Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Missing Ideology of Liberalism

"The Political Beliefs of Americans - A Study of Public Opinion," by Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril, 1967

Recent articles by Paul Rosenberg in Alternet and Salon drew my attention to this 1967 book. The book is an analysis of surveys taken in 1964 by Gallup Poll. Its focus is on what they take to be a contradiction between strongly liberal responses to issues they consider “operational” and conservative responses to another set of “ideological” issues. As an example: to a question about federal responsibility for reducing unemployment 75% agreed that it was responsible while 18% disagreed. On the other hand: to a question about whether any able-bodied person who wants to work can find a job and earn a living 76% agree and just 21% disagree.

The Subterranean Socialist
The “operational” questions in the surveys were mostly about federal funding for a variety of social programs while the “ideological” questions covered a range of generally conservative beliefs. Free and Cantril find that, as a whole, Americans tend to be operationally liberal and ideologically conservative. “This discrepancy is so marked as to be almost schizoid.” (p.33). They peg a national figure of 23% for those who cross the political road rather than holding to either position consistently. This segment increases among those with a grade school education (28%), the very poor (30%), and in the southern states that went for Goldwater in 1964 (41%).

Writing at the nadir of Republican Party fortunes they have little trouble
identifying the trap that the GOP was in, their base enthusiastically supported conservative rhetoric but was significantly less happy about cuts to the social programs that were the province of the Democrats. We can still recognize a reflection of this dilemma in their failure to replace the Affordable Care Act.  However popular with their voters is the rallying cry of repeal and replace, they choke on the reality of mass support for universal health care. Fifty years down the road we have a changed political landscape - although it can be argued that there is still something of the same mismatch today.  I'm not going to attempt an update the book's findings but instead take a look at its theoretical weakness.

What can we, discerning working class readers, get out of such a book? First, we'll have to untangle some of what it presents as its historical background. Their overview of the evolution of the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' is brief and not misleading, up to a point. The U.S. political system professes belief in “liberal” principles which we will venture to summarize in our own way here as protecting private property against the prerogatives of the state. And, of course, the larger the property the greater the protection.

“By the middle of the nineteenth century, however, the doctrines of
liberalism, as further developed by such men as Spencer and Sumner,
were being used for exactly the opposite purpose: namely, by
“conservatives” to defend a new status quo. By this time, particularly
after the civil war, the business class was in the saddle and was fearful
that, with the extension of suffrage, governments would prove too
sensitive to the needs of the people and adopt dangerous working-class reforms.” (p.4).

In effect, liberalism becomes conservatism, in outline but not inaccurate. But what is this reborn liberalism which the see as emerging in the 20th century? Here is where I think we need to pull them up short, by the roots:
“As a practical matter, the new style liberals increasingly recognized the need for governmental action to protect the underprivileged. … They supported compulsory education, unemployment and old-age insurance, minimum wages...”
They are talking about Roosevelt, Wilson & FDR...
“However, neither Roosevelt nor those who followed him ever evolved a coherent philosophy of liberalism (new style) to rationalize the programs they supported.”
And so the authors were “unable to unearth a sufficiently coherent body of
ideological doctrine commonly accepted by the public to ask questions about "liberalism's new style.”

I think, looking back 50 years to when this was written, we can supply the
missing element to their analysis. In fact, it should not have been difficult 50 or even 100 years before this was written to see what they left out. All
of these liberal programs were the result of demands made by the working
class and were expressed by its own political program, socialism. “Liberalism (new style)” arose from and continues to be the accommodation to those demands, but which preserves the existing relations of production.
If we look at the survey results with this in mind we cannot be faulted for
seeing in the majority support for social programs, for what they call
operational liberalism, evidence of an abiding, if not fully conscious,
working-class support for a socialist political agenda.

The survey reports class self-identification of the respondents as follows:
Propertied class 5%
Middle class 37%
Working class 53%
Don't know 5%
The percentage of liberals (operational) rises from 40% in the propertied
class to 57% in the middle class and 74% in the working class. (p. 18)

While the responses to the operational questions have certainly undergone
shifts since 1964, as on the ideological side of the survey the questions are antique. As a snapshot of American political opinion of the period the book is rich and fascinating and I can recommend it on that basis alone. Among the subjects covered by the survey: foreign affairs, race, politics of the father, aspirations & fears, prejudices, and so on. But a solid analysis of the material would require a more extensive study of the period than I can perform. That won't stop me from making a sample observation.

Let's take one that I'm sure won't surprise many of us:
“Statement: The relief rolls are loaded with chiselers and people who just
don't want to work”
Agree 66%
Disagree 23%
Don't know 11% (p. 27)
While this response holds up across the classes I'm not sure we can assume that the workers who agree with the statement always have in mind chiselers who are among the poor or, with this opinion, they are asserting support for the social status quo.

“The working class in every country lives its own life, makes its own
experiences, seeking always to create forms and realize values which
may originate directly from its organic opposition to official society, but are shaped by its experiences in cooperative labor. Nowhere is this more marked than in the United States where the raucous rowdyism of
Republicans and Democrats obscures and drowns out the mass search for a way of life; not a new way but simply a way, the famous
'American Way' being strictly an export commodity. Quite often, the
reaction is for the time being merely negative, but none the less
indicative of the future” Facing Reality – C.L.R. James & Grace C.

Some additional nuggets:
 Q. There is a definite trend toward socialism in this country.
Agree 46%
Disagree 30%
Don't know 32%

Quotes in the book:
“It might sound funny, but they've got a good thing over in Sweden.
You're protected from the cradle to the grave. Not that I'm a socialist or anything like that, but it would be a good thing for the U.S. to follow." (an automobile worker in Michigan)

“I don't understand a lot about the Communists, but I sure fear them.” (a retired woman living in Tennessee)

“The way the Negroes are making trouble, they pretty soon will get on
top of the whites. We may even have a Negro President.” (a retired man living in Michigan)

Barry Link, August 20, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Moment of Silence

Charlottesville, Virginia

A moment of silence for Heather Heyer, a 32 year old woman anti-racist and Sanders supporter, who was murdered yesterday in Charlottesville, VA.  She was part of a protest against a fascist, racist and nationalist mobilization by various 'alt'right', Nazi and Klan groups.  This murder took place at the hands of a car driven by a 20 year old Republican and white supremacist in the "Vanguard America" group from Ohio.  Some of the other 19 people hurt could be members of various groups like the IWW, Black Lives Matter or Red Neck Revolt.  It has been reported that two DSA members and one ISO member were injured.  Also unknown is who has been arrested.  This is reminiscent of the killing of 5 CWP members by the KKK in Greensboro, NC in 1979.

Fascists Blocked in Charlottesville, VA
A new stage in the class war in the U.S. has arrived.  Perceptive analyses of actual fascism - as opposed to impressionist, borrowed or lazy ones - posit that it is only when a wing of the ruling class decides to back these forces that fascism can gain strength.  At this point at least 3 people in the Trump cabinet - Bannon, Gorka and Stephen Miller - are supporters of these kind of forces.  Top capitalists in the Republican Party benefit from them, especially those based in the former Confederate south.  This rally was an attempt by the fascists to forge a 'united front' to increase their paltry numbers.  That is significant. 

Trump 'evenhandedly' denounced 'violence by both sides' and was immediately praised by the Daily Stormer for his restraint.  Because of this clear support by the White House, a wing of the Republican Party and the part of the capitalist class tied to that party, the left must begin to mobilize a large, permanent anti-fascist front.  It has to ignore the liberal's plans to protect racist speech or to 'ignore' the fascist right.  This is not a polite debate.  As any reading of history understands, it is precisely their ability to march and attempt to violently control the streets that is at stake.  The Democrats and liberals would prefer that we go back to the 1920s, when the Klan proudly marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in their thousands.    

Leftist observers in Charlottesville claim 500-1,000 right-wingers were confronted by 'thousands' of counter-protesters, some flying black and red flags, who prevented them from marching from their rally site to other places in Charlottesville, including to a black housing project.  The police were absent except around a small area of the original rally, and did not separate the two sides.  The spent the day passively watching for the most part.  Any idea that the 'police' would somehow lessen this confrontation is wishful thinking.  They actually hope the right gives the left a thumping.  A brawl in front of the police station resulted in the police looking ... away.  Even when the right-wingers pushed into a police line, no one was arrested.  A black student was severely beaten by rightists in a parking garage, and no one was arrested.

Weapons carried by the right-wingers included baseball bats, AR-15s, Glock handguns, brass knuckles, tear gas & pepper spray, smoke grenades, clubs and flag poles with metal tips. Many of them wore helmets and shields.  The deployed in military order. This weaponry far outweighed anything the left brought.   Unprovoked physical assaults by these racists on older counter-protesters did not elicit any response by police and patrolmen.  The police did not intervene. Some ostensibly neutral armed 'militia' members attempted to keep the two sides apart, but could not.

This is not about 'free speech' - this is about intimidation, violence and death.  A scraggly 'left' opposition will not succeed in most cases in opposing this until large and more organized numbers are brought to bear.

Robert E Lee was a supporter of slavery, and removing his statute to a private park full of historical statutes is the right thing to do - not enshrine him as a hero in a public park.  Lee has always been treated with veneration, even by Civil War historians who admired his military skills and his aristocratic and reserved personality.  These historians - Catton, McPherson, Foote - for the most part approached him a-politically.  That is now changing through the efforts of anti-racist and anti-fascist forces.  It is about time.  Finish the Civil War!

An excellent analysis of security and defense needs by the U.S. left in confrontations with armed right-wingers was just published on Counterpunch:

Prior commentaries on the violent U.S. ultra-right, below.  Use blog search box, upper left.

(Prior reports that Heyer was a member of the IWW on IWW web sites were incorrect, according to a press release by the IWW.  My apologies.)

Red Frog
August 13th, 2017

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Cemetary of Outcasts

“The Ministry of Utmost Happiness,” by Arundhati Roy, 2017

There must be a trend in Indian fiction to have ironic titles that do not reflect the real nature of India.  Roy’s first work of fiction in many years, it interweaves the story of various ‘losers’ whose lives are damaged by the conservative Hindu nativism paid for by the “millionaire God men" that now control the political scene in India.  This is political fiction, where individuals, love, children, babies and family stories are inextricably tied to social reality, not escapes from it. 

A Tourist Destination!
The book opens with the story of a boy Aftab who wanted to be a girl and became an unhappy ‘hijra’ named Anjum after a somewhat botched sex-change operation.  She joins a collective of hijras in Delhi, who help each other in the very conservative atmosphere of Indian sexuality.  At first you think that Roy is going to tell a story about the most trendy present liberal topic, transsexuals.  But then the focus widens.  The famous pogrom in Gurjurat after 9/11 affects Anjum, and reference is made to the chief minister of Gujurat, who was directing the pogrom. That would be Narenda Modi, but in this story, unnamed.  Modi is now the Hindu supremist and neo-liberal Prime Minster of India and a welcome guest to the U.S.

Anjum ends up leaving a home of hijras and going to live in a graveyard in Delhi.  From sleeping on a rug there she builds huts around graves of those she knows, and starts to run a mortuary with help from other surplus people.  Ultimately many outcasts come to live in the graveyard, which is certainly a metaphor for something.

Kashmir - India's Palestine
The occupation of Kashmir by the Indian Army forms the political heart of the story.  The occupation has been going on since Partition in 1947. As Roy puts it:            
            “I would like to write one of those sophisticated stories in which even though nothing happens there’s lots to write about.  That can’t be done in Kashmir.  It’s not sophisticated.” 

Notice the slam against post-modernist fiction - excessively detailed stories about nothing.

The activities of Islamic terrorist groups allows the Indian Army to apply its own form of state terrorism to the population of Kashmir, mostly Muslims.  It is to be an occupation that never ends, as the Indian Army supplies some terrorist groups with ammunition to keep the pot boiling.  Unsurprisingly many police in India are brutal thugs – a characteristic of police all over the world and not a secret at this point.

A quartet of characters revolve around the situation in Kashmir, who all first met in school.  One is now a reporter who is also a collaborator, Naga.  One part of the quartet, 'Garson Hobart', is a lovelorn secret police officer and gets to narrate for a time. One is a Kashmiri Muslim nationalist leader, Musa.  One is a woman who loves him and begins to understand the situation in Kashmir, Tilo.    Their blood-thirsty enemy is a secret police commander in Kashmir, Amrik Singh.  Ultimately Kashmir needs self-determination, but that word never reaches these pages, although its meaning does.

Both Anjum and Tilo are searching for babies, as they are unable to have them normally.  Roy seems to think the babies are the optimistic future.  I'm not so sure.  Nothing guarantees a baby growing up to be anything but a copy of what already exists.

In the process, Roy describes many corrupt, absurd or sad facts of Indian life.  An ‘artist’ walks around with shit attached to his clothes as an artistic statement.  Heartless young and rich Indians find caste status a key in their treatment of the world.  A security guard not allowed to wear sunglasses, whose eyes are burned by watching over a stainless steel statute that catches the blazing sun.  A former leftist journalist who condemns aspects of Indian rule in Kashmir while secretly working for the military and police.  A profusion of fake products in the whole economy, including even the animals in the Delhi zoo.  Clothes taken off dead bodies and re-sold.  'Anti-corruption' campaigns ultimately run by the corrupters.  The idiotic Indian media - not much different than our own.  And on and on.

As to the writing, Roy makes up some great words like ‘smallwigs.’  She comments how stories of misery never go anywhere in the "international supermarkets of grief.”  'Telling your story' is ultimately not enough...  She writes almost surreal sections that are sometimes funny, acid or beautiful.  This is Roy describing the ‘modernization’ of India: 

“Skyscrapers and steel factories sprang up where forests used to be, rivers were bottled and sold in supermarkets, fish were tinned, mountains mined and turned into shining missiles.  Massive dams lit up the cities like Christmas trees.  Everyone was happy.”

Then several times Roy transcribes long sections of dictated notes full of random thoughts by various characters that do not cohere.  I frankly skipped them.  The book has no plot really.  It focuses on the characters interweaving around their fate of being outsiders and the parallel cruel occupation of Kashmir.  This occupation is  another unknown story.  Bringing it's reality to readers attention is the most progressive part of this book.

Other books on India reviewed below.  Use blog search box, upper left. "Annihilation of Caste," “The Last Man in the Tower,” "The God Market,” “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” "The Story of My Assassins" and various earlier books by Roy – “Walking with the Comrades,” “Notes on Democracy,” and "Capitalism - A Ghost Story." 

Red Frog
August 8, 2017 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

100th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution, continued...

"October - the Story of the Russian Revolution" by China Mieville, 2017

The story of the October/November 1917 revolution in St. Petersburg is a great story.  It is also a politically instructive story.  While not as thorough or advanced as Trotsky's "History of the Russian Revolution," or as passionate as John Reed's "Ten Days That Shook the World," this book still delivers by being a bit of a combination of the two.  Mieville is not a socialist but he is a sympathetic (science) fiction writer and he brings some of those skills to describing this momentous event.

Speeches in the Factory
What strikes one first about the book is the calumnies against the Russian revolution as being a 'putsch' or an isolated, dictatorial act are so far from the truth as to be laughable.  Mieville shows that the upsurge in 1917 was a vast, mass event engulfing other nationalities, the Russian peasantry, the working class, the army, the socialist parties and parts of the intelligentsia.  Actual social revolutions cannot be made except by the most real and massive display of 'democracy' any country has seen.  A social revolution is far more democratic than the most fair and 'attended' election - if those exist any more.  Certainly, in the U.S., they do not.  Revolutions do not come by accident.  They are ultimately determined by vast social forces in a moment in history, not by tiny groups of 'leaders.' This story shows that.

Another thing the books illustrates is that the 'moment' is key.  While many people think that events will always leave time for action, the truth is that 'windows' open and close very quickly.  It was this Bolshevik understanding, especially as provided by Lenin, but also Trotsky, that the 'moment' had arrived.  Actual revolutionaries understand the issue of timing, while reformists 'have all day.'  The 'stage' theory at work among many Marxists is a concretization of this reformist idea, as it shaped the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary majorities' reactions to this situation.  They felt the bourgeoisie had to 'build capitalism' as a first stage. Even some Bolsheviks thought that workers rule was premature after February, and that a block with the bourgeoisie was necessary.   Most Bolsheviks dropped this after Lenin's "April Theses" but it remained in the party even afterwards as events unfolded, especially in the person of Kamenev.

Mieville tracks the radicalization of the soldiers, the workers, and even the Bolshevik Party itself, as they navigated through seeming chaos, land and building occupations; fraggings and arrests; the beatings of foreman, officers, capitalists and landlords; invasions of stores and warehouses; bloody war, Czarist counter-revolution and pogroms; crime, desertion, starvation and rage.  He shows how the social-democratic Kerensky "Provisional Government," which refused to call off the war, or give land to the peasants or open the granaries to the starving, sealed its own fate.  From a love hero to goat in a matter of months, the beloved and mourned 'socialist' Kerensky could not break with property and capital.  Kerensky at one point in September formed a block with the former Czarist general Kornilov to institute martial law, until even he understood that Kornilov would do away with him too.

The key demand, of course, is "All Power to the Soviets."  Lenin carefully waited until the real left had a majority in the Soviets before initiating actual military action to take power in early November, or late October, depending on your calendar.  Lenin wanted this to be a 'fait accompli' before the 2nd Congress of Soviets.  He feared the Congress would still be undemocraticaly controlled by the rightist socialists  For the short period prior to this, Lenin dropped the slogan of 'power to the Soviets' due to the pro-war/pro-capitalist role of the Soviets.  But the slogan returned when the Bolsheviks and their allies in the Left SRs and Menshevik Internationalists won a majority in the Congress.  Trotsky became head of the St. Petersburg Soviet once again.  Anarchists,  Kronstadt sailors and left Bolsheviks in the Bolshevik Military Organization (MO) chafed at the bit to come out before the Soviet majority had fallen in their hands, especially in the July days.  Ultimately the demand was not 'all power to the RSDLP" or 'all power to Lenin" or 'all power to the Bolshevik Central Committee' - it was all power to the mass democratic organizations that had spread throughout Russia and its satellites - Latvia, Finland, Ukraine, etc.  This must never be forgotten.

What is a Soviet?  It is the Russian word for 'council' or 'commune.'  The councils included all the workers at a factory, soldiers in the army, residents in a town or city.  They included a large number of citizens acting in a mass democratic manner, sort of like a New England 'town halls' except with actual power to pass and enforce laws, to police neighborhoods, to decide policy, to manage and control property and production.  They are vastly more democratic than the farce of 'representative democracy' we have in the U.S. - or now in Russia.  Of note, in St. Petersburg, the police, who were guarding the last bunker of the Czar in February - were driven out of town, throwing their uniforms away.  In working-class neighborhoods of St. Petersburg - the Vyborg and Petrograd for instance - they were replaced by armed citizens.  As 'starry eyed' as you might find this, that will be the ONLY way that abuses by the capitalist police are ended.  

Additionally, even in a vast country like Russia with a small working class, a number of parties competed for socialist allegiance.  The Mensheviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries, the Popular Socialists and the Bolsheviks had left and right wings, which at different times supported or opposed policies of the Provisional Government.  The Provisional Government was a post-Czar block of the working-class Soviets and the Russian bourgeoisie - in essence a popular front.  During the dark July days, Trotsky and Lunacharsky's organization, the Mezhraiontsy, joined the Bolsheviks. The Bolsheviks at the 2nd Congress of the Soviets, which was meeting while the Winter Palace was being stormed, agreed to a 'joint socialist government' with the Left SRs and the Menshevik Internationalists.  This agreement, however, fell apart, mostly due to the sectarianism of the latter. 

This is somewhat like the U.S., which has an even vaster working class made up of various economic and social strata.  It  will ultimately produce, in a revolutionary situation, an even greater number of working class parties.  So the story of October/November as told by Mieville is not a simple one of one united party taking power. U.S. Leftists who think everyone will flock to only one party in a revolutionary situation are living in denial of history and society.  This historical knowledge might be an antidote to sectarianism and small group mentality, but don't bet on it.

Leftists reading this will carefully track the activity of their 'heroes' - Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Zinoviev, Lunacharsky, Kollentai, Kamenev and others.  In this book - and the actual event - Trotsky is second only to Lenin in his role as Bolshevik advocate and organizer of the Soviet's Milrevcom military defense, which actually overthrew the Provisional Government.  Lenin is shown to be relentless in his determination not to let the moment slip away, even in the face of Bolshevik Party hesitations.  His 'April Theses' overturned the Bolsheviks (RSDLP) post-February policy of conditional support to the Provisional Government, as Lenin was an advocate of 'revolutionary defeatism' regarding the war.  Kamenev and Stalin, on the Bolshevik right at that time, were the proponents of a policy that was much like some of the left Mensheviks and SRs - critically backing the government, which was pro-war.  Lenin was even accused of 'Trotskyism' for supporting the idea of converting the bourgeois revolution into a proletarian one. (The idea of the 'permanent revolution' of course was originated by Marx.)

Mieville points out that Lenin made a mistake by 'pooh poohing' the threat of a counter-revolutionary attack on St. Petersburg by Kornilov and local capitalists.  This even in spite of the hysteria about Lenin being a 'German spy' that brought out the military right-wing in July, and put them in control of the streets of St. Petersburg. The Bolshevik Party's advocacy of the Soviet's independent military defense organization, the Milrevcom, was in response to this threat of counter-revolution - and it happened without Lenin.  It later became key to operational success in St. Petersburg, when it routed Kerensky as part of a self-defense of the working class.

In this story, Stalin is a rare presence.  Kamenev plays the role of the Bolshevik 'right opposition.'  Zinoviev hesitates at a key moment.  Kollentai is nearly always on the left, as is Lunacharsky, Trotsky and others. Bukharin was not in St. Petersburg. 

Can we learn anything from this event?  Certainly, it took place in the material context of a horrible imperialist slaughter.  Hunger and poverty were rampant.  You might say that revolution was the only way out at that moment.  The political arguments that happened still remain valid, even to this day.  But the Russian Revolution is not a simple template for the future, though many leftist nostalgists seem to think so.

Stay tuned for actual commentary from St. Petersburg/ Leninsburg/ Leningrad in November, 2017...IF the visa process is a success.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!

Red Frog

August 2, 2017