Tag Archives: DSA

The Prophecies of Adolph Reed

Obamamania Redux

A recent Times profile of Adolph Reed includes what is now understood to be his oracular characterization of Barack Obama “as a man of ‘vacuous to repressive neoliberal politics.’”

A few of us will recall making strenuous efforts to lodge that now undeniable truth within the left consciousness but few listened in a climate then dominated by what was called Obamamania. So potent were the effects of Obamamania that it was heretical to think such thoughts let alone express them.

Obamamania, the product of an award winning public relations campaign financed by massive Wall Street donations, succeeded in its goal of electing Barack Obama. Its most profoundly tragic consequence would come shortly after when what should have been a huge protest movement opposing the continuous stream of right wing cabinet appointments, bank bailouts, get out of jail free cards for Wall Street felons and grotesque violations of international law never emerged.

Because we sat on our hands at best or at worst genuflected before the altar of the first African American president, the neoliberal juggernaut pushed on unimpeded by us.

Reed warned us. We didn’t listen and we should have.

And so some of the blame for the eight years of neoliberalism leading inevitably to the rise of Donald Trump needs to be on ourselves.

A Habit of Being Right

Reed’s habit of being right is a source of considerable annoyance to his many detractors. Another notable instance not mentioned in the Times piece was his 2016 attempt to convince leftists that it was “important” to “vote for the lying neoliberal warmonger” Ms. Clinton.

With global temperatures spiking and covid statistics accosting us with death every morning-if we are lucky enough not to be one of them, it is now grimly obvious to all but the most delusional why this was important.

Those who read Reed’s piece will recall not only the common sense recommendation issued there but also the intense hostility it provoked from much of the left.

In contrast to the suppressed history of Obamamania, on this point the facts are not so easily obscured. Clicking on the link will reveal more than 500 comments almost universal in their disparagement of Reed’s view.

Drearily familiar both in their high dudgeon as well as their logical incoherence, they are characteristic of what the late Michael Brooks referred to as the “dum-dum left.”

Reed has a more decorous description of this element in the Times piece, defining them with respect to their “militant objection to thinking analytically.”

The Dum Dum Left Lives

That brings up the proximate subject of the Times piece, Reed having become the latest victim of what has finally been understood as the left’s variant of cancel culture.

Those who engineered Reed’s cancellation have objected, noting that it was Reed’s decision not to move forward with the planned event.

But Reed’s decision was comparable to that of a mugging victim’s decision to “donate” her wallet,  made necessary by the demands for the event format to be converted to a “debate.”

As anyone who has advocated positions similar those Reed has been associated with can attest, this would almost certainly degenerate into a circus dominated by smears and innuendos denouncing Reed as an apologist for racism and white supremacy.

Given the widespread opposition to free speech rights on the left, many of Reed’s opponents will chalk this up as a victory in their efforts to “no platform” views they do not believe should be heard at all.

But this episode only constitutes a victory for sectarianism. It is a defeat for those understanding that the only chance to advance socialism and defeat barbarism hinges on mobilizing all victims of capitalist system in the 99%.

Listen, Leftist

Reed’s long history of being right about the strategies deployed by elites to divide and undermine working class solidarity lead to one of two conclusions:

We either listen to him or continue down the path of failure.

Back with a Vengeance: The Left Blue Wave Advances

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been waiting (literally) decades for the unambiguous celebration of the Democratic Party left which Michelle Goldberg delivered in her Times op-ed column last week.

It’s been many years since anything like it could be found there or anywhere else in the so-called agenda setting media.  So it’s easy to forget that traditional liberal/left positions (opposition to military aggression, increased social welfare spending, environmental stewardship etc.) used to be routinely encountered in not only in major and minor newspapers but on numerous talk radio outlets and in nationally syndicated columns in mass circulation news weeklies.
As we now know, they were erased, first, by the victories of the neoliberal Clintonite wing of the party in the 1980s and 90s and then dispatched to what seemed to be permanent oblivion by the “hope and change” presidency of Barack Obama. (1)

But, as Chomsky has pointed out for years, polling results routinely attest to the massive popularity of New Deal programs. So it is no surprise that a politics based on them is making a reappearance in almost exactly the form which they were presented by the figures in the pictures above and who I vividly remember from my childhood. The basic substance is unchanged.  All that’s different is the presentation: it’s now brushed off and served up by fresh faced activists in the Sanders successor organizations (Our Revolution and Justice Democrats) and the Democratic Socialists of America (of which I am a member) rather than dour boomers like me.

Two quick comments on Goldberg’s piece beginning with a sour grape provoked by Goldberg’s remark that “there’s nothing surprising about left-wing candidates losing their primaries. The happy surprise is how many are winning.”

Now wait a minute. Just a few months ago, Goldberg was actively campaigning against and denouncing the “left wing candidate” Bernie Sanders. But now she’s celebrating the left’s victories? 

Whatever. We will need to learn to accept that of those who change their minds only a fraction will admit that they are doing so. (Those who get payed to produce opinion pieces will never do so-an iron law of political punditry, as I’ve noted in the past).

That said, Goldberg is right about pretty much everything here including her observation that there is no “evidence that the Green Party’s habit of running doomed third-party campaigns has ever done anything to further its ostensible values.”

“Greens will sometimes justify these runs as movement-building tools, but they never seem to actually build a movement.” This is, unfortunately, accurate, and, as a former Green elected official, I could fill in the details providing an explanation for why that’s so but that’s of mainly historical interest at this point. (2)

We should be looking forward, not back, with the focus on “The new generation of left-wing activists.” This is in contrast to the Greens and other dysfunctional elements on the left who congratulate themselves for their self-marginalization. In contrast, (thank God) the new pragmatic left is “good at self-multiplication”, as Goldberg puts it.

They are taking the lead. As they damn well should be.

(1)  Obama liberal defenders tend to forget that his senate mentor was Trump supporter Joseph Lieberman, his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and his press secretary Robert Gibbs the former who referred to the liberal wing of the party as “retards” and the latter as in need of “drug testing.”

(2) These matters are dealt with in some detail in this memoir from 2001 documenting my experience working on the Nader campaign and subsequent attempts to develop the New Haven Green Party.

(Lightly edited for clarity: 4/7/2019)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “I Killed Rosa Luxemburg”

For those who don’t get it, the admittedly labored joke in the title has to do with soon to be Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proudly identifying as a member of the Democrat Socialists of America, or DSA for short.

The overwhelming majority who are not up to speed on these matters will ask “What’s the problem?”
The answer, mavenite sophisticates of Marxist lore will be glad to inform you, has to do with the DSA’s history going back its organizational forebears in the German Social Democratic Party.  The latter was and is notorious within the left for having suppressed the Spartacist uprising and murdering the leadership of German communist party (KPD) including, most famously, Rosa Luxemburg.

But what does this history have to do with the present?

The answer to that is best expressed with an emoji \_(ツ)_/¯

That’s because most active DSA members derive from a variety of left tendencies.  They (or I should say “we” since I just rejoined the organization) work within it based on its proven record of success in advancing broadly held left objectives such as single payer, a $15 minimum wage, abolishing ICE, protecting minority communities from the police abuse not to mention its decisive role in the Ocasio-Cortez campaign. Probably most members have some idea that Rosa Luxemburg is a martyr and left icon.  But few detect any relevance of this increasingly distant past to the present, similar to volunteers with Catholic Charities not seeing much connection between their soup kitchens and the murderous activities of 12th and 13th century  popes.

But there are those who do care about the connection. For them, it is always 1919, and any organization calling itself social democratic is what the KPD referred to them: “social fascists”, opportunists looking for any opportunity to undermine the power of the working class.

Or, to take at random various facebook postings on the subject  “Ebert was a social democrat who used the freikorps to kill her and LIEBNECKT to Stop revolution. That social democrats do they fight communists for the bosses. (sic)” Or “They are not ‘leftist’. They are conservatives in disguise.” Or “A good liberal Democrat. Meaningless. Fake socialist.” Or “I do appreciate the fact that more people are interested in socialism, but I do not support bourgeois candidates or muddying the water. “

Fair enough, you might say.  Everyone has a right to their opinion.  But there is more to it in that most of those taking this line (and it is a party line) belong to one of the alphabet soup of Marxist, Lenninist, Trotstkyite or Maoist sects which have been a feature of the left political landscape for as long as I can remember.

Having written about them before (e.g. here and here) I won’t mention any specifics though I would recommend for those interested Norman Finkelstein’s wonderfully entertaining brief memoir of his days as a “fervent Maoist” some three decades ago.

For years mired in almost complete dysfunctionality and irrelevance, a viable socialist organization of the sort which DSA represents would almost certainly be the coup de grace finally dispatching them into oblivion.

Their increasingly hysterical attacks on a brilliant, charismatic and principled Puerto Rican woman is nothing more than -the death throes of the old as the new is being born.

I for one am thrilled that the baton is being passed and that the future of the left-and the nation-is being placed in their hands.

Eight Theses on the “Revolutionary Left”

1. While they are habitually conflated by the corporate media, that there is a difference between leftists and liberals is obvious: in fact, the former regard the latter as weak allies at best mortal enemies at worst, never to be trusted in either case.

2. Furthermore, basic intellectual honesty requires recognizing that leftists are generally right: liberals do indeed have plenty to answer for, Adolph Reed’s classic essay on the subject providing a litany for those who need to be acquainted with the relevant data.

3. That said, the recognition that liberals are fully deserving of contempt needs to be immediately followed by the equally obvious fact that over the years, it has not been exclusively liberals who have been undermining left objectives. Self described “radical” or “revolutionary” leftists have done their part to drive the left into the ditch we are inhabiting and to advance the prospects of the right.

4. Those of sufficient age will remember grotesque human rights abuses by totalitarian states routinely ignored or explained away by self-described left revolutionaries. Now categorized by the useful term “tankies” (a reference to the hardware deployed in military repression of satellite regimes), their denial of the obvious or their pretzel logic used to defend the indefensible would inflict profound damage to the credibility of the left-damage from which it has yet to fully recover from.

5. While their numbers have been substantially diminished since, the tankies’ descendents, indeed, the tankies themselves, continue to solidier on, albeit figuratively rather than literally within certain outposts of the left. One organization where they have managed to obtain a foothold has been as a dissident faction of the Democratic Socialists of America. In this “entryist” capacity they have promoted their now well worn, traditional “unwillingness (to be) participants in sham bourgeoise ‘democracy”. Applying this to the recent election, they declared themselves “under no obligation” to defeat Trump, thereby joining several other constituencies (including Clintonite neoliberals) in clearing the way for the rightwing nightmare we are living in.

6. Their decision to abstain from participation was, they claimed, based on a principled objection to “collaborating with capitalist politicians.” But this principle was somewhat flexible, to put it charitably. That’s because, not so long before, many of them were collaborating with neoliberal Democrats in helping to undermine the candidacy of the declared socialist, Bernie Sanders. Smears manufactured by the Democratic Party leadership in its successful effort to beat back a challenge to its hegemony would be routinely forwarded by left revolutionaries. These included Sanders supposed “problems with black voters”, the “casual racism” and even white supremacist tendencies of his Berniebro or “Sandernista” supporters. That these emanated from both the far left and neoliberal Clintonite center was indicative of a shared recognition that a viable left insurgency constituted a threat to the organizational existence of both.

7. That 4-6 are not just history but fully relevant to the present is apparent in the revolutionary left’s transferring its opposition from the “imperialist” Bernie Sanders to “people like Bernie Sanders”, namely those who were inspired by his campaign and are continuing to advance its agenda. One these is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez whose remarkable campaign has become locus of an massive organizing effort uniting behind her many formerly warring factions of the left.

Most conspicuously, among those endorsing are the iconic liberal organizations Move On and the Howard Dean successor organization Democracy for America. These have been the target of much derision from the left, the mere mention of which a guarantee of snickers at the Left Forum, Socialism and Historical Materialism conferences and from the alphabet soup of self-proclaimed revolutionary left organizations.

8. And these same organizations are on the sidelines, doing nothing to advance the candidacy of Ocasio and other left candidacies which, as neoliberal elites are fully aware, consitute the first viable  threat to four decades of neoliberal hegemony. It is rational elements of the left allied with the liberal center who are now working to advance the movement. Revolutionaries, their fantasies notwithstanding, are functioning, at best, as a minor, but perhaps not insignificant obstacle.

Can someone remind me why I am supposed to regard them as left “allies” and liberals as the enemy?