fragments of an attempted writing.

protest aesthetics: whine vs. fist

American protest aesthetics:

 Apparently pepper spray excites more than just the face.
 Does this person have any neck muscles??
Punky Brewster's sinister radical side.


Non-American protest aesthetics:

 Alternative use for red flags.
 WarNerd says it's the less bright kid that gets abandoned by his friends without knowing it in these situations.  But I don't think that is the case here.  I'm sticking with the opinion that this kid is just plain old bad ass.  That or he had something he really didn't want to admit in a game of truth or dare.
Not in need of comment. 


OK, sure.  The above is a bit of a simplistic contrast, but the culture and mass psychology of American protesting do seem to breed the whining of whiners.  I now have seen dozens of photos of police arresting Occupy protesters which used the word "brutal" in the description (I'm not talking about the pepper spray photos here).  In a minority of these photos the police were being mean, using more force than necessary for compliance, and so forth, but in none of them were they being brutal.  When going to a direct action which involves meeting police, one has to expect that the use of police force is a possibility.  One might then muster some fortitude and some, ahem, fight.  But instead, in American protesting circles, the cult of the victim is brought out and deified.

The game is something like NBA basketball - as soon as you barely get touched you fall over and scream "FOUL!!!"  In this case the refs are the American public.  And in a certain sense this game works - the Occupy movements went from obscurity to national attention in part because of the stupidity of police forces in using unneeded levels of force.  But, I'm not sure what I think of this game's potential longterm benefits to the working classes.

I, for one, think this endemic of protesters claiming to be the oppressed and then moaning "you're hurting me, stop it, stop it" when touched by a police officer is actually counterproductive in a class war, in the long run anyway.  [Of course, the Occupy protests are perhaps not in any meaningful sense acts of class war - they might be pre-class war; plenty on the left hope they develop into class war; but thus far it remains to be seen what comes of them.]  The point of protests is to empower the working classes.  The point is to confront capital with the the belief that the working class has within its power the ability to destroy the shackles of wage slavery.  Look at the labor actions from 1877 to the 1930s which inspired workers across the country.  The overwhelming aesthetic of the labor martyrs and famous strikers was the image of men and women who were solid, fierce, and essentially saying - "go ahead, beat me, kill me, you will only make us stronger in doing so - you pathetic dirty bastards."  Even when that wasn't the case (and it surely wasn't always the case) - that was the image American labor sought to promote of itself to its members.  Those were labor strugglers reared on narratives like that of Joe Hill, who told his supporters when his execution was imminent "Don't mourn!  Organize!" and when facing his firing squad, yelled out the piss and vinegar command "fire!" as his last word.  Now we in the American left are being taught to intuit that a pepper sprayed pertly nippled hipstress screaming and writhing in pain, the perfect victim, is the apotheosis of class war suffering.  Good grief.

One can hardly hope for things being much better on the local front with training sessions like this in the works (multiple times in the next week, and promoted as "free" in the local Occupy circles - like, uh, seriously, who pays cash money to be told how not to hit someone and to chant "peace!, peace!, peace!" with the crowd when someone is getting worked up??).  And then this dismal bit of hipster religion, promoted on the local Occupy FB page to "help us prepare."  The next thing they asked us to read was a chart explaining the Quaker decision making process.  Whew.

Thinking of Rep. John Lewis not being able to speak at the Occupy Atlanta because he didn't have time to wait for the consensus procedure to get to him at the Atlanta general assembly.  Lewis was very gracious about it, saying he knew and understood such processes, having come up in SNCC.  This got me to thinking that in SNCC part of the reason for radical egalitarian procedures was that you had a lot of blacks and whites working together who didn't have much experience in decision making processes which involved racial diversity.  In other words - the radical egalitarianism was itself focused on a specific social pathology - that being whites used to telling blacks what to do, or at least having been raised with the intuition that blacks need whites to tell them what to do.  Given that history, there is something of an irony when a similar egalitarian process ends up keeping a black civil rights and protest elder from being able to speak.

I recently read an account (I now can't find the link) of the night the police looked like they were going to break up Occupy Atlanta protesters at Troy Davis Park, but then ended up not doing that.  It was a very well written post and in it the writer reflected on the "baby steps" that have to occur in the development of protest psychology.  In spite of all I have written above, there is some hope for that coming out of the Occupy movements.  It is generally a good thing when protesters get arrested together.  It radicalizes them and increases solidarity.  This writer was talking about how a number of the people prepared to get arrested in Atlanta were not "professional protesters" but people who had little or no protest experience and a month ago would not have dreamed of getting arrested in a political protest.  To the extent that the Occupy movements increase the number of people who fall into the camp of those initiated into the mass will to confront capitalist power, I'm all for it.  I just hope they move from the aesthetic of whining to the aesthetic of fist somewhere along the way.  In a non-Occupy related protest this week some Milwaukee Ironworker's union friends of mine were arrested protesting the refusal of a local Rep to vote for the Jobs bill.  Whatever one thinks of the usefulness of such a protest, it did result in a widespread display of solidarity and support among the ironworkers, and is the sort of thing (not sanctioned by union leadership, of course) that helps radicalize the rank and file of that union.  We need more of that.

So, ironically, I support the Occupy movements in theory (and in practice, as I prepare to go when they get started here in Memphis), but I also hope that the police come down somewhat hard on them and that there are a plethora of arrests.  Facing choreographed police action builds solidarity, and demands some organized discipline among protesters.  Such group experiences breed radicals.  Fine and well then.

37 comments:

  1. A lot of these cops are former military men who grew up playing football and shooting guns, got PTSD in Iraq or Afghanistan, and would get away with killing you if you charged them/hit them with a red flag/did anything but safe (and ineffective) civil disobedience. Cops in the US have an easier time killing people than in Greece, France, or the UK. OWS protesters are not desperate enough to the point where they are willing to die to have a chance to beat up cops and have a good riot.

    I would love to take part in an action like that, but you know, family and stuff...

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  2. And in Dallas the Occupy Dallas people are getting kicked out of Pioneer Park because they couldn't pay a $1 million event insurance plan... the city gave them a permit and then revoked it.

    Instead of Occupy Dallas it should be Occupy Highland Park/Preston Hollow with a march to the houses of CEOs, hedge fund managers, and such.

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  3. Andrew,

    Yeah, there is truth to that, though I suspect it may be moreso in time to come. Most police dept's haven't been doing a great deal of hiring for the last few years, so recent Iraq/Afghanistan vets haven't had a lot of police jobs to get into, and the age of most police forces has increased a bit.

    The writer of that piece on Atlanta I mention goes in some detail into the manner in which police responses to protests in the U.S. have developed. City Councils are paranoid that there are going to be pictures like this going around the internet:

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150333189205166&set=a.411613975165.213749.592820165&type=1&theater

    And he talked about the intimidation factor and all the training now done to use divide and conquer tactics, etc., instead of actual force. The liabilities and potential for lawsuits is huge, and city councils know that if there is significant police brutality the potential for riots, or just an increased number of protesters, greatly increases.

    You have a number of cops, like my brother, who don't want anything to do with protest duty and crowd control. In a city like Memphis, Atlanta, Dallas, etc., the "type A" cops want to spend their time going after thugs. Even a patrolmen working the night shift riding around in the car, if he wants action, can find it pretty easily if he is working in a "bad neighborhood." He doesn't need to go to a protest full of mostly middle class (or ex-middle class) white hippies to get that. No doubt there are some who relish the thought of cracking some "goddamn hippie" skulls, but the real abusers don't get to vent so much at protests since there are so many other cops and cameras around. Go patrol the ghetto though, and you can pull over some thugs and crack black skulls to car hoods till your heart's content.

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  4. "Instead of Occupy Dallas it should be Occupy Highland Park/Preston Hollow with a march to the houses of CEOs, hedge fund managers, and such."

    Indeed. The logical progression of such mass frustration (I'm not holding my breath, just sayin') would lead acts of occupation and vandalism and arson against the properties of the uberwealthy, especially financiers and CEOs and the like. Go occupy their yachts, their mansions, go protest at their kids' prep schools, egg their limousines and luxury cars, etc.

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  5. Apparently pepper spray excites more than just the face.

    Well, especially when you're not wearing a bra.

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  6. Y'know, cops are the proletariat. They're a heck of a lot more prole than 99% (pun intended) of these whiny college kids are.

    This really is a replay of the late '60s / early '70s. I feel like I'm in a time warp. Only this time around, instead of sporting fringed leather jackets and other pricey accouterments of tuned-out hippieness, the protesters are dolled up in Banana Republic and toting Macbooks and IPads. The revolution will be Skyped, man!

    Sorry for not taking this seriously. Soooo been there, soooo done that.

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  7. At some point these folks need to start actually caring about winning. Instead they are enthralled with democracy and see their ultimate validation as being heard. I swear the folks in Madison still don't think they lost and lost badly. They think they won because all the people demonstrated. Too many fucking moral victories. Perhaps that is one reason why minority groups are eschewing these events.

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  8. Exactly, Diane. Most of the po po I know are just guys working for a paycheck. I think the complaint about football playing, gun shooting cops says more about the commenter than the cops. Talk about a pussified Left...

    Frm one of Owen's Facebook posts - http://www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street-protesters-are-so-angry-about-2011-10#thats-about-60-of-the-net-worth-of-the-country-held-by-the-top-5-left-chart-22

    There's some good reasons for a 80%er, or at most, 90%er. This whole 99% is bullshit.

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  9. Diane,

    It ain't all what the conservative sites say it is. There are a lot of people who show up for marches and little bits of time here and there who are genuinely prole and genuinely angry. I don't know about urban cops being the epitome of prole today. They tend to be near the labor aristocracy. They have among the few union jobs left and most make 50k+ a year with decent benefits (although, to be fair, I think NYPD is among the worse paid large urban forces in the country, as I recall). Those that make 50k a year earn it, sure, but most people in America today making $15 or less an hour with bad or no benefits jobs aren't going to see union workers with 50k a year jobs as representative of the working class. And I can assure you that despite the bobo hipster ethos of the Occupy movements a lot of people making $12 an hour or less, or just unemployed, are showing up.

    And you have occupy locations where the Occupiers and police get along just dandy. Here in Memphis the occupiers will be noting (and have noted) the recent cuts in police pay and the city's recent attacks on police and city worker unions. It will be interesting to see if police will get nasty with people protesting on their behalf. I know my brother, if called to the protests, isn't going to be a blue meany to people he sees as political allies. He'll do his job, but he won't be an asshole.

    One thing that is different now than in the early to mid 70s - then radicalized youth were either completely ignorant of the old left, or moving from an old left to new left direction, or thinking they were moving from new left to old left but actually new leftizising under old leftist motifs. That ain't so much the case today. The new left is, and has been, widely seen as an utter failure, and if anything young radicals tend to be looking more at old leftist theoretical paradigms.

    m.z.,

    There was nothing more dreary than reading the union leadership and Democratic Party rhetoric after the recall elections didn't give Dems the control of the WI state senate. All those people demonstrated, got sent home to do electoral political work by the returning Dem senators, and then they learned, again, through the Kloppenburg and Senate recall elections that the game ain't theirs. If they lose the Walker recall election, a real possibility, what is left? In a certain sense I hope they do lose in order that other means might be considered. When I was in Madison I saw a ton of regular joe mainstream union members cheering the mention of a general strike. But that energy was squelched by union leadership and the Dems. Angry working class people today are more and more open to a return to direct action. Young unemployed and underemployed folks are increasingly easy to radicalize and want direct action. The history of radical direct action is the reason we got unions in the first place, and unions won most of their major concessions by getting rid of their radicals in return for being franchised. Thus union bureaucrats don't want a radicalization because the whole game which gives them cush middle class lives rests on their groups playing nice. But when you can't pay your kid's prescription costs you don't give a damn about nice. You want to burn some shit and throw rocks at the rich and their lackeys and shut down businesses. May a lot of that come soon.

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  10. Another thing that is different between now and the late 60s/70s. With SDS and the new left, you had a huge disconnect between radicals and the working class. A lot of leftist intellectuals have noted this. I recommend especially the section which compares SDS to SNCC in this book:

    http://www.amazon.com/Wobblies-Zapatistas-Conversations-Anarchism-Marxism/dp/1604860413

    The Occupiers have gotten a lot of critique, fast and furiously so, from leftist corners because of the image they have conveyed of being white, hipster, and the like. I think there is much more widespread recognition among radical leftists today that it is ludicrous to not have class as a primary issue and to proceed without working class leadership and participation. Thus you see groups like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers getting widespread recognition in the left as "the way to go" - they have mobilized their own working class membership and brought actual working class people (from the bottom rungs of the working class even) into leadership positions like none of the old big unions do. Here in Memphis we have several groups, for instance the local Workers Interfaith Network, where at every level of planning, direct action, agitation, protest, and the like, you see a lot of diversity of color and rub shoulders with a lot of people who make $8 an hour. The groups that do that sort of work are growing, and becoming more radicalized.

    With the Occupy movement, if moveon.org or the big unions get their hands on it, it is dead in the water, and will dissipate was WI did. If it has any lasting influence it will come from instituting among working class persons the intuition that they alone have the power to confront their masters, and that they alone are responsible for doing this. I don't think the organizational ethos of Occupy is going to facilitate this much, but the actual lived experience of getting arrested or harassed or just making a stand with people against capitalism can evoke some of that consciousness, and lord knows there are plenty of connections to be made at Occupy meetings via which a radicalized working class person can connect with other radicals and find other ways to move in more radical directions.

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  11. http://www.addictinginfo.org/2011/10/14/occupy-wall-street-protesters-stay-in-park-but-cops-get-violent-video/

    In watching these videos I don't know about the first guy - he may have gotten himself run over on purpose, but then seeing the cop billy club him was the sort of thing that rallies the troops - so if he did do it on purpose it worked - good for him. Later in the day they were saying that dude's leg was broken, I don't know how bad. The second video of the cop running up and wailing on the guy is more of a textbook example of police getting nasty, but then consider the response - instead of the crowd returning violence with violence, they all get their cameras out, and the hit dude gets his comeuppance with a "now you might have AIDS, sucker" which, uh, seems to evoke the pussified Left of which Lotar speaks.

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  12. Someone posted on the Occupy Riverside today, pleading people to not call for the violent overthrow of the government, like protesters are apparently doing in Los Angeles, and to not take shits on police cars, like someone did in NY... The fact that someone has to ask people not to do this gives me hope for the direction these protests may take.

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  13. Lotar,

    Well said.


    Funny thing about the shit on the cop car -

    Because police are union and have safety measure protocols out the wazoo, if you shit or piss or leak any bodily fluid on or in a police car they get to take it to get it cleaned. The police just sit there at the 24/7 car cleaning location while others do the work. My brother loves it when someone pisses in his back seat or wipes his bloody head on the side of the car. Means less work for my brother that night.

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  14. This is likely just reactionary sensationalizing, but may it spread...
    http://theweek.com/article/index/220263/occupy-wall-street-turning-violent

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  15. Maybe they should switch from Occupy Wall Street to Overthrow Wall Street?

    A few acts of mischief and they could disrupt things in a "nonviolent" manner... DIY electromagnets, fireworks, tin foil in light sockets, Yes Men style pranks, that sort of thing.

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  16. On the Occupy Dallas note:
    http://blogs.dallasobserver.com/unfairpark/2011/10/occupy_dallas_the_friendliest.php

    Everyone's so nice!

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  17. Andrew,

    My commies in LA, where the pro-violence video that went viral was shot, say that they have a great thing going with the police and city council there right now, and that the Occupy movement, after some initial tension with the city, has a good relationship going at the moment. I think that is probably more of the norm with these things. At the moment anyway.

    You can't deny the OWS folks have theatrics down well - http://willamettereds.blogspot.com/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-gets-creative-around.html

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  18. Then again Lotar, there is always this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uE2M7g_IWSE

    I think that may have been done by the No Men.

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  19. Here's another police hit out of the blue vid - this time a whiteshirt hits a lady:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=vxZ8_JdKm0Q#!

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  20. Well, these videos should give you some satisfaction:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EcBM3Dub9Zo

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8bAejOPyaY

    Of course, the Japanese student movements in the 1960's were the most impressive, with their snake-like movements and white helmets. All the same, Americans have their own tradition of radical protests. They're called "riots". While the organized left (maybe except for the Maoists) see these as unfortunate and backwards, I see them as nothing of the sort.

    All the same, I am glad that someone is starting to do something. I feel, however, that what we are working for is not a 1917, but a 1905. Some really atrocious thing has to happen to shake people out of their complacency regarding the current political and economic order. This will probably not lead to a seizure of power on the first try, but things may move a lot more quickly than we can imagine now. That, or imperialist war will destroy the planet. I don't see a whole lot of "in-between" wiggle room for that one.

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  21. I'm glad this is happening too. It's a start.

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  22. Oh shit! Transgender Maoists! If that won't rally the proletariate, I don't know what will.

    I don't know if it is just my limited experience, but transvestites are the creepiest people I've ever known.

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  23. That is just you Lotar. My experiences with trannies have all been positive.

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  24. Doesn't surprise me. I've only known two, and they were both hypersexualized.

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  25. Would anyone care to comment on Zizek's Communism? Here are a couple recent videos of him addressing an OWS audience:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eu9BWlcRwPQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UpmUly9It4

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  26. Anon,

    The videos, with Zizek having his words drone repeated in the OWS manner, is absurdist in the theatric, entertaining sense. I enjoyed them.

    As for Zizek's communism, I'm not sure what to make of it, nor does he, apparently. It seems to be some form of macabre opportunism. Zizek's first mentor was a proponent of the Frankfurt School. Rather than take a Trot or communist corrective paradigm (I have no idea to what degree these were viable intellectual options in Slovenia at that time), Zizek was a committed dissident who helped advance liberalism in Slovenia and eventually ran for office in a center-center-left party in 90-91. Now, after the astounding advances of neo-liberalism and conservative politics in North America and Europe, he has returned to communism, but a very vague, very fashion poised, ethereal yet violent-in-theory communism. This gets him sex with Argentine underwear models and gigs writing for Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs. I agree with plenty of Zizek's basic criticisms of capitalism, but I came to the point where I realized that what I like about Zizek is not originality of content - what I like most in him is pretty standard stuff conceptually - it's the manner and force of delivery in Zizek that I like the most. I am mildly interested in Lacan (in small doses), think that psychoanalytic communism is a communism for the petit-bourgeois, and I think that Zizek on Hegel is of interest, but reading some other works of late 20th century communist thinkers on Hegel of late I'm not sure how much Zizek is original there either. I very much enjoy reading Zizek. The man is immensely entertaining. And he occasionally hits what seems to be profundity - little tidbits here and there, like the court jester who occasionally evokes a bit of sly wisdom in the midst of all the farce and show, perhaps. But I don't know how one could reasonably turn to Zizek to be informed about a coherent communist structure of thought.

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  27. MR linked to this blog post on Zizek at OWS:

    http://jdeanicite.typepad.com/i_cite/2011/10/slavoj-%C5%BEi%C5%BEek-speaks-at-occupy-wall-street-transcript-the-parallax-impose-magazine.html

    I find myself sympathetic to much of what she has to say there.

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  28. Louis Proyect has a post now where he summarizes Zizek’s Lenin as a “cartoon-like figure who comes out of a 1950s Red Scare B-movie.” He is noting this particular quote from Zizek:

    “I am a Leninist. Lenin wasn’t afraid to dirty his hands. If you can get power, grab it. Do whatever is possible. This is why I support Obama. I think the battle he is fighting now over healthcare is extremely important, because it concerns the very core of the ruling ideology. The core of the campaign against Obama is freedom of choice. And the lesson, if he wins, is that freedom of choice is certainly something beautiful, but that it only works against a background of regulations, ethical presuppositions, economic conditions and so on. My position isn’t that we should sit down and wait for some big revolution to come. We have to engage wherever we can. If Obama wins his battle over healthcare, if some kind of blow can be struck against the ideology of freedom of choice, it will have been a victory worth fighting for.”

    http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/thoughts-on-zizeks-the-idea-of-communism-conference/

    Notice that there is no mention of the masses, of the working class, and so on. That of course is a problem with most “Marxists” of the past century and this one: they mistake abstract (dare I say, “metaphysical” forces) for the actions of the masses themselves in motion. In other words, they substitute a vulgar scientism, or a façade of a more scientific realism, for the actual agents of revolution. No, Obama will save the day, even if in spite of himself, or he will inspire the rabble to do something without its knowing, and the vanguard (or pop-intellectuals like himself) will somehow pull the strings behind it. The working class is force, but not Reason. One wonders why they are even Marxists at all: fascism is far more consistent about herding the “dumb masses”. Proyect mentions Gus Hall in the same post in evoking this sort of politics, and I have to fully agree with that assessment.

    Proyect is right: this is épater la bourgeoisie all the way. Even his flirtations with vulgar Stalinism should be taken as a sign that he simply is not serious, nor perhaps has he ever intended to be.

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  29. AV,

    Sometimes I think that there is so much in the Lenin corpus that you can argue just about anything from it, especially if one is "proof texting." I've read and heard several arguments as to why we need to support Obama and oppose the tea party Repubs that was based on quotes from Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder. So, sure, Lenin liked democracy and, as any Marxist does, held social dem as a necessary part of the process toward. But Lenin also did what was expedient and did sometimes embody something of that image of the revolutionary willing to get his "hands dirty."

    I got into an argument with an ISO guy who writes for ISR about democracy. There seems to be a lot of new leftist hyper democratic (of the early SDS variety) leanings blending with Trot critiques of actually existing socialism - resulting in this elevation of political democracy as the end all. We see something akin to this (without talk of the Trot critiques) in CPUSA today, wherein political democracy is now hyper elevated and there have been a number of essays written from national leadership about the absolute need for political democracy in any people's uprising. A lot of that was spurred on by the Arab Spring uprisings, and the focus on political democracy therein.

    I'm not yet convinced. It seems to me that when political/social democracy gets put in the mix, it always ends up trumping economic democracy and the commitment to radical wealth redistribution. But I remain unsure about that. It does seem to me that this fierce and firm resolute posture toward political democracy reflects a petit-bourgeois impulse and has not yet escaped a petit-bourgeois ethos - perhaps akin to the first 100 years of feminism - a decidedly petit-bourgeois movement, but one which has now morphed and broadened and progressed to the point wherein there are now, arguably and hopefully, actual working class feminist movements and impulses and a real working class overtly feminist consciousness. Perhaps the same thing is going on with this elevation of political democracy as an end. Perhaps the working classes do now connect political democracy with economic democracy. But I can't imagine that in the consciousness of radicalized poor and working class people political democracy will ever be as important as economic democracy. When you can't get health care for your kids and are barely able to put food on the table, you are going to be more concerned about economic democracy, and not quite as concerned about what political expediency brings it about, or so it seems to me. Maybe my take is too simplistic there.

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  30. - cont'd -

    Proyect mentions Gus Hall in the same post in evoking this sort of politics, and I have to fully agree with that assessment.

    Yeah, Gus Hall made mistakes and bet on some wrong horses. If I wanted to be coy I might say that perhaps in his childhood in which he grew up near starvation, he wasn't able to muster the political and intellectual finesse of Proyect, who had the benefit of an uber-liberal bourgeois Bard College education. AV, I don't have much in the way of interactions with Trot and former-but-still-sympathetic Trots, but my limited encounters are such that you are the only person I know with a Trot background who grew up in poverty or the more financially unstable end of working class life. Part of the complexity, for me, trying to figure all this stuff out, is the complicated mix of theory and culture. I really like some Trot theory - I enjoyed Paul D'Amato's The Meaning of Marxism, I enjoy what I have read thus far from Mandel (about 1/3 of Late Capitalism and his intro to Capital Volume 1 and his book An Introduction to Marxism), and I've enjoyed what I have read by Trotsky, and I think that any serious Marxism/socialism has to incorporate Trot theory to some degree now (which even some Stalinists now do without admitting it). But I don't know what that degree is. I agree very much with the notion of state capitalism generally, and agree that it applies to the U.S.S.R., I agree that international socialism is the only way socialism can work, otherwise driving socialist nations into capitalist schemes, but some of the blanket theoretical notions regarding state socialism I don't follow. I'm not sure if China today and the U.S.S.R. in 1970 should so easily be lumped together as the same social/economic/political phenomenon. I also, particularly in my reading of Stalin's Wars ( http://www.amazon.com/Stalins-Wars-World-Cold-1939-1953/dp/0300112041 ), am not sure that Stalin's options were as clear and simple and easy as the usual Trot lines put it. At the same time, the Stalinist defenses of Stalin's reversal on the Brigades in Spain and his thwarting of socialist movements throughout the world I find reprehensible. I don't know. Mix all that with the fact that my own limited personal experiences with Trots have been such that they seem to be (other than you) people from solidly upper middle class backgrounds who have found the secret political and economic gnosis resulting in a sectarian milieu which reminds me of much of American Eastern Orthodoxy, except even more "we have the really True Truth" sectarian. Trots are the leftist version of Straussians on the right ( http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/e/easton-gang.html ) My personal experiences with CPers and Wobs and other radical groups have been very different. So, long and short of it - I'm still trying to make sense of it all. I like that Proyect came to reject the hyper-Vanguardist aspects of the Trot movement, and he seems much more big tent Marxist in his writing than what I have encountered in my limited experiences with Trots. I've also been enjoying some of the Marxist-Humanist stuff. Some of their younger adherents seem to have a Trot-like political gnosticism, but Dunayevskaya and C. L. R. James, at least what I have read thus far, don't seem to share this spirit at all.

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  31. I don’t think playing the class card is helpful here. Lenin was thoroughly petit-bourgeois, as was every other Marxist theorist save for Gramsci (Dunayevskaya grew up working class, as you can see by her prose, and C.L.R. James was a black man: case closed.) I don’t necessarily have a bone to pick with your characterization of the Trotskyists, since most of my former comrades were not working class or poor (the head of the group had an M.A. from Harvard.) That said, I wouldn’t fetishize any of this “classism” either. I will just say that my experience of the CPUSA and other leftish groups is that they slavishly tail the leaders of the “group” and see any criticisms of those leaders as attacking the entire “tribe”. Well, the “tribe” itself, whether it be workers, blacks, “Chicanos” (a term I hate), LGBT etc. has its own divisions, and often the people at the top who are leading the “struggle” are as much a hindrance on mass movements as the police and/or the FBI. I think here of course of the economism of the labor movement in this country that destroyed it, the sexism of the various “ethnic nationalist” groups, the reluctance to express any critique of class in the feminist and the same “ethnic nationalist” groups, and the list could go on. You don’t have to be an trendy, petit-bourgeois Trot to see that the NAACP, MEChA, the labor unions, NOW, etc. often become fiefdoms of aspiring middle class activists who milk people’s aspirations to make it out of their ghetto of choice. For that reason, I think the behavior of various groups like the CPUSA is criminal since they seek to make the masses play the capitalist political game that they can’t possibly win. They might think they are all clever because they read some Lenin and wave a red flag now and again, but history has showed how badly they have been played for these Stalinist tactics. Just ask the half million members of the Communist Party who were massacred in Indonesia because of these bad political games, among others.

    I am not an anarchist in that I don’t think a movement should be leaderless. But I will echo with Lenin that any good leader who doesn’t realize that the masses outside are far more radical than the “vanguard” is no leader at all: he or she is a bureaucrat in the making. I am content to merely think with the masses a new philosophy of revolution so that the same shit doesn’t keep happening over and over again. It seems a far more modest task, but still an important one.

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  32. AV,

    I don't mean to suggest that my characterization of the Trots is accurate - it is simply my own experience. You have to play the cards you are dealt. There does seem to be a number of different Trot or semi(former?)-Trot groups today who are not as hyper-vanguardist as the caricature of Trots.

    I guess I bring up the classist line in part because I notice language coming out of upper middle classist circles, including circles claiming to be old left influenced, that, frankly, disgust me. Just yesterday I was reading a thread on FB wherein there was much praise for the site where 1%ers avow their support for the 99%er movement, and then more praise was uttered for some group of very wealthy leftist philanthropists (The North Star Fund) which stated a famous-among-rich-leftists Marx reading group, which was apparently Trotish in orientation. It reminds me of Zizek's emphasis that "the nice slaveowners were the worst slaveowners" - I'm not so keen on the idea of "radical slaveowners" or people who think that they can rightly keep their great wealth or live their lives in extremely affluent and elitist circles and at the same time think that their pure Marxist theory is where it is at and it's all good because they are charitable radicals. Marx and Lenin at least had the integrity to insist that they should not lead a vanguard that dictates terms to the working class, and no matter what they say I guess I don't trust rich American leftists to not believe themselves to be the rightful masters of the working class.

    CPUSA has elements of that leader worship you suggest, no doubt, but its a more convoluted situation now. Houston certainly doesn't worship national leadership at the moment - even using the "liquidation" language to describe the Party chairman's actions in the Party. And the national leadership has suggested dropping dem centralism and stated that the party hasn't even tried to operate under dem centralism for years, but at the same time has tried to silence dissent in the party at national meetings, though not with complete success. Most of the Clubs are where they are and do what they do without that much regard to whether or not they are being obedient to a pure Party line. I think most people in the Party know that this is a transition time in CPUSA. The YCL seems to be far more to the left than national party leadership, both nationally and I think in most local settings.

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  33. - cont'd -


    I realize that saying that CPUSA rejects Stalinism is not going to be accepted, given the history of that rejection coming by U.S.S.R. mandate, but I think that it might be easy to miss the fact that Trot style critiques of Stalinism have entered into the operative paradigm of much of the party vis-a-vis questions of actually existing socialism. You have a number of people in national leadership or who write for the party now who very much disagree with the Gus Hall legacy. The Party currently gets it from every end on this question. As you may know among Marxist-Leninists throughout the world there has been a resurgence of outright Stalinism. The now surging CP of Greece (KKE) has rehabilitated Stalin and encouraged other CPs to do so, and CPUSA gets it from this hyper-orthodox turn from some of those parties. On the other hand, it still gets called Stalinist from Trots and the like. I think most of the CPUSA leadership would wholeheartedly now agree with the notion that there is "a new philosophy of revolution so that the same shit doesn’t keep happening over and over again." I just happen to think that their impulses in seeking that new philosophy might be off - especially when I hear them say things like "we need to push Obama's Jobs bill at Occupy protests" etc. I can understand why someone would look at the obvious warts in CPUSA history and call it ridiculous, I'm just not sure that it is any less ridiculous than Trot purity seeking sectarianism or other options out there. I tend to think the New Left abysmally ridiculous.

    In my mind, the Stalin question is not relevant to today's CPUSA, unless we ascribe guilt to past decisions, which is fair enough I suppose. The Party Chair and Co. may be trying to press through a rightward shift in the party, but I don't see them pushing a cult of personality like unto Hall or Browder. What concerns me most of all is the question of whether or not they are communist at all anymore, or if they have essentially embraced social dem (on the surface of things that seems very apparent, but some people insist this is only as a means to an end).

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  34. - cont'd -


    My take on it is this - Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, etc. espoused working with social dem liberal-bourgeoisie while the proletariat prepared itself, through the experience of class struggle, for taking control. Obama and the Dems today are not anywhere near social dem, nor are they even really liberal bourgeois. By the standards of Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, etc., they are pretty hardcore reactionary and overtly anti-worker in their policies. I have an increasingly hard time with the argument that one should support Dems because they are better than the alternative. This seems to me akin to saying I should organize and vote for the Nazi who only wants to eliminate 50% of the Jewish population and 25% of the gays because that Nazi's views are so much better than the Nazi who wants to get rid of all of them (an analogy that has no basis in history, but I was desperate for a grossly exaggerated analogy). Then again, I wonder if the very far left of the Dems is not akin to a labor tendency within the dems, and I wonder if it might not be fruitful to work with them. Is Elizabeth Warren substantially different than some of the people Marx and Lenin advocated communists to work with?

    I have a problem with the idea of dropping out of electoral politics altogether if there is anything at all to work with, especially on the local level. Radicals have been able to get city council positions into the hands of some pretty radical people over the years, and this can have benefits, especially if we ever get to the point of city wide strikes. There is also, on a local level, that important phenomenon of electoral politics allowing all sorts of people to meet radicals when radicals get involved. This is one of the things I noted at (albeit non-political thus far) Occupy Memphis when I went yesterday. There were a lot of radical folks there taking part in discussions with people who are not radical at all. The discussions were cordial, and if nothing else these non-radical folks were able to meet and greet with radicals and radical ideas and see that the people who hold these views are not all crazy wack jobs. They have jobs. They have kids. They like science fiction cable TV programs and baseball, etc. I think it helps people to entertain the notion that there is a necessary enmity between the employing classes and the employed classes when they meet actual human beings who hold these views. It's sad that we are in such a desperate state of affairs, but we are. This notion that the working class is far more radical than the vanguard thinks is true, I think, at an intuitive level. But at some point that intuition needs to come to a spoken level, and I am inclined to think that it helps (or can be helpful) then for people to meet radicals who speak that way. One of the benefits of the "fall of the left" and the many different radical groups at hand today is that a fervent Vanguardism just isn't taken seriously when made manifest. So even radicals that belong to vanguard-centric organizations, when going out and doing work in the community, usually end up saying pretty similar things - and those similar things (regarding control of production, wealth redistribution, access to health care and education, etc.) evoke that radical workers’ intuition. At this point the radical left in this country is so small it can hardly be called influential. But as conditions worsen, and people look more and more for a language which suits their own radical dispositions, that existence of radicals speaking radically who live and work in communities may end of being more important - not as a controlling vanguard, per se, but as people providing a language of revolution, and people who encourage others to say that it is OK, even human, to make these sorts of demands. Does that make sense?

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  35. Just to clarify, I don't think that the CPUSA and other groups have an internal leader worship complex, or that Sam Webb has pretensions of being the next Stalin, because that would just be sad and pitiful. It is that they have that attitude towards the "leaders of the people" outside of the Party, whether that be Roosevelt, Sukarno, Jesse Jackson. Maybe they have pretenses that they are going to "play them" in some sort of Leninist game of political chess, but so far, they have only shown that they are spectacularly good at failing.

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  36. I mean, if the CPUSA was miraculously transported to 1917, they would have expelled Lenin and rode Kerensky's dick all the way to the bloody counter-revolution. Judging from the history of Stalinist and post-Stalinist parties from 1920 onward, I don't think one could argue honestly that anything else would have occured.

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  37. AV,

    I think you may be right that the Obama worship is derivative of such a spirit. In the end the race card is pulled, and while I understand and appreciate the history within CPUSA of being committed to fighting racism, here I wonder if there is not a reverse racism of sorts at hand. It seems that Obama has all of his political sins forgiven because he is black. There is a trump card often used in discussions in the party - criticism of Obama rears up from the rank-and-file membership and then someone pulls the "yes, but the racists hate him, and he is the focus of the most intense upsurge in overt racism in a generation, and therefore to combat racism we must support him." I don't know what to do with all that. There has been a lot of push back from rank-and-file in response to the national leadership's lustfest with Obama, and in recent months the leadership has toned it down a bit, though with the recent jobs bill been dishing out the Kool-Aide again.

    In Memphis, thus far, CPUSA and the DSA are the only radical/"radical" groups of any size and doing much of anything. There was an SPUSA chapter, and some of those folks are still around I think, and I think there are some SWPs around (I know of at least one). There are a couple (influential among student groups) Freedom Roaders, who have created a little cadre of student Maoist essentialists who don't know that they are now Maoist essentialists. The ISO has evangelized in cities all around Memphis but not concentrated much on Memphis yet. I suppose the closest Marxist-humanist meeting to me is in Chicago.

    If you mean the national leadership of CPUSA, then I wouldn't dispute the Kerensky observation. I don't know. Among the rank-and-file however I wonder if that is perhaps not generally the case.

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