Monday, February 29, 2016

Whither the SWP?

In the former incarnation of this blog I frequently dubbed the SWP (Socialist Workers Party) as the Stupid Workers Party. The title seemed to fit at the time (late 1990s). I have since sworn off such language because it is uncivil and precludes conversation.

Beyond that, it simply isn't true. The SWP is wrong and often incoherent, but they are not stupid. Quite the contrary.

For example, their 2016 presidential candidate, Alyson Kennedy, has filed excellent reports in The Militant on the mine workers' struggles in the coal fields (see, e.g., here,  here, and here). This is because she has actually worked as a coal miner and knows something about it. And then she's honest. Which doesn't mean I agree with her. Likewise Brian Williams, The Militant's economics reporter, is at least competent, avoiding the jargon and the howlers that afflict most far-Left publications (though he's often mistaken).

So they're not stupid, but they have been singularly unsuccessful. The Party's Boston branch was recently closed, likely for lack of comrades. And similarly for branches in Houston and Des Moines. The hall in Omaha is no more--the branch has either been closed or merged with the whatever-exists in nearby Lincoln. Not counting Lincoln there are now only 10 branches--the fewest number in my memory. Supposing 15 comrades per branch, and then adding another 20 for the national office, one gets a grand total of 170 comrades, most of whom are over 60. And this is a vanguard Party?

So clearly something has to change. I think the Party has been looking for a new role--something distinctive and important that's in tune with the times. This searching is what often renders them incoherent. They run new ideas up the flagpole to see how well they fly.

I discern three emerging themes:

1. They take their paper's masthead very seriously: "published in the interests of working people." This has a number of counter-intuitive consequences.
  • They rightly dismiss environmentalism as not in the interests of workers. And they are correct to do so--the Greenies ultimately claim that everybody will have to lower their standard of living in order to save the planet. The Solidarity grouplet has gone furthest with this, adopting an explicitly Luddite program. Socialist Action is also flying the Green banner, similarly demanding Poverty for Everybody Now! I summarize a lot of this here. The SWP consistently rejects any pro-poverty platform.
  • The Party has come out in support of Israel. There is no doubt that workers in that state--both Jewish and Palestinian--are better off as Israeli citizens. Indeed, even Palestinian workers in the territories are better off because of the existence of Israel--it's an obvious market for their products.
  • Finally and most recently, the Party understands the importance of the rule of law. In response to Justice Scalia's death, they wrote  
    Scalia was hated by most liberals and leftists for his socially conservative views, but more importantly because he argued the court should base its rulings strictly on the Constitution, rejecting “outcome-driven” decisions that amount to decreeing laws from the bench. 
    But it’s in the interest of the working class that the court uphold the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments won in struggle that are protections of the people against the government. 
    In his dissent on last year’s ruling legalizing gay marriage, Scalia pointed to the narrowness of the class background of the justices, writing they are “only nine men and women, all of them successful lawyers who studied at Harvard or Yale Law School.” 
    The justices are all Catholic or Jewish, he pointed out. “Not a single evangelical Christian (a group that comprises about one quarter of Americans), or even a Protestant of any denomination. … Eight of them grew up in east- and west-coast States.”
However much The Militant sounds like Republicans, there is no question but that the Constitution protects the rights of working people against the depredations of any elite. I think The Militant has made the case very eloquently, and I agree with them totally. Consistency with their masthead demands that they say no less.
2. An abiding hatred of the Democratic Party. I came by my own anti-Democrat credentials as a member of the SWP, despite growing up in an upper-middle class, liberal household. (My mother lionized FDR.) I'm remain as proud today as ever that I've never voted for a Democrat (beyond some municipal elections). In that sense I'm still a "Trotskyist."

But the SWP is realizing that the Democrats are no longer their primary competitor. More and more workers are gravitating toward the Republican Party. Or as I think of it, productive people (workers and capitalists alike) tend to be Republicans, while the parasites (dependent on government largesse) remain with the Democrats. Accordingly, the Party has to address workers where they are at.

That explains why the Party is adopting some positions similar to Republicans, though in no way are they becoming Republicans. Other grouplets, meanwhile, are talking to the Sanders crowd, made up almost exclusively of parasites. They're still defining themselves relative to the Democrats.

3. The Party remains committed to socialism; how could it be otherwise for the Socialist Workers Party. In particular they're avid supporters of the Cuban "revolution." But this is where the incoherence starts: how can you champion the rule of law on the one hand, and yet support the semi-feudal, nepotistic, ridiculous government in Havana? Scalia and Castro don't mix very well.

Even worse, the Party is still carrying water for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, aka North Korea. They defend them even in their most recent issue. And in April, 2015, the Party continued it's annual practice of sending fraternal greetings.
The Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialists send internationalist greetings on the occasion of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s April 15 national holiday. We pledge our unconditional solidarity with the struggle to reunify Korea, partitioned in 1945 at the hands of Washington and Moscow.
So much for constitutional rights. And so much for those who claim that Jack Barnes is becoming a Republican. However much it leavens the loaf with a few Republican issues, at the end of the day the Party remains committed to its totalitarian principles.

So will any of this result in an organizational turnaround? Count me skeptical, and not only because the masses aren't going to march for Kim Jong-Un. But if you take socialism out of the mix, then they become no different from any other Republican interest group. So they are condemned to eternal and self-limiting incoherence.

That aside, the Party has gotten too small and too old to be effective anymore. Gram and Gramps will not be able to recruit a younger generation of activists. They've already aged into retirement, and soon they will pass from the scene entirely.

Further Reading:

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Trump & Trotsky

Like many others (including me, I'm ashamed to say), my Trotskyist friends took to calling Donald Trump a fascist. He was, in their view, a nativist, racist, homophobic, "stupid," ignorant, lewd and crude Republican.

As it turns out Trump is not a fascist, but rather something nearly as bad: he's a Democrat. I've made that case (I think convincingly) here, and it's an opinion shared by most of his competitors for the Republican nomination. Donald Trump, far from being a "true conservative," is a big-government liberal long associated with the Clintons. ABC News (h/t HotAir) quotes Ted Cruz claiming Trump supports "touchback amnesty." See also Ted Cruz's (marvelous!) attack ad against him. Despite coming from the Cruz camp, I believe this is factually accurate.

But Mr. Trump is certainly more than just another Democrat. However transient his own political career may or may not be, he represents a significant rearrangement of America's political furniture. Both Democrats and Republicans are fading away, to be replaced by different parties having different agendas (though perhaps they'll keep the same names). I described that in a previous post.

A global realignment of political movements will inevitably have an effect on Trotskyism. Indeed, they'd be deeply insulted if big changes happened without them, believing themselves to be responsive to the "class struggle." While their lodestar supposedly remains unchanged, the tactics must adjust with circumstances.

But Donald Trump drives a wedge right through the middle of Trotskyism. He makes it impossible for them to continue business as usual.

There are two bits to Trotskyist dogma that until recently seemed inseparable. The first is announced on the masthead of The Militant: "A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people."

Trump's campaign clarifies what is meant by "working people." There is, indeed, a class conflict in Trump World, but it isn't primarily between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Instead it's between the Producer Class and the Parasite Class. The former are people who build stuff--not just the workers, but also the engineers, architects, financiers and marketers. In response to Elizabeth Warren's infamous charge, "You didn't build that," the Trumpers loudly proclaim "we sure as hell did build that, asshole. Just who do you think you are?" Mr. Trump proudly puts himself on the side of his employees and workers generally, sharing credit with them for manufacturing all the stuff that makes Americans rich.

Of course he's quite right, and workers across the country thrill to his banner.

The Parasites, on the other hand, are personified by Mr. Trump as "the Establishment," or just as often "the Republican Establishment." (His frequent vilification of Republicans is another reason to suppose he's a Democrat in disguise.) These are people who live off of tax dollars. They include all politicians for sure (that's what makes politicians evil), but also most civil servants. Trumpers will regard professors, teachers, federal officials, zoning enforcers, etc., as Parasites, along with welfare and food stamp recipients.

So that makes it sound like Trump is a small-government Republican. But he's not--he just thinks government should spend it's money differently. Social Security needs to be defended and expanded. Obamacare should be "repealed and replaced" so that affordable health care is available to all. (In his previous life Trump supported single-payer.) We need to help our vets. None of this is cheap, but all of it is money that's supposed to go to Producers rather than Parasites. On the other hand, Donald is not a fan of expanding the education or regulatory bureaucracies--they're all Parasites.

Never mind that none of this is ever going to work.

But Trotskyists have a problem. They have to meet the "working class" where they're at, and those folks understand that "workers" are not just factory laborers. The Producing Class even includes some billionaires--people like Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, and Donald Trump. At the same time workers don't generally count public employees among their numbers--those folks tend to be Parasites who deserve to be fired.

So Trotskyists are going to have to address Donald Trump. A commenter on this site (John B.) reports that "the SWP has taken to selling The Militant at Donald Trump rallies lately!" Now The Militant may not agree with Donald (they most probably do not), but they can't simply discount his argument or ignore his audience. On the other hand, other grouplets such as Socialist Action and Solidarity are still dismissing Mr. Trump as a fascist. He isn't.

The other problem Trotskyists have with Donald Trump is political correctness. I think Trotskyists actually invented the concept back in the 1970s, or at very least they took it to unheard of lengths. But the Trumpers understand what PC is really about. It is a tool of the Parasite class to divide and conquer the Producers. After all, property taxes are so high because teachers need generous pension plans, which is all about racial equality dontchyano. If you even bring up the subject you're a racist, sexist, homophobic, knuckledragging, Redneck idiot.

And likewise with the distinction between "people of color" and "colored people," a subtlety that normal people can't comprehend. Or the abolition of "Miss" and "Mrs.", or the ridiculous ban on any synonym for "woman." Or the prohibition on words like "queer" or "fag," even when no insult is intended.

Working people, i.e., "Producers," talk the way normal people talk. They're not privy to the code words that Parasites use to send secret messages to each other. Non-PC language is not usually intended to be insulting, but it is honest. There is, after all, nothing either insulting or dishonest about referring to an unmarried woman as "Miss."

The use of PC language establishes you as a member of the Parasite class. It means you're a politician or a professor or a half-wit bureaucrat or a welfare caseworker or a police officer or some other clown or jerk or asshole. Is that the crowd Trotskyists want to hang out with?

For some, apparently yes. Socialist Action and Solidarity are all-in going after Bernie Sanders supporters. Bernie is the archetypal Parasite, strongly advocating Parasite-friendly policies.

So Trotskyists have a choice. They can either put their chips on PC, abandon the working class and double down with the Parasites. Environmentalism is the classic Parasite issue--it puts Producers out of a job and transfers money to bureaucrats' pockets. It's no surprise that Socialist Action and Solidarity are gradually going from Red to Green.

The Militant on the other hand, is standing true to its masthead. How they deal with political correctness remains to be seen.