now-gone age.

A Short History of the Old and Heroic Left

It would be too much to attempt to make an analysis of Left history on a global scale, but mistaken not to attempt to construct some framework within which the situation of an American radical movement can re-emerge. A special moment in the 1840s-60s saw abolitionism, women's rights, and pacifism predict the movements of more than a century later and offered a legitimate counterpart to the emerging class struggles in Europe and elsewhere. If the Communist Manifesto and the Paris Barricades of 1848 had any single counterpart anywhere, it was surely the Seneca Falls Convention and the declarations of Woman's Rights. Likewise, in the decade after the Civil War, Black Reconstruction of the South, with its northern supporters, held out the promise of a trans-racial democracy as the world had not known. It was, of course, a promise crushed underfoot. This first glorious, then tragic scenario offered lessons for the world, and those lessons have not lost their meaning.

The organized socialistic movements came mostly from other directions, immigrant working people of certain types, especially German-American skilled workers, their neighborhoods, their social, cultural, and labor institutions. Old World socialists, among whom were also East European Jews, and in lesser percentages Slavs, Hungarians, Italians, and other "new immigrants" who followed the Germans to the US, were determinedly atheistic and proudly part of a global movement. For them, the Yankee radicals seemed irregular as well as insufficient in numbers, given to wild schemes like attempted utopian colonies in the wilderness, emerging in political movements in spurts and then disappearing again. Yet it was Yankee radicals and African Americans who, along with handfuls of others, spearheaded the opposition to the world's ascending Empire.

A contemporary robber baron claimed, with a certain accuracy, that he could pay half the working class, so badly divided by ethnicity, race, and gender, to kill the other half. The immigrant Left, lacking all resources but numbers and location in the new, giant factories, were beaten down. The execution of the Chicago's Haymarket Martyrs, heroes of the labor struggles of the 1880s, offered a symbol of order restored. Socialistic labor leaders would be replaced by arch-racist Samuel Gompers, whose "White Label" cigars were pledged to be free from the taint of Asian fingers. A Yankee Left, this time craftsmen and farmers, schoolteachers and ministers, reappeared with the great symbol of railwayman Eugene Debs and his moral appeal for socialism in the first two decades of the new century. Since the days of Abolitionism, Women's Rights, and Black Reconstruction, the American radicals had one more new thing to add, which was destined to influence SDS widely: the Industrial Workers of the World.

Here was a cause whose creation owed much to workers' organizations and self-taught intellectuals in many parts of the world, especially those connected with the unskilled workers outside existing craft unions. The IWW, founded in 1905 in Chicago, identified itself with the immigrant, the female worker, the nonwhite worker, the free speech advocate who stood on a soap box until dragged down by the cops, the birth control agitator, the bohemian radical and future hipster who refused to accept the rules but believed in some larger sense of human solidarity. The Wobblies, as was well known, also believed in funny songs about the stupidity of the worker who loved his boss, and the preacher who told listeners to get their reward not on earth but the "Sweet By and By." The IWW had a special appeal as well to the Latino workers sympathetic to anarchism, to Japanese-American and Filipino-Americans whom existing labor movements had shunned, and to young workers too rebellious for existing organizations.

The IWW believed in something more than a change of the existing rules and better politicians in office. It wanted to abolish the offices themselves, the whole political state, and run society from below, with committees of people who did the work making all the important decisions. It was an incredibly radical idea. Their "sit-down strike" in a factory, occupying the factory instead of going outside to strike, became the strategy that won industrial unions during the 1930s.

The "sit-down" was also the forerunner of the "sit-in" by black students during the 1950s, and also of the "teach-in" of SDSers in the 1960s -- even of the counter-cultural "be-in" and "love-in." But more important, it was also the precursor and model of the peaceful occupation of university buildings and offices at the peak of the antiwar movement. The IWW taught non-violence, although sometimes it was necessary to warn the boss about the prospects of a little sabotage.

The Wobblies were crushed during the First World War. Their leaders were arrested and by a new law enacted in 1917, any immigrant could be deported, without trial, for simply associating with a Wobbly. (The obvious precursors to the Patriot Acts.) The Wobblies were the first "Enemy Aliens" of federal legislation. They were beaten, tortured, strung up, branded, and sometimes killed by mobs of American Legionnaires while the sheriffs looked on, or attacked by vigilantes sworn into official status to protect certain corporations, or infiltrated and manipulated by the agents of the new Bureau of Investigation (soon to become the FBI).

They didn't leave behind much more than a precious memory, but their interracialism, the organization of shipworkers black and white from Philadelphia, was a marker in radical history. Their legacy, in curious ways, was borne onward by the Black Nationalist impulse of Garveyism, and by the dedication of a surviving, Communist-dominated Left that made race and racism a central issue in American society.

Without the 1930s Depression, without the terrifying rise of fascism overseas, this little antiracist Left, fanatically loyal to the Soviet Union, might never have escaped isolation. The economic crisis and the urgent need for antifascist unity gave them their chance, and in forces reaching far beyond Communist Party ranks, the industrial unions assembled, the left-of-center political movements blossomed, and something else remarkable happened, with deep and lasting effects for the movements of the 1960s and beyond.

Culture, the active creation of vernacular multi-racial, democratic culture became as large an influence as the creation of any labor union or fraternal organization. "Folk music," as a vehicle for left-leaning sentiments but also a claim upon fundamental cultural legacies, emerged and grew powerful overnight. Films with dramatic realism, or escapist plots about revenge against the brutalizing system, could be seen in proliferating numbers. Radio drama waxed socially conscious, a new kind of dramatic art. World War II diluted the radicalism of these messages but also opened up media to wider democratic claims. Lacking any recognizable political message, small record companies produced music for the former rural audiences, Muddy Waters or Hank Williams, and offered new and powerful lessons about culture's claims. So did Bebopper Dizzy Gillespie with his interracial youth entourage, and the rock 'n roll disk jockeys to follow the path of LA's Johnny Otis.

The civil rights movement offered a movement of black people that became vastly more than a movement of black people. Negro Americans Take the Lead, the title of a 1964 pamphlet published by a Detroit following of Pan African leader C.L.R. James, tells the story. This was a new beginning for democracy at large, and none led it or articulated its purposes as forcefully as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was, simultaneously, an essential element of a global movement toward Black Liberation, the clearest indication that what happened in the US South (or North) echoed from the Caribbean to Mother Africa and elsewhere. Black had become Beautiful, a cultural revolution in so many ways; SNCC was to inaugurate the New Left, and the Black Panthers symbolized the redemption of the oppressed and the socially discarded.

The orthodox (or Old) Left, much reduced after 1950, still had its hopes. Staggering under disappointments, remaining Communist sympathizers saw the world going the way of Russia, only better. Or, as dissidents in their ranks believed, a world going Chinese. In either case, further revolutions would correct the faults of the Soviet-style regimes, truly liberate nonwhite peoples moving on their own destinies, and bring about a fraternity of all peoples. Some bold non-communist radicals and pacifists held out visions for a syndicalist alternative, "workers' councils" that were seen briefly in Hungary of 1956 and in Polish Solidarity almost twenty years later. Only a small handful of thinkers, barely Marxist at all, pointed toward a drastic ecological adjustment, and they were properly considered Utopians. None were vindicated by what followed in 1960, although the syndicalists, pacifists, and environmentalists were doubtless closest to the ideas of the Students for a Democratic Society.

And these, altogether, were the makers of the next generation's radical inspirations, something far outside the traditional Left, but already hinted and, without any particular ideological adjustment, adopted by the shrewdest and most open-minded radicals. The ferocity of the Red Scare, the hatred of liberal and conservative intellectuals alike for leftwing screenwriters, lyricists, and other holdouts from Cold War culture, beat back the impulses and disguised the symptoms. But for those who found their (or our) way into SDS, the markings along the way became clear in retrospect. The cultural war that had extended from film to comics would produce, as a counter-force, the desire to understand the forbidden and banished, to feel the weight of the condemned and make sense of it in its own terms. Thus Allen Ginsberg, thus Lenny Bruce, thus Little Richard, but also television's Robin Hood (written by banned writers) and Jean Genet's The Balcony (made into a stunning independent film in 1963) -- they were the counterattack by an avant-garde against the Cold War champions, conservative and liberal alike.

And now we truly have reached 1962, the year of Port Huron. Most SDSers would hardly have known what "syndicalism" signified, although they would have heard of the Industrial Workers of the World, rather vaguely. Most saw themselves as future Democrats as well as democrats, and a handful of the ambitious made no bones about being presidential advisers one future day. They were about to enter a 1960s that no one anticipated.

Perhaps there is also one decisive thread from the old SDS to here today. The counter-cultural "Age of Aquarius" may have been the larger thought somewhere within the Port Huron Statement after all. Not that one can find a single sentence in that document to support a mystical vision of the cooperative future. But the sense that modern society had hit up against its limits was very strong, the need for cooperative solutions not based upon any previous socialist idea equally strong, and the feeling that it was possible for a new generation, a young generation, to make that possibility real -- these went to the heart of the document and of SDS.

Globalized Labor -- At Home

If the heart of SDS's precursor Industrial Workers of the World was transnational working men and women seeking solidarity and going on strike together in a dozen or more different voices, neither the most radical labor savants nor SDSers foresaw the scope and implications of the post-1965 immigration.

The stream of European immigrants including those otherwise certain to be slaughtered by Hitler had been cut off in 1926, a Congressional move with the avid support of the American Federation of Labor. Some thousands of "migrant" laborers moved back and forth across the Mexican/US border, treated as peons with no legal recourse. But quotas re-set to bring groups of refugees (overwhelmingly white, with US relatives) after the Second World War dwindled down to special groups like Puerto Ricans (not immigrants at all, properly) and Cubans (the business classes admitted after Castro's Revolution). Then came the Hart-Celler Act of 1965, opening the door part way to third world immigrants. By the 1980s the trickle turned into a flood.

These were populations "seeking a better life" because their conditions had been decimated by the effects of globalization. More than eighty percent of the "undocumented" have arrived since 1980. The heaviest migration of unskilled workers came from countries occupied at some point in history by the US military, including of course, Mexico. "Free trade," historically developed in US-controlled Puerto Rico and Panama in Free Trade Zones, suspended previous protections, and opened control of these economies to corporations with few limits. Debts acquired from international loans, always set beyond repayment possibilities, provided the levers that superseded Marine invasions and worked effortlessly. Prophetically, the Mexican standard of living in real wages declined two-thirds during the 1980s, industrial wages almost by half. Plantation farming and agribusiness, across the Caribbean, drove further populations off the land. No wonder the landless peoples, reduced to desperate conditions, found their way to the US: they had no choice.

American employers acquired the lower-cost "help" that they had long desired and have made the most of it. While union jobs in manufacturing disappeared in droves and unionization of the private sector fell to less than 10%, underpaid labor in services, retail, transport, and construction shot upward. By and large, and in the face of massive propaganda to the contrary, these new Americans took jobs that no one else wanted or were geographically situated to occupy. Their massive role in providing remittances, family funds for those still in their native countries, reset regional economies but also offered reason to fear being fired for union activities.
Their participation in the Mayday 2006, "A Day Without Immigrants" demonstrations, came 120 years to the day after the Mayday demonstrations for the Eight-Hour Day in 1886, and proved no less monumental. The significance of this event has been overshadowed by the war calamity -- with relatively slight Latino participation in the antiwar mobilizations -- but offers a key to the future of any radical movement, as much for youth organizations as others. Despite the continuing heavy immigration, nearly half of members of the Latino workforce in the US are still American-born, that is to say, descendents, often the children, of Latino immigrants, a figure destined to grow rapidly inside the workforce and outside. This is the true face of a newly emerging nation.

To say that familiar social movements and institutions up to now have failed them is a vast understatement. Until 1996 and the overthrow of the super-corrupt leadership of the AFL-CIO, immigrants were shunned. Meanwhile, CIA activities in their home countries, maintaining economic and political tyrants in power, offered lucrative partnerships to American labor bosses, increasingly through the operations of the National Endowment for Democracy. In 2000, and on the verge of its own internal schism and potential near-time collapse into irrelevance, the US labor movement officially blessed the undocumented worker and began, very slowly, the effort to provide them with organization of some kind. This welcome shift was not a matter of charity but a matter of necessity for this once-powerful, now staggering set of institutions.

Ironically, SDS's supposed sympathizers within the Kennedy administration and those to whom early SDS leaders sought to ally the movement had been early architects of the whole scheme, known then as the "Alliance for Progress." That is, of course, progress toward emptying out the Latin American countryside for agribusiness and the creation of native middle classes wholly dependent upon American-style aspirations and lifestyles. Bill Clinton and his sixties-generation cohorts carried the plans a giant step further with NAFTA. Now we observe the dark side of what was euphemistically called "The New Frontier" almost fifty years ago and is truly a frontier of ecological and social devastation.

In the new century, the situation has changed utterly. In a moment of political recomposition as real as the crisis of the Republican evangelical constituency falling away from George Bush's war plans and the faking, fumbling effort of Democrats to find the voters' hot buttons, the neoliberal turncoats of the 1960s promises to restore the rigors of Empire and secure global resources for US purposes, while refurbishing a military capable of wiping out any potential rivals to those resources.

Our new immigrant population, Latino, Asian and other, is at once their victim and a vital part of a new society finding itself. The World Social Forum, heir to the antiglobalization campaigns of the 1980s, is the connective symbol of those immigrants to their relatives in Latin America most especially -- the most hopeful place in contemporary world -- but also to the world's suffering populations at large everywhere. The defense of the public sector and social benefits against the perpetual rounds of privatization and outright corporate theft had prompted a vision of a "solidarity economy," a new version of egalitarianism, successor to visions of socialism and anarchism.

In answer to the World Economic Forum and the World Trade Organization, the Seattle demonstrations of 1999, the Porto Alegre, Mumbai, Bamako, Caracas, and Karachi Social Forums have brought tens of thousands of participants engaging one another across linguistic, gender, race, and other artificial barriers. Intellectual giants, Noam Chomsky (with many links past and present to SDS) and Arundhati Roy among others -- the diametric opposite of those 1960s liberal intellectuals -- have pointed to the possibility of successful resistance and to the intellectual engagement necessary for the effort. In these, there is much in the spirit of SDS in its truest self, early and late.

No one can predict the course of the resistance with any claim to accuracy. For Latin Americans and peoples of the Caribbean, the linkage of a progressive State-based capital with local cooperatives and the renascence of indigenist claims is viewed as decisive. In an economic climate where the US military reorganizes its global occupation along lines of petroleum resources, the power of Venezuelan oil or Bolivian natural gas is a necessary counterpoint to CIA strategies and American weapons of mass destruction. Shunned and exploited for centuries, driven away from ancestral lands by the latest corporate moves (or poisoned in place, like the forest and water around them), surviving indigenous populations reach out for the last opportunities at collective salvation.

Back at home in the US, new institutional efforts such as "workers' centers" connecting immigrant workplace experiences with those in the neighborhood, recall earlier immigrant (and African American) unionization and radical movements. More than a hundred such centers, drawing on immigrants from everywhere but especially Mexico and Latin America, unite against subcontracting, sweatshops, relocated and de-unionized industries, new low-age retailers, and the informal economy. They are, seen differently, what ERAP sought to build and become but could not become -- and without the patronage of a cooptive Democratic party. They also lack what ERAP lacked, the muscle to halt production and distribution and institutional strength that only the rebuilding of the labor movement and sister movements are likely to lend.

But they are certain, if successful, to be a very different labor movement, more like the IWW, considerably more like the dreams of SDSers for a qualitatively different kind of unionism than the grim reality of the corrupt AFL-CIO of the 1960s or the splintered AFL-CIO and its rival federation of the new century. The day may have passed when the action any industrial workforce is central to social change in the United States. But the day has not passed when working people, as part of a broad coalition (and not likely to be unionized) can make a decisive difference.

"The Society We Face" -- Then and Now

America and the New Era was a document for the time, an optimistic moment despite the Bay of Pigs, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and all the continuing threats of nuclear annihilation. SDSers evidently had not fully grasped the imperial determination of the day's liberal savants in and around the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, or had perhaps carefully avoided drawing the logical conclusions that a grotesque invasion of a small country halfway across the world was about to mimic what the US had been doing in Latin America for more than a century -- with more deadly technology. That failing, and the more innocent use of the world "man" to signify humans at large, were perhaps the most obvious flaws in the document. But the Vietnam escalation, and the sudden growth of SDS to a national movement, was still two years ahead. Likewise, America and the New Era had not grappled with the rage that produced the Black Power movement and the other associated movements of people of color. Or with the power of Women's Liberation Movement, gay and lesbian movements, nor yet the rise of environmentalism.

These were not failures so much as limitations upon where radicals were looking during the early years of the 1960s. The glory days of industrial unionism and the industrial proletariat were over, and the liberation movements of the future had not yet, in 1963, made themselves apparent. Nor did SDSers during the rest of the 1960s solve the riddle of what to do when the Empire fought back successfully. Most especially, the problems and unending dilemmas of how to interact with the genuinely popular constituencies in and around the Democratic Party.

SDS founders lived the contradiction, internalized it in unique ways before 1965, when the escalating war changed the situation drastically. This time around we have fewer illusions.

Some crucial elements belonging to the SDS worldview, however, had not really changed by 1969, and have not changed to this day, amid another and seemingly more drastic imperial crisis. Tom Hayden closes his Introduction to the new 2005 edition of the Port Huron Statement in this way:

Perhaps the work begun at Port Huron will be taken up once again around the world, for the globalization of power, capital and empire surely will globalize the stirrings of conscience and resistance. While the powers that be debate whether the world is dominated by a single superpower (the US position) or is multipolar (the position of the French, the Chinese and others), there is an alternative vision appearing among millions of people who are involved in global justice, peace human rights and environmental movements -- the vision of a future created through participatory democracy.

Thanks, Tom, and to the collective authorship of America and the New Era, now all these years later. We carry on.

Some useful references for this essay:
America and the New Era (1963).
Mari Jo Buhle, et al., Encyclopedia of the American Left (1990, 1998), a mightily useful compendium.
John Bellamy Foster, "Monopoly Finance-Capital," Monthly Review, December 2006, a careful analysis of the Debt Economy.
C.L.R. James,, Facing Reality (1957), a little-remembered document drafted largely by the Pan-Africanist James in collaboration with several members of his group, including Detroit community activist Grace Lee Boggs. If the Port Huron Statement has a near-time single precursor, this is surely the one.
Manning Marable, Black American Politics, from the Washington Marches to Jesse Jackson (1985).
Kim Moody, "Harvest of Empire: Immigrant Workers in the United States," Against the Current, March-April 2007 and issue following.
Peter Rachleff, "Neoliberalism: Context for a New Workers' Struggle," Working USA December, 2006.
Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War: The CIA and the World of Arts and Letters (1999) offers an incisive analysis of the intellectual-intelligence operation launched by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., run by Isaiah Berlin, Irving Kristol, and others, not excluding a small handful of Cold War intellectuals around the League for Industrial Democracy. Meritocrats and future neoconservatives, they were paid well for their services.
William Appleman Williams, Empire as a Way of Life (New York, 1981).

Paul Buhle, currently a lecturer in history and American civilization at Brown University, is author or editor of twenty-seven books on radicalism, labor, and popular culture, including five volumes on the films of the Hollywood blacklistees. Most recently, he coedited Wobblies: A Graphic History (2005) and The New Left Revisited (2003), winner of an American Library Association's Choice Academic Book Award. He has written for The Nation, Times Higher Education Supplement, The Guardian, and the Journal of American History, among others. He founded the journal Radical America (1967-95), the Oral History of the American Left project (New York University), and the Community and Labor Oral History project of Rhode Island.

Labels: ,