Sunday, November 23, 2014

The North Star

I have added a new webpage to This Blog's Beat: The North Star. The title is inspired by the late Peter Camejo's memoir, who in turn borrowed the term from the newspaper published by abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Mr. Camejo chose the title because he didn't want to use Russian symbols (hammer and sickle) for what he thought was a home-grown, American movement.

The name is a poor choice. Googling North Star yields results from astronomy, banking and real estate. The relevant result only shows up only on page two. Further, there is nothing in the title that indicates socialism, radicalism, or workers' rights. The reference to Douglass is too obscure.  Beyond this, the aesthetics of the page are atrocious--who ever came up with that design?

I don't know when North Star started--the About page is no help. But articles date back to at least the beginning of 2013. I stumbled across the site most recently through Louis Proyects blog. Indeed, let's consider the congratulatory article Mr. Proyect wrote for the page.

Mr. Proyect, a one-time comrade of mine in the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), has long regretted his participation in a vanguard party. He has been arguing against Leninism in a series of articles (one reviewed by me here). Accordingly, he has championed the thought of Bert Cochran (1913-1984, born Alexander Goldfarb). Mr. Cochran turns out to be a limpid writer, and Mr. Proyect quotes him at length.

In 1954 Mr. Cochran wrote,
If I may be permitted to draw my own design of the consensus that I believe has been achieved, I would state as the first proposition that the day of organizing a radical movement in this country as a branch office of the Russian concern—is over; and thank God! And that is true whether it is a branch office that gets its instructions from Stalin or Khrushchev or Lenin or Trotsky. This country is too big, too diversified, too self-sufficient and self-confident, it has too many people, it has too powerful a tradition of its own to tolerate a radicalism whose source of inspiration or whose hidden allegiances reside abroad.
This prescient excerpt inspired not only Mr. Proyect, but also Mr. Camejo. It is undoubtedly true.

Mr. Cochran continues.
The second proposition that I would list on which there has been a significant meeting of many minds is the realization that a new movement cannot be built representing simply one of the existing factions, or revolve around one of the existing factions. The fact is all of these have been trying to build the Left party of the American people for many years, and all of them have failed.
 Again, this is also true. Abe Denken in another post at North Star puts it very dramatically.
The vanguard. 
It’s what American Marxist-Leninists and Trotskyist-Leninists have aspired to become ever since McCarthyism obliterated the Communist Party and its influence over the working class and the union movement. The Socialist Workers Party, the International Socialists, the Revolutionary Communist Party, the Progressive Labor Party, and the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) of the 1960-1970s all emerged convinced that they and they alone were America’s Bolsheviks, the nucleus of a future vanguard party, destined to triumph over their (Menshevik) competitors. 
All of them were wrong. 
Not one of them developed a mass following among working people. Not one of them exerted any influence over the direction or policies of the union movement. And it’s not like they didn’t try.
But here we run up against an ineluctable truth of Marxism. Marxists take history very seriously. It needs to be properly understood and interpreted. Vanguardists are people who have studied history and have the correct understanding of the historical relationship of forces. Without that proper understanding, any hope of leading the working class is doomed to failure.

Unfortunately, Marxism is wrong. History is, at least in major part, simply a sequence of random events. Not only is there no correct understanding, it is by its very nature incomprehensible. This, of course, leads Marxists to divergent interpretations of current events: some support Assad, others the Syrian rebels; some support a free Ukraine, others the Russian resistance to Western imperialism. These differences are irreconcilable, and if you take history as seriously as Marxists do, then it becomes impossible for sundry groups to work together.

For history is of whole cloth--disagree on one point, and the entire fabric is rent asunder. Marxism is by definition fissiparous.

How long, for example, will Mr. Proyect be able to support both Counterpunch and North Star? What is the difference between these two magazines? However insignificant distinctions seem now, they will grow into an unbridgeable gap. The anti-sectarians will, themselves, become sectarian.

Mr. Cochran's third point (as quoted by Louis Proyect) is similarly problematic.
The third proposition is that the new movement will have to effect a wedding between radicalism and democracy all over again. It was a fatal error that an estrangement was permitted between the two, and reconciliation will have to be consummated, not as a matter of mutual convenience, but of true love. Socialism can have appeal and attractive power in America again only if it rests on the democratic achievements that have been wrested thus far and seeks to extend them, only if works to realize the American dream one of whose main components is freedom and democracy.
Recall this was written as the world began to learn the true meaning of Stalinism. Rather than deny, apologize for, or explain away Stalin, Mr. Cochran suggested that Americans should reject the Russian model altogether. Democracy was simply too much a part of the American tradition, and Leninism-Stalinism wasn't much worth emulating anyway.

How refreshing this is compared with the SWP's cynical attitude toward "bourgeois democracy." In the Party's view, democratic rights were to be used and abused by revolutionaries to take state power. They had no intrinsic value of their own. The SWP favors elections only until the Communists win--after that no elections are necessary anymore (see Cuba). Mr. Cochran--to his credit--disagreed with that.

But sadly, socialism, democracy and freedom are incompatible concepts. Socialism precludes people from managing their own economic affairs--we're only allowed to buy things the government thinks we need. Thus socialism and freedom are not simultaneously possible. Democracy only works if the power of government is strictly limited, as our Constitution prescribes. Otherwise majority rule morphs into mob rule, which is the enemy of democracy. Unlimited democracy, for example, allows the majority to deprive a minority of the right to vote.

I don't think North Star will succeed in its political mission. Socialism is simply impossible. While people still want government handouts, a large majority in this country realize that some level of free enterprise is essential to a functioning economy. As a political movement, socialism is a dead letter.

I added North Star to my beat because even today I continue to admire and respect Peter Camejo, whom I knew from my days in the SWP. Especially in honor of Mr. Camejo's honest courtesy and civility, I wish the North Star editors much journalistic and popular success. But their political goal--a socialist "revolution" in America--is impossible and will never happen.

Further Reading:


  1. 'Mr. Camejo's honest courtesy and civility' is not reflected by the phony Proyect nor in TNS after the coup in particular. Till the coup at TNS it was stumbling along almost being honest but after Pham Binh got rolled or lost the plot or whatever happened it was pure poison. I commented on the same thread as you at unrepentant but I was then censored in a flat contradiction of the whole rationale of The North Star.

    Now this is all quite silly really because nothing at all worthwhile could come of such conduct and I can demonstrate that from a review of TNS I have constructed - mostly as an exercise for my 'students' and then it grew like topsy- as a spread sheet that reveals the entire site in one page. It is very clear that publishing challenging articles is what was building the site and once that open debate was attacked the site collapsed in disinterest.

    Have a look at
    look at what got the interest and built the site take my article for example at 195 comments look at the effect and I could not get published a second time! I was then even unable to comment! Now Proyect is censoring me as well. He is truly pathetic. But then what a surprise, look at what his articles attracted in comments.

    Now as to the notion that the pseudoleft and Lemingists are a joke have a look through these notes that I am currently just working on issues like the mad bad Kasama and the exciting issues of Nepal etc.

  2. Admit it, Dan. You miss your Trotskyist comrades, don't you? As a Teabagger it must be frustrating to have nitwits like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin for associates

    1. I do miss my Trotskyist comrades. They were great friends of mine back in the 70s, and I regret losing those personal connections. While I disagree with my former comrades, I work hard to keep this blog respectful, and to avoid ad hominem attacks.

      Ted Cruz is an idiot. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is not.

    2. Ms. Palin is quite talented at chiseling money from her gullible followers. Mr. Cruz is proof positive that a diploma from a fancy Ivy League university does not bring wisdom.