[Marxism] the mysterious pro-McKinney document found in Cleveland

Joaquín Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Tue Jul 1 16:52:26 MDT 2008


On Tue, Jul 1, 2008 at 2:32 PM, Andrew Pollack <acpollack2 at gmail.com> wrote:
> So I finally got around to reading the first three pages, which were
> sent to me offlist.
> I recognized it as the Socialist Organizer editorial I had previously
> seen posted elsewhere. The original is at:
> http://www.socialistorganizer.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=139&Itemid=5

An interesting editorial -- the first part captures, I think, the
essence of the case that I think could be made for calling for a vote
for Obama, but then, instead of a materialist discussion of electoral
tactics and whether there is anything to be gained thereby, and how it
would be achieved, things shift to purely ideological (idealist)
grounds, to the effect of therefore we have to counterpose ourselves
to the overwhelming majority of people, especialy youth and Blacks,
who have gone into motion inspired by these aspirations and ideals we
have been describing.

In "normal" political activities --coalitions, demonstrations,
campaigns for political prisoners or some specific reform-- we're
perfectly willing to go through the experience with people, even
fighting for things that are a lot less than a real solution to the
problem being addressed, understanding that it is from lived
experience and not mere preaching that people learn and radicalize.
That was certainly true of my generation in the 60's. We ALL started
from mildly "liberal" or "progressive" opposition to segregation or
McCarthyism or The War, and it was from engagement in the movement
around such issues, and exchanges with people we met there, that we
radicalized.

But when it comes to politics in the electoral arena, all of a sudden
this changes. And maybe that's right: nothing less than something that
is at least in some sense independent from the bourgeois parties
counts. But what made me increasingly skeptical of this received
wisdom, and brought me to a place where I often feel estranged even
from someone I completely identified with politically a few years ago,
like our moderator Louis, is precisely McKinney and her trajectory.

By the sorts of arguments presented in the editorial and similar
arguments we see on this list virtually every day, socialists and
radicals in the Atlanta area and especially advocates of independent
political action such as the Greens should have rejected and sharply
counterposed themselves to her. But that isn't what actually happened.

Especially influenced by my friend and comrade Badili Jones (who was
then national co-chair of the Greens and is now a prominent figure
associated with the Freedom Road Socialist Organization) many radicals
and socialists supported McKinney. ACTIVELY supported her. This was
not uncritical support, but the key "criticism" was that McKinney
should be building a political structure independent of the Democrat
machine, which was necessary because it was precisely the traditional
Democrat circles and structures (including in the Black community)
that were trying to knife her in the back. And when McKinney got back
her congressional seat the last time around, some of her staffers came
out of the Greens, including the person who was effectively the head
of the Georgia Greens, as well as a Black comrade who was (at least
briefly) in Solidarity and so on. Which is one reason why there's no
Green Party (that I know of) left in GA today, and when McKinney
decided to run as a Green for President, she moved to California,
because there was nothing to build on here.

I think it is fair to say that McKinney is where she is today because
of that "intervention" by radicals of various traditions (not just
"Maoists" but also, for example, a Workers World comrade who had been
one of the most prominent leaders of the "Proletarian Orientation"
opposition in the SWP in the early 70's, in addition to people
somewhat closer to traditional Trostkyist and "socialism from
below"-type ideas).

I think Sister Cynthia grew NOT JUST from being involved in those
fights but ALSO from the contact and exchanges she had with those
supporting her from these Maoist, Trot, and State-Capitalist
traditions. As well, I'm sure, from "Stalinists" (current or former
followers of the pro pre-1989 Moscow CP).

But I'm also of the opinion that one of the main reasons there isn't
anything left here to build on in any immediate way from that
experience is the way that intervention was carried out.

Of course I think it is also true that McKinney was an exceptional
individual and the circumstances were exceptional -- the established
representative in Congress of the DeKalb county Black community, which
was being deprived the right of having the person it wanted in
Congress by a cabal of traditional Democrats who allied with
Republicans in manipulating Georgia's open primaries to promote --with
Zionist and other bourgeois financing-- Black opportunists so that in
the general election in the fall, people in this district didn't have
the option of voting for their Congresswoman, Sister Cynthia McKinney.

Many comrades, I know, viewed the McKinney case in those elections a
few years ago as the exception that proved the rule of never, ever
voting for a Democrat EXCEPT in this one and completely unique case
where the central issue was really the right of the Black community to
have the person it wanted in Congress, AND it just so happened that
this person was the ONE member of the Black Caucus who REFUSED to
submit to Democrat Party discipline, and in fact was entirely willing
to not just criticize but DENOUNCE "her" party.

But for me, it proved just the opposite, that voting in bourgeois
elections, even for a straight-up bourgeois party candidate (not even
just BOURGEOIS "workers" party fakers, like the old social democratic
parties of Lenin's time after WWI), but actually, a candidate of the
OLDEST bourgeois party in the world, is strictly and purely a TACTICAL
question.

But of course, I say that with the understanding that tactics must
always be at the service of a strategic line designed to attain grand
objectives. As we are all Marxists or aspire to be, I think we can
define that objective as the founders of our movement defined it in
the our founding Manifesto:

"The immediate aim of the Communists is the same as that of all other
proletarian parties: formation of the proletariat into a class,
overthrow of the bourgeois supremacy, conquest of political power by
the proletariat....

"[T]he first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise
the proletariat to the position of ruling class[,] to win the battle
of democracy."

What is meant here by "formation of the proletariat into a class"?
Clearly not assuring that all working people are employed as wage
workers, but rather transforming the working class from a merely
objective reality, what a younger Marx had called a "class in itself"
into a "class for itself," an organized and self-conscious political
force, a PARTY, but not merely in a bourgeois-electoral sense of a
group aiming to administer (and profit from administering) existing
social and political institutions, but one that will bring into being
its own institutions and transform the structure of society, which is
why Marx and Engels follow the bit about "winning the battle of
democracy" ("winning the battle of democracy" because working people
were then, are now, and have always been the MAJORITY) with this:

"Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means
of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions
of bourgeois production; by means of measures, therefore, which appear
economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of
the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon
the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely
revolutionising the mode of production."

So while all tactics are permissible "in principle," not all tactics
are equal. Only those tactics will do which serve to advance the
"immediate aim" of us Marxists, "formation of the proletariat into a
class," into a self-conscious political force, into a class-for-itself
movement -- or will take us at least a little bit closer to that goal.

But something else needs to be added here: We have to judge the
efficacy of proposed tactics in a MATERIALIST not an IDEALIST way.
That is why I quoted the rest of the material from the Communist
Manifesto. Because some people might imagine that, for example, since
our ultimate aim is to expropriate the capitalists, nothing less than
demand for nationalization will do, and doing what Peter Camejo was
doing a few years ago when he was running for governor of California
as a "watermelon" green (Green on the outside, red on the inside) with
a central plank in his platform calling for rich people to pay at
least as much in taxes as "regular people do" (as Peter put it), to be
the crassest sort of bourgeois-reformist betrayal.

Marx and Engels follow what I quoted with this:

"These measures will, of course, be different in different countries.

"Nevertheless, in most advanced countries, the following will be
pretty generally applicable.

"1. Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land
to public purposes.
"2. A heavy progressive or graduated income tax."

That number two is precisely what Peter was advocating, given the
structures of U.S. taxation. Given the (in reality) more or less 15%
social security and medicare "payroll" tax (up to around $100K+ in
income, beyond that it drops to 0%), Peter's program was for a
progressive, graduated income tax, just like Marx said. How "heavy" it
was is, of course, a matter of opinion, but judging from the outraged
howls of his bourgeois opponents, I think it was, in that context,
"heavy" enough to make the point.

Returning now to electoral tactics, it is fairly straightforward to
devise these once working people have begun to cohere into at least
the beginning of "a party."

There's lots of discussions and debates and different approaches that
have been tried once the ball gets rolling, so to speak.

Where --frankly-- "the classics" are of very little use is where the
ball ISN'T rolling, in fact, where the ball is nowhere to be found.
Like in our case, where not only don't we see the beginnings of a
class party, we see absolutely NO real motion on a clear and explicit
CLASS basis towards independent politics. And never mind independent
politics. We see no evidence of clear and explicit working class
motion towards anything whatsoever. None. Zero. Zilch. Absolutely and
utterly NOT THERE.

So much so that what are clearly (to be brutally frank) predominantly
petty-bourgeois efforts based mainly in radicalized sectors of the
intelligentsia seem to be light years ahead of where "the working
class" is at. So for lack of anything more, we relate to them, and
come up with formulations like "motion towards independent political
action by a sliver of the working people" to describe what we're
actually pushing in terms that might make some sense from a Maxist
perspective.

And THEN there's the Black and (mostly) immigrant communities, which
have historically been and today REMAIN the hard core of the U.S.
proletariat, the layers that, in THIS social setting (albeit not
viewed more broadly) have "nothing to lose but their chains."

The Black community has in every way --socially, politically,
ideologically-- been the vanguard of the entire proletariat but most
of all this "hard core" super-exploited layer for an entire historical
epoch, blatantly, even outrageously so for more than half a century.
And it has fought a dogged fight for political empowerment, inclusion
and representation which, in the narrow confines of the electoral
arena, has BOTH found expression in the Democratic Party AND been
curbed by being expressed in and through the Democratic Party.

And now here comes Barack Obama. The first African-American to have a
clear, clean shot at the White House, because he claims to represent
TWO things WE understand to be in complete contradiction: he is both
Black and a genuine, sincere, effective and committed defender of the
racist bourgeois-imperialist European-colonial-settler-dominated
American socio-economic formation AND state AND its ruling class.

We say, it can't possible be --that's like combining matter and
anti-matter-- but that IS the way it is, that is the way he presents,
NOT as an individual politician, that is easily enough disposed of, as
Louis and others never seem to tire of demonstrating at least three
times a day on this list, but as a political phenomenon, as a social
reality.

Devising tactics on the basis that he's just a bourgeois SOB is easy
enough. Devising tactics that are EFFECTIVE in a MATERIALIST way with
the layer of most conscious Black militants who will readily admit he
is a bourgeois SOB, but nevertheless want him to win because he is
THEIR bourgeois SOB, is an entirely different matter.

Because what a completely conscious Black militant would say is, sure,
he is a bourgeois-imperialist politician, but why should only white
folks be allowed to be top dog among bourgeois imperialist
politicians? Down with white privilege among bourgeois imperialist
politicians!

And then there's the underlying subtext of the message of the Obama
campaign addressed to his left, that as a BLACK bourgeois imperialist
politician in THIS society, he will be a kinder, gentler, more
reasonable, less warmongering bourgeois imperialist politician than a
white one from either party.

AND you've got the Black community, and I mean solidly, perhaps Lenin
and Trotsky might have had more support in the Petrograd working class
on Nov. 8 or 9, 1917, but by the 11th or 12th, if they had had public
opinion surveys back then in Russia, they would have had a hard time
matching Barrack's numbers in the Black community, you've got the
Black community, the most heroic, combative, conscious sector of the
working people of the United States saying, that's right, and that's
why we we want him.

And they've been at this game of backing Blacks through the Democrats
for four decades now, and the most conscious, perceptive, insightful
and committed militants will freely admit it won't make all the
difference in the world and there is a possibility it will make no
difference at all. But their experience says that, on average, it will
make SOME difference, and MOST OF ALL some difference for the Black
community. Not nearly as much as they want, not nearly as much as it
should, not even in the same universe, never mind planet as the
suffering and heroism of the community entitles it to, but, yes, SOME
difference.

You EITHER recognize that or say that even the most conscious, far
seeing militants of the most combative, heroic, etc. etc. etc. section
of the working people in the U.S. have got their heads stuck up their
behinds so much that any formulation that suggests there might, in
theory, conceivably, be SOME hope for a revolutionary change in the
United States has got to be replaced with formulations that make clear
that there is absolutely, categorically and irrefutably NO HOPE
WHATSOEVER, and that the solution to humanity's American problem is
simply to rub it out, to destroy it completely, utterly and
irrevocably.

But this is an opinion I hold only when I'm not at the peak of my
political manic-depressive cycles. What can I say? Tuesday afternoons
are my good time.

But if we take for good coin the Black community's belief that it does
make some difference (not all the difference in the world, not a
QUALITATIVE difference, but, yes, SOME)  and especially FOR the Black
community, then we have to think clearly about our strategic
objectives and what the intermediate steps in achieving them are.

Is the next step towards political independence cohering the CLASS
movement across the color line? I know a lot of people are going to
rend their garments and say this is blasphemy, treason to Marxism, but
so be it. I think not. I think the NEXT step is cohering the COLOR
movement, the national movements of oppressed peoples, EVEN across
"class" lines.

WHY? Because, atomized and dominated as they may be by bourgeois
forces, at least the national movements of Blacks and Latinos as
peoples EXIST. There is a space to wage the fight. Anyone who thinks
that there is a CLASS movement in this country (apart from, of course,
the IMPERIALIST movement, but also in national form, the white
American national movement) is FOOLING THEMSELVES.

That's what I think, that's the conclusion I draw from 40-some years
of political activity as a rebel in this country, about 39 of those as
a conscious Marxist and revolutionary (even if not always a very
skillful, insightful or effective one, as I see things now). There is
not --NOT YET!-- even the beginnings of a conscious class movement in
this country EXCEPT as a manifestation of the national movements of
oppressed peoples.

Does this mean I think that "we" SHOULD support Obama?  ("Critically"
of course!).

Actually, no.

What I REALLY think is that the Marxist/socialist/radical left's
complete inability to mount even a PRETEND intervention in this
situation should lead us all to redouble our efforts to provide the
materials that might help to lay the foundation for a real left and a
real socialist movement in this country in the future. That's much
more important than anything we could mount now.

Personally, I think this should be done subtly, with tact and grace,
for example by going to the very next meeting of whatever group,
league, party, organization or circle that might have the honor of
counting one of us among its members and putting the following motion
on the floor:

"WHEREAS: The capitalist system has now placed the world in such a
state that the very survival, not just of civilization. but of most
species and conceivably even the ecosystem as a whole has been put
into question; and

"WHEREAS: The [name of group] in [city or other jurisdiction] has
proved itself completely ineffective in convincing even a half-dozen
people in the last few [days/weeks/months/years/decades] of the
absolute necessity of socialism to avert this catastrophe;

"Therefore be it

"RESOLVED: That the [place] [branch, cell, local or other unit] of the
[name of group] considers that the best contribution it can make to
the bright communist future of humanity is to dissolve."

Joaquin




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