[Marxism] Why the 'Militant' now says 'middle class radicals', not "middle class left"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Jun 27 23:20:16 MDT 2004


Today the modest numbers of readers of the Militant are probably
accustomed to the term "middle class radicals."  Few are aware of the
editorial thinking that was involved with the choice of the term.  But
it is highlighted by the recent declaration by Robert Simms, a veteran
Canadian supporter of the views of the SWP in good times and in bad
(this is partly praise),  that  "Jew-hatred is not in any way foreign to
liberals and middle-class radicals."     

Note the unconditional character of the statement.  If you are a liberal
or a "middle-class radical," Jew hatred is absolutely not foreign to you
at all. It is, in fact, your historical destiny, your real nature.  If
you are not a Jew-hater or indeed even a fascist, you are simply in
denial (assuming you are middle-class and not a deluded worker).  That
is why, apparently, anyone in the world who believes that the
American-Israel Political Action Committee has a disproportionate
influence influence on US policy toward Israel, even though they may
merely be taking as good coin the proud boasts of that organization, is
a Jew-hater or might as well be.  No need for civil discussion of the
ruling class and how it determines the policies of the US government.
What is called for is simply the  verbal equivalent of workers' defense
guards swinging their clubs in self-defense against Jew hatred and other
forms of violent hatred of the working class, democracy, and socialism.
Thus the author portrays slander of liberals and middle-class radicals
as a necessary militant fight against Jew-hatred.

I am about to engage in what some regard, for reasons I completely
understand, as worthless deconstruction of  SWP history and positions.
People who don't like that should move on to other posts that have
information they have a use for.  No hurt feelings on my part, I
absolutely guarantee you. As for the "waste" of bandwidth -- all I can
say is, if I really thought it was a waste, I wouldn't do it.
Personally, I am absolutely convinced that the history and evolution of
the SWP is an IMPORTANT  part of the history of revolutionary politics
in the United States.  I understand why people think otherwise, but I
also am not convinced that they completely understand the historical
situation.

After the beginning of the turn toward the industrial unions in 1978,
the SWP leadership began to try to introduce a new class precision into
our thinking.  Everything should be thought of in class terms.  Actually
I still do that and its not all wrong, in my firm opinion.  In fact, I
tended to do that and did it in some respects even before I joined the
party.  I always knew, and I still do, that a lot of things the general
"left" thinks are not correct and that class orientation sometimes
underlies the difference.  I DO NOT think that Trotsky and Cannon were
wrong about his in 1940, whatever rigidities they MAY  have introduced
as a consequence. I admit I was always a bit of a "hard" and I have not
become a "soft" to this day.

So we began to call the "opponents" -- the other leftist groups, which
in the reality of the daily struggle were pretty consistently
"opponents,"  -- the petty-bourgeois or middle-class left.  In the late
'80s Jack Barnes introduced a parallel that had some basis, in my
opinion. The "middle-class left" was somewhat like the "petty bourgeois
democrats" in Russia before the revolution. 

But after the fall of the Soviet Union and the disintegration of
Stalinism as a movement (and with the emergence from the bureaucracy of
elements like Zhirinovsky who acted like incipient fascist types -- I
have no idea whether Zhirinovsky is pushing the same line today, though
he is clearly more isolated if he is still on the same line), a new
approach began to be introduced.  That Stalinists shredded
internationally, and the smaller groups lost their former bases in the
workingf class.
In addition, the 1992  elections in the United States saw the emergence
of Buchanan (who I think really represented an attempt to launch an
incipiently fascist movement with his appeals to working-class
discontent about unemployment and shutdowns in a depression situation
and his strong showing in the New Hampshire primary.

At the same time, the Perot campaign emerged -- fundamentally a rightist
challenge to the two-party consensus, but without the "block by block"
cultural war calls of  the Buchanan campaign, the calls for middle class
people to pick up their pitchforks (and their guns?) and take over, the
calls for a "block by block" cultural WAR (and HE meant war at that
point).   The Militant designated Perot a "bonapartist." I'm not going
to go into the reasons why I now think that designation was misleading.

It was around this time  that the Militant began to replace the term
"middle-class left" with the term "middle class radicals," the idea
being that the entire left had no ties to the working class. Only the
SWP had made the "turn to industry." And therefore only the SWP had any
ties at all to the working class.  In addition to denying that any
leftist group but the SWP had real ties to the working class, the idea
was also introduced that the "middle class radicals" had no necessary or
organic ties to bourgeois democracy.  They might support bourgeois
democracy now, but they could swing to the rightist opposition to
bourgeois democracy in any crisis.

This was made a self-fulfilling prophecy by beginning to view middle
class radicals as a  grouping that extended from the ultraleft to the
far right in a naturally connected spectrum, in which one sector shades
off into another until it reaches its natural and logical  end point --
fascism.  Nothing rightist, including anti-semitism and also including
fascism as a movement aimed at smashing the working class and
eliminating all bourgeois-democratic rights,  is alien to those whom the
Militant designates as "middle-class radicals."  In rejecting the
party's turn, they all set off on an inevitable rightist course, that,
if its natural evolution reaches its logical conclusion, ends with
fascism. Thus the term "petty-bourgeois left" was replaced by "petty
bourgeois radicals" precisely in order to include the fascist-minded or
incipiently fascist far right in the category (although this has never
been stated explicitly).  It is aimed at suggesting that Workers World
is petty-bourgeois radical and the people who bombed the federal
building in Oklahoma are also petty bourgeois radicals.  The Communist
Party is petty-bourgeois radical, and so is the Posse Comitatus.

For a member of Workers World or the Communist Party to become a
Jew-hater, a murderous strike-breaker,  or an outright fascist would not
a fundamental break or change but a natural or organic development. If
it was  a qualitatiive change, it was only such in the sense that the
organic development of a tadpole into a frog or a caterpillar into a
butterfly is a qualitative change.  In fact, if a member of the
Communist Party or Workers World does not become a Jew-hater, murderous
strike-breaker or outright fascist, it is only because political
conditions (imperialist stability or perhaps a working-class upsurge
that they bend to) has prevented them from fulfilling their inherent
potential.

If tomorrow the Communist Party and the Posse Comitatus announced a
regroupment process or a fusion, the Militant would not be "stunned" as
they were, for instance, when the Syrian government decided that it
would be wise to cast their vote for a US resolution on Iraq, in hopes
of delaying what then seemed as a possible imminent invasion of Syria.
(They are a little bolder now.) No, this would seem perfectly natural,
an inevitable outgrowth of the accelerating rightward course of the CP.
It would not represent a change of species for either group, but simply
the logical end point of "petty bourgeois radical" politics. The
Militant headline might read: The Communist Party REALLY breaks from
Leninism (This time we're not kidding, honest!).

Today any and all "leftists" are presented as moving further and further
to the right at an accelerating rate and under intense pressures of
"class polarization."  Of course actual class polarization was and is
taking place and it is, in some ways, deeper than in the past.  It took
me a while to get that the party's central leadership was seeing this
process in a different way than I did.

At the basis of it was a conception of  "THE"  petty bourgeoisie as a
cohesive, fundamentally reactionary force -- and as organically and
inevitably tending to become  fascist in any deep economic, social, and
political crisis.  They are basically by nature the fascist,
anti-democratic, Jew-hating, and racist class. SWP members are educated,
in defense of the turn as the leaders conceive it, to hate (and resent)
the petty bourgeoisie in a special way.  An imperialist mass-murderer
like Donald Rumsfeld can be approached with profound respect in a kind
of good-sport, jump-over-the-net, my-worthy-opponent spirit.  But not
the petty bourgeoisie, and certainly not purely hateful and contemptible
petty-bourgeois radicals.  They are capable of any evils and all evils.
In the last couple decades, the SWP has had a tendency to view the petty
bourgeoisie -- even more than the imperialist ruling class -- as, to use
Ronald Reagan's pithy phrase, "the focus of evil in the world."

Since the petty-bourgeois radicals had no roots or connections with the
working class anymore, their natural direction was towards reaction in
all its manifestations, such as anti-Semitism and hatred of the working
class,  including fascism  A special dispensation was offered to farmers
-- they could be treated as workers and included in a two-class
socialist government as long as they thought and acted EXACTLY as the
SWP thought workers MUST think act. 

This can be viewed as a vast extension of  the view that Barnes
expressed back in 1980 that there was "a Mariel in the radical
movement."  I don't think that any revolutionary who reviews the
evolution of everybody they know or every prominent leftist of the '60s
or '70s can doubt that something of this kind has taken place.

But like every kernel of a correct idea that Jack Barnes expressed from
at least that time on (interimperialist conflict is growing and a third
world war is possible and so on and so on), he has "bent the stick" and
headed straight into outer space with it. Peter Camejo noted the
beginnings of this exaggeration in the pamphlet "Against Sectarianism"
that he wrote after his withdrawal or whatever from the SWP. I have
concluded that this pamphlet was a useful contribution, despite
disagreements I still have with it, about the sectarianization that
occurred in the process of the form and evolution of the "turn to
industry" that we carried out (another idea that wasn't all wrong, in my
opinion, but was taken into strange and distant galaxies by the workings
of the leadership's political "logic").  Among other, and actually more
important, problems, this was not the dialectical "logic of Marxism"
that Trotsky defended against Burnham in 1940, but a variant of formal
logic with some peculiar crackpot twists.

The same process may be taking place of taking a basically sound idea
into unexplored and unheard of regions may be taking place around the
Jewish question.  Back in the 1980s, partly as part of the effort to
view all things in what Barnes and other central leaders considered
"class terms," the SWP responded to Farrakhan's anti-Semitism by
endorsing the idea that there was a broad "class conflict" between
Blacks and Jews as groups based on their class composition.  Jews were
petty bourgeois and Blacks were proletarian, and therefore there were
elements of class struggle between them. (Of course, the axis of class
conflict is not between the working class and the petty bourgeoisie, but
between the working class and the imperialist ruling class, and, in
addition, both Blacks and Jews are class-divided although the
stereotyped labelling does reflected real differences in the class
composition of the two groups.) 
 
The  SWP corrected this idea (and, in the later stages, I played a part
in the process by openly challenging the attempt to preserve this line,
codified in pp. 60-61 of the 1985 political resolution published in New
International no. 5). 

Well, nobody can argue that the SWP is not opposed to anti-Semitism
today (although how they will respond when Jews come under a real attack
in the United States is, in my opinion, completely unpredictable). They
have in fact moved toward those who today use charges of anti-Semitism
as a club against any progressive struggle.  In fact they are "bending
the stick" as they do whenever they take an idea seriously and taking it
into outer space in the spirit of the inspired anti-science crackpot
Charles Fort's slogan "Skyward, ho!"  The SWP leaders have come to
deeply and sincerely y believe that "bending the stick" is much more
important than actually trying to get anything right. And as is their
practice on any progressive idea or action they support (the Miners
strike in Utah which they help lead and so on) they counterpose it to
the everything else in the class struggle, so that it becomes a
justification for absention -- and maybe worse.

Although plain old ultrasectarianism should not be left out of the
picture.  If the SWP decides it is for immediate withdrawal from Iraq,
they naturally present themselves as the only people who are.  And
similarly, if they decide to oppose anti-Semitism, it is natural for
them to decide that they and their supporters are the only people in the
United States and  the world (regardless of nationality or religious
affiliation) who are REALLY opposed to Jew-hatred.

I believe the SWP's  approach to the evolution of the middle-class left
is fundamentally wrong, but there is no better argument for  THEIR
position than the rightist evolution of the "middle-class radical" or
"middle-class left" Socialist Workers Party itself.  I believe they are
absolutely not heading toward fascism (or Jew-hatred or anti-Black
racism) but are rather converging on some issues with mainstream
bourgeois Republican conservatism.  This includes their clear (to me, at
least)  belief that the Bush administration is the lesser evil (although
they reject VOTING for the lesser evil).  They see Bush, Rumsfeld, et al
as under a broad rightward-moving attack (utilizing anti-Semitism among
other things) from an array of reactionary-tending forces (and
associated "fools" and dupes) ranging from Buchanan to the liberals to
Nader to the "middle class radicals" and their nefarious antiwar
protests -- all of them natural (though mostly not yet conscious)
anti-Semites and potential though not yet "incipient" fascists.

By the way, on a lighter note, people who think that Christopher
Hitchens went a bit off the deep end in his review of Fahrenheit 911,
they should wait with bated breath for the Militant's review (assuming
there is one).  If Seymour Hersch's articles on Abu Ghraib promoted
Jew-hatred, the Militant should view Michael Moore's movie as a virtual
beer-hall putsch against the persecuted and oppressed Bush
administration.
Fred Feldman





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