It takes a nation of flunkies to hold us back
Having been out of town and not posting for a week, I see that the blog’s readership has settled down to a nice equilibrium: zero. So, time to make the donuts.
Today my special friend is Sam Webb, the General Secretary of the Communist Party USA. I am a regular reader of their newspaper (ie, “central organ”) People’s World. This often surprises comrades, who wonder if it doesn’t indicate some kind of political masochism. Well, yes, but I also think PW is an important paper. Not because the CP is very important, but because it says openly and “theoretically” what left-liberalism only thinks or does “pragmatically.” (This is rather a holdover from old-fashioned Leninism, this notion that you have to justify what you do.)
Sam Webb is my favorite CP writer, probably for the same reason that buffalo were the white hunter’s favorite animal: affection for an slow-moving target. A characteristic piece of Webbish argumentation is the following: “Sometimes we can learn lessons from our adversaries. I better explain myself before I get in trouble.” As if the idea of learning from one’s enemy isn’t something that every child has heard of or even thought up himself.
In Sam’s latest, he waxes incredulous that the “mass activity” around Obama’s campaign in 2008 hasn’t translated into some species of sustained mass movement.
For me what stands out is the inadequate mobilization of the American people in this struggle…. For whatever reasons, the level of mass activity at the national level hasn’t approached that which took shape in the course of the 2008 election campaign. During the campaign mass activity was broad, grassroots, united and sustained over time. It brought millions into organized activity as well as influenced the thinking and actions of many more millions who went to the polls.
But it didn’t carry over to the post-election period.
Sam’s point is that the lack of social mobilization, in contrast to the 1930s or 1960s, is the main reason why American politics totally sucks. That’s a basically correct point, although Sam puts it in terms of “reduc[ing] the progressive potential of the Obama victory,” as if it were a matter of “reduction” instead of complete reversal. That aside, however, it’s true that the disorganization and disarticulation of the American working class is the key to why it’s in so much trouble.
But it’s a bit precious when the leader of the Communist Party says that this has happened “for whatever reasons,” since it’s pretty easy to think of at least one reason: the Communist Party. To whit, consider the extraordinary article “I’m not going to protest President Obama” by Dan Margolis, PW Managing Editor, published October 2009. Here’s an excerpt:
I’ll say it out front: I’m not going to spend my time protesting the president. While there are some things he’s said and done with which I disagree and would openly and plainly criticize, in many ways I don’t want him moving to the left.
Later in the same article (and apparently forgetting his own first paragraph) Margolis goes even further: “To restate what’s in the title of this article: I’m not going to criticize Obama.”
Now it could be that Sam vociferously disagrees with Dan, or that Dan has changed his mind. The Stalinist parties are, after all, famous for their pluralism and willingness to admit mistakes. It doesn’t really matter in any event, because what the CP said is what most of left-liberalism actually did: suppress any activity directed against the policies of the Obama administration.
Perhaps Sam and Dan don’t see any contradiction between the two of them; they don’t want a mass movement that opposes the president, but rather one that challenges the right wing. But that’s not really how social movements work, is it? Movements are either for something or they’re not. If you want, say, an antiwar movement that doesn’t criticize a pro-war Democrat, then you don’t really want an antiwar movement. And if you want a movement that only criticizes the Republican Party, well, that already exists: it’s called the Democratic Party.
So this is what’s really disgusting about liberalism: it ever and always demands that the people dismantle its independent activism–and then scolds the people for not being independently active.