Tuesday, October 04, 2005

United Front, War, Left and Ultraleft

This exchange, from NYC Indymedia, starts with comments on a post by Workers World Party calling for a united front against the war. Following are selected comments:

Why Should I Join You?

'Answer Me That' says:

I have been hearing this 'United Front' crap from your group for some time now. Well this is not the 1930's. Also you offer nothing more than supporting 'democrats' instead of a truly independent socialist alternative.

So how are you any different than the other social democrats (and closet social democrats) at the CP/COC, SP, DSA, ISO, SWP, and other small liberal or social libertarian sectarian groupings that still have stationary? ...WWPs staging events and inviting 'democrats' are well known, despite protestations to the contrary.

WWP a Shill for the Dems? Hardly.

Carl Davidson says:

Is our ultraleft really this bizarre? I'm hardly a WWP supporter, but backing Democrats is hardly one of their sins.

But their critic here seems to think that just inviting an elected Democrat who's broken with the war to speak at an antiwar rally is the equivalent of totally joining the campaign staff of Hillary or Kerry. Good grief, have we become a left made up of checker players rather than chess players? We suffer not from having too many elected officials on our antiwar platforms, but too few of them.

But I suppose I'm destined for an even lower circle in the inferno. Last week I worked with a coalition here in Chicago that got 29 aldermen -- all Democrats -- on the city council to vote for pulling out of Iraq, with 9 opposing -- 8 Dems and one GOPer -- and 10 abstaining.

But our ultraleftists, for some strange reason, seem to want Bush to have more allies rather the less.


Whose Contradiction Is It?

'Leon Trotsky' says:

When a Democrat speaks at an anti-war event, that's his contradiction against his pro-war party, not an inconsistency on the part of the event organizers.

WWP always tells the truth about where the Democrats stand and what they do. Which doesn't contradict the fact that some people, due to their anti-war politics, don't belong in the Democratic Party.


The contradiction also lies with WWP

'Oh no you don't' says:

One of the preconditions of speaking at a WWP event should be that the speaker gives up membership in any organization which promotes or supports imperialism and capitalism. That is called following ethical prescript.

Would WWP have a speaker who was a member of a club or organization that excluded women, Blacks or Jews? Of course not. So why would it have speakers who are not only members, but office holders in an organization or group which promotes imperialism and capitalism?

Perhaps to the Carl Davidson's and Leslie Cagan's of the world, who are just peachy keen apologizing for ethnic cleansers, there are no ethical contradictions having such speakers, but for those of us who have integrity that is not acceptable.


Exclude Capitalists or Promoters of Capitalism?

Carl Davidson says:

If you're going to exclude people who 'promote capitalism,' 'Oh no...', you're going to have a small circle indeed.

Take, for instance, all the people who are trying to get the Katrina exiles hired at rebuilding New Orleans or the Gulf Coast. The expansion of jobs for them is also going to mean the expansion of businesses, ie, growing some capitalists by growing the number of wage slaves-- union or not, prevailing wage or not. Or anyone who works on job training and workforce development programs anywhere.

Or take the small business owners and shopkeepers we have in our antiwar group. I'm sure they want to grow their little piece of capitalism. Would you kick them out of the group? But perhaps you like being small, pure and irrelevant. To each his or her own...


Not Tired

[A post by RN was deleted here, which contained a sexist jibe at Leslie Cagan]

Carl Davidson says:

I'm not the least bit tired, RN, I'm rather energized these days, especially after a big success on the 24th. But your ad hominem is certainly tired -- and sexist to boot. I feel like Diogenes with his lamp, searching for one ultraleftist with enough working synapses to carry on a reasonable debate, but to no avail. But I guess that's why it's called an infantile disorder...



'Definitions' says:

'Ultra-Leftist' = people who see me for the fake that I am.

Carl, you are an example of what is left of formerly decent political organizations when they have for all practical reasons died. It is over. The CP/COC and its wanker allies should now agree to have the corpse buried.


Professional Anti-Ultras

the burningman says:

redflags.us@gmail.com http://burning.typepad.com

Carl, I think you've got the problem backwards. It's actually that your Irving Howe routine is totally uninteresting to young radicals. Most folks don't know who you are -- though the weariness and vacilation you represent are plain enough.

You confuse 'ultra-left' with 'left.'

That's cool, but your habit of misreprenting what people think... like myself... means that folks with a few 'working synapses' might not think it worth the time to engage an old fart trying to atone for his own past of making one wrong political decision after another.

The world has seen plenty of your type: those who were once revolutionary and were defeated, but now spend their energy limiting the range of the possible for those who aren't listening.

Here's a question: if having political principles consigns radicals to being 'small, pure and irrelevant' -- then what's your excuse for being TOTALLY marginal? I mean, loving Bukarin, Teng and Jesse should have gotten the masses all creamy about your cyberGoulash. So what gives?

For my own self, I don't think 'purity' has anything to do with it. That's your own dogmatic baggage. From what I've heard, you are anything BUT pure, so maybe you want to throw a little mud so you don't feel quite so dirty.

Know what I'm saying?


Nothing to say on the substance of matters

Carl Davidson says:

Sorry, Burningman, but I don't know what you're saying.

Nor, by the way, do I consider myself defeated or in need of atonement. Perhaps on personal matters, but I have no political regrets, even if I took too many unnecessary detours over the past 40 years. And I'm really not that concerned whether anyone recalls my glory days or not. It's the present and future that concern me.

But, apart from yourself, at least to a degree, it puzzles me why so many of our 'left' critics -- in this case UFPJ's and WWP's critics -- really have nothing to say when challenged, other than invective or ad hominems of one sort or another. Is it the medium, ie, posting in cyberspace with no eye contact? Or is it that they really don't analyze or think politically beyond the level of a few slogans?

I would agree with you that the entire socialist-minded left, including my sector of it, is marginal. The question is what's the best approach to getting out of the marginality cul-de-sac.


carping to the left

'the burningman' says:

Well, I can't speak for everyone you argue with. Undoubtedly you gravitate to corners where people say all kinds of loopy shit.

But I engaged you in depth on the question of Palestine and principled anti-imperialism and you chose to willfully, and intentionally, distort what I was saying when you re-posted the exchange on your weblog.

You say no one has anything to say but ad hominems? I pointed out that your political exemplars have been Bukarin (the architect of socialist-style state capitalism), the pro-capitalist/fascisto leadership of China and Jesse Jackson. It's noting what your positions are and what they yield.

You have indeed made one wrong decision after another, and as a leading member of the CoC, you haven't gotten better with time.

Permanently attaching the activist left to the Democratic Party domestically, and some of the grizzlier regimes internationally is an easy choice that many see no alternative to. Your self-selected responsibility is 'minding the margins.' It's a thankless task, no doubt -- and one that will get you verbally smacked up from time to time.

What do we need to be doing: raising the stakes.

This march in DC was the last 'easy' march. The majority of the population is now against the war, with some regions such as NYC developing an increasingly radical understanding of WHAT the problem is exactly. You may have decided that 'naming the system' is 'ultra-left.' But you are wrong.

Mass work shouldn't be 'lower level.' The truth of what we are facing is EXACTLY what we need to be bringing out. The masses are just about always radical, even if they aren't de facto on the left. People smell the bullshit of a soft-sell a thousand yards off.

My point about 'marginality' is that all the folks like you who think we need to soft-sell a critique of capitalism and empire in order to 'reach' some mythical mainstream are actually fighting against developing a radical movement out of antiwar activism. That's the dispute.

In my experience, fighting the full-spectrum battle against the Bush agenda (and the Democratic Party's TOTAL and ACTIVE complicity) is exactly what unleashes people not currently in the left.

Guys like you will chug along no matter what happens -- but your mockery of 'purity' doesn't explain why you are no more 'mainstream' than your supposedly ultra-left opponents. You position yourself (and your semi-party) within the acceptable range of bourgeois thinking on any question that arises -- and you still sit in a small circle. And the truth of it is this: despite all of UFPJ's attempts to limit the antiwar movement to narrow demands, and not address the systematic nature of the problem, it still requires all those 'ultras' out there to pull off a mass march in DC. I'm not the only one noticing this.


Getting beyond the margins

Carl Davidson says;

Well, Burningman, we may have some common ground, a little anyways.

As for our exchanges on Palestine, I mostly quoted you directly, and added my comments. Plus on the latest I pointed people to your own site. Interested people can make up their own minds as to whether you've been distorted.

Yes, Bukharin is someone I admire. He understood that the market doesn't go away because a party or government declares it out of existence -- and if you do so, it will come back to haunt you. He also argued for making use of it to develop a working class, a culture and productive forces appropriate to building a socialism worthy of the name. I think history has absolved him, especially contra Stalin and Trotsky. China is more of an open question, although my main hero there over the years was Chou Enlai. Jesse? He's one of the best of the left-liberal preachers, a great orator, agitator and civil rights leader. That's enough to say for him, I don't expect him to be a revolutionary.

The left, broadly speaking, is already hooked, to a certain degree, to the Dems, quite independently of me. I've rarely voted for them. I can count the Dem candidates at all levels that I voted for over 40 years on my fingers. But I have also voted communist, socialist, Citizens party and New Party. But I also believe in working with people who are Dem voters or activists, and winning them to more independent stands and activities. The problem is to develop a viable, independent alternative that people will break away to, not just to denounce people for voting for Dems when there's no alternative to speak of.

But just what is 'raising the stakes?'

More militant actions, getting arresting and fighting cops? Maybe, but politically, that's still liberal oppositionism, no matter how many heads are busted.

Naming the system? Fine, we did that years ago. But you can yell out its name with as many shrill adjectives as you want, but unless you present a viable alternative, viable in the sense of moving forward on workers empowerment in nonrevolutionary conditions, its still just oppositionism.

To get beyond oppositionism, I suggest getting deeply into Gorz, Gramsci and David Schweickart's new book, 'After Capitalism.' then we might get beyond the margins.

In the meantime, I think you're right about one thing. This may be the last 'easy' antiwar demonstration. I would stress organizing with the military and their families in the next phase.


On Reading These Posts

'Requiem for a 60's Maoist' says:

I see now Carl's problem. He substitutes popularity for principle-- and in doing so he will get neither. And if thinks that compartmentalizing (before dismissing them) those who see his mental mastabutory exercises in propaganda for what they are, as 'ultras' or 'purists', he has another coming.

Carl, life is too short for the likes of you. Now begone, toady.


Principle and Popularity

Carl Davidson says:

Life's too short for everyone, 'Requiem' -- I plead guilty to that...

But why is seeking mass support for one's political goals -- what you call popularity -- put in opposition to what you call 'principle?' Of course, one often has to go against the tide to win mass support, but mass support and mass participation is still the goal, isn't it? After all, it's the masses who make history, not just you and me.

I've long been an advocate of value-centered politics, especially a perspective centered in the values of compassion and liberation, and do my best to make them explicit in my life.

But I'm curious about how YOU decide what's a 'principle' and what's not. Are they listed in a book or chiseled in stone somewhere? Is there a common list for all true revolutionaries? If so, who decides which ones get listed and which do not?


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Comandante Gringo said...

You know... what's maddening about all this typical Left invective is that -- if you look at all this dialog dialectically, it represents unresolved polarizations of 'greater truths' (no, nothing idealist here. I'm not talking about absolute 'Truth'. That wouldn't be dialectical,would it?)

In a sense: everybody here expresses 'truth' -- it is just, some more than others. And the higher synthesis of these truths is what we are all actually aiming for.

Keep trying! You're almost all there.

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