In the first installment of this essay, I introduced the topics of discussion and proceeded to an assessment of the recent March on Washington and the International Socialist Organization’s (ISO) intervention in it. For this installment, which covers “the (ir)relevance of the united front tactic or ‘method’ in the present day,” I will assume that you have read the introduction, but not the subsequent material, since it has no bearing on the present matter at hand.
Which is interesting, isn’t it? How did my August 6 letter on the March, which never mentioned the united front, somehow–more than two weeks later and largely after the March was over–spur a theoretical debate on the united front? The point of departure is Paul D’Amato’s article on the united front, published on August 13. This article is almost entirely historical, save for a very brief concluding note on the ongoing relevance of the “methodology outlined by Trotsky.” But its real impact was brilliantly laid bare by MB’s letter of August 21:
I wonder if Paul intended the article to be a part of the recent debate about the ISO’s role in the March on Washington…. I initially read it that way, as I imagine many readers did, given the debate that has been taking place in SocialistWorker.org and in other places online, and because International Socialist Organization training and analysis would lead most members to say that we should participate in the March as part of a united front strategy.
If this is the case, I would like to suggest that it would be more productive to explicitly reference the March on Washington. Otherwise, the article has the feel of weighing in without actually addressing comrades’ concerns about the March. The article risks stifling a still-forming debate by invoking a core political idea–with all the authority that such an idea carries in the organization–without digging into the particular arguments and analysis that comrades have brought up in this particular debate.
If you’re a member of the American International Socialist Organization (ISO)–and why wouldn’t you be?–you may have experienced an amusing bit of cognitive dissonance on the morning of July 22. On the one hand you would have received the latest ISO Notes from the national center promoting the 50th Anniversary March on Washington as the crucial next step in the anti-racist struggle following the vile acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s killer. The August 24 march will be, per the Notes, a chance to initiate a national outcry against racial profiling, police misconduct, unemployment, and a number of other aspects of systemic racism.
On the other hand, if you listened to Democracy Now! that same morning, you heard this from Cornel West:
Brother Martin would not be invited to the very march in his name, because he would talk about drones. He’d talk about Wall Street criminality. He would talk about working class being pushed to the margins as profits went up for corporate executives in their compensation. He would talk about the legacies of white supremacy. Do you think anybody at that march will talk about drones and the drone president? Will you think anybody at that march will talk about the connection to Wall Street? They are all on the plantation.
Earlier in the same interview, he was even more slashing:
We’ve got a black leadership that is deferential to Obama, that is subservient to Obama, and that’s what niggerizing is. You keep folks so scared. You keep folks so intimidated. You can give them money, access, but they’re still scared. And as long as you’re scared, you’re on the plantation.
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.)
When a journal called Jacobin publishes a lead editorial called “Dancing on Liberalism’s Grave,” one surely has the right to expect a good time: some music, or maybe steps. Instead one is treated to a small lecture about how one “should…be wary of slipping into a rhetorical posture of unrestrained invective.” Ain’t that some sad shit? It’s like your Quaker friend who wouldn’t celebrate when Reagan died, insisting that an old man dying with Alzheimer’s wasn’t any occasion for fun. But at least she didn’t call herself a Jacobin, for Christ’s sake.
So why should the left put away its boogie shoes when it enters the pet cemetery of liberalism? The editors quote Jefferson Cowie rehashing an old chestnut of Michael Harrington’s:
Unlike many leftists at the time, [Harrington] understood that the Left depended upon liberalism being strong in order to build upon. Others saw it differently, operating from the idea that if activists tore down liberalism then people would move to the “true” left.
Of course the view of the “others” is a bit caricatured here. Hitler certainly tore down liberalism, and no one save Stalin thought that Hitler was doing the left any favors. “Many leftists” don’t want to tear down liberalism just for fun (although it is a good way of having fun); rather, we want to build the left. And if lots of people are socialists, that’s a lot of people who aren’t liberals, isn’t it?
The London (and beyond) riots seem to me completely comprehensible. Not in the sense that every or any particular act is comprehensible, but as a social phenomenon they are completely easy to understand–even overdetermined by youth unemployment, budget austerity, racism, police brutality (highlighted by a police murder), official corruption on open display, etc. Not two months ago, the Daily Mail (UK) ran a nifty piece on how the rich were loading up on private security; and if even rich people have noticed something, it’s scarcely clear how one could make it more obvious.
So I was not at all impressed with Jonathan Freedland’s argument that “[i]t’s striking that the targets have not been town halls or, say, Tory HQ – stormed by students last November – but branches of Dixons, Boots and Carphone Warehouse.” Well, a riot is a riot, not an insurrection or an organized mass action. In retrospect we’ll probably discover hidden patterns and subconscious “politics” in the gestalt of destruction; but in any event, is it awfully hard to dig why poor (or even not-so-poor) youngsters might want to abscond with pleasurable things that are ordinarily denied them? Is it really so difficult to think these things through?
The New York Times today published two pieces in its Sunday Review, each of which directly contradicted the other foundationally and prescriptively. The first piece is by Prof. Drew Westen and asks “What Happened to Obama?” (but don’t decide it’s frightfully boring just yet). The second piece is by one of the NYT’s newbie columnists, Frank Bruni: “True Believers, All of Us.”
The Westen is definitely part of that raft of liberal whining that breaks out whenever Obama does something particularly depraved, that the White House seems to have more and more trouble stifling, though there’s no reason to think that they won’t eventually. Admittedly one feels slightly, darkly sympathetic to Obama Mission Control, which can’t be held entirely responsible for the gullibility of America’s liberals. It’s like a person who buys a car from a well-known notorious crook, and then gets furious angry when it turns out to be a lemon. Well, what did he expect?