Sunday, July 7, 2019

Oberlin, 2019

From left, John Studer, Dave Prince, Holly Harkness, Steve Clark, Jack Barnes (speaking), Mary-Alice Waters, Norton Sandler, at closing session of SWP conference June 15. Banners summarized continuity of Socialist Workers Party since 1919 founding of first communist party in U.S. and other Active Workers Conference themes.
From left, John Studer, Dave Prince, Holly Harkness, Steve Clark, Jack Barnes (speaking), Mary-Alice Waters, Norton Sandler, at closing session of SWP conference June 15. Banners summarized continuity of Socialist Workers Party since 1919 founding of first communist party in U.S. and other Active Workers Conference themes.
(Picture and Caption Credit: The Militant/Arthur Hughes)
The lead article about the 2019 International Active Workers Conference (aka Oberlin Conference) isn't very long and doesn't say very much. But there are three other articles in the same issue of The Militant (published by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP)) that are obviously related. I'll cover two of them here.

The people pictured above are mostly folks I remember from my youth, specifically John Studer and Steve Clark. It's odd that neither the leadership nor the pecking order has changed very much over the last 40 years. Just as Kremlinologists used to be able to tell who was up and who was down by looking at the seating order on the dais, it's also works for the SWP. The top dogs are Jack Barnes, Steve Clark and Mary-Alice Waters. Dave Prince and Holly Harkness are likely on temporary rotation. Norton Sandler is a nonthreatening old standby. John Studer sits on the end like an afterthought, present only because of his competence, not because he has any authority.

Mr. Barnes claims that the Party "is a little bigger this year," urging his comrades on to recruit more. They're very proud of new Comrade "Kaitlin Estill, 27, from Oakland, California," who joined the Party last year. Indeed, while it is not so labelled, I'll guess that this is a picture of her:
Top, participants view some 30 displays depicting work and political lessons of communist movement. Above, participants snap up books and pamphlets by revolutionary leaders.
Photo Credit: The Militant/Carole Lesnick
Given her youth and gender, it won't surprise me if she's on the dais next year, perhaps replacing Dave Prince.

The slogans are the usual Trotskyist word-salad, i.e., mostly completely meaningless. The "100 years" dates from the May 1st, 1919, founding of the Communist Party USA, which the SWP marks as the beginning of its own movement. The "right side of history" is a bit disconcerting to anybody who thinks they're on the far left--but yeah, I was smart enough to figure it out after a second or two.

I have absolutely no clue what "Advancing Along the Line of March of the Working Class" means. Why is of italicized? Weird.

The Party has always believed it is guided by the Holy Spirit, immune from serious error.
In his political report, “100 Years ‘On the Right Side of History,’” Barnes said that the SWP is the only party in the U.S. whose continuity as communists is unbroken. Other groups once claiming that continuity to the Bolsheviks tossed it aside — in deeds long ago, but more recently in words as well. Some, like the International Socialist Organization, have imploded and dissolved, with many ISO leaders and members going into the Democratic Party. Other organizations are well along the way.
It begs the question: If the SWP is so correct, then why is it so small? Surely if Marxism/Leninism/Trotskyism/Barnesism is correct, then some popular recognition of the One True Revolutionary Party must follow. Either the SWP is wrong, or Marxism/Leninism/Trotskyism/Barnesism is wrong. Or (most likely) both are wrong.

For all its infallibility, I think the Party completely misreads the current situation. The lede paragraph:
As working people face the grinding effects of the capitalist rulers’ economic, political and moral crisis and their wars abroad, SWP candidates and campaign supporters call for independent working-class political action, Barnes said. They point to the necessity for working people to break with the bosses’ government and state, as well as their twin parties, the Democrats and Republicans.
In a world where unemployment is at record lows, profits are at near record highs, and indicators of well-being (airplane travel, new cars sold, cheaper prices for consumer goods) as good as ever, it stretches credulity to think we're in a "crisis." Of course there are problems. Does the Party even suggest that it will eliminate all problems? Some of the problems are serious. But to suggest that we're at an end-of-the-world, cataclysmic crisis of capitalism/imperialism is not believable.

If we were in a crisis, it's not clear how "independent working class action" will solve it. It might just make it worse, as it did in Venezuela and Cuba. In the event, building an independent, working class party is a long-term endeavor--hardly a suitable response to an immediate crisis.

The second article (indirectly) about the Conference is Liberal's Green New Deal is a trap for the working class by Terry Evans. The key graf:
[Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez [AOC--ed] promotes a “Green New Deal,” backed by many of the Democrats running for president, as the central vehicle to accomplish this. She says, “We are facing a national crisis,” a catastrophe from fossil fuels and “climate change,” that requires a massive strengthening of the capitalist state to address it. And, she adds, the massive mobilization it would mount would create jobs.
 AOC suggests a Second World War style mobilization of the American people, just as Roosevelt did in 1941.
“When FDR called on America to build 185,000 planes to fight World War 2, every business leader, CEO, and general laughed at him,” the “talking points” for the Green New Deal Ocasio-Cortez released says. “At the time, the U.S. had produced 3,000 planes in the last year. By the end of the war, we produced 300,000 planes. That’s what we are capable of if we have real leadership.”
Such a mobilization is necessary to fight "climate change", says AOC. A side benefit is it will employ all workers, just as fighting the Nazis reduced unemployment in the 1940s.

Under a heading "Do we need bigger government," The Militant's criticism of this is right on the money (emphasis mine).
Like Roosevelt’s New Deal, Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats today view workers and farmers as the objects of government policies to be administered, rather than people who are not only capable of fighting to change the conditions the bosses and their governments impose on us, but to transform themselves through that fight to take political power.
And so it comes: The Militant opposes big government for precisely the same reasons that I do--namely it infringes on individual liberty. The government has no right to "administer" our well-being.

Unfortunately, the paper goes off the rails in two ways. First, their alternative to big government is even bigger government. Their solution is a totalitarian state, euphemistically described as "independent working-class political action." That's really mob rule, with no protection for the individual allowed for. If you don't like what the "independent working-class" decides, then there's a bullet reserved just for you.

Second, there is a good argument to be made for fighting the Nazis. The Militant dismisses that as just an internecine squabble between imperialists, but obviously it was more than that. On balance the world is surely better off because Hitler (and Stalin and Mao Tse-Tung) are no longer around. To the extent we Americans aided that process we were doing the Lord's work.

There is no similar argument for the fight against "climate change," which in my opinion is mostly a non-problem. Or at least it's an insoluble problem--there is no reason to think that AOC's remedies will have any significant impact on the climate.

Instead, just as World War Two made everybody much poorer, so too would the Green New Deal. I'm against poverty, and I'm for Liberty. So I oppose the Green New Deal. And while I agree with The Militant's criticism of the project, I strongly disagree with their alternative. Mob rule destroys both human lives and livelihoods.

A Republic guided by a Constitution that explicitly says what the government cannot do is the best form of government ever invented by the human race.

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