Sunday, July 1, 2018

Oberlin, 2018

A second post on the conference can be found here.

Here is the banner above Jack Barnes' lectern at the 2018 Active Workers Conference, held in Oberlin, OH, June 14-16. (The Militant's account is authored by Terry Evans and John Studer.)

It nearly duplicated the proclamation decorating last year's conclave; only the phrase "Build the Labor Movement" has been added.

For the Party (Socialist Workers Party, SWP) sees a revival in the American labor movement, citing the wave of teachers' strikes last Spring. I think they exaggerate the significance. While the strikes won some pay raises in several states, there is no broader legacy. That moment has passed, besides which the last thing the world needs are stronger public employee unions!

As I said in my Oberlin, 2017 post, I have absolutely no idea how the Party can go any "deeper" into the working class (which, for the most part, doesn't even exist anymore). They've been trying that trick for 40+ years now, to no noticeable effect. I think they need a new slogan.

As for the "rulers' deepening political crisis," count me skeptical. Yes--doubtless the mainstream media, along with many pundits whose opinions I otherwise respect, are bemoaning our increasing polarization. For which there is at least some evidence, such as the personal threats and harassment against Trump administration officials.

Then again, I recall one of my first political acts, standing with a large crowd (mob?) outside a hotel in downtown Portland where Richard Nixon was spending the night during a visit to our city. We shouted slogans like "Hey tricky Dick, you better run you better hide, we're still united on the other side!" That seems hardly more civil than anything directed toward Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

And is the assassination attempt against Congressman Scalise any worse than the more successful efforts of the Weather Underground or Black Panthers? I don't think so.

So I don't buy the increasing polarization or near civil war scenarios. This is just politics as usual. The difference is the 24 hour news cycle, cell phone cameras, twitter feeds and social media generally. Everything gets all blown out of proportion. If anything--to borrow from Tyler Cowen's book--we've all become much more complacent.

Get past the slogans, however, and the Party's positions are a lot more interesting. I'm astonished with how much I agree with them! Indeed, remove some rhetorical flourishes and it's almost as if I'd written Mr. Barnes' speech myself.

For example,
The prospects opened by the Singapore summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean head of state Kim Jong Un, which concluded two days before the SWP gathering, are good for the working class, Barnes said — not just in the U.S. and Korea, but in Japan, China, and across the Pacific and the world.
Of course that's true--only a Democrat full of sour grapes could disagree.

Mr. Barnes suggests the President is following the SWP's advice.
Trump has also raised withdrawing some of the 28,500 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea — a proposal he first mooted during the 2016 elections — in exchange for the North Korean government taking steps to dismantle its nuclear missile program. The SWP calls, Barnes said, “For a Korean Peninsula, Japan and surrounding skies and waters free of nuclear weapons.”
 Beyond Korea, I'll take partial issue with this statement:
The current White House, Barnes said, has ceased acting on the false premise, one that has guided the last several Democratic and Republican administrations alike, that “the U.S. rulers can dominate the world unopposed in the mistaken belief they won the Cold War.” While Washington maintains massive military superiority over other world powers, it can no longer simply impose U.S. capital’s will through bloody wars — wars that have now gone on, from Syria to Afghanistan, for more than 17 years. Instead, the current administration is seeking to advance U.S. imperialist interests by moving to end some longstanding conflicts and pull in its horns to a degree, at least for now.
I agree with Mr. Barnes that the US is withdrawing from world conflict, and is no longer willing to act as the world's policeman. But I object to the idea that this is from a position of weakness. We supported our allies during the Cold War because we needed them. Now that we've won that conflict we no longer require their services--they'll have to fend for themselves. Then, as Peter Zeihan points out, fracking changes everything. We're no longer dependent on Persian Gulf oil, and accordingly our willingness to compromise with Iran about nuclear weapons is greatly diminished.

But that's a minor point. Outcome of the Cold War conflict notwithstanding, Mr. Barnes describes US policy reasonably accurately.

The Party's account of the situation in Syria is confusing, but then Syria is intrinsically confusing. They are certainly right that Russia and Iran are not natural allies. Then again, Russia and Israel aren't natural allies either, as Mr. Barnes seems to claim. Surely Israel and Turkey have a common interest in Syria, and they'd share cause with the USA but for the Kurds, whom Americans staunchly support.

But the Kurds are a Persian people, whom Turkey regards as a fifth column. I think eventually the US will throw the Kurds under the bus and reestablish a strong alliance with Turkey--as a counterweight to Russia. Which pushes the Russians back into an alliance with Iran. And then the Egyptians and the Saudis,...??

Oh, alright. The whole thing is a headscratcher. The Party's account is no worse than any other. All I can say for certain is that Bashar al-Assad--the progenitor of the entire disaster, and for a long time the key to its resolution--is today irrelevant. He is entirely at the mercy of whatever foreign power holds sway over his country.

The article devotes only one sentence to Israel.
Washington also sent President Trump’s son-in-law and White House Adviser Jared Kushner to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt in late June to discuss the next stages in advancing its Mideast peace plan, Barnes said.
I'll take it as an opportunity to remind readers that the Party's position on Israel is now quite sensible. They have sharply distanced themselves from openly antisemitic groups like Hamas. Instead--like me--they understand that a better life for Palestinians does not imply the complete destruction of Israel. Indeed, there are some obvious win-win solutions for that conflict, and it is only groups like Hamas that refuse to consider them.

That brings us to the final paragraph:
Despite the U.S. rulers’ intentions, these moves — from Korea to Moscow to the Middle East — can have positive results for the working class and toilers, helping to open much-needed political space to organize; to gain class-struggle experience against their respective capitalist ruling classes; to strengthen ties of workers solidarity across imperialist-stoked national and religious divisions; and to take steps toward the building of new working-class leadership.
I don't know what that's about. I think it's meaningless Trotsky-talk. Unlike Mr. Barnes, I have no telepathic connection to "U.S. rulers", and I can't tell you what their intentions are. But if you get rid of phrases like that, and other words like class struggle, imperialist, working class, etc., which collectively add nothing to the conversation, I think the Party's analysis of world affairs corresponds closely to mine.

Further Reading:

1 comment:

  1. Next year the slogan will be, "Deeper and Harder Into the Working Class."