Thursday, September 25, 2014

Red-Baiting the Climate

When I was a Trotskyist, the words "red-baiting" ended any argument. The term stems from the 1950s when Communists (the Stalinist ones in the CPUSA) were surreptitiously infiltrating themselves into government agencies where they then aided and abetted the Soviets.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union we now know for a fact that that happened, though probably neither to the extent nor with the consequences they desired.

But that term never applied very well to Trotskyists. We viewed the bourgeois state as the mortal enemy, and far from trying to infiltrate it we avoided it like the plague. Our criticism of the CPUSA was that they were class-collaborationists, i.e., they participated with bourgeois governments in oppressing the working class. We condemned them for their very infiltration.

But we did infiltrate, if not the bourgeois state, then various "working class" social movements and institutions. In the 1930s Trotskyists played a key role in the development of the Teamsters Union. From the 1950s through the 1980s we made continuous efforts to form "fractions" in the unions, i.e., groups of "worker-Bolsheviks" who could advance a revolutionary socialist agenda.

So when addressed to Trotskyists the term takes on a slightly different meaning. It implies that a given organization is a front-group, nominally independent but in reality controlled by the Party. Today new names have evolved to describe such organizations: "astroturf", or "sockpuppets." The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) certainly had its share of front groups. Almost all defense committees were such, most famously the one that pursued the COINTELPRO lawsuit. The Mark Curtis Defense Committee is another example. While these went around seeking endorsements, they never had much of a footprint outside of the Party.

The National Student Coalition Against Racism was another such front group. In this case the Party wanted it to become a mass organization, but failed.

On the other hand, there were a few organizations led by Trotskyists that really did have a mass following. The Student Mobilization Committee is the most important one--it organized the 800,000 strong antiwar marches on April 24th, 1971. Comrades were clearly in the leadership of this group, but with 800,000 adherents it's really hard to think of it as a front group. Instead, it's probably the closest the American communist movement has ever come to having an actual success.

So now we come to the Sept. 21st Climate March. The big demonstration--300,000 people--happened in New York. Reason TV has a perfectly good report here, and while the communists get a mention, most of the audience is goodhearted if fuzzy-thinking people. They're not Trotskyist wannabes. Indeed, I think this march was organized by legitimate climate activists--Bill McKibben gave a talk on my campus to build attendance. The Trotskyists are a sideshow.

So now comes the blogger Zombie, reporting on the climate march in Oakland, CA. This was much smaller (he doesn't give a number), perhaps only a thousand people or so. He red-baits the march as a commie event. And he certainly has some good evidence. All of this blog's friends make an appearance: Socialist Action gets top billing. Solidarity is present. Even Socialist Viewpoint makes a cameo appearance (holding a sign promoting "system change not climate change"). The SWP had a very large booth.

The CPUSA was there, as were the International Socialists, the Freedom Socialist Party, and Socialist Alternative. Bob Avakian's fan club made an appearance, with t-shirts advertising "BA Speaks." And Mr. Zombie makes a point to include the card table lit display from the (I kid you not) Committees of Correspondence for Democracy & Socialism.

Further, the keynote speaker was an avowed revolutionary socialist. I don't know who she was or what organization she represented. She advised the assembled to get involved by talking to any of the people in the booths, i.e., all the Trotskyists and commies.

But it can't be entirely true. For all their similarities, these grouplets are all at each other's throats. My former comrades in the SWP wouldn't give the Bob Avakian fan club the time of day (nor do I blame them). There is no love lost between Socialist Action and Socialist Viewpoint, however much you'd think they have in common.

Further, the SWP regards environmentalism as a petty-bourgeois phenomenon, and is not fully on board with the enterprise. The fact that they had a lit booth up says nothing about their support for the march, which at best would be tepid.

So the march was organized by the People's Climate Committee (PCC). Are they a front group for one of these Trotskyist sects? I doubt it, though perhaps Socialist Action played a disproportionate role. But like the SMC of yore, this effort really does tap into the fervent feeling of many people. The New York march was big enough to drown out the Trotskyists, but that wasn't true in Oakland. Rather than being a front group, instead the PCC's march was hijacked by assorted communists.

So what do all of these commie groups have in common?

  • They are old. There are remarkably few people under 40 behind the lit tables. Most of them look to be nearing 60.
  • They are ugly. We all get less attractive as we age. Most of us make some efforts to hide that fact, but apparently not the communists.
  • They're angry. They all look like they've got a big chip on their shoulder. The picture of the two Socialist Viewpoint ladies makes the case.
  • They're miserable. None of them are having any fun. Far from being a party atmosphere, this is a chore. These folks put the Puritans to shame--it's against the rules to smile.
At least that's how they come across in the photos. Maybe Mr. Zombie has selectively published unflattering photos. That's probably part of it. I doubt the event was quite as miserable as he's made it look. Still, his imagery conforms to my recollection of antiwar demonstrations. We were all young back then, but apart from the age difference I don't think much has changed. I never enjoyed attending those. I was tasked with selling The Militant, and the experience was both boring and stressful.

If this represents the flower of the revolutionary movement, then I am pleased to say that the bourgeoisie have nothing to fear.

PS: Mr. Zombie previously posted a very amusing account of a Slutwalks march, here.

Further Reading:


  1. Zombie is a chick. Say 100 hail Lenin's, and spend 10 hours in self-criticism sessions with Bill Ayers as penance.

    1. Self-criticism with Bill Ayers? Well, ok. If I must. But Hail Lenin's? No...No! Not that! Anything but that!!

  2. Yeah but isn't this a circular anti-hominem attack: Trotskyists are bad because they support climate change which is bogus because they endorse it. It completely evades the issue. What if communists opposed drunk driving or supported motherhood?

    1. You do have a point. After all, nobody talks about Republican-baiting! But that's because Republicans (however much you may disagree with them) share a modern, liberal world view. Trotskyists don't. At bottom they're totalitarians. So it's more serious than just a disagreement about climate change.

    2. Old? Angry? Ugly? Miserable? Add "Racist" and "Illiterate" and it sounds like your typical Tea Party rally.

    3. My comments are unkind, and they do (somewhat) violate the rules I set for this blog. But do read the caveat: "At least that's how they come across in the photos. Maybe Mr. Zombie has selectively published unflattering photos."