Thursday, January 17, 2019

Socialist Action's Convention, 2018

Socialist Action's (SA) 2018 convention was held in Minneapolis on Oct. 12 - 14, with the account on their webpage delayed until January 16th. It's mostly straight Trotskyist boilerplate--why it took them three months to put the article together is a mystery to me.

The relevant article (by The Editors) is entitled Socialist Action National Convention registers gains. Precisely what has been gained is left unsaid. Commenter John B estimates they have about 100 members--which seems consistent with the only statistic offered: there were 70 contributions to the pre-convention discussion bulletin.

The showstopping news is that the Party now declares China to be a capitalist country. Wow! They finally noticed. And Russia, too. But that's not all--they've gone all out on a capitalism-shaming kick. Even Venezuela and North Korea are now put into the capitalist camp.

As late as 2017 SA classed North Korea as a "deformed workers state," similar to the former Soviet Union. They don't explain how or when the counter-revolution and capitalist restoration has since occurred.

Likewise, Venezuela, once a beacon for leftists everywhere, has now become anathema, disowned by everybody. Apparently SA uses capitalist to describe any regime it doesn't like--the term is reduced to mere epithet.

For SA capitalism is an on/off switch--there are no gradations. A country is either capitalist (apparently all countries except Cuba), or a workers state (Cuba). Of course that's not true--some countries are more capitalist than others. A good proxy for degree of capitalist is the measure of economic freedom put together by the Heritage Foundation. Hong Kong tops the list, followed by Singapore and New Zealand. The US comes in at #17.

Ironically, super-socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), often accused of "going the full Venezuela", denies it, claiming her model for socialism is Sweden. Sweden ranks #15 in economic freedom--i.e. is more capitalist than even the USA!

The countries at the bottom of the list--i.e., most likely to be non-capitalist--are (in order) Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea. The correlation between economic freedom and per capita GDP is pretty good, especially if you exclude rent-collecting petrostates and off-shore banking havens. Capitalism is good for children and other living things.

But back to China. SA claims that a poor China is good for our economy. This is certainly not true--how can we sell things to a bunch of poor people? And further, people who can cost-effectively manufacture goods for American consumers will not remain poor for very long--300 million Chinese have been brought into the global middle class. I have discussed this issue at length in my replies to Lynn Henderson, here and here.

The Editors add a wrinkle to the argument bringing in America's defense of intellectual property rights.  They write,
China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001 was conditioned on its respecting foreign corporations’ intellectual property rights—that is, agreeing not to compete by transforming its primitive factories via state-of-the-art technologies, which the U.S. today insists are protected by U.S. patents (“inviolable” intellectual property rights). As a result, for close to two decades and until recently, the level of Chinese labor productivity lagged far behind most capitalist nations.
The US (and the European Union) expected China to obey WTO intellectual property laws. This is a free market principle that the US wants to defend. It does not follow that the US wants China to be poor. No way. A poor China means a poorer United States.

But geopolitics gets in the way. Not only are we economically dependent on China, but China is a military competitor. For that reason we care very much if military technology falls into Chinese hands--and preventing that from happening is really important, even at the cost of more poverty.

Trump's trade policy is to lessen our dependence on China by moving as much "Made in China" over to "Made in Mexico." It is understood this will lower Americans' standard of living somewhat.

SA follows the Leftist lead in slandering President Trump. They write,
Yes, Trump is a billionaire businessman—an overtly racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, climate crisis denying, detention center/concentration camp crusading, homophobic, Islamophobic, warmongering, imperialist beast.
Trump may be racist (I don't think he is), but he certainly isn't "overtly racist." An overt racist would call for the restoration of Jim Crow, or claim that Blacks shouldn't be allowed to vote, or tout the superiority of white people. Trump has said nothing like that. An overt racist, eating a taco bowl, would have said "I hate Latinos" instead of (what he did say) "I love Latinos."

He's not even overtly racist against Mexicans. Here is what he actually said.
When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're not sending you. They're not sending you. They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
He is not saying that all Mexicans are problematic, drug-pushing rapists. Only the ones that the government is sending over the border. Now I think that statement is completely false, but it's not "overtly racist." It is a criticism of the Mexican government.

Some on the Left are smarter than our Editors. They say that Trump talks in "dog-whistles" or secret code. In other words, he's not overt, but instead a disguised racist. That position is arguable, though I don't think it's true, either. Instead he just doesn't care about race--the issue is to him completely unimportant. He's race-ignorant.

Likewise, it is hard to call Trump a "warmonger," especially now that he's pulling troops out of Syria. He's said nothing to suggest he's "homophobic," and it stretches credulity to think he advocates "concentration camps." Only the "climate crisis denying" charge sticks--and I'm down with him on that one.

Socialist Action would have a lot more credibility if it could get its own house in order. This is what they say about the Fourth International (FI).
Our delegation at the FI’s February 2018 World Congress aimed at re-orienting the FI to its historic rejection of coalition capitalist (“popular front”) politics and imperialist wars, unconditional support to the right of oppressed nations and peoples to self-determination, and the construction of disciplined revolutionary parties on the Leninist model aimed at the construction of a world socialist order.
SA is defending a strategy that has never, ever worked in world history. Despite the rewriting of history after 1917, not even the Russian Revolution was caused by a Leninist Party. Neither were the (since failed) Chinese and Cuban revolutions. The concept of a Leninist vanguard party is a total dead letter.

Compare, for example, AOC. While it's obvious that she's a major ignoramus (a problem that will solve itself in time), at least she has charm and good looks. Indeed, in a recent Rasmussen poll AOC essentially tied Trump in a hypothetical presidential match-up. So the lady has some serious charisma, along with formidable social media skills.

Compare her with Jeff Mackler--Socialist Action's 2016 presidential candidate.
Socialist Action’s decision to run our own candidate for the presidency, even as an extremely modest propaganda effort, stood us in good stead with regard to the education of our ranks along with radicalizing layers who were beginning to learn the lessons of independent working-class politics in the electoral arena.
They're not kidding about the "extremely modest propaganda effort." All they did was a five-day campaign swing through southern New England. And contrary to AOC, Mr. Mackler has all the charisma of Leonid Brezhnev.

That despite the fact that he is the Vanguard of the Vanguard, uniquely possessed of The Precisely Correct Revolutionary Program. So perspicacious, in fact, that he can tell us that North Korea is now capitalist when it wasn't in 2017. Not even AOC can compete with that!

I think an American socialist revolution is hopelessly improbable. But if I were to bet on somebody leading it, that somebody would be Ms. Ocasio-Cortez instead of Mr. Mackler. I'll put million to one odds on that.

Further Reading:

Friday, January 11, 2019

A Leftist Criticizes the Left on Immigration

I'm grateful to Socialist Action (SA) for turning me on to an intriguing article by Amanda Nagle, an author with whom I was previously unfamiliar. SA's critique by Ivan Dolphy is headlined Angela Nagle’s shoddy remedies for the ‘migrant crisis.’ Ms. Nagle's contribution, published in American Affairs, is titled The Left Case against Open Borders.

Mr. Dolphy's post suffers from the disease common to my Trotskyist friends, namely an inability to treat their interlocutors respectfully. Everything descends into ad hominem attacks, accusing others of moral turpitude or laziness. The word 'shoddy' in the title sets the tone. Ms. Nagle pens a 'diatribe', she fakes a 'leftist tinge', and she's accused of purposely taking Marx out of context (I think she's not guilty).

The closing line of Mr. Dolphy's piece sums up Ms. Nagle's supposed moral failings--pejorative terms and arguably untrue accusations included.
Given that Nagle is now officially on the payroll of a rag that changed its name from The Journal of American Greatness, it poses the question of who the useful idiot to big business might be.
It's not really a serious critique.

Ms. Nagle's key point is that open borders and free immigration are really a causes for the libertarian Right, and not the Left.

She writes,
The transformation of open borders into a “Left” position is a very new phenomenon and runs counter to the history of the organized Left in fundamental ways. Open borders has long been a rallying cry of the business and free market Right. Drawing from neoclassical economists, these groups have advocated for liberalizing migration on the grounds of market rationality and economic freedom. They oppose limits on migration for the same reasons that they oppose restrictions on the movement of capital.
She could have cited Michael Clemens' 2011 article entitled Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk? The thesis is that, if the world's people could just move freely to the location where they'd earn the most money, it would immediately add trillions of dollars to global GDP.

Ms. Nagle suggests that the Leftist impulse to be kind to migrants is conflicting with what should be their loyalty to the indigenous labor movement. After all, it's hard to build a union when a whole lot of cheap, scab labor is being imported from Honduras.

In Ms. Nagle's view, the only true beneficiaries of unfettered immigration are the bosses, who get more labor at cheap prices. The fact that the migrants clearly earn more than they would in their home countries is apparently not important to her. The primary effect of immigration, claims Ms. Nagle, is to lower the wages of domestic workers. And domestic workers do suffer, no doubt.

Though Mr. Dolphy disputes her leftism, like a true Marxist Ms. Nagle sees everything as zero-sum, and ignores the primary beneficiaries of immigration--consumers. Joe Six-Pack can get his lawn mowed for $20 instead of $100, which definitely raises his standard of living. The libertarian view depends on precisely this point: a rise in GDP means that more goods and services are consumed, which is good for everybody. A trillion dollars is no small increase in consumption.

However good immigration is for the economy, completely open borders is politically impossible. The arguments against it are non-economic, and concern culture, history, demographics, and governance. For example, countries that are in serious demographic decline (e.g., Hungary, Sweden, Japan) are the least tolerant of migrants--they're afraid of being swamped. That is a factor in America's opposition to immigration as well.

Further, there is the trilemma--no less true for being old. Among the three goods--democracy, a functioning welfare state, and high rates of immigration--pick any two. Ethnic homogeneity is a precondition for democratic support for a welfare state. Lots of immigrants will be tolerated only as long as few social welfare benefits are extended to them. Or, as happens in the EU, high rates of immigration require undemocratic, dictatorial methods by the Brussels bureaucrats.

The libertarian choice is to accommodate immigration by zeroing out welfare benefits. Trump's alternative is to maintain the welfare state, but accordingly to minimize immigration. The progressive Left (including SA) defend both a generous welfare state and high immigration, but are happy to rule dictatorially (through the administrative state, or via much more totalitarian methods).

Ms. Nagle takes issue with her progressive comrades and seems to side more with Trump--at least in this context. I'm not sure she realizes that.

Ms. Nagle makes some arguments against immigration that I think are completely fallacious. For example,
According to Foreign Policy magazine, “There are more Ethiopian physicians practicing in Chicago today than in all of Ethiopia, a country of 80 million.” It is not difficult to see why the political and economic elites of the world’s richest countries would want the world to “send their best,” regardless of the consequences for the rest of the world. But why is the moralizing, pro–open borders Left providing a humanitarian face for this naked self-interest?
In other words, for the sake of Ethiopia we should prevent the immigration of Ethiopian doctors. But this makes no sense. There is no market for high-end medical care in Ethiopia, so the doctors earn a lot more money in Chicago.

Health problems in Ethiopia probably don't have much to do with doctors, but instead revolve much more about access to clean water, safe food, and appropriate sewage disposal. No doctors are required for that. What is necessary is money--and indeed, the Chicago doctors probably send more money back home than they could ever hope to earn in Addis Ababa. Also needed is good governance, which is in very short supply in Ethiopia, but has nothing to do with doctors.

Ms. Nagle asserts that NAFTA has been bad for Mexico.
Nafta forced Mexican farmers to compete with U.S. agriculture, with disastrous consequences for Mexico. Mexican imports doubled, and Mexico lost thousands of pig farms and corn growers to U.S. competition. ... By 2002, Mexican wages had dropped by 22 percent, even though worker productivity increased by 45 percent. In regions like Oaxaca, emigration devastated local economies and communities, as men emigrated to work in America’s farm labor force and slaughterhouses, leaving behind women, children, and the elderly.
She is correct that working in the US was much more lucrative for Mexican peasants than subsistence farming. I'm astonished that Leftists (including that true Luddite, Barry Sheppard) think unmechanized, backbreaking farm work represents a good future for Mexicans. In support of the "22 percent" statistic, she cites an article in People's World, a paper of the US Communist Party. That paper culls the number from a similarly dubious source.

It is certainly not true that Mexican living standards are declining. Since 2009 net migration between the US and Mexico has favored Mexico. And for good reason--the Mexican economy has been growing like gangbusters.

This past August my wife and I spent a vacation week in Mexico City. I was astonished at how rich the city was--at least as wealthy as any in Southern Europe. The notion that Mexico is being gutted by NAFTA is absurd.

The only substantive criticism that Mr. Dolphy levels against Ms. Nagle is her proposed solution to the immigration problem: a greatly strengthened e-verify. He writes,
Nagle goes on to implore the left to embrace E-verify, a policy that would place the onus on employers to verify the immigration status of all of their workers, and would punish businesses for noncompliance. Proponents of this policy claim that it’s a humane way to encourage the self-deportation of undocumented people. Basically, their reasoning is that by creating more barriers between undocumented immigrants and jobs or services it would softly encourage them to leave or not migrate in the first place.
I actually agree with him. Beyond serious privacy issues, E-verify imposes a hardship on legal workers, especially legal immigrants. Further, while illegals shouldn't be here in the first place, it's much better if they're employed than unemployed.

Here are my suggestions for an immigration policy:

  1. A generous legal immigration system (the wide front door) that preferences skilled workers who can contribute to America's economy. We need to admit people "who love us."
  2. Abolition of the H1-B visa that turns immigrants into indentured servants.
  3. A strong border that allows our country to control who moves here. Illegal immigration has to be greatly reduced. Trump's policies, while not the answer, are at least addressing the right question.
  4. We should not admit large numbers of semi-literate, unskilled people from countries like Honduras. They will not thrive in our economy and will almost inevitably end up on welfare.
Further Reading:

Friday, January 4, 2019

Socialist Action's Fund Raising Appeal

Reproduced from Socialist Action, December 31, 2018
My friends over at Socialist Action (SA) are very coy about their membership, and so I grab at any opportunity to learn something about them. Fortunately for me a recently posted fund-raising appeal included this informative photo. It's not a random sample, but it will have to do.

The demographics are much younger than I expected. Surely a similar pic from the Socialist Workers Party would feature baby boomers. SA, at least, can collect enough millennials together in one place to make a group portrait. That is an achievement--though I suppose with rising socialist stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, perhaps it shouldn't be all that surprising.

The group's agenda is nothing if not ambitious: they want to cool the planet, free Mumia, liberate women, organize hotel workers, and tear down the walls at America's southern border.

Not to mention:
Simultaneously, we have deepened our participation in the campaign to build an international party along revolutionary Leninist lines, collaborating in the Platform for a Revolutionary International with our comrades abroad. Together with our European co-thinkers, Socialist Action delegates spoke on behalf of the Platform at the 17th World Congress of the Fourth International.
The banner tells us nothing about any of those efforts--instead it strikes me as ultraleft. Back in the day when I was a Trotskyist we avoided public slogans that made us seem out of touch with reality. Apparently these young comrades are not as familiar with the Transitional Program as we supposedly were. This is the kind of banner that the Workers League or the Progressive Labor Party might have unfurled.

But back to demographics--the picture includes six men and three women. All are white but for one of the women, who looks to me like she might be South Asian. This pretty much is the way I remember the old YSA--male by a ratio of 2 to 1. And white (disproportionately Jewish) with a few "people of color" mixed in.

Something else hasn't changed, either: these comrades are dressed just as shabbily as we were back in the 1970s. While I think our hair was longer, and perhaps there were more beads, I don't think there'd be much to distinguish us versus them in a photograph. I'm embarrassed to think about it now. I'd have been so much more successful in life if I'd paid just a little bit of attention to my appearance.

It appears that only the lady on the left has any self-esteem at all. The two gentlemen on the right look like losers. The remainder mostly hide behind the banner, but they don't seem any more fashionable than the others--though perhaps the man in the middle, with the careful coiffure, is an exception.

Poor grooming doesn't make you look proletarian. No--it just makes you look incompetent. Compare our comrades with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is nothing if not fashionable. Whose party would you rather join?

Socialist Action, like all socialists, expounds at great length about how badly off the working class is. We're under constant attack, our standard of living is going down, the ruling class is perpetually trying to find way to make us poorer, the environment is dirtier than ever, and we're beset with myriad capitalist ills such as racism, war, and transphobia.

So no wonder they chose a desolate bit of commercial landscape for the photo-op: cracked pavement in a parking lot, bare trees, and is that snow in the background? In the distance I spy what might be a church--that very symbol of false consciousness. The store behind them looks like a supermarket--a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world available to average people in a working-class neighborhood at cheap prices--which to socialists is nothing more than evidence of environmental destruction.

Sadly, the careful framing includes one little detail that betrays the constant litany of doom and gloom. You can see it clearly--it says "24 Hours." Why those conniving capitalists! In their efforts to impoverish us all, they can't help but keep their store open 24/7. Just so that comrades--after an arduous branch meeting--can drop by and pick up some snacks or a six-pack on their way home.

In Cuba and Venezuela they've done away with such extravagances--there stores are open for twelve hours per week, assuming they have anything to sell. And if they really do have something in stock the line outside goes around the block. Now that's the revolutionary spirit our comrades think is good for us all.

I think my friends have told us more about themselves than they intended.

Further Reading:

Friday, December 28, 2018

Henry Giroux Defends the Faculty Guild

Henry Giroux offers thoughts on the state of American higher education in Counterpunch. The piece is an interview--Mr. Giroux (now living in Canada) is interrogated by a Slovenian academic, Mitja Sardoč.

I think Mr. Giroux is mostly correct on the facts:
[T]hey sought aggressively to restructure its modes of governance, undercut the power of faculty, privilege knowledge that was instrumental to the market, define students mainly as clients and consumers, and reduce the function of higher education largely to training students for the global workforce. ... 
Increasingly aligned with market forces, higher education is mostly primed for teaching business principles and corporate values, while university administrators are prized as CEOs or bureaucrats in a neoliberal-based audit culture. Many colleges and universities have been McDonalds-ized as knowledge is increasingly viewed as a commodity resulting in curricula that resemble a fast-food menu.
While I'd phrase it very differently, he hasn't said anything I think is wrong. And that's precisely the point--Mr. Giroux and I can look at the same facts and come to completely different conclusions. Our priors diverge, and therefore also our conclusions.

The key to Mr. Giroux's error (in my view) is the meaning of the word "they" at the top of the above quote. "They" refers to "neoliberals," that ill-defined boogeyman of all evil. Mr. Giroux's lede sentence sets the tone.
Neoliberalism has become the dominant ideology of the times and has established itself as a central feature of politics. Not only does it define itself as a political and economic system whose aim was to consolidate power in the hands of a corporate and financial elite, it also wages a war over ideas.
Then Mr. Giroux starts putting words in my mouth.
Advocates of neoliberalism have always recognized that education is a site of struggle over which there are very high stakes regarding how young people are educated, who is to be educated, and what vision of the present and future should be most valued and privileged.
As an advocate for "neoliberalism" (interpreted as belief in laissez-faire capitalism), that doesn't accurately express my opinion at all. Education may be a "site of struggle," but the stakes are not very high. Indeed, I think academia is gradually rendering itself inconsequential. It's an institution that is increasingly relevant only to Yankee progressives--or about 20% of the population.

Far from influencing society, academia is obsessed with political correctness, which turns it into a laughing-stock. Indeed, it's Trump's response to that trend that helped elect him. Higher ed's opposition to free speech and open inquiry further narrows its reach and influence.

Accordingly, real debate about serious issues is moving off campus, to--among other places--the intellectual dark web, or even to the pages of Counterpunch. No serious conversation about "climate change", evolutionary psychology, gender differences, sociology, or even economics can take place on a college campus. Even new technology increasingly arises off-campus--be it space flight, artificial intelligence, and (most importantly) fracking.

In a word, college is becoming a waste of time and money. It's gradually going the way of Sears, Roebuck & Co--an idea whose time has passed.

Let's consider one of Mr. Giroux's facts. He is indeed correct that colleges increasingly "define students mainly as clients and consumers." Would he have it otherwise? What does he propose instead?

He never really says. The closest he gets is this:
[N]eoliberalism undermines the ability of educators and others to create the conditions that give students the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and the civic courage necessary to make desolation and cynicism unconvincing and hope practical. As an ideology, neoliberalism is at odds with any viable notion of democracy which it sees as the enemy of the market.
Which doesn't really explain anything. It sounds like colleges should proselytize something like a religious faith--hope, as a solution to "desolation and cynicism." Of course colleges used to do that: the original mission of Harvard was to train clergy, and their motto was "For Christ and Church." Mr. Giroux seems animated by that same Yankee spirit, even if the specifics of his religion are different.

Here, as I see it, is the basic rule: Students know more about their own future than anybody else. I was a professor of chemistry, and no doubt I knew more about chemistry than the average 20-year-old. That's why they paid me to teach them. But, facing a class of 100, I knew nearly nothing about them as individuals: not their ambitions, their talents, their interests, nor their circumstances.

I can't even predict the larger future for them. I likely know less about the impact of technology than they do. I don't know who will be president in 2021, much less in 2025. I can't even predict what the stock market is gonna do tomorrow morning!

So I surely have no right to tell students "You need to know some chemistry to be prepared for the future!" My school requires all students to take two science classes on the assumption that the faculty collectively can predict the future--indeed, every student's individual future--better than students can predict it themselves. Of course that's not true. The faculty--collectively or otherwise--are completely clueless.

So I am completely against rigid distribution requirements. Students should be allowed to take what they want, which will be what they're good at, which will likely be most relevant to their future. Perhaps it's appropriate for me to say "Gee, taking a chem class is a good idea. You'll learn about how nature works, and that's useful." I can give them advice--even good advice. But I can't claim any special insight into their future.

My school requires two semesters of foreign language study. For some students that's probably a really good idea. For most it's surely a waste of time and money. Likewise, all students are required to take a class in "diversity," which cynics like me think is a course in brainwashing (and not a very successful one--on net it probably increases Trump's vote total). Again, some students will enjoy a course in "diversity," and they might even vote for Elizabeth Warren. More power to them--I'm not against "diversity" classes. They just shouldn't be required.

Of course students aren't very good at predicting the future, either. Most of them will get it wrong. But surely they're better at predicting their own futures than the faculty are. And therefore students should be treated as customers. The curriculum--the classes they actually take--has to be left up to them. Smart ones will ask for advice--and I'll tell them to take more chemistry. But the decision has to be theirs.

The customer is always right.

If students aren't customers, then, according to Mr. Giroux, the faculty should be in charge.
[F]aculty must reclaim their right to control over the nature of their labor, shape policies of governance, and be given tenure track lines with the guarantee of secure employment and protection for academic freedom and free speech.
That phrase--"shape policies of governance"--is saying that the faculty should control the curriculum. In a narrow sense I agree--the chemistry faculty should decide how chemistry is to be taught. But we have no right to tell students what they need for the future, and therefore we have no legitimate authority to impose course requirements on students (beyond narrow disciplinary prerequisites).

Mr. Giroux is granting the faculty an authority they don't deserve. His claim dates from medieval times when there was very little social change, and the only reason to attend college was to enter the clergy. In those days the faculty was a guild that guarded its privileges as tightly as any other guild.

But the world is not like that anymore. The world is too complicated to be entrusted to a self-interested guild. Mr. Giroux's plea to protect the professoriate needs to be rejected.

Further Reading:

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Socialist Action Goes AWOL

The very first post on this blog was commentary on Socialist Action's (SA) 2012 convention. It's a rather dense dissection of SA's understanding of economics. Everything was new back then--I took great pleasure in the argument.

Two years later I blogged about the 2014 conclave. This covers much the same ground as the 2012 piece. The convention concluded poverty was increasing in Europe--I put that exaggerated claim into perspective.

Then I commented on the 2016 convention, criticizing them for the seeming disconnect between the enormous economic crisis supposedly engulfing the world proletariat, compared to the pathetic response of the Party. The imminent destruction of the planet/immiseration of the working class/irremediable crisis of capitalism--all those challenges were to be met by increased sales of their print newspaper, a $25,000 fundraiser, and the sorriest presidential campaign ever launched in American history.

Finally, in February, 2017, I responded to the Declaration of a Faction Fight within the Fourth International, where SA proclaimed its heroic stand defending a proletarian outlook. I accused SA of setting "the bar for success very low." Definitely an understatement. We have, by the way, heard nothing about the faction fight since.

So now we come to 2018. At some point in October, SA announced that their paper would be taking a short break to allow for a convention later that month. The announcement is no longer on the web, but to the best of my memory the convention was held in the 3rd or 4th week of October. For most previous conventions the event was reported at length within a week or two after the meeting.

This year? Crickets. Not a word so far.

Now maybe it will still come--if so, I'm happy to eat my words--I'd love to find out what SA has planned for the coming period. Nevertheless, I'm getting worried. I'm afraid the Party is crawling into a hole and hiding from the limelight. Why?

One possible reason is that SA has become increasingly incoherent. That certainly seems to be the trend from 2012 to 2016. They've lost their Marxist bearings. They have no unique perspective on world politics. They're lost at sea when it comes to both strategy and tactics--and they're ashamed of themselves.

Or it could be there is a big faction fight in the organization and they haven't figured out what to write yet. I doubt that.

Or they just don't like criticism--not that they get very much of it. As far as I know I'm the only blogger who pays them any attention at all. My reach is pretty small, so it seems a stretch to think they're afraid of me. Yet they surely have gotten very secretive of late--they no longer publish locations or phone numbers of their branches, nor have they said anything about attendance at any of their conventions, and now they don't even want to say what they talked about at their meeting. It looks downright paranoid.

A pair of recent issues indicates the confusion. For starters, there has so far been no analysis of the Yellow Vest protests in France. SA is not alone--so far on my Beat only The Militant has covered the protests (here and here). Part of that is the Trotskyist news cycle is very slow. But I think the Yellow Vest movement must be especially embarrassing for Socialist Action.

The Yellow Vests put paid to the idea of a "Vanguard Party." The movement has no leadership--it is an entirely organic creation of social media. It's not organized around any coherent platform, much less the uniquely correct program sanctified by The Revolutionary Party. As far as I know, no Trotskyist organization of any denomination has played any role in the movement whatsoever. All SA can do is kibbutz from the sidelines.

Then the movement is a "weird" coalition between Left and Right--supported by both the National Front and far-left movements. I say "weird" because it's only weird from a Marxist perspective. Us normal folks see a confluence of interests between far Left and far Right--you both support more government intervention in the economy. In France they call that dirigisme. It's the very opposite of Trumpism.

Finally, and most disturbing for SA, is the movement's anti-environmentalism. The proximate cause of the riots was the imposition of a carbon tax (The Militant calls it a gas tax), ostensibly imposed to prevent global warming. Apparently French workers will have none of this global warming nonsense, especially since "fighting" it involves a severe hit to their standard of living. Can't say as I blame them.

SA, meanwhile, has gone whole hog for the most crackpot version of environmentalism. For example, in a recent article by Marc Rome on the role of the electric utility PG&E in "causing" the wildfires in California. The company is now subject to potentially bankrupting lawsuits from fraudster lawyers trying to make a killing.

SA apparently thinks those lawyers are heroes. After all, forcing the electric company out of business will certainly save on emissions--everybody will be cutting back when their power is turned off. And California has a warm climate, so what do all those people need electricity for anyway? Especially given the catastrophic threat imminent global warming poses.

Like the lawyers, SA is convinced the PG&E caused the fires. Now it may be true that the company caused the spark that lit the fires, but that's hardly the big story. According to Mr. Rome, the real cause is "climate change," that ill-defined, protean boogeyman that's about to destroy us all. SA apparently thinks PG&E singlehandedly caused "climate change," and therefore should pay the full bill.

So let's double or triple everybody's electricity rates. That seems to be SA's solution. Because somebody has to pay all those lawyers, and that somebody is gonna be rate payers. Or taxpayers, which is the government's solution. Mr. Rome's article is entitled California governor signs legislation to bail out utility that sparked deadly fires.

Actually, it's not PG&E that's getting bailed out. It's the shyster lawyers. SA is taking the side of lawyers--that's not very revolutionary of them. Here I thought they were supposed to be defending the interests of the working class?

Further Reading:

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Proyect & Schreiber on 2018 Election

Louis Proyect and Michael Schreiber offer commentaries on the midterm election outcomes, and they both manage to say a bunch of very true things.

Mr. Schreiber provides a very clear, well-written, and accurate summary of the election. His article (in Socialist Action) is well worth reading. This is particularly insightful.
All in all, despite the addition of a few “progressive” Democrats to Congress, the complexion of U.S. politics has changed very little since the election. The policies of the capitalist Democratic Party have not been altered one iota from the pro-corporate, pro-war, anti-environmental ones of the past. 
Mr. Schreiber is quite right--it is moderate Democrats who won the election--not the Progressives.
Nov. 2018 Ocasio Cortez (AP)
Photogenic Progressive, as portrayed in Socialist Action
Yes, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a young, attractive woman whose picture the media loves to splash on the front page, and there are a few others like her in the far-Left camp. But photogenic and important are two different things. Mr. Schreiber understands the difference.

So does Mr. Proyect, in a piece entitled Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing--also well worth your time. For him, "losing" means not electing Progressives, and he describes some candidates who did win.
In Virginia, former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger and retired Navy Commander Elaine Luria defeated Republican incumbents. Air Force veteran Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, former CIA analyst Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, and former Navy pilot Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey also helped the Democrats regain the House. Sherill calculated that moving to the center would serve her own and the party’s interests. She told MSNBC: “As a Navy helicopter pilot I never flew Republican missions or Democratic missions, I would have had a very short career. This is something I do think vets bring to the table, this willingness to work with everyone.”
In Mr. Proyect's opinion military service is immediately suspect, and likely reveals an incipient fascist or something. Yet lots of people in this country have served in the military and they're overwhelmingly proud of their service--despite what they might have thought about the war in Iraq. I think Mr. Proyect is being uncharitable.

What Misters Schreiber and Proyect both can't seem to admit is that Progressives are a small minority in this country. They occupy about 90 seats in the new Congress, or about 20%. I think that exaggerates their actual support in the population. For all the media babble about "polarization" and "excessive partisanship," most Americans are centrists, or perhaps center-right. The far-Left will never win a general election.

Nancy Pelosi realizes that and has promised to work across the aisle if she can (though I won't vouch for her sincerity). And Trump, definitely not an extremist right-winger, has been a Democrat in the past and can become one again in the future.  He could easily work with a Democratic congress if given half a chance.

Mr. Proyect reveals his Trotskyist-totalitarian tendencies in this odd passage.
In some countries, elections have huge consequences, especially in Latin America where a job as an elected official might be not only a source of income for a socialist parliamentarian but a trigger for a civil war or coup as occurred in Costa Rica in 1948 and in Chile in 1973 respectively. ...

Out of curiosity, I went to Wikipedia to follow up on what happened to the “losers” in 2010. Did they have to go on unemployment? Like Republicans who got voted out this go-round, Democrats had no trouble lining up jobs as lobbyists. Allen Boyd from Florida sent a letter to Obama after the BP oil spill in 2010 asking him to back up BP’s claim that seafood in the Gulf of Mexico was okay to eat. After being voted out of office, he joined the Twenty-First Century Group, a lobbying firm founded by a former Republican Congressman from Texas named Jack Fields. A 1980 article on Fields describes him as a protégé of ultraright leader Paul Weyrich.
Does he really think our democracy would be better off if losing political candidates were put up against the wall and shot after an election? Are we actually better served by coups and civil wars? Is Honduran civic life, where "elections have huge consequences," to be emulated in preference to the American? Are the refugees marching in the wrong direction?

Fortunately Mr. Proyect realizes he's in a small minority.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was able to defeat the hack Joe Crowley on a shoestring but that was something of a fluke. Until there is a massive shake-up in American society that finally reveals the Democratic Party to be the capitalist tool it has been since Andrew Jackson’s presidency, it is likely that a combination of big money and political inertia will keep the Democratic Party an agent of reaction.
Thank goodness there will be no such "massive shake-up of American society." Unlike Mr. Proyect, the American people are not pro-poverty. Democrat or Republican, we don't want to go the full Venezuela. We don't want to be ruled by tin-pot dictators. We don't want to forfeit our homes and livelihoods in exchange for "transit-friendly," crime-ridden tenements ruled by government thugs.

If Mr. Proyect accurately describes Trotskyist ambitions, he also correctly understands Trump.
For all of the dozens of articles about how Trump is creating a fascist regime, hardly any deal with the difference between Trump and Adolf Hitler. Hitler created a massive bureaucracy that ran a quasi-planned economy with generous social benefits that put considerable restraints on the bourgeoisie. Like FDR, he was taking measures to save capitalism. ...

By contrast, Trump is imposing a regime that was incubated long ago by people such as Grover “Starve the Beast” Norquist and every other libertarian think-tank funded by the Koch Brothers et al.
So there you have it--Trump is the true anti-fascist. Whereas Trotskyists and Progressives advocate government tyranny, accomplished through coups and civil wars, Trump is shrinking the power of government. He is the true opponent of people like France's Marie Le Pen, Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.

Mr. Schreiber is less explicit about his totalitarian visions, but he alludes to them nonetheless.
[R]eal change will never be achieved from within the Democratic Party. The beginning of a new day for working people in the United States will arrive when they construct their own party, one that operates not only at the ballot box but in workplaces and in the streets, and with a revolutionary program to enable the working class to take political power in its own name and abolish the rule of the capitalists.
"Construct their own party" is code for following the lead of Socialist Action, the self-anointed Vanguard Party. And who is the leading Vanguardist of them all--the very Vanguard of the Vanguard? Why, that's gotta be Jeff Mackler, of course, a man who has proven his stripes during the most unambitious presidential campaign of all time.

Jeff Mackler? Surely they're kidding? No wonder real Progressives flock to the Democratic Party.

Further Reading:

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Militant Visits Manila

For some reason my Trotskyist friends love International Book Fairs. The Militant reports on such events from diverse places like Havana, Tehran, Erbil, London, Sweden, and more. Recently they devoted two articles (dated Nov. 12 and Oct. 29) to a fair in Manila.

I don't know who the intended audience is at a book fair (bookstores? consumers? critics?) but Pathfinder Press was there. 
There was hardly an hour when the Pathfinder booth at the Sept. 12-16 Manila International Book Fair wasn’t packed with fairgoers of all ages browsing the shelves with growing enthusiasm for the books they saw. The crowds kept coming even after a powerful storm sideswiped the city Sept. 15.
The two titles championed that week were Cosmetics, Fashions, and the Exploitation of Women (published 1993), and Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution (First edition published in 2006; recently reissued). The hosts at the booth included Ron Poulson from Australia, Janet Roth from New Zealand, and Mary-Alice Waters from New York. They were assisted by "[t]wo young Filipinos active in social and political struggles...". In addition, comrades Poulson and Waters participated in a panel discussion held at the University of the Philippines.

So I'm not interested in book fairs, which in this Amazon-era are a complete waste of time. And I'm not all that interested in the two books highlighted. I read Cosmetics... many years ago, along with author Evelyn Reed's regrettable magnum opus, Woman's Evolution (1975). I've never read Three Generals, and have no intention of doing so.

The fascinating topic for me is the city of Manila and the people who live there. My wife of 32 years was born in the Philippines and lived in Manila as a teenager and young adult. I spent about four weeks in the city, most recently in 1995. I'm due for another visit (perhaps next Spring), but I don't really like traveling there. As Mary-Alice can likely attest, the traffic is simply terrible--it's impossible to get around. And then I am required to spend most of my time listening to my wife talk Tagalog to her myriad friends and relations. It's dull.

Which doesn't mean I'm ignorant. I read a history of the city by Nick Joaquin, Manila, my Manila. It's a wonderful book, but sadly not readily available in the US. Among many other things, I recently read 1493 by Charles Mann--he devotes a long chapter to Manila. Finally, I love maps, and my wife brought me back an excellent one from a recent trip. So while I may not know Manila, I do know Manila geography.

Filipinos love nicknames, and the ones given to women baffle the Militant's authors. For example, the "coordinator of WomanHealth Philippines, convener of the Dignidad electoral coalition, and a leading member of the Philippines-Cuba Cultural and Friendship Association" goes by "Princess." That would shame an comparably well-placed, upper-middle class feminist in the United States.

That's hardly the worst of it. Common nicknames include "Baby," "Precious," "Queenie," and "Inday."  That latter is the Visayan word for "sexy young woman," or, perhaps, "bimbo." Nobody finds these names insulting--quite the contrary, they are proud of them, especially as they get older. (Men have nicknames, too--a common one, for a grown man, is "Boy.")

Two observations seem relevant. First, the Philippines is a remarkably religious country. Eighty percent are Catholic, with the remainder divided between Protestants and Muslims. Whatever their confession, they take religion extremely seriously--to the point of nailing themselves onto a cross on Good Friday. I've never met a Filipino atheist or agnostic.

Catholics (unlike Protestants or Muslims) venerate the Virgin Mary--she of the Immaculate Conception, assumed into heaven as our Blessed Mother. This whole shtick (which people take very seriously) effectively raises the status of women--especially mothers. While young women have difficult lives (as do young men), older women acquire the status of matriarch and head large extended families. The result is that marriage is especially valuable to Filipinas--one can't become a matriarch without a family. It also goes a long way to explaining the relatively high fertility rate.

Second, like women the world over, Filipinas are very fashion-conscious. Unlike what Cosmetics... claims, this is an intramural status competition among women--men are bit players. So this question from the floor is not surprising:
Fredda Ruth Rosete, a young Filipina, asked: “I want to be fashionable and to look attractive to the opposite sex. I’ve been told I’m contributing to my own oppression. Is that true?”
“The answer is no!” Waters replied. “But we have to be conscious of the pressures on us generated by the capitalist system and not let that determine our lives. ..."
Mary-Alice seems to have retreated from the hard-nosed, merciless feminism I recall from my youth. That unadulterated, radical version common in America will not appeal in the Philippines.

Re discrimination against Chinese, Mary-Alice makes the following ridiculous statement.
Waters said, “Cuba is the only country in the world where there is no discrimination against descendants of overseas Chinese. The only one! Before the Cuban Revolution, Chinese there were discriminated against as they are in all other countries where large numbers of Chinese settled.
How could she possibly know that? By what quantitative measure of discrimination against Chinese does Cuba come out identically zero?

Or put another way: Can Mary-Alice please tell us where the best Dim Sum restaurant in Havana is? I'll hazard there aren't any Dim Sum restaurants in Havana--good food is against the law there. In Manila, conversely, good Chinese food is everywhere. I had by a wide margin the best hot & sour soup ever in my entire life there.

Please don't tell me that Chinese aren't discriminated against in Havana.

Her co-panelist, Teresita Ang See (typical Chinese-Filipina name: Catholic given name, Chinese family name) understands the situation better. A little history is helpful.

The Spanish founded Manila, which prior was a swampy river delta, inhabited by fishermen who lived on the few islands. But Manila Bay is a world class harbor, and the Spanish filled in some of the swamp, founding a city at the mouth of the Pasig River. That original city exists now as Intramuros--still today a religious, cultural, and educational center of the country.

The reason for the Spanish settlement was to facilitate trade with China. In exchange for Mexican gold and silver, China sold silks, porcelain, spices, and other manufactures. Junks arrived from China carrying the goods, while galleons came from Acapulco carrying the gold. The ships traded cargoes in Manila and sailed back to where they came from.

Facilitating this trade were a group of Chinese merchants and bankers. The Spanish didn't like commerce and didn't trust the Chinese, so they were restricted to the Parian (today known as Binondo) on the other side of the Pasig. The Chinese got rich. The Spanish built their empire and aggressively practiced their religion. The local Tagalogs got nothing except Catholicism and jobs as stevedores. Or occasionally they were taken as slaves to help sail the boats in one direction or another.

For many centuries Binondo was the commercial center of the Philippines. It is still the heart of Chinatown (though that has expanded into Quiapo). Since Manila was completely leveled during WWII, postwar the commercial center was rebuilt in Makati, where there was more room. But the people who run it are still the same--Filipino-Chinese--who constitute the country's commercial class to this very day. They dominate business life.

Needless to say, all this breeds envy. Anti-Chinese pogroms are a constant throughout Philippine history--Parian itself was destroyed by rampaging mobs on numerous occasions. My wife recalls from her childhood how the Chinese were forcibly run out of her hometown--their stores and property confiscated, Idi Amin style.

Cubans are surely aware of how that works. They didn't just drive their commercial class out of a single town, but rather out of the entire country. Indeed, it's likely that the best Dim Sum restaurant in Havana is actually located in Miami.

Further Reading: