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.
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.