Posts Tagged ‘communism’

Cartoon of the day

Posted: 17 November 2018 in Uncategorized
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Capitalism Is Dying

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Capitalism Is Dying

Special mention

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The original premise of this post was going to be the fact that, finally, we find ourselves beyond the Red Scare. Thus, the space had been created to “move forward without forgetting” the positive role that Communism and Marxist ideas have played in the United States.

And then I read about the case of Jill Bloomberg, the principal of Park Slope Collegiate in New York City, who’s being investigated by the Department of Education’s Office of Special Investigations.

The representative told Ms. Bloomberg that she could not tell her the nature of any allegations, nor who had made them, but said that she would need to interview Ms. Bloomberg’s staff.

Then one of her assistant principals, who had met with an investigator, revealed to her exactly what the allegation was, one that seemed a throwback to another era: Communist organizing.

It seems, then, we haven’t moved entirely out of the shadow of the period (from 1930 to 1975) when the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated a wide variety of public employees and private citizens, including (in 1947) the German playwright Bertolt Brecht, for their suspected “disloyalty and subversive activities.”*

It is perhaps even more remarkable then that, in 2017—which, lest we forget, marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of volume one of Marx’s Capital and the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution—the New York Times published Vivian Gornick’s piece titled “When Communism Inspired Americans.”

In that essay, Gornick reminisces about growing up in a world of “progressives,” at the center of which “were full-time organizers for the Communist Party, at the periphery left-wing sympathizers, and at various points in between everything from rank-and-file party card holders to respected fellow travelers.”

They were voyagers on that river, these plumbers, pressers and sewing machine operators; and they took with them on their journey not only their own narrow, impoverished experience but also a set of abstractions with transformative powers. When these people sat down to talk, Politics sat down with them, Ideas sat down with them; above all, History sat down with them. They spoke and thought within a context that lifted them out of the nameless, faceless obscurity into which they had been born, and gave them the conviction that they had rights as well as obligations. They were not simply the disinherited of the earth, they were proletarians with a founding myth of their own (the Russian Revolution) and a civilizing worldview (Marxism).

They also knew that Communists and fellow travelers had, during the party’s 40-year existence, played an important role in every progressive movement in the United States.

every rank-and-filer knew that party unionists were crucial to the rise of industrial labor; party lawyers defended blacks in the South; party organizers lived, worked, and sometimes died with miners in Appalachia; farm workers in California; steel workers in Pittsburgh. What made it all real were the organizations the party built: the International Workers Order, the National Negro Congress, the Unemployment Councils.

All of that came to end, of course, with the second Red Scare, the McCarthy witch hunts, and the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party (when Nikita Khrushchev revealed the incalculable horrors of Stalin’s rule). But, now that we are partly overcoming our historical amnesia, we can begin to remember the enormous contributions of the Party and its sympathizers in many different political, cultural, and media projects that promoted peace and economic and social justice in the United States.
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So, where does that leave Bini Adamczak’s new book, Communism for Kids? On one hand, it was issued not by some small left-wing publishing house, but by MIT Press.

Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true? This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism. Offering relief for many who have been numbed by Marxist exegesis and given headaches by the earnest pompousness of socialist politics, it presents political theory in the simple terms of a children’s story, accompanied by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening.

And yet, as Zachary Volkert reports, the book is “getting a heavy push back from conservative media.”

Does that mean we’re back to where we started? In many senses, yes. Just as the attack on the labor unions in the 1920s and the ravages of the first Great Depression created fertile ground for the Communist Party and other left-wing movements in the United States, similar events in recent decades have left us with many people who yearn “to be free of the misery of capitalism.” And both periods have witnessed right-wing reactions against those progressive movements and ideas.

Now, of course, we live in an age marked by both a right-wing president and the most popular politician who happens to be on the Left—Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

I still believe only the latter represents the way forward.

 

*The title of this post is a line from the “Solidarity Song” (written for Brecht’s play “The Mother”), which subsequently became a popular militant anthem sung in street protests and public meetings throughout Europe.

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Back in May, in an interview with Grèce Hebdo, French philosopher Alain Badiou was asked about the source of his optimism concerning contemporary social movements, from Nuit Debout to Bernie Sanders, even when they face strategic setbacks:

So you’re continuing to look to communism as a horizon?

Yes, not only do I keep this horizon open but I think it is very important to do so. For if there is no strategic idea then movements undergoing setbacks or recuperation risk having devastating subjective effects. There you risk demobilisation, the thought that ‘well I was young then, I threw myself into this adventure and it didn’t work’. Our thinking has to be that while there are strategic setbacks we will maintain our course despite the sinuosities of History. History does not march in a straight line but in a very tortuous way, and we should not imagine any royal road leading to emancipation. There are reverses, negatives, and that is why we need to have a compass come what may. If we have no compass we end up old and disheartened.

I was thinking about the idea of communism as a horizon as I read (only because a reader [ht: ja] sent me the link) the latest from New York Times columnist David Brooks. He begins by noting that, in the eighteenth century, American Indians rejected colonial society (which “was richer and more advanced”) but many whites were moving the other way, choosing to live within Indian society (which was “more communal”).

Brooks then moves up to the present and notes that there seems to be a new desire for community, at least among Millenials.

Maybe we’re on the cusp of some great cracking. Instead of just paying lip service to community while living for autonomy, I get the sense a lot of people are actually about to make the break and immerse themselves in demanding local community movements. It wouldn’t surprise me if the big change in the coming decades were this: an end to the apotheosis of freedom; more people making the modern equivalent of the Native American leap.

While readers wrap their heads around the idea that Brooks might be a modern-day communist (or at least a communist sympathizer), consider what that means. In many Native American societies, the surplus was created by the direct producers and then managed not privately (as in capitalism), but by the commune (either directly or by a representative of the commune, such as an elder or religious figure). So, in historical communism (which some, especially in the Marxian tradition, refer to as “primitive communism”), there was no exploitation, no “ripping-off” of the producers by “autonomous” individuals who did not participate in creating the surplus.*

And, as it turns out, communism is more than just a horizon: it’s actually being practiced in a wide variety of economic and social settings. One such example are the refugee “squats” [ht: ja] in Greece, an alternative to the government-run camps. Best I can tell, all the work is being conducted collectively, as part of the commune:

There are cleaning teams, cooking teams, security teams, language lessons, art classes, children’s activities, beach outings, translators, Arabic lessons for volunteers and more.

Squats are run without government or major nongovernmental-organization influence and rely on donations and manpower from independent volunteers. Responsibility is divided among the residents. At Dakdouk’s original squat, a “local technical group” is the go-to for all maintenance and IT issues. There are plans to establish a bakery to produce bread en masse for residents and rooftop gardens to provide “for the soul and for the body,” says one group member.

I doubt anyone thought that was how communism would come to be established—among refugees, the most marginalized people in the world today. However, that may be exactly the communist horizon both Badiou and Brooks have in mind: noncapitalist communal activities that provide for both the soul and the body.

 

*Interested readers should consult the pioneering work of Jack Amariglio (e.g., “Subjectivity, Class, and Marx’s “Forms of the Commune’,” Rethinking Marxism, 22:3, 329-344) and Dean Saitta (e.g., “Marxism, Prehistory, and Primitive Communism,” Rethinking Marxism 1:1, 145-168).

 

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Here’s an episode concerning U.S. unemployment statistics I was not aware of: in September 1961, James Daniel, writing in the Readers’ Digest, accused the U.S. government of providing “excellent fodder for the communist line.”

Daniel’s article, “Let’s Look at Those ‘Alarming’ Unemployment Figures,” began as follows:

For months the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been pouring out a stream of doleful figures depicting the worst ‘unemployment crisis’ in the United States since the Great Depression of the 1930′s. Almost daily some administration official tells us that nearly seven percent of our labor force is out of work. Meanwhile, Congress has passed one emergency spending bill after another on the ground, in part or in whole, that it will help employment…. All this unemployment news out of Washington provides excellent fodder for the communist line, of course.

At least in part in response to the Daniels article, in November 1961, the President’s Committee to Appraise Employment and Unemployment Statistics was appointed. Then, in 1963, the Subcommittee on Economic Statistics of the Joint Economic Committee held hearings on “Measuring Employment and Unemployment” (pdf).

Here’s Robert A. Gordon, the chair of the president’s committee:

You will forgive me if I say that this article represented an egregious example of irresponsible journalism. In effect, it charged that the official data on unemployment were being deliberately manipulated in order to justify larger Government spending and more extensive Government controls.

The entire transcript of the hearings is worth reading, if only to get a sense that there is no level of unemployment “out there” to be measured. The measuring of unemployment (like all such statistics, from national income to profits) is a social construction.

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Today, of course, the rate of unemployment is once again contested, as conspiracy theorists (like Donald Trump) argue the official unemployment numbers out of Washington are exaggerated. However, in their case, it’s not that they’re too high, but too low.