Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Time to Vote

Melt-down of the Minnesota Green Party?

Curiouser and curiouser. Two months or so ago, Cam Gordon, a Green, received the endorsement of the Minneapolis Democratic Party and Mayor RT Rybak – that mannequin guy that looks just like Tim Pawlenty. According to Mike Calvan, someone testifying under oath explained in a court suit brought about by Dave Bicking that Rybak and Gordon had made a deal. Gordon would oppose the Greens running anyone for mayor, and the Democrats would not run anyone against Gordon. It happened…especially the last part. Mr. Rogers now has a safe seat. Dave's suit was to stop Rybak from claiming Gordon's support, which he had not gotten written approval for at that time. Later, Gordon did endorse Rybak.

At any rate, this sad setup was preceded by the main Party in town, the Democrats, gerry-mandering the wards of Natalie Johnson Lee and Dean Zimmerman, in order to get them out of the city council. Evidently, the Democrats couldn’t make a deal with these two. Also evidently desperate for cash to pay for a lawsuit against this gerry-mandering, Dean Zimmerman accepted some in an entrapment sting organized by the Republican federal District Attorney. There was no quid pro quo, but this did not make a difference to the DA. Those with long memories can remember how the U.S. DA did somewhat the same thing to Eddy Felien, another progressive council person from an era long ago. And you might add several black council people that the powers-that-be evidently didn’t like, adding to a pattern against ANYONE who rocks the boat in this here ‘nice’ town. In effect, only if you are 'approved' can you get away with this kind of thing in Minnepolis. In sum, together the two – the Democrats and the Republicans – eliminated two Greens in the city council, by fair means but mostly foul.

Dean Zimmerman is back in town and out of jail. And Natalie Johnson Lee’s Uncle Tom replacement rules the roost in the forgotten part of town. But Natalie is still kicking, running again in the 5th Ward, though not as a Green it seems.

Now ‘Papa’ John Kolstad is running against RT for mayor, breaking a pact Gordon could not enforce. Remember Rybak, the pretty-boy, do-nothing former neighborhood activist, who claimed he was going to fight for ‘affordable housing?’ Right -he increased housing stock for poor people less than the former Republican mayor in St. Paul, which was hardly any. RT is running a non-campaign, dreaming about being the next handsome, young, white governor of Minnesota.

RT’s Minneapolis police, evicted Rosemary Williams from her house a month of Fridays ago because of a Minneapolis trespassing charge… trespassing in her own house. Ah, yes, the bank owns it now. So the bankers’ cops - with RT not making a peep, or issuing instructions to allow her to live in her home - busted in, boarded up the house to the rafters with steel grills, and hired a private security guard to stand by the property, while arresting more than a dozen. And so, Rybak’s move for ‘affordable housing’ continues. Rosemary's house stands empty, joining thousands of others while the 'leaders' of Minneapolis fiddle.

However, in this virtual crapdown, Papa John is now running as an “Independent Civic Leader,” not a Green. He has secured the endorsement of the Minneapolis Republican Party, which has been seized by the followers of Texas Republican Ron Paul. The Independence Party has also endorsed Kolstad. Kolstad ran previously as the Attorney General candidate for the Greens. Al Flowers, who also has ties to the Greens, and is endorsed by Fareen Hakeem, is now running as a “Democratic Farmer-Labor” candidate. The Green Party is not running an official candidate for Mayor, much as RT wanted. The Greens are running Dave Bicking, Jeanine Estime and three others for city council, including Gordon.

Now read that back. Kolstad got an endorsement from Ron Paul’s libertarians, who are hated within the fundamentalist Republican Party, it was thought. However, Ron Paul has also recently endorsed Michelle Bachmann. So there is no Chinese Wall between the crazy fundie wing of the Republican Party and the libertarian one, contrary to certain illusions. I understand that Kolstad has good personal relations with the Paulites, and that on certain issues they agree. And I also understand the Paulites are upset about the Paul endorsement of Bachmann.

Certainly, if the Greens are endorsed by someone, it is different than if the Green's adopted their program, which they haven't. And in this run, Kolstad is not an official Green. In this instance, that certain piece of the program that they all seem to agree on is standing up for small businessmen – or as Kolstad put it on cable TV and at Merlin’s, ‘small businessmen are the life-blood of the community.” Wha?

OK, so now we come to the meat of the issue. Anyone hanging around the Greens can see that labor people are few and far between. And anyone hanging around also sees that they have had an over-representation of small businessmen among their candidates. Essentially the Marxist analysis of the Green Party is that it is a basically a progressive, petty-bourgeois opposition to big capital – in the Democratic and Republican forms. In a way, the Ron Paulites are also a petit-bourgeois opposition to big capital. And so we see the link. It is not that some of their criticisms are not accurate, or that we do not need small businessmen as allies - it is that they represent a class that is not, ultimately, able to fundamentally change our situation. No Marxist wants to point this out, but at this point, it is so obvious even the uninitiated can figure it out.

With the evaportation of the Labor Party in the U.S. because they would not run candidates, I supported Nader in 2000, and worked in a group called “Labor for Nader.” No wing of capital supported Nader at that time, and a critical vote for Nader was a useful tactic in 2000. He got millions of votes and showed up Gore in state after state. I voted for that ‘crazy black woman’ from Atlanta in 2008, Cynthia McKinney, who ran as a Green candidate. I have worked and donated money to David Bicking, running for the council in Ward 9 as a Green, who is one of the most principled persons in Minnesota politics today. I will be voting for a member of Socialist Action, Brent Perry, in my own Ward, Ward 12. He doesn’t have a chance in hell against another former neighborhood activist, the wretched Sandy Colvin Roy, who gave away public park land on Nicollet Island to the Catholic Church for ANOTHER stadium - among other acts. These people are truly stadium-crazy. Roy's claim to fame, from her candidate forum, was protesting outside the ROTC building in 1972. I was there too, but seem to have gotten a different message from that event.

At any rate, the national race in 2000 galvanized the local Greens into some kind of mass support in the City. Since then, no national race has helped the local Greens. And this is a real deficit. I know there is an argument between those Greens who just want to concentrate on local issues (and who refused to endorse a national candidate in 2008) and those who think the two are interrelated. The answer is now in. You need to burn the candle at both ends, if you are a Green.

The Minneapolis City Council is the grave-yard of neighborhood activism.
So how can we absorb these changes? I think the Green Party in Minneapolis is fractionating, and has lost its ideological and organizational coherence. And just when IRV was to go into effect in the city, a situation they could have taken advantage of.

The real masters of our local Democratic Party council members are the real estate interests and giant corporations who run this town. This is a One-Party Town, presided over by an incestuous council cozy with the ruling financial interests, the stadiums, the real estate developers, the cops, and anyone with a dollar bill. They all vote alike. Once they get elected, it is 'hasta la vista.' These people are just tiny versions of the corporate Democrats on the national stage, and neo-liberalism in general. They are helping undermine the true health of the city by giving a free license to the police, condo overbuilding, corporate welfare like stadiums, wasting taxpayer money on ridiculous projects like the Lake Street makeover and the new downtown public library; trying to liquidate any independent groups like the Park and Library boards and other anti-democratic moves, and ignoring the foreclosure crisis and the jobs crisis. They also allowed the federal and various city police to run wild during the Republican Convention. The Greens made a valiant effort to change this. Hopefully their present candidates will do well. However, the present situation points to a need to go beyond Green politics. The fat is in the fire.

Red Frog

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Petition to Harry Reid:

When you read this I may be dead if I am one of the 93,000 who die each year from hospital infections or one of the 100,000 who die each year from wrongly administered drugs or one of the 43,000 who have no coverage. It's a disgrace in this rich country. Yesterday, Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, Cornell West and Jon Stewart all were disgusted at the lack of health care for so many. You and your esteemed colleagues and distinguished gentlemen should become human!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Effortless Revolution

“Facing Reality – The New Society: How to look for it and how to bring it closer.” – CLR James & Grace Lee, with Cornelius Castoriadis, Intro by John H Bracey – Originally Published 1958, new Kerr Edition, 2006.

C.L.R. James (Cyril Lionel Robert), the Trinidadian writer best known for the masterful “The Black Jacobins,” co-authored this book, which was written right after the worker-led revolts in Hungary and Poland. It is best described as a cross between Marxism and anarcho-syndicalism. James was part of the Johnson-Forrest tendency in the SWP, which left the party in the 50s. Starting out as a Trotskyist, James broke with the Socialist Workers’ Party and Trotsky’s analysis of the ‘degenerated workers state’ and agreed instead with Max Schactman that the USSR was a form of state capitalism. James denies that getting rid of capitalist ownership of the means of production, and having that owned by a state of ANY kind, is historical progress.

This book is remarkable for its optimism. Marxists are by nature optimistic, as they believe that the working class actually can take power. James took this one step further and said that socialism was already existing in the advanced capitalist countries, as well as the bureaucratic ‘state capitalist’ ones. What he meant by ‘socialism’ was that the working class was already organized, educated and conscious enough to take power, and could, given the right conditions. He pointed to the 1956 workers councils in Hungary, the 1956 rebellion in Poznan, the 1953 rebellion in East Germany, and the shop stewards movement in England as current proofs the workers were able to take power, as their social strength was such they only needed the right impetus. The Hungarian workers councils he considered the height of workers power, and draws from that the slogan “All power to the Workers Councils.” I do not think many Marxists would have a problem with this slogan, of course.

When he rejected Trotsky’s theory of the ‘degenerated’ or ‘deformed’ workers states, he also rejected the Leninist concept of the ‘vanguard’ party. He considered it to be a product of workers organization in one time and place, Czarist Russia, and not appropriate for other conditions. James believed that workers did not need a self-appointed vanguard to take power. He saw the role of the Marxist organization to be one voice of many working class voices, which would describe conditions and provide information to the working class. His revolutionary organizations would essentially be ‘committees of correspondence’ which would not be dominated by through-going Marxists, but could have other working class oriented individuals in them. The role of these committees in the factories and in society was to provide information to counter bourgeois propaganda. Essentially, the Marxists would hasten the event which would weaken or topple bourgeois rule, and organize around their paper (and presumably now, their website…) James pointed out that the events in Hungary and Poland happened without a ‘vanguard party.’ And the shop stewards movement in England allowed Communists and Trotskyists to participate, but did not allow these organizations to dominate it. And this is partly because the workers see the factionalism built into the ‘party’ system.

Of particular interest is James’ point on factory committees in the USSR, which James and Lee said formed in various plants after the revolution, had a national organization, and wanted to take over economic management in the USSR. He said the Bolsheviks preferred unions to handle that function, and broke up the factory committees. James said very little has ever been written about these committees. I find it persuasive to allow a national factory committee structure to handle the economy, as unions are organized as defensive organizations of the working class, and are not normally suited to run production. And they frequently fail even as defensive organizations.

Trotsky’s main disagreement with Lenin before the 1917 revolution was on the issue of the vanguard party, which he saw as carrying the seeds of despotism. After 1917, Trotsky adopted Lenin’s idea, and held it to his dying day. James theory is similar to early Trotsky – that the vanguard party can become a bureaucracy quite easily. This of course was proved in the USSR and China, though in the former it was not an easy process, occurring over the dead bodies of most of the Bolshevik leadership and cadre. Trotsky maintained that real democratic-centralism, not bureaucratic-centralism, would prevent a re-occurrence. James insists that the nature of the vanguard party, while enabling revolution in some conditions, also guarantees their degeneration.

James & Lee were not able to comment in this book on the vast police powers accrued to the modern imperialist state after the 50s, as part of the degeneration of bourgeois rule. It is hard to see how revolutionary organizations could survive without a structure able to handle the various forms of repression that emerge, even in our present 'bourgeois-democratic' structure. Assassination, firings, heavily armed police, constant surveillance and jailings are by now normal police methods, and would be used extensively. Surveillance itself is certainly more broad now than at any other time in American history. When James & Lee wrote this book, re-privatization and the growth of white-collar service-sector employment in the imperialist heartlands were not on the radar either.

The most amusing parts of this book are James shots at various Communist and Trotskyist organizations and their failures, and might well be familiar to some readers. Tiny organizations coming out with massive slogans of the day. Organizations that pursue their factional interests over the interests of the working class or the movement. Leaders who spend all their time trying to curtail the deterioration of their own small organizations, whose permanent survival is their only goal. Organizations fighting each other instead of the enemy. In essence, the small-group mentality instead of the broader view of the needs of the class.

However, we must draw a short balance sheet of the Johnson-Forrest Tendency, and James himself, based on this 1958 book. The small committees created by James have all disappeared. The heady enthusiasm for Hungary, East Germany and Poland has been replaced by the restoration of direct capitalist bank rule in those countries. James never seemed to notice that it was in Hungary, a country whose bourgeoisie had been dispossessed and its property nationalized, that the working class, by his own analysis, held direct state and economic power through the workers councils. This did NOT happen in bourgeois France in May-June 1968, for instance, which might point to a major difference in these two countries – not to their similarity. The shop stewards movement in England has disappeared; defeated after the smashing of the coal miners by Thatcher in 1984-1985. The American working class, repeatedly celebrated in this book for its tough, independent behavior, was de-unionized and many of their jobs exported during this same period. World-wide capitalist reaction, glorying in the 1989 destruction of the USSR and the central European workers states, has run almost untrammeled until recently. The ‘socialism’ that already existed everywhere in James’ eye has somehow not come to fruition.

I wish James & Lee were right, as it would make things a lot eaiser! However, perhaps revolution is not so effortless. Or perhaps the working class was not prepared to rule. Whatever the answer, James and his friends main contribution is their view that it is the actions of the working class that are key, not any substitute. They point to the ‘small’ actions of workers on the job, or in a community, resisting bourgeois ideas and actions, as proof of the socialist existence of the working class. They believe that if workers do it, it is correct.

Indeed, workers do many things without a party; sometimes spontaneously, and sometimes completely – as in Hungary, where the workers councils held both economic and political power – really a dual power against the Russian Army. Whatever your opinion of the insurrection there, it cannot be denied that the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian working class was not on the side of the Russian Army and the bureaucracy. Marxists can organize, but it is the action of the working class itself that will make any movement – and any revolution.

I read the books so you don’t have to…And I bought it at MayDay Books!

Red Frog – 10/8, 2009

Monday, October 5, 2009

Author visit

Upcoming author event at Mayday Books.