Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Militant Takes a Holiday

SWP Oberlin Conference Attendees (Photo credit: Mike Shur; The Militant)
The Militant's masthead claims
Published weekly except for one week in January, one week in June, one week in July, and one week in December.
So it's odd that the paper missed four issues, from that dated June 10th until the issue dated July 8th (posted on the web today). Are they still gonna take the week off in July?

I think The Militant can no longer afford a weekly publication schedule, at least not in print format.

Of course the proximate cause for the pause was the Oberlin Conference, the Socialist Workers Party's (SWP) annual meeting held on the eponymous college campus in Ohio. The paper has a teaser article about this year's conclave, promising a fuller account in subsequent issues. I already have a lot to say, but I'll reserve my comments until after I read the reports.

There are two articles in the current issue that are worthy of note. The first is an excerpt from James P. Cannon's book The Struggle for a Proletarian Party. I read that book a long time ago, as a companion to Cannon's A History of American Trotskyism. The two together are the standard introduction to Trotskyism that every new comrade reads.

I'm astonished how Cannon makes the Party look like a religious sect.
Our conception of the party is radically different. For us the party must be a combat organization which leads a determined struggle for power. The Bolshevik party which leads the struggle for power needs not only internal democracy. It also requires an imperious centralism and an iron discipline in action. ...
For the proletarian revolutionist the party is the concentrated expression of his life purpose, and he is bound to it for life and death. He preaches and practices party patriotism, because he knows that his socialist ideal cannot be realized without the party.
Big words, that. And I know that's the intention, but the reality is different. First, it's not really a democracy--Jack Barnes has held the leadership post since 1972! No genuinely democratic organization would tolerate that. All self-proclaimed vanguard parties share the problem, notably Jeff Mackler at Socialist Action (in office since 1984), and the recently collapsed International Socialist Organization (because of a leadership sex scandal). And second, it stretches credulity to think the SWP is "combat organization." Just look at the picture above. They're too old. Does the friendly church lady in the front row look like she's ready for combat?

I'm not gonna be too hard on my former comrades. They all look like really nice people. I'm proud to say they were my friends back in the 1970s, and given a chance they'd still be my friends today. Their only flaw is they can't muster the fierceness they claim to represent. Not a problem for me--peaceable friendliness is a virtue in my book. (I'm ashamed to say I can't recognize a single face.)

It's worth mentioning that this year's Oberlin meeting is celebrated as "100 years 'on the right side of history.'" The century mark refers to the founding of the Communist Party of the USA, founded on May 1st, 1919, which the SWP takes as the beginning of its own trajectory. Since then it's everybody else that's gone astray--not them.

Our comrades' core good nature is evidenced in this issue's second article worthy of comment. Of course when 300 comrades descend on the small town of Oberlin, Ohio, for a week, it behooves them to cover local issues. And boy, do they do it in style! The piece is entitled "Victory in bakery’s lawsuit against ‘racism’ smear by Oberlin College," written by Janet Post. It is by far the best article on the topic I've read anywhere, including many rightish blogs, some mainstream news sources, and especially InsideHigherEd that I read daily.

Gibson's Bakery, an Oberlin landmark for many generations, was libeled by students and Oberlin College as "racist." As Ms. Post writes,
A Lorain County jury June 7 ruled in favor of a lawsuit by Gibson’s, a family-owned and operated bakery, and its proprietors David and Allyn Gibson, against Oberlin College and Meredith Raimondo, the vice president and dean of students of the northern Ohio college.
She relates the key events.
The Gibson’s complaint described how Raimondo and other Oberlin College authorities orchestrated a demonstration outside the bakery and distributed a libelous flyer saying its “owners racially profiled and discriminated against” three students. The students had been arrested after one of them tried to use a fake ID and shoplift two bottles of wine from the bakery on Nov. 9, 2016, and then pummeled a store employee who pursued them.
The three students, who are Black, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, including theft, in 2017, and acknowledged that the shop owners’ response had not been racially motivated.
When the guilty parties acknowledge that their accusers aren't racist, that pretty much closes the case. Nevertheless, with campus connivance, students organized large protests in front of the bakery accusing them of "racism". The College (the bakery's biggest customer) discontinued any commercial relationship.

Gibson's Bakery was awarded $44 million in actual and punitive damages. It is reasonably likely that they'll collect $33 million of that.

Ms. Post notes that the students come predominantly from "upper middle class families," attending a school located in a blue-collar part of Ohio. I can vouch from personal experience: there is nobody more obnoxious than a self-righteous 18-year-old who's been told since birth that he's the smartest thing since white bread, and whose parents are paying his way. I know--I was one of those kids myself, and I had the misfortune of teaching them during my career. (They do grow up. While the students are assholes, the alumni are courteous, helpful, smart and successful people, tamed by the school of hard knocks.)

The students can possibly be forgiven (though maybe not). The faculty and administrators, on the other hand, have no excuse. They really should know better, and the fact that they tolerate this behavior is a scandal.

The Militant deserves great credit for taking the side of the Bakery. It's something that courageous people do, but not fierce people. Fierce people were the ones out there carrying signs and shouting insults. James P. Cannon got it wrong.

Here's another issue that I wish The Militant would cover. Oregon (my home state) tried to pass a cap & trade law regulating carbon emissions. This is supposedly going to prevent climate change, but in reality all it will do is increase poverty. I'm against poverty, and The Militant is against poverty, so I'm hoping we're on the same side on this one.

In any event, 11 Republicans left the state so that the state senate wouldn't have a quorum to pass the legislation. There was a large demonstration against the law (and in support of the GOP) dominated by farmers, ranchers, truck drivers, and loggers. These, of course, would be the people driven into poverty by the self-righteous, virtue-signalling urban elite. (Sorry, but I can't find a link to the article covering the demonstration.)

Anyway, if you're against poverty you'll run this one down and cover it properly. Thanks in advance.

Further Reading:


  1. That lady in the front row looks like she could bake a mean plate of cookies! I will given them credit, though - on the question of the Oberlin bakery they (and you) are on the right side.

  2. Although there are some aspects of this case that we may not have considered:

  3. I'm not enough of a lawyer to respond to Academe Blog's argument in detail. But the article doesn't deny the basic political fact: Oberlin College acted as a bully and gratuitously tried to destroy a local business. It just claims that doing so wasn't "defamation."

    If calling somebody "racist" without evidence isn't defamation, then what would be a defamatory comment?