Monday, June 25, 2018

The 2nd Red Century?

“The 1st Red Century,” Jacobin, No. 27, Fall 2017

I’m really done reading about the Russian Revolution, but I figured I’d wade through Jacobin’s issue on that subject, with some pithy comments.

This issue is like a children’s pop-up book, with small tear-out sections and a big poster-sized insert.  I figured there might be a pop-up of the Winter Palace or a button that would play The International, but no deal.  Sure looks like it cost a lot though.  Making reading fun!

The whole thing reads like a statement of left-social-democratic intent, with some nostalgia for Soviet films, the hammer and sickle iconography, ‘where are they now’ details on former ‘socialist’ countries and stuff about statues of good ‘ol dead Lenin. Their somewhat open intent here is to fight the ‘ultra-left,’ though it is not clear who they are talking about.
A Movie Retrospective

In order:  Chibber

The poster is written by Vivek Chibber.  Chibber is a professor of sociology at NYU. He mentions that the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and after that, the Bolsheviks, were not a monolithic party but had space for disagreements and discussion.   Even while underground.  Unlike the military idea of ‘Leninism’ now embraced by various small left organizations.  Or in present so-called ‘socialist’ states. Not news.

Chibber thinks that the middle-class people he is explicitly talking to, who fill the ranks of non-profits, campus organizations, book clubs and study groups, should turn to the working class.  Odd because this is the oldest point in socialist politics and something ‘hard’ left organizations have understood for years.  See for instance the Worker-Student Alliance circa the late 1960s and the practice of ‘colonization.’  Hey, he could have asked any geezer Marxist about this.  As he humorously points out, instead these groups yap about ‘language, individual identity, body language, consumption habits and the like.”  Well, yeah.  They are sometimes the same people who are unable to chair a book club or a Jacobin discussion group.

Chibber advocates “non-reformist’ reforms or ‘revolutionary reforms.’  Evidently he has never heard of the Transitional Program, which was developed in the 1920s.

At the end, Chibber advocates market socialism, an end to central planning, (‘Marx was wrong…’) a pluralistic, multiparty order (including bourgeois parties) with a significant role for the market.  China is a market-socialist economy, so I wonder what he thinks of them. Oh, wait, I know.  The Nordic social-democracies are his immediate goal and yes, we’d all rather live in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Canada or damn, New Zealand, Australia, France and even Germany than the U.S.  But can the imperialist beast become a social-democratic cuddle-town?  Or is world capital structured in such a way that someone has to keep order…?  I think you know the answer.

Evidently he has not read enough about the decay of the USSR and other countries to know their version of ‘central planning’ was undermined by each factory or sector’s ultimately following their own plans. To boot, the defense industry distorted the whole economy, at almost 85% in the USSR.  A bad plan. They also mandated the economies of their central European allies.  And yes, the Party did not pay attention to ‘market’ intelligence at all.  But even so, the USSR lasted 70 years…so it had ‘an empirical foundation.’


Next up is the tiny tear-away section, written by a former loyal CPer from the USSR who as a Soviet academic had run-ins with various bureaucrats, and is now an academic in the U.S.  Georgi Derluguian shows how the ‘expert’ bureaucrats actually had very little clue about some issues, and certainly Marxism was farthest from their minds.  Funny stuff, but…why?

Kilpatrick / Usmani

Yes, the ‘hammer and sickle’ is an outdated symbol for most.  But you must remember, the East Germans had a ‘hammer and protractor’ which seems a bit more up-to-date.  Perhaps now we need a battery-run electric drill crossed with a computer mouse as our symbol.  The Drill and the Mouse!   And yes, the Russian Revolution happened in conditions that will rarely be repeated – certainly not in the U.S. or Europe.  A weak bourgeoisie, a massive peasantry, a cruel war killing millions of citizens, a corrupt royal family.  Nope.  Even leftist hardliners know that.  Though in a few countries this is still relevant…


Next up is the Jacobin heavy editor, Bhaskar Sunkara.  He writes a mostly accurate description of the Russian revolution, which was actually not ‘two’ revolutions, but one that lasted from February to October 1917.  He correctly sees the problems of running factories through the party alone, or through unions.  He knows that the other Russian left organizations ran from power and abandoned the Soviets.  And unlike Chibber, he indicates that state planning actually revived the economy.  Though only good for poorer countries as an initial phase, as a later graphic tries to attest.  We may want to ask the Chinese about this also…

A sad section on Michael Gorbachev, the man who helped bring down the USSR because he had nothing to replace it with.  Capital loves a vacuum.


Daniel Finn writes about the role of the USSR in various national liberation struggles after World War II, starting with Spain prior to the war.  Except for Spain, the Soviet role was useful in overturning South African apartheid, backing up Vietnam and North Korea in not being overrun by the U.S., helping Cuba survive and aiding national liberation movements all over Africa and in the Middle East, even in Central America.  Sorry but the truth will out.  The U.S. was on the wrong side of every one of these issues. But then this was when the USSR wasn’t advocating popular fronts that defanged revolutionary movements elsewhere.  They had twisted ‘internationalism’ to mean anything that the Soviet bureaucracy wanted.  Cuba, China, Vietnam and Yugoslavia were not their doing.  A mixed record, but better than post-1949 China, which practiced virtual isolation.

No more.  Now we have ‘humanitarian’ regime change sponsored by the sole world power, the U.S.  Pick your bloodbath.  Pick your failed state.  Pick your refugees.


Megan Erickson writes about revolutionary educational practices in the early USSR, which were years ahead of anything being done now, sort of like what Finland does now.  Though that is unfair.  In the U.S. present education from top to bottom is back-peddling into a dystopia run by corporate needs…sponsored by Apple, Microsoft, Democrats and Republicans. Oh, and big Pharma, Big Ag and the defense industry.  So it is too easy to make fun of…


This Jacobin includes an odd article by Seth Ackerman on how Henry Wallace ran on a 3rd Party ticket in 1948, in a campaign basically run by the Communist Party.  A campaign that included the worst of CP propaganda skills, essentially dooming Wallace.  But it does include a great quote from Engels making fun of ‘Americans’ – “The tenacity of the Yankees…is a result of their theoretical backwardness and the Anglo-Saxon contempt for all theory.  They are punished for this by a superstitious belief in every philosophical and economic absurdity, by religious sectarianism and by idiotic economic experiments.”  Not sure what this has to do with Henry Wallace, but it is still funny.  But hey, can we kick Henry Wallace some more?  And didn’t the social-democrats support Truman?

A good commentary on how present ‘anti-communist’ campaigns in Ukraine, Poland, Hungary and Lithuania are combined with pro-fascist campaigns in those same countries – which makes you wonder who is behind them?  Wait, we know. Actually timely!

A list of mostly former Soviet ‘Communist’ bureaucrats who became multi-millionaires and billionaires because of their seizure of Soviet common property.  More evidence that nomenklatura apparatchiks became the core of a new capitalist class.

And lastly, former Maoists in the Communist Party (ML) (former October League), now capitalist entrepreneurs, who enthusiastically embraced Pol Pot.  Jokes on them!  Clever propaganda by left social-democrats.  Easy targets, that…


The tendency that Jacobin supports, the Democratic Socialists of America, is growing exponentionally.  That is due to the Sander’s campaign and the election of Trump.  Many are joining because of its size, as it is now the biggest organization on the 'left.'  It might play the same role that SDS did in the 1960s, which is to say it is attracting people from various tendencies.  However, the plan by “Our Revolution” and some elements of DSA to ‘take over’ or ‘move to the left’ the Democratic Party is faltering heavily.  The recent resignation of Keith Ellison from Congress bodes ill for that old, tired strategy.  He has just lost a lot of clout.  He was the Sanders-supporter and honorary ‘co-chair’ of the Party.  He has chosen to run for Minnesota state attorney general and bring lawsuits, instead of the political strategy of Our Revolution – to chip away at the Party internally.  The Democratic Party establishment has stymied somewhat leftish candidates at every turn, as a recent “This American Life” with Ira Glass recently exposed in a Congressional district in New York involving Sandersite Jeff Beals.  Or attempt to lie about their positions to siphon off votes in primaries, as the Intercept has reported.  Bye, Keith.  Perhaps now he doesn’t have to be the token Muslim to run interference for Israel.

And I bought it at May Day Books, which carries many left newspapers and magazines – even left-liberal ones!

See below for other reviews of Jacobin.  And many commentaries on the Russian Revolution and associated issues…

C:  The victory of a female Latino DSA member in a Democratic Party primary in New York against a mainstream Democrat, especially over the issue of abolishing ICE, has put wind in DSA's sails.  She had no bourgeois support. This after a number of defeats for the 'progressive' wing of the Democratic Party.  However, this is something the central party will no doubt combat, in a position of non-support and isolation if she wins the general...  which she probably will.  Anyway, a good indication that people have had it with neo-liberalism.

Red Frog

June 25, 2018

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