Tag Archive: socialism

Note: the names of specific groups have been changed to prevent unnecessary drama. Not that anyone reads this blog but still…

Recently, in my political group, Group A, we discussed the tactics of the United Front and its slightly deranged cousin, the Popular Front. A United Front is defined as an alliance of similarly-thinking groups, which excludes capitalist or non-working class groups and parties, to obtain a common goal. Groups who may disagree on a host of other issues are then able to work together. A central advantage of this tactic for smaller groups is that they gain greater access to the masses by allying with the larger groups.

A Popular Front, by contrast, is a such a group which includes those capitalist and non-working class groups in an attempt (seemingly) to widen the struggle and obtain greater success. Anticapitalists working alongside capitalist political parties like Democrats or Libertarians (which often comprise the largest group) have repeatedly, throughout history, led to the undermining of the revolutionary movement either because, a) the non-working class capitalist parties weren’t willing to go beyond the original common goal and seek the destruction of their own social system upon which their comfortable existence is dependent, or, according to Group A and most every other Trotskyist group, b) Stalinism brought about the dilution of the revolutionary fervor by coercion, co-optation, or basically selling out to pro-capitalist forces.

The three most common examples of a United Front gone Popular—and leading to the subsequent undermining of the otherwise imminent revolution—is Germany in the 1920s and France and Spain in the 1930s. In all of these cases, reactionary behavior on the part of the capitalists or Stalinism (or both) is to blame. In the case of Spain, the anarchists embraced the Popular Front put forth by the USSR under Stalin, in order to continue receiving Soviet weapons in exchange for Spanish gold. So there is an example in which the USSR’s military superiority allowed it to degrade the revolutionary potential of another country in order to maintain that country within its sphere of influence, rather than allowing it grow and develop as its own socialist country.

Obviously, this account depicts the USSR in a very negative light, an imperialistic light. I know of several folks who would defend the USSR and counter that Trotsky and his various supporters have done more to undermine the cause of communism/socialism throughout the world simply by facilitating the vilification of the USSR and communism in general through obstreperous critique. They see such rhetoric as counterrevolutionary. I’m not here to contribute my “take” on this issue, and frankly I’m not even sure how relevant it is to the revolution today.

What I would like to ask is, why is United Front seemingly held up as a main tactic by the organized radical Left today, when it has failed so many times in history to succeed? It has created the conditions BY WHICH “Stalinists” or whatever class enemies exist to co-opt and undermine any revolutionary potential. The United Front is corrupted and replaced with the Popular Front. It has happened again and again. Maybe there are great examples that I am missing but it sure seems like every time it’s the same old story: “We had a great United Front going and then, ALL OF A SUDDEN, it was corrupted and turned into a Popular Front! WHAT THE HELL MAN?!”

The whole idea of creating a “Front” is to widen the struggle, increase the number of people involved, and strengthen resolve around one or two main issues or goals, which is important because socialist groups tend to be fixated only on the goal of “socialism,” which in their estimation is the answer to everything and whose lack is the cause of all of society’s ills (which I actually largely agree with). Being against everything in society (as I also am, basically) sometimes makes their struggle seem and feel unfocused in terms of its material objectives. So a United Front, organized around one issue like war, racism, labor difficulties, or police brutality is undoubtedly useful.

But what happens when we join hands with people with whom we ideologically disagree? The best example I can think of is Group A working with the (much larger) Group B on issues like antiwar. Group B has endorsed Democrats. It has supported figures in Asia and the Middle East that Group A would never support. It is essentially an ideological adversary of Group A. When the theoretical “revolution comes,” Group A and Group B will be fighting each other for dominance of their ideology, and guess which side will win? The currently 65-member Group A, or 700+ member Group B? And what will happen to the great, wonderful United Front that brought us to this highly theoretical point? It will (from Group A’s perspective) be “corrupted,” because Group B is bigger, has more resources, and has more international allies (like some of those Asian and Middle Eastern figures).

Even now, the larger demonstrations that Group B organizes, and which Group A endorses as part of the United Front, often produce friction between the two groups. Group B folks hold up pictures of Bashar al Assad, while Group A and plenty of other groups would never endorse such a divisive figure. It is my opinion that Group B is so much larger partly because it provides black-or-white, for-or-against (“you’re pro-Assad or you’re pro-imperialism, you’re pro-North Korea/China/Iran/etc, or you’re pro-imperialism”) positions for people to take, which are more appealing to your “average” revolutionary than “middle of the road” approaches such as Group A’s, largely because such positions are more actionable. To be fair, from this perspective, Group B is more effective—“gets more shit done,” in its own words—because of these less idealistic positions.

I’m not saying there is no validity to supporting Syria, China, et cetera to some degree, nor should popular hyperbolic anti-Stalin or anti-USSR rhetoric be accepted without question. Indeed, Group A is a big fan of Lenin, as is Group B. Again, my goal is not to critique Group A or Group B in particular. It is draw attention to the intrinsic flaw of the United Front as a tactic, one for which it needn’t necessarily be abandoned but for which it must be critiqued: it creates the material conditions by which it completely fucks itself over. We can’t expect groups who only agree on abstractions (“Socialism yes! Capitalism no!”) to work effectively or sustainably together when they disagree on so many particulars. Can we?

So what is the answer? To not work together? Small groups like Group A risk complete irrelevance if they eschew the types of large-scale demonstrations and actions that Group B puts together. On the other hand, Group B is irrelevant compared to the Democratic Party or similar reformist (read: massive) groups like Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. So how does Group B maintain any relevance or appeal, except by working with pro-capitalist groups and espousing harsh for-or-against binaries?

The radical Left has been asking the same question for some time: by what means do we maintain relevance? Is it the labor movement? The Black Lives Matter movement? The antiwar movement? The student struggle? But “relevance” is the wrong question. The question should be, how do we help people? Whom are we helping, and do they WANT our help? Is our “help” based on an understanding of the class dynamics in place, the material conditions? What good is an understanding of dialectics if we continue to work against other “socialists”?

On a deeper level, though we would accuse another group of fighting to preserve the current system, does our fight depend on preserving a system of perceived resistance that is flawed, oppressive, and counterrevolutionary (I’m talking about unions now)? Is it, again, a situation in which we feel we must defend whatever nominally or symbolically socialist groups and structures that are in place, no matter how flawed they are, because “they’re the best we’ve got”?

To be honest, I don’t know. But a new paradigm is needed. The consumeristic march forward continues unabated. Anti-union and austerity measures are on the rise. Voter turnout is low: 40 to 50% of Americans either do not care enough about the outcome of elections, or don’t feel any candidate sufficiently represents their interests, to take part in them. Ignorance and apathy are two sides of the same coin, much like Democrats and Republicans. And as long as people can get a new iPhone, car, or huge-screen TV, there is just not enough hardship for them to rise up against; no amount of talking about the oppression of Palestinians, the murder of young Black men, or oil wars in the Middle East will change that. They are hardened, they are calcified, they are determined. It’s a cynical viewpoint but there is some realism to it.

But I’ll admit, maybe it’s just me. I’m feeling a little lost these days.

Maybe there is no need for an entirely new paradigm. Maybe the current one just needs to be reimagined. I guess I’ll talk to a few people and get to work on that.

Lately I’ve found I have a lot of trouble deciding on revolutionary issues. I’ve spoken to different groups–Maoist, Trotskyist, Luxemburgist, anarchist, Left Communist, Stalinist, Anarcho-Syndicalist, and others–for insights about the questions that plague me. The questions are both abstract and concrete, philosophical and practical, and reveal quite clearly that in the science of revolution, the space between abstract and concrete and philosophical and practical is extremely small. Here are some of the questions.

1) Move to communism all at once or in phases (transition)?

2) If all at once, does entire working class need to be class-conscious first (aware of function of class under capitalism)?

2a) If so, doesn’t that necessarily mean that the spreading of class-consciousness will be transitional (or gradual) in nature?

2b) If not, doesn’t THAT mean that part of the nature of the revolution will be coercive? Is there a level of coercion that we must be willing to accept, or can there truly be a level of class-consciousness whereby ALL workers hasten revolution? Won’t that take, like, 200 years to bring about? (see 2a)

3) What about the petit-bourgeoisie (bosses but not owners of means of production)? Will they be included in the struggle, or must they be overthrown?

4) What about non-proletarian radicals (members of bourgeois or petit-bourgeois who actively oppose capitalism)? Can they take part in the revolution or must they be overthrown in the service of smashing class privilege, or to prevent subversion/revisionism?

5) Who will lead the effort to spread class consciousness among the working class, and will it include bourgeois and/or petit-bourgeois radicals? Couldn’t this group of revolutionaries conceivably constitute a “vanguard” whether the word “vanguard” is used or not?

6) Will labor unions be central to the revolution or peripheral to it?

7) In situations like Syria and Ukraine, where both sides of the conflict are problematic, what position can anti-imperialist revolutionaries take besides “we hope a true revolutionary group eventually takes control and corrects this destructive situation” as I see in so many socialist papers (often said when there is no strong revolutionary force in that country)? In the cases I mention, is it worth alienating populations who hate Assad or who hate Putin/Russia by siding with them as “anti-imperialist forces”? Doesn’t it diminish our credibility as radicals by siding with them when, in Assad’s case, he has sold out Palestine and collaborated with NATO, and in Putin’s case, led a slaughter in Chechnya, suppressed political dissent, and discriminated against LGBTQ people?

7a) However, it doesn’t make sense either to by default side with any and all “opposition forces,” because they are capable of being just as flawed and evil as the figures/governments they’re opposing. So what do we do?!?!?! Is it necessary to, in the service of the material reality, side with the “anti-imperialist figure” as a “lesser of two evils”? Isn’t that kind of like leftists voting for Democrats, though?

8) Is it a good idea to form new socialist/leftist/communist groups rather than rely on the old ones who are perpetually at war with each other? Or must we be so afraid of forgetting our history and thereby repeating it that we remain paralyzed during its unfolding?

9) Is it necessary for “communist” or “leftist” or “anarchist” groups to form alliances with one-issue groups? What if those alliances lead to compulsions to cut back on radical rhetoric? For instance, a pro-immigrant rights group marches with a Communist group. The Communist group’s chants are about “Burn the Rich, Smash the state” while the Immigrant Rights group chants “Hey, Obama, Don’t Deport My Mama.” The Immigrant Rights group doesn’t want to be perceived as destructive, violent, or irrational, so they avoid slogans about burning rich people and smashing things. As a result, the groups don’t intermingle, don’t unite, chant over each other, and generally illustrate the segmentation of the Left. What do we do about this?

I know I could probably learn all of this from reading Marx/Engels, Lenin, et cetera at the source itself, but I’m not the best reader in the world. I have trouble focusing and absorbing, and it takes me forever to finish one book, because I need to underline and annotate and reread constantly in order to get anything out of it. Either that or I get bored of focusing on one subject and don’t finish the book at all. But links and insights as to which readings would be helpful, would be helpful.

Sometimes it just seems like society and reality are made to be so confused and complex intentionally in order to prevent moral/hesitant people like myself from taking a side and ACTING. Maybe that is to overestimate my own importance; but, see the thing is, I *have* no importance to the revolution because I can’t take a side and act on it with conviction. It is paradoxical. It is the pleasant paralysis of the privileged radical: nothing is black or white because privileged folks have never been materially desperate. Mounting disgust soon leads to inactivity, and eventually, selling out. I don’t want that to happen to me.

Anyway, answers/insights appreciated. Of course, I know that idealism and absolute answers/truths are a Western social construct intended to manipulate. Really, I just seek conversation.

But, you say, they’ll just go to another country. Well, the answer is not simple at all, but it is an answer (unsettlingly bordering quite close to ideology): we must work to foment socialist revolutions in the wealthiest countries, and to eradicate the profitability of exploitation the world over. Additionally, all tax havens will be encouraged–later urged, and finally coerced–to stop providing methods of tax avoidance to the rich, in exchange for continuing to maintain the presence of our onshore investment in their country. So that instead of profiting from American rich people not paying taxes, we can both mutually benefit, since all foreign investment will, at this point, be nationalized.
Okay, I’m still working out that last part.

Some rough ideas I’m working on. Thanks to Bob Whitney for “provoking” them.

If labor determines the value of a commodity, it follows that a commodity-based economy necessarily leads to the exploitation of labor for the greatest value possible. If demand determines the value of a commodity, however, it SHOULD follow that the set value (price) of a commodity is decided by the buyer. The contradictory relationship between buyer and seller mirrors that between labor and capital, and undermines any contention that demand creates value; rather, demand for a lower price allows the buyer to SHARE IN the value produced by labor. That is, the buyer shares in the benefits of exploitation of labor with the cheaper price afforded by greater and greater exploitation. It is THIS demand–for a lower price–that has the greatest impact on determining the use-value of variable capital, i.e. to what extent the capitalist is willing to exploit the worker, which in turn affects the price of the commodity.

Secondly, the emphasis on demand as the origin of value in a society, rather than labor, reflects an ideology of WANT, i.e. demand, as the sole good (virtue) in a society, from which the value of that society originates and grows, and de-emphasizes the role or importance of labor in creating both the value and the physical manifestations of society as we know it. “If nobody wanted a school to be built, we wouldn’t build it.” This places the value of labor outside of the purview of the capitalist and within the supposed mandates of “the people.” Therefore, the capitalist does a “public good” by building the school, and the laborers inhibit that good by demanding fair wages and working conditions.

The ideology of demand glorifies wanting and vilifies work, such that one must only want in America in order to be a good person, and one should avoid having to work to fulfill one’s wants. And those who do work clearly just don’t want enough.

It is a tough thing, affecting some of us on the left and leading us to betrayal and “selling out”: whether to focus on the misery and discontent of the world—perhaps even extending to the question of whether life is truly worth living in such a world—or to ignore that “larger reality” picture and focus on our own, smaller, more manageable, more affectable world. In that smaller world, whatever is simpler, easier, whatever makes the means of living more accessible to us is what is right, or at least allows it to become that much more acceptable.

With a wide world view, one that focuses on all of the injustice and might even seek to correct it, and rejects all of its tools like patriarchy, gender binary, white privilege, rape culture, Islamophobia, and others, no amount of imperialism is acceptable: no sweatshop labor, no globalization, no corporatism, no finance capital, no collusion between elite classes for the enrichment of those classes to the financial detriment of everyone else. Also no imperialist war, no police state at home, no glamorization of international conflict or terrorism, no commoditization of rights of any kind (to be bought and sold), but the common ownership of such rights by the people.

But in what way is this struggle, save in the minds of its fighters who are few and far between? “A New World In Our Hearts,” is the name of one anarchist collective I have seen in New York. The idea of the struggle itself is invariably linked with ideology: communist, socialist, marxist, anarchist, whateverist. It is as though having a practical, pragmatic cause or quest in this world, that isn’t hugely dependent on complex and often old edifices, is dependent on accepting and indeed defending the status quo, and having no ideals that demand something fundamentally better. And to hold such ideas is to be “difficult.” To act on them can provoke all types of invective, not the last of which is “terrorist.”

Now let’s take a look at the smaller, more manageable, more “self-made” reality. All that matters is ahead of you, in theory, because society has been custom-made to produce those matters as life-goals: job, home, marriage, children, retirement.

All that you give up ideologically by focusing exclusively on the wide, pessimistic view is obversely included in this mode of living, the material and familial experiences that employment and marriage afford you: being a parent, having turkey-fueled holidays in the home, buying your first car, earning your first dollar, going to your first job interview, seeing your child go to her first job interview, an echo of seeing her off on her first day of school.

Does it make you a bad person to focus on this reality? This one is smaller, softer, more fulfilling (because the limits are tighter and more defined), “fitter, happier, more productive,” to quote Radiohead.

This reality is more conventional, and yet it feels self-manifested (“self-made”) because it seems so natural: raising biological children with a life-partner, raising them to be good and responsible citizens who contribute to society, to pass through the gates of society: preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college, employment, marriage, parenthood, promotion, retirement, death at a “ripe old age.” The always-present hope in any good parent: that the child will live better than I did, escaping, somehow, the raft of sacrifices I made, the ream of failures, of heartaches, of mistakes, and sail through life with 100% more boldness and success and ease.

“What’s wrong with wanting that?” anyone invested in this process, such as a parent or friend might say. There is a strange charm in it, to those of us who possess the privilege to witness it, let alone experience it. One such encounter:

I was sitting in Montclair, NJ, (where I lived from age 15 to age 26) eating falafel and drinking San Pellegrino in a churchyard where small children were playing, while church bells rang followed by a train whistle, and all of the myriad restaurants and cafe-type establishments were picking up that lunch buzz: the coffee was brewing, the french fries were sizzling, the air was hot, the sun was out. The little children waved to me and said hello before going back to their little children’s book on the green grass. lady stopped and asked me where she could get a good wrap. I replied, the little Greek place down the street. I sat fifteen minutes among the suburban bliss, and the church bells rang at the quarter of the hour.

Altogether, it was charming. And a little nauseating. These well-to-do people, drinking and eating and working and shopping at the Gap and voting Democrat, all while the CIA funds cannibal rebels in Syria and drones kill civilians in Yemen and Walmart sweatshops collapse in Bangladesh. And all of these people, including me, are benefiting from all of that, all of the benefits of imperialism and cultural hegemony and exploitation and murder.

It reminded me of how John Lennon was criticized for “quitting” activism and releasing “Double Fantasy” about obtaining domestic bliss. Other critics defended him, saying he’d done enough for the world and deserved his bit of happiness. I don’t know where I fall, but I understand both perspectives, I guess.

In the “small-reality” mode of living, where “family is everything,” the possibilities for material and familial experiences are almost endless: being a parent, having turkey-fueled holidays in the home, buying your first car, earning your first dollar, going to your first job interview. They may not seem like it, but all of these are largely bodily pleasures, since they are based on emotions. Nothing else is accomplished with them besides the event itself and the emotions that accompany it.

The small-reality view at least gives you a chance at these pleasures.Focusing on the wide, pessimistic view—where all you see is the negative and the misery and the injustice and try to fight it somehow—takes these chances away, and replaces them with the chance to see something positive done in your lifetime to affect the millions of oppressed people in the world. One legislative victory, for example, among the larger-reality type of person can mean the difference between eating and not eating for hundred, thousands, millions of people. Yet, there’s a good chance that you won’t see all that much, at least not what you REALLY want to see: revolution. The potentials of a smaller-reality viewpoint are a lot to give up when one considers that the means by which to accomplish them already seem to exist in reality, whereas fulfilling the larger-reality potentials require society to be nearly the exact opposite of what it is.

Plenty of left-leaning people celebrate Christmas, drink Coca-Cola, and have children. Even Che Guevara, and the singer from Agnostic Front, and Leon Trosky, and Joseph Stalin (for that matter). They all had kids. An anti-capitalist understanding tells us that having children is a means of perpetuating capitalism, because ultimately children are where labor comes from, and capitalism is based on a steady stream of cheap labor and needy consumers, and the more the merrier (which is why right-leaning types are against gay marriage, gayness in general, contraception/BC, et cetera, any sex that doesn’t produce children. They don’t know that’s why, but that’s why.)

I guess I don’t know. I have no plans to marry or have children. I may adopt. I just don’t want to bring another poor, frightened, doubtful, soul- and dream-crushed little white person into this world, one to whom I’ll pass all of my failings and fears and bodily defects. I’m no one special. My child won’t be anyone special. She or he won’t be “the greatest little guy/girl in the world,” or “an angel,” or any crap like that. She or he will just be a little starving zombie, raised again into an ideology of need and patriarchy. Blech. I say no.

But someday, what if I say yes? Will that make me a bad person? The average liberal on the street of Montclair might not be a bad person, because she or he doesn’t fully know better, hasn’t studied these things, never formed a “larger-reality” understanding (I assume; maybe they’re all sellouts too). But I have, and to turn on it and ignore it and forget it and lose it and “sell out”….that really would be inexcusable, and unforgivable.

Existence precedes essence. I have no escape. Self-affirmation must come in another form than the conventional. That’s all there is to it. I guess I’m a little scared. Of what? Failure, to fulfill an abstract, while the people around me have concrete goals, concrete purposes.

I guess I just need direction, and for a long time.

note: this is not written in my usual tone. It is just the tone that came to me at the moment I had the idea, which was while I was at a soul-music concert in New York a few days ago.

Like so many endeavors, we cannot force the people to relinquish what they know to be pleasurable, to deny them pleasure as they know it, because to do so would introduce an element of “soul-repression,” i.e. repression of those aspects of daily life that are thought to constitute expression of the soul: wanton sensuality, materialistic pursuits like cars and houses, dotage on the family, self-destructive habits like alcohol and idleness, and mindless mass entertainment that serves to perpetuate racism, gender roles, class differences, and other stratifications between exploited groups. But within the grind of their daily lives, these components persist as “simple pleasures,” between the periods of grudging work and involuntary routine, where their “soul” is allowed to briefly manifest itself before being subjected to yet another day of working for a boss.

Such an aesthetic can only be approximated, it cannot be matched, by the implication of socialist revolution, because so many aspects of that aesthetic are based on dynamics of inequality.

Does this suggest some noble character of inequality, one that we must endeavor to preserve in whole or in part within the messaging, actions, and involvement of the revolution? No. But we must remember that to singlehandedly and quite out of hand dismiss the societally agreed upon aesthetic value of inequality will, in effect, create an inequality between ourselves and the masses, and undermine our pretense to the value of presumed equality with the masses and an understanding of their needs. This, of course, assumes such are some of the shared values of the revolutionary party, values that we espouse and to which we cleave: kinship with the worker.

Before any change of aesthetic can take place, we must first successfully convey the injustice of the conditions that lead to inequality,  i.e. exploitation and expropriation of social surplus product, and reveal them as commonplace modalities of the ruling ideology. This illustration, made vividly and in the interest of class empowerment, will gradually lead to the automatic severance of any association between these conditions and fulfillment of the “soul” among the working class.