Reflections on some political and ideological questions today

The president doesn't simply register and reflect the balance of power; he influences it as well; no other person has as much power as the president. To identify him as a centrist Democrat akin to Clinton or Carter or Kennedy conceals more than it reveals; it's too neat. It doesn't help us understand him as a political actor and his place in the broader struggle for progressive change. And it can quickly lead to narrow tactics and a wrong-headed strategic policy.

Some say, for example, that the strategic role of the left is to criticize the president, to push him from left. But is that a good point of departure strategically? Doesn't it elevate a tactical question to a strategic one?

Criticizing the president (especially in the internet age) takes little imagination or effort, far less than activating the various forces that elected him last year. To do the latter takes a strategic sense, flexible tactics, creative thinking, and hard work. The president's report card, it could easily be argued, is better than the coalition that elected him. He doesn't get an A, but neither do we.

There are no prohibitions against criticism of the president, but it should be done in a unifying and constructive way. The success or failure of the Obama presidency will resonate for years. A deep imprint on class and racial relations will be part of his legacy. It is hard to imagine how a successful struggle for reforms can happen without the president or how anyone other than the extreme right and sections of the ruling class would benefit if his presidency fails.

Attitude towards reform

A very different political and ideological issue that has a bearing on practical politics is the assertion that capitalism has no solutions to the present crisis and can't be reformed.

If this means that the endemic crises of capitalism (for example, cyclical and structural unemployment, regular crises, overproduction, over accumulation, etc.) will persist as long as the profit motive is the singular determinant of economic activity, we would agree.

But if this means that anything short of a system wide change is of little importance, or that the underlying dynamics and laws of motion can't be modified, we would disagree.

We should avoid counterposing the bankruptcy of capitalism against the struggle for reforms under capitalism. Such juxtaposition is unnecessary and counterproductive. If we don't struggle for the latter (reforms), what we say about the former (systemic nature of problems) will carry little weight nor will we get to where we want to go - socialism.

Capitalism is more elastic than some believe. It changes on its own (its internal laws motion - what Marx studied in "Capital") and is modified by the class struggle. Look at its historical development if you don't believe so.

Role of the working class

Still another ideological question is the role of the working class in general and the labor movement in particular. The right wing and mass media (not just Fox) either heap abuse on the labor movement or make it invisible. They are well aware of the new developments in organized labor, and recoil at the prospect of a revitalizing labor movement. None of this is a surprise.

What is surprising is that many progressive and left people either have a blind spot when it comes to the labor movement, or see it as just another participant, or refuse to see - even dismiss out of hand - the new developments within it.

Leading up to the AFL-CIO convention, we heard more than once that labor should be "a social movement," that it should "take on capital," etc. But, unless you are the hostage of "pure" forms of the class struggle, isn't that what labor is doing - in the elections last year and on issues like health care, war, racism, immigration, climate change, international solidarity, and so forth?

Granted it's not across the board, there are still backwaters, the old style of leadership hasn't completely disappeared, and rank-and-file participation is not where it should be.

But isn't that an old movie? Is going over in righteous indignation the litany of sins of the labor movement the most productive thing that we can do? Doesn't it make far more sense to note the new development and directions, the new thinking, and the new composition of labor's leadership? Do we think that the transition from the legacy of the Cold War and the so-called Golden Age of capitalism can happen in a day, in a month, in a decade? Change is hard, but when sprouts of change come to the light of day we should nurture them.

Our understanding of Marxism reveals that in the process of exploitation, not only surplus value, but also oppositional tendencies arise - albeit uneven and full of contradictions and inconsistencies - but arise nonetheless to challenge corporate prerogatives and class rule.

An under appreciation of the new developments in labor can only weaken the broader movement for change.

Marxism

Finally, Marxism is an open-ended, integrated, and comprehensive set of ideas to conceptualize and change the world - a world outlook. It brings to the light the existing and developing regularities and laws of social development of societies, and especially capitalist society.

Thus, continually deepening our understanding of Marxism's basic theoretical constructions is of crucial importance to us - not to mention the movement as a whole.

At the same time, Marxism is not simply a science (understood in a general sense) and worldview, but it is also a methodology.

Marxist methodology absorbs and metabolizes new experience; it gives special weight to new phenomena.

It isn't about timeless abstractions, pure forms, ideal types, categorical imperatives unsullied by inconvenient facts, unexpected turns and anomalies; it doesn't turn partial demands, reformist forces, inconsistent democrats, liberals, social democratic labor leaders, even blue dog democrats, into a contagious flu to be avoided at all costs.

Marxist methodology insists on a concrete presentation of a question and an exact estimate of the balance of forces at any given moment.

As a method of analysis, Marxism emphasizes fluidity, reexamining old and new questions, process, dialectics, and movement; it's about allowing space for individuals and organizations to change.

We should deepen our understanding of Marxism as a science and methodology. And we should not give too much attention to those who take issue with us from the left. When we do, it cuts down on our ability to think creatively and respond practically to new opportunities and developments.

In the era of the Internet, everyone's voice is amplified. If some try to turn Marxism into a sacred canon much like the strict constitutional jurists and biblical literalists do with the Constitution and Bible, so be it; if they want to spend all their time looking for examples of right deviations, to the point where they themselves are simply self-satisfied observers of struggle and too busy to build the people's movement or, in the case of those who are in our party, build our organization and press, so be it.

We will go our own way, focusing our energy and talents on building the working-class movement and our party and press, and be much the wiser for it.

 

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  • Even how we fight for reform or for a defense of what we've won is often viewed with suspicion in the CPUSA leadership.

    In 2002 there was a public initiative in Massachusetts against bilingual education. It was funded by millionaire Ron Unz of California.

    The work in my town, about 50% Latino then, consisted in organizing folks against the measure. The work was led by the CPUSA club through an organization that we led.

    Just about everyone in town knew the leading force was the CP. (The evangelical pastor of one church asked a member very active wit us if she had joined the Communist Party. When she said she wasn't a member, he told her it was ok because these were fighters for social justice.)

    We had flyers and signs that went into seven churches, both Catholic and evangelical. Other churches announced where people could get the materials for the campaign - members of the Communist Party.

    While we worked with the state-wide coalition (the director of the campaign was still talking about our work as an example to follow years later) and the local teachers' union, it was led by our comrades.

    When this was reported in a meeting of the National Committee, we were criticized.

    Rick Nagin and Elena Mora told me that we were worked in a wrong fashion. Both said we should've joined a coalition working on the issue and followed the lead of the coalition.

    When I asked what we supposed to do since there was no local coalition, neither was able to respond. Pressing the issue, I asked what should we have done. No answer from either.

    The truth is that we worked with the state-wide coalition. When the signs were coming in my car was illegally parked on the sidewalk behind the coalition offices ready to get the first batch of signs. The coalition took their cue from us, those who lived and worked in the city, about how to run the local campaign.

    Today, we have an open communist in an elected city position and are a player, not just a participant, in local politics. That includes protests against the wars and leading the biggest demonstration (for immigrant rights) ever in over 100 years.

    Notwithstanding, we are told we did it wrong because the CP club was the leader.

    Go figure.

    Posted by José A Cruz, 12/31/2009 12:31am (5 years ago)

  • Mikhail,

    I don't speak on these threads much. So this will be my last post. On your point on internal democracy:
    The decision to go fully on-line was made at a National meeting where only a mere 50 were in attendance. Out of a party of a 1,000 that is not democratic. Clubs where not informed until after the decision was made. There was no discussion made with member input outside of a core few. The National convention will only have 150 in attendance mandated by the national office. Out of this 150 not all will be voting delegates maybe 80 delegates. At the last convention we had almost 300 delegates out of 500 in attendance. Members who have a history of speaking out will surely not be given delegate status. Hence the use of my pen name. The crucial vote on Afgan war policy that happened on December 2nd they didn't even discuss the "critics" amendment of troops out now they just voted it down and moved on. Clubs who had been supporting Single payer for years were ordered to give up that work in favor of the Public Option. And they never even bothered to have a vote on that one. Plenty of other examples but i am not long winded so I will end here.

    Posted by redone, 12/29/2009 2:15pm (5 years ago)

  • Just some quick comments for Mikhail.

    If you "NEVER bothered to read US communist press cause it was boring as hell," then you should feel the same way reading it online. It is the same content.

    The print PWW even had movie reviews. Ages ago, we even a sports section, a family section with things to do with the children as well as recipes, etc.

    The only difference is form not content. Today to read it you have to have larger carbon footprint.

    Lastly, while it is only anecdotal, your not knowing anyone under 25 who reads a newspaper seems to jibe with the study. However, it is not that they don't read newspapers, it is that they don't regularly consume news period.

    The previously mentioned Pew study found that only 20% of the 18-20 were regular news consumers. A whopping 78% were news grazers.

    Posted by José A Cruz, 12/29/2009 12:39pm (5 years ago)

  • I thought that Mikhail's comment that "print is going the way of the dodo" says much more than he even meant.

    At the same time, his comment implying that anyone who doesn't believe this is "obtuse" has the effect of poisoning the well, i.e., a logical fallacy which attempts to discredit any other position ahead of time.

    I say it has the "effect" as opposed to saying Mikhail is deliberately poisoning the well because I prefer to believe, not knowing Mikhail's style nor following his writing, that he is not attempting to do this on purpose, especially when there is ample evidence to the contrary. I would hope that Mikhail, as well as others, would be in agreement with me that we need to discuss this issue objectively using the most up to date data available. If he were to be attempting this on purpose, then the "obtuse" shoe would be on the other foot.

    Having said that, let me repeat that Mikhail's comment is right on the money, but only because the extinction of the dodo bird was through human folly. Let us remember that it was a selective extinction. If dodos existed in other parts of the world (they were related to doves) they may have survived even if human folly on Mauririus caused those to be extinct. (Maybe even more telling was that the name "dodo" seems to mean "stupid," yet it seems to this writer that those who named it and then caused it's extinction were the real "stupid ones.")

    Print news is not becoming extinct. The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (the international industry organization of country-wide news business associations) reported a year or two ago that there were now over 11,000 paid daily newspapers in the world for the first time in history.

    The 11,000 did not include free dailies an no weeklies, paid or unpaid. In the first five years of this century (2007-2006) ad-only supported dailies doubled to in circulation to almost 41 million.

    Please note that, unlike the WWW, each newspaper reaches a number of people and not just one - in the USA it is about 2.3 readers per newspaper.

    Advertisers know this. That is why they pay for reach and not circulation.

    In the USA, however, things are different. Circulation has dropped nation-wide.

    A great part of this is not because of news shifting to the internet, as many claim, but because the news-reading habits of the population has changed.

    The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press reported last year that 68% "are too busy to keep up with the news." Only 45% of the people consume news at "regular times." They only consume news "from time to time" whether it is on radio, TV, print or the internet.

    These folks are known as "news grazers." They may pay attention to some news item on radio, print, internet or TV, but they do not sit down to read, see or listen to news.

    About 59% of news grazers report they read news online at least three times a week. Only 39% of regular news consumers get their news online.

    With a majority news grazer population, combined with the economic crisis, print is suffering.

    Nevertheless, there are areas of print where circulation is growing. The so-called "ethnic media," including print, is growing. For example, the fastest and largest growing print daily is El Diario-La Prensa of New York City. This newspaper, founded over 90 years ago, grew by over 7%.

    Ethnic newspapers that went out of business or downgraded last year, say it was due to getting less revenue as the businesses that cater to those populations were hard hit and cut back drastically on their advertising budgets.

    Obviously, the data more than suggests that print news is not becoming extinct in general. All types of news consumption in the USA is a different subject.

    The newspapers that have gone out of print all report that it was a question of economics. Print based ads are paid for by how many people read the newpaper, while WWW ads go by how many people click on an ad.

    Print news that have gone totally online have still cut back on editorial staff. Even this site, besides cutting all layout staff, has cut paid staff on the editorial site despite going "daily" which one would assume would take more staff.

    Of course, this has nothing to do with what the Communist press has traditionally done, which is a different story altogether.


    Posted by José A Cruz, 12/28/2009 5:12pm (5 years ago)

  • Mikhail,

    The majority of us are not supporters of Maki. As for your talk of CP democracy there are a lot of members in Oregon, Indiana, Florida and PA to name a few places that are very unhappy with the current events unfolding in the party. "All forms of struggle" this is not the position of the CP in practice. They frown on Support for Single Payer, a troops out now position, independent candidacies, Impeachment of Bush and Cheney and working outside a DNC framework. You seem like a nice guy but you have no idea what you are talking about.

    Posted by redone, 12/28/2009 2:46pm (5 years ago)

  • As I read this article and the comments I want to thank Alan Maki for his insightful comments provoking discussion. I agree with him.

    Sam Webb writes, "Marxist methodology insists on a concrete presentation of a question and an exact estimate of the balance of forces at any given moment."

    There are three major issues in this country today.

    1. The wars.
    2. Health care.
    3. Global warming-green jobs-green economy.

    I don't see Sam Webb analyzing any of these issues beginning with where the sentiments of the majority of working people are at. Opposed to these wars. For single payer universal healthcare. With the issue of global warming-green jobs-green economy quite a bit more confusing for most working people except there seems to be a very strong anti-big business sentiment.

    Where is there any suggestion from Webb bringing forward a people before profit agenda around these issues? It simply is not here. No where to be found in whole or in part or in piecemeal fashion on this PW site or the CPUSA web site even though as Alan Maki has continually pointed out all three of these issues are very interconnected and related.

    Trudy Lang
    St. Paul, MN

    Posted by Trudy Lang, 12/27/2009 11:14am (5 years ago)

  • Mikhail, you must not read too well; or, you read very selectively.

    Posted by Alan L. Maki, 12/26/2009 9:09pm (5 years ago)

  • A truly creative Marxist approach would recognize the electoral realities of the political situation in our bourgeois democracy, but recognize that there are other arenas of struggle. Probably more importantly, we must struggle to elevate the class consciousness of the masses, demonstrate in the streets, and create oppositional networks (communes, workers' cooperatives, anti-capitalist educational centers, soup kitchens, etc.).

    Boxing ourselves into supporting a president who is clearly a tool of the system is a mistake. His victory was a tactical defeat of the ultra-right so the Left could gain some breathing room. What's the point of breathing room if we are still suffocating ourselves? It is high time to assert what we truly stand for: revolution and socialism.

    Of course it is foolish to ignore all mainstream American politics. We can and should contribute to these debates. But we should do so as Communists. We are different from Democrats and Republicans.

    Posted by Michael Kowalchuk, 12/24/2009 2:10pm (5 years ago)

  • Who are the "critics of the far left?"

    Many, if not most, "Obama supporters" have jumped ship in disgust with a feeling of "being had" and betrayed... this is why the Democrats are so worried about the 2010 Elections... as they very well should be because Obama has expanded and escalated these imperialist wars INSTEAD of providing the American people with free health care.

    Progressives should do everything possible to see to it that Obama is a one-term president... the time has come for working people to sign a "Declaration of Independence" freeing ourselves from the two-party trap.

    As for Sweeny and Trumka, at best they represent far less than 10% of the working class--- even most of their dues-paying members are opposed to their policies as is evidenced by the strong and unyielding support there is for single-payer universal health care.

    Sweeney and Trumka led the betrayal of the single-payer universal health care movement rather than bringing labor fully into support for it.

    There is no evidence Sweeney or Trumka have moved away from the imperialist ideology of "pragmatism" characterising Meany and Kirkland... this is evidenced in their silence on the slaughter of the Palestinian people living in Gaza Strip by the Isrealis and their similar silence and refusal to move the working class into action in opposition to Obama escalating and expanding the imperialist war in Afghanistan. This is also evidenced in their refusal to support a real living minimum wage.

    As for the critics of Marxism-Leninism who have turned to the imperialist ideology of "pragmatism"... I think we should take up a collection to send them off to go crawling through the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan along with Richard Trumka who has the training for such work in search of Osama bin Laden... I don't see too many working people eager to follow... most would rather have socialized health care instead of these wars... besides, better these old people still backing Obama be sent off to war since young workers have a full life in front of them... these long-time veterans of the labor movement still backing Obama can share what they have learned with the Afghans who enjoyed the benefits of 20th Century Socialism.

    Posted by Alan L. Maki, 12/24/2009 11:35am (5 years ago)

  • So I don't have to confront accusations let me say I appreciate Alan Maki keeping me informed. I don't find info like this here in the PW. I want to say right off the bat I received this e-mail today from Alan Maki who forwarded it after receiving it from a member of Progressives for Obama who according to her e-mail is fed up with Obama and has quit supporting Obama and the Democrats.

    Sam Webb might want to read this article-

    Hedge fund manager makes $2.5 billion betting on US bailout of Wall Street

    By Andre Damon
    22 December 2009

    David Tepper, manager of the hedge fund Appaloosa Management, is set to pocket more than $2.5 billion this year after successfully gambling that the Obama administration would provide unlimited public funds to bail out the major banks. According to an article in Monday’s Wall Street Journal, Tepper’s firm, which specializes in buying up “distressed” shares and assets, has already racked up $7 billion in profits this year.


    In the early stages of the bank bailout, the Journal reports, investors were fearful that the government might ultimately nationalize major banks, which would have wiped out shareholders. These fears, combined with the virtual collapse of credit markets and huge losses reported by some of the biggest Wall Street firms, led to a sharp fall in bank stocks.

    But, according to the Journal, when the Obama administration announced its Financial Stability Plan in early February of this year, including a virtually open-ended commitment to inject capital into the banks, Tepper interpreted the plan as a signal that the government would do whatever was necessary to cover the bad debts of the financial elite. He took for good coin repeated statements by top administration officials that they had no intention of taking control of teetering Wall Street firms.

    Thus, when most investors were dumping bank stocks, driving their prices to bargain basement levels, Tepper directed his traders to begin buying bank stocks and debt. By the end of the following month, the flood of cash, cheap loans and other government subsidies to the banks began to lift bank stock prices, fuelling a run-up on the markets that has seen the Dow rise by more than 50 percent since its lows in early March.

    Tepper bet that the Obama administration would respond to the financial crash with an unprecedented plundering of the national treasury, and he bet right.

    On February 20, for example, Bank of America stock hit a low of $2.53. Citigroup had fallen to 97 cents by March 5. Tepper responded by buying huge blocks of shares and cashing in when Citigroup shares tripled and Bank of America stock rose five-fold from its low point.

    Tepper, the Journal reports, has generally kept his hedge fund profitable—it has averaged 30 percent yearly returns—by betting that markets would recover after major crises. During the Asian financial crisis of 1997, he bought Russian debt and Korean stocks, both of which staged major rebounds. He made a killing when commodity purchases he made in 2007 took off in value amid a general commodity price boom in 2008. “His biggest scores over the years have come from buying large chunks of out-of-favor investments,” the Journal notes.

    However, his fund lost more than $1 billion in big bets in 2008, and its earnings fell 25 percent, worse than the industry’s average decline of 19 percent. His fortunes turned in 2009 when he bet everything on the government’s total subordination to Wall Street.

    In many ways, Tepper’s success is emblematic of the social layers that have benefitted from the Obama administration’ s financial policies, even as millions of workers have lost their jobs, seen their wages and benefits cut, lost their homes and been thrown into poverty.

    This is how the Journal describes Mr. Tepper:

    “The husky, bespectacled trader laughs easily, but employees say he can quickly turn on them when he’s angry. Mr. Tepper keeps a brass replica of a pair of testicles in a prominent spot on his desk, a present from former employees. He rubs the gift for luck during the trading day to get a laugh out of colleagues.”

    The newspaper reports that Tepper has turned his attention to a new investment target, purchasing about $2 billion in “beaten-down” commercial mortgage-backed securities. He is betting that the government will make sure that the billions in such toxic assets on the books of the major banks will rebound, allowing the banks to eventually sell them off at top dollar.

    To put Tepper’s windfall in perspective, his $2.5 billion in personal earnings this year is larger than the $2.4 billion allocated by the federal government for homeless assistance programs. It is equivalent to the medium household income of 50,000 Americans. His hedge fund’s $7 billion profit is greater than the gross domestic product of 57 of 190 countries listed in the 2008 CIA World Fact Book.

    Tepper’s payout comes alongside an expected $140 billion in compensation this year for employees of the biggest Wall Street firms, according to estimates by the Wall Street Journal. The top 50 hedge fund managers took in a combined sum of $29 billion last year.

    Hedgefund.net, writing on Tepper’s windfall, commented that “David Tepper pulled a John Paulson,” referring to the hedge fund manager who took home $3.7 in 2008 after betting on the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.

    Paulson made billions betting on the collapse of the market, Tepper bet on its bailout. This social layer made money on the way down, and even more on the way up. That these people should receive such immense sums for activity that produces no real value is an indictment of capitalism. Tepper’s bonanza demonstrates further that the entire economic policy of the Obama administration has been crafted to preserve the wealth of this parasitical elite.

    Bill Williams

    Toledo, Ohio

    Posted by Bill Williams, 12/23/2009 3:19pm (5 years ago)

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